• Published 3rd May 2012
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The Powers of Harmony - CyborgSamurai



The Mane Six develop the powers of the Elements of Harmony and must use them to stop a new villain.

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Chapter 26: Siblings and Southerners

Chapter 26:

Siblings and Southerners

Beep... beep... beep... Tsssss...

Beep...beep... beep... Tsssss...

The sound came into focus as Pinkie awoke. She opened her eyes, and saw that she was lying in a bed inside an enormous dark room with a ceiling twenty-five feet high, made of a smooth, reflective metal. Colorful paintings of flowers and ocean cliffsides hung on the the walls, to her left was a thin, flowery curtain, and there was a door in the far corner. The air was warm and humid, and as Pinkie pushed back her bedsheets, she discovered there were several stickers attached to her chest and legs with wires clamped onto them. She followed the wires, and saw that they led to a machine at her bedside making loud beeps as it displayed a bunch of squiggly lines. A bellows was on the side on the device, which let out a loud hissing noise as it let out warm blasts of air.

Pinkie watched the device as her head cleared. She recognized it a hospital machine used to monitor heart rate, which at least told her where she was. How she'd gotten here, though, was less clear. She checked her memory, and whimpered as everything came flooding back. The big meany-pants Nightmare Moon taking over Rarity and not letting her go, the Not-Celestia capturing them all and then trying to kill Edith and Viggy, Princess Luna's message, the big flash of light, the wind, the voices in the dark...

Pinkie's eyes began to water. “I j-just wanted to help... I didn't t-think it'd be that bad.. oh, everypony, I'm so sorry...”

Shed not any tears, my dear Maalufunzi.”

Pinkie gasped at the voice, which had come from the other side of the curtain. She ripped it back, and was momentarily blinded by sunlight streaming in from an open window. There on a bed of her own was Zecora, whole and unharmed, smiling as she held a large piece of paper on her lap.

The surge of relief hit Pinkie like a wave. “Zecora...”

Zecora gestured for her to come over. “Things aren't nearly as bad as they could be.”

Pinkie tried to go to her, but got tangled up in the wires. She hastily pulled off the stickers, and as she did, the machine lost its reading and flatlined. Another, much louder beeping went off as a light turned on above the door, but Pinkie didn't pay notice. She jumped out of bed and hugged Zecora, her muffled sobs barely being heard above the din.

I should've listened!” Pinkie cried. “Rassy knew... he was just trying to keep us safe, and I—“

Shh.” Zecora’s neck rings clinked against the Necklace of Kindness as she gave Pinkie a reassuring nuzzle. “Place no blame upon yourself, for the four of us are in good health. Ones Rasuuqai and Vigil have been sent with us as well.”

Pinkie broke away. She looked around, but there was nopony else in the room. She was about to ask, but then remembered that ponies of opposite gender were always separated in a hospital.

Just Rassy and Viggy?” Pinkie asked. “What about the others?”

Zecora shook her head. “The fate of our friends remains unknown, though time will surely tell. It's doubtful Mtawandoto—er, Princess Luna, would place them in harm's way, so dry your tears and focus, for there’s much to do this day.”

Pinkie had only known Zecora for a few months, yet in that time, their student-teacher relationship had caused them to become close. She'd learned a lot in her time as an apprentice, not just about herbalism and anatomy, but about also about the world and life in general. Zecora was ten years older than Pinkie, and while that wasn't a huge amount, it still gave her an air of wisdom that she’d come to admire and respect.

Pinkie laughed weakly. I guess you're r—“

“For Hakumbele's sake!”

Pinkie abruptly turned at the noise. Standing at the door was a creature twice her size with two stubby horns coming out of its snout. Its thick, gray skin was like armor, and it stared at the two of them with wide, bright-green eyes.

Most surprising of all, though, was that the creature was wearing a nurse's scrub.

Whooooa!” Pinkie gawked at the newcomer. “Are you a Rhenoceren?!”

The Rhenoceren raised an eyebrow at her, then glanced over at the electrocardiogram. It pressed a switch by the door, and the loud beeping stopped. It then turned and addressed Zecora, speaking in a language that Pinkie correctly guessed was Zhevari.

“Apologies, Holy One. I knew she’d wake up the moment I stepped away. Shall I tell the Spirit Twin and Earth Pony they may visit now?”

“If you could,” Zecora replied in Zhevari. “Are the three mares who brought us in from the Mamardhi still here, as well?”

Pinkie broke into a huge grin as Zecora finished speaking. It seemed that her teacher's talents were more impressive than she realized, as the Zhevari words she'd spoken had rhymed, as well.

The Rhenoceren raised a hoof to its chin.“I believe they decided to get lunch here in the hospital. Do you or your Sacred Apprentice want anything while I'm down there to get them?”

“One moment, I'll ask.” Zecora looked at Pinkie and gestured to the Rhenoceren. “Nafula here's going to the cafeteria. By chance do you feel hungry, Pinka-mina?”

Pinkie cringed at the use of her full name, but allowed it for the sake of the rhyme, and also because her stomach gave an audible protest.

I guess so!” Pinkie said with a blush. “I'm still feeling a little queasy, though. I don't suppose they have anything light?”

Zecora patted her leg. “Some fufu for her, and some spinach stew for me, please.”

“Of course.” Nafula turned to leave, but then paused, looking back at Pinkie with curiosity.

“I never thought I’d get to meet a ‘mina’ in my lifetime. Could you please let her know that it’s an honor to meet her?”

Zecora's eyes twinkled. “I will, but she won’t understand why, as she’s unaware of what her birthname means in our tongue.”

Nafula gasped. “Pinka-mina is her birthname?! Such a thing can’t be coincidence! What are you going to do?”

Zecora bit her lip. “I don’t want to start a feud between her and her kin. I want to tell her, but I feel that she’ll find out another way, when the time is right.”

