There's Something About Merry

by vdrake77

First published

Everfree Forest doesn't always release those who enter and enjoy it's bounty easily. Sometimes, it can be downright vindictive.

To live in Everfree Forest requires one to make a lot of sacrifices. Zecora can attest to that; for years the ponies were too frightened of her and her studies to even make contact.

Then again, that's for the best; the forest has never been kind to intruders. One never does know what fate can be levied for not treating it with the respect it demands. Still, she wouldn't want to live anywhere else.

The same can't be said for her newest ward.

More future-sidequel than sequel to Changeling of the Guard, as Idol isn't starring, but something I'm going to work on in tandem with it.

Bloody Merry

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Apple Bloom was, Zecora decided, entirely too eager to learn potions the old fashioned way.

“Ah’m sorry!”

“I am only glad you are safe, my little friend My hut we can rebuild…” She gave a small sigh and shook her head. “...again.”

“Well you said it made things react quickly, so I thought-”

“React it did, and very fast.” She swept some of the debris into a bucket. Thankfully it was really just a few shelves reduced to kindling. She’d learned early on that taking an apprentice required more… precaution. And a forgiving heart. And, sometimes, ear plugs. “It was the catalyst of that blast.” Although, truth be told, she had expected this particular lesson would occur eventually. But she’d taken precautions. Not enough, it seemed, but her hut wasn’t on fire this time. Her mother had been quite cross with little Zecora’s experiments, and a certain zebra filly had learned a healthy respect for phosphor.

Meanwhile the formerly yellow Apple filly tried to wipe the ash from her coat, and succeeded only in smearing it across a rug that had amazingly been unharmed until this point. Zecora doubted any sort of beating would free it, but Rarity had been amazingly adept at removing all sorts of stains from fabric. Her explanation was usually ‘Sweetie Belle’. The little unicorn had also wanted in on these potion classes, but after setting a pot of boiling water on fire, even the normally patient zebra had admitted some things were just not meant to be.

“Ah know, but you said it would take days for that potion to brew! I only put a little in-”

“And the reason it takes so long is for safety’s sake. To alter a recipe on a whim can turn out to be a fatal mistake. That reaction can be very hot, the ingredients we chose were to keep it not.”

“How am Ah supposed to learn all that? Everything mixes with everything and does other things, how do you keep it all straight?”

“Alchemy is a complex art, one you cannot expect to know by heart.” She reached up, bringing a heavy tome down. “Many charms and spells I repeat every day, routine and practice are the truest way.”

"‘A wise mare knows she has much to learn, and mastery you must daily earn’.” Apple Bloom quoted morosely. “Ah just don’t like messin’ up your things as a lesson.”

“Better things than ponies, Apple Bloom. A little mishap will not seal our doom.” And it was true. The ’blast’ had been a little larger than she’d even expected, but the charms to contain it had done their job. Unfortunately the carbon soot was going to need a fair bit of work to clean up. In truth, she’d made sure that the little filly would need to go far beyond her instructions to actually be at risk. And she’d been keeping an eye on her, besides.

“Wolves are outside again.” Apple Bloom muttered, putting her nose against a window to peer at a set of glowing eyes. “It’s the mean one again, I think.”

That was unusual. Most animals fled from loud, strange noises. She’d probably have to chase it off with a few illusions, perhaps a small light show. The youngest member of the Apple family was probably going to be late getting home. Zecora would almost certainly be without her apprentice for several days as Bloom would have to do chores to make up for her lateness, but she wasn’t about to send the little pony out with a predator waiting so close to her hut. And that was only the one.

If it had been the older one, that wouldn’t have been so much of a concern. Zecora had an understanding with the old brute, and he seemed very tolerant of ponies in general. She’d love to know the story behind that, though she couldn’t imagine any timberwolf as a pet. The smaller female, however… it was trouble. If the older was present, a growl could bring her back in line. But Zecora had run across it once before while walking back from Ponyville… and the chase had taken a few years off the back end of her life that no pony was glad to offer. There was malice in the beast. Malice thwarted somehow by the elder, but why it was so interested in her Zecora couldn’t guess. Their mad rush through the forest had scattered much more traditional prey, but for reasons Zecora couldn’t begin to understand, it had followed her exclusively… and then wandered off come daybreak, as if it had utterly forgotten her. And truthfully, it hadn’t been the last time it had come to call on the darker nights.

The wards would hold, though. And if Apple Bloom were to spend the night and the two were to weather the wrath of the rest of the Apple family in the morning, then they’d deal with that fallout when it happened.

