• 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.

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Ice Trap Aftermath

Chapter Nine: Ice Trap Aftermath

Ice, and snow, and cold: that was what came first, warning La Croix of what was coming, even as every part of his body howled in denial and terror of it. He trembled in fear and shoved himself backwards as the monsters began to push their way into this reality, clawing out of the portal with savage grins despite the fact that it was clear the portal ring wasn't working precisely right: it was fragile, and the very act of them forcing entry to this world through it was causing it to break apart.

Except it wouldn't shatter fast enough... and the moment the first demon leapt down into the hall, La Croix knew it didn't matter. What he saw wasn't some lucky, low-class demon who had wandered across the rip in reality: it was something strong, something deadly, something that, now that it was here, could probably rip its own hole in reality and bring all his friends for a party...

And some of those eager friends were already forcing their way through the damaged portal ring, La Croix shivering in terror and Twilight shaking her head violently, mouthing wordlessly as the demon crawled forwards. It was a huge, spiky thing, with reptilian eyes and heavy, barbed scales over its body, forked tongue flicking lazily out to taste the air before it growled: “Oh yes. I think we're going to like it here just fine, boys... and look! Our welcome wagon even comes with a free lunch!”

One of the demons that had crawled through the portal laughed loudly at this: this one had maybe once been a pony, but now it was nothing but raw muscle, with spikes and blades of bone sticking up almost at random through its distorted, fleshy frame. “I don't know about that... they look more like snacktime to me!”

“This... this isn't happening, this... this can't be happening...” Twilight whimpered, dragging herself backwards as she stared in horror at these monstrosities... and others still were dragging themselves into reality, La Croix shivering and shaking his head weakly in disbelief. The only thing in their favor was the fact that the rest of the invaders seemed to be minor demons and pawns and servants of these two... but just these two themselves were more than he could handle. Hell, they might be more than all of this pretty pony country could handle.

“Look at them!” jeered the bigger one, Scales. “Look at this scared little girl-pony... not that the stripehorse seems any less afraid!”

Bones laughed loudly again, then he stepped forwards, his red eyes locking hungrily on La Croix. “But look closer... he's not just any normal stripehorse, now is he? No, this one is from the swamp the stripehorses worship... but oh, poor colt's all flesh and bones!”

La Croix gritted his teeth, and then he forced himself up to his hooves as the two demons casually approached. The other demons growled and rumbled behind them, waiting for one of their masters to give them an order, and La Croix shivered as he dared look past the two goliaths for a moment, glimpsing at least a dozen minor demons waiting for orders... and worse, the portal ring was still sparking and flickering, meaning there could still be others on the way.

The two demons stopped only a few feet away from him, looming over him, grinning down at him mockingly, and La Croix forced himself to look up at these two giants: Bones was at least double his size, and Scales was even larger than that. They both had big, sharp fangs, and were clearly strong and large enough to tear him in half in an instant if they wanted to.

And all the same, La Croix forced himself to glare up at them, dredging up some of that old not-quite-bravery, not-quite-stupidity he'd always had as he snapped: “Yeah, that's right, I'm a Loa! And y'all better just... go on back where y'all came from, or I'm gonna have to go down to see Nanny Hel and have a word with her 'bout you two!”

The demons traded looks at this, and then they both burst into laughter, La Croix wincing a bit as Bones chortled out: “D-Did you hear that? Oh no! He's... he's gonna tell on us!”

“To Nanny!” Scales added mockingly, and the two laughed even harder as La Croix grimaced, then gritted his teeth and leaned forwards, holding his ground in spite of the fact that they were bigger, stronger, scarier, but... dammit, he wasn't going to screw up and fail again!

Taisse-toi, connards!” he shouted, and both demons blinked in surprise and looked down at him dumbly as he growled: “You listen up good. You two be big dumb cocodrils, but the cocodrils don't run the bayou alone, you hear? One big fou cocodril ain't gonna survive for long against a bayou full of serpents who want to choke him, crawdads who wanna pull off his scales, even little ouaouarons who gonna hop all over him every time he tries to sleep, make him even more fou than he already is! Don't matter that there one of you, don't matter that there two, don't matter that there a whole bunch of your little cheerleaders too! There be thousands of us, there be 'bout three of you when I add up your brainpower, so y'all scat, hear? Se perdre!

The two demons looked down with disbelief at La Croix, who glared up at them defiantly, trembling with a strange mix of anger and fear... and then Scales simply held one claw out before mockingly flicking La Croix, and the stallion was knocked flopping onto his back with a squeak as the two demons looked down at him with cruel contempt.

“Well, looks like we got a tough little colt on our claws.” growled Scales, and then the enormous, draconic demon looked moodily over his shoulder at the portal, saying irritably: “So maybe the interference we picked up came from this little guy, not the idiot girl's tampering.”

“I... I...” Twilight Sparkle looked up helplessly, and Bones snorted in entertainment as Scales turned a mocking look down on her. “W-What are you?”

La Croix grimaced, looking over at the winged unicorn: he couldn't entirely blame her. The malice these two demons exuded... their presence alone was poisonous, toxic to those around them. And if he was quivering in his hooves, he couldn't imagine what kind of effect they were having on a little pony who had never encountered real demons, perhaps not even real evil before...

“We're your worst nightmare, little filly.” Bones said with cruel entertainment, and then he licked his teeth slowly, grinning after a moment. “You can have the stallion. I want her.”

Scales snorted at this, looking irritably over at Bones as Twilight whimpered and crawled backwards. But then she gritted her teeth, and La Croix was surprised as her horn started to glow, before she unleashed a blast of purple light straight at the scaled behemoth's head.

