The Everfree forest housed many things one couldn't find in Ponyville, Big Macintosh mused to himself as he stared at the unkempt path below his giant hooves.
The thing that immediately came to the farmer's mind were Timberwolves, feral canines made magically from wood. Such a creature wouldn't hesitate to devour a pony, even one Mac's size.
Another threat this untamed area held was the bizarre plant life. Pony eating plants, plants that tried to use their vines to strangle the life out of those it came in contact with, hay, Macintosh had even heard of a type of flower that would erupt flames if a foal tried to pluck it. He was lucky that the only plant he ever had to contend with back home was the occasional stubborn weed in the fields. Though the giant pony did recall the time his sister Applejack had accidentally stepped in a flower known as a 'Poison Joke-' that was a popular story at the latest family reunion.
Shaking his blond mane, Mac gave a slight smile at the thought of Aj's stories. She was always good at that, telling stories. His mind briefly retreated from his musings, reminding him of yet another thing found here: The eccentric potion brewer who called the dangerous lands her home; the zebra Zecora. It was this thing that prompted the Stallion forward, though the dangerous lands.
The Earth pony had left the sun of early-afternoon behind, and stepped into the wild Everfree around an hour ago; after searching the outskirts, he had focused on following the only sign he could find of civilization: a narrow, worn trail that snaked through the faint openings in the misty treeline. The sound of a twig breaking a few feet away stopped him dead in his tracks. He whipped around to face noise, the saddlebags he wore hit his side as he twisted, and his massive hooves tensed up, prepared to buck anything that came his way to next week. After a moment, a small white rabbit appeared from behind a shrub, a tiny backpack adorned on him, and a frown etched on his face. Big Mac relaxed, recognizing the bunny.
"That you, Angel? What you doin' out here? It's dangerous." The red coated stallion drawled in a deep voice, his accent breaking the silence.
Angel sniffed the air, and pointed deeper, into the woods.
Mac tilted his head at the rabbit then adjusted the stalk of hay he held loosely in his mouth. He gave a mighty sniff as well, and coughed, wrinkling his snout at the odor. The bitter scent of medicine greeted him. Mac's expression changed to a slight, laid back smile.
"You lookin' to go to Zercora's, mister?"
The small rabbit nodded.
"Well, hows about we go together? I'm a-goin' there myself."
The rabbit raised his shoulders in a reluctant acceptance, before joining Mac's side. They walked in silence together, the bunny smoothing out his nails with a small file, and Big Mac lazily glancing along the path, wary about encountering a creature that would be less friendly then the bunny beside him, not that the rabbit was nice. Mac remembered most of the stories his Aj told him, including the ones of how that little critter did nothing but cause trouble for her quiet Pegasus friend, Fluttershy.
His thoughts were promptly broken when he saw another, larger break in the trees. Pressing towards it, Macintosh found himself in a small dirt filled clearing, with an earthen hut located in the center of it. From the windows, thin wisps of white smoke gently blew outside. Macintosh took a few careful steps towards the hut, raising a hoof. He gave a gentle knock to the door.
It was a few moments later that the door opened partway, and a Zebra adorned in golden jewelry around her neck poked her head out.
"Greetings to you, who knocks at my door. I am Zecora, are you here for Medicine? Conversation? Or perhaps to hear of my peoples lore?"
"My sister Applejack sent me, so I'd reckon the first one." Mac replied with a lazy smile.
"Applejack? You're one of her kin? Say no more, my friend! Please, come in." She replied, opening the door fully. The red stallion entered, ducking under the door frame to avoid hitting his head. After Angel entered as well, Zecora shut the door.
The farm pony took a look around the single room abode, noting several large, garish masks, a collection of bookshelves filled with worn tomes, a solitary bed close to a sink near a window on Mac's left, and a large cauldron surrounded by shelves of ingredients sitting in the middle of the room. Completing the room was a modest sized table with two stools. She gestured toward the one closest to him, and he willingly complied, frowning slightly when it creaked under his weight.
"Do you like tea- or something stronger to drink? There is some spiced cider in the pantry, at least I think." The Zebra questioned, already heading past the cauldron and toward a small opening separated from the main room by a curtain made of multicolored beads.
"Nnnope, tea's fine. 'Preciate your hospitality." Macintosh promptly replied, waving a hoof dismissively.
Zecora nodded, and walked by the cauldron. After rummaging for a moment, she pulled out a tea kettle. She hummed quietly to herself as she poured water inside it, and put it over a flame to boil. That being done, she sat down on the other stool, sighing contently as she took a load off her hooves.
"I do not mean to be impolite, but tell me, what is your name? The fact I don't know brings me shame."
"Ain't no problem," The Earth pony slowly drawled. "We haven't really talked before, though I've heard just about an ear full from Applebloom 'bout you. Name's Macintosh, folks around Ponyville usually call me 'Big Macintosh,' or just 'Mac.'"
"Macintosh- a strong name. It appears that your body is the same." Zecora replied, eying the muscles of the stallion before her.
"I hold my own when it comes to workin', I suppose." Mac quietly agreed, never much one to boast about his own abilities.
The whistle of the kettle caused the Zebra to rise. She briskly moved over and removed the kettle from heat, before pouring the still steaming water into two cups. Reaching out towards a shelf, she plucked a few herbs, and sparingly dashed both drinks with them.
