"Umpf!" Spike landed on the ground with a thud, losing his grip on the sheets as his claws tore right through them. He was the last one to climb down the surrogate rope from their bedroom window.
"Alright, so far so good," Twilight said. "But now what? The gate is still lowered."
"How 'bout we climb the wall?" Applejack offered.
"But, what about the moat?" Spike asked.
"I prefer getting my mane ruined one more time rather than lose my mind in this place of madness." Rarity said.
Agreeing, Spike climbed atop Applejack's back, and she hoisted him to the top of the wall. Just as Spike peeked over the wall though, a giant swamp creature emerged from the water, roaring and swiping at him with razor-sharp, webbed claws. Spike yelped, and fell backwards, bounced off of Applejack's back and on the ground again.
"Mo-monster... i-in the... wa-water!" He stammered.
"Oh? I thought you said there wasn't such a thing as ghosts?" Twilight smirked.
"Uh... I'll make an exception for water monsters."
"Shoot. There's gotta be another way out. Let's try the other side of the manor." Applejack suggested.
As the ponies kept close to the walls of the manor and sneaked underneath the windows, they rounded the corners of the building twice, only to be greeted by a less-than-appealing sight, planted in the manor's backyard.
"Is... is that a graveyard?"
"'Fraid so. Must be Thunder Thorn's ancestors."
Spike sighed. "With all that's been happening tonight, do you really think it's a good idea to walk around a creepy cemetery?"
"Sometimes, the answer is in the most unlikely of places, Spike," Twilight reasoned.
Spike's attention was pulled elsewhere when a loud series of chimes assaulted their ears.
"Churchbell dinging? Where is it coming from?" Rarity asked.
Applejack gulped, and pointed with a hoof. "From there!"
In sync with the ringing, the skeleton of a pony was dangling from a rope, a noose tightly secured around its neck.
"Well, that's one way of ringing a bell..." Twilight muttered. Some movement in the corner of her eye caught her attention. "Heads up! We're not alone here!"
They all ducked behind a tombstone to conceal all of them, allowing them to peek out from behind it to observe the figures moving in the distance, all of which slowly dragging themselves in the same direction.
"Are those... zombie ponies?!" Spike asked in trepidation. "See? I TOLD you they exist, Twilight!"
Twilight just gaped at the undead ponies. Each of them was mutilated and deteriorated in varying degrees, and as if sharing a single mindset, all of them headed towards the same, unknown destination.
"Where do ya'll think they're going?" Applejack asked.
"I don't know, and I don't care," Rarity said as she backed away from the tombstone they were hiding behind, "All I know is I'm going in the other way."
She didn't get too far. As she passed by another relatively large tombstone, the earth in front of it stirred, and the bony hoof of a skeleton burst from the ground, quickly followed by another. Rarity didn't stick around for the animated corpse to fully emerge from the grave, as she shrieked, turned around and galloped away to rejoin her friends.
"What is blazes is that racket about tonight? It makes my blood churn!" A voice, unheard by anypony, sounded from a neighboring grave, which opened itself from the inside. A pale pony stepped out, donning a cloak and a top hat, both as black as the night. A pair of fangs protruded from its mouth, and its eyes were a bloodshot red.
"Well, hello there, missy..." he said as he laid his eyes on Rarity, running back to her friends.
The white fashionista was on the verge of tears as she wrapped her hooves around Applejack's neck. "This is a nightmare! A bad dream! Why can't I wake up?!"
"Excuse me, milady," the pale pony said as he walked up to Rarity, lifting his top hat in greeting. "Would you raise any objections if I were to request a little nibble from you?"
While Spike dived into the nearest bush in hiding, Rarity scuffled behind Applejack. "A vampire!"
The look on the vampire pony's face fell, turned on its heels, and stomped away, angrily. "Alright, fine. I'll take that as a "no," then. You could've at least be more civil about it!"
As the vampire returned to his coffin, Spike felt his leg sink away into nothingness. Looking down, he noticed he was standing at the top of a stony staircase, leading into a dark tunnel, fully enshrouded by the bushes.
"Hey, you guys! I found a secret passage!" Spike called. The ponies walked over.
"Ah yes. It's not an uncommon sight for ancient manors to have hidden escape routes in case of a threat. This might be a way out!" Twilight said.
"Or another step towards our doom." Applejack sighed as they descended the stairs.
"I opt for that." Rarity agreed.
Twilight lit up her horn once again to cast a light into the earthen corridor. Shining it across the walls gave her a jump. Whether or not it was formed by nature was debatable, but the walls appeared like faces of ponies, which appeared as if they were writhing in agony.
"Ugh. Not very inviting..."
"Well... as long as we're not being threatened, I'll be happy." Rarity said.
Nopony noticed the eight-legged insect stalking them from a nearly invisible crevice in the walls.
The ponies and dragon passed a series of pony skeletons in their path. There was even a skull raked on a pike, serving as a warning to go no further.
"Looks like we weren't the first ones to pass through here..." Applejack said silently.
Twilight turned to answer her, but shouted a warning instead. "Applejack! Watch out! On your shoulder!"
Applejack turned her head to see the cause of Twilight's alarm, and stared right into a set of several arachnoid eyes.