The ray of magical energy smashed into his cheek and knocked his head to the side as his eyes bulged... but it did little else, leaving only a faint bruise. Scales' expression of surprise slowly morphed into a furious snarl as he dug his claws into the floor, and Twilight's eyes widened in horror before she screamed when the demon turned suddenly towards her and leapt forwards, lashing a claw out.

On instinct, her horn glowed and created a shield of magical energy, and this was likely the only thing that saved her life: the demon's claw still smashed through it like it was made of glass, but it was deflected off to the side and slowed enough that it only ripped a few deep, savage tears through her leg, the violet mare crying out in agony and immediately trying to drag herself away. Bones, meanwhile, was only cackling even as Scales swore under his breath and stomped after the princess, angrily reaching after her as he spat: “You stupid little-”

A glass jar smashed into the side of the monster's head, making him flinch before he slowly turned his attention to La Croix, who trembled even as he forced himself to glare up at the monster. “Hey! You two best pick on someone closer to your own size, y'hear?”

“I guess that's you, little Loa. You must have a death wish.” growled Scales, and Bones snorted in amusement as the two demons focused on La Croix. Twilight whimpered, starting to drag herself slowly away, but without looking at her the reptilian demon added distastefully: “Now, don't you go too far, little girl. we'll get back to dealing with you in just a second. The stripehorse just doesn't seem to want to wait his turn to get sent back home, that's all.”

La Croix looked back and forth, gritting his teeth, trying to size up his situation. He knew they were powerful demons, but neither of them seemed too bright; their minions were still hiding in the background, and La Croix guessed that they were too scared to do anything. They were both aggressive, although Scales was angrier about it, and Bones just seemed to be taking great pleasure in watching Scales torment them... but then again, Scales had also been the one he'd been provoking. For all he knew, Bones could be the angrier of the two.

No, he couldn't start making wild guesses, he had to focus, he had to treat them like he'd treat any other pair of suckers that were bigger and brawnier than him! And since that had always been just about everyone, and La Croix had experience dealing with demons from his time as Helheim's ambassador...

“Well, at least the bigger, nastier one's gonna kill me. The other Loa gonna respect that, a big ol' first-class demon lord punchin' my ticket instead of the scrawny little soldier demon of his.” La Croix muttered loudly, even as he turned his head to make it seem like he was talking to himself.

Scales grinned at this, and Bones frowned a little before he suddenly glared over at the zebra, snapping: “Hey, wait a minute! What the hell did you just say?”

“The stripehorse knows who's better, that's all.” Scales said easily, tossing a nasty grin over at Bones. Then he turned his eyes back to La Croix, adding: “Although you know that flattery won't save your life.”

“He's mine then, not yours!” snapped Bones, stepping aggressively towards the other demon, and Scales' eyes flicked towards him darkly, the two glaring at each other for a few moments before the malformed, muscly demon said coldly: “And don't you forget which one of us is stronger. I was part of Hel's army! What were you?”

“Someone who never bowed his head to the rank and file to try and weasel his way out of punishment!” retorted Scales, and then he added nastily: “But I guess that I've never known what it must be like to be so small and weak.”

Bones snarled at this, rounding more towards Scales and growling: “You better watch what you say, or the first piece of meat I kill in this world is going to be you.”

Scales turned back towards Bones with a dark look in his eyes, and the moment La Croix was sure the two were distracted, he carefully slipped away towards Twilight Sparkle, who was whimpering and grasping at her leg, slowly going pale... from shock or blood loss, La Croix wasn't sure which.

He reached into his cape, fumbling through his various pockets before pulling out a small vial of glowing white potion, the stallion hesitating only a moment before he uncorked it. Then he almost roughly forced her head back and poured its contents into her trembling jaws, muttering: “Here. Drink this, then just get yourself out of here. Damn ouaouarons don't do nothing but get in the way, don't need you hopping into the middle of this and screwing things up.”

Twilight shivered, then gasped and grasped at her leg, looking down in amazement as the wound healed. Some of the color returned to her features, and she looked almost desperately up at La Croix before shaking her head violently, whispering: “There must be something I can do... you can't-”

“I can't, but I got to... you wouldn't understand!” La Croix growled, shaking her roughly once before he grimaced and looked back over his shoulder at the two arguing demons. “Get the hell out of here, while you still have a chance, get the other princesses or something and block off this place... just get! You leave this to me, y'hear?”

The violet mare winced a little at his forcefulness, but then she nodded uncomfortably, and La Croix grunted and half-shoved her on her way before he turned his eyes uneasily back to the two demons. They were still arguing, but he doubted it would be for long... and instead of waiting for one of them to either notice Twilight slipping away or realize what was going on, the zebra decided to make sure the two of them would have their claws plenty busy.

La Croix took a quick breath, then scuttled past Scales and Bones and straight towards the group of servant demons. These slaves growled and shifted when La Croix approached, and the zebra winced slightly, but refused to let them intimidate him: from their ratty armor and their emaciated, tortured bodies, he had a feeling they were a lot more bark than bite.

They were freakish-looking, like zombies but... fresher, with more claws, more skin, and a little less stink to them... but only a little. La Croix scowled a little as he looked over them, then he glanced over his shoulder, asking in a voice he tried to make halfway between insulting and naïve: “So which one of y'all felt he needed to bring reinforcements?”

Bones and Scales both looked towards the zebra, and then the smaller, deformed pony demon pointed immediately at the draconian monster, exclaiming with all the fervor of a small child: “Him! He did, he was afraid!”

“I was not.” Scales growled low in his throat in response, glaring down at Bones. “They're your soldiers... you're the one who has to surround himself with all these petty pawns. You act less like a proper wrath demon and more like a fearful little devil of sloth, too lazy to do anything yourself and always delegating all your work to these little toys.”

