• Published 6th Feb 2012
  • 6,242 Views, 346 Comments

Near Death Experience - Hadles



Can Pinwheel the Earth pony bargain with Death to get her life back?

  • ...
9
 346
 6,242

Chapter 17

"Pale Hoof, look!" Pinwheel gasped in delight as they entered the palace. Fireworks erupted outside the palace windows, but they were nothing compared to the sparkle inside. Everything was immaculate, from the polished marble floors to the delicately shimmering chandelier. Banners carrying Celestia's sun symbol hung from every corner. A sumptuous red carpet led guests up the central staircase into the main ballroom. There, on the middle landing, stood Princess Celestia, poised to meet her visitors. Already, a line of ponies was forming to see her. With ruffles, lace, and brilliant colors, the gala guests looked more like clumps of flowers than ponies. Pinwheel's eyes skated across the room. The gala guests chatted politely, filling the room with a soft murmur that mixed indistinguishably with the orchestra in the next room. Pinwheel put a hoof to her mouth, her pupils widening to take in all the details.

"YOU SHOULD HAVE SEEN THE OLD PALACE." Pale Hoof answered, a hint of a smile in his voice. As soon as he talked, however, several heads whipped around to glare at him. His voice was like a record scratch, silencing all the chatter within a fifty foot radius. Pinwheel blushed deeply and touched Pale Hoof's sleeve, nodding toward the line.

"Maybe you should turn down the volume." Pinwheel whispered to him as they joined the line, "These ponies aren't used to you like everyone in Ponyville."

"THEN THEY SHOULD CHANGE THEIR ATTITUDE." Pale Hoof huffed, "THIS IS HOW I SPEAK."

"I know, big guy, but we don't want to cause a stir..."

Just as Pinwheel finished her sentence, a blonde, sturdily built unicorn was making his way down the line, heading toward the garden door. As he passed by them, the hem of Pale Hoof's long cloak caught on his hoof and he stumbled. Letting out a loud 'harrumph', the unicorn turned to them sharply. "Watch your cape, good sir, I..." The unicorn fell silent as he caught sight of Pale Hoof's face, "Sweet Celestia, what's wrong with your face?"

Pinwheel tried to smile. "Uh, sorry..." She replied, "about the cape, I mean."

The blonde unicorn had seemingly forgotten all about tripping. "I've never seen anything so hideous!" He blurted, "Is that some kind of mask?"

Pinwheel frowned. "Don't be rude. It's just how he looks!"

The unicorn tossed his mane, nose in the air. "If anything, he is the rude one! Inflicting his horrible appearance on everyone else!" Their conversation was beginning to draw looks from everypony around the room. Pinwheel could hear their whispers. She blushed deeply, her ears folding back. "Honestly, the gala is no place for a...a...GROTESQUE like this!"

Pinwheel stamped her hoof. "He's not grotesque! He's..."

A soft voice interrupted their quarrel. "Excuse me." Pinwheel, Pale Hoof, and the unicorn all turned their heads. Princess Celestia descended the staircase to meet them. Twilight Sparkle, dressed in a stunning starry gown, followed at her side. Quickly, Pinwheel bowed. Princess Celestia chuckled gently, "No need to bow, Pinwheel, my friend. I'm so happy to see you here."

Pinwheel's blush intensified. "Th-thank you, Princess."

"Oh, Auntie!" The blonde unicorn cried out, rushing up to Celestia, "These two commoners were so rude to me! Not to mention how hideous the tall one is!"

Celestia frowned deeply. "Blueblood, why don't you go join the other guests in the ballroom?" She was making a suggestion, but it sounded more like an order to Pinwheel.

"But Auntie..." Blueblood complained, giving his aunt the least sympathetic pair of puppy dog eyes Pinwheel had ever seen.

"Hurry now. Don't keep your friends waiting." Celestia answered. Scuffing his hoof like an angry school colt, Blueblood retreated up the stairs. Celestia turned her attention to Pinwheel and Pale Hoof, "I'm sorry you had to deal with my nephew. He's not the brightest pony."

Pinwheel gaped. "That jerk is your relative?"

Celestia grimaced, "He has his redeeming qualities..." She replied, "...sort of." Twilight giggled.

"SUCH INSOLENCE..." Pale Hoof rumbled. Pinwheel shivered. The tone of his words made her teeth chatter. She and Pale Hoof had been dating for months now, so she'd gotten used to the sound of his voice, but this time he sounded different. Almost malevolent.

