• Published 29th Oct 2019
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Midnight's Shadow: The Bog Witch - Ponibius

Midnight Sparkle answers a summons as an evil spirit has taken residence deep within the Swampy Bottom Bog and is starting to corrupt the land. Midnight finds herself facing annoying haunts, monsters, irritating teenagers, and worst of all: mud.

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Chapter 2

Sometimes I wondered if the whole world sought to vex me. It certainly felt that way as I was forced to trudge my way through the bog. As if the filth of the swamp was not enough to worry about, I also had to bother myself with the fools who had been misled into believing that the swamp was someplace to enjoy oneself. But I did not have time to deal with their foolishness, I had a task that I needed to finish if I was to get out of this forsaken filth hole. So I sent a message with my magic to Mossy Banks telling him that the ill-informed ponies I had encountered were traveling further and further into the most dangerous portions of the swamp. With any luck, he would send some of the Stalkers to find them and escort them out of the bog. I certainly did not wish to have to bother with the fools.

Instead, I focused my efforts on reaching my destination: the Bog Witch’s cabin. The cabin was every bit as dreary as I feared. There was an evil miasma to the land, thick fog blanketed the area, and there was not so much as a hint of life. There were none of the chirpings of birds or insects or the calls or movements of animals. All the world was still as though captured in a grey tinted painting. All the trees, shrubbery, and grass were dead or near enough so from some great blight that had sunken into the very bones of the land.

Even the Great Unkindness was reluctant to approach the area. They huddled close to one another and never strayed far from me. Occasionally they cawed in protest, uncomfortable with being in this place of obvious evil.

And that was only the beginning.

The cabin itself was an unimpressive structure. I was no expert on architecture, but even I knew it had been shoddily constructed. It seemed that the vaunted Bog Witch was no builder; the cabin was made of simple logs stacked on top of each other, and age had not been kind to the building. Its straw roof was starting to cave in, and the walls were starting to rot and flake away, with much of the mold between the logs having flaked away with time and neglect. This was by no means the accommodations I was used to, but I would have to make do with what I had in order to complete the tasks given to me—no matter how much I bemoaned the fact.

Having little other choice, I steeled my will and trudged my way up to the cabin. A sign sat nailed to the front door with faded red lettering that read: ‘By Order of Her Majesty’s Magus Order: Do Not Enter. Trespassers Shall Be Fined or Jailed’. A quick check confirmed that Mossy Bank’s alarm wards were still in place over the cabin. Anypony trespassing here would likely soon find themselves facing an unpleasant visit from the Stalker Clan or even the Archmagus himself. But the sign hardly applied to me when I’d been requested to come here.

I moved to open the door, but it was reluctant to give way. It had been years since it had last been opened and so stuck fast in the manner only objects left alone for years could be, so I rammed my shoulder into the door. It did not immediately give way, so I was forced to try again. On the third attempt, I hit it hard enough that it flew open and I stumbled my way into the cabin, briefly flailing before I regained my balance.

My disgruntlement only grew when I saw the interior of the cabin. Dust and mildew permeated the interior, and cobwebs stuck to nearly every available corner or space. Still, the cottage felt almost empty. The old furnishings were sparse, with the dining table and broken chairs piled in one side of the room. Mossy Banks had clearly removed anything of arcane use from the cottage long ago, and all that was left were the merest echoes of the life of the Bog Witch.

The filth of the place made me want to burn it down, but Mossy had specifically instructed me not to do so. He warned of the great evil that resided here, and that only the cabin itself kept it in place. I had asked why he had not dispelled the evil himself years ago and was given an answer so vague that it could have been spoken by Princess Celestia herself.

I sighed and went back outside to gather my things from the boat and transport them to the cabin. I returned to the cabin with several bags of corn within my levitation spell, but then found the door closed again. I grumbled as I was forced to repeat the act of shouldering it open. To make sure the door stayed open, I propped one of the bags of corn against it. After that I returned to the boat and retrieved my bags only to find the door closed again, and the bag of corn sagging on the porch.

