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Seeing the Pattern 2: Death Take You
Part 7: Surprise
Death was furious. More than furious, he was downright livid. Standing in the blackness of the space between spaces, he finally found his destination and with a flick of Aspect magic, popped into being in a familiar location. Turning and looking both ways, he checked to make sure the coast was clear. When he saw it was, he pushed his hood back and undid the clasp of his cloak. His mortal body melted into being and he coughed a little on the ashes. Always ashes in his mouth, every time he transformed. Huffing a little, he entered the barn.
The Apple Family barn was a large structure, brand new since the last one had been destroyed when Pinkamina had saved Applebloom from being crushed to death by its falling beams. The memory sent fresh, seething anger into the stallion. When he was sure the barn was empty, he lit a meager lamp and fiddled around in the darkness. Going into one of the tool stalls, he pawed around a little. Where was it? He’d hidden it here amongst Big Macintosh’s tools if only because it— ah, there.
Death pulled out a long, tightly wrapped bundle and backed out into the great room of the barn. He’d hidden it there because, amongst tools it would look forgettable and anypony that saw it would leave it be. It was the only place in Ponyville it was safe to store it, since Surprise had balls and other strange things hidden in all the other good hiding places. Dropping it on the ground, he leaned and undid the twine with his teeth. He’d put it away long ago, sure he’d never have to use it. Growling in frustration when one bit of twine went up his nose, he turned wild for a moment and ripped the burlap wrappings away. Tossing pieces in every direction, he stood over the object, panting. It gleamed terribly in the moonlight.
Pinkamina awoke in the dead of night, lifting her head slightly. She peered about the cool room, adjusting herself and siddling over to Lickity Split’s chest. Pressing her cheek to it, she heaved a great breath. His scent soothed her, and her eyes searched back and forth in the darkness. Had she been having a nightmare? Why was she trembling like that? She felt a drop of sweat work its way down her temple. Her stallion sensed movement and mewled softly in his sleep, his hooves crossing themselves around her neck and pulling her instinctively to himself. She pressed herself against him after she’d put her mane out of her eyes. Shuddering a little, she pulled the blankets up and shut her eyes again.
Her nose started to itch.
Her back left hoof went numb.
She burped audibly.
Her mane frizzed out for a moment.
Her eyes crossed for a few seconds.
Pinkamina moaned softly, then sat up. Rubbing her hooves over her eyes, she furrowed her brow. Cocking her head, she analyzed internally what the Pinkie Sense was telling her. Itchy nose… burp… mane frizzing… numb hoof… crossed eyes. That meant— “Pinkieee…” Lickity Split rolled over, reaching needily to her. “Stay…” he moaned at the pink mare.
“I hafta go.” She whispered more gently than she gave herself credit for, pushing him back and kissing his forehead. He whined wordlessly, but he’d not risen from sleep entirely to begin with. “Stay here, I’ll be careful.” She shuddered suddenly and her ear flicked, and was unsure why. Reaching, she made for the door. Stopping a moment, she got her saddlebag and slung it over herself. She looked over her shoulder at her stallion, frowning in a troubled way. Sighing a little, she reached and grabbed his scarf off of its peg on the wall. Wrapping it around her neck, she was satisfied. The winter would not bite as hard if she wore this. Making sure sleep had taken Lickity back to dreamland, she nodded to herself and stepped out into the night.
The pink mare took off into the snowy darkness, the white powder crunching under her hooves as she clopped along as quickly as she dared without falling on ice. Winter rushed over her face and body, waking her up until her reflexes and mind caught up with her. Her features lowered themselves into a deadly scowl, her mane flapping in the wind as she skidded on a corner. Reaching out, she grabbed a signpost and swung on it, flinging herself down the next street. Lowering her center of gravity on the ice, she slid along for quite a while. Then, she turned her body sideways and stopped in front of her destination.
