• Published 28th Jan 2014
  • 1,581 Views, 41 Comments

Zecora's Pinata - BlackRoseRaven

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

  • ...

Singular Rapture

Chapter Eight: Singular Rapture

Zecora hadn't had much trouble navigating Canterlot: La Croix had distracted quite a lot of the guards, and she had some knowledge of these halls from previous visits here. There were only a few light patrols that she had to slip past, and a few clusters of servants and other employees of the castle that she was able to walk right by: as long as she made herself look like she belonged there, they didn't question her.

She made the upper levels quite easily, and she was surprised to find there were only a few guards on duty: she guessed that it was at least in part because the security had been increased so much along the lower levels and throughout the kingdom. But the zebra was well aware that the Royal Guard weren't the only defenses of this castle...

Zecora frowned a little as she stepped into a long hallway, guarded by statues that lined either side of the corridor. She bit her lip for a moment, then shook her head quickly before murmuring to herself: “There's a sense here of magic that's rather intense... but where is the trigger that will cause the trap to commence?”

Her eyes flicked back and forth... and then she smiled slightly as her eyes caught on a faint, vague shimmer. “Of course, a magical barrier is present... a solid defense that would make any interloper hesitant...”

Zecora reached back into her satchel, digging in it for a moment before she pulled out a small flask, and then she closed her eyes and took a slow breath, murmuring a short prayer before uncorking the vial and knocking it back in one gulp. Then she gritted her teeth, pain wracking her entire body and making her shiver violently before she forced herself to lunge into a sprint, charging straight down the hall as fast as her freezing-cold body could carry her. She ran through the barriers without even noticing them, the magical safeguards not so much as flickering at her passage.

She hit the doors at the other side and dropped herself against them with a gasp of pain, trembling a little before slumping a bit as she felt a horrible crawling sensation passing over her skin, something that was between bleeding and sweating...

The mare arched her back, gritting her teeth and refusing to cry out, in spite of all the agony ripping through her system... but within moments, the pain began to quickly fade away as the coldness seemed to ooze out of her body, leaving her covered in icy sweat as her muscles throbbed painfully and she gasped quietly for breath.

After a few minutes, she straightened and shook herself out: her muscles still felt rubbery, but they would start to feel more normal once she got moving. And more than that, she couldn't rest for too long anyway. Even if security was lower up here, she knew there were still patrols... and likely other defenses as well, just waiting to be set off.

Zecora shook her head briefly, then sighed as she turned around, pushing the door open to enter a long, gently-sloped corridor. It curved gradually as it ramped upwards, and Zecora felt a strange tingling sensation as she looked along the smooth marble floor, the polished basalt walls... “What a strange design we have here... it makes it a little too obvious something is wrong, I fear.”

The mare glanced down at the floor... and then her eyes narrowed slightly as she muttered: “No, the floor's not smooth in all places... I see hidden tiles, pressure pads, other traces...”

The zebra slowly began to walk forwards, keeping her eyes on the floor as she continued to murmur to herself: “Some of these defenses are almost childish in their design... but they also serve as a much more malevolent sign. Well, perhaps saying that is a little extreme; but then again, things aren't always as easy as they seem...”

Zecora's eyes flicked back and forth, and then she carefully stepped over a badly-hidden pressure pad before pausing for a moment and looking back and forth. Yes, it looked like there were all manner of traps hidden along this hall... she had no doubt she was on the right path, but... even if the ponies had designed something that might belong in a silly cartoon to help protect this project of Twilight's, the danger was still very real. Zecora had no doubt that plenty of these traps would stun, immobilize, or injure her... in fact, a few of them might even be lethal.

The zebra shook her head briefly as she continued onwards, her eyes flicking back and forth uncomfortably as she continued onwards and upwards. She made it to the end of the long, curving corridor after some twenty minutes, halting in front of a golden set of double doors that were securely locked... but the mare only tested the handle briefly before digging in her pack and muttering: “I suppose I could say this is my liquid lockpick... but that's laying on the euphemism a little thick.”

Zecora produced a jar of some brackish, yellowish substance, calmly unscrewing the lid before she splashed some of it over the handle of the door: immediately, the metal knob began to steam violently, rapidly melting away into sludge as the wood of the door itself seemed to try and curl away from the decaying steel.

Something inside the frame gave away, and the heavy double doors fell ajar with a clank. Zecora gave a slight smile at this, then she carefully pushed one of the doors the rest of the way open, carefully studying the room beyond for a moment before stepping into what felt suspiciously like a checkpoint.

