• 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.

  • ...

Chapter 19: The Hallow

Chapter 19

The Hallow

For what felt like an eternity, Applejack remained in her room staring out her window. It had been some time since Apple Bloom and the others left, yet after so long she could still hear her sister crying by the fireplace.

Her time alone had been spent thinking about her behavior before. She thought back to when the orchard was attacked, which for days made her feel scared and isolated, which she thought in turn may have led to her behavior. She was always happy when she or her family made new friends, and thought that she may have accepted the dark kin otherwise.

She tried to convince herself that if none of the horrible things from before had happened, she would have never been at odds with her sister, and subsequently disowned. But, she knew this was not true.

Applejack knew that it was completely her own fault. Apple Bloom had been right. It was all because of some irrational fear of the dark and the monsters within, real or imagined, that she refused to put behind herself. It was what pushed away her sister and made hate consume her. Worst of all was when she threatened a defenseless mare, and hurt an animal with iron.

Applejack thought that if Apple Bloom hadn't intervened then, who knew what she would have done. Would she really have given in to her foalhood fears and become something she wasn't? Now that she thought about it, it was Apple Bloom who saved her from such a thing.

This wasn't how it was supposed to end. She knew the day would come when her sister would have the choice to leave Sweet Apple Acres and make her own way, but she never thought it would come so soon, and end so terribly.

For whatever reason, her mind wandered back to the day when Apple Bloom was born. How something changed within her when she saw her newborn sister's face, and when she held her for the first time. She had always had a strong sense of responsibility. Toward her work, toward her family, but Apple Bloom was different.

Here was a pony who she knew was going to look up to her. A pony who would be in need of guidance through the course of her life. They would be there for one another through the ups and downs, the twists and the turns, the good and the bad. Each obstacle was to make them grow, and to make a brighter future for the filly as grew up. But, that had all gone away from her, and once again Applejack knew that she was the one to blame.

Though she hated to think about it, she realized that maybe the path of dark magic was the one that was meant for her sister. Where she would grow as a pony, and realized who she truly was. But, time and time again, Applejack had prevented Apple Bloom from doing so.

"It can't end like this," Applejack thought to herself.

Though Apple Bloom had left some time ago, she thought there may still be time to find her, and tell her she was sorry. She wanted to find Apple Bloom, and wish her luck on her journey, and come back when she had grown up and discovered herself.

All hesitation had left her. She ran to her door, but was in such a rush that she knocked her lantern off its table, and to the floor where it broke.

Briefly stopping to look at her one defense against the darkness, Applejack put it out of her mind, knowing that ever second was critical to finding her sister.

She burst out the front door, and once outside saw Big Macintosh and Granny Smith walking toward her. Granny had one of her front legs draped around Big Macintosh's shoulders after her arthritis kicked in and prevented her from going any further, forcing Big Macintosh to take her back home at Apple Bloom's request.

"Applejack," Big Macintosh asked, surprised to see his sister outside after dark without a lantern.

"Where's Apple Bloom," Applejack asked.

"Why ain't ya inside, youngun," Granny asked, also curious.

"Dang it! Where's Apple Bloom?!"

"She's gone the Everfree. To Zecora's house," Big Macintosh explained. "Why're ya askin'?"

There was no time for words. Applejack ran into the orchard toward the direction of the forest.

Once within the trees, she could see all manner of creatures peering out at her from the shadows. Some in the branches with great red eyes like ripe apples, and other that slithered around the roots. Others peered out from around the trunks, while others still seemed to materialize from the shadows themselves. Applejack did her best to put them out of her mind, and convince herself they weren't real as she reached the fence on the edge of the property.

She hadn't finished her work on it, and knew the spots where there were no iron bands. Likely, that was where they passed through the fence. Or over it. Or under it. Or however that dark magic worked. Whatever it was, she had no such power, and the fence blocked her path. But, it would be no obstacle for her.

Applejack thrust her hooves at the fence, breaking it piece by piece with each impact. Finally, with one last buck, she broke one of the planks, and started pulling them loose from the fence.

As she worked, she could see more things in the spaces between the planks, daring her to come forth into their territory where they would mock and tease her before they hunted and killed her.

Shutting her eyes tightly, Applejack wriggled through the open space in the fence and charged into the forest. With her eyes shut, Applejack couldn't see the obstacles in her path. The tree that clipped her side and threw her off balance. The rock in her path that made her stumble and fall. And all around, she thought she could hear malicious laughter coming from the shadows.

Finally, she opened her eyes and faced the darkness, charging deeper into its gaping maw to oblivion, and completely unknowing of where she was. After running for what seemed forever, she found something that she knew she did not imagine.

A thread of light drifted through the trees toward her, stopping the farmpony in her tracks. Frozen with fear, Applejack watched as it came to a stop in front of her, and grow brighter as it took the form of an indescribably horrific monster. Despite her fear, she thought she could feel a connection with it. As if it had once been a part of herself.

"You...I-I know ya...don't I," Applejack asked, fighting against her choking fear.

The thing said nothing.

"I don't know who...or what ya are...B-But I know we're..." Applejack hesitated to speak her next words, and swallowed hard to release her voice, "W-We're con...connected somehow..."

Still, the thing was silent, though Applejack felt it was telling her 'yes.'

"I'm lookin' fer my sister. If ya know where she is, please tell me. I can't let her go without tellin' her I'm sorry. Please...I need my sister!"

The thing slowly lowered its head, before it became a thread of light and drifted away from the pony. Applejack had no way of knowing what the thing was up to, but hoped desperately that it would take her to her sister, wherever she was. Putting her trust in the mysterious being, she followed it in the direction it went. And it wouldn't matter what dark corner of the forest they would end up in. She was going to find her sister, darkness or not.

During the journey to Zecora's house, preparations were discussed between Courtney, Rarity and Rainbow Dash about Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo going with Apple Bloom to Macabria. To the delight of the fillies it sounded like they may well be allowed to go. Questions about Courtney's living situation and ability to support three fillies were met with answers that both mares greatly approved, and made them both feel they could trust the witch with their foals.

Despite that Apple Bloom knew she should have been happy that her friends were going with her, she did nothing but sulk for the entire walk.

"What's wrong, Apple Bloom," Sweetie Belle asked, "Aren't you happy we get to go with you?" Her train of thought was interrupted by Scootaloo bumping her side.

"I don't think that's what's on her mind," Scootaloo quietly admonished.

"Oh," Sweetie said, when it dawned on her how insensitive she had been.

Both wanted to say something that would comfort Apple Bloom, but didn't know what could be said in such a situation. Neither one could relate to their friend's dilemma, forcing them to leave her isolated in her sorrow. Still, that didn't stop them from trying.

"Um, you know, I bet Applejack feels really bad about what she did," Sweetie Belle said, before she looked to Bruce, who was now walking on two legs to keep off of his injured hand.

"Yeah. She's probably at home crying about it right now," Scootaloo added.

"Neither of ya knows what Applejack's like," Apple Bloom sighed. "She doesn't change her mind about anything. When we're gone, she's gonna go right back to puttin' up iron bands on the fence, an' choppin' down those magic trees. An' I know she ain't gonna be waitin' fer me to come home next year."

Sweetie nor Scootaloo knew which was more heartbreaking. The fact that Apple Bloom thought such things about her sister, or the fact that she may well be correct.

"It's got me thinkin' that I might not wanna go home when I'm done with my witch trainin'. In fact, I ain't plannin' on it."

Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo both gasped sharply at their friend's words.

"You're not serious, are you!?"

"How can you say that? You didn't even think about what you're leaving behind!"

"I done nothin' but think about that," Apple Bloom answered. "I know that you guys are gonna wanna come back here when we're all done. Ya got stuff ya wanna do here. An' friends an' family who'll wanna have ya around. After tonight, I ain't gonna have a family to go home to."

