• 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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D'hurgmrei

The Princesses rushed Zecora into the guest room adjacent to Celestia’s chambers, with four medical ponies, two guards and the Royal Surgeon--a middle-aged, deep-brown unicorn mare--in-tow.

Luna lowered the unconscious zebra onto the bed as the staff bustled, inserting an IV, taking vitals, sponging away blood from her face. The Royal Surgeon gingerly separated Zecora’s hindquarters and swept the area with a beam of light.

“She’s bleeding from every place a mare can bleed, and her hide is singed and gashed! What in Equestria happened to her?”

Celestia chewed her lip: “I-I’ll explain later. For now I need to know if she’s stable. Will she live?”

The Royal Surgeon let Zecora’s hind leg down gently as a nurse stepped in to continue cleaning. She turned to face Celestia: “She should, though she appears to be comatose. I’ll have to investigate that further, once I’ve determined the extent of her other injuries.”

Celestia nodded: “Thank you, Doctor.”

The doctor bowed slightly: “Not at all, your Highness. I should--are you sick, or was that from the victim?”

Celestia glanced down at her stained and matted coat: “No, that was me. It’s-it’s not important…”

The doctor raised an eyebrow, but held her peace, and turned back to Zecora, asking questions of the staff and pointing out wounds to Celestia.

Luna stood off to one side, eyes closed, chewing her lip. She breathed slowly and deeply, trying to reach into Zecora’s unconscious, when she was suddenly aware of another presence.

Reaper?

Yeah, I’m back in the corner, phased-out as far as I can while still having a presence. How’s Zecora?

The Surgeon will do her usual best, but I fear this task is beyond her.

Coma?

Yes. I sensed Zecora’s mind was nearly shattered, and so put her in the deepest sleep possible.

I understand. I’m going to head back to your chambers. Please bring Celestia and meet me as soon as you can.

Luna nodded and slowly opened her eyes, noting a shadowy ripple fade away in a far corner behind a chair.


Reaper sat at the foot of Luna’s dais, peering into the dark, vaulted ceiling, tracking the progress of Luna’s pet as he hunted insects. He turned his head and glanced at the doorway as light streamed in. Luna entered a moment later, followed by Celestia and Noble Steel.

Luna approached the dais and nodded toward several sconces and lamps, filling the room with a low, bluish-white glow.

Reaper stood: “Sorry for the lighting--I’ve never really cared one way or another whether it was light or dark.”

Luna nodded: “It seems you are not the only one with an ambivalent attitude regarding darkness.”

Reaper smiled grimly: “Nice metaphor, but you’re not wrong.”

Noble moved to one side and let Celestia pass on her way to a low couch. She sat and summoned a goblet of wine from a side table.

Noble poured one as well, and sat down on a nearby ottoman: “What does that mean? What happened to Twilight?”

Celestia turned to Reaper: “The Lieutenant entered Zecora’s room moments after you left. I had let him know we were on the way, and he was eager to see her.”

Noble nodded and swallowed: “She looked terrible, but I’m actually more worried about Twilight! Luna filled me in on the basics of the last battle, but I still don’t get it.”

Celestia closed her eyes and drained her wine: “Neither do I. What is she? What...what…?”

Tears welled in her red-rimmed eyes as Luna refilled the goblet hovering below her sister’s trembling lip: “Is she somehow now Grey Thorn? Is this his doing? I-I…”

Reaper shook his head: “I almost wish it were--It’s always nice to have a villain to fall back on. No, that thing is now Twilight.”

Luna sat beside her sister and bit her lip: “How-how did this happen?”

“Do you remember her statement, ‘the Void is tamed?’”

“Yes.”

“She tamed it by bonding with it. When she tore out that creature that was the flaw at the heart of the Void, she effectively took its place. She siphoned off the last of its life force and connected to the Void.”

Celestia shuddered: “Is there nothing we can do? Even if you have to...Reaper, you have to…”

She laid her head on Luna’s shoulder and wept quietly.

Luna looked up with hard eyes: “I fear Celestia is right. We no longer have a choice.”

Reaper sighed: “Nor a chance.”

