Día de los Muertos

by Gabriel LaVedier

The Mystery of Ponyville

“The mist pulls in more and more, shrouding all of the land. Whitetail Woods is just a foggy expanse, and the border of the Everfree is more of a dangeous and terrible place than ever before. From out of the concealing mist there comes a howl. It is not the howl of a timberwolf. It is the great Stonebeast, the creature that rises on Nightmare Night to snarl and stomp through the woods. It hides and stalks along, never letting itself be seen, save for the stones that serve as shell to it.
“But there is more. For there come pitiful wails and strangled sobs of abject misery. The Maudlin Mare is up and about, making Nightmare Night more horrible. She is a pale, ghostly figure, all bones and tatters of clothes, wailing pitifully after something she can never find. She walks along, begging mercy of those she finds but can never be satisfied.
“That is not the worst. The worse is the Fiend. He is a creature of flame and rage. Fire trails him, baleful cries emerge from him. He is a huge, hulking beast. He roars his hate for some thing that may no longer exist. He never approaches the town and he does not always appear. Nightmare Nights come without him, but he only ever appears on some Nightmare Nights. He is Ponyville's darkest specter, for he terrifies all. Especially me...”
Rarity lowered the flashlight form her face with a shiver, and leaned against Fluttershy for support. Around her in the darkened boutique her friends were reacting to the story. Pinkie was placidly stuffing her face with popcorn; Applejack and Dash were both nodding to the tale; Fluttershy looked a bit spooked but was trying to be supportive; and Twilight was taking notes, looking fascinated by the whole thing. “This is wonderful!” She said, scribbling additional things. “Local legends would make for a wonderful extra-discipline paper. It's certainly more compelling and more emotive than The Olden Pony or The Headless Horse.”
“It's... not a legend. It's real...” Rarity said, hugging Fluttershy tightly. “I saw the Fiend when I was a young filly, not much older than Sweetie is now. It frightened me so badly I nearly stopped participating in Nightmare Night entirely. I would have disbelieved it if I had not seen it later in life. He is real, and the others are too. I have not seen them but there are others who have heard the Stonebeast or been solicited by the Maudlin Mare.”
“I... I never knew about such scary things before. Cloudsdale has different scary stories. And I didn't like those either,” Fluttershy said, softly rubbing her cheek against Rarity's.
“It's all new to me, too, but it's one of the more awesome stories. Three monsters in one! Cool,” Dash said.
“Pericarp was a bit different but Big Macintosh was there longer than ah was. Ah grew up here and ah've heard it. Ah even heard that there Maudlin Mare once. Ah think,” Applejack said, stroking at her chin.
“Since, by and large, we're all newcomers here, this is a brand new bit of cultural information. It will affect us more because we know different traditions,” Twilight sagely said, setting her notes aside. “Rarity is the only one who is a native. She'd be most affected by the memory from foalhood.”
“Oh Twilight, I know you try so hard to be intellectual, to look for explanations that may not be mysterious, but this is the mystery of Ponyville. As much a Nightmare Night reality as making offerings to the statue of Nightmare Moon,” Rarity said, looking over at the other unicorn.
“Mystery is right,” Twilight said, tapping her hoof on the ground. “It gets me thinking...”
“Umm, do we have to keep talking about scary stories? It's making Rarity uncomfortable. And me too,” Fluttershy whispered, curling a little around Rarity.
“I'm breaking down the background of the tale and seeking a contextual basis for the development of the narrative,” Twilight said.
“Uh, beg pardon?”Applejack asked. “We all like yer smarts, Twilight, but sometimes...”
“It sounds like you're vomiting up a dictionary,” Dash finished, tactlessly.
“Classy, sugarcube. Ah am so glad ya ain't like that all the time,” Applejack said with a shake of her head.
“What I mean is, most tales like that are either developed as a didactic tool...” Twilight coughed into her hoof as blank stares met her statement. “I mean, are designed to teach a lesson, or to communicate the fears or values of a community. Sometimes they are spawned from a grain of truth, like most old stories of the fae are about Changelings. But truthful tales get embellished and inflated to reflect how the culture sees the story and itself.”
“Oh! Like how the simple and moving story of Hearths-Warming somehow grew to include the jolly and giving figure of the Hearthkeeper,” Rarity said, comprehension replacing the dread that had been etched onto her features.
“Exactly! The celebration was good and moving but there needed to be another element to reflect the generosity of our culture, hence the development of a magical figure that gives gifts to the good and who passes the selfish and heartless,” Twilight said with a nod.
“So... yer sayin' this whole thing may be true?” Applejack questioned, an eyebrow raised.
“I'm saying that it's a distinct and intriguing possibility,” Twilight clarified, practically wiggling with nerdy excitement. “There may be magical effects that come about each Nightmare Night. It is, after all, the Autumnal Equinox, when the day and night are of equal length. A lot of mana is swirling and surging during that time, as on other major days of upwelling. There could be special properties of the region that have been primed to happen then.”
“Pfft. Booo-ring!” Dash said with a dismissive wave of her hoof. “No offense, Twilight, but this is egg-headier than usual. It sounds like we'd been going out there to find out that Nightmare Night makes some rocks glow or makes the wind blow over holes in the ground and sound like howling.”
“W-well, true... it may be a simple explanation like that...” Twilight confessed, scratching at the back of her neck. “But there may be more to it. We may uncover some kind of intriguing secret from the history of the town! That's... well, that's exactly the kind of thing Daring Do would do!”
Dash perked up instantly and shot upright, hovering in the air a little ways. “Daring Do? You're right, Twilight! If mysterious things happen she always wants to look and find what's going on. She always does cool stuff while digging around in places. This is gonna be awesome!”
Pinkie softly nuzzled against Twilight's neck and offered some of her popcorn. “And that's why you're my favorite pony.”
Twilight blushed deeply and levitated out a few of the popped kernels. “I just learned by trial and error what works. Stimulus, response. Sometimes it's great being an egghead,” she confessed, nuzzling back at her marefriend.
“I... I don't know... this all sounds really, really scary...” Fluttershy said, looking away from the others. “I don't want to be a bother but I don't think I can do something like this.”
“I must take Fluttershy's stance. While I agree that this is all very interesting... this is something that affects me deeply. The fear from foalhood remains. While I may often forget it and enjoy Nightmare Night, I always know it is there, and I always worry that it will return...”
“I really don't want you to do anything that makes you uncomfortable. I understand that that kind of fear can linger. If you want to sit this out, you can, and we'll all completely understand,” Twilight said with a comforting tone.
“Really? It seems as though taking away two able-bodied searchers would be a burden,” Rarity noted.
“We're your friends. Friends understand one another,” Twilight said, smiling brightly. “Besides, you could still help in non-scary ways. You could help look through archives at City Hall, or check books about local features and things. Maybe even talk to older folks that know more local legends, seeking that grain of truth.”
“What do you think, darling? Would that be alright?” Rarity asked Fluttershy, brushing her mane in a soothing manner.
“I can certainly do that. I really do want to help,” Fluttershy said with a soft smile, looking at all the others. “Thank you for being understanding.”
“No sweat, Fluttershy. We know how you are. And you're our friend. We'll always figure something out,” Dash said with a smile. She then turned to Twilight and grew determined. “Now let's plan for a monster hunt. We're gonna need cages, steel cables, big clubs, packs filled with supplies, kick-flank music...”
“Woah there, missy...” Applejack said, planting a hoof softly on Dash's lips. “We're gonna look inta some old campfire stories, we ain't gonna go out huntin' fer Discord. Ah think all we'll need is some water, some vittles an' that Daring Do hat ya swore ya didn't buy fer way too much money.”
“Worth every bit,” Dash said before clapping her own hooves over her mouth and blushing a bit. After experiencing Applejack's smug smile for a short while she quickly added, “I'm still not one of those squealy fangirls.”
“Ah ain't sayin' ya are... jes saying yer a fan, yer a mare and ah do believe ya squealed when ah gave ya that Darin' Do book fer yer birthday...” Applejack said with a light tone.
“That proves nothing!” Dash insisted, crossing her front legs with a huff of indigence.
“No matter what... this will be a great project to undertake... tomorrow...” Twilight said with a yawn, leaning further onto Pinkie and trusting her earth pony strength to keep her upright. “For now, I declare this sleepover on schedule!”
With rolls of their eyes and soft laughs the others distributed themselves around the library to their sleeping areas.