Bones glared up at Scales in response to this, then retorted icily: “Because unlike you, I don't need to waste my time killing little weaklings just to feel strong! That doesn't change the fact that if I wanted to, I could easily rip even a sad excuse for a demon like you into pieces!”

Scales bared his fangs dangerously, but then La Croix waved a hoof wildly to get the attention of the powerful demons before he turned back to the servants, poking at the closest demonic soldier absently. “So both of you are saying that these are the guys who do all the work, right?”

The lesser demon in front of La Croix growled angrily, but made no move to attack: the zebra was only thankful that the monsters apparently didn't dare to so much as breathe without their master's order. Scales and Bones, meanwhile, both glared furiously at the stallion as he only sat and did his best to look as innocent as possible.

And finally, Bones began to stride forwards, growling: “How about I show you just how unnecessary those little toys are, stripehorse?”

“Hey! I... I said hey!” La Croix yelped, ducking between the dozen or so minor demons, who growled and snarled... but as angry as they sounded, they looked less like they were trembling with rage and more like they were shivering in fear of Bones. “Hey, wait, can't we just talk about this?”

“Get out of my way!” Bones snapped as he slapped a minor demon aside like a toy. The other servants scattered like rats, but La Croix charged hurriedly after a trio of them, making like he was trying to hide in their wake.

Bones glared irritably after La Croix at this, then he said moodily: “Stop running away from me or I'll draw this out, stripehorse. And you really don't want me to draw this out. This is not a game.”

“Well, could we maybe make it one? Checkers be a lot more my speed and all!” La Croix almost begged as he ducked around the demons... and Bones simply plowed right through the pawns, trampling one and knocking the others aside, La Croix yelping and just managing to duck away when Bones grabbed at him.

“Stay still, stripehorse! And all of you, worthless scum, stop running around and grab him!” snarled Bones... but then he stopped and glared over his shoulder when Scales laughed loudly at him, even as the minor demons eagerly swarmed after La Croix.

“Look, you're proving everything I said about you, so weak and pathetic you can't even handle the little meatbag without help.” Scales chuckled, then he easily plucked up a demonic soldier as it ran by, the minor demon squealing until Scales calmly rose him to his mouth and bit off his head with a resounding crunch, chewing slowly with a cruel grin before he said through his mouthful of skull and broken helm: “While I clearly don't need them at all.”

The powerful demon dropped the pawn's body, and Bones trembled in fury, then glared over his shoulder when a demonic servant approached and dropped his head, rasping and gesturing eagerly over his shoulder at where his fellows had caught and pinned La Croix: “We captured him, sire, we-”

Bones stepped forwards and savagely stomped on the demon, crunching his body into the ground with two floor-shattering blows. The soldier was left as nothing but a bloody, broken smear, weakly gurgling from where he'd been mashed into the cement before the musclebare monster roared: “Don't interfere! In fact, get out of here, you're nothing but a waste of time and effort! Inform the rest of the army and wait for me to open a larger portal!”

“Because of course you can do that on your own.” Scales sneered, and one of Bones' eyes twitched before he whirled around, but the reptilian demon only smiled, completely unperturbed before he said calmly to the uneasy-looking servants: “The only reason you cannon fodder were brought here was to test the portal's stability. Go back through it and wait for one of us to open the portal. I'm sure the more capable one between us will.”

Bones snarled in fury at this, and then his eyes blazed with rage as he turned around and watched the minor demons uneasily shift again before obeying... and to the malformed pony-monster, it looked like they were obeying Scales more than they were him. He hissed over his shoulder at the massive reptile, but Scales only smiled mockingly back at him as their servants filed out, before Bones turned his eyes back towards La Croix and spat: “I've decided I'm not going to kill you, stripehorse. I'm going to make you my personal torture dummy.”

“Yeah, sure, blame the victim.” La Croix mumbled as he awkwardly pushed himself to his hooves, and then he grinned weakly, his legs trembling beneath him, his eyes locked on the two demons that he somehow had to fight... and yet he knew that just staying alive was going to take every trick in his repertoire.

Bones growled at him and rose his head high, as Scales laughed loudly, and La Croix quaked in fear. He had gotten rid of their little army of goons, and he could hear the portal groaning as the demons passed back through it... but those little minor demons were like passing sand through a mine tunnel. Maybe if he somehow tricked one of these goliaths into running back home, he could shatter the portal... but...

No. That would just make his problems worse. The moment these demons had stepped into this world, they had learned where it sat in the universe, so to speak. If he tricked one into going back to Helheim somehow, it would just build a new portal anchored in Helheim... and if a portal was built from there to here, La Croix would never be able to destroy it.

He knew what he had to do, even if the thought made him shiver harder: he had to somehow... kill them both. And even if he was a death spirit, he wasn't much of a killer. He left that sort of thing up to other people... oh, sure, he was fine with curses and hexes, with making people pay their dues, with a little torment here, a little agony there, but... but killing people? Sure, he'd talked a big game this whole time, he'd sworn up and down he'd be ruthless, he'd just kill that Twilight Sparkle if she did wrong, but... not even he could deny how relieved he'd been when he hadn't had to.

He was a Loa. Tried and true, he was a Loa at the end of the day, and not in the screwed-up sense he had made the word mean, with all the bastardizations he had taught the zebras who had moved away from their homeland, with all the misconceptions and misnomers he had gladly helped foster to give Bondye more of an edge and to fascinate and terrify the uninitiated all the more. No matter how many layers of paint he'd applied to himself, no matter how many sets of clothes he'd thrown on, no matter what you gave him – or more importantly, what you took away – at the end of the day he was a Loa who had been first created to serve He Above, not... not this... sideshow-freak couillon!

