• Published 28th Jan 2014
  • 1,584 Views, 41 Comments

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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Chapter Seven: Aura

La Croix skidded around a corner, then leapt into a narrow niche in the wall: the small army of Royal Guards ran right past him before they all stumbled to a halt, falling over each other like dominoes as ponies looked wildly back and forth down the long hall, and La Croix bolted out of his hiding place went back the way he'd come before veering around another corner when a soldier shouted at him.

The zebra wheezed loudly as he stagger-ran down the hall: the Royal Guard were all strong, well-conditioned, in excellent shape, and this was their home turf. They had every advantage, and he had every possible disadvantage, minus one: he didn't play fair.

There were other ponies in the castle, too, but they hadn't served as much of a distraction: he guessed Zecora had rallied them so she could sneak in herself, and he just hoped she was having better luck than he was right now.

He could hear the guards catching up behind him, and the zebra stallion cursed under his breath as he looked wildly back and forth before he rammed shoulder-first into a doorway and knocked it open, leaping into the room beyond and...

La Croix stared blankly out at a large meeting hall, which was filled with soldiers. All of them stared back at La Croix in surprise, including a large, ivory unicorn in purple armor at the head of the hall, likely some kind of elite commander or something.

C'est des conneries!” La Croix howled, and then he spun around and bolted back outside. He almost crashed right into another soldier, but the zebra ducked under the Royal Guard's grab, then flung himself in the other direction, sprinting as fast as he could...

Only for a door to open down the corridor and the purple-armored stallion to step out. And with only a flick of his horn, he created a barrier that filled the entire corridor, La Croix slamming face-first into this with a squawk before slowly sliding down to the ground in a broken heap.

“Excuse me, but I don't think you belong here.” the stallion said mildly, and La Croix opened one beady eye and glared up at him, as the magic barrier vanished. “Guards, please bring him to the interrogation room for questioning. Make him comfortable.”

“Yes sir, Captain Armor!” A Royal Guard saluted sharply as two more soldiers seized La Croix, and the last picked up his hat, looking over it curiously. “Sorry, sir! It won't happen again!”

“No harm done. I'll come and question him in a moment, once I'm done talking to the rest of the troops about my sister... I mean, Princess Twilight Sparkle's new machine.”

“Wait, wait! That's what I came to talk about! Y'all are gonna screw up this world!” La Croix shouted, wildly trying to shake off the guards.

So-called Captain Armor only frowned slightly, and then he smiled and said calmly: “Well, you can tell me all about your concerns in a few minutes. But really, no one knows Twilight better than me. She knows what she's doing. She wouldn't risk something this monumental if she didn't!”

“Yeah, I believed that about ma famille too. You wouldn't believe where I ended up, mon ami.” grumbled La Croix, and then he winced when the soldiers began to drag him away, the zebra shouting hurriedly: “You just wait! Ain't gonna be pretty! Y'all are makin' connards of yourselves! Bayou be pretty, but she still full of cocodrils, you mark my words!”

“Dude, shut up.” muttered one of the guards, and La Croix grumbled under his breath before he gritted his teeth, looking worriedly back and forth. There were no less than four soldiers, and they were apparently taking him to some interrogation chamber, where they would no doubt do all sorts of horrible things to him... and even if that unicorn had spoken so nicely, oh no, La Croix wasn't about to fall for that ol' trick... especially if he was that Twilight's frère!

La Croix couldn't break free, though: his struggles were barely noticed as they dragged him through corridor after corridor, and he was just making himself more tired and achy. So he resigned himself to the fact that he'd have to wait for the right opportunity... and even if they tortured him, hopefully they'd be dumb enough to leave him with his hat...

“Here it is. The interrogation room.” One of the ponies grinned widely, and the others chuckled as La Croix whimpered, looking wildly back and forth. They were on the other side of the castle now, and there was a much more military feel to this section: he was afraid that even if he somehow escaped, they'd just catch him immediately. And they'd probably bring him back here and tie him down on that nice cozy bed and... nice cozy bed?

