Equestria has always been plagued by the paranormal. Spirits, ghosts, ghouls and all that goes bump in the night. But not many see the denizens of the afterlife for the simple fact that one agency has been keeping these creatures out of the public's eyes. Why? For their own safety of course, because unlike the living, these creatures are directly linked to the spirit world and can cause damage which cannot be healed by mere surgery or medicines. Some don't even leave any indication that they had caused damage.
The Shadow Hunter Brigade was established to stop these creatures from wrecking havoc on the living, often at the cost of their sanity and their lives. Although a lot of talk surrounded this group, only the royal sisters know who they really are. They are kept in the highest level of secrecy to make sure their operations ran smoothly, or else something like the recent missing pony case would happen.
A senior agent by the name of Frosted Glass was sent to Ponyville to investigate a supposed ritual to summon an ancient evil spirit. As common practice, he was supposed to send a letter a week after his arrival, but none came. The agency sent three more agents to carry on with the investigation and to find Frosted Glass, namely agents Stone, Sandstorm, and Zephyr.
Zephyr, was an attractive mare from Cloudsdale with a light grey coat. Her mane was down to her neckline and had the color of semi-ripe strawberries with streaks of silver. Her eyes may have been a dull grey, but they captivated the hearts of stallions. A white scarf was wrapped around her neck. The mare was leading the way to Ponyville, and planned to show her companions around the town seeing as she was the only one who had been there before.
Sandstorm was an earth pony from the frontier town of Appleloosa and was the youngest of the three. He sported the color of his name, from his coat to his short, hardly kept mane, and was a great hider, at least in the desert. His eyes were a bright yellow and had the spark of an adventurous spirit. He is always seen with his hat which was a size too big.
Stone had only taken one step inside the town's boundary and already the hairs on his body stood on end and a chill ran down his spine. Stone was a zebra born and raised in the care of their tribe's shaman, and as such, he has a strong connection to the spirits. His color was a simple grey with darker stripes. His mane was cut short. He always wears dark shades to cover the scar over his right eye whenever he travels. Possibly also to make him look more approachable since a zebra with dark green eyes seemed to make ponies shy away.
"What's wrong?" Zephyr asked, noticing her companion stop walking.
"There is something foul in the air. It's not something I've felt before." Stone had his eyes narrowed on the big building in the center of town.
"Then we should hurry and find any leads. Ze, you know this place better than us, lead the way." Sandstorm said with a wide grin on his face. Of the three, he was the adventurous one and was always the eager beaver when he got a chance to run around and go places.
"Well, that's weird." Zephyr said with a confused look.
"Is something out of place?" Stone asked, seeming hesitant to lift his foot forward.
"Pinkie should have been bouncing around you guys right about now. She loves meeting new ponies." She trotted down the road while looking around for any sign of the sugar-loaded party cannoneer. "She must be busy somewhere else. Come on then, I'll show you around the place."
"Let's make it quick, this place is filled with bad omen."
Zephyr dragged the boys to the apple farm, the boutique, the bowling alley, Sugar Cube Corner, the spa, and the library, telling them all about the history and trivia she learned about those establishments. Sandstorm was taking all of that in, still with that wide grin on his face, meanwhile Stone was looking sicklier than before. There must have been some serious paranormal activity if he was that exhausted, but they couldn't do anything about that yet, not in broad daylight.
"Alright, lets go see the town hall then we can hit the inn for the night." She lead the two to the town square, where the large mayor's building was sitting right in the middle. She really wanted to show her friends the inside of the place but unfortunately for her, the doors were shut. Tight.
Perhaps it was a security measure, but seeing a building as important as being the mayors office being bolted, chained, and covered with "Do not enter" signs was strange, even with that hastily written sign that read "Under Renovation." That wasn't the only strange thing she noticed about the town. The ponies were much less open from the last time she'd been there. Before they be greeting new ponies like old friends, but they didn't even get a curious glance. In fact, they looked more like robots now. The town couldn't have possibly changed that much in three years, right?
I'm probably just over thinking things. "Alright, let's get to the inn and rent some rooms." She turned around and only saw Sandstorm with his eyes wandering around the town. "Where's Stone?"
Sandstorm looked around, "He was here a minute ago. Ahh! There he is over there." He cantered towards the zebra who was propping himself up against a building. "Feeling a bit queezy there, bud?"
"A little bit. Hey Zephyr, you mentioned something about an inn? I could use some hot water for my brew."
"Hold on a bit longer, it's just up this road. Follow me."
Stone got up and trotted after the mare, but he gave the building one last glance. We need to find Frosty quick.
"Here you go, Stone. Piping hot, fresh from the fire." Zephyr placed the teapot on the table and settled down as Stone dropped some herbs in. She was never much of a tea drinker, but Stone made the most refreshing beverage she ever tasted. Sandy didn't really care much for tea either and even he agrees with her. There must be something in those herbs, a zebra's secret ingredient perhaps.
"So Stone, why were you so whoozy back there? Not really like you to be tuckered out by a hike." Sandstorm said, taking a careless sip from his cup. "YOUCH! Hothothot!"
