• Published 19th Aug 2015
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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 18: Darkness Calls

Chapter 18

Darkness Calls

The day had not been pleasant for the dark kin in Equestria. After nearly no sleep, and having so few resources that would be remotely useful against The Wicker Man, the three then had to endure the blindingly bright daytime hours of the light world.

Having eyes that were already built for low light conditions, Bruce was particularly sensitive to the intense light of Equestria, and had to rely on his nose and ears to follow his friends. That, and his magical bond to Courtney was a great help.

Courtney herself was having trouble seeing much anything without her teashades. She rarely wore them back home, only when the moon grew brighter once every month. Now, even when she was wearing them, she still had to squint to see much of anything. She had already bumped into three trees, and fallen in a river by this point, and was repeatedly cursing the wretched light.

Despite having had so much fun on her previous visits, even Molly was having a miserable time. The sun felt like it was baking her skin, and just after she had drank enough blood to look better than she had in her entire life. She was so looking forward to giving a performance that would win the hearts and minds of the crowd, and had picked an even more revealing costume for the show. Now, she thought that she was about to whither again in this horrible overexposure to searing light.

Their search began at the lake where Courtney found the charred pony corpse last night.

Bruce was asked to track the scent of the monster that killed the pony, and though Bruce admitted to being no hound, he was more than capable of following such a distinctive scent.

Their journey was interesting, to say the least. No matter how far they traveled, no matter where they searched, it seemed that The Wicker Man was always several steps ahead of them. Over the course of a single night, it must have covered half the forest, the way they were searching for so long.

The search led them to all manner of locales, each one once brimming with magical power, now with only faint traces of any magical presence. There was a ruined castle, which though it was in shambles still held the regal splendor of its salad days. Now, its stone walls had been charred, and its glorious red carpets had been burned.

There was a cave somewhere underground, where a pool of water had been blackened by smoldering ash. Whatever power this hidden place once held, it was now inert and barely detectable.

Yet, for all their efforts, they only found traces of the monster. And even at some points, its scent disappeared and reappeared in a completely different place. It wasn't as if it was jumping from one spot to the next. They'd found charred impressions from the places that it had, and the distances between the displaced scent trails were further than it could leap.

Finally, as the sun was setting, they came upon their most disturbing discovery yet.

Not one mile outside of Ponyville, there was a cemetery. Just beyond it was singed grass and charred stone walls. The inside, though was untouched. It was as if the monster had been circling the grave sites, searching for a way in to dig up the departed and sate its hunger.

Bruce sniffed the air again, trying to determine where it had gone next.

"Did you find anything, Bruce? Has it gone into town," Courtney asked, clearly distressed by the idea.

She waited tensely until the werewolf gave his answer.

"Oh, thank goodness," Courtney sighed.

"It's not in the town," Molly asked hopefully.

"No. Unfortunately, the scent stops here. And who knows where the next trail will present itself," Courtney said, on the brink of defeat. She looked up to they sky, and watched as the top of the wretched sphere of light went below the horizon. The witch took off her dark glasses and squinted as her eyes adjusted to the light, which she found much more accommodating, now that it was dimmer.

The sky, in its current colorful state was a sight that was never seen in Macabria. The witch, the dancer and the werewolf all found themselves captivated by the warm spectrum of color in the sky, while below, the greens, blues and purples all created a gorgeous contrast that they never knew existed.

Welling up in the dark kin was the inspiration for a new act. One that utilized the scene before them to present something to their audience that was never heard of in their entire world. More so was a greater desire to protect what was becoming increasingly more precious to them.

Even though the world of light was not without its flaws, and was terrifyingly different from their home, they found that light-dwellers were far from how they were described all their years. And even the light of their world wasn't all bad. Even though it was blinding and hot, it was not without its beauty.

"It's almost dark, Courtney," Molly said, "Do you think we have time to keep your promise to Apple Bloom?"

For several seconds, Courtney said nothing. She continued to stare at the sky and landscape before her, thinking about all that she would be saving by ridding this world of its demon.