La Croix looked stupidly back and forth: there was a large mattress with a simple set of sheets, a table, a few chairs... it looked like a small apartment. One of the soldiers had tossed his hat on the counter, while another was checking all the shelves.

The zebra blinked slowly, then looked dumbly over his shoulder at one of the soldiers as he said, with absolute seriousness: “We hope you have some time to reflect on what you did wrong in here. Captain Shining Armor will come and have a talk with you once he's done with the troops. Two Royal Guard will be stationed outside the door until then, to make sure you don't leave.”

“Uh... you... ain't gonna beat me up or anything?” La Croix asked dubiously, and when the soldier frowned at him, the zebra felt a strange, wild urge to either start laughing or raving at them. The hell is wrong with these ponies?

But he only pasted a serious look on his face until the soldiers left. The last one scowled at him, and the zebra tried to look innocent as he said humbly: “I'm already sorry. I feel very very bad.”

The soldier slowly closed the door, looking at him suspiciously until it clicked shut, and then La Croix spun around with a wide grin and strode over to his hat, muttering: “Sorry this is so easy. Looks like I might stand half a chance after all...”

La Croix cackled as he put his hat on his head, looking back and forth before he ran quickly towards the open door leading into the bathroom... and it really was a little bathroom, at that. Not like the stupid toilet in the stupid cell he'd been locked away in.

La Croix glanced at his reflection in the mirror, and then he took his hat off and quickly started yanking vials and bottles out of it, piling these in the sink until he had everything he wanted. Then he put his hat back on his head, glancing up at the three figures in the mirror before looking back down... then freezing up and paling, slowly drawing his eyes back up to his reflection... and his reflection's strange company.

Cimetaire and Samedi were both looking at him pointedly, and La Croix cleared his throat before he said awkwardly: “Don't y'all give me no nonsense 'bout this. I'm workin' hard here. And here, ici, this is where the problems be at. I can feel it!”

“Bondye says you outta time, La Croix... he says you been cheatin' the system, so you gotta pay the price.” Cimetaire said quietly, and La Croix grimaced as he paged through the potions, then he picked up two and put them aside. “You listenin', mon frère?”

“Listenin'. Ain't carin', though. This ain't about Bondye anymore, and this ain't about provin' my place. This ain't about me anymore even, not really. I know that sounds fou, but it... it's true.” La Croix muttered, shaking his head sharply, and then he gritted his teeth and looked up, growling: “I ain't lettin' none of y'all stop me. I ain't lettin'... Shiny Army or whatever his name is get in my way, I ain't gonna let even them fou princesses stop me. Y'all just stay out of my way now, hear?”

“Hey. We ain't gonna stop you, petite frère. We just passin' on a warning, that's all... sure, we had our problems in the past, but all that be just water under the bridge now.” soothed Samedi, and La Croix looked up warily even as he pulled out another vial.

“Yeah, well... merci, but y'all... should go back now.” La Croix hesitated, and then he rose his head, saying quietly: “I need to do this myself. I need to fix it myself. Y'understand?”

Cimetaire and Samedi traded looks... then they both shrugged before Samedi said finally: “Aye, I suppose we do. But you remember us too, La Croix. Our powers are limited, but we can still put a good scare or two into a pony if you really need it.”

La Croix smiled a little at the mirror, and then he glanced down for a moment... and when he looked back at his reflection, it was alone. The stallion reached up and toyed silently for a moment with his necklace... then cleared his throat, shook his head, and went quickly back to work.

He mixed potions together in careful amounts in the sink itself, going by eye but still surprisingly exact. Potions swirled and bubbled as he added a dash of this, a touch of that, watching as the chemicals turned different colors until he eventually had a dangerous-looking, boiling red acid in the sink, that was already eating slowly away at the porcelain... and La Croix grinned before he placed several open bottles of blue potion beneath the sink. All he needed to do was buy time until a single drop of red touched blue...

