• Published 19th Aug 2015
  • 857 Views, 26 Comments

Witchcraft is Magic - wingdingaling

Nightmare Night draws near, and as it does, strange things begin to happen around Ponyville. Scary strangers threaten the town, and things will change for the Cutie Mark Crusaders forever.

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Chapter 16: The Witching Hour

Chapter 16

The Witching Hour

There was no turning back now. Once she had walked for what seemed only a few steps, Apple Bloom looked behind herself to find the forest had somehow closed behind her, as if drawn shut by the darkness.

Winona whimpered in the shadows, wishing that she had stayed at home, safe in her bed. But, she knew that she couldn't, because then who would look after Apple Bloom. Keeping to her responsibility as a loyal dog, she remained by her filly's side until they were both out of any danger.

Keeping on the trail of the lights was easy enough. They never moved, and could be easily seen in the distance through the trees. As the two travelers grew closer, they began to hear a noise. Not the music she heard before, but some mix of several noises. Growls, hisses, moans and screeches came from the direction of the lights, making them hesitate going further.

Somewhere to the side a twig snapped, and the filly and dog turned to see the large shape of a furry, timber wolf-like creature walking toward her. "Bruce," Apple Bloom asked the shadow, glad that she now had a large, protective companion to accompany her. A glint of red appeared from the eyes of the silhouette, instead of the usual yellow. Winona whimpered as she saw that wasn't all that was different about it.

In the darkness, neither could make out the exact shape of the creature. Only that it was smaller than Bruce, and had shaggy, pitch black fur. The werewolf then reared up on two legs, and howled at the sky.

What followed was a rustling in the bushes, and the first werewolf was joined by another. The new one was larger than Bruce, and covered in what looked like short, reddish fur, with shining green eyes. It too approached Apple Bloom and Winona with predatory intent.

After them came another. And then another, until they were faced with a whole pack of the beasts in all shapes and sizes. Winona tried to bark at them to scare them away, but was unsuccessful in her endeavor. Not one of them was intimidated by her small stature or whimpering bark.

Apple Bloom knew that she shouldn't have gone into the forest at night again, and now she was going to meet her end there without ever learning the answers to her questions.

Once the werewolves had their quarry properly surrounded, they parted as if to allow Apple Bloom and Winona to walk free. Instead, another large shadow entered through the opening.

Cringing in the darkness, Apple Bloom couldn't see the creature looming over her. The figure dropped to all fours, as if to better examine the cowering filly as she fearfully as she clung to her dog. However, all of her fears subsided when Winona stood up and began licking the shadow's face.

The large shadow began licking back, and the two started circling each other as they sniffed one another's posteriors. Once the larger shadow passed by Apple Bloom, she saw a familiar glint of yellow.

Bruce finished greeting Winona and turned his attention to the other werewolves. With a low huff, all of the other animals dispersed into the woods, as if given some urgent order to attend to.

The filly clambered to her hooves, and quickly darted to Bruce's side. She felt Bruce lower himself to the ground, and in the darkness she thought she could see Bruce motioning to his back with his head. Wasting no time, both Apple Bloom and Winona crawled onto his back, hoping for a quick ride out of the woods. Against every hope they had, Bruce instead took them deeper into the woods, toward the direction of the lights.

The closer they came, the more clearly they could hear the noises from before. Finally, they found the source of these terrors.

In a clearing, standing on a small hill, was Courtney, her mane flowing, stirred by the gentle breeze around her and her eyes glowing their ghostly blue color, and surrounded on all sides by threads of ominous light.

The ghastly beautiful mare was looking at the lights that were swirling around her, seemingly unafraid of what they were. As the two light-dwellers watched the spectacle, they could see that each one of them took a more detailed, more corporeal form for only a second before they reverted to their misty state.