I glowered, for my shoulder was starting to become quite sore from fighting the door. This time I pushed the door open with my telekinesis, and then froze it in place with a layer of ice. Content this would do the job, I went to retrieve more of my things. I returned with some bags Mossy Banks had given me, but to my severe annoyance, I found the door closed once more.

While normally I would consider such behavior quite rude and inconsiderate, my patience was now at an end. I ripped the door from its hinges. “Try closing now!” I placed it inside the threshold of the cabin, content that it could now no longer vex me as it had.

Pleased, I placed the additional bags down along with the rest. ‘Twas as I was doing so that a great wind started to whip through the cabin. Little surprise, the cabin was every bit as drafty as I feared it would be. And there was not even a breeze outside. Still, I ignored it as I went about making sure I had not forgotten anything.

Then the wind kicked up to a gale that forced me to dig in my hooves lest I be blown over. My, the draftiness in the place was something terrible.

A fresh gust smacked into me, and then a deep and terrible voice struck me and made the whole cabin shake. “Get out!”

I blinked owlishly. Sigh, ‘twas as I feared, the cabin was haunted, or mayhaps the spirit the Archmagus had warned me about was doing some insidious work. Well, I was not about to let myself be intimidated by some foul spirit. “Neigh, I have work to be done here. I will leave when I am ready.”

The voice redoubled itself, making the cabin shake even harder. “Get! Out!”

The noise was such that it shook the door and it toppled over to smack me on top of my head. “Ow!” I cried and rubbed my head. My eyes narrowed as my irritation grew yet more as the wind continued to buffet me.

Being quite done with the door now, I grabbed it and chucked it through the doorway so that it fell well away from the cabin in the soggy earth. I then drew together a fireball and tossed it at the door. The fireball hit the door and blew it to splinters. The Archmagus had said I could not set the cabin on fire, but I was sure I could get away with merely destroying the door.

That done, I turned back to the center of the cabin to address the foul spirit. “Thou canst scream like a petulant child, but I am going nowhere until I desire to.”

“Thou wilt die here!”

“Neigh, I have no intention of living here nearly long enough for that to happen,” I said. “Once my business here is done, I plan on leaving this place as quickly as possible and never return.”

The cabin rumbled again, but then settled down again, and the wind subsided. Good, I did not need my temporary residence to throw a tantrum like an ill-behaved child. Still, this place needed to be made into something close to habitable. I certainly had no intention of living in this filth, even if temporarily. Thus I started the process of doing what I could to clean the place.

Thankfully I had some supplies to aid in that, and magic was of great aid in the task. Thus it was not too long before I cleared away the cobwebs, though the grime was caked on in such layers as to make it a struggle to clean it without stripping away layers of wood along with it.

But ‘twas as I scrubbed the floor that I was interrupted by a strange event. Blood started dripping from the walls. For a moment I wondered if something had died violently, crushed or ripped open to empty the ichor of its life within the walls, but quickly dispelled the notion due to the fact that the log cabin had no space for such a thing to happen. That, and there was far too much blood dripping from all the walls for any one animal to bleed. I glowered as I watched trails of blood flow down and create small pools on the floor.

“Now that is just unhygienic,” I groused. I looked at the rag I’d been using to clean the cabin and sighed as it seemed woefully inadequate for the task asked of it. It was already black from all the dirt it had absorbed, even after repeatedly being cleaned by my magic, the rag had been thoroughly stained. I compared the rag to the growing pools of blood and did not like how the scales weighed against me.

My ears flattened as I realized this simple task was beyond me. “It seems I will be using that tent Mossy Banks gave me after all. ‘Tis certainly cleaner than this wretched place.”

A dark, evil chuckle rumbled through the cabin. It made me hate my acknowledgment of defeat all the more. Dirt and filth had defeated me, and I would not be quick to forgive or forget this lost struggle. One day I would have my ultimate victory.

“Right then, which bag had the tent inside of it?” Mossy Banks and the Stalkers had provided me with several bags containing all the supplies I could possibly need for the task given to me. So I started the process of looking through them and took a proper account of everything available to me.

