• Published 2nd Jan 2024
  • 2,518 Views, 302 Comments

Warm - CrimsonWolf360

Returning to the past, Twilight does what is necessary to save Cooper from his fate. The consequences for such choices, however, are not to be underestimated. Only time will tell if it was worth it...

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Chapter 23

"It is a treat for you to come out to see me, but if I may ask, what brings you out here with these three?" Zecora asked, gesturing to the CMC as they practically pranced around her in excitement.

Cooper shrugged, "The three of them want to try to get their cutie marks by exploring a jungle. They figured that the forest is about as close to a jungle as they could find, so they tagged along with me when I told them I was coming to see you.

Zecora blushed ever so slightly as she looked away, "I see. Well, thank you for coming to see me. As for these fillies, we'd best make sure they don't get any injuries. The forest my be my home, but to three unwitting foals, there can be many perilous tolls."

Cooper nodded, glancing back over to Sky and Midnight, "Think you two can help keep an eye on them so they don't go off and hurt themselves?"

Sky and Midnight gave a quick salute before trotting over to the fillies.

"So what'doya gals wanna start with first? Explorin'? Navagatin'? Critter tamin'?" AppleBloom excitedly questioned.

"Oh! We should start with creature taming! I'm sure there's a manticore somewhere nearby. Fluttershy says there's always one or two that come nearby Zecora's hut this time of day." Scootaloo replied, her wings buzzing in excitement.

"Then it's settled! We'll go catch us a manticore!" Sweetie Belle exclaimed.

"Now now, fillies. I'm pretty sure that even if you were adult ponies, a manticore is a bit out of your wheelhouse. Let's try to stick to something a bit less... deadly. How about a toad? There's a few over there." Midnight pointed out, nodding toward a few toads, frogs, and other amphibians near the pond.

"Nah, that's boring." Scootaloo dismissively waved her off.

"Yeah! We aren't gonna get our cutie marks in tamin' wild critters by tamin' frogs and toads that Zecora practically knows already." AppleBloom added.

Cooper quietly leaned down and over to Zecora's ear, "This is like, the third time I've heard ponies mention 'knowing' animals. Can they... like... talk, or something?" He asked, cautiously.

Zecora giggled into her hoof, "No need to fret. There are no sapient animals just yet. That said, many of them do have personalities that are quite unique. Fluttershy knows them quite well, even though she herself is quite meek."

Cooper nodded, "Okay... just making sure."

As he stood back up to his full height, Scootaloo, Sweetie Belle, and Apple Bloom turned to make their way further into the forest, but were quickly cut off by Sky landing in front of them. The guardstallion towered over the three little fillies, halting them in their place.

"Now come on, you three. You know that a manticore is ridiculously dangerous. Why don't you start out with the small fries first, and once you're sure you can do that, then we can move on to the bigger animals. Sound good?" Sky suggested.

Scootaloo opened her mouth to protest, but Zecora quickly interjected, cutting her off, "If you'd like to learn how to tame beasts such as a manticore, there are several others you must tame before. Jumping into the deep end can lead to a swift and gruesome end." She sternly announced.

At the mention of a 'gruesome end', all three fillies shrunk somewhat. Despite being clearly intimidated by the possibility being explained to her, Scootaloo tried to put on a brave face, "B-but, frogs are so lame!" She pouted, wholly ignorant of the sad croak from a few feet away.

Zecora walked over to the little filly, giving her a gentle smile the whole while, "Now, little Scootaloo, I was once like you too. That being said, many of the zebras from my home that didn't head good advice... are dead."

The sobering reminder made Scootaloo audibly gulp while Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom shared a fearful glance.

"Zecora's right, girls. You wanna take on a manticore, that's fine. You just need to work up the skills to doing that first. I know how hard it is to wait for something you want... God, I know... but you don't need to rush this. You're still barely kids. Not even teens, yet." Cooper added, crossing his arms.

"Teens?" Scootaloo tilted her head to the side.

"Oh, yeah... uh... what's the pony world for that..." Cooper muttered, scratching his chin.

