Kodi B. Arfer and Casketbase
Created 5 Mar 2020 • Last modified 14 May 2020

It takes two to tango. After a particularly manic morning demands she split her attention between aiding Apple Bloom and prepping Princess Twilight, one bold brew ensures there's enough Zecora to go around. No worries that her heterozygous halves are both a bit… "off" in their own unique ways. Zecora's head had enough wit and wisdom in it to be portioned out without side effects, right? Since when has invoking her apothecary arsenal ever over-complicated an already existing problem?

This was a collaborative effort between Casketbase77 of "Three Bolded Words" fame and Kodi Arfer. Casket wrote White's chapter and Kodi wrote Black's, with the opening and closing scenes done jointly. Two authors, two Zecoroota. Let the bipolar buffoonery begin.

Two Heads Are Better Than One

Zecora's day began at a fair clip when she received a scroll from Mage Meadowbrook a few minutes after dawn. Apparently, a huge avalanche on Mount Aris had flattened part of Hippogriffia, and medical supplies were running short, so could Zecora whip up a few batches of the most back-ordered medications, and send them out with the mid-day mail? Zecora didn't usually fill batch orders, but she supposed she ought to do what she could in a time of crisis. She spent the next few hours hurriedly pouring, measuring, boiling, and labeling, and while she was waiting on the cauldron, she ran into the woods to collect more plunderseed anthers and moulted cockatrice scales. Around noon, the pressure began to get to her and she figured she had better take a minute to breathe and have a spot of tea. There was a knock on the door.

"Please, mailpony, hold steady." said Zecora, going to the door. "My potions aren't yet ready."

But the visitor proved to be a different neurotic pony with wings, the Princess of Friendship and freshly crowned monarch of Equestria, Twilight Sparkle. From Twilight's unhinged look and the stray bits of mane stuck out at weird angles, she seemed to be taking to the job with just as much serenity as expected. "Zecora!" said Twilight, her wings perking up. "It's great to see you again."

"I am glad to see Ponyville's old princess of books." said Zecora. "But you're not here for a social call, judging by your looks."

"Oooh, Zecora, that rhyme… kind of hurt." said Twilight. "Are you okay? You look a little… run-down. Is this a bad time?"

"I am actually very busy." said Zecora, stirring the cauldron as she added a dash of dried breezie phlegm. "That's why I'm in such a tizzy."

"Maybe I should go, then." said Twilight. "It's just… I have a little tiny huge enormous problem over in Canterlot. I gave the go-ahead for some badly needed reforms at Celestia's School for Gifted Unicorns and now there's a rash of magical accidents throughout the city, some of which can't actually be related to the reforms—I mean, I'm pretty sure—but some of them probably are, and the papers seem really eager to stick it all on the school, and on me." She kneaded her cheeks with her hooves. "So… I guess that's it," Twilight pressed as Zecora began rooting around in a nearby trunk for more empty measuring flasks. "I'll be trying to put out those dozen-odd fires all on my own. Never mind the other ones that'll no doubt multiply like parasprites while I'm bogged down giving useless press statements to the Canterlot Tribune crew. You know, it's a terrible feeling to let other ponies down when they need you the most. Divvies up your insides, pulls you apart…"

Zecora's groan of resignation reverberated from the depths of the flaskless trunk. She poked her head back out. "You claim that friendship is your trade, yet leverage guilt to earn my aid. The day is short, its troubles many, and talking doesn't solve them any. If you need advice or wisdom, you can stay and I could give some. Be direct, is all I ask. At present, I must find a flask."

Hoping the weak compromise would be enough to pacify her guest's entreaties, the zebra straightened up and looked around her cluttered cottage, completely at a loss of what to do with herself. She was normally so organized, but this morning had turned into a frenzied exercise in seeing how quickly she could exhaust her home of carefully stocked resources. Apparently the answer was "quick enough to run out just before Twilight Sparkle shows up". Speaking of whom, Twilight was still lingering in the doorway.

"A flask?" Twilight echoed. "I know I said I'm nervous to face the reporters, but getting me tipsy isn't going to help. I'd rather be clearheaded and tongue-tied than soused and motormouthed."

Zecora gave the princess an exhausted, heavy-lidded look.

"Oh. You mean a measuring…" Twilight bit her lip in embarrassment. "Um… would st-standard size suffice?" A nearly imperceptible puff of magic conjured an Erlenmeyer flask onto the floor between the two of them. Sighing in relief, Zecora nodded and gingerly picked up the prize between her teeth. Then she motioned Twilight to follow her over to the still simmering cauldron.

"I know you said earlier that talking won't solve any of the magical mishaps happening all around Canterlot," said Twilight, "and yes, I agree. But I'm confident I can solve all of those on my own. It'd probably only take twenty-two minutes. An hour tops, and that's if I took breaks throughout. No, what I really wanted your help with was those after-the-fact press statements. Celestia used to handle those, and really well, too, but it'll be my job now, and I can't talk to crowds, especially when I'm under pressure. So I thought about how you speak in verse all the time and I've never seen you ever get flust—well, until today I've never seen you get flustered."

Zecora stopped whisking her cauldron's contents just long enough to wipe some beads of sweat off her muzzle and smile reassuringly at Twilight. "How one feels and how one fronts can be two different things at once."

"See?" said Twilight. "You can rattle pithy sayings off the coronet like it's nothing. That's why I was going to ask you to stand by my side while I face down the reporters. Maybe take the mike on a few of the harder questions while I stand by like the buffoon that I am, but if you really are occupi—Uh, your project is boiling over."

Zecora snorted in alarm and snapped back to her cauldron, blowing on the froth and cursing her inability to multitask. This was the reduced-strength batch she was working on (meant for foals and infants) and it was absolutely not one she could afford to spoil. Children being in distress was one of the few things that could make Zecora outwardly upset. Not that she'd ever admit this to anypony, but never having foals of her own was something of a life regret.

A new voice, one that spoke in a cheery Southern drawl, piped up from outside the cottage. "Zecora? Are you home? I smell smoke, so I sure hope you are…"

Think of the distressed children and they shall appear, it seems. "Come in, little Apple Bloom." said Zecora. "But careful, there is little room."

Apple Bloom entered through the open door and carefully picked her way around the glassware and boxes strewn about the floor. Her bow looked a bit wilted, which was never a good sign. "Howdy, Princess! Uh… I hope you ain't too busy. Miss Cherliee gave us some math homework that's really hard and Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle are out of town. It's due tomorrow and I'm tearin' my bows out over it."

