• Published 23rd Oct 2012
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Twilight Sparkle: Night Shift - JawJoe

Twilight Sparkle: librarian by day, monster hunter by night, and irredeemable cynic all throughout. Vampires? Simple. Zombies? Easy. Pretending not to see them every night? Now that is a challenge...

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Night of the Zombie Ponies

Chapter 4:
Night of the Zombie Ponies

At the edge of the Everfree, on top of a hill, not too long a walk from Ponyville, just by the gates of the town cemetery, lies a small house where nopony lives. The cemetery's caretaker, an old mare, used to spend her days there and lead a quiet, sombre life. After she herself joined her friends beyond the wall of death during a great heatwave two summers ago, the house has now stood empty for months on end, completely unattended and given over to the marring claws of time.

Seeing as how my loved ones are resting in Canterlot, I'd never visited the Ponyville Cemetery. As such, my knowledge of the old home—or indeed, the cemetery itself—is very limited. Not that I have any intention of visiting my parents' tomb any time soon, either. I do believe I've had enough of that business when I was investigating their death. I prefer to remember them the way I knew them, and not how they ended up.

I never liked cemeteries. I understand their purpose, and why others would regularly visit; it's just not in my taste to do so. I find them depressing. Their atmosphere is downright mortifying. The sight of decaying stone combines with the smell of dying flowers. The quiet, grieving sobbing that you hear emanate from your peers is nothing short of dismal. I simply can't take it.

Well, that, and then there's the zombies.

The envelope had been closed with a dark-blue seal. The wax bore the image of a unicorn in a helmet. Princess Luna had adopted this classic representation of Nightmare Moon as her own, and used it in her messages sent to Night Shift operatives. I broke the seal and took the letter out.

“Twilight Sparkle,

We have received and read your report regarding your latest operation, and we are not impressed. In fact, it would be most difficult to overstate our disappointment in you.

Expect to be contacted soon.”

The letter was soon sent flying across the room.

“That's it?!” I yelled.

I didn't care that Spike was sleeping downstairs. I didn't care how far into the moonlit Ponyville night my words might echo. That's it?!

“I take it you are not pleased with what the letter contained.”

And I most definitely didn't care for the bat-winged pegasus that stood on the library's balcony. His voice was collected and calm, as if he didn't even notice the tantrum I threw before his catlike eyes. A commendable feat, considering how exhausting his flight from Canterlot must have been. I would have expected him to show at least just a little bit of disdain. But no, he stood straight before me, his face unflinching all throughout, his gaze carrying nothing but indifference. Princess Luna sure does choose her Night Guards well.

“No,” I said, shaking with barely contained frustration. “I am not pleased. After three whole days!” I groaned. “You woke me up for this?”

“In case it is not clear to you,” he said, retaining that insufferable calmness in his voice, “I was only asked to deliver the message. I do not know what was in it.”

Just thinking about that pathetic excuse for a letter, and hearing this stallion's apathetic tone, I could feel myself slipping into full-blown rage.

“Nor do I wish to know,” he added before I could have opened my mouth again.

Taking a deep breath, I counted to five in my head. “Very well then,” I said in the least emotional way I could. “I confirm to you that I have read and understood the message contained in Princess Luna's letter. Will that be all?”

“Yes.” He nodded as he spread his leathery wings. “Have a good night, Twilight Sparkle.” With that, he turned his back to me and leapt off the balcony, flying off into the starry night sky.

I walked back into my room. At the back, behind my bed, I found the letter that I had so carelessly cast away a moment before. As it floated before my eyes, I read it over and over. There was nothing to it; no secret message hidden between the lines, no second meaning to the words. Just the plain, harsh reality that Luna was apparently so unimpressed by my performance that she couldn't even bother to sign her own letter.

I pushed my bedroom bookshelf aside, not by magic but with my bare hooves. I absolutely needed to channel my anger into something, and—aside from taking the library apart branch by branch—this was the only viable option.

Behind the shelf, was the plain wall of the library, covered in tree's bark as an ordinary pony would expect. It'd been a long time since I was last “ordinary,” however. I closed my eyes as I willed the hidden door to open. In the small, cramped space inside the wall, I saw four years of my life. A copy of every report I'd ever sent to Princess Luna, stacked orderly on shelves at the left side. To the right were the letters I'd received from the princess. I sighed as this latest—and perhaps last—letter floated inside, rolling up neatly to take its place next to the others. Under the shelves was my old black saddlebag, worn and ragged by years of faithful service. Lying by the saddlebag was a large brown sack, rope tying its mouth tightly. It bulged from the many pieces of wood inside—all that was left of the monster-mannequins of the Carousel Boutique.

