"I don't know if Sugarcube Corner or Carousel Boutique is open yet," Pinwheel began, "But I know the Apple Family gets up at the crack of dawn. You'll just…have to be careful around them."
Pinwheel didn't know the Apple family very well. On occasion, she saw Big Macintosh hauling crops into town, but that was it. Their cart road ran right by her pinwheel garden. Macintosh usually nodded to her as he passed the cottage, but never stopped to chat. Applejack, who occasionally pulled the carts alongside her big brother, would smile and wave at Pinwheel if she caught her eye. While nothing about them suggested unkindness, there was no way to predict how they'd react to an unusually tall pony with a skull for a face. There was no way to predict how anyone would react, really.
Sunrise colored the orchard, casting an orange glow over the treetops. The bright red barn sat on the hillside, the front doors closed. "Maybe they're not awake yet." Pinwheel mumbled to herself. Unfortunately, she was not so lucky. Applejack, rubbing her eyes, pushed open the barn door and stepped out into the morning light. Pinwheel watched with Pale Hoof from the shadow of the orchard. Applejack yawned and set immediately to work, pulling an empty cart from the side of the barn. Pinwheel looked up at Pale Hoof. The tree he was standing near was beginning to wilt. Clumps of bright green leaves dropped off the branches. One of the leaves brushed Pale Hoof's fur as it floated down. By the time it hit the ground, it was a shriveled grey husk. "I'll go talk to her, I guess. Do you want to wait here?"
"NO." Pale Hoof rumbled. Pinwheel frowned at him.
"It might be better if I go alone. I'll warm her up and, once she's ready, I'll come introduce her to you." Pinwheel bargained. Pale Hoof gazed at her with sightless eye sockets.
"IF YOU INSIST."
"Thank you." Pinwheel smiled at him. Clearing her throat, she stepped out from the trees and headed toward the hat-wearing pony, "Excuse me, Miss Applejack?"
Applejack, who was busy loading her cart with sacks of mulch, paused and smiled at Pinwheel. She tipped her hat to the other pony. "Howdy there, Miss Pinwheel. Yer up mighty early. What can Ah do ya fer?"
"Well, uh, do you have a minute? I don't want to interrupt your work." Pinwheel grinned awkwardly, nodding to the sacks of mulch. Applejack looked at her cart, then frowned.
"Busy day t'day. Pens need mulchin', trees need prunin', but…hey, sure, Ah don't mind. It can wait a moment." Applejack smiled easily at Pinwheel, "There somethin' ya need?"
"A…friend of mine is studying the Elements of Harmony," Pinwheel lied through her teeth. At the mention of the Elements, Applejack tipped back her hat and squinted hard at Pinwheel, "and he wanted to know what happened to them after you defeated Nightmare Moon."
"Th' Elements? Well…certainly, Ah can tell ya." Applejack scuffed the dirt with her hoof, her face screwed up in thought, "It was really somethin', Miss Pin. There we were, facin' down Nightmare Moon herself. It looked like the elements were destroyed 'r broken, but all o' sudden, the pieces started floatin'. There was this bright light an' suddenly, we were all wearin' these necklaces. Heh, Ah know it sounds pretty far fetched when ya hear it, bu' it's true."
Pinwheel nodded slowly. "Do you still have this necklace?"
"Sure Ah do. If ya like, Ah could get it fer ya."
"Does it have any special powers?"
Applejack looked back down at the dirt, smiling shyly. "Not that I can tell, no. Ah wouldn't understand how that magic stuff works anyway. Ya oughta talk ta Twilight about it. She's the one who figured the Elements out an' got 'em workin' in the first place."
"Sure. I was going to swing by the library anyway. Thanks for your time, Applejack." Pinwheel bowed her head to the other pony.
