• 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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Luna felt herself drawn forward as Twilight phased through the Void, tugging at their astral connection almost hungrily. Luna pulled back against the silver strand and narrowed her eyes, focusing on Twilight’s blurry form as it pushed into the dark beyond.

“A modicum of patience, Twilight! This will all be for naught if Zecora has not yet arrived at the appointed place!”

Twilight grimaced and stopped her forward progress, allowing Luna’s ghostly indigo form to drift next to her: “I know, I know--I’m just anxious to get going. How long do you think it’ll take to connect with Zecora?”

Luna peered into the distorted dark beyond them: “If the past is any guide, no more than two minutes.”

Twilight chewed her lip and glanced around her, sweeping the area with a thin band of dark magic: “Alright, I’ll hold here while you try to reach Zecora. This side of Grey Thorn’s containment device can answer a couple of questions I still have.”

Luna paused and looked back over her shoulder: “Still?”

Twilight smiled: “It’s fine, really. I’m just looking for some confirmation. Hurry back!”

Luna furrowed her brow and pushed on through the boundary zone into the Void’s interior, scanning for Zecora’s mind.

Twilight turned her attention to the distorted, shimmering inner surface of the extra-spatial boundary behind her. She swept a small area with several passes of shifting gold, violet and dark magic, noting the various glyphs and circuits that popped in and out of view.

She glanced back over her shoulder as Luna’s muffled voice filled the air: “Can you hear me, Zecora? Twilight is going to attempt to open the Void. If there is anything you can do to aid us from where you are, please do so! Courage--we will be there shortly!

Twilight nodded and returned to her examination of the various figures and symbols hovering in the dim air: “Damn--I was afraid of that…”

She chewed her lip as she waved a hoof, manipulating figures and equations, unaware of the thickening haze surrounding her, shot through with thin, black bands.

Twilight Sparkle, please report to the Principal's office!

Twilight froze and cocked an ear backwards as the hair along her spine rose. She swallowed and took a deep breath: “Is that you, Luna? Are you back?”

She looked over her shoulder and caught a glimpse of a distant, silver flash, before her vision was obscured by a dense, gray gust of fog that swirled around her, tugging and clinging. The cut on her right wrist reopened.

Oh, Reaper! Was it too much?

Her eyes darted back and forth as her horn began to brighten. A violet bubble formed around her: “L-Luna! Time to go! I can’t fight this thing like this, not from here, not with you stuck inside, too!”

She began to choke on a hot, salty sensation rising in the back of her throat. She smelled blood and heard bone and tendons shredding: “LUNA! NOW!”

Luna appeared before her suddenly, brow furrowed with concern: “Twilight--what is it? I managed to reach Zecora for a--”

Her nostrils flared and she shuddered violently as the fog thickened and became acrid with the smell of singed flesh.

I swear on your Goddess, if you violate me…

Twilight and Luna both looked in alarm as a thick black band wrapped itself around the silvery ribbon stretching from Luna’s horn.

Twilight shot bolts of gold and black magic at the tendril, weakening its grasp: “Now, Luna! Get us out of here!”

Luna stared blankly into the space beyond the two alicorns, lip trembling, ears ringing with the mingled sounds of grunting and bare skin slapping.

More black tendrils converged on them, closing in on the silver ribbon. Twilight leaned forward, took Luna’s face between her hooves and locked eyes.

How will you protect yourself from you?


Luna blinked away tears and nodded, tipping her head back, tugging at the astral cord. She and Twilight tore through a web of black threads with a mingled burst of violet and bluish-white, and slammed into the boundary.

Celestia licked her lips and paced beside her sister as Reaper stared intently at the flickering silver ribbon emanating from Luna’s horn.

“I’m worried, Reaper! They’ve been in there longer than the times you and Luna went in, yes?”

Reaper shrugged: “Not sure, and I can’t exactly stick my head in to check, since your star pupil decided to go rogue.”

“Yes, that concerns me, too. She’s clearly driven to rescue Zecora no matter the risk!”

Reaper raised an eyebrow: “There’s more to it than that. She’s obsessed with the Void, its creation, its operation, everything.”

Celestia bit her lip: “I knew no good would come of her talking with Grey Thorn! We should have just--”

Luna and Twilight both twitched and jerked as the silvery band connecting them to the Void suddenly pulsed with ripples of black energy. Luna’s body began to sag and drift forward toward the dark sphere.