The forms each light took was different from the one before it, and more frightening than anything Apple Bloom had seen so far. Each one of the creatures was something she had never seen in any book that Twilight owned, or any that she borrowed from the witch. The creatures all had faces that looked like mixes of different animals. One particularly horrible one had a beastly face with a mouth full of fangs that jutted forward. Its clawed hands reached for Courtney, who didn't budge an inch at the sight. The thing let out a quiet growl just as Apple Bloom became aware of Bruce shifting his weight.

Slowly, she and Winona slid off his back to the ground, as the werewolf lumbered off into the woods. They watched as his silhouette disappeared into the shadows of the trees, debating if they should go with him to avoid the monstrous lights. Then again, Courtney was nearer, and she could just as easily protect them from any monsters, despite being surrounded by them.

It mad her wonder what about the witch made them not come after her? She had to know, and fighting every instinct she had to run home, she slowly stepped closer to the mare on the hill, with Winona following closely behind her.

As she came closer, she had to pass through the threads of light. One that passed by her face changed to reveal its form as a chain-clad, hollow-eyed thing with a jaw that opened down to its chest. It let out a quiet moan as it looked at Apple Bloom, making her and Winona hasten their pace to Courtney's side.

When they reached the older mare, Courtney made no indication that she knew anypony was there. She continued to stare at the creatures with her ghostly eyes. She did little to let on that they were out of harm's way, but with her, Apple Bloom felt safe.

The filly's eyes darted between each of the creatures, sometimes catching one as it lit up and revealed its form. "What are they," Apple Bloom fearfully whispered, afraid that if she made any noise, the things would come and get her.

"They're dark spirits, Apple Bloom," Courtney answered without turning her head, or even shifting her gaze, "Beings that dwell in the dark places of the world. They're not often seen, but you may have encountered one before and never knew it."

Courtney turned to look at the filly, and saw fear growing in her eyes.

"Have you ever gone into your cellar, or your attic and felt a feeling growing in the back of your mind as though something is about to reach out and grab you?"

Apple Bloom only nodded, the fact that she remained silent was testament to the fact that Courtney was failing to ease her fear.

"That's the dark spirits trying to talk to you."

"They can talk," Apple Bloom wondered, as she watched the creatures float around her, "Why don't they say anything?"

"They speak in a language that isn't entirely clear to most others. You see, they speak more through their emotions than anything else," Courtney explained.

To Apple Bloom, it sounded like what Fluttershy once told her about the language of animals. But these things didn't seem to have any readable body language or make any noises besides the quiet moans, growls and hisses.

"Aren't you afraid of 'em," Apple Bloom asked as she looked at the beastly one come into being once more. She had felt their presence before, but if she ever saw one, she would have run away screaming. She saw Courtney shake her head before she looked back at the beastly spirit before them.

"No. I see no reason to add to their troubles when they're already so sad," she answered.

Winona huddled slightly closer to her filly, as one of the creatures came too close for her comfort.

Apple Bloom watched as the spirits swirled around them, and she saw something she never noticed before. Their faces, and the sounds they made were all laced with a quiet sorrow. Seeing them in this light helped her fear to subside, but she still wasn't keen to walk up to one and introduce herself.

"What're they sad about," she asked, never knowing before that anything so scary could actually be sad about something.

"They are beings of pure darkness who cannot abide the light. Despite that the light hurts them so, they long for it, and the happiness that it brings," Courtney answered before she looked up, "Watch the moon."

Apple Bloom did as she was instructed and looked up to see the clouds above parting to reveal the moon, bathing the clearing in its light. As the light came, all of the spirits subsided back to the darkness under the cover of the trees, and Courtney's eyes ceased to glow. Seeing that her eyes were no longer illuminated with their ghostly light took some of the edge away when Courtney turned to face the filly.

"Do you know how a dark spirit is born?" Courtney asked

Apple Bloom shook her head, 'no.'

"They're born from strong feelings of sadness and loss. You may be responsible for some of them existing, if you've ever felt strongly enough about something."

