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More's the Pity [rgre] (spooky)

By Uh-hmmm
Created: 1st November 2021 04:31:02 AM
1st November 2021 04:31:24 AM

  1. >You are Starlight Glimmer, investigating reports of a banshee sighting in northern Equestria
  2. >The village is eerily similar to the one you once founded in your darker days
  3. >The ponies aren't cursed to suppress their talents, but they are living with a certain wariness and resignation you recognize
  4. >You make your way to the village miller, the closest thing they have to central government
  5. >Stone Ground is a solid, stoic mare with the light slate gray coat you often see in rock farmer families
  6. >You smile politely as you see her watching over a teen filly trot in the mill's harness
  7. "Stone Ground, I presume? I am Starlight Glimmer, here on behalf of the Crystal Castle."
  8. >She shakes your proffered good, then turns towards the teen
  9. >"You're free to go once you finish this bag of wheat."
  10. >Stone ignores the relieved expression on the filly's face and leads you to her modest house
  11. >You glance over your shoulder at the mill
  12. "Punishment detail?"
  13. >Stone grunts in confirmation
  14. >"Troublemakers ought to do something constructive, if they have the energy to make mischief. But that's not why I sent for you."
  15. >The floor is polished pine, the walls mortared rough-hewn stone
  16. >Stone fills two mugs from a cask and hands one to you
  17. >You sniff it and recognize the scent of watered down wine
  18. "You said it was a banshee? When did you first notice him appearing?"
  19. >She sighs and sits heavily on the table bench
  20. >"About three or four months back, Under Presser found the grapes the northern edge of her vineyard had withered to raisins. A few weeks later, the mushroom farmers said they heard male keening at night. We sent out search parties, but we couldn't find anything."
  21. >You frown and sip your drink
  22. "Did he have any other effects on crops or ponies?"
  23. >Stone shrugs
  24. >"Rot in the grain silo, foals having nightmares, a rock slide falling on the blessedly empty road, things like that. If we get any more crop damage, I am worried we won't last the winter."
  25. >That doesn't sound right
  26. "And has there been any sick ponies in the village?"
  27. >Stone shakes her head
  28. >"No, we're from a sturdy stock and we have a good, clean well."
  29. >You have a bad feeling
  30. "And has the banshee focused on a single home or family?"
  31. >The miller mare looks at you in confusion
  32. >"No, he wails wherever, all around the village and in the wilderness."
  33. >You nod decisively
  34. >"That's not a banshee. It's a wrathful ghost. Has a stallion died under suspicious circumstances recently? Or have you heard stories of such happening nearby?"
  35. >Stone Ground frowns and shakes her head
  36. >"Not in the village, and I haven't heard tell of such. There's some ruins on the other side of the mountain, down by a river. Mayhaps there's something to be found there."
  37. >You nod
  38. "I'll take a look. In the meantime, is there a place I can stay? I may be here for a week or so."
  39. >She jerks her head towards the wooden door opposite the entrance.
  40. >"Guest room's there, usually the passing merchant uses it."
  41. >You smile
  42. "Thanks, I appreciate it."
  43. >Stone waves a hoof dismissively
  44. >"It's the least I can do for you."
  45. --
  46. >You leave about half of your pack in the guest room and set off to hike around to there other side of the mountain
  47. >The air is crisp and clear, traces of the chill of approaching autumn refreshing you on your hike
  48. >You had missed this, down in the lowlands of Ponyville
  49. >You take a break a few miles from the village
  50. >You are more out of shape than you would like to admit
  51. >At least you can see the river Stone was talking about
  52. >You look down the slope and see a muddy pool swirling slowly in the distance
  53. >The far edge is bounded by rough boulders, dirt still clinging to the stone
  54. >You teleport down to investigate
  55. >The boulders and pool are larger than you had thought, it does look like a few months blockage of the river had gathered in the wide pond
  56. >Amid the stones and debris of the rock slide are planks of weathered wood, faded fabric, and-
  57. >Bones
  58. >You sift through the debris with your magic
  59. >The natural stone is easy enough to separate and toss aside
  60. >The ancient mattress is nearly petrified and crushed, but it's easy enough to tell that it was the final resting place of the dead pony
  61. >You pile the broken and scattered skeleton back on it
  62. >You turn and start excavating the rest of what must have been a mansion, going by the foundation
  63. >Shattered clay plates and bowls, flint and steel in a leather pouch, twine...