Sugar Cube Corner. She really, REALLY didn’t care to save the pony within that her Pinkie Sense had warned her about. She’d taken her foalhood, taken her life, made her live in shadow. Surprise, her sort-of-sister-alternate-half, was the one due to die. There was a meager light on inside, which was unusual so late. The bakery usually closed at around 9pm, and it was well-past midnight at that point according to the Ponyville clock tower. Pinkamina narrowed her eyes, and pushed the door open.
The scent of all things sweet and savory assaulted her, turning her stomach. Shaking her head quickly, she stepped inside and flicked her eyes around. A white mare sat at one of the tables with a mug in her hooves, whiffing the steamy swirls of chocolatey goodness coming out of it. Pinkamina’s back arched a little, suspicious. Where was the deadly situation? Where was the screaming or the panic or the deadly… whatever it happened to be every time? “Surprise?” Pinkamina said cautiously.
Surprise’s eyes flicked up and filled with joy, “Pinkamina! You came, just like he—!” Pinkamina DOVE face first and skidded on the tiles as a flash of silvery death arced in front of her. She slid a few feet, somersaulted backwards and miraculously ended up on all her hooves. Death stood just to one side of the entrance, a massive scythe having gone through the door and blasted rivulets of wood out onto the sidewalk.
It was a trap! Death had come to threaten Surprise, but Surprise was a part of herself! She tried to work out the logic of the Pinkie Sense for a moment, but a kaleidoscope of cosmic chaos assaulted her brain, so she stopped. “Quiet, imbecile.” She told her lesser half, scowling as Death stood in the doorway. He turned slowly, the scythe’s shaft held in his teeth. The light was not enough to expose his face, but a good look at his hooves compared to the size of the tiles he stood on confirmed. He was an enormous pony. “New toy?” she asked Death as he straightened to face her.
“I don’t think there’s anyone named imbecile here, Pinkamina.” Surprise said helpfully from the table, seemingly frozen to her chair. “Should I go looking for somepony to—!”
“Shut up!” Pinkamina barked over her shoulder, just in time for Death to make a mad rush at her. She reared up, weaving past chairs and tables as the scythe flashed back and forth. It rang with the tinkling sound of falling iron shavings, and wherever it went it left destruction. Chairs broke apart, tables smashed into themselves, display cases with confections inside hesitated… then fell into halves. She bucked wildly when one of the arcs was over, kissing his cheek with her back hooves. He grunted audibly, using his massive weight as momentum. Even from where she was sitting, Surprise could see the little hoof-full of pink mane hairs flying. The pink mare recoiled, a slash of her curtain-like mane gone. She was perhaps four inches shorter now, and could no longer hide her expression from the world when she ducked her head. Seething, she coiled herself as she skidded a bit on the slick tiles. Death stopped a moment, brandishing the long-shafted weapon. It seemed so unwieldly, but he raced it back and forth with ease. It had a long, black, wooden shaft with a curved blade. Decorated across it were runes and skull symbols, glinting with a red-purple finish in the candlelit. “Oooh, mahogany. Fancy.” Pinkamina jeered.
Death snarled savagely, then rushed forth while the tip of his weapon sprayed sparks across the floor. Surprise’s hooves leapt up to her ears at the horrible claws-on-a-chalkboard sound it made. Pinkamina was running out of furniture to hide behind, rushing back and forth, but always retreating. Only Surprise’s table and chair seemed immune, for they didn’t dance around it. The pink mare flung herself forward in a moment of madness, under and past the arc of the blade. Grabbing on with her forelegs she wrapped herself around the bizarre weapon and head-butted him without thinking. They both grunted in pain, but neither let go. Struggling back and forth with her, Death suddenly gave the shaft a clicking twist and pulled a spear free. A weapon within a weapon! Pinkamina reeled dangerously, and the dark stallion rushed upon her, knocking her onto her back with a flail of her hooves. Leaping with all his massive stallion weight he slammed his hooves down upon her. She cried out, feeling the ribs break as he did so. Strong. He was so strong.
