A loud knock rang out, causing a pair of red eyes to flicker open in the dark. Through the blurry perspective they saw the world in, the room looked to be filled with monsters of all kinds and sorts. Giving a yawn, she spread her bat-like wings and reached out, grabbing a small pair of blue glasses.
The room came into focus as she put those thin layers of glass between her eyes and the world around her, revealing...the room still looked to be filled with monsters of all kinds and sorts, now more clearly simply statues and Nightmare Night costumes. On the wall above her bed was a diploma for a PhD in Comparative Studies with a Concentration in Folklore. A bookshelf next to the bed was filled with numerous horror titles, with one open on the nightstand to a passage of a young pony trying to escape a giant pony-eating bat in the Amarezon rainforest.
The dark blue thestral rose from her bed, which entirely unironically was shaped like a coffin. Not because of any truth to a misconception her kind were vampires, but rather out of personal taste. That and she always found it rather funny to startle ponies who found their way in while she was sleeping, which considering her home's nature happened more often than one would expect. Her mane was black with lighter blue stripes through it, and her cutie mark was the image of a black book with a blue will-o-wisp on the cover.
“Dr. Ghost Story?” called a voice from the other side. Giving a yawn that exposed her fangs, the bat pony spread her wings and flew over, opening the door to reveal a teenaged unicorn. Her fur was white and her mane was black, her attire rather Gothic in nature.
“Good evening, Witching Hour,” the thestral replied with a friendly smile.
“Hey boss,” replied the teenaged mare. “You said you wanted me to wake you a couple hours before dusk.”
“Thank you,” Ghost Story said with a grateful nod, quickly grabbing a spider themed brush and doing her best to get her mane in order. “I need to be in Canterlot by nightfall if I want to get that new shipment of books right as they get in.”
Following her employee down from the upper floor where the bat pony's living quarters were located, the two entered the main building. The Mare in the Moon bookstore's décor gave the appearance that Nightmare Night was celebrated year round, with cobwebs, fake bats, mock skeletons, and other monsters lining the walls. Along with some posters for popular horror novels that were currently on sell. The ceiling also had plenty of exposed rafters, which the owner often used to swing down and give unsuspecting patrons a friendly fright. And sometimes her employees. But always in good fun. After all, life's no fun without a good scare.
“So, did I miss anything?” Ghost Story questioned, collecting her things for her trip to Canterlot. Being nocturnal had advantages and disadvantages, one of the latter naturally being needing filled in on the events that happened while the majority of the population was awake.
Her dayshift worker took her place back at the register and began helping ring up a customer's book. “Nothing much, though there's still rumors flying around about that attack at Camp Evergreen.”
Ghost Story nodded, remembering a few days ago when she'd first heard of it. Few things truly frightened her (except clowns), but that had. Though not for just the event itself. “I'll have to ask a friend of mine about that, her niece was there for it.”
“Oh...You mean that Kirin that runs the tea shop, right? Tea Song?”
Ghost Story gave a small chuckle. “Ki Seong, but yes, that's her...” she replied, putting her saddlebags on and giving a wave. “Make sure to close up shop when your shift ends.”
Witching Hour nodded, giving a wave. “Got it, boss.”
The thestral stepped out into the sun, shielding her sensitive nocturnal eyes with one of her wings against the bright light of Celestia's sun. She quickly rummaged through her bag and produced a pair of prescription sunglasses she swapped out with her normal ones and headed for the train station.
Ghost Story laid her head back at the train chugged along, letting the rhythmic beat slowly relax her and help her fall asleep. For most ponies, this was evening, but for her, it was very early morning, and she was hoping to rest before arriving in Canterlot. However, some whispers she heard did peak her interest.
Namely, something about a 'flock of big angry bats' in Appleloosa.
Giant bat. Her tired mind racked itself for something that fit that description. There was a rainforest dwelling beast known as the Ahool. Mothmane and Owlmane were mistaken for bats. Whatever it was, it was lost to her as she slowly slipped into slumber.
Ghost Story's red eyes flickered awake as the train whistle blew, signaling her arrival in Canterlot. Departing the Friendship Express, the thestral looked up as dusk began to fall, taking in the coming of the night which her people called home. The dark shadows of the alleys and nocturnal animals dashing or flitting about as their time began to come may have unnerved someponies, but it put a smile on her face.
...But as she trotted along, she noted something in those around her, specifically the royal guards on their patrols. Her Special Talent was storytelling, and that came with a very important skill: the ability to read one's audience. And right now, she could tell there was a sense of unease, or tenseness. As if something had them on edge.
Then again, apparently a camp in Equestria had been threatened by several Dragons with rumors of some other large creature having been involved and there was some kind of swarm of big angry bats in Appleloosa, but still, it made her have a small sense of unease, and not of the type that made the thestral laugh...