Is this the end, then? I wondered, looking over my curious collection of items. What am I to do with all this? Should I just leave them here? Heh, I might just ask Luna about this when she....

Wouldn't want to disappoint her by doing the wrong thing, eh?

The hidden door and the large bookshelf returned to their place, concealing my little closet of horrors as I turned around, walking outside onto the balcony again.

I sat out there, looking off into the darkness. I ran a hoof across my right cheek. The wound I had received when my own blade broke apart during my struggle with a mannequin still hadn't healed; in fact, I could feel that it was the tiniest bit swollen.

The Night Guard was long gone. There was only the silence of a sleeping town, blanketed in the pleasant warmness of the night. At the edge of the horizon, a grey raincloud blocked out the shining of the stars, making its crawl towards Ponyville across the sky for a scheduled shower.

No demons to hunt tonight, it seems.

Darkened homes all around. In the distance, only one little house glowed with faint light.

Hold on.

I quickly jumped up, leaning off the balcony as much as I could, squinting to watch the small glimmer of light with newly piqued—and positively peaked—interest. That's the old caretaker's house, I pondered, the one by the cemetery. Nopony lives there any more. So what's with the light?

I didn't even mean to check it out. It's hardly my fault that by the time I noticed, I was already halfway across the town, walking towards the “abandoned” house up on the hillside. I couldn't turn back then, could I?

The rain had caught me off guard. I had been so fascinated by the glowing windows of the hillside home that it took the first drops of cold water hitting my back to notice how the dark cloud had crept up on me. It wasn't long before the light rain escalated into a proper shower. I had to separate my soaked fringe and push it to the sides just so it wouldn't obscure my vision. Where my mane wasn't stuck to my coat, it hung in thick strands. And I must say, while I normally do so enjoy the sound of rain hitting the glass of a window, being outside detracted somewhat from the experience.

The caretaker's old house was nowhere near as roomy as the home I was used to; it was a cramped collection of a few small rooms pressing against each other in a semi-orderly fashion. Through the window, I could see the main room of the house, lit by the flickering light of many candles. Shelves on the wall had apparently been emptied to make room for these sources of light. A simple spade leaned against a corner, and next to it, an ornate couch of faded green textile and cheap woodwork lay by the wall. The couch was accompanied by an equally aged, small table that stood before it. The table, short enough for somepony to rest their hooves on while lying on the couch, had only a book occupying it, open and lying face down.

A closed door opposite to the couch and table, leading to another room, meant the end of my quick sneak-peek. Apart from this still-life, the room was empty, with nothing but the greyed white walls and low ceiling on which the light of small flames danced. Clearly, I had no choice but to try the door if I wanted to find out more. It wasn't even locked.

I shook the water from my coat and mane just inside the entrance. Impolite, perhaps, but I was certain that the owner of the house wouldn't mind. I was then able to take a better look at the candle-lit room, if only to confirm that there really wasn't much else to see. Crumbling plasterwork and decaying tapestry aside, there wasn't anything inside I hadn't already seen.

By far the most interesting thing was the book on the table. I recognised this copy of “Fifty Bales of Hay” as a cheap smut of a romance novel released just last year. More than that, this particular edition seemed brand new; although the book was lying open with its cover upwards, the pages still pushed against the table as they struggled to close the book. What manner of new inhabitant the house could have, I couldn't even begin to guess.

Having inspected the room, I turned my attention towards the closed door at the other end. I pressed an ear onto the door and listened. From the other side, I heard a strange noise. It was similar to a sort of metallic scraping, but it was barely audible and muffled by the wooden door. I concentrated my magic into my horn, readying a kinetic projectile. With a quick motion, I swung the door inwards. As it opened, I heard a sudden clattering, as if something metallic was dropped on wood.

Save for the gust of air that rushed past me as the door swiftly swayed open, though, there was nothing—or nopony—unusual inside the dark room. By the left wall, a small desk stood, old as the rest of the furniture in the house. Above it, a small dressing mirror hung from the wall. At the opposite side, an old-fashioned bed lay, with mismatching sheets and a new-looking pillow. A window had its curtains drawn at the far end.

For all the candles in the other room that made the house glow in the night, this room had no source of illumination within. Much of the yellowish light that rushed inside was, in turn, blocked out by my own creeping shadow. The glowing of my horn faded. I walked inside.

On the desk I saw a unique combination of items; an opened envelope rested on the desk, and next to it was a simple flat rasp; the source of the clattering, perhaps. What a curious relationship these two items must have. Examining the envelope revealed a startling fact, one about which I couldn't decide whether it was more worrying or intriguing. Engraved into the dark-blue wax of the broken seal was an image of Nightmare Moon. The letter itself, however, was nowhere to be found.

