• Published 21st Nov 2016
  • 421 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.

  • ...
5
 57
 421

Insertion

Smoke and pain.

Smoke and pain and the smell of seared flesh.

And a scream of agony.

In the dark--a dark my eyes cannot pierce.

And the sound of bare skin slapping skin.

And acrid, choking smoke and pain.

And the fullness of shame and rage buried and thrust inside me.

And a shattering light.

And pain.

And darkness...


Luna sat bolt upright in her bed with a gasp.

“Good evening, Luna. Not sleeping well, I take it?”

Her head snapped to the right and she narrowed her eyes, finally spotting Reaper sitting on a low, padded bench in a dark corner.

She rubbed her eyes and furrowed her brow: “How-how long have you been there?”

Reaper stood, walked to a side table and filled a chalice with water. He levitated it and brought it to Luna: “Not long, maybe two minutes.”

“Why--”

“I came by to see if you’re ready to probe the Void again, and I saw you were restless. I thought it best to wait for you to resolve things before making my presence known.”

Luna drained the heavy chalice and shuddered as she looked at it before setting it aside: “Thank you.”

Reaper sat back down on the bench: “You OK?”

Luna smoothed the blanket absently and looked at the pattern of interlocking diamonds running along its border: “No, and this is not like the Tantabus. This is not a bad dream of my own design run rogue--this is the kind of nightmare ponies have that I am supposed to help them through.”

Reaper nodded: “So who do you turn to?”

Luna glanced again at the chalice and magically tossed an embroidered tea towel over it: “Exactly.”

Reaper leaned back: “Let me guess, as you’ve never really brought it up since our return: it’s Yunada’s tent.”

Luna bit her lip: “Yes. I was only conscious for a few seconds at the end, but that was all it took to fill me with rage and terror and hopelessness.”

She pulled the blanket up and clenched it to her chest: “That was the worst of it--the powerlessness, the humiliation! I--who have fought and struggled and conquered over the centuries, and been defeated in the past only after heroic efforts and mighty magic--I was helpless in the end.”

Reaper raised an eyebrow: “First off, I assume there were at least three men there, yes?”

Luna nodded.

“Second, I’m sure you gave as good as you got for just as long as you could.”

“I kicked and cursed and clawed and spat with every ounce of my being.”

“And third, not to put too fine a point on it, you got your revenge--in spades!”

Luna shook her head: “That was not me. I was merely along for the ride, as it were. I had no more control over that than--”

“Than you had when you were assaulted by superior numbers.”

Reaper stood and walked to the foot of Luna’s bed: “In the end this was largely my fault. If I hadn’t failed to keep the situation under control, Yunada never would have met you.”

Luna shook her head: “The plan unraveled well before that.”

She moved to the edge of the bed and summoned her ornaments, tiara and gorget from a nearby dresser: “In the end the ultimate author of my humiliation is Grey Thorn. If not for him and his monstrous creation neither of us would have had to go to Kur.”

“True.”

Luna began slipping on her hoof coverings, fumbling a bit: “And then I never would have had to go into...into…”

She dropped a covering on the dark marble floor with a sharp ‘clang.’ She hunched forward and sobbed: “Into the dark and the smoke and the melting flesh and that horrible sound and--and…”

Luna slid off the edge of the bed and drew her hind legs in tight against her body, tears running down her cheeks. Reaper knelt beside her and faded out for a moment before re-solidifying. He put a foreleg around her shoulder: “Do you think a dose of your own medicine might help?”

“Wha-what do you mean?”

“Dux’a’s baths. I know that’s been helping Twilight through her trauma; might it do the same for you?”

Luna furrowed her brow: “Per-perhaps. Nahko and Eska are the two finest dream creations I have ever crafted; I may find some respite there, as well. But I cannot truly speak to them about these matters in a way that will help me resolve things. They are interactive, but not insightful.”

“I believe I can help with that.”

Luna looked up to see Celestia entering her sleeping chamber: “Sister? Why are--”

Reaper stood up and stepped aside as Celestia settled in next to Luna, wrapping a wing around her: “Reaper appeared a moment ago and asked me to come.”

Reaper nodded: “I spoke at length with Celestia a few days ago, and I suspect she’s the only being in all our world with the longevity, perspective and love it will take to help you heal.”

Celestia brushed away a tear from Luna’s cheek: “He told me also that these dream baths you created have been having a positive effect on Twilight. Would it be possible for me to join you there? Perhaps together in a safe, secluded retreat of your making, we can find you some closure.”

