• Published 6th Feb 2012
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Near Death Experience - Hadles



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

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Chapter 19

Twilight rushed out the door the moment the carriage touched down. Princess Celestia, accompanied by four pegasus guards in full armor, stepped out of the carriage. Nearly tripping off the side of the porch, Twilight galloped to the Princess's side. "Thank goodness you're here, Princess!" The purple unicorn gasped, "I need your help!"

"I came as soon as I got your letter, Twilight Sparkle." Celestia answered, nuzzling her student. Twilight managed to smile. Slowly, Princess Celestia turned her head toward the house, "Now…what is this problem that's causing my star student so much worry?"

Twilight's smile faded. "Well, uh…please come with me, Princess." Turning, Twilight lead Celestia up the front steps into the cottage. Celestia ducked her head as she passed through the doorway. The hall ceiling just barely cleared the tip of her horn. There, in the hallway, lay Pinwheel. She blinked her foggy blue eyes as Celestia approached, letting out a wheezing breath but unable to form any words. Twilight frowned, "She was unconscious when I found her. I was able to wake her up, but…well, this is a spell too powerful and complicated for me to reverse."

Celestia nodded. "I see." She gazed down at Pinwheel, her normally gentle face set into a stern mask, "You're my best student, Twilight Sparkle, but this is a curse only I could undo." Twilight nodded, stepping back to give the Princess room. With that, Celestia closed her eyes. The tip of her horn glowed brilliantly, illuminating the dark hallway. With a sweep of her long, elegant neck, Celestia touched her horn to Pinwheel's forehead. Illumination enveloped the aging blue mare. The light rushed over Pinwheel's skin, erasing the wrinkles and restoring color to her mane and pelt. Celestia's spell even sealed the wound on Pinwheel's back. When the light faded, Pinwheel shakily rose to her feet, her youth restored. Celestia shuddered violently. Twilight rushed to her mentor's side.

"Are you all right, Princess?" Twilight asked.

"It's difficult to undo such powerful magic, even for me." Celestia answered. Straightening her neck, she looked down at Pinwheel, "Are you all right?"

Pinwheel looked down at her newly restored limbs, blinking her cataract-free eyes. "I feel…I feel fine." Pinwheel mumbled. Gently, she touched her hoof to her face. Suddenly, as if realizing whom she was talking to, Pinwheel's neck jerked up, "Princess! Why are you here? I haven't cleaned up the house or anything! And Pale Hoof – "

Celestia reached out, placing a hoof gently on Pinwheel's head. Pinwheel fell silent. "I want you to tell me exactly what happened. Nothing more, nothing less."

Slowly, Celestia lowered her hoof. Pinwheel swallowed, smacking her dry lips. "Well…" She began. Pinwheel caught sight of Twilight, standing slightly behind the Princess, "Can…er, is Twilight allowed to hear this?" Celestia nodded. Pinwheel took a deep breath, then continued, "Well, I did just what you asked. I went into Pale Hoof's realm, like you asked, to talk with him about why he did what he did."

Twilight took a step forward. "Um, pardon me, Princess, but Pale Hoof did something wrong?"

"Unfortunately, yes he did, Twilight Sparkle." Princess Celestia answered, violent eyes closing. She nodded to Pinwheel, "Please continue."

"He wasn't there. Instead I met…well, I met someponies I know. I tried to get them to tell me where Pale Hoof was, but they just told me to leave. By that time, I was feeling really weak and, when he finally showed up, I wasn't even strong enough to say anything. Before he threw me out of his realm, he mentioned something about having 'work to do'."

"Did he say what this work was?"

"No, Princess."

Before Pinwheel could say anything else, though, one of Celestia's guards burst through the screen door. The door smacked loudly against the wall, causing the whole house to shake. Twilight let out a startled yelp. The guard galloped up to the Princess, panting heavily. "Your Majesty, we've just received terrible news from Manehattan." The guard panted, clutching his chest, "There's been a flood of major proportions. A quarter of the city's been drowned."

Celestia stared blankly at the guard. "…Where did you hear this?" She asked, her voice deathly quiet.

"A messenger just came from the palace." The guard gasped, "But that's not it, Your Majesty. There's word of gale force winds in Cloudsdale and a fire raging in Trottingham."

