“Yes, spirits, I can hear your voices in my head!” Xerath let out a low cackle. “Will you show me a plentiful path?” Spittle flew from Zebra’s muzzle as she rhymed. “Or is this yet another trap?” Her frail body moved to the next outgrowth as she sighed at the bothersome conversation picking up in her mind.
The old witch lifted up the bottom branch of a thick bush and leaned down under it. Pushing her head between the leaves into the opening, she closed her eyes and sniffed at the flower growing in the shade.
Xerath enclosed the steam with her lips and slowly ripped the plant out of earth with its roots still attached. As she jerkingly rose up, she released the branch she was holding, letting it fall back down to the ground. The zebra raised up a hoof and placed the flower on top of it.
Her eyes squinted at the flower, and a wide grin spread across her face. “Requirements for my brew are almost met. b35; A few more of these, and I’ll be set.”
She twitched and looked around. The corners of her mouth moved up as she nodded at the air. “If you want to help me, spirits, that’d be grand, b35; but know, I will not yield to your demand!”
Xerath tardily leaned back and dropped the rooted flower into her saddlebag. Her teeth clenched together as she wearily straightened her posture. Sighing, she gazed across the vast clearing in the midst of the Everfree forest. There were clusters of bushes scattered all around her, but only a few of them nursed the herbs she was seeking.
Her ‘monologue’ continued, “Rare are the places where these flowers grow. b35; This clearing is one of them, that much I know.” Upon reaching the next bush, she looked under it. “But these flowers are so hard to find. b35; Especially since I’m half-blind. Help me find now what I seek, b35; assist a zebra, old and weak.” She looked to the sky. “If in search of herbs you help me out, b35; this witch of your deeds will be proud.”
The Wiccan zebra closed her eyes and listened. Suddenly she shook her head in response to the voices. “No! I give you nothing in return, b35; the concept of aiding you should learn.”
Her ears perked up. “Oh, but I do know of your plight.” She slammed a hoof against the ground. “ b35; It’s what you’re suggesting, that’s not right!”
She rolled her eyes. “Believe me, spirits, I have learned the ritual well. b35; Although I could, I’ll never use the spell!”
“The nether hurts you, yes, I know. b35; I won’t allow you to transcend it, though; b36; for it would only bring a different throe, b35; and I shall never sink that low!” She crouched down looking left and right. Squinting her eyes, she pushed through another cluster of bushes.
Her body stiffened. “Your teachings weren’t to make me smart. Oh, no! You meant to use me from the start!”
The zebra stood up and widened her stance, yelling in the air. “Necromancy is all you taught, b35; that banishment on me has brought!”
She snorted. “I know the cravings you address. b35; A mere thought of them will give me stress! You crave for life; you want a form. b35; You want a body, even if it isn’t warm.”
“Don’t get me wrong, I see no harm in walking dead. b35; What comes after is what I dread. You feed on others trying to regenerate, b35; even the living you fail to venerate. Your half-life is brief and serves no goal. b35; No matter the effort, you shall never be whole.” Her hind leg twitched and kicked, sending a patch of grass flying through the air.
The zebra half closed her eyes in the direction of a haul at the other side of the clearing. “My saddlebag has room and I’m in need of a few more herbs, b35; but wilderness my plans disturbs and the thought of facing them my mind perturbs.” She turned around and trotted onto the path leading in the woods.
The sides of her face tugged at the corners of her mouth as she raised her head and nodded at the air. “Yes, I do seek your knowledge, b35; but raising you I shall not promise! If you grant me know-how, I’ll be grateful, b35; and you’ll prove yourself to be less hateful. If those terms you don’t accept, b35; then in the afterlife you should be kept!”
She shook her head. “Pleading with me is to no avail, b35; in land of substance, I won’t let you make a trail. b35; Living kind I shall not fail.”
Ever darker shadows of forest trees merged and shrouded most of the illuminated ground. At a broken tree, she looked up to see where the sun was at. Her teeth clenched as she looked at the dreary path through the Everfree Forest.
Her ears swiveled in the direction of distant barking. She bit her lower lip.
Breaking into a gallop, she raced along ever darker phantasms of the ancient trees. The vegetation on the sides was growing thicker and denser as she made her way deeper into the forest.
