• 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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Kla'atra

Zecora awoke from a fitful slumber and blinked dully at the strange interior of Gil’s hut, with its non-linear geometry, unreal colors, and alien knick-knacks and bones. Neither Gil nor Bramble were around, and she stood unsteadily and shook her head vigorously, before reaching for Solar Gleam’s saddlebag.

She removed a water bottle, pulled the stopper and took a sip, before noticing that Gil had silently appeared nearby. She swallowed and tipped her head to one side: “How long have you been there? I thought this hut was empty.”

Gil smiled wistfully: “It was. I can pass through any of the structures here in the compound now, without need of a door. It’s been that way for a while.”

“Does that mean you’re losing the last of your essence?”

He nodded: “Yes--it won’t be long now, maybe another few years at this rate.”

“Who’ll take over then?”

“Not sure. There’s really only one other being here with my knowledge of this Compound and the Vacuum, and some degree of what we would call magic on our world.”

“Given the way you’re describing them, I assume they’re not a pony. A griffin? Yak?”

“No, Kla'atra is not from our world. She was one of Grey Thorn’s earliest victims when he was hunting other realms through that mirror of his.”

Zecora raised an eyebrow: “A being from another world…”

Gil nodded: “Yes, it was quite remarkable when I first met her and several other beings. Only she and Squish remain.”

“Squish?”

“Kla'atra and I have spent centuries trying to figure out exactly what Squish is. Come--I’ll introduce you to some of the other ghostly members of our little community.”

He walked to the door as Zecora dropped the water bottle into her own bag and slung it over her neck. The door creaked open, and Zecora followed Gil out onto the dimly-lit sward that carpeted the Compound. Bramble joined them as they headed toward a round yurt made of metal scraps and hide. Some portions of the walls were translucent, and seemed out-of-focus to Zecora’s eyes.

“How did you get these structures to stay together? You have no physical presence, so…”

Gil smiled: “It took a little doing, but after I rested for a few days I was strong enough to focus my remaining magic, and manipulate the very real wreckage and flotsam that had been pulled into the Vacuum.”

He paused and pointed to the barrier wall surrounding the Compound: “The wall took ninety years to complete, and that was with Kla'atra and two other unicorns’ help.”

“And you only had this bit of, container? Shed? What is this thing you used as shelter?”

Gil turned back toward his hut: “That? It was once a piece of a ship that traveled between the stars. It was actually part of Kla'atra’s craft, and you will recognize the similarities when we enter her home.”

He angled back toward Kla'atra’s hut, then stopped: “I suppose I should warn you now--you’re going to find her very odd and off-putting initially.”

Zecora raised an eyebrow: “What do you mean?”

“Well, you may have your own interpretation of her appearance, but to me, she’s always looked rather like a large praying mantis.”

“She’s an insect?”

“Not exactly, though there are some similarities. For example, she has six limbs and a set of vestigial wings, akin to a dragonfly’s.”

Zecora’s eyebrows jumped: “That will be unusual! Can she speak?”

“Oh yes, though again, it will come across as somewhat artificial and stilted to you, since it’s being filtered through a speech center very different from ours. It took the two of us at least twenty years of concerted effort to really understand each other, and far longer than that to master our respective languages.”

“All while building this compound with the barest of magic?”

Gil grinned: “It was very tedious, but there wasn’t really much else to do, aside from avoiding the Sentinel.”

“Sounds awful!”

Gil shrugged as they stepped to the hatch leading inside Kla'atra’s yurt: “Could have been worse--could have gotten nabbed by the Sentinel to begin with!”

He slide the hatch open a crack and leaned forward: “Kla'atra? Are you here? I have a visitor here I think you’re really going to want to meet.”

The hatch slid further and Gil led Zecora inside the brightly-lit interior. Various surfaces appeared to give off a blush-white light, while others pulsated and shimmered, mirage-like, as though they weren’t entirely there.

Zecora squinted and blinked: “I don’t really understand what I’m seeing--some of these tables or benches hurt to look at, as though I can’t bring them into proper focus!”

A mottled green-and-gold creature, roughly two yards long stepped into view, moving on six, multi-jointed legs. It stopped and rose up on its hindmost pair and turned its large, silvery, almond-shaped eyes toward Zecora: “They would have never fully phased back from the attack that was to have brought me to this place.”

