• 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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Entrance Strategy Of A Wrecking Ball

Chapter Six: Entrance Strategy Of A Wrecking Ball
~BlackRoseRaven

There was nothing left to do now but move forwards with their plan. And it wasn't much of a plan at that: it was a seat-of-the-pants, hope-for-the-best, this-is-incredibly-stupid mishmash of wild scheming. They would be relying heavily on the element of surprise and simply making a rush towards their target before anyone could stop them.

They had prepared as much as possible over the last two days: the spiders had done a phenomenal job repairing La Croix's cape, but it wasn't quite as functional as before: repairing the physical damage alone could never fully restore the enchantment on the material.

But that was more than enough for La Croix: the pockets worked like pockets and he had cleaned out and spiffed up his hat, so it was no longer constantly dripping water. He had just about everything they'd need stuffed into there, and La Croix only hoped that Zecora was right about getting him into Canterlot unnoticed.

There was the vague possibility that they'd be able to get to Princess Twilight Sparkle before anything went horribly, horribly wrong. There was a much greater possibility that they'd be caught right at the gates, and thrown in the dungeon until whatever bad thing was going to happen, happened, and they were left trapped at ground zero. Failure at this point wasn't an option for either of them... and yet at the same time, it was the most likely thing to happen.

La Croix grumbled under his breath, and Zecora gave him a soft look as they walked side-by-side through the forest, the mare saying gently: “Don't be like that, my friend. We're just about through to the very end.”

“You did it again.” La Croix stopped, then scowled over at her small smile, studying her for a few moments before he said finally: “You been doin' that on purpose, haven't you?”

“What purpose would I have, my friend... of rhyming that word again and again with end?” Zecora replied easily, and La Croix sighed before the mare continued pleasantly: “Unless, of course, you look at this one little fact: when you think you've outwitted me, much happier you act.”

“I... I do not. You ain't... you fou, cher.” La Croix grumbled, and then he scowled as they approached the edge of the Everfree Forest, the stallion compulsively reaching up to grasp at the charm necklace Zecora had given him. “Well... we here, I guess. So uh... well. We better do our thing. You sure you ain't gonna screw up?”

“I'll do my very best, La Croix, to pull this off without any flaw.” Zecora said ironically, and La Croix grumbled before beginning to turn towards her... and freezing up when she kissed his cheek gently as she swept his hat off his head. “For luck. Don't get stuck.”

La Croix blushed a bit, then he huffed at her, trying to hide his embarrassment before he grabbed the edges of his overturned hat, mumbling: “You don't... get stuck.”

With that, La Croix dove down into his own hat, wincing as he felt an incredible pressure around his body before he was left floating weightlessly in a purple void. The walls of this looked like thick, stitched fabric, as was the floor far, far below, while above he could see an enormous window. It was like looking through a distorted lens, both stretching and shrinking objects like a funhouse mirror... but when Zecora leaned over the hat, La Croix couldn't help but smile all the same. Even with a tiny head and an elongated neck, she still somehow managed to be pretty. Mostly.

He grinned up at her, then winced, feeling a swirl of vertigo as the hat was lifted up. There was no actual feeling of movement apart from the slightest shiver in the air, but seeing that world whip by before the window was blocked out as the mare put the hat on her head... it was just plain weird.

La Croix wheezed a little, then looked moodily around before he swarm quickly upwards through the void. There were several bundles of balloons floating around, and La Croix made his way to one of these with a meditative look. He had to admit, Zecora had come up with a rather ingenious idea... even if balloons kind of scared him a little.

Normally, living things didn't do too well in here. After maybe half an hour, anything pony-sized in here would have used up all the air and would suffocate. But they had filled these balloons with life-giving oxygen... and hopefully, between them and a potion that would numb his body and suppress his respiration and heartrate, he wouldn't suffocate before Zecora made it into Canterlot.

La Croix poked at the balloons a few times, then grinned and drew his hooves back before firmly clapping them on either side of one... and he swore under his breath as he failed to pop it. Immediately, he grappled the balloon wildly in the weightless void, squishing it against himself before it suddenly went off with a loud bang.