I looked up into the mirror above. From gazing into the cracked glass, though, I could take away only one thing: with my mane utterly soaked and my face scarred as it was, I looked simply awful. Turning away, I took a closer look at the bed. The sheets, clearly not belonging in this room, were rumpled and in a complete mess. The pillow, in near-perfect condition, was pushed off to the side; the crinkles on the sheet underneath seemed as if its user had dragged their head along the bed, bringing the pillow with them.

Either an escape artist was having the night of their life with that novel in the abandoned house of a dead lady and pulled the perfect disappearing act when I walked in, or I had disturbed something far more sinister. If I were doing something in this room, I pondered, and I wanted it kept secret, what would I do when I hear the door opening?

I took a few steps backwards and crouched down. Looking under the bed, I found not the world's worst criminal's attempt at hiding, but their handiwork. I gasped as I looked at the body crammed into the small space under the bed, next to some worn saddlebag of leather. I ignored the bag; my horn lit up once again as the body of the mare slid out into the open. I placed her onto the bed.

I quickly looked her over. To my horror, when I pushed the unicorn's fiery red mane aside, I found a syringe jammed into the side of her neck. I hesitated for a moment before my instincts got the better of me. I pulled it out to take a closer look. The syringe was empty. I pulled the sheet from under the mare and wrapped it carefully around her neck to stop the resulting bleeding. The syringe floated onto the desk.

I pressed my ear to her chest, and found her heart still beating, although at an unnaturally slow pace. Her eyes still closed, the mare opened her mouth and gasped for air. For a moment, I thought she had woken up, but she made no further movements. I looked at the mare's cutie mark, attempting to identify her. The picture of an icicle rang no bells, however.

It was then that I noticed the most frightening thing. Crawling up the bare floor by the bed, there was a new shadow.

I turned around in an instant, preparing a knockdown spell. The dim light from the other room silhouetted a large earth pony standing in the doorway. The massive stallion had to lower his head a little to fit through when he walked inside. He then looked at me and smiled.

“Pay no attention to that mare on the bed,” he spoke in a calm, deep voice. “Miss Day is quite alright.”

“Who are you?” I asked, ready to fire.

“What a rude thing to ask,” he said, “considering that it was you who came to me.” He ran his tongue about in his mouth, as if licking his teeth. “Although, I am glad you made it. I was beginning to wonder if I lit all those candles for nothing.”

He put up a hoof, revealing a piece of paper. The missing letter, no doubt.

Rainy Day,” he began reading it out, “We hereby assign you to, blah blah blah, deal with the undead menace as per our previous instructions, hmm-mm, pay a visit to agent Twilight Sparkle and await further instructions.” He looked up at me inquisitively. “Twilight Sparkle, I assume?”

“You did not answer my question,” I said, my horn glowing bright.

“Oh, please, Miss Sparkle, look at this place.” He gestured at the old walls and the cracked ceiling. “You're not going to fire that spell indoors, are you?”

“Try me.”

“Very well, if you truly feel so threatened by my presence as to be unable to have a normal conversation, allow me to make this easier for you.”

The stallion then turned his back towards me. His coat was dark grey, almost black but not quite. In stark contrast to this was his bright white mane, running down all the way from his forehead to the base of his neck and kept at a fashionable medium-length. His cutie mark looked like some sort of glowing lantern, or an oil lamp, perhaps. Its design seemed incredibly dated, like something out of a history book. Although I'd venture to guess that he looked roughly twice my age, such a cutie mark still seemed off.

“Better?” he asked, sitting down and turning only his head back to look at me.

“Face forward,” I said. “I'm going to ask you one more time. Who are you?”

“My name is Omen,” he answered, still looking me defiantly in the eye. “I don't believe that tells you much, though.”

The built-up energy in my horn faded away, its glowing receding. The letter was quickly snatched out of Omen's hooves and flew before me. Information in it was scarce, but it did confirm my suspicions. The mare on the bed must have been one Rainy Day, apparently another agent of Night Shift. Her job in Ponyville was twofold. For one, she would have to contact me; what message she had been asked to relay was a mystery.

Her other task was much more worrying, however. It appeared that Luna had received information from yet another agent regarding the cemetery. She wrote of a cult that had a long history of practising dark magic and claimed that on that very night, the dead would rise from their graves across Equestria. Among the list of settlements affected was my beloved Ponyville. More troubling was the fact that the letter lacked any instructions on actually solving the matter. As this “Omen” had read it out, the letter contained only a mention of “previous instructions.”

I looked up at the stallion again. He raised an eyebrow. His face bore the faintest hint of a smile.

“Children of the Night?” I asked. “You're all insane. Nightmare Moon is dead. You cannot bring her back.”

