Chapter 5: Among the others

What will you do, come freedom? Rejoice? Cheer? Run off to your love? Make new friends? Can you so easily forget everything and move on, thinking only of yourself? You can. And you will. A new shadow in the dark. Meaningless, empty. Devoid of what makes a pony. You will join… them.

Smoke.

Spring Mist stood in the middle of Zecora's hut. A large cauldron was slowly bubbling over a fire just in front of the green unicorn. He stood, looking into the large pot, watching its contents. I wonder what fantastical brew is in here, he mused to himself. He looked away to inspect himself a final time.

The wounds that littered his body were all but completely healed. However, much of his coat was still bare and needed to grow out, so it revealed the scarred and mangled skin beneath. Mist frowned at his previously broken body, jagged lines running crisscross along his length. I am just one giant bundle of scars. Yuck. It looks like I met the wrong end of a meat grinder. "How Zecora managed to patch me up is beyond me…"

"I am surprised, myself, to see you in such good health," said the very zebra as she entered the center room, donned in a cloak and carrying her saddlebags.

Spring Mist turned to look at her. "Sorry, I suppose I sometimes think out loud… But still, how did you do it?"

"I like I previously said, I do not know. By all rights you should be very dead, and food fit for a crow."

"That's a bit morbid…" Spring Mist said uneasily.

"Apologies, but I speak the truth. But it is fair to say so, in sooth. There is neither reason nor rhyme, yet here you are, near your prime."

"I suppose. At least I can walk on my own. It does feel good to have my strength back."

She reached into one bag and pulled out a near-identical robe to her own. She offered it to Spring Mist. "Wearing this I would advise, to cover your scars from wondering eyes."

"Thank you," Spring Mist said, taking the robe, "I was beginning to feel self-conscious."

Zecora nodded, trotting to the door. Opening it, she gestured for Spring Mist to exit. "Are you ready for Ponyville? I assure you are in for quite a thrill."

Spring Mist hesitated for only a moment before trotting forward. "As ready as I'll ever be, I suppose."

The pair walked together down a well-worn path through the Everfree forest, Zecora explaining the basic information of Ponyville and its inhabitants. Spring Mist listened intently, desperate and hopeful for a chance at some normalcy. But from what Zecora was telling him, 'normal' was not quite the word to describe the little town.

Spring Mist and Zecora entered the outskirts of Ponyville in good time. Spring Mist was keeping up, feeling his strength return even as he walked. He saw the bright buildings draw closer, the structures finally taking shape. There was a large orchard to the pair's right. Spring Mist guessed that was Sweet Apple Acres.

Conversation had died down by the time they reached the town proper. Mist was filled with a strange joy at the sight of ponies, just milling about their days. Pairs, groups, singles, ponies just active and outside, enjoying the day. It was a simple happiness, seeing normalcy.

Spring Mist smiled as he looked at the many ponies moving between buildings and through the streets, bright colors creating a veritable rainbow sea of life. He looked at the brightly colored buildings, remembering back to the relative dull stone of Everfr— he clutched his head as his mind seared from the memory. It was vivid, and he could recall it, but it was soured, twisted, warped, painful. He dropped to his knees, trying desperately to hold back a scream. Zecora knelt beside him, whispering something in a strange tongue.

The scene had drawn the gaze of several ponies, who all stared with confusion and concern, some even laden with fear. A tiny crowd formed around Zecora and Spring Mist, and soon there were mutterings and the beginnings of town gossip. Zecora's words, though unknown to Spring Mist, were calming, and the pain was gone as quickly as it came. Spring Mist was left gasping for air, searching for some respite.

Zecora looked to the crown and addressed their fears, "It is but a simple injury to address. The hospital he needs, some medicine and bed rest."

The gathered ponies dwindled off as Spring Mist rose to his hooves, somewhat recovered. He pulled his hood further over his head, closing himself off from the ponies around. He flushed as he looked to Zecora, who offered him a warm smile that lifted some of his fears. "I'm sorry, Zecora," he offered, "I just let my mind wander back for a moment. I hate to cause a scene."

"Not at all, dear pony friend. I know it is not your wish to offend. The ponies here are quick to judge, but become their friends and they are sweet as fudge." Spring Mist looked at Zecora as they continued walking. She smiled softly to herself, occasionally offering a nod or a wave to a passerby. "It was not long ago when the ponies here feared me, back when I first moved to the Everfree."

"Really?" Spring Mist asked with some disbelief.

Zecora nodded, continuing, "It was the actions of six filly friends who eventually brought the fears to an end. It started with little Apple Bloom, who was not one quick to assume. Soon followed Twilight Sparkle and her friends, who after investigating, made the town's amends."

"Interesting… So the ponies here don't like zebras? Or just outsiders in general?"

"The ponies here fear the unknown, but over the years, they have all grown. But they still live sheltered lives, so any change comes as a great surprise."

"But from what you told me of what happens here, they should all be used to strange happenings."

"One would think that is true, but they still fear the new. Many often seem the fool, and most are stubborn as a mule." She turned to address a mule standing on the side of the road, "Apologies friend, I do not mean to offend."

