by Colombiaguy

Chapter 22: Chapter 22- Legacy of the Missing

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Author's Notes:

Hey y'all!
Sorry for the delay. Life...it hit me hard while I was writing this, but hey, here we go! But before we get this underway, I'd like to give two major shout outs.
First, I'd like to thank darkponDJ for helping with some of the idea's about Zebras.
Then, I'd like to give a HUGE shout out to Lycanthromancer who helped with arguably the hardest part of this chapter, writing Zecora's lines. He was an intense help and I can't thank him enough. Rhyming is hard man!

With that said, ENJOY!:heart:

One thing that has always interested me are movies with really well thought out plans. Like heist movies or those movies that kept you wondering who the real murder is. They made me think, wonder, and on those rare occasions...scheme. I mean I never really enacted any of them. It’s like after you come out of a kung fu movie and you just want someone to start some shit so you can open up a can of whoop ass on the unfortunate soul who thought they were all tough. Of course, that never happened and the hype would die out in a few hours. This feeling was way different, though. Rainbow was on board, which left only the Crusaders, and maybe Zecora. Rainbow suggested that she might be willing to tell the story while everypony else and I executed the plan. It’d be a slight deviation from the original plan, but it might open up some additional possibilities. We’ll see how up to it she is. I hadn’t thought of it, but Zecora was the host/tour guide for Nightmare Night. Only makes sense to include her or at least ask.

Thinking it over, I really need to try and remember more important details like that if I plan to go through with...stopping an....invasion. Good Christ, I’m insane! I am actually going to go through with preventing the changeling invasion...I mean...I still want to help! Really!... If you got popped into a new world, with a new body and abilities, and (by a strange twist of fate only God could devise) have knowledge of major events to occur, you should do something! Just...shit, man. I have a responsibility to help, to do the right thing, and, in this case, the right thing is assisting in stopping the invasion of bug ponies bent on making Equestria it's all-you-can-eat buffet...The more I think about it the more I think there is something wrong with me. Maybe...I should get this off my chest...talk to someone about all this.

“Hey Dante...you okay? You sound kinda worried."Rainbow said with all concern.

Aaaah, damn it. I should have known focusing on one thing for too long would have garnered some attention. I need to stop all this...actually, forget that. Asking yourself to stop thinking is paradoxical in and of itself. That and it’d be weird to go from deep thought to something non-sensical. I just hope she didn’t get too many details. “Yeah, I’m fine was...uh...just...thinking of something coming up...soon.” Don’t ask what it is. Don’t ask what it is. Don’t ask-

“What’s coming up that has you that worried?" She asked, the sound of worry still lingering. "That felt like...it felt similar to when me and the girls fought this crazy chaos dude and I thought my home might get destroyed. We totally whooped his flank by the way.”

I should have known better than to ask for her not to ask, what I knew she was going to ask anyway. And I still need to give her an answer...and I can’t lie...S-should I tell her? I don’t have to tell her about all the events to come...But...how would she react to that? She might tell the others...Oh God, Twilight would flip her shit!...Eeeheheeeh...Can’t I just be an irresponsible man-child with no obligations, exploring a world of magic and mythology?


Come on! Can’t I be a little irresponsible?

“Hmmm let me think abou- NO!”

...Damn you, brain! Being responsible is hard!

“Oh well, in that case go ahead.”


“What do you think?”

...Ugh...damn it...Then what do I tell Rainbow? Uuuuh...shit, this is going to go as well as a fart in church but it’s all I’ve got. “I...I can’t tell you.”

Rainbow reacted as I expected, confused and slightly offended. “What do you mean ‘you can’t tell me’? The way you were freaking out, it felt like something bad was coming. Why can’t you tell me what’s bugging you?”

Just tell it straight, don’t beat around the bush. “The princesses asked me not to talk about it, but having a linked mind makes that hard when in pops in unexpectedly. I know we’re friends and friends should trust each other...but this just isn’t one of them...Sorry, Rainbow Dash...really.” I meant it, too. I don’t like keeping things from friends or vice versa. Princess Celestia had a point, if I suddenly showed I had knowledge of things to come, there’d questions about their futures and the like. And I can only imagine what Rainbow would do...oh man, if she told Twilight, she’d...well...she’d do something drastic.

