• Published 3rd Mar 2019
  • 3,197 Views, 375 Comments

Reaping Rainbow - The Hat Man

Rainbow Dash comes face to face with Death himself! And he's... surprisingly cordial, actually. But when Rainbow ends up in his debt, there's only one way to get back to the life she knew: take up the role of the Grim Reaper herself.

  • ...

Don't Fear the Reaper

Berry Punch approached Ponyville General at a light trot. This was both because she didn’t wish to seem overly concerned given the state of panic in Ponyville and because her joints were still relatively stiff with rigor mortis and a full gallop wasn’t really possible.

As she neared the building, a strange tear in reality appeared before her and a familiar-looking pony stepped through it.

“Okay, Berry!” Rainbow Dash said as she raised her scythe. “I think this has gone on waaaay too long!”

Berry sighed. “Oh, look who it is,” she said, rolling her eyes. “Miss ‘I know better than anypony else because I have a hoodie and a gardening tool!’ Pfft! Don’t you have better things to do?!”

“It’s not a hoodie, it’s a cloak!” Rainbow yelled.

“Nit-picking fashion terms? Maybe you’re actually Rarity in disguise,” Berry remarked with a smirk.

Rainbow smacked her forehead. “Oh for the love of… wait…” She glanced around. “Hold on, where are we right now?”

She turned around and saw Ponyville General behind her. Her eyes bulged.

“Okay, Berry, seriously, you’ve got to stop! Now!” she shouted, whirling back around to face Berry. “That’s Ponyville General! There are a ton of sick ponies in there! Some of our friends are in there! Applejack’s in there!”

She froze.

“Wait a minute… I’m in there!”

Berry blinked. “Uh, pretty sure you’re right here, Rainbow,” she said.

“No no no, I mean my body is in there,” she said. “I’m only doing this Grim Reaper thing so I can come back to life.”

Berry raised an eyebrow. “Oh, so you get an extra shot at being alive, but I don’t just because I figured out your little system?”

“It’s not my sys—” Rainbow cut herself off, shaking her head. “No, no, forget it. Look, Berry, I’m sorry for what happened to you, I really am, but you have to get away from here! You’re accidentally spreading some kind of weird disease that’s slowly killing ponies and turning them into zombies! If you go into that hospital with all the ponies who are already sick, who knows how many of them could die just because you’re nearby?!”

Berry narrowed her eyes. “Okay, this has officially stopped being funny,” she said. “Some weird disease is rampaging through Ponyville, I might be sick too, and you’re trying to stop me from receiving medical treatment?!”

“Berry!” Rainbow screamed. “This isn’t a joke! Regardless of what you think of me, please stop! If you don’t believe me, just take a good look at yourself!” She jutted a hoof toward one of the nearby shop’s windows.

“Myself? Please, I think I look pretty—”

Berry glanced at the window and caught a glimpse of her own reflection. She froze, her already chilled blood somehow going even colder.

She walked up to the window and looked at the pony before her.

Sunken, yellowing eyes. A dull coat. Wan cheeks. And something else in her expression that signified an absence of some kind.

That look in her eyes was simply… lifeless.

She swallowed, noticing that her mouth suddenly felt remarkably dry.

“Berry,” Rainbow said softly. “Come on… I’m sorry, but—”

“Shut up!”

Berry whirled around, her dead eyes suddenly flashing with rage. “You expect me to just give up?! To just say, ‘Welp, I guess I’m dead, might as well get to dying?’ As if my life didn’t matter at all?!”

A strange black mist began to rise from the ground around Berry’s hooves. It grew in intensity and even began to seep out from her eyes like wisps of smoke. Her violet eyes seemed to take on a shade of red.

“Well, you know what?!” she shouted, stomping her hooves, causing the black mist to flare out and grow in intensity. “I don’t care what you or anypony else says! I won’t accept being dead, and if you think you can get me to give up on my life, you’re dead wrong!”

Rainbow sighed and bowed her head. “I really wish it hadn’t come to this, Berry,” she said quietly. Then she raised her head and her scythe as she flared her wings. “But I can’t let you hurt anypony else! If you won’t leave your body, then I’m just gonna have to get you out myself!”

She shot forward, her wings propelling her at Berry at incredible speed.

Berry gasped and took a step back, flinching as Rainbow swung her scythe at her and instinctively raising a foreleg in defense.

But as Rainbow took aim at Berry, the black mist rose up and thickened, forming a barrier that solidified and caught the scythe just before it struck home.

