• Published 21st Nov 2016
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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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Beyond The Veil

Twilight leaned back against Eska’s chest as the parzaile worked soaproot into her scalp and poured hot water through her long brown hair and down her back. Nahko sat on her left side and worked pumice down her arm, scouring her tan skin to a light pink. She rose, switched sides and began to work Twilight’s right arm.

Luna sat cross-legged outside the pool on a mat on the opposite edge, naked save for a hot towel draped around her shoulders, her hands folded in her lap, luxuriating in the heat coming off the fire pit behind her.

She glanced from Twilight’s breasts, rising and falling slowly and steadily, to her lined face and half-opened, unfocused eyes: “I hope this is helping, Twilight. I am deeply concerned with what I saw in your dream, and would urge you not to attempt directed, lucid dreaming again without my guidance.”

Twilight took a deep, shuddering breath, turned slightly and lifted her right leg out of the water. Nahko slid her hip against Twilight’s, took Twilight’s leg across her lap and began to work pumice into the thigh.

Twilight’s eyes opened fully and found Luna’s back-lit form across the bath: “I know, Luna, and I’m sorry. But I didn’t think you’d help me, and I had to see beyond the visions, to pierce The Veil.”

Luna nodded: “I understand, but we are not dealing with normal dreams or nightmares, here–these are visions and impressions of extraordinary, almost supernatural power and impact. Even I have yet to work through my own experiences, and I have a wealth of tools at my disposal!”

Twilight shuddered: “It was horrible! I didn’t expect it to be that bad. I thought I could control it, since I had already experienced it once–or twice, I suppose.”

Luna smiled and conjured a small stone jar into the palm of her hand: “That is a dangerous assumption under the best of circumstances, and doubly so when you introduce this wild-card!”

Twilight squinted: “Oh, that’s the mets’il, isn’t it? Yeah, I didn’t intend for it to show up this last time!”

Luna shook her head and crushed the jar, which disappeared in a puff of indigo smoke: “For you mets’il represents those aspects of your deep psyche you feel–and secretly wish–were uncontrolled and untamed. By definition it is unpredictable and hazardous.”

Twilight nodded: “Well, that is kind of how you described it. I guess I took it too much to-heart!”

Luna glanced at Nahko and Eska and blushed: “I give you full marks for accurately representing its effects in your own dreams. That said, allow me to introduce you to a somewhat less-risky alternative.”

She nodded and Nahko held out her hand, which now contained a plug of zaka. Twilight took and examined it closely.

Luna unfolded her legs and slipped into the water: “That is zaka. It has some of the same effects, but at a much lower intensity. Its effects are predictable, and in the real world it also excels at encouraging sleep and diminishing pain. Put it in your mouth and chew.”

Twilight placed the greenish mass into her mouth and began to slowly chew: ”Reminds me of alfalfa…”

Luna nodded as she settled into to water, her black hair floating like a cape around her shoulders: “That was my impression the first time I tasted it, as well.”

Twilight’s eyes drifted shut as Nahko worked on her feet and Eska began rubbing oil into her shoulders and breasts: “This is better–not as harsh. I don’t see everything in hyper-real colors; everything doesn’t glow.”

Luna took a long drink of jetutko from a mug that had just appeared in her hand: “Tell me honestly, Twilight–have you used those blocking wards before?”

“No–haven’t needed to. But I had to be alone earlier today. I think if I had told you my plan and you had honestly tried not to interfere, you still would have stepped in at the end. It was too much…”

“I am glad you understand that, now.”

“But that’s the thing: it had to be too much. I had to lose myself to it and be torn to pieces again, so I could put everything back together like a puzzle. I guess I secretly did want the mets’il there...”

Twilight leaned her head back and moaned as Eska’s fingertips dug into her neck, then ran down her chest, and back under her jawline: “Oh, Luna–you really imagined these two perfectly! I never thought a pony could understand fingers, but you clearly do!”

Luna smiled and took another sip: “Well, it was here under our two attendants’, shall we say, ministrations, that I learned what a revelation fingers are. I have not forgotten.”

Twilight furrowed her brow: “What do you mean…? Oh.”

She blushed and bit her lip: “So you really got to know Eska’s fingers!”

Luna grinned: “Among other parts, yes. There was a fair amount of mets’il and wine involved as well, and the memory of that encounter is quite vivid–it informs some of what you experience here.”

Twilight silently chewed her zaka for a bit then furrowed her brow: “OK, so on that, may I ask you a personal question?”

“Of course.”

“I know about Celestia’s ‘Honored Consorts’–it’s one of Canterlot’s worst-kept secrets.”

Luna chuckled: “I am fairly sure she knows that you all know, but keeps up appearances in any event.”