Apple Bloom's friends knew that this was untrue. She still had Granny and Big Macintosh, but the fact that she lost Applejack made them realize that her sister was once all the world to her. Without her, there was nothing for Apple Bloom.

Meanwhile, Courtney continued to discuss the living arrangements with Rarity and Rainbow Dash. Questions were raised when they found out that the witch lived alone, but she assured them that Bruce and Molly would be around to help take care of the foals.

The would reach Zecora's house soon, and a new chapter would begin in the life of the Cutie Mark Crusaders. But, if only anything was ever that simple.

A loud howl sounded somewhere in the distance, making the light-dweller's cringe under the eerie sound. Not the low howl of The Wicker Man, but one that Bruce recognized and made him howl in response.

After she heard Bruce, Courtney's eyes went wide.

"Molly. Take everyone to Zecora's house. And go as fast as you can," the witch said urgently.

"You've found it, haven't you? The Wicker Man," Molly asked, fearfully whispering the monster's name.

"Yes. And it's close by," Courtney answered.

The witch quickly approached Apple Bloom.

"Apple Bloom. I need you to listen carefully. When you reach Zecora's house, you must open the door between our worlds. You must stand before the symbol, and picture a door within the center. To do this effectively, you must imagine a third eye, as if it were your own, peering from the shadows of your mind and unlocking this door. Do you understand?"

"I think so," Apple Bloom said hesitantly. The urgency of the witch's request shook her slightly, and she wasn't sure if she really could do such a thing.

"You'll have time to practice while I'm gone. Just be sure to get everyone through safely. I'll be back before dawn."

With those final words, Bruce led Courtney away toward the shadows off the trail to finally find and eliminate the monster.

The witch and the werewolf cautiously stepped, ever aware of any noise, or a light in the distance. Every few steps, Courtney looked behind herself, hoping to see her friends progressing without any trouble. Instead, she could only see the foliage of the low-hanging branches and the trunks of the trees.

They had gone too far from their friends. Now, they were on their own, for there was no escape from what was before them.

Despite how Courtney tried to steel her nerves, she knew that she would be no match for the monster, equipped as she was. She has only a few items at her disposal that would likely only dampen its magic-consuming powers, if even that. Likely, she would only be feeding it.

The further she strayed from the path, the more she became aware of the familiar putrid smell of sulfur. Her steps slowed as she felt the air around her grow slightly warmer, indicating that she was growing ever closer to the demon. Her breath grew rapid, as she knew that soon she would be face to face with her worst fear. Then, the light shone.

Courtney and Bruce stopped when they saw it drifting through the treeline ahead of them, like some caged monster looking for a way to escape its confinement to devour anything on the outside. It then came closer.

On a reflex, Courtney reached into he pocket of shadows for anything she could use, not once thinking about what object or tool she was summoning. She cursed herself when she found it to be nothing more than the bag of memory powder she crafted some nights ago. Now, it was too late to do anything now that it was upon her.

Fighting the urge to scream, she was relieved to see that it was simply a dark spirit, which turned into a thread of light when it reached her, and disappeared into the shadows.

Footsteps were heard next, making the two wary as they watched Applejack round a tree trunk.

The beings of light and dark froze when they saw one another, trading emotions of fear and caution in their eyes.

"You've made a grave mistake coming here," Courtney warned as she slowly stepped back from the farmpony.

"I ain't got time fer yer threats. I'm lookin' fer my sister. Where is she," Applejack shakily demanded, ever cautious of the idea that perhaps the witch and werewolf were alone because they had abandoned the others.

"You're not going to take her back. Now leave, before The Wicker Man finds you."

"Y-You ain't gonna scare me like that. I know all about yer kind, an' what makes ya tick."

Bruce growled quietly as he gently flexed his injured hand."

"Then, if you're so smart, you should go now! Back to your home, where you're safe, and you won't cause your sister anymore grief!"

"I can't go back! Not until I see Apple Bloom again! I don't know if ya got any sisters, but this ain't the way things are supposed to be! I can't let her go now. Not like this."

Though suspicious of Applejack's intentions, Courtney could hear the earnestness in her words. Whatever possessed her at that moment, she felt she could trust Applejack. "She's on the path. Back that way. Go, before she leaves."

Cautiously, Applejack stepped forward. She was unwilling to pass by the two creatures she had slighted earlier, but any hesitation would allow Apple Bloom to get further away from her. She walked slowly, always keeping here eyes on Bruce, who returned the intense stare. With her eyes on them, Applejack felt as if either of them would attack her at any second as she slowly circled around them.

Above, the moon came out from behind the clouds, turning the dark kin into sinister shadows in its light.

As Applejack stepped slightly further from them, she looked where she was stepping, and gasped when she found her hoof only inches away from a swirling patch of shadows.

"What're ya tryin' to pull here," Applejack said.

"I've no idea what you mean,"

"Then, what the hay do ya call this?"

Applejack slightly recoiled when the dark kin quickly approached her. Both of them looked to where Applejack had been pointing, and saw the same swirl of shadows. Bruce sniffed it, and huffed quietly.

"So, that's it," Courtney said to herself. This explained how The Wicker Man's scent had been jumping from place to place. It had been passing through the barrier between the worlds. But, that still didn't explain how it kept appearing only in Ponyville and the Everfree Forest. Back home, she hadn't heard one report that it had been in her world.

Back the way Courtney and Bruce had come, they all heard another mournful howl. The hair on the back of Courtney's neck raised as her worst fear was realized. She hastily put her magic powder back into her pocket of shadows as she and Bruce ran back toward the trail. "This way," she called to Applejack, who hesitated briefly. "If you don't move, your sister's going to die! Hurry!"

Applejack wasn't ready to place her trust in the dark creatures, but the mere idea that her sister was in danger left her with little recourse. With all her might, she ran toward the trail, passing by both dark kin to reach her sister in time.

The ponies on the path all froze when they heard the eerie howl, now closer than it was before.

"What was that," Scootaloo asked, "Was it that thing again? The wen--"

"It wasn't that," Sweetie Belle said, making sure not to ever mention a wendigo again.

"It was The Wicker Man. An' it's close by," Apple Bloom explained.

"Courtney said something about a wicker man before," Twilight observed, "What is that, anyway."

"It's an undying monster that feeds on magical beings," Molly said. "Aside from myself, and you three unicorns, who here has any magic?"

"We all have a little bit of magic in us," Twilight said.

Fluttershy knew as much, but hearing it spoken aloud made her whimper and cringe to the ground.

"Oh, no. Fluttershy, don't worry. We'll find a way around it," Molly assured her friend. "Come on, stand up. Let's just try to keep our heads and figure out a plan."

It was then that Winona knew that she was to fulfill her duty as a witch's familiar. She was going to have to find a way to protect her filly, and all of her friends by figuring out the path that avoided danger.

The sound had come from somewhere ahead of them, making that the direction to avoid. However, it was the same direction that led to the safety of Zecora's house. She stopped to think of a plan, then huffed to Apple Bloom.

"Huh," the filly asked, still slightly surprised that she could now understand her dog.

Winona huffed again.

"Winona wants us to go this way," Apple Bloom said.

"We're gonna trust the dog to save us," Dash said incredulously. Despite the danger, she felt ready to face it if it meant protecting her friends and family.

"She says the scent's weakest this way. If we go here, we can avoid it," Apple Bloom explained.

That was all anypony needed to hear to start walking. The fillies went first, followed by Molly, Rarity and Rainbow Dash, who goaded Fluttershy into going with them. Shortly after, Pinkie followed them. Normally, there was nothing that her Pinkie sense didn't alert her to, but it hadn't been tuned to anything like this. With no other options, she decided to follow the others off the trail.