"What? All of this at the same time?" Celestia asked. Pinwheel couldn't read the Princess's expression. The corners of her mouth quivered and her violet eyes, normally so wide and placid, trembled in their sockets.

"Yes, Majesty."

Celestia touched a hoof to her mouth. She gazed silently at her hooves, unable to speak. She lowered her head, her free-floating rainbow mane drifting in front of her face. "Pinwheel." She said finally after several seconds of silence, "This portal that Death made for you. Will you show me where it is?"

"Of course, Princess." Pinwheel crossed the hallway, putting her hoof against the guest bedroom door. Pinwheel gripped the door handle with her teeth, giving it a tug. The door remained firmly in place. Pinwheel looked up at the Princess, dejected, "He locked it, though. I don't think all the polite knocking in the world will open this thing."

Celestia turned toward the door. A yellow glow surrounded her horn. Light enveloped the door knob. The knob popped off like a kernel of corn, flying free of the door frame and bouncing on the floor. Pinwheel leapt to the side to dodge. The door shuddered in its frame then creaked inward, revealing the black abyss. Except that it wasn't so much an abyss anymore. The dark void swirled with activity. A storm of light tumbled through the void. Great streams of tiny lights, all different colors, pulsed in the darkness, whirling around as though caught in a tornado. Though the lights were no bigger than your average firefly, the swarm's brightness was enough to make Pinwheel's eyes water. Neither were the lights quiet. The noise began as a mournful rumble, but quickly grew into a deafening roar that shook the house. Pinwheel clamped her hooves down over her ears. Beside her, Celestia growled.

Twilight gaped at the spectacle. "What…what is that?" She asked, glancing feverishly up at the Princess.

"It's the realm of the Dead, Twilight." The Princess answered, her voice low, "And those lights are…"

"Souls. They're the souls of ponies." Pinwheel finished, lowering her hooves. She'd been so distracted by the brightness and the noise, she'd barely noticed the figure standing in the center of the blaze. Death stood in the heart of the storm, his hood thrown back to expose his ancient yellow skull. The ragged hem of his cloak fluttered around his hooves, revealing small glimpses of his desiccated body. Scythe gripped in his teeth, he reared back and whipped the blade around. A horrible scream ripped through the darkness as part of the storm collapsed, "That's him, he's…"

"I will put a stop to this." Celestia growled, taking a decisive step toward the door.

Twilight dashed to the Princess's side. "Wait, Princess!" The purple unicorn gasped, "You aren't going to fight him, are you? That's the realm of the Dead! You can't go in there! Who knows what will happen?"

"I have to stop him, Twilight Sparkle." Celestia answered. Pinwheel stared up at the Princess.

"Then let me get my friends! Surely the Elements can help!" Twilight pleaded. Celestia shook her head.

"I won't put my faithful student in danger unless I have to." She replied. Gently, she stroked Twilight's mane, "Stay here with Pinwheel." Lowering her head, Twilight backed off. Eyes still to the ground, she joined Pinwheel by the door. Taking a deep breath, Celestia strode toward the door. She hesitated a moment before stepping across the threshold into the darkness. A bubble of light formed around the Princess, warding off the sticky darkness that Pinwheel had struggled with. Twilight sucked in her breath, turning to look at Pinwheel.

"She'll be all right, won't she?" Twilight asked. Pinwheel stared at the ground.

"I don't know."

Celestia pushed into the darkness, making her way slowly toward Death. "Death!" She yelled. They could barely make out her voice beneath the screams of the souls. Twilight pressed her body against the door frame, chewing her bottom lip as she watched. Pinwheel could only stare, "DEATH!"

Death, finally noticing the foreign presence in his realm, twisted around. The two beings regarded each other coldly, neither speaking nor moving. Death let out a thunderous growl. "CELESTIA."

Celestia stood firm, her wings at full spread. "This has gone on long enough." She proclaimed, "You will return the souls of those ponies to Equestria."

A low rumble trembled through the void. It took Pinwheel a moment to realize Death was laughing. "YOU PRESUME TO ORDER ME AROUND IN MY OWN REALM?" He asked, a kind of hideous glee in his voice, "ADORABLE."

