CHAPTER 9: Welcome to the Past (First draft. Final version in the works)
Zecora's eyes snapped awake and her body jerked from the sound of twigs snapping outside of her house, nearly making her fall out of bed. Twilight and her friends visited often but she was not expecting visitors at sunrise. Whatever was outside was either trying to break in or was in need of help. Getting up, the zebra made her way to the door slowly, ready for any intruder who may cross her path. Anything could be in the Everfree Forest and she was too smart to take chances. Listening carefully, she could hear voices outside.
"Yes, Flora, I think we are in the past." a voice whispered in mid-conversation. "Whatever my brother did, it caused a chain reaction that sent us all through time."
"But how far back?" a small squeaky voice asked. That one must have been "Flora."
"Look at the decorations around the hut. My mom said she donated some of these masks to a museum because they were significant artifacts. That was not long before we were born, so I think we've gone back at least twenty years!"
Zecora listened intently but did not understand what they were talking about. Either they were just a bunch of kids who had way too much apple cider or they were just plain crazy. She didn't peek out to see who they were, in fear of being noticed, but she could tell two of them were mares. But how did they know her name?
"So now what do we do?" a male voice added.
"Zecora is not going to know who we are, so we can't afford to freak her out. We need to act calm. Before I take us back, I need to fix my legs. The spell takes a lot of energy and concentration and I'm afraid anything could go wrong with me in this condition. The plan is this: we get healed and I'll take you guys back. Then I'll go find the rest of the gang and bring them back too."
"No way," Flora said, "I need to find my sister. I'm not leaving without her!"
"Me neither. We're going with you."
"Fine. Fine. How about this? We heal up, find the rest of the gang, and then I'll take us back."
"Sounds like a plan." the stallion replied, knocking on the door with three loud bangs.
The sound of the shaking door seemed to echo through the dark forest, stirring the bright-eyed birds of the trees into a stir. Zecora could hear one of them smack the other in the back of the head.
"For pete's sake, Tempest! Knock, I said, don't kick the flippin' door down!"
"Well excuse me, princess!" the one called Tempest jeered.
Zecora had heard enough. Keeping the door locked, she called out to her unexpected guests from inside of her hut.
"Who are you and why are you here? Speak up now and make things clear!"
"Holy hayseeds...." Flora said in shock, "she sounds so....young."
"How is it that you know my name?" Zecora asked, cracking the door open slightly. "I am not known to be of fame."
"Zecora, it's us!" the one called Tempest said, "Andromeda, Tempest, and Flora."
Andromeda groaned, wanting to slap him in the back of the head again.
"She doesn't know us yet, remember?"
"I do not know you, I am sure, unless my memory is a blur." Zecora said as she began to close the door again.
Andromeda stopped it from closing and moved her head closer, her eyes connecting with Zecora's.
'Whose eyes are these? Look how they glow.' Zecora thought to herself. 'I feel I know her. How is this so?'
There was something in Andromeda's gaze that drew attention to her. So few ponies shared her color, but there was something else that seemed familiar.
"Zecora," the purple unicorn begged, "I know this is difficult to understand, but we're from the future. We got sent back to the past from a time-traveling spell. Even if you don't believe us, right now two of us are in need of medical attention and the other has fallen into poison joke."
Andromeda's sunset eyes widened with genuine plea as she spoke.
"Please," she said desperately, "we need your help. We don't have anything on us right now but we'll pay you back. We promise."
Zecora hesitated. They did not seem like the kind who would steal from her, but one could never be too careful. Still, they were in bad shape and did not look to be in the right condition to rob her. After a moment of consideration, she unlocked her door and opened it.
"I will help relieve your pain, but afterwards you must explain."
"Deal." Tempest said, still clutching his charred wing.
The three ponies stepped inside with relief. Potions and masks cluttered the room, filling it with an almost voodoo-like atmosphere the Zebra tribes possessed. Flora looked around, remembering how frightened she was whenever she saw those large wooden masks. Their empty eyes and gaping mouths were still scary looking, even now. Andromeda observed every corner of the room, trying to date just how far back they had gone. No photos could be seen anywhere, further frustrating her. Meanwhile, Tempest was looking into the giant black cauldron that lay in the center of the small circular room. Moving his head towards it to see what was in it, he quickly found his body fling backwards as Zecora snatched his wing with a firm grip and examined the surprised blue pegasus' feathers. Tempest flinched with twitching eyes, teeth grinding silently.
"Sweet mother of Granny Smith!" he yelped in pain. "Take it easy!"
"If you want your burnt wing whole," the mystic snorted, "then stallion up! Don't be a foal."
