• 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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Interlude

INTERLUDE

The Birth of Pale Hoof


Pinwheel closed the door behind her. Pale Hoof stared after the little blue mare, watching her as she closed the portal. The door clicked shut and faded into the darkness, as if it had never existed. All around him, the empty void stretched in silence. No voices or movement stirred the darkness. He stood all alone on the tiny island of light generated by his glowing bones. He remained still, staring at the spot where the door had been. Finally, after what felt like lifetimes, a small presence stirred beside him.

Thunderhead phased into existence, his dark purple body giving off a slight glow. “H-hey , boss…” Thunderhead began tentatively, taking a step toward the Reaper, “You all right, boss?” Philomel phased in slightly behind him, peering nervously over his shoulder.

“We saw what happened.” Philomel muttered, staring pointedly at the ground. Death turned to look at them, his ancient neck creaking. Philomel let out a squeak of fear, ducking behind Thunderhead.

THEN THERE IS NOTHING TO DISCUSS.” Pale Hoof answered. Thunderhead frowned.

“But, boss…you about near killed a princess. Not to mention your marefriend broke up with you.” Thunderhead glanced to the side, rubbing his chin in thought, “Dang, breaking up with Death. Pinwheel’s got some stones, doesn’t she?”

I DO NOT WISH TO DISCUSS IT.

“Well, shoot. You know you can talk to us, boss.” Thunderhead continued, “We won’t tell anyone. Not really much to tell anyway. Gossip circles are terrible in Heaven.”

LEAVE ME BE.

Philomel poked Thunderhead’s flank. “Um…we should probably get going…” Thunderhead waved her away.

“I’m just sayin’, if you need a listenin’ ear, boss, I’m here for you. I remember when my first marefriend broke up with me. Shoot, I cried for days. We were only together for a week, but what a week it was…” Thunderhead trailed off, jabbering on and on about his breakup. Pale Hoof let out a low growl, but even that slipped Thunderhead’s notice. Letting out a bone-shattering roar, Pale Hoof whirled around to face Thunderhead, his cape flaring out behind him.

I SAID ‘LEAVE ME BE!’”

Thunderhead wilted instantly, his eyes widening and his pupils shrinking to dots. Quickly, the pegasus scurried backward. “Of course, boss. Sorry, boss. Didn’t mean to bother you, boss.” He turned sharply toward Philomel, “Let’s split, Phil.” Taking one final look at Pale Hoof, the two of them vanished. Finally alone, Pale Hoof sank down on his haunches. His shadowy cloak pooled on the ground around him.

PINWHEEL…” He breathed. His voice echoed in the darkness. Pinwheel…Pinwheel…Pinwheel…The word grew quieter and quieter as it traveled further and further away.

Shaking his head, he slowly rose back to his feet. The silence pressed heavily against his body. She was gone. Nothing stopped him from simply reopening the portal and going to see her, but he could not force himself. Celestia’s decree was one thing – Celestia had no power over him, so it was foolish of her even to try to order him around. But Pinwheel’s word was something else entirely. ‘It’s not going to work.’ Those words rattled around inside his skull like an angry bee.

Of course she would listen to her Princess. The ponies of Equestria were nothing if not devoted. It made Pale Hoof grind his teeth in frustration.

He and Celestia had been friends once, centuries ago. It was a time so faint now in his memory that he could only recall scraps of it. Vaguely, he could picture it. Three foals playing in a palace garden – one white, one blue, one grey – none of them really knowing who they were or what they would become.


“Watch this!” The filly who would be Celestia spun in a small circle. Crouching down, she scrunched her face up in concentration. A gentle gold aura surrounded her horn. Overhead, the sun flared brightly. Everypony in the courtyard shielded their eyes. Luna, barely a toddler, laughed and clapped her hooves. Celestia puffed her chest out in pride. Above her, the sun’s harsh glow dimmed. A grey alicorn colt, not much older than Celestia, nodded in approval. His green eyes shone with glee beneath his choppy black mane. None of the foals had their marks yet. Luna stumbled to her feet, beaming.

“Watch…watch dis!” The tiny foal bumbled. She screwed up her face in concentration, her whole body straining with the effort of the spell. Her horn glowed. Overhead, the sky turned orange, then pink, then a deep blue. The grey alicorn clapped again, grinning at the tiny filly.

“Mine’s better!” Celestia insisted. With another wave of her horn, the sun rose back into the sky, taking its place directly overhead. The two fillies laughed, rolling over in the cool grass. The courtyard they played in was enclosed on all four sides. A portico ran along the sides of the courtyard, creating a shaded walkway for passersby. The flowerbeds in the courtyard flourished, overflowing with multicolored blossoms. A single, knotted willow tree stood in the center of the courtyard, its frills whispering gently in the wind.

