• Published 21st Nov 2016
  • 423 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.

  • ...

The Table

Twilight entered Grey Thorn’s burned-out library and walked toward the back of the dimly-lit chamber. Noble Steel tipped forward and slid off the speckled, streaked, grey-green tabletop and glared.

Twilight stopped short and furrowed her brow: “I’m sorry, Noble, but I had to--”

“Had to what, Twilight? Sneak off? Go solo down to see Grey Thorn? I’m your wingpony--you’re supposed to trust me!”

“I know, but I had to do this last session alone. I couldn’t put anypony else through that experience--it might have damaged you!”

Noble’s nostrils flared: “I’m tougher than you think, Princess!”

Twilight shook her head: “It’s not enough to be ‘tough,’ Noble! Do you remember when you experienced my episode with the Void? What happened?”

The unicorn shifted uncomfortably: “That was--it caught me by surprise! I--”

“You got so worked-up you shot your load on the floor!”

“Yeah, but--”

“But, nothing, Noble! If you had been down there with me earlier today, it would likely have knocked you into a catatonic state!”

She turned away and began to pace: “It did knock me into a catatonic state, and it took Luna to pull me back out of it. I’ve only just recovered!”

Twilight snapped her head around and locked eyes with Noble: “And I was safe and sound in a bed in Celestia’s castle! I don’t even want to think what would have happened if you’d melted-down on the lowest level of Tartarus!”

Noble chewed his lip for a moment: “Fine. What did you learn?”

Twilight stepped up to the table and ran a hoof across its surface: “That I correctly captured Grey Thorn’s final sacrifice circle, and that he really didn’t know what he was doing when it came to integrating all the various pieces.”

“Well, you already assumed that…”

“Yeah, but now I’m sure.” A golden circle flickered above the table: “I’ve worked through the progression of his circles--”

She pointed to a series of shifting glyphs: “See how those aren’t stable?”

Noble squinted: “I thought that was just your projection--like you were toggling between versions.”

Twilight shook her head: “Nope--that’s their actual form. They flicker back-and-forth between states.”

Her horn went dark as she tapped her chin: “Like the energy trapped between realities…”

Noble furrowed his brow: “What does that mean?”

Twilight chewed the edge of hoof for a moment, then shook her head: “Not important.”

Noble raised an eyebrow: “I doubt that…”

Twilight and Noble turned in unison as Celestia, Luna and Reaper entered the far side of the room, trailing a magenta-colored lump behind them.

Twilight reached out with her magic, took the enrobed corpse from Celestia, and laid it on the table: “Thank you for bringing this, Princess. I hope it wasn’t too much trouble.”

Celestia smiled: “Well, to be sure, the Royal Archaeologist wasn’t too keen on giving it up, but I made it clear that there’s a higher need, here.”

Twilight nodded: “I’ve gone over my notes from this thing’s capture, and my interactions with the Void’s tendrils, and I’m sure I can duplicate the effect of siphoning off death energy. The trick will be feeding it through the sacrifice circle.”

Celestia frowned: “Without pulling in your own, preferred life force, I assume.”

Twilight lifted a book from her saddle bag and set it on the end of the table: “Right. But since I’m the one in charge of the transfer, I’ll know if that starts to happen.”

Reaper peered closely at the bound figure: “You’ll need an opening, yes?”

Twilight flipped through her notes: “Yes, but the membrane’s fairly flexible. I should be able to stretch open a gap then seal it back up.”

Noble eyed the pinkish form suspiciously: “Now what? How does this work?”

Twilight shifted the corpse to one end of the table and propped her book against it. She opened her saddle bag and laid out a collection of vials and jars on the floor nearby.

“Now what happens is everypony clears out except Reaper. No other living thing should be in this room besides me.”

Celestia frowned: “Are you sure you’re ready for this, Twilight?”

“It doesn’t matter--it has to be done now. If the Void operates the way I think it does, Zecora doesn’t have long to live--a few more days at most!”

Luna bit her lip as she backed toward the door: “Please be careful, Twilight! And Reaper--you will do your duty as fail-safe, yes?”

Reaper nodded: “I’ll keep an eye on this whole operation every second it’s happening.”

Celestia smiled weakly: “Thank you. Good luck to both of you! We’ll all be right outside in the passage if you need anything.”

Twilight reached out with her magic and pushed the door shut as Noble passed through, glancing over his shoulder: “This shouldn’t take long. I’ll let you know as soon as I’m done.”

The door slid shut with a ‘crunch,’ and Twilight pushed the body and book to the floor: “Help me.”

Reaper raised an eyebrow as violet magic wrapped around the table: “What’re you doing?”

“Moving this into the creation chamber.”

Reaper added his own magic, and the table slowly lifted off the floor: “Damn--this thing’s heavy! Why are we moving it?”