Then he heard a door opening, and La Croix bounced out of the bathroom, closing the door behind him as he mentally began to count the seconds in his head. He spun on his heel, then bowed deeply as Shining Armor approached, the unicorn frowning at him a little as the zebra said cheerfully: “Gotta say, this is the best dungeon I've ever been locked up in. Gonna need a little more toilet paper, though.”

The unicorn winced away from the bathroom door, then he cleared his throat before finally asking: “Who are you? And why did you attempt to break into Canterlot?”

“My name is Baron La Croix. I came here to fix things.” La Croix replied pleasantly, gesturing towards the stallion with one hoof. “Now, I know you think a world of your sœur and all, and she's a genius, but... she makin' a mistake here. Whatever she tryin' to do, splitting reality or jumping to another world, it ain't gonna end well.”

Shining Armor frowned at this, and then he asked slowly: “Wait... how do you know about my sister? How do you know her name at all?”

La Croix gave Shining Armor a flat look, but when the unicorn remained completely serious, the zebra muttered: “I guess she got the brains and he got the brawn. Okay, I keep this in simple words for you. Your sister. Is a. Princess. That means all we all know about her. You get it?”

“No, I know that! But you're a zebra, and you clearly come from another land, you almost said as much yourself... how do you know about my sister, and about everything she's trying to do? Even Equestria doesn't know about her projects and responsibilities.” Shining Armor replied sharply, sounding a little annoyed.

“Hey, don't give me no evil eye. You're the one who phrased the question funny. You the one who needs to learn his proper grammarology, not me.” La Croix said blandly, and Shining Armor gave the zebra a dry look before La Croix held up a hoof, adding mildly: “Also, you just might want to step a little to the left. Otherwise you gonna be vaporized.”

Shining Armor scowled at this, and then La Croix grinned and suddenly leapt backward, covering his head. Immediately, the stallion winced, hesitating only a moment before he created a shield of magical energy around himself, protecting him completely from harm... before Shining Armor scowled as nothing happened.

La Croix cackled and pointed at him, rolling onto his back... and as he giggled, he pushed himself carefully away with his hind legs. “Damn, you ponies are so gullible! You fell for it, you really did! The hell did you think I did, drop a bomb in the toilet?”

“Okay, that's enough.” Shining Armor said irritably, dropping his forcefield before beginning to approach. “If you aren't going to have a respectful conversation with me, then I'll have to-”

The wall beside Shining Armor exploded in a tremendous blast of eldritch light and waves of red and blue flame, La Croix yelping as he was knocked rolling violently backwards from the force of the explosion, in spite of the fact he'd managed to push himself quite a distance away. He hit the wall painfully with a grunt, then he quickly yanked another bottle out of his cape before popping the cork off, even as flares of light continued to shoot out of the hole in the wall accompanied by tremendous pops and crackles.

Soldiers rushed into the room, but they were blinded and shocked by the lightshow: and when their senses came back to them, they were again distracted by the sight of Shining Armor sprawled on the other side of the room in an unconscious heap, half-covered by seared wall-rubble.

None of them noticed La Croix carefully walking by: but considering both their disorientation and the fact that the stallion was currently walking along the ceiling, it was easy to see how he could be missed. He grinned to himself around the hat in his muzzle as he snuck carefully along, not rushing even if he could already feel the sticky goo he'd applied to his hooves weakening.

He snuck out into the corridor, then cautiously walked down it, sticking close to the wall and moving slowly and surely until he reached a large archway leading into a staircase. He peered back and forth, but by now he guessed his little distraction had brought most of the attention to the 'interrogation room,' so he carefully pushed himself off the ceiling and rotated his body, to land gracefully-

La Croix thudded down on his side with a squawk, then he gasped for breath for a few moments, feeling like one of his lungs had just collapsed. But the pain gradually subsided, and the stallion carefully picked himself up and tossed his hat on his head, muttering: “Ain't got time for this.”

He shook himself out, then hurried up the steps, grumbling under his breath... but by the fourth floor, he was wheezing loudly, wishing miserably for the umpteenth time for his old powers. Instead, all he had was a potion that he fumbled out of his vest, then guzzled down quickly.

