Albert sat in the kitchen of Death’s Humble Abode, leaning back in his chair, feet on the table. The comforting sound of sizzling oil filled the air, as another defenceless lunch was mercilessly drowned in congealed cholesterol. Despite setbacks, Albert was already well on his way to reproducing that unique blend of fats and lipids that made every meal a heart attack waiting to happen.
Licking his thumb, he slowly and deliberately turned the page of the Farmer’s Almanack. He’d read it so many times over the years that he could have reproduced it, woodcut for woodcut, whilst blindfolded, but decades-old habits are hard to break.
In precisely fifteen seconds, he would put the yellowing journal down on the table, get up, and turn over the sausage, adding another egg to the pan.
At least, that was the plan.
The aged manservant fell to floor with a thump as his chair slid from under him. Quickly picking himself up and dusting himself off, he found Pinkie already standing there, glowering.
“You rang, mas- Miss?”
Albert. Bring a lantern.
Pinkie’s eyes shone fiercely in the dim light of Death’s home.
We're going into the library.
“My dear, what are you doing?” Rarity asked, pulling open the door and giving Bill Door a slightly worried glance.
He was still dripping wet, with a visible trail of soap suds leading away from him, back towards the spa. He had, it seemed, been trying to walk through the walls of Carousel Boutique.
I was... Uh. Death didn’t think it would reflect well on this pony’s view of his sanity if he told the complete truth at this particular juncture. … Testing the structural integrity of your wall, he finished, lamely.
“... I... See.” Rarity said, raising an eyebrow. “... Do you want a towel...?”
Death looked down at the pool of water at his hooves.
Towel. Yes. It seems in my haste to make the appointment I neglected to dry myself. I do apologise.
“Oh, it’s nothing, darling. You needn’t rush on my account. Here...” Rarity led him inside, and drifted a towel over, giving him a vigorous scrubbing. Satisfied, she whisked the dripping cloth away into the laundry room, bringing her attention back to the bone dry stallion standing in her shop front.
“So, Mr. Door, I hope you won’t mind, but I’ve taken the liberty of putting together a little something for you...”
Rarity’s horn lit up as the screen separating shop floor from podium slid aside, revealing a mannequin (pony-quin? clotheshorse?) modelling a dapper pinstripe suit, with tails, a black top hat, white shirt and black cravat.
“I know it may look a little... Macabre, at first glance, but when I saw you I just knew it would be perfect!” she smiled, a genuine, slightly nervous smile of someone who hopes their work is appreciated but isn’t quite sure of the outcome.
Death looked at her. No one ever really smiled at Death. He smiled all the time. As has been noted, he didn’t have much choice.
He looked at the suit.
He paced around the mannequin, examining it from every angle.
I like it. He declared. Rarity let out a not-particularly-ladylike squeal and pulled the screen back across, obscuring her and her client from view.
What followed was unlike anything Death had ever had the misfortune to experience. All he could recall was the room growing dark, a rustle of clothing, a sudden force, and then he was standing there fully clothed. His admirable mental faculties wisely decided to ignore the problem of how Rarity had managed to dress him without him moving or lifting a hoof, and instead moved to admiring the seamstress’ hoofwork. Considering she hadn’t been anywhere near him with a tape measure, it fit remarkably well.
… A little too well.
It took Death a few seconds to fully realize why.
He was flesh and bone.
“... Is it too tight?” Rarity asked, a little concerned that the stallion seemed to have blanked out, staring, pupils shrunken, at some point in the middle distance.
Death pulled himself together.
“No, no, it-” I mean, no, it fits perfectly, thank you. He coughed, deliberately. How much do I owe you?
“Oh, no, no, darling, there’s no charge! I’m happy to provide for a stallion of means such as yourself! We couldn’t have such a gentlecolt walking around town without looking his very best, now could we?”
Death glanced at his reflection in the mirror.
“No, I-” I suppose not.
Rarity gave him another look of concern, sidling up to him. “Are you sure you’re alright, darling? You sound a little... hoarse.”