Wasting no more time and in the heat of the anger-fueled passion of battle, Death stabbed her through the chest with a flourish. Blood exploded from the wound and Pinkamina cried out in agony. She squirmed beneath him as he twisted the weapon savagely. She yelped, pooling blood about herself as she tried to struggle like an insect on a needle display. Something deep within her burst, and her back arched as the pain no longer let her scream. She twitched, feeling herself going limp with weakness while the floor of Sugar Cube Corner slowly stained itself an inky red. “N-no…” she gagged out, splattering her chin with blood. Her hooves reached up, meekly trying to pull the weapon from her breast. Death twisted again, holding her down as she screamed out from the torture. It tore her throat raw. “S—Surprise, run…” she whimpered, reaching towards her twin with a wavering and blood-covered hoof. “Run aw—!” she gagged hard, and her vision started to tunnel. She panted, clutching desperately at her chest. Surprise was staring at the scene with an expression of awe and terror.
Standing over his conquest with a massive hoof to hold her down, Death pulled his hood back with a black chuckle.
Pinkamina awoke with a terrorized, full-throated scream. Sitting up in bed she tore her throat out with the belting shriek. Lickity Split snapped awake, screamed too, and fell out of bed with a howl of fear. “What!? What is it?!” he flailed wildly, caught in the twists of the sheets and pillows. She looked over at him when she ran out of breath, tears streaking down her cheeks. She could hear herself panting in the darkness while they stared at each other. Lickity Split stared at her sweaty, shaking form. “Oh Pinkamina…” he said, reaching out once he’d untangled himself. Slowly moving up onto the bed again, he held her. She flinched lightly, but did not pull from him. She even let the ‘Pinkie’ bit pass, which told him volumes. “This is starting to get to you, all this Death business…” he whispered, stroking her mane over and over. She didn’t respond, didn’t look at him, only pressed herself into his strong chest while she shook like a leaf.
There in the darkness Pinkamina could think of little but her stallion and the horrible visions she’d had. Was it just a nightmare? Was the Pinkie Sense trying to tell her something? Was Lickity Split— no, no of course not. Lickity was much smaller than Death. Death was a massive stallion. Her dreams had warped all of the shapes and sizes of the things around her. It wasn’t true. She pressed herself harder into him, almost pushing him off the bed entirely. She was grateful to see her mane, uncut, hanging over her eyes and face. The hard-edged mare could never remember being so completely terrified. “I… love you.” She whispered to him.
Lickity stopped, deeply touched. Staring at the top of her head for a long time, he pressed his lips into her mane. “I have something for you.” He whispered at last, leaning to his side of the bed. Stretching, he got into the bedside table drawer and drew out a little box. He looked a bit nervous, but set his jaw and went on. “I was gonna w-wait, but I think this’ll cheer you up.” Spooning up behind her, he flipped it open. Pinkamina flinched at the golden sparkle that twinkled into the moonlight as he unveiled an engagement hoof hoop. “I wanna marry you.” He whispered in her ear, leaning to nibble on it a little.
The pink mare stared at it, an icy quiver going through her shapely frame. It glittered invitingly. Her mouth went a little agape, and she couldn’t form words. “I… I…” his steady hooves leaned and took her right front hoof, raising her leg a bit. He took it gently from the box, and the cool metal touched her while he nuzzled her neck romantically. “I can’t!” she suddenly shrieked, pulling her hooves up and under her chin. Tearing away from him, she fled the bedroom. “For all I know, you could be him!” she cried and dashed away.
Lickity Split was frozen on the spot, his mouth a little agape. The engagement hoop fell from his teeth, spun upon the hardwood floor then went silent when it settled. The poor stallion was crushed.
“We must admit, we did not expect such interesting results. Thou should asketh me to send nightmares to ponies more often. Her terrors of thou are deep-seeded now.” Princess Luna and Death lingered in the space between spaces, having just watched the scene unfold. The infinite blackness stood on the lip of the great beyond, just on the cusp of the location souls traversed before heading forward in the great cycle of souls. “Though it is interesting she seeks your identity now, not just to stop you. She understands that you’re mortal.”