The zebra huffed and scraped pieces of broken balloon off his body, glowering at the many, many other bundles before he reached into a pocket of his cape, producing a fine, long needle. Then he grinned as he swam forwards, stabbing one balloon after another to fill this void with all the oxygen he'd need... or again, so he hoped.

There wasn't any getting out of here until Zecora pulled him out, unfortunately: sure, he could force his way out if something happened, but... he'd probably break Zecora's neck if he did that while she was wearing the hat. More importantly, she was concerned about the sudden increase in security she'd seen while in Ponyville to pick up some supplies: the Royal Guard were now patrolling the road, looking for any suspicious ponies.

In all likelihood, it had a lot more to do with whatever project Twilight Sparkle was dealing with than La Croix, but no matter how you looked at it, La Croix definitely fell under the category of 'suspicious.' And just a cloak wasn't going to cut it: Zecora had already heard that there were Royal Guard stopping and searching everyone trying to enter Canterlot.

Zecora had discovered that not even any of Twilight's friends had spoken to her in the last ten days, at least: it gave the priestess her own private concerns about what Twilight might be up to, and whether or not they might already be too late to stop whatever was happening. And the worst part was looking at all this, and knowing it all came from a place of innocence, of good intentions...

But like a child who just wanted to explore, a curious mare who stole a key to open that locked door she'd always been told to stay far away from... that innocent desire was going to have very real, very cruel consequences. Twilight was plunging headlong into a very dangerous magic that would do profound damage to the very thing she wanted to protect...

Zecora shook her head slowly as she walked into Ponyville, but the zebra mare made herself smile all the same as she strode through the town. Ponies greeted her happily in the sunshine, a few walked up to her, complimented her 'fancy hat,' and others asked her about this tea or that salve or one of her other little mixtures she often made for these simple, goodhearted villagers.

The zebra smiled and was as gentle as she could afford to be, but at the same time she continued to press her way quickly straight through the little village. It was only a few minutes before she was on the road to Canterlot, giving a silent sigh of relief: she liked them, she really did. But that didn't really change the fact they could be a little bit... needy from time-to-time.

The walk towards Canterlot wasn't that long, but Zecora kept her pace quick and steady all the same: she was admittedly a little worried about La Croix. By now, he had to have taken the potion, and he was probably in a trance, if not unconsciousness... she just hoped that not just the potion, but that little charm she had given him kept him safe.

She hadn't said it, but what made her the most nervous about this whole plan wasn't the fact that La Croix could suffocate in the hat, or they could easily get caught by a smart or simply lucky Royal Guard outside of Canterlot. What made her nervous was the fact that they had to put La Croix into a near-death state to make sure he wouldn't use up all his air... and unfortunately, in that state, he would be extremely susceptible to his Loa brethren and any other spirits that might want to tamper with his mind...

This thought hadn't even occurred to La Croix: then again, for all his time spent as a mortal, most of it had been dealing with the physical side of being a zebra. All the disgusting needs of his body, made all the worse by how he couldn't smell or taste anything. And now, he was floating almost peacefully inside the hat, his hoof silently playing with the charm hanging around his neck, toying along the beautiful, carved ivory sigil as he breathed slowly in and out.

He wasn't... quite in a trance. But he felt like he was breathing maybe once a minute, and his whole body was tingly-numb. Tingly-numb, that was a funny way to put it, but that was just right too, wasn't it? Tingly-numb. He was tingly, tingly, tingly-numb...

La Croix giggled a little, and then he frowned a bit as his eyes fluttered before he looked back and forth. All the bottles and flasks that had been floating around him were gone, replaced by stars... and there was no longer any fabric walls, but the velvety blanket of deep, dark space everywhere... but he was still breathing – slowly... slowly... – so he guessed that it was okay. It was a nice change of scenery.

He smiled dreamily, his eyes slipping closed... and then he felt something gently catch him, and La Croix looked over before his eyes widened in surprise. He saw Zecora, almost shimmering, looking at him tenderly as she squeezed his shoulders, her gorgeous mane spilling all along her shoulders as she whispered: “La Croix...”