“What?!” Rainbow cried.

Berry tentatively opened one eye. Then she began to laugh.

“Ohhhh. Ha… haha!” she laughed, a twisted grin on her face. “Looks like I’m not going anywhere, Rainbow Dash!” she laughed.

“Berry?! What the hay is this?!” Rainbow demanded as she struggled to free the scythe from Berry’s newly-realized magic.

“It looks like even the Grim Reaper herself has no power over me,” she muttered. Her grin grew tighter and tighter still until it formed a stiff, unnatural rictus. “In other words, I can’t die… death has no power over me.”

As Rainbow Dash struggled to free the scythe, the black mist around Berry suddenly burst forth and blasted Rainbow backwards. She felt as if she’d been hit with a tidal wave, the thick, cold energy washing over her and forcing her back until she landed and tumbled head over hooves to lie just at the entrance to the hospital.

“You know what, Rainbow?” Berry asked, raising an eyebrow. “You’re right: I don’t need to go to the hospital. I’m not sick. I’m healthier than anypony’s ever been. I’ve figured out how to beat death. And soon… soon I’ll be able to stop everypony else from dying ever again! I’ll show everypony in Equestria that death has no meaning! This is the start of a party that’s going to last forever!”

Rainbow struggled to get to her hooves, her chest on fire and her limbs cold and numb. “B-Berry, wait!”

“I could not stop for Death,” Berry said, sneering as she turned with a toss of her mane, “so you’ll kindly have to stop for me.” She began to laugh, a strange wheezing sound, and simply walked away, leaving Rainbow behind as she struggled to get to her hooves.

Oh man, Rainbow thought. This is bad. She’s definitely turning into a ‘lick’ like Twilight said! But at least I got her away from the hospital. Now, I just need to think of a way around that freaky dark magic she’s got and I can… wait, what’s that sound?

A strange whistling sound could be faintly heard. It grew in intensity as she looked around, trying to locate its source.

Finally she looked up and saw a shining orb in the sky, arcing toward Ponyville like a stray comet.

“What the—”

The orb seemed to detonate once it was directly over the center of Ponyville, spreading out and forming a shimmering layer of magic that stretched on and on and then curved downward. It soon formed a dome shape that swiftly enveloped all of Ponyville, sealing the entire town inside.

Rainbow blinked. “Oh, what now?!” she groaned, using her scythe to tear open a new rift. “I sure hope Twilight has an explanation for this.”

As it so happened, Twilight did have an explanation for what had happened, though the dome had initially caught her off guard as well. A few minutes prior, she had been finishing a letter to Princess Celestia in Canterlot.

“‘And so we eagerly await any help or advice you can give us to deal with this dire situation,’” Twilight said, checking over the letter one last time as Spike entered her study. “I think that ought to do it. Spike, did you take care of Mr. Waddle’s, um… remains?”

“I sure did!” Spike said. “They’ll be safe until this is all over.”

“I sure hope so,” said Mr Waddle’s ghost as he stood nearby, giving Spike a hard look (which didn’t really equate to much, since he was still invisible as far as the dragon was concerned). “Also, I hope that Miss Rainbow Dash comes back soon. I don’t think I like being a ghost very much. I’d say all this stress is bad for my health, but, well…”

He sighed as Twilight passed the letter to Spike.

“I’m sure everything will be fine, Mr. Waddle,” she reassured him.

“I certainly hope so,” he said. “Listen, I hate to be a bother, Princess, and I know you’ve got your hooves full. I think I’ll just go downstairs and contemplate my current situation. Do let me know if Miss Rainbow Dash comes back, please.”

“Of course,” she said gently, and smiled as he turned and left.

“You know,” Spike said, rolling up the letter into a scroll, “it’s kinda creepy to think about a ghost standing right next to me and me not being able to see him.”

“Well, he just left, if it makes you feel any better,” Twilight said. “Now, let’s send that letter!”

“Right!” With a fiery breath from Spike, the letter dissipated into the ether, traveling on its way to Celestia.

“What do you think Celestia will say, Twilight?” he asked.

“I’m not sure, Spike,” Twilight replied, furrowing her brow. “Necromancy is one of the most dangerous types of magic. Even the study of it is forbidden and punishable by imprisonment or having your magic locked. It threatens everypony around the user, and that’s why nopony has dealt with it in centuries! Still, Celestia’s one of the few who has, so I’m sure she’ll know what to do!”