"Yes. I believe we do," Courtney affirmed.

Bruce happily wagged his tail at the idea of getting to see Apple Bloom again, and took the initiative to lead the way, hoping to be welcomed by another apple pie when he arrived.

At first, Courtney thought they should take the path that went around town. But, when she saw Bruce walking straight toward town. Any other time, she would have called him back to her, but now, after all they had seen and done, she saw no harm at all in the action.

When they arrived in the town's main street, ponies were all closing their shops for the night. Only a few were left on the street, and they all stopped to look at the strange newcomers.

The solid black and leafy earth ponies were something of an oddity, but most eye-catching of all was the two-legged wolf creature accompanying them.

The ponies all stared, unsure if they should be surprised or horrified by what was in their midst. Stranger still, it seemed like the black pony's eyes lit up whenever she passed through a shadow.

As Molly walked, a ball bounced up to her and gently bumped her leg. Looking to the direction it came from, she saw a colt staring wide-eyed at her as though he was afraid to retrieve his ball.

With a gentle smile, Molly picked up the ball and decided to ease the colt's nerves by putting on a show for him. Though she wasn't much of a juggler, she still managed to roll the ball from one arm to the next across her back. With that, she allowed the ball to bounce back to its owner.

The colt watched the leafy pony giggle like a filly before she continued walking. He knew that was the monster he had seen outside his window, but now, he was wondering if he truly had any reason to fear it.

From her desk, Twilight hear Owloysius give a small hoot. When she investigated, she found her bird looking out the very same window he had been when she first met his monster friend. Soon after, the dark kin were joined by Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo, who were in turn joined by Rarity and Rainbow Dash. By Molly's side, Sweetie Belle once again tried to emulate the performer's distinctive walk.

Quickly, Twilight packed her quill, ink and parchment before she went downstairs. "Spike, look after things while I'm gone," Twilight said.

She had been doing this a lot lately, and Spike found it unnecessary to affirm it in any way, instead going about his work while Twilight went out the door to join her friends.

Once outside, she saw how the few ponies that were still on the streets were staring, and became even more dumbfounded when they saw familiar faces join the scary strangers.

"Where's everypony going," Twilight asked once she joined with the group.

"Sweet Apple Acres," Scootaloo answered, "We're going to see Apple Bloom."

"What for," Twilight asked.

"Apple Bloom's going to be a witch," Sweetie Belle helpfully answered.

"She's what!?"

Such a thing was mind blowing for Twilight. The scholastic potential almost made her head spin when she thought about what she may learn. She was about to run ahead to ask the witch about the process, but decided against it when she realized that she may very well get another answer she didn't understand. Instead, she decided to simply wait until she would be able to watch the secrets of a new magic unfold before her.

At the edge of Sweet Apple Acres, near the Everfree Forest, Applejack was busy at work reinforcing the wooden fence with iron bands across the planks. She had just finished placing the next piece, then took a hammer off of her tool belt before she started pounding away, nailing piece by piece the barrier between her family and the monsters of the night.

The world around her was quickly darkening as the sun seemed to go down much faster than it should have been. And as the darkness came, Applejack swore she could see things from the dark forest beyond reaching over to grab her and spirit her away to their dark world. Then, once the things reached the iron reinforcements, they retracted quickly, as though from searing pain.

The farmpony's heart raced by what she had seen before her. Had it been real, or was it simply a vision created by the encroaching darkness? Whatever it was, she couldn't stop to think on it. Her shadow beneath her began to fade away among the darkness around it as the sun set, and she lit the lantern she had on the ground to stave off the oncoming night.

Apple Bloom had been waiting impatiently in her room for the night to come. By that point, the sky was darkened, and the only light was on the horizon.

"It won't be long now, girl," she said to Winona who was equally anxious for nighttime.

All day, the two of them had been anticipating nightfall wondering how they would go about the ritual that would make the two of them master and servant. Apple Bloom read the book of the history of witchcraft from front to back to see if she could find some clue about how what would happen and how to prepare for it.

