• Published 21st Nov 2016
  • 412 Views, 57 Comments

Because I Could not Stop for Death - ShinigamiDad



Zecora tries to get home with Reaper and Luna's help, while Twilight seeks answers from a dark past.

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The Question

Twilight floated in the pool, warm, scented water lapping over her bare skin, Nahko rubbing a mixture of coarse salt and soaproot across her neck and shoulders. She took a deep breath and raised a hand out of the water, beckoning Eska closer.

“Get me some more wine, please.”

The parzaile leaned over the edge of the pool and reached for a pitcher of pale yellow wine, filling a silver-and-turquoise cup. She waded back across the pool and handed the cup to Twilight, who shifted and settled onto a sunken bench.

“Thank you. Could you put some more charcoal on the fire? I like it a bit warmer.”

“At once, m’Lady!”

Eska slid to the far side of the pool and pulled herself out next to the firepit. She tossed in a few chunks of inky-black charcoal, then tipped her head to one side, peering at a small stone jar sitting nearby.

She glanced over her shoulder at Twilight and Nahko, then quickly opened the jar and flicked a finger-load of its pungent, sticky contents into the embers.

Twilight took a long sip of wine and sighed heavily as the air in the room began to take on a sweet, spicy note. Her eyelids drooped as Nahko worked oil and soaproot through her hair.

“Oh, sweet Celestia, this feels good! All that time down in Tartarus is really fraying my nerves!”

Eska slipped back into the water and drifted next to Twilight, settling next to her and putting the wine cup to her own lips, then Twilight’s: “Has this time in our baths helped m’Lady?”

Twilight’s eyes dilated and her nostrils flared as she emptied her cup: “Oh, very much so!”

Eska took the wine cup from Twilight and placed the groggy Princess’ now-empty hand on her own tan-skinned breast. Twilight started, then smiled, closed her eyes and began to rub Eska’s nipple through the thin, clinging fabric.

Eska leaned in and slid her hand beneath the water and between Twilight’s open thighs. Twilight rocked back slightly and lifted her hips, allowing the parzaile full access. Twilight began to moan softly, and Nahko moved her soap-covered hands down to Twilight’s flushed breasts.

Twilight arched her back as Nahko poured water across her chest, rinsing the skin clean, then closed her teeth and lips over Twilight’s rigid left nipple.

Twilight gasped and squeezed her legs together as Eska’s fingers slipped inside her at the same time Nahko’s teeth bit lightly into her skin. She chewed her lip and grabbed Nahko’s wet hair.

The fire began to gutter, sending flickering shadows dancing across the three women's’ glistening bodies. Twilight began to pant and rock her hips, twisting her fingers deeper into Nahko’s hair, tugging her free from her nipple. She pulled Nahko’s face to hers and pressed her mouth hungrily against the parzaile’s.

Nahko’s eyes went wide with fear, and she began to struggle as Twilight opened her own eyes, now glowing silver-white, and stared into Nahko’s. She pulled the terrified, struggling woman closer, crushing their mouths together, sucking in her breath, holding the deadly embrace until the parzaile’s choked cries, spasms and clawing ceased. The faint tang of urine mingled with the odors of mets’il and charcoal and scented oils.

Twilight backed her face away and regarded Nahko’s half-lidded, vacant eyes for a moment before chewing her lip and letting the tattooed body drift away to the left and sink slightly beneath the water. She dabbed absently at a bleeding scratch on her cheek.

Suddenly the hair rose on the back of her neck and she turned slowly to her right, expecting to see Eska. Instead she was confronted by a pair of piercing aquamarine eyes in a dark face, framed by glossy, black hair.

Twilight woke with a start and struggled free of her blanket, catching sight of Luna standing at the foot of the bed, head tipped slightly to one side, brow furrowed.

Twilight sat back heavily on the bed and pulled the blanket around her shoulders, tucking her wings in tightly: “How-how long have you been there?”