“I see,” Nafula said with a bow. “I wasn’t trying to counsel you, of course, I was merely curious. I'll notify your friends, then head down the cafeteria.”

“You've my thanks.”

Pinkie rolled her eyes as Nafula left. The only thing she'd understood from the exchange was her name, but that was enough to get the gist of what they were talking about. She'd always hated it, enough so that she'd considered legally changing it, but when her mother told her that Granny Pie was the one who'd named her, she'd decided to leave it be.

How come she wasn't rhyming like you?” Pinkie asked, gesturing at the retreating Rhenoceren.

Zecora laughed. “Not all Zhevrans make words align. Tis only Shamans that speak in rhyme.”

Pinkie giggled, then looked down at the piece of paper Zecora was holding. Nafula's presence had aroused Pinkie's suspicions, but they were confirmed when she saw the paper was a map of the Zhevra Flatlands.

Welcome home, by the way,” Pinkie said.

Zecora chuckled, and moved the map over to let Pinkie see. “Not quite home, for as you can see, Lyora, or 'Hidden Jewel,' still lies quite far to the east. Rohomji's where we currently reside, a Walowezi town on the southwestern side. Many leagues are there now between here and your land, and I expect the journey back will be anything but bland.”

“I always did want to come here,” Pinkie mused. She exhaled out her nose, recalling her geography lessons from school as she studied the map. “Though I never thought it’d be like this.”

The Zhevra Flatlands was a peaceful country directly south of Equestria. It was comprised of windy grasslands, humid wetlands, sparse forests, lush oases, and sandy beaches. It was separated into two parts—the Kistaardhi, which was filled with modern civilization and encircled the country like a ring, and the Mamardhi, a large, completely unsettled grassland that could only be traversed by four highways known as the Kupaaraba. These roads met together in the center of the country, where the capitol city Mkutahali resided beneath the sacred Mt. Mbinguni.

“'Wal-o-wez-i?” Pinkie stumbled over the strange word. “I’ve never heard of that race before.”

“The Walowezi aren't a race, they're a sect,” a familiar voice said. “The word means ‘Settlers,’ and it refers to the Zhevrans that chose to build towns and develop a civilization rather than live the primitive, nomadic lifestyle of the Ng’ombe.

Pinkie looked up, and saw a dark gray stallion at the door. His mane and tail were light blue with black streaks, and his cutie mark was a lantern exuding a bright yellow light. His eyes were a piercing violet, and as he put a hoof behind his head, Pinkie caught a glimpse of a long, thin scar running along the underside of his entire barrel.

“Hi, Pinkie,” the strange stallion said.

Pinkie's lips parted.“...Viggy?

Vigil facehooved. “I really wish you wouldn't call me that.”

“Would you rather she call you a sneaky-sneak?”

Ras walked in from behind him. He waved at Zecora before going over to Pinkie, turning to face Vigil with a knowing look in his eye.

Vigil's face reddened. “You literally just promised—”

“—that I wouldn't tell them who you are.” Ras' gaze flickered down to Vigil's barrel. “And I won't, because you're gonna do it. We're all in this together, and I wanna get this out of the way before we move on to more important matters.”

Vigil gritted his teeth. “Bastard...”

“Hey!” Pinkie admonished, looking between the two guards. “That's not a nice thing to say! Viggy, apologize!"

“Nah, it’s accurate,” Ras said with a lewd smirk. “You remember how I said Aquarius never stole from the same target twice?”

Pinkie shuffled. “Yeah...”

“That's not an easy thing to do for a cutpurse.” Ras leaned on the edge of Pinkie's bed. “Fortunately, Aquarius could remember just about everything about a pony down to even the most minute detail due to having a photographic memory. It's quite handy, and it's how I figured out Viggy here's hiding a tiny little detail that explains quite a few things, including why he's here. I couldn't tell before because he's had his Illusion spell on all this time, but the second I saw him with it off—“

“Ras,” Vigil had a pleading look in his eyes. “Please...”

“What're you so afraid of?” Ras pointed at Pinkie and Zecora. “You can trust them, and if you don't get this out in the open, I guarantee it's gonna cause problems down the road.”

“Anonymity's the only shield I have!” Vigil suddenly snarled. “You want talk about guarantees?! Here's one for you—if Cetus finds out who I am, I'm as good as dead!”

Vigil slammed the door shut with bang, rattling the doorframe and causing them all to jump. He paced back and forth like a caged animal, spitting out his words in a venomous voice.

“You want the truth? Here it is. I'm no one; nothing but a simple, boring Earth Pony. I've never seen war, I've never left Equestria before this, and the only reason I made it into the Royal Guard is because I'm too stubborn to know when to quit. Princess Celestia didn't want me to get involved in all this, she said that I was only going to be in the way or killed because of the powers at play, but I wanted to prove that I'm more than just a glorified magical adhesive.”

“Adhesive, you say?!” Zecora said with alarm. “Whatever would make you feel that way?!”

A dark laugh escaped Vigil's lips. “Perhaps that's a little more morbid than what I was shooting for. Let's say instead that I'm a part of a link that's keeping something from falling apart. Not like it grants me anything special, mind you. It just makes me a brightly-colored ant in a war of giants, and it's all I can do to avoid being stepped on.”

“What are you—“ Pinkie began.

“Hush,” Ras whispered. “Let Mr. Angsty talk.”

Vigil glared daggers at Ras. “You know, I almost laughed when you started telling me Aquarius' suzie-sob-story yesterday. You think he had it bad? Ha! Do you have any idea what it's like to watch somepony you care about from afar, knowing that they're in constant agony, but you can't do a damn thing about it? How do you think it feels to be so close to them, yet so far away at the same time? I deluded myself into thinking just being nearby was enough, that if nothing else, it was the gesture that really mattered, but it's not, and it doesn't! I couldn't do anything for him back then, can't do anything for him now, and I'm furious at myself for being so weak! I didn't want him to know I felt this way because it's not going to change his predicament in the slightest, but then you had to go and mess things up!”

