• 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.

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The Final Piece

The rock broke free above him (again) and careened toward his head. He cried out in desperation, and a golden glow suddenly stopped the cold, dark slab inches from his face.

He rolled to his side, groaning from the effort and the pain in his ribs. He saw Grey Thorn, horn shining, standing a few yards away. A disheveled purple alicorn in a tattered, white cloak stood beside him.

She drew her notched, dented sword: “Don’t bother--he’s so much dead meat anyway. What’s the point of a few more moments of life?”

He struggled to right himself, but the slab slowly pressed down on him, inch by inch: “If that’s all there is, don’t I at least deserve that much?”

Twilight rolled her eyes and idly poked her blade at Smudge’s broken, bleeding body: “For what? What’s the difference between eating and sleeping and laughing and fucking, and decaying and molding and rotting and dissolving?”

She shrugged: “None, as far as I can tell.”

Grey Thorn furrowed his brow: “But what about his spirit? What’s to become of that?”

“Not your problem. That’s just as pointless as the flesh, but I’ll take care of it anyway.”

He felt the crushing weight of stone and darkness and terror as Grey Thorn removed his magic.

He screamed and choked as a red film descended over his eyes.

“Oh, look--he shit himself again…”


Noble Steel cried out and sat up, tangled in a sweat-soaked sheet. He shuddered as his heart and breathing slowed, and reached out with his magic to levitate a cup of cider.

“You, too, huh?”

Noble started and dropped the cup. It froze before it hit the floor, wrapped in a pale, violet glow. He turned his head and saw Twilight sitting on a cushion next to the door.

“Wh-why are you here?”

Twilight righted the cup and returned it to the side table: “We have to go--now. Things are moving fast, and I need to ask Grey Thorn a couple more questions, before it’s too late.”

Noble retrieved the cup as he slid to the edge of the bed: “‘Too late?’ What’s up? Is something happening to the Void?”

“Not exactly.”

He took a long drink and wiped his mouth with the back of a hoof: “What does that mean?”

Twilight took a deep breath: “Reaper’s figured out how to project his essence into the Void, with Luna’s help.”

“And?”

“He means to kill Zecora.”

Noble’s eyebrows jumped: “How does that help?”

“He can extract her spirit and send it on beyond--only her body would be trapped in the Void. There’d be no reason to open the containment device and tangle with the entity inside.”

Noble glanced at Twilight’s dark expression and chewed his lip for a moment: “Obviously you disagree.”

“Yeah.”

“I mean, it does resolve the problem without--”

Twilight shook her head and bared her teeth: “No! I’m only missing a couple of pieces of information, and I can open the device and control that creature. The risk will be minimal, and Zecora can live out the rest of her days without that ghoul getting his hooves on her.”

Noble shrugged sympathetically: “I suppose, but I can see his point. She will die someday in any event, and it sounds like he’s trying to prevent a greater catastrophe.”

“Maybe.”

Noble drained the cup and furrowed his brow: “‘Maybe’ he’s trying to prevent a greater catastrophe, or ‘maybe’ Zecora will die someday anyway?”

Twilight blinked slowly and stood: “Let’s go.”

Noble stood as Twilight’s teleport flash faded. He looked around he room pensively: “Luna? Are you here?”

He stood silently for a few moments, chewing his lip, then disappeared with a ‘bang.’


Twilight strode swiftly up to Grey Thorn’s enclosure with Noble stumbling behind, squinting and shielding his eyes from the Pit: “Hold up! I’m having trouble--”

“Keep up, Noble! I’m out of time, and out of patience!”

Grey Thorn turned slowly to face them: “You seem agitated, Princess. Is anything amiss?”

“I need to know two things, quickly.”

“Two. Well, that will require--”

Twilight rolled her eyes: “Yeah, yeah I know! I’ll give you one right now: I figured out you were time travelling as well as moving through space.”

Grey Thorn raised an eyebrow: “How did you determine this?”

“That table of yours. I spent dozens and dozens of hours clearing-out a whole zone or layer or whatever you call it. It was obvious that you had been reaching back into prehistoric times for some of your spells, and probably some sacrifices, as well.”

Grey Thorn nodded slowly: “Starswirl was always hesitant about moving through time. I would occasionally sneak off without his knowledge. Then of course, after he died…”

“The stable was thrown wide open.”

Grey Thorn smiled coldly: “I was certainly more at liberty to explore, yes.”

He tipped his head to one side: “What did you mean by ‘cleared-out?’”

“Reaper and I phased through the table into its intradimensional spaces where I discovered scores of spells and equations bound to visions of old sacrifices. By erasing those old images, visions, phantasms, whatever they were, I could unlock and clarify the attached artifact.”

“Fascinating. So you now understand my creation as well as I do.”