He tossed the glass flask aside, then shivered a little as the pain in his body intensified before quickly diminishing. It didn't leave entirely, no, but the worst of it was gone, and it let La Croix keep moving forwards as quickly as he dared, eyes flicking moodily back and forth as he slipped out into a wide corridor.

It looked expensive as hell... and that was a good sign, right? The big statues, the pictures on the wall, how quiet it was up here... that meant he was probably getting close to the royal chambers or wherever princesses hung out, right?

La Croix peered around a corner, then sighed in relief: it looked clear, all the way to a set of double doors. He took a quick breath, then hurried forwards, intent on reaching these doors, sure that his objective must be behind them...

The doors opened, and La Croix skidded to a halt as Shining Armor stepped backwards out of them, carefully closing the doors behind him before he turned around... and the two stared stupidly at each other for a few moments before the zebra pointed at him and blurted: “That ain't possible! No one can run up those damn stairs so fast!”

Shining Armor frowned before his horn glowed... and with a flash of light and a pop, he vanished from the spot to reappear directly in front of La Croix.

La Croix reared back with a wince at this, then he gave a weak little giggle before clearing his throat and nodding awkwardly a few times, stepping slowly backwards. “Well uh... I did try and warn you, mon ami. And hey, you... you don't look so bad! A bit o' polish, that's all you really need!”

The zebra grinned widely up at the unicorn and reached up to awkwardly pat his broken chestpiece, a bit of ash fluttering down for the seared Shining Armor. The Captain of the Guard scowled a little darker as La Croix stepped away from the bruised and battered officer, as he added awkwardly: “But... I gotta stop the world from endin' as we know it... place is already weird enough as it is with you fou ponies... uh, no offense, Monsieur Armée...”

La Croix gave a lame little laugh, then he spun around and attempted to bolt, but Shining Armor only rolled his eyes as his horn glowed brightly. And with another pop, he vanished from the spot and reappeared in a flash of light in front of La Croix, the zebra painfully crashing face-first into the stallion's chest and knocking himself sprawling.

He scrambled back to his hooves in only a moment, and made a mad dash in the other direction, but again Shining Armor teleported in front of him. This time the Captain caught the zebra by the face before he could ram into him, however, glaring down at the Loa and snapping: “Enough! Look, I don't like getting angry, but you're really starting to try my patience here!”

La Croix winced and yanked himself backwards, his hat falling off his head: without thinking, he caught it in one foreleg and plunged his other hoof into it, desperately seizing on a clump of ground-up ingredients before flinging them into Shining's face with a wild shout of: “Sable du chapeau!

Shining Armor yelled in vexation and pain, stumbling backwards and grabbing at his face as a mass of powder engulfed his head, and La Croix hurriedly bolted past the unicorn, smashing into the double doors and staggering through them into a sitting room of some kind. It was full of books and comfy furnishings and all kinds of nice things... and sitting on the far side of the room, in a large, plush chair, was an enormous, ivory mare. She had a horn, and wings, and a radiant, flowing mane, and even if La Croix had never seen her before he immediately knew...

“Can I help you?” Princess Celestia asked pleasantly, a cup of tea floating in front of her, balanced on a saucer. Her eyes were only slightly narrowed, her head tilted ever so slightly to the side...

La Croix gave a weak grin, then he held up a hoof and said awkwardly: “Y'all are screwing up. Where's Twilight Sparkle? I needs to talk to that fou pony and make her stop her experiment.”

“What do you mean? There's nothing wrong with Twilight Sparkle's experiment.” Celestia said slowly, only the flash of her eyes betraying her surprise. “How do you know about that?”

La Croix opened his mouth... then swore under his breath as he looked over his shoulder and saw a furious Shining Armor stumbling hurriedly down the hall towards him, staggering only a little in spite of his nearly swollen-shut eyes. “Whatever you say, lady. Excusez-moi!