Noble raised an eyebrow: “Why not? Surely she still trusts you enough to let you get close and…”

Reaper shook his head: “And annoy her. She is beyond reaping. She has mastered Death. There is only one being now in this world capable of stripping her of her power--herself.”

Celestia opened her eyes and stared at the ceiling: “And-and where is she now? Do we flee? Do we fight? Is-is she evil?”

“No, she’s still Twilight, and likely will remain so for some time to come. But she may well begin to take actions she no longer perceives as negative. She will become increasingly amoral.”

“And that thing! It has to feed or recharge or whatever, yes? She’s now a risk for draining ponies of their essences!”

Reaper shrugged: “Maybe. I assume the fundamental need to provide it energy still exists, though without the creature, that’s likely lessened.”

He paced: “No, the biggest problem is we have no idea where or when she is.”

“‘When?’”

“The device that makes up the bulk of the Void has the ability to transcend the bounds of both space and time. She may disappear for a short period to us, and spend months elsewhere, in another time. She may be unrecognizable by the time she returns.”

Celestia’s eyes went wide with fear: “Then what are we to do? If she can simply appear any time at any place without warning, in an unknown state-of-mind…”

“I know where she is.”

All eyes turned to Noble Steel. He set down his cup and wiped his mouth with the back of a hoof: “It’s where she always goes.”

Reaper’s eyebrows jumped: “Of course! Tartarus!”

Luna closed her eyes with a pained expression: “Grey Thorn.”

Celestia furrowed her brow: “Why would she go there? Is he controlling her somehow?”

Noble stood and shook his head: “No--at least not the way you’re thinking. But she’ll want to show him what she’s done--prove she’s better, smarter, stronger.”

Reaper gestured to Noble: “Let’s go!”

Noble raised an eyebrow: “Not that I’m shirking, but why am I going?”

“Moral support!”

He turned to The Sisters as he began to fade: “Stay safe! And if we never return--well, stay safe…”

He phased out as Noble vanished in a flash.

Celestia laid her head back onto Luna’s shoulder and closed her eyes.


“Unbelievable!”

Twilight stepped to one side as the Void slid alongside her, expanding slightly as she entered the alcove.

“How did you master the creature? I would never have dared bring my creation down here--too unstable!”

“I fixed it. I took care of the core inefficiency by tearing out that thing and completing the work you never finished.”

“Tore it out?”

“Yeah. I pulled it out through the top of the containment vessel and killed it.”

Grey Thorn stared, his mouth hanging open for several moments. He slowly closed it: “Finished what work?”

Twilight’s horn pulsed violet as a series of circles and equations and symbols formed in the air: “This work--all the hard stuff you never tried to hammer-out.”

Grey Thorn scowled: “So, you’ve come to gloat.”

Twilight furrowed her brow in confusion: “No, not exactly…”

“Then why are you here?”

“That’s an excellent question, Twilight--why are you here?”

Twilight turned to her right and looked at the two figures entering the alcove: “Oh, Reaper! I was wondering if you’d show up. So why are you here? There aren’t any more questions, and the job’s done, so..."

“You first.”

Twilight licked her lips: “I’m not really sure. I guess I wanted a chance to push my limits controlling the Void, and this seemed like as safe a place as any.”

Reaper raised an eyebrow: "Push your limits?"

Twilight smiled broadly: "You have no idea, Reaper--the places I've already gone, the things I've already seen! This device is amazing! I can go anywhere, to any time, almost effortlessly! It's actually kind of hard to keep track..."

“And this is also a chance for closure with your rival, your foil, your...mentor?”

Twilight shook her head: “Mentor? No...not that.”

“Sure.”

Twilight fixed her expression and nodded curtly: “So I guess I did come to gloat, all along!”

“Sure.”

Twilight narrowed her eyes and pointed at Noble: “So why are you here? And why him?”

“I came to toss that thing in the Pit and take you home. The good Lieutenant’s here for moral support.”

Twilight snorted: “Toss it? Why would I let you do that? This thing is the answer ponies have been seeking for millenia!”

“Answer to what?”

“Where do ponies go when they die, of course.”

