• Published 28th Jan 2014
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Zecora's Pinata - BlackRoseRaven



A zebra spirit meets an unlikely ally after he's sent to right a wrong in Equestria.

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Black Stripe Messiah

Chapter Five: Black Stripe Messiah
~BlackRoseRaven

La Croix was in misery, rolling back and forth as he moaned low in his throat, his body quaking with pain and fever. He didn't know where he was, he didn't know what was going on... hell, he wasn't even entirely sure he was alive. Maybe this was some prelude to Hell... it sure felt like it, after all.

His mind rampaged, dragging him back, back into the past, making him relive all the memories he didn't want to. He remembered things he'd wanted to forget; he forgot the outcome of every stupid scheme, every bet and gamble until he was living through the events all over again.

Again and again, he played out his entire life in the blink of a moment... and oh, it hurt. Only at the end did he realize where he was, delirious and in some space between spaces full of shapes and blurs and sounds. He clung to it when it came, fighting to try and make sense of the figure that kept coming and going, applying cold compresses to his forehead and giving him little sips of water...

But as hard as he clung to lucidity, in spite of how savagely he fought to try and get to the surface of his own mind, his own thoughts, he'd only manage to float there for a few moments before being dragged back down into the abyss to relive it all over again.

From the end, back to the beginning: he climbed out of the black lake with his brothers at Bondye's command, long long ago, and vowed to serve him. But back then, Bondye had been just one of many, and they had all looked up to some great and overpowering presence.

And there had been many other spirits, many others like them, and they hadn't worn any fancy clothes to mark their status or privilege. There had been no need for that: they had all been part of one unit, one family, one great spiritual commune that shared knowledge and worked together for one end. And not only did they work with each other, but they helped the zebra who prayed to them as well, without twisting their deals or demanding a high price in return.

There was still a hierarchy, certainly: there were the spirits, like him, and there were the big boys, the Orisihas like Bondye, and then there was the one who guided them all. The top brass, the big boss, the One Above, who looked down over all of them and all of what he considered to be his creation. But he was never a cruel king, never cold, never apart: one could say, in fact, that he'd loved those who looked up to him too much.

At first, sure, it had all gone well. Everything and everyone worked together, keeping the balance. It worked so well that the One Above decided to allow his Orishas to maintain control of the world for sixteen days, while he had a well-deserved rest.

But then the Orishas began to squabble, and some mischievous spirits carried word of their struggle down to the zebra. The zebra began to take sides, and soon enough, factions broke off. The zebra began to kill and hurt each other, even when the Orishas stopped fighting... not that all of them did, anyway. Some still had to prove they were stronger, or faster, or better. And the One Above didn't learn about what was going on until a week had passed and he came back to find out where this negative energy he'd felt was coming from.

He had been so... disappointed. He had been so upset, to see the zebra warring with each other, and his Orishas throwing blame back and forth, but all of them wearing their guilt in their bruises and their wounds.

The One Above had set things as right as he could... but oh, it was too late. The tribes and people he'd worked so hard to protect and nurture were splintered, and some of his Orishas were demanding they be treated as gods themselves: that they be held equal to the One Above. And in his wisdom, the One Above had not reacted with anger, but with great sorrow, even as he told them they were free to leave if they want, to create their own pantheons and leave the Origin behind.

Bondye had been one of the Orishas to leave and take on the title of god: he was aloof and disinterested in the zebra people, but he had his Loa and other servants weave his stories and do his bidding for him. Bondye was not interested in the zebras, but in proving to the One Above that he was an equal god, of equal respect... leaving no small irony in the fact that Bondye still kept most of his business in Darkwater, a place for the dead to sleep created long ago by the One Above.

La Croix remembered... he remembered Bondye's new rules, how they were going to give help... but now, never without taking something in return. They were going to preserve the balance at all costs, but in all things, too: not just the cycle of life and death, but with every deal they made, every favor they gave... everything would be repaid, in full and in blood, if necessary. No more sugarcoating, no more freebies. The scales would always be balanced from now on... or at the worst, tipped more in their favor than whoever tried to deal with them.

And as the centuries passed, their culture separated almost completely from that of their ancestors: they showed their status by the fine clothes they wore, they realized that smooth talk and sleight of hoof could be just as effective in getting someone's attention as any show of magic, and they began to tamper with the very thing they were supposed to protect. Not because there was anything wrong, but because you had to spend money to make money. A little distortion here and there... a little hampering their own cause... and even more would be drawn in to their growing web...