“Zecora...” he mumbled, and he rolled to face her... and she caught his hooves, the two of them spinning slowly together through the void, the stallion smiling tenderly at her as he whispered: “Zecora... hey... what... what are you doin' here, boo?”

“I'm here for you, La Croix...” Zecora's hoof tangled gently in his necklace, and La Croix smiled in delight as she pressed herself close against him, sliding her other hoof around to the back of his neck as she buried her face into his body. “My mighty stallion... I've missed you... I need you...”

“What about... I thought...” No, he couldn't remember. He couldn't make sense of things right now... except one thing nibbled at his mind. He scowled a little, then slowly rose his head before asking uncertainly: “Why ain't you rhyming?”

Zecora giggled softly against him, a strange, fluttery sound that wasn't like her at all, and La Croix suddenly reached up and shoved her to a leg's length when he realized she was trying to remove his necklace... and then his eyes bulged in horror, cold fear ripping through him as he saw he was holding a rotted, emaciated zebra mare, the zombie baring its yellowed teeth at him as she rasped: “Don't you love me, La Croix?”

She lunged at him, jaws wide, and La Croix screamed and kicked out hard, flailing wildly... and then he was back in reality, flipping lazily head-over-heels as he floated through the air, heart thudding weakly in his chest as he gasped painfully. He looked disbelievingly back and forth until he finally collided gently with the wall of the hat, and then he whimpered a bit as he bounced off this and began to float slowly back through the airless domain, rasping: “C'est des conneries. C'est vraiment des conneries! Oh, Bondye, what I do to deserve this...”

La Croix rubbed weakly at his face, and then he shivered once before hugging himself, looking nervously back and forth. His heart was already settling back into its slowed rhythm, however, and he could feel his breathing slowing with it... but that sense of euphoria he'd felt definitely wasn't coming back. His brain felt strung-out now, not relaxed, just waiting for the next attack...

Eventually, he fell into an uncomfortable doze; every ten minutes or so, he would wake up, an eye opening to look nervously back and forth before he fell back asleep, his cape clutched tightly, protectively around himself. He wasn't sure how long passed like this before he finally awoke with a headache, scowling a bit as he rubbed slowly at his forehead.

He looked back and forth uncomfortably, then shook himself quickly out before rubbing at his throat. It felt dry, and his skin felt clammy, and he shivered weakly as he swam his way down through the void towards the brim of the hat. They had to be close to Canterlot now, right?

The stallion shifted nervously back and forth in front of the hole in the hat... while outside, Zecora stood as calmly as she could in a long line leading to the gates of Canterlot. There were all kinds of other ponies in line, from the rich and famous and utterly irritated, to the poor and impoverished and terrified they wouldn't be let back inside.

The mare wasn't entirely sure what was going on at the front of the line, but it looked like there was a large cart of some kind, probably either a supplies transport or a merchant... but were the Royal Guard really going to search every inch of that, along with everything else that was going into Canterlot? If security was this bad out here, just at the outer gates, what would it be like at the castle itself? Did they even really stand a chance of getting inside?

No, she couldn't let those kinds of thoughts take over, no matter how true they were, no matter what was going on. She just had to be as calm as she could and stick to their... 'plan.' Zecora shivered a bit at this thought, realizing fully how utterly desperate and ironic that was: they really didn't have that much of a plan to begin with, after all.

There would be no point in getting worked up, or trying to duck out of line now: the only thing she could do was keep moving forwards with things as they were. So Zecora simply held her head high and kept her eyes forwards: she told herself again, like she always did when things seemed to go wrong, that there was no such thing as coincidence. Everything happened for a reason.

Two more Royal Guards emerged from the gates and stepped past the carriage that was being sorted through, gesturing at the line to get it trickling forwards again: Zecora watched closely as they inspected every pony that approached. She was grateful she didn't see anyone turned away... but the guards did take a few strange things. From one pony, they took his scarf; from another, they took what looked like a bagged lunch; from a griffon, they removed what looked like some kind of feather cleaning powder.