"Shucks, ain't no trouble. I'm sorry Ah couldn't help ya more." Apple jack pulled the brim of her hat down, nodding to Pinwheel. Glancing back toward the orchard, Pinwheel caught sight of Pale Hoof. He watched them silently from shadow of the branches. The tree he stood near was visibly starting to die, shedding leaves by the bushel. Pinwheel's throat felt dry. Glancing up, Applejack caught sight of the wilting tree, "Well, hold up there, there's somethin' wrong with that tree. Wait a moment, that a pony under there?" Applejack pushed past Pinwheel, walking curiously toward the tree. Beads of icy sweat erupted all down Pinwheel's neck.
"Uh…uh…that's my…that's my friend. He's shy." Pinwheel lied again, blushing deeply. She trotted alongside Applejack, trying to stop her from getting too close, "He's a little weird looking, so he's timid about talking to people. It'd be better if we stayed over here."
"Sorry there, Miss Pin, but Ah gotta take a look at that tree. A tree shouldn't be droppin' leaves in the middle o' summer."
Pinwheel trailed weakly after Applejack. Pale Hoof, in this dark, shady spot beneath the tree, didn't move. Applejack came to a hard stop when she caught sight of him. Her hat nearly tumbled off her head. Her pupils shrank to tiny spots. "This…is yer friend?" Applejack mumbled. Grimacing, Pinwheel nodded. Turning, Applejack gawked at Pinwheel, her ears back and her mouth open, "Why, ya'll can't be serious. He…he's got no face!"
"WE'VE BEEN TOLD." Pale Hoof rumbled. At the sound of his icy cold voice, Applejack turned faintly green.
"Wha…what's wrong with 'im?" Applejack asked, looking Pale Hoof up and down.
"I know he looks scary, but really he's…" Pinwheel began explaining, but she was soon cut off. Applejack caught sight of Pale Hoof's hoof, which rested lightly on the tree's roots. All around his hoof, there was a festering black rot. The rot crept up the side of the tree like a fungus, turning the bark to a mushy cocktail of death and disease. Applejack let out a sharp, horrified gasp.
"MAH TREE!" She squealed, "GET AWAY FROM IT!" Pale Hoof stumbled back. Wherever his hooves landed, the grass in that spot died instantly.
"I am SO sorry!" Pinwheel squeaked, "I am SO SO sorry!"
"Sorry nothin'! Yer friend was killin' mah tree!" Applejack stamped her hooves, "What is this black gunk? Some kinda herbicide?"
"I don't know, I…" Pinwheel began, but it was too late. Applejack was already running for the barn.
"Big Macintosh!" She called, "Big Macintosh!"
Pinwheel stared desperately at Pale Hoof. "Let's go." Pale Hoof followed her as she galloped out of the orchard and off the farm. Once they were a safe distance from the dead tree, Pinwheel turned sharply and glared at Pale Hoof, "You need to be more careful! You know that everything you touch dies!"
Pale Hoof glanced back toward the farm, then down at Pinwheel. "IT WAS SIMPLY A TREE. I DID NOT THINK IT MATTERED."
"Didn't think it—? Are you CRAZY? Of course it matters!" Pinwheel ranted, pacing nervously back and forth, "What else 'doesn't matter'? Ponies' pets? Little fillies?"
"THIS BOTHERS YOU."
"Gee, is it that obvious?" Pinwheel covered her face with her hoof, "Listen…if we want this 'date' to go off without a hitch, don't touch anything."
"NOT EVEN YOU?"
"Especially not me!" Pinwheel squeaked, then blushed, "I…I mean…anyway! Applejack said that Twilight probably knew a lot about the Elements. So let's go talk to Twilight!" Pinwheel's words sounded awkward and forced. She swallowed and ducked her head, pushing on toward Ponyville. They'd have to walk through the town square if they wanted to get through the library. They could walk all the way around Ponyville, but that would take too long. There was no telling what Pale Hoof might do if he got impatient. What were the odds of him getting fed up and reaping her soul right here?
The morning was maturing as they reached Ponyville. Ponies were outside running errands, playing with their fillies, and chatting on the street corners. Pinwheel's stomach did a sickening flip. She would have to lead Pale Hoof through a crowded street full of ponies and foals. Even worse, she saw Lily and Roseluck setting up their flower kiosks near the town pavilion. They tended to scream and faint whenever they saw something even vaguely frightening. To get to the library, Pinwheel would have to walk right past them. She hid with Pale Hoof in a dark alley, watching in silent horror as more and more ponies emerged from their houses.