“I’m fin-” Fine. Really.
“And you look awfully pale.”
“That-” That's normal.
“And you’re sweating.”
“It’s- It’s the heat.” Death coughed, again, this time less deliberately. Now she came to mention it, he did feel a little weak. And there was a gnawing feeling in the pit of his stomach. It made him feel vaguely nauseous. “... I’m fine.”
“Now you’re swaying! Oh, darling, you must be coming down with something!” Rarity fussed, placing a hoof on Death’s forehead to feel his temperature. This was a completely futile task as the insulating effect of the hoof meant she couldn’t exactly feel anything, but it somehow felt like the right thing to do in the circumstances.
“We should go see my friend, Fluttershy, she’ll have just the thing, I’m sure. She takes care of all the animals around Ponyville, and more than a few ponies, when it’s nothing too serious. Or there’s the hospital...”
Death winced. “No hospitals.”
“If you insist, darling. Now, it’s not far to walk, but-”
A thud made Rarity turn back around, to see Death lying splayed out on the floor.
“... You know what, you just stay right there and I’ll be back tout de suite.”
Death’s Library was, perhaps, the largest collection of books in the Discworld. I say perhaps, because the dimensions of the library of the Unseen University have never been fully measured, and indeed, several cartographers have been lost to insanity, delirium, and malevolent tomes in the attempt.
Death’s Library, however, contained the autobiography of every living thing on the Discworld, or at least, every sapient thing. Unlike the library of the Unseen University, it did have a finite beginning and end, but no mortal had ever traversed the full length of those dark, unlit halls.
The books wrote and organized themselves. When their owner’s story had ended, they shifted down the corridors to the shelves and shelves of books that had long since ceased to record their tales. It was eerie, walking down the stacks, and hearing the hushed scratching of thousands upon thousands of lives being lived. Unlike the soothing noise of the falling sand of the Room of Lifetimers, the sound of the Library made the listener anxious. It was as if at any moment you might hear one book among many suddenly cease, and you would know another tale had drawn to its close.
Pinkie was making such speed along the stone flooring that she was nearly galloping, but, Albert noticed, in that strange, stalking gait the Master used. Indeed, the clip-clop of her horseshoes was even beginning to sound, to Albert’s old ears, like the click-click of bone on tile.
Hurrying to keep up with her, Albert lurched along by the smoky light of an oil lantern, fearfully glancing up at the looming shelves. The last time he’d been in here, he remembered, that Boy and the Master’s Daughter had presented him with his own life. Forcefully. To the cranium. From a great height. It was an experience he was not anxious to relive.
As the scratching became quieter, and finally ceased altogether, Pinkie suddenly stopped short in the middle of the floor, and Albert had to stop himself from running into her.
It's here. She said, the words falling into place in the silence like lead slabs.
“What is? Who are you looking for?” Albert asked, perplexed. She hadn’t spoken a word since dragging him away from lunch, and given his prior experience with the pink pony, this was worrisome enough.
She didn’t reply, but stared up at the shelves, her eyes blazing blue in the dark. Finally, she spoke again.
Normally I suppose I would click my fingers, but given the circumstances...
She raised her hoof, and brought it down on the stone tiles so hard that they crumbled into dust, the thunderclap echoing through the library and shaking the shelves. One single, solitary book slipped from its place, high above, and fell to the ground with a second loud thump.
Pinkie momentarily eyed the thin lettering on the leather cover. ‘Terrak Keksy’. She flipped it over with her hooves, nosing it open at the last page.
“... What’s so special about this one?” Albert asked, leaning over her shoulder and peering at the text.
He died, she answered, continuing to read.
“... Everyone in here is dead! All these books are is records of the dead! Why’s this one any different?”
He died. Because of me.
Her eyes burned brighter than any torch.
And now I know who did it.
No less than fifteen minutes later, the door burst open, threatening the continued health of its hinges, framing the heroic figure of Rarity, flanked by Nurse Redheart and Fluttershy.