‘Twas as I was doing so that I heard a loud series of thumping behind me. I craned my head to try and hear where the noise was coming from. A trapdoor sat on the floor near me, and it jumped up before the small chain holding it in place jerked and brought it back down into place. It did so twice more before settling down again.

The soft, quiet voice of a filly drifted from the trapdoor. “M’lady, could you please let me out? A terrible witch has trapped me down here.”

I frowned as I stared at the trapdoor. “Mmm, neigh, I think not. That seems like a poor idea.”

A tremor came from the voice. “Please, ‘tis cold and wet down here, and ‘tis been so long since I have had anything to eat.”

“I suspect thou hast managed under such conditions for some time now,” I said. “I see little reason to let thee out.”

The voice took a moment to reply. “Pretty please?”


A great rumble rolled up from the basement, and the voice changed from that of a little filly to something much larger and darker. “I said. Let. Me. Out!”

Ah, this would be the creature the Archmagus had warned me about. He had said ‘twas trapped within the cabin, and I was not about to unleash it. “Thou art not making a convincing case for why I should release thee, so I think I will let thee stay exactly where thou art.”

The trapdoor jumped up several more times, but the chain held it in place. It seemed a rickety and tiny thing to hold such great evil in the basement, but it had somehow held. “I will devour your soul!”

“I think thou wouldst choke on it.” I tilted my head to the side. “Not that I am about to let thee have the chance to do so. I like my soul uneaten.”

The evil creature roared, but failed to free itself. Curious, I cast a spell to let me scan the magic about me. It took only a moment to find the wards placed on the cabin, old and powerful, if of foul nature. Likely the Bog Witch had trapped the creature in her basement and never released it. Though while the wards were powerful, I did not like the idea of leaving my security to nothing but a small chain containing such a beast. So I headed outside and found the biggest rock I could find that would fit through the doorway of the cabin. I returned to the cabin, but then stopped at its threshold.

The door was back.

My eye twitched at the sight of it, stuck fast, unmoving, despite the fact I had destroyed it. My patience at an end, I struck out with a kinetic bolt that blasted the door to flinders. That done, I strode through the threshold and planted the boulder down onto the trapdoor. I then drew a magic circle with a piece of chalk and sealed it with my magic.

I wiped the dust from my hooves and nodded with satisfaction. “That should help keep thee in place.”

There were several more thumps against the trap door but they failed to move the boulder. “My day shall come, and thou wilt beg me for mercy!”

I ignored whatever foul creature resided in the basement to concentrate on more immediate concerns. “Now then, I do not think I will be sleeping in this foul and dirty place. So I think I will be setting up that tent to sleep in.”

I found the bag with the tent inside and started pulling out its pieces. ‘Twas as I pulled out its many parts and examining them that I realized I had a problem.

“Oh dear, how does one even put up a tent?”

I had no idea that tents were so damnably difficult to assemble. More than once I heard that clanponies could put together a tent in their sleep. I had never seen such a feat, but I would think if a clanpony could manage the task while not even being conscious then I should be able to do the same while awake. I was a powerful magus who had battled warlocks and matched wits with the fae, but for the life of me I could not figure out how to properly put up that damnable thing. After the third time it collapsed upon me during the middle of the night I had enough, and simply made a house out of ice and slept the night there.

At least there was nopony to watch my humiliation except for the scores of ravens from the Great Unkindness. They were a dignified lot, but I could hear them snickering at me and my discomfort. I swore that once I got back to Canterlot I would ask Gale how a tent was made. At least as long as I could figure out a way to ask her that would not make my humiliation known to the world.

Once the sun rose on a new day, ‘twas time to begin my work. Not that it was much of a morning to rise to within the bog. A thick fog clung to the marshy ground, and the grey clouds clogged the sky, obscuring the land. ‘Twas a long way from my mountainside home where I could see as far as the horizon. All the more reason to finish the task in front of me and return home.