There was nothing in the pages about what to do when bonding with a familiar. Instead, there were only details on when and why witches took familiars to begin with.

The lack of knowledge and preparation made this the single scariest step in Apple Bloom's life. With no way of knowing what she was in for, she was prepared to back out of her ordeal. "No. I came this far. I can't back out now," she chided herself.

Outside, the sky had completely darkened, and only the light of the moon and stars were present. The wind picked up and whistled through the trees, getting the filly's attention. This time, however, there was no message on the wind. No warnings, no comforts, nopony calling her name. Apple Bloom was about to back away from her window when she became aware of something else.

It was nothing that she heard or saw. Rather, it was something that she felt. The very same feeling she had in Macabria when she was looking into the darkness of the lower levels of Courtney's house. The same sinister force that made every hair on her body prickle that invited her to come delve into the darkness and never return. Before, she avoided it, afraid to discover what it was. Now, she was ready to face it and accept it.

"This is it, Winona," Apple Bloom said after exhaling deeply. "Let's go an' get this over with."

Slowly, the filly and the dog left her bedroom and went downstairs. Granny and Big Macintosh were both downstairs when they saw the youngest member of their family going toward the door with their dog.

"Where're you headin' out at this hour, youngun? It's almost story time," Granny said.

Apple Bloom acted like she hadn't heard Granny speak to her. Instead, she walked to the front door and slowly opened it, looking out into the darkness beyond.

"What's goin' on with ya? See somethin'," Granny asked, trying to make sense of her granddaughter's strange behavior.

Big Macintosh said nothing, but his eyes widened suddenly and he pointed toward something he saw coming in the darkness.

"Shee-oot! That's the biggest dog I ever saw," Granny said when she saw her grandson pointing at a gigantic two-legged canine creature.

"That's Bruce, Granny," Apple Bloom explained.

She was happy to see the werewolf, who had come to her porch alone for some reason. It was likely that he had come for more pie, but then again, it could be that he was sent to retrieve her and Winona.

"That's Bruce," Granny asked, "Well, that explains the paw prints."

Winona quickly darted forward, and crouched low to the ground as she circled the enormous creature, clearly trying to herd him. Bruce, however, wouldn't be intimidated so easily.

Instead, he lowered himself to all fours, and began to bump Winona with his head to throw her off balance.

Normally, animals listened to Winona whenever she gave them her authoritative eye. But this werewolf would require different tactics. Using a trick from a heeler she met once, the dog nipped at the werewolf's lower leg, which caused him to drop his body to the ground and expose his belly. Next, Winona put her jaws around Bruce's neck, claiming her victory for their game of picking the alpha among them.

"Looks like Winona showed him who's top dog," Apple Bloom said before she trotted out to greet her visitor.

"An' here I was thinkin' my granddaughter was gettin' mixed up with monsters," Granny said as she confidently strode off the porch to greet the large creature.

After Winona let Bruce alone, he rolled to his feet, and motioned with his head toward the orchard.

"What's that he's doin'" Granny asked.

"He wants us to follow him," Apple Bloom answered as she trailed after the werewolf.

On the porch, Big Macintosh watched his family walk into the shadows of the trees, before he followed after them.

Not far within, in a grove of the new trees that had been growing, Apple Bloom found Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo waiting for her, along with Rarity and Rainbow Dash, who were joined by all of their friends. Most of all, Courtney was there with Molly, standing before two small circles that were drawn on the ground with some kind of grey ash.

"Ah. Here's our guest of honor now. And are these your family members," Courtney said as she finished sprinkling the ash.

"Yep. This is my granny, Granny Smith. An' my big brother, Big Macintosh."

"A very big brother," Courtney noted, seeing that Apple Bloom's brother was larger than anyone present.

"Eeyup," was all the large stallion answered.

"Well, I'll be jiggered," Granny said as she looked over the two strangers. "Y'all ain't at all what I pictured. All I could think of was some kind o' beast, but all we got here's a blue-eyed shadow, an' a shrub with a figure that won't quit."