With that, La Croix dashed to the side door, smashing it open and just praying it wasn't a closet... and he laughed as he was rewarded with a narrow, less-polished corridor, likely used by servants. He bolted into this as Shining Armor stumbled into the room, and Celestia only sipped slowly at her tea, watching thoughtfully as the Captain of the Guard hurriedly apologized before quickly stumbling after the odd zebra.

La Croix had a good head start though, and the corridors branched in every direction, making it almost impossible for Shining Armor to pick up his trail. La Croix grinned over his shoulder as he heard the Captain of the Guard shouting vainly after him, and then the stallion skidded around a corner and smashed his way through a door into another room...

Two ponies blinked in surprise and looked up from where they were drinking tea at a small table, and La Croix stared at them for a few moments: from the fact they were both wearing little tiaras and were winged unicorns, he guessed...

His eyes locked on one in particular: oh, the rosy, nice-looking pink mare he didn't care about, oh no. But the other, oh, she was sapphire, and her mane sparkled like starlight, and she looked like a younger version of... of...

“Gotta go.” La Croix almost whimpered, and then he bolted across the room to yank the door beyond open... and stared in horror at a patrol of Royal Guards passing by, their heads held proudly, their armor gleaming, their gazes straight ahead. And the zebra carefully closed the door on them, moving as silently as possible... but the moment the handle clicked, he spun around and bolted back for the door he'd come in through with a wild clatter of hooves.

“You can't run from me! When I catch up to you I'm... I'm... I'm gonna kick your ass!” shouted Shining Armor's infuriated voice, and La Croix squawked before he slammed the door and threw himself against it. The princesses were still staring at them, and La Croix glared back at the two before the rose-colored mare suddenly sighed and gestured tiredly at him a few times.

“Oh, come here. Luna, we're going to play a prank, okay? Just think of it as a prank.” the rose-hued mare encouraged, and La Croix blinked, mouthing wordlessly. But before he could speak, the mare gestured again, much more urgently. “Hurry up, Shine will get in here any minute, and I don't think I've ever heard him so angry!”

La Croix winced at this, then he scuttled hurriedly over to them and promptly attempted to hide beneath the table. Both mares yelped and winced back, then kicked at him childishly, making him squawk before the rose-colored mare reached down and grabbed him, almost hauling him up into the open seat.

The stallion mouthed wordlessly, but before he even knew what was going on, there was an open newspaper forced into his hooves and he was shoved back into a slumped sitting position, leaving him completely walled off by the newspaper.

La Croix wanted to blurt that this was stupid, childish, never going to work... and then he froze in place when the door was smashed open and he heard Shining Armor stumble inside, the stallion swearing loudly as he looked back and forth. And then the rose-hued mare's voice rang out, clear and crisp: “You know that's another bit for the swear jar.”

“Cadence? Is that you? I... I can't see anything, that bastard threw something in my eyes and I think I'm allergic to it... after he-” Shining Armor was cut off as Cadence apparently stood up, maybe made a gesture. La Croix couldn't see, and much as he wanted to know, he also wasn't about to dare looking around the newspaper that he was now holding up like a holy shield.

“And there's another bit! Now, what were you doing, wrestling with the boys in the mud again? Shining, look at you, you're all beaten up!” The sound of metal being tapped, a body being poked at, and Shining grumbling.

“I'm fine he... he caught me by surprise with an explosive. Then I thought I had him, but he pulled something out of his hat and threw it in my eyes and I can't see and he humiliated me in front of Celestia! Can you believe that? Of all the times for me to screw up, I screw up on the most important day of the year in front of Princess Celestia herself!”

Luna sighed disconsolately, and the Loa looked awkwardly towards the mare. The strange sapphire mare looked back at him, frowning darkly, but as La Croix studied her, he quickly realized... “Oh, merci beaucoup, He Above... you ain't at all like this other uh... special... pony I know.”

“Why would I be?” Luna asked curiously, and then she frowned a bit more and leaned forwards, asking quietly as Cadence and Shining argued: “And pray tell, why have you left Shining Armor in such a state? The only reason I do not reveal your presence is out of respect for Cadence, and her excellent judgment of character.”