Thus I gathered the supplies I required and sought out the points of power within the bog. The vile spirit that had taken up residence in the bog was undermining the seals constraining the corruption within, and ‘twas my task to bolster those seals and make new ones. ‘Twas best to use the leylines inherent to the land to strengthen those wards, even if it required me to trek around what felt like half the area. But ‘twas the most effective and safest method at my disposal, and ‘twas how Archmagus Mossy Banks wished it done, so that was all there was to say of the matter.

The task was simple enough, if somewhat time-consuming in nature. With chalk, salt, and blood from a fish taken from the surrounding waters, I went about drawing fresh wards on trees, rocks, and the ground. Once each sigil was created, I imbued it with my own magic and linked them to the leylines so that they would draw power long after I was gone.

I was already quite bored with the task by the time I reached the third place of power: an unremarkable knot of gnarled trees and shrubs sitting on a muddy patch of ground. It was at that time a high-pitched scream pierced through the bog. Curious about the disturbance, I did my best to judge where the sound had come from. The fog did a damnable job of obscuring sounds. I was about to call upon the Great Unkindness to try and find what had made the noise when something large and pink darted out from behind a tree and rammed into me.

I was driven down into the mud. Sensing a threat, my horn lit as I prepared to cast a spell. My eyes fell upon what had run into me, and I held back my magic. Before me was the mare with the pink coat and long yellow mane I encountered before, and she looked worse for wear than during our first encounter. She was caked in mud, with twigs having wormed their way into her mane, and brambles had snagged her tail. It seemed that ‘twas too much to hope that the Stalkers would find her and her friends and escort them out of the bog.

She blinked and shook her head to clear it. Her eyes then fell upon me and they widened as her irises became pinpricks. “The B-B-Bog Witch!”

Before I could protest that I was no bog witch, the mare shot to her hooves. But she didn’t make it more than a step before she screamed in pain. She nearly fell over as one of her forelegs gave out and she stumbled about as she tried to regain her balance. She clutched what must have been an injured leg to her barrel as she tried to get away from me.

Before she could get more than a couple of steps, I created a solid wall of ice that blocked her off. She did not stop herself in time before she collided with the wall and bounced off of it, falling back into the mud.

I picked myself out of the same mud, grimacing as clumps of moist soil fell off of me. Up until now, I had been doing an almost adequate job of keeping the worst of the dirt off of me, but those efforts had been thoroughly undone by this pony. I was in a foul mood when I called to her. “Thou art going nowhere.”

The mare trembled as she stared up at me, though I knew not why. Aye, I was wroth with her, but not nearly so much as to wish her harm. She tried to scoot away from me as I approached her, but there was nowhere to go with the ice-wall stopping her.

“Now what art thou—” I stopped mid-sentence when I heard someone stomping their way through the brush behind me. From amongst the tree branches, the Great Unkindness raised a great ruckus of caws. I sighed, believing that yet another of this pony’s foolish friends had come upon us, and turned around.

My expectations were subverted when I saw an iron-masked gryphon raising a rusty old sword to strike me down.

“That will not do,” I declared, and struck out with the magic energies I had gathered. A harsh winter gale lashed out and slammed into the gryphon to send it flying. It collided with a tree with bone-breaking force and fell into a heap upon the ground.

Before I could make sure that the gryphon was dead, I heard the mare standing up and trying to run for it. I spun around and threw up another ice-wall and she bounced off of it. “Did I not tell thee that thou art not going anywhere?” I asked.

Whatever was going on, I intended to get to the bottom of it. This pony required my protection, even if she seemed determined to run away from me for some queer reason. For if there was one gryphon in the bog then there were likely more. It seemed unlikely that a band of reivers would penetrate so far into Equestria without notice, but stranger things had happened. Best to be safe. Not to mention this pony and her friends needed to be escorted out of the bog for their own good.

Tears streamed down her face as her back laid flat against the ice. “P-please let me go! I did nothing!”