They didn't seem to be removing items at random, either, or taking valuables: they made a giant mess of one pony's lunch pail, but didn't actually take anything. They went through a mare's purse, despite her whining the entire time, but they put all her jewelry and coins back, in spite of how easy it would have been to palm a few. They were looking for some very specific things...

So did that mean that someone had sent a threat or warning to Canterlot? Or was whatever was going on in the castle sensitive to certain things, like how some potions couldn't be left next to each other for fear of contamination? Zecora wanted to know, but at the same time, she was worried about what they were going to say when she approached.

It took twenty minutes, but finally she was at the head of the line, and the Guards gestured at her. Zecora smiled at them as she strode up calmly, refusing to betray her nervousness as she said pleasantly: “Hello, honored Royal Guard of Canterlot. I have to reach the Castle, to bring what the Princess sought.”

“You have something for the Princess? We weren't informed.” said one of the guards slowly, and then he hesitated before his eyes widened a little, asking quickly: “Wait, what's your name? Are you from the Ponyville area?”

“My name is Zecora, and that is where I have made my home... although for many a year, far and wide I did roam. My real home is a far distance from here, a place I may never get to return to, I fear.” Zecora answered, bowing her head humbly.

“Nice rhyming.” muttered the guard, and then he nodded a bit and glanced over at the other large pony soldier. “Yeah, she's the one. She's on the list as a friend of the princesses, but... oh, right. Excuse me, ma'am, but we have to check you over. Please take off your hat, your cloak, and your satchels, we have to make sure you're not carrying anything... dangerous.”

Zecora smiled at this, shrugging and saying even as she complied: “I can assure you that I don't mean you any harm... and I doubt I could hurt you, or even cause any alarm. But if you're looking for something, you could let me know... I don't want to bring in anything to Canterlot that could cause woe.”

The guard in front of her grunted as Zecora offered him her hat: he glanced down at it absently while the zebra took off her satchels to toss in front of her. And then, moving calmly and casually as ever, she removed her traveler's cloak and passed it forwards, leaving the first guard's forelegs full.

He grumbled, fumbling her hat and cloak as the other guard began to dig through her bags, and Zecora said kindly: “Oh, I see. Excuse me.”

She reached out and politely took the top hat back, putting it back on her head, and the guard grunted his thanks as he began to dig through her cloak. The other soldier, meanwhile, had removed several potions, looking a little confused before he asked finally: “Ma'am, what's in these?”

“In those alone, there's about thirty different extracts... you'd be a lot better off telling me what you're looking to redact.” Zecora said mildly, and the guard grumbled a little under his breath.

“We could just take them all...” he muttered, and then he frowned when the other soldier shook his head, giving him a flat look. “Okay, fine. But it's your head if our superiors don't like this. Rosemary, sage, and lavender. Also something called, uh... I dunno, it's got a real funny foreign name-”

“With no offense meant, ma'am.” hurriedly cut in the other soldier, and the second Royal Guard looked up dumbly before wincing as he saw Zecora's mild look, nodding violently as the first explained awkwardly: “But it's not a substance likely to be found around here and uh... all these things are made with stuff from around here, right?”

“They all are, and some use the ingredients you said... give me a moment and I'll remove them instead.” Zecora offered, and the guards looked at each other before they both shrugged and nodded. Zecora smiled to them, then opened her satchels and quickly pulled out about five differently-colored potions, putting them aside before she said politely: “And if that is all, I'll be on my way... pleasant as you are, I really shouldn't stay.”

The Royal Guards looked at each other, then shrugged and offered Zecora her things back. She kept her calm smile as she took her cloak and quickly slipped it on, then she picked up her satchels, refusing to let her anxiousness take over and make her hurry even as the second Guard asked: “You did check inside her hat and everything, right?”

“Uh... yeah, I'm sure I did.” the first Guard responded as Zecora calmly strode by, heading towards the open gates. And then she did her best not to wince when the Guard suddenly called: “Ma'am, wait a moment!”