It was all about the numbers, at the end of the day: they needed believers, preachers, zealots. Not that Bondye wanted anything to do with them or really cared about them: luring them in, all the hard work and heavy lifting, he left to his Loas and the other spirits. Those who, on rare occasion, pleased him enough to draw his attention were rewarded with a bit more status...

La Croix had been so delighted when he had been the first Loa to earn his marks of status: his treasured hat and cape, for his help in not only ensuring the zebras carried this growing religion to a new land, they began to share and spread it among its inhabitants: ponies. It never did quite take with the ponies, but that didn't matter. The dreams and nightmares La Croix weaved helped establish their little sect, which the ponies called 'voodoo' without ever really understanding what that word meant. But that in itself was another discovery they were able to use to their advantage: mystery and allure and not-quite-right names and terms made their charm all the stronger.

Unfortunately, that was the end of the good times, right there... not that it had really been good times to begin with. Everyone had been scared in those beginning days, working as hard as they could not because they believed in Bondye's campaign, but because they were terrified that the One Above would never take them back, and if they failed to establish themselves, they'd become nothing but faded memories.

What La Croix failed to realize, though, was that he wasn't being rewarded simply because of his spectacularly good deed. What he would realize only later was that he had been the first to be given anything by Bondye, because he was the absolute worst Loa present. He shirked his duties, played pranks and wasted time, and generally made a nuisance of himself instead of doing what he was expected to or supposed to. He whined when the job was too hard and tried to pass off his duties to anyone else he could, and he thought that he was damn well entitled to a respectable living just because he happened to be a Loa.

Everyone disliked him to begin with. And, when he won the day through laziness and cheating and luck more than his own efforts, when he was so richly rewarded by Bondye... dislike boiled over into hate for many of the spirits, and suddenly everyone was determined to make sure that La Croix never again earned a single favor from Bondye. None of them, ever again, wanted to be humiliated by having a failure like La Croix held up in their place, declared as their better.

La Croix never earned another reward. His so-called brothers, Cimetaire and Samedi, on the other hoof, both continued to ascend the ladder, often taking on La Croix's duties as they earned more status, became better known by Bondye and those who served him... as did every single other spirit of this great pantheon. Few fell so low as La Croix, and those who did often vanished entirely in shame: and La Croix was left at the back of the pack, scrabbling wildly after any chance to do something that would get him noticed... so long as he didn't have to work too hard, that was.

And eventually... he had been the fool selected to act as an 'ambassador' with Helheim. Oh, sure, it made him sound important. It gave him a bit more status, let him hold his head high in this changing world... but oh, he had been so stupid. There was a reason it had been offered to someone as expendable as him, and La Croix whimpered and waved his hooves weakly through the air, gasping out through the delirium mixing past and present together: “N-No! I ain't... s-she promised, I did... what you told me! Don't send me back, d-don't send me back!”

He whimpered as the memories merged into one terrible mass in his mind, panting and shaking his head back and forth in denial, eyes rolling in his head as he remembered how he'd thought he'd been doing so good, the voice of his people, helping unite against a common enemy! He'd made himself look so strong, so smart, but Nanny Hel had seen right through him and those three had twisted him right upside down and oh, oh, what an idiot he'd looked like...

La Croix felt something soothing gently stroke over his brow, something wet and cool; a balm. His eyes fluttered as he whimpered, struggling to open his eyes to reality instead of drowning in the past. He shivered and struggled, cursing under his breath as he trembled and threw everything he had into just waking up, not caring if he lived or died but wanting to see who the hell had thought he was worth saving-

It was her. He saw her, for a single moment, before he slumped backwards and blacked out.

When La Croix opened his eyes again, he was in a familiar little hut, his eyes gradually adjusting as something wet dripped down his face. His throat felt dry, and his eyes felt watery, and his skin felt like it was on fire. Why the hell his body was being such a salop he wasn't sure, but it probably had something to do with how much the entire universe was tilted against him.

He groaned weakly, then shook his head quickly before sighing softly as his eyes drew slowly towards he figure getting up from the table, the stallion muttering: “Guess this makes you my ange gardien, don't it, cher?

Zecora only gave him a faint smile, shaking her head slowly and saying softly: “La Croix, you have a talent for making me mad. But the loss of a life, even yours, would be sad.”