Twilight tried to get the others to come back and stay on the trail where she statistically believed they were the safest. Instead, they all ignored her, trusting Winona to help them. When she heard something moving on the trail ahead, she bolted off the path and followed the others.

Though she knew she was leading them from danger, Winona didn't know exactly where she was leading them to. She tried to keep to the direction they were heading in the first place, but wasn't sure whether or not the monster would move toward them.

"Sweet Celestia! That stinks," Pinkie said suddenly as she covered her nose.

All of a sudden, with no warning at all, the pungent smell of sulfur engulfed the group. It had come from nowhere, and Winona hadn't even had time to pick up a trace of the scent growing closer.

Fear welled up in Apple Bloom, as she realized that somehow the monster had come nearer to them in almost no time at all. She looked all around at every shadow, hoping she would not see its fiery lights.

"Stay together! Everyone, stay close," Molly instructed as she goaded her friends next to each other.

Everypony huddled together, not knowing what would become of them next. Rarity held her sister close. Dash protectively darted back and forth around her friends. And all the while, they tried not to imagine how close the monster was.

"What will we do? How can we stay safe," Rarity wondered aloud.

Twilight tried to think of a plan. There was always a way out of danger if they worked together, and it would be up to her to get the plan started. First, she decided to get a general idea of where the monster was coming from. It would help if she knew what it looked like, but she felt like she would be able to identify it based on any trace of its magical essence. Briefly, her horn lit up, but stopped when she noticed something.

Somewhere in the thicket, she thought she could see something moving. Not a creature of any kind, but rather some sort of shadow that wasn't cast by anything at all. Soon, the shadow faded, and all that remained was the view beyond the thicket. Nothing but a clump of leaves, twigs and shadows beyond. But, there was something strange about what she saw.

The twigs looked like they had somehow tangled together to form some aberrant shape. It may have been the wind that had done it, or maybe it was simply her imagination. But, there was no imagining those tiny lights that began to appear. At first, she thought they may have been fireflies or glowworms, but they simply appeared as if from nowhere. Then, they were joined by more lights.

As the lights appeared, Twilight could vaguely make out the contours of something among the thicket, as if some foul night sky dotted with demonic stars had taken the shape of some creature.

Whether it was the need to know if what she saw was real or not, or to see if it may have been the creature that they were trying to avoid, Twilight took a single step forward.

Molly had been looking around for any trace of the monster, and saw Twilight staring blankly ahead as she took another small step forward. Looking in the direction she was moving, she was horrified to see the hellish embers so near.

Wasting no time, her arms extended past the others and ensnared Twilight, who was dragged to safety just as a great hand reached out for her from the shadows.

With a frenzy of shrieks, the whole group of ponies backed away from the hand, which dragged its fingers through the dirt, leaving deep grooves in the soil.

Never before did any of the ponies feel the kind of fear they felt now as they watched a monstrous shape rise before them. First, came an even more overpowering stench of sulfur, followed by embers lighting up all over the creature's body.

No time was wasted before they all went running wildly into the woods while the beast followed after them. Though they tried to stay together, the clutching panic and surrounding darkness kept any of them from doing so. Soon, they all became separated, none of them knowing if the monster was trailing behind them.

Apple Bloom ran into the darkened woods, hoping desperately that she had managed to stay with one of her friends. Nothing could be seen in the darkness, mounting the fear that she was now alone in the dark.

She listened for the sound of footsteps behind herself, only hearing the padding of Winona's four legs behind herself. Feeling she was safe from the monster, she and Winona rounded a rock and hid behind it. When the filly looked around herself, she found it was only Winona with her, and in the distance, she could see the vague shapes of her friends being chased by a mass of embers.

There was no way that Apple Bloom would leave her friends to be devoured by a monster. She cursed herself for knowing any helpful spells, though she wasn't so sure if she did it would do any good against The Wicker Man. It would have to be handled some other way.

Winona was horrified to see her filly rush toward the monster, and charged after her to keep her from danger.

As Apple Bloom ran, she slipped on something, and fell to the ground. When she looked up, she saw that she had stepped on some fallen acorns. It was the only remotely magical thing she had at her disposal, and even though she didn't know what she would do with them she picked them up anyway, along with a few nearby flowers before she continued running toward her friends.

Apple Bloom's mind raced furiously for a way to save her friends. But, she didn't know what she could do against a creatures she knew almost nothing about. All she knew was that it fed on magical creatures, and that it was vulnerable to iron. Unfortunately, there were nine magical creatures present, and no iron.

Her best bet would be to somehow head off the monster, and distract it from chasing her friends. This would be easier said than done. She would need time to think of a plan. "Winona, find a way to distract that thing," she said.

Whatever the filly was planning, Winona didn't like it one bit. But, she trusted Apple Bloom knew what she was doing, and ran ahead toward the beast.

The Wicker Man stomped after Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle, swinging its arms madly as it tried to grab the fillies. Its prey was more agile than it would have liked, as the fillies kept managing to stay one leap ahead of its gnarled fingers. Next, it found a small canine creature running in front of it. Though it had very little magical essence in it, it was quite annoying the way the creature was darting around it. The monster tried to keep its focus on the fillies, but the way Winona was darting back and forth in front of it kept distracting it.

Winona dashed to the side as it grabbed for her, and had to jump over its successive swing. Once it had turned away from its quarry, it was greeted by the sight of another filly, this one with glowing orange eyes, and seeping with magical essence.

Its mind changed to go for the nearer meal, it started lumbering toward Apple Bloom, who ran down the hillside she was on with Winona.

The filly could feel the heat of the monster's body behind her, spurring her to run faster to stay ahead of its long arms. Further down the hill, the filly and dog found themselves atop a talus of large rocks, where they hopped across one to the next, while the monster behind them stomped after them.

Apple Bloom felt The Wicker Man's hand rake behind her, and caused her to fall forward and land in a crevice between two of the larger rocks. Shortly after, Winona followed her and helped her to her hooves.

Above them, they could see a mass of embers peering in and reach for them in the crevice, just barely scraping Apple Bloom's mane with every attempt.

Ahead, Apple Bloom could see an opening big enough for herself and Winona to escape through. It would only be a matter of seconds before The Wicker Man noticed it as well, forcing the two to take the chance and run. Until they heard a new noise outside.

It sounded like a heavy thumping, but not like the steps of the monster. Like it was from something much heavier. Suddenly, with a sickening crunch, the mass of embers in the crevice above them jolted forward, and through the opening ahead Winona and Apple Bloom watched the monster and a large boulder go rolling down the hill ahead of them.

"Are you alright, Apple Bloom," Sweetie Belle asked as she and Scootaloo both appeared in the opening above them.

"Yeah. Let's get outta here," Apple Bloom said as she and Winona exited the crevice.


At the bottom of the hillside there was a deep gulch, and on an old dead tree overlooking it was Pinkie hanging helplessly from its furthest branch. However she got there, Molly was trying to reach for her with her long, elastic hooves, though she was coming up only inches short.

"You need to reach for me, Pinkie! Try to get closer," Molly shouted as she inched closer the the edge.

"I can't! The branch is going to break if I move," Pinkie yelled as the branch she was holding onto began to creak.

Nearby, the boulder went over the cliff, with The Wicker Man only barely clinging to the ledge with one hand. Once it began to pull itself up, it noticed the two mares nearby.

Molly and Pinkie became aware of a shuffling noise, looking to see The Wicker Man slowly shimmying along the edge of the gulch toward them.

"Come on! Just try something," Molly goaded Pinkie.

Pinkie couldn't think of anything to do. Any movement she tried, and the branch threatened to break. She looked over to see the monster shuffling closer to her and Molly, leaving her no choice but to take a chance.

She swung herself toward Molly's waiting hoof, only for the branch she held onto to break.