Twilight smiled and rolled over onto her stomach so Nahko could work oil into her back and buttocks: “Naturally, but that’s not your way, is it?”


“Not even before Nightmare Moon?”

Luna shuddered: “No, and you know now how those centuries went.”

“Why not?”

“I am solitary by nature, and would watch ponies’ fantasies, sometimes even disguising myself and slipping inside the dream to join them.”

Twilight nodded: “Which went bad during…”

Luna sighed: “Exactly. It is why, in part, I have not returned to the practice in the last nearly three years, and why I never will again.”

“Then how, I mean, if, then how…?”

Luna took another deep drink and smiled indulgently: “I understand your confusion, Twilight. I have largely put aside such feelings, but on those rare occasions I feel the need, I visit the spa in Ponyville and share my pleasure with Aloe and Lotus.”

Twilight’s eyebrows jumped: “Oh, my!”

“Please let that be our little secret.”

“Oh, of course! But that raises another question.”


Twilight raised up out of the water and bent over the edge of the pool, arms crossed beneath her chin. She stared down at the mosaic surround and sighed heavily as Eska came up over her back and began driving her elbow deep between Twilight’s shoulder blades.

“What happens when they die?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, you’ll have had some intimate connection to them for years, I would assume. Won’t it hurt to see them pass while you remain ageless? Celestia avoids this by quick rotations, yes?”

“Correct. My sister historically has only taken lovers for the briefest period.”

Twilight moaned as her spine cracked: “Ohh...but will you? Can you be that detached? Aloe and Lotus are real ponies, not dream figures.”

Luna shifted uncomfortably and refilled her cup with a wave of her hand: “I do not entirely know. Why do you ask?”

“Because I have to figure all of this out at some point.”

“There is no hurry, Twilight. After all, you have yet to even take a lover, though I recall your dream…”

Twilight blushed: “No–Moondancer’s not my lover. Maybe she could have been, once, or maybe still could be–I don’t know. But I do know that I’ll have to watch her and all my other friends die, and their children and their children.”

“That has been my fate and Celestia’s for millennia now.”

“True, but Celestia kind of keeps aloof, and you, by your own admission, are something of a loner. I’m the Princess of Friendship–I don’t have those luxuries. I have to engage, make friends, mingle, grow close, otherwise what’s the damn point?”

Luna chewed her lip: “You will find your own way, Twilight, as we all ultimately must.”

“But this wasn’t my way! I never asked for any of this! Celestia never warned me, never–”

“True, but we will be there for you as you go forward, forging your destiny, and–”

Twilight spat out the zaka, turned over suddenly and slid back into the water: “And what, Luna? Take solace in Celestia’s sad expression after I bury another friend?”

Luna stood and slid effortlessly through the water, arms outstretched. She took Twilight’s face in her elegant, dark hands and wiped away the hot tears running down Twilight’s flushed cheeks: “These last few months have been a shock to us all, Twilight. Let me help guide you into a deep, soothing slumber so that you may recover your strength. Your concerns should be addressed, but now you need–”

Twilight bit her lip and glanced away: “The narcotic charms of sleep…”

Luna raised an eyebrow as she brushed a lock of wet hair from Twilight’s eyes: “Not quite the expression I would have used, but yes.”

She leaned forward and kissed Twilight on the forehead and guided her limp body back into the water, where Nahko and Eska were waiting to cradle her in their arms.

“I will have my bath attendants clean and groom you while you sleep so that you awaken refreshed in body and mind.”

Twilight’s breathing deepened as she slipped out of consciousness: “Thank you, Luna...I’m sorry...I didn’t mean…”

Luna smiled sadly and faded away, leaving the baths wrapped in heavy shadow, lit only by flickering firelight, as the parzailen stroked Twilight’s hair.

Zecora stirred and roused from her sleep, stiff and cold. She peered about the dim, hazy interior of the temple-library, and spied Gil drifting near the entrance, nodding silently toward Kla’atra.

Zecora rose to her hooves and walked unsteadily across the cracked floor, attracting Bramble’s attention: “You feeling OK? Did you dream?”

Zecora stopped and furrowed her brow: “Briefly yes, though I only remember a fragment. I know I made contact with Luna, but I have no idea how long I’ve been asleep.”

Bramble tapped his chin: “Felt like four hours, maybe more; it’s a little hard to tell in this place. Kla’atra can probably tell you–she has a real good sense of time.”

“That actually must be awful, here. I think I wouldn’t want to know how long I’d been trapped in this place, to be honest.”

Bramble smiled wistfully: “There are actually times when I sit very still and begin to fade, that I can forget I’m here. I can almost remember what it was like to be alive.”