Yes, that's what this was: there were places for people to wait, for the guards to sit, what she guessed was some kind of magic-powered scanning device... this was some kind of clearance area. But why it had been abandoned now, she didn't know: if the area above was supposed to be off limits, wasn't that all the more reason to have soldiers on duty here?

Zecora frowned a little, lowering her head thoughtfully before a strange thought came to her mind: she knew that Twilight would prioritize two things. One was the safety of others, and the second was her quest for knowledge. Maybe Twilight knew that her experiment could be dangerous. Maybe Twilight wanted to go ahead anyway, because she was convinced the possible gain was well-worth the risks involved. Maybe...

The mare shook her head shortly. No, it wouldn't do any good to just sit here and try and guess at Twilight's motives, and whether they were fair or foul. For now, all she could do was try and keep herself moving forwards, and hope that either she or La Croix were able to reach Twilight in time to stop her from making a terrible mistake.

La Croix grumbled as he walked along, looking back and forth warily as they passed by patrols of soldiers and other ponies who passed too close for comfort. The zebra was well aware that the illusionary shell protecting him, making him look like some large, burly demon-bat-pony-thing, wouldn't stand up very well to a whole lot of jostling. And if this glammer broke, then he'd probably be very quickly grabbed and hauled off. And this time, he'd probably get that beating he'd expected when the guards had first snatched him up.

Princess Luna had a stoic expression on her features, head raised high, moving with a calm dignity about her that annoyed the hell out of La Croix. Well, in any other situation he'd respect it, but in this case, even as regal and majestic as she was... “You move 'bout as fast as a limace.”

“Quiet. Your accent is even more atrocious than the way these ponies of present day speak. Besides, if we hurry, we'll be noticed, and likely slowed even more.” Luna muttered, keeping her pace steady before she scowled a bit as they approached a set of large, ironclad double doors. They were flanked by a pair of particularly-large Royal Guards... but who were also apparently trying not to stare too much at Luna and her companion, one of them giving the minutest trembles.

Luna looked between the two, and then she said clearly: “I require passage with my attendant. Open these doors and let us through.”

“Your highness, not to be rude, but... Princess Twilight Sparkle gave us very specific orders, under the authorization of Princess Celestia... everyone's supposed to stay out of the gallery levels today. The experiment is going to begin soon.” one of the guards said nervously.

Luna glared at them, while La Croix winced a bit and gritted his teeth, swearing under his breath: it was already starting? But Bondye had given him a full month, and he was supposed to have at least a few days left... or dammit, had that been part of this big mockery of a test all along? After all, La Croix knew that if he'd been left to deal with all this on his own, he would have procrastinated until the last second and then made some stupid, mad dash to try and fix things...

Then he stared as the sapphire mare rose her head imperiously before thundering: “Are you forgetting who you are speaking to? I am Luna, and I am still Princess of the Night, and I am still one of the matriarchs of this kingdom!”

Both Royal Guards quailed away, and La Croix couldn't help but grin a little, muttering: “Maybe you are more like that other fou mare than I thought. But we gonna get along fine, so long as we on the same side.”

“For now.” Luna muttered without looking back at La Croix, and then she rose her head and ordered sharply: “Open these doors immediately, I will not repeat myself again!”

The Guards both yelped, then scrambled hurriedly around and all-but-rammed into the iron doors, pushing them inch-by-inch open. Luna sniffed loudly as the doors parted, then she strode calmly forwards, and La Croix followed quickly in her wake through the iron gates.

A moment later, the doors slammed shut behind them, leaving them in a long corridor guarded only by statues. La Croix grinned as he started to stride past Luna... but the sapphire mare quickly held a foreleg out, stopping him as she muttered: “There are other defenses set up in case of emergency here, strange one. It will take me a few moments to disarm them.”

Luna's horn began to glow, and La Croix grimaced before he nodded moodily. His glammer vanished as the sapphire mare turned her concentration towards other things, but the stallion only absently brushed at himself before he glanced up in surprise as the princess asked quietly: “So what precisely are you, creature? You wear the guise of a zebra, but you clearly are not one... and I do not believe I even know your name.”