In less than a second, Molly jumped onto the overhanging tree trunk and grabbed Pinkie's hoof. However, the weight of two mares was more than the old tree could handle, and it fell loose of the soil around it, sending the two plummeting to the river below.

In an effort to protect one another, Pinkie and Molly tightly embraced in the air, hoping to protect each other from the impact. But, they would not need to.

Their shouts for help had been heard, and Rainbow Dash swooped in to grab the two out of the air. However, their combined weight forced her to land in the gulch.

Once they landed, Pinkie and Molly both clung to Dash as though they were still aloft.

"Have you seen the others," Dash asked.

"I didn't see anypony before I ended up on that tree," Pinkie said.

"I saw Fluttershy go flying into the woods that way," Molly answered.

"Alright. Let's go there," Dash said as she took to the air and turned around.

The had only taken a few steps when they saw a mass of embers splash into the water before them. There was no choice. They had to find a way past it if they were to find their friends.

Dash swerved around the monster's arm as it reached for her, while below, Molly and Pinkie ran past it.

The monster saw the two ponies at its feet, and turned its attention to them. Molly fell when it reached for her, splashing hard in the water when she did. Above her, The Wicker Man reached to pick her up.

She tried to crawl out of the way, but the monster still managed to grab her around her waist. Molly shouted for help as she was brought closer to an opening in The Wicker Man's chest, and to her horror watched as its innards ignited with hellish flames.

Rainbow Dash tried to swoop and dive bomb the creature's head, but it proved to be sturdier than she could have imagined. Though she hit with all her force, it only slightly recoiled under her blows.

Pinkie's mind raced frantically for a way to help her friend. Fortunately, there was a boulder nearby for her to work with. Before she could even think, her hooves connected with the boulder, sending it through the air toward The Wicker Man, impacting its head and making it fall into the river, where it sizzled and steamed as its flames were extinguished.

Molly was released from its grip, and scrambled to her hooves. She slipped and fell again, and became aware of the greatly raised temperature of the water around herself, spurring her to quickly extend a hoof to Pinkie, who took hold and watched as Molly reeled herself forward.

"Are you okay," Pinkie asked as she helped her friend up.

"I-I'm fine," Molly shuddered. Her nerves were shot from almost being consumed by a monster. But, even though she survived, she knew she was going to be covered in dry brown spots when this was over, which was almost unbearable if not for the living demise behind her. Putting vanity aside, she, Pinkie and Dash all ran through the gulch ahead of the monster before it recovered its footing.

High above, the Cutie Mark Crusaders watched as their friends ran for their lives with The Wicker Man close behind them. They knew they had to do something, but not much could be done against it. It proved that despite its flimsy, lightweight appearance, it was much sturdier than any basket made from the same material. And any magic they could muster would only serve to feed the monster. But, maybe that was it.

"What can we do now," Sweetie Belle wondered aloud.

"Gimme yer matches," Apple Bloom said.

"What!? Why!?"

"Just give 'em to me! I got an idea!"

Sweetie reached into her mane and produced the matches she had packed away since their first venture to the Everfree. Apple Bloom mounded up the flowers and acorns she collected earlier, struck a match and worked the magic she had used before. She didn't know if the white paper was essential, but this was the only idea she had.

In front of them, the smoke billowed and amassed, but took no discernible shape as it had done before. In the gulch below, Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle watched as The Wicker Man stopped chasing the adults and start swatting at a mass of smoke that appeared before it. They could hear its howling from where it was, but not from the image before them, as if it had been disconnected.

Soon, the smoking image in the gulch was absorbed. The fillies expected the image before them to disappear as well. Instead, it took the form of the monster and started swinging its long arms at them all. They all shrieked as the smokey appendages struck them, only to see each strike pass through them as smoke naturally would. Now in relative safety, Apple Bloom was able to wonder how The Wicker Man was able to use that kind of magic.

Scootaloo had fallen so that her head peeked over the edge. Below, she watched as The Wicker Man stopped swinging at three smokey images, and disappeared into a nearby shadow in the gulch where not even its embers shone.

No time was needed to wonder where it had gone when it was heard rampaging out of the shadows up the hill toward them. Now their friends were safe, but they were in danger once more.

Winona dashed along the edge of the gulch, leading the fillies away from the beast. Down below, she could see the adults running toward the mouth of the gulch where they would all reunite by the river. However, she knew that leading the fillies there would also bring the monster with them. Instead, she barked loudly to get somepony's attention before she and the fillies veered off into the trees.

Through the trees they ran, until they came to a grove where the trees were all thin, pale and grown closely together. Apple Bloom knew what Winona was trying to do, and knew that such an obstacle would be no problem for her and her friends, but it would impede a monster the size of The Wicker Man.

All four quickly shuffled through the pale trees, weaving around the trunks and sometimes crawling under the spots where the branches twined and grew thick. Behind them, The Wicker Man struggled to get through. Its every step was hindered by the narrow passages it had to navigate, until it could pursue them no more. Instead, it retreated the way it had come and sheltered itself in the shadows.

Ahead of the fillies, they could see Winona leading them to an exit in the brambles, but stopped when they saw Winona shuffling back toward them.

In the opening, they could see an ember-speckled leg coming toward them from the shadows under the trees. Now that the moon had come out, they could see it in greater detail when it stopped and turned away toward something else.

In the light of the moon, up in one of the trees, the fillies could see a shape like a giant fly caught in a gigantic spider web that stretched from many trees. But a closer look proved it to not be so.

The web itself was not made of the silken threads so many ponies were familiar with. Instead, it looked to be made of some kind of thick ebony cord that waved and bulged like patterns of heat. And the fly itself didn't have the shape of any insect they ever saw. It didn't have enough legs, and its wings were feathered. Now that they thought about it, it had the exact shape of a pegasus.

"Somepony get me down," Fluttershy's voice called from the web. She mustered all of her strength to strain against the webbing that held her, but however gentle her struggling was it still managed to attract attention.

From the dark branches, she saw a shape like some long, spindly leg step onto the web, followed by another, and another, and too many more. What followed next was like a nightmare come alive.

Attached to those many legs was a form like a very large spider mottled with many blacks and whites. In the dim light, Fluttershy couldn't make out the exact shape of it. And its colors, which swam about its form like fish in a pond further lent it to some amorphous terror. But, she wasn't about to make any assumptions about the creature, given the sweet disposition of many spiders around her home.

"E-Excuse me," she stammered, "I don't mean to bother you...But, c-could you please pull me loose," she timidly pleaded.

In the dark world, an attercrop was considered a blessed thing with curative properties. Many witches allowed them in their homes, and killing one was considered to bring grave misfortune. But, such a thing only applied to the hand-sized males. And Fluttershy had no way of knowing that the pony-sized females of the species were considered a homicidal menace that was to be avoided at all costs.

Venom dripped from the attercrop's mandibles, making Fluttershy think that maybe asking this creature for help wasn't the best idea. She resumed struggling against the webbing, and screamed when the creature was upon her. Fluttershy closed her eyes in anticipation of feeling its fangs pierce her flesh, when she felt a sudden tremor in the web.

Looking down, she saw The Wicker Man had grabbed ahold of one corner of the sticky entrapment. Through something that she could only describe as magic, she watched as the monster began to absorb the very web itself.

In a matter of seconds, the web had disappeared, and she and the creature fell to the forest floor. The attercrop tried to advance on Fluttershy once more, only to be grabbed by The Wicker Man.

Too frightened to move, Fluttershy only watched in horror as The Wicker Man's body began to ignite with flames and spider-thing was placed inside an opening in its chest.

The fillies had run out of their hiding place, and tried to get Fluttershy to move, only to be equally enraptured by what was unfolding before them.

Before the attercrop could escape, the reeds that made The Wicker Man's body began to weave themselves shut, imprisoning the creature inside. A sickening crisp, churning noise was heard inside the monster's body, but only barely above the shrieks the arachnid was making. But, that wasn't what had Apple Bloom's attention.