"I'd love to help you, Apple Bloom." said Twilight. "Unfortunately, I'm trying to handle a little catastrophe myself right now."

Apple Bloom looked at her hooves. "Um, I was askin' Zecora."

"Perhaps there's something I can do," said Zecora, pouring some of a mixture that had just finished cooling into vials, "soon as I'm finished with this roux."

"You're making a sauce?" said Twilight. "I… sort of assumed this was about something more… uh… dire?"

"A potion can have many parts." said Zecora. "Progress comes by fits and starts. A rock slide has left hippogriffs in need of aid, and now I must see what medicines can be made." She frowned at Mage Meadowbrook's list. Among the things she could provide, perhaps the most puzzling inclusion was the ol' Freaky-Friday special. She had used it to good effect not long ago on Fluttershy and her pet rabbit, but was this the kind of healing that the hippogriffs needed right now? Well, she knew better than to second-guess a legendary physician trying to manage a crisis. And she'd already made that draught half an hour ago, so she could check it off the list.

"So.. were you still going to give me some advice?" Twilight prodded. "You know, before I head off to Canterlot. You're good at that. Giving parting words of advice, I mean."

"I could come back later." Apple Bloom said with more than a hint of pleading in her voice. "We don't need to go through every problem. Just a hint or two? Please?"

Zecora shut her aching eyes. Helpless hippogriffs at Mount Aris. Helpless horses in her living room. The regretful zebra couldn't be everywhere at once; she was just one mare. One mare who needed a sip of neglected tea to give her some strength. Not wanting light to exacerbate her headache, she kept her eyes firmly closed as she groped around for a teacup she knew was nearby. Her hoof found something off to her left and she took a quick swig from it.

Mm. That didn't taste like tea.

Zecora felt an intense dissociation. Where was she? Who was she? What were these strange zebras doing in her house, where were their stripes, and what was that goofy nonsense language they were babbling in?

There was a deafening unzipping sound followed by an eldritch flash. Then there stood before Twilight and Apple Bloom not one Zecora, but two Zecoroota. Their coats and manes were devoid of stripes. One Zecora had a pale-gray coat and a pure-white mane. The other was dark all over.

"Huh. I was wonderin' if you were white with black stripes, or black with white stripes." Apple Bloom said flatly. "But, somehow, this is just more confusin'."

"Zecora!" said Twilight. "Are you okay? Actually, which of you is Zecora?"

"'Zecora' is the name of she you see." said the white one. "I think you can be sure it's truly me."

"Sure I'm Zecora." said the black one.

Apple Bloom backed up slowly, while Twilight glared at the black creature. "So finish your rhyme, then." the Princess ordered.

"No." said the black Zecora, or "Becora" for short. "That's silly. Look, both of you badly need my help. Let's skip the poetry and get to business."

"But why are there two of you?" said Apple Bloom.

"I took a drink that wasn't tea," said the white Zecora, or rather, Wecora, "incurring an effect on me. A start, a seize, and then release. I'm rendered now a hapless piece."

"I followed that about as far as the word 'tea'." said Apple Bloom.

"Never mind." said Becora. "It's too complicated for a filly like you to understand. The point is, there's enough of me now. You and I will go do your homework and… this…" she went on, gesturing hesitantly at Wecora, "can give that speech for Twilight."

"Wait, we're really just rolling with this?" Twilight asked cautiously. "I mean, it really is fortunate that there's two of you now, but it seems a tad extreme. There are more mundane ways to get more hooves on deck than accidentally splitting yourself. Maybe Pinkie could cover things here. Apparently, she's gotten into potion-making lately, saying her last batch was 'good as hell', whatever that means. I think Tree Hugger was involved. At any rate, I wouldn't want to—"

"I brought you a letter!" said a familiar voice, and there was the mailmare outside.

"Don't get an inch closer!" Becora yelped, her mind filled with visions of a stray flap of Derpy's wings against a beaker setting off a chain reaction of explosions and bringing down the whole hut.

Derpy's eyes strayed slightly further apart as she cogitated on this. "Okay, I'll get a foot closer." She stepped up to the door, but didn't enter, and Becora breathed a little easier. Derpy dropped an envelope on the welcome mat and waited to be given the outgoing mail.

Wecora held up a pale hoof so it obscured one of Derpy's eyes from her field of view. Then she moved it to obscure the mailmare's other eye. "Separate views of separate views, as seen by ones who now are twos."

"Blah, blah, deliver these, too." said Becora, shoving a basket of finished poultices towards the door. Apple Bloom and Twilight helped pack what was ready and load it into Derpy's saddlebags while Wecora stood off to the side. "I'd deliver these myself," said Becora, "but other ponies need me right now. Be fast, but don't drop anything this time." She slapped Derpy on the plot. "Now git!" Derpy whinnied and took off like a gray bolt.

Tabula Rasa

"Two tickets please," Twilight nervously requested of the train station attendant. "Don't suppose you have any half-off specials today, do you?" It was an extremely weak joke that only she and her stoic, off-white companion understood. And neither of them were laughing anyway.

The weirdness of witnessing her de facto mentor undergo violent, potion-induced mitosis was still fairly raw in Twilight's mind, and Wecora (as Apple Bloom had suggested calling her before they departed) had a sort of distant, inequine aura surrounding her. Not that Twilight distrusted the homunculus of course; She knew Zecora didn't have a bad bone in her body. (Or… either body, Twilight supposed was the most accurate way of thinking about it now). Still, Wecora didn't exactly have the matronly warmth Twilight had been hoping to have by her side when she faced down the newsponies. She really hoped it was just her apprehension about the impending press conference that was coloring her perceptions. After all, Zecora was ten times as cool and collected as any other pony Twilight knew, so having a wingmare that was theoretically operating at a five-times-as-cool-and-collected deficit would still be enough to coach her through this, right?


Twilight hadn't even noticed she'd rubbernecked to study Wecora standing behind her until the latter reciprocated her anxious stare with a spacy one and droned out a pithy couplet.

"Gaze ahead, away from fears. Worry clogs the eyes and ears."

"Um.. right," Twilight said as she cloyed to wring meaning from Wecora's advice. "Eyes and ears ahead. Always keep… um… s-something spiritual…"

"I think what your grandma meant to say is stop gawking and take your tickets," the attendant grunted. He slid the stubs in question across the desk and an embarrassed Twilight levitated them up. "First class," the bored attendant continued. "Free of charge, of course. You don't gotta tell me how it goes with you royalty types. What's the point of me askin' for pay if the tax just goes right back to your Canterlot coffers anyway?"