There was a knock at the door, and they all turned to see Starlight poking her head in.

“Uh, everything okay in here, Twilight?” she asked. “No more Grim Reaper or zombie ponies or anything?”

“No, everything is fine,” Twilight sighed.

“Unless you count the undead-spawning lich that’s outside,” Spike added, biting his claws nervously.

Starlight’s eye twitched. “Yyyyeah, I think I’m going to just stay inside the castle today, Twilight,” she said. “Actually, I think I could use something to relax me. I’m going to get something from the kitchen. Maybe some tea… or a cup of coffee…”

“Uh huh,” Twilight said absentmindedly as she went to the window, impatiently awaiting Celestia’s reply as she stared out at Ponyville.

Spike paused, frowning. “Huh… I feel like I’m forgetting something… something to do with cof—”

Spike’s cheeks puffed and he expelled a scroll with Celestia’s seal in a customary belch of dragonfire which completely derailed his train of thought. (Though, with all that was happening, it couldn’t really be called a “train” of thought. At best, it was one of those little handcarts or a single abandoned caboose that had long since been converted into a novelty roadside diner.)

“Oh, thank goodness!” Twilight said, taking up the letter. “Let’s see…”

Dear Princess Twilight,

This is grave news indeed...

“Is that a play on words?” Spike asked.

“Shh, not now, Spike!” Twilight snapped as she continued to read.

As you know, necromancy is one of the most horrible of all types of magic. After the Necromancer’s War and the defeat of the last known lich, all knowledge of such dark arts was sought out and destroyed. Every last tome and scroll pertaining to the subject was burned and the ashes scattered. That such a threat has come back is unthinkable.

I truly regret telling you this, but I must inform you that such a blight upon Equestria must be contained no matter the cost. And therefore, I must take the most extreme of precautions...

It was then that Twilight heard a sound, the same sound that Rainbow Dash was hearing at that moment. She watched as a spell shot out from Canterlot on the horizon and burst over Ponyville, encasing it in a dome.

“Oh no,” Twilight breathed. She quickly returned to reading the letter.

To prevent this undead menace from escaping, Ponyville must be completely quarantined. Thus I must cast a spell of containment which will prevent anypony from escaping and carrying the contagion with them. I am afraid this includes you and your friends. Not even teleportation spells will allow you to leave. I truly wish I did not have to take such extreme measures. I will send scrolls containing charms and incantations to ward off and fight the undead, but your best course of action may be to have Rainbow Dash in her new position as the Grim Reaper vanquish this lich before she becomes too powerful.

If you are unable to quell this threat within the day, however… it may be necessary to cast the Spell of Ultimate Destruction. Such a spell would, tragically...

Twilight swallowed, knowing what such a spell would do. “It would destroy all of Ponyville,” she whispered.

“What’s that, Twilight?” Spike asked. “You were reading Celestia’s letter, then you started whispering when you got to the word ‘tragically.’”

“I said it could destroy all of Ponyville!” Twilight shouted, picking up Spike and shaking him in a blind panic. “And everypony in it!”

“W-what?! No!” he shouted.

“Yes!” Twilight shouted back. “We have to do something, or all of Ponyville is doomed!”

“Uh, wasn’t it already doomed?” Rainbow asked, having just stepped out of her rift and into the room.

“Rainbow Dash!” Twilight shouted, dropping Spike and rushing to her, embracing her. “Oh thank goodness, you’re back!”

“Whoa, whoa, glad to see you, Twilight,” Rainbow said, squirming from Twilight’s grasp. “So, what was that about being doomed?”

“Well, since you’re back,” Twilight said, putting her hoof over her chest as she caught her breath, “I guess it doesn’t matter. You must have taken care of Berry Punch like you said, so I’ll tell Celestia she doesn’t have to destroy Ponyville to stop the tide of undead from destroying Equestria…”

Rainbow’s eyes bulged. “Wait, what?!”

“But it’s okay, it’s fine!” Twilight said, waving a hoof with a smile. “Now that you’ve done it, I mean. Spike, take a letter…”

“Did Rainbow Dash do it?” he asked. “I mean, I still can’t see her, so…”

“Yes, she did!”

Rainbow shook her head. “No, I didn’t!” she shouted.

“Wait, you didn’t?!” Twilight cried.

“She didn’t?” Spike asked, raising an eyebrow.

“No!” Rainbow said. “She had this weird smoky black magic barrier that was too fast, even for me to get around! I couldn’t get close enough to reap her!”