The zebra shrugged, and then he glanced down the hall and scowled: not at Luna's curiosity, but rather at all the magic barriers and tripwires that suddenly became visible in reaction to Luna's magic. “Damn, y'all really did want to keep everyone out. But I am Baron La Croix, a Loa of Darkwater... you know what that is, or do I gotta explain it to you?”

“I've been mistakenly blamed for voodoo rituals in the past. I know what Darkwater is.” Luna said moodily, and La Croix couldn't help but laugh. For a moment, the sapphire mare's eyes flicked towards him, glaring at him... but then she seemed to relax a bit, giving the smallest of smiles as she muttered: “Yes, I suppose that would indeed amuse you. But the ponies link almost all superstitions to the night... they don't like to believe that even more spirits and demons gallivant around through the bright day than during the darker hours.”

La Croix grunted, then he watched as several of the barriers flickered out before Luna grimaced slightly, muttering: “This magic has been reinforced by Twilight Sparkle... her magical ability is very powerful, more so than she realizes, perhaps even more than I or my sister know. I begin to understand how she may be in danger... she may do much more than simply draw the curtains back with this magic she is attempting, if she is not precise.”

The stallion scowled at this, and then Luna hesitated before looking over at the Loa, asking quietly: “So you spoke of Zecora. Did she sense this abnormality, then summon you here to help?”

“Nope. And none of your damn business, that's why.” La Croix said stiffly, but when Luna gave him a pointed look, he shifted a bit before mumbling: “Oh, fine, sure. No, I got sent here... as punishment, if you really gotta know, madame curieux. Now stop askin' me questions. I don't got my powers but that ain't gonna stop me from workin' a cunja on you.”

Luna scowled at him, then she looked ahead and muttered: “And ponies think that my dialect is strange. I don't even understand yours.”

“Hey, taisse-toi. There ain't no problems with the way I speak. It's just that I speak three languages so well they all get mixed together sometimes, y'see? But if I have to, I can be real fancy like. I be fluent. I just don't like to waste my time with it.” La Croix defended lamely, and then he grumbled and looked ahead, watching as several more magic barriers vanished. “This all seems real suspicious, by the way.”

“We were concerned about intruders. Ponies can be curious, and we have other enemies. It does not hurt to be prepared.” Luna replied, and then she shook her head and added, as the last few protective wards vanished and the glow around her horn died out: “But as we draw closer to the gallery where Twilight has set up her experiment, we will discover fewer defenses against interlopers, and more that are designed to contain magical energies if triggered.”

“Great.” La Croix grumbled, and then he fell in step with the Princess of the Night as she started down the hall, the stallion asking after a moment: “So why you so damn moody?”

“It is a long story, and I really do not desire to delve into it.” Luna paused, then gave a dry smile. “Of course, nothing proves what you are so much as your asking that question. My past is quite well known throughout Equestria. It is a cruel one.”

La Croix snorted in amusement at this, looking ahead and muttering: “Believe me, lady. Y'ain't the worst out there. I dealt with a much-worse...”

Luna frowned at him, and La Croix shook his head quickly, giving her a wry grin. “Never you mind now. I don't care what y'are, you don't get no preview of what be out there. Just believe me... you ain't gonna regret nothing greater than lettin' it in to this world, just so you can get a glimpse of what be beyond this little cove.”

The Princess of the Night studied him intently for a moment... then she shook her head briefly before turning her eyes forwards as they reached the end of the corridor, the mare saying finally: “I'll open the lock. Give me a moment.”

The stallion only grunted, standing back... and then he scowled as his hat wiggled a bit on his head, reaching up to quickly still it. He could sense the spirits getting restless in there: sooner or later, he was going to have to either send them all the way back to Darkwater or let them loose to 'exercise' a little. It made him a little worried, though, that Samedi and Cimetaire had gone so far out of their way for him... sure, it wasn't actually all that much, with what the Loa could do, but at the same time...

La Croix shook his head briefly, then he only watched moodily as Luna calmly inserted her horn into what he'd thought was a keyhole in the door: it looked like he was right, although he was surprised to see what precisely the key was.

Light spread through the door, and then it clanked loudly as Luna pulled her horn back before the gate slid up into the ceiling. La Croix grinned a bit... then stared in disbelief as he only saw another long hallway beyond before he glared over at Luna, asking flatly: “The hell is this? How much longer do we gotta walk?”

“Patience, La Croix. Perhaps you didn't notice, but the Castle is a very large place.” Luna replied calmly, giving a brief shake of her head. “Twilight wanted to be as secure as possible. The magic academy would have been preferable, but she requires too much space, and there are already too many experiments going on within its walls. The galleries are rarely used, and the upper levels were easily temporarily evacuated.”

