• 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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In Memoriam

“Wait--so Grey Thorn was also there? And passed on? I don’t understand.”

Celestia took a long drink from her chased, golden chalice as Reaper smiled: “Sort of. There’s a variation of me in the form of Gerrar adrift somewhere in the Cosmos--”

He nodded toward Luna: “and we left behind Luna’s doppelgänger on Kur. Is it really that hard to believe that there were multiple instances--fragments, if you will--of Grey Thorn?”

Celestia furrowed her brow: “I guess not. But why then didn’t he rejoin, well, himself in Tartarus?”

Reaper took a deep breath and tapped his hooves together for a moment: “Alright, so you understand the concept of the death vision, yes?”

“A pony’s final, fleeting memories or whatnot as they die?”

Reaper nodded: “Death is quick, but it’s not an instantaneous act. Most ponies take five to thirty seconds to complete the process, and in that time, I see their final visions.”

He leaned back and adjusted his sword: “They’re brief, but dense and multilayered, and I typically take at least an hour to fully unpack one. But this situation with the Void threw all that out the window.”

Celestia took a scone from a tray as Luna leaned forward, hooves steepled under her chin: “How so?”

Reaper turned toward Luna: “You recall a pony’s entire dream history, right?”

Luna nodded.

“In my case, I only ever see that final flash of consciousness as a pony passes from life to death. But in the case of those who were pulled into the Void, from my perspective, they never completed the death process.”

Celestia raised an eyebrow: “Surely they died as Grey Thorn did whatever it was he was doing with that thing of his, yes?”

“But as that began, they disappeared behind the fields and barriers of the Void. So they essentially existed in a state of suspended death for years, decades, centuries, however long any specific individual spirit had been trapped.”

Luna’s eyebrows raised: “And so their death visions, too, never ended!”

“Exactly. And as those twenty-three doomed spirits--or what was left of them, anyway--emerged from the Void, I caught each one’s entire history in one, overwhelming flood.”

“Their whole life?”

Reaper shook his head: “No, nothing from before the time they died, just from the moment they began the death act, and the next few seconds--”

He shrugged: “And the next several million seconds after that! Needless to say I’m going to be unpacking for a while!”

Luna smiled: “I can well imagine! But how does this tie back to my sister’s question?”

Reaper chewed his lip for a moment: “So after Green Streak passed on, I waited for a bit, then watched Grey Thorn as a colt climb through the hole.”

“Bramble?”

“Right. And again, I absorbed the full vision from his ten centuries in the Void.”

He leaned back and stared at the ceiling for a moment as Celestia pushed her chalice aside and prepared a cup of tea. Luna picked up a scone: “And?”

“In no way do I want to understate what Grey Thorn did, nor do I want to separate Bramble from his liability, nor claim that somehow he was ‘as much a victim as any of the others.’ However, that being said, this fragment of Grey Thorn was originally the youngest piece of him, dating to a time before he began to become obsessed with death, before he started to darken.”

Luna nodded: “I can actually recall some dreams of his as a foal and young colt. They were normal enough, showing a strong streak of curiosity.”

“Sure, and then he went underneath Starswirl’s wards and guards and disappeared.”

Celestia furrowed her brow: “Are you saying…?”

Reaper shook his head: “No, I’m not blaming Starswirl--not really--though that old warlock had a knack for causing as much harm as good. No, it’s just that at the time Bramble began to spend all his time helping Starswirl in his secret rooms. He vanished from the streets and the dreamscape.”

“And by the time he was older…”

“Right. He had cloaked himself and was taking over a lot of his old mentor’s research. He was really becoming the Grey Thorn we know.”

Luna nodded sadly: “That said, it still does not answer the question as to why a bit of him was allowed final release, instead of being reunited with his former self.”

“I saw throughout the visions of the twenty-three who were there at the end with him, a steady stream of him helping, guiding, sympathizing. In conjunction with ‘Gil,’ he kept that defensive compound of theirs viable for a thousand years.”