“No,” Twilight breathed. “If she’s too strong for you, then… Then…”

Spike cleared his throat. “So, um… no letter?”

Twilight shook her head.

“Rainbow Dash,” Twilight said solemnly, looking her straight in the eye. “From what you’ve told me, Berry is completing her transformation. She’s just going to get stronger and stronger, and soon her magic will infect everypony in Ponyville. That includes me, Spike, and all of our friends. Either her magic will get to us first, or Celestia’s spell will annihilate the town. We must find a way to stop her, or all of Ponyville is doomed!”

Rainbow swallowed. “So… yeah, even more doomed than before,” she muttered.

“If you can’t stop her, the only chance we’ve got is for Starlight and I to learn some warding spells,” Twilight said. She took a deep breath. “I sure hope we can learn them fast enough. Celestia should start sending them soon, but this is a whole new kind of magic. I’m not sure we can learn and perfect such complex spells fast enough to counter a lich that’s already powerful enough to stop somepony with Death’s powers.”

Rainbow bit her lip and looked away. “No… this… this is all my fault!”

Twilight shook her head. “No, Rainbow, it was just a mistake,” she said. “You did everything you could.”

Rainbow glanced at her scythe. “No,” she said quietly. “Not everything.”

Twilight tilted her head. “Sorry? What do you mean?”

“There’s somepony else I can ask for help,” Rainbow said. “I just hope he won’t be too mad.”

“What? Who?” Then Twilight froze. “Wait, Rainbow, if you do that then—”

“No time to waste, Twilight!” Rainbow said, slashing a new rift in the air. “I’ll see you if— er, when I get back!”

Twilight watched as Rainbow vanished into the rift. Behind her, Spike belched forth the first of Celestia’s spells. She raised her chin, steeling herself as she got to work.

Mr. Waddle was pacing in the hallway on the ground floor of Twilight’s castle when he saw Starlight walk by on her way to the kitchen.

“Oh, hello, Miss Starlight,” he said, giving her a friendly wave.

Starlight walked right through him. She shivered for a moment, then went on her way.

“Ah,” he said. “Of course, she can’t see me. Also, I never guessed that having a ghost phase right through a living pony would be just as disturbing for the ghost as it is for the pony.” He shuddered. “Also, I should have somepony inform Miss Starlight about that growth.”

He sighed. He had always imagined that his afterlife would be a peaceful, blissful time. He’d lived a very long and wonderful life, raised a family, and had a very successful career. Just the same, years of working with the dead had left him with some distinct expectations about what it might be like once his time finally came, and being a ghost and having his zombified corpse incinerated were most definitely not among said expectations.

I wonder if there even is an afterlife, he pondered to himself. If so, I guess I’ll see my wife again. She’ll probably tell me to fix my mane or get new glasses just like she used to. Actually, I wonder what she’ll think when she finds out that I never remarried, even though we both agreed that there was nothing wrong with it. He chuckled at the thought, but then paused.

Wait a minute… what if she got remarried? Can you do that in the afterlife? But then what am I going to do? Would she be married to both of us? But when we got married, our vows said “til death do you part,” and now we’re both dead, so does that mean we’re not married anymore? Ohhh, Waddle, you featherbrain, you should have remarried after all! Now I’m going to have to get back into the dating game all over again, and I bet all the prettiest mares are already taken! This is a disaster! What else could go wrong today?!

He heard the telltale sound of a tea kettle whistling in Twilight’s kitchen followed by Starlight humming to herself.

“Hm hm hm… eugh, I hope this coffee is still good; it looks a little discolored,” Starlight said to herself.

Mr. Waddle sighed. “I wouldn’t mind a cup of coffee myself right now,” he muttered. “Though, since I’m dead, I doubt the caffeine would have much effect on me any… way…”

His eyes bulged. “Wait! Not the coffee!” he shouted, running to the kitchen. “Anything but that, Miss Starlight!”

Unfortunately for them both, he went through the door (literally) just in time to see Starlight take a large sip of coffee from her mug, the ill-fated canister of Foalger’s on the counter next to her. A crudely scrawled note was taped to it which read “DO NOT DRINK,” though Starlight had ignored it, thinking that Spike or Twilight was simply hoarding the coffee (which wasn’t that unreasonable to think, as both she and Trixie were known to stay up late practicing magic and often drank more than their fair share of it to stay awake).

Starlight made a face. “Bleh!” she said, sticking out her tongue. “Why would anypony want to hoard this?!”