“You're hiding behind excuses,” Ras said cooly. “I'll grant that you had a legitimate reason for concealing yourself before, but these two need to know now so they can help protect you.”

“I'm not some fragile Macguffin that needs to be coddled,” Vigil shot back. “And I wouldn't need protecting if you hadn't blown my cover in the first place!”

“Enough of your bickering, you thick-headed louts!” Zecora shouted. “Tell us what this is all about!”

The two guards stared at each other for several seconds. The tension in the room was palpable, but Ras finally won out. Vigil turned away with a growl, then closed his eyes and spoke with great reluctance.

“Twenty years ago, my parents, Lucky Star and Caraway, were recruited by Arch-Magus Zemblani to partake in the Zodiac Ritual under false pretense, to which you already know the result. While that was going on, Zemblani foalnapped both me and my brother Horizon, sedated us, then took us to Tartarus with the intention of using one of us as a catalyst to wedge open the Gates and free Nightmare Moon's army.”

Pinkie's jaw dropped. “You're Horizon's brother?!”

Vigil hung his head. “Yes.”

Ras snorted. “Just wait, it gets better.”

Vigil reared and leaned back against the wall, showing them all the faded, ropy scar on his barrel. “When Zemblani dropped Horizon into the Gate, there was a massive explosion that caused several tendrils of magic to lash out all around, one of which struck me across the chest. The wound was life-threatening, and so had to be treated immediately by Piro. What nopony realized, however, was that when Zemblani had constructed her spell, she'd made it so that either myself or my brother could be used as the catalyst for it. My innocence also got included in the spell when I got hit, and subsequently, is now also aiding in keeping the barrier intact.”

Pinkie cocked her head. “What's that mean?”

“It means he's doing the same thing that me and the other Echoes are doing, albeit without any conscious effort on his part.” Ras rubbed his temples. “He doesn't even get to feel this lovely headache, since he's got a body of his own.”

“I'd wish a lot more on you if it didn't mean my brother would suffer as well,” Vigil snarked as he fell back on all fours.

Pinkie didn't know what to think. Ras had told her that Horizon's brother had been placed in witness protection, but didn't know his fate beyond that. To think that he'd been here all this time, keeping up a facade and trying to help the only family he had, even when there was next to nothing he could do? How had he persevered in the face of that kind of hopelessness? How did he deal with feeling so powerless? The fierceness in Vigil's face and voice showed his understandable frustrations, yet still he kept going, watching Horizon from afar, trying to keep him safe while he slept. What was the motivation? Why did Vigil press on, despite the obvious pain it was causing him?

Pinkie’s heart melted as the answer came to her, and a sudden breeze swirled around her as the Element of Laughter awakened.

“Love.”

Zecora and the two guards looked over at her in surprise, seeing that her eyes were half-filled with shining azure light.

Vigil’s snarl faded as the word caught him off-guard. “What?”

“That's why you're here.” Pinkie walked over to him, her eyes drawn to the scar on his barrel. “You don't care if other ponies tell you that it's hopeless, or that you'll just be in the way because the big baddies have nasty magical powers. You love your brother without any thought or restraint, and you'll do anything to help him out.”

Vigil looked away. “I-I, well...”

“You really are silly.” Pinkie swept him up in a hug before he could say anything. He resisted at first, but then slowly, he relaxed and leaned into her, letting out a heavy sigh.

“Maybe I am,” Vigil said. “All this time, I’ve wondered if I was doing the right thing in hiding. Celestia told me about Horizon’s subconscious becoming a separate entity, but I’ve been afraid of what he’d say if I talked with him. Does he know who I am? Does he care that I’ve tried to be there for him? Does he resent that Zemblani picked him instead of me?”

Vigil squeezed his eyes shut as he lowered his voice to a whisper.

“Does he hate me?”

Ras was quiet. He didn’t have an answer to Vigil’s misgivings, as the few times he’d ‘spoken’ with Ophiuchus hadn’t shed any light on how he felt about his missing brother, or anything else, for that matter. In the first few years after the accident, Ophiuchus would randomly appear in the Echoes’ dreams as a colorful, fragmented blur, screaming and assaulting them with emotions of confusion, terror, frustration, anguish, and rage. None of them were able to make heads or tails of what he was trying to say, and their attempts to try and calm him down were fruitless. Ophiuchus finally gave up after the third year and stayed silent in the back of their minds, only very rarely appearing for Blair and never saying a word until a week and a half ago.

Pinkie held Vigil tighter. “It’s not your fault. You were really young, and there was nothing you could’ve done to stop Zemblani. I’m sure Horizon knows that, and doesn’t hold it against you.”

Vigil rested his chin on her shoulder. “I want to believe that, but I can’t be sure, and if it turns out that he doesn’t know who I am or want anything to do with me, I’m not sure that I can...”

“It’s obvious from the tone in your voice,” Zecora said, “that you’d continue regardless of your brother’s choice, but I don’t think Horizon would be so unkind. It’s the fear of rejection that holds sway on your mind.”

“I never understood why stallions are always so funny about these things.” Pinkie's eyes glittered as she let Vigil go and examined his scar with curiosity. “What's wrong with saying that you love the ones you care about?”

“Because love is a word with strong connotations, used only by most in intimate situations.” Zecora got a far-off look as she gazed out the window. “Almost all cultures state that males must be strong, that weak things like love simply do not belong. It may seem like folly to build such a wall, when love is the mightiest feeling of all, but many races have learned, at the high cost of lives, that hatred forms when love’s not empathized. And if such feelings are allowed to grow in size, then suffering will thrive, and many will not survive.”

“Not smart to throw around a word that ponies are willing to kill over,” Ras agreed. “Wars fought over love are always the bloodiest.”

