• 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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Requiescat in Pace

“Sure--by myself, I can! But this…”

Noble Steel stood before the barrier wall at the bottom of Tartarus, squinting at its dark, featureless surface, muttering, nervously adjusting Twilight’s limp body which was lashed across his back with magical restraints.

He chewed his lip for a moment, took a deep breath and slowly walked forward, flickering and fading. His horn touched the coal-black wall and pierced it with a ripple.

Noble closed his eyes, steadied his breathing and phased, allowing Twilight to slip down through his back, partially entwining the two as he stepped fully into the barrier.

The world went pitch black. He could hear both his own heartbeat as well as Twilight’s as he took a tentative, laborious step, then another, finally fully entering the wall.

His sense of body and physicality drifted away as he slid forward through the barrier. Suddenly he was aware of an almost shared consciousness.

Wh-where am I? Am I dead?

No. I’m carrying you out of Tartarus. We’re phased right now.

I can’t feel anything.

You’re unconscious. I’m almost through the wall, then I’ll get you to Luna as fast as I can.

Why?

So she can help you sleep.

You should have let me die.

Not gonna happen, Twilight. Just a few more seconds.

He squeezed and strained, struggling to keep both himself and Twilight from fading and becoming hopelessly entombed in the cursed stone.

Almost...there…

Tell everypony I’m sorry.

Just hang on, Twilight.

I’m sorry.

Noble broke through the outer surface with a gasp and stumbled forward, almost overwhelmed by Twilight’s deep, all-consuming sadness and despair. He disentangled his form from Twilight’s, laid her gently on the cold floor, and sat down beside her.

He brushed her mane away from her slack, tear-stained face and watched her for a minute as he recovered a bit of strength, then leaned down and kissed her lightly on the forehead.

“It’s going to be okay.”

He rose wearily to his hooves, magically lifted and secured Twilight to his back, again, and teleported with a flash and a soft ‘pop.’


Celestia sat quietly on a cushion just outside the guest room, watching Luna’s face. Her indigo brow twitched, and Celestia could see her sister’s eyes darting beneath their lids.

Suddenly her reverie was broken by the flash-bang of Noble teleporting into the passageway behind them. She lurched to her hooves as Luna’s eyes snapped open.

“Noble! Twilight! Oh, thank the heavens you’re alright! Is she--is she…?”

Noble dropped to his haunches and let Luna guide Twilight off his back. Her violet body twisted awkwardly, and a limp wing flopped over her face.

“She’s alive. Reaper knocked her out and told me to get her to Luna as fast as possible.”

Luna knelt next to Twilight as Celestia magically manipulated her student’s body, rolling her to her side, tucking in her wings.

Luna closed her eyes for a moment and took a deep breath: “She is indeed unconscious. I will ensure that she, like Zecora, does not awaken for some time; her mind is just as shattered right now.”

Celestia bit her lip and gazed down at Twilight: “Wha-what happened? Where’s Reaper?”

Noble stood and gestured to a guard: “Please bring me something to drink.”

He turned back to Celestia and pointed to her cushion: “Do you mind if I sit for a second? I’m exhausted!”

Celestia moved back a step and nodded: “Not at all--please sit! Tell us what happened!”

Noble sat, took the cup offered by a bustling pegasus guard, and drained it. He was silent for almost a minute, eyes closed, breathing deeply.

Celestia furrowed her brow and looked at Luna, who had just finished arranging Twilight on a thick sleep mat: “Is--is he asleep?”

Noble opened his eyes with a weary smile: “No, Princess--just gathering my thoughts. I’m not entirely sure I even know what I just saw, but I’ll do my best to fill you in.”

Luna waved the guard back and requested wine for herself, Celestia and Noble. She sat down as Celestia moved closer: “Take your time, Lieutenant, but please do not omit anything.”

Noble nodded: “Alright, I think I have this all straight in my head, now. Please don’t interrupt, or I don’t think I’ll be able to get through it all!”

For the next fifteen minutes Noble told the Sisters of Twilight’s final showdown with Reaper, of her tearing away from the Void, of her breakdown and near-suicide, of Reaper’s resolution to the crisis, and of his own retreat from Tartarus, bearing the stricken alicorn on his back.

Noble looked over at Twilight, now covered with a blanket, still matted and damp with vomit and saliva and snot: “I almost wish Reaper had killed me, rather than have to watch her snap like that…”

Celestia wiped away a tear and nodded: “I understand. I watched her transform and could hardly believe my eyes. It ripped my heart out.”

Noble took a drink and steadied his trembling hooves: “So now what? I mean, she may never be the same again. Her self-hatred may lead her to do something rash.”