Apple Bloom couldn't help but feel a pang of guilt. She thought back to the days when she was picked on for not having her cutie mark, and how bad she felt for letting all the bullying get to her. The thought that she may be the one responsible for making something that was always sad was a terrible thing to shoulder, and made her feel like she could make another one for the grief she felt.

She felt two things in that moment. One was Winona licking her hoof, and the other was Courtney's hoof touching her shoulder, and she looked up to the gently smiling face of the witch.

"I know. I felt the same way when I learned how they were born. The truth is that everyone makes at least one in their life. But if you feel so bad for them, you should take the time to be with them and alleviate their sadness. All they want is a little bit of light in their lives, if only from the idea of what if may be like."

This did help Apple Bloom to feel better as she saw the spirits come back into the clearing while the moonlight faded behind another cloud. Before the light completely faded, she noticed Bruce lumbering towards them on all fours. He laid down in the grass next to Courtney and joined them in watching the spirits as they drifted around.

Nopony said anything more after that, and for the next several minutes, Apple Bloom stayed with Courtney to try and ease the suffering and sorrow of the spirits.

As time went by, the filly thought she could feel something change in the spirits. She didn't know if she had helped them at all, but whatever it was, something about them was different than what she felt before. Something that made her feel unafraid. If she had to explain it, she may have thought that she was passing into the darkness around herself and gaining a greater understanding of what it was to be one of them. Soon, she began to feel drowsy and leaned against the leg of the older mare before she closed her eyes.

Courtney looked down at the sleepy filly, and decided that it was time for her night to end. "Bruce, take Apple Bloom and her friend home, please."

Bruce nodded and stood back up on all fours as Courtney picked up Apple Bloom with her magic and placed her on the werewolf's back, while Winona simply crawled on as she did before. Apple Bloom held tight to her furry mount, and laid down for the ride home.

But, once again, a strange kind of whimsy occurred to Courtney. Apple Bloom seemed to have enjoyed herself near the end, so what would happen if she were allowed more understandings of what happened as The Hallow neared.

"Second thought: take them around the forest for a little bit, then take them home." Courtney then got close to the werewolf's ear, and whispered so that only he could hear her, "And be on the lookout for the 'you-know-what."

And with a nod of his head, Bruce ran off into the forest.

Apple Bloom looked behind her, and saw Courtney growing smaller and smaller as she rode away on the back of the beast. She could see the witch's eyes watching her through the darkness, while the rest of her became a shadow that disappeared into the night, and the spirits continued their sorrowful wandering. As Bruce ran, Apple Bloom saw a thread of light pass above them and drift to Courtney's direction, another lost spirit finding its light.

With a grunt, Bruce's body tensed, making Apple Bloom tightly grip his fur as she suddenly felt the ground below them disappear. Looking down, she saw a river only a few feet below them, and in the water, she could see dark shapes moving, unlike any creature she ever knew.

Bruce continued to run through the woods, and looking around herself, Winona could see that they were now followed by a werewolf on either side of them.

The next thing either of them knew, Bruce was climbing some rocky structure, making them both hold tight as he ascended. Soon, they found themselves overlooking a cliff, where they could see a vast expanse of the forest before them. Bruce howled loudly, and a whole choir of howls responded. The werewolf looked in all directions the howls were coming from, until his eyes fixed on a distant light.

Somewhere in the distance, at the far side of a vast lake, was a tiny dot of light that neither Apple Bloom or Winona noticed suddenly grew brighter, until it dimmed again. Bruce had no questions about what made it, and began running full speed in the opposite direction of it, after making a note of its location to report to Courtney.

Onward Bruce ran, while Apple Bloom looked ahead, and saw them coming toward another ominous light in the woods. Closer still, and it was discovered to be a bonfire.

Though they only passed by a short time, Apple Bloom could see there were no ponies, or any dark kin. Rather, there were three birds gathering brush to throw on the flames. One, a crow who sat proudly on a rock after it had placed the largest piece of brush out of the three.