"I believe what Cooper's trying to say is that you three don't have your cutie marks yet. I can understand wanting to get them, but let's not do something really stupid that could get you all hurt or worse, trying to do it." Midnight chimed in, giving Cooper a supportive wink.

Albeit with quite a bit of grumbling, the trio of fillies reluctantly agreed to stave off their grand plans to capture and subdue one of the most vicious predators in the Everfree, and instead focus on taming some of the wildlife around Zecora's hut. As the three of them spread out to look for different animals to tame, the four adults split into groups to better watch over them. Sky went with Scootaloo, while Midnight went with Sweetie Belle, and finally, Zecora teamed up with Cooper to watch over AppleBloom.

Throughout the late morning and early afternoon, the three fillies tried their hoof at taming frogs, toads, squirrels, badgers, butterflies, moths, a few stray birds, and even a racoon that came through, but none found any luck.

"Ugh! This is hopeless!" Apple Bloom groaned, sitting on her haunches and holding her head in her hooves as an earthworm simply slithered away, wholly ignorant of her nearly five minute session of trying to tame it.

While Cooper was struggling not to laugh at the sight before him, Zecora put on a sympathetic smile as she walked over to Apple Bloom's side, "Taming wildlife is not for everyone. Why don't we head in for lunch and for now, call this one 'done'?" She suggested.

As much as AppleBloom didn't want to admit defeat, the grumbling in her belly made it all too apparent that she was hardly in an argumentative mood with food on the line.

"Oh, alright. Some lunch does sound pretty good right about now..." She muttered.

"Sweetie Belle! Scootaloo! Come on back for lunch!" Cooper called out, cupping his hands around his mouth.

The trio of man, earth pony, and zebra made their way back to Zecora's hut, finding Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo arriving just as they did. Sky and Midnight smiled proudly as they corralled the little fillies into the homely little hut, and soon enough, Zecora had lunch prepared for everyone. While daffodil sandwiches and mushrooms were a delightful treat for the ponies of the bunch, the shamaness made sure to prepare a meal of diced lettuce, tomatoes, and surprisingly, grilled chicken. The smell reached Cooper's nose long before the sight reached his eyes, and his mouth watered from the scent of freshly grilled poultry so close.

While Cooper was shocked at the sudden offering of meat from the zebra, he said nothing aloud, lest he say something to scare the cutie mark crusaders as they devoured their meals. A subtle wink and nod from Zecora was all the assurance he needed to dig into his food, though he made sure to check for any pink inside the chicken in case it wasn't quite cooked enough.

Even though Sky and Midnight were well aware of Cooper's dietary needs, he still ate separate from them, opting to stand in the kitchen as he ate his food, keeping it out of sight of the three little fillies in the dining room just a few feet away.

"Hey, Zecora?" AppleBloom asked, suddenly.

"Hmm?" Zecora inquired, looking up from her own salad.

"What's that smell?" She replied, tilting her head slightly to the side.

Cooper nearly choked on his food, but Zecora was quick to answer.

"It is another brew. Why? Does the smell offend you?" She asked, teasingly.

AppleBloom shook her head, "Well, no... but it smells really familiar. Ah'm not really sure how to place it." She shrugged.

"Eh, don't worry about it. We've got bigger fish to fry!" Scootaloo exclaimed, thrusting a hoof skyward.

"Yeah! Creature taming is just not working out. I think we need to move on to jungle navigation." Sweetie Belle added.

"You fillies want to go navigating through the Everfree?" Sky groaned.

"Maybe it'd be better if we just navigated around here, hmm?" Midnight offered.

"Ugh, but that's so boring!" Scootaloo groaned.

While he was thankful for the change of topic, Cooper finished his chicken as quickly as he could, all the same.

"Well how about we supervise you three while you try to navigate? Zecora? You know the paths and everything here in the forest the best. Do you think if we kept it within a few hundred hooves that you'd be able to lead the way back if we got lost?" Midnight asked, looking at the zebra, curiously.

Zecora nodded, "We will not get lost under my watch. There isn't much for me to botch."