Celestia's smile faded. "Well, anyway, welcome to the Grand Galloping Gala. I'm very pleased you could join us."

"We're pleased to be here. Aren't we, Pale Hoof?" Pinwheel nudged him, but he did not respond. The air around Pale Hoof was colder than usual. He stared hard at the ground. Pinwheel glanced up at Celestia, "Uh..."

Celestia gazed at Pale Hoof, her face grim. "I hope you enjoy yourselves." She concluded, "I could introduce you to some more agreeable ponies, if you like."

Pinwheel glanced between Celestia and Pale Hoof. "Thanks, but..." Pinwheel couldn't help but notice the angry stares coming from the ponies ahead of them in line, "We wouldn't want to take up any more of your time." Nudging Pale Hoof, Pinwheel nodded toward the ballroom door. Pale Hoof followed her, dead silent. He was never a talkative stallion, but this silence set Pinwheel's teeth on edge. His silence was oppressive enough to drown out all the other noises in the ballroom. Pinwheel felt almost as though she were listening to the gala under water.

They found a table near the dance floor. Ponies twirled elegantly on the floor. A four pony orchestra played on a small, elevated stage. "This is really nice, isn't it?" Pinwheel murmured as they sat down, trying to crack the deathly silence enveloping Pale Hoof. He said nothing. Pinwheel frowned, "Are you going to be sullen all night?"

Pale Hoof finally lifted his head. "SUCH ARROGANCE. WHY DOES CELESTIA NOT DISCIPLINE HER NEPHEW?"

"Come on…it's just one jerk." Pinwheel looked around, "Everyone else seems nice. Why let one bad apple spoil the bundle?"

"I HAVE NEVER BEFORE BEEN TREATED WITH SUCH DISRESPECT."

Pinwheel pouted. "Like I said, it was just one pony. Everypony else seems nice. Twilight was here, so maybe her friends are around as well." Just as Pinwheel said that, she spotted a pink pony bouncing around on the dance floor. Dressing in a flouncy blue, pink, and white bubble dress, the pony leapt up on stage and began whispering to the orchestra, "Is that Pinkie Pie?"

As if on cue, Pinkie Pie shouted cheerfully into the microphone. "C'mon, everypony!" She cheered, hooves in the air, "I know what'll make you shake those groove things!" She signaled to the band, which began to play a familiar melody. Pinkie broke into song. "You reach your right hoof in…" Pinwheel's face lit up with a smile. Pinkie's pleasant, upbeat voice filled the ballroom.

Pinwheel turned back to Pale Hoof. "You wanna dance?"

Pale Hoof peered at the ponies on the dance floor, then looked back at Pinwheel. "IT SEEMS NO ONE ELSE IS DANCING." Pinwheel glanced toward the dance floor. He was right. The party guests were gaping at Pinkie Pie as though they'd never seen a pony singing before.

Pinwheel hopped off her seat. "Well, someone has to get it started, right?" She held her hoof out to the Reaper. Carefully, he rose to his feet. Linking forelegs with Pale Hoof, Pinwheel pulled him out onto the dance floor. Though Pinkie was a good thirty seconds into her song, no one in the hall was dancing. Instead they were either staring or muttering nastily among themselves. Pinkie sung ecstatically, singing the mic around like a dance partner. No one noticed as Pale Hoof and Pinwheel slipped into the crowd.

Pinwheel hadn't really noticed it before, thanks to the distraction caused by the rude prince, but the dance hall was packed. Ponies covered every square inch of the floor, taking up space with their voluminous ball gowns and trailing coat tails. Pinwheel found herself shoving ponies gently out of the way to make room for Pale Hoof, for which she got several unkind stares. The ponies in Ponyville naturally made way for Pale Hoof, but these Canterlot nobles refused to budge, even when faced with an abnormally tall skull faced stallion. After much nudging and pushing, though, Pinwheel found an empty patch of dance floor just big enough to fit her and her date.

"—you reach your back left in, just be brave and have no doubt!" Pinkie sang. Pinwheel stuck out her back left leg, smiling up at Pale Hoof. He hesitated for a moment, then copied her, just in time for a unicorn in a fluffy pink ball gown to stumble over him. She got up, letting out an irritated "harrumph" and glared at Pale Hoof. Pale Hoof slowly retracted his leg, "You do the Pony Pokey feeling like you're gonna pout! That's what I'm singing about!"