Another, a wizened old owl, who when it was finished looked in Apple Bloom's direction, its gaze piercing the youth of the filly.

The third, a dove of purest white, like a beam of light in a dark room. It flew alongside Apple Bloom, conveying its serenity to her with its kind, gentle face.

As quick as it came, the bird flew back to the bonfire, and watched the three travelers with the others, as Apple Bloom and Winona saw hooded figures came from the shadows beyond the flames and begin dancing around the fire. It almost seemed like they were celebrating something, but neither knew what.

Before anything more was seen, it was concealed by the trees as Bruce ran further away.

He ran further across the land, until he stopped to sniff the air. After a bit of sniffing, his head turned to one direction, as if he had found something that he was searching for.

The two passengers had to hold tight as Bruce quickly jerked his body in the new direction, wondering where he was taking them now.

There was another light in the forest, though it was much smaller than the one before. Once Bruce saw it, he quickened his speed to its location. When they arrived, there was a sight that awed Apple Bloom and Winona.

Sitting in a small cave by the light of the flame was another werewolf, though it was different than Bruce. It was shorter, and brown in color, but what stood out the most was that it was clothed as if it was like the other dark kin. However, its clothes were even more old-fashioned than those, consisting of a long robe with a simple sash around its waist. On its face, it wore a pair of half-moon spectacles.

Behind it, Apple Bloom could see a vast collection foods, as if it had been preparing for some gathering. Currently, it was eating the last piece of a loaf of bread, while animals from both the worlds of light and dark arrived with scraps of food to deliver for the cache, while they each took an identical loaf of some kind of bread once they had, and darted into the woods in all directions.

One, a creature that looked like a pitch black trickle of liquid with red eyes (though it may have been some kind of snake), arrived with a plate with a wedge of pie on its back. A closer look, and Apple Bloom could see that it was apple pie, and the top crust was decorated with the shapes of tiny flowers that had been sliced into it.

The werewolf observed the slice of pie that it had been given, and observed it thoughtfully as if appraising it. It sniffed the pie before it looked up in Apple Bloom's direction, making the filly flinch slightly.

From where she was, Apple Bloom thought she could see a small smile cross the werewolf's face, before it took a small loaf of bread from one of the departing animals and slowly stood up.

The filly thought that it must be quite elderly the way it wobbled as it rose. This was further indicated the way it picked up a long, gnarled walking stick before it started hobbling toward her.

Once it was close enough, it offered her the bread it held. In the light of the fire, Apple Bloom could see that it was baked with all manner of fruits in it: pears, blueberries, cherries, but mostly apples were visible in its surface. In the very center of the top, she could see something else that one didn't normally find in loaves like that: a gold ring.

Though curious as to why she was being given this strange loaf, she readily took it, not about to refute such a kind, harmless gesture. Once she retrieved it, she found that it smelled sweet, and had a spongy texture like cake. Whatever it was, she had a feeling she and her family were going to enjoy it. Until then, she gave it to Winona to hold for her.

The elderly werewolf reached out a hand, and scratched Winona behind her ears. Then, it opened its mouth and spoke to her in a low voice.

Whether it was only animal growls, or if it was actually speaking, Apple Bloom couldn't hear. Whatever it had said, Winona answered by perking her ears and wagging her tail. With a wave of its hand, it began to hobble back to its fire while Bruce ran off further into the darkness.

It had all been so wonderful for Apple Bloom. The things she had seen were nothing she would ever learn in school, or from any book. It had been the most enlightening experience for her ever since she visited Macabria. But, it was not over yet.

When they reached a small hilltop in a hollow, Bruce stopped, and huffed as he looked up. Apple Bloom looked to where he was looking, but saw nothing in the darkness.

After a few seconds, Apple Bloom gradually became aware that they were not alone on that hill. Near the tree branches, floating in the air above them was a pitch black figure, though no details could be seen of it in the darkness.