As the magic was sucked from its prey, Apple Bloom watched as the monster's flaming body took a more detailed shape. The flames that sprouted from its body cloaked it from head to toe, and flames from its head first took the shape of a bitter old pony, then morphed to a creature's unrecognizable to anypony in Equestria. But to Apple Bloom, the demonic face and horns were all too recognizable.

The flames around the head reverted back to a pony's features, while the flames around the body began to die as the attercop's charred corpse was spat out. But, inside the torso, Apple Bloom could see two dark shapes within the fire. Things that she knew were watching her, wanting to catch her at all costs, but at the same time telling her to run for her life and never look back.

Winona snapped everypony out of their trance, and managed to make them all run once more. Further into the woods, they could see the figures of three ponies rushing some distance away from them.

"MOM," Scootaloo called to the figures, getting their attention.

That was all she needed. In seemingly no time at all, one of the figures flew up to Scootaloo and tightly embraced her, before it was joined by the others.

Now, Apple Bloom, Winona, Sweetie Belle, Scootaloo, Molly, Pinkie Pie, Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy had found one another. The next order was to find whoever else was nearby. And their search would be spurred on by the sound of The Wicker Man's footsteps.

"We need to get out of here," Dash said quickly.

"We need to find Courtney," Apple Bloom corrected. "She's the only one who'll know what to do against that thing!"

A scream sounded, and the ponies all looked to its direction. The Wicker Man was no longer in sight, and its footsteps could be heard in the direction the scream came from.

Though unspoken, everypony made the decision to investigate the scream. When they arrived, they found a clearing like a dried basin where Rarity was cornered by the monster.

"Stay away! Stay away from MEEEEEEEE," Rarity shrieked as she fired blue bolts of magic at the beast.

Her attacks did no good, and only served to feed the monster. The Wicker Man stepped closer to her, and its body began to ignite.

No thoughts passed through Apple Bloom's head when she did what she did next. Knowing that something had to be done, she jumped into the basin and circled around the monster's side.

"Ashmead!" she called to the monster.

To everypony's horror, the monster stopped and looked at Apple Bloom.

"I know yer still in there. You an' Atticus Goodchild. Ya got eaten by that monster, an' ya been there ever since."

Somehow, Apple Bloom seemed to have intrigued the monster, which only stared curiously at her. Rarity took the opportunity to quietly rush to her friends.

When Apple Bloom saw The Wicker Man looking at her, her blood ran cold and her hairs all stood on end. "Yeah. I...I know about ya. An' I know what ya did a long time ago. Ya tried to kill the dark kin, but ya killed a bunch o' ponies too. An' even though ya killed yer own kind, ya didn't care!"

The Wicker Man took a small step forward.

"All ya wanted was to get rid o' the creatures you knew nothin' about!"

The Wicker Man stepped closer.

"Fer what!? Some made up reason!? Foalhood superstitions!? Or maybe yer just afraid o' them like my no good sister!"

The Wicker Man stepped within arm's reach of Apple Bloom.

"Well, I ain't! Ya tried to spread as much fear as ya could back then, an' ya got more ponies to cling to some baseless hate! But, it ain't gonna get me like it got my sister! I'm gonna end it, even if I gotta get rid o' ya myself!"

The Wicker Man lowered its gaze to Apple Bloom's level, wordlessly responding to her. It had spent thousands of years in isolation until it found a way to escape, and it would do it again. No matter how many times it was sent away, it would come back when the barrier between worlds waned. And it would do so year after year after year for as long as it existed.

Apple Bloom knew she was powerless against it, and knew her end was at hoof. Hopefully, her surviving friends would find a way to put a stop to the monster. The Wicker Man reached for her, just as she saw a glimmer of blue from the shadows.

In a second, a giant shadow leapt from the darkness, revealing Bruce's snarling form as he landed on The Wicker Man's leg and tore into its hip with his claws.

Flames flared on the monster's side, forcing Bruce to let go before he stood between it and Apple Bloom, and was quickly joined by Winona, who led Apple Bloom from danger.

The Wicker Man tried to lunge for Bruce, only for its leg to be ensnared by something. Looking down, it found its leg wrapped in a tree root that was swirling with shadows. It was followed by another, which grabbed its arm. Then another which pulled it to the ground. In seconds it was cocooned in shadow-swathed tree roots, until the magic was absorbed into its body. However, it was still lashed to the ground by the roots.

From the shadows, Courtney, Applejack and Twilight emerged and joined with their friends. Apple Bloom and Winona joined shortly after, and greeted the witch.

"Courtney," Apple Bloom yelled as she threw her weight onto the witch with a forceful hug.

Applejack watched the two, feeling now like she had been replaced, and that her journey to find her sister may have been a lost cause.

"How much did ya hear," Apple Bloom asked Courtney.

"Everything. We found you as soon as you called to it," Courtney said, "Are you sure it's Ashmead?!"

"Yeah! An' Goodchild! I saw The Wicker Man change into 'em earlier! I don't know how, but they're still a part of it!"

In all her life, Courtney never would have expected such a thing could ever have happened. Now that she knew, she felt they may have a shadow of a chance to stop the monster. Nearby, the roots that bound the monster began to snap.

"We need to go somewhere safe," Courtney said.

Unfortunately, in the Everfree Forest there was almost nowhere safe to go. Everypony wracked their brains for an idea, but nothing came.

"The graveyard," Applejack blurted out. "We can stay in the graveyard 'til we get rid o' this thing!"

"What in Celestia's name gave you that stupid idea," Dash snapped.

"Trust me. We'll be safe there!"

"But what about all the monsters there," Fluttershy squeaked out.

"There ain't any monsters! It's the safest place we can go!"

"Wait! Wait! Everypony stop," Twilight interjected, "Try to think this through!"

"Which way to the graveyard," Courtney said, stopping anymore comments.

In fact, she stopped anything else from being said, as not one of them knew the way to the graveyard from where they were. However, one of them had an idea.

"It's back towards town. That way, I think," Apple Bloom answered.

Winona had come across many scents in her life, and though she had never been to a graveyard herself, she knew the individual scents of decay, stale and loose earth, and granite, and now she had to find a place where the scents mixed. But, she would never find such a thing with that overpowering stink nearby.

No warning was given when the dog ran off into the woods. Before Apple Bloom had a chance to call her back, she realized what her dog was trying to do and followed after her.

"This way," Apple Bloom called to the others. "Winona's got a plan!"

Once again, nopony knew if they could trust the dog. But, the sound of another root snapping made up their minds to follow quickly. Except for Courtney and Bruce, who stayed behind with Molly.

"Molly! Your fronds," Courtney said, noticing the brown edges of her leaves and the brown spots on her body.

"Please. Don't. Not now," Molly answered, nearly on the verge of tears.

"Right," Courtney said, before they heard more roots snap.

Bruce indicated that The Wicker Man was nearly free now.

"Let's go!"

And they ran after their friends into the woods.

Winona tried to pinpoint the direction of the graveyard, but couldn't find anything that smelled similar. Wherever it was, it must have been to far away to catch a scent. Even then, she didn't know which was the way back to town, so he had to rely on her instincts to find the way.

The dog led the others through the labyrinthine twists of the forest, hoping she was going the right direction toward town. The smell of the monster was getting fainter, meaning she was escaping it, and subsequently making it easier to find her way back to town. Though she still didn't know where she was, she began to smell the familiar scents of herself and the others on the path they first took through the woods. If she could find that scent trail, getting home would be easy.

Suddenly, as the group was headed toward a narrow passage between two large rocks, she became aware of the smell of sulfur, and every one of the travelers came to a screeching halt when the shadows in the rocky passage before them produced the demonic mass of embers.