“Alright, Dr. Ghost Story, there you go,” replied a brown furred Earth Pony with a black mane and tail, both having 'skunk stripes'. He wore brown glasses and his Cutie Mark was a darker brown book with 'private eye' symbol on the cover. He lifted up a box of books onto the counter...then blinked, noticing she was gone. “Dr. Ghost Story?”
“Boo!” shouted the thestral, suddenly jumping up from below the counter, causing him to jump with a scream. After catching his breath, both shared a small laugh. “Sorry, Sherlock. It's just things seem rather tense around here tonight, I felt like a good scare might lighten the mood.”
The Earth Pony gave a small chuckle. “Quite alright, and you're correct.”
“What's got the guards so on edge? Was it the dragon attack at Camp Evergreen? Or what happened in Appleloosa?” Ghost Story inquired.
“Not to my knowledge. There was quite the uproar at the castle a few days ago, and rumors Princess Luna was involved in a fight,” the book distributor explained, giving a worried look towards the castle through a nearby window. “Wish I could tell you more, but that is all I know.”
The dark blue bat pony gave a nod. “I see...Well, I take it she won, given as things would probably be more than a little uneasy if something that strong was still running around and beat a Princess. Though I'm sure whatever happened must be quite the story.”
Sherlock gave a nod. “Indeed. Well, I hope your customers enjoy the new books, Dr. Ghost Story.”
“Oh, I'm sure they will. After all, Nightmare Night is soon, and that's the day everypony loves a ghost story.”
Trotting along through Canterlot's streets with saddlebags full of new books for her shelves, Ghost Story turned her head towards the Castle. Had Princess Luna really engaged some strange creature in the middle of the castle? One frightening enough to unnerve the guards of this city? Her mind was aflame with guesses and ideas of what it might be. Years of folklore study raced through her mind as she put a good deal of thought into what kind of creature could stand toe to toe with one of the Princesses. Queen Chrysalis came to mind, but this didn't fit her MO, and Canterlot would be in a much larger uproar if she had returned...
The bat pony shuddered. She still remembered the stories of what Chrysalis had done to Timbucktu, her family having been civilians who after the Night's Rebellion had helped build the new pegasi capital of Cloudsdale with many other thestrals afterwards. She hadn't been in Canterlot during the wedding (again, nocturnal), but she knew enough of the event to understand the fear of the Changeling Queen and her people.
Still, Ghost Story had to admit, the story had her hungry to learn more. And evidently the Princess had come out on top, so what harm was there in being excited to learn the tale?
Before she could make any further progress on that thought, the bat pony's eyes noticed something very strange. In the shadows of one of the towers, she saw something barely visible and still as a statue. In truth, Ghost Story only noticed something amiss from how often she trotted down this very path doing this vary errand, often looking up at the castle in hopes of seeing her Night Guard kin or even the Princess of the Night herself. It also helped that nocturnal eyes allowed her to naturally see things hiding in shadows better than the average pony. Looking closer, she noted the head of what many might see as just a stray statue was pointing towards the window of one of the buildings, where a towering shadow was silhouetted by the light inside. Height wasn't the easiest thing to gauge at this distance, but it was clear they were not an average stallion.
Whatever it was, it simply gave a nod towards the figure and turned away. The figure just flew back into the castle and vanished.
“...My my, this story becomes more intriguing by the moment...” Ghost Story muttered, guessing one of the figures to be a Night Guard or Luna herself, given their preference for hiding in the shadows. But who had the other been? Certainly not an enemy, or else Luna or a guard wouldn't have reacted that way...but if not an enemy, then who?
Stopping to get donuts was a recurring ritual every time the thestral came to the town. There were plenty of places to eat in the capital city of Equestria, but none of them really appealed to her very much, as they were for the most part too formal and serious. Ghost Story never really liked serious and uptight, as she liked seeing ponies enjoy themselves. That and Donut Joe's was the only restaurant in town that really played up her favorite holiday that was soon coming with specialty foods, and that she knew the owner well enough to get one early since she wouldn't be in town for Nightmare Night.
As she ate the skull and spider decorated donut to sate her hunger, Ghost Story contemplated how to sate her curiosity. She'd need to be back in Ponyville soon, these books wouldn't stock themselves. But the story had peaked her interest. Not only did it have an air of fright to it (as any creature capable of fighting one of the Princesses had a pretty big aura of intimidation to it), but also included Princess Luna, somepony the thestral admired and looked up to, possibly even more than average for her people. And then she'd saw that figure in the window and the one in the shadows, just a brief glimpse of something mysterious.
“Maybe I can come back another night and really investigate...” the bat pony muttered… Then jumped as the sound of alarm bells cut through the capital. “What the...”