Celestia wavered. She shifted her hooves uncertainly. "I…will not allow you to massacre my citizens!" Celestia answered after a short pause. Death laughed again. His laugh set Pinwheel's teeth on edge, "These disasters – the flood, the fire, the winds – are all thanks to you. If you bear a grudge against me, we should settle it face to face. I will not let you steal the souls of my ponies to satisfy your urge for revenge."

Death threw his head back, letting out a deep, reverberating laugh. "REVENGE? WHAT REVENGE? YOU KNOW NOTHING OF ME, CELESTIA. I MERELY WISH TO RETEACH EQUESTRIA THE FEAR OF DEATH."

"What you're doing is murder!" Celestia cried out. If Death had lips, he might have smiled.

"DEATH, CELESTIA, IS INEVITABLE. WHAT DOES IT MATTER IF I REAP A FEW SOULS EARLY?" He whispered, "WHAT WAS IT THAT YOU SAID EARLIER? IF YOU HAVE ISSUES WITH WHAT I DO, YOU OUGHT TO SETTLE IT WITH ME PERSONALLY. PRACTICE WHAT YOU PREACH, MARE."

Celestia grit her teeth. "I had hoped it wouldn't come to this." Rearing back, Celestia stamped her hooves against the ground. A pulse of light erupted from the surface of her bubble shield, sending a golden ray ripping through the darkness. The ray struck Death full on. He stumbled back a few steps, quickly regaining his composure. The storm of pony souls above them flew into chaos, with souls breaking off from the stream and flying everywhere. Death let out a hiss. Extending his bony, membranous wings, he leapt into the air. Celestia took off after him.

Death flew in great arcs through the darkness, leaving massive arcs of green lightning exploding in his wake. Celestia dodged the bolts, weaving erratically across the sky. With a sweep of his scythe, Death sent bursts of electricity crackling through the void. Celestia wove past them, her wings straining. The darkness clung to her feathers like oil. Her muscles tensed, her wings pumping extra hard to keep her airborne. Where Death sailed easily through the dark, Celestia strained. Her bubble shield couldn't protect her from the gunk collecting on her wings. Slowly, as it built up, she began to falter. Flapping desperately, Celestia struggled to keep afloat as Death soared in circles around her. Finally, summoning a light from within her, Celestia unleashed another pulse, blowing the gunk off her wings and sending Death spinning out of control.

He fell into a nosedive, just barely regaining control before he hit the ground. He swooped back up to meet Celestia. Green electricity crackled across his ancient bones. "GIVE UP." Pale Hoof spat. His body glowed an unearthly green. Celestia flapped opposite him, her warm, yellow glow flickering.

"Not until you bring those ponies back to life!" She gasped.

"THEN YOU ARE AN EVEN BIGGER FOAL THAN I THOUGHT." With that, Death unleashed a burst of lightning from the blade of his scythe. Celestia dodged to the right, but the lightning clipped her wing. Her feathers burst into green flames. Celestia let out a howl of pain as she began to plummet. She struck the ground with a sickening crack, her left wing reduced to sparking green cinders. Death touched down across from her, letting out a deep, wheezy chuckle. The Princess struggled to her feet, taking a few rushed steps forward before her knees buckled beneath her.

Twilight let out a gasp, tears streaming down her cheeks. She lunged forward, but Pinwheel seized hold of her. "Let me go!" Twilight sobbed, jerking toward the door with all her might, "He's going to kill her – let me go!"

"If you go in there, you'll die!" Pinwheel whispered. Twilight let out an anguished howl, collapsing in Pinwheel's hooves. Pinwheel could only stare.

Death circled Celestia, chuckling over the fallen princess. Barely still conscious, Celestia fought to stand up, but couldn't. Her legs would not support her. The Princess's free floating multicolored mane hung limply around her face, its colors drained. "THIS IS MY REALM, CELESTIA." Death boomed, coming to a stop in front of the princess, "AND NO PONY – NOT YOU OR ANYPONY ELSE – TELLS ME WHAT TO DO IN MY REALM."

"You…you murderer!" Celestia barked hoarsely, glaring at him from beneath her wilted mane, "You've killed innocent ponies and for what?"