There was no way around the path they were on, and were all about to run, until another shadow flew in from behind them and started flitting about The Wicker Man's head, distracting its attention.

Courtney, Bruce and Molly joined the group from behind. Once everypony saw they were back together, they tried to run again, but hesitated when they saw the path would take them toward The Wicker Man. Courtney coursed her magic to the side, creating a small opening. One that they would have to take if they would reach the graveyard as quickly as possible.

Taking the initiative, Apple Bloom ran first, only to find herself stopped by her sister.

"We gotta go back," Applejack insisted.

"No! We gotta get to the graveyard fast as we can," Apple Bloom rebutted.

"I ain't gonna let ya get near that thing! Ya mean too much to me, an' I ain't gonna lose ya tonight!"

Hearing her sister's words momentarily weakened Apple Bloom's struggle. But, if she really meant what she had said they would have to keep moving forward.

In a sudden burst, she escaped her sister's grip and charged toward the passage, followed by Winona and Applejack. All three weaved between the legs of the monster.

Seeing the others move prompted the others to follow. As they ran, the magical distraction Courtney had set up was mostly absorbed when it noticed the magical creatures around its feet. Though the first few made it past The Wicker Man uninhibited, the others had to avoid its grasp.

Fluttershy and Pinkie were knocked over by one of its attacks, and had their hooves caught in its hand.

Molly had already run past, but stopped when she saw her friends in the clutches of the monster. It was time for her to pay back Pinkie for saving her earlier. Arms outstretched, she began to pull The Wicker Man's hands loose from her friends, burning herself in the process as the embers cooked her skin.

Courtney had stopped as well, wanting to help her friend, but knew she couldn't use her magic, else she would feed the beast. Instead, she rushed forward and began to pry The Wicker Man's hand loose.

With its free hand, the monster tried to grab for the witch, only to be stopped by Bruce, who firmly held its hand in place, even as the embers in its body grew hotter.

Molly wanted more than anything to let go and end the pain, but when she felt the monster's fingers pulling loose, she remained adamant.

Relief came when Rainbow Dash doubled back after noticing her friends were missing, swooping in to pull Fluttershy and Pinkie free, and run past the monster.

The Wicker Man swung its body to catch the fleeing ponies. Bruce let go of its arm, allowing it to swing wildly and hit the side of the rocky passage while he escaped.

The area all around them became more familiar as they neared town. They still had some distance to run, but they were now in the home stretch of their journey.

Rainbow Dash yelped as she suddenly had to take flight when the top half of the monster leapt from the shadows and grabbed at her, before it receded back. Next, Rarity had to dive forward and ruin her mane and coat when a monstrous, ember-covered arm reached for her next.

For as long as they had been eluding the beast, it had grown agitated by its increasing hunger, and failure to sate it. It would now get them at all costs.

The edge of the forest was in view, when the group was suddenly split in two by The Wicker Man diving from the shadows between them all. The ponies to its front were grabbed at with a fierce vigor. Some of them were caught, but quickly slipped out of its grasp and stumbled forward to join their friends. The monster reached again, making Applejack fall when its hand impacted the ground just behind her. Apple Bloom quickly helped her sister to her hooves, and led her from the danger.

Now, they were past the trees and in the open field beyond. Here there would be no place to hide from The Wicker Man once it sprang from the shadows again.

Sure enough, Bruce heard the gentle swirl of the shadows nearby. Quickly turning his head, he saw nothing, until he heard a quiet whooshing noise above himself. Looking up, he saw the moonlit silhouette of The Wicker Man falling through the sky toward him like some demonic patch of midnight.

The monster fell right on top of him, trying to push the werewolf into its open chest. Though he had only a little magic in him, he was well within its grasp.

As strong as Bruce was, he was struggling to keep the monster at bay with its full weight on top of him. He clawed at its midsection with his rear legs, tearing open its body, though it did nothing to deter The Wicker Man.

Courtney was not about to let her beloved familiar become food for some monster, and stopped to save him. She tried to push the monster over, only to be pinned to the ground by one of its hands.

Molly assisted Courtney as she had done with her other friends, and started pulling The Wicker Man's hand loose. Her strength had waned since the last time, and prevented her from prying its fingers so effectively.

Afterward, every one of the others, mare, filly and dog came to their friends' rescue. All but Applejack.

The farmpony watched as the two dark kin struggled under the might of the monster, seeing firsthoof the horrors that befell the creatures of light and dark centuries ago.

The fear in the eyes of her friends, and the dark kin on the verge of destruction brought to mind what she had said to Apple Bloom earlier that night. She had heard how this monster was created to kill the dark kin, and she had no qualms about such a thing. Paralyzed by her own feelings of abject remorse, she watched as her friends all started pushing The Wicker Man ever so slightly.

"Applejack," Apple Bloom called to her, "Help! We need you!"

Applejack knew she would never be able to face her sister once the ordeal had passed, but if she did nothing, her sister would never forgive her. She sprinted toward The Wicker Man, and thrust her hooves into its side as if she were bucking the strongest apple tree there was. She didn't manage at all to topple the monster as she intended, but did make it recoil heavily under her blow.

It was all that Bruce needed to shove his predator upward and scramble out underneath before he assisted Molly in releasing Courtney from under its grip. Now bruised and bleeding, Courtney clambered to her hooves with Molly and Apple Bloom's help. Once she was free, Bruce was able to push the monster aside, and was able to keep it pushing it down every time it tried to get up.

"Are you hurt," Molly asked.

"I think so," Courtney said, before she shouted in pain after her first step.

"Courtney! Yer leg," Apple Bloom said as she pointed to her bleeding rear leg.

"Bruce," Courtney called.

As soon as she had, her familiar ran over to her and lowered himself to allow Courtney onto his back.

"Apple Bloom! Up here," Courtney said as she extended her hoof. There was no hesitation when Apple Bloom crawled on top of Bruce's back, taking her seat in front of Courtney, and they all continued to run. "Apple Bloom, I need your help for what we're about to do," Courtney said.

"Fer what?" the filly wondered.

"We're going to perform an exorcism."

"Ya mean we're gonna get rid of a ghost?"

"Yes. We're going to purge the spirits of Ashmead and Goodchild from The Wicker Man," Courtney explained, as she held onto the filly.

"But why?" Apple Bloom asked.

"It may be the only chance we have to be rid of it."

"But, I ain't good enough to do somethin' like that! How can I help?"

"Here," Courtney said as she produced another item from her pocket of shadows. She then hoofed Apple Bloom a rolled up tube of white paper, tied with black string on either end, which smelled strongly of savory herbs. "It's sage. I'm going to need to concentrate on drawing the spirits from the monster, and I need you to burn that when I say so. Do you know any fire conjuring spells?"

"I got matches," Apple Bloom answered, having still possessed Sweetie Belle's matches.

"Oh, you saintly little filly," Courtney said as she wrapped one hoof around Apple Bloom. "Now, after I bring the spirits out, I'm going to draw Ashmead toward us. That's when I need you to bind him with the smoke from that sage. Just command the smoke toward him and do your very best to imagine the smoke as binding chains, or ropes, or anything, so long as it will restrain him."

"What about Goodchild? He'll be caught too, won't he?"

"No. Him, we need. He sent The Wicker Man away once, he can do it again."

Once Apple Bloom comprehended the witch's plan, a smile spread across her face. However powerful this monster was, she was going to have a part in doing away with it, and save all of her friends.

The graveyard was in sight now, and the beast was never far behind them. The closer they came, the higher their hopes rose for salvation. Until they were close enough to see the gates locked tight for the night.

Rainbow Dash could have easily flown over to safety, but wasn't about to leave her friends behind. She rattle the locked gate, desperately trying to get inside, though the metal gate was too strong for her.

