• Published 30th Aug 2015
  • 1,108 Views, 59 Comments

Do Not Go Gentle - ShinigamiDad



Death's Harbinger needs Luna and Twilight's help to solve a centuries-old mystery

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Starswirl

Luna and Twilight looked around blankly for a moment, their eyes adjusting to the endless empty, flat-lit, grey expanse. Reaper appeared silently behind them.

“OK, so where to begin…?” Reaper said, summoning a low, padded couch for himself, and several cushions for his guests.

Reaper tapped his chin with his hoof: “Luna, I know you remember Starswirl the Bearded, and you, Twilight, I assume have read every scrap about him you could find.”

Both alicorns nodded.

“But,” Reaper continued, “I doubt either of you really know him--or knew him, in your case, Luna--very well. Honestly, the only pony left who knew him better than I did, is Celestia, and even I only knew him well at the end of his long life.”

“So?” Luna asked, “Surely you don’t suspect he had any part in this?”

“Or has, if you’re trying to make this out to be some kind of zombie-slash-ghost story!” Twilight chimed in.

Reaper smiled: “Not quite Princess, though you’re both kind of on the right track.”

He leaned back and closed his eyes: “How well can you recall his dreams, Luna?”

Luna furrowed her brow: “Hmm--not well. I’m sure he must have slept, but I am hard-pressed to call anything to mind at this time.”

Reaper nodded: “We’ll get back to that in a bit. I think it’ll make more sense when we’ve reviewed my two Starswirl death visions.”

Twilight raised an eyebrow: “Two? How can he have two death visions? Doesn’t everypony only die once?”

“Correct,” Reaper answered, “though there are some rare exceptions, most notably ponies who nearly die in accidents or of a particularly virulent disease. I have shown up on some of those occasions, anticipating death, but the pony in question pulled back at the last moment.”

“Cheating death, as it were,” Luna said.

Reaper smiled and nodded: “Literally! Though only temporarily, of course. Sooner or later I guide everypony out of this world. But some need a little more, shall we say, persuasion than others.”

“And that’s where Starswirl comes into the picture,” he explained. “He was already 97 years old when I first came to him. It was his time to go, and, well…”

Reaper’s stood, horn glowing, and beckoned his companions to follow him through the door that had just appeared before them.

The three ponies stepped into a cluttered study, filled with glassware, tools, bits of metal, cobwebs, and endless stacks, row, piles and shelves of books and scrolls.

“You’ve both been here, I trust?” Reaper asked.

Luna nodded: “Yes, though not for centuries, and not frequently. As you pointed out, Starswirl was far more in my sister’s confidence than mine.”

“And I’ve only seen it centuries after he died," Twilight said, looking around with wonder. “It’s fascinating to see it as he would have seen it!”

“Well, if you find this interesting,” Reaper nodded toward two dim figures sitting together in a darkened corner, “you’re gonna love that!”

They picked their way through the messy, crowded study until they stood next to a table. Reaper and Starswirl were at the table, arguing over a scroll while a lamp guttered nearby, throwing a dim light across the parchment.

“Dammit, you old warlock!” Reaper growled, “You’ve had 97 years! If you haven’t finished your work in that time, that’s a shame, I suppose, but not my problem!”

Starswirl leaned back and arched his eyebrows: “I am no warlock, Harbinger, you know that! I use no dark magic--at least not in its darkest form!”

Reaper rolled his eyes: “You know what I mean! You’re clearly meddling with powers here that are best left alone!” He thumped the parchment dramatically with a hoof.

“I’ve been researching the ancient texts for years!” Starswirl replied indignantly. “I think I know what I’m doing!”

Reaper leaned across the table, nostrils flaring: “And what are you doing, Starswirl?” he asked pointedly. “Why are you trying to prolong ponies’ lives unnaturally?”

“Have we not been prolonging our lives “unnaturally” for centuries?” Starswirl countered, pacing restlessly next to the table.

“Have we not increased production of better, more-nutritious crops? Have we not expanded our knowledge and skills in medicine?” He continued, “Or would you rather we simply die sooner and more-easily again, as we did in ancient days? Do we not have the right to increase the bounty of our lives in all ways?”

Reaper shook his head: “That’s not the same! Better crops and techniques have been created and discovered due to generations of diligent work by earth ponies…”

And unicorn research, in many cases!” Starswirl interrupted.”