"Careful! Remember to blow before sipping." Zephyr almost spilled her drink when Sandstorm suddenly jumped.
"Hai geth het. My phoor thounge."
"Anyway, Stone, are you feeling sick or something?"
The zebra placed his pair of shades on the night stand. "I'm fine. I think I'm just out of shape."
"Howth tat? You thike rhun ten thaps up und down a hill ethery morning."
He simply shrugged. He didn't want to talk about what he saw in the town, and the others knew not to ask, in case the walls had ears. They just needed to act inconspicuous for the time being.
"It's getting late, I'm going to bed."
"Hyeah, me thoo."
"You two have a good night, I'll just have a quiet stroll for a while."
Stone laid down his head on the surprisingly comfy bed. "Take care and don't stay out too late."
"Pfft, sure thing, dad." Zephyr quietly shut the door and her footsteps faded as she went downstairs and out the building. Stone saw her fly out a moment later.
She sure left in a hurry. He thought as he blew out the candle and settled into his bed.
"Who's there?" Stone got out of his sheets and scanned the room completely cloaked in darkness.
His head snapped left and right until he noticed the glowing pair of eyes in the corner of the room, glaring right at him. "Ze? Sand? Is that you?"
"WHO!" The eyes suddenly flung itself at Stone, making him tumble backwards to avoid an owl's talons. Next thing he knew, the bird flew off through the window. It went towards the forest, probably was just as spooked as he was.
Stone quickly lit the candle and surveyed the room. Nothing seemed to be stolen. He checked their bags and none of them were tampered with. I could have sworn I had locked that window.
He shone his light on Sandstorm, who was still sleeping. "Kid can sleep through a thunder storm. Sandy, wake up!" Stone pulled the sheets right from under the sleeping pony, but even though that caused him to fall on the floor, he was still fast asleep.
The zebra took a few deep breaths and went to check on Zephyr's bed. It was just as it was when he fell asleep, and the clock was already reading an hour past midnight. She hasn't come back yet?
Stone decided to go look for the pegasus. He went for his shades but it wasn't on the nightstand. Instead there was just a feather. "You have got to be kidding me." Zephyr will have to wait, right now he had a bird to catch. Seeing as Sandstorm was still sleeping like the dead, he just locked the window, killed the flame, and cantered on to the forest. It was intriguing, now that he got some fresh air. Owls don't normally steal things.
While Stone was chasing the owl, Sandstorm was still asleep, and oblivious to the greenish goo dripping from the ceiling into a puddle that inched towards him little by little.
Stone was deep inside the shadowy forest. What did Zephyr call it, Everfree? She said it was a dangerous place, but so far his stroll within its territories was peaceful. It even came off as being too quiet. It didn't make sense, there should be hundreds of nocturnal creatures skipping about at this hour. One thing Stone liked about the place was its aura was pure. It was likely the ponies hardly visited this place.
The zebra followed a trail of feathers and broken branches which lead a fairly strait path through the forest. He eventually felt as if something was looming right behind him, but for some reason he couldn't look behind him. The feeling just crawled under his skin and before he knew it, he was running through the darkness.
The outer edges of his vision started fading to black. He couldn't breathe. His hooves felt as if he was wearing boots made of cement. His heart was pounding so furiously his heartbeats sounded like drums were banging against his head. Finally everything blurred. He could hear a flock of owls hooting right behind him.
From his worsening vision he could make out a hut just in front of him. No time for knocking. He thought before crashing through the door. It was flimsier than he thought and he bumped into a cabinet with his face. He felt a book and something else small drop beside him before he completely lost consciousness.
"SANDY! SANDY WAKE UP!" Zephyr violently shook the sleeping stallion until he finally snapped out of his dreamland.
"Okayokayokay, I'm up! Ow, my neck is sore."
"That's because you've been sleeping on the floor. And..." She held up a jar with a blackish green goop floating around inside it, "I found this clinging to your neck. Are you feeling alright?"
"That was clinging to me?!" Sandstorm, panicked, wildly grabbed for the back of his neck and shivered when he felt a cold, sticky substance on him. "Gyah... what is it?"
"I'm not completely sure, but it must be from a changeling. Maybe that's why everypony's been acting so different."
"How'd you know fer sure?" Speaking of different, you look somewhat different yourself...
"I... don't know. He was tucked in bed last I saw him."
"We have to hurry, our cover is blown. We got to find him before they do." Without another word, the mare dashed right out.
Sandstorm scrambled for his hat, "Wait! Before who does?" He ran outside and there wasn't a single soul to be found. It was already around eight. Zephyr was already half way to the Everfree forest when he finally spotted her. "Wait for me!"
When he finally reached the treeline, their pace slowed to a trot. "Hey..." Sandy was gasping for breath. This wasn't his usual wake-up routine. "What happened to... your scarf, and what's that key around your neck?"
"Hmm? Oh, I dropped my scarf when... some owls attacked me. I found this key in a hut in this forest. Come on, maybe Stone's there. We have to hurry." And just like that, she went off running again.
Something's wrong with this picture. Sandy thought. He followed close behind, taking notice of the eyes on the tree-tops tracking their every move. "Ze, I don't think this place likes us very much."