“Great.” La Croix muttered, following after the sapphire mare as she strode into the next corridor, and then he sighed a little, lowering his head and only hoping that Zecora was doing better than he was.

Zecora frowned as she emerged from a staircase, feeling a chill run down her spine, a tingling in every nerve of her body. Something was terribly wrong, and she could feel whatever it was growing more malignant as time wore on. She was becoming afraid that no matter what they did, she and La Croix wouldn't be able to stop whatever was going on... and she was afraid that maybe Twilight Sparkle wasn't doing this purely out of her own desires.

The zebra took a few steps down the hall... then stopped and looked with disbelief at a statue as it shuddered violently before ripping itself free of the ground. She stared with horror as its eyes lit up with poisonous light, its stony features cracking as they twisted into a revolting grin, and then the statue of some earth pony hero began to stagger towards her, even as cracks spread further through its rocky hide and its brittle limbs threatened to crumble beneath it.

Zecora swore under her breath, then reached quickly back into her satchel and yanked out a large, hide-wrapped horn, yanking the cork out of the end of the heavy container. She poured some of the substance into one hoof even as the statue loomed towards her, then muttered a prayer as it reached out before she sharply blew the dark goofer dust into the statue's face.

It reared back as if struck, and then the animated stone figure cringed and began to smoke violently, dark stains spreading through the rock. Its mouth tore open, cracks ripping through the skull as it screamed silently, and then the stone figure simply collapsed into dust and gravel as steam and ashes wafted up out of the broken thing's remains.

“That was not a spirit from the pony's world... from the dark depths of my homeland that shade was hurled.” Zecora shivered a little, then shook her head violently before she cautiously corked the skin, then simply hung it around her neck instead of putting it back in the bag. “I'll have to be careful from here on out... but Darkwater is involved here, of that I have no doubt.”

The mare continued slowly forwards, trying not to concentrate on that poisonous essence in the air: it was trying to draw all her attention in, make her forget about the world around her. But whatever it was, it was also still a good distance away, while she was now aware there were more dangers than just the wards and traps that had been set up throughout the halls.

But if there were any other spirits, they were keeping their distance now. She was glad: she only had a limited supply of goofer dust, and she didn't want to waste too much of it on phantasms. At least it seemed like they had to try and act through objects to hurt her...

Near the end of the hall, a second statue came to life, possessed by another evil force: but now that she was prepared, the mare had all the time she needed to ready the goofer dust. And this time, she didn't use a weak exorcism, but a powerful hex, wanting to make it clear she wasn't going to waste her time with these childish games.

The goofer dust blew over the statue, and it flinched... and then the spirit screamed in agony as the stone burst into blue flames, rapidly crumbling into pieces and leaving the mangled spirit of a zebra behind, the specter flailing helplessly as hellfire ripped over its body before it too became nothing more than burnt embers. These vanished with the blue flames before they could even hit the ground, and Zecora shook her head before calling clearly: “I am not afraid of whatever you might send! And I swear that I will bring this charade to an end!”

There was only silence in response, and Zecora nodded firmly before she turned towards the doors and pushed them open. And she shivered at the magic she felt wash over her body the moment she did: a powerful, dangerous magic that felt strangely unbalanced...

The mare hurried forwards... then skidded to a halt with surprise as she saw Princess Luna approaching from the other side of the hall with La Croix. Her eyes widened at this sight, and La Croix blinked before laughing and calling out to her in his patois.

Zecora ran forwards, and La Croix grinned as he leapt past Luna, the zebras hurrying towards other before the stallion suddenly blushed a bit and skidded to a halt... but Zecora grabbed him in a tight hug without reserve, murmuring: “And here I was thinking you wouldn't make it... but you convinced the princesses to stop this, I take it?”

“Only myself and Cadence, but Cadence has gone to speak to Celestia now, Zecora.” Luna replied calmly, shaking her head briefly as she approached... then gave the slightest smile at the two, as La Croix simply sat awkwardly, only looking at Zecora with the faintest blush in his cheeks.

The stallion gazed silently over the mare before he bit his lip... then closed his eyes and finally reached a foreleg up to return the embrace. It looked forced, at best... but Zecora felt him pull her tight against his body, felt the faintest trembles, and felt...