Luna stepped around the side of the bed and sat down on a low ottoman: “Long enough. I was patrolling the dreamscape when I sensed you dreaming, and felt the dream’s rising intensity.”

A thin sliver ribbon rose from Luna’s horn and landed lightly on Twilight’s; the purple alicorn closed her eyes.

Luna eyes focused on Twilight’s face for a few moments, then she withdrew the silvery tendril: “I find it interesting that you incorporated mets’il into your dream after only the brief description I gave you the other day.”

“I-I didn’t mean--”

Luna smiled softly: “Of course you did not, Twilight. You have not learned the arts of directed and lucid dreaming--few ponies do. But clearly a dream this powerful is deeply-rooted.”

“But why? I really enjoy my time in the baths, and now I’m afraid I’ve ruined it!”

Luna smiled and shook her head: “Dux’a’s baths are my creation in a secured corner of the dreamscape--you cannot impact that. This was simply a dream of your own, and will have no effect on Nahko or Eska as you know them in my domain.”

Twilight sighed and summoned a cup of water from a side table: “Thank you for that, Luna! I--I’m just worried. My dreams have been getting darker again, this time with me as the focus of darkness.”

Luna nodded and levitated a cup of water for herself: “I know. This dream you just experienced, in particular, casts you as a direct agent of death.”

Twilight shuddered: “Like Reaper was to me.”

“Exactly. You slew Nahko just as Reaper took your life--well, almost took it.”

Twilight closed her eyes and swallowed heavily: “Yeah…”

Luna set her cup down: “What do you fear, Twilight? Not death, I think.”

“No--not really. I’ve basically died twice, and I’m not particularly afraid of that anymore.”

Luna opened her mouth then paused. Her eyes took on a distant aspect as she focused beyond the walls of the room.

Twilight tipped her head to one side: “Is everything OK, Luna?”

Luna blinked heavily and shook her head to clear the cobwebs: “Yes--I had a sudden rush of déjà vu, which is even more disorienting for me than for other ponies!”

“I can imagine! What were you going to say?”

“What do you fear?”

“The unknown, the unknowable, what lies beyond death.”

“Interesting. When confronted with that question, Reaper replied that he feared the deaths of others and his part in that as Gerrar.”

“I guess that makes sense, given what you’ve told me of Gerrar. But I’ve never been cruel nor lived in a barbaric world, so I don’t have a deep-seated, gut-wrenching fear of death.”

“You fear not knowing more, not being in control. Even when you were the Harbinger, you had to relinquish ultimate control after you sent spirits on their way.”

Twilight sipped her water: “Right--to an unknowable fate. I think that disturbed me more than anything else. There I was, the literal Agent of Death, and I still didn’t know what ultimately happens after you die!”

Luna smiled: “Nor did Starswirl, and it was one of his obsessions.”

“I know! And it was obviously an obsession for Grey Thorn, as well, though I still don’t really know why.”

“Perhaps the two are intertwined.”

“Maybe. I just wish I could get more answers out of him faster! I’m sure we’re running out of time, but he just keeps dragging things out!”

“I understand. Reaper and I plan to probe the Void again this evening in an attempt to contact Zecora. My sense of the realm within the Void was that it is akin the the dreamscape in some ways, but more distorted. And knowing that there is a malevolent presence at its heart, I will be more judicious in my approach next time!”

Twilight nodded: “Good, though I’m not sure ‘malevolent’ is really the right word. Whatever that thing is, I don’t think it’s really evil, per se--it’s more like a clever, violent animal.”

Luna furrowed her brow: “Like the hartz…”

“Hartz?”

Luna smiled: “A story for another day! Since Grey Thorn seems to be parceling-out information in small bites, what will you ask of him next?”

Twilight frowned: “Don’t know--it’s so frustrating! I can tell he wants to just spill his whole story, but he also wants to keep this game going, so I have to prioritize.”

She shook off her blanket and stood, stretching her wings and stepping to the side table: “I really need to understand the connection between that entity and the containment device. Something just doesn’t add up.”