Luna drained her wine glass and sighed: “I know something of self-hatred, Lieutenant. I will keep Twilight in a deep sleep, and join her there in an effort to begin the healing process. It will not be easy, it will not be brief, but it can be done.”

Celestia stood and nodded: “If anypony can help Twilight through this, it’s my sister.”

She turned back toward the guest room, now transformed entirely into a hospital ward: “But the rest of us are going to have to figure our own ways through this. Twilight became a monster, and I’m not sure how to move past that.”

Luna rose as her sister left the hallway. She tipped her head down and magically lifted Twilight from the floor: “I will now take her back to her room adjacent to my quarters, and see to it that she is stabilized and bathed.”

She passed before Noble, bearing her burden, as the unicorn took a step back and bowed slightly: “Can I stop by later to check in on her.”

“Of course.”

The hallway was briefly flooded with a bright, bluish-white light as Luna teleported away.

Noble sat back down and refilled his cup.


Reaper stood before the barrier wall with the Void in-tow, and chewed his lip for a moment, eyes closed. He phased slightly and slipped his head inside the wall.

“Good. They were here…”

He stepped back, straightened his cloak, and strengthened the tether encircling the Void, driving back several nascent tendrils that had formed on its surface.

He scowled at the thin, black ribbons: “Damnit, I know you’re fishing for your counterpart. Just give me another couple of minutes and I’ll take care of that problem!”

Reaper closed his eyes again, phased-out entirely, and stepped into the barrier, tugging and straining against the Void as it, too, faded and vanished inside the coal-black wall.

He felt the tug of splintered time and space swirling around him, threatening to pull the Void from his control, as its nimbus began to form anew.

He gritted his teeth: “Not in here!”

Reaper burst forth from the far side of the barrier in flash of crimson and black; the Void appeared moments later, untethered, and began to burn another hole through the floor.

“Shit! I’m going to have to do this in one jump!”

He threw another set of restraints around the Void, closed his eyes and trembled, blurring and smearing as he pushed his phasing to its limit. The Void began to swell and glow a pale violet.

Reaper’s eyes flew open, blank and white: “Now!”

He and the Void flickered and pulsed for a few moments, then faded, leaving behind a deep divot, and a thin cloud of glittering, purple sparks.

Reaper and his charge appeared moments later in the infinite, blank, gray expanse of the Waiting Room. He released the tether and stumbled to one side, shaking his head and gasping. The Void hovered, menacingly.

Reaper drew his sword and circled the Void once, tipping his head and squinting at its featureless, matte surface. He nodded, reformed the tether and walked toward the unseen horizon.

Tendrils and ribbons began to reach out from the Void’s surface, probing and seeking, passing by Reaper, phasing through his unsheathed sword.

Reaper glanced over his right shoulder with a grim smile: “Yeah, not getting any love, are you? Well, we’re almost there…”

After several minutes Reaper slowed his pace, then shuffled forward, tentatively poking his sword tip and a hoof forward a yard at a time.

He finally stopped entirely with a nod: “Last stop, you chunk of junk.”

Reaper redoubled his restraints, then hovered next to Void, laying his head against it, eyes closed. He slowly moved over the surface, then stopped, head slightly phased inside the outer shell of the device.

He stopped near the top, reached into his cloak and pulled out a vial: “Thank you one last time, stallion me…”

Reaper poured out the blood and swept the top of the Void with a band of dark magic. Several glyphs and part of a sacrifice circle flickered into view.

He sighed: “Well, you may have stripped your wards off this thing, kiddo, but it’s still sealed-up tighter than a tomb. Well, I never saw a tomb I couldn’t get into! Alright, I guess we have to do this the hard way.”

Reaper drifted up directly next to a set of symbols a few inches above the sacrifice circle. He closed his eyes and ignored the seeking, grasping tendrils. He hovered, stock-still for several minutes, then phased his sword, and slowly slipped it through the Void’s surface.

He twisted and probed with his blade, like a thief trying to pick a lock, until at last he stopped and smiled. He phased and pushed his head into the Void until he was inside, up to his shoulders.

“I’m not sure if you spirits in here can hear me. I am the Harbinger and I’m going to try to rip this thing open. I have no idea what effect this may have, but I hope it will allow you to leave and move on beyond this world. Prepare if you can.”

He pulled himself free from the Void and drifted back two yards as his blade began to flicker with crimson flames. He closed his eyes, phased to his ultimate limit, and poured his power directly into Death’s Token with a howl.

The blade pulsed and the Void swelled as its nimbus blossomed like a sudden summer stormcloud. Everything froze for a moment, then the air was rent by a deafening blast as a two-yard-wide hole ripped open, spraying molten metal and phased fragments, and glittering shards of infinite blackness hundred of yards in every direction.