My head tilted to the side. “Who said that mattered? Now thou art coming with me of thine own will or—”

The mare pointed a hoof past me and screamed. I sighed and turned around once again. I fully expected to see an entire band of reivers behind me, but instead ‘twas but the one reiver from before. He was slowly rising despite the fact that I had struck him with enough force to easily break bones, if not kill him outright. Mayhaps the thrill of battle had overtaken him? ‘Twas well known that people could achieve super-equine efforts when their blood pumped in such extreme situations, including the ability to fight on when by all rights their body should have quit due to their injuries.

I sought to reason with the reiver, for I had no wish to spill blood when it could be prevented. “I am Magus Midnight, and thou canst not defeat me. Surrender, and I will grant thee mercy. Continue this fight and I will smite thee.”

If the gryphon heard my words, he did not show it as he slowly plodded towards me. I wondered if he had been so injured that he did not fully comprehend his plight. He certainly looked in poor shape. Most of his equipment was in poor repair. His iron mask and sword were badly rusted and chipped, and his padded jacket had holes and its metal plates also rusted. ‘Twas possible he was a reiver whom had been cast out by his fellows for some crime and had taken refuge in the bog. Whatever the truth was, he continued approaching me, and however pitiful his story might be, I was not about to let him slay me.

“Very well, thou wert warned.” A spear of ice blasted forward and took the reiver in the chest. He flew back and the ice spear pinned him to a tree. He instantly went limp, the life going out of him.

“There, now that that has been taken care of, we can—” My irritation grew when I realized that the mare had taken flight when my back was turned.

She was limping away, but she was giving far too much attention to me and the reiver as she fled. She did not see the low hanging branch in her path and collided with it head-first. The foolish mare fell and moaned pitifully as she twitched upon the ground.

I looked to the sky, wondering what I had done to be inflicted with such fools. No answer came, so I became resigned to help this mare who seemed to be doing her best to get herself killed without actually committing suicide. A quick examination confirmed that the mare had dazed herself, and it did not appear that she would be getting up anytime soon. So now she could not even be counted to be able to bear her own weight. Perfect, just perfect.

My troubles were added to when I heard the slurping sound of flesh sliding along ice. As I suspected, the reiver had pulled himself off my ice spear and was now lurching my way.

“I suspect thou art not mortal,” I mused to whatever this creature was. “Very well, if blunt force and piercing thy flesh will not put thee down...”

I gathered heat around me into a fireball and then threw it at the creature. The fireball blasted him to the ground, his entire body now on fire. Fire normally served to kill most creatures, even those of magical nature. The reiver now seemingly down permanently this time, I concentrated on the mare who seemed to be at the center of causing me a great deal of trouble. Thankfully, she hadn’t moved, beyond the odd twitch and spasm.

Now the question was what to do with her. Naturally, I had to treat her injuries and bring her someplace safe before she killed herself. Though I silently cursed over how much time would be wasted taking her all the way back to Mossy Banks.

Adding to my troubles was the fact that her friends were out there somewhere. ‘Twas clear they had penetrated far enough into the bog as to rile up its greater dangers. They would need to be gathered and escorted out of the bog, costing me yet more time with their foolishness. I was starting to worry that I would never escape the bog and its filth due to such delays.

The Great Unkindness above me caught mine eye, and a plan formed. ‘Twould take forever to go out into the bog and try and find all these fools. But the Great Unkindness was many, and they had the advantage of flight. Better yet, they could carry a message from me. ‘Twould make everything simpler and quicker if the ravens could escort these ponies to me.

Now I just needed to write a message telling them what to do. I possessed paper and a quill, but to my irritation, I could find no ink. Had I really forgotten such a simple thing back at the cottage? Ugh, I did not wish to waste time, so I sought something else with which I could write with.

A simple answer came to me: blood. I had a jar of it from the fish I had gutted earlier for my wards, and ‘twould serve my purposes well enough. Everything now needed for a letter, I started writing.

Dear reader,

Know that this letter has been written by the pony you incorrectly believe to be the Bog Witch. Also know that your friend is now in my power. She is well enough, if suffering from injuries sustained during her flight through the bog. If thou dost wish to see her again, thou wilt have to go through me first. My ravens will show thee the way to me, and I do dearly wish that you come with haste. For once all of thou art gathered, I will put thy suffering in the bog to an end and escort thee to thy final destination.