Pinwheel gave him another reassuring smile, nudging him with her hoof. "You tilt your head in…" Pinkie kept singing. The crowd shifted around them, closing in on their personal space. A pony backed into Pale Hoof's side, knocking him hard against Pinwheel. Pinwheel straightened her glasses, harrumphing.

"Hey, watch where you're going!" Pinwheel warned, glaring over the top of Pale Hoof's back. The other pony whipped her mane and snorted. Pinwheel frowned deeply. Ponies were leaving the dance floor in droves, disgusted by Pinkie's overexcited singing. They jostled into Pinwheel and Pale Hoof, slamming the two of them dangerously close together. "Oof! Hey! Be careful!" Pinwheel's pleas went ignored. Finally, with a sweep of his hoof, Pale Hoof magically parted the crowd, leaving a small pathway to a door. Jerking his head, he motioned for Pinwheel to follow him.

Pinwheel ducked her head, letting her curled mane fall in front of her eyes. More ponies were glaring at Pale Hoof than at Pinkie.

"How rude!"

"What a tacky outfit!"

"Who does he think he is?"

The garden was just as packed as the ballroom, yet somehow under the purple sky and the great, leafy trees, things seemed a little bit quieter. The doors slammed hard behind Pale Hoof as he ushered Pinwheel outside. Ponies strolled along the garden paths, talking gently among themselves. The music from the orchestra was only a whisper here. Pinwheel quickly turned to look at Pale Hoof. "What was that for?"

"THEY WERE IN THE WAY." He growled. His voice was cold, colder than usual. Pinwheel's ears drooped. Pale Hoof walked determinedly along the path, magically shoving aside any pony in his path. Pinwheel hurried after him.

"Hey!" She called, pulling on the edge of his cloak, "Hey, slow down! It's all right!"

"WHAT IS ALL RIGHT? NO PART OF THIS EVENING IS 'ALL RIGHT'." Pale Hoof's voice caused the nearby rosebush to wilt. A fine layer of frost collected on the leaves, despite the warm spring temperatures. "THE LACK OF RESPECT IS…IS APPALLING."

Pinwheel frowned, glancing over her shoulder at the ballroom door. "I understand…nopony's been very polite tonight, but…these are Canterlot ponies. They're different from the ponies back home. You've got to understand that—"

"NO."

Pinwheel looked up. Pale Hoof loomed over her. The brim of his hat cast a shadow over his face. A shiver rippled down Pinwheel's spine. "Pale Hoof, come on…" She mumbled.

"IT IS NOT JUST CANTERLOT. IT IS NOT JUST 'THESE PONIES'." He whipped around, his shadowy cape whispering across the cobblestone path. Pinwheel struggled to keep pace with him, "EVEN IN PONYVILLE, I AM MET WITH CASUAL GLANCES, DISRESPECT. THESE PONIES HAVE FORGOTTEN THEIR FEAR OF DEATH."

"What are you talking about? That's what we were working for! What Princess Celestia wanted!" Pinwheel hurried after him, cantering to keep up with his long strides. She kept trying to step on his cape, anything to get him to slow down and listen, but the shadowy fabric seeped out from beneath her hooves, "If you would just slow down and listen for one second…"

"I WILL NOT BE SHOVED ASIDE LIKE SOME COMMON MORTAL." He stopped hard in his tracks, causing Pinwheel to nearly collide with him, "IF THESE PONIES DO NOT FEAR DEATH, THEN I MUST TEACH THEM."

"Pale Hoof!" Pinwheel squeaked as she found herself pushed aside by his magic. She stumbled back, landing rump first in a rose bush. Pale Hoof whirled about, striding past her back toward the ballroom door. Pinwheel lunged after him, only to find her dress caught on the thorns, "Pale Hoof!" Pinwheel whimpered after him, but he did not pause. All around him, grass was dying and plants were wilting. Inside, the music had changed from a soft orchestra to a thrumming beat that just synchronized with the pounding of Pinwheel's heart.

All of a sudden, from deep within the garden, there came the pounding of hooves and the screeching of birds and monkeys. A stampede of animals, exotic creatures from all four corners of Equestria, came pounding through the garden. Fluttershy, hair a mess and chest heaving, leapt out of the bushes like a leopard, her teeth grinding. "Where are those little animals?" She shrieked. Frightened whinnies filled the garden. Ponies reared away from the stampede. Fluttershy dashed this way and that, throwing herself at any animal that passed by. Pinwheel jerked herself free, ripping the fabric of her skirt, and rushed after Pale Hoof.