Reaper was thrown back by the shock which rippled through the very fabric of space and time. His cloak was cut and pierced, and even Death’s Token was nicked and scratched. He fell back in surprise, and held off for a minute as the gaping hole slowly stopped glowing.

He approached from the right side of the hole and reformed his tether, pulling the smoldering device onto its side. He stepped back and peered into the distorted, dark opening.


Green Streak, Bramble and Squish crashed back to the heaving, distended, fractured surface of the Swamp as chunks of Sentinel and turf, and showers of gold-and-violet sparks rained down on them, threatening to collapse Bramble’s weakening shield.

He staggered forward, trying to navigate the now-tilted, disorienting slope, dragging the other two along behind him: “We--have--to--get--away!”

Green Streak struggled to regain her balance as the world swirled drunkenly around her: “Where the fuck are we going?!”

“Anywhere but here! With the Sentinel torn out, and its localized control over the Vacuum’s field gone, the Swamp is coming to pieces!”

The ponies sprinted forward, barely keeping ahead of the avalanche behind them, until at last they dove into the cave opening, and cowered as the slope cascaded by like an orange-and-dark-gray tsunami. The light finally failed and the air grew deathly still.

After a minute Bramble’s horn began to glow dimly. He pushed his head through the cave entrance, and used a pulse of magic to clear away the material blocking it: “Come on--let’s get out of here.”

Green Streak looked over her shoulder: “Would it make more sense to back through the cave?”

Bramble grimaced: “I really don’t want to think what’s happening down in there now, with the Sentinel’s control gone. Besides, the other end may be blocked, too.”

The pegasus shrugged and followed Bramble out onto the tossed, unrecognizable ground beyond the cave. The Stream now flowed directly before them, causing them to divert “downstream.”

After several minutes of picking their way through the rubble to the plain beyond, guided by the Stream’s faint shimmer, Bramble noticed a shape moving alongside them in the Stream.

“Looks like Squish got clear of the wreckage, too.”

Green Streak nodded: “Was that thing actually helping at the end?”

“Sure looked like it. I guess maybe after all these centuries it formed some sort of rapport with me, I don’t know. I guess I’ll have plenty of time to figure it out, now.”

“Speaking of--now what?”

Bramble sighed: “I don’t know. We’ll be back at the Compound shortly--assuming it wasn’t destroyed--and we can take stock there. At least with the Sentinel gone, we don’t have to worry about being swept up and absorbed.”

“So we just sit and wait?”

Bramble nodded: “Until the Vacuum finishes the job.”

Green Streak chewed her lip and trudged on through the dark in silence.

Suddenly the air grew bright, and the sense of compression and distortion lifted as the world assumed its proper balance again.

Green Streak staggered and stopped: “Wha-what just happened?”

Bramble furrowed his brow and looked up at the series of glyphs and circles that had formed in the distant sky: “I-I don’t know. I don’t recognize those. It’s almost as though something else has taken control.”

The Pegasus’ eyes grew wide: “Are we in danger?”

Bramble’s expression darkened: “We’re always in danger in here. Let’s hurry!”

They dashed beside the Stream, making for the distant Compound as quickly as possible. Its ramshackle walls slowly rose before them, and they trotted around the perimeter, coming at last to the gate. Bramble tipped his head down, horn glowing, and lifted the portal. Green Streak entered, followed close behind by the unicorn.

He paused a moment and looked over his shoulder at the Stream: “Well?”

Squish slowly emerged from beneath the bridge and slipped under the gate as it fell shut.

Bramble moved to the center of the Compound as several ghostly ponies drifted from their dwellings with looks of concern and confusion. He pointed to the now-fading symbols overhead: “I don’t know what this means, but I do know the Sentinel is gone--Green Streak and I were there at the end. Kla’atra and Gil are also gone--they were destroyed defending the zebra Zecora.”

The small crowd murmured and glanced around nervously. An faded, pale-magenta unicorn stepped forward: “So what does this all mean? Can we leave the Compound? What about the Vacuum?”

“You can leave the Compound. The Vacuum is still intact. We will still slowly fade; that hasn’t changed.”

“Without the Sentinel, how is power being channeled? How did the light return?”

Bramble rubbed his muzzle: “Excellent question; I wish I knew. I don’t recognize the magic in the sacrifice circle you just saw, but I assume somepony--or something--else is now in control.”

“So we just sit and wait for oblivion.”

Bramble shrugged: “As we have for centuries. At least now we don’t need to worry about a predator speeding-up the process.”

The crowd dispersed and began to drift back toward their huts and shacks. Green Streak looked down at Squish: “We saw what it did to those shades. Is it safe to have in here?”

Bramble shrugged as he headed toward Gil’s now-vacant dwelling: “I don’t know, but it helped me, and I’m willing to take the risk.”

