October had always been a time of celebration for the Solopians, signifying the full swing of Autumn harvests with all their colorful splendor. Yet that month had another thrilling tradition, the night of Halloween, a time when the veil between the realms of spirits and mortals is said to be thinnest. That time was met with both apprehension and excitement, after all not many still believed in the old tales, nowadays more focused on the fun of dressing up and collecting sweets. Thus some of the older traditions and legends have been forgotten, and the signs left by spirits overlooked, for no one knew what to look out for anymore, even when it was right before their eyes.
Have you, dear reader, noticed it yet?
All this time there was something off, something new, yet so alike the others that no one even thought to pay it any heed, to really think about its appearance. And so it sat innocently, inconspicuously, on an old stump along the worn path, framed by the forest behind it. A lone Jack-o-lantern. No one questioned its presence, after all it is the season of Halloween! But how come no one noticed that it had been left unlit? How come it didn't look a day older despite having been there all month? How come no insects or wild animals have touched it all this time? And how come there always seems to be a light fog surrounding the area where it resides? All these questions are answered tonight, the night of Halloween.
It was a true Autumn night, cold and windy, but not overly so, the moons sharp waxing crescents, illuminating everything below like Cheshire grins. Yet not everything was as it should be, there was an unnatural stillness spreading in the woods, a quietness as if every creature had suddenly been silenced. No bugs, no animals, the only thing that could be heard was the distant sounds of hooves, clicking softly along the road as they drew nearer and nearer to town, until they stopped by that lone Jack-o-lantern. The rider dismounted his loyal steed and went to crouch in front of the pumpkin, inspecting it before making a sound of distaste.
"My dear, it seems they have forgotten the old traditions." The rider stood back up again, pumpkin held in his hands before he slowly returned it to its rightful place above his neck. "It is about time we give them a little reminder."
Back in town the air was filled with merriment of Solopians celebrating the night of spirits, dancing and laughing in the streets, children running around and playing on their way to the next house to acquire more of their sweet loot. Everyone was having a joyous time, completely unaware of the evil heading their way until all the lanterns started going out, one by one. At first there was panic, adults gathering their children and pets trying to not get separated from their owners. Before the situation even had a chance to calm down there was one noise that rose above the din of confusion, a maniacal laughter accompanied by the thundering of hooves, charging toward the town center. The headless rider was here, heralded by his cackle and the lanterns that once more came blazing to life as he approached them, lighting his entry like a morbid stage. He was a sight to behold, a proud and strong figure clad in garments resembling fallen leaves, one hand holding the reins of his mount while the other curled around the handle of a twisted thorny whip, but the most remarkable feature was of course the carved pumpkin that served as his head, floating above his neck as if held by a strange magnetic force, his twisted smile leering at everyone he passed. He galloped by on his mighty steed, an ethereally beautiful white mare whose red eyes burned like boiling blood, her mane curled and tangled with branches and leaves sticking out of it, leaving a wet trail behind her as if she had just risen from the moors.
Everyone scrambled to clear the road, none wishing to stand in their wake as the sinister pair charged into the town center, slowing down to a trot as they circled the area to face the crowd once more.
"Greetings, mortal folk of this town. I appear before you tonight with a message of utmost importance. I must say I am disappointed in you all, never before have the old traditions been so neglected, but this year not a single offering has been left by my altar." The Dullahan's voice boomed, making sure everyone heard him. "Such disrespect cannot stand! And thus I have come to remind you all of the true values of this season, to remind you why the spirits should be respected" -Then his voice took on a more ominous vibe, the carved grin stretching further- "and feared."
He then briefly looked around until he spotted another Jack-o-lantern, swinging his whip at it to grab and pull it toward himself with practiced ease. After inspecting it for a moment he then began chanting in a language unknown to any of the stunned onlookers. As he did so, thorny vines sprouted from said lantern, completely enveloping it in a spiky cocoon. Once the wicked spell was complete he turned back to the frightened Solopians and announced: "I shall leave you with a gift and a reminder, do not forget the old ways and the spirits tied to them, or else you shall be cursed by your ignorance." With that he tossed the ball of thorns at the feet of the nearest onlooker. "Until we meet again, when the leaves start falling once more!" He laughed again as his steed reared up, charging back down the path they came from and disappearing in a dense fog.
Even as his shape vanished from the horizon and the haunting laughter faded into the night, it took a good few minutes for any sort of calm to return to the Solopians. The air buzzing with apprehension, fear, worry, but also excitement as some of the people took great interest in those unexpected events, despite the Dullahan's foreboding warning. The situation wasn't helped any by the strange 'gift' the rider left behind. A few brave souls eventually came forward to inspect it, observing and even poking at it with some sticks. That is when the cluster of thorns began to unfurl, a strange golden liquid spilling out of the cocoon like fresh blood, what lie within though was surprisingly nowhere near as sinister as expected. No traces of the pumpkin lantern remained, instead cradled among the thorns was a black runestone, an image of a red rose imprinted on its surface. There was no way to tell how dangerous this stone might turn out to be, so the question remained, would anyone dare to accept the rider's gift?