Courtney and Molly both let out a quiet groan as they exchanged a displeased glance.

"You gals remind me o' me at that age. So, on behalf o' the Apple family, I wanna welcome ya to Sweet Apple Acres."

Another glance, and the two dark kin only smirked as their opinion of Granny rose slightly.

"Pleasure. Courtney Belmont. I'll be assisting your granddaughter tonight. Over here, we have Molly St. John, who will be helping as well."

"What exactly are ya helpin' her with," Big Macintosh asked.

Neither Courtney nor Molly knew how to answer that question without scaring Apple Bloom's family. The witch decided to explain it to her gently. "It seems that Apple Bloom has taken an interest in a rather unusual kind of magic. A kind that you don't need a horn to use. As it so happens, I'm something of an expert in this field, and I'm going to facilitate your sister's pursuits."

Big Macintosh wanted to ask another question, given Courtney's strange answer. What magic did Apple Bloom want to learn, and how did she discover it? Most of all, he wanted to ask if these strange creatures really were the monsters from the stories of his foalhood. However, he decided to let his grandmother do the talking, as the head of the family.

Granny looked suspiciously at the witch, the markings on the ground, the trees around them, and then to Apple Bloom. She didn't know about what her granddaughter was getting involved with, which made her wary of what she may be doing. Then again, Apple Bloom always did have a strange kind of responsibility when it came to getting involved in things she knew nothing about. Her cutie mark crusading was testament to that. "Ya think yer ready for it, pipsqueak?"

"I think so," was all Apple Bloom answered.

"Is something wrong? You don't sound very excited," Sweetie Belle said.

"Yeah. You sounded like you were going to go crazy when you said you were going to be a witch," Scootaloo added.

"I know. But, what if I don't have what it takes. I don't even know how to start," Apple said.

"It's alright. We'll help you through it. But, in the end, it's all up to you whether or not we continue," Courtney said

"I...I'll do it," Apple Bloom answered. "But, what'll I do when it's done."

"Whatever you feel you must do," was all Courtney answered. "Shall we get started now?"

Apple Bloom nodded.

"Then let's begin," the witch said before she glanced over to Twilight. "Feel free to take all the notes you want."

Once more, Twilight giggled as she magically readied her quill and paper for her studies.

"I suppose I'm up," Molly said as she approached Apple Bloom and placed one hoof on the filly's chin. "Now, hold still while I work."

"What is it yer doin'," Apple Bloom asked when she saw the leafy mare open a small bottle of oil and rub it on her hooves.

"According to Courtney, essence of lavender mixed with the oils I secrete are good for attracting spirits. Personally, I'd prefer they attract willing blood donors," Molly said as she rubbed the mixture into the filly's mane.

"Dark spirits," Apple Bloom asked.

"Precisely," Courtney answered, while Molly moved on to rub the oils into Winona's fur.

"But I thought that dark spirits could only come when there's no light, and the moon's already out," Scootaloo pointed out.

Courtney smirked at the filly's observance. Clearly, she had been studying the book she borrowed from Apple Bloom, though her knowledge of such matters was only limited to the contents within those pages. "There are other ways, Scootaloo. Ways that would take too long to explain in depth. So, I'll just say that it's not a problem for someone like myself. Now, it's time to start."

"Hold it right there!"

Everyone present turned to see Applejack standing before them, with a lantern on one of her sides and a tool pouch on the other. "How the hay'd y'all get here," she asked the two dark kin.

"As it is with any guest, we walked through the front gate," Courtney calmly explained, "We apologize if our coming was unexpected, but we assumed that Apple Bloom would tell you we would be here."

"Ya let 'em in," Applejack shouted at her sister.

"Now, what's got yer tail in a tangle," Granny asked.

"That's the monster that tried to attack me an' Winona the other night," Applejack said as she pointed at Bruce.