“Must you jump to conclusions?” Omen rolled his eyes. “You find a sedated mare and a letter talking about cultists bringing the dead back to life, and your first assumption upon seeing a particularly handsome stallion is that he must be one of the crazies?”

“Aren't you?”

“I shudder at the suggestion. The very name sends shivers down my spine. Not out of fear, mind.” He grinned. “I can assure you, my arrival here on this particular night is a mere unlucky coincidence.” He paused for a moment. “I did incapacitate Miss Day, though, just to get that off my chest.”

“Do elaborate.”

“It may be hard to believe, but I am also one of Luna's many acquaintances, just like you and she are.”

Is he implying that he's an agent as well? “You're lying.”

“I know what you're thinking right now. Luna only recruits unicorns into her precious Night Shift, isn't that right? She is such an old-fashioned mare.”

He was right. While the morality of this practice may sound questionable at first, it is for a good reason. Levitation, teleportation, animation; only a few of the skills that have saved my life countless times in the past. Being unable to master the craft of magic would likely spell death for any agent, and Luna would not take that risk.

“Well,” Omen continued, “suffice to say that Luna and I have a history. I am a, shall we say, different kind of associate.”

“And why should I trust you?” I asked.

“A wonderful question, Miss Sparkle!” He stood up and turned around to face me again. “So wonderful, in fact, that I have two answers for it. First and foremost, if what the letter says is correct, then the graveyard must be crawling with zombies by now. I imagine you need all the help you can get.”

A fair point. Or at least it would have been, had he not just admitted to sedating Rainy Day. “And the second?” I asked.

“Because I have information regarding the death of your parents.”


“Indeed, Miss Sparkle. It is a matter about which I would very much like to talk about.”

I kept my eyes set on Omen. The leather bag I had seen under the bed floated up beside me and opened up. I took one quick glance inside, finding nothing but a large roll of dark-blue ribbon.

“This yours?” I asked.

“It was brought by Miss Day,” Omen said. “I don't see how that relates to the issue here, though.”

The purpose of the ribbon I couldn't guess, but if Rainy Day had indeed brought it, I knew it must have been for a reason.

I pointed towards the door. “Face forward.”

“Excuse me, Miss Sparkle, I don't think you're understanding me. Your—”

“Face forward!”

Omen looked at me wilfully for a while. My horn lit up, and then he was quick to turn. “Very well,” he said, walking into the candle-lit room.

The spade that I had seen there floated up and its handle flew for Omen's mouth. It would have knocked some of his teeth out, too, had he not opened his jaw in time to catch it. He turned his head, with the spade in his mouth, clumsily knocking the book off the table. He gave me a questioning look.

“You're going to help me clean up this mess,” I said, “and then you're going to tell me everything you know.”

I pointed to the entrance, and he raised an eyebrow.

“Ladies first,” I said. “Out.”

He wouldn't question my order. He walked outside, and I followed; a small pull of magic closed the front door of the house behind me. Outside, the rain raged strong; it took no longer than a few seconds for the rain to completely soak our fur from head to hoof. I didn't care, though, and from the looks of it, neither did Omen.

“You go ahead. I'm not letting you out of my sight.”

“Yes, princess,” Omen mumbled, the thick handle of the spade still in his mouth.

For both our sakes, I decided to ignore that comment. Me, princess. As if.

The hillside path that had led me to the house went on to run through the cemetery. Surrounded by tall metal fencing and opening at a large double-gate, the cemetery itself seemed like a perfect prison for the reanimated dead. It was dark, out of the way, and most importantly, the concept of doors and gates completely escaped the average zombie. Considering how I wasn't hearing any groaning from inside the cemetery, and neither were there any screams echoing from Ponyville below, there were two possibilities: either the letter had been fabricated by none other than dear Omen, or the apocalypse had not yet started.

With some concentration, I created an orb of light to follow us above. Its white light scattered in the rain, creating an eerie lightshow.

The ornate gates screeched loudly as metal scraped against rust. Once we entered the cemetery, I closed the gate carefully. A dirt road—or mud road by now, rather—ran all the way up to the crest of the hill. Every few steps, smaller paths branched off perpendicularly in both directions. The graves between these paths gave the cemetery an orderly, gridlike layout.

I sent Omen forward on the main road, up the hill, to see if he would attract any brain-hungry residents. I followed up behind him, just close enough to be able to see him through the rain.

I looked downhill at the cemetery. “Say, Omen, where are those zombies?”

They say words have magical powers. I've also been told that I have a very special way with words. I pondered this conundrum as the earth began shaking under my hooves and muffled groans sounded from the soaked graves in every direction.

“So tell me, Miss Sparkle,” Omen said, spitting the spade out, “how do you propose we do this? I can't see a pretty lady like you bursting skulls open to knock their brains around.”