All around it, Apple Bloom could see leaves withering and flowers closing. The very warmth of the air began to drain, until a bitter cold struck them all. The creature above began to fly all around the hollow, spreading the decay of nature that came with the change of the seasons.

Soon, it stopped, and Apple Bloom felt as if it were looking right back at her. The filly felt as if she were looking straight back at the very embodiment of Nightmare Night. A terrifying, warm, gentle, mysterious, ever-changing being that ushered in the changes that came that time of year. With one last look, the figure quickly flew away from them, altering the world around it for the change that was to come.

Bruce felt that his friends had seen enough. He was about to take them both home, until something caught his eye.

A small ball of light passed by him, recognizing it as a fool's fire, and he was about to leave it be, until it was followed by another, and then another.

Seeing one fool's fire was nothing, so long as a person avoided them. Two in the same place was unusual. But three? Something was going on. Something that he knew his friends would never forget if they saw it.

Apple Bloom felt a twinge of fear when she realized that Bruce was following the ghost lights. After what happened to her classmate, she would have avoided them for the rest of her life. But atop Bruce's back, she had no choice but to follow them.

As they traveled through the woods, more fool's fires began to appear, all going to the same place as the ones they were following. Finally, they arrived in a large clearing of the woods, illuminated by the ghoulish lights above them.

Silently, they all sat in the clearing. Bruce shifted his body so that Apple Bloom and Winona could safely slide off of his back to the ground. Once they were off, Bruce laid down and waited.

The filly and dog took in their surroundings, seeing nothing particular of note. But then they heard something.

Far off in the distance, Apple Bloom heard the phantom music from before, and her wonder turned to fear. Despite her knowledge of the dark world, she knew that whatever made that music was unnatural and otherworldly, even by their standards.

The only escape was to run into the woods where the creatures lurked, so instead, she and Winona huddled close to Bruce's chest as the music steadily grew louder. In the protective arms of the werewolf, she felt safer, but the music was still sounding. Soon, it became loud enough that she could make out the tune of it.

No longer was the music the eerie, ambient tune she heard all those times before. It suddenly had a merrier, more lively beat to it, like an Apple Family Hoedown. Above, the fool's fires danced around one another in rhythm with the music, and what happened next stopped Apple Bloom's breath.

They didn't walk, fly, or even crawl from the ground, but arrived in a more unnatural fashion. All around, ponies faded into existence. As they appeared, they danced jovially, as though they had been there the whole time, unseen.

The ponies were unremarkable, other than the fact that Apple Bloom could see right through them. What was more astonishing was that she recognized a few of them as ponies she knew from around town. There was old Mrs. Rosebud, the florist who passed away last year. And the landscape painter who met an untimely end when he didn't listen when Applejack told him not to stand in the orchard during zap apple season.

At the edge of the clearing, giant casks of whiskey appeared from nothingness, along with patrons with full mugs in their hooves. They drank and fought with one another in a jolly fashion, relishing the celebration, whatever it was.

At another edge, a band of musicians appeared. For being dead, their performance was very lively. One took his drum in hand and danced a jig, which was followed by the fiddler and the piper. There were other instruments played, but Apple Bloom didn't recognize them, though she thoroughly enjoyed the music they made.

Bruce let out a small groan, almost sounding like he was humming quietly along with the tune, as if it was something he knew from his home. Looking up, Winona swore she could see his head bobbing with the beat. Seeing that filled her with glee, and made her want to get up and join the fun, if not for having as much fun by simply watching.

Apple Bloom watched the ghostly performance, almost wanting to join them in their fun. After a few minutes of watching, she saw two avian creatures arrive by the casks of whiskey. One of them she knew was Twilight's pet, Owloysius. The other one was like an owl, but unlike any animal she knew. Regardless of what it was, the owl trusted it, and went about enjoying drinks with his companion.