Reaper’s eyes went wide: “Oh, shit--they’re in trouble!”

Celestia jumped forward and stared at the now-corrupted band, working its way toward Luna’s horn: “But-but what does it mean?”

“That thing in there’s taking over the connection between Luna’s astral form and her body!”

Celestia pawed at the floor and bit her lip: “I-I have to do something!”

Reaper stepped between her and Twilight: “You can’t! If you sever the connection Luna will be lost! Twilight might be able to phase back through, but cutting the cord here would cut Luna loose in there!”

“Can’t you do anything?”

Reaper glared at the black stain, working its way steadily toward Luna’s horn. He drew his sword and turned back toward Twilight.

“Wha-what are you going to do?”

Reaper gritted his teeth: “What I said I’d do if I had to…”

Suddenly Luna’s eyes flew open and she fell to her left with a gasp. Twilight lurched backwards with a blinding violet flash and sat down hard, eyes pressed tightly shut.

Celestia dashed back to Luna’s side and knelt next to her: “Thank the stars! Are you alright?”

Luna struggled to sit up, and blinked heavily as her eyes rolled back down and focused on her sister’s face: “Yes, I-I believe I am fine. How is Twilight?”

Reaper helped Twilight to her hooves: “She looks OK, but that thing was clearly working its way through their connection. What in Tartarus was going on in there?”

Twilight grimaced and took a deep breath: “It, uh, it snuck up on me while Luna was away contacting Zecora. I was distracted…”

She turned to Luna, brow furrowed: “How was it able to get into my dreams like that?”

“It has very well-developed psychic and astral powers. You will recall Shatter and Noble’s descriptions of their encounters in the chasm.”

Twilight nodded and summoned over her saddle bag. She pulled out a flask and took a long drink: “I know but this was taken from me--from my memories and dreams, not images from some long-lost time or place!”

Luna shuddered: “Yes. I have had similar experiences…”

Reaper smiled grimly: “It was even able to plumb my memories. Though I was immune to its effect, it was still quite impressive.”

Twilight sat back down and rubbed her temples: “OK, well I’m gonna have to go back to Plan ‘A’, then.”

Reaper cocked an eyebrow: “‘Plan A?’”

Twilight sighed as she put away her flask: “Yeah, I had hoped to defeat that entity from inside and break its connection to the containment device before opening it--Plan ‘B’--but that’s just not possible.”

Celestia furrowed her brow: “From inside?”

“That would have allayed your fears about opening the Void and exposing our world to that thing.”

“But now?”

Twilight shook her head: “It’s too well-integrated in there, and it has a disorienting ability that would be hard to overcome. I’m going to have to meet it halfway.”

Luna wobbled to her hooves and stretched her wings: “What do you mean by that?”

“When I fought that creature back and sealed the breach in the Void, it had passed beyond the containment vessel and its energy-sapping field. I can open the Void and keep the field intact, allowing me to fight that thing at the threshold of the containment vessel.”

Reaper glared: “So I was right--that thing’s going to get out! This is madness, Twilight! Lift the wards so I can get in there and cleanly reap Zecora. It’s unfortunate but it’ll keep Canterlot safe!”

Twilight licked her lips and shook her head: “Not gonna happen. I can keep the field intact and coax the creature to the surface. It’ll be weakened, and I can defeat it at the boundary.”

Reaper drew his sword and advanced on Twilight.

Celestia’s eyes widened: “Reaper--”

Reaper’s eyes glowed pale red: “No! This has gone beyond the bounds of reason. She’s obsessed with this thing and has to be stopped. I’m sorry.”

Twilight grinned savagely: “Me too. I wanted this to go smoothly, but you’ve forced my hoof.”

Reaper raised his blade: “It’s too late for that now, Twilight.”

Twilight took a half step back: “Yes it is, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it.”

Reaper paused: “Stop it?”

Twilight shook her head sadly: “Of all ponies, I never expected you to suffer from Grey Thorn Syndrome.”

“‘Grey Thorn?’ What--”

He furrowed his brow and looked back at the Void; a fresh sacrifice circle had formed above its crown: “Underestimating my opponent…”

He turned back to Twilight as a thin, silvery seam appeared around the top of Void: “That’s because I never thought of you as my opponent, Twilight.”