"I… I…" Twilight fumbled for her coin purse. "No, I'm sorry for what I said earlier. That quip about discounts was because my… Well, first of all, I guess I should clarify that Zec—that Wecora isn't my grandmother, and also… she…" Twilight exhaled. It felt like it was the first time she'd done so all afternoon. "Here's twenty bits," she mumbled. "Keep the change. It's the least I can do."

The attendant itched his stubble thoughtfully before accepting the pile of coins. "I'd say the actual 'least you can do' is clean up all those magical hooeys plaguin' the capital at the moment," he replied caustically. "Ya know, instead of takin' your geriatric relative on some sightseeing train trip. But hey, what does a commoner like me know about the best use of a Princess's time? I just punch in passengers." His eyes narrowed. "Ya know. Cuz it's what ponies expect outta me."

Twilight was sweating. Did everypony in Equestria know about the collegiate scandals? And were all of them so… resentful that she was failing to address the problem quickly enough? Twilight was doing the best she could under the circumstances, but the words to explain herself just weren't coming out.

At last, Wecora chimed in.

"The wheels on the train go round and round, to take us up to Canterlot town. Seeds of doubt are freely sown, and fed by trials not yet known."

Both Twilight and the attendant wore the same expression of obvious confusion, but Wecora didn't seem to notice. She did however, affix the attendant in her vacant stare and address him directly.

"The School For Gifted Unicorns… it boards your first and second borns."

"My uh… " the attendant looked uneasy. "My girls… twins, they are. And they live in the dorms. Been getting letters from 'em every day this week about some new crazy happening up there or another. Has me worried sick, to be honest. But how'd… how'd you know about that?"

"We'll be boarding now!" Twilight announced shrilly. "A wise mare once said standing around and talking isn't gonna get me any closer to solving any mysteries, and she sure was right! Ha ha ha!"

Wecora opened her mouth to spout another cryptic koan, but Twilight not-very-subtly zipped around behind to begin shoving her travel companion up the entry ramp. And she didn't stop shoving until the two of them- until the one and a half of them were securely inside the mercifully empty first class car. The onboarding door slammed shut and Twilight collapsed onto a heavily cushioned seat to bury her face in her hooves. Wecora remained standing, still and silent. The only movement in the car as the Friendship Express began chugging out of the station was Twilight's heaving shoulders.

And the only sound was her stifled sniffles.

"This is going to be a disaster," she lamented. "It's past midday and I've accomplished nothing. Except for making a fool of myself in front of a concerned father and before that I distracted you so you accidently… did whatever it was you did to yourself." Twilight rubbed her nose despairingly. "I just want to start today over. Not even leave Canterlot to begin with. Just face down whatever it is that's happening up there and get it over with. Because now we're stuck on this dumb train for the next hour and I… I… " Twilight Sparkle pounded the seat next to her in impotent anger. "I'm in charge of all of Equestria now, so why do I feel so Gods-damned helpless?!"

Wecora frowned, easing into the seat across the aisle from the heaving princess while she searched her incomplete feelings for the correct couplet to say. It was a difficult thing, digging through thoughts that the thinker knew were only half present. It was like turning one's head to the right while at the same time straining one's eyes to look at something off to the left.

Wecora wondered if her black counterpart was as painfully aware of her missing part as she was. Probably not, given Becora was the missing part in question. If Wecora's feelings towards being split were ones of doubt and concern, dauntlessness was most likely the biggest motivator in her other's mind.

"Some days are good and some are rotten, others still are best forgotten." Wecora hadn't primed that one. It just bubbled up out of her unbidden, and she felt like it was a very empty platitude. Twilight apparently didn't though.

"One for the riddle books, Zecora. You always know just what to say." The princess forced out a laugh. "That's why you agreed to come along with me instead of staying back to work on getting un-split, right? Even if you're half the mare you used to be, you're still able to use that silver tongue of yours to bail me out at any second. So I…" There were still tears in Twilight's eyes, but a huge and hopeful grin was spreading across her face. "I have nothing to fear with you around."

Wecora stared ahead, tightlipped and pale. Sure, she was the half who'd gotten access to Zecora's grab bag of verbal panaceas, but that didn't mean she was the half who knew where any of them came from or what they meant. She was a stern aphasic being misinterpreted as a sage, though it was probably best she didn't admit that to Twilight right now. Wecora dimly wondered if she even could admit that to Twilight even if she tried.

She also wondered how Becora was doing.

"…and the last reform proposal I signed was a go-ahead to replace all the doorknobs around the school with handles that could be operated by hoof. I mean, yes it's the School For Gifted Unicorns, but just because all the students have magic doesn't mean the staff all do as well. Doctor Whooves, a senior Earth Pony lecturer, even drafted up a blueprint for the new handle designs to go with the appeal letter. I mean, the proposal did gently insist that knobbed doors might as well be locked ones to ponies who don't have wings or horns to manipulate them, so I went ahead and okayed the schoolwide replacement project, but the student union pushed back saying letting anycreature have easy access to any section of the school through doors like that was a massive safety hazard and and sure enough someone got in after hours and let all the test Parasprites out of their alchemy lab terrariums, and even though I have strong suspicions that it was a staged disaster done by those same overly concerned students trying to make a point but I don't have any evidence to make any disciplinary moves…"

Twilight had been yammering nonstop for nearly an hour and a half while Wecora stared back in what Twilight hoped was steely attention. In actuality, the half-zebra had given up consciously listening less than ten minutes into the monologue and was presently staring blankly as Twilight's mouth moved. Open and shut, open and shut (brief pause to lick lips nervously), open and shut, open and shut.

Wecora sincerely hoped her subconscious wit or her instinctive wisdom or whatever spiritual software kept her artificial brain running was somehow processing the avalanche of information with which it was being bombarded. Wecora had access to her full form's memories and recalled that as a complete zebra she'd been a very attentive and quick witted conversation partner, able to formulate a worthwhile response to almost anything. And while that exchange with the train station employee was evidence that her innate eloquence was still there, being a bystander to her own speaking process was still a bit unnerving. It was a reminder to Wecora that half of her consciousness had been carved out to pilot another, probably equally off-kilter creature. And yet… why didn't Wecora feel any strong desire to fuse back into a single zebra? Why did she… why did she enjoy this thrill of social uncertainty?

"So that oughta cover it," Twilight concluded. "That's every incident that's happened at the School in the past week and a half. Everything I'm expecting the press to grill us on. So now that I've laid it all out there, what do you think?" A few of her bangs were obscuring Twilight's vision and she nervously swept them away as she waited for Wecora's feedback.