Luna stood and nodded: “Well, I shall make it a priority to attempt to glean more information about that entity, then.”

Twilight drained her cup: “Thanks--we’ll get back together later tonight then, yes?”

Luna nodded as her horn began to glow: “Yes, and Twilight, remember--we are not necessarily meant to know everything. Our goal is Zecora’s recovery.”

Luna disappeared in a bright blue flash, leaving Twilight alone, chewing her lip for a moment: “Maybe…”

She teleported away with a quiet ‘pop.’


Noble stumbled a bit as he phased through the barrier wall, and Twilight stretched out a wing to steady him. He squeezed his eyes shut tight and shuddered: “I don’t know if I’m ever going to get used to this place!”

Twilight nodded and averted her eyes from the Pit as they walked slowly to the nearby teleport guidepost rune: “I hope we aren’t here long enough to get used to it!”

Noble swallowed as Twilight’s pale magenta teleport field overcame them: “Speaking of--”

They appeared a moment later in the passageway near Grey Thorn’s cell: “--do you have any guess how much longer this may take?”

Twilight grimaced as they approached Grey Thorn: “As long as it takes, Lieutenant--isn’t that right, G.T.?”

Grey Thorn turned slowly to face his visitors: “Well, I certainly have longer than you, Princess. So where to begin?”

Twilight sighed: “You first. What do you want to know this time?”

Steel stepped forward unsteadily and put up a hoof: “Hold on--I have a question, first!”

Grey Thorn lowered his lids and regarded the unicorn with a baleful stare: “You’re not part of this, colt. I allow you here as Twilight’s crutch.”

Twilight sighed: “Let him ask--you can decide whether to answer or not once he’s done.”

“Fine.”

Noble tried to lock his eyes on Grey Thorn’s, but had to squint, and finally close them: “Why do you want to know all this? What difference will it make? You can’t ever leave here, and there’s nothing Twilight could do for you even if she wanted to!”

Grey Thorn smiled: “That’s a very good question. I think this should stand as your question, Princess. What do you think?”

Twilight ground her teeth: “Shit, no! I don’t care why you want to know all this stuff--I just want to get this over with so I can rescue Zecora!”

Grey Thorn’s smile flickered then melted away, and he turned solemnly to Noble: “A wise choice. Learn from your betters, son.”

Noble’s nostrils flared as he turned away and stumbled into a corner to sit down: “He’s using you, Twilight--it’s important to know why!”

Twilight furrowed her brow and glared at Grey Thorn: “We’ve covered this! I know damn good and well that he’s using me, but if this is what it takes to get Zecora, then this is what it takes! Now ask your question, G.T.!”

Grey Thorn settled back against his restraints and tapped his front hooves together: “You indicated the Harbinger took back his power from you. How? Show me.”

Twilight shuddered and closed her eyes: “N-no--I can’t, not now. Please, I can’t go through that again yet! Ask anything else!”

Grey Thorn tipped his head sideways as a thin smile spread across face: “Fine. Another time, then. Tell me, instead, of how he regained his power from Luna. Apparently this occurred on another world, in another reality?”

Twilight swallowed, sat down and opened her eyes: “Th-that’s right. Back on the world of his origins, Kur.”

“He took the power from her there?”

“Sort of. He died in a battle, and that world’s Harbinger stripped Luna from her body, separating Death’s power at that time, leaving Nightmare Moon behind with the body.”

“So they truly were two distinct entities at that point.”

“Yes. Luna’s told me some things, but hasn’t shown me anything from her memories. She was trapped at the end, only able to observe, and I know it was pretty traumatic.”

Grey Thorn blinked slowly: “Something you understand well, it seems.”

Twilight grimaced: “Y-yes. But I did see something of it. She reached out to me in a dream state, connecting me, her and Reaper.”

“From beyond our reality?”

“Yes. It was very odd, and some of it still feels like a dream to me. Here is is…”

She tipped her head up as her horn began to glow and a scene shimmered into view above her.

“I was asleep, though I didn’t realize it at first, and I thought Luna had returned.”