The mare rushed to the door and threw it open, seeing ponies rushing about in response to the warning bells. She'd expected to see coming the likes of a dragon or even the Changeling horde, things that while frightening and dangerous, were familiar. What she saw instead was something alien entirely. She dropped the bag of donuts she'd taken for her breakfast instantly.
The stars in the distance began to be blotted out by countless giant wings. Hungry screeches tore through the air that made every instinct in her body scream 'run.' The situation unfolding before her was one she'd normally only would find in one of the horror novels she adored so much. As she'd always known, it was far less fun in real life.
Ghost Story forced herself to fly up to get a better look out of morbid curiosity. The creatures were only a mile or so away, and the screams of panic and fear around her added to the feeling it was straight out of some horror story. The beasts all shared a triangular head and bat-like wings...and sharp teeth that gnashed as they grew closer. That alone was frightening, but not something that would be entirely unexpected to exist in Equestria. It was their size that made her blood run cold. Their size and their numbers. The smallest of the lot were believable, being only about the size of a bear or manticore. The biggest, however, were massive enough that many dragons would be intimidated by them. And there wasn't just one. Just one would've been like just one dragon, frightening, but not unheard of. There were hundreds. Hundreds of hungry mouths full of razor sharp teeth. Hundreds of ravenous, winged beasts ranging in size from the size of the beasts of Everfree to bigger than a dragon.
Her mind wandered to a Saddle Arabian legend of a bird so massive it could carry off an elephant with ease. So huge that their egg could be mistaken for a building. So gigantic that it could destroy entire ships with little difficulty. This creature was known in their literature and myth as the Roc.
And Canterlot was now baring witness to several hundred such creatures descending upon it.
This wasn't fun. This was just scary. And Ghost Story had to put all her will power into not wetting herself where she flew as the beasts drew closer. She didn't stop to think what, or why, or how. She only turned to fly to cover, to a shelter. Anywhere that was safe. The caves deep into the mountains the capital stood on seemed the best safe haven, but could she hope to get to one in time? Her heart raced and she flew towards one of the entrances used for tourists that she'd taken tours of in the past, praying it was too cramped for the behemoths to fit...
But before she could reach it, Ghost Story noticed a golden light glimmer around the edge of town, between her and the cave she'd planned to seek shelter. Celestia's glimmering magic slowly began rising up around the city, and the thestral allowed herself to calm slightly...only slightly. Ponies had faith in their Princesses and she was no different, but did Celestia have the power to hold off that many of these horrid monsters that were growing closer and closer with each passing second? She still trembled.
The thestral blinked at a sudden glow, looking back towards the castle in time to see a blue spark fly past the city borders and into the valley nearby, right as the horde of vicious monsters arrived...
“What was that?” Ghost Story muttered, then shielded her eyes as a pillar of blue magic erupted skywards, piercing the heavens. The glow dimmed just enough for her to see the geyser of light and power condense into something huge. Something so massive that even the creatures she'd been terrified of a second before seemed small in comparison.
It was bipedal, a dinosaur. Ghost Story couldn't guess the exact type, as her knowledge of them was limited to the most well-known and those believed to potentially still live to this day. Though the arms instantly told her this was no T-Rex, if the size hadn't already done so. It was definitely a saurian, with charcoal gray scales and a three rows and sharp, white, maple leaf-shaped dorsal spines running the length of his back.
For a moment, she wondered how Canterlot was going to survive this...
A pair of fiery orange eyes opened in the darkness...and the leviathan turned towards the flock of ravenous giants, letting out a deafening roar. The spines lining its back ignited blue as azure flames licked its jaws. The look in those massive eyes, each larger than her entire body...
They were not the hungry ones of the countless beasts descending on them. There was no hunger in those eyes. Ghost Story was good at reading her audience, and those eyes weren't just those of a feral beast. Those were not the eyes of a hungry predator, but something that thought. They had a certain fierce nobility to them. And boundless determination.
A beam of azure energy pierced the night, and into the swarm of beasts, making it clear her reading was not unfounded. Even if this second beast was not on their side, it was not on the birds' either. If nothing else, the enemy of your enemy was your friend.
As the leviathan's azure flames burned through the dark beasts, her mind let itself wander to another legend.
In many eastern cultures, four guardians were spoken of in myth. To the north was the Black Turtle, to the south was the Vermillion Phoenix, and to the west was the White Tiger. But the part of the myth that resonated in her mind, however, was the final of the four, the guardian of the east: the Azure Dragon. A fearsome and mighty creature, but just, benevolent, and noble.
While there were clear differences (such as the Azure Dragon symbolizing wood, not flame), Ghost Story dared hope the first myth that sprung to her mind was the closest to the truth.