The two shifted, then quickly pulled apart, looking at each other before the stallion cleared his throat... then scowled down at the skin of goofer dust hanging around her neck, asking uneasily: “Hey. Why you carrying around that black magic dust again? You usually more the gris-gris type.”

“I know both sides of my craft, Baron La Croix. You need both sides of a whole to use one half without flaw.” Zecora replied pointedly, and then she turned her eyes towards Princess Luna and bowed her head respectfully: “I welcome you here, Princess of the Night. But I warn you now, it might be better if you took flight.”

“No... I have felt it too, since La Croix and I reached this floor. There is a dark, evil magic at work here. We must rescue Twilight from its grip and stop her experiment. It is my duty, as a ruler of Equestria.” Luna replied calmly, raising her head high. “Besides, you both may have need of my magic. Who knows what we will see?”

“I have some idea of that...” Zecora grimaced, then frowned over at La Croix as he scowled suddenly and reached up to grab his cherished headgear. “Wait, what is it you have in your hat?”

“Spirits. Mes frères sent 'em to me to put a scare into the princesses and prove I am what I say I am.” La Croix absently patted the side of his top hat a few times, adding moodily: “Dunno why they sent me these ones, though. They ain't even poltergeists. Just fear ghosts.”

Zecora frowned darkly at this for a moment, and then she said uneasily: “I too have run into ghosts here, my friend... I encountered enraged spirits, just around the bend.”

“What? Nonsense, Canterlot is protected against such things. No ghost could enter these halls... at least, not those of ill intent.” Luna scoffed, shaking her head before she turned to point at a set of double doors. “Look, just through there is where Twilight Sparkle is. We should not waste time on this chatter, but instead stop her before it is too late!”

La Croix only held up a hoof, however, saying sharply: “You just hold your cocodrils there, Madame Lune. Cher, what do you mean, enraged spirits? You don't mean like I'm talkin' about, right?”

Zecora shook her head, muttering: “That's hard for me to say, but I'm going to venture no... these spirits possessed physical objects to try and inflict woe.”

La Croix blinked... then scowled darkly before glaring up at the ceiling, muttering: “Yeah, I see Bondye be real interested in protecting the cycle then... since there ain't no witchdoctors around here who could do that kind of magic, and I doubt any of these ponies practice Bò, I'm gonna guess they had to be sent by someone up top in Darkwater itself. Not that I'm makin' any accusations now... just reasonin' it out, hear?”

The zebra stallion shifted uneasily... and then Zecora shook her head before gesturing quickly at the doors, saying calmly: “Luna is right though, there's no point in waiting... go ahead with her, and I'll ward the doors while you're investigating.”

La Croix bit his lip nervously... but then Luna gave him a small smile and said quietly: “I am sure she can take care of herself. Zecora has helped us on more than one occasion, La Croix, and always proven most capable. We have to go.”

“You're right, you... dammit, I ain't good at this. I ain't no hero.” La Croix grumbled, and Zecora gave him a soft smile, shaking her head slowly.

“No, you are not, my special friend... and that's the way I'd prefer it to stay until the end.” Zecora said quietly, and La Croix gave her an awkward smile before she simply gestured with her head for him to go.

The stallion nodded a little, then he awkwardly tipped his hat to her before turning and hurrying after Luna as the Princess strode towards the doors. La Croix risked a glance back over his shoulder, but all he saw was Zecora digging back through her satchel... before he blushed horribly when the Princess of the Night said mildly: “If you care for her so much, then tell her so.”

Taisse-toi!” La Croix snapped as the mare flicked her horn, pushing the double doors open with telekinesis, and then he stormed into the hall beyond, grumbling: “Y'all are so damn stupid and nosy, you... stupid, nosy ponies, y-”

“La Croix, stop!” Luna shouted, leaping forwards, but it was too late: the stallion blinked dumbly in surprise as he set off some kind of alarm, looking back and forth wildly before he squawked when Luna pounded him with a telekinetic hammer, knocking him sprawling on his back.

A moment later, a massive steel gate crashed down where he had been standing a mere second before, and the stallion yelped as he leapt up and grabbed the iron bars of this, shaking them uselessly. Zecora and Luna ran up to the other side of the gate, looking back and forth over it before the sapphire mare muttered: “I do not know if I can lift this on my own... we will have to wait for Celestia. La Croix, I'm sorry, but... you have to go speak to Twilight alone.”