"Oh...okay. If the princesses asked you not to talk, it's cool," Rainbow responded in a more understanding tone. The insulted feeling dropped a bit. But a small thought did leak into her mind. "You seem to do a lot for the princesses. This thing for Nightmare Night and now this 'mystery' thing. What's up with that?"

"Well...the Nightmare Night plan is to help Princess Luna when she comes to visit, ya know with her being gone for so long and all ...But I'd be lying if I said I don't find the idea of an elaborate scare plan, extremely tantalizing. Like...a heist, but less illegal and way more fun."

Rainbow seemed to share my enthusiasm. Based on her thoughts she was drawing some comparisons to a few Daring Do novels... Was Indiana Jones ever part of a heist? I mean...he stole from Nazis, yeah, but who didn't steal from them? Eh, I doubt it. He wouldn't do anything illegal...or anything that the U.S government wouldn't ignore or endorse. "Well, I can get behind that...but what about this...'thing' you can't talk about?" She asked, pressing for info.

"I helped out the Princesses with...'a thing' and I learned about something that’s going to happen. So they entrusted me to keep quiet about it until they get more information. So I agreed, " I started with a bit of apprehension. I did mean it. I wanted to help. I wanted to be useful.I wanted to feel like I had some influence in this world.

"Hey Dante, not to sound like a broken record or anything, but are you really okay? You're soundin'...kinda...depressed,” Rainbow ask in full concern.

Was I okay?...Probably not...I've been trying to keep my mind off of it, joke where I can and find something to distract myself, but now I can't stop thinking about it. With Nightmare Night coming up soon, it just reminds me more that the invasion is going to happen...Wait, stop! Need to change my thoughts before Rainbow catches on. There's no need to make her or the others worry about this...maybe "I’m...I’m sure I will be fine. Thanks for asking Rainbow, really.” I stated in a tone that...really didn't sound convincing.

I could tell she wasn't, but smiled anyway as she landed, “Hey, no worries! I know about that kind of stress. Ya don’t want it messin’ with you too much. Trust me, when I say it’s not good for you.”

Based on how she said that and her thoughts, she was referring to the Best Flier Competition and her encounter with Discord. She did lockdown under pressure...maybe she has a point. If I start freaking out about this... “thing” before it even happens, I’ll choke when it does come around. Either way, I should talk to Luna or Celestia about all this. At least to voice my concerns. “I appreciate it, Rainbow." I responded solemnly. "Sorry for killing the mood.”

Rainbow waved me off with a hoof, “Don’t mention it. And if ya need to talk about whatever's buggin' ya, you can always count on me and the gang.” She then looked at the Everfree before her and figured a way to cheer me up. "Hey, Princess Luna said she wanted us to scope out some hiding spots, right? I bet that'll help get your mind off your worries."

That was kind of a nice idea. Like planning for an ambush...which really isn't too far off. Maybe I should get my mind off this for a bit. Not much I can do until I get more info from the sisters anyway. "You're right. Let's get to work. Hell, maybe talking with Zecora will help too. Give me some history about my species."

Rainbow gave a nod and we made our way into the kinda-sorta dangerous Everfree Forest. I mean let’s be honest. A lot of stuff goes down in this “dangerous” forest and the same six mares pretty much waltz through it without care. I mean it’s just me and Rainbow, but she’s a top ace flier and I got ten finger blades on demand. I think we good.

It took a bit but we ended up finding a small marked path that lead to a statue of Nightmare Moon. The path was pretty wide and had small pit stop points along it. According to Rainbow, they were used to tell different Nightmare Night stories. Apparently it was a kind of tradition to walk the path to the statue and tell stories at these stops. I guess it’s kinda like when you go camping and you’re supposed to tell spooky stories. According to Rainbow, it’s suppose to get you into the spookiness of the season. I can get behind that, just hope they’re not like stories from back home. There were some that I remember the more sadistically inclined stories, but most were the kind you’d hear and go “Oooh” or “Aaah” but not in the desired effect. More like you’re just humoring them for trying to be scary, but...ya know.

Anyway we scoped out the area along the paths and stop points. We spotted a few spots around the area that could probably work. Rainbow also pointed out that the stop spots and the path had a clear open canopy; so on top of the surrounding foliage we also had an aerial perspective. Could be useful, I’ll file it away to tell Luna later. I got into a bit of a more relaxed mood as we went through marking spots and ways to move about and around the path. I let a tune leak into my mind again, and Rainbow seemed to approve. She bobbed and shimmied to the music as we continued our search.