“I... I gotta get to Twilight Sparkle! She fou if she think that this whole experiment is a good idea!” La Croix answered in what was almost a quiet hiss, looking worriedly in the direction of Shining Armor again. “But big boy there won't listen to a damn word I say 'bout his sister, and Celestia gone and told me already she don't think nothing wrong. Well. I didn't get much of a word in edgewise before Monsieur Armée chased me out...”

Luna looked thoughtful at this, and then she sat back and sipped slowly at her tea, mumbling: “Celestia has been rather... stuffy lately. She won't even take tea with us.”

“Who... who is that? Who are you?” Shining Armor's voice came suddenly, and then he groaned, looking over at Cadence as he asked almost desperately: “Please tell me you aren't making some game of this, Cadence, I... I appreciate you trying to see the good in everyone but... look, you, put down the newspaper! Let me see your face!”

La Croix swallowed thickly... and then a wild idea came to mind, the stallion flicking his head forwards to send his hat down to the floor, where it thankfully landed opening-up. He wiggled his rear hooves into this as Cadence said hurriedly: “Shining, just calm down, really. Look at you, you're getting all worked up over-”

Shining only strode forwards, leaning over the table and baring his teeth at the newspaper before he reached out and snatched it away with such violence that it all-but-exploded, sheets of paper flying in all directions.

And then the Captain of the Guard was left staring in shock when he saw no one was seated at the table. And even if his vision was still too fuzzy to make out a lot of things, it was kind of hard to miss all that empty space, and the empty chair, and...

Shining Armor's eyes widened, and then he ducked under the table... but he didn't see anything there, either. And a moment later, he yelped when Cadence grabbed the back of his mane and jerked him up, the stallion grinning lamely at her as she asked moodily: “You happy now? Now, unless you want to join us for tea, Shining... and I'd be more than happy to get you some more appropriate attire... why don't you go back to work? You know how important my teas with Princess Luna are!”

“I uh... yeah. I'll... dammit, he must have gone to the kitchens. Cadence, please, please remember that this guy is dangerous, don't... go trying to make friends, okay?” Shining almost begged, and then he winced when Cadence only patted his helmeted head... or more aptly, knocked several times on his skull.

“Don't worry about me, Shine. You go stop the big bad villains from taking over Equestria. And I'll have tea with the Princess so she doesn't turn into Nightmare Moon.” Cadence replied pleasantly, and Shining grumbled under his breath and headed for the door as Princess Luna gave the rose-hued winged unicorn a dry look.

But no one spoke again until the door closed... and then Luna said moodily: “I hope you are correct about this zebra, Cadence. And I do so wish you would not use me as an excuse.”

“I'm sorry, Luna. Again. But it works really well. And you like pranks... think of this as part of the cost of playing a prank.” Cadence said helpfully, and then she softened a bit and added quietly: “And I felt it. He was a lot more scared of Shining than Shining was of him... besides, you saw my hubby. He's a tank. He could survive the sun being dropped on him.”

Cadence stopped, then frowned a little and asked uncertainly: “But uh... where did that zebra go? You didn't hide him with your magic, did you, Luna?”

Luna shook her head, then pointed under the table, and Cadence frowned a bit before she spotted La Croix's hat, sitting innocently by his chair. Then she reared back in shock when something came bursting up out of it, ramming into the bottom of the edge of the table before flopping back against the chair with a tremendous bang to knock it crashing backwards in a hail of splinters.

La Croix howled and clutched at his head as the table flopped loudly over to one side, spilling tea and porcelain and everything else off in a hail. Cadence winced away from this storm of trinkets, while Luna only sat back a little, her saucer in one hoof and her teacup in the other, the mare calmly sipping from this before she said mildly: “He is right here, Princess Cadence.”

“Thank you, Luna. You're wonderfully helpful.” Cadence gave the sapphire mare a wry smile, then she shook her head quickly before returning her eyes to La Croix, who was currently sprawled on his back and clutching at his throbbing head as he whimpered weakly. “Uh... are you okay? And who are you, exactly?”