Vigil had been exposed to Pinkie's Healing power dozens of times over the past few weeks, so any kind of injury should've been cured, even if it was a scar from two decades ago. Pinkie figured there must be something special about the scar if he still had it despite being around her, and sure enough, now that she focused specifically on him, she sensed a faint touch of magic lingering inside the tissue.

“It doesn't hurt, does it?” Pinkie asked.

Vigil smacked his barrel a few times. “It’s numb. I asked Princess Celestia to specifically assign me to you hoping that you might be able to restore some feeling, but I think it’s a side effect of being tied into the overall spell.”

Pinkie wasn't about to give up that easily. Her eyes pulsed, and the breeze around her spread to encompass the both of them. She put a hoof on Vigil’s scar, focusing all her Healing power and allowing it to surge through his body. He felt her magic brush away all his aches and pains from their rough landing last night, but unfortunately, the scar still remained.

Pinkie sadly looked up at him. “Sorry, Viggy.”

Vigil shook his head. “My pain’s nothing compared to Horizon's. You and your friends are the only hope he has, and keeping you safe and reuniting you with the others is all I can do. I'm no slouch when it comes to fighting, but in all honesty, I'm not going to be much help against Eclipse and Cetus. I might be of some use while we’re here in the Flatlands, but that’s about it.”

“What do you mean?” Pinkie asked.

“Vigil’s nearly fluent in Zhevari.” Zecora winked at him. “We spoke a great deal during our Old Canterlot safari.”

“I took four years of it in school, and I thought maybe I could act as an interpreter for Ambassador Loxo if I kept at it,” Vigil said. “I'm no native speaker, but I know enough to get by. Between Zecora and I, we should be able to figure out a way back to Equestria.”

“But what, then?” Ras was examining his front-right hoof as he spoke. “We've no idea where the others are, and it's not like they know to meet us somewhere. We’ll just be making things easier for Cetus if we met up now. We need to come up with a plan.”

Pinkie frowned at him. “Didn't you hear what Princess Luna said before we got zapped?”

Ras looked up at her. “Who said what in the when, now?”

“Lake Occul,” Pinkie said, recalling the message. “Princess Luna wants us to—“

Pinkie was interrupted by a knock at the door.

“Not a single word concerning Vigil's plight,” Zecora said promptly. “We'll discuss this more when the time is right. Oh, and Maalufunzi, put out your glowing sight.”

Pinkie complied, then went to her bed and sat down. Vigil gave them all one last glance, then opened the door.

“Hello again, Nurse Nafula.”

Ah, Lieutenant Vigil. Is the Spirit Twin with you, as well?”

“Yes, I assure you he’ll stay under my watch.”

Nafula stepped in, balancing two bowls of food on her back. She was followed by three Zebra mares, all them with exotic, golden eyes. The first one was tall and scrawny with a long mane and tail, giggling happily as she saw the four of them. The second had a mane and tail that was styled into dozens of individual braids, and took them all in with a neutral expression. The third was wearing a hat with a narrow brim and tall cylindrical crown, along with thick shaded goggles with several knobs on them. A pair of bulging saddlebags swung at her sides, and her eyes never left Ras as she regarded him with shrewdness.

Nafula motioned to the three mares as she gave Zecora her spinach stew. “This is Maji, Shuru, and Punda. They’re herbalist apprentices from Masha, and were the ones who found you as they came in from the Kupaaraba Highway last night.”

It's an honor to meet you, Holy One Zecora,” Shuru said. Her braids clicked softly as she bowed, and Maji and Punda quickly followed suit. “And greetings to your Sacred Apprentice, as well.”

The honor is ours,” Zecora replied. “It seems we owe you thanks for bringing us out of the Mamardhi.”

I'll leave you to it.” Nafula said. She gave Pinkie a bowl of a plain, dough-like substance, then walked out the door. “Don't hesitate to let me know if you need anything else.”

Nafula closed the door behind her, and the seven of them were left alone. So many ponies in a single room might normally seem crowded, but Zhevran hospital rooms were built to comfortably accommodate up to two Elafont, which were four times the size of a pony. Pinkie and Zecora were in their beds, Vigil was sitting on his haunches in between them, and Ras seemed content to stay in the corner as the newcomers stood before all of them.

“I'll interpret for you as best as I can,” Vigil whispered to Pinkie.

“Mmm-hmm.” Pinkie was already chowing down on her food.

The was a brief, awkward silence before Shuru finally spoke.

Forgive me, Holy One, but I must begin by asking the two most obvious questions. Why do you have a Spirit Twin with you, and how did you and your companions come to fall out of the sky?”

Zecora leaned back in her bed. “I’ll answer those questions, but first, let me ask you a question in return. Has the word spread that the Princess of Dreams has returned?”

I knew it!” Maji exclaimed. She bounced on her knees as she swayed back and forth. “I knew it had to be true! No way a rumor like that could be—“

Shuru loudly cleared her throat, and Maji abruptly fell silent with a sheepish look.

What Maji means to say,” Shuru said, “Is that Ambassador Loxo has not yet returned with official word, but hearsay has been running rampant in his absence. He's scheduled to be back in the Flatlands tomorrow, but will make an official announcement from Mkutahali at the end of the week.”

Zecora scratched her chin. “The end of the week? How could he travel across the Mamardhi so fast? Unless...ahh, so the railways have finally been approved at long last. What agreement did the Spirit Council and Grand Elders finally come to?”

Shuru cringed.“The boundaries of the Mamardhi must remain unchanged for the next one hundred and fifty years. In addition, steam usage must be limited in accordance with weather patterns to ensure as little pollution enters the Mamardhi as possible.”

I give it ten years before the Spirit Council tries to re-negotiate the terms,” Punda said. Her voice was deep and reminded Pinkie of a bassoon.

That's better than the last proposal I heard.” Zecora took a bite of her soup. “When I left, the Grand Elders were trying to get one foal from every family to live among the Ng'ombe for two years in the hopes of increasing their numbers. But we’re getting off topic.”