Then, like any caffeine addict, she ignored the taste and continued drinking it.

“Ohhh, the indignity!” Mr. Waddle moaned.

Suddenly, Starlight froze, her eyes going wide and her pupils constricting. The coffee cup clattered to the floor as the magic she was using to hold it ceased.

“Miss Starlight? What’s wrong?”

Then he felt a strange sensation, as if gravity had suddenly changed orientation and was now dragging him in a different direction. Specifically, he was being drawn toward Starlight.

“Oh dear, oh my, what’s happeniiiiiii—”

He yelled as he suddenly lurched forward toward Starlight, and then everything went black.

A moment later, he opened his eyes.

“Huh?” he asked. “What happened?”

He felt strange. And for some reason his voice sounded different. Higher. Clearer. More… feminine.

He looked around and didn’t see Starlight anywhere.

“Miss Starlight?” he asked, knowing she couldn’t hear him anyway. “Where did she go?”

He’d taken a few steps when his hoof splashed in the puddle of spilt coffee from when Starlight had dropped her cup.

“Oh, drat!” he said raising his hoof to shake off the liquid. “Just when I thought my mortal remains couldn’t get even more dis...re...spec...ted?”

He stared. His foreleg, rather than the white, wrinkled limb he’d come to expect, was now longer, more supple, and… light purple?

“Uh oh,” he whispered, suddenly realizing why his voice sounded different. He glanced up and saw the horn protruding from his forehead. “It can’t be!”

He looked around and finally spotted his reflection in the glass window of Twilight’s oven. He swallowed, and watched as Starlight’s face stared back at him.

“Well,” he said, rubbing the back of his (really Starlight’s) neck, “I suppose there’s something karmic about me possessing Starlight’s body after she destroyed mine. But just the same, I hope somepony can fix this… I’m not sure I want to come back to life as a unicorn…”

He glanced back at his new body and blushed.

“...or a mare. Oh d-d-dear, I hope Starlight isn’t too upset when she finds out I took over her body!”

He ran from the kitchen to find Twilight. On his way through the hallway, however, he felt a sudden tug at his/Starlight’s tail and ground to a halt.

“So there you are, Starlight!” Trixie said, as she leaned casually against the frame of the door she was currently standing in, her conical magician’s hat perched rakishly on her head as she gave Mr. Waddle a smirk. “The Great and Powerful Trixie was starting to think that you’d abandoned her! Perhaps another round of punishment is in order.” She raised an eyebrow as her grin grew wider.

Mr. Waddle picked up on absolutely none of this subtext and took Trixie by the shoulders, shouting “Miss Trixie! You have to help! I’m actually a spirit that’s taken possession of poor Miss Starlight, and I need your help to get back out!”

Trixie paused for a second, but then chuckled. “Ooh, so you want to try some roleplay, Starlight?” she asked. “Well, Trixie is not one to be outdone!”

Mr. Waddle blinked. “I’m sorry, what?”

“Shhh,” Trixie said, pressing her hoof to Starlight’s body’s lips. “I’ll play along, in that case. Ahem…”

She tossed aside her hat and cape and raised her head. “Oh, poor lost soul! I, the great and pious cleric Trixie shall exorcise this spirit! Though it may be shameful and embarrassing, she will use her most extreme methods to expel the spirit that plagues you!”

Mr. Waddle blinked again. “I… Miss Trixie, you’re an exorcist? You can help me?”

Trixie giggled, then turned, lifting her tail to gently brush Mr. Waddle’s chin. “Indeed! Please… do come in so we can begin the… healing…”

Mr. Waddle watched as Trixie, with a noticeable shake of her hips, went inside and beckoned him to follow. At this point, it finally began to sink in.

“Oh… oh d-d-dear,” he said, turning to go. “Ah, I think there’s been a misunderstanding—”

Trixie grabbed him with her magic and dragged him inside.

“Fear not, Starlight! This noble cleric will do her duty to expel this wayward spirit! Even if it takes all day!”

“Miss Trixie, noooooo!” Mr. Waddle shouted as he reached for the door.

Trixie gave a laugh. “Way to commit to the part, Starlight,” she whispered, giving Mr. Waddle a wink before shutting the door.

In a darkened room in a cabin atop a hill that looked over an island that time and reality themselves seemed to have forgotten, four figures sat around a table. Each one eyed the other with calm suspicion as they waited for the next among them to speak.

Do you have any threes? Death asked.