Luna wiped the back of a hoof across her nose: “Yes. I think that might help--thank you.”

She looked up at Reaper: “Thank you both.”

Reaper knelt again: “I know you’re strong and resilient, Luna, but the kind of trauma you experienced is custom-designed to break down and humiliate even the toughest--trust me.”

Luna furrowed her brow: “Gerrar…”

Reaper nodded.

Celestia raised an eyebrow, and Reaper turned to her with a grim smile: “Some other time. Right now, we need to see if we can get back in touch with Zecora post haste. Twilight uncovered a great deal of information that makes it clear Zecora’s in even more danger than we knew.”

Luna sniffed and stood as Celestia rose with her and tipped her head to one side; her multi-hued mane bobbed slightly: “Where is Twilight?”

Reaper sighed: “We were deep in the intradimensional zones that make up that table for more hours than I care to recall, then we had to go to the Waiting Room to take care of a group of recovered spirits. She’s exhausted, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she wasn’t in need of a visit to Dux’a’s as we speak.”

Luna furrowed her brow as she sat on a stool and adjusted her gorget: “But you could not have been gone for more than three or four hours at most.”

“Twilight cast a spell that slowed time to a near standstill. It allowed us the time to thoroughly clean-out an entire region of that table.”

Reaper stood and paced: “But it wasn’t just the time--it was intensely taxing on her. It’s becoming clearer and clearer to me that Grey Thorn’s creations and magic were increasingly driven by and mixed with his dreams and nightmares. It makes it very difficult to discern reality from fantasy, even for me. And in the case of a young pony, newly-imbued with great power and subjected to equally-great ordeals…”

He shrugged: “I don’t know how much longer her center can hold before she cracks. She’s gone well beyond mere research and dabbling in dark magic, at this point.”

Celestia grimaced: “What do you mean? I’m aware of and concerned by the blood, but please don’t tell me she’s done the unforgivable and sacrificed--”

Reaper shook his head: “No, not that far, but I fear if we don’t wrap this up soon, she may slide past the point of no return.”

Luna stood and adjusted her tiara: “I will join her dreams as soon as we have visited the Void again, and have a talk with her concerning these disturbing developments.”

Reaper shrugged: “I hope it helps, but at this point I think the only real cure is to get Zecora out of the Void as quickly as possible so Twilight doesn’t have to deal with this anymore.”

Luna nodded: “So to that point, let us go now and see what more we may glean from that accursed realm.”

Celestia moved beside her sister, and they disappeared in twin flashes as Reaper faded away.


Reaper stepped forward and paused as Luna’s horn began to glow; a thin, silvery ribbon snaked toward Reaper’s back.

He glanced over his shoulder at Celestia as he brought his face close to the matte black surface of the Void: “You sure you’re OK with helping out this time?”

Celestia nodded: “I looked in on Twilight and she is clearly in no shape to oversee this right now. She needs her rest, but time is of the essence, so I will fill in so you two can do what needs to be done.”

Reaper turned back: “Alright--let’s do it, then.”

He leaned forward and phased his head through the Void, pressing forward until his shoulders disappeared through its surface. Luna’s magic ribbon slipped in between his shoulders and touched the back of his neck.

She opened her eyes and adjusted again to the dim, otherworldly light, swooping low across the orange plain, passing close by the Compound: “Zecora--I have returned! Can you hear me?”

She closed her eyes and hovered for a moment, probing her surroundings, looking for a sleeping mind. She furrowed her brow in confusion, and resumed flying, staying close to the ground, heading toward the cave entrance.

“Zecora--I feel you, but cannot part the clouds surrounding your mind. Are you hurt? Reach out for me!”

A dim, black-and-white shape suddenly flickered at the edge of her perception: “I know not if I’m live or dead / I’m lost now in this place of dread!”

Luna squinted and glanced anxiously about: “I do not think you are dead as I am still able to communicate with you; I believe you must be unconscious. Are you hurt?”

“I pierced Celestia’s tortured shade / as Nightmare struck with horned blade. / I felt my spirit ripped away / and fear that here now I must stay!”

“I can only linger a moment more, but I bear some good news: Twilight has gathered enough information and spells that she believes she may understand this place’s operation, now.”

A band of shadow coalesced and swept overhead as Luna cast her eyes about warily: “Do you have a sense as to where you need to go to make an escape, or allow for rescue? Are there any landmarks?”