"Well Macintosh, if your body's fine, why visit me? Unless it's your heart's where the problem be. I'll have you know if you want a love potion brewed- I don't do that, sorry to be rude." Zecora stated with a pointed look as she brought the tea over on a tray.
Big Mac recoiled as if slapped. "W-what? Nah, that ain't what I'm h-"
Loud laughter from across the table interrupted him.
"A simple joke is all I implied. However to see you blushing- it brings a tear to my eye." The Zebra quipped in between breaths, before finally calming down and taking a sip of her tea.
Mac shook his head once he knew he wasn't in trouble, and a slight smirk lazily made its way across his face. He picked up his own cup, and brought it to his lips. The flavor was a bit unusal, but still was pleasant to his dry mouth. "Not bad." He said, gesturing to the drink.
"I'm glad you like, it's from my homeland. I grew it once, long ago, when I was but a farmhand."
"You? A farmer?" The Red stallion questioned, surprised that the mare before him had once involved herself with such a practical profession.
"Once upon a time, I was. It's been so long ago that my mind has started to fuzz. Before wanderlust took my heart, we grew grain; some considered it a work of art. "
Macintosh nodded quietly, taking another sip of his tea. "But it wasn't the type of life for you, huh?"
"Indeed it was not, Mr. Mac. And for that, I caught flak." She said, a wry smile on her face. "I was destined for something grand. I am more than some mere farmhand." The Zebra stated, pausing after saying the words, and looking with an embarrassed distress toward her guest. Before she could say anything to clear the air, he offered a smile.
"No offense taken. Some just ain't the farmin' type."
"You're a good colt, Macintosh, but it was hurtful, my sudden slight. There anything I can do to make it right?" She asked, her brows arched in concern.
"I suppose I wouldn't complain to another cup of tea." Mac sheepishly stated. "I drunk mine up 'fore I could even-" He was cut off by a sudden jabbing pain in his left leg. "What in tarnation?" He winced, glancing down. There he saw Angel bunny gnawing with reckless abandon on his leg. Not even offering an apologetic look, the small creature pointed silently over to the stripped mare.
"Not to rush our conversation, Miss Zecora, but I do believe this little guy needs a word with you." So saying, Macintosh gently picked up the rabbit and put him on the table.
Angel looked over to the Zebra, and reached into one of his pouches, producing a small piece of paper. Zecora tilted her head in confusion, before unfolding it. As she scanned it, she spoke quietly to herself.
"From Fluttershy, is this letter I read. It seems urgent, she has quite the need. A potion now I must make. I guess I will cut short my break." So saying, she rose, and moved over to her cauldron, tossing ingredients inside with abandon.
"I'll get the dishes, at least." Mac stated, already gathering the saucers and cups.
"Thank you Macintosh, you're too kind. Oh, by they way, what sort of potion do you need refined?"
"Somethin' for a bad hip. My Grannie's is givin' her trouble again, and as close as you live to 'em, I'm sure ya'll heard the Timberwolves howl. That's one of the first sign's that Zapapple season's comin' up. We need her feeling alright so she can help with the harvest."
"The Zapapple I hear is delish. I'm betting it would make quite the dish." Zecora replied, wrapping her forelegs around a large wooden spoon, and stirring the contents inside.
"That's what people tell me. It ain't half bad, least I think." The workhorse said, taking the dishware to a sink. As he washed, curiosity got the better of him. "Now, not to pry or anythin', but Fluttershy gonna be alright? There somethin' I could help with?"
"Your concern is touching, Big Mac." She narrowed her eyes as she watched over the brew she was making. "I could use your help, for there is an ingredient I lack." She turned after a moment, to her new companion. "I need a plant from the forest, dense and dreary. That is, well, if you're not too weary."
"I've got a bit of fire in me yet." Macintosh stated, already moving towards the door. "What kinda plant? Like a flower?"
"Indeed, a flower that grows on low ground is what I require. Blue center, and petals, dark red, like fire. You should find it well within a few minutes of walking, friend. If not, I ask for your journey end. Lately the woods grow more restless each passing night. Frankly, it's enough to give even me fright."
"Like the animals are getting' wilder?" Macintosh questioned.
Zecora gave a single nod.
"If I was guessin', it could be 'cause of the Zapapples comin' 'round. The magic in 'em might agitate the wildlife, or somethin'." The stallion said, before he gave a brisk shake of his mane, in a gesture that suggested he was regretting even mentioning that to her. "Least, that's a guess, I reckon." He mumbled quietly, unsure of his words. To end the conversation, he gave a gentle push on the door with his foreleg. It opened, spilling dusk into the hut.
"I'll be back in a jiffy, Miss Zecora, don't ya'll worry about me." He drawled, pulling the door shut behind him.
AN: Hello, to whoever decided to be brave and read this all the way to the bottom. I just wanted to say thank you for taking the time to read my first Fanfiction...never thought I'd say that sentence, well, ever. Anyway, expect this to go for a decent length, have a few unorthodox pairings, and I promise that even if it takes a bit, this story will get finished. I hate seeing potentially interesting stories never get completed, and so I won't do that to anyone who becomes a fan. (I might be getting ahead of meself, this might not even get read, haha.) If you would be so kind, please critique and review, it's a good feeling hearing feedback from people.