"No offence taken," the mule replied, swatting at a fly the buzzed past his ear.

Zecora continued on, leaving Spring Mist slightly confused. Regardless, he followed on in silence. The pair finally came upon a fairly expansive building. Spring Mist identified it as the hospital quickly enough. Zecora led the way, eventually reaching the front door. She held it open for him and ushered him inside.

The entrance room was fairly large, and played host to a multitude of ponies. Colts and fillies with coughs and dribbling noses, a pony or two with a clearly broken limb, or ponies that sat with face etched by anxiety and worry. Mist did not like that place all that much. He halted himself before he could recall anything from his past, pressing forward and instead occupying himself with a multitude of new and interesting things.

Little books of glossy and smooth paper, brightly colored with many clear images of ponies pasted all over the pages. The images were not hoof-drawn, the words were not hoof-written – they were somehow a part of the page. It was so precise, so mechanical. Spring Mist reeled at the strange 'books' before him. A pony next to him looked at him oddly.

"Ya look as if ya've ne'er seen a magazine before," said a voice from below.

Spring Mist looked down to see a little yellow filly staring up at him with an inquisitive look. A large pink bow adorned her head, keeping back her red mane. "A 'magazine'?" Spring Mist asked.

"Yeah! Tha' thing yer holdin'!" she declared loudly. "Say, wha' are ya wearin' that big ol' cloak fer?"

Spring Mist looked at himself, aware that he had not removed his hood, and he was still shrouded heavily. He spoke as he pulled down his hood, "Well, is that better?"

The filly looked closer, her eyes growing wide. "Gee, mister. Ya look as if ya was attacked by some wild animal!"

Spring Mist suddenly felt very self-conscious. The little filly was inquisitive, as well she should be, but there was a growing discomfort. Spring Mist as finally saved by the sound of a very loud mare.

"Apple Bloom! Ya git away from him. Ah told ya, don't go botherin' the folks here." The orange form of a mare wearing a rather large hat over her gold locks approached Spring Mist and who he could assume was the filly Apple Bloom.

Spring Mist shied away slightly as the mare drew nearer. She scooped up the filly, placing her on her back. She shot a glare at Apple Bloom before turning back to Spring Mist. "Sorry about mah sis, here. She'll a little on th' nosey side."

"Not at all. She seems delightful," Spring Mist said warmly.

"Tha' sure is nice o' ya t' say, but again, Ah'm sorry about 'er."

Mist was about to respond when Zecora appeared again a smile growing on her face. "Applejack, how do you do? And Apple Bloom, too!"

Apple Bloom and Applejack smiled at the zebra. "Hey there, Zecora!" yelped Apple Bloom.

"Well, howdy Zecora! I never thought Ah'd see ya in a hospital. Is everythin' okay?"

"Indeed I would not normally come here, but there are things that must be made clear." Zecora looked between Spring Mist and Applejack. "I see you two have already met, and it was a fine meeting too, I bet."

"Uh…" Spring Mist began, "Yes, the little one was just asking me some questions."

"And Ah was apologizing fer her behavin' tha' way," added Applejack. "But you seem to be harmed none, so… Ah'm Applejack. A pleasure t' meetcha!" She finished with a tip of the hat.

"I'm Spring Mist. Though, just 'Mist' will do. Pleasure to meet you too," Mist said with a smile. "And you, Apple Bloom."

"So, whatcha doing' here?" asked Apple Bloom.

Zecora and Applejack rolled their eyes, smiling. Applejack responded, "Apple Bloom, it ain't polite t' ask somepony a private question like tha'."

"But anypony can ask us and they know we're 'ere t' help Granny with 'er check-ups!"

"True, but ya' gotta remember tha' some ponies don' like it if ya ask a question too personal-like."

"Really, it's fine," Mist piped up, "I was injured somewhat badly, and Zecora has been nice enough to help me so far."

"Indeed, he has been with me for some time, but is still far from his prime. We are here to make sure once and for all, to find the things I missed, large or small."

"Well, Ah hope y'all turn out aright. But we gotta help Granny back to Sweet Apple Acres soon."

Mist nodded, "We passed by your farm on the way. It's rather lovely. Once I'm better, do you think I could stop by?"

"Why o' course! The Apples are always happy ta' have guests over. Stop by when ya feel up t' it!" Applejack replied with a smile, before going off to help an elderly green pony on the far side of the room. Apple Bloom waved a hoof.

"Welcome ta Ponyville!" she yelled happily.

Mist watched the trio leave, then turned to Zecora. "What a lovely family."

"Indeed, they are a real find, and always happy to help a pony out of a bind," Zecora replied. "Now the doctor is waiting, said that nurse. Afterward the rest of the town we can traverse."

Mist stood and followed Zecora deeper into the hospital. Mist reveled in the space around him. The building was so clean, so precise. Everything was so… developed. He sat down in a small room, a doctor pony carrying strange items waiting patiently. Zecora stood by Mist as the examination began.

So, a new life. In a new place.