“Better, actually. You never had anyone to cross-check or correct your work. And I don’t think you fundamentally understood some of it to begin with.”

“Oh, but you do?”

“Yeah, I do--except for one thing: I need to see the final binding spell where you harnessed that creature to the containment vessel.”

Grey Thorn furrowed his brow: “That’s a bit...problematic.”

“Why?”

Grey Thorn turned away: “I don’t entirely recall it; I was almost in a fugue state. It’s also the point at which I stripped away my essence for the last time. It was the most-searing one.”

Twilight smiled savagely: “Show me.”

Grey Thorn closed his eyes and pointed his horn toward the chamber roof. The air throbbed with energy, and brightened as a triple-banded sacrifice circle filled Twilight’s vision. The nested bands slowly rotated as glyphs and runes sparkled and darkened, seemingly at random.

Three power zones? Were you actually prepared to destroy yourself at the end?”

“I almost did. By this time I had resolved to either successfully integrate the creature and bond to the unified whole, or die in the attempt. I didn’t care which.”

Twilight squinted at the blurred images: “How drunk were you?”

“I wasn’t. You should recognize the tunneling effect and loss of focus.”

Twilight nodded: “You were dying.”

“Yes.”

A black tendril shot out of the bright haze; a beam of golden energy met it and froze it mid-air. Three more black ribbons converged on the first and were also halted and pressed together by golden bands. An angry screech echoed in the distance.

“I was using my entire self as bait. I had cuts down my back, and had made a hard connection between the circle and my outbound magic. It was all-or-nothing.”

Suddenly the scene went dark, and Twilight felt herself being drawn up toward the images. She flared her wings and hunkered down: “What’s happening?”

“The end.”

The alcove was plunged into impenetrable blackness, and Twilight heard Noble screaming in terror (or was it Grey Thorn? Or was it herself?) She felt again the irresistible pull of her life force being sucked out and struggled to escape, but stopped as she heard power words being shrieked and an awful tearing sound. She smelled blood and saw a small, pale-golden shape emerge from the darkness for a moment, then fall off to one side like a meteor.

Twilight collapsed to the floor and stared with frozen eyes as a maw of shifting deep purple and black that defied focus swept forward and latched onto the blood-drenched sacrifice circle. The scene shuddered violently and Twilight heard Noble (or was it Grey Thorn?) gasping and blubbering.

“Where do we go when we die, Gil?”

“How did my dam die?”

“You stopped death once!”

Twilight screamed in rage as the scars on her wrists split open, pouring blood onto the floor: “Enough!!”

Grey Thorn shook his head sadly: “It’s never enough, child. It always wants more…”

Twilight lurched to her hooves as the darkness overwhelmed the alcove again: “NOT THIS TIME!”

Her horn blazed with jets of gold and violet flame, flooding the area with blinding radiance. Noble squeezed his eyes shut and tried to shield himself behind an outcropping. The darkness and brilliance canceled each other and dissipated with a thunderclap.

Twilight dropped to the ground, panting: “Wha-what was the thing I saw falling?”

“The last piece of me save for the tattered remains you see before you.”

“H-how long did it take you to recover?”

“I’m not sure. I collapsed from shock and blood loss. Ironically, I almost died then, even though I had finally achieved my goal.”

Twilight nodded weakly as she threw bands of healing magic across her dripping writs: “And then you could draw from the Void at last, which also probably kept you alive.”

Grey Thorn tipped his horn toward the roof as the scene resumed: “Yes. I came to sometime later, and things had, well, changed.”

Twilight rubbed her eyes and looked up to see the containment device now shrouded in a jet-black nimbus, A thin, smoke-like ribbon snaked its way across the floor.

“Clearly the creature was now successfully integrated and could partially phase through the device. It couldn't fully escape its confinement, but it could sort of ooze from the surface. Over the coming weeks I learned to guide and control it, allowing it to reach out and retract, taking lifeforce from prey and giving it back to me in turn.”

Twilight rubbed her temples and took a deep breath. Her horn glowed and a copy of the triple-banded circle formed in the air: “This is it, then--this is what’s etched into the top of the interior of the device. This is what’s anchored the creature for all these centuries.”

“I--I can’t entirely recall…”

“Doesn’t matter--I know it’s right. Your vision just dropped the final pieces in-place and confirmed that you used a triple circle.”

Twilight stood and shook the dust from her coat: “Any last questions? Any freebies? I assume this’ll be the last we ever see of each other.”

She turned toward Noble who was leaning against a wall: “Let’s go, Steel--I have work to do, and not much time left to do it.”

The groggy unicorn furrowed his brow and stumbled forward a bit: “Wait a minute! Aren’t you finally going to get an answer out of him for why?”