Gil held a hoof out and pointed from Zecora to Kla'atra and back: “Allow me to introduce our guest--this is Zecora. And this is my oldest friend, Kla'atra.”

Kla'atra bowed slightly, bending at the juncture of a pair of segments: “I am honored to have made your acquaintance. I am assuming you are the living pony which was to have been pulled entirely in through the rift, as would have been reported by Bramble.”

Zecora furrowed her brow: “Um, yes. I was pulled inside several hours ago during a battle with the Void.”

“Void?”

Gil nodded: “Yes--that’s what they call the Vacuum on the outside. Her friend sealed the breach, stranding Zecora in here.”

Kla'atra made a grinding, clicking noise, and tipped her head sideways: “How unfortunate this may be. It will to be most likely that she may have starved or be dying of thirst within a week or so.”

Zecora patted her bag: “I have water here and food in Solar Gleam’s saddle bag that should last me for at least ten days.”

Gil shook his head: “Under normal circumstances you might well be right, but in here, the Vacuum will take its toll, and undoubtedly accelerate your normal processes of aging and metabolism as it draws away your life essence. The aging’s not really the problem, but ten days of food and water may not last you five.”

Kla'atra worked her mandibles in apparent agreement: “We have never made sight of a creature of your size and life force before, but smaller living things shall have withered at a greatly-hastened rate.”

Zecora smiled grimly: “Well I guess I’ll just have to hurry then, won’t I?”

Kla'atra tipped her head again: “Hurry?”

Gil nodded: “Yes--Zecora hopes to escape.”

“Do you have belief that those outside the Vacuum might be assisting with your possible escape?”

The zebra shrugged: “Not sure, but I would think so, assuming they were able to secure the Void and return it to the creation chamber. I’m sure Twilight could sense I was still alive and fighting.”

Gil sat down: “Yes--her story jibes with Bramble’s account of a massive breach and forced closure. If Zecora’s right, and the Sentinel’s as weakened by the attack as Bramble seems to think, then there might be a chance.”

“But by what route should shall she have escaped?”

Gil shrugged: “I don’t really see an option--she’ll have to go up through the Swamp and attempt to force a breach at the Juncture. Hopefully we can get her close enough before the Sentinel recovers.”

Zecora furrowed her brow: “Juncture?”

Kla'atra nodded: “The point at which the Sentinel would have made its connection with the inner surface of the Vacuum itself.”

Zecora tipped her head to one side: “If…?”

Gil looked between Zecora and Kla’atra with a puzzled expression: “If what?”

“She said ‘would have made’--if not for what? Or did it make its connection there once?”

Gli’s eyes suddenly grew wide, and he chuckled: “Ah! The whole verb tense issue! I understand!”

Zecora’s brow furrowed further: “‘Issue?’”

Gil took a deep breath: “Kla’atra’s species is one of six sentient races on her home world. It is a violent, contentious place, based on the stories she’s told, and her race, the Yönti, have long been hunted as prey by two of the other races.”

“How barbaric!”

“Yes, well it’s had two interesting effects: it’s made them amazingly adaptable, and it imbued them with no sense of future as they developed language and early culture. Their language has no real future tense--not much of a past tense, either.”

“Then how--”

“By use of the conditional future. Everything you or I assume will happen tomorrow, simply as a matter of course, might happen for a Yönti. And to make matters worse, they have at least five layers of condition that I still have never entirely worked out.”

Zecora’s eyebrows jumped: “Still? After all these centuries?”

“Oh, it gets worse. The Yönti are no longer a hivemind, but much of their development took place in a rigid, hierarchical hive structure spread among seven, shifting genders.”

“Seven?!”

Gil nodded sympathetically: “Yes, seven. So when I call Kla’atra ‘she’ it is largely as a convenience for you. Our concept of the female sex aligns as closely as it can with Kla’atra.”

Kla’atra’s silvery eyes flickered for a moment: “And do not presume to begin starting a discussion of you ponies and your bizarre gender roles and masculine/feminine dynamics.”

Gil grinned: “Yes, she’s never understood how I can presume to affect the role of the masculine when I am so clearly küpu!”

Kla’atra’s eyes flickered again and she made a metallic, hissing noise. Zecora rocked back in alarm.

Gil waved a hoof dismissively: “She’s just laughing--no need to worry.”

“‘Küpu?’”

