by Albi

Chapter 1

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Chapter 1

The evening wind swept through Zecora’s monochromatic mohawk and kissed the three black lines on her gray face. They ran vertically from the bottom of her right eye to the corner of her cheekbone.

The marks of a warrior. One who had claimed the lives of her prey.

Zecora shuddered, shoving the memories down and resuming her watch. She brought her Wawindaji mask down over her face again. The cool air had been a welcome respite from the stuffy heat her mask could build up. Through the green tinted lenses of her angry hunting mask, she gazed out across Canterlot’s suburbs. Her perch on one of the taller apartment buildings gave her an excellent view of everything in a ten block radius, including the outskirts of the forest to the west.

All seemed calm, just as it did every time Zecora took watch. Months here in this new city had yet to reveal anything suspicious, supernatural or otherwise. The closest lead she had was that something had happened at the Battle of the Bands at her new school. Still, none of her new friends, or even her girlfriend, wanted to talk about it.

Suspicious to be sure, but it didn't strike Zecora as supernatural. She loved her grandmother, but was starting to think her juju detectors might be losing their potency.

Zecora didn't complain though, and it wasn't just because complaints were frowned upon in her household. She had gotten to travel to a foreign land, learn more about other cultures, and meet new friends that eased the loneliness from being so far out of place.

And if the, as phrase went, ‘cherry on top’ was that she did not have to hunt, Zecora was perfectly happy.

She stood up from her kneeling position against the roof’s parapet and took a moment to stretch, pulling the mask up again. Her black cloak ruffled in the wind, though it made no noise. Neither did the gold bangles around her arm when she lifted her hands to the sky to bid the sun farewell.

“How is the watch, Zecora?” a deep voice said in her ear.

She brought a hand down and pressed against the comlink. “Fine, Baba. It’s quiet tonight. All is right.” She inwardly cringed. She had rhymed again.

“Good,” her father said. “Five minutes, then switch to section six.”

“Yes, Baba.” Zecora picked up her silver spear, its twisting twin prongs catching the last glint of sunlight. She gave it a twirl as she moved to the other side of the roof and squatted next to the heating vent. She lowered her mask and scanned the suburbs again.

A family heirloom and important tool in hunting, her mask’s lenses acted as short range juju spectacles, invaluable for picking up on any anomalies in the area. Zecora could see calming blue lines trailing through the air, mixing and weaving all around Canterlot.

There was an abundance of good juju here, certainly more than what was considered normal, and certainly worthy of investigation. But neither Zecora nor her parents could detect the bad juju her grandmother had picked up on a few months ago.

Thinking of juju brought Zecora thoughts of her girlfriend, who practically radiated good vibes. Zecora couldn't quite figure out why; she was pretty normal in every other aspect. And there was no chance she’d ask her parents to investigate now.

The sun gave the world one last wink before vanishing beyond the horizon. While the moon hadn't made its appearance yet, the lights from downtown reached the sleepy suburbs and bathed it in a gentle, manufactured glow.

Zecora took a knee and gave the area one last sweep before moving on as instructed. She saw parents herding children inside, and cars pulling into driveways, their occupants finally getting home from work. Everything was normal.


Something moved at a hurried pace, flickering out of Zecora’s line of sight just as she was about to stand. She moved her eyes back and forth along the road until she found the moving figure again.

Zecora stifled a gasp as she increased the focus of her magical lenses with a thought, not that she needed to. She could spot that blazing cascade of hair from a mile away.

“Sunset?” she breathed.

Sunset ran down the sidewalk, occasionally casting nervous glances over her shoulder. She was dressed in a large overcoat that didn’t fit the ‘rocker style’ Zecora had grown fond of. Oddest of all, her aura was not the radiant gold Zecora knew so well. It was fading and flecked with red: bad juju. The road Sunset was traveling would take her into the forest.

“Zecora, have you moved yet?”

Her father’s stern voice made Zecora jump, a feat only he and her grandmother could manage. “Ah, I am on the move right now.” Such a flimsy lie. She was glad her father was not here in person.

There was truth in it, she supposed. She intended to move, but not toward the city as instructed. Zecora picked up her spear and leapt to her feet. Keeping her eyes on Sunset’s shadowed form, she vaulted from the roof, landing on a lower one close by.

Silent and quick as the wind, Zecora chased after her girlfriend.


The door closed behind Zecora as her parents left her alone in the principal’s office, their business in enrolling her complete. Zecora continued to sit straight, keeping her head pointed toward the desk in front of her, while her eyes roved around the room.

It looked how the office of an education administrator ought to look. Shelves full of books, filing cabinets full of documents, and a few personal objects. A small plant sat on the desk next to the nameplate. Zecora identified it as an Euphorbia Pulcherrima, or rather, a poinsettia. It was normally seen around the holidays. Fitting, as school had just returned from their winter break.

Zecora held in a sigh. It had been her first winter holiday away from her old friends. As exciting as traveling to a new land was, the knowledge that at the end of the day, the house she would return to was not her old one was… uncomfortable.