Beads of sweat formed along Twilight’s brow as she shuffled toward the back of the study: “We need to secure this beyond the barrier wall. I suspect the effect will leech right through normal stone.”

Reaper grunted as the table wobbled and bumped against the entryway into the large, dark chamber beyond: “And I suspect you’re going to seal the opening behind us, as well, yes?”

Twilight blushed as they lowered the table to the floor with a heavy ‘thud:’ “Um, yes. I think there’s a good chance this may produce a lot of commotion, and I’d hate to have somepony burst in on us at the wrong time!”

Reaper smiled grimly: “It’d likely be the last mistake they ever made.”

“Quite possibly…”

Twilight set a small, silver bowl atop the table and lanced her wrist, allowing a trickle of blood to drip for a minute: “I was also kind of vague about some details, and I’d like to keep it that way.”

Reaper raised an eyebrow: “More blood magic, in other words…”

“That, and a lot of very dark magic--the kind that, well, Celestia--”


“Yeah--well, at least the stuff she knows about...”

Reaper raised an eyebrow: “I wasn’t kidding, Twilight--if I have to reap you in order to prevent--”

Twilight grimaced as she sealed the cut in her wrist: “I know, and I’m aware that there are things here I can’t control for. We’re just going to have to forge ahead.”

Reaper sighed: “OK, so now what?”

Twilight reached out with a band of inky-black magic and opened a gap in the corpse’s pink covering. Something began to stir and ooze through the gap.

Twilight glared and surrounded the emerging tendril with a globe of dark energy: “Oh, no you don’t!”

She glanced at the struggling tendril, then turned her attention to the space above the table. A large, glowing, golden ring formed above it, then another, then a series of glyphs and symbols.

She chewed her lip for a moment as her eyes darted to her notes: “And here’s the tricky part…”

Twilight’s eyes glowed an unearthly, glittering black as the air surrounding the table darkened and began to contract. Even Reaper’s cloak fluttered, and he repositioned his hooves to prevent slipping.

“How are you doing that?”

Twilight’s breath came in short, ragged bursts: “I-I cleaned-up some of Gr-Grey Thorn’s steps. I’m generating a small, local effect that dup-duplicates part of the Void.”

“But the Void has almost no effect on me!”

“Like I said: he’s a-a shortcutter. I broadened its range. Now watch!”

Twilight spread her wings and poured a stream of mixed violet-black energy into the bubble surrounding the haunted corpse’s tendril. The body twitched and bounced on the table as a dark nimbus gathered at Twilight’s hooves. The sacrifice circle began to rotate as various glyphs and runes flickered and blurred.

Reaper dematerialized slightly and squinted at the circle: “They’re phasing!”

Twilight gritted her teeth and nodded as the restrained tendril was drawn up into the circle, and the surface of the table began to shift and shimmer like a mirage. Ghostly images and figures rose slowly from the table and hovered like spectral dragonflies for a few seconds before evaporating.

She shuddered and shouted a power word as her blood seeped over the edge of the bowl and spread slowly across the table’s now-glimmering surface. A new sequence of runes and equations emerged from the table, bursting forth like bubbles from a cauldron; they, too, evaporated as they drifted upward.

Twilight began to pant: “I-I almost have it...I’m get-getting more out. I need this. These are some of-of his final notes.”

Reaper glanced back and forth between the now-empty bowl, the shuddering, collapsing pink figure, and Twilight’s strained, sweat-streaked face: “How much longer, Twilight? I think you’ve about used-up your materials.”

“I-I know...I’m cl-close. I’m getting down into his foundational materials. I just need--”

Twilight’s head jerked back suddenly as the haunted corpse crumbled into a twitching mass of pink dust and bone fragments. The wounds on her wrists split open and blood sprayed into the air to be taken up by the vortex that had formed around the sacrifice circle.

She staggered forward against the table’s edge and cried out in pain as her horn pulsed brilliant gold: “Ahhh! It-it’s pulling me-me in!”

Reaper phased-in and dashed forward, pulling his sword free as he ran: “I’m getting you out of this!”

Twilight braced against the table and pivoted to meet Reaper, throwing out a band of dark magic as she formed a glyph of warding directly in Reaper’s face. He blinked and stumbled aside.

Reaper turned back to face Twilight, who was now standing on top of the table, crowned with the sacrifice circle, blood pouring down her forelegs and onto the hilt of his sword.

His eyes went wide: “How in Tartarus did you end up with Death’s Token?!”

Twilight raised a black tendril from the growing nimbus beneath her and pointed it at the sword: “S-sorry! This has the greatest reservoir of Death’s energy anywhere in the-the world. I have-have to get to the bottom!”

Blood and dark magic coursed from Twilight’s wrists down the sword and pooled at her hooves on the now-phased tabletop. She began to sink slightly as the sacrifice circle rotated and settled around her neck and shoulders like a torc.