La Croix bared his teeth, dredging up all his pride and determination as he shouted suddenly, Bones and Scales both looking at him with surprise: “You know what? I ain't scared of either of you, so y'all go ahead and do your worst! Y'all ain't nothing but sissy little crapauds! Y'ain't nothing but pond scum! All y'are is dirt, and... and I ain't scared of you in the slightest, you... you dirt!”

Both demons stared at him with disbelief, and then Bones snarled in fury, his eyes blazing with rage before he roared and charged blindly straight for La Croix. The zebra flinched at this, but then reacted almost on instinct, knowing he had only one wild, stupid chance.

Bones leapt at him, and La Croix yanked off his hat, catching it under one foreleg before making a scooping motion with it just as Bones was about to collide with him. And in a blink, Bones was pulled into the depths of La Croix's hat before he was even aware of what was going on, Scales gaping in shock as the other demon seemed to simply vanish into thin air.

The zebra gritted his teeth as he stumbled backwards, then he steadied himself and quickly spun his hat around as he felt it almost vibrating in his hooves from the force of the creature he had just snared in it. He knew he didn't have much time and this probably wasn't going to do much more than piss the demons off further, but well... “And now, I gonna pull a lapin out of my chapeau!

Scales snarled, beginning to lean forwards, but La Croix only grinned and punched his other hoof into the top of his hat. And with a tremendous bang and a burst of broken glass, ribbons, and torn balloon skin, Bones was shot out of the hat as if from a cannon, hurtling across the room to smash face-first into the reptilian demon's head.

They were both knocked crashing backwards, and La Croix gritted his teeth before he hurriedly tossed his hat down in front of himself and dug wildly in the half-crushed headcover, knowing that he'd likely turned half his supplies into wreckage with that little trick, but counting on the shock he had just given the two demons to be worth it.

Scales and Bones swore and clawed at each other like animals before they both looked furiously up at La Croix and clawed up to their hooves. La Croix, however, had already yanked a piece of chalk out of his hat and scrawled a large circle over the ground, which he was hurriedly filling in with lines and runes as Bones shouted furiously: “You're dead, stripehorse!”

“He's worse than dead.” growled Scales, and then the two demons shoved themselves apart before they both ran quickly forwards. La Croix looked up with a wince at this, swearing under his breath before he leapt sharply backwards out of the circle, just as Bones dove at him-

The demon's whole body convulsed as he passed over the circle, and he crashed face-first to the ground with a gasp, Scales skidding to a halt before the demonic pony looked up with fury burning in his eyes. And La Croix grinned widely as he stepped backwards, growling: “Y'all best not be forgetting I got my own tricks and traps. You demons ain't too smart.”

Scales only growled, then stepped forwards and slammed a punch down into the edge of the chalk circle, shattering the floorboards and destroying the runic trap. That didn't help Bones, however, who twitched weakly as he slowly forced himself up to his hooves before hissing: “I won't let your sissy little magic hurt me...”

“Seems like it already has, filly de putain.” La Croix retorted, and Bones bared his crooked fangs at him as La Croix flicked his hat back on his head, looking darkly back at the malformed demon. The trick had apparently had less of an effect than he'd hoped, but he was still glad he'd picked it up during one of his visits to Helheim: it would inhibit the demon's strength for a few minutes, balancing the odds a little bit more for La Croix.

But to the zebra's surprise, Bones didn't take even a moment to recover: instead, he broke into a sloppy charge, stumbling and staggering his way directly towards the Loa, his eyes glowing with berserk rage. La Croix staggered backwards with a wince, swearing under his breath before he grabbed wildly at his cape-

Bones smashed him across the face with one claw, sending La Croix crashing and rolling painfully across the floor. On instinct more than anything else, he barely managed to catch his hat in one hoof before scrambling backwards as Bones turned towards him with a snarl.

La Croix trembled, bleeding from a ripped lip and a torn-open cheek. His eyes watered, his body quaked, his resolve threatened to crumble away as Bones went into another stagger-run with a snarl of fury...

And then the pony-demon staggered to a halt as Scales growled: “Either kill him or give me a turn! It's no wonder he's making a fool out of a weakling like you, with all this wasting time!”

“I am not wasting time!” roared Bones, glaring over at Scales, and La Croix quickly took the chance to reach into his hat, feeling around with a trembling hoof for something with a little more kick before he cursed and grabbed at his cloak. He could feel Scales' eyes on him, the reptilian demon sizing him up even as Bones continued to shout angrily at his fellow: “He insulted me, tricked me... the portal was my idea! When have you ever had an idea of your own? The only reason I put up with you is-”

A bottle flew through the air and smashed into the malformed demon's face, Bones staggering to the side before he screamed in agony and clutched at his features as they began to melt like wax, and Scales and La Croix both looked to the side in surprise to see Zecora was now calmly standing in the open doors. Luna and Celestia stood on either side of her, the princesses both looking coldly out at the demons before the zebra mare said quietly: “These foes are far beyond your magical might. And if that portal remains open, more will come to fight.”

“Luna, we have to destroy that portal. Keep to the air and out of the reach of the monsters... Zecora, I hope you know what you're doing.” Celestia said grimly, and then she and her sister both leapt upwards, spreading their wings and taking flight.

Bones looked up with an insulted roar, spittle and blood flying from his jaws, but Scales only grinned coldly before he leaned upwards and breathed out an intense blast of crimson hellfire, Luna and Celestia swerving in either direction with looks of shock.

The sapphire mare crashed painfully into the wall, flapping her wings wildly to try and keep airborne, while Celestia gritted her teeth and lashed her horn down, firing a blast of golden magic at Scales... but it had all the effect of a ball of paper, Scales not even flinching as the magic bounced off his armory hide, the demon grinning wider before responding with an almost-playful blast of hellfire.