For the most part it was kinda fun checking various spots and angles along the path. This was one of the few times I was glad to be in sync with another mind. We were able to share perspectives and ideas with a clarity that most organizations or militaries would spend billions on to replicate. Eventually, we had marked at least thirty or so trees and bushes, and ended our trip at a large statue of Nightmare Moon rearing back and pointing down with a single hoof. There was a fair-sized clearing around the statue and little cover for the entire radius around the statue. Sneaking around here would be tricky, if not impossible. The fact that there wasn’t any canopy cover didn’t help either.

“Hmm, any ideas about what to do here? Seems like there aren’t many options,” I inquired of my host.

Rainbow pondered on what she could do for a moment or two, before she turned her gaze skyword. “Hmmm, I think I have an idea, but it’ll be kinda hard to pull off out here,” She replied.

I caught a hint of what she was thinking. It was a pretty good idea, but I could see where the problem was. “Set up cloud cover before the group arrives and use that to drop in as needed. Not bad.”

“Yeah, but the wild winds are going to make it hard to keep them in place or keep them at all,” Rainbow retorted. “If the wind gets too strong, it’ll either move the clouds away from the clearing or disperse them completely. We’re going to have to see what the forest’s weather conditions are the day of the festival.”

Well, that is going to complicate things. Hmmm, what to do? What to do? Hmmm...I wonder...if Luna has an...invisibility spell or something. I know she has that... smoke spell thing. Did that only work on her? I don’t think it was ever clarified. She definitely has to know an invisibility spell. Or a optic camo spell...eh, I’ll ask her tonight. After a thousand plus years of existence, she probably knows an illusion spell or two. “I’ll talk with Luna and see if she has a solution. Until then, we’re gonna have to deal with what we have thus far.”

Rainbow nodded in agreement.“Yeah, you’re right. Hopefully, she’ll have some kind of spell or something.” Huh, great minds do think alike.

“My thoughts exactly...hehe, literally,” I responded with a chuckle...Does that count as a pun? I don’t think so. I mean, it literally was what I was thinking. I think that’s...irony? No...that’s not right...or is it? Is it ironic that I don’t understand irony?...I think I need to stop before this gets too circular. “Well, I guess the next thing on today’s agenda is to talk to Zecora.” I pulled out the list Twilight had given me...well, not really pulled out, I had been holding it the entire time. Rainbow didn’t have anything to hold it with, so I’d opted to just hold it. I unfurled it in front of Rainbow’s eyes.

“Uuuh, we aren’t going to ask her ALL of those questions...are we?”Rainbow asked with some growing worry. Her boredom senses were tingling and the sensation was only getting worse the longer she looked at the list. “By Celestia’s Mane it looks like a homework assignment.”

...Technically...not wrong. If I handed this to a child and asked them to answer it, they’d think it was homework. Buuuuut, I’m twenty-three and, last I checked, I’m under no obligation to ask ALL of these questions. Merely report back Zecora’s responses. Aren’t loopholes great? “Nah. If anything, we’ll use it as a reference if we need to press for info. Most of this is just...excessive,” I responded, putting my host’s worries to rest.

Rainbow let out an audible sigh of relief. “Awesome. Well, let’s see what she knows.”

The flight to Zecora’s hut was fairly short. Apparently, she doesn’t live too far into the forest. It was just a few minutes away from the statue.

The hut was similar to Twilight’s library, but looked to be built out of a willow tree. A tribal mask hung over the front door and another rested on the side. There were also gourds and vials of...various somethings (probably potions), hanging from the branches. From the front there looked to be two small windows on either side of the front door. Based on the sounds of bubbling liquids, the owner was home and she was brewin’.

With a quick rap at the door, Rainbow announced our presence. “Hey, Zecora! It’s Rainbow Dash! A friend of mine wanted to ask you something.”

The sound of hooves against wood heralded the arrival of the zebra of the hour. “Ah pegasus of blue, what is it I can do for-” She started as she answered with her exotic African accent, only to stop and stare with shocked eyes at my tendril arm. The look on her face, it was a kind of shock I’d never seen before. It wasn’t like some of the other looks I’ve gotten from other ponies. They looked at me with shock, wonder, and sometimes intrigue. Zecora... hers was something different.

“Mlinzi?! Can this truly be?!”