”Larkspur!” The fertile region around Canterlot mountain was growing nicely, the small homesteads and single-family farms taking advantage of the rich earth mana and availability of pegasi weather-makers to raise up a decent harvest. The one who had cried was a light pink earth mare wearing a set of mud-daubed overalls. A straw hat rested on her head and partially covered her strawberry-blonde mane. “Larkspur! Whereabouts are you going today?”
The one to whom she was speaking was a unicorn. What could be seen of her coat was a rich, deep royal blue, while her mane was a paler periwinkle color. That mane was gathered and swept up over the left side of her head, in a very, very loose wave of two layers. Her eye was almost completely obscured by the effect. She was dressed very properly in a long gray dress pulled up by straps to prevent scraping along the ground. Though the design was simple it spoke of a bit of money. She laughed faintly and turned fully towards the earth mare. “Why, Peony, I am going where the mana leads me. You know that.”
Peony laughed softly and shook her head. “You and that mana. We use it for growing, you know. We can feel it just fine. It's flowing nicely. We may get a bumper crop right before the equinox. That would make for a fantastic celebration. You'll be our Harvest Queen again, won't you?”
“It seems hardly fair. I don't grow the wonderful crops, nor do I harvest them. To make me the queen... it seems silly,” Larkspur commented with a wave of a hoof.
“Your father controls the finest land and he keeps us all employed. It's only right that you get the honor. Besides, you're always so kind to us, Larkspur. You really do embody what it means to be the Harvest Queen,” Peony said.
“Thank you, Peony. It means a lot to hear it. But... I must be off...” Larkspur's attention drifted away, towards the long expanse of low hills and sparse vegetation just before the horizon. “Oh I feel it today...”
“Please be careful. Some folks say that they've seen something out there. They don't know what. Might be a rogue timberwolf or something worse,” Peony said, with a dark tone.
“I-indeed...” Larkspur said, with some trepidation. “Still... I must go where I am led. Despite that... I have a good feeling.”
“You know best. I'll tell your father where you went if he asks,” Peony said with a happier voice.
“Oh please... I know him but he worries so over me. He just can't seem to let me alone after mother...” Larkspur cleared her throat and turned away. “Please keep him in the dark or I will never have any peace or time to myself.”
“Of course. Don't worry. He's pretty easy to distract,” Peony replied with a laugh. She waved a hoof and looked around. “Now go before he actually comes along.”
“Of course. And thank you again, Peony. I will see you again soon,” Larkspur said, trotting off with more speed than was seemly for a well-dressed mare.