Sandstorm reached the hut and sure enough Zephyr was already inside, rummaging around the place. He looked inside and saw the various masks, bottles, trophies and charms decorating the walls. There was an overturned book on the table and a bunch of feathers scattered everywhere on the floor beside a large cauldron. "Ze, I think we should get out of here. Ze? Zeee?" She disappeared.
"Hooo great. Alone in the woods in a creepy old shack with a bunch of eyes outside. ZE! WHERE ARE YOU!?" Not a single peep. Scanning the inside of the hut, he noticed something out of place. In the corner, there was a group of bottles arranged as if it was supposed to hide something behind them.
Reluctantly, the stallion parted the bottles and was surprised to see Stone's glasses. There was a piece of paper under it. He looked around, and seeing no one was there he read the writings on the paper.
"Be mindful of who you trust. Her eyes are... as grey as dust?" he mumbled to himself. "Is this supposed to be a ridd-"
"What'cha got there?"
"GAH! ZE! Don't sneak up on me like that! My ghost just about upped and ran away." Her eyes are as grey as dust...?
"Whats with the blank paper?"
"Blank?" Sandstorm took another glance at the paper and indeed it was blank. Did he just imagine that riddle? He looked at the confused mare intently.
"Is there something on my face?" She asked.
"No... Say Ze, did you see Pinkie while you were out last night?"
"Who? Eh, nevermind that, I found something in the basement that I think you should see." She went down a trap door.
Sandstorm was getting a bit suspicious. He took another glance at the paper and saw another set of words on it. It read:
Then it simply disappeared. With a gulp, and probably a final glance at his exit, he went down. The basement was basically a dug-out shelter. The roots of the trees were holding the ceiling firm. The only source of light was an eerie torch with green flames. "Ze? Where'd she run off to again?"
"Who's there?" Sandstorm froze. He knew he heard something whispering.
"Ze, this isn't very funny."
That was it, he was getting out of there! The frightened stallion bolted to the staircase, but SLAM! The trap door closed just as he was about to jump for it. He felt something cold wrap around him and he couldn't move, like he was tied up. Suddenly he was dragged back down. He screamed but his lungs refused to let the air out and he started to choke.
Getting closer and closer to the torch, he saw that it was the shadows that was holding him. He struggled in vain to free himself. His vision started to darken. He heard gentle clip clopping of hooves. When he turned, he saw Ze. Her eyes were green.
I should have noticed it sooner! Her eyes were grey when they first got here, but in the inn when she woke him up they were already green. Why didn't I notice that!?
"Feeling comfortable, Sandy? Hehehe. They gave you one cute nickname, didn't they? It was a shame the other one got away. Oh well, I have all of eternity to find him."
Was she talking about Stone? At least he knew he was safe.
"Now, allow me to feed on your soul." To Sandstorm's horror, the creature that took the form of Zephyr, cracked its skin to allow shadows to escape and engulf him. There was a heavy stench of death and decay which made him feel a bit queasy. He prayed to Celestia and Luna and Starswirl and every high power he could name at the top of his head to save him.
"Begone from this place, foul demon!" Suddenly out of the darkness, Stone appeared and placed an amulet around Ze, or at least the creature that masqueraded as Ze.
Sandstorm felt the pressure from his lungs release and he fell on the floor. What followed for him was pure confusion. He could hear a whole lot of hooting, wings flapping, and infernal screeching. Feathers fell like snow, and the fire danced as if it were a windy day. A final flash of white and suddenly Stone was helping him up.
"What just happened?"
"I have sealed the demon within it's vessel. For now."
"I do not know, but we must find the door which this key can open." Stone held out the prize from his captive.
"Wait, where's that thing that tried to kill me?"
"Over there." Stone pointed to a changeling with a wicked look, and a fearsome glare. "You didn't tie him up!?"
"There is no need," Stone assured him, "That talisman will deny him movement."
"Stone, was it you that left that message?"
"Partly. I had some help."
"Hoot!" A purple owl landed on a pile of books. Sandy looked up and saw more of them resting on top of shelves, twigs, furniture, just anything they could land on.
"So these owls helped you?"
"Let's go upstairs and I will show you what I found." He turned to the purple owl and said, "Would you start the search while I orient my partner?"
"You never told us you spoke owl."
When they got out of the basement, Stone showed Sandstorm a book with a snowflake under a microscope design on its cover. A group of eight owls, all of different colors gathered around. Most of them seemed oddly familiar.
"This book" Stone started, "Belonged to none other than our colleague, Frosted Glass."
"This book is empty." Sandy said flatly.
"That is the trick. Show him." He instructed one of the owls. The striped grey one hovered over it, sprinkling something that looked like pepper. Sandy took a closer look and soon the words appeared on the pages.
"It is his journal. I will leave you to read it while I search for Zephyr."
Stone and the owls left except for one. A light blue owl perched itself up on the back of a chair and waited for Sandy to read.
"I guess we'll start from day one. I don't feel right reading somepony's journal, but... I guess I'll never know what happened..." Sandstorm sighed as he started reading the first page.