The other three groaned.

“For the last time, Death, that’s not how this is played!” said the red pony, a wide military cap on his head. He chomped on his cigar and stroked his impressive mustache. “Weren’t you listening when I explained the rules?!” He slammed his hoof on the table. “And before I forget, where the hay are those snacks we were promised?”

“Oh… was that my job?” asked the gaunt black mare with a smirk. “Really, you should have known better than to ask me, of all ponies…”

“I volunteered... to make them,” wheezed the white mare, grinning through her stained teeth with a sparkle in her sunken yellow eyes. “But,” she added with a cough, “you said… you didn’t want me… to handle the snacks.”

Now now, Death said as he adjusted his straw hat, there’s no need to fight.

“Like hell there isn’t!” the red pony shouted, getting to his hooves.

“If you flip the table again,” the black pony said, rising up to meet him on her bony legs, “I swear that I’ll just go home!”

“Didn’t you say you were - heh - starved for attention?” the red pony asked, tapping his cigar as he put on a pair of aviator sunglasses for added effect.

“Perhaps she’s sick of it,” the white mare muttered, slumping across the table.

Please, my friends, please, Death said, placing a hoof upon his chest. We so rarely get the chance to meet together—

“Outside the occasional near miss once a year or so this past decade,” the white mare said with a wheezing laugh.

True, but still, we each have our work cut out for us, Death continued. Couldn’t we just set our squabbles aside and enjoy a nice game for a change?

“Hmph,” the red pony grumbled as he slowly retook his seat. “I still say this would be more fun if we bet souls instead of these blasted chips.”

“Rules are rules,” the black pony said, rolling her eyes. “Tell you what, how about I make it up to you all after this round and make you a nice snack… of absolutely no nutritional value, of course…”

“I wouldn’t have it any other—” the white pony began before erupting into another coughing fit. “—way.”

I am glad we can continue, Death said, peering back at his cards. This ‘Mane Star Holdem’ game is trickier than I thought, but I believe that I am beginning to understand it. I will bid three.

“I’m in,” said the red pony.

“I call,” said the black.

“I fold,” said the white. She shrugged and put down another card. “That’s the turn. Well, Death?”

Hmm… I beg your pardon, but is this that game where you can make another pony draw two?

The red pony smacked his forehead. “Oh, for the love of napalm in the morning…”

A rift suddenly appeared, and Rainbow Dash stepped through it.

“Oh, thank Celestia, I’m glad I found you, Death!” Rainbow Dash cried.

“Ha! I bet you don’t hear that often!” the red pony laughed.

You’d be surprised, Death remarked.

“Heh,” the white pony said with a wheezing laugh. “Dark.”

Rainbow Dash looked at her surroundings. “Uh, am I interrupting something?”

Just a simple game of cards among friends, Death replied. If you’ve the time, perhaps you’d like to join us for Mane Star Holdem? It’s a rather good game, though I like that one card game where I’m on one of the cards.

“Tarot cards don’t work that way, for the last time!” the red pony shouted.

Rainbow blinked. “Wait… Death, you have friends?” she asked incredulously.

Death gave her a withering look. How rude, Rainbow Dash, he said. Surely you must realize that everypony has friends. And these are my oldest and dearest friends: the Four Horses of the Apocalypse.

Rainbow Dash blanched. “The… the…”

“Aw, she’s starstruck, how cute!” the black pony said, chuckling to herself.

Perhaps introductions are in order, Death said, getting up from his seat. Rainbow Dash, these are my fellow anthropomorphized incarnations of the banes of ponykind. But please do not let that deter you from making their acquaintances; they are all quite pleasant companions. To begin, we have War.

The red pony tipped his military cap. “Gotta say, you and your friends really cramped my style when you took down the Storm King,” he said with a grin. “Just the same, I like your fighting spirit, soldier!”

This, ah, slender young mare is Famine, Death continued.

“‘Young,’ he says,” Famine chuckled. “Your kind first conceived me when the winter ran long and even the grasslands turned barren. Oh, Death, you are a sweet-talker!”

I try, Death said, bowing to her. And last, but not least, there is my good friend Pestilence.

The white pony stood, then erupted into another coughing fit, hacking up a glob of something indistinguishable into her hoof. She looked down, grinned, then offered said hoof to Rainbow Dash in greeting.

“Uh, hi,” Rainbow Dash said, taking a step back as she avoided shaking Pestilence’s hoof.