“I didn’t either, Reaper, until a couple of hours ago.”

Luna looked up at the crown of the Void which was now slowly rotating as the silvery seam widened and brightened: “What have you done?”

Twilight glanced warily away from Reaper’s blade for a moment: “I set the spells in motion before we withdrew from inside the Void. I assumed Reaper would try to stop me, so now he can’t unless you all really do want to see that thing get loose.”

Reaper lowered his blade and stepped back: “This is wrong, Twilight--you’ve taken it too far. You’re tampering with the very forces of life and death! That never ends well!”

Luna bit her lip: “I suspect Grey Thorn would now agree with that assessment.”

Twilight spread her wings and rose into the air: “He failed. I won’t.”

Reaper looked at Luna and shook his head: “That’s what I’m afraid of…”

The seam around the crown of the Void widened further and suddenly shifted to a deep black as Twilight hovered above it, stradling the triple sacrifice circle.

She turned to face Celestia and looked beyond to the table as she lanced her wrists: “You should probably leave this chamber, Princess. I don’t think it’s safe for you to be this close when I start channeling energy and magic.”

Celestia furrowed her brow: “Luna…?”

Luna turned to her sister and nodded: “I concur. This is likely to involve draining life energies, and you are a prime target for that.”

“But what about you?”

“I can mask myself with a measure of dark magic, and should be able to stave off the draining effect for a time.”

She glanced back over her shoulder at Twilight, and raised an eyebrow: “I assume this should take no more than a few minutes, yes?”

Reaper glared at Twilight: “And assuming you’re not directly attacked!”

Twilight rolled her eyes: “I have it under control. I’ll meet it at the boundary; it won’t be able to emerge into this space. Now you really should get back through the entry, Princess--this thing’s opening now!”

Celestia shied and backed away, passing through the chamber’s entrance as the Void’s crown lifted away in a burst of black and gold light and a spray of blood.

Twilight spread her wings and forelegs wide as the sacrifice circles contracted and descended into the Void, twisting and rippling as they went. Bands of black snaked free from the table and wound around Twilight’s hooves.

The now-open top of the Void distorted and appeared to expand and stretch as Twilight sank slowly into the swirling light and dark and fog and ribbons of magic and Death’s energy.

Luna squinted and threw up a magic shield as she felt the Void began to drag her forward. Reaper phased and rose into the air, glancing worriedly from the table to Twilight to the Void.

Twilight tucked her wings slightly as she passed inside the outer shell of the containment device and swirled her right hoof, manipulating the second and third sacrifice circles as the first peeled away and lodged inside the rim of the opening like a gasket. Dark bands continued to flow over the lip of the Void, down to Twilight’s hooves.

The fog parted as Twilight produced a magical pressure wave from her horn. She peered down through the distorted space toward the summit of the Swamp and watched as the Sentinel readied its final blow on Zecora, Gil, Bramble and Green Streak.

Twilight’s eyes went blank with silver-white fire as blinding beams of magic struck like violet solar flares, driving back the Sentinel’s tendrils.

Twilight intensified the pressure wave, bathing the top of the Swamp in a golden haze, and tapped her throat with a magical boost: “I’m here, Zecora!”

Gil squinted up at Twilight then looked down at Zecora’s unconscious body: “Dammit! That has to be Zecora’s friend! She really did it, and now Zecora’s knocked-out again!”

Bramble glanced down at the twitching zebra as Green Streak hovered nearby; the colt chewed his lip: “And Kla’atra was destroyed! How are we supposed to get her back, now?”

Green Streak shot upward: “Twilight can help!”

Gil’s eyes went wide as he watched the pegasus accelerate away: “No, don’t! You’ll get too close to the Vacuum if you try to get up there!”

Bramble knelt beside Zecora: “I know you can’t hear me, but you have to wake up, Zecora! We have to get moving--it’s not safe here!”

Suddenly Zecora stirred and her eyes fluttered open. She sat up, coughed weakly, and rubbed the back of a hoof across her eyes.

Bramble rose to his hooves as Gil looked down in surprise: “Well, that’s a stroke of luck! I’m glad to see you awake so quickly, Zecora. I’m sorry to say, but Kla’atra was destroyed protecting you, and I was afraid we wouldn’t be able to rouse you in time!”

Zecora looked up with furrowed brow and pointed to the sky.