"Next time you come here, seriously, give yourself a normal looking face!" Pinwheel grumbled hatefully at Pale Hoof, who said nothing. Pacing back and forth in the alley, Pinwheel tried to come up with a solution. Just walking Pale Hoof through the square might cause a panic, especially with the fainting-prone Flower Ponies standing right in their path. Even so, walking all the way around Ponyville would take a long time and Pale Hoof might not have the patience. She didn't know him well enough to guess. Then, something caught Pinwheel's eye. There, in the dark space behind Pale Hoof, was a simple grey tarp. Slipping past him, Pinwheel untied the tarp with her teeth and tossed it over Pale Hoof's head. Neck creaking, Pale Hoof looked down at his new hood. "There…just tie it and bam! Instant hood. I should have thought of this sooner. Now just don't touch anyone and we're golden."
Pinwheel let out a sigh of relief. The tarp hid Pale Hoof's skull face perfectly. Mustering a smile, she walked with him out into the street. They made it past the flower ponies' kiosks without incident, although all of Lily's merchandise wilted as Pale Hoof passed. Grinning awkwardly at Lily, Pinwheel kept walking. The library tree was in sight. All she had to do was get to the library and ask Twilight about the Elements. Easy.
"I don't see how you can keep leading those turtles around! They're so slow." Pinwheel looked up to see a blue pegasus with a rainbow mane flapping gently overhead. A pale yellow pegasus with a long pink mane followed beneath her, a family of turtles in her wake. The yellow pegasus smile and laughed gently, her voice very quiet.
"It doesn't matter how fast or slow an animal goes," The pegasus replied softly, "they all need special care."
Pinwheel stopped in her tracks. Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash, the two pegasi who'd helped defeat Nightmare Moon. Putting on a big smile, Pinwheel walked up to them. "Hey there!" The two pegasi paused. Fluttershy lowered her head, hiding her face behind her forelock. Rainbow Dash dropped to the ground, smiling.
"Hey!" She said, flipping her colorful mane. Fluttershy hid behind her, head down with her shoulders hunched, "You're Pinwheel, right?"
Pinwheel nodded. "Yeah."
"You're friends with Dizzy Twist. She and I have cloud duty together sometimes." Dash replied, "She's not as fast as me, but, hey, no one is."
"Yeah, Dizzy talks about you too." Pinwheel nodded to the rainbow pegasus, "Says you're the fastest pegasus in Ponyville."
"Ponyville? Try 'all of Equestria'!" Rainbow Dash huffed, chest puffed with pride, "But anyway, did you need something?"
"Actually, I do." Pinwheel replied, gesturing to Pale Hoof, "My…friend here and I are researching the Elements of Harmony. You guys helped defeat Nightmare Moon, so we figured we'd come talk to you about it."
"Oh yeah." Rainbow Dash chuckled, "Well, uh…I mean, we all helped defeat her, but it was really Twilight who did the work. But I did get this awesome necklace out of it!"
"Oh…There's more to it than that, Rainbow Dash…" A small voice said behind the blue pegasus. Fluttershy lifted her head a little, blinking her large teal eyes, "All of us got an element. And if we weren't there, Twilight wouldn't have been able to do anything at all…"
Rainbow Dash grinned. "You're right. We WERE pretty cool, weren't we?" While they were talking, Fluttershy's turtle family was still on the move. They crawled slowly ahead of her, taking measured steps. Pale Hoof watched the turtles intently, but didn't move as they began filing toward him. Pinwheel glanced at him, then followed his gaze down to the procession.
"Uh, Pale Hoof, maybe you should move." Pinwheel suggested, but the turtles were already crawling between his hooves. Pale Hoof lifted his feet to make way for them, but one of the baby turtles brushed his fur as it passed. The tiny reptile couldn't take another step before it keeled over on the ground, dead. Fluttershy let out a tiny gasp, rushing over to the dead turtle. Pale Hoof quickly stepped out of the way.