Gil chuckled: “It took me almost two hundred years to get that joke. I suspect you’d have starved long before I could even begin to explain it!”

Zecora smiled: “So back to the Swamp and the Sentinel. Can this be done? Has anypony ever tried anything like this?”

Gil glanced at Kla’atra and shrugged: “Not that we know of, but the Sentinel has been very battered of late, and even though it has fresh victims--”

“Green Streak, Top Cover and Solar Gleam.”

“Yes. Even that is an inhibitor. You can think of the Sentinel as a snake, in some ways: when it is sated and absorbing its victims’ essences, it becomes less active.”

Kla’atra nodded: “It is for then that Bramble could inform us and sometimes we would to effect a rescue of the remaining spirits of those victims who would not be entirely consumed.”

“Those now in the Compound.”

“Mostly, yes. Some escaped on their own, but the majority over the centuries are here because Bramble and Kla’atra, and some other unicorns through the years, were able to pry a spirit away from the Swamp while there was something left.”

Kla’atra tipped her head to one side as her eyes flashed: “Speaking of, what has become of Bramble? I am not to have seen him for some time.”

Gil looked around the yurt and shrugged: “Don’t know--it appears he slipped out a bit ago. I’m not concerned, per se, but I would like him here as we start to sketch-out plans.”

“Can you call to him? Can you communicate at a distance?”

“A bit, though my ‘voice’ doesn’t travel like it once did.”

Zecora grinned: “Well, I have lungs, perhaps I should shout!”

Gil smiled sadly: “To no avail--I’m fairly sure you’re mute.”

Zecora raised an eyebrow: “No--I can hear my voice when I speak aloud. The only odd thing is I no longer rhyme.”

“Your friend cast a very powerful sealing and binding spell, yes?”

“Yes…”

“And you were directly in its path, and drenched in her blood. Can I assume you took some in your mouth?”

“A bit.”

“Honestly it’s a miracle you didn’t suffocate on the spot!”

“But, I can hear--”

“Just as we can ‘hear’ your voice, too. But it’s not being produced by vocal cords, just as we’re not processing it with ears. I’m sure you’re pushing air through your throat, but it’s likely producing little more than a croak or a hiss.”

Kla’atra leaned forward, her eyes flashing then darkening: “Yes--I will be testing this theory.”

She raised a pair of three-fingered appendages and traced a series of glyphs in the air while humming a series of notes. A gossamer film appeared in front of Zecora, hovering like a scrap of spider-web.

Kla’atra pointed at the web: “You should be speaking into this lattice. It would catch whatever vibrations you shall make.”

Zecora squinted at the shimmering patch in front of her: “Like this? How much do I need to say? Should I be loud?”

Kla’atra peered closely at the web while Zecora was speaking, then she raised a finger: “You may now make an ending.”

Zecora leaned back as Kla’atra’s lattice dissolved. The Yönti’s eyes flashed silver and white and black for several seconds as she hummed several more notes. A moment later an enlarged, high-contrast projection of the web appeared in the air, rotating and vibrating.

Gil tipped his head sideways and rubbed his chin: “Yes, it’s as I assumed--there’s no coherent form to the vibrations, and hardly any energy. You are functionally mute.”

Zecora furrowed her brow: “But I can hear myself!”

Gil smiled: “Do you not hear yourself in dreams?”

“Well, yes, but--”

“And do you always speak in rhymes in your dreams?”

“No, not always.”

“I believe the two are connected. As I said, this place shares many things in common with the Dreamscape--in fact it was initially constructed in imitation of that realm. As a result much of what you perceive here is akin to lucid dreaming.”

“So this is actually a dream?”

Gil shook his head: “No. Think of the experience of hearing your ‘voice’ as a hallucination, or aural illusion. The auditory center of your brain is perceiving your own speech as it does ours. Clearly we have no true voices, yet you ‘hear’ us perfectly well.”

“I hope this isn’t permanent!”

“I doubt it. I’m sure your friend will be able to undo the spell’s effect, assuming we can figure out how to get you out of here.”

Suddenly Bramble came through the hatch, followed by the trembling, disheveled shade of a mint-green pegasus: “I just met a pony who may be able to help with that!”

Zecora, Gil and Kla’atra turned to face the little unicorn who pointed at his disoriented companion: “Everypony, this is the late Green Streak!”