A clattering of teeth was all the stallion said, nodding a few times in assent. Careful with his hood and cloak, he shifted his weight a little and scratched his skeletal chin with a hoof the size of a dinner plate.
“Is that thy Aspect Weapon there under your cloak, or art thou merely glad at my presence?” The goddess of the moon smirked at him, her eyes flicking down. If he’d had eyes in his sockets he would’ve rolled them. Sultry thing. He shifted the lip of his cloak a bit lower, then reached into its depths. A flash of silver sent an arc of Aspect magic bolting wildly across the ethereal landscape like lightning on the storm. Death’s Scythe. “Thou art a show off.” Luna chuckled darkly, and he sagged in annoyance as she took it from him for a moment. She looked it over, making sure the shaft was straight, the blade sharp, and the powers still mightily endowed. “We have not seen it in decades, Death’s Scythe.” She smiled a bit. “Forged from a pure, silvery moonbeam, tempered into physical form. It is still one of our finest and deadliest weapons. I do not know why Celestia insisted on giving the other Aspects such useless tools.” She rolled her eyes a little. Princess Celestia had given Father Time a sort of booth that could go back and forth in time, and Mother Nature had received a crown that could tame even the wildest beasts. Such silly things. “So, now thou knowst she does not think she can best you in mortal combat. Her dreams betray this. Wilt thou go to slay her in real life?” Death nodded without hesitation.
“What did you learn, dear Father Time?” Celestia mused over her teacup at him. Doctor Whooves took off his bowtie and his Aspect powers winked out. He blinked into existence at the little garden picnic table, startling the guards. He was struggling to even hold his teacup now, a little scowl of concentration on his face. It was as though the hooves meant nothing to him. She watched him work it back and forth, completely inept with their use. Eyeing his frustrated gaze, the sun princess giggled when he elected to stick his face into his teacup instead and rudely slurp. He had the decency to pinken in the cheeks, and he apologized profusely. Magic enveloped his cup, and she gently tilted it at him. Feeling like a toddler, he leaned and sipped a little. “Still getting used to that form I see.” She whispered privately.
“Q-quite.” Doctor Whooves said. “A-anyway.” He launched into his report, telling her of everything that he’d seen Luna and Death speak about. “Doesn’t seem right, spying on my colleague and all. Little underhanded. Underhoof’d. You know.” He said, gesturing in little circles with his hooves. Looking down, he reached and adjusted his crimson bowtie. “He’s never bothered in my vocation, time jumping and such. Almost made me think I was boring. Just once. Never crossed my mind again, but the just once was bad. Made me feel a little bad about myself really.” The short little burst-phrases that he spoke in were all a part of his charm.
“I’m afraid a few too many bad things are in motion, my little pony.” Celestia sighed softly. “While it’s always my intention to stay out of the affairs of my subjects and let them sort out their own lives, when the Aspects or my sister is involved it becomes my concern as well.” She looked a little crest-fallen at all the new details about Death going after Pinkamina directly. There was a long silence between them, for Doctor Hooves had no idea what to say to such things.
Several aided sips of tea later, the Aspect of Time was the one to speak first. “Princess, will you be interfering, then?” he said, looking a little tired and resolved to any horror that might come of it. His teacup quivered in the air for just a moment, and the Doctor saw the brief fleck of distress on the princess’ face. It vanished into its normal serene look after that split moment, though.
“Do you know what makes an excellent goddess, Doctor Whooves?” Celestia smiled bemusedly. She sat on her haunches a little more in an upright fashion. He cocked his head at her, giving her questions with his eyes. “Helping to keep the balance. If, at the end of the day, nopony can tell if you were ever even there pulling the strings.” It was a cryptic answer, and his brow furrowed with even more questions. Finally, he gave in and smiled at her, trying to put his faith in the sun goddess. She’d run Equestria so beautifully so far, she would know precisely what to do when the moment came.
End of Part 7