What an odd and potentially dangerous stallion. Still, he hit the nail on the head; damaging the brain was the surefire method of disabling a zombie for good. Not this time, however.

“That's not what we're going to do. We are going to avoid any unnecessary damage to the bodies at all cost. You got that?”

“Only gentle whacks with the spade, then?” he asked as he flipped the instrument into his mouth again.

“Yes. Crack a skull, and I'm going to crack yours,” I said.

“How droll,” he chortled. “Don't you want me to tell you about—”

“Focus on the task,” I interrupted.

By this time, I could see the first of the zombies crawling from their graves, sticking their dirty, shrivelled hooves into fresh air for the first time since their death. They wandered aimlessly between the gravestones, paying no notice to Omen or myself.

“Can you whistle?” I asked.

“But of course.”

“Then do it,” I commanded, throwing the leather bag onto the ground. “As loud as you can.”

Omen looked at me, raising an eyebrow. Then he looked downhill at the stumbling corpses and took a deep breath. The whistle he let loose almost made my eardrums burst. When he stopped, the zombies' heads were all turned towards us. Eyeless sockets, missing jaws and rotten skin stared at us. The heavy rain, pouring into their every pore, served only to amplify the stench.

“Go, Omen!” I shouted over the deafening rain. “Charge!”

“What? You want me to to—”

“Draw their attention, yes. Make sure they're on you and not me.”

“Have you lost your mind, Miss Sparkle?”

A faint gust of magic lifted him momentarily from the ground.

“Do it,” I told him, “or I'll throw you in there myself.”

Reluctantly, he began walking down the slippery road.

The zombies were quick to jump him. A decomposing mare cried out and her shrieks echoed with the rain. She dragged her tattered burial dress in the mud as she rushed at Omen, who responded with a kick to her side. Other zombies shambled slowly, slipping and tripping as they moved in his direction. One broke a leg just trying to stand up. Omen held his ground, and I joined the battle as well.

Zombies groaned, Omen huffed and metal clanged. Hulking beasts of bloated, rotting meat and muscle trudged towards us from all around. The fresher ones were faster than the rest; occasionally, we'd have one run at us at full speed.

Omen wielded his spade with surprising skill. For having to move it about in his mouth, he never failed to deliver just the right blow: powerful enough to knock one down or away, weak enough not to shatter bone. When his spade was not enough, he did not hesitate to throw a kick or two, his long legs moving swiftly and precisely. Yet what I found more interesting was his expression. A constant, teethy grin sat on his face, as if he enjoyed battling the endless horde.

As much as I appreciated the simplicity with which he dealt with the undead, my methods of combat were perhaps a little more refined than his. My orb of light flew swiftly in the air, coming above a zombie for a moment before moving on to another, both distracting them and letting me have a clearer overview of the cemetery.

After blasting a zombie away with a kinetic missile, I levitated another up to throw at a third, sending all three of them tumbling helplessly down the hill. Tired sinews snapped and old bones crumbled. I felt sorry for all of them, and I tried my best not to cause any further damage. The zombies, however, didn't care. They trotted, walked, shambled, and crawled as they could with no regard to pain.

“Don't let them bite you!” I called out to Omen as I levitated somepony's grandfather into the air.

“I figured as much,” he replied, planting his spade in a granny's face. “I wouldn't want to become one of them.”

I set a zombie on a downward path along the muddy slide. “I don't think that would happen here, actually.”

“No?” Omen asked, knocking out two incoming zombies' legs from under them with one sweep. “Why shouldn't they bite me then?”

“Because it hurts, Omen.”


We spent a long time like this, enduring the rain as we knocked down the zombies, and then again when they stood up. I recognised them as a product of basic necromancy; these undead creatures were completely mindless, going for anything that wasn't a zombie and made a sound.

“Tell me,” Omen said as he kicked off a ragged one. “Is this your plan? Are we going to keep doing this until somepony drops dead? Because they won't.”

“I know how the living dead work, Omen,” I said. “But learning not to desecrate the dead, whatever form they may take, is one of the first things Luna teaches us.”

“Please, Miss Sparkle.” He stopped fighting to look at me with an incredulous expression. “It's the walking dead.” He turned back to bash his spade into a zombie's face. “The living dead would be the vampires.”

“Ugh,” I groaned. “Walking dead, living dead, it's all the same. They're all dead, that's what matters.”

“Of course,” he responded, paying special attention to sound condescending.

I may have accidentally thrown a zombie right at him just after that.