Zecora folded her hooves in her lap. “I’m afraid I can’t tell you why we have a Spirit Twin with us. However, I can tell you that his name is Ras, and while you can plainly see that his Heart’s filled with mischief, he’s a faithful servant of the Princess of Might, and will bring you no harm so long as you don’t provoke his ire.”

Ras waggled his eyebrows at this, and Shuru and the others gave him wary looks as they scooted away from him.

“Our unique method of arrival was the doing of the Princess of Dreams, which is why I asked if word has spread of her return.” Zecora wet her lips. “She was purified three months ago by six noble mares, which, by chance, one of whom is sitting right next to me.”

A huge, happy grin crept up on Pinkie’s face. Recognizing an obvious cue when she saw one, she zipped out of bed, shook hooves with Shuru and the others, then skipped all around as she spoke in a hyperactive voice.

“Hiya! I'm Pinkie, Bearer of the Element of Laughter! Well, I'm guess I'm kinda its avatar now but that's basically the same thing! Don’t mind this necklace, though, it’s the wrong one! Silly Princess Luna screwed up, hee hee! You probably don't understand anything I'm saying, but I just want you to know it's super-duper awesome to meet all of you! I like making ponies happy and seeing them smile and dance and not have any pain or worries get them down! Do you like parties? I love parties! I'm a baker, so Zecora was teaching me herbalism so that I could combine her herbal remedies with my baked goods, but then I found I can heal ponies with my Element so she started teaching me anatomy instead! I bring good luck to my friends, and I might be even able to sing a pretty song soon! I'm not sure what it does yet but I hear pieces of it all the time and apparently something really cool happens when I sing it! I'm not sure when it'll happen, but I hope it's really soon!”

Pinkie couldn't help but allow a little of the Element of Laughter's power to shine through, and it manifested as a faint glimmer in her eyes, a faint echo in her voice, and a slight breeze that blew through her mane and tail. The three Zebras stood agape at her, hearing, but not understanding a word she said as she hopped all around.

Overflowing...” Maji murmured in awe.

Punda vigorously rubbed her eyes and ears. “How is this possible?!”

Holy One,” Shuru said, “what IS she?”

Zecora grinned. “She is Pinka-mina. It is both her birthname, and what she literally is. Not a single blemish of darkness mars her soul, and happiness follows wherever she goes. Her friends are blessed with good fortune, and she has the power to alleviate the pain and suffering of others. She may not be Zhevran, but Hakumbele is with her, nonetheless.”

Vigil didn’t translate what Zecora said. She’d confirmed for him back in Old Canterlot that Pinkie's name was indeed what he thought it was, but she’d also told him her misgivings in not revealing its true meaning to her. In Zhevran culture, 'Mina,’ or ‘Bringer of Joy,’ was an honorific given to those who were said to be blessed by Hakumbele, a mighty warrior that descended from Mt. Mbinguni long ago to save the Flatlands from a great evil. Hakumbele sacrificed himself in order to vanquish his foe, and was named the patron saint of the Zhevrans for his act. All natives paid homage to him, going so far as to even swear in his name. It was a great sign of respect to be be referred to as ‘mina,’ but for Pinkie to have it as a birthname? It was nothing short of an omen.

“I warned you that they were powerful!” Punda said hurriedly to Maji and Shuru. “Can’t you feel the magic surrounding these foreigners?! We should head back to Masha now, before Master Jadac expels us from our apprenticeships!”

Maji shook her head. “You’re honestly afraid of a Holy One and her Sacred Student, who also happens to be a literal Bringer of Joy? This is a new level of cowardice, even for you!”

“Knowing when you’re out of your league isn’t cowardice!” Punda huffed. “These four are meant for great things while the three of us will be lucky to become artisans! What in Hakumbele’s name can we possibly do for ones such as these?!”

“Will both of you shut up!” Shuru hissed. “You’re embarrassing us!”

Zecora had returned her attention to her food in order to try and stop herself from laughing. Vigil had started translating again, and Pinkie stopped hopping around as she raised her eyes to the ceiling.

“Hmm, she’s got a point. What could they do for us? Ooh, I know! Ask them about Lake Occul! That’s where Princess Luna wants us to meet!”

“Pinkie, I don’t think” Ras began.

Zecora was already doing it. “The Princess of Dreams has asked us to meet her at Lake Occul, but we don’t know where that is. Do you have any ideas?”

“No.”

“No.”

“...perhaps.”

They all turned to Punda, who was sucking on her teeth through pursed lips.

“Is ‘Occul’ a Kwatamal word?” Shuru asked.

Punda fiddled with her goggles. “It could very well be something else, too... I don’t want to unintentionally mislead them—”

“Oh, just spit it out already!” Maji stamped a hoof. “It might give them something to go on!”

Punda gave Maji an annoyed look, but still maintained a respectful tone as she addressed Zecora. “My hobby is studying Kwatamal, an ancient, dead language that’s said to be the root of all spoken dialects. ‘Occul’ means ‘Secrets’ in that tongue.”

Maji’s eyes lit up. “Do you think?”

Shuru snickered. “Pretty strange coincidence if it’s not.”

“Sounds like you’ve an inkling as to where our destination might lie,” Zecora observed.

“There’s a river that runs through our hometown of Masha called the Sirimto,” Punda explained, “but the locals refer to it as ‘Menoccu,’ or ‘River of Secrets,’ because it originates from Siriziwala, the Lake of Secrets, which lies far to the northeast.”

“The Equestrians know it as ‘Dragon Turtle Lake,’” Shuru remarked. It’s mostly likely that’s where the Princess of Dreams wants you to go.”

Pinkie perked up. “Dragon Turtle Lake?! I know where that is!”

Ras scrunched his eyebrows. “Where’s it from here, though?”

“Far.” Vigil craned his head to look at Zecora’s map. “The fastest way to get there would be to travel to Masha by way of the Kupaaraba Highway, then follow the Sirimto north until we reach the Flatlands-Equestria border.”