Zecora looked over her shoulder, tilting her head curiously as the Guard approached... and then he looked back and forth before suddenly leaning down, asking embarrassedly: “Ma'am, uh... you wouldn't happen to have something for a... stomach thing, would you? I guess you could say that I ate a lot of beans last night and... it's kind of embarrassing...”

“The soothing-blue potion I left behind is what you want.” Zecora paused, then added mildly, as the Guard smiled lamely and turned embarrassedly away: “Although really, you should just ignore your comrade's taunts.”

The Guard only laughed awkwardly, and Zecora shook her head before she turned around and calmly strode onwards, breathing a silent sigh of relief. She only hoped that she could now manage to work her way inside the castle grounds before La Croix ran out of air, with all the delays they were running into...

Inside the hat, La Croix could feel the air getting much thinner. It was harder to breathe, and he knew that it wouldn't be much longer now before he started to slowly, painfully suffocate. The Loa shivered at this thought, but he kept his attention off it as best he could by swimming around the void and gathering up loose ingredients to make a few last minute potions. It was the only thing he could do, after all... and without his powers, he really was going to have to rely solely on sleight of hoof and a few parlor tricks to get inside Canterlot.

He really didn't look forwards to that. Hell, he didn't even know how, without any real powers at his disposal and all the vulnerabilities of a spirit translated into his very weak physical body, he was going to deal with the princesses of this realm. Twilight Sparkle wouldn't be alone, after all: there was apparently a princess named Cadence who was very fond of her, and there were two others, Celestia... and... Luna. Oh, he really hoped he didn't have to deal with Luna.

La Croix shivered, then shook his head violently. No, no, the ponies he had dealt with in Helheim had been very, very different from these ponies. He had to keep reminding himself of that, and of how easy he'd made all of Ponyville quail in front of him... you know, right until he'd screwed up and set himself on fire.

The Loa scowled a little as he grabbed a large stone mortar and pestle out of the air, then shoved a loose herb into it and quickly ground it into a fine powder. Well, he wasn't going to make that dumb kind of mistake again. He was also definitely not going to let his fellow Loa, or even Bondye himself, divert him from this course: he was going to prove he was just as good as any of them. And then...

He didn't know what he'd do then. La Croix silently looked down into the stone bowl, then he sighed and allowed the grinding pestle to float away. The bowl he simply flicked downwards, leaving the powder floating harmlessly in the air until La Croix pulled a rag out of his cape, and then he swept the powder into this, balling it up and looking silently down at what he'd made.

Zecora made potions and salves to help people. She reached out to others, even when she didn't like them... she was almost maternal with these ponies, and yet at the same time, here she was, willing to help him sneak right through them and put a stop to whatever they were doing, because she trusted him. Well, maybe not completely, but she trusted him enough to believe that what he said was true, that this was all important to the cycle. She even cared about him for some reason he couldn't quite fathom!

And what did he make? Poisons, explosives, stuff to confuse or take advantage of others or downright hurt them. The stallion squeezed the little packet, smiling faintly, and then he shook his head and looked down in surprise when he saw the hat being shifted.

A moment later, a massive hoof reached in through the brim, and La Croix winced before he hurriedly swam up to it as it gently batted aside other objects on its way down. He reached out, touching it... and a moment later, there was a whirl of light and sound and vertigo before he popped free of the hat, gasping as he landed on wobbly legs before he looked dumbly back and forth.

They were... under a bridge, he guessed. He frowned uneasily at this as he breathed slowly in and out, while Zecora gave him a faint smile before she shook her head slowly, saying softly: “I got through the first gates without a hitch... but this is where our plans have hit a glitch. The doors of Canterlot Castle itself are just a little further away... but unless there's a change, all we can do is pray.”

“What do you mean?” La Croix scowled a bit, then he looked back and forth before scrambling for a staircase leading back up to the street. Zecora winced and hurried after the Loa as he barged back up to the main road of Canterlot, scowling around at the whitewashed buildings, the rich décor, the perfect state of just about everything...