"Oh no…" Fluttershy whispered, nudging the unmoving turtle with her nose, "Oh no…!" The other turtles stopped, looking as Fluttershy prodded their lifeless sibling with her hoof. The baby turtle didn't respond, lying still as a stone on the dirt. Tears welled up in Fluttershy's eyes. Still poking the turtle, she began to sob quietly.
Rainbow Dash gazed down at the turtle, then glared up at Pale Hoof. "What did you do?" She barked, stampeding up to tall grey colt, "You killed Fluttershy's turtle!"
"He didn't mean to…" Pinwheel defended, but Rainbow Dash wasn't listening.
"What kind of jerk kills a baby turtle? You made Fluttershy cry, you big bully!" Dash ranted. She spread her wings and lifted off the ground, flying just high enough to meet Pale Hoof face to face. Pale Hoof gazed down at the dead turtle, his tarp cloak shading his skull from view, "Hey, buddy! I'm talkin' to you!"
"Seriously, he didn't mean it! It was an accident!" Pinwheel asserted, standing next to Pale Hoof.
"He better apologize if he doesn't want a whoopin'!" Dash challenged.
Pinwheel gazed desperately up at Pale Hoof. "Pale Hoof…" She begged. Silently, Pale Hoof walked over to the dead turtle. Seeing the tall colt, Fluttershy let out a squeak and backed away. Slowly, Pale Hoof lowered his head and breathed on the turtle before backing away. The baby turtle lifted its tiny green head. Fluttershy let out a small gasp of amazement as the baby stumbled forward to join its waiting family. She lifted her head, gazing shyly at Pale Hoof.
"Th-thank you…" She whispered, hurrying after her turtles. Rainbow Dash huffed.
"Yeah, that's more like it." The blue pegasus grumbled, flying off after her friend.
Pinwheel exhaled, covering her face with a hoof. "…So why didn't you do that to Applejack's tree?"
"TREES DON'T HAVE SOULS."
"Yeah, that makes perfect sense." Pinwheel rolled her eyes, "Now let's see if we can get to Twilight's without you ruining anything else."
Palehoof drew back as if offended. "I RESTORED THE TURTLE." He stressed, a hint of displeasure in his otherworldly voice.
"Yeah, but you killed it too. And you made her cry." Pinwheel retorted. She let out a long sigh, "But…I guess bringing the turtle back to life makes up for it. Sorry for getting mad at you."
"…LET US MEET THIS TWILIGHT, THEN." Without another word, Pale Hoof started off toward the library tree. A pit of guilt formed in Pinwheel's gut. She grimaced, trailing after Pale Hoof.
The library door was open. Inside, Twilight had a few different books piled on top of the table. She was looking through them one by one, levitating them with her unicorn magic. Pinwheel cleared her throat. Looking up, Twilight smiled at the two ponies. "Hello there!" She said cheerfully, beckoning them inside with a twist of her neck. Pinwheel nodded, stepping shyly inside. Pale Hoof followed. As soon as he entered, the lights blew out and several books jettisoned from the shelves as if propelled by rockets. Twilight jumped in fright, but let out a kind laugh, "Wow, bad light bulb, I guess! Hey, Spike!"
The baby dragon slid down from the loft. "Right here, Twilight." With a burst of green flame, he lit a handful of candles and placed them around the room, "I'll go to Mr. Spark's Hardware and pick up some new light bulbs in a minute."
"Thank you, Spike." Twilight replied, lifting the fallen books and setting them back in place with her magic. She smiled at Pinwheel, "Spike told me you dropped by. I read your story!"
Pinwheel's eyes widened. "You did?"
"Yes. It was very interesting. I've never read a story about the pony reaper before." Twilight picked Pinwheel's spiral notebook up off the desk and handed it to her. Pale Hoof gazed down at Pinwheel, but said nothing, "You're a pretty good writer, Pinwheel."
Pinwheel blushed. "Really?"