Reaper leaned back: “And at the end he was prepared to sacrifice what little was left of him to give his fellow prisoners a chance to escape intact.”

He chewed his lip for a moment: “He paid his price.”

Luna smiled coolly: “And what remains of him in Tartarus will pay the rest, I presume.”

“I assume that tattered, pallid shred down there will spend the rest of eternity mired in regret and anguish and self-loathing.”

Celestia nodded briskly, nostrils flared: “Good.”

Reaper leaned forward and crossed his forelegs on the table: “But enough about him--I’d like to discuss some kind of a memorial for the lost.”

“What do you mean?”

Reaper turned to Luna: “The twenty-three--twenty-four, really, if we include Bramble--are accounted for. I have their death visions, and they went on. But the hundreds who were lost are known to me only in the death visions of those final two dozen.”

Luna nodded: “And in their dreams prior to being taken by the Void. I understand. What do you have in mind?”

“We need to sit down in the dreamscape over the coming months and years and flesh-out their narratives, build some sort of memorial to their memories.”

“Agreed. I am particularly interested in knowing more about this ‘Gil.’ I am having a hard time pinning him down.”

Reaper closed his eyes for a few moments, then leaned toward Luna: “Touch my horn.”

Luna tipped her head down and pressed her indigo horn against Reaper’s. Her eyes fluttered for several seconds: “Ah! ‘Virgil!’ Yes, I see. I recall now many of his dreams.”

She furrowed her brow: “A great deal of drink seems to have been involved… Still, it is a shame he was lost, but at least we can keep some semblance of his memory alive.”

Reaper smiled: “And I’m sure Zecora can fill us in on additional details once you’ve had a chance to debrief her.”

Celestia nodded: “And tell us of that alien being you’ve mentioned, Luna.”

“I’m very interested in knowing more about that, too! And speaking of Zecora, how long do you anticipate her--and Twilight, for that matter--remaining in their enforced slumbers?”

Luna took in a deep breath and tapped her chin: “Another three days, I should think, then I will awaken them for a time. They will need to go back to sleep shortly thereafter, but this will give them a chance to have a bite to eat, and to reorient themselves.”

Celestia stiffened: “‘Reorient.’ Twilight…”

Reaper smiled sympathetically: “I understand your trepidation, Celestia. We’re just going to have to see what we see over the coming weeks and months.”

Luna nodded as she stood: “Agreed. And now I will return for a bit to check on my charges, and consult with the Royal Surgeon.”

She nodded to Reaper and her sister and disappeared in blue-white flash.

Reaper rose: “I’ll check-in in three days, then, at least to see Twilight for a moment. You all are likely going to need to make some introductions for me with Zecora!”

Celestia looked up from her teacup and smiled wanly.

“You’ll get through this, Princess--I know it won’t be easy for you, but you will get through it.”

Reaper faded away, leaving Celestia alone as the sun broke over the garden wall and poured into the silent solarium.

“I hope you’re right…”


Zecora slowly opened her eyes as a weak beam of cool, blush-white light broke through a chink in the crumbling walls and roof of her hut, and fell across her face.

She struggled to sit, and squinted in the dark, dust filled space: “Gil? Kla’atra?”

Please join me outside.

“Luna, are you with me now? / If I still live I know not how!”

Zecora furrowed her brow and rose slowly and unsteadily to her hooves. She walked slowly across the cracked, uneven floor, making for the dark, sagging exit. She reached out and touched the icy, black film that seemed to block her way.

You have but to but press forward and I will meet you on the other side. There is no need to fear.

Zecora bit her lip, closed her eyes and stepped through the doorway. A thrill ran along her spine, and she dropped to her knees. She slowly opened her eyes and saw a rolling meadow, bathed in the last, red-and-orange rays of sunset. The full moon hovered high above.