Bramble looked up as well: “Yeah, it appears your friend figured out how to break the seals and open the Vacuum.”

Gil nodded, then shrugged: “Of course, that was the easy part; I don’t know what she plans to do about the Sentinel…”

Twilight furrowed her brow and focused on a pair of dark shapes slashing toward her, stretching and twisting, defying her attempts to hone in on them. She summoned a ribbon of Death’s energy from over her left shoulder and snaked it down her leg to her bloody hoof. The third sacrifice circle flared and a shield formed, just turning aside the Sentinel’s thrust.

Twilight smiled: “Yeah, I have your attention now, don’t I?”

A third tendril swept toward her as a host of black ribbons and bands coalesced around her, obscuring her vision. She bit her lip, flared her wings and swept an arc of brilliant gold magic left and right, clearing a path back toward the opening atop the Void.

She let her right foreleg hang down, causing blood to drip as she quickly rose higher: “Let’s take this outside, shall we?”

Twilight entered the opening and stopped just as the first sacrifice circle girdled her waist. A nimbus of black and violet clouds formed around her, absorbing the Sentinel’s bands and tendrils. She bit her lip and lifted her blood-smeared hooves high, entangling both her own inky ribbons and the Sentinel’s.

“Come on! Come to me! I mastered you once, I’ll do it again!”

The Sentinel let out a shriek and enveloped the third sacrifice circle using two of its heavy, ropy branches. The sky was filled with a sudden burst of gold light and the sound of thunder. Twilight was thrown back against the edge of the containment device in a spray of sparks.

She lurched forward in agony, smoke rising from her back, foam flecking her lips, and poured down a torrent of violet magic with an enraged scream: “Don’t even think about it! This is where you and I are doing this--not outside, not down there! Here! And now!”

Gil looked up at the swirling bands of darkness, the nimbus, the shafts of blinding golden light, the Sentinel’s stabbing and thrashing, then turned back to Zecora and Bramble: “We have to move! If she actually drives back the Sentinel or destroys it or whatever she has planned, this whole area is going to be torn to shreds and thrown up against the Vacuum!”

Zecora began shakily reapplying a coating of blue powder as Bramble stepped forward and looked up at the confusion above: “What about Green Streak? Did you see what happened to her?”

Gil began moving quickly up the slope generating a weak shield as he went: “No, and it doesn’t matter now. If she got too close to the Vacuum she’s gone. If not, she’s likely mixed-up in that catastrophe up there.”

Zecora stumbled after Gil, panting, tongue hanging out. Bramble slipped in front of her, generated a weak shield of his own, and looked back over his shoulder: “How are you doing, Zecora? Hopefully we can get close enough for you to catch your friend’s attention! Just hang in a little longer!”

Zecora nodded and smiled, put her head down and worked her way between several potholes, eyes locked on Gil’s flickering form ahead. She shied away as the holes began to disgorge shades that rushed headlong upward to join the confusion and cataclysm above.

The three worked their way closer to the now-visible base of the Sentinel as pieces of fibrous material and orange turf fell around them. Gil stopped suddenly and pointed at a fissure in ground: “The Sentinel’s starting to tear away from the Swamp!”

They all looked up as the air reverberated with thunder, and saw the flash of the collapsing sacrifice circle.

...here and now!

Bramble shielded his eyes and squinted into the haze: “Is she actually trying to get it outside the Vacuum? Is she crazy?”

Gil shook his head: “I can’t tell. Those sacrifice circles are very different from the ones I recall--far more complex and dark. I think--”

He suddenly snapped his head to his right, toward the rent turf: “Squish is back!”

Bramble froze as the creature worked its way quickly toward the three companions. Bramble tipped his head sideways enough to make contact with Zecora out of the corner of his eye: “Do you have more of that blue powder?”

Zecora pulled the stopper on the vial and shrugged sadly, tipping the empty container downward.

“Damn. I don’t know what to do about Squish, now, and we can’t let it divert us.”

Gil turned back and furrowed his brow: “It’s stopped. What does it want?”

Squish moved in front of Bramble and turned away, facing the base of the Sentinel. It began moving slowly away, stopping after a few yards and rotating back to face the three ponies.

Zecora took a tentative step forward.

Gil raised an eyebrow: “Do you think it wants us to follow it?”

Zecora looked back over her shoulder and nodded, dripping fresh blood from her nose in the process. She turned back and walked after Squish.

