• Published 21st Nov 2016
  • 422 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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Hunting

Grey Thorn slowly opened his eyes as his lip curled: “Back so soon?”

Twilight strode up to his enclosure as Noble Steel drifted back against the nearby archway and sat down heavily: “Yes, and I’m in a hurry and really need you to be a lot more forthcoming!”

Grey Thorn raised an eyebrow: “Or what?”

Twilight bit her lip and sighed: “Fine. What do you want to know? Let’s make this quick!”

Grey Thorn smiled: “You know, I’m actually curious as to what brought you down here so obviously worked-up. I think I’ll let you go first, this time.”

Twilight glared: “That entity at the heart of the Void--what is it? How’d it get there?”

Grey Thorn closed his eyes and furrowed his brow: “Some years before Starswirl’s death I began construction of my creation deep in the caverns below Canterlot. In parallel, he and I were working on a pair of portal mirrors.”

Twilight nodded: “I know the one he used--it’s in a secured chamber in the castle.”

“Correct, but that’s the second one. The first was something of a prototype: cruder, but more powerful, lacking the various safety interlocks and buffers Starswirl wanted.”

“Those made it into the final version.”

“”Yes, and as we neared completion of the second mirror, I made the prototype disappear under the guise of disposing of it.”

“But it ended up in your creation chamber.”

“Not at first--that wasn’t yet complete nor entirely secured. The mirror ended up down in the caverns for a time. And I used it to travel to other worlds in my quest for new materials, components, techniques, or knowledge--anything I could find to further my research.”

“Into that thing of yours.”

“Not initially; that grew with time.”

“What then?”

Grey Thorn smiled coolly and shook his head: “One question at a time, Princess!”

Twilight sighed noisily: “Anyway--what about that thing at the heart of your creation? What is it?”

“I made multiple forays across the cosmos through my mirror over the course of many months, and acquired various fascinating artifacts, but the two greatest discoveries came close together, late in the game.”

“And?”

“The first I came across as I took my creation--then just a sophisticated trap device--on a sojourn to another realm.”

Grey Thorn tipped his head back slightly and cast a projection out from his horn. An alien scene flickered to life: orange turf beneath an aquamarine sky, rough hills in the distance on the far side of a livid bog.

Twilight could see the profile of Grey Thorn’s creation hovering off to the left side of her vision as the bog drew closer, and she could see a dark shape rising and falling in the bog, casting double shadows beneath twin suns.

Grey Thorn paused the show: “I had probed various portal entries and detected an intense amount of life energy coming from this location. I came through and was immediately struck by the waves of power coming from this bog.”

“Is that black shape the thing inside the Void?”

“Yes. It was not easy to take.”

The images resumed moving, and Twilight watched the dark, writhing shape slither toward the edge of the bog. Suddenly it lashed out, reaching for Grey Thorn. His perspective shifted and swerved violently as flashes and bolts of magic filled the air, and the black form began to form a dark nimbus around itself.

The scene froze again: “That cloud or nimbus is what you saw me wreathed in when we fought. By then I was was actively forming it myself as I exchanged energy with my creation.”

“But that tentacle thing is different. It’s not quite like all the various ribbons and tendrils we encountered, is it?”

“No. Those are essentially manifestations of the nimbus, condensed into solid shapes. They act like the entity, and can sometimes even exhibit independent action, but they are subservient to the master of the creation.”

“Or that thing.”

Grey Thorn scowled: “In my absence, yes.”

“So what reached out to take my blood? Was it the entity itself?”

“Based on your experience and what you showed me, yes.”

“Is that normal?”

Grey Thorn shifted and glanced away awkwardly.

Twilight narrowed her eyes: “I said, is that normal? Answer!”

Grey Thorn gritted his teeth: “No. Not like that. Not that directly. Not outside the confines of the creation.”

Twilight raised an eyebrow: “Yet it did it twice in under five minutes! It pulled Solar Gleam’s essence straight out of him, and reached out for my blood and dark magic.”

“I know. It’s clearly been...evolving since my death.”

“Why?”

Grey Thorn sighed heavily: “The Harbinger was right about one thing--I was losing control of my creation at the end. It had become too powerful and ravenous in the absence of easy prey.”

“You mean because Luna was back in charge of the dreamscape.”

“Yes. I struggled to maintain control, but by that time I didn’t have anything left of myself to give it to sate its hunger.”

“‘Give of yourself?’ What does that mean?”

Grey Thorn grimaced: “Another time. Allow me to finish this tale, then you owe me a story.”

Twilight wrinkled her nose: “Tit-for-tat…”

“Exactly.”