Think, Twilight, think. After a while, I barely even noticed the ongoing smash-'em-up around myself. I sank into my thoughts. Why would Luna send another agent here to deal with this? Why not just tell me? I knocked a charging zombie over. Did she think I'd be unable to handle this myself? Was she really so disappointed in me? Omen kicked a zombie in my direction. A tuft of magic caught it mid-air and yanked it right back. Who is this Omen? Is he a cultist? He knows too much about Night Shift for that. Does he really know Luna? Or did he break Rainy Day to get that information before sedating her? And my parents....

“I would hate to sound ungrateful for this chance you've given me to prove myself,” Omen said again, interrupting my train of thought, “but this is getting ridiculous!” His movements were getting stronger and he kept applying more and more force in his swings and kicks. He was getting impatient, and I couldn't decide whether that fact was for the better or worse.

Luna would never tell an agent to hurt the corpses. So how can we stop them now? It's impossible... unless! I finally realised what Rainy Day had been sent here to do. Her black bag flew up to me and I flicked its straps open. The roll of blue ribbon waited for me inside. Engulfed in purple glow, it floated outside. I took a good look at it. I had noted earlier just how long a strip it was; the roll itself was almost as big as my own head. Yet what interested me more right now was whether I could find something written on it to indicate its purpose.

And there, at the dangling end of the roll, were two words written in black ink. No wonder I hadn't seen it when I so hastily peeked into the bag back in the house. The ribbon read “To Containment.” That was exactly what I was looking for. I unrolled a short stretch of ribbon and tugged at it from two directions. It's a lot stronger than it seems, I noted. The rain didn't soak it, either, the drops instead rolling right off without sinking into the material. Perfect.

“Hold it down!” I shouted to Omen as he wrestled a zombie. “Keep its neck straight.”

And so Omen did, without question. I suppose he felt glad that something was finally happening. Lit up by my magic, the roll of ribbon circled around the zombie's neck and unrolled a stretch, wrapping tightly around the it.

“Good,” I said, “now onto the rest. We're tying them all together.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Omen replied, nodding his head once. “It's not just for decoration, I assume?”

“And don't you dare tear the ribbon!”

By using Omen's trusty spade, and with some help from my magic, we were able to keep the zombies tightly tied together, connected closely to one another by the long ribbon. Some had it on their necks, others were wrapped in around their chests, yet others we tied by their hooves, whichever seemed most convenient at the time. We herded this increasingly long chain of walking dead bodies into a single spot; they wiggled and pushed at one another, each trying to get out and move. Tangled up as they were, however, such goals were beyond their capabilities.

The roll of ribbon kept unrolling as we added more zombies to the growing pile. In time, we had used it all; in time, we had collected all the deceased ponies in that cemetery that managed to climb from their graves.

We stood there, halfway up the hill, in the middle of the cemetery. Before us, basking in the magical spotlight of my design, was an enormous mass of zombies, connected to one another by the longest blue ribbon you can imagine. They stumbled and tripped over each other clumsily as they tried to move towards us. Whenever one of the slipped in the mud, it brought all the rest down with them like a line of dominoes.

In spite of all the horrible stories involving the dead rising that I had read in my foalhood, I could only think of this as an amusing sight. I looked over to Omen for a moment. He was a safe distance away from me, smiling as well. Then again, I don't think he ever stopped. This smile, though, had a little more in it than the simple playfulness that I've got used to seeing. Looking at our work, he seemed proud, if also a bit puzzled.

“I still have no idea what we just did,” he said, turning to me.

“Just you watch,” I replied.

I closed my eyes and concentrated at the very end of the ribbon, wrapped around the neck of the very first zombie we caught this way. A tiny spark was enough. I opened my eyes in time to see the ribbon burst into flames, erupting with a volley of greenish sparks. Even the rain wouldn't stop it.

For this long ribbon was of the same material that I use to bind my letters; burn it, and whatever you had wrapped in it will be sent flying to a specific location. In the case of my letters, that place would be Princess Luna's study. Awaiting these poor things, however, was something much less homely. Built within the very depths of Canterlot's mountainside, deeper than the crystal mines themselves, was what is known to Night Shifters simply as Containment. Field agents, like myself, could only ever hear stories about the facility; they spoke of magical vaults sealing away dragons and demons, of Night Shift's magitech scientists performing autopsies on strange bipedal beings and vivisecting werewolves.

I always laughed at such assumptions. Luna formed Night Shift not long after her return to Equestria. Even if the construction of Containment had begun right away, such a massive facility would still be far from complete. Whatever grain of truth there was to the fantastic tales, Luna also saw to it that they remain a mystery. All I could know for certain is that the place exists, and that I had just sent them a horde of mindless zombies to be re-deadified.