Celestia barely managed to swerve out of the way, the flames searing her flowing tail and the back of one leg. Scales laughed loudly at this... and then he flinched slightly when a jar smashed into his face before he slowly turned his eyes towards La Croix, who trembled violently but shouted: “Hey! Y'all gotta finish your dinner before you get started on the praline!

Scales narrowed his eyes, while Bones picked himself slowly up and hissed: “You can have him. I'm going to kill the stripehorse bitch.”

Zecora only calmly rose a hoof and beckoned to Bones, and the demon snarled before charging straight at her, nothing but anger and hatred. Zecora waited until the last moment before she dodged to the side, reaching back at the same time to yank a flask out of her sidepack before flinging it sharply at not the demon, but the floor in front of her.

It shattered in a great splash that the mare leapt away from, but Bones stomped right into the mess as he whirled towards her. He didn't seem to notice either the goo or the broken glass as he opened his jaws... and then he blinked and looked down in surprise as his front claws refused to move, the sticky goop leaving him cemented to the ground.

He snarled furiously, yanking back and forth and making the floor creak and groan, but Zecora had already poured the little goofer dust that she had left into one hoof, muttering quietly as the black sand seemed almost to ripple with its own malevolent life. Bones glared at her with hatred through his half-melted features, gradually yanking one claw up little by little as he leaned towards her, threatening: “When I get my claws on you, I'm going to-”

Zecora calmly rose her hoof-full of goofer dust as her incantation came to an end, and then she blew sharply on it, sending the dark cloud washing over the deformed demon's head. The dust seemed to become a clinging, black mist as it passed over the demon, who flinched in surprise... then screamed in agony, the sound loud enough to draw Scales' attention before his eyes widened as he saw Bones burst into flames, the draconic demon halting with one claw raised high.

Bones yanked himself back and forth, howling in misery as he burned, long, sprawling tracks of decay spreading through his flesh as Zecora only grimaced and reached back into her satchel. But before she could grab anything, Bones ripped his claws free in a hail of splinters and hardened slime.

His rage had been lost in agony, however, the demon staggering drunkenly away as he screamed and clutched at his head, and Scales snarled before leaning towards Zecora and breathing out a blast of hellfire. The mare was barely able to dive out of the way, hitting the ground painfully on her side with a rattle of potions before she yanked one loose and flung it at the draconian demon.

Scales irritably rose one brawny forelimb, the flask shattering against this and covering his limb with a reeking green liquid... but even as it steamed violently and dark splotches spread through his scales, the demon only absently shook off his forelimb, ignoring what little pain the acid caused him as he growled: “Stupid little girl.”

He began to inhale as Zecora scrambled to get up... and then a flask shattered against his cheek and splattered him with what looked like water. His features began to all-but-smoke at contact with it, however, the reptilian demon gasping in pain before turning a snarl towards La Croix, the Loa shouting: “Yeah! Don't need to break into no temples to get holy water when you a spirit, you know!”

Scales leaned towards him, roaring out a blast of flames, and La Croix winced as he staggered to the side even as he reached into his hat, yanking out an object and flinging it with a flick of his wrist.

The packed cloth ball shot through the air and into the demon's mouth, vanishing into the crimson flames. But a split second later, there was a tremendous explosion, Scales' head snapping backwards as he belched smoke and ashes, his eyes bulging in disbelief as he nearly fell backwards.

As Scales scrambled to catch himself, La Croix yelled wildly and dug into his hat, seeing this one possible chance to actually bring down this goliath of a wrath demon: there was no real strategy, no real thought to what he did as he scooped jar after flask after vial out of his hat and flung all of them in a frenzy towards the monster.

They shattered, some exploding, some splashing, some only bouncing uselessly off the demon as he pinwheeled his forelimbs for balance, the draconic monster snarling in frustration and pain before he tried to shift his stance... and slipped in one of the potions that had shattered by his feet, crashing down onto his back with a tremendous bang that shook the entire room.

La Croix grinned... then looked up with a disbelieving laugh as he felt the magic around the portal ring intensify for a moment before the wooden frame shattered. He heard screams, felt the burst of raw energy as electricity blasted in all directions from the thrumming whirl of light that remained twisting through the air for a moment... and then there was a final, tremendous boom that sent a shockwave ripping through the room, knocking papers free from the wall and throwing the princesses like rag dolls through the air.

They both crashed painfully to the ground as La Croix gritted his teeth, covering his head as his hat flew away and his cape was blown loose. He swore under his breath as Bones desperately looked back and forth... but the pony-demon had been blinded, most of the skin and flesh burned away from his features as he shrieked: “What happened? Don't abandon me here!”

Scales only snarled, then slowly crawled up to his claws before he glared furiously at Bones as the demon staggered towards him, whimpering and asking desperately, all traces of his former pride lost: “Are you there? Where are you? Why did you do this to me?”

“You're the one who kept charging straight at them!” Scales snarled, and then his eyes flashed before the demon growled: “You're worthless to me like this.”

The malformed pony turned his head weakly in the direction of Scales... and then La Croix and Zecora both flinched away, watching with horror as Scales leaned over and roared out a blast of hellfire that washed over Bones. The injured demon shrieked in agony as he staggered away, shaking his head wildly back and forth in denial... but it was only moments before he collapsed backwards in a heap of charred, smoking flesh as the stream of flames ended, gurgling once... then falling still.

Scales coughed a few times, then spat to the side before he snarled and rounded on La Croix, who stared up at the reptilian demon with horror. But Scales only sneered back at him before he said coldly: “Now that I've taken care of that dead weight, it's time to deal with you.”