His ghostly horn glowed and the scene shifted again, showing the displaced tentacle-entity uprooted and half stuffed into the carriage-sized device in front of Grey Thorn. It was smeared with blood and ichor, and the unicorn was clearly struggling to maintain control of the creature and his device.

“It nearly killed me, but I managed to neutralize its most potent attacks and pull it from that bog. Placing it in my proto-creation took every ounce of strength I had left.”

The scene focused-in as the entity slipped inside the device with a wet squelching noise, and a sudden, final burst of its nimbus. There was a hollow thud, and the scene went blurry, then dark.

“You passed out.”

“Yes. I came to a few hours later and carved-out a fair-sized chunk of the creature’s native bog and turf, which I successfully translated to the inside of the device.”

“How big was it in there by now?”

Grey Thorn smiled: “You seem unsurprised that I was able to fit all that into such a small space.”

Twilight rolled her eyes: “I have studied the mechanics of localized sub-spatial pocket dimensions--unicorns have used them for centuries to keep dangerous beasts or spell casters imprisoned.”

“Correct. The earliest form of my creation was a sophisticated version of just such a confinement vessel. I expanded it considerably, and would do so several more times over the coming years.”

“So is that also where you dumped the second thing you mentioned discovering?”

Grey Thorn chewed his lip briefly: “Dumped. That’s likely fairly accurate. Let me gather my memories for a moment…”

The glowing scene above Twilight’s head shimmered and blurred for several seconds, finally resolving and settling on a dark-grey machine resting on a rolling meadow with an ancient ruined, domed structure in the background. A figure could be seen walking around the machine.

Twilight furrowed her brow: “What is that thing? Some kind of ship?”

“Yes. It was designed to traverse the vast spaces between the stars. It was crafted of materials I could barely fathom, even after years of study and experimentation.”

Twilight squinted as the vessel drew closer and the figure came into clearer focus: “Was--was that the pilot? What is it--it looks like some sort of insect.”

“It most resembled a large mantis.”

Twilight tipped her head sideways as she watched Kla’atra open a series of panels and pull out various devices and modules. The ship and pilot grew larger in the vision then stopped. Kla’atra’s eyes flashed gold then pale blue for a moment as she looked up from her work.

“Were you invisible?”

“Yes.”

“But the creature still detected you.”

“Yes. It seemed to be possessed of something akin to magic, though I never really found out what.”

Twilight rolled her eyes: “So you killed it.”

“That was not my intent. I planned on capturing it and its vessel. But, well--watch…”

The vision resumed and Kla’atra warily rose to her full height, tipping her head from side to side. Grey Thorn’s field of vision began to glow a deep crimson, which suddenly flashed and cleared with a deafening report.

Kla’atra was thrown backwards against her ship’s hull, limbs flailing as Grey Thorn’s device wheeled into view from the left, a section sliding away, revealing the disorienting, stretched space within.

“I assumed I had stunned it--that blast would have dropped a minotaur! But as I brought my device to bear, the creature let loose a wave of, well, I don’t really know what it was, to be honest.”

Twilight squinted as the vision suddenly twisted and distorted wildly, then became streaked with red. She heard Grey Thorn’s labored breathing and agonized moans. She saw a spray of bloody vomit arc across the dark exterior of his device.

The vision dimmed and fell dark as Twilight heard a final, high-pitched ‘crack’ and saw Grey Thorn’s vision fill with bright blue and gold sparks.
Twilight chewed her lip for a moment: “That sound, those sparks--you cast deathstrike!”

“It was all I could think to do. I was bleeding from my eyes and nose, I was bleeding in my lungs. I could hardly hear. If I hadn’t struck back, that thing would have killed me.”

“Would have served you right.”

“Indeed! I bore it no ill will: I had ambushed it and underestimated its strength--”

“A recurring problem with you…”

Grey Thorn glared: “In any event, I regained consciousness several hours later and discovered the creature was still alive, if barely. I levitated it over the lip of my device’s opening, and let it fall through. I then cast what healing spells I could muster and dismantled the ship, dropping it inside my device as well.”

Twilight’s eyes went wide: “You had enough strength for that?”

“I had no choice. There were other creatures prowling about and I wasn’t about to leave my prize behind. I took a dose of argent potens and--”

“Wait--that’s derived from dragon’s blood! It’s contraband of the highest order!”

Grey Thorn gazed dolefully at Twilight from under half-lidded eyes: “Really. I had no idea.”

Twilight sighed: “Right--I forgot who I was talking to for a minute. Nothing bothers you, no matter how vile.”

“Not by that point, no.”