She stepped back when Bruce grasped the gate in his hands, bellowing in pain as he held the iron construct. As horrible as the pain was, he was able to rattle the gate loose from the stone walls. Once he had, Dash and Applejack both rammed the gate for all they were worth, knocking it loose from its hinges, allowing the company to enter.

Now inside, Courtney could put her plan into play. She tried to cast her magic at the approaching monster, sending arms of shadow reaching for it. However temporary, she had to find a way to restrain it, only to her magic quickly absorbed. There were no objects to manipulate here. Nothing would lash it to the ground as the tree roots had done earlier.

The Wicker Man approached closer, leaving no escape. Dash tried one more desperate attempt to attack the monster, only to be swatted aside and sprain her wing on the stone wall. Everypony could only watch in horror as their demise stepped ever closer to them.

In her final moments, Apple Bloom wanted to be with somepony she trusted. Even in the face of her death, she would go with somepony she loved. Slowly, she stepped by Applejack's side and held her hoof, conveying that she had not quite forgiven her sister's trespasses, she would always be her sister no matter what.

Applejack put her hoof around Apple Bloom, holding her closely to herself as The Wicker Man came. It was her who had suggested they escape to the graveyard, and now, because of her, they were trapped. There would be no spirits protecting them, and if they were it would only be too late when they came.

Everypony else took the Apple sisters' example, and held one another for their final moments. Then, salvation came.

It started as a mist rising from a single grave before them. Then it rose from another, and another, until every grave produced a ghastly fog. Each one took the shape of a pony, all recognized by at least one of the living as somepony who passed away before. The phantoms passed from behind them, and surrounded the ponies from all sides as they drifted by.

The Wicker Man grasped for each of the spirits, only for its hands to pass through them. Soon, it was overwhelmed, and bellowed loudly as it was pushed against the cemetery wall.

"What the hay are these things," Rainbow Dash asked as she watched the phantoms pass by.

"They look like..." Fluttershy swallowed hard before she squeaked out her next word, "Ghosts..."

"That's impossible! There's never been any documentation of a--" Twilight stopped herself there. After everything else that had been happening, she wasn't about to say that ghosts didn't exist. After all, she was standing next to a werewolf at that very moment.

Scootaloo gasped when she saw her mother and father pass by on either side of her. Neither one acted like they acknowledged her, and the filly wanted to go after them, only to by restrained by Rainbow Dash as her birth parents drifted toward The Wicker Man.

"It's time. Apple Bloom, we need to start now," Courtney said as she hesitantly limped the monster.

Apple Bloom stayed with her sister for only a moment longer. She knew that if she stepped forward, she would truly begin her first foray into becoming a witch. Once she had, she would cease to be the Apple Bloom her sister loved. After lingering with her sister, she gently removed Applejack's hooves from around herself. "Watch Applejack fer a bit," she said to Winona before she joined Courtney's side.

Even though The Wicker man was restrained, there was still one problem that needed to be solved. "How are we gonna stop it? It just absorbs any magic ya have, an' it only stops when it's feedin'?"

The look on Courtney's face told Apple Bloom that the witch had forgotten that fact. After so long, after so much tribulation, their effort was for naught. Then, a smile crawled onto her face as she realized she had just the thing to best the monster.

Reaching into her pocket of shadows, Apple Bloom watched Courtney retrieve a white bag. Though she had no idea what was inside, Courtney had finally found a use for her memory powder.

The bag levitated in the air, held aloft by the shadowy magic of the witch before it shot forward into the opening in the monster's chest. In a matter of seconds, flames sprouted from within The Wicker Man as it absorbed any magic the powder had. Now, the witches' work could begin.

"Atticus Goodchild! Ashmead! I call you forth from your prison of reeds and fire! In the name of all the dark kin and light-dwellers who had lost their lives those centuries ago, I command you to reveal yourselves!"

The Wicker Man howled loudly as the same spectral mist from before seeped out of its face. Before the eyes of all present, it took the shape of a demonic pony. The the others, it was the most evil-looking creature they had ever seen, but for Apple Bloom and any one of the dark kin, it was to be their salvation. However, though Goodchild had come willingly, the spirit of Ashmead remained obstinate.

"You will not be allowed to remain! You will exit your vessel and face those you have wronged!"

As Apple Bloom listened, she recalled everything she knew about Ashmead, the single most despicable pony she had ever read about since Nightmare Moon. In fact, Ashmead was worse that her. Nightmare Moon never killed anypony ever. Ashmead had killed several, and would have continued to do so. Perhaps even create more monsters to carry out his will. It was all the filly could take before she burst forth.

"Ashmead! Ya get yer sorry flank out here NOW," she shouted to the spirit. "After all ya did to those creatures, yer gonna finally own up fer yer crimes! Ya can't hide in that monster forever, 'cause I got half a mind to get in there an' kick ya out myself!"

More mist came from the monster, taking the barely recognizable shape of a pony.

"Get out here! I ain't gonna let this go on anymore! I'm gonna get ya outta there, an' end any memory o' you I can!"

The mist took the shape of Ashmead while Apple Bloom readied a match.

"Get outta there," Apple Bloom forcefully commanded.

Ashmead looked at Apple Bloom.


Ashmead shot right toward the filly, stopping Courtney's heart by the sight.

Applejack rushed forward and put her hooves around her sister to pull her from danger, just as the match was struck and the sage was ignited.

Smoke from the herbs protectively swirled around the Apple sisters, stopping Ashmead's spirit in its tracks. Apple Bloom was shocked by what she had just accomplished, but couldn't stare. She still had work to do. She did as Courtney instructed her, and cast the smoke forth as chains to bind a beast. Ashmead was overwhelmed, but Apple Bloom still wasn't finished. Before she could start, she watched something else happen.

A thread of light came from Goodchild's spirit, taking the form of a creature more sorrowful and lingering with regrets than Apple Bloom had ever seen. It then shot itself into The Wicker Man's chest, right through the closed reeds. For anypony watching, one could imagine its face twisting in agony and fear if it had any discernible features, as though the entirety of Goodchild's woes had been transferred to its very being.

"Fer as long as you exist, nopony's gonna see yer face again! Yer gonna be nothin' but a distant memory, like a speck o' dust flyin' on the wind higher than any creature can see ya! You'll have no comforts from the cold an' loneliness batterin' ya like the kind ya tried spreadin' from yer own beatin' heart! An' the only way folk'll remember ya is when they hear yer distant screamin' from the roof o' the sky!"

A strong wind blew through the graveyard, threatening to blow away anypony lighter than the smallest foal. Whoever he could hold, Bruce clasped anypony he could in his massive arms breadth. Everypony else simply clung to his sides as the wind blew around them all.

Ashmead's spirit tried to resist the wind, but the smoke that bound him was snuffed out, and he was sent screaming high into the atmosphere until he was completely out of sight, though his agonized scream lingered on until it was drowned out by another noise.

The Wicker Man let out one last mournful howl when the flames and embers that dotted its body were snuffed out, and the dark magic that gave it life was purged from its being, sending shadows slithering over headstones and ponies alike, until they scattered about the land, never to reunite.

Soon, The Wicker Man's cry stopped, and it let out one last pitiful noise like a whimper as it fell to the ground. Its body began to crumble as it sent one last reproachful look to Apple Bloom.

The filly wasn't intimidated in the least. Her glowing orange eyes sent back a stare that told The Wicker Man that it had been defeated, and would never come back to haunt the worlds of light or dark ever again. And she conveyed her victory until the monster was reduced to a pile of ash.

With a shudder, Apple Bloom realized what she had done and fell into her sister's embrace. Winona followed next, checking if Apple Bloom was hurt, and licking her face when she found her filly to be perfectly fine. Scootaloo, Sweetie Belle, and everypony else rushed to Apple Bloom's side, while Molly and Bruce went to Courtney.