And then his eyes widened as he looked towards the enormous doors blocking the front entrance to the castle: while they were slightly ajar, there were no less than ten soldiers on duty, blockading the way in. Every now and then, some pony would approach them, but they didn't budge in the slightest: instead, an angry little Pegasus would zip up to them and loudly tell them to go away, often in less-than-polite terms.

La Croix swore under his breath... then he looked moodily over at Zecora before biting his tongue and muttering: “No, this don't change nothing really, cher. Look, we're here... you was right. You got us into this big old city, and you got us right up to the gates of this castle. You know our plan was to part ways, anyway... so here's what's gonna happen. You go on, ask if they gonna let you in. If they turn you away, you just mosey on over to that crowd there and wait.”

Zecora looked uneasily at La Croix, and then she said slowly: “Not to doubt your abilities, my friend... but usually your plans don't happily end.”

“There you go, cheatin' again. You ain't no rhymy-rhymer after all.” La Croix said mildly, and Zecora gave him a dry look before the stallion shook his head quickly and smiled briefly. “Look. I got this. You trust in me, y'hear? Remember, you gotta laissez les bon temps rouler, and that's what I'm good at... so let me do this, honeychile.”

“I almost miss when you used to call me names... it made it so much easier to deny you your games.” Zecora murmured, and La Croix chuckled quietly at this, glancing down.

“Yeah, well, I almost wish...” La Croix halted, then he shook his head and murmured: “Look, just taisse-toi and do what I say. I got this.”

Zecora sighed softly, then she finally nodded once and said quietly: “Funny, how... welcome you almost make that sound. But so many diamonds are just coal when first found.”

“Don't be so damn girly. Ain't attractive. Go on now, get.” La Croix gestured at her a few times, and the mare gave him a dry look before she turned and walked calmly away, and the stallion smiled briefly after her before he reached up... then scowled as he realized he didn't have his hat, turning and bounding hurriedly back down the stairs and beneath the bridge.

Zecora, meanwhile, calmly approached the line of Royal Guard... then winced slightly when the little Pegasus shot in front of her, saying curtly: “The Princesses are not accepting visitors at this time. Please leave immediately.”

“My name is Zecora, and I am a friend of Twilight Sparkle... it's very important I speak to her or someone even more matriarchal.” Zecora replied, bowing her head towards the mare... but the Pegasus only snorted, glaring and shaking her head violently.

“Everyone is a 'friend' of Twilight Sparkle! And what makes you think you have the right to talk to any of our most esteemed rulers? And furthermore, did you not understand that they are not accepting visitors, or do I have to be even more blunt? Now leave!” squawked the angry little pony, and Zecora scowled ever so slightly before she took a breath and turned calmly around.

“Good. Stupid rhyming zebra.” muttered the small mare as Zecora walked away, and then the Pegasus brushed quickly at herself before glaring at the crowd of grumbling nobles and other ponies shifting back and forth some twenty feet away. “Hey, get lost! No one is going into the castle today! There is a very important experiment that absolutely cannot be disturbed going on right now, so you can all just pack up and go home!”

Ponies grumbled and shifted back and forth, and the attendant growled before she looked over her shoulder, snapping: “One of you, clear them out!”

The ten soldiers all looked down at the little mare with surprise, and the little Pegasus glared at them and gestured violently at the ponies before one of the soldiers said uneasily: “Ma'am, uh. We don't take orders from you, we take our orders from-”

“You obey the crown, and I represent the crown, and those ponies are a... a threatening element, a hazard to the safety of the castle! Get rid of them!” snapped the Pegasus.

The guards on duty looked uncertainly back and forth, none of them quite knowing what to do... and then all argument was cut off as there was a loud bang and a burst of black smoke, halfway between the gathered ponies and the soldiers.

In only moments, the smoke cleared... leaving a grinning La Croix standing with forelegs wide, posed magnificently as he called cheerfully: “Mes amis! I've heard your cries for attention, and here I am, to show you the way!”

Everyone stared in shock: everyone, that was, except for Zecora, who only shook her head slowly and sighed tiredly. But she couldn't help but smile, even as La Croix whirled around on one hoof, like he wasn't taking any of this seriously. At the same time, though, she thought that she saw a spark in him she'd only caught glimpses of before, if that: she saw something determined, something fierce, something... worthwhile.