Luna paused, then leaned forwards, adding sharply: “But do not hurt her! Speak to her, reason with her, tell her what is wrong... she will stop this if she knows that it will end in evil!”

“Even if Twilight Sparkle is being driven by something dark... you have to save her, not put out her magic spark!” Zecora added sharply, and La Croix grimaced and shifted nervously back and forth on his hooves before the zebra mare added quietly: “La Croix, I believe in you, that you'll do what's right... but just because there's an easy solution, don't lose your moral sight.”

La Croix shook his head slowly... then he scowled at the two of them before he gave a brief smile, muttering: “Look at you two, actin' like you know me at all... I ain't no... well, okay, I guess I sort of am a death spirit, but I ain't that kind of death spirit. So you two just... stop worryin' your pretty heads. I'm gonna do what I gotta do. But I ain't gonna hurt no one who don't deserve it. I ain't no cocodril, I ain't no bête.”

The stallion sniffed disdainfully, and then he calmly turned around... even if every single part of him was afraid of what was waiting for him, beyond the door ahead. He breathed slowly, forcing himself not to look back even as he felt both Zecora and Luna silently urging him on, the stallion walking quickly to the door... then pausing just long enough to give a grin over his shoulder, hoping that they couldn't see his trembles or his cold sweat as he said with as much false enthusiasm as he could muster: “Well, you know what they say... laissez les bon temps rouler!

Then he turned around and shoved the doors open, gritting his teeth and striding into the next room without looking back. He felt like he'd been swallowed up by destiny, like he no longer had any choice in what he was doing, but like something else was pulling him along, guiding his movements as the doors slammed shut behind him.

His throat was dry, his muscles were trembling, his stomach was twisting itself into knots. He felt horribly, terribly afraid. He felt like he wasn't ready in the slightest for this, as he slowly tried to make his eyes focus, as he tried to make his brain work just enough so that he could see where he was.

He guessed this was why they kept referring to this upper floor as the 'gallery:' that's precisely what this area seemed to be, a massive gallery hall. But most of the paintings and art had been removed, replaced with blueprints and scraps from old books and all kinds of hurriedly-scrawled notes. It looked like several lifetimes of work had gone into this...

And then La Croix shivered as he stared down at the end of the gallery: there, seated in front of a desk, scribbling away, was a mare. She was a winged unicorn, and she was working furiously away, not noticing La Croix even as he slowly approached. And she seemed so... young in his eyes, somehow. Her purple coat was so vibrant, her dark, frazzled mane looked like it belonged to a filly who had stayed up all night, studying for some silly test...

La Croix looked at her silently, more surprised than he'd wanted to admit: this wasn't a monster. This was just another stupid pony... and that malignant magic wasn't coming from her, either. No, he'd been so damn... convinced she was the source of this evil, that this was her fault and her screwups but...

The zebra slowly looked up, and he shivered violently as he saw the source of the evil. The mare had built a massive wooden ring and inset it with all kinds of gemstones, with an enormous glass lens in the center. It looked like a great glass eye, gazing blindly down over the two of them... and such hate, such malice, such evil intent radiated from it. And such powerful, twisted, familiar magic... La Croix shivered and bit his lip.

That terrible eye was on a platform of some kind, and he could see all kinds of runes and gemstones and the glow of feeble pony enchantments... but oh, their magic would never, ever be able to handle this old magic. He didn't care how powerful the pony who set them was: a cocodril wasn't going to stop trying to eat you because of a little splinter. But he doubted that Twilight was even aware of what had happened, as he looked at the burnished wood... then gritted his teeth before leaning forwards and shouting angrily: “I see you there! Hey, don't think I don't see you there, you lâche! Y'all get out of here now, you hear!”

La Croix couldn't actually see them clearly... but when he yelled at them he not only caused Twilight Sparkle to yelp and fall out of her chair in shock, he saw the flickers of light play around the massive lens as invisible specters shifted in surprise. And La Croix bared his teeth at these, reaching up and beginning to grab his hat as he growled: “You wanna play rough, mes amis? Oh, we can do this like we do back in the bayou, you-”

“Who the heck are you?” Twilight asked disbelievingly from the ground, and La Croix gave her a sour look before the violet mare took a sharp breath, trying to make herself as intimidating as possible... which La Croix thought was the equivalent of backstepping from 'adorable' to just 'cute.' “You had better get out of here right now or... or else!”