  64. >And a silver ring with a crest featuring a scale weight a comb against a crown
  65. >You have no idea house that belongs to, but you have friends who would know
  66. >You slip it into your saddlebag and teleport to the miller's guest room
  67. --
  68. >Twilight frowns across the illusion transmission
  69. >"It's not ringing any bells, so it's probably a minor house from the early years after unification. I'll have Moondancer check the Canterlot archives."
  70. >You smile
  71. >"Thanks, I knew I could count on you."
  72. >She laughs
  73. >"What are friends for, if not delegating research? But are you alright? You'll be staying in a village haunted by a wrathful ghost."
  74. >You roll your eyes
  75. "I'll be fine, I have plenty of salt to circle my bed and a pouch more to throw."
  76. >She nods solemnly
  77. >"That should be plenty, assuming you don't eat it all over the course of the week."
  78. >You huff
  79. "Please, I only take a few grains every once in a while, it's not like I snort the stuff."
  80. >Twilight frowns slightly
  81. >"You haven't tried snorting salt, right? That can really damage your nostrils, and-"
  82. "I know, /Dad/. Now, are we going to talk about the responsible consumption of minerals, or are you going to actually help me research about this ghost?"
  83. >Twilight smirks
  84. >"I already sent a letter to Moondancer, now there is nothing distracting me from nagging you about your salt abuse."
  85. >You groan and settle in for yet another lecture on the dangers of high sodium
  86. >Some times you wonder why you are friends with such an annoying mare
  87. >Though you admit, her concern for your well being is... nice to know
  88. --
  89. >It turns out, the salt circle does nothing to keep out the plaintive wailing of the ghost
  90. >Something about it resonates with your snowpity in a way that makes it nearly impossible to sleep through
  91. >You say nearly, because when you finally get out of bed an hour before noon, Stone Ground shows no sign of a restless night
  92. >She sets out a plate of bread, fruit and cheese
  93. >You mumble your thanks and dig in
  94. >Stone lingers by the table
  95. >"There's a pony that showed up this morning. Goes by Yearling, you know her?"
  96. >You blink
  97. "A. K. Yearling?"
  98. >The mare in question pokes her head through the doorway
  99. >"The very same! Rainbow told me about what was going on, thought I'd come by to share my expertise."
  100. >You get up and shake her hoof
  101. "It certainly can't hurt. Starlight Glimmer, professional problem solver."
  102. >You lead the archeologist to the table and go over what you have found out while you eat breakfast
  103. >Yearling frowns
  104. >"A wrathful ghost, huh? He'll be hard to deal with without knowing his history. A remote place like this, we might just have to circle the town in salt."
  105. >You nod solemnly
  106. >That would make it hard for the village to expand, but at least they would be safe
  107. >Twilight would never let you live it down once she saw the invoice
  108. >You sigh at the thought
  109. >Yearling knocks back a mug of watered wine
  110. >"Alright, I'll need to see that ring and the mansion ruins."
  111. >You blip the ring from the guestroom dresser to the kitchen table
  112. >The gray-maned mare turns it over in her hoof
  113. >"Pre-, no, just barely post-unification wedding band. The crest is from the minor noble house of Cloudtuft. If I recall correctly, they were the first to introduce cigars to the greater pegasus population. They even lived in a cloud home of smoke!"
  114. >You frown
  115. "That couldn't have been healthy."
  116. >Yearling chuckles and shakes her head
  117. >"It really wasn't. Pegasus lungs are more sensitive to that sort of thing, not to mention the fertility issues. That's why the house died out in the next generation or two."
  118. >You blink
  119. "Wait, if it's a pegasus ring, then why was it in an earth pony house?"
  120. >The archeologist raises an eyebrow
  121. >"I told you, the Cloudtufts dealt in tobacco. They had to have earth pony suppliers, maybe even married into the business."