Principal Celestia walked back around her desk and took a seat. She pressed a button and spoke into a small microphone, “Sunset Shimmer to the principal’s office, please.” She removed her finger and smiled warmly at Zecora. “Sunset is part of our school’s welcoming committee. She’ll be delighted to show you around school and help you get acclimated.”

Zecora gave a sharp nod. It seemed rude that the principal was delegating such a task to someone else rather than doing it herself. But, perhaps she had more pressing matters to attend to. Or, that was just something that was done in this country.

A minute passed before someone knocked on the door, then entered without waiting for a response. “You wanted to see me, Principal Celestia?”

Zecora turned her head halfway toward the door, so she could look at both the newcomer and Celestia with a shift of her gaze. This new girl, Sunset Shimmer, was quite pretty by Western standards of beauty. Overall thin, with slight curves to her hips, tall, an ample bosom, and flowing hair colored crimson and gold. Her face was pretty as well, save for the rather large bags under her eyes.

Principal Celestia took notice as well. “Sunset, are you all right? You look exhausted.”

Sunset smiled, her dimples drawing attention from the bags. “I’m fine. Just adjusting my sleep schedule after break.”

Shifting her eyes, Zecora saw Principal Celestia give a nod of understanding. Zecora was not so easily convinced. She looked back to Sunset. While she gave no tell, Zecora couldn’t help but feel Sunset was lying. Or at least, omitting some of the truth.

And yet, despite the deception, Zecora felt an overwhelming amount of positive juju flowing from her. In fact, it was almost visible; a subtle golden glow around her frame.

“Well, I would like you to meet Miss Zecora,” Celestia said with a soft gesture. “She’s our newest transfer student starting this semester.”

Zecora stood, making sure not to turn her back fully to Celestia, and stuck her hand out. “Hujambo, that is to say, hello.” It was the first time her rather deep and accented voice had graced the room since her arrival.

Sunset gave her a firm grasp and shook. “Hi, I’m Sunset Shimmer. It’s nice to meet a new face. I’m guessing you’d like a tour of your new school?”

Zecora nodded, still shaking Sunset’s hand and keeping eye contact. “Tafadhali, if you would be so kind. A tour might give me a little peace of mind.”

With a kind giggle, Sunset said, “Sure thing. I know coming to a new place can be hard.” She gave her hand a gentle tug, and Zecora let go. “We’re off, Miss Celestia.”

“I’ll let Miss Cheerilee know where you are,” she said, shuffling some papers. “And if you need anything, Miss Zecora, my door is always open.”

Zecora gave the principal one last look. “Your hospitality is most welcome. Though, hopefully, my visits will be seldom.” Once Sunset turned toward the door, Zecora finally gave her back to Celestia as she walked out into the hall.

“Never give your back to a stranger,” her baba always said, “especially if there’s two.

While Zecora doubted either of these two strangers meant her harm, it never hurt to be careful. She let Sunset lead her back into the rotunda at the front of the school. The halls were much quieter than when she had first arrived with her parents. Without the crowd, she found it rather spacious.

“So, this is the main hall,” Sunset said, spreading her arms to emphasize the space. “We keep the trophies we’ve won this year over here.” Sunset pointed to a large display case at the back. There were golden trophies next to pictures of the teams they belonged to.

Zecora’s eyes roved and landed on a picture that had Sunset in it. She was surrounded by a group of smiling girls, most of them holding an instrument.

“Oh, that was taken for the Battle of the Bands we had just before break. My friends and I took first place.” Sunset’s voice sounded heavy with nostalgia despite it being a recent event.

Zecora looked up at her, but Sunset was already walking down the hall again. Her golden aura had dimmed.

Making mental notes of questions and observations, Zecora hurried after. Sunset showed off the science lab, the music room, the gym, the cafeteria, and the football field outside. Zecora smiled and nodded when appropriate, memorizing the layout of the school. Another thing she thought unnecessary, but, better safe than sorry.

As they returned inside, Sunset said, “By the way, I love your outfit.”

Zecora looked down at what she was wearing. Her flowing leaf green dress decorated with bright, abstract patterns in other earthy colors that trailed down to her ankles.

“Ah, your words are most kind. This is actually a favorite of mine.” She had wanted to look her best for her first day of school.

“It’s really nice,” Sunset said, not a trace of falsehood in her voice. Perhaps Zecora had been wrong in sensing an earlier lie. This Sunset Shimmer seemed to be a sincere young woman.

She showed Zecora the upper floors before leading her back to the rotunda where students were beginning to congregate. Zecora guessed it was almost time for break. As she and Sunset came to a stop near the back wall, Zecora could feel the students’ eyes following her.

“So, that’s the tour. Any questions?”

Zecora shook her head.

For some reason, Sunset smiled at the gesture. “Hey, I know how hard it is to be the new kid. Especially when you come from someplace far away. You’ll find a place here, trust me.”