With their plan finalized, the group finished their lunch and made their way outside. The crusaders gleefully galloped ahead, making Sky and Midnight chase after them to keep on their tracks, while Cooper and Zecora walked up behind them at a more leisurely pace. Once they were deeper into the forest and the terrain became unfamiliar, Apple Bloom, Scootaloo, and Sweetie Belle slowed down and attempted to navigate with their rudimentary compasses and maps. The fact that the maps they had were of the White Tail woods and not the Everfree Forest didn't even seem to register on the excited fillies' minds.

While Sky and Midnight followed closely and guided the fillies whenever they had a question, Cooper maintained a fare distance behind them. Zecora, almost as if hearing his unspoken question, stayed right by his side, her tail flicking back and forth every so often.

"I, uh... thanks, for the chicken." Cooper acknowledged, quietly.

Zecora smiled, "I had a feeling you would enjoy it. I've been preparing it for quite a bit." She replied, equally quietly.

"How... did you know that I-" Cooper began.

"That you eat meat?" Zecora asked.

Cooper nodded.

"It was an easy enough feat. You have teeth, sharp as a knife, suited to take a creature's life." Zecora explained.

"And... that doesn't bother you?" Cooper questioned, cautiously.

Zecora chuckled, "My homeland was a place of strife and death. I watched many a creature, take their last breath. I spoke with Fluttershy about the chicken you ate. It was a conversation that kept us both up late." She explaiend.

Cooper raised an eyebrow, "You had that chicken cooked up in about ten minutes... how'd you do it so fast?"

"With some herbs and proper broiling, you can cook the meat quick and easy, free of spoiling. ." She chuckled.

Cooper gave her a deadpan stare, "You know, one of these days, I'm gonna get you to say a sentence and not rhyme. You can't rhyme everything, I know there's a way."

Zecora laughed out loud while Cooper's deadpan look quickly morphed into a smirk all of its own.

"That would require you to speak at length with me. I've become quite good at it, you see." She smugly grinned.

Cooper playfully rolled his eyes and tussled her mane, making the zebra laugh as a blush formed on her face once more. Before either could continue their conversation, however, Sky called back to them.

"Hey, Zecora! I think we're about as far into the forest as we want to be. We're gonna start spreading out a bit now." He called, directing both of their attention back to the trio of fillies and duo of guards ahead of them.

Zecora responded with a nod, before glancing back over to Cooper, "This has been quite a fun talk. Perhaps we should do it again sometime. Maybe while going for a walk?" She offered.

Cooper smiled, "Sounds like a great idea. Maybe sometime later this week?"

"Consider it a date. I cannot wait." Zecora beamed, her tail excitedly swishing back and forth as she trotted up ahead.

Cooper chuckled and shook his head while Zecora charged on ahead, making her way over to the cutie mark crusaders. For the next several hours, they helped the fillies navigate their way around the forest, finding paths through the dense brush and terrain that none of them had ever seen before, save for the zebra herself. The time passed swiftly, and soon they grew bolder, wanting to travel further and further away from the safety of Zecora's hut.

However, despite how they pleaded with her, Zecora had an iron will when it came to handling fillies, and she was able to swiftly deny any and all attempts to delve further into the Everfree. Though they were dejected, the three fillies still found entertainment in their exploring, limited as it may be.

It was only when the sun began its descent down the horizon that Cooper told the group that it was time to head back, and though there were many a protest from the cutie mark crusaders, he held fast against their assault of puppydog eyes. With some minor corralling, and some assistance from Zecora and his guards, Cooper was able to move the group back to the friendly territory of her hut and prepare for the trek back home.

However, despite the joy, merriment, and admitted disappointment in their fun being spoiled so soon, none of the ponies or human noticed the pair of glowing green eyes observing them from afar.

Author's Note:

So this chapter was difficult to get out. Hopefully it turned out better than I thought when I wrote it. Regardless, some very interesting things are at work here. In case it isn't obvious, Cooper is completely oblivious to Zecora's flirting with him. I'm sure this won't come back to bite him later...