"Yeah! I'd like to read more of your story. If you write some more, be sure to let me know!" Twilight answered kindly. Pinwheel blushed deeper, holding her notebook close in her hooves, "Was there anything else you needed?"
"G-gosh, no one's ever told me I was good at writing before. I'll…I'll definitely write more for you." Pinwheel smiled to herself, looking down at the notebook. She glanced back up at Twilight, "Uh…my friend and I were looking for information on the Elements of Harmony. Do you know what happened to them?"
Twilight was silent for a moment. "Yes, I do. Let me show you something." Turning, she walked to a chest near the side of the room. Opening the chest, she pulled out a beautiful tiara set with a gleaming stone in the shape of her cutie-mark. Pinwheel's eyes widened as Twilight set the tiara down on the table. The gem in the center seemed to glow with a light of its own, outshining all the candles in the room.
"it's beautiful!" Pinwheel gasped.
"Thank you." Twilight replied, bowing her head, "My friends and I got these gems when we activated the Elements and purified Nightmare Moon. This tiara represents the sixth and most powerful element, magic."
"MAGIC." Pale Hoof repeated. Twilight started, eyes widening. She shook her head, laughing quietly.
"Sorry. I didn't expect you to sound like that. It caught me off guard." She apologized, "But…yes, magic."
"So the Elements weren't destroyed." Pinwheel surmised.
"Their power became these gems. But the real elements, I think, live inside me and the other ponies who helped defeat Nightmare Moon, my friends." Twilight explained.
"COULD YOU REACTIVATE THEM?" Pale Hoof asked.
"Perhaps with the right spell." Twilight explained, "But there's no need to. We rescued Princess Luna and Equestria is at peace. Besides…I think it's a little too much power for six simple ponies from Ponyville. I'll reactivate them when Princess Celestia needs me too, but not before."
"A WISE CHOICE." Pale Hoof whispered. Twilight nodded to him, smiling.
"I have a great book about the Elements, if you want to continue your reading. It's a little out of date now, but it helped me find them originally!" Twilight offered, pulling the book off the shelf with her magic and levitating it over to Pinwheel. Pale Hoof plucked it out of the air with his teeth, his tarp hood still hiding his face.
"Thanks, Twilight." Pinwheel sighed, "We won't take up any more of your time."
"Nonsense. This is a library. Come by whenever you feel like it." Twilight giggled. Pinwheel smiled. Silently, Pale Hoof took the book and slipped outside. Waving goodbye to Twilight, Pinwheel followed him. Outside, he dropped the book on the ground and flipped the pages, coming to a detailed illustration of the six elements. Pinwheel looked over his shoulder, frowning at the page.
"Well…that didn't take long. We still have the rest of the day to do things…" Pinwheel tried to smile at Pale Hoof, but couldn't. Although they'd gotten the information he wanted, it still felt like she was taking him on a lousy date. Even if the 'date' was just a pretense to make her feel better about dying, Pinwheel did want to show him a good time. If this really was her last day on Equestria, Pinwheel wanted it to be a good one.
"THE ELEMENTS ARE IN GOOD HOOVES. I AM SATISFIED." Pale Hoof answered. Pinwheel frowned at him.
"Well, uh…is there anything else you want to do?"
Pale Hoof looked down at her. "I HAVE NOT TASTED MORTAL FOOD IN MANY YEARS." He looked up. Sugarcube Corner stood a ways away from the library. He gestured to the gingerbread house, "TAKE ME THERE."
Pinwheel laughed. "Wait'll you meet Pinkie Pie. You'll love her cupcakes."
Pinwheel sat in the dark field next to Pale Hoof, watching him eat his ice cream cone. He held it precariously between his hooves, licking it with a forked black tongue that looked more like it should belong to a lizard than a pony. Pinwheel's own ice cream cone, vanilla with sprinkles, was beginning to melt over her hooves. Still, watching Pale Hoof eat was too funny to miss. He had two scoops of Death by Chocolate and most of it was all over his bony muzzle and teeth. He was honest when he said he hadn't eaten in many years – he seemed to have forgotten how. "Do you, ah, need some help there, Pale Hoof?"