“So we must cross the entirety of the Mamardhi.” Zecora curled her lip. “Ugh, I’d hoped to stay in the Kistaardhi. I dislike dealings with the Ng’ombe, but if the Kupaaraba Highway is indeed the fastest way, I suppose that’s okay.”

“Dragon Turtle Lake’s huge, though,” Ras pointed out. “As in hundreds-of-miles-of-shoreline huge. It’ll take us weeks to search for the others, if they get there at all, and if they’re looking for us at the same time, it’ll be next to impossible to track everypony down.”

I wouldn't say that.

Ras’ eyes flickered with a prismatic light. He yelped and jerked his head to the side, putting his hoof against the wall to steady himself.

“Rassy!” Pinkie rushed over to him.

Punda narrowed her eyes. She twisted one of the knobs on her goggles, and they became surrounded with a white glow. She let out a yell of surprise of her own, and pushed Maji and Shuru away from Ras.

“Hey!” Maji said.

Shuru stumbled. “Punda, what—”

“Dark magic!” Punda was reaching into her saddlebags. “A fragmented soul is trapped within the Spirit Twin!”

“Celestia’s sake, kid!” Ras gasped. “You nearly gave me a heart attack!”

You deserved it for forcing My brother to reveal himself.

Vigil’s skin prickled. He couldn’t hear Ophiuchus, but he’d put two and two together. He slowly turned to Ras, whose eyes were unfocused as his breathing slowly returned to normal.

“Calm yourself, Punda,” Zecora said quickly. “The host’s circumstances are unique.”

“Rassy, what’s wrong?” Pinkie reached out a hoof to him.

Ras waved her away. “Oh, whatever, you know why I did it. Have you always been able to talk to us like this?”

Yes, but it's extremely painful. I need to keep this brief.

Shuru slapped Punda’s hoof out her saddlebags. “You’d dare use violence in the presence of a Holy One?!”

“What are you thinking?!” Maji added with a venomous glare. “And in a hospital, no less!”

“Gotcha. What’s up?” Ras said.

Go to Dragon Turtle Lake. I'll guide everypony together once You've all arrived.

Punda wilted under the withering stares of her friends, but a spark of defiance still remained. She took off her goggles and tried to give them to Shuru. “Look for yourself! The host has been tortured and transmuted! Unique circumstances or not, dark deeds were involved in the creation of that Spirit Twin!”

Vigil had stopped translating. He sat still as a statue, not even blinking, hanging on Ras’ every word.

“You can do that?” Ras said.

Easily.

Ras hummed and clicked his tongue. “Do you know where the others are?”

Of course, but I'm not going to tell You. All You need to know is that They'll meet You there.

Zecora’s expression turned grave. “You must trust me on this, Punda. It’s true the Spirit Twin’s host is under great strain, but much greater sins would be committed were he to be freed. Our efforts are devoted to his salvation, among other things.”

Pinkie had also caught on to who Ras was conversing with. She went over to Vigil and put a comforting hoof around him.

“Fair enough,” Ras said. “Anything else?”

Yes. I'd like you to give a message to My brother.

“Those goggles have been nothing but a nuisance ever since you made them.” Shuru pushed them away and went back to where she’d been standing before.

“I told you it was a waste of good jujus.” Maji followed after Shuru. “You could’ve gotten them enchanted with enough Purify Food and Water spells to last you for a year, but nooooooooooooo, you just had to get Truesight!”

Ras’ breath caught in his chest. “Oh, um... sure. What is it?”

Tell him the following, word for word, in this exact manner and tone.

Punda raised her chin. “You said I wouldn’t have a use for them on this trip, and I’ve already used them twice! We’ll see who’s laughing when a specter tries to sneak up on us, and the only one who’s able to see it is me!”

Shuru groaned. “For the last time: Specters. Aren’t. Real.”

“You only say that because there hasn’t been any scientific evidence of one!” Punda’s eyes shifted all about. “We live in a world of magic, for Hakumbele’s sake! Who’s to say what’s real and what isn’t?!”

“The Laws of Physiological Gramarye,” Shuru replied.

“Bah!” Punda scoffed. “Rules made by stuffy scholars trying to put together a puzzle when they don’t even have all the pieces! I don’t—”

“Hey, Zecora?” Ras said loudly. “Can you tell them to shut up a sec? I’ve got a few things to say.”

If Zecora was surprised or took offense to Ras’ rudeness, she didn’t show it. She complied, and all the attention was shifted to Ras as he straightened and squared his shoulders.

“First, we don’t need to worry about endlessly circling around Dragon Turtle Lake looking for the others. All we gotta do is get there, and the kid’ll bring us together.”

Pinkie clapped her hooves. “That’s great! That makes things really easy!”

“I admit that’s quite the cheat, but crossing the Mamardhi’s still no easy feat.” Zecora said. “The Kupaaraba Highway might be kept nice and neat, but traveling across it takes a few weeks.”

Ras blew a strand of his mane out of his face. “I thought you said something about a railway. Why can’t we use that?”

Zecora opened her mouth to answer, but then stopped and turned back to Shuru. “The three of you came here from Masha, yes? Could you not afford a train ticket, or has the construction not come this way yet?”

Shuru sighed. “The north-south Kupaaraba gets the most traffic, so that’s the one they started on first. They’re not scheduled to start the east-west highway until next year.”

“Are you and your companions going to Siriziwala, Holy One?” Maji asked.

“Perhaps.” Zecora switched back over to Equestrian and conveyed the information about the incomplete railway.

“Guess there’s nothing for it.” Pinkie gave Vigil a bone-crushing hug. “You hear that, Viggy? We get to walk across the entire Flatlands together! Won’t that be fun?”

Vigil said nothing. He was still staring at Ras.

Ras coughed and looked out the window. “Hey, Vigil? Your brother’s also got a message he wants me to give you.”