“Have no fear, darling, I return with medical help!” she cried, while the other two mares made their way around her and into the building.
Death was still lying where Rarity had left him, although with the addition of Opal resting on his head, curled up and quite content. He was doing a remarkable impression of a corpse, which wasn’t too surprising, considering.
Redheart frowned and immediately went to check for a pulse, nodding to Rarity and Fluttershy some seconds later in confirmation that he was, despite all appearances, still alive. Rarity breathed a sigh of relief.
“Thank heavens! I thought he might have... Well, it doesn’t bear thinking about. Will he be alright? Oh, Fluttershy, be a dear and fetch a blanket for him, would you? Are you sure he’ll be alright, Nurse- Oh, Opal! Don’t get in the way! Tsk. Now, are-”
“Rarity, he’s fine,” the Nurse interrupted, smiling. “I can’t see anything immediately wrong with him, but he’s certainly still conscious, aren’t you, sir?”
“... Yes?” Death answered, weakly. He wasn’t too certain what she meant by ‘conscious’, given he’d never really been anything else and had nothing with which to compare it.
“And your ears are still working! Ah, thank you, Fluttershy...” Redheart continued as the pegasus gently draped the blanket over Death. “Now, I’ll just perform a few simple tests, and we’ll have you back on your hooves in no time, hmm?” She set to work while Rarity hovered nervously, eventually glancing up at the fashionista with a meaningful glance.
Rarity took the hint and scuttled aside, dragging Fluttershy (and Opal, resting on the pegasus’ wings) with her.
Once safely out of earshot, she gave another worried glance over at Death, then turned back to Fluttershy, grinning broadly.*
“What luck! Handsome, unattached stallion, and he’s ill in my boutique!” she said, making darting glances back and forth. Fluttershy blinked.
“Oh, Fluttershy, it’s wonderful! I mean, not that he’s ill, that’s terrible, and I wish him the best of health, but now he’ll definitely remember his visit here, and more importantly, me!”
“... I... see?” The yellow pegasus replied, perplexed.
“And he’s a lawyer! Oh, after that awful affair at the Gala, I was fearing I’d never find the stallion of my dreams, but there he is! In my boutique! Being nursed by another mare-” Rarity stopped, and frowned. “... Well, anyway, what do you think of him, Fluttershy? Be honest with me now, darling.”
Fluttershy looked over at where Death was being helped up by Nurse Redheart.
“... He’s... Nice.”
“W-well, he’s... J-just not my type, Rarity. I’m sure he’s lovely, though!” Fluttershy said, trying to dig her way out of the conversation.
“Hmph. Oh, he’s back on his hooves!” Rarity observed, rushing back over. She was about to open her mouth when Redheart stopped her.
“He’s fine, before you ask, Rarity. And he’s not ill, either! He collapsed because he hasn’t eaten anything in days!” the medic said, smiling. “Stallion of your size, too, can’t think how.”
“... I had a lot on my mind,” Death replied.
“Oh, you poor dear! Let me whip something up for you! Fluttershy, Nurse, would you care to stay for a late lunch?” Rarity asked, zipping over to the kitchen door.
“Oh, that would be lovely, Rarity, if it... If it isn’t too much trouble, I mean,” Fluttershy replied.
“No trouble at all, dear! Three can feast as easily as two! And you, Nurse?”
“Thank you, Rarity, but I should probably get back to the hospital. Drop by later if there’s any other problems, though!”
They waved Nurse Redheart off, and Rarity began preparing a meal. Death and Fluttershy stood in awkward silence in the shop front.
“Oh, I nearly forgot! Have you any requests, Mr. Door?” Rarity called across from the kitchen.
He thought for a moment.
“I could murder a curry.”
* Indeed, like a Cheshire cat. However, Cheshire cats are not particularly well known in Equestria, due to the general lack of Cheshire, so the phrase has here been substituted for a more suitable adjective.**
** Opal, on the other hoof, regularly demonstrates a grin that would make even the eponymous Cestrian jealous.