The homunculus inhaled sharply through her nostrils, less nervous than Twilight to hear what this response would be, but much more excited.

"Cinnamon and sugary and softly spoken lies. We never know quite how we look through other ponies' eyes."

Twilight's lower lip quivered for a moment before she broke into a huge defensive smile. "Right," she agreed breathily. "Absolutely right. You're saying… you're saying that nopony is the bad guy here. Me, the student union, Doctor Whooves… we're all on the same side and acting in good faith. You… you get it. Those of us on the ground don't, but you do." Twilight took a deep breath as she leaned back in her seat to gaze out the window at the rolling countryside. "It's all manufactured conflict, caused by ponies interpreting other ponies incorrectly. Bad things happen when you read too much into intentions that aren't really there. Thank you for laying it all out like that. Thank you, Zecora."

Wecora felt something akin to pride surge in her stoic soul. Pride she probably hadn't earned, but she valued it all the same. For the first time all day, Twilight actually looked optimistic. Then the train turned a corner and Canterlot came into view.

"Gods above and below, the university district is on fire!!"

Wecora stiffened her posture and peered in the direction Twilight was looking. Very clearly above the approaching city skyline, a prismatic plume of smoke filled the sky. Wecora retained enough apothecary knowledge to recognize magic flames by just the colors of the resulting smog. She also recognized the blue pegasus hastily bucking clouds as she tried to contain the blaze. And to Rainbow Dash's credit, she was doing a pretty good job of it.

"How did this happen? Where are the others?!" Twilight was demanding answers of nopony in particular as the train was slowed down during its approach to the platform. And as wild and panicked as she'd become at the sight of the burning university, her eyes reached balloonlike levels of bulging and her pupils shrank to pinpricks when she saw a certain somepony in the concerned looking gaggle of ponies on the platform.

The gaggle in question were an eclectic group, clearly common passengers on their way out of the Capital. Most were watching the approaching train and only occasionally stealing reserved glances at the smoke pillar, giving Wecora a twinge of amusement. The past nine years had seen more random disasters hit Equestria than any other point in history, (and that went double for the Capital), so naturally the populace at large was a bit numb at this point. Too bad the same couldn't be said for its newly crowned Princess.

"Is that Eff Stop on the end there?? Oh, no it is. I'm not ready for this yet. We can't get interviewed while the school is up in flames. We can't!"

Wecora peered to the far left of the gathered platform crowd and saw a trilby-sporting pegasus. He had a polaroid camera around his neck and a politely reticent look on his face. Eff Stop was the most innocuous looking pony Wecora had ever seen, but given Twilight's reaction one would almost mistake him for Typhon reborn.

The train halted and the doors slid open.

Her memory of being awkwardly shoved along the onboard ramp like a plow through a field loomed in Wecora's mind, so she hurried to trot out to the platform before Twilight repeated the action for the offboarding. Deciding not to delay the inevitable, the homunculus marched right up to Eff Stop and looked him mutely in the eye. He shrank back slightly, more out of annoyance than intimidation, but in a flurry of purple feathers, Twilight was beside the two of them.

"This is my press liaison!" the Princess announced, loud enough that several other passengers who were already boarding turned to look at her. "Please direct all questions to her and not to me. You're all wonderful ponies and I value all your continued confidence in these hectic times."

A noticeable number of heads pivoted to look at the still growing plume of smoke issuing from the university district.

"We're working on it, okay?!" Twilight visibly shrank from cringing so hard, but with a panic-powered bolt that couldn't have been more than a hair away from the Sonic Rainboom threshold, she took to the air and sped off in the direction of the unknown disaster. The hitherto silent train platform resumed its uncaring murmurs as everypony present resumed their previous activities. Everypony except Eff Stop, that is.

"Well," he chuffed in a noticeable Manehatten accent. "I was actually on my way to take pics of the Equestrian countryside for muh travel newsletter. But if da Princess insists I chat with you 'bout all those strange happenin's plaguing da School For Gifted Unicorns, who am I to argue with direct royal orders, eh?" He gave an inviting chuckle which Wecora tried to reciprocate. Curiously, she found her expression staying neutral and muzzle staying shut. Was she not the half of Zecora who was capable of laughter? Curious. Very curious.

"Eff Stop," the reporter introduced himself. "Professional jouro, though ya probably guessed dat already. Princess Twi said you were her spokesmare?"

"From quack to spokesmare, I'm relabeled. I shall speak as best am abled."

The reporter tilted his head quizzically. "Quack, ya say?" Then his eyes lit up with understanding. "Wait a sec, are you dat foreign apothecary who settled in Ponyville? Heard from a junior coworker that you talk in rhymes and're always plenty polite to ponies ya meet. Then again he also said you had stripes, so maybe I need to sit Featherweight down an' give him another tongue lashing about journalistic integrity. But agh, I'm rambling. My bad. You mind if…" Eff Stop raised his polaroid imploringly and Wecora nodded her consent to having her picture taken. The ensuing flash was so bright she wondered if her white coat would be washed out in the finished image. Oh well, the reporter was likely a professional who knew what he was doing.

"S'pose we get to the stalk of it then," Eff Stop continued as he swapped his camera for a notepad. "Tell the readers your name and relation to the Princess. If ya please."

"I am half her mentor's mind: the part linguistically aligned. Zecora's what my name can be, despite it meaning more than me."

Eff Stop looked unsure again, but he gripped a pen in his teeth and jotted down the middle-aged mare's words verbatim. He had at least gleaned her name, and the rest of her speech could be decoded later, while the story was going to print. "Alright then Zecora, you say you're parta the Princess's advisory board? Have I got that right?"

"Potions, salves, and life advice. They're what I give, and they suffice." Wecora's heart rate was up. After spending the entire afternoon as Twilight Sparkle's brick wall to bounce words off of, she herself finally had the mic. And as far as she could tell, she was rocking it.

"Okay… so, as da Princess's appointed public relations voice, what is her comment on, well, everything going on at da School For Gifted Unicorns? Us common folks are in the dark after all. The only things we know are, well, what can be seen from across town." Wecora didn't need to turn around to know the fire was still burning behind her.

Focus. The homunculus silently demanded of itself. Twilight is doing her job. You do yours. Never mind that Wecora herself was as clueless as Eff Stop. Not a word of Twilight's lengthy debriefing on the ride over had stuck in Wecora's conscious mind, so she decided to just open her mouth and talk. That had worked on the ticket seller back at the Ponyville station, so Wecora was confident her sixth sense or intuition or whatever would get her through this exchange too.