La Croix staggered backwards, swallowing thickly, and Zecora cursed before she flung a satchel off to dig hurriedly through it. Scales' eyes flicked in her direction, but then he only smiled derisively before leaning towards her and spitting out a short burst of flames.

Zecora's eyes widened, and she leapt backwards with a snarl, barely managing to yank something free from her satchel before the fireball collided with it. Short-lived but greedy hellfire ripped across the cloth bag, several potions exploding in their jars with loud pops and making Zecora stagger further.

Cher!” La Croix cried out, turning towards her... and Scales leapt at him with surprising speed, slapping a claw out and knocking the stallion hurtling bonelessly through the air towards the wall. But instead of striking the solid brick, he instead hit a cushion of magic, the zebra's eyes widening before he shakily fell to his hooves, barely managing to catch himself as Princess Celestia landed beside him.

“Shining Armor has this area cordoned off. Let's get out of here: he and his soldiers can deal with this monster better than we can.” Princess Celestia said quietly.

Scales only grinned widely at this, however, then he leapt forwards before La Croix could respond: immediately, Celestia created a barrier with a grimace, but then her eyes widened in shock as the demon's claws smashed into it with enough strength to crack her magic, the princess' legs threatening to buckle beneath her from the recoil she felt rip through her body.

A blast of blue light hit the demon in the back, but it only bounced harmlessly off, and Luna swore under her breath as she flew in to try and hammer a kick against the creature. But Scales only half-spun and lashed a claw out, just managing to catch the mare with the back of his limb and send her flying across the room to smash into the wall, Celestia crying out but unable to do anything to help with the demon exerting so much force against the barrier she was struggling to maintain.

La Croix snarled... and then he looked up in surprise as he saw Zecora had withdrawn to the doors. She was sprinkling a line of some kind of powder, and when she saw him looking, she shouted: “Get everyone here, now!”

Scales snorted at the zebra as he almost idly dropped his other claw against the barrier, pushing down on it and making the magic creak like wood as he said callously: “Look at the little coward, trying to hide. But all you're doing is delaying the inevitable.”

“So she doesn't have to rhyme all the time?” Celestia mumbled almost moodily, and La Croix winced as he looked up at her and saw the strain on her features, the speckle of blood dripping down from one of her ears.

“Only when she really wants to make a point. Madame, you ain't looking so good... you better leave the rest of this to me.” La Croix said evenly... and he was surprised by how steady his voice was. He sure as hell didn't feel as brave or as ready or anything as he sounded...

Celestia looked down at him... and then she gasped when Scales pounded mockingly on the barrier of light, the demon laughing loudly as he said mockingly: “What are you going to do, little stripehorse? All your kind is fodder to me! You couldn't even handle Rawhide by yourself, and he was nothing but an ugly little pony!”

La Croix only reached up and calmly took off his cape, the zebra looking silently down at this material that had once meant so much to him before he gritted his teeth and snapped: “I'm gonna do what I always done! Cheat!”

The zebra flung his cape up at Scales, and the demon's eyes widened in surprise as it passed through the magic barrier and whapped into his face, clinging to his features like webbing. The demon snarled in irritation as he began to lean down, breathing out a burst of flames to incinerate both the cloth and the magic barrier... and the flash packets stuffed in the cape's pockets all went off as one at the intense burst of heat, Scales howling in misery as he reared back and clutched at his blinded eyes.

The loud bang startled Celestia into action, the mare dropping the barrier and hesitating only a moment before making a dash for the entrance, and Luna shot by a second later from where she had been thrown, following in her sister's wake. La Croix, however, remained behind, scrambling beneath Scales... and then slamming both rear hooves as viciously as he could up into the demon's crotch.

Scales gave a hurk of pain, his eyes bulging before he dropped forwards, and then he roared in fury, stomping and punching violently at the floor around him, nearly temper-tantruming as he tried to crush the zebra. La Croix had long sprinted away, however, and now he was doing his best to stay behind the demon and out of sight, dancing back and forth as Scales looked wildly around and tried to blink away his blindness, hissing: “I'm going to eat you alive, stripehorse!”

Celestia and Luna both leapt over the line of what looked like flower petals and some kind of powdered herbs Zecora had created at the entrance. Purifiers, or a ward, or... something to keep the demon away from them, Celestia guessed. And then the princess glanced in surprise over at Luna as her younger sibling asked sharply: “What is the plan, now that we have regrouped? How do we help this strange zebra?”

Celestia opened her mouth... then frowned as she saw Zecora had thrown off her other satchel and was putting the finishing touches on what looked like... a little doll. A doll shaped like a zebra, with what looked like real hair sewn into it...

“Don't stare at me, don't distract me now. If you want to help, shield us all, that's how.” Zecora snapped, not looking up from her craft, and Celestia hesitated only a moment before nodding briefly and looking over at Luna, who frowned worriedly up at her sister.

“La Croix won't be able to hide forever, and that demon's armor is too thick for us to hurt him. But maybe we can help slow him down.” Celestia explained calmly to Luna, smiling at her briefly. “I'll do my best to shield us and La Croix from harm. But you can create illusions and confuse the monster.”

“I'll do what I can, sister. He's a fool, though... what can he hope to do against that beast?” Luna muttered, even as her horn started to glow brightly.

But Celestia only smiled faintly... then narrowed her eyes slightly, forcing her woozy mind to lock back on what was happening right in front of them as several zebras resembling La Croix appeared around the demon. They weren't exact replicas, fuzzy around the edges, a little different looking than him... and yet all the same, Scales grinned before lunging forwards at the one directly in front of him, slamming his claw down through it with a roar of victory.

His triumph turned to confusion as he smashed only the floor, looking back and forth dumbly and spotting the other illusions dancing around him... and then he snarled and yanked his claw back, slowly putting together what had happened in his mind. But his eyes ached, and he couldn't smell the zebra out: his nose and mouth had been badly scorched by the Loa's nasty little explosive trick.