Pinkie could feel Vigil’s heart hammering in his chest. She released him and stepped away, letting Ras and Vigil face each other from opposite side of the bed.

“What is it?” Vigil breathed.

Ras took a deep breath, and screamed at Vigil at the top of his lungs.

“YOU STUPID JERK, YOU'VE BEEN HERE ALL ALONG?! I SHOULD MAKE RAS GELD YOU FOR MAKING ME THINK I WAS ALONE ALL THIS TIME! I’VE NEVER HATED YOU, SO STOP COMPARING YOUR SUFFERING TO MINE, AND DON’T YOU EVER LEAVE ME AGAIN!”

Everyone covered their ears at Ras’ outburst, save for Vigil, who’s mane and tail were blown back by the force of the onslaught. Sudden, heavy hoofsteps came from outside, and Nafula barged into the room, looking wildly around.

“What’s going on?! Why is the Spirit Twin shouting?!”

“So sorry, Nafula!” Zecora said profusely. “Something we said startled him. I promise we’ll keep him quiet.”

Nafula shot Ras a dirty look, but he didn’t seem to notice or care, as he’d become nonchalant again and was back to examining one of his hooves.

“Was the yelling necessary?!” Zecora demanded as soon as Nafula had left. “Rhenoceren when angered are quite scary!”

Ras shrugged. “Not my fault. I’m just the messenger.”

“Do we even want to know what that was all about?” Shuru asked Zecora.

Zecora sighed. “I’m barely even sure, myself.”

Vigil had a glazed look on his face. He hiccuped once, then went over to the window, turning his back to all of them as he fought to keep his breathing steady.

Pinkie couldn’t tell if Vigil was happy or upset by Ophiuchus' words. She chewed on her lip as she tried to decide whether to go to him or not, but before she could, Shuru spoke to her in broken Equestrian.

“Pinka-mina? Shuru is my name. My knowing of your talk is bad, but I understand if slow you say. Shaman can say words not I know, so maybe teach you can me?”

It took Pinkie a second to get past Shuru’s thick accent, and then another to pick apart what she was trying to say. She nodded once she figured it out, though.

“I’d like that. And please, just call me Pink—actually, you know what? You can call me ‘Mina,’ if you want. That was what my grandmother called me.”

Shuru blinked several times. “Truly?”

“Yep!” Pinkie said. “I always did think it was kinda pretty. Just about everypony calls me Pinkie, but I heard you gals say ‘Mina’ a few times, so I figured you were gonna use it as a nickname for me! My Granny’s gone now, but I like being reminded of all the fun times I had with her.”

Shuru was at a loss for words. Even when speaking of a departed loved one, Pinkie was filled with nothing but happiness and love, cherishing the memories she’d made rather than dwelling on what might’ve been. It was inspiring... no, more than that, there was only one word that described such purity, and ironically, it was the one she was asking to be called.

Shuru nodded. “You are Mina.”

Zecora wore a satisfied smile, but said nothing.

“So...” Shuru scratched the side of her face. ”Sirizi—er, Dragon Turtle Lake?”

“Yeah,” Pinkie said. “It’s going to take us a while to get there. Not sure how long exactly, though.”

“A month and three days.” Shuru pointed out the window to the east. “Take West-Kupaaraba to Mkutahali, rest a day. Then East-Kupaaraba to Masha, rest a day. Follow Sirimto north to Osasi, rest a day, then Dragon Turtle Lake. We three know, many times we been have there and back.”

Pinkie followed where she was pointing. “A month and three days? That’s not so bad. Maybe even shorter if we cut out the rests.”

Shuru snorted. “Sound like me, but fatigue always win. Will be between in wanting rests.”

“No good will it be if we burn ourselves out,” Zecora said to Pinkie. “Listen to Shuru, for she knows the route.”

“Yes, we know route...” Shuru glanced over at Punda. “We go back to Masha in afternoon. Heading way same, yes?”

Zecora gave the younger Zebra a reproachful look. “Deception’s not an honorable trait, one that your friends won’t appreciate. Check with them first, or a feud you’ll create.”

Shuru winced at Zecora’s reprimanding tone. “Right, my apology. I will ask.”

There was a few minutes of discussion as the Zebras discussed the pros and cons of having Pinkie and the others travel with them. Shuru argued that Pinkie would bring them good luck, and Zecora’s abilities would be of great help on the road. Punda didn’t disagree, but insisted that their duty was to return to Master Jadac as soon as possible, and having Zecora with them would cause a delay. Maji, however, knew Punda just didn’t want anything to do with Pinkie and the others, and sided with Shuru, which made it two to one.

“Settled, then,” Shuru said, switching back over to Equestrian. “We plan noon leave by. Are you all well to go?”

“I feel fine,” Pinkie said. The mysterious tune in her head had resumed, and she was slowly swaying back and forth. She looked over to the others. “You guys okay?”

Zecora yawned and stretched as she got out of her bed. “My state of health is not in question, though if I might make a suggestion, some supplies we should gather before this procession.”

“That might prove difficult, considering we don’t have any money.” Ras rubbed his hooves together. “Although...If you’d like, I could use my talents to ‘liberate’ whatever we need—”

Pinkie swatted him. “Bad Rassy!”

Ras lifted up his hooves in defense. “Just a suggestion. How else are we gonna get supplies?”

“We don’t need to worry about money,” Vigil said. “Shamans are given anything they need for travelling across the Mamardhi by the Watusati.”

They looked over at him. His eyes were red and his voice was thick, but he seemed strangely upbeat for some reason.

Pinkie wrinkled her brow. “Watusati? I know that one! Those are the ponies who make the laws here, right?”

Vigil looked over at Zecora. “You want to explain it, or should I?”

Zecora shrugged and began making her bed. “Go right ahead. I’ll correct you if I feel you’ve been misled.”

