• Published 16th Aug 2013
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What You Are in the Dark - Little Jackie Papercut



The Manehattan Six investigate mysterious pony-like creatures at night.

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Diversions

"Find anything yet?" Twilight asked, looking up from her book. The room had emptied by now, the cryptolinguistics club having gone home when the library closed for the day. Now only Twilight and Honey remained, searching every available resource for Blossomforth's mystery creature.

The pegasus shrugged. "Something about vamponies, wereponies, and all kinds of other made-up ponies. Nothing really helpful." She turned a page.

Twilight stood, levitating the book in front of her, and began pacing. "Maybe we're not looking in the right place," she said. "Doesn't Neigh York have a sizeable foreign population? Maybe it's a pony from overseas."

Honey thought about it, tapping a hoof to her chin. She quickly retrieved a second book and scanned the contents. "Well... there ARE pony-like creatures in other countries," she confirmed, "but I can't remember ever meeting anything like this..."

Twilight sighed and looked out the window. "I wonder if Blossomforth is having any luck..."

~#~#~#~

"We're not having any luck!" Blossomforth exclaimed, flying as fast as her wings would carry her as she tried to prevent any of the balloons floating from Trixie's hat from escaping, popping them between her hooves. Below, Trixie was focusing all her magical might on attempting to deactivate the absurd garment, while Spike ran around frantically trying to catch the apples that fell from each balloon.

~#~#~#~

"I wonder if Blossomforth is having any luck," Octavia mused aloud.

"I hope so," Sherbet said, stepping into the elevator. "She seemed so shaken up."

Octavia followed her in, and the elevator began to descend. Octavia was whistling something slow and pensive above the drone of the machinery. Sherbet listened, trying to identify the song.

"Well then, what are we going do about it?" the musician asked abruptly.

"Ah... I am not entirely sure," Sherbet replied slowly. "I can say that it sounds familiar, but even if I could put a name to it, I don't think speculating will help her at all."

"Which is why you have another plan," Octavia observed. "Where are we going?"

The yellow mare thought it over for a moment. "We're going to Coneigh Island," she answered.

The elevator gate made a pleasant squeaking sound as it slid open on the ground floor. The bellcolt flashed the two mares a friendly smile as they trotted out the door and into the slight chill of the Manehattan afternoon, Octavia having resumed her tune.

He listened for a moment, then began whistling himself.

~#~#~#~

Trixie seemed distinctly displeased with their endeavors so far, so Blossomforth bit her tongue as they approached the spot where she had seen the bat-pony. Spike now rode on the pegasus's back, wearing the hat that Trixie had put aside after it had unexpectedly gone off earlier.

"Well, at least we got the weird part out of the way already," Spike was saying. "I bet after that, nothing can surprise us."

The pony under him winced. "See, that's exactly the kind of thing you don't want to say when you're looking for monsters in an alley," she chided.

"Yes," Trixie affirmed, nodding briskly. "Everypony who understands the stage knows that narrative causality demands that the moment you declare you're ready for anything, a skeleton pops out."

Blossomforth edged away from Trixie slightly, raising an eyebrow. "A what? No, I just meant you should assume a surprise is coming so you can be ready for it... what did any of that even mean?"

"Not important," the showmare replied, stepping forward to examine the area. "What was this thing doing in an alley, anyway? Eating garbage?"

Spike hopped down off Blossomforth's back, eyes sweeping over the alley as he leaned against a wall. Nothing seemed terribly out of the ordinary. There was a scattering of newspapers with today's date littering the ground just behind a large trash receptacle, and not much else.

The dragon's gaze began to wander, leaving the pavement to drift upward. At that moment, he could see the monster perched on the rooftop. "Halt, fiend!" he heard himself yelling. In response, it swooped down, vicious claws outstretched. With a single flex of his mighty arm, he swatted it into the wall. Undeterred, the creature pulled itself out of the small hole the impact had created and lashed out at his powerful legs with its long, bladed tail. He leapt into the air, retaliating with a blast of fiery breath.

The creature shrieked, and he hauled it up to eye level with himself, staring right into its ugly simian face. "Now, will you stop terrorizing helpless, innocent ponies?" he asked in his deep, heroic voice. It nodded frantically, and he released it.