“Kla’atra and Gil together believe / that there is, indeed a way to leave. / This cave we’re in, as we progress / should empty near the true egress.”

Luna furrowed her brow and sped toward the apparent source of Zecora’s voice. She stayed low to the ground, sweeping past the library-temple and approaching the cave entrance: “I think I have a line on you, Zecora; I will see if I cannot bring you back to consciousness.”

Luna wait!

Luna alighted in front of the cave and stepped through the dark entrance--

--and froze, wide-eyed.

She found herself inside a dim, smoky tent, suffused with dull, red light and the smell of singed flesh. Mingled sounds of wet, rhythmic slapping, and choked sobbing came from the far end of the structure. Luna’s knees buckled and she trembled uncontrollably.

“How-how is this poss-possible?”

Gerrar looked up from Nai’a’s chair and gestured with a heavy chalice toward a naked, scarred back hunched over a dark, sweat-streaked form. Luna could clearly make out the squeak of a bench with each thrust of the lean, pale figure.

“Whe-where am I?”

“Where you’ve always been; you never left.”

Luna’s eyes darted back and forth, seeking a way out: “That can-cannot be! I left Kur!”

“Did you? Or did you just take it with you? I told you this technique could be very effective.”

Luna swallowed heavily: “Who are you?”

Gerrar leaned forward with a cold smile: “Oh, you mean am I the one you cast adrift for all eternity, or the one you stabbed?”

The slapping sound became louder and more insistent as Luna began to hyperventilate: “I-I did what had to be done! You yourself s-said so!”

Gerrar took a sip from the chalice: “Maybe he was just sparing your feelings, coddling you in order to complete his mission.”

Sweat broke out on Luna’s brow as Nai’a stood in the distance and turned toward her: “How-how do I… I have to get out of here!”

Gerrar pulled a small notebook out of his tunic and jotted down a note: “Oh, not this time, T’zesa,” he patted the chalice, now resting on the floor beside him. “You’ll be awake this time…”

Luna blinked, then her eyes went wide: “Awake--that is it! Zecora, where are you? We are both trapped in this poisoned slumber! Can you come to me?”

Gerrar frowned, put his notebook down, and stood: “No fair!”

He looked over his shoulder toward the back of the tent where Nai’a was now stepping around the end of the bench: “Hey, Nai’a! Get your booze-soaked carcass up here--we have a problem!”

Nai’a broke into a run, closing fast as Gerrar turned back toward Luna and drew his sword.

Luna clenched her teeth and closed her eyes: “Zecora! To me!”

The two men reached the trembling alicorn just as Zecora burst through the tent wall, pivoted and drove her hind hooves into Gerrar’s throat with a crunch.

His body flew sideways into Nai’a, knocking him off his stride and sending Gerrar’s sword skidding to the floor.

Luna’s eyes snapped open and she reached down with her teeth, snatched the blade up, stepped forward and swept the blade across Nai’a neck. His head separated in a spray of blood, and his corpse crashed to the floor, staining Luna’s indigo legs crimson.

Zecora drove her shoulder into Luna and forced her toward the ragged gap in the tent wall: “We must flee / come with me!”

They stumbled out of the tent into an empty space, devoid of light or sound. A moment later, just as she was trying to gain her bearings, Luna fell roughly to the ground with a thud and a burst of dark-violet light: “Wh-where are we? I cannot feel anything…”

“You have joined me here in my emptiness / This seems better than your last distress.”

Luna squinted, bringing Zecora’s face into focus: “It is better, thank you! However, we need to return you to consciousness, and get me out of here before the entity that inhabits this place seizes me!”

“Luna! Where are you?”

“Zecora! Can you hear me?”

Luna furrowed her brow: “That sounded like Reaper? Did you hear that?”

Zecora nodded: “Gil’s voice came to me as well / Did you hear him also yell?”

“Yes. Clearly we are sharing your consciousness. Bear with me a moment.”

Luna’s horn glowed faintly as a thin ribbon snaked outward and disappeared into the surrounding darkness. Zecora began to shudder.

“Zecora! Kla’atra believes she can reach you. Hold on…”

Luna’s eyes went wide: “Wha-what is that?”

“Gil’s friend from…”

Luna dissolved with a startled gasp as Zecora sat bolt upright; the surrounding space went utterly black and collapsed in on itself.