Reaper sighed angrily: “Yes, in conjunction with earth ponies who know agriculture best! Who have you consulted in your “research,” Starswirl? What experts? These scrolls, full of dark magic and ancient riddles?”

He stepped around the end of the table in order to confront Starswirl face-to-face.

“Does Celestia know about this?” Reaper asked, raising an eyebrow. “I’m sure she’d be thrilled by this, yes?”

Starswirl winced and looked away, drifting subtly toward the table.

“That’s what I thought.” Reaper concluded, loosening his blade in its sheath. “It’s time to go, old colt. You don’t need to finish this research!”

Starswirl looked at the crumpled parchment with a pained expression: “But there is so much that can be learned here, so much it can tell us about this world’s ultimate fate, and about ponies’ part in it!”

Starswirl leaned in close to the writing, intently studying several key characters. He murmured a few syllables, and two glyphs on the page glowed briefly, as did Reaper’s cutie mark.

Reaper--both past and present--blinked heavily and shook his head sharply. His sword settled back into its sheath. He brought a hoof to his muzzle and rubbed it wearily.

He sighed heavily: “Look, I have had deaths briefly escape me from time to time, and have granted a few days of grace, here and there.”

Starswirl looked up from the table intently, and held his breath.

“You have two days, Starswirl,” Reaper said turning his back to the table. “Never before have I granted a pony such a boon. Tidy-up your notes and tell Celestia what you’ve been doing! I will be back two days hence.”

Reaper faded from the scene, and the room went dark and silent.

After a moment Twilight asked, “Why are we still here? The vision's done, yes?”

“Yes, Reaper replied heavily, “but not the story. Stand by for part two.”


The room brightened again, showing little change to indicate the passage of time. Starswirl, however, had clearly aged a great deal. He pored over a heavy, gilt-edged tome.

Reaper appeared behind Starswirl silently, sword already drawn.

Luna and Twilight both gasped.

“Don’t move,” Reaper said in a calm, measured tone. “You really need to go, this time!”

Starswirl took a deep breath and slowly stood erect. He did not turn to face Reaper.

“I’m ready this time, Harbinger,” Starswirl said heavily. "I'm tired."

Reaper nodded: “After an extra twenty years, I would think so!”

Starswirl turned stiffly toward Reaper: “I’m sorry for the long deception, but I had to finish my work, and ensure it was safely secured!”

“And by “work,” I assume you mean that spell that has kept you shielded from my perception all these years?” Reaper said.

Starswirl nodded weakly and sat down: “That was a piece of it, yes. I needed to keep you at bay while I worked out the more difficult elements. But it was all for naught.” He shut the tome, titled Codex of Shadows.

He continued: “I found any number of spells designed to stave off death, or cloak myself from other great powers, or other darker things, but no spell or artifact that would genuinely extend life.”

“I’m not surprised,” Reaper commented, sitting across from Starswirl, laying his sword across the Codex. “In the end, the Cosmos is governed by entropy. No creature, no matter how great, can do anything more than merely delay its march.”

Starswirl shut his eyes tiredly: “Not without paying a terrible cost…”

Reaper peered at the old wizard suspiciously: “What have you done?”

“Nothing,” Starswirl replied, “I could never have brought myself to such a pass. That was why I took these last few extra days. That research has been put beyond all reach.”

Reaper pursed his lips: “Hmm. Well, I hope so. You informed Celestia of all this, I trust?”

“Yes.”

“And you’re not cribbing another scrap of magic under your forelegs?” Reaper asked. “Once was enough.”

Starswirl rose stiffly and pointed at the table with his horn: “See for yourself.” The table was empty save for the dark, leather-bound book and the ancient, sooty lamp.

Reaper stood and levitated his sword. He walked around the table and stood to Starswirl’s right side.

Starswirl turned to face the faintly-glowing blade with tear-filled eyes: “I’m afraid…”

Reaper smiled: “You don’t look like it to me. You look like a mighty stallion meeting his fate bravely, standing on his own four hooves.”

The old unicorn closed his eyes as Reaper dipped his horn slightly, driving the blade effortlessly into Starswirl's chest.

“Tell Celestia I…” The words died on Starswirl’s lips as he sank to the floor.

Reaper withdrew the bloodless blade as a faint shimmer rose above Starswirl’s body for a moment. The old lantern’s wick burned out, sending a thin spire of soot-black smoke toward the ceiling.

The scene faded as Twilight softly wept.