Bruce slightly bared his teeth at the accusation. He had done no such thing, and it was she who attacked him!

"An' I'm bettin' they all had somethin' to do with destroyin' our orchard before!" Applejack continued.

"She's the one that saved our orchard," Apple Bloom rebutted.

"How the hay do you know that? What the hay do ya know about any o' this?"

"I know more than you ever will! I seen her use magic, an' it's exactly what's keepin' this orchard from losin' its trees! An' I'm gonna learn how to use it so I can finally do my fair share o' work 'round here!"

"Like Tartarus ya will," Applejack said before she pulled her hammer off her tool belt and brandished it at the dark kin.

Everypony but Apple Bloom backed away. They all knew better than to get near Applejack when she was agitated, especially when she was holding a weapon.

"Applejack, darling. Please be reasonable. Violence never solved anything," Rarity tried to reason.

"What have we done to deserve to be threatened," Molly asked as she slowly backed away.

"Applejack, stop that," Apple Bloom shouted as she tried to take her sister's hammer.

"Back off," Applejack said as she pushed the filly aside, "Long as I'm in charge, yer gonna do as I say!"

"You may be her sister, but you have no right to decide how Apple Bloom wants to live her life! So you can either accept it, or clear off," Courtney yelled as she cast her magic at Applejack.

Applejack braced herself as her hammer became shrouded with shadows. Her raced as she watched the witch's dark magic so near her, but it passed quickly when she saw the darkness melt away.

Though Courtney tried to relinquish the tool from Applejack with her magic, she found her effort useless. Whenever she tried to magically pull away the hammer, she found her pull weaken, and her magic disconnect. At first, she was simply worried that her magic wouldn't work on this volatile pony, but it soon turned to quiet terror when she watched Applejack's eyes turn to a beastly glare.

"Tell me to get off my own property, will ya," Applejack growled as she threateningly stepped closer.

"Oh shit..." Courtney shuddered under her breath as she took a small step backwards. "She's got iron," she quietly warned Molly.

"What's the matter? Scared," Applejack asked as she threateningly stepped closer.

"You keep that thing away from me," Courtney yelled as she stepped back.

When Applejack came closer, Bruce tried to grab the hammer from her, only to yelp loudly when his fingers curled around the metal head of the tool. When he backed away, he hobbled on three legs as a white burn mark could be seen on the palm of his hand.

Apple Bloom wouldn't stand for this kind of thing. Threatening her friends was one thing, but hurting them was completely unacceptable, especially when it was her own sister.

In a flash, Winona dashed forward and locked her jaws around Applejack's front leg. The sudden pain stopped Applejack in her tracks. Next, she found herself getting shoved backwards by Apple Bloom.

"Get the buck away from them," Apple Bloom shouted.

"Listen to me right now, filly--" Applejack said.

"No! You listen," Apple Bloom interjected, as she shoved her sister once more. "Ya just met 'em an' yer already treatin' 'em like monsters! It's because o' ponies like you that they're afraid of us, an' act like we're monsters instead! What reason do you have that yer so scared? 'Cause yer scared o' the dark?"

Everyone else present went dead silent when they heard what Apple Bloom had said. Only Applejack's family knew about her fear of the dark, but most of all, they were dumbfounded by the force of the filly's speech.

"It's just like what happened a thousand years ago when ponies got all hysterical 'cause o' some groundless fear! If ya really think they're so bad, you should take a look at yerself! Remember that thing that attacked us the other night? The one that stank like rotten eggs? It didn't come from the dark world! It was made here in Equestria by ponies like you, so it could kill the dark kin!"

"Then maybe ponies back then had the right idea," Applejack snapped.

Once again, the crowd was silent. Apple Bloom glared at her sister, wanting to burst out shouting, though she found her rage much too profound to raise her voice.