Of course, one did not corner an alchemist in their own hut. Professional pride was at stake, and Zecora was having none of it. Her apprentice had places to be, and she hadn’t meant for Bloom’s spirit to take such a blow. A simple effort to repel the beast and they could simply walk right out.

“Get my pestle and make it quick. We’ll not be contained by a beast of log and stick.”

Apple Bloom blinked, looking back at her, then grinned hugely. That was one of the more enjoyable parts of having an apprentice. Someone to show off to who would truly appreciate the talents.

“First,” She began, scooping some willow bark, peppers, and a number of other herbs into a bowl and grinding them together. “We should only make it want to leave us be. To cause it great harm would make us a threat, you see?”

“So we don’t want to actually hurt it, just make it uncomfortable so it knows we aren’t food.” Bloom noted, cheerfully.

“But we must make it stick, so hourglass sand will do the trick.” A large hourglass, filled with pure white sand, was tilted into the bowl.

“Why does it matter if it’s sand-sand or hourglass-sand, again?”

“Essence and intent, is what you must find. One part pain and another part time.”

“So it comes from an hourglass, that makes it… last?” Not a perfect attempt, but an appreciated gesture. Pony speech was so rude at times. Rhyming, or at least attempting to, showed you thought about your words.

“And of course, we must be sure. So what do you recall of the distillation of pure?”

Apple Bloom paused, deep in thought. “‘Metal flake provides essence pure, two parts in gold and silver four. Platinum provides all that plus four, and mythril is all that again twice more’, right?”

“And which of these will we use and why?”

“Silver. Gold’s too expensive, platinum’s worse, and Ah don’t think you even have mythril.”

“If I did, I wouldn’t even try. We’d need to make an entire tub or the waste would be much too high. Silver flake is on the shelf, can you get it or must I reach myself?”

She needn’t have bothered. It was actually somewhat amazing watching one of the Crusaders clamber so nimbly up the ladder to exactly where Zecora had left the fine dust. Apple Bloom gave the vial a gentle shake onto a scale, and Zecora motioned her away when there was enough. She combined the sand, the silver, and the other herbs in her bowl, carefully dabbing a bit on a piece of cloth. No reaction, good. “Now, for something a little weird. Aconite shall make us feared.”

“It’ll what?”

“It can cause numbness and hallucination, and no beast would want to twice risk that situation. We do not do this with ease or lightly, but I shall not have a predator coming by my door nightly.”

“So.. um… how do we get it to take it? Do we throw it at it? I don’t think I can reach.”

Zecora nodded. “Within our reach is indeed too near. But a pouch and a sling will let us apply from here.” She scraped the mixture into a packet, bound it loosely, and offered Apple Bloom a corded piece of fabric and the substance. “Now, if you miss, we must begin anew, but I have faith your aim will be true.”

Applebloom nodded as Zecora opened the window, now very careful not to reveal that they were attempting anything out of the ordinary. A few twirls of the sling, a release, and the beast gave a startled yelp as the pouch bounced off of it. covering it in a small cloud. This was followed by a startled whimper, and it began backing into the forest.

“It will do nary else than itch and burn, but that should be enough to make it turn. It shall feel strange and not quite right, enough to curb it’s hunger for at least tonight.”

The whimpering, at that very moment, became a sharp yip, and then a howl of agony as the beast flung itself into… and past Zecora’s wards. It kicked, rolling in the soil and trying to rub the sticky dust from it’s body. That was not right, but Zecora had never seen such a violent reaction to something so simple. Apple Bloom looked stricken, but there was nothing to be done for it… and somehow the creature was past the first set of protection, the little filly was absolutely not leaving her hut now, for any reason.

The howling changed, the pitch raising, and for a moment, it seemed like screaming. Like someone being tortured.

And then it was screaming, the sound of leaves rustling, dry wood snapping and green wood splintering punctuating the sound.

What lay in front of Zecora’s hut was now a pinto mare in all earth tones, unconscious and battered, sprawled in the pile of bark and leaves that nearly concealed her.

“...W...Was that s’posed to happen?!”

Eat, Drink, and Be

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No, it shouldn't have done that, Zecora thought, but that wasn't exceptionally helpful. "I do not mean to deride, but you'll stay back or you will go inside."

"But it's a pony now, and it looks hurt! We can't just leave 'er!"

"A familiar form its taken, true, but we have no idea what it will do. What do you do when a potion fails?"

The young farmer groaned. "If potion fails, to find what ails, start from heads and work to tails. But Zecora-"

"I shall see unto the beast, but we don't know its anger's ceased. If you were hurt, or worse, were dead, then Applejack would have my head."