It was too late, though. Pinwheel saw the scythe in his teeth. With a blindingly quick twist of his neck, he struck. The ponies he hit were all too distracted to even know what hit them. One moment, they were running from the stampede, the next they lay dead on the ground, life blood gushing from gashes in their necks. Pinwheel froze in her tracks. One, two, three, four bodies. Blood, slick and shiny, seeped into the grass.

Time seemed to slow down. Pinwheel looked at the bodies, then up at Pale Hoof. He turned toward her. Blood coated the razor thin tip of his scythe. His hat lay crushed at his hooves. Ponies rushed around them in a frenzy, but Pinwheel barely noticed them. Nothing but Pale Hoof and the bodies registered in her mind. She didn't even notice when Fluttershy burst through the ballroom doors, screaming at the top of her voice. Only the Reaper mattered.

All of a sudden, there came frightened whinnying from the ballroom. Pinwheel glanced up just in time to see a wave of ponies fleeing the dance hall. The pegasus guards were struggling to calm the crowd. Pinwheel glanced back at Pale Hoof. With a whoosh of his cloak, he was gone, leaving only the four bodies on the ground as proof that he'd ever been there.

"Bodies! Help! Somepony's been killed!"

Pinwheel didn't even have time to think. The panicked party guests had finally taken notice of the corpses on the ground. The pegasus guards, hearing the cries, rushed to the scene. Pinwheel stared blankly at the soldiers, too shocked to speak. While their comrades were busy corralling the mob, two of the largest guards approached Pinwheel. "Ma'am, are you all right?" One of the guards said, offering Pinwheel his hoof. Pinwheel simply stared at the stallion. She felt hot tears rolling down her cheeks, "Ma'am?"


"Pardon me, Princess, but tonight was just…awful!"

The voice was one Pinwheel knew well - Twilight Sparkle. Pinwheel sat on a bench outside Pony Joe's donut shop. A warm breeze stirring a few papers strewn carelessly in the street. Canterlot was quiet. The only sound Pinwheel could hear was the laughter and chatting of Princess Celestia and her student inside the shop. Pinwheel tensed as she heard them giggling. Two pegasus guards waited at the shop door, neither talking to nor looking at Pinwheel. She'd been told to wait outside while the Princess finished her business. Pinwheel could barely stand the oppressive silence. Before the gala, the streets had been filled with the squeaking of carriage wheels and the excited chatter of the party guests. Now, with Celestia's Royal Guard rounding up the last of the riot, the city lay in uneasy quiet. Many ponies had seen the dead bodies in the garden. Once the initial shock wore off, there would be questions, accusations, assumptions, and Pinwheel was at the heart of it all.

"I'm certain the gala would have been much different without you and your friends, Twilight Sparkle." Pinwheel heard Princess Celestia say inside the shop, "I'll be expecting a report about this soon!"

"Thanks, Princess! And goodbye!" Twilight called back, voice cheerful. None of the six ponies inside had seen the slaughter in the garden. Pinwheel couldn't say she was relieved. The Princess was hiding it from them. The little bell above Pony Joe's door rang as Celestia exited the shop. Pinwheel looked up at the princess, tears still dribbling down her cheeks. Nodding to the two guards accompanying her, Princess Celestia approached the bench. Pinwheel could hardly bear to look at her - her expression was too gentle, too kind. Shamefacedly, Pinwheel stared at the ground.

"Pinwheel," The Princess began softly, lowering her head. Pinwheel glanced up, her bottom lip quivering. The Princess gazed at the little blue pony, "Pinwheel, I want you to know that what Pale Hoof did was not your fault."

Pinwheel jerked upright. "But…but Princess! I was the one who was supposed to…supposed to…" Pinwheel could hardly get the words out. Sobs choked her voice. Pinwheel turned away, covering her face with her hooves.

"None of us expected this." Princess Celestia's hoof brushed Pinwheel's cheek, "Why don't you take a walk with me?"

"Those…those ponies are dead and…" Pinwheel stuttered. Princess Celestia lifted Pinwheel chin, looking her deep in the eyes. Pinwheel fell silent. Shakily, Pinwheel pushed herself off the bench. Her gauzy blue dress hung in tatters around her middle. Gently, Celestia brushed a few leaves off Pinwheel's dress with a hoof, "I'm so sorry, Princess. I'm so sorry."