The larger bird held its mug in talons that were on the end of its wings, while Owloysius dunked his entire head into his mug. In less then a second, the little bird sucked down nearly the entire drink, letting out a small hiccup when he was done. Once the larger bird was finished, they both refilled their mugs and drank heavily once more.

As suddenly as it started, the music stopped, and changed its tune. A new instrument was played, which looked like a harp that was laid down flat, and played by drumming the strings with a pair of small, metal hammers. It was followed by an unusual set of pipes and the drum. And with the change in music, the style of dance changed as well. Now it was much more organized than before, and the ghosts all paired up with partners similar to a ballroom dance, but still with the liveliness of the hootenanny before. But in the crowd, there was one ghost who was without a partner.

Among the phantom dancers was a red pegasus colt around the age of Apple Bloom, who looked around for a partner, and froze when he saw the filly.

The two foals locked eyes, and Apple Bloom left Bruce's protective embrace to better examine the colt.

The ghostly colt may have had the same idea, since he drifted through the crowd and came to a stop right in front of her. There was no mistaking it now. She was standing face to face with the ghost of Red Sky.

She wanted to say something to him. Something that would be comforting to him now that he had passed away from the world of the living, but as it was before, no words came to her. As she remained silent, Red Sky continued to look at her the way that he had always done before, only this time Apple Bloom felt comforted, knowing that even in death he hadn't changed a bit.

The ghostly foal stepped closer to Apple Bloom, now only inches away from her. The filly's stomach churned at the fact that he was so close to her now and took a small step back.

Doing so made Red Sky's face change to a small, disappointed frown, and made him avert his eyes and scuff his hoof on the ground the very same way he did the last time Apple Bloom saw him alive.

It made the filly sad to see him that way, but why, she didn't know. Even still, she wanted to do something to make him feel better.

She heard a whimper to her side, and found Winona, still holding the cake she was given in her teeth. The dog placed it on the ground, revealing the gift that was left in the top of it.

Taking her dog's advice, Apple Bloom removed the gold ring from the loaf and took a step closer to Red Sky. His eyes were still to the ground, so he didn't see when Apple Bloom took his hoof and placed the ring on it.

The colt looked wide-eyed at the ring, then at Apple Bloom, who still held his hoof. A bright smile spread across his face, before he took to the air, flying loops around Apple Bloom, making her giggle gleefully at his aerial antics.

Bruce and Winona watched what was unfolding before them. They both knew that Apple Bloom was too young to understand what was happening that very second, but with a sly smile and an exchanged glance between them, they knew that she would figure it out one day when she was older.

After a few seconds, Red Sky landed back in front of her and stared at Apple Bloom again.

This time, the filly could see something different in his eyes. Something bold and determined that wasn't there before, and even though Apple Bloom didn't recognize what it was, she liked it more than his usual timid gaze. Then he suddenly moved forward.

It took Apple Bloom completely by surprise when it happened. She saw Red Sky's face rapidly come toward her's, his eyes close, and then she felt something cold and misty touch her lips.

As quickly as he came, Red Sky backed away, leaving Apple Bloom feeling a strange mix of surprise, fear and delight.

As she stared at him, Apple Bloom felt her body grow hot, and her heart race like a whole group of ponies were galloping in her chest. She didn't understand at all why she felt that way, or even what it was. It made her confused and afraid, but at the same time, somewhere in the back of her mind, she enjoyed it.

Red Sky backed away from Apple Bloom as suddenly as he had approached her. With a giggle, he drifted back into the crowd of dancers and disappeared among them.

As he faded, Apple Bloom watched him to the very last until he had gone from sight. Now, despite the joviality around her, the filly's heart grew heavy. She wondered what could have been between them had they been able to spend more time together. For many years, she had heard stories about ponies who were once friends, then spent the rest of their lives together. It was like something out of one of Courtney's romance books that she skimmed through when she was in the witch's library.

But, it would never be now. What happened just then, though, gave her something of an idea, which made her smile slightly.

All around, the festivities became more lively once more. The music became more upbeat, and the dance became more disorganized.