"Oh, Spike, you're my hero!" Blossomforth cried out, flying over to give him a jubilant hug about his midsection.

"You saved the day all on your own! I'm so proud of you!" Twilight chimed in, smiling up at him.

"Such is the power of true passion that it may burn itself into the hearts of ponies, and never after be erased. Kiss me, Spike," Octavia said, standing on her hindlegs as she drew closer, one hoof on his shoulder to steady herself.

As he leaned forward to kiss the mare, the words echoed in his ears. Kiss me, Spike... Spike... Spike...

"Spike!" Blossomforth called, tapping him on the shoulder. "Are you okay?"

"Huh, what?" The dragon jerked out of his daydream. Above, a pigeon perched on a statue looked transfixed by his odd behavior.

"You were staring off into space," the weather cadet explained. "Then you tried to kiss my flank. Are you sure you're up for this?"

Beside her, Trixie chortled into a hoof.

"Oh, yeah," Spike said, shaking himself. "Sorry, I just... hey, wait." He scanned the wall, then pointed. "Do you see that?"

The unicorn peered up at the spot. "See what? All Trixie sees is a beautiful blue sky."

"Hold on," Blossomforth said, taking to the air for a closer look.

There, pressed into the stone near the roof, was the imprint of a cloven hoof.

~#~#~#~

The music that filled the air carried with it an odd sensation. It made Octavia feel a little like she was dancing as she walked. The smells and noises that one could only hear in a place like this recalled a time of youth when these were the only days worth knowing. To such a memory, it seemed that no matter the time or place, it was always as sunny as high noon. As a foal, it was like running through a dream.

Octavia wondered why, now that she once more lived a short rail trip away, she hadn't visited this place in so long.

"It seems I've forgotten to ask," she mentioned, "what exactly we're meant to learn about monsters at an amusement park."

"Well, you see," Sherbet replied, "I have a friend in the area who I hope might know a little." She gestured to a booth where a pale unicorn mare was beckoning to parkgoers, urging them to try her archery game. Her pink mane bobbed excitedly as she talked them up, and at least five customers tried the game in as many minutes.

Her eyes, the color of spring grass, lit up as she saw the duo approach. "Oh, Auntie!" she called. "Taking a little vacation from the hotel?"

The businessmare shook her head, chuckling. "No, Lovestruck," she said, "not now, but perhaps soon. Is your husband here today?"

Lovestruck nodded and turned to the back of the booth. "Gedion!" she called, opening a door. "Auntie wants to see you!"

Seconds later, a griffon with ruddy plumage swept out into the booth. "Why, isn't this a surprise!" he exclaimed, taking her hoof in his claw and shaking it. "Always such a pleasure to have you here, never you doubt it. And, ah, who is this?" He turned and bowed to Octavia. "My name is Gedion Exing. A pleasure to make your acquaintance, madam."

Octavia responded with a curtsy. "Octavia Melody," she said. "By the knowing may we both be enriched."

Gedion looked between the two of them. "So, what brings you here?" he asked.

Sherbet took a moment to gather her thoughts before explaining. "Gedion, you are perhaps the most worldly griffon I know. I was wondering if you might know anything about, well... bat-ponies."

The griffon scratched his chin with a claw. "Bat-ponies?" he repeated. "Well, I might. I hear things from time to time... but anything I could tell you would only be rumors and legends."

"Myths, really," his wife interjected. "We've never seen one, and I don't think they exist."

"Ah, well, a friend of mine has," the citrus mare clarified.

"Really?" The male carny's eyes widened. "Who'd have thought... well then, perhaps I can help you. There's been more than one rumor about bat-ponies out there, and they're all different."

"Different?" Octavia repeated. "Different in what way?"

"Oh, lots of ways," he replied with a shrug. "But mostly, the size. Some are said to be giants, while others are tiny and lean. There are almost none in-between. There's no consistent account of their faces, either, beyond some of the most vague details. Some have lion manes. Some have leathery, bald skin. Some even have fins."

"The strangest thing," Lovestruck added, "is that almost all the rumors started in the last few weeks. If they're really out there, they've kept quiet for a long time."