"Sssh." The Princess replied softly. Pinwheel hiccupped, stifling another sob, "Take a deep breath and relax." Pinwheel did as she was told, inhaling sharply and letting out a half sob. Nodding, Princess Celestia gestured toward the quiet street. Slowly, the two ponies walked together. Pinwheel walked a little behind the Princess, eyes to the ground. Her tears left a trail of droplets on the cobblestones.

Neither Pinwheel nor the Princess spoke for a long time. The Princess strolled slowly down the street, smiling at the shop windows as though nothing was wrong. She gave off a comforting, soft, yellow glow that reflected in every window they passed. Finally, the silence grew too much for Pinwheel. "Princess, I…" She began, but once again, the words stuck in her throat. Pinwheel's jaw worked, struggling to continue her sentence.

"You don't have to talk if you don't want to, Pinwheel." Celestia answered, "I want you to be comfortable."

"Comfortable?" Pinwheel blurted, "I just saw four ponies die! I can't be comfortable!"

Princess Celestia paused, glancing back at Pinwheel with a look of mild surprise. Pinwheel blushed furiously, ducking her face. Gently, the Princess lowered her head. "I know how you must be feeling right now." She replied, "It's hard to talk about this sort of thing. I just want to put you at ease."

"I'm sorry, Princess, I didn't mean to yell." Pinwheel answered. The events of the last few hours zoomed through Pinwheel's mind in a confused blur. After the guards had calmed the mob, they escorted Pinwheel to the Princess. From there, Pinwheel could only follow in a daze as the Princess left the palace to visit her pupils in the donut shop. Now here she was, stumbling alongside Celestia through the empty streets of Canterlot. Pinwheel's head throbbed. Her face felt stiff from crying, "I don't know what happened…or what went wrong. Everything seemed to be going so well."

"And that is why I want you to know this isn't your fault." The Princess replied, staring off into the distance, "If anything…these deaths were my fault."

"Princess!"

The Princess lowered her head, eyes closing. "I should have kept a closer eye on Pale Hoof. It was foolish of me to leave you in charge of him by yourself." Softly, Celestia sighed, "How could I expect a young mare like you to keep Death himself on a leash?"

Pinwheel shook her head. "That's not true at all, Princess. Pale Hoof and I have always gotten along well. He's always listened to me." The image of Pale Hoof standing over the bodies of the party guests popped back into Pinwheel's mind. She shuddered, "I don't know what went wrong. If I could have done anything to stop it…"

Celestia straightened her neck. She turned to face Pinwheel, her expression suddenly stern. "It is tempting to debate how this came to be, but it will get us nowhere. The blood of four ponies is on his hooves." The princess took a step closer to Pinwheel, "I will not make the same mistake twice. Pinwheel, you know Pale Hoof better than anypony in Equestria. Better even than me. You have to tell me how to find him."

Pinwheel blanched. "I…I don't know. He usually just comes and goes as he pleases…"

"He didn't give you a way to contact him?"

Pinwheel thought for a moment. "I suppose…" Her face lit up, "The door! He created a door to his realm in my house. He said that if I ever needed him, all I had to do was knock."

Princess Celestia nodded. "Then that is what you must do." She stared down at Pinwheel, her expression cold. Pinwheel had never seen such a look on Celestia's face before. Her eyes were narrowed and her mouth was pressed into a hard, thin line. The soft, comforting Celestia Pinwheel knew was gone, replaced with this stern-faced queen. Pinwheel found herself shrinking back, "Call him out and bring him to me. Do whatever you can."

Pinwheel frowned. "You…you aren't going to hurt him, are you?"

Celestia shook her head. "No. But I cannot let him get away with the murder of my little ponies."

"He's not a bad colt," Pinwheel insisted, "He's really not. He just doesn't understand..."

Gently, Celestia lifted Pinwheel's chin with her hoof. "You care about him deeply." She said. Pinwheel blushed brightly, but nodded, "You have nothing to fear, Pinwheel. On my honor as Princess."

Swallowing hard, Pinwheel nodded. "But...but Pale Hoof will be all right, won't he?"

The Princess closed her eyes. "Sometimes, Pinwheel, a ruler needs to be stern." She reopened her eyes, her purple irises flashing in the dark, "I will keep your feelings in mind, but Pale Hoof must be punished. You understand, don't you?"

Pinwheel shuffled her hooves, glancing off to the side. "I," Pinwheel paused, taking a breath, "I understand."