Magus Midnight

I reread my words to make sure my meaning was clear. I did not wish to risk the fools would misread my crimson instructions. After all, all I wished was for them all to come to me so that I could escort them to the Archmagus. No doubt he would know what to do with them, and I could return to my much-delayed task.

Content with my words, an idea sparked within my mind. I cut off a lock of the mare’s tail, and used the hair to tie the letter closed. If they had any doubts that their friend was safe with me, that would prove it.

I gave the letter to the ravens and instructed them to bring these foolish ponies to me if at all possible. The bulk of the Great Unkindness flew off to search for the letter’s recipients, leaving me to deal with the injured pony before me.

Also, the revier was getting back up again.

If it showed any discomfort from having its flesh charred or the fact it was still on fire, it didn’t show it as it returned to its slow plod towards me. My ear twitched, and the crack of ice forming and roar of fire sounded on either side of me. “Thou art going to regret irritating me.”

I just knew that this was going to be a long day.

‘Twas some hours later when the pink mare’s eyes fluttered open. “Mwah-huh?” Her eyes widened when she saw me raising a rusty ax.

I smiled down at her. “Ah good, thou art awake.”

I brought the ax down as she screamed.

The reiver’s head came free of his body. The masked head rolled to a stop in front of the mare. She screamed again, showing that for all her faults she had a very good pair of lungs, and she quickly scooted away from it until her back hit the cottage deck.

“Relax, ‘tis quite harmless,” I assured her. “Whatever the nature of this reiver, I have done a fine job of dismembering it.”

I waved with the rusty ax at the reiver—or rather, its many pieces. The beast had proven rather difficult to put down, so I had led it back to the cottage to deal with while I waited for this mare’s friends to show. Thankfully, I had found the ax behind the cottage, pinned the reiver down in place with some ice-stakes, and went to work.

The mare shielded her head with her forelegs. “P-p-please do not eat me, Bog Witch!”

I blinked owlishly. “Okay.”

When nothing happened for several seconds, the mare slowly peaked open an eye. “Really?”

“Of course, ‘tis a simple request,” I said. “I am no cannibal, and I have plenty of rations to feed me for some time. So there is hardly an emergency that demands I feast on pony flesh.”

She slowly lowered her forelegs. “Okay then.”

I went about chopping one of the reiver’s legs off at the knee. “Also, do not call me Bog Witch. I am no witch, and I am not of the bog. Call me Magus Midnight or Magus.”

The mare gulped as she stared with wide eyes at the dismembered head of the reiver. “O-okay B—Magus, whatever you say.” She glanced around to take in her surroundings. Her eyes fell upon the dilapidated cottage, then my collapsed tent, and then my slowly melting miniaturized castle. There was a crack of ice, and the roof of the ice castle had collapsed in on itself, prompting the mare to flatten her ears. “You, um, live here?”

I snorted derisively. “Hardly. As I said, I am not of the bog. I am merely making temporary arrangements until I complete what I came to the bog for.”

Her eyes flicked to the woods beyond the clearing. “So I am free to go?”

“Certainly not. I do not trust thee to not go out and do something foolish like trip upon some other danger in the bog. And do not try and flee from me,” I instructed her as I lit on fire several logs I had stacked together. “I will not let thee run away, and thou wouldst likely only injure thy leg further. ‘Twould seem thou hast sprained it, so ‘twould be best to stay off of it for now.”

“Oh.” The mare looked at her now bandaged leg. I had applied what magics I could to reduce the pain and aid in its healing, but the healing arts had never been my specialty.

I tossed a dismembered leg onto the fire. “‘Tis also customary to give thy name when another pony gives theirs.”

She blinked. “Oh! My name is Sunny! Sunny Disposition.” Sunny hunched her shoulders as I tossed another limb into the fire. “W-what are you going to do to me?”

“Once thy friends have gathered here, I will escort thee to Archmagus Mossy Banks.” I pointed at the head with the ax. “As I warned thee, the bog is not safe. I take it this thing was chasing thee?”