Gedion nodded. "I'm not sure why, but I think I can point you to an area. Many of the sightings have taken place around the Neigh York Times offices. If you ask there, you might find something."

This was becoming worrisome. These bat-ponies were congregating around a vital Manehattan institution. What were they planning? Sherbet frowned. "You don't know anything else?" she asked.

"I'm afraid not," the griffon said, shaking his head. "Ponies talk, but I can't learn anything they don't know."

"Understandable," Octavia assured him. "We have a starting place, which is more than we could say earlier. Thank you for that."

"As much as I would love to stay and talk some more," the elder mare added, "now that we know this, we should perhaps be going. This has begun to worry me, and I would prefer to see to it immediately."

Lovestruck patted her on the shoulder. "It's okay," she said. "Go do what you've gotta do. Just make sure you two come visit us at home later, okay?"

Sherbet smiled back at the unicorn. "Of course. I promise I will." She gestured to the musician, who gave an assenting nod, and they started to walk away.

"And bring Tangerine!" the carny pony called after them. "Hal would love to meet her!"

With a last wave, the two earth ponies slipped into the crowd.

"They were nice," Octavia observed.

"Yes, Lovestruck's family has always been friendly with mine." Sherbet nodded. "I actually introduced Gedion to her. "

They made their way to the gate. Before they got there, the businessmare signaled for her companion to stop for a moment. She trotted to a nearby stand, and returned with a pair of candied apples.

As they left the park and walked toward the subway station, Octavia couldn't help noticing that the sun was setting.

~#~#~#~

The sound of soft footsteps drew Twilight's attention. She turned to see her assistant entering the library. Beside her, Honey continued reading.

"Spike?" she asked. "I thought you were going to go help Blossomforth. Is everything okay? And..." She pointed to the top of his head. "What's that?"

"What? It's an awesome hat." Spike paused for a moment. rubbing his chin. "And, well, nothing's wrong, exactly," he explained. "We just found something. Blossomforth and Trixie are still looking around, but they asked me to come tell you about it."

The librarian retrieved a pen and notepad with her magic. "Oh, good," she said, giving him a big smile. "I knew we could count on you. What did you find?"

"Not much," he replied, looking mildly disappointed. "I kinda thought we'd have the whole thing solved by now. But we did find a hoofprint."

"What's so special about a hoofprint?" Twilight asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Nothing," the dragon clarified, though he was clearly stalling for dramatic effect. "Nothing except that it was halfway up a wall in the alley."

Twilight wrote this down quickly. "Sounds like our mystery pony is a clumsy flyer," she commented.

"And it's not a pony," Spike added. "Unless you know any ponies with cloven hooves."

Honey Do slowly raised her head to stare at the dragon. Just as Twilight noticed the motion, the pegasus spoke up. "Did you say cloven hooves?"

"Uh... yeah?"

Without another word, she stood up and walked over to the rows of bookshelves. Then, she took flight and darted from one shelf to another at breakneck speed, quickly scanning the contents.

"It can't be," she muttered to herself, pulling one book out and putting it back. "No way, it's completely impossible! Something screwy is happening here or my name isn't Daring Do!"

"Isn't your name actually..." her unicorn compatriot began, but stopped when Spike shook his head and raised a claw to his lips.

"So you've heard of something like this?" Spike asked.

The archaeologist hovered in place for a moment, examining another book. "Well, yes and no," she said, ultimately deciding this was not the right book either and reshelving it before resuming her frantic search. "There have been exactly two creatures with bat wings and cloven hooves that could be mistaken for a pony in the dark. One was a hoax, and the other has been extinct for a thousand years." She pulled out a much heavier tome now, lugged it to the table and opened it. She slid it to Twilight and Spike, who peered down at the contents.

"Kirin," Twilight read. "These creatures had the shape of a pony, but are considered more closely related to dragons. In the days of the pony tribes, kirin would congregate in population centers and help to fend off monsters, as well as opposing tribes. The majority of kirin were killed by the blizzard brought on by the Windigoes. With too few left to repopulate, the species went extinct around the time of the Nightmare War."

Daring turned the page.