“Death and I go way back,” Pestilence said. “Actually, we used to date during medieval times. Remember the plague, Death?”

The two of them shared a laugh.

Oh, that was such a chaotic time, Death said, waving a hoof. I scarcely had a moment’s rest!

“Well, I did do some of my best work back then!” Pestilence said, raising her head with a smile. “Nowadays it’s mostly allergies and autoimmune diseases. I miss the days of open sores and buboes…”

“Bah!” War scoffed. “You think you’ve got it bad? Equestria has hardly had anything but a light skirmish in centuries! I don’t even know why I get out of bed anymore!”

“I’m just glad I found a few allies in the glamour industry,” Famine said. “All those gorgeous slim ponies in magazines have done wonders for my anorexia numbers…”

“Wait, so… you guys all know each other?” Rainbow asked.

“Darn right!” War proclaimed proudly. “We’re the original fearsome foursome!”

“The primal fears of all ponykind made flesh!” Famine added.

“Destined to ride out at the end of the world!” Pestilence wheezed.

Rainbow’s eyes bulged. “The end of the world?! Wait, it’s not happening now that you’re all together, is it?!”

“Nah, give it another week or two,” Famine said.

“Plus a movie, perhaps,” Pestilence chimed in.

“There’ll probably be another one not too long after that anyway,” War muttered. “I hope it’s better than the last few before this one, though…”

Rainbow shook her head, deciding to ignore their ramblings to focus on the issue at hoof.

“Okay, look, this is great and all,” she said, holding up a hoof, “but I came here because I need Death’s help!”

Death cocked his head to the side in confusion. Help? Whatever for? he asked.

Rainbow swallowed. “Well, see… I had to reap somepony who really really didn’t want to accept that she was dead…”

Death nodded. Not an uncommon occurrence, he said, but I can see why a mortal such as yourself might be troubled by this. The important thing is to realize that you were doing as you must, for the natural order demands that—

“No, see,” Rainbow said, holding up a hoof to interrupt him, “she, uh… she kinda tried to re-enter her body…”

Death stared back at her. Ah. Then of course you used your scythe to hold her spirit and prevent her from doing so.


After all, the guide I left you made it perfectly clear why doing otherwise could be catastrophic.


And even if you were somehow unable to prevent a spirit from re-entering its body, you surely would have used your scythe to remove the spirit from its reanimated corpse before it developed enough necrotic energy to become a serious threat to the living… I notice you aren’t agreeing with these statements, and that is rather concerning…


“Think she bucked up?” Famine asked.

“Ohhh, she definitely bucked up,” War and Pestilence said in unison.

Death got to his hooves. Rainbow Dash, he said, his already foreboding voice a low growl, Is this true? Did you, in fact, ‘buck up?’ Did you actually allow a mortal being to re-animate its own former shell?!

“I mean… I didn’t think she’d manage to crawl down her own throat, so…”

The other three Horses of the Apocalypse burst into laughter.

Death, however, was unamused. His blue eyes flared, and he took a step toward Rainbow Dash. Explain exactly what you have done.

Rainbow swallowed. "Okay, see, it's like this..."

When she'd finished, Death was no less unamused. Indeed, for a being whose face was literally just a skull, he somehow managed to look like he was gritting his teeth more tightly by the second throughout her tale.

"...so, uh, yeah, that sums it up," Rainbow said. "I kinda need your help or Ponyville is doomed."

Oh, you foolish, foolish pony! Death shouted. You have jeopardized the lives of countless mortals and robbed a poor soul of its eternal rest by your carelessness!

“H-hey, now just wait a second!” Rainbow said, holding up her scythe defensively. “I never asked for this job in the first place!”

But you did accept it! Death shouted. If you were not ready for such a weighty responsibility, then you should have said so from the beginning!

Rainbow bit her lip, shrinking from Death for a moment, but then she paused, narrowed her eyes, and arched her back, staring Death in the eye.

“Now hold on just a minute!” she shouted. “Yeah, I took on your lousy assignment, Death, but that’s because the only other choice was dying! What the hay did you expect me to do?!”

Typical mortal… you’ll die one day in any case. Why, then, should it matter if it’s now or later?

“Oh, don’t act like you don’t know! You spend all day talking to ponies who’ve just kicked the bucket! I’ve only been doing it for a few days, and nearly every single one I’ve talked to just wanted a little more time to be alive… if you didn’t understand at least that much, then you wouldn’t have known how to rope me into doing your dirty work!