Sunny gulped and nodded. “A-aye. We were at Dirge’s parents’ cabin. Gloom and I were, um...” She cleared her throat and looked away from me as her cheeks reddened. “We were all enjoying ourselves when that gryphon broke into the cabin and attacked us. Dirge suggested splitting up, and we all fled in every direction. Unfortunately, he started following me, and I couldn’t get away.”

I saw several problems with this scenario presented to me and had trouble deciding where to start. “Thou all decided to split up when faced with this creature? Mutually agreeing to this?”

She nodded. “Yes, why do you ask?”

“Hast thou not heard that there is safety in numbers?”

“Aye, I have.”

Several seconds passed without Sunny realizing what I was trying to tell her, so I decided to move to another question. “And thou couldst not escape this reiver? No offense, but he is not quick. Even with a twisted knee, thou shouldst have been able to escape him.”

Sunny shrugged. “I tried running and running, but he always managed to catch up with me somehow. Even before I hurt myself.”

“Mhm...” I had my doubts, but then this creature did seem magical in nature.

“So what is he?” Sunny got up and placed me between her and the reiver. “I do not think him a normal reiver. Dirge clubbed him in the back of the head with a keg, and he just got back up again as though nothing happened.”

“Aye, considering the abilities I have seen, I guess that he is a type of undead known as a revenant.” I rubbed my chin as I considered the burning limbs of the reiver. “Though normally they only ceaselessly hunt those that have wronged them in some great way. By chance, wouldst thou ever have murdered this gryphon? Particularly in some humiliating manner that would cause it to seek vengeance from beyond the grave? Or mayhaps thou didst kill his entire family in some horrible accident, like running them over with a carriage while drunk, smashing those innocent souls to the cobblestones and leaving nothing but broken and bloody bodies in thy wake?”

Sunny’s jaw dropped. “What?! N-n-no! I have never killed anyone!”

“Mmm, then mayhaps ‘tis one of thy companions he is after?”

Sunny shook her head. “I do not think my friends have killed anyone either. They are good ponies, I swear it!”

She might also be lying to me, or she might have gotten so far into her cups that she did not remember wronging this gryphon. Her special somepony, this Gloom, had clearly been using some form of drug before. Not to mention her friends were clearly becoming inebriated when I happened upon them. This might be something to look into—or perhaps encourage Mossy Banks to look into it. I did not wish to delay my mission yet more because there was some complicated murder conspiracy going on.

Sunny scooted closer to the reiver and gently prodded its head with a hoof. “Is it, um, dead?”

“Technically ‘tis already long dead.” I tossed the torso onto the fire, and the fire briefly roared as new fuel was added to it. “Though ‘tis not finished yet. Once I have burned it down to ashes, I plan on casting a ritual that should do away with it once and for all. Do not worry, thou art quite safe, and—”

Sunny started screaming.

I flattened my ears to my head. I swore, this mare was going to be the end of my hearing. “What is wrong with—ah, I see.”

One of the reiver’s talons had latched onto Sunny’s neck, and she was desperately trying to bat it off of herself. “So that is where that talon went,” I said as I watched her thrash about in a panic. “I dismembered that talon, but when I turned my back on it for a moment it had run off. I knew not where it went.”

Sunny fell to the ground and started thrashing about. “Getitoff! Getitoff! Getitoff!”

I sighed and moved closer to her. “Stop moving. I do not wish to accidentally cut off thy head with this ax, spraying myself in a fountain of thy blood, or to freeze thy neck, causing thee to slowly choke to death as thy throat is closed by frozen flesh, resulting in a slow and terrible death that thou cannot escape.”

Before I could properly aid Sunny, the talon leaped off of her and scurried off. I fired a half dozen ice darts to try and pin it in place, but it zigzagged, causing all my shots to miss. Before I could fire off another spell, it dived under the deck.

“Damnation,” I growled. “It got away again.”

Sunny shivered as she rubbed her neck. “I thought you said I was safe!”