"No staff nor students need be scolded. From barns of blame, the horse has bolted. Actions caused by malcontents disguised as pains that karma sent. While princess Twilight and her friends chase endless odds of odds and ends, I split my efforts (literally) 'twixt helping foals and royalty." Eff Stop's pencil was on the verge of trailing smoke as he struggled to keep up with what he was hearing. His helpless scritching only intensified as Wecora's pontificating picked up in pace.

"Amid my verbal pirouettes, light shines on story silhouettes. The fire here you see and know, but what of Hippogriffia's snow? An avalanche from far away won't chill your papers here today. Dimestore pennies on the dollar make head (and bottom) lines stand taller, but even so, odd means are maxed-"

"Hold up now!" Eff Stop finally barked. "I gotta ask, is talkin' the way you do really necessary? I'm not da most well spoken of ponies, so maybe it's not my place to say this, but on behalf of my future readers, can you please drop the purple prose and just speak plainly? Please??"

The eccentric pale mare regarded Eff Stop with a completely blank expression and for a moment he was sorely afraid he'd offended her. Then, very earnestly, Wecora reached up and laid a conciliatory hoof on the side of his muzzle. She looked hard at Eff Stop and even though it was probably emotional projection, the reporter thought he saw something similar to sympathy in those spacy eyes. Finally, she spoke one last lyric.

"There once was a mare from Sudan, whose limericks could never quite scan. When asked why this was, she replied 'it's because… I always try to fit as many syllables into the closing line as I possibly can.'"

Eff Stop didn't even bother writing down that one. He just nodded as politely as he could. Apparently satisfied, the white pony that called itself Zecora turned and trotted up the ramp to the train just as the last call whistle sounded, leaving a very exhausted reporter alone to try spinning a comprehensible story out of her words.

As the train departed and began its speedy return to Ponyville, Wecora gazed dreamily out of her lonely window seat. She felt lighter than air. All that wisdom she hadn't even known was inside of her had just spilled out in all its enlightened glory to be transcribed by a writer who would publish it far and wide. Was it foalish to feel proud of herself? Perhaps, but Wecora didn't care. And she was technically less than a day old, was she not? Surely a small degree of foalishness was allowable. She couldn't wait to report the day's successes to her black half. The ride to Canterlot had featured Wecora afraid she had neither the tact nor social awareness necessary to function independently. Her returning ride home had those apprehensions completely soothed. If Becora's mission report was as positive as her own, perhaps the two of them need not work on a cure for their division and just remain separate ponies permanently. As far as Wecora could discern, her own first six hours of independence had gone remarkably well.

Apple Bloom's Shadow

Becora was walking back to Sweet Apple Acres with Apple Bloom, who hadn't thought to bring her homework with her. Becora had wondered worriedly if her memories had been cut in half like her colors, but everything looked familiar. She felt remarkably like herself for a zebra who had just accidentally used a powerful potion in an unintended manner with completely unforeseeable results. Come to think of it, she surprised herself by her sudden disinterest in rhyming. It didn't take an alchemist to guess that that had something to do with the potion. But she supposed it was a nice change of pace, if nothing else. And perhaps Apple Bloom would appreciate a bit more straightforwardness.

"…and then she keeps goin' on about 'solving', and what's there to solve, anyway?" Apple Bloom was saying. Had she been talking before? Oh, well. Becora figured it probably hadn't been very important.

"Uh-huh." said Becora.

"So, you can help with this, right?" said Apple Bloom. "I mean… you went to school, right? In the zebra country?"

"Of course." said Becora. "Shamans need to know some mathematics. I'm sure I'll be able to help you. Don't worry about it."

"And you're okay?" said Apple Bloom with concern. "After the… potion thing?"

"Actually, yes. I feel better than ever."

They arrived at the farmhouse and sat down at the kitchen table. Granny Smith, knitting in a rocking chair, fixed Becora in a steely gaze. "Amazin'ly thorough dye job, Zecora." she said with a sniff. "I guess you can do some marvy things with them plants and roots. Got any blue rinses?"

"One thing at a time, please." said Becora.

Becora looked at Apple Bloom's homework assignment. The theme appeared to be algebra for babies. The first question was "Solve for x: 15 − x = 3", and the height of complexity reached over the course of twenty problems was a word problem about a pony named Marshmallow Smiles buying and eating apples. At least Apple Bloom couldn't complain that she'd never use these concepts in real life. She'd copied out the problems in neat mouthwriting, but there were no answers or scratch work on the paper yet. She watched Becora read a bit sheepishly.

"Where are you having trouble?" said Becora.

"Er, well, uh, I dunno where to begin." said Apple Bloom.

"Let's start with Question 1, then." said Becora. "What could we do to make this equation simpler?"

Apple Bloom stared blankly.

"Right now, x is negated. Is it simpler for a term to be negated, or not?"

"Uh… not."

"So what could we do to both sides of the equation to make x no longer negated?"

"Uh… I dunno."

They made slow progress. Becora was soon convinced that Apple Bloom wasn't merely foggy on the details, but that she hadn't picked up much of anything about algebra from Cheerliee's lectures. Poor Apple Bloom—Becora felt so bad for her, just thinking about how little she knew and how much of an uphill battle this subject would be for her. Becora tried to be more generous with hints.

"And what's the opposite of multiplication?" she was saying.

"Subtraction?" said Apple Bloom.

Becora shook her head.


Becora shook her head.


This simply wasn't working, Becora thought. Teaching somepony elementary algebra from scratch in one afternoon was unrealistic. A more hooves-on approach was called for. The important thing was to get this assignment done, and do what she could for Apple Bloom, who had long counted on Zecora's help.

"So, if two x plus two is ten, we can subtract two from both sides, and it follows that two x equals eight." Becora was saying. "Right?"

"Uh, right."

"So then we can divide both sides by two, and that yields x equals four, right?"


"So write that down."

"What do I write again?"

Well, this was just silly—it was math homework, not mouthwriting homework. So Becora went ahead and filled in the steps and the answers, too. That was a lot faster. Finally, they were done.

"There, that wasn't so bad, was it?" said Becora.

"We did it!" said Apple Bloom. "Thanks, Zecora!" She hugged Becora, and Becora beamed.

"Of course." said Becora. "What else can I help you with, while I'm here?"

"'What else'?" said Apple Bloom. She scratched her ear. "I didn't mean to ask you for anythin' else. I'm sure you got lots of other things to do."

"Oh, it's no trouble. Tell me whatever's bothering you."