La Croix chuckled dryly at this, and then he shook his head weakly before trying to sit up... but he only groaned in pain, dropping back and cursing under his breath, agony like he'd never experienced before wracking his entire body.

He flopped back on the bed, gritting his teeth and closing his eyes and... dammit. There she was, once again sticking her neck out for him, this time saving him from certain death after... after... damn. “Why? I ain't no zebra, not really... I ain't your ancestor. I ain't even a Loa anymore... just some flesh-sack, that's all.”

But Zecora only shook her head slowly, walking over to him and gently adjusting the cloth on his forehead before she said softly: “Don't talk like that, Loa of Darkwater. You'll only make the water you're in burn all the hotter.”

“I ain't... I can't do it, priestess. I can't do this. I'm too weak.” La Croix whispered, closing his eyes and trembling a little, but he couldn't even raise his hooves to hide his face, to hide his shame, turning away as best he could as he whispered: “I'm out of time.”

“That's not true at all, La Croix. You still have a week to fix this flaw.” Zecora urged, shaking her head again. La Croix only clenched his eyes shut, though, and the zebra sighed before she said in a softer voice: “Take tonight, rest and get well. Wait until tomorrow before you resign yourself to hell.”

The stallion only looked miserably down, but then he forced himself to nod a little, if only to make Zecora happy. Because he knew he owed her that much, at least... he just didn't know why she gave a damn about him. Especially after...

Cher... I'm sorry. For... you know. For everything. I ain't been the best guest y'ever had, I'm thinking.” La Croix said quietly, and Zecora only smiled at him again and gave a slow shrug.

“You'd be surprised to learn what I put up with... all the broken furnishings I've fixed, you'd think I'm a smith.” Zecora laughed a little, gesturing towards her table with one hoof.

“You... cheated. Even I know y'call a guy who works with a wood a... charpentier...” La Croix mumbled, his eyes fluttering once... and then they slowly closed, and Zecora sighed softly again as she looked down at him, beginning to step away... but to her surprise, he stirred and whispered: “Don't go. Please don't leave me... alone...”

Zecora looked down at him silently, and then she gave a faint smile before shaking her head slowly once more and murmuring: “One day, La Croix, you know we'll have to part ways... but... for now, I suppose, at your side I can stay.” She smiled briefly. “Or rather, stays.”

La Croix gave a weak chuckle, trying to open his eyes, but Zecora only reached out and gently covered his face with her hoof, murmuring softly: “Don't hurt yourself now, my friend. Just be at peace. For now, all we have to do is get you on the mend.”

The stallion slowly settled, and in only a few minutes, he was asleep again. His slumber was deep and dark and dreamless, letting him escape from everything for a few hours... and when he awoke, the first thing he saw was Zecora, now seated beside him in a chair, calmly mending an old, well-worn traveler's cloak.

“I was starting to get worried about you... a few minutes more, I would have eaten your stew.” Zecora said with a slight smile, and La Croix gave a weak chuckle before she said softly: “It's important we get something in your tummy. So I hope that you'll find this stew yummy.”

“I can't taste nothing, remember? Or are you just cheatin' again?” La Croix asked moodily, giving a brief shake of his head before he took a slow breath and carefully sat up, ignoring Zecora as she chastened him even while excusing herself. He was surprised to find that it was a lot easier than it had been before he'd slept, but... the body didn't heal that fast, did it? Or were these mortals really more durable than he'd ever expected them to be...

La Croix looked meditatively down at one hoof for a few moments, and then he shook his head briefly before glancing up as Zecora came back, carrying a small tray with a cup of tea and a bowl of some kind of stew. She gently set this down beside him, then said softly: “Rest back in bed. You must still feel next to dead.”

“I feel pretty damn good right now, as a matter of fact, cher. Don't you worry none about me.” La Croix replied mildly, shaking his head quickly... but then grumbling and not fighting when Zecora gently pushed him back against the pillows, propping him up against them. “You're a pain in my derrière, mademoiselle vielle.”

“I can't say I'm not glad to hear it. You need someone to keep you in check, spirit.” Zecora said mildly, and La Croix scowled at her, opening his mouth to say something... and the zebra priestess simply shoved a spoonful of stew into his mouth, almost making him choke before she continued with the slightest smile: “Just try and relax for now, Cycle defender. And maybe tell me what you might remember?”