The two birds who were present put down their drinks, and began dancing as well, hopping on one foot, then hopping on the other. Then they took to the air and circled over the gathering. It would have been a graceful sight, had they not kept drunkenly bumping into one another.

After she retrieved the cake, Winona nudged Apple Bloom's leg and guided her filly back to Bruce.

The werewolf allowed his two passengers to climb on his back, and returned to the dark woods.

Once he had run very far, though it seemed only a short time to Apple Bloom, he arrived at the edge of Sweet Apple Acres. It was then that she began to feel very tired once again. The thrills of her journey had worn off, and she was now ready to sleep.

They passed through the orchard, and when they arrived at the house, Apple Bloom could see the strange trees from before were now as large as the apple trees around it, and even bearing unripe fruits. Were she more alert, she would have been delighted to see they were the same fruits she so enjoyed back in the asylum in the dark world, but it would be a pleasure she would have for later.

Bruce left both Apple Bloom and Winona on the front porch. Apple Bloom was much too tired to do anything, so much as go inside, and began drifting to sleep right on the front porch.

A sudden chill in the air made Winona huddle closer to her to keep her filly warm, as the leaves on the nearby trees began to change colors.

Seeing they were safe made Bruce decide he could leave them. Looking down, he found another pie that was left out on the porch, though it already had a slice taken out of it. This was a pie he could tell was made with care, and decided that he would share it with his friends. He picked up the pie, tin and all, and disappeared back into the shadows.

All around Apple Bloom, shadows extended as if to reach out and swallow her, and the creatures within to approach her without fear. But, things would be different for the filly this time.

Under the chill protection of the darkness, Apple Bloom finally slept peacefully for the first time in several nights, undisturbed by nightmares or the anguish of the waking world. Tonight, she had delved into darkness and embraced it. She had devoured it whole, and allowed it in turn to consume and surround her, and like the old stallion in Granny's story, she had only to next become one with it, though she knew the ending to that story was wrong.

She would make her own ending. A better ending. One that would align with the truth of the darkness.

Author's Note:

Does anyone reading this remember their first kiss? It may have been when puberty first hit, in your mid-teens, or even earlier than that. But, no matter when it happens, it's always the most exciting thing in the world. In this chapter, Apple Bloom has experienced just that, in addition to growing up in a few other ways.
The sorrowful, wandering spirits born from feelings of sadness is something that I just made up, hence the reason they don't have a name taken from some European folklore. Although, I think I may have read about something similar when I was younger.
The part with the three birds was inspired by two different songs: A Rose for Epona by Eluveitie, and The Crow, The Owl, and The Dove by Nightwish. The bonfire they make is an ancient Celtic ritual which druids did to drive away evil spirits while they beckoned the good ones to them with their chants. It was most often done during Samhain, which is the progenitor of modern Halloween.
The elderly werewolf they meet is based on an Irish belief of a creature called the faoladh. Basically, he's a benevolent, protective werewolf who protects travelers when they're walking through dangerous areas, and often helps out poor families by getting food for them. Sometimes, families will offer a gift in return for his kindness.
The gift that he gives Apple Bloom in exchange for a slice of her pie is called barmbrack, and it's a traditional Irish cake that's often got a gift baked into it. Depending on which gift you receive, it will foretell your future. A ring means that you will either get married or find love within the year.
The dark figure they meet is pretty much a physical embodiment of Samhain, or The Hallow as the dark kin call it, or the Equestrian name, Nightmare Night. Whatever you prefer to call it, it's only there to usher in the changes of the season.
The place that Bruce takes them at the end of the chapter is called Fiddler's Green, and it's supposed to be where good souls go when they meet an untimely end. The depiction in the story is pretty much in line with the folklore, where it's basically a never ending party with endless food, drink and dance.
After all her adventures, Apple Bloom is now sleeping peacefully, and I urge you folks to do the same tonight. Feel free to rock on before that, though \m/

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