"What--the bloody hell--just happened," Molly said, breathing deeply between each sentence.

"Apple Bloom. She...She did that," Courtney answered, at a loss for words. There were no novels or poetry in her library that she could reference for anything similar that had ever happened in any one of them. Seeing Apple Bloom call forth an evil spirit and cast it away with such a powerful curse beat every one of them.

Apple Bloom received all manner of congratulations from her friends and sister, but it all ceased when Apple Bloom put everypony's attention the ghosts of the graveyard.

One by one, each one disappeared to continue their eternal rest. Once all the others had gone, the only two left were Scootaloo's birth parents, smiling warmly at their daughter and the mare who took her in, conveying their eternal love for their filly before they too returned to their graves. After them, there was one last spirit.

Red Sky remained, staring at Apple Bloom as he always did before. However, he did not look away this time when he saw Apple Bloom staring back at him. Instead, he drifted toward her and stopped closely in front of his former classmate as he had done before. Then, he lifted his hoof to show something to Apple Bloom.

On his hoof remained the golden ring Apple Bloom gave him last night. Apple Bloom knew what he meant by showing her. Even though the two would be separated by life and death, and even time itself, he would never stop loving her and would rest peacefully knowing this.

Apple Bloom knew what would happen next, and was both terrified and excited for what was to come. She saw Red Sky close his eyes, and felt him gently press his cold, misty lips against her cheek.

Despite the disgusted groans of Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle for kissing a colt, Apple Bloom didn't care. She had found her first love, and would carry it with her for all her days.

Though the kiss lasted less then a second, it seemed a blissful eternity. Red sky faded from existence back to his resting place, leaving Apple Bloom with nothing more than his memory.

It was too much for Courtney to bear. With a quiet swoon, she rested her head on Molly's shoulder and hugged her friend. Such a thing as a child coming to know their first love was wonderful to read about, but to see it for herself was truly wondrous. That is, before Courtney sharply gasped. "The Hallow!!"

"What did you say," Sweetie Belle asked.

"It's what they call Nightmare Night where they're from," Apple Bloom explained.

"Yes! And it's almost over," Courtney said as she pointed her hoof to the gradually brightening horizon.

"Oh dear! Oh no! I can't stay in this light for a whole year," Molly said, nearly in a panic, "How would a face my public if I--" She then realized how much she had already withered and burned.

"It's alright! When we get home, you can have all the blood you want from me," Courtney said as she hastily sprinkled chalk on the ground.

"Can I really," Molly asked unsurely.

"You can bleed me dry if you must."

"And can we make it into blood pudding?"

"Yes! Anything you want."

Molly squealed giddily at the idea of getting more of her favorite treat while her friend quickly finished the magic symbol.

Though she was much more deliberate when doing such a thing, time was of the essence, and Courtney couldn't afford to waste a second. In record time, she finished the symbol, and conjured a doorway between the worlds.

"Oh, thank goodness," the witch sighed, having slightly doubted she would be able to go home now that The Hallow had nearly ended. "Anyone going to Macabria must go now. Otherwise, you'll be stuck here for the next year."

The urgency of Courtney's voice slightly put the ponies on edge, but the truth in her words spurred them forward. With a quick goodbye, Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo were helped toward the doorway by their respective guardians, though Rarity quickly backed away when she got too close. After the fillies Molly followed, shortly by Bruce who allowed Winona to join him. The dog stopped for a brief moment to look at Apple Bloom, but was assured by her werewolf friend that she would be along before they both passed through the darkness.

Now, the only ones left to depart were Courtney and Apple Bloom. Despite the urgency, the witch allowed her young friend to say what she needed to her sister before she left.

"Apple Bloom," Applejack began. "I'm sorry. Fer everything. Please, don't go thinkin' o me as some kind o' monster that tried to stop ya from takin' the path ya want. I...I want ya to go to yer witch friend's home an' learn about yer new magic. An' I want ya to make as many friends as ya can. An' please, no matter how long yer gone, don't change at all."

"It's alright, Applejack," the filly said. "Nothin's ever gonna change between us. No matter what, yer always gonna be my big sis." The two sisters held one another reaffirming the bond between them that could never be broken. Apple Bloom reached into her mane, untied her bow and placed it in Applejack's hooves. "I want ya to have this before I go. Just so I'll always kinda be around home when I'm gone."

When she was given the ribbon, Applejack briefly held her sister's hooves before she began walking toward the doorway between worlds. Applejack's lip trembled as she held her sister's bow, the only part of Apple Bloom that would be around Sweet Apple Acres anymore.

"NO," Applejack shouted as she charged forward and embraced the filly.

Apple Bloom was taken completely by surprise when she felt her sister's hooves wrap tightly around her, and felt the tears streaming down her face.

"Don't go, Apple Bloom! Yer my whole world! Yer everything that keeps me goin'! An' ya make everything better when things're at their worst! I don't wanna live my life without ya! Please, stay here! Don't leave me alone like this!"

Apple Bloom put her hooves around her sister's shoulders, and allowed her time to cry some more. She had never seen Applejack so vulnerable before, and almost didn't know what to say to her. But, taking the lessons she had learned from her since she was born, she decided simply to tell the truth.

"I ain't leavin' ya, Applejack. You'll see me again. Next Nightmare Night."

The words resonated in Applejack's mind, and hesitantly, she released her sister and allowed her to approach the shadowy gateway.

Once Apple Bloom reached the door between the worlds of light and dark, she stopped to look once more at her sister.

When Applejack locked her gaze on the glowing orange eyes before her, she felt something that was broken become restored. Locking eyes with her sister, she felt all the previous disappointment and disdain replaced by pride and sadness. A feeling which lingered on long after Courtney guided Apple Bloom through the doorway which sealed itself as the barrier between worlds grew stronger.

Once her sister had left, Applejack sat in grass among the tombstones, wishing that she could have held Apple Bloom for just a second longer before she left. She removed her hat, allowing her mane to flow in the breeze as she ran her sister's ribbon through her hooves and ruminated about what she would now do without Apple Bloom in her life.

After several seconds of silence, she saw a pair of pink hooves embrace her from behind, followed by a yellow pair. Soon, all of her friends had gathered around her to offer their comforts.

High above the cemetery, a dark figure watched them all. The old seasons were done away with, and a new future awaited Equestria. It's work now complete, it faded away with the darkness as the sun rose over the horizon.

Author's Note:

What a way to end this story huh? Wrong! There's an epilogue inbound! I would never just leave things like that. That ending sucks! So, how will things go for Apple Bloom in Macabria? Only the epilogue shall tell.
The Wicker Man has been defeated, the spirit of Goodchild has been put to rest, and the spirit of Ashmead has been cursed to wander for all eternity. All in the night's work for a witch's apprentice. The exorcism method is one that my aunt taught me. To do so, she says that one must authoritatively call to the possessing spirit, and project their emotions/desire to draw the spirit into their words before binding it and casting it away with an equally authoritative rebuking.
As for the attercrop, its name comes from the old English word for spider. As it was with 'grimalkin' being the original name for cats, 'attercrop' was the name for spiders back them. Other names were 'lob' and 'cob,' which incidentally is where the word 'cobweb' comes from. I almost called the creature a coblob, but a toss of a coin decided for me.
The idea that an attercrop is a blessed creature is an Irish superstition. Way back in the olden days, the Irish believed that spiders were a blessing, and seeing one was believed to bring good luck. Smashing was supposed to bring bad luck. In the case of the dark creatures, killing a male attercrop brings bad luck because it brings down the wrath of its vengeful mate.
Another Irish superstition I know is taking refuge in a graveyard to escape an evil creature or spirit. As it is in the story you just read, the good spirits of the dead were supposed to protect the living from evil.
That's all I have to say for now. Do rock on, and hold close those dear to you, all you lovely readers \m/

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