Flora and Andromeda giggled at his discomfort as Tempest grumbled, trying to hold still while Zecora examined his wing. He hated holding still. Looking down at his "doctor," he began to notice that the injury was not the only reason she was investigating his feathers. She was inspecting their shape and textures and without looking up at him, she let go. She said nothing, moving on to search for the correct herbs around her shop silently and quickly. These odd actions made the three ponies feel nervous and awkward. Here was one of their oldest friends and even occasional foal-sitter, looking at them like they were suspicious strangers. First they had arrived unannounced and now she was helping them even though she did not know them. Andromeda didn't like having to drop by like this.
'Unfortunately we have no other choice.' she thought to herself. 'We can't risk going into town to see the doctor. They'll record our visit and discover who we are. We need to find the rest of our group and get out of here before we alter this timeline too much.'
While Andromeda continued to decide what course of action they were going to take, Zecora returned from a back room with a small book and several plant snippets and vials. She turned to a place in the book and nodded before placing each individual ingredient into the cauldron. As she stirred the brew, her eyes never looked away from her guests. Flora felt even smaller than the now-miniature size the transformation had left her at and continued to feel uncomfortable until the zebra switched her gaze to another. Though Andromeda and Flora did not exchange glances with her, Tempest stared right back, trying to read her thoughts from the expressions on her face. She gave nothing away but instead broke the silence.
"Where are you weary ponies from?" she asked, sitting down onto a chair by the cauldron. "Why to this hut have you three come?"
"We're from Ponyville." Andromeda spoke, assuming leadership in this situation. "We were caught in a time-traveling spell by accident. There were ten of us but by the looks of it, we were all scattered when we made the jump. We don't know how it happened but now we have ended up in the past and we don't know exactly how far back, either."
"Before we were born, it looks like," Tempest said, looking around at the small house and its tribal decorations.
"We just want to go home again, but we need to find our friends first."
Zecora listened intently with a look of curiosity and intrigue. Something was off about her when they spoke to her, as if she knew something they didn't. She stood up and approached them, staring into their souls even deeper than before.
"And who are you? Repeat your names. I do not wish to play more games."
"My name is Andromeda." the unicorn said. "These two pegasi with me are Tempest and Flora."
"Are we friends, or are we foe? If you don't mind, I'd like to know."
"Friends!" Flora squawked in nervousness. "Good friends! You know our parents and you would come over often. We'd often call you 'aunt Zecora.' That's all we can say."
"Who are these ponies that you say I know in Ponyville today?"
Flora nervously looked at Andromeda while Tempest kept his mouth shut on this situation.
"Should we tell her?" Flora whispered silently to Andromeda.
"Tell her what? What good is it?" Andromeda replied.
"We've got to tell her something." Flora said even quieter, motioning her head towards Zecora. "What if she kicks us out for not answering? I don't want to go back into Everfree Forest. It scares me!"
"That's the least of our worries, Flora. What if she doesn't believe us? Besides, we can't risk having ourselves compromised, even by Zecora."
"For pete's sake, Andromeda!" Tempest said loudly, breaking the secrecy of the conversation. "Even if she doesn't believe we're from the future or who we are, we need medical attention."
He turned towards Zecora.
"Look, we're telling the truth when we said we're from the future. Our parents are mmmphhh!!! Mmmm?"
Zecora jumped in surprise to see Tempest's lips suddenly stuck together, surrounded my magic that left him unable to speak. His face turned red trying to open them, but it was no use.
"Mmmph!!!" he tried to yell, looking back at Andromeda with angry eyes. Her horn glowed a light yellow.
"Tempest," she said worryingly, "we can't let her know who we are. What if she tells our parents? We can't let anypony discover who we're related to, either. I've never gone back far enough to a time where history can be rewritten! We need to find our friends without being noticed and get out!"
Zecora stood there, absorbing every word. She did not speak up, nor did she object to the very odd conversation taking place in front of her. Andromeda noticed her keen interest and released Tempest's mouth, leaving Tempest breathing heavily and rubbing his lips. Caught between the need to tell Zecora and the logic of staying silent, he shook his head and sighed.
"Fine. You win."
"Zecora," Andromeda said solemnly, turning her attention back to her, "we need you to promise us you won't let anypony know about this. I understand if you don't believe us, but trust us when I say that we just want to go home."
"Please," the small Flora softly pleaded, "we are lost and we need to find our friends and family. Will you help us?"