Wheezing with her mouth wide open, she ran on the dusty path. Sweat gathered under her striped coat, yet she pressed on unwearying, leaving muffled hauls in the distance behind her.
The old zebra raced from the lurking terrors of the Everfree Forest. She didn’t slow down until she laid her eyes on the small clearing that harbored her hut.
Panting, she trotted toward it with heavy steps. “Bad ghosts, b35; my mind’s unwanted co-hosts! Another day was wasted, talking to you. b35; The few herbs I found myself, they just won't do. I wish more flowers I had picked, b35; but instead I let myself again be tricked. No help I received from you once more.” She sobbed. “b35; You would only use me as a whore!”
“Rare gift I have to speak to you, b35; but you refuse to help me even with a simple brew. Your intentions are selfish, I found that to be true. b35; My spirit-whispering is more of a curse you try to abuse for breaking through.”
“Ghosts, your company I like, don’t get me wrong, b35; but your whining for life I can only stand for so long. We part our ways now, spirits leave, b35; my hut is not your place to grieve.
The witch walked to a totem in front of her hut, wearingly raising a forehoof. With it, she slid across a black crystal tied on the top of the wooden structure. A faint glow brightened the surroundings as she crossed the line on the ground marked by various bones. “It’s my home and mine alone. b35; Voodoos form no-enter zone!” Similar totems, placed around the hut, lighted themselves in quick succession.
“From this point forward, only the living may proceed, b35; whimpering ghosts in my home I do not need!” She opened the door and sighed. “Peace and quiet in my head, b35; oh, sweet silence, I deserve a rest from all the dead.”
Just as she was about to enter the hut, a crack of a branch and a swish of the leaves disturbed the silence.
She glared in the direction of the kerfuffle and shook her head. “Foals!” After snorting through her nostrils, she moved inside. Her hind leg shut the door as she carefully unstrapped the buckles of the saddlebag with her mouth.
A static interference of the barrier disturbed the silence in the hut. The zebra’s frail body stiffened as she flinched. Her head snapped from side to side, eyes darting around the room. As she spasmed, her saddlebag fell from its perch, over her flank. Leaping backward, she trampled it with a hoof without even checking on the precious content in the hurdle on the floor. She took another step back, tensing up her muscles and grinding with her teeth.
Xerath’s eyes shot up toward the ceiling. “What in Tartarus are you, b35; how did you manage to break through? I sense your strength, b35; your power great. If you come with knowledge, we can mingle, b35; if not, insipidity in my home you should not shingle.”
She perked up her ears then nodded. “I sense you’re more than just a common ghost, b35; your cognition is worthy of your boast.”
“I do crave for knowledge you possess, b35; to learn it from you, it would be a bless. b35; But if in a deal you intend to press, b35; I’ll deny and blame you for my stress.”
She opened her eyes to their full extent and leaned her head back. “Teaching me a waste of time you deem, b35; yet order me to take part in your scheme. Why would I help you in what you've planned, b35; In this world, you have no lever for demand.”
“Pff!” Spittle flew from her mouth. “Ghosts have no force in realm of living.” She waved a hoof in the air. “b35; I won’t be pressured into giving.”
Her ears pinned up. “Are you mad—more so than me? b35; I shall never set you free!”
“And not just a vessel of dead flesh and bones, b35; you want a living one that a soul still owns?”
“From all the tales I’ve heard so far, b35; yours is one, that’s most bizarre. A living pony into a vessel you wish to transform, b35; immortality spell on it you would perform. I’ll take no part in this, you are insane, b35; go now and forget about your evil bane.”
“Ha!” She shook her head. “Your threats are worthless in the living realm, b35; you’ll need far more than words to make me whelm.” Her eyelids narrowed.
She slammed a hoof against the floor and snorted. “Spirit go away now, let me be”—her lips stretched into a grin—“ b35; else I’ll bind your soul into a tree!” The zebra descended into crazed hysterics, shoulders wracking as she cackled with glee. Her giggles sprang into an outright laughter.
Suddenly, the whole hut shook.
Pots and talismans shattered as they crashed to the floor.
Xerath crumpled to the ground. Her teeth clenched together, body trembling.
She wasn’t laughing anymore.