"I can't believe this," Apple Bloom said as she slowly stepped forward. "I can't buckin' believe this." The way she moved and spoke made Applejack uneasy, making the farmpony step backwards. "My whole life, I always thought you were the pony I wanted most to be like! But now, I don't know what I ever saw in you! Yer poison's what you are! I brought my friends here, 'cause I thought lettin' ya meet 'em would make ya stop bein' scared! Well, I was wrong thinkin' ya'd be such a big mare! Yer nothin' but a stubborn, bigoted coward who can't get past somethin' that didn't even happen to ya! The world doesn't need ponies like you in it! I don't need you! I'm becomin' a witch tonight, an' that's that!"

Applejack had backed up all the way past the treeline, and by that point she was too surprised to say anything to her sister. Every word bit into her, but the final statement was a blow to her very being. Unsure of what she was feeling that very moment, she sat silent and motionless as she watched Apple Bloom return to the witch's side.

"Sorry about my sister," Apple Bloom apologized.

"Maybe we shouldn't--" Courtney began.

"Let's get this over with," Apple Bloom interjected as she stepped into the ritual area. "What do I do first?"

"First, you stand in this circle," Courtney said, realizing she wouldn't be able to change Apple Bloom's mind.

The filly stepped into a circle of ash, in the shadow of one of the dark trees.

"Then your familiar stands in the other circle."

Bruce guided Winona into the second circle across from Apple Bloom.

"Then what," Apple Bloom asked.

"Then, the show begins," Courtney said as the world around them all began to darken.

All around, Apple Bloom could see the dark trees start to bend and sway as if they truly had come alive. They reached higher and higher toward the moon, and their leaves and branches spread like gnarled appendages to claw the very light from the sky. Soon, Apple Bloom was surrounded by a fathomless darkness from with there was no escape.

"Somepony," she called into the dark. "Scootaloo!? Sweetie Belle!? Courtney!?"

"I'm here, Apple Bloom," came a voice from somewhere in the dark.

Looking around herself, Apple Bloom could see no trace of the witch, not even her ghoulish eyes shone in the dark. She tried walking toward the source of the voice.

"Stay where you are. The ritual has begun."

"Oh! So, what do I do now?"

"You need to establish your connection with your familiar now."

"But, how do I do that?"

"I'm afraid I can't help you with that. If you chose the correct familiar, you'll find that answer on your own."

"But, I don't know how!"

"Apple Bloom, you can't keep doubting yourself. After all you've done and learned, how can you believe that you have the capacity to fail? I've seen many hopeful witches come and go, and none of them have the determination that you just displayed. You've only to look within yourself to succeed."

"What's gonna happen when I do," Apple Bloom wondered. "Everything's gonna change when I become a witch. I know I was mad at my sister just now, but I didn't mean what I said. I don't wanna lose her 'cause o' this."

"You don't have to. Nothing has to change in the end. All you must do is choose what path you want to take when this is over."

With that, the witch's voice fell silent, leaving Apple Bloom completely alone. Unable to see even her hoof in front of her face, she began to doubt that she even still had a corporeal form. She shuddered when it felt as if she had somehow melded into the shadows that surrounded her. Then, she saw something.

Through the dark veil of shadows, she saw a dim light brighten then fade. Slowly, a thread of light drifted toward her. Once it was close enough, it brightened once more, revealing its hideous form to the filly.

Though horrifying and beastly, there was something familiar about the spirit before her. Something that she thought she could put her hoof on.

"I made you, didn't I," Apple Bloom asked the spirit. "You came here after Red Sky died, an' ya been here ever since."

The spirit said nothing, only letting out a low hiss. Though wordless, Apple Bloom felt as if it was affirming her question with its sorrowful gaze.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to make ya hurt so much. I just..." Tears began to pour down her face as she quietly sobbed. "I wanted to see him again. It bugged me to death, but I wanted to see him starin' at me in class, an' catch him lookin' away when I turned to him. I wanted to find out what a nice colt he was, an' be his newest friend...I know I coulda saved him if I went with him to the woods. But I was too stupid, an' too scared to find out what would happen if I did."

The spirit only stared, though something now seemed sadder in its gaze.