The fire trailed along the entire length of the ribbon, and when it reached a zombie, the creature would burst into a thousand pieces. Like fireworks, the glowing pieces flew into the sky, still shimmering with a radiant deep-green. There was no blood, no guts or gore, only the brilliant flames. The fire reached the second zombie, and then third, fourth. One by one, all of them disappeared, each leaving us in a lustrous explosion of green and red.

I closed my eyes again and took a deep breath. I held it in for a while, appreciating the clean air. Then I exhaled, sighing, mentally patting myself on the back for a job well done.

Crisis averted.

“So, Miss Sparkle,” Omen's voice came from right beside me, making me jump. “Remind me, why hasn't this revolutionised transportation yet?”

“Because the ribbon material is extremely hard and expensive to produce,” I answered. “That roll we just used up? It was three times as much as I had ever seen in my entire life.”

“I would also assume that things don't usually come out alive on the other end.”

“No,” I said. “It's impossible to transfer a living being like this.”

“My point exactly,” he said with a smile.

I was puzzled by the statement for a moment. Then the realisation hit me, and I shook my head as I chuckled to myself. “Walking dead, right,” I said, admitting defeat.

“Well,” he continued, “I have done as you asked. I helped you sort out the undead menace. All I ask in return is that you listen to what I have to say.”

“Oh no,” I corrected him, “you don't get to make requests. You see, I have every intention of taking you in as somepony who clearly knows too much. I bet Luna would love to find out how.”

“But I've already told you. I know Luna.”

“Nopony knows Luna,” I retorted.

Omen sat silently for a while, staring me in the eye. I don't think he even blinked once.

“Don't you want to know about your parents?” he asked.

“Don't you dare mention my parents.”

There was a gust of wind, and the rain became stronger than ever. Although Omen was right in front of me, I could barely see him. He, on the other hoof, didn't even flinch at the sudden burst of heavy downpour.

“The papers were full of it,” he said. “Twilight Velvet, mother of two, begins seeing a lover. Her loving husband, Night Light finds out—”

“Shut up,” I whispered. I don't think he heard me.

“He snaps. He finds the two of them, takes a knife from the kitchen and—”

Shut up!” I yelled inarticulately, blasting him away with a massive burst of magic.

He landed in the mud with a splash, the rain burying him further. I walked up to him and watched him struggle to get up as he hissed in pain from the impact.

“D-dont you understand?” he stammered, slipping as he tried to stand up again. “I want to help you find out who did it.”

“I know who did it,” I whispered, clenching my teeth in an attempt to restrain myself from hurting him further. “I found them, you know. All three of them, caked in blood on the bedroom floor. Was that not in the papers?”

“And then what did you do, Miss Sparkle?” he asked, finally standing up.

“I tried to find out who did it,” I said. “So did my brother.”

“Ah,” he said victoriously, “but didn't you just say you knew who did it?”

I stepped back. My hind legs went numb. I sat down onto the ground. “I couldn't believe it,” I admitted. “My mother...” I choked on my words. “Mum and dad would never. They aren't....”

“What did you find, Miss Sparkle?”

“Walls, everywhere,” I replied. “I was stonewalled on all fronts. Yet I kept looking.”

“But Night Shift found you sooner than you found them,” he said. “Isn't that right?”

“Luna sought me out. She offered me a spot.”

“But you haven't answered the most important question yet. What did you find?”

“I found Night Shift.”

“And what did Night Shift find?” Omen asked.

“They had already investigated the case,” I said. “It was exactly what it looked like. Luna told me personally.” I stayed silent for a moment, reflecting on my past years. “I've barely even slept since.”

At that point, I was no longer looking at Omen, but right through him. He walked out of view. I either didn't even notice, or I didn't care enough to move a muscle. It's hard to tell in hindsight.

As I sat there, paralysed by memory, the rain finally stopped. The constant sound of raindrops blasting the wet ground was replaced by a ringing my my ears. It figures the rain would stop now, right after we're done. I could only commend the weather-engineers of Cloudsdale; they sure did have their timing down pat. The clouds above dissipated in a matter of moments, letting in the bright light of the Moon and the stars.

The orb of light that had been following me about in the air descended and its glow lost much of its intensity. There was no further need for such strong light.

“They say that dark times are coming,” came Omen's voice from behind me.

I turned around to see Omen sitting not far downhill in the mud, looking at the sleeping Ponyville below. I walked down to him and sat by his side.

“What can you tell me?” I asked.

“I have a large number of, what should I call them... acquaintances. And they all have been telling me the same thing for a long time now. Dark times are coming.”

“What does that mean?”

“I always chalked it up to being nothing more than insane, meaningless end-of-the-world talk. Doom, gloom, the usual.”

I nodded. “We always have that.”