Grey Thorn leaned forward as Twilight’s memories played out: the shadowy figure, Luna entering the room, Reaper appearing in his tattered cloak, sprawled on Twilight’s couch.

“He’s not in pony form, here.”

“No, that’s the way the beings look on Kur. It’s similar in many ways to the inhabitants of another world I’ve visited, using Starswirl’s mirror.”

The shadows retreated in the vision, revealing Nightmare Moon:

“So you’re also Luna?”

“That is not an easy question to answer.”

Grey Thorn’s eyes widened: “Even in that form she is clearly Nightmare Moon, returned!"

The vision shifted as Twilight focused-in on Nightmare Moon, lifting her dress and straddling Reaper’s slouched form as Luna protested:

“Yet again I am incapable of controlling elements within your dream, Reaper! You must master yourself!”

Grey Thorn’s eyes flicked back-and-forth between Twilight and the dream image. He held up a hoof: “Pause this vision! Is he now inside her?”

Twilight nodded: “Yes--she was riding him. He wasn’t really aware of what was going on, I don’t think--I couldn't really tell.”

Grey Thorn chewed his lip, and Twilight glanced at his face for a moment: “There was some sort of dynamic between the three of them that I don’t understand. I haven’t talked to Reaper at all, and Luna’s only told me a bit.”

Grey Thorn nodded curtly: “She wanted control and power and a body in order to get those things. That really was Nightmare Moon, scrubbed clean of Luna’s empty, soft weakness and sentimentality. I wish...I wish...”

Twilight raised an eyebrow: “That that was you underneath her?”

Grey Thorn looked away from the image and smiled lightly at Twilight: “Is that your question, now?”

“Oh, I think I already know the answer to that one!”

The image disappeared as Twilight stood and stretched her wings: “No, I want to know how the entity is connected to your containment device, and why. It doesn’t add up.”

“Hmm. You sound like Gil.”

“Was he right?”

Grey Thorn ground his teeth for a moment: “Most likely, yes.”

“So what went wrong?”

Grey Thorn sighed as his ghostly horn flickered, and a new image filled the air above their heads. The Sentinel was bound in crimson and black bands of magical energy, half sunken in the Swamp, swaths of orange turf piled and overturned around it.

“I constructed a mound for the entity, then reversed gravity at the top of the chamber so I could craft the magical construct needed to graft the entity to the device.”

“Is that also where you used the alien’s machinery?”

“No. That I integrated directly into the containment shell.”

Twilight watched intently as the view inverted and a portal shimmered and phased in- and out-of-sight. A beam of dark magic lanced across the gunmetal-grey surface etching a series of runes in and around a blood-encrusted thaumaturgic circle.

She squinted: “More of Shoiman’s glyphs it appears. Wait--this is a sacrificial…”

Twilight locked her gaze on Grey Thorn: “What did you sacrifice? Who did you sacrifice? I saw tons of skeletons in the bone pit, so it must have been--”

“It was my own sacrifice. Watch.”

The vision suddenly pulsed blood-red and a scream of agony filled the air as the glyphs glowed crimson and gold. The image twisted and blurred, then went black. All that remained was ragged breathing and a high, wet, hissing noise.

The scene brightened again as past Grey Thorn opened his eyes, revealing sizzling, bubbling blood sprayed and smeared across the glyphs and runes. A dark shape stretched in from the right and touched the circle. The scene went dark again to the sound of a body collapsing against the metal of the containment vessel.

“Your blood. You attracted it with blood, but what happened when it touched the circle and completed the sacrifice?”

Grey Thorn frowned: “What is usually consumed in a dark magic sacrifice?”

Twilight tipped her head sideways and narrowed her eyes: “How much of yourself was lost?”

“I sacrificed...six times.”

“Six?! What in Tartarus is left of you?”

Grey Thorn raised an eyebrow and gestured down himself: “What you see before you. I gave my all to bring my creation to fruition.”

“No wonder you wouldn’t get even a yard away from that thing--it was more you by the end than you were!”