She looked behind her and saw nothing but meadow, now; the hut was gone. She heard a soft rustle and turned back. Luna stood there, folding in her wings, silhouetted against the glowing horizon.

Zecora smiled: “I am very happy to see you! Where are we? The last thing I remember, Gil and Kla’atra were carried away and consumed by the Vacuum.”

“I put you into a deep slumber--nearly a coma--in order to protect your bruised and traumatized mind. You have remained thus for almost three days, while doctors attended to your numerous injuries.”

“I see. And is it time for me to awaken, now?”

“Yes. You sustained a variety of internal injuries, and lost a fair amount of blood, but the Surgeon believes it would be best if you were now conscious and able to take some sustenance.”

“And then what?”

Luna tipped her head sideways: “What do you mean?”

“I mean, will I be allowed to return to Everfree? Is the mission complete? Am I in danger?”

“No, not at all. The Void is destroyed, and your mission is complete. You may return home as soon as the Royal Surgeon and I feel you are ready--perhaps a week.”

Zecora smiled: “I shall be happy to see my home again--though I’m sure the entire area is overgrown by now!”

“Well, I am sure some help can be arranged during your convalescence.”

Luna closed her eyes as the space around her and Zecora began to brighten and distort. Zecora’s vision blurred, and she was overcome by a wave of nausea, as a low murmur of voices filled her head.

Her eyes fluttered open, then squeezed shut as her stomach lurched. She retched weakly into a pan, which was whisked away as a nurse wiped her mouth with a warm cloth and pressed a cup of tea to her lips.

“She’s awake!”

“Please drink this, Zecora.”

Zecora’s eyes slowly focused on a pair of faces hovering in the haze above her. She swallowed and wiped a shaky hoof across her mouth: “L-Luna? Am I truly awake? / I’m not sure how much more I can take!”

Luna leaned forward with a gentle smile: “You are indeed awake, Zecora, and once more fully in the land of the living!”

Zecora nodded slowly as a nurse helped her into a reclined position and gave her more tea. The zebra’s eyes swept the room, then stopped.

“Noble! I’m so relieved to see / that you did not fall after me!”

Noble Steel stepped forward toward the side of the bed as the nurse moved aside: “No, though it was damn close! If Twilight hadn’t showed up when she did, we’d have all been goners!”

Zecora took another sip of tea: “How fared the rest in our party of five? / Did they also make it out alive?”

Noble sighed and chewed his lip for a moment: “Obviously we lost Solar, and Shatter got busted-up pretty badly. She’s on the mend, but it’s going to be a while.”

Zecora furrowed her brow: “Smudge?”

“No.”

Zecora closed her eyes.

“It was her death that summoned Twilight, so at least it wasn’t pointless, like poor Solar.”

He blinked away a tear and summoned a sad smile: “And now she can go wherever warriors go when they die…”

Celestia stepped into the room and her eyes went wide as she saw Zecora propped-up, sipping vegetable broth and eating a cracker: “Zecora! I’ve been worried sick! I know it was for the best that you stay in that deep sleep, but I was never entirely sure you would wake back up!”

She gestured to Noble: “I see you’ve been catching-up with the Lieutenant.”

Zecora smiled wearily as Celestia moved beside Luna, and reached out with a gold-shod hoof. The zebra took the Princess’ hoof: “I’m very pleased to see your face as well / After some rest I’ve quite a tale to tell!”

Celestia nodded: “I’m sure you do! Luna’s given us all some sense of it, and I guarantee we’ll all be riveted when the time comes, but--”

She stepped aside as the attending physician, a slim, ochre unicorn, maneuvered around her, bearing a tray with dressings and medicines.

“--that will clearly have to wait! The Royal Surgeon asked me to keep our first encounter brief.”

Zecora nodded and quaffed a proffered vial as the doctor took her vitals.

Noble smiled and moved toward the door: “I’ll see you soon, Zecora--sleep well!”