“So you can be mad if you want, but don’t act like this isn’t at least a little bit your fault!”

Silence fell over the room as Death and Rainbow Dash stared at each other.

“Ohhh snap!” Pestilence exclaimed.

Death’s eyes dimmed slightly. Very well, he said. There is some truth to what you say, Rainbow Dash. But still, a deal is a deal. I assume that you have come to ask me for my help in vanquishing this monster you’ve created?

Rainbow nodded.

Even though you know that, in breaking our deal and calling me back from vacation, you’d be giving up your life?

Rainbow swallowed, then nodded again. "I-if it means saving my friends, then... yes."

Well, then, we should get going. What a shame… I was so looking forward to the rest of my holiday...

His tropical shirt and straw hat vanished and his typical cloak and scythe reappeared upon him. Rainbow looked down and saw that she was still wearing her own regalia.

I admire your bravery in coming to me for help, Death said. Still, I may require your help in cleaning up this mess you’ve created. Let us go.

Death sliced a new rift through the air and beckoned Rainbow Dash to follow.

“Hey, wait a minute!” War shouted. “What about our game?”

Ah, that’s right, Death muttered, stroking his chin. Worry not, my friends, I will get you a substitute until I return.

Death and Rainbow Dash entered the rift, which closed a moment later. However, only a further moment after that, a second rift appeared and a new figure stepped through.

Apocalyptic Ponies! Greetings, Apocalyptic Ponies! Death of Yaks is here to finish game for Death of Ponies!

“Well, that’s something, I suppose,” War grumbled. “All right, Death of Yaks, it’s your turn. Call, raise, or fold?”

The Death of Yaks looked down at his cards for a moment, tapping his chin, before shouting Death of Yaks will smash! and bringing his tremendous skeletal hoof down on the table, splitting it in two and scattering the cards and chips everywhere.

“Eh, I was sick of that game anyway,” Pestilence grumbled, leaning back in her chair. “Any other bright ideas?”

“Ooh, I know!” said Famine. “Let’s play Hungry Hungry Hippos!”

To be concluded…

Author's Note:

The end is near, in more ways than one. As Death comes to Rainbow Dash's aid, the fates of Ponyville, Berry Punch, and even her own hang in the balance...

Fortunately, reference jokes never die!

  • The title is a pretty clear reference to Blue Oyster Cult's "(Don't Fear) The Reaper." And while it is a classic... it could've used a little more cowbell.

  • And since I apparently can't stop making references even when I'm listing my references (and because if I didn't someone else would've made the joke anyway), that bit about the cowbell references the now-legendary sketch from the TV show "Saturday Night Live" featuring Christopher Walken.

  • When Berry Punch says "I could not stop for Death," it's a reference to Emily Dickinson's poem of the same name. You can read it here.
  • The Four Horses of the Apocalypse of course reference the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, first depicted in the Bible's book of Revelation. The ponies in this story are matched to those color descriptions of the horses the Horsemen rode (red = war, black = famine, and white = pestilence). It should be noted that the interpretation of the White Horseman as "Pestilence" is actually a fairly modern thing; traditionally, the White Horseman represents Conquest or Wars of Conquest. But the new lineup kinda feels too iconic to ignore, and besides, this is how they appear in Terry Pratchett's Discworld series, particularly in Thief of Time.
  • The Four Horses are playing Mane Star Holdem, a reference to Texas Holdem. Additionally, Death references three other card "games," specifically Go Fish, Uno, and the fortune-telling Tarot cards which includes the Major Arcana, a series of 22 cards including, of course Death (and also the Sun and Moon... I imagine in Equestria they're replaced with Celestia and Luna).
  • Pestilence mentions "the plague," and later mentions "sores and buboes." This references the real life Bubonic plague, aka "The Black Death," which is about the time that we first started getting images of Death as The Grim Reaper, appropriately enough.

Note: in Terry Pratchett's work, there is in fact a fifth Horseman, namely Kaos. I considered including him, but that would have meant including Equestria's embodiment of chaos: Discord. Much as I love Discord, I think he would have complicated the narrative. Editor Reese pondered what would happen if Discord would intervene and try to rescue Fluttershy in particular... but that might have meant spreading zombification and, far worse, zombie Discord.

Anyway, enough rambling. Let's see if I can wrap this bad boy up before the Series Finale! (And please, no spoilers if you watched the leaks. I haven't seen them, and I'm certain many other readers haven't either.)

See you next time, everyone! :twilightsmile:

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