La Croix grumbled around the spoon in his mouth, and then he gave her a sour look when she drew it back before he gave the briefest nod, muttering: “Well... I guess I... I owe you that much, at least. Okay. I'll give it a whirl. Try and be more... talky.”

He fell silent for the moment, but accepted another spoonful of stew as he gathered his thoughts. Then he sighed softly, saying finally: “I fell into the river. I drowned... and... I saw mes amis. My brothers... my fellow Loa. I thought I was dead... hell, maybe I was. The demons, they came for me too... I remember the ice, spreadin' towards me, I thought it was gonna claim me...”

“I saw a most peculiar sight while making my way towards the pony's town... what looked like a zombie, forcing himself out of the river with neither smile nor frown.” Zecora said softly, taking another scoop of the stew and gently feeding it to the Loa. The stallion scowled, but he didn't resist, as the mare continued quietly: “I don't want to say I was worried, not at that point at least... there and then I still thought of you as nothing but a beast. But I felt... concerned, I think I'll say, for Ponyville at large; but I never thought that you'd be so dumb as to incite a wild charge.”

La Croix laughed dryly, then he shook his head briefly before muttering: “Ponies be stupid and dumb. But I guess I didn't expect them to be so... defensive 'bout bein' stupid and dumb.”

Zecora sighed and gave him a pointed look, and La Croix grumbled and silently accepted another spoonful of stew without complaint. And a moment later, the stallion hesitated before looking across at her and asking, despite the fact he knew he wasn't going to get a different answer: “Why did you save me, mademoiselle vielle?

The priestess only smiled amusedly at him, then she shook her head before simply rolling over his question... but maybe she knew that it wasn't really a question at all, that there was no need for her to say anything further there. “I can't speak for Ponyville, or where they now stand... but their memories are short, and their anger is always quick to disband.”

La Croix grimaced at this, tilting his head back and forth before he muttered: “I dunno 'bout that. They seem pretty damn angry at me. And they seem like they was angry at me for both this time as well as last time, if you know what I mean, boo.”

“I do, Monsieur La Croix, my odd companion... but think: between us, there used to exist a canyon.” Zecora pointed out, then she calmly took another scoop of the stew before gently feeding it to the zebra, who accepted it moodily, but without any real complaint. “Now, I would almost dare to call us friends... not just allies looking to accomplish the same ends.”

“You rhyme 'friends' and 'ends' a lot. Pretty sure that be cheating, boo.” La Croix muttered, and then he shook his head quickly before continuing mildly: “Not that I be complaining or anything, of course. Ain't like I don't cheat and lie and steal myself. Them's honorable traits.”

Zecora rolled her eyes, then she said dryly: “I don't know if I like this 'nicer' you yet. Nor do I want you acting differently because you feel you're in debt.”

“Hey, I ain't in debt to you! I mean... well, I kinda am but... it sounds like I pulled myself out of that damn river. I would have been fine.” La Croix argued, shaking his head quickly, and Zecora gave him a slight smile before the Loa grumbled, then grouchily accepted another spoonful of stew. But just that little burst of grouchiness was enough to tire him out, the stallion settling back into the pillows before he mumbled to himself as Zecora carefully lifted the cup to his lips.

He couldn't taste the tea, but he drank gratefully all the same. It soothed his stomach and helped him settle a bit as he looked up at her, waiting for her to pull the cup away before he muttered: “You know, you don't have to treat me like a giant damn baby. I'm perfectly capable of taking care of my own damn self. I don't need the help of no fou priestess.”

“I can't tell if that's your pride or just your argumentative side... La Croix, you do understand that you very nearly died?” Zecora pointed out, and the Loa mumbled a little before the mare said gently: “Just try and be patient, for one last night... then, tomorrow, we'll continue your fight.”

La Croix laughed dryly at this, and then he dropped his head back on the pillow, staring up at the ceiling and mumbling: “Yeah, let's do that, and get my teeth kicked in again by those crazy ponies. That sounds like a great plan, really. No, it's... it's over.”

La Croix looked down for a moment, then he reached up and rubbed slowly at his muzzle, murmuring: “Yeah. It's over. Even if I did finish this, I ain't gonna kid myself. Bondye ain't gonna let me back in the fold... I ain't no Loa no more. I would come back, and they would... I don't wanna guess what. I just know it wouldn't be pretty.”