Green Streak nodded and followed, entering the hut and sitting on the floor next to Squish. Bramble settled onto Gil’s old cushion and closed his eyes.

“I miss him.”

“Gil?”

“Yes. Grey Thorn murdered him, but he never held that against me. He made this place bearable.”

Green Streak smiled: “I guess you’re Gil now.”

Bramble looked up sadly: “I suppose--”

Suddenly the air was split by a peal of thunder, and the light failed. The fabric of space was again contorted, and the floor of the hut began to buckle and split.

The ponies stumbled through the warping doorway and peered up at the sky, now crackling with violet energy. A scream of anguish and rage echoed from beyond the roof of the world. The ground rocked, and the Compound’s wall twisted and fell apart.

Green Streak turned frantically to Bramble: “Wha-now what?”

Bramble slowly shook his head: “I-I don’t know. I think whoever that was just lost control of this place. I’m heading out of here to get a better look at the plains beyond, if I can. I think the Vacuum is collapsing.”

“Col-collapsing?”

Bramble looked back over his shoulder to the crowd that was again forming: “Follow me.”

The ghostly group drifted through the crumbled remains of the Compound out onto the open plain beyond. Bramble led them alongside the Stream for a couple of minutes, then looked up, gauging their position relative to the ruins of the Swamp.

“If the Vacuum is collapsing, our only hope lies here, at this point. Use whatever power you have left to support my shield, and if the containment device ruptures, we may be able to escape it.”

“But, what if--”

“Oblivion. Same as was awaiting us anyway. Horns up, everypony. Be ready.”

The group crowded in and stood silently, peering into the dark.

Suddenly they were swept with a cold wave of power that dimmed their horns and drove them to their knees.

I’m not sure if you spirits in here can hear me. I am the Harbinger and I’m going to try to rip this thing open. I have no idea what effect this may have, but I hope it will allow you to leave and move on beyond this world. Prepare if you can.

Bramble rose, looked up toward the source of the faint voice and furrowed his brow: “Th-the Harbinger? How…?”

He squinted, then turned his head as a blaze of crimson erupted above the ruins of the Swamp like a distant supernova. He looked back at the confused and shocked faces behind him: “I-I don’t know what this means, but it’s now or never! Pour out every iota of power you have!”

The group was shrouded by a pale, flickering, multi-hued umbrella for mere moments before the world ended.

The sky split open with a scream of rending metal and a roar like an exploding volcano. The ground heaved and flipped forty-five degrees to the left, sending the cluster of spirits tumbling sideways, screaming and flailing as a mighty wind sprang up, sucking out all the air, tearing at their fragile essences, ripping even the light to shreds.

Bramble emptied out his last reserves in an effort to maintain the group’s shield, and was at the point of fading entirely, when the cataclysm stopped, silence returned, and a dim, flat light poured in from his left, apparently some twenty yards away.

He pulled himself wearily up from the ground, rubbed his eyes and pointed to the light: “That’s-that’s it!”

The others slowly stood and turned. Green Streak furrowed her brow and squinted: “Is that the outside? The real world?”

Bramble took several tentative steps forward, peering into the gap: “I-I can’t tell…”

Slowly, cautiously he led the group to the hole, which appeared to be hovering in space, like a ragged window. A dark, cloaked figure hovered just beyond.

Bramble swallowed hard: “That’s the Harbinger. Everypony head through--he’ll send you on beyond as you should have long ago.”

The group slowly filed past thanking Bramble for his help. Green Streak paused moments before stepping through the rift: “What about you?”

“I don’t know. Go on, Green Streak. I’m sorry you were ever here. Go on to meet your fate.”

Green Streak smiled sadly and stepped through the opening: “Thank you…”


Reaper fell back another step as two-dozen spectral figures drifted from the wreck of the Void. He pointed just past the cracked sphere with his sword as his mind was overwhelmed with a swarm of visions, comprised of centuries of experience, compressed into a few seconds.

“Go there and be at peace.”

The spirits silently passed beyond the final horizon, one by one, until a green pegasus emerged last, and looked back over her shoulder as she passed on: “We’d never have made it without him. I thought you should know.”

Reaper stood still, waiting.

After three minutes, a pale grey leg emerged from the rift, and Bramble stepped out, head low, Squish sheltering behind him. He glanced up at Reaper.

Reaper nodded and pointed again, out beyond the vanishing point of the final horizon. Bramble bowed deeply and turned to his right, skirting the wreckage of his creation. He paused.

“For what little it’s worth, I’m sorry.”

He stepped beyond the circles of world and vanished like a shadow, with a lesser shadow scurrying in his wake.

Reaper sheathed his sword, sat down and stared out past the final horizon.

Where do ponies go when they die?