“I see.”

She gestured to the Void: “I don’t think you really do. I can keep ponies here, in this world, on this side of the Veil. They’ll be here, in this controlled, contained space, free to continue their conscious existence without the unknowability that used to trouble us.”

Reaper circled Twilight as Noble slid into the shadows, nervously avoiding both the Pit and the Void: “That’s the price of mortality, Twilight--the ambiguity of one’s existence, the fragility of it all, the inscrutability of the end.”

“But it doesn’t have to be that way, Reaper! Ponies can be here, with others they know, in a place I can fashion and mold for them!”

“Until they fade there, too. Then what?”

“Fade?”

“That thing will decay and erode any spirit within it, eventually nullifying its existence. It is its nature.”

“No--I fixed it! It’s perfect! I got rid of the creature that was sucking out life force--”

“And substituted yourself. Now you will feed off their essences. You will be the answer to the question ‘where do ponies go!’”

“No, no…”

Twilight glanced up at the figures and equations: “No, it’s fine! I can travel with this, seek other energies in order to balance the minute amounts that will bleed-off over the centuries.”

Reaper nodded at Grey Thorn: “You mean other worlds, other life forms. Like he did, right?”

Twilight glanced nervously back at the figures and glared at Grey Thorn: “Not like him--he was sloppy! So much wasted energy, so much--”

“Deep Time, Princess.”

Twilight furrowed her brow and turned back toward Reaper: “What?”

“You have no sense of Deep Time. I am, indeed, ‘Entropy’s Errand Colt,’ and I feel its every drip, its every ripple, no matter how infinitesimal. That thing may well be balanced out to ten decimal places, but that’s still a huge error over the span of eternity.”

Twilight rolled her eyes: “Well okay, but I can still keep ahead of that tiny--”

“Forever?”

“Y-yes…”

Reaper drew his sword and rose on his hind legs. His cloak billowed in an unseen breeze. The light dimmed and the Pit seemed to press in from all sides: “Forever, Twilight. You can never stop. You and this thing will be the end of all things you touch, eventually. You will be the repository for all beings you encounter.”

“But-but I won’t actually kill anypony! I’ll just take them up at their end, like I did--as you do--as the Harbinger! How is that any different?”

“Because the Harbinger sends them on, intact, to their final fate. You will now be their final fate, because little by little, over the slow march of years, this thing will feed them to you. It is inevitable. You have literally become D'hurgmrei!”

Twilight hardened her expression: “Alright, let say for argument’s sake that you’re right--that eventually all things would decay and channel through me. How is that any different than oblivion? At least they would have had eons of consciousness!”

“Yes, until they wink out and pass their final, fleeting thoughts to you. Do you know how crushing that burden will be for you? You've experienced but the tiniest fraction. Even I, after five-thousand years can barely perceive what it would feel like.”

“O-okay, but…”

“And not just their final visions, Twilight--all of it. You will literally be absorbing all they ever were. And you’ll feel it all as it happens--the screaming and weeping and cursing, the smell of piss and blood and shit!”

He circled her again and pulsed a beam of pale-blue energy at the fading symbols. A pair of bipedal bodies appeared, bound and naked, necks stretched backwards over a log. A man in a green doublet stood to one side directing two soldiers.

“You only saw a smattering of visions--fleeting shades of death.”

Twilight’s nostrils flared: “I’ve died twice! I know what that--”

“Yes, and you remember that taste of blood in the back of your throat? How hard it was to get rid of? How it still haunts your dreams?”

“...”

Reaper tipped his horn up as flaming coal tar and naptha and pitch were poured slowly over the upturned faces of the screaming figures, searing and melting away their features, cooking their brains until their skulls burst.

Twilight started at the report of exploding bone.

“That smell’s even harder to get out of your throat--burnt blood and flesh.”

“But-but, I won’t--”

“Experience death like this? How can you possibly know that, Princess? Deep Time will give you everything, eventually.”

Twilight began to breathe rapidly and chew her lip. Grey Thorn glared at Reaper from his enclosure. Reaper stepped up close to Twilight, her eyes fixed on the horror hovering above her.