“I... can't answer all trois of y'all at once. Gimme...” La Croix flopped back, wheezing quietly... and then he blinked in surprise as he felt a sudden, welcome warmth run through his body, relaxing his muscles and taking away his pain before he rose his head as quickly as he could.

Cadence was only smiling at him, her horn glowing warmly before the magic faded from it, and she asked him gently: “Is that better, Mister Zebra?”

“Uh... yeah. Merci, lady... guess y'all might not be so bad after all...” La Croix hesitantly sat up, then brushed his cape off before he picked his hat up and put it on his head with a nervous frown. “But this ain't a trick, right? 'Cause I been dealing with you ponies for the last month or so, and it ain't been a fun experience. Y'all have done everything from acting like ignorant little babies to tryin' to drown me. All y'all ponies are crazy.”

Luna snorted in amusement at this, muttering: “At least you don't take the blame for everything in Equestria going wrong, as I happen to be. But, as Cadence likes to point out, it at least is an excuse to indulge bad behavior. If I'm going to be blamed for it, I might as well go ahead and be guilty.”

“Luna, this isn't how we make good first impressions.” Cadence chastised, and Luna shrugged a bit before the rose-hued mare turned her eyes back to La Croix, softening a bit. “I can feel the emotions and the intentions of others around me. It's a natural ability that I've honed over time... I can tell you don't really want to hurt anyone here. And I feel a very strange... presence around you...”

“Don't look too hard, missy. You gonna have cauchemars.” La Croix said wryly as he picked himself up, and then he grimaced as he absently cracked his back before muttering more to himself than them: “I ain't gonna complain. I know I come too damn far to complain or give up, after all, so... best I just make the best of all this.”

The zebra hesitated, then he looked up and continued uncomfortably, reaching up to toy nervously with his necklace: “But well... I ain't really got time to explain all this to y'all, either. I gotta go and stop Twilight Sparkle. Otherwise, she gonna disrupt the cycle with this nonsense...”

Cadence only tilted her head, but Luna frowned a little at this before shaking her head briskly and muttering: “Nonsense. All she's trying to do is the equivalent of pulling back the blinds on another world... if there would be any connection, 'twould be... I mean, it would be very minimal.”

La Croix chuckled quietly at this, looking over at Luna and giving a wry grin: oh yes, she was different indeed from the Luna he'd met. “Warms my heart to hear you say that. It tells me lots about you... like how you missin' something real important-like. When you turn the lights on real bright, and you open up a window... you make it real clear just where you are, and give a glimpse of what's on the other side. And the big bad boogeyman, the demons in the dark, the loup-garou... what's gonna stop them from breaking in once they know their prey's inside?”

Luna stared at him, and Cadence blinked before the rose-hued mare shook her head quickly, asking uneasily: “You can't mean... you don't mean there's actually something... on the other side that can look back at us, right? I mean, we know a little about connected worlds; Twilight was curious if there was something beyond that, though, she said it was possible there were other realms we weren't aware of...”

“Oh, you don't got no idea what else there is out there. You don't wanna know, either. Believe me, I've... been to a few of the less-nice ones, and they ain't pretty.” La Croix said grimly, shaking his head before he stood up and shook himself quickly. “So look. I thank y'all kindly for your help, but I gotta get goin' now. Either of you be kind enough to point me in the right direction?”

Luna looked down for a moment, and Cadence leaned forwards, saying quickly: “I know, let's go talk to Celestia! You'll never get to Twilight... weird... time-traveler zebra... she's behind too many layers of magic protection that-”

“Only another princess may break. I shall bring you there, strange creature, if you will bear my presence.” Luna said calmly, and Cadence blinked in surprise before Luna turned her eyes back to La Croix, stating quietly: “But I need proof that you've seen what you say you've seen.”

La Croix groaned loudly at this... and then he gritted his teeth before popping his hat off his head, grumbling: “Then 'scuse me for a moment while I pull a lapin out of my chapeau.”