  122. >You nod in understanding
  123. "That makes sense. I'll send that along, maybe the records at Canterlot will go into more detail."
  124. >You take a moment to write down the information and transmute it into dragonflame of Spike's coalpity's wavelength.
  125. >That done, you teleport the two of you to the mansion ruins
  126. --
  127. >You've already seen what you can see of the ruins, so you mostly trail after A. K. Yearling
  128. >The mare steps carefully through the piles of broken stone and shattered wood
  129. >Her wingtips gently sift through the piles of things you made while cataloging the ruins
  130. >She looks over her shoulder at you
  131. >"You said you didn't take anything other than the ring?"
  132. >You nod
  133. "That's right. And it doesn't look like anything is missing from yesterday."
  134. >Yearling curses under her breath and goes to sit beside the skeleton on the mattress
  135. >You hesitantly approach her
  136. "What is it?"
  137. >She shakes her head
  138. >"A damn shame is what it is. Only one bed, some dishes, but no silverware, the remains of a long dinner table... any thing of value and easy to carry is gone."
  139. >Yearling sighs
  140. >"The stallion was abandoned on his sickbed, either by his wife or the servants that were supposed to nurse him back to health. All they left him was his wedding ring."
  141. >You look at the skeleton again, imagining how it would be to lay helpless as everypony you thought you could depend on walked out the door
  142. >The silence of being alone, almost a non-entity in your own home
  143. >Yeah, you'd turn into a wrathful ghost too
  144. --
  145. >That evening, Twilight opens the illusion transmission
  146. >"Well, thanks to your expert information,"
  147. >Yearling nods solemnly
  148. >Your former teacher continues,
  149. >"Moondancer was able to pinpoint exactly who it is that's haunting the mountain."
  150. >You lean forward in interest
  151. "Oh? That was quick."
  152. >Twilight half-smiles
  153. >"That's why I had Moondancer on the job. His name was Palm Wrap, the son of a tobacco merchant. He married Tuft Luck of house Cloudtuft, which was something of a scandal back then. Not only was Tuft marrying below her station, but across tribal lines."
  154. >In a way, you are lucky there was a scandal, Palm might not have been recorded in history otherwise
  155. >Twilight continues, "Both of their families became rather wealthy once cigar smoking spread through pegasus culture, though there were rumors that Tuft was sleeping around on her negotiation trips. However, after twelve years of marriage, they had no foals, and Palm kept catching colds during the winter, taking longer to recover each year. Less than a week after he died, Tuft married the second son of a countess."
  156. >You frown
  157. "So what do we do now? Try to find a descendant of the Cloudtufts and let the ghost curse them so he can move on?"
  158. >Twilight shakes her head
  159. >"Even if we could, that wouldn't be just, not after all this time. No, we'll just have to ring the village in salt. I'll let you start the preparations, Starlight."
  160. >You sketch a lazy salute
  161. "Understood. Thank you for feeding my habit."
  162. >The alicorn lets out a snort of laughter and ends the transmission
  163. >You turn to Yearling
  164. "If you don't have enough salt for your room, I already have a circle in mine."
  165. >The pegasus smiles sheepishly
  166. >"I'll take you up on that."
  167. --
  168. >As the sun slowly slipped past the horizon, A. K. Yearling sighs
  169. >"I had hoped it was a banshee. They're supposed to be ethereally handsome and they watch over noble or notable bloodlines. It would have definitely led to a dig, and I'd help somepony find their heritage."
  170. >You settle back on the bed and stare at the ceiling
  171. "Well, at least there was that ring."
  172. >The archeologist huffs, a bitter laugh that couldn't escape her throat
  173. >"We can't bring that back. It belongs to Palm Wrap, if anything does."
  174. >You turn onto your side and look down at Yearling on her sleeping bag
  175. "You're taking this rather hard. Surely you've come across historical tragedies before?"
  176. >She closes her eyes
  177. >"A few. But..."
  178. >She sighs
  179. >"There was a time in my life, when I had just made it big, that I had a stallion in every city I toured for my book signings. Some knew they were flings going into it, others figured it out and came to terms with it, or broke up with me."