"Well…" Apple Bloom looked around the kitchen. Granny Smith was snoring loudly in the rocking chair. "Maybe you could give me some advice about how to talk to Big Mac. He's been playin' with my Silly Simians all the time, and y'know, I'm happy to share, but then he leaves 'em in his room and I can't get 'em when I want 'em. And he always avoids me when I try to ask him."

"How rude." said Becora. "I thought better of him than that. Where is he now?"

"Uh, probably upstairs, but I was just—"

"Let's go talk to him now, then." said Becora.

Becora trotted up the stairs. Apple Bloom, feeling very unsure about this, went along. Becora strode up to Big McIntosh's bedroom and flung the door open without so much as a knock. There was Big Mac, wide-eyed as if he'd been caught stealing from the cookie jar, squatting at a tiny table with a tiny pink tea service. At the table sat a troop of pastel-colored stuffed monkeys, accompanied by a beaten-up old doll with button eyes. Becora stared at Big Mac disapprovingly.

"I was just cleanin' these up." Big Mac muttered.

Apple Bloom was unprepared for a confrontation this sudden. She racked her brains. "Uh…"

Becora could see that, again, poor little Apple Bloom was flummoxed. No wonder she'd asked for Becora's help. Well, judging from Big Mac's reaction at being found with the toys, it was clear enough how to handle him. "To think!" said Becora. "A grown stallion, stealing his little sister's toys. Give those back at once, you bully. And act your age."

Big Mac blushed so intensely that Becora could see it over his tomato-red fur. "Eeyup." he yelped, and hurriedly began carrying the table back into Apple Bloom's room, almost spilling the tea. As soon as all the toys were moved, he bolted down the stairs.

"Big Mac, wait!" Apple Bloom called out. She heard the front door swing closed.

"There." said Becora. "You won't have that problem again."

Apple Bloom made a little sigh. "I guess so."

"What shall I help you with now?" said Becora, patting Apple Bloom on the head.

Apple Bloom winced. This half of Zecora was trying to be helpful, and she was… mostly. She could just be a little rough around the edges, Apple Bloom supposed. There was no question that she knew a lot about lots of things, like math, and potions, and plants. Wait a minute… plants?

"Oh, horsefeathers!" said Apple Bloom.

"Hmm?" said Becora. "What's the matter now?"

"I just remembered—I was so wound up about that homework, I forgot about my chores. I still have to weed the carrots."

"Don't you worry about it." said Becora, heading downstairs. "I'll take care of it."

"Now hang on, Zecora." said Apple Bloom. "That's my job. You don't have to do it. I mean, you can lend a hoof if you want to, but it's—"

Becora tut-tutted. "Don't worry about it. You're just a filly, and you might mistake a carrot for a weed. I'm an expert on plants."

"I'm a farmin' filly!" said Apple Bloom hotly. "I know a weed when I see one!"

But Becora was already outside, diligently pulling up weeds, and shooed Apple Bloom away when she tried to join. Apple Bloom could only watch and shake her head in bewilderment.

Finally, as sundown approached, Becora tore out the last weed. She waved toward the Apples and turned back home, pleased with a day's work, and already thinking to herself about what she could do for poor little Apple Bloom tomorrow.

Zecora Earns Her Stripes

Becora was out in front of her cottage, grazing with her eyes closed and looking about as content as her choleric personality allowed. She was multitasking. Satisfying her hunger while also trimming the grass around the property.

Efficient. Pleasingly efficient.

Eyes still closed (she had memorized the layout of the lawn already), Becora raised her head and trotted towards the south wall to work on the dandelion leaves sprouting from the foundation. A baker's dozen steps in a straight line. That was the amount she had already calculated would take her from the ending point of the patch she'd just finished to the starting point of the home's perimeter. Head bobbing blissfully, Becora counted ten, then eleven, then twelve soft thumps of zebra hooves hitting the forest floor before she halted on the thirteenth step and dropped her muzzle to ground level. Her teeth closed around an unseen dandelion leaf and her lip curled up in a self-congratulating smile.

That smile faltered however, when a fourteenth thump reached her swiveling black ears. It was followed by a fifteenth, sixteenth, and so on. Becora stood stalled in quiet confusion as the sound of her own hoofsteps continued before she concluded there was only one other zebra in Equestria whose canter was identical to her own.

Was calling Wecora an "other zebra" too generous? There was a question the black half's empirically-inclined reasoning couldn't parse.

"Pleased to say my sayings pleased," said Wecora, "and through my interview I breezed."

Becora gave a curt nod of approval. "Apple Bloom is taught," she said by way of reporting her own successes.

Wecora looked at the trimmed grass, obviously straining to say something friendly. "Laudable work done on our lawn. The brackish clutter's nearly gone."


When the two of them had split earlier in the day, neither had managed to say much to one another, instead committing to the princess and the farmhand who'd come to the cottage for help. Now at the end of the day, the existential awkwardness of one pony being bisected into two consciousnesses had finally caught up to the homunculi. Wecora was very blatantly trying to sidestep it by addressing her other half as one would a sibling or old friend. Becora, of course, wasn't the part of their personality that was interested in dancing around the guardian-goyle in the room.

"I tidied our house of potion detritus," the black half continued. "Including the Dissociation Draught. There's enough room for us to speak inside." Without waiting for Wecora to assent to the invitation, she pushed open the cottage door and pranced briskly through.

Wecora dutifully followed, her pale eyebrows having climbed nearly to her hairline in surprise. "I had harbored expectations after both of our vocations had successfully completed, we would each be obsoleted."

"Define 'obsoleted'," Becora's voice came from inside.

"Though strange to think, I thought perhaps the space between us would collapse. And if it didn't, then for sure you'd be here working on a cure." Wecora made it inside to see her other half had indeed put away everything their unified self had pulled out that morning. That had been half a day and two separate lifetimes ago. There was no sense of urgency in the house anymore. No unspoken demand that the cauldron be fired up and an antidote for the Dissociation Draught be brewed. In fact, the only drinks Becora had bothered preparing were two modest cups of water waiting on the weathered antique dining room table.

"Hospitality," came Becora's invitation as she claimed one of the cups and took a swig. Wecora graciously accepted the remaining drink and sipped savoringly. Speech dehydrated a zebra, and she'd spoken so very much today.