He leaned in as the scene shifted to the man in green walking past a row of naked, tortured bodies, hanging by their dislocated arms from a scaffold, shit dripping from their legs, the ground fouled for yards around: “But it’s the shit that’s the worst. It gets on your boots, it gets places you never seem to get clean, it lodges in your sinuses, and no amount of booze or drug ever really gets rid of it.”

He stepped back: “That’ll be yours for eternity as you send ten-thousand generations of ponies into oblivion, drip by drip.”

Twilight began to pant. Grey Thorn pressed up against the enclosure: “He’s lying! He fears your power and knows he can’t defeat you, so he’s playing disgusting tricks!”

Reaper glanced over his shoulder at Grey Thorn with a cold smile, then stepped in front of Twilight. They locked eyes: “A simple test, then. You remember Dew Drop, yes?”

Twilight nodded breathlessly.

“I don’t--not really. But I got an echo of her last moments. It’s how I knew I’d missed something.”

He licked his lips and the scene above shifted to the final moments of the Sentinel before it melted away: “So that thing has taken a few last victims quite recently, yes?”

Twilight nodded, eyes dilated and locked on the scene.

“Green Streak, Top Cover, Solar Gleam, yes? And as with a big fish that eats a little fish whose remains are still visible in the big fish’s gut for some time, I’m sure that creature still carried the final traces of its unfortunate, final victims.”

Twilight swallowed heavily as a tear ran down her cheek.

“So I wonder…”

Grey Thorn ground his teeth as Twilight began to tremble.

The scene shifted one last time. A small earth pony lay dead on a urine-soaked rug.

Saliva dripped from Twilight’s lower lip: “N-n-no…”

“I wonder…”

“...”

“Did Dew Drop taste like strawberries?”

Twilight staggered backwards into a wall, spewing vomit, choking, tears streaming down her face: “NO! N-NO!!”

“Forever, Twilight! That taste and a billion more! Forever!”

She dropped to her knees and heaved and heaved, splattering her legs and chest: “St-stop! Oh, sweet Celestia, stop!”

Reaper bent down and touched his muzzle to Twilight's: “Celestia? You’ll have to reckon with her soon, yes? Piece of cake with that thing at your command! Her destruction will be trivial!”

Twilight pawed blindly at the air, snot running down her muzzle, vomit still bubbling from her throat and lips: “Pl-ple-please stop!”

“And Luna! She’ll retreat to the dreamscape, maybe even the moon. That won’t even be an inconvenience! The energy they’ll bring can forestall your doom for centuries!”

Twilight retched and staggered to her hooves, eyes flitting rapidly from the Pit to the Void to Grey Thorn. She turned toward the Void in horror: “Get-get it away!”

“Too late, Princess! It’s part of you, now! And I’m sure it’s hungry--you must have tapped almost all its reserves after the battle. G.T. can tell you what happens when it gets hungry…”

Twilight backed away and bumped into another wall: “N-no! I’ll just sh-shut it down! I-I can--”

Reaper reached out and pulled a terrified Noble from the niche in which he was hiding. He threw the unicorn to the ground and poised Death’s Token above him: “Here, boss, let me help! You won’t actually have to kill him, just soak-up his spirit when I’m done!”

Twilight stumbled forward and swatted at the sword: “N-no! Please stop!”

She turned back to the Void, eyes wild with panic: “I-I have to break it--off!”

She lanced her wrists clumsily, spraying blood across her chest, and formed a pair of sacrifice circles above the Void. A series of matching runes glittered on her hide as she shouted incantation after spell after power word.

She trembled violently as her eyes went blank, and wave after wave of dark magic and violet energy pulsed through the alcove, throwing up lurid shadows broken only by the infinite black of the implacable Pit.

Twilight’s voice rose to a shriek as Reaper’s blade glowed crimson, and Noble pressed himself against the floor, hooves jammed in his ears. She rose from the floor, wings and forelegs spread, foam flecking her lips, eyes burning with silver fire.

The Void swelled and billowed outward, threatening to engulf the alcove, forcing Reaper to generate a shield to protect the nearly-senseless Noble.