Luna leaned down, horn glowing faintly: “I can assure you of that. I will now return you to a deep sleep, though not as deep as the slumber you just left. You will dream, this time, and I will visit you later tonight.”

Zecora swallowed and closed her eyes as the doctor pulled up a blanket, tucking it beneath the zebra’s chin. A thin, silver ribbon emerged from Luna’s horn.

“Thank you Princess for all your aid / this time dreams will not make me afraid!”

Her head tipped to the side as her breathing deepened. Luna stood silently for a few moments as the nurses tidied and turned down the lights.

She sighed heavily: “And now for my other charge…”


Luna saluted the guard at the door to Twilight’s room, and stepped inside. She nodded to the duty nurse: “How is she?”

The nurse looked at her notes: “Vitals are good, and we just pulled the IV in anticipation of your arrival. She was last bathed roughly five hours ago.”

“Thank you. Please leave the room now, and close the door behind you.”

“Your Highness?”

Luna took a deep breath: “I am uncertain as to the Princess’ state of mind, and do not wish any others to be at...risk, if she becomes agitated.”

The nurse furrowed her brow, put down her clipboard, bowed and left the room. The door shut behind her with a ‘click.’ Luna pulled up a stool and sat beside the bed, regarding Twilight’s lined, twitching face.

Luna cast a shield over the bed as a ribbon snaked its way from her horn to Twilight’s. She closed her eyes.

“Twilight.”

She pushed her horn’s illumination to its maximum, barely lighting the area in which she was sitting.

“Twilight.”

“Please leave me.”

“Twilight, it is time for you to awaken. The doctor would like--”

The empty space was suddenly flooded by a harsh, white light. Twilight lay a few yards away, broken, bleeding, smeared with filth and ichor, struggling for breath: “Please leave me.”

Luna stood and walked over: “I understand your despair, Twilight. Reaper also understood your despair, which is why he showed you mercy and--”

Twilight lurched to her three remaining hooves, splattering the floor with blood and shit: “Mercy?! How is this mercy?”

Luna blinked slowly: “This is your doing. You have chosen to express your rage and anguish in this form. He denied you death, but did not consign you to this form.”

Twilight hung her head: “I know. I-I just don’t know how else to look, now; this is how everypony will see me--broken and grotesque.”

“I do not see you that way. You saved Zecora’s life; I can assure you she will not see you that way.”

Twilight began to tremble, and sank to her knees: “Noble...Celestia… Oh, Luna--Celestia!”

Luna smiled sadly: “It is true that my sister will need time to come to terms with all that has happened over the last few days.”

She knelt next to Twilight and lifted the young alicorn’s chin: “However, I am familiar with both my sister’s rage and her mercy, just as I am familiar with both my own past darkness and self-loathing. You will have to deal with all of these; it will take time.”

Twilight’s brow furrowed as tears dripped from her cheeks: “Deep Time…”

“Well, not so much time as that, surely. I also feel confident it will not take a thousand years, but it will be a process. And as for Noble, it was he who brought you back to us, full of concern. He has been by several times to check on your progress.”

Luna reached up with a hoof and wiped away a tear: “Surely not the actions of a pony filled with disgust.”

Twilight shuddered violently: “That’s because none of them truly know what I did. Nopony else knows I drained the lifeforce out of another creature! Nopony else knows that I tasted the essences of other ponies! Nopony else knows..."

“Then do not tell them.”

“But…”

“Would it make any difference? Can you undo any of it now? Is there even a remote chance of it happening again?”

“No.”

“Do I know what you did? Do you believe I understand its gravity?”

Twilight looked away: “Yes.”

“Did Reaper--knowing the ramifications better than all of us--leave you to rot in Tartarus, or slay you?”

“No.”

Luna stood and straightened her wings: “Then your only concern is with Celestia. No other pony needs know what you felt or experienced or did.”