He looked back and forth... then suddenly spun around, sweeping his thick tail and one large claw out and just managing to clip the real zebra amidst the illusions, knocking him sprawling backwards. Scales immediately leapt forwards, grinning viciously... but then he snarled in frustration when his fist slammed down into a golden barrier instead of the stallion, giving La Croix the chance to scramble away as Scales looked up with frustration at the ponies. “Stop playing around!”

He leaned forwards, beginning to breathe out hellfire... and then he coughed violently instead, clutching at his throat for a moment as it flared with pain. Then Scales swore furiously as something smashed into the back of one of his hind legs, knocking him painfully to a kneel.

The draconic demon spun around, distracted again, and La Croix squeaked but skittered hurriedly away, leading the monster on a scramble through the room. Celestia grimaced, and Luna cursed under her breath as she muttered: “My illusions do no good if the idiot keeps attracting his attention like that...”

La Croix, however, had other plans as he rushed towards his hat, making a wild dive for it as the huge demon charged after him... and then the stallion gasped in pain as he was swatted out of the air and sent across the room to crash in a heap. He trembled as he lay prone, blood running from several enormous slashes torn through his side, and Scales snorted in disgust before smiling contemptibly down at La Croix's hat.

He reached down, picking it up before grasping into the top of the headgear and simply ripping. And with a horrible, almost-alive shriek of the material, the hat all-but-exploded as the few things that had remained inside it were ejected and it was left as nothing but a broken husk.

Scales chuckled and looked over at the trio gathered behind the doorway... and then he grinned coldly, mocking: “Oh, look at that! The mare has a little pony doll. What, you gonna use your voodoo to put him out of his misery?”

Zecora looked calmly up as she affixed a tag to the doll's back with a needle, and then she smiled thinly before raising the zebra doll in front of her face, murmuring softly: “You fail to understand the true purpose of this doll... it is not a weapon to harm, but a tool to sound a blessing's call...”

La Croix looked wearily up as the demon laughed loudly, and then he turned towards La Croix, saying coldly: “That little fleshbag is going to need a lot more than a prayer. Especially once I rip his head off.”

The demon began to step forwards... and then blinked in surprise as golden bonds of light appeared around his forelimbs before they were yanked viciously backwards, sending him crashing to the ground. He snarled in fury, but then blue ropes crisscrossed themselves rapidly over the demon, Luna and Celestia both putting all their effort into the magic as the ivory mare said sharply: “We can't hold this for long! Get La Croix, and we'll escape!”

Zecora only smiled faintly and shook her head slowly, holding up the voodoo doll in front of herself before she silently kissed the end of its muzzle, and La Croix trembled before he forced his head to rise, stared across the room at the priestess. And even though she was gazing directly into the doll's button eyes, even though it was this seemingly-innocuous toy she whispered to in the old language, he felt like her eyes were looking into his soul and her words were the only thing in the entire room he could hear. She was all that mattered, no matter how the princesses and the demon struggled, no matter how near to death he seemed to be...

In the name of the Cycle, a spirit was punished; he was not punished fairly. In the name of the Balance, a Loa was brought to ruin; all the same, he serves your Purpose, oh great One Above. I ask that you restore his strength, so that he can return to us: I give freely the gifts you granted me, my ancestors, to mend what is broken in him-

“No! No, stop it, stop it, cher! Don't do it!” La Croix shouted, throwing himself to his hooves, and even Scales looked up in surprise as the zebra stallion staggered hurriedly towards the doorway, gasping and shaking his head violently. “Don't you dare! Don't you dare!”

Take my privilege: return his birthright.” Zecora looked slowly up from the doll as it began to glow with a strange, eerie aura, drawing effervescent energies out of the priestess' body, and he watched with horror as her hide lost its luster, as age began to crease her features, as she began to slump to the ground... and yet still, she clutched the doll, still, she managed to whisper weakly: “Everything that rises... must one day fall. All is in balance, and the balance is all.”

She slumped down, and the doll fell from her hooves before it burst into green flames. The fire rapidly consumed it, and yet continued to burn as La Croix shook his head weakly... and then he clenched his eyes shut and flinched away as the eldritch fires burst upwards, streaking through the air and slamming into him.

Emerald fire rushed over his body, but it didn't hurt: what hurt was the thought that Zecora had given up her blessings, her youth, her... everything for him. His body quaked, even as he looked up with a gasp as his wounds healed, and he felt power flooding through his veins... and yet, instead of wanting to celebrate, he wanted to cry. He wanted to despair. And he both loved and hated Zecora for what she had just done.

But then his eyes were drawn over his shoulder as Scales suddenly lunged upwards, snapping the magical bindings over his body and sending both princesses staggering with gasps of pain and surprise. The demon reared up, looking coldly down at the Loa... but La Croix only looked fearlessly back. It wasn't because his strength had returned, oh no: a demon like this could still rip him into pieces if he wasn't careful. But it was so hard to care about anything right now when Zecora was... was...

“Oh, look at that. You got a little bit of your magic back, huh?” jeered Scales, and La Croix slowly turned towards the demon as the draconian beast leaned down over him, adding mockingly: “But you still look like you're all flesh and bones. Maybe I should give you a little help with that and rip the spirit out of your pesky little body... after all, looks like your friend over there went on to the spirit world without you.”

Tasse-toi.” La Croix growled, and then he glanced to the side before adding coldly: “Besides. You got your own dead friends to worry about.”