“But things are changing.” He turned his head to the side, towards the great mountains up North, where the spires of Canterlot stood pristine against the black horizon. “And it's all pointing towards the great city.”

“I still don't understand what this has to do with my parents.”

He turned his head towards me. “It's when it started. They were the first.”

I shot him a questioning look. “The first?”

“Because of all this talk of Canterlot, I decided to have a look for myself. After some investigation and collecting a few old debts, I found something very troubling.”

I cocked my head in response.

“Ever since the death of your parents, may they rest in peace, ponies have been going missing. They simply vanish. It's like they disappear into thin air, leaving only rummaged homes behind. Not a single note, not one word to their friends or family.” He looked back towards the city for a moment, then again at me. “And it's no coincidence that you haven't read about this in the papers.”

I could barely believe a word. “Are you suggesting that they're being murdered?”

“Precisely,” he said, nodding his head. “I couldn't find a discernible pattern behind the string of disappearances, but they've definitely been happening. They still are. And there is one more thing.”

“What is it?” I leaned closer.

“Our dear Princess Luna always gets involved.”

“No.” I sat back. “No way.”

“Haven't you Night Shifters noticed anything unusual happening in our lovely capital? Anything that doesn't quite add up?”

The vampire Vinyl Scratch's mention of “bad blood” sprung to mind. Thinking of it, I haven't heard Luna respond on the matter.

“Nothing at all,” I said.

Omen looked piercingly in my eyes and lifted a brow. I stood his stare.

“You aren't an easy mare to work with, Miss Sparkle.” He sighed. “But you have to face the facts. There are strange things out there, more and even stranger than before. You have to see that. Doomsday cults have been expanding, talking about a new age of darkness. They are much more fickle than they have been before.” He gestured at the ruined graves around us. “As shown by the attached figure.”

“I have no reason to trust you.”

“Is there anything I can do to change that?”

“Let's take it from the top, then,” I said. “Omen sure is a sorry name for a pony. What is your real name?”

He frowned at my question, clearly not pleased. But then he looked up, chuckling quietly. “Now that, Miss Sparkle,” he said as he turned back towards me, “that would be telling.”

“Very well, Omen.” I nodded. “Let me phrase my question a little differently. Who are you?”

“I've lost track of how many times I've been asked that question,” he said, putting a muddy hoof to his chin.

“Oh, please.” I rolled my eyes. “Quit the act. You aren't that old.”

“Aren't I?” he asked with a cheeky grin. “I'm older than I look, you know.”

“Who are you?” I repeated impatiently.

“I am many things to many ponies,” he said. “Right now, first and foremost, I am concerned. For you, and for Princess Luna.”

I shook my head in disbelief. “Are you trying to imply that Luna is behind the murders? You really think Nightmare Moon is about to return?”

“No,” he answered. “That would make me insane, wouldn't it? Yet I do not dismiss the possibility. You know what they say about things which can eternal lie.”

“You're insane,” I deduced. “What about Rainy Day?”

“As terrible as I feel about what I did to her, it was necessary. I couldn't allow some other agent of Luna's snooping around before I met you. I wouldn't want to be seen by anypony but yourself, I hope you understand that.”

“What's going to happen to her, now that you had your chance to talk to me?”

“She's going to wake up, approximately in sixteen hours, at a warm and cosy room of the Manehatten Hospital, unaware of what happened tonight.”

“And tell me: if you've already found out all this without my help, why come to me now?”

“Simply because I cannot progress further. You, on the other hoof? I may not know you, but I do know of you, Miss Sparkle. You're Celestia's personal student, one of Luna's top agents, and the bearer of the Element of Magic. You can get where I can't.”

“Suppose, just for a second, that I believe anything you just told me, Omen. What would you have me do?”

“All I can ask is that you continue pursuing this matter to the best of your ability,” he answered.

“Then consider the following. What if I tell Luna about everything that transpired? About Rainy Day, about you and your accusations? What if I don't believe you?”

“Don't you?”

By the time I got home, it was already dawning. I fiddled with the lock for a while before I remembered that I hadn't locked the door in the first place. The library's door creaked open. I bucked it closed as I walked inside.

Tiny specks of dried mud fell from my coat with every step. I shook myself, casting small drops of water in all directions from my mane. The scar on my right cheek hurt. I couldn't tell whether I was only paying more attention to the pain at that moment, or if it had managed to get infected. I didn't care either way. My legs felt like lead. Yet I dragged them forward.

Spike woke up just as I passed him. The sound of my hooves repeatedly slamming at the wooden floor must have been the cause. I began walking up the stairs.

“Twilight?” I heard Spike call, yawning as he did. “W-what happened?” he stuttered, clearly still half-asleep.

“I fell down the stairs,” I spouted, locking the door of my room behind myself.