"If you cannot define 'obsolete"," Becora reasoned, "you must not feel that you are. Don't argue. I feel the same way." The black half was regarding her drink, not meeting her other's eye. "It is more efficient to be two instead of one. We were beside ourself this morning due to being unable to be everywhere at once. I think that accidental consumption of the Dissociation Draught was… a blessing." A wetness was brimming in Becora's eyes. "This has been a lonely cottage for many years. Never any stallion sharing the nights, nor foals calling for nurture during the day. Just work."

Wecora nodded mutely as a ghost of a memory flared: Stepping on a boat departing from Zebrica, waving goodbye to a tribe proud to see one of their own seeking fortune abroad, and lying in bed decades later, wondering how hermitry had become her lot. Shamans back in Zebrica certainly spent their days toiling over their concoctions with no time for family, but at least they had members of the tribe for companionship. Alone in this foreign land, Zecora had no company outside of her clients. And as much as she valued the likes of Twilight Sparkle and Apple Bloom, they weren't kin. They weren't outsiders. For Zecora to find another like herself and have the free time to play hostess… those were hurdles her old knees didn't have the pep to clear anymore. But now, as two partial ponies clinked cups at the end of a very productive day, Wecora sensed a spirit of amiability warming the shared cottage's old walls.

"It seems that it has been decided: Together we shall stay divided." Wecora smiled bravely at her declaration and Becora gave a grunt of agreement. Cups clinked again and white half (or rather, the white zebra as she supposed she should begin calling herself now) looked blissfully around the room before taking note of the small sleeping quarters in the corner. "Uncertain certainties need said: Which one of us will get the bed?"

Becora tossed a dismissive look at the blankets, then pushed back from the table. "Let's sleep standing," she suggested. "Outside."

Wecora nodded and followed. Another ghostly memory surfaced. Back in Zebrica, all tribesmares slept standing shoulder to shoulder on the plains, safe and warm together. Living alone in Equestria, Zecora had of course adopted the local custom of solitary bedrest, with all the sheets, pillows and blankets it entailed. And while that method certainly had its merits in a colder climate like this one, now was a chance for her to nuzzle and be nuzzled under the stars by another zebra who understood the gravity of the ritual. It had been a long time since Zecora had slept communally. A very long time.

Anypony passing the Everfree that night would've certainly turned and ran at the striking, omen-like figures in front of the cottage near the outskirts: Two mohawked equines, one so dark she nearly disappeared in the gloom and the other so pale she practically glowed in the starlight, stood deathly still beside each other till morning, heads on one another's shoulders, twin tails tenderly interlaced in an alternating black and white pattern that was almost mistakable for a zebra's stripes.

Wecora woke up when the morning newspaper hit her in the face, and her ensuing whinny of surprise roused Becora too.

"My bad," Derpy's call came from somewhere above, but neither of the half-zebras paid her any mind. They were more occupied with the discovery that it had rained last night, drenching and chilling them both down to their middle-aged bones.

"Ins-s-s-side!" Becora spat through chattering teeth. "N-now!" She staggered numbly in the direction of the cottage door.

Wecora followed, stopping only to retrieve the damp newspaper lying in the grass. By the time she hobbled in, Becora had shoved the empty cauldron off its burner and was cursing miserably in Zebrican as she rapped her flint-tipped hooves together trying to get a fire-starting spark. Shivers were hindering her success, though.

Unable to wait for warmth, Wecora pulled a duvet off the unused bed and wrapped her soaking shoulders with it.

"Tinder," Becora demanded, pointing at the newspaper still in the other's teeth.

Wecora nodded and leaned forward to present the paper. But as her eyes passed over a headline, she dropped it and froze.

Becora looked back. "What's the matter?"

"The flames I sought to help defuse burn all the hotter in the news."

"What?" said Becora. "We're trying to start a fire." She dropped the flint and steel and came over to take a look.

There on the front page was a picture of Wecora, her brow furrowed, a faint smile of knowing wisdom on her lips, as Canterlot burned furiously in the background. The headline read "SCHOOL BLAZE: Twilight Defers Questions to Dismissive New Press Liaison".

Confusion reigned in Canterlot today as the monarch zipped away the moment she stepped off the 2:00 train from Ponyville, telling your reporter to direct all questions on the ongoing School for Gifted Unicorns incident to her new press agent, Zecora. Zecora, a hermit of the Everfree Forest known locally as an 'evil enchantress' and believed to have played a central role in the Ponyville plunderseeds disaster, proved uninterested in explaining what exactly was happening at the School and unserious in general, replying to straightforward queries with cryptic riddles and poems.… "Who does she think she is, trying to show off at a time like this?" remarked local stage magician Trixie Lulamoon.…

"What did you do?" said Becora, goggling.

"I did my best." said Wecora, pulling the comforter more tightly around herself. "As for the rest… you see the libel printed here. Like ponies past, he cries in fear."

"Yes, the 'enchantress' stuff, etc. But are these quotes accurate?" Becora pointed at a couplet with an accusing hoof.

"I spoke the words: I told the truth. Do you suppose they sound uncouth? He may've wanted answers fast, but many hasty spells were cast." Wecora stared hard at her other half. "To understand, one contemplates. Slow learning preps us for our fates."

"You… pompous, pedantic blowhard!" Becora sputtered. "All you had to do was give the reporter straight answers, but you were too busy sounding clever. If you want to help ponies, you need to be concise, direct, and—"

"Uh… Zecora? Zecoras?" A poncho-clad Apple Bloom was poking her head through the door, which neither homunculus had thought to close. "Am I interruptin' again?"

"Never mind that." said Becora. "Come in. I was just making a fire."

Apple Bloom closed the door. Her bow popped out as she flipped off her hood. "I'm in big trouble. We just took a math quiz this morning."

"Trouble?" said Becora.

"I bombed it! And Miss Cheerilee talked to me and, and wanted to know how come I did so much better on my homework, and I told her about how you helped me and… and she said what you did wasn't really helping."

Becora was aghast. "But we…"

"And how could you say what you did to Big McIntosh?" said Apple Bloom with sudden anger. "Now he's all mopin' around ashamed of himself and avoidin' me. I just wanted him to share! I didn't ask you to say those things!"

"The wise advisor speaks with tact." said Wecora to Becora, with a raised hoof. "She knows how others will react. She doesn't force her own belief, but gently guides towards relief."

Becora started to say something defensive, but was interrupted by the door being tossed open again. In came Twilight Sparkle. She dispelled a magical umbrella and was quite dry, but the Zecoroota could see a few patches of her burnt fur hastily covered by cosmetic spells. The Princess's eyes were also tired. Very, very tired.