Gil chewed his lip for a moment as the zebra moved away. He stared intently at her for another moment, then drifted after her, overtaking her after a few yards.

He floated next to her, extending his pale, flicking shield in front of them both: “How are you feeling? Are you unable to speak again?”

Zecora nodded and tapped her throat with a trembling hoof.

“I see. Well, hopefully it will pass shortly.”

He closed his eyes for a moment, and Bramble stopped short and raised an eyebrow. He bit his lip and nodded curtly. Gil began to move again, following Squish toward the base of the Sentinel as Bramble and Zecora fell in-line.

Twilight cleared her head and hastily regenerated the third ring of the sacrifice circle as the Sentinel fell back briefly, reforming its own nimbus, throwing out fresh tendrils, probing for weakness, glancing off the Vacuum, tugging at its base, seeking a better angle, pushing waves of psionic energy at its disoriented opponent.

“Twilight Sparkle, please report to the Principal’s office!”

Twilight closed her eyes in an attempt to block out the black wave pouring through a door. She gritted her teeth: “Dammit--stop that!”

She unleashed a blast of twinned violet-and-gold magic at the Sentinel that broke the connection, and she strengthened her connection to the black ribbons pouring over her shoulders, mingling with her blood, swelling the nimbus that surrounded her like an angry thunderhead.

As she swept forward, bolts of energy streaking from her horn, the Sentinel jerked suddenly to one side and threw out a spray of tendrils to her right, missing her wide.

“Nice try, but you’re getting sloppy! You’re getting weak--I can feel it!”

She drove forward forcing the Sentinel back as it wove a barrier to prevent further damage. Then its apparently-errant tendrils drifted free behind Twilight and settled on their counterparts stretching from her shoulders back out of the Void.

Twilight froze mid-attack, eyes wide, and pivoted to her right in a bid to disentangle herself from her own tendrils. It was too late; the Sentinel’s inky, pulsing bands merged with her own and reached hungrily for both her bleeding wrists and the space beyond the final sacrifice circle that held the suppression field intact. It surged forward, extending two branches toward Twilight as it thrust its other pair downward toward the fleeing ponies now approaching its base.

Gil glanced up at the tumult above as the three ponies hurried across the heaving, tearing surface, following Squish toward a small rise at the now-loosened base of the Sentinel. He glanced to his right and noted Zecora sweating and straining to keep her eyes open and focused.

Suddenly as pair of dark shadows shot down from above as a ripple coursed through the turf. Zecora caught a hoof and stumbled as Gil swept in front of her, blocking her with the final surge of his shield. She dived forward as the shadow swept by with a shriek, and passed through the final shimmering traces of Gil’s shade as he flickered out of existence.

Luna stiffened her shield and pushed her magic to a darker tone as the nimbus and tendrils and sparks rose and fell at the top of the Void. Reaper hovered near the opening like a phantom, squinting into the flickering, twisting haze.

“Can you make anything out, Reaper?”

“Not really--her damn wards make it nearly impossible to see anything beyond the energy field.”

Luna glanced over her shoulder at the table: “She does seem to be drawing rather heavily off Death’s energy.”

Reaper nodded: “She’s pouring a huge amount of energy into that upper circle. I can only assume the same thing is happening--”

Suddenly a surge of mingled magic and psionic energy poured out of the Void as a new nimbus began to form around its base. Reaper fell back and looked at the table in alarm: “That’s not Twilight! Those bands belong to the Void!”

Luna’s eyes went wide: “How-how is that possible?”

Reaper drew his blade and dropped to the floor next to Luna: “It hijacked her conduit!”

“What does that mean? Is she still alive and in control of herself?”

“I don’t know. All I know is we’d better be ready.”

Luna nodded grimly and looked over her shoulder. She fired a bolt of dark magic at the chamber entrance, sealing it.

“I am sorry sister. I hope we will see each other again…”

Celestia pounded on the door in vain.

Zecora sat up in the gloom and rubbed her eyes, adjusting enough to eventually make out the dim outlines of the interior of her hut, lit by a dim, silvery spark somewhere across the dark space.

“How can I be back in this place / Why am I not in empty space?”

The sound of a latch caught her attention and she turned as the door opened.

Gil stepped through with a sad smile: “And now we come to the bitter end / I must account for my wayward friend.”