"Please, say somethin'," Apple Bloom begged the spirit, "Tell me this is how much it hurts you by just existin'! I don't wanna know I'm alone fer this! Why won't ya talk to me! Please..."

Apple Bloom sobbed as she watched the spirit turn into a threadbare light, and disappear into the darkness. But soon, she began to feel a more familiar presence beside her. One that was warm and protective, like an old friend she knew from another life.

"Winona," she asked.

Even though the dog was somewhere across from her, she felt as if Winona was right beside her, and worrying sick for her filly's safety. Slowly, Apple Bloom's sobs quieted as a smile edged onto her face. But, it was not to last.

All around, the filly became aware of movement, as if the darkness around her had come alive and swirled about her. Fearfully, Apple Bloom crouched to the ground and covered her eyes, unwilling to face what horrors may next await her.

She began to feel a sensation within herself, as if the very light in her body was being purged by some otherworldly force, and pulling her to a dark place from where there was no return.

Soon, the feeling of motion stopped, and she could hear a new noise. Leaves were rustling, and crickets were singing somewhere, and soon, she heard hooves coming toward her.

"Apple Bloom," she heard Scootaloo's voice say.

"Are you alright," Sweetie Belle said next.

"Ye've naethin' tae feer, filly. Th' worst is done," an unfamiliar voice said.

However, Apple Bloom had the distinct feeling she knew who was speaking to her. Slowly, she looked up and opened her eyes to see the grove of trees had returned to their normal state, with the sky visible above. Directly to her front, Winona was standing protectively over her.

"Winona," Apple Bloom asked again, "But, that means--"

"Aye. Ye an' Ah're together forever noo."

"I got a familiar. I got a familiar! Everypony I-- What's everypony lookin' at?"

When she turned to her friends, she saw them all staring wide-eyed at her. Sweetie Belle facilitated the answer by reaching into Rarity's mane and producing a portable makeup kit. When she opened it, she revealed the mirror inside to show Apple Bloom her transformation.

Apple Bloom gasped when she saw what had happened to her. Nothing had physically changed, except now, her eyes were sending out orange lights like wisps of smoke.

"Courtney? What's this mean," Apple Bloom asked as she turned to the witch.

"It means that you've been realized as a practitioner of the dark arts. Congratulations. You've taken the first step to becoming a witch," Courtney answered with a smile.

"Ya mean I can be a witch now?" It was all too much for Apple Bloom to handle. With a yelp, she leaped forward and threw her hooves around the witch's neck.

"I suppose now you'll need someone to teach you how to use your new abilities," Molly suggested as she looked to Courtney.

"Can ya really," Apple Bloom said with a hopeful smile, which soon faded, "But, what would yer mom think if ya taught witchcraft to a light-dweller?"

Courtney exhaled slightly as she thought about her answer, before she answered with a smirk, "To hell with her."

When she heard that answer, Apple Bloom hugged her friend again, shuddering with excitement for what was to come.

"So, to begin, you'll need to pack your things," Courtney continued.

"Pack," Apple Bloom asked, "Why?"

"Well, I can't teach you much without the proper resources. And, while this world does have its share, it will be easier to teach you with what I'm familiar with and have ready at hand," the witch explained.

"Then that means..." Apple Bloom said, her eyes widening as a smile bloomed onto her face.

"Mm-hm," Courtney nodded, "You'll be coming with me, back to Macabria."

"You get to go back," Scootaloo said excitedly, "I wanna go to!"

"And me," Sweetie Belle chimed in.

"Now, hold on," Courtney said. "If anyone is going with me, it will have to be discussed with the families. So, first off: do you have any objections with Apple Bloom coming to live with me for a year in my home to learn about her new skills," she asked Granny Smith."

Granny thought carefully about her answer before she spoke. "I don't know all that much about ya, youngun. But, ya seen like the kinda mare I can trust with my family. Ya got a special kinda responsibility in them spooky eyes o' yers. Just the same as my granddaughter here. So, if'n y'all think ya can take care o' my filly, an' educate her 'bout that magic, y'all got my permission to take her with ya."