There was silence for a few moments, and then La Croix sighed a bit, looking up at Zecora and giving her a brief smile. “So don't you worry none 'bout me. Maybe I just... make me a good big batch of goofer dust, carve me some little charms, go hide out somewhere.”

“La Croix, you wouldn't last ten minutes in the wilds on your own... your fate may be drawing near, but not yet is it set in stone.” Zecora encouraged, shaking her head briefly before she sighed a little, saying quietly: “There are no coincidences, La Croix, you came into my life for a reason... if I just let you give up now, it would be like committing treason.”

The Loa only grunted at this, then he shook his head moodily before rubbing at his face with one hoof and settling back against the bed, sighing softly. Without either hurry nor fuss, Zecora calmly went back to spooning stew gently into his mouth, and La Croix ate, not knowing what to feel. Not even knowing what he should do next, even as he felt his strength slowly starting to come back, and a bit of his old stubbornness starting to rise, that fire inside that made him so damn determined to prove himself, even if the rest of him was always so lazy, so determined to take every little shortcut...

Zecora put the empty bowl aside, then gently helped him drink the last of the tea. Then she removed the empty tray, and left La Croix alone to think quietly to himself for a few minutes.

When the mare came back, La Croix glanced over at her, licking his lips slowly before he asked almost abruptly: “Why the hell are you doin' all this? And don't tell me 'cause life be sacred or the cycle c'est importante. That don't make sense to me. The first rule of life be 'look out for yourself.'”

The mare only gave him a quietly-amused look, asking gently: “And how has that been working out for you, spirit? Because from what I see, you don't live life, you fear it.”

“I ain't afraid of nothing! Pah, pouyaille!” La Croix exclaimed, sitting up and shaking his head fiercely... and then his head swam and his eyes watered, and he flopped back on the pillows with a wheeze, rubbing slowly at his features and mumbling: “Well... I ain't fond of pain. But only crazy cocodrils like pain... and I don't wanna talk about them none.”

“Then fight to live, and if you need more reason to, think about this: if you do die, La Croix, you know what awaits you is anything but bliss.” Zecora said quietly, and La Croix looked dumbly up before he shivered a little, gritting his teeth as he realized that the priestess, whether she was crazy or not... she was right, too. Unless he wiggled his way out of this mess... Helheim was going to claim him. And he'd seen enough of the ice to know he wouldn't last very long down there.

“I don't have much of a plan right now, La Croix... but there are a few suggestions I can make, from what I saw.” the mare said gently, shaking him once to bring his attention back to her. “I spent much of my time at your side here, but I can scry, although I am no seer; Canterlot is well-protected, but your presence they have not detected. And Ponyville has quieted once more... although I have no doubts their wounds are still open and sore.”

La Croix grimaced a bit, and then Zecora said softly: “Take tonight to rest, and we'll see how you fare tomorrow... and don't rush, La Croix, a day yet for rest we can still safely borrow. I have no doubt we can get to Canterlot with ease... it's getting inside that won't be such a breeze.”

The stallion grumbled under his breath, and then he sighed softly and flopped back on the cushions. He meant to speak up, to say something, but instead he ended up falling asleep before he even realized how exhausted he was feeling.

When he next opened his eyes, he blinked blearily in surprise and sat up... then groaned and rubbed slowly at his sore back, but there was only the faintest hint of dizziness lingering now. And with a little bit of effort, he was able to wiggle out of bed and stand carefully up, stretching his aching muscles slowly out before he smiled briefly and strode out of the hut.

He looked back and forth curiously, but Zecora was nowhere in sight. After a moment, however, he thought he picked up the faintest strains of singing... and the stallion curiously turned towards the sound, striding hesitantly through the trees.

After a few minutes, he found himself approaching the source of the singing, and he was surprised to peer out of the bushes to see Zecora. She was calmly washing herself in a glistening, crystalline pool of water, her jewelry set aside for the moment on a flat stone, leaving her unadorned, natural... beautiful, he thought. And she was singing a song in the old language, which he recognized after a moment of concentration...

So I pray to you, my ancestors highest, for the strength to see this through... yet always I am thankful for the knowledge you will be at my side...

Zecora's voice sang out, strong and pure: she had a beautiful rhythm to her voice, and La Croix bit his lip even as he felt himself wanting to call back the response of the spirits, felt it swelling up out of his chest... but he swallowed it back, only continuing to watch her silently from the cover of the forest, not even sure what he was feeling anymore.