"GUH! A spider! Git off, you!" She turned around as she batted the spider away. As she looked behind her, she saw it brought friends. Lots of them.
"Ah darn it, there's a cartload of them! RUN!"
Spike had to hold on to Twilight's mane for dear life as the ponies broke into a gallop, trying to put as much distance as possible between them and the flood of spiders. The corridor came to an end, but fortunately, not a dead end, as a wooden door was visible.
Twilight immediately used her magic to get a feel of the doorknob, and sighed in relief to find it was unlocked. She swung the door open and allowed everypony to run in. The door slammed shut, leaving the spiders with nothing to do but crawling all over it.
"Phew... We're safe!" Applejack panted.
"Oh, I beg to differ..." Rarity sighed.
The dungeon they found themselves in was one of nightmares.
Several contraptions used for torturing purposes were scattered around the room. In front of them, a rack was displayed, accompanied by a bucket of cold coals on one side, and a log with an ax on the other. On the wall was an iron maiden, and chains criss-crossed all over the ceiling. Last but not least, a guillotine stood at the far end of the room, which they needed to pass by in order to exit the room.
"That's the first time I ever see a guillotine," Applejack admitted. She noticed the blade had been lowered, and followed the blade's trajectory to the basket in front of the guillotine, where in ancient times, there would be...
"GYUH!!" She jumped.
"Now what?" Twilight asked.
"I-I-In the basket!"
Twilight peeked into the basket with slight trepidation, not sure if she really wanted to find out what spooked her friend. Regardless, she did, and stared right into the empty gaze of Lavaliere's severed head, his tongue lolling out from his mouth.
The lavender unicorn grimaced at the gruesome sight, turned away, and covered her mouth with a hoof in thought. "Maybe this is about Thunder Thorn's legacy? If that's the case, his and the lawyer's killer could be the same pony."
Hoofsteps caught their attention. From behind the corner, a pony wearing an executioner hood came to investigate the noises it was hearing. As soon their eyes connected, it turned and galloped away.
"Over there! He's getting away, somepony stop him!" Rarity called.
"Not if I can help it!" Applejack said, as she pursued the executioner and lunged for a nearby chain dangling from the ceiling. "Ever heard of Daring Do, ya pansy?!" She yelled, using her momentum to kick her hind legs against the back of the pony's head, instantly knocking its lights out.
After the executioner came to a halt from tumbling around, the three ponies (Spike still sitting on Twilight's back) surrounded the unconscious pony.
"I can't wait to find out who it is." Twilight said, as she used her magic to grasp the hood, and yanked it off.
"Is that... but... That's impossible!" Rarity exclaimed.
"And yet, there he is. At least, most of him."
"I don't get it. How can Silver Platter... or Silver Plate, whichever, lose a head like that?" Twilight queried.
"Good thing he's got a spare one," Spike joked.
"So anyway, does that mean he killed Lavaliere and Thunder Thorn?"
Startled by the booming voice behind them, the ponies and dragon turned to see another pony standing on a bare staircase, leading away from the dungeon. He was wearing a cloak as black as charcoal, and the lack of lighting obscured most of his face.
"That stallion is innocent! I, and only I, know who murdered Thunder Thorn!"
"Who... Who are you?" Applejack queried.
Spike's eyesight worked somewhat better in darkness, so he had little trouble identifying this character as it spoke. There was a small detail missing from this stallion's earlier appearance.
"Imagine a bandage around his ear, and you get...?"
"Pennywell?!" Twilight was the first to connect the dots.
Overcoming their initial shock, the ponies advanced on him, but the butler just shouted some more.
"Maintain your distance! Or you will get burned!"
He grasped the side of the cloak with his hoof, and threw it around him as he cackled manically. Out of nowhere, fire erupted at the base of his hooves, and one scorching burst of flame later, he had vanished.
"Wha... Where did he go?!" Rarity asked, flustered.
"Please. That was just a fancy teleportation spell." Twilight reasoned.
"But Twilight, that's impossible!" Spike argued. "He's an earth pony, not a unicorn!"
With this revelation bouncing around in her head, Twilight just groaned. "UGH! Whatever! I don't even care to try and understand anything around here anymore. Let's just see where these stairs take us."
The staircase lead them up to...
"A wall?" Applejack said? "It's gotta be a secret passage. Why else would there be stairs here?"
Attached on the wall at the top of the staircase, was a depiction of a devil's face, carved in stone and glaring with empty eyes. As soon as the ponies approached it, its horns lowered and a stone tongue stuck out of its mouth.
"Puh, manners..." Rarity muttered.
"Hang on, ya'll, lemme take a look at this," Applejack perked up. "I've been reading Applebloom some scary stories lately. She seems to like them. One of them mentioned something the likes of this."
After a few moments of inspection, Applejack pushed down on the tongue with one hoof, and raised the horns back to their upright position with the other. Removing her hooves, the tongue snapped right back up, and with a grinding noise, retreated back into the mouth. A series of clicks and whirs could be heard, and to Applejack's elation, the secret door opened.
"Yee-haw!" she exclaimed. "Finally, we've caught a break!"
"I'm not so sure..." Rarity said, as she peered past Applejack, looking into an all-too familiar environment. "Looks like we ended up back inside the manor..."