Mil what now? What did she call me? Better yet, what language was that? Her tone sounded surprised, so this could be a good thing or a bad thing. “Uh...Rainbow? Mind asking what that word means? I’m can’t tell if it was a compliment or if she just called me a demon.”

“Yeah...I couldn’t makes heads or tails of that either,” Rainbow responded. She faced Zecora and asked what mil...milen...that word she said meant.

After the question was asked, Zecora just kept...looking...at me...still shocked...and still not saying a damn thing...the awkward levels are rising steadily. Welp, I got one thing that ought to break her from this stupor. I reached out with my tendril and...BOOP! I booped her. Hehe, the animations were right. That's fun to do. Her face instinctively scrunched up and she shook herself back to the mortal world. “You are real... I-I’m not sure how I should feel.”

"What do you mean, Zecora? Do you recognize what Dante is?" Rainbow asked.

Zecora nodded deftly. "Yes, I recognize his kind. The Mlinzi are spoken of fondly in our tales from olden times." She stepped to the side to allow Rainbow and me to enter. "Please come inside, noble Mlinzi. It is an honor to have you speak with me," she finished with a generous bow.

Wow, this is...really weird. She's being extremely cordial. I'm really curious to hear this tale. Maybe it'll give me an idea of what I can do...or at least give me something to strive for...maybe keep whatever legacy this species has alive.

We entered Zecora's abode, and true to my earlier guess, she'd been working on some kind of brew. The cauldron in the center of the room was still boiling, and an assortment of herbs were still strewn across a nearby table. There were also way more vials and gourds hanging from the ceiling, and I spotted at least three more masks hung up as well. There was no question that Zecora was an...alchemist? ...No, apothecary! That's it. Alchemists tried to turn one thing into another. Apothecaries were like the early pharmacists. The few jars containing various plants and herbs definitely reinforced the idea.

"Welcome to my humble dwelling. I know warm water would be most compelling, but as a proper host it is my regret that my cauldron is already filled and set. It boils upon my cooking fire, so unfortunately, I cannot fulfill that desire," she stated humbly. "Now, I ask my friends most true, what is it I can do for you?"

Wow, she is quite a really gracious host...but why did she offer me wa- ...! Could it be that my idea about being partially aquatic was right?! Neow mah God, I might actually get some legitimate answers!

“Are you squealing?” Rainbow asked with a small chuckle.

"No! ...Yes. ...Shut up!" She didn't. She just giggled more. "Just ask her what the word means and what she knows about Symbios. I get enough of this flack from the princesses as it is,” I moaned.

“Okay, okay. Just having a little fun,” she retorted playfully. “So, Dante, the Symbio with me, wanted to know what that word you keep using means. Minseli or something? And he also wanted to know what you about the Symbios."

Zecora cocked her head in confusion. "Symbios? An odd word indeed to distinguish your friend, though for they're called 'Mlinzi' in the stories my people have penned. It means 'protector,' and 'helper,' a name that fits well. If it's stories you're after, then I'm willing to tell." She paused as she took a seat across from the two of us. "The Mlinzi saved the Zebras from dying, it's true, and as such we are all quite indebted to you."

OH, OH, BACKSTORY! I LOVE BACKSTORIES! I want all the clarification I can get on this! “Rainbow, I’m gonna slither my way over to Zecora for this. It’ll be easier to ask questions that way.”

“Yeah, no worries.” Rainbow nodded and I made my way onto Zecora, who accepted me without so much as a flinch. “Hope you don’t mind me hanging out here for a bit. It’s just so I can ask my questions directly.”

Zecora didn’t have an issue with it and she was even willing to relay my questions to Rainbow so she wouldn’t get left out or only hear half the conversation.

"Our tale begins back before alicorn rule, and when life in my homeland was both taxing and cruel. Food and water were scarce constantly, and predatory creatures stalked us endlessly. Death for my ancestors was ever-present. Every day was a struggle; it was far from pleasant."

Well...that matches up with Twilight's hypothesis about a hostile environment. Better keep listening.