"NOTHING I DO IS WITHOUT PURPOSE, CELESTIA. EQUESTRIA WILL SOON REMEMBER THE FEAR OF DEATH." He crept closer to Celestia, lowering his head to look into her eyes. Celestia stared defiantly into the Reaper's face. The Celestia sprawled on the ground was not the same Celestia who'd entered the abyss. Her bubble shield had broken. Even her natural ambient light was beginning to fade. Wrinkles lined the Princess's once youthful face and skin sagged on her knees. The colors in her mane had faded almost entirely now. The Celestia on the ground now was but a grey husk of her former self, aged to the point of being unrecognizable, "AS FOR YOU, PERHAPS YOU WILL BE THE FIRST TO LEARN THIS LESSON. NO GIFT I'VE GIVEN CANNOT BE TAKEN AWAY, CELESTIA. HOW DOES IT FEEL TO AGE LIKE EVERYPONY ELSE?"

"You're a monster." Celestia breathed, her voice wheezy with age, "You're going to tear Equestria apart."

"ENOUGH." Death turned his back on the Princess. Tendrils of darkness leapt up from the ground, wrapping themselves around Celestia's legs and wings. The princess let out a cry, thrashing helplessly. Slowly, the tentacles began pulling her into the ground.

Twilight let out a shriek. "Pinwheel, do something!"

Pinwheel's body reacted before she even had time to think. She lurched forward, releasing her friend, and galloped head on into the abyss. Her hooves stuck to the ground, just like before, but she pressed forward anyway. Reaching the princess, she tore into the tendrils, ripping them off with her teeth. Pinwheel clamped her jaws down on Celestia's good wing and, not caring about the taste of blood in her mouth, began trying to tug the Princess free.

Death stared, too stunned to move. "PIN…" He muttered, "PINWHEEL…?"

Pinwheel jerked hard on Celestia's wing, pulling with all her might. Even so, the Princess continued to sink, letting out shrill cries as her face began to slip below the surface. Pinwheel gave a final, hard tug before letting go. "Pale Hoof!" Pinwheel screamed, her voice cracking, "Let her go! Let her go RIGHT NOW!"

Death hesitated a moment. Then, Celestia began to rise back up out of the ground. The Princess gasped for air, tears dribbling off the end of her muzzle. "PINWHEEL, I…" Death began. Pinwheel held up a hoof to silence him.

"I don't want to hear it!" She shouted, "If you…if you don't fix everything right now, I'll never speak to you again! I swear it!"

"PINWHEEL…"

Pinwheel stomped her hooves. "Now! Fix the Princess, fix those ponies, or we're finished!"

Death looked around. The blade of his scythe glowed and, one by one, the clouds of souls began to vanish. The screaming and howling of the ghosts faded, plunging the realm back into deathly silence. Last of all, Pale Hoof lowered his scythe. He crossed over to Celestia, touching his muzzle to hers. The Princess stared up at him, barely able to lift her head. Gently, he breathed on her. Celestia's skin tightened, her wrinkles vanishing. Color rushed back into her mane, which lifted weightlessly off the ground. Fresh feathers grew over her burnt wing. Slowly, the Princess rose to her feet, her legs wobbling. Taking a deep breath, the Princess looked Death in the eye.

"What you've done here is unforgivable." Celestia whispered.

"SAVE THE LECTURE, CELESTIA."

"You're right. I'll let Pinwheel handle that one." Celestia answered, "But I will tell you this. I never want to see you in Equestria again. You're nothing but a danger in the mortal world. This incident has more than proven that to me."

"YOU THINK YOU CAN STOP ME?"

"I do. Do not forget, I have the Elements on my side." With that, Celestia stepped back through the portal. Twilight rushed to her mentor's side, sobbing openly into the Princess's white coat. The Princess stroked Twilight's mane, nodding to Pinwheel as she lead the weeping unicorn out of the hallway. Pinwheel turned back to Death. He hadn't moved an inch after Celestia said the word 'Elements'. For a moment, the two of them regarded each other, neither daring to speak. He lowered his head, staring at the floor rather than meeting her eyes.

Pinwheel cleared her throat. "You want to explain your little, uh, freak out there, Chuckles?"

Death was silent. He scuffed his hoof against the ground. "YOU OUGHT TO LEAVE BEFORE THE AGING CURSE BEGINS AFFECTING YOU AGAIN. I CAN ONLY PROTECT YOU FROM IT FOR SO LONG."