"Hello, everypony. You've seen the paper by now, huh?" She looked around, at Wecora clutching the duvet, at Becora standing tensely near an unlit fireplace, and at Apple Bloom looking small and dejected, her poncho still dripping. "Where did you two… you know what, never mind. Not my business. Listen, white Zecora, things… didn't work out so well yesterday. I'm sorry. The press is still eating me alive, and my guess is they didn't let you off the hook, either. So… I swung by the Ponyville Schoolhouse to ask Apple Bloom how things went on her end. Cheerilee said she excused herself for the rest of the day to come over here." Twilight blew out heavily, rubbing her temple. "And now all of us are back where everything started."

The zebras glanced at each other, at Twilight, and then back at each other.

"Apple Bloom," Twilight went on, "how was your math lesson with the other Zecora yesterday?"

Apple Bloom looked down and scuffed a hoof on the floor. "I didn't learn it too good, I think. And… Zecora was kinda mean to Big Mac."

"I guessed as much," Twilight sighed. "Can I show you all something?" Nopony spoke as Twilight levitated the newspaper. Curiously, she didn't even glance at the unflattering cover story with Wecora's dopey grinning picture. Instead, she flipped to the second page, showing a dejected purple earth pony lying on her back. She had a propeller beanie on her head and a rope around her legs. "Do any of you recognize this pony? Her name is Screwball. Applejack lassoed her yesterday right after I arrived on the scene. Turns out, she's the culprit behind all the disasters in Canterlot the past few days."

"But why?" Apple Bloom piped up.

"I was getting to that. She's one of Discord's old conjurings that got away from him. A homunculus, you could say."

Apple Bloom tilted her head in clueless confusion. The zebras shifted uncomfortably.

"I talked to Screwball after we brought her in. Apparently she was trying to be like her 'dad,' by making mischief and pulling what she thought were clever pranks. But the thing is, being an artificial pony, she's not all there in the head. She was too naive" (Wecora nodded empathically) "and tactless" (Becora's jaw visibly clenched) "to understand just how botched her attempts at clowning were. I want to reiterate: She was trying her best, but just didn't have the chops to function on her own, or even notice she was messing up until someone pointed it out to her. I hope it's clear why I came back to check on the two of… on the two halves of you, Zecora."

Wecora had practically disappeared under her duvet, while Becora at last sat down, her confidence utterly cratered. "Until somepony pointed it out to her," the black half scoffed miserably.

"Much too thick and much too spacey." said Wecora. "Much too much to see that we're crazy."

"Aw, ya don't think that's being just a tad too harsh on yourself?" Apple Bloom patted the pile of blankets sympathetically. "Nopony got hurt or anythin', right?"

"Nopony was helped either," Becora answered firmly. "A fully realized Zecora would've resolved all of yesterday's issues with flying colors." She shook her head. "Twilight, what did you end up doing with Screwball?"

"Nothing yet. We're trying to get ahold of Discord so he can take her back to his pocket dimension. That's her home, after all. She needs to go back to where she belongs."

Becora nodded in resolute agreement, then placed a forehoof on top of the blanket bundle housing her other half. With a brilliant green glow and a muted boom, the potion's spell inverted itself so that on the floor of the hut, panting, her eyelids fluttering open as if awakening from sleep, was Zecora, restriped.

"What happened?" said Apple Bloom.

Zecora laughed heartily. "I drank a potion meant to bring understanding between a pair. The goal achieved, I'm once again just one mare. White Zecora knew not to interfere too much, but she was too afraid to say enough. Black Zecora was clearer, but easily became too rough. Princess, I was inattentive to the emergency you needed me for. And Apple Bloom, I should have let you solve your own problems more. I'm sorry for my halves' mistakes, and I'll do better, for your sakes."

"Oh, Zecora!" said Twilight, embracing her old mentor. "It's all right, and I'm glad you're okay again. I've had so many more crises than this… and it really is our own faults for asking too much of you, anyway."

"Yeah," said Apple Bloom, making it a group hug, "after all, there's only one of ya!"

That there was, and instead of wasting effort on another couplet, the zebra just held her guests tighter. Once this hug broke, she knew Twilight and Apple Bloom would be on their separate ways, leaving her alone yet again. Right now though, she just wanted to hold onto this moment of companionship. Drink in as much of it as possible before—

"So," Apple Bloom finally said. "I'm still clueless 'bout algebra. If I'm welcome to stay, I'd wanna take another try at bein' tutored."

Awed that Apple Bloom would give her another chance, Zecora nodded.

"Ah, to still have time to spend an afternoon relaxing and teaching math problems," Twilight remarked dreamily. "Color me jealous of you, Zecora." The magically conjured umbrella slowly reappeared over the Princess's head. "I myself have to go check up on Screwball again. I let her sleep in the Castle of Friendship's guest room last night as a gesture of goodwill, but woke up to her standing at the foot of my bed this morning, fast asleep. She's like this half-puppy, half-little foal who gets lonely way too easily."

"Lonely little pony pup… wait, she sleeps while standing up?"

"Ooh, we learned 'bout that in health class." Apple Bloom reported. "It's s'posed to make night breathin' easier or something." Her face folded into a half-hearted pout. "Oh sure that lecture I can remember, but important stuff like solvin' for x escapes me."

"Twilight, if I'm free to ask, is handling Screwball quite a task?"

"Eh, like I said, she's eager to please, but could really use someone who'll actually give her some nurturing. I almost feel bad giving her back… to Discord…" Twilight Sparkle trailed off when she realized what Zecora was attempting to ask. "I'll get back to you about this," Twilight promised. "Help Apple Bloom for now. Better to take things one at a time than split our attention, as I think we've all learned by now."

"If that's what you decree, Princess. You'd know the most about being stressed."

Twilight stuck her tongue out at the old zebra, then pulled her umbrella down in a failed attempt to hide her self-conscious blush. Apple Bloom stifled a giggle as Twilight pulled the door shut behind her, a little too forcefully to have been done by a pony whose feathers weren't thoroughly ruffled.

"Get it out now, little one. It's time for work, and not for fun."

"I know, I know. Lemme get my notes outta my pack. They're all over the place." She giggled again. "Just like you were yesterday."

Zecora rolled her eyes and leaned in to examine Apple Bloom's neatly copied sample problems. The memories of seeing them the day before were clear in her mind. She opened her mouth to begin explaining the concepts from the ground up, but stopped when another memory entered her consciousness: It was one of Twilight earnestly airing all her concerns while Zecora sat in a train seat and listened.

There would be no mistakes today. Her wits were fully returned, and Zecora wouldn't waste them.

"Right then, tell my open ear exactly what you need made clear."