Apple Bloom smiled brightly as she ran toward her grandmother to hug her next. "Thank ya, Granny! Thank ya! Thank ya!"

"Quit thankin' me an' go pack up," Granny said as she hustled Apple Bloom along.

In the far back, Applejack had reached the front porch and walked inside her house. Hearing her sister's words before was hurtful enough, but Apple Bloom leaving to go live with the witch was the final blow. Feeling it unnecessary for herself to be present, she sulked back inside while everypony was talking, only a few seconds before Apple Bloom ran inside to start packing.

Once the filly was indoors, she watched Applejack take her seat in front of the fireplace when she listened to Granny's stories. Putting her sister out of her mind for a moment, Apple Bloom ran upstairs to begin packing her bags.

As she did, her mind kept running to Applejack downstairs. She didn't want to leave things between them as the were before she left, and decided to have one last talk with her.

When she finished packing, Apple Bloom quietly crept downstairs, and found Applejack still sitting by the fireplace with her head hung low.

Eyes glowing in the dark, Apple Bloom cautiously approached her sister, until she reached the dim glow of the dying fire and her eyes ceased to be illuminated. "Applejack," the filly quietly asked.

No response came from her sister.

"About what I said earlier. I...I didn't mean it. I know what I said was mean, but I still want ya to be my sister," Apple Bloom gently said.

Applejack was silent.

"Maybe you could come with me when I go? An' see me off when I go to Macabria?"

Applejack shifted her head slightly to look at her sister. To Apple Bloom, she looked the same way that the dark spirit did before, conveying a profound, unending sadness. With nary a sound, Applejack stood up and walked out of the room.

"Why bother," Applejack asked. "Ya got yer new friend. Ya don't need me to see ya off. Ya don't need me fer anything."

Apple Bloom heard how her sister's voice choked when she spoke the last sentence. The flames in the fireplace died, illuminating Apple Bloom's eyes as she watched Applejack disappear upstairs.

Silently, she sat down in her place by the fire, next to where Applejack sat, thinking about all that had led up to that very moment in her life. It had been a difficult journey for her, and it was quickly ending on a low note. Silently, she began to sniffle in the dark, which soon became quiet sobs as she longed for the embrace of her lost sibling.

Upstairs, Applejack sat on her bed, listening to her sister downstairs. Though barely audible, it was a noise that would stay with her forever. If only she could go downstairs, and tell her sister everything would be alright. If only she could say she was sorry, and hope for her sister's forgiveness. But, it wouldn't be. She knew she was beyond redemption, and remained confined to her room.

Minutes later, Applejack heard the front door open, and looked out the window to see an orange-eyed shadow join with a group of others. Next, they all moved to the shadows beyond the trees, toward the Everfree Forest.

In the shadows, a pair of orange eyes looked toward her bedroom window, before they continued away to the forest.

Applejack watched her sister go, until she disappeared, knowing for certain, that even if Apple Bloom returned, they would never be together again.

Author's Note:

Is that enough of a downer for you readers? Personally, I think this is nothing. I think if you want to feel really bummed out, you should watch Cowboy Bebop. And I mean from beginning to end. The ending caption is right: You're Gonna Carry That Weight. Afterward, you can watch Samurai Champloo to feel a little better about life. You can probably tell that I'm also a fan of Shinichiro Watanabe.
So, on with the story, The Wicker Man is getting more wily and unpredictable, and it seems that the townspeople are slightly warming up to the scary strangers.
The folk of light and dark are beginning to get more of an appreciation for one another, even if some still cling to their fears. Let's see if things really do end up changing.
Just in case you're wondering what teashades are, and didn't bother to look it up, they're round-frame sunglasses. You may have seen folks like Ozzy Osbourne and Jon Lennon wear them. I realized that I could have just as easily called them 'sunglasses,' but there is no sun in the dark world, so it's a moot point.
That's all. Rock on \m/

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