To He Above I sing this song, in praise for what he's done... and in apology for my people and our failings in the past; spirits, take this message to the one who created our wondrous land...

I do, I do, I take it there now, but He Above will not turn his head...” La Croix muttered before he could stop himself, then he hurriedly reached up and covered his mouth with both front hooves, even if he was quite certain that there was no way the mare could hear him from here. And then he only stared as Zecora rose her front hooves above her head and poured the water cupped between them down over her features, sending it cascading down her neck and over the curves of her supple form...

With love I sing to He Above, I know there is no answer; for even if we have disappointed him, even if he remains aloof, all the same he has given to me you...

Zecora drew the last note out as she settled a little lower into the water, hooves pushing back through her mane... and staring La Croix almost fell forwards, loudly rattling the bushes in front of him and snapping several low branches. Immediately, the mare in the water looked sharply over her shoulder, maybe the faintest blush on her features as her eyes searched back and forth...

La Croix flushed deeply... then gritted his teeth as he straightened, swallowing back his cowardice as he rose his head and forced himself to sing as brazenly as he could, as he stepped slowly through the bushes to emerge into the grasses surrounding the pool: “And it is his love that gave us life, his humility that let us be free...

We weren't ready for the responsibility, our freedom we took for granted... we made war upon each other, burned our beautiful land...

Zecora's reply came as naturally as instinct, flowed as beautifully as if she had never been interrupted, even though she was staring at La Croix as the stallion slowly made his way towards the edge of the pool, blushing only slightly as he approached.

And as her last note faded, he sang back: “It hurt him so and made our king turn his gaze away... and even if he seems so far gone, I know every day he prays...

And together, together, you and I will find the path... together, together, we'll restore what we once had...

Zecora sang... and this time, La Croix joined her, not responding, but singing with her, their voices mixing together beautifully as she looked up from the rippling water and he gazed down from the banks of the forest, the whole world seeming to come alive around them and join in their song as they leaned towards each other, as they repeated in perfect harmony:

And together, together, you and I will find the path... together, together, we'll restore what we once had... and together, together, you and I will find the path... together, together, we'll restore what we once had...

They leaned forwards, Zecora looking up with her emerald eyes wide and beautiful and round as the moon, and La Croix leaned down, awed by her beauty, her voice, the way she seemed to make the forest around her more alive-

La Croix slipped on the edge of the bank and toppled into the water with a tremendous splash, Zecora wincing backwards too late from the great burst of wet that almost knocked her sprawling. She shook her head to try and get her sopping mane out of her face, briskly rubbing at her features... and then she stared when La Croix suddenly popped up out of the water with a gasp, beet-red and his own sopping mane hanging over his face as he spat out a bit of water, then looked lamely at the mare.

The two looked at each other for a few moments, and then Zecora began to giggle. La Croix only blinked dumbly behind his soaked bangs, and the mare gave him a radiant smile before she started to laugh in earnest.

La Croix only glared at her... but he had to fight hard not to smile, even as he rose his hooves and complained: “Okay, okay, you can taisse-toi now, ain't that funny. I just... I was comin' in anyway, I needed me a damn bath!”

Zecora laughed louder at this, and La Croix huffed, but felt strangely delighted before the two looked at each other as Zecora's merriment finally subsided, and she smiled warmly again at him as she rubbed slowly at her face, murmuring: “You do need a bath. Thank you... it's been a long time since I've had such a laugh.”

“That was barely a half-rhyme there, Zecora. You're losing your touch.” La Croix said mildly, and Zecora smiled at him again before she shook her head slowly and reached up, gently stroking a hoof down the bridge of his muzzle.

He blushed slightly as she bopped his nose quietly, then the mare murmured: “There are other ways to please the spirits than just by rhyming. All of it just has to do with having the proper timing.”

“There you go again now.” La Croix said softly, and the two looked at each other again, eyes meeting for a few long moments before he hesitantly leaned towards her, reaching a hoof up silently...

And Zecora gently stopped him, catching him by the wrist with one hoof as the other rested against his chest, the mare saying softly: “La Croix, no matter... what we feel... we both know we'll be drawn apart by fortune's wheel.” She stopped, bit her lip for a moment, then closed her eyes and shook her head slowly. “I'm sorry. We can't.”