"Oh, Celestia forbid the curse hurts me. You were just fine with letting it sap the Princess." Pinwheel glared at him over the rims of her glasses, "What were you even thinking? Princess Celestia controls the sun itself! Who would start the sunrise if she died?"

"I WAS NOT…"

"Right, you weren't. You weren't thinking at all." Pinwheel turned, pacing back and forth. The sticky ground made it difficult to walk, but she couldn't force herself to stay still, "All those ponies. All that damage. You were willing to plunge Equestria into eternal darkness and for what, Pale Hoof? For what? Because you were saddle sore over a few ponies acting rude to you?"

Death lowered his head. "THAT WAS…I DO NOT THINK THAT…" He struggled to find words, "PINWHEEL, I DO NOT THINK YOU UNDERSTAND…"

"I understand. You want to be Mr. Big and Scary, right? You want ponies to flee at the sight of you." Pinwheel finished, "I didn't even realize that until tonight. Here I was, pushing you to make friends, trying to get the ponies of Ponyville to accept you. I thought that was what you wanted, but I guess I was wrong. Really wrong."

"THE OPINIONS OF MORTAL PONIES HAVE NEVER MATTERED TO ME. THEY LIVE AND DIE SO QUICKLY, IT IS AS THOUGH THEY NEVER EVEN EXISTED TO BEGIN WITH."

"So, what? You did all that stuff – going to school, helping out with Winter Wrap Up, attending the gala – just because I wanted you to?"

"YES."

Pinwheel frowned at him. "You keep saying that mortals don't matter, that they live and die too fast for you to care, but…I'm mortal. Those ponies you killed were just like me. They had lives and families, friends and job. You protect me from curses and resurrect me whenever I have an accident, but you're willing to kill thousands of ponies just like me so you can make a statement." She replied, "You do things because I ask you, you care about my opinion, but I'm still nothing but a mortal pony."

"THAT IS A LIE. YOU ARE DIFFERENT."

Pinwheel covered her face with her hoof, letting out an angry sigh. "No, I'm not! That's the point, Pale Hoof! I'm just a pony! I'm not powerful like Twilight. I can't fly like Rainbow Dash. But just because I'm mortal doesn't make me worthless! Those ponies you killed were all like me. They all deserve to live their lives, but you…you sacrificed them for the sake of your ego! I can't forgive that, Pale Hoof! You can't just treat mortals like numbers!" Hot tears began streaming down Pinwheel's cheeks. Her glasses fogged up. Delicately balancing her glasses on her hoof, Pinwheel wiped the lenses on her pelt, "If I'm the only mortal you care about, it's no wonder you don't fit in. Everypony has an important life, just like mine."

"I…DO NOT UNDERSTAND."

Pinwheel gazed up at him. He watched her, head slightly tilted. She couldn't read his expression, for he had no face to read. In his skeleton form, he didn't even have ears. Pinwheel could barely stand to look at him. Wiping the tears away with her hoof, she squeezed her eyes shut. "That's why…" She began, chest hitching, "That's why it's better if you don't come back. If I'm the only mortal you care about, then there's nothing stopping something like this from happening again."

"THEN…YOU AGREE WITH CELESTIA."

"Yes."

"YOU ARE LEAVING ME."

"I don't see any other option. You can't come to Equestria and I can't come visit you. If I stay here too long, even with your protection, I'll age and die."

"THERE ARE OTHER OPTIONS. I COULD MAKE YOU IMMORTAL. WE COULD LIVE HERE TOGETHER. I CAN GIVE YOU ANYTHING YOU WANT HERE." Pale Hoof turned to the side, waving his hoof to demonstrate. Black pinwheels, formed from the void itself, sprung up like flowers from the ground. They spun, rattling just like real pinwheels. With another wave of his hoof, Pale Hoof dismissed them. They sank back into the earth, "SEE?"

Pinwheel shook her head. "I'm not like Celestia. I don't control the sun or the moon or anything important like that. I'm not even magic. Giving me immortality would be breaking the rules."

"YOU ARE CORRECT…" Pale Hoof stood silent after his response. After the pause he began to open his mouth as if to say more, but stopped himself.

"It just…" Pinwheel sighed, "It's just not going to work." Gazing at Pale Hoof sadly, Pinwheel turned and walked back toward the portal. She gazed back at him one last time before shutting the door.


-End Part 2-

"Danse Macabre"

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