“D-D-DIIIEEEEE!!”

Twilight’s scream echoed through the alcove, the Void’s nimbus collapsed inward with a thunderclap, and cracks radiated outward on the floor beneath her as chunks of stone broke free from the roof.

Grey Thorn shrank back against the back of his cage: “Un-unbelievable!”

Twilight dropped from the air and crumpled in a heap as the Void suddenly shrank and settled to the floor, melting a shallow divot. The sacrifice circles flickered and faded. The dim light returned.

Reaper slowly approached Twilight: “Are you alright?”

Twilight pushed up with one leg and pulled her right wing back against her body. She squinted up at Reaper: “I-I think so. I-I don’t feel it n-now…”

She was suddenly wracked with spasms and curled into a ball: “Ahh! The pain! It-it burns, and the emptiness is cru-crushing my lungs!”

“Can you sit up?”

“I-I-I can try…”

She struggled to her haunches, wings hanging limp at her sides as she panted: “Oh, oh, oh, no! It-it’s all so empty now! All the energy and power are g-gone, and I-I…”

She shuddered violently: “I’m so c-c-cold!”

Noble sat up and blinked stupidly as his eyes adjusted and his brain recovered from the onslaught. Reaper gestured to him: “Come here, sit with Twilight--she’s cold, and I don’t exactly generate body heat!”

Noble wobbled to his hooves and stumbled over. He bit his lip and glanced dubiously back and forth between the Void and Twilight.

She looked up into his eyes and recoiled: “No! Get him away! I saw his eyes! I s-saw what he sees now! Get him away!”

Twilight lurched to her hooves and backed up: “Oh, no! This is how-how they’ll all s-see me now!”

Anguish flooded her face: “Oh, Celestia! She-she saw me! And L-Luna! It didn’t really make sense at-at the time, but now! Now! I s-see it! Their eyes!”

She dropped to her knees and wept: “Oh, Reaper they-they’ll never have m-me back! I c-can’t live with po-ponies anymore! Not after-after-after…”

Twilight’s shoulders heaved with sobs as saliva ran from her lips and tears streamed down her face: “I can’t! Not-not after Gr-Green Streak and Top-Top Cover and Solar and--”

Her body was wracked with spasms as she retched repeatedly, choking on the bile, clawing at the floor in agony: “I-I-I can still taste her!!”

She collapsed and dry-heaved. Reaper knelt beside her: “You didn’t know, Twilight. You couldn’t have--”

She shoved her rump against the wall and forced herself to stand: “It-it DOESN’T MATTER WHAT I KNEW OR DIDN’T KNOW!!”

She staggered blindly, nearly running into the Void. She recoiled, her face twisted in rage: “It-it-it only mat-matters what I did!”

She froze, eyes wild, like a trapped animal: “I-I can never go-go back! Not after this! Not after I TASTED PONIES’ ESSENCES! They-they’ll never forgive me! Cel-Celestia and Luna...”

Reaper shook his head: “Luna most certainly will, and I think you'll find Celestia has an endless capacity for compassion. She was nearly destroyed by her own sister, and they ultimately reconciled. They’ll do the same for you.”

She shook her head violently: “No! Thi-this is too much! I-I can’t stay h-here, I can-can’t return--I’m poisoned! Toxic!”

“Twilight--”

Her eyes darted from Grey Thorn to the Void to the Pit. She broke right and dashed towards oblivion.

Reaper dove after her: “Shit!”

He generated a shield at the last moment, turning her aside: “Noble! Get your ass over here and restrain her!”

The unicorn lurched forward and pulled Twilight from the brink, wrapping his forelegs around her, pinning her hooves to the floor with magic.

She struggled and strained to lean forward: “N-no! Let me g-go! It’s the only place I can be cl-cleaned! You said it-it’s the nexus of everything! All things end there any-anyway, right? All answers are there! All-all solutions! Let me end it there!”

Reaper dropped his shield and turned back toward Twilight: “Yeah, all solutions are there, but they all reduce to zero, and I’m pretty sure that isn’t the answer you’re looking for!”