“Yes, yes, hello one and all, I've heard your pleas, I've heard your call! And without losing a second more, allow me to open you a way to the door!” La Croix said cheerfully, and then he popped his hat off his head and caught it in one foreleg, reaching into it, making a big show of every gesture, every movement.

Behind him, the Pegasus snarled, leaping up to zoom forwards... and without hesitating, the Loa tore something out of his hat and flung it backwards, and a full-sized door seemed to appear out of nowhere... which shook violently when the tiny Pegasus rammed into it face first. It shocked the onlookers as La Croix blinked in surprise, and then he spun around on his hoof and 'opened' the door with a single easy tug, peering down at the pony before he said cheerfully: “Y'all so excited you couldn't just wait one minute more; but you should use your hoof, not your face, to knock on the door.”

There was a hearty burst of laughter from the crowd... and a few of the soldiers did their best to hide their snickers as well. The Pegasus, meanwhile, leapt to her feet with a snarl before shouting: “This is no place for fun and games! Now, like I just told your 'soul sister,' get lost!”

“Her? Her, well, she's an I-don't-know-who... but hey, mademoiselle, one day I'd like to!” La Croix waggled his eyebrows and then blew a kiss at Zecora, who blushed ever so slightly as she did her best not to look too charmed by his cheeky flattery. “Now, miss furieux, help me understand... how can what we be doin' illegal if this be all our land?”

There were a few shouts of agreement from the crowd, and the Pegasus glared up at La Croix as he smiled pleasantly back down at her, before the mare growled up at him: “It isn't your land at all. The castle and it's surrounding area belongs to the crown, and it is the crown that everyone in this country serves... and respectfully, too!”

“But ain't a crown just a hat? It sounds so silly to take orders from that!” the Loa replied easily, and then he reached into his hat and said positively: “Here, I got somethin' that'll cheer you up! Maybe make you feel a little more positive, pup!”

“I am perfectly positive!” shouted the Pegasus, and then she began to step forwards... before blinking in surprise as La Croix pulled out a bouquet of flowers and shoved it into her forelegs, leaving her to stare dumbly at him.

La Croix grinned cheerfully at her, and then he quickly drew his hoof back: only Zecora had eyes sharp enough to see him purposefully tear something away from the bottom of the bundle of stems, as he began easily: “See, flowers brighten up any mood...”

Then the Pegasus yelped as the flowers rotted away in her hooves, ponies staring and then wincing and leaning away at the awful stench of the decaying blooms. And La Croix winced and covered his nose with one hoof, waving the other wildly back and forth as he complained: “Or maybe your mood's so foul we really are all screwed!”

There were laughs again, and the Pegasus hurriedly threw the rotting bouquet away before leaning up and shouting: “Get out of here before I have you thrown in the dungeon!”

“Does that mean I get to go inside? So if I commit a crime you'll bring me... uh... inside where I may... bide?” La Croix fumbled his rhymes a bit... but Zecora couldn't help but smile softly at the fact he was actually trying. Maybe in part just to be distracting, sure, and to play on these ponies' preconceptions... but for some reason, it made her feel... funny, to see him trying so hard.

“Guards! Guards, get him!” snapped the little Pegasus, doing a furious little dance... and then she snarled when La Croix shook his head violently and thrusted out both his hooves with a huff. “No, you committed a crime and you're going to pay for it!”

“But so did you! You definitely did too!” La Croix said sharply, and all eyes looked at him curiously as he rose his head high, suddenly serious. Even the Pegasus wilted a bit in front of him, losing some of her nerve... before La Croix suddenly gestured at the door standing beside her, exclaiming: “You smashed down my door! You messed up my nice clean floor!”

The Pegasus' jaw dropped, the mare spluttering as La Croix ran around in a circle, ponies laughing again as he declared: “Okay, everything outside my home is your place. But everything inside my home is my space.”