Apple Bloom nodded, shifting her awkward hold on the frying pan in her hooves. "Ah know, Ah know, but... ain't there some sort of knockout powder we could use instead of... y’know, cast iron?"

Zecora shook her head firmly. "It's outside soporific norm, but nevertheless it's true to form. Not the best way to use a skillet... but we have a need, and that will fill it."

Apple Bloom grumped. "Maybe if you're Sweetie Belle..."

"Please, do not mention that young mare! You'll frighten off my kitchenware."

"That only happened once, and there was extenuatin' circumstances and probably Discord!"

"Oh Harmony, child, don't get him involved. We have enough problems unresolved."

"...Didn't mean we should...!"

Zecora approached the pile of kindling, nudging the pony inside with a her staff. Definitely a mare. Definitely breathing. Three tone pinto, actually. Green spots and a brown mane. Natural camouflage, that was unusual. The wolf-turned-pony groaned and weakly swatted at the bamboo rod. Fluttershy had probably cared for kittens that were stronger.

It was eerie, and Zecora couldn't bring herself to deny it. She'd never seen anything like this. But first and foremost, she had to get this pony out of the elements, and into shelter. After that, she was sending the young Apple home.

She'd seen another creature in the forest that looked like a pony and very much wasn't. She wasn't going to risk Apple Bloom's safety on this one. And she certainly wasn't going to give the filly nightmares.

There were enough of those in the world without Zecora sharing her own.

"So d'ya know her?"

The zebra's lips pursed and she glared at her apprentice, who was, of course, standing only slightly farther away than Zecora herself was but absolutely not back in the relative safety of her hut and its wards. Apple Bloom shifted, but attempted to feign ignorance to the glare.

“I'm afraid I know her not, though she could wake as a friend. We'll put her in a cot; until then we'll just pretend.”


"Come, young Bloom. Up to my room."

"Didn't ya'll say there was wards or somethin' to keep timberwolves out? What'll they do to her?"

Harmony, what indeed?

Nothing, as it turned out. There was magic afoot, that much she could determine, but... poison joke, the supernatural magics of Everfree, and, now that she'd pushed some hair aside, the pony was a unicorn. That probably explained a few things, unicorns never seemed to have a proper respect for their own magics, but she'd never known them to meddle with self-transformation. She'd tried the potion she'd been working on after her first encounter with Princess Celestia’s apprentice and felt no small amount of relief when she didn't see the telltale sign of the stranger. She wouldn't use its name. Names were dangerous for things you didn't understand, her Ouma had said, and Zecora had developed new respect after that day. She’d also decided that perhaps ignorance was bliss. At very least, she didn’t use the salve anytime she visited Ponyville. What little correspondence she had with the guardspony-that-was-not was short, to the point, and never mentioned the events of their encounter.

Zecora found that she much preferred it that way.

She'd refused to let Apple Bloom haul the litter; she didn't want the young mare tied to this thing, no matter what it really was. Getting it, her, inside hadn't been that much of a problem, either. The mare had the body of an angry scarecrow. Leanly muscled, leanly built, but… hollowed. A hunter's physique, if one that had succumbed to a wasting illness that only targeted soft parts of the body, leaving muscle, skin and sinew unharmed.

It was deeply unsettling. The figure was simply… wrong for a pony. Even one starved would have changed in other ways. If she’d been brought to Zecora for a diagnosis, the zebra would have immediately checked for parasites of some sort. She’d given Fluttershy a treatment for worms not too long ago for several of her little friends.

Maybe it was wormwood. Zecora bit down on laughter. It would have come across as hysterical, and she certainly didn’t need that. Apple Bloom was taking this much better than she’d expected the filly to, but much of that probably came from Zecora’s own attempts to rationalize this whole mess. Or maybe being the little sister of an Element of Harmony, her threshold for what level of ‘unusual’ was actually worthy of concern was skewed.

She'd tucked the new pony into her own bed and bound the covers tightly. With that completed, she turned to her apprentice, who had actually obeyed without question when the zebra had told her to fetch as hearty a meal as the little pony could scrounge together. A rough salad, mostly edible herbs with a splash of apple vinegar, a thick bowl of stew, and three apples, one slightly wrinkled but still very much edible. Zecora had the grace to blush under her apprentice’s scrutiny of the last, but the bond between student and teacher went both ways and the young Apple didn’t deign to comment on the matter. The bowls went beside the bed, within reach. She didn’t expect the individual in her bed to rise, and more to the point as soon as she got Apple Bloom out of here she intended to take more sturdy precautions than a sheet.

"Apple Bloom, listen and listen well. Of what happened here, you must not tell."

"Whu- Zecora, Ah've been told all sorts of things about telling ponies immediately when anypony says that. Last time we almost got hostage negotiatin' cutie marks."