Twilight heaved and retched and a stream of urine ran down the back of her legs. Reaper struggled to clear his head as a scarlet, phantom blade formed over his right shoulder: “Twilight! This has to end now! I’m going to have to reap you before this tears your essence apart!”

Twilight’s eyes blazed white, as a golden shield sprang up between her and Reaper: “NO! I have it! I can do this!”

Reaper crashed against the barrier, driving his now-crimson spirit blade into its flickering, rippling surface. It flexed and gave off a blinding shower of sparks, but held. Twilight’s eyes burned a deep purple-black as the chamber was filled with a high-pitched shriek. She held the blade aloft in both, bloody front hooves, and a ribbon of black energy.

Reaper’s horn glowed white-hot as he slammed one last time into Twilight’s shield, shattering it with his horn and flaming spirit blade: “I’m sorry, Twilight! I have to do this!” His phantom blade streaked forward.

Twilight glanced down and to her right as Reaper burst through: “So do I.”

She drove Death’s Token to its hilt into the table.

Reaper lay on his side for several moments, phasing in and out until he finally sat up, shook his head and turned to look back over his shoulder at the table, some eight yards behind him.

He stood unsteadily and stared wide-eyed at the scene now surrounding the table. The tabletop and floor were littered with scores of writhing, dying, dismembered, wailing creatures, of all shapes and sizes. The ground was swimming in the accumulated gore and fluids of dozens of sacrifices and butcherings. And above it all hovered Twilight, wreathed in a black cloud, eyes frozen in horror at the tableaux below.

Reaper cautiously approached the table, sidestepping a spasming creature whose skull was being ripped open by unseen pincers. He raised an eyebrow and looked up at Twilight: “Where is my sword?”

Twilight’s chest heaved and she retched: “In-inside the table…”

Reaper nodded slowly and turned as his attention was drawn to a timberwolf hunched over a screaming shape. Reaper closed in and leaned down to get a better look.

The wolf had its heavy, blocky paws locked down on the body of a young filly as it tore away the squealing pony’s throat sending a spray of blood in all directions, followed moments later by the foal’s severed head.

Reaper rocked back on his heels: “What the--this is a death vision!”

Suddenly the timberwolf lifted off the floor, twisted, shrieked and was torn asunder mid-air, with chunks of rent, bloody pony mixed among the wolf’s fragments.

Twilight slobbered and choked back a sob as she pointed at several lines of text floating in the air in front of her: “He-he used the wolf to slaughter that foal thinking it would-would boost the effect when he sacrificed the w-wolf.”

Reaper gazed at the filly’s small, ruined, bleeding corpse: “But she died; what happened to her essence?”

Twilight closed her eyes tight and drifted off to one side, avoiding a shuddering, squelching mass impaled on a rune-covered spike. She collapsed on the chamber floor: “The table...it ab-absorbed their essences like it does my power and Death’s power.”

“And my sword, it appears. Where is my sword, Twilight?”

She lifted a trembling hoof and pointed at the table: “In there--down inside the layers between realities.”

Reaper chewed his lip and walked over to Twilight, stepping over the exploded carcass of a lemon-yellow pegasus. He looked down and shook his head: “Another one. How many ponies died for this accursed table?”

Twilight struggled to sit up: “I-I don’t know. It looks like mostly a-alien beings or lower creatures from our world. B-but a few ponies really d-died on this table, too.”

Reaper held out a hoof: “Get up, Princess--we have to go in to get my sword.”

Twilight stumbled to her hooves and backed up, eyes wide: “N-no--I-I can’t, I--”

“Yes, you can, and you will. You took a thing that didn’t belong to you to do a thing you shouldn’t have done. You will come with me and pay the toll, or I’ll see to it that Celestia banishes you for this.”

Twilight froze: “You-you wouldn’t!”

Reaper locked eyes with the trembling alicorn: “Let’s not find out, shall we?”

Twilight swallowed: “Alright. I did say I was willing to do whatever it takes. I just didn’t think…”

Reaper nodded as they approached the table, skirting a writhing, spasming, juvenile dragon with blood pouring out of its slashed throat. He placed a hoof tentatively on the shimmering tabletop: “Think what? That you’d have to dig all the way back through Grey Thorn’s charnel house? You’ve seen the bone pit. Besides, how is this any worse than Tartarus?”

Twilight shook her head weakly as she levitated beside Reaper atop the table: “That’s different--that’s almost an abstraction it’s so surreal and beyond comprehension. This is wading ankle-deep in entrails and blood of creatures having their life forces ripped away.”

Reaper nodded: “Be that as it may, take a deep breath, and let's get this over with.”

Twilight bit her lip and closed her eyes. The golden sacrifice circle reformed above her head as she and Reaper phased and sank slowly through the table.