  180. >You yawn, then verbally prod her
  181. "But..."
  182. >Yearling swallows
  183. >"But one was completely devoted to me. Spent all day cleaning the house, embroidering, cooking elaborate meals, subtly hinting that he wanted to marry me as soon as possible. It was nice at first, but over time it became smothering, oppressive. And I couldn't protest a single thing because I was a sleazy mare seeing other guys behind his back."
  184. >You lay back as you see the similarities
  185. "What happened?"
  186. >The archeologist takes a shuddering breath
  187. >"Nothing. I left that city for a long time. Years. Maybe a decade after I left, I check back on the place, and the house is boarded up. It's been another decade since then, and I still don't have the courage to find out how he's doing."
  188. >You vaguely wish you had done more than skim Cadence's emotional counseling field guide
  189. "That's rough."
  190. >Yearling snorts
  191. >"It is. And I have nopony to blame but mys-"
  192. >She cuts off as a low moan echoes through the village, setting your snowpity thrumming
  193. >You grimace
  194. "It's going to be a long night."
  195. >The other mare grunts in acknowledgement
  196. >You lay there for hours, listening to the ghost of Palm Wrap explore the range between moaning and screeching, pleading and ranting with an incomprehensible accent
  197. >You hear some rustling
  198. >You turn to see Yearling stand up
  199. "If you're thirsty, I have a canteen in my saddlebag."
  200. >The pegasus mare shakes her head
  201. >"I need to go get something."
  202. >You can tell she's lying, but you turn away and let her keep her dignity
  203. >You made sure you used the bathroom before going to bed for this very reason
  204. >Her hoofsteps fade as she leaves the room
  205. >And the front door opens with a creak
  206. >Your eyes go wide and you get up and stare at the open doorway from the guestroom
  207. >You sigh in relief when you see that the ghost isn't there
  208. >Neither is Yearling
  209. >You glance around
  210. >The ring is gone from the dresser too
  211. >"Palm Wrap! I'm back! I won't leave you again!"
  212. >You can't believe your ears
  213. >You rush to the window and stare at A. K. Yearling standing in the street, holding up the ring
  214. >Is she possessed by the ghost of Tuft Luck?
  215. >You cast a quick diagnostic spell, which returns a negative
  216. >Her strategy seems to be working
  217. >The ghost has quieted down, approaching her slowly
  218. >Flowing bedsheets press against his body in a wind that only he can feel
  219. >Palm is a handsome stallion in death, only somewhat more gaunt than lithe
  220. >He murmurs something to Yearling, who nods
  221. >Palm leads her put of the village, in the direction you recognize as the path you took to go to the mansion
  222. >You could follow the pair, but... Yearling seems to have settled Palm down, and you don't want to spoil that
  223. >Or get cursed
  224. >That would suck big sweaty teats if you got cursed while Yearling had everything under control
  225. >So you stay up on the bed, hoping she makes it back safely
  226. --
  227. >By morning, she isn't back
  228. >You teleport to the ruins and find it much like you left it the day before
  229. >Until you get to the skeleton of Palm Wrap
  230. >Two tan pinion feathers lay across the ribcage
  231. >You widen the search, but find no other trace of Yearling
  232. >You go back to Stone Ground's guest room for the night, but it is quiet and you actually manage to sleep
  233. >In the weeks that follow, the villagers are noticably happier, bustling about and chatting late into the night
  234. >Stone Ground raises a memorial stone in the middle of the market, honoring Yearling and expressing sympathy for Palm Wrap
  235. >You raise a cairn over the remains in the ruins
  236. >It's a little too much for you
  237. >You teleport back to Ponyville, write up your report and get drunk for three consecutive days
  238. >After your bender, you hire a private investigator
  239. >You get results quickly
  240. >Head Over is in a herd with two mares and three foals, and seems to be happy
  241. >You teleport back to the cairn and sit down
  242. >You read aloud the results of the private investigation
  243. >Who knows if Yearling can even hear you, wherever she is
  244. >But maybe it will grant her some of the peace she gave to Palm
  245. >That's what you like to think, at the end of the day when your snowpity still echoes with the memory of Yearling's last words

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