The vision faded out, centered on the portal expanding to meet Grey Thorn’s blood and ichor-smeared device: “I returned at last with my prizes to my original hideout deep in the caverns beneath Canterlot.”

“And then?”

Grey Thorn smiled and leaned back: “And then you told me a story.”

Twilight ground her teeth: “Fine. What do you want to know?”

“You said the sexual release you experienced as you mastered my creation did not entirely surprise; you said something similar had occurred just a few minutes before. Show me.”

Twilight sighed: “So, I’d spent weeks cleaning up after the effects of your thing, and it all culminated in a big battle in Whinneapolis. The Void’s tendrils or tentacles or whatever had created a major rupture beneath an old hospital…”

Her horn shimmered and an image formed in the air centered on the column of dust rising from Celestia’s battle with the Void. The image zoomed in as Twilight streaked down from the sky, landing next to her mentor.

Grey Thorn watched with wide eyes as the hospital was uprooted and began lumbering forward, entangled with clumps and braids of dark magic and the Void’s tendrils. He squinted as the attackers tore away chunks of the haunted structure, and shook his head as Twilight’s vision centered on Argent Hoof’s gory death.

“Fool. He should have run when he had the chance.”

Twilight paused the scene and glared at the spectral unicorn: “That’s not what Royal Guards do!”

“No--they take the hit for Celestia, just like everypony else, eventually.”

Twilight gritted her teeth: “Do you want to see the rest of this or not?”

Grey Thorn smiled placatingly: “Please--continue.”

Twilight sighed and the vision resumed, with Twilight suddenly ascending above the scene: “Everypony leave this area immediately! I am going to end this now! Flee as far as you can!

Grey Thorn strained against his restraints as Celestia’s power washed over Twilight, blurring and washing-out the vision. He glanced back and forth between the projection and the now-quivering alicorn in front of him.

He watched in awe as a glittering ball of impenetrable dark magic and death’s power filled the scene, then descended toward the roiling mass of tendrils below as though shot from a cannon.

Twilight squeezed her eyes shut and began to pant as the vision played out: the energy sphere impacting, disintegrating everything, a stream of indescribable power pouring down from her horn into the Stygian maelstrom, her cries of ecstasy and Celestia’s cries of torment mingling.

Twilight! Stop! You’re killing me! Killing everypony!

Twilight staggered backwards a pace and sat down heavily, tears leaking from beneath her eyelids. Noble Steel squinted and stumbled over tentatively, then sat down beside her.

Twilight took a few ragged breaths: “Th-that’s enough…”

Grey Thorn nodded: “The power on display was staggering!”

“I-I had to...that thing was too strong.”

“But that was not my creation itself. At that very moment the Lieutenant and his cohort were engaging it deep beneath Canterlot, yes?”

Twilight blinked and slowed her breathing: “Right. That was only an extension--the most powerful one, by far--of the Void. There had been many others across central and northern Equestria over the preceding weeks.”

Grey Thorn tapped his hooves together and furrowed his brow: “But how? Surely it didn’t have sufficient power, robbed as it was of its usual energy source.”

“It had tapped into death energy. Its ‘runners’ were most often found in cemeteries, bone piles, that sort of thing. Somehow it was converting death’s residual charge into its own.”

Grey Thorn turned away from Twilight and stared at the floor of his enclosure: “I didn’t think such a thing was possible! The bog I discovered it in contained a large portion of decay and debris, naturally, but I never observed it tapping into that.”

“It never had to, did it? You kept it fed with fresh victims for centuries! But once it lost that resource, it had to fall back on other sustenance.”

Grey Thorn chewed his lip and turned back to face Twilight: “True. And its return to the point of its first awakening, in conjunction with...with…”

He fell silent as Twilight stood unsteadily and shook her head vigorously. She stared at Grey Thorn for a few moments: “In conjunction with what?”

A thin smile flickered across Grey Thorn’s lips: “That’s a new question, and I’m quite fatigued.”

“Horseshit! You can’t fatigue--you don’t have a body!”

“Call it existential exhaustion, then.”

Twilight sucked air through her teeth: “Fine. You ‘rest up’ then, and be ready to give me more soon! I have to go let Reaper and Luna know what I’ve learned here, see if it helps make any sense of what they’re experiencing.”

She turned and pulled a wing around Noble: “Let’s get out of here before I lose my temper!”

Noble and Twilight disappeared in a violet flash as Grey Thorn leaned forward against his restraints and watched them leave through half-lidded eyes. After a few moments he recalled Twilight’s latest memories into the air in front of him: “Take your time, Princess. I have many things to make sense of, myself.”