“Your hospitality is sincere, Sunset. I trust I will enjoy my time here.”

Sunset raised an empowered fist. “That’s the spirit. So, tell me a little about yourself, Zecora.”

Zecora locked eyes with Sunset again. Beyond the tired bags, her teal eyes held a friendly warmth. But beyond even that, Zecora could see something else… sadness? Isolation? She was tempted to ask what was wrong, but Sunset had inquired first.

“I’m afraid there is not much to my story. My parents and I came here not seeking money or glory. Simply, a change of scenery from our old lives. A chance to start anew under a different part of the skies.” Zecora couldn’t help but giggle. “Traveling is something I always desired. People who can go where they please, I’ve always admired. But, I will admit, being this far from home, I can’t help but feel a little alone.”

Hushed laughter from across the hall prevented Sunset from saying what was on her mind. Glancing over, Zecora saw a group of students pointing at her and whispering behind their hands, before snickering again.

Sunset turned her head, her easy-going smile collapsing into an angry frown. She whirled around to face them and said with an almost feral growl, “Hey! If you’ve got something to say, either spit it out for everyone to hear, or keep your mouth shut!”

The students jumped, and one of them stammered, “S-sorry, Sunset. We’ll stop.” They hurried along, none of them daring to cast a look back.

Sunset faced Zecora again, easing back to her welcoming smile and tone. “Sorry about that. I swear, most of the students here are really nice. It’ll just take a little while.”

Zecora felt a heat rise to her cheeks. She had suspected some might make fun of her. What she had not expected was anyone to defend her on the first day. “Your commanding tone is to be respected. Though, truth be told, this is…” Zecora inhaled sharply through her nose, then let out a slow sigh.

“I apologize. I know why they point and laugh. It has happened to me in the past—” She flinched at her own words. “I know I rhyme when I talk. It….” She chose her words slowly. “It is ingrained into my family’s blood. I try to talk normally, but, it’s a bit of a struggle, as you can see.”

Sunset raised a hand like she was about to pat Zecora’s shoulder, but instead gestured down the hall. “Don’t worry. Spend enough time around here, and you’ll be speaking our slang in no time. In fact, why don’t you come and spend lunch with me and my friends?”

Zecora opened her mouth, closed it and cleared her throat, then said, “That sounds nice.”

“Awesome! Come on, I’m dying to get a burger. I wish they made some of them rare, but I guess beggars can’t be choosers.”


Zecora kept at a modest distance, blending into the shadows whenever Sunset looked back.

My shimmering sun, what troubles you so? You’re more frightened than a lone doe…. Curses. The Sunset she knew and had fallen in love with never showed any fear. Uncertainty at times, but never open terror. Yet, Zecora could see the sweat on her brow and her trembling eyes every time Sunset looked back.

Zecora checked over her own shoulder, but saw no one else. They had reached the edge of the forest now, and the moon was beginning to crest over the mountains on Canterlot’s other side.

“No…. Dammit, not yet.” Sunset’s frantic whispers reached Zecora's trained ears. Pieces of the puzzle began to fall into place, enough for her to see the picture.

But, no, that was impossible. She would have seen it before. And if not her, surely her parents would have detected it.

Zecora pushed the picture away, refusing to look at it head on. There had to be another explanation. Because, if Sunset was… then that meant Zecora would have to…

The concrete turned to gravel, then to dirt as both girls entered the forest, the eaves of the trees drowning them in shadow. The sky was barely visible through the thick foliage. If it weren’t for the glow of the rising moon, the path would be nigh impossible to see.

Then, Sunset veered off the main path, diving between a close set of trees. Zecora stopped short of them, listening to Sunset stumble through the underbrush, seemingly uncaring about the amount of noise she made. Zecora followed suit, Sunset’s racket masking the crunch of her own boots against the twigs and dead leaves, and her cloak hiding the rest of her.

“Further… have to… get further…”

Sunset’s breathing was labored, and her voice bordered on manic. Zecora kept pace with her with minimal ease, yet her heart hammered against her chest. She wanted to stop Sunset here, ask her what was wrong, hold her and tell her it would be fine. But Zecora mastered the patience drilled into her. She would let Sunset reach her destination first.

After ten minutes of traversing through the dense forest, Sunset came to a stop in a small clearing. The stars overhead were bright and clear, and the light of the full moon crept in, chasing the shadows away.

Zecora slowed her pace as she drew near, pressing herself against an old tree. As her fingers moved across the bark, she felt a rough and jagged groove in it. Moving her hand down, she discovered three more identical gashes. She looked about, seeing more trees around her scarred with deep gouges; thick shrapnel of bark were littered across the ground.

“Oh no,” Zecora breathed, her cyan eyes wide. “Please don’t let it be so.” She looked back at Sunset, who stood in the middle of the clearing, her large overcoat slipping off her shoulders.

With a deep breath, Zecora pushed herself off the tree and stepped into the moonlight.

Next Chapter: Chapter 2 Estimated time remaining: 33 Minutes
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