La Croix whirled his hoof over the brim of the hat, closing his eyes and concentrating on a call to his brethren, not knowing what was going to happen before he plunged his hoof down into the hat... and then he gritted his teeth and hauled upwards. Part of him expected nothing to happen: the rest of him never expected Cimetaire and Samedi to come to his aid in the way that they did.

Black streaks of smoke exploded up out of the hat, whirling around La Croix before transforming into malformed, mutilated zebras that cackled as they charged through the air around the room, Cadence giving a shriek of fear as Luna winced back in horror, her eyes widening with disbelief. And La Croix swore under his breath, watching the grisly spirits rollick and roll through the room, smashing against walls, clattering over the floor, dragging themselves even against the ceiling as they spread poison to everything they touched.

Then two of them lunged down, landing on either side of Cadence and laughing at her, baring their yellowed teeth, their rotted gums, glaring with their poisonous eyes as she screamed and curled up, unknowingly feeding the spirits with her fear. The other two continued to dance around the room as Luna's eyes blazed and her horn began to light up, but then La Croix rose his hoof high and roared: “Hey! Y'all best back off for now! Y'all go back home, you hear? Allez! Allez!

The spirits growled and hissed at him, but then they nodded sulkily, taking to the air and returning quickly towards La Croix's hat. They vanished into it, and the stallion scowled a little before he looked down and grumbled: “Y'all are just determined to make me look as bad as possible, ain't you two? Suppose I should say merci all the same, though... they did at least listen to me.”

“What the hell was that?” Cadence asked in a shrill voice as she sat up, her multi-tone hair gone from perfectly curled to a frazzled mess around her face.

“That is what y'all have to look forwards to if Twilight opens that portal. And that's the best case scenario.” La Croix replied grimly, shaking his head briefly.

Cadence mouthed wordlessly in response to this, and then Luna scowled before muttering: “Proof enough. Cadence, you must consult with my sister. Whether or not she will listen, bring her to the upper halls, where Twilight is conducting her experiment. La Croix, you shall come with me: to prevent us being slowed, I shall cloak you in an illusionary shell. Do you understand what this means?”

“Ain't the first time I've played dressup.” La Croix grunted, and when both mares looked at him, he scowled back at them. “Hey, don't go makin' any cheap jokes. Let's just get moving. We don't got time for none of this.”

“I don't entirely trust you, whatever you are...” Luna studied him moodily, but then she nodded briefly, giving a quiet sigh. “But as Cadence always says, I must strive to be better than those who have hurt me, so I will... lead you forwards, all the same.”

La Croix grunted, then he tilted his head towards her before saying dryly: “You don't have to trust me none, don't you worry 'bout that. You can see for yourself once we get there. But allons-y! We gotta get moving!”

Luna scowled a bit, but then she nodded, sighing as she carefully put her teacup down. And Cadence bit her lip for only a moment before the rose-hued mare muttered: “I really hope I'm not making a mistake here. I really hope you're being honest.”

The zebra only grinned at this, however, saying ruefully: “Darlin', honesty be just words, and words just be the things you use to get other people to do what you want them to. But I ain't playin' y'all for suckers this time. This time, unfortunately, I'm the sucker, for lettin' myself get talked into this. Now come on, come on! Can't let Zecora do everything, she ain't never gonna let me live that down if she gets to Twilight Sparkle first.”

Luna gave a dry smile, and then the Princess of the Night nodded calmly as Cadence sighed, the rose-hued mare biting her lip for a moment before she muttered: “You two get going, then. I'll talk to Celestia, and see if I can head off Shining and talk a little bit of sense into him. But he's bullheaded about his family, especially Twilight. He probably won't listen to even me... what did you-”

“I guess y'all didn't hear me when I said we had to go now.” La Croix said crankily, and without another word, the zebra spun around and headed to the door, leaving Cadence watching dumbly as Luna sighed and followed after the stallion, the sapphire mare feeling a strange shiver run down her spine as she wondered what the stallion really wanted... and what he really was.