“Why what?”

“Why did he do all this? What was the point? Why cause the destruction of hundreds of ponies over a thousand years? Why create that monstrosity in the first place?”

Twilight shrugged: “Doesn’t matter anymore. I found out what I needed.”

Grey Thorn pressed against the bars of his enclosure: “You did say you had, quote ‘a couple of questions.’ We only really covered one topic.”

Twilight rolled her eyes and sat: “That desperate for conversation, huh? Fine--make it quick.”

Grey Thorn sighed: “You are aware, I assume, that my dam died birthing me.”

“Yeah--I saw the death vision. I watched her die right after giving birth.”

Grey Thorn raised an eyebrow: “Interesting--I did not know that. In any event, I carried a burden of guilt that was common among foals whose dams died under such circumstances.”

“I’m sure.”

“So when I grew old enough to understand what had happened, I asked Starswirl where my dam had gone after she died. He told me he had buried her body.”

“Which wasn’t what you meant, I assume.”

“Correct. I wanted some small solace that she was in a better place, or still in this world somehow--something. When I clarified my question Starswirl replied that nopony knew what ultimately happened to our spirits after death, just that we go on beyond the bounds of this world. This was a deeply unsatisfying answer.”

Grey Thorn steepled his hooves: “Some years later, after I had seen a few deaths in some of the seedier districts of early Canterlot, I revisited the question. This time Starswirl described the research he had done into death and its mechanics, its resolution, what comes after.”

“The books in your secret library-lair.”

“That was some of it, yes. It was at this time I began to make copies, sensing the transgressive nature of some of his more, shall we say, sensitive materials.”

“Sensitive?”

“He began to see death not so much as the termination or negation of life, but as its companion, its counterpart, its completion. As such, he began to suspect that death itself could be managed and contained and cultivated, just as life is.”

Twilight folded her forelegs: “But that’s not what you created. You created some kind of vampire machine that takes life and grinds it up, erasing and digesting it. All you did was craft a different version of death.”

“That was never my intent. I watched with fascination as Starswirl pieced together fragments of ancient texts describing a long-lost death cult that sought to appease D'hurgmrei. They believed he could forestall or undo death as its master.”

“‘D'hurgmrei?’”

Grey Thorn smiled coolly: “Ask your friend about that. I doubt he’s heard that particular name in a very long time.”

Twilight chewed her lip: “Forestall. This must have been when Starswirl crafted his masking spell.”

“Yes, along with a whole series of wards and glyphs for shielding oneself from death. It was his ultimate hope that ponies could learn to manage death like weather or disease.”

“And then he burned everything and let his guard down. Why? What went wrong?”

Grey Thorn sat quietly for a few moments then licked his lips: “He was unwilling to do what had to be done to further the research.”

“In other words, sacrifices.”

“Yes. I could see where we would have to go: we would have to study death in detail, break it down, deconstruct it in order to really understand its connection to life. Only then would we be able to sidestep or forestall or contain it.”

Twilight stared up at the sacrifice circle, still hanging in the air: “That’s where dying and doing the Harbinger’s job have helped.”

Grey Thorn frowned: “Yes, well some of us didn’t have those advantages.”

Twilight shrugged dismissively: “Then you should have quit while you were ahead--” she turned away from the circle and raised an eyebrow at Grey Thorn: “and alive.”

Grey Thorn’s nostrils flared: “Arrogant bitch! What would you have done?”

“Exactly what I did: use Death’s energy as a catalyst to reverse-engineer life’s effects. You could have saved dozens of attempts, dozens of creatures, and probably most of your essence.”

“But the equations--”

“Are difficult, but solvable. You had the greatest unicorn sorcerer who ever lived at-hoof. He wanted to pull back the veil, too, but couldn’t bear the thought of destroying life to do it. You could have showed him an alternative.”

Twilight stood and gestured to Noble: “Let’s go. I have the last pieces I need to wrap this up and solve all the insolubles.”

Grey Thorn pressed against his enclosure: “Then what, Princess?”

Twilight stopped and looked over her shoulder with furrowed brow: “What do you mean, ‘then what?’”

“Once you’ve finalized your spells, broken the seals, subdued the creature--if you can--and rescued your friend, then what?”

Noble licked his lips and glanced back and forth between Twilight and Grey Thorn. Twilight blinked slowly: “There are a lot of questions that thing can answer. We’ll see…”

She turned and trotted briskly from the alcove.

Noble stared at Twilight in dismay, and shot a black look over his shoulder at Grey Thorn before hastily stumbling after the fast-disappearing alicorn: “Twilight, wait!”

Grey Thorn sat and stared up at the fading, broken traces of the sacrifice circle as they winked-out: “Where do we go when we die, Princess?”