La Croix slumped a bit, and Zecora gently shifted his hoof to hold it, looking at him silently before she said softly: “I know it's insulting to say that I'll still be your friend. But...” Zecora shifted a bit, shifting slowly before she said finally: “I'm not saying that I don't care about you. I do. I'm not saying you're too different... you're not. I'm saying that... I don't want to lay claim to your heart, when I know you have a future in a different place.” She smiled a bit, her emerald eyes gleaming brightly, and La Croix's heart caught in his throat as he realized they glowed so beautifully because of the tears she refused to shed. “And I'm too old to survive giving you mine, and then losing you, La Croix.”

“I'd stay with you. Darkwater, the cycle, Bondye... forget 'em all. I'd stay with you.” La Croix said quietly, looking up at her honestly, and Zecora gave a soft chuckle as she nodded slowly.

“I know you would... and I wish that you could.” Zecora murmured, and then she silently rose his hoof to her mouth, kissing it softly. “But I also know you wouldn't ever forgive yourself for putting us both at risk... but you know as well as I do, even if we restore the cycle, together we would never be safe as vagabonds upon this eternal disc.”

“Yeah. I got a feeling that no matter what I do, the demons gonna be comin' for me...” La Croix bit his lip, shivering a little before he looked up at her and nodded briefly once. “Yeah. I guess you're right, cher... even if... well, you might be underestimating what a coward I am, too.”

Zecora only gave him a brief smile, and there was silence for a few moments before La Croix cleared his throat and asked in a grumpier voice, trying to push away everything, trying to swallow all his emotions, make it so none of this ever happened and... everything was normal and fine as could be... “Now where the hell's my damn hat? And my cape. I gotta fix 'em up and you ain't gonna be no damn help, I can see that.”

The mare only looked at him with that lingering smile, and then she said softly: “You really can't have come all the way for that. I can't imagine you actually missed seeing your hat.”

La Croix looked at her blankly, and the zebra mare sighed a little before saying dryly: “It's on the table. And I'll mend your cape when I'm able.”

“Y'ain't able, though. I mean...” La Croix shifted a little in the water, gazing longingly over the mare before he cleared his throat a bit and continued as normally as he could: “It's a special kind of silk, and it can't be sewn by us big clumsy zebras. I'll just have to work some of my old... magic...”

The Loa scowled at this, then he splashed a bit at the water before grumbling: “Dammit. Right. I ain't got none of my powers... but I dunno if it's necessarily a power, like...”

La Croix looked thoughtful, and Zecora frowned at him before the stallion asked blandly: “You know where I can find me some spiders?”

The mare winced a bit at this, and then she sighed a little before rubbing slowly at her forehead, muttering: “Well, it shouldn't be hard for you to round up a few... but La Croix, have you really thought this... 'plan...' through?”

“Hey, you do your thing, I'm gonna do mine.” La Croix said defensively, and then he huffed as he turned around and carefully scrambled out of the shallow pool, shaking himself violently to get rid of the water from his body before he hesitated, then glanced over his shoulder and offered her an awkward smile. “I uh... I'll see you soon.”

Zecora softened slightly, but La Croix quickly turned and almost bolted into the trees, heading back in the direction of the hut. He did his best to keep his thoughts at bay as he shook what wetness he could off his body, throwing out as many of his silly thoughts with it as he could.

She haunted his mind, though, and it made him feel... funny, and a little hurt, and a lot miserable. And he really had no idea what he was going to do over the next few days about... about any of this. It scared him, how she had barged her way into his heart and now... even the whole cycle and the reason he'd been sent here didn't seem as important, especially since they could never...

He shook his head violently, then spat a curse to the side before storming into the hut. But this time, instead of throwing a tantrum like he had last time, he only made himself take a slow breath as his eyes flicked to the side... and he cringed a little at the sight of the empty space where the broken shelf had once stood, and the pockmarks and stains over the floor where potions had spilled. He looked at this for a few moments, then shook his head briefly before grumbling a bit and heading over to a large trunk full of Zecora's belongings, promising himself he was going to do better.

He didn't really recognize the irony in the fact he was once more pawing through her personal things until he managed to find what looked like a net. It probably wasn't for catching bugs, but he figured that it would work well enough all the same.

La Croix nodded firmly to himself, tossing this over one shoulder before he turned to trot over to the table, grabbing up his hat and looking critically over it. It still felt a bit wet, but otherwise he thought it seemed like it was in pretty good condition... even if he had the horrible feeling that there were probably a few gallons of water inside his hat still, and all the ingredients he'd shoved in there were likely ruined.