Zecora remained silent for a while before turning around and walking into the storage room once more, leaving the now-finished brew bubbling in the cauldron. After she had returned with new ingredients, she had a smirk on her face. While looking at them, the smirk grew to a grin and finally into a smile while light humming tune could be heard from her. It sounded familiar to them, like an old memory one could not grasp. Tempest couldn't take it anymore. He felt like a joke was being held at his expense and, in typical fashion, he could not hold his tongue.
"Alright," he said impatiently, "what's so funny? Why the sudden good mood?"
The grin left, but was instead replaced by loud laughter. It was not sinister or evil, but playful, like when one hears a funny secret. Zecora stopped laughing and walked up closely to Tempest, who felt unsteady and confused about what was going on.
"I know you more than you may think! I finally pieced the missing link."
Leaning closely into his face, she studied his features once again and smiled warmly like the Zecora they knew in the future.
"Not just your eyes you get from her. You also share your mom's temper!"
Tempest backed up quickly, suddenly silent and in shock. Both he and Andromeda couldn't utter a word. So much for keeping their identities secret. The room grew silent, save for the slight bubbling and popping of the brew's surface and the gentle crackle of the small fire underneath the cauldron. Only when Flora spoke up did it subside.
"You know his mom?" she asked. "How is that possible? I thought you didn't know who we are."
Zecora continued to smile and lifted Tempest's dropped jaw before leading him to the cauldron to give him the medicine.
"I do not recognize you, that's true, but I can still see all the clues. Your words and actions tell the tale, like written letters in the mail."
She took a hoof-full of the liquid medicine and began to spread it across Tempest's wing. The recipe burned and glowed a dull white and smelled of bitter lemon and salt. Tempest flinched at first, but quickly ignored the pain while he listened carefully to what she had to say.
"Tempest is a pegasus blue," she explained, "with fiery spirit, impatient too. Rainbow Dash is much the same. The similarities are plain. At first I did not see the signs until his eyes were close to mine."
She looked back at Tempest. Before he could say something, another stab of pain shot through him like lightning. Though she had only rubbed in onto his wing, the medicine seemed to absorb into his veins, scattering through his wing and back like tree branches. It was looking better already. The once-charred skin and cuts were now nearly healed, leaving a bald spot on most of his wing. His feathers were still gone, but they would grow back within a day or two. In an instant, guilt fell upon him, leaving him feeling horrible because of his impatient attitude earlier. Zecora knew what he wanted to say and shushed him softly.
"You have your mother's courage, child." she said, chuckling to herself. "You must have driven Rainbow wild!"
Tempest smiled guiltily as Zecora motioned for Andromeda to stand by the cauldron. She obeyed and shut her eyes tightly when the zebra looked at her wounds. As she applied the ointment, Zecora continued her observance.
"And as for you, Andromeda, I see it now in your aura. You are a Sparkle, your mother's foal. I see it in your eyes and soul. You are kind and very smart. You also have a leader's heart. Am I correct or do I err? Perhaps it was your purple hair."
Andromeda looked up at her purple bangs. Though styled to a degree, her hair hung similar to how Twilight's did. Even her grandmother had the same bangs. It was a clear sign of relation, but still a surprise to her that Zecora could guess she was Twilight's daughter.
"Yes," she said in disbelief, "Twilight is my mother. How did you..."
Before she could finish, the healing caught her attention. Cuts melded on their own slowly and even the blood dissolved before her eyes. For as smart as she was, even she sometimes forgot just how amazing Zecora's abilities were. Her leg looked good as new. Turning to the last pony, Zecora lifted the tiny Flora with her teeth and placed her by a vase of liquid.
"I see you touched some poison joke," she said, placing her into the vase, "but you'll be better with a soak."
Flora swam around a little bit before sudden growth hit her and she bulged out of the pottery with a quick motion. The vase, still on her flank, cracked and spilled its contents on the floor. Flora felt ashamed.
"Oh," she stammered, "I'm so so sorry! I didn't mean to do that!"
"You really are Fluttershy's daughter." Zecora laughed, ignoring the mess on the floor. "Only she would cry over water! Be still my child, I'm not upset. Please take this towel, for you are wet."
"Thank you." Flora said, blushing brightly.
Zecora nodded happily and turned to face all three of her guests. Something in her changed and a warmth could be felt from her mannerisms. She left momentarily and returned with blankets for them and laid them on their shoulders. The morning was still cold and the three guests appreciated it. Standing in the middle, she looked down on them like a mother.
"Your wounds are healed now, can you see? Though we've just met, we're family. Now get something to eat and rest. Doctor's orders. I know best. And worry not while you three sleep. For you, your secret I will keep."