"We could not safely forage, though it still needed to be done, so we used scouts to bring food back to the herd. Predators picked them off one by one; our losses were high, and starvation assured." Hunter-gatherers. Sounds familiar, though given the fact that Zebras are herbivores, they likely didn't hunt much. "One of those scouts, Zema by name, was a scout of some courage, and some local fame. While out hunting food, he came under attack from a vicious lioness who wanted a snack. His injuries were severe, and he almost died, but at the very last moment, his savior arrived. A hyena with arms dark as pitch and with voids in its eyes killed the lioness, protecting him from his incoming demise. Hyenas are savage, all fangs, claws and hair, but this one was smart and quite self-aware. It carried him all the way back to his neck of the wood, and it even healed him, when no Zebra could. When the Mlinzi left the hyena, and alighted on Zema, an odd side-effect happened as you plainly see; it striped him with black, which has been passed down to me."

Rainbow interrupted, "Wait, wait, wait! Are you saying that Zebras didn't always have stripes?" I have to admit that I was a bit curious myself. Would that be a side effect of me staying on one host for too long?

Zecora took the moment to chuckle a little. "No, it is said that Zebras were once purely white. It wasn't until the Mlinzi came that we gained our stripes.” This statement caused Rainbow to look over herself with a slightly curious look. If I had to wager she was imagining herself with zebra stripes. Hmmm...ugh, kinda reminds me of a bad OC. “The 'Symbio' as you say, who saved Zema that day, was named Pula, the Symbio chief. She met with the elders and went to go get her people for mutual relief. The aquatic Mlinzi were suffering, as drought was not an uncommon thing. Survival was difficult; before then, many had died, but what one lacked the others could and did provide. The Zebras had knowledge of where sustenance grew, of how to find water and stave off predators, too. The Mlinzi offered great physical strength, healing, armor, and weapons, to keep foes at arms' length.”

"The symbiosis between our peoples bonded us as beloved equals. Our bonds became much stronger as time passed and the years grew longer. Relationships strengthened, and emotions grew, from friendships to love, and intimacy, too.”

"But all good things must eventually pass, and this, as all others, was not fated to last. One spring, the Mlinzi left us to spawn, and they never came back. They were simply gone. Our scouts checked the marshes where they usually bred, but instead they found nothing -- not even the dead. Nobody knows where the Mlinzi went off to. Until this very moment, and now we have you."

Dude...that’s one hell of a legacy. So...Symbios/Mlinzi helped out the Zebras and the Zebras in turn helped the Symbios/Mlinzi. If there was any question that my species is inherently symbiotic, Zecora’s story definitely confirmed it. This has answered a lot...but something seemed left out. If this story is true, then where did the dark-eyed warriors come from? I mean, there is a considerable period when they could exist. Before alicorn rule, means before Celestia and Luna. How long ago was that? It’d have to been during the Hearth’s Warming Eve story...or before. But I don’t think they ever specified how long ago that was. So...did some Zebras travel? Better ask.

“Zecora, have you ever heard of the dark-eyed warriors? Supposedly, they had Symbio partners that gave them some of the powers you mentioned.”

Zecora tapped her chin as she thought on the question. Her mind went through a variety of tales she knew, but none seemed to fit the bill. “Warriors of dark eyes? I’m sorry, but of this matter, I cannot advise.”

Well, that's a bummer. But that did cover a lot, and I guess...I have something to strive for, a protector or helper. Damn...well, guess we’ll just have to keep searching for that one. “Thank you for telling us your tale, Zecora. It’s given me a bit to think about...and I hope that I can live up to the legacy of the Sym...er, Mlinzi.”

Zecora nodded with a content smile. She was happy to have helped. And, oddly enough, I felt...kinda happy too. Not only for inadvertently making a folktale real, but for finally getting some real answers. Symbios come from Zebra country, but disappeared during their...spawning grounds. Ugh...knowing I can do that is...kinda disgusting. I can spawn. Blegh. There’s no way to say that without it making me shudder.

“I am certain you will hold true to the Mlinzi of old. But know that you have your own tale to be told. Keep the past in mind, but remember the future is vast. Hold true to yourself and be steadfast.”

How philosophical...and corny, but I’m sure that it’s meant with the best intentions. “Thank you, Zecora. I’ll keep that in mind.” I prepared to slither off, when I remembered an earlier conversation with Rainbow. “Oh, wait. I wanted to ask you something.”

Zecora cocked an eyebrow in curiosity.

“You do the tours for Nightmare Night, right?”

Next Chapter: Chapter 23- Planning the Plan Then... Explaining the Future. Estimated time remaining: 3 Hours, 13 Minutes
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