Zecora blinked, stared at her apprentice, and then sighed with a shake of her head. She'd ask Applejack. Over cider. Hard cider.

""A bit more time is what I seek. I ask for but a single week. I must know what has happened here, and only time will tell, I fear."

"Well... alright. But what if she needs help?"

"If she needs help, then we'll provide. Now, we must get you home-"

"-or AJ's gonna tan my hide." The pony finished, wincing.

Zecora frowned, but Applejack's family had a tendency towards hyperbole for that. Applejack had cheerfully recounted a 'beating' that involved Granny Smith haranguing her for an entire work day over the idea that the mare just might not get married. It had gone onto a tangent about the family name, children, adoption, prime birthing years, and settled on 'Well Macintosh ain't doing it' and Applejack insinuating that Macintosh just might be, and that had knocked Granny's teeth out. It had not, to Zecora's confusion, actually involved anything worse than a browbeating. She also wasn’t entirely sure that Granny’s teeth had physically fallen out but from the grin the farmer had given her… she rather suspected they had.

The farm ponies were a bit odd. Then again, in Zecora's bed was a mare that was once a timberwolf that had tried to eat her on several occasions. Maybe she didn't have room to talk?

Besides. For the price of an apple and a short walk, she could lay her eyes on Big Macintosh working a field, and there wasn’t a sane mare in Equestria that couldn’t appreciate that. Harmony help them all if Applejack ever realized there was a second reason Sweet Apple Acres did brisk business throughout the day.

‘Focus, Zecora!’ she chided herself, annoyed. “Your meter's lacking. Let's go, get cracking.”

She returned to find the majority of her bed piled on the floor, the bowls nowhere to be seen, and her stewpot upturned and conspicuously empty. She’d have counted it another very strange lesson from Everfree if the pile of bedding hadn’t chosen that moment to add another white stripe to her mane.

“Whoryu?” Came the rasping voice from the pile. A pair of green eyes stared out at her, reflecting the light strangely.

It took Zecora a moment to even recognize it as words and not just an odd growl. “A friend, if you’ll show your face. I see you’ve already had the run of my place.”

The mare turned her head, and Zecora saw that the eyes weren’t just reflective. They were actually glowing, like those of the timberwolf she’d only recently been. The wolf’s eyes in a mare’s head took in the world, and she could see them categorizing her environment. Zecora’s herbs took much note, and her bottle of apple cider vinegar – which was now empty, she noted with growing concern. The mare had eaten everything she’d been able to reach. Reaching the stewpot had probably involved falling out of bed and dragging herself to it.

She wasn’t skeletal anymore. Now she was merely gaunt, as a pony on an extended fast should be. No longer a nightmare, at least, but her coat and mane were long and matted beyond anything Zecora had ever seen before.

“Said… who.” A hoof reached up in the tangle, rubbing at her throat.

Ouma certainly hadn’t taught her granddaughter to be a fool. “Why don’t you tell me first, and then we’ll see if we can slake your thirst?”

“Wolf.” The mare growled, eyes brightening for a moment before they dimmed, confusion starting to build on those strained features. “No. Not wolf. Wasn’t wolf. Was. Something else.” The head lowered, and the eyes dulled further. “Hungry. Tired.”

"Please relax, and do not strain, until you are yourself again. Your memories will come in time-"

The mare’s eyes locked on her own, blazing back to life. “STOP. RHYMING.” The snarl that twisted her face didn’t belong on a pony in the least, but it certainly got her point across.

“I… Very well. Yes, I see. Do you at least know how you came to-” The eyes flared even brighter, and Zecora bit off the end of the question. That hadn’t really been an intended rhyme, but apparently the unicorn was going to have none of it. Zecora hesitantly backed her way to a table where another bowl of soup rested, and greedy green eyes fell upon it.

Zecora hesitated, gathered the bowl carefully, set it down, and with a firm push of her snout, slid it over to the entangled pony. Much of the tension seemed to slip away; too naive to be suspicious, then. Or perhaps too hungry to care.

“...Merry. My name. Merry.” The mare buried her face in the bowl of stew, eschewing magic and spoon entirely as she ate noisily, lapping stew and chewing root in odd intervals. The mare was slumping even as she ate, but Zecora had expected that. For all her chiding of Apple Bloom, sleep powder definitely had its place in an alchemist’s workshop. Still, the bowl was emptied before the mare slumped into it, breath relaxing as her body fell fully into a deep slumber.

Merry. Well. It wasn’t fitting. But at least it was certainly pony. So now for the big question; what in the world was she supposed to do with her?