"I AM FINE." He replied, chocolate dripping off his chin. Pinwheel giggled.
"Do you like chocolate?"
"I FORGOT WHAT IT TASTED LIKE."
"I thought it was pretty funny when you went up to Berry Sorbet and ordered it without your hood on. She was so shocked!" Pinwheel giggled, licking her cone. His improvisational tarp cloak lay abandoned a few feet from where they sat. They'd ventured a mile or so out of Ponyville to watch the sun setting over the mountains. Now the stars were out, millions of them twinkling unobstructed by any clouds. The patch of grass they sat on was dead and scratchy, but Pinwheel found she didn't mind. "Oh…but it wasn't as funny as when we went to visit Rarity." Rarity spent five whole minutes scolding Pale Hoof for his 'sad, tacky tarp cloak'. Even funnier was when he removed the cloak, she only gawked for a moment before lecturing him again about how tawdry skulls were. Pinwheel couldn't stop laughing the entire time. Pinkie Pie's reaction was even more ridiculous, though. They met her at Sugarcube Corner on their way to Rarity's. As soon as she saw Pale Hoof sans mask, she laughed out loud and fled from the room.
"YOU PONIES ARE VERY STRANGE," Pale Hoof confirmed, looking down at Pinwheel, "BUT THAT IS NOT A BAD THING."
"Yeah, well, you're pretty strange too." Pinwheel smirked, "But you're not bad. At least, I think you're not."
"DEATH IS NEITHER GOOD NOR BAD. IT SIMPLY IS."
"Well, this may seem weird, but you seem like an okay colt to me. I had fun today." Pinwheel sighed happily, finishing off her ice cream, "I guess if this is my last day on Equestria, it was pretty good."
"WHAT MAKES YOU THINK THIS WAS YOUR LAST DAY?" Pale Hoof asked curiously, peering at her with his eyeless sockets.
"You said so yourself. If I don't make this the most head-explodingly cool date ever, I get dragged to the Afterlife." Pinwheel frowned down at the grass, "I mean, all we did was just walk around and get snacks. That's not very cool."
"I NEVER SAID THAT."
Pinwheel looked up at him curiously. "No?"
"I HAD FUN TOO." Pale Hoof answered softly, "I AM GLAD TO KNOW THE ELEMENTS ARE SAFE. AND…"
"I WANT TO READ THE STORY YOU WROTE ABOUT ME."
Pinwheel turned faintly pink. "It's…not that good. Twilight was just saying those things to make me feel better…"
"I WANT TO READ IT."
Pinwheel smiled a little. "All right." She glanced up at the deep blue sky, then down at her watch. 11:45 pm. They'd been sitting out here talking for a few hours now. The day and the date was nearly over, "So…do I get to stay here? Or are you going to send me to the Afterlife?"
Pale Hoof was silent for a moment. "YOU GET TO STAY," He began, "ON ONE CONDITION."
Pinwheel gawked. "Hey! You never said anything about conditions! That's not fair!"
"HEAR ME OUT." Pale Hoof insisted. Pinwheel fell silent, "YOU GET TO STAY AS LONG AS I CAN COME VISIT YOU WHENEVER I PLEASE."
Cocking her head, Pinwheel blinked at him. "Wait…so you're asking for a second date?"
"That's…" Pinwheel paused in thought, "That's…fine, I guess. Sure."
Pale Hoof finished off his ice cream and licked the chocolate from his muzzle. He rose to his feet. Pinwheel rose as well. Slowly, he turned to face her. "THANK YOU, PINWHEEL. I WILL LOOK FORWARD TO IT."
Pinwheel grinned. "Hey, no problem. Really…you're not so scary after all. I don't mind going on a second date with you."
"VERY WELL THEN. WE SHALL MEET AGAIN SOON." He finished with a hint of a smile in his mysterious voice. Then, with a sudden gust of wind, he vanished into the darkness. Pinwheel stood alone on the hillside in the moonlight.