Twilight sagged back against Noble, slobber running down her chin, blubbering and sobbing: “Th-then where am I t-to go?! I-I ca-can’t g-go back! I can’t b-be clean!”

Her eyes suddenly grew wide, and she looked up imploringly at Reaper: “Y-you can do it! Y-you can send me on! I-I can at least answer wh-where one pony g-goes when she dies!”

Reaper furrowed his brow as Noble shook his head: “No, Twilight! No!”

Twilight looked over her shoulder at Noble then back at Reaper: “Y-yes! Pl-please send me on! I’ll al-always have a stain! I should have a stain! Pl-please! Send me somewhere I c-can be clean again!”

She collapsed, hanging in Noble’s grasp, wings feebly twitching, voice hoarse from weeping: “I-I j-just want to be clean again...pl-please let me be-be clean again…”

Noble looked up at Reaper, eyes filled with anguish: “What are we going to do? We can’t take her back like this! We can’t let her go! What are we going to do?”

Reaper stepped back, straightened his cloak and drew his sword. He gestured with it to Noble: “Let her go.”

Noble furrowed his brow: “What?”

“Let her go and back up a step or two. Do it!”

Noble bit his lip, released Twilight from his forelegs and magical restraints, rose and backed away.

Reaper looked down at Twilight, slumped on the floor, sobbing: “Stand up.”

“...”

“Stand up, Twilight!”

Twilight squinted up at Reaper and wiped the back of a hoof across her eyes. She struggled to her hooves and faced Reaper. She noticed his sword leveled at her, pale crimson light gleaming off its edge.

“Wha-wha…?”

“Close your eyes.”

Twilight's nostrils flared as she twitched violently and squeezed her eyes shut: “Tha-tha-thank--”

“Shh.”

Twilight choked back a sob: “I-I thank-thank--”

“Take a deep breath.”

Twilight drew in a deep shuddering breath and lowered her head. Tears flowed freely down Noble’s face as he shook his head weakly in protest. Reaper advanced the final step.

Twilight heard the crunch of his hooffall: “I-I’ll see you in a little bit…”

“Yes, Twilight. You’ll see me shortly.”

He raised Death’s Token high as Twilight trembled and Noble wept. The sword sliced swiftly through the dark air in a smooth arc, closing in on Twilight’s neck with a soft hiss.

At the last instant the sword rotated end-for-end; the hilt struck Twilight soundly between the eyes, which fluttered open for a moment, then rolled up in her head. She dropped to the floor with a 'thud,' splattering the ground in front of her muzzle with saliva and snot.

Noble’s furrowed his brow in confusion: “Wha--?”

Reaper swiftly sheathed his sword: “Pick her up and get her out of here!”

“I-I--”

“You’ve been back-and-forth down here with both of us several times. Have you figured out how to phase through the barrier wall?”

“Um…”

“It’s important! Can you do it?”

Noble chewed his lip for a moment and looked down at Twilight: “Yes--I can do it.”

“Good. Get her out of here. Take her to Luna--explain what happened here and have Luna drop her into as deep a sleep as she can. I’ll be along shortly.”

“What are you going to do?”

Reaper gestured to the Void: “I have to take care of that, and time is short! I doubt it’ll stay dormant long without a controller.”

Noble nodded and scowled at the black, carriage-sized sphere: “Take care of it, yeah! I get it--pitch the fucking thing in the Pit!”

Reaper shook his head: “I sensed that there are spirits trapped in there. They don’t deserve the oblivion of the Pit.”

“So what are you going to do?”

Reaper sighed “Probably something stupid. Now go--hurry!”

Noble lifted Twilight and disappeared with a flash.

Reaper threw a blue shield around the Void and pulled it free of its divot. He paused for a moment and looked over his shoulder at Grey Thorn: “You almost pulled it off. You nearly got this monstrosity perfected, even if it was by somepony else’s hoof.”

He turned away and began to phase: “And you almost added one more victim to your tally. But she was stronger than you in the end. Enjoy reliving your failures throughout Deep Time, G.T.”

Reaper and the Void flickered fitfully for a moment then faded away.