"Chupacabra," Spike continued. "The chupacabra was, accord to biologist Barren Pines, a carnivorous creature that resembled a goat with unusually large hooves and glowing red eyes. When surprised, it would reveal bat wings and fly away. In the year 909 CE, multiple supposed sightings and the discovery of hoofprints in Manehattan caused a widespread panic in major cities and rural towns alike, until Pines was discovered planting hoofprints himself and dismissed as a fraud."

"See," remarked the pegasus, "these are the only possibilities, but they don't even make sense."

"Really?" Twilight replied with a small grin. "It seems to me that 'when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth'."

After a moment, she became aware that Spike was giving her a flat stare.

Honey took a seat as she considered the idea, wings still fluttering uncomfortably. "If they're the only leads we have, then I guess that's what we've gotta work with," she sighed. "Right now we should go tell the others. We'll see if they've found anything else."

The unicorn signaled to her assistant, who gave a salute as they started out the door.

~#~#~#~

The Neigh York Times offices were visible in the distance, over the tops of the buildings across the street, as Octavia and Sherbet exited the subway near the Majestic Theater. The streets were a little busier than they had been the previous night, as tonight the theater was open to the public.

The musician had resumed whistling, and as they walked, her elder again tried to place the melody. It was a few short bars, and seemed agonizingly familiar, yet just eluded her.

"Blossomforth will be relieved to know we've found a lead," the gray mare remarked idly.

Sherbet frowned as the whistling stopped, but nodded. "Yes, and perhaps after that, we ought to go visit another acquaintance of mine. If Card Trick doesn't know more about the creatures, I am certain he will want to."

"Hey, Auntie!" called a voice ahead of them, drawing their attention away from the discussion. Blossomforth flitted forward to meet them, her accomplice following at a comfortable walking pace. "We were just finishing up our search. It's getting too dark to keep looking, anyway."

"Trixie?" Octavia asked. "I hadn't known you'd be interested in this."

Trixie scoffed. "Trixie, miss out on a mystery? Never! How could I leave Blossomforth to stumble about alone, unguided by Trixie's superior wit?"

Blossomforth silently rolled her eyes.

"In any case," the socialite offered, "we've found something of potential interest ourselves. Let us go compare notes."

"Hey Octavia!" called another voice. The two earth ponies turned as Spike came running up to them, followed by Twilight and Honey. The little dragon stopped directly in front of the musician, suddenly hesitating and self-consciously scratching his neck. "We, uh... we might have figured out what's going on," he said in what was clearly meant to be a cool, casual tone.

"Not yet," Twilight reminded him. "But we have ideas."

"Crazy ideas!" Honey interjected.

"Yes, those ideas," the unicorn agreed with a sigh. "I don't suppose you've found anything else to clue us in, have you?"

Trixie cleared her throat to speak now. She reached under her cape with her magic and drew out a few newspaper clippings. "Only these," she stated, displaying them to be read by the illumination of her magical aura.

As the others gathered around for a closer look, Spike's mind began to wander. Glancing around, his eyes fell on a pile of debris. Curious about the isolated spot of rubble, he approached it and picked up a piece, turning it over in his claw.

It looked like a flake of ordinary stone. However, Spike noted that it was smooth, and that the rest of the pile seemed to share its perfectly regular fan shape. Its coloring was a dark shade of green, not matching any of the surrounding buildings. He turned to the mares, who were still discussing the newspapers. "Hey, guys," he called out, holding up the flakes. "Take a look at—"

A noise like hooves on stone drew his attention up and behind him. He didn't have time to register the large shape above until it had already plunged down to street level and collected him in its powerful forehooves, swooping upward immediately. He heard a collective gasp from the ponies below as he was carried away and over the rooftop.

"Th—that was... that was the..." Blossomforth fumbled, shocked by the reappearance of the creature.

"Celestia preserve us," Octavia whispered.

A second later, Twilight kicked into gear. "Spike!" she yelled, charging after the fleeing form, her friends hot on her heels.

Author's Note:

Also appearing in this chapter:

Lovestruck - Blind Bag Wave 3.
Gedion Exing and Halcyon Bird - Original.
Card Trick - Original character of Ethereal Trixster, used with consent