The stallion bit his lip, then plunged one hoof into his hat, feeling around inside of it up to the shoulder with a grumble before he winced as he touched something wet and gooey. He yanked whatever it was out, then stared dumbly at the dead fish before yelping and flinging this quickly out of the hut.

Well, the water had likely gone right to the very bottom of the hat, soaking everything solid on the way down. And brought a few things in with it... and La Croix shivered a little, but then took a quick breath before tossing his hat on his head. It landed with a wet plop, making him flinch, but thankfully there was only a small trickle of water.

He decided to go ahead with his plans in spite of everything, figuring it would at least distract him from the world's constant attempts to screw him over: so, with his objective in mind, La Croix turned and headed back out into the forest. It didn't take him very long to find what he was looking for: a large clump of what looked like fur and webbing, stuck to the base of a tree.

La Croix peered at this for a few moments... then he suddenly shouted and flung the net forwards over this. It didn't quite work as intended, however, the net only bouncing off the tree and falling flat as the mass of fur split open, dozens of surprisingly-large spiders spilling out in all directions.

Quite a few of them swarmed angrily right for La Croix, who winced and staggered backwards, then shouted angrily: “Hey, wait! Y'all stop right there, you bog-scampering scum! I be a Loa, and y'all are my new servants!”

To his shock, the spiders actually listened, halting in place as the zebra leaned forwards and growled at them. Then he grinned a little before sweeping his cape off his shoulder, calmly flicking it out before tossing it down and pointing at it, declaring: “Fix it!”

The spiders didn't move, and La Croix scowled at them before he pointed violently several times at the cape, shouting: “Hey, y'all deaf? Fix this, I know y'all can! I need spider's silk, and y'all be... silky spiders, so... get silkin'!”

And then La Croix blinked as something landed on his nose, wrinkling up his muzzle before he sneezed loudly and sent a tiny spider flying through the air. He scowled at this, then looked up... and a spider almost the same size as his head dropped out of the branches and onto his face, the Loa squealing in terror, then pain, as countless more spiders dropped from the trees and swarmed eagerly forwards over him, biting and clawing angrily at the zebra.

He yelled and rolled wildly back and forth, flailing his limbs in all directions as the spiders swarmed onto him, biting and trying to cover him with webs. They were incredibly resilient, however, refusing to give up the fight and constantly swarming back towards him no matter how many times he tried to get rid of them, the stallion shouting and cursing until he flung himself sideways, rolling violently several times until he whacked into the legs of another zebra.

Zecora looked down at him mildly, and both La Croix and the spiders covering him froze, countless eyes staring up at the mare before she said dryly: “Spiders, do as you've been told. La Croix, please don't be so bold.”

The spiders hurriedly withdrew from La Croix, the largest giving him one last firm bite to his nose to make him yelp before it leapt off and scurried away. The stallion scowled horribly after them, then looked up at Zecora and snapped: “You know, you could have let me know you could talk to the damn spiders... why the hell do they obey you, anyway?”

“I get along with most of the forest's population. And if you'd asked, I would have gladly saved you this frustration.” Zecora paused, then sighed a little as La Croix awkwardly sat up, the mare reaching up to touch the stallion's throbbing, visibly-inflamed nose. “Now look at what you've gone and done to yourself. Can't you just once put your pride on the shelf?”

“Hey, it wasn't... my pride. More... I dunno.” La Croix slumped a bit, looking awkwardly at her before he gave a brief smile. “Y'ain't wearing all those silly gold rings.”

“I heard the ruckus on my way back home... I just left my things inside on a tome.” the mare replied softly, shaking her head before she glanced past him and added with a bit of entertainment: “But well, it looks like you weren't entirely wrong... although maybe next time you'll barter with less anger and more song.”

La Croix huffed at this, saying grumpily: “Cheatin'. That don't make no damn sense in any language.” he said moodily, turning around to look at the mass of spiders swarming over his cape, repairing the rips in the fabric with their silk, weaving with eerie speed and skill... but he knew that for the spiders, every thread of his clothing contained the blueprint and patterns they needed to construct his clothing. It wouldn't take them long to make the necessary fixes... hell, he was surprised it had worked out so well, been so easy.

Except, as La Croix looked over at Zecora, he could only smile faintly as he thought that maybe... nothing was really as easy as it seemed.