I stared down the large beast that stood on the far end of the glade while I bit down hard on the handle of my silver blade, the taste of freshly cut white oak on my tongue. I had made the knife no more than a week ago after finding a dead carcass of a deer a short ways from my home. The wounds were clean-cut, but the bite marks were crude. There were no puncture wounds to signify a manticore had killed it with it’s stinger, nor were they small enough to indicate a vampire.
My guess had proven to be correct, in the end. As the Equuwolf across from me snarled, I thanked myself for being extra cautious with the coming Blood Moon. The beast had been wandering around my hut for weeks if I were to guess, and had I not been ready for it, I would likely be dead.
I am Zecora. The zebra of Everfree. The herbalist of Ponyville’s denizens. The Hunter of those that bid ill-will to my new home.
The equuwolf shifted its warped feet, the large claws that had been hooves digging into the soil seconds before the beast pushed off the ground. Its wild, shaggy honey-brown hair glistened with red in the pale moonlight. It may have already killed again, but my blood would not be spilled onto that coat.
I leaped back, then dashed to the side. The equuwolf followed close, the stink of its breath reaching my nostrils. I looked to a particularly thick tree, and saw my chance.
Zecora, my dear daughter, I shall teach you one of the simplest, yet most effective means to killing an Equuwolf. Watch closely, as you may one day have to perform this should you find yourself in an area with little space to run.
I looked over my shoulder, and saw the Equuwolf only a couple paces behind me. I focused ahead, and sprinted towards the large tree, and made my move.
Kicking off the base of the mighty plant’s bark-covered body, I flipped over the unsuspecting equuwolf. It had no time to register what I had done, turning around just in time to find my blade in its chest.
It snarled in agony and fury, lashing out at me with a clawed leg. I hissed in pain as it caught my chest, and backed up quickly as the beast fell forward.
I wasted no time and dug into the small satchel I had tied around my waist. Fishing out a bottled potion of a murky brown hue, I gulped it down and forced back the gagging reflex. It tasted of rotting fungi and burnt hair, but it was performing its task as I intended it to. My wound began closing up, ridding my body of pain and the possibility of becoming an equuwolf as well.
I walked cautiously over to the unmoving body, and watched with a hint of sorrow as the body began to twist and shrink. Claws rounded down to hooves, the snout became wider and less canine. Teeth shrunk down and disappeared or moved back, and the coat receded to a more equine length. My eyes widened as I took in the pony before me, closing my eyes and shaking my head.
“No…please, let this be a untrue. It…it cannot possibly be you…”
The pony let out a wet cough, and I looked up in shock.
“Landsakes…Zecora…heh…” laughed the blond mare. “I never…thought it’d be you to finally put me down…”
“Applejack, why…? What made you become such a creature? Are there more like you, I must be made sure.”
Applejack slowly shook her head. “As far as I know…I’m…” She let out another painful cough. “…shoot, that hurts…I-I’m the only one in the area. I got…I got bit by one while I was travelin’ down the road to Fillydelphia to visit some kin. Passed out in a woods nearby, woke up in a field with blood on my lips and hooves a day or two later…” She frowned. “I…I’ve been tryin’ to control it, but…well, if the legends are true, there ain’t no cure for…lycanthropy.”
I nodded. “There is not. After a day or two passes after being bit, there is no known way to reverse it.”
“Yeah…I-” she hacked up a glob of stick red-black mucus, and laughed. “Zecora…please…don’t tell my family…”
I opened my mouth to speak, but paused. Applejack’s chest had stopped rising, and her eyes were now open, staring at me blankly. I lowered my head, and forced down the tears that threatened to break through.
This is the life of a Hunter, Zecora. Even after you are old and feeble, it will always be part of you. One day, when you have a son or daughter, you too will teach them the ways of the Hunter. We are the unsung protectors of this world. It is our sworn duty.
I nodded, remembering my mother’s words. I looked to the lifeless body of Applejack, slowly brushing my hoof over her eyes and closing them. I said a short prayer to Luna, asking for Applejack’s soul to be laid to rest and find peace in the Equisian Fields.
“I told her not to go through them woods. We have all the Zap Apples we needed,” spoke Big Macintosh slowly as he stood beside me, long after the other visitors and friends had left the small funeral. Now only he, Apple Bloom, Granny Smith, and I remained. “Zecora…I…thank you…for bringin’ her back to us. I just…I just wish you could have skinned the damn beast that did this to her.”
“I am only thankful that I found her before the equuwolf could…” I could finish my thoughts. Big Macintosh only nodded, understanding me…or at least thinking he did.
Eventually Big Macintosh left with Granny Smith, leaving me alone with Apple Bloom. The young filly had been silent, shedding tears but not sobbing loudly like some that had visited.
“Zecora…you said ya’ll fought that equuwolf, right?”
“Yes, but…I was unable to fell the foul beast. I cut it and caused harm at the very least.”
“Can…can ya teach me how to fight like that? I…I don’t wanna lose anymore friends or family to one of ‘em.”
I carefully schooled my features as I looked into her eyes. Something in those eyes told me she knew something. Did…did she suspect me of killing Applejack? Perhaps…perhaps she knew the truth of her sister?
…One day, when you have a son or daughter, you too will teach them the ways of the Hunter…
Would it be right? Would placing that burden upon this young filly be just? Would Applejack want that?
I contemplated this for several long moments. That look in Apple Bloom’s eyes, however, was unsettling. It was not a menacing glare directed at me, though. It was a determined grimace, mixed with the stinging of tears.
She wanted to prevent this from happening to another loved one.
I couldn’t say no.
“I could teach you such things, but…you must know that once you know them, they are a part of you. They will be with you forever, and never leave you entirely, this I know to be true.”
Apple Bloom only nodded. “I understand.”
I sighed deeply, and gave her a single nod.
This is a part of who I am. It is my duty. Once it is a part of me, it never leaves…
Norse Pony’s comments: Heck yeah, I’m digging the Zecora-as-Hunter concept, and also the idea that Equestria has Hunters at all. The action was well-illustrated here, and the reveal was appropriately tragic. I really liked the steely determination you gave Zecora’s inner monologue, too.