Twilight took a deep shuddering breath and wobbled to her hooves with Luna’s help: “I understand. But how am I supposed to process it? How can I get past what I did, what I became?”

Luna smiled sadly: “I have a fair amount of experience with that. I am sure you and I will have many a session in the months to come.”

She stepped back and spread her wings as her horn began to glow: “Come--it is time to wake up.”


Twilight slowly opened her eyes, and smiled weakly as Luna’s face came into view: “H-hi…”

Luna stepped up and helped Twilight recline against the headboard, fluffing pillows and adjusting the blankets. She summoned a cup of pale wine from a side table: “Take a sip--but slowly! I will summon an attendant to bring a bit of food. You must be famished.”

“Yeah, I-I guess. I’m just so numb…”

Luna opened the door and stuck her head out for a moment. She returned and closed the door: “Somepony will bring food shortly. Additionally, I asked that Celestia and Noble be informed that you are now awake.”

Twilight bit her lip: “Are-are you sure they should--”

She stopped and peered into a darkened corner; Luna followed suit.

Reaper stepped out of the corner: “How are you feeling, Princess?”

Twilight shuddered and turned to Luna: “Can you get me some tea?”

Luna nodded and lifted Twilight’s wine glass away.

Twilight closed her eyes as her ears drooped: “I feel terrible, I’m hungry, I have a headache, and I wish I was dead. I know I should thank you for knocking me out instead of killing me, but I can’t. I just can’t…”

Reaper smiled: “You summed that up quite succinctly, Twilight!”

Luna lowered a cup of tea into Twilight’s hooves: “I don’t know where to start. I mean, when you died, it cleaned the slate, yes? And when Luna died on Kur and literally left a piece of herself behind, it wiped her slate, too.”

Twilight took a shaky sip: “So how do I rebuild? How do I get clean again? Luna told me not to bring up what happened, what I had done, to others, that you four knowing was enough.”

“Sound advice.”

“Fine. But I’ll know! How can I live with that?”

She turned to Luna with pain in her eyes: “And you’ve already helped so much! I know you’ll help more, but you can’t scrub away the stain. You can’t make that...taste…”

She stopped and stared into her cup.

Reaper sat on a stool next to the bed: “It’s like the death visions you carry, Twilight--you’ll never entirely be rid of them, or your sense of guilt and shame. But you can work a little every day to reinforce life and growth and, yes, friendship. Get back to doing what you’re meant to do, let time heal you a bit. Let Luna guide your dreams into cleansing paths--”

“I’m scared of that.”

Luna smiled: “I am sure you are. Do you recall the Tantabus? I am all-too-familiar with the dark power of dreams gone awry. I will help you avoid such pitfalls.”

She filled a wine glass for herself: “And it is just as important that you dream of enriching, uplifting, life-affirming things, too--not merely avoid the dark! A bit of fancy and fantasy, spice and sweat would do you good, after all these months of grimness and pain.”

The door opened and Celestia stepped in tentatively, followed by a nervous Noble, bearing a tray of fruit and biscuits.

Reaper stood and stepped back, gesturing from Celestia to the stool: “Please, Celestia--take a seat!”

Celestia chewed her lip for a moment as her gaze darted from the stool to Twilight. Twilight grimaced and squeezed her eyes shut: “It’s okay, Princess, I understand. I wouldn’t want to sit near me, either.”

Celestia tucked in her wings and set carefully on the stool: “I won’t lie, Twilight--this is not easy for me, and I’m sure it won’t be easy for some time to come.”

“No…”

“That said, I will get through this. I have made grave mistakes over the centuries, seen my own sister fall into darkness, have reconciled and forgiven. What you did shook me to my core, but I have spent three days talking to Luna and Reaper, and there will be more to follow, I’m sure. I can get beyond this, given time. Can you?”