“No! It doesn't work like that, and... that's not a house!” shouted the Pegasus... and then she gaped when La Croix calmly reached up and seemed to firmly knock on the air, creating a hollow clunking sound, like he was hitting wood.

The Pegasus dumbly walked up beside La Croix, feeling awkwardly through the air, while La Croix hopped backwards... and then grinned widely as he seemed to flop back on an invisible couch, putting his hooves behind his head comfortably. Zecora, however, only smiled amusedly even as ponies pointed and laughed and watched with awe: it was a meditation position that required balance more than strength.

The Pegasus glared over at him furiously, then walked over and shoved a hoof towards him, beginning to yell... and La Croix flung himself backwards, rolling and then making that loud thudding noise again as he bounced off an invisible wall, before the zebra leapt up to his hooves and shouted indignantly: “Hey, why'd you go and do that? Did you see, she shoved me over and I landed on my poor kitty chat!”

A meowing came from nearby, and the Pegasus jumped backwards, startled, as La Croix looked wildly back and forth before pointing at something, saying hurriedly: “There, there he be runnin' away! Hey, you silly chat, stay!”

More loud laughs as La Croix ran in circles around the Pegasus, who looked back and forth before yelping when La Croix suddenly leapt over her and tackled the imaginary cat. There were a few loud meows, but then the zebra stood and rose his head high with a sniff, before he looked over at the soldiers and declared: “Guards! D'y'all allow animal abuse in this place? I think you should arrest this silly disgrace!”

“Guards, arrest this... this public nuisance, this... this idiot!” shouted the Pegasus furiously, stomping her hooves wildly... and then she glared at the soldiers as they only laughed, the mare almost frothing at the mouth as she roared: “Listen to me!”

“I think you need a time out, so I'll let you look after my abode! After all, if you keep this up you gonna look like a toad.” La Croix said positively, flicking his hat up onto his head before he put his invisible cat down, then easily strode to the door. The Pegasus followed after him, shouting and swearing at him, but without looking back the zebra simply kicked the door shut, and the mare walked right into this with a bang... before the door wobbled, then fell flat on her, squishing her into the ground as the crowd roared with laughter.

The soldiers were laughing too, and La Croix grinned as he walked up to them, looking back and forth over the line of troops before he said kindly: “This ain't nothin' personal, friends. But you know what they say: every show ends!”

La Croix shrugged easily, no one noticing him palming bundles from his cape into his hooves... and then he suddenly stomped down, and there was a tremendous flash of light and sound. The soldiers were stunned by it, while the crowd gasped... then applauded and laughed as they saw that the stallion had vanished.

The soldiers looked just as impressed... that was, until one of them looked over his shoulder, and gaped at the sight of La Croix making a wild run through the entrance hall. Then the Royal Guard spun around, bolting after him as he shouted: “Hey you, stop! Stop him! We gotta stop him!”

The other ten soldiers spun around, bolting foolishly inside... but Zecora only smiled slightly. The Royal Guard weren't stupid, and someone would probably hurry back once they realized that everyone had rushed inside in a panic, and normally that would be enough. But in this case...

“If he can do it, I can too!” shouted a stallion's voice from the crowd, and ponies looked back and forth before the voice said hurriedly: “Get out of my way! I'm going to see Princess Celestia and let her know about this! I'm not a coward! We have rights!”

Other ponies shouted at this, and then a pony staggered forwards out of the crowd... and immediately, the rest of the ponies around him all leapt forwards, charging for the castle. They trampled the door laying in the middle of the path just as the Pegasus began to push it off her body, squishing her flat again with a squeak, and Zecora only smiled wryly to herself before she glanced over at the pony she'd pushed, saying politely: “My apologies for giving you a little push. But every now and then we all need a kick to our tush.”

The stallion gaped as Zecora strode calmly forwards, absently clearing her throat: it always felt funny after she mimicked someone. But then again, at least she'd proven that La Croix wasn't the only zebra who could throw his voice...

She just hoped that his parlor tricks would be enough to let him stay out of harm's way while she found Twilight Sparkle, and hopefully stopped this coming catastrophe before it was too late.