Taisse-toi. I'm here to save you, actually, from makin' a big mistake... don't tell me you don't feel that evil mojo, that bad karma. You can't be that thick.” La Croix muttered, keeping one hoof on his hat as his eyes flicked back towards the portal ring.

Twilight Sparkle frowned uncertainly at this and immediately lost much of her bravado to confusion. She licked her lips, then she shook her head quickly, replying: “No, that's... I mean, it doesn't feel natural, but that's because I'm working with space-time magic... right?”

“Uh. No. Idiot.” La Croix said flatly, and immediately Twilight Sparkle was on her hooves, glaring challengingly at the zebra. He remained undaunted, however, glaring back at her for a moment before he pointed at the wooden ring. “Where'd you get that from?”

“Well, I... not that it's any of your business, but what you see here is the culmination of decades of research by unicorns from almost every different school of magic.” Twilight declared, straightening and nodding firmly, looking proud... almost defiant. “The idea that there are other planes of existence has been theorized for many years, especially considering what we know about the alternate universes that already exist. This 'seeing eye' ring was put together from the research of dozens of different ponies, and it even incorporates some of the original materials from their original prototypes!”

“Yeah. You real smart, lady.” La Croix said wryly, and Twilight looked proud of herself for a moment, completely missing his sarcasm before the zebra said dryly, as he pointed at the ring: “You recognize those runes still etched into that thing?”

Twilight frowned a bit, and then she said uncertainly: “They're from an old zebra religion, if I remember right... they're for channeling energy, right?”

La Croix laughed dryly, and then he said sourly: “You poor dumb ouaouaron. They ain't for channeling energy. They're for channeling the dead. You didn't just build yourself a looking glass... you built yourself the world's biggest Ouija board. Except the thing is, with all the magic you poured into this, with everything you've done here... this one actually works. In fact, it does a whole lot more than simply 'work...' it's already calling out to them. And I don't think you gonna like who I think must be trying to answer.”

Twilight stared in disbelief, mouthing wordlessly before she looked wildly between the portal ring and La Croix. The Loa only had his teeth grit, his eyes almost glowing as he felt that terribly-familiar, terribly-evil magic growing stronger... and then he scowled when Twilight Sparkle shouted at him: “Just who are you?”

“Me? You can call me La Croix.” the zebra grinned at Twilight as he leaned towards her, his eyes almost glowing, the violet mare wincing and rearing back from the sheer strangeness of the zebra. “And I be one of those spirits you attracted with that damn thing. And speaking of which...”

La Croix reached up and grasped his hat, then he pulled it off with a flourish and shouted: “Dinner time, y'all! Eat on up that magie du l'enfer!

The spirits greedily leapt up out of his hat, and Twilight Sparkle threw herself backwards, staring in horror as the four ghosts whirled up through the air before diving eagerly straight at the portal. The violet mare shrieked and began to climb up to her hooves, but La Croix quickly reached out and seized her shoulder, and she looked at him with shock and froze beneath his grip.

La Croix only continued to look on, watching as the ghosts whirled and danced around this marvelous and malignant thing she had built, and yet feeling her pain, too, as what she thought was a glorious, stupendous idea was attacked in front of her eyes, was being ripped down for reasons he had no time to explain and she might never fully understand; as she watched her genius, her brainchild, ripped and ravaged and-

A terrible, powerful pulse erupted from the portal ring, shattering the glass lens in the center of it and turning the four spirits La Croix had unleashed into nothing but smoke. The stallion and the princess were both flung backwards by it, crashing to the floor almost halfway across the enormous gallery and falling prone in broken heaps with gasps of pain.

La Croix groaned in pain, reaching out to grab his hat from where it had fallen and putting it carefully back on his head as he picked himself up, while Twilight stared up with shining eyes at her machine, her creation: she didn't see the flickering creatures dancing around this maleficent thing, or the way her own protective wards were being torn apart and mutilated into vile new enchantments by the dark energies pouring out of the portal. All she saw was her greatest achievement bursting into life, as glowing light filled the eye of the ring... “Look at it! It's working, it's really-”

Cold air gasped out of the portal, washing over both stallion and mare, coating the floor and walls around the portal ring in solid ice. And Twilight fell silent, trembling and staring disbelievingly before several enormous shapes began to force their way out of the swirling vortex, and La Croix whispered: “Yeah, you right. It's working just fine, honeychile.

“But there ain't nothing you regret more than your life's greatest success.”