Twilight opened her eyes, brimming with tears: “I-I don’t know. I-I begged Reaper to end me, to end the pain, end the shame, I--”

“I know, and I’m glad he didn’t. I also spoke at length with Lieutenant Steel, who brought his own, far more mortal perspective to what happened.”

Twilight turned to Noble: “You watched me break...and…”

Noble stepped to the foot of the bed and locked eyes with Twilight: “Yes--yes I did. And I didn’t see stain or shame or evil, I saw pain and terror in the eyes of a pony hardly much younger than I am! You’ve shouldered so much over the last three years, to say nothing of the last few months, that I can’t begin to conceive how you’ve kept yourself together.”

Twilight’s lip quivered as Noble moved around the side of the bed, setting the tray on a side table: “You stumbled at the end and paid a terrible price--I get that. But you can’t let Grey Thorn and that thing of his claim one more victim--you’re stronger than that. You’re worth more than that!”

Luna smiled at Noble and turned toward: “Well said, Lieutenant! Your pain will fade, given time, leaving a scar, but not a shadow. Weep for your loss of innocence, then wipe your eyes and move on, knowing that there are many who love you, who will help you up when you fall.”

She turned and nodded to Celestia: “Even if that fall takes you to unplumbed depths.”

Celestia smiled and stood: “Agreed. This has been a trial for all of us, but in the end, everything has been laid to rest: Grey Thorn, his creation, the table, the last of the poor, entrapped spirits. You and I both have some things left to resolve, but those can wait for another day. For now, we should go so you can get some rest.”

Twilight looked at Noble and tipped her head: “Did you really visit me every day?”

Luna raised an eyebrow: “Every day? I believe every few hours might be more accurate!”

Noble blushed: “I was worried. I wanted to help in any way I could. Still do, if there’s anything I can do!”

Twilight chewed her lip for a moment as Celestia opened the door and gestured for Luna to join her. Noble smiled at Twilight and turned to join the Princesses.

Reaper began to fade as a nurse pulled the door shut behind the other exiting ponies. Twilight sat up: “Reaper--wait.”

He paused and turned back to Twilight, who had pulled her cover tight to her chest. She was looking down at its pale, floral print with damp eyes.

“What is it, Twilight? Do you need something? Let me get an attendant...”

“No. I-I…”

Reaper stood still and watched Twilight chew her lip and twist the blanket.

“I-I’m sorry.”

“For?”

“I thought I could understand death, that I could trap it and study it. But in the end all I did was pervert it, betray it, betray you. I was so stupid…”

Her voice trailed away to a hoarse whisper.

Reaper smiled: “Yes, you were.”

Twilight turned her red-rimmed eyes up to face Reaper’s, brow furrowed.

“You’re a kid. A kid with enormous power and talent and wisdom beyond your years, but still a kid. You saw a puzzle you were just sure nopony else had approached the way you could, and you did what you always do: you pushed and worked and thought harder than anypony else.”

“But…”

Reaper nodded: “Exactly--but. But against death and entropy that all falls away. I’ve been doing this job now for over five-thousand years, and I have perceived maybe a single grain of sand as it fell through the infinite Cosmic hourglass. You haven’t even seen the dust from that grain of sand, and you won’t for centuries to come.”

“I’m sorry…”

Reaper straightened his cloak and sword: “I know you are, and you should be--for a time. But get through it, get past it, make up for it by helping ponies live their best, brief lives. Don’t let your sorrow trap you in the past. You can’t go back to the past and fix it, so you have to move beyond it.”

Twilight sniffled and grinned: “Can’t I?”

Reaper grinned back: “No, you can’t, smart-ass--I pitched the mirror into the Pit!”

Twilight’s eyebrows jumped, then she smiled sadly and laid back against her pillows.

Reaper pulled her covers up over her chest and dimmed the bedside lamp before fading-out: “Sweet dreams, kiddo.”

Twilight’s eyes drifted shut.

...please let me be clean again