Zecora sat down and took out her water bottle: “‘Alive.’ But you never really died, so I’m not sure–”

Bramble’s eyes hardened as he shuddered: “Oh, it was far worse than death! You can’t imagine what it was like to be torn away from your body and funneled through that accursed circle!”

Zecora swallowed and shook her head: “No–I certainly can’t! Seeing what it did to Solar Gleam was bad enough!”

Bramble nodded: “Yes–now imagine you’re the one doing that to yourself!”

Zecora’s eyes widened: “Surely after the first time you knew how awful it was!”


“Then why...”

“He had already committed to it–he couldn’t stop without admitting it was a terrible mistake. He had to push through in an attempt to salvage something.”

Zecora capped her water bottle and furrowed her brow: “‘He?’ But he’s you! I don’t understand.”

Bramble smiled sadly: “As the last bits of my former selves faded away, I stopped thinking of myself as ‘Grey Thorn,’ and just became Bramble again. It allowed me reclaim a little of myself, from back before he became obsessed with death and Starswirl.”

“So do you have all your–his memories from his whole life?”

“Not exactly. I am who he was as a colt, and those are the memories and emotions I recall most clearly. His later years are more like stories to me: I know them, but don’t have any real connection to them.”

“But you remember Starswirl–you were his ward, yes?”

“Right–he found me dying on the Northern heath, lying by my dead dam. He raised me, but was never what I would call a parent to me.”

“Was he cruel or neglectful?”

“No, not really, he was just far more interested in his studies and research and travels and Celestia.”


“I was just a foal, but I could sense his interest in both the Royal Sisters.”


“Yeah, but that was just a piece of it, and of course I didn’t really understand that. I know he was most interested in their immortality.”

“Not their power?”

Bramble shook his head: “No, he was very powerful in his own right, and believed that the Sisters’ real power was due to their immortality–that the longer they lived the more their power grew.”

“Was he right?”

Bramble’s face took on a far-away look: “Grey Thorn never figured it out. He grew obsessed with his creation and forgot all about the Sisters after Starswirl died.”

“Except for Luna.”

Bramble smiled: “Not Luna, really–Nightmare Moon. He was almost as obsessed with her as he was with immortality.”

Zecora nodded: “Again, romantically.”

Bramble raised an eyebrow: “I was a colt, but I’d seen my share of fucking among the castle servants and guards. I absolutely knew in later days what Grey Thorn wanted from Nightmare Moon!”

He glanced at the shade sprawled on its sagging couch: “You’ll see some of that soon, from another version of him.”

Zecora chewed her lip: “But his lust wasn’t just for sex.”

“No. That was some of it, but it was all mixed-up with her power in the dreamscape. Grey Thorn realized that with her by his side, and Celestia unable to act in the dreamscape, he could do anything he wanted without ever having to physically move his unstable creation.”

“So he just stayed down in his lair and haunted the dreamscape.”

“More or less.”

Zecora pulled a bit of dried fruit from her bag: “Then I must be missing something.”


“He was secure in his lair, he had his creation working–more or less–Celestia was unable to police the dreamscape, and Luna was now Nightmare Moon.”


“So why didn’t Grey Thorn move forward with his plan? Wasn’t it his desire to partner with Nightmare Moon? Why did he merely lurk for all those centuries?”

Bramble smiled sadly: “Again, remember that I recall all of this as though I had read it in a book, or something, so take this with a grain of salt.”

Zecora nodded as she chewed.

“It was fear.”

“Of what?”

“He was afraid of rejection.”

“By Nightmare Moon?”

“Yes. He lived in fear of everything, eventually: rejection, intimacy, being discovered, and he feared death most of all.”

“And so he simply sat–”

“In the dark, in his lair for all those centuries–yes. Eventually the dark and the emptiness and his own creation must have eaten away at what was left after he’d literally torn himself to shreds to achieve his poisoned goal.”

Bramble looked back over his shoulder toward the shade and shook his head: “He learned all the wrong lessons from Starswirl, and ended up with an even worse fate.”

“How do you mean?”

“Starswirl feared death, too–he feared its final, unknowable quality. He called it ‘impenetrable,’ and finally gave up, realizing what it would cost him to go beyond The Veil.”

Zecora nodded, stood, stretched and began walking slowly towards Gil and Kla’atra: “Apparently Grey Thorn thought he could figure it out, if he just tried hard enough, sacrificed enough.”

Bramble closed his eyes and bowed his head: “Yes. But sometimes just trying hard isn’t enough, sacrificing isn’t enough, even if you surrender everything.”

He fell in behind Zecora with a sigh: “You still fail if you were wrong to begin with.”