Vigil clicked his teeth a few times before beginning. “‘Watusati’ means ‘Nation’s Body,’ and is the name for the Zhevran government as a whole. In olden times, the races of the Zhevra Flatlands lived together in Ng’ombes, or ‘Herds,’ that roamed the length and breadth of the Mamardhi. Then, not long after the Era of Discord, Princess Celestia and Princess Luna came and offered to help create a unified civilization. The majority of the Ng’ombe refused, preferring to stick to the ways of old, but a few accepted, and founded the town of Lyora in the Oevu Wetlands. These individuals later became known as the Walowezi, and over the years, their numbers grew as more and more Ng’ombe were drawn to the opportunities and comfort of modern civilization.

“The Walowezi eventually became so great in number that they equalled the Ng’ombe, and then surpassed them, which resulted in a schism,” Vigil said. “Recognizing a recipe for disaster when she saw one, Princess Celestia stepped in, and helped set up a government that would promote the interests of both cultures. Today, the Walowezi are represented by the Rohobara, or ‘Spirit Council,’ and the Ng’ombe by the Busaram, or ‘Grand Elders.’ Together, they make the Watusati, and are responsible for making and upholding all the laws in the Zhevra Flatlands.”

“Nice history lesson,” Ras drawled. “So why exactly is all of that important?”

“Because the Mamardhi’s Ng’ombe sacred ground,” Zecora replied patiently. “Where no civilization can be found. Travelers must stay on the Kupaaraba, by order of the age-old Busaram dogma.”

“However.” Vigil eyed the rings Zecora wore on her neck and foreleg. “Shamans are allowed to enter the wilds to provide their services to the Ng’ombe, and the Watusati gives them any supplies they need, free of charge.”

Comprehension dawned on Ras’ face. “So it’s basically government healthcare. All Zecora has to do is flash her credentials, and we get everything we need.”

“Yes, but there’s a catch.” Zecora straightened out a final wrinkle on the bedspread. “If there’s a Ng’ombe request open for which I’m a match, by Zhevran law, I must be dispatched. A choice I can make if there are multiple missions, but at the bare minimum, I must accept one petition.”

“Which could be a problem, because Ng’ombe tribes wander the Mamardhi all throughout the year,” Vigil said grimly. “It’s unlikely, but we might wind up having to travel completely out of the way.”

PInkie sucked on her teeth. Zecora had told her a little bit about the duties of a Shaman in Zhevran culture, so not all of this was new to her. It sounded like having Zecora volunteer herself would be the easiest way to get what they needed to cross the Mamardhi, but it might cost them extra time, and with only a few months before Horizon’s barrier broke, they couldn’t afford to be running all around the Mamardhi. It ultimately came down to whether they were willing to take a risk, and whether or not... they... got...

Pinkie’s eyes twinkled with sapphire light. “Not only would that be unlikely, it’d also be pretty unlucky, don’t you think?”

They all looked at her, the realization slowly coming to them. Ras was the first to laugh, and soon the others followed suit. Shuru and the others stared on with bemused expressions, as Pinkie and the others had been speaking too quickly for her to understand anything.

“Ooh, speaking of which...” Pinkie tittered. She motioned for Vigil and Ras to come close, and whispered something in their ears. Smirks appeared on their faces, and they nodded their approval.

Zecora noted the confusion of Shuru and the others, and switched languages to tell them about the plan. They had no objections, and so it was agreed that they’d all set out as soon as Zecora had made the arrangements.

“It won’t wear you out, will it?” Ras asked Pinkie.

“It didn’t last time,” she replied.

“Fair point. And you’ve been practicing since then, I suppose.”

“The Kupaaraba is on the eastern edge of town.” Shuru told Zecora as Maij and Punda headed out the door. “Just look for the bright red signs that have a picture of a mountain on them.”

“Got it,” Zecora said. “We’ll take care of things here, and then we’ll meet you there.”

Shuru bowed in farewell, then followed after her friends and closed the door.

“We needn’t worry about medical fees,” Zecora said as she straightened her mane. “Offering my services means that check-ups are free. That also means there’s no reason to delay, so if you’re all ready, let’s be on our way.”

“Not just yet,” Pinkie said.

Zecora froze as she heard the echo in her student’s voice. She turned, and saw that Pinkie was standing in the center of the room, her eyes shut and head lowered. A strong breeze had kicked up, and the bedsheets and curtains were fluttering about.

“Maalufunzi...” Zecora shivered with goosebumps.

Ras put a hoof to his lips.

“There are more ponies here.” Pinkie’s voice carried on the wind as it swirled around them. “Lots more than there were in Ponyville’s hopsital. The world really is big, isn’t it? So many different ponies from different walks of life, all of them with their own goals, hopes, and desires. I want to meet as many as I can, to share in their happiness and do lots of fun things with them, because I believe that’s what it means to live a full life. It’s really sad what happened to Elo and the others, but if your friends are supposed to make you feel happy, and you’ve got lots and lots of good memories with them, then why should you let death, or anything else for that matter, get in the way of that? It’s a waste of time to sit around and feel crummy for long, because all that does is fill your memories with sadness, and sadness is just another form of pain. I know I’ll never be friends with everypony, and I’ll never heal all the hurts there are in this world, but that’s not going to stop me from doing anything and everything I can, so if I’m in a place where ponies are suffering, and there's something I can do about it...”

The wind became stronger as Pinkie opened her eyes, which were half-filled with cerulean light. There was a blinding flash as her Healing power surged outward, causing Zecora and the others to shield their eyes in surprise. The pulse continued out past their room to hit the entire hospital, mending bones, closing wounds, removing scars, curing diseases, and alleviating all aches and pains.

Zecora lowered her hoof, and saw Pinkie standing there, smiling brightly and tapping her hoof in time with an unknown rhythm.

"I will.”

Author's Note:

Final obligatory plug for the TPOH Group and the TPOH TvTropes Page. I promise.