“We were symbiotically entwined by then. I would channel energy and essence from it as I made sure to funnel new...sources to it.”

Twilight glared and pointed to the blood-smeared circle: “Victims, you mean. And you would utilize that thing’s nimbus or cloud or whatever to attack, then what--that port would open?”

Grey Thorn tipped his horn upward and the scene shifted to an elderly, sky-blue unicorn, transfixed in terror as dark tendrils entangled it. His essence hovered above his body for a moment, then a deep, golden glow flickered at the edge of the image, and the nimbus parted for an instant as a tendril swept the unicorn’s life energy down through a pitch-black hole in a dark-grey surface.

The unicorn’s dream body shuddered and twisted, then dissolved: “The tendrils of dark energy were mine to control, along with the outer nimbus. Once an essence had been entrapped the sacrifice circle would phase open and the Entity would draw the energy in.”

“Is the portal or door or whatever always in the same place?”

“Relative to me, yes--it always was. But I was in control of it, and it stayed oriented to my will. Now…”

Twilight chewed her lip: “You don’t know.”

“No. Though given your experience, I suspect the Entity has reoriented itself according to its own needs.”

“And two attacks.”

“Yes.”

“Can I get through that port?”

“Yes. But it will not be easy, and the confinement vessel itself represents a risk.”

“That alien machinery.”

“Yes.”

“Yeah--we need to circle back to that. What was the point of that, again?”

A thin smile spread across Grey Thorn’s face: “That’s another question.”

Twilight stamped a hoof: “Dammit! Fine! But I need to know about that alien equipment, and why you needed six sacrifices to tie it all together!”

She squinted as she turned toward, then away from, the Pit: “Come on, Noble--we need to go for now. But we’ll be back soon.”

Noble rose unsteadily to his hooves as Twilight started to step away from Grey Thorn’s cell, only to turn back in response to a sharp whisper.

“One quick thing before you go, Princess--a small trade.”

Twilight leaned forward and furrowed her brow: “Now what?”

“A clue for a simple question.”

She sighed: “Go.”

Grey Thorn licked his lips: “You asked as to the purpose of the alien’s technology and what it has to do with the Entity. How would you go about not merely containing, but controlling a ravenous creature?”

“How?”

“Feed it and drain it constantly--maintain that tension and you maintain control.”

“OK, but--”

Grey Thorn wagged a hoof: “Ah-ah, just a clue--not the whole story!”

Twilight rolled her eyes: “Fine. What’s your ‘simple’ question, that I’m betting isn’t really all that simple?”

Grey Thorn grinned: “To the contrary--it’s quite simple! During your time as the Harbinger, I assume you were asked by any number of ponies what was to be their ultimate fate, yes?”

“Many asked what comes next, yes.”

“And?”

“And I told them that I didn’t know, that nopony really knows.”

“Why not?”

“Because we’re not meant to know.”

“Starswirl didn’t believe that, but he was unwilling to do the things ultimately needed to find out.”

Twilight smirked: “Yeah, and then you went a step too far and found out what happens to some ponies after they die!”

Grey Thorn rose up to his full height and glared dolefully down the length of his muzzle: “Indeed. My mistakes cost me everything in the end, but I was willing to risk everything in order to penetrate beyond death’s veil.”

Twilight shook her head and turned away as Grey Thorn leaned against his restraints: “And what of you, Princess? What becomes of you when even your enormous power and life force eventually fade away? Where do ponies go after they die?”

Twilight glanced over her shoulder for a moment, then shrugged half-halfheartedly and walked over to Noble Steel, who had moved to the guidepost runes.

He stepped next to Twilight and furrowed his brow: “You two were quiet at the end, there, and I couldn’t make out what Grey Thorn was saying. What did he ask?”

Twilight chewed the inside of her mouth for a moment as her horn began to glow: “Nothing--just a stupid riddle. Let’s get out of here.”

Grey Thorn watched the teleport flash fade, then slowly closed his eyes.