Scales only laughed loudly at this, glancing with a dark grin over towards the corpse of Bones... but then his eyes widened in shock as La Croix simply made a short rising gesture, and a phantasmal figure slowly wrenched itself out of the corpse, the demon leaning back in shock as the ethereal shade slowly turned a furious snarl towards his former partner. “W-What, but... but I-”

“We Loa ain't just messengers, see. Sometimes, we be delivery boys, since I know I gotta keep the terms simple for someone like you.” La Croix said calmly, looking coldly up at Scales before he made another short gesture with one hoof: he kept the motion easy, swallowed the trembles in his body, made it look so simple when, in reality, it hurt like hell to try and focus his powers.

But all the same, his powers were clearly working, specters slowly crawling up to their hooves out of the corpses of the fallen minor demons. Scales looked back and forth in shock as these ghosts surrounded him, staring at him with their lifeless, hateful eyes as La Croix said coldly: “See, sometimes our bosses want to speak to the recently done dead. And so long as we get there before all the energy's left their bodies, no matter what they are, we can bring that energy to life. That's what we call a ghost. And often, they not too happy about bein' woken up... but they also often even more mad about bein' made dead in the first place.”

Scales looked back and forth... then snarled when the specter of Bones floated towards him, the draconic demon swiping a claw out. It passed through the spirit uselessly, and Scales began to snarl, turning his eyes towards La Croix... and then the reptilian demon roared in shock when Bones pounced on him and bit savagely into his neck, eyes widening as the color began to drain from his body.

La Croix hurriedly backpedaled, shouting: “And I ain't the one to stand in the way of a little bayou justice, especially when it be for a cocodril like you!”

“Stupid Loa!” Scales uselessly shook himself back and forth, attempting to dislodge the spirits draining the life out of him before the monster snarled and leapt towards La Croix. But La Croix leapt smoothly backwards before he grinned darkly when Scales made a wild grab at him, leaping straight up into the air... and then staying there, floating eerily at head level with the demon as Scales gaped in shock.

Then La Croix kicked both rear hooves out into the monster's face as hard as he could... and even if he wasn't nearly as powerful as your average demon, he was also a hell of a lot stronger now than your average zebra. The kick knocked Scales' head snapping back and the demon staggering with a gurgle, but it was clearly more than the blow that caused him to stumble lethargically: the feeding spirits were already starting to have their effect, even on a powerful demon like this.

La Croix dropped back down to the ground, then he winced and leapt backwards when Scales dove at him: a claw just narrowly caught him and smacked him onto his side, the Loa skidding painfully over the floor before Scales tried to dive on top of him with a roar... but La Croix immediately thrusted both hooves up at him, shouting: “Don't think so, souris!

A blast of green lightning hammered into the demon, who screamed in pain as the spirits were jarred loose from him before the enormous, draconic beast vanished in a burst of green smoke... and instead, a plump, hairless mouse fell out of the smog, squealing loudly as it fell before La Croix rolled backwards and slammed a hard kick into the rodent. It shrieked as it flew over his head... then suddenly crackled with emerald lightning before transforming back into a massive demon in midair, flipping drunkenly head-over-heels before crashing headfirst into the ground with a sickening crack.

La Croix gasped as he rolled onto his stomach, his body quaking with pain: his powers were back, oh yes, but he just didn't have enough energy to fully utilize them right now. He was going to have to rely on staying at a distance and letting his spirits do the work for him, since that failed polymorph attempt might have saved his life, but it also drained all the energy left in his batteries.

He began to crawl up to his hooves... then frowned as he felt... a tingle. A painful, dark tingle that made his stomach ache as he looked back and forth. Scales was slowly picking himself up, and yet that seemed almost unimportant as that poisonous energy filled the air... before La Croix screamed in agony as green lightning tore across his body and drove him to the ground.

The spirits he had been controlling burst apart one after the other in flashes of emerald light, and Scales looked up with a mix of lunatic triumph and desperation, roaring as he began to charge forwards, not caring what the source of La Croix's agony was... and then a gaping green vortex tore open in reality before a massive claw shot out of it, seizing the demon by the face. Scales squealed in terror and agony, grabbing uselessly at this as he kicked his legs desperately, trying to pull away... but then, with a single vicious yank, the demon was pulled into the portal with one final, whimpered denial.

There was silence for a few moments as Luna and Celestia both stared with horror and disbelief at this floating, evil green vortex, neither knowing what to do or say as La Croix shifted slowly on his stomach, then rolled over to look up at the vortex... and he trembled violently as he stared into it, felt that all-too-familiar maliciousness, and saw in the depths of the emerald spiral two terrible, glowing eyes staring down at him with hate and scorn and contempt.

“La Croix...” rasped Bondye's voice, and La Croix crawled desperately backwards, shaking his head and shivering as the god's huge claw slowly emerged through the portal. “You have defied the Cycle. You have failed in your mission. You have cheated in every way and betrayed your loyalties. And for this and more... you will die.”

La Croix trembled as he crawled backwards, shaking his head violently before the claw reached down... and tore into the ground next to the Loa. But it was little comfort, as he saw the shift and flex... and Bondye's enormous head pushed its way out of the portal, the god glaring furiously down at the stallion with nothing but hate and anger in his eyes.

There was no way out. La Croix trembled, paralyzed beneath the glare but not willing, not able to fight back, terror overwhelming everything else in his body. He clenched his eyes shut, only praying that his death would be quick... but then his eyes snapped back open as Bondye said coldly: “And I will devour that priestess as well, for interfering. As a warning to her petty god not to overstep his bounds.”

La Croix looked up, and something inside him overwhelmed the terror. Something cried out that even if he had to die, he also had to save Zecora. Something demanded that he do everything in his power to protect her... even if that meant resigning himself to a fate worse than death at even Bondye's cruel claws.

The stallion trembled, and then he looked up and whispered: “No.”