I rolled my eyes. “Relatively. Thou art still alive and conscious, and none of thy lifeblood is spilling upon the ground. And ponies say I am overly literal...”

Sunny leaned down to look under the deck. Its depths were almost preternaturally dark, and random objects were strewn about, obscuring all that was down there. “Hm, maybe if I just reach and...”

The foolish mare reached her good leg under the deck and started grasping around. Seeing that no good could come of this, I immediately grabbed her with my magic and yanked her away from the deck. “Do not do that. We can worry about the talon later.” I blocked off the gap under the deck with a solid layer of ice. “My ritual should destroy whatever foul magic is animating it anyways, so do not concern thyself with it further, and definitely do not reach under there again.”

“If you say so.” Sunny’s ears perked and she looked down at her hoof. “Oooh, what is this?”

In her hoof was a strange little bronze box. Irregular lines ran all along its surface that created a byzantine, but somehow purposeful, pattern that drew in the eye.

“I think it’s a puzzle.” Sunny used her hooves to try and move the pieces of the box. “I wonder if—”

I slapped the box out of her hooves. “Do not touch that. Thou dost not know where that has been or what it does.”

“Hey!” Sunny rubbed her fetlocks and frowned down at the box. “‘Tis just a puzzle.”

“I would rather not take the chance.” I picked up the box with my magic and tossed it into the bonfire. More to keep it out of Sunny’s hooves than out of expectation it would destroy the bronze box. “This cottage is an evil place, and no good can come of it, even its toys.”

Sunny frowned at me. “You make it sound like a toy could be dangerous.”

“I have seen terrible things.” That, and I did not trust the survival instincts of this mare. Assuming there was not in fact some foulness at work here...

Sunny hesitated, glancing at the fire before returning her gaze to me. “Can we go find my friends now? I miss them terribly, and they might be hurt. As you said, the bog is dangerous.”

I sighed and tossed more of the reiver into the fire. “I have sent the ravens out to find them. If they are in danger the ravens will tell me and I can go out to find them. Besides, thou art injured.”

Sunny crossed her forelegs to hold herself. “Still, I would feel better if we searched for them. One of my friends, Penny, wasn’t feeling well. She said she just needed some rest to get better, but then we were chased out of the cabin and...” She grimaced, holding herself tighter. “I am scared for all of them.”

I frowned as I considered her pleas. “Thy friend, what symptoms was she showing?”

“She got these strange orange spots all over her, and she started coughing bubbles,” Sunny said. “‘Twas so strange. And I swear, when she sneezed bolts of lightning came from her nose. I have never seen the likes.”

I hissed in a breath. “Damnation, we need to go. Now.”

“Wait, why?”

“Because thy friend has Swamp Fever.” I created a disk of ice and pointed at it. “Get on. I am not about to leave thee here alone.”

Sunny gingerly stepped onto the disk, biting her lip as she did so. “How bad is it Bog—Magus? Is my friend going to die?”

“Neigh, not technically.” I tossed the rest of the revenant onto the fire, hoping that burning it to ashes would keep it still long enough for me to do what needed to be done. I hated leaving a job half-finished, but priorities were what they were. “If the Swamp Fever is allowed to take its course, she will turn into a tree, forever trapped in the bog and made to spread Swamp Fever to yet more hapless victims. So ‘tis a fate worse than death, really.”

Sunny blinked. “We have to save her! Is there anything you can do?!”

“If I get to her in time, aye.” I started trotting as the sun closed with the horizon. “Though what we need to do is get her back to Archmagus Mossy Banks. He has a cure for Swamp Fever, but we need to get her to him without delay.”

As if I did not have enough trouble to deal with as was, now time pressed to save the life of this Penny. And who knew what trouble Sunny’s other friends might be in. No good with these ponies running around in the bog in a panic. Matters were not helped that darkness was swiftly approaching.

What fools had I been forced to endure?

Author's Note:

Thanks to my editors Chengar Qordath and Comma-Kazie for all their help, and to my pre-readers Brony Writer, wolfstorm56, Trinary, 621Chopsuey, Rodinga, and PoisonClaw for their hard work editing.

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