Celestia hopped back to her feet, shaking the grass clippings out of her baby pink mane. She bounced up to the grey alicorn colt, her violet eyes alight with curiosity. “So, what can you do?” She asked eagerly, “Do ya know any spells? Huh?”

The grey alicorn blushed. “I…I don’t know.”

Celestia pouted. “You gotta know somethin’!”

“I haven’t ever tried…”

“Celly, come play wif me!” Luna whined, toddling over to her older sister. Celestia caught Luna in her hooves, cradling the tiny pony. Grinning, Celestia lowered herself down and let Luna climb up on her back. The two ponies romped through the courtyard, weaving in and out of the willow fronds. Luna cheered, clinging to her sister’s mane. The grey alicorn watched with a distant smile. The two sisters dove, laughing, into the shade of the willow, but then fell silent. Frowning, the grey alicorn ducked beneath the willow.

Celestia and Luna stood still just inside the willow fronds. There, on the grass beneath them, lay a small sparrow. Kneeling down, Celestia poked the tiny bird with her hoof. No response. The creature lay stiff and unmoving. Looking up at the grey alicorn, Celestia let out a thin cry. His frown deepened.

“What’s wrong?” He asked.

“It’s dead.” Celestia answered, gazing down at the little bird, “It should be singing and flying, not lying on the ground!”

The grey alicorn approached the bird, nudging it with his muzzle. The sight of the corpse stirred something in his chest, an alien, electric feeling. Glancing up at Celestia, the grey alicorn smiled. “I can fix it.” He reassured her. Celestia nodded, still frowning. Taking a deep breath, the grey alicorn reached down inside his chest, latching onto that sudden electricity quivering within him. Green arcs of lightning coiled around his horn. Leaning down, he touched the tip of his horn to the body of the bird. Lightning sparked all across the bird’s tiny body. Celestia leaned in, eyes widening.

The bird’s black eyes flicked open. It hopped back to its feet, tweeting as though nothing had happened. Spreading its wings, the sparrow fluttered onto one of the low hanging tree branches. Celestia’s face broke into a wide grin. “That’s a good spell, Pale Hoof!”


Yes, he could recall it now. The sunlit courtyard in the Everfree Forest, the ancient palace with its dark stone walls and column-lined porticos. Letting out a low moan, he shook his head. Those memories were more than a thousand years old now. The idea that he’d ever been anything but this, a skeleton in the dark, was almost absurd. After all, he was Death and Death had existed since life took its first wavering steps. If he had anything in his skull, the memories would have made it ache.

He, Celestia, and Luna never knew who their parents were. All they knew was that Celestia and Luna were sisters. Pale Hoof was not related to them, though he shared the characteristic wings and horn. The rulers of the time, three representatives of each pony race (Commander Hurricane, Princess Platinum, and Chancellor Puddinghead – yes, he could recall their names now), kept them sealed off in a wing of the palace in the Everfree forest. They saw no other ponies besides the servants and their magic tutor. However, their magic tutor changed fairly often. Their teachers often quit after seeing the raw power three young alicorns could generate. The servants avoided eye contact with them, performing their duties robotically, never speaking to the three foals. Thus, they had only each other for company.

Through keyholes and cracked doors, they observed the lives of the Equestrian royalty. In the throne room stood three thrones, each marked with the symbol of one of the pony races. Commander Hurricane, Princess Platinum, and Chancellor Puddinghead shared the position as ruler, consulting each other and their advisors on every decision. Ponies in splendid gowns and suits flocked to the palace, eager to mingle and swap stories with the illustrious founders of Equestria. The three alicorn foals, forbidden to go out in public, watched the balls secretly from beneath tables and behind balustrades. It did not take them long to figure out what made them different from the other ponies. Ponies often had wings or horns, but not both together. Officials quickly hushed any whispers of the word ‘alicorn’. As far as anyone knew, no alicorns had been born in Equestria yet.

Through rumors and scraps of newspaper, they learned that alicorns were being born across the globe. Some nations celebrated the birth of an alicorn foal. Others, fearing the unnatural strength of alicorn magic, sealed them away or worse. The staff restricted them to their own specific wing of the palace, but they were never mistreated. Nopony spoke harshly to them (except when they were caught sneaking around) and, more often than not, they were left to their own devices. Of course there were rules – don’t bother the staff, don’t fly up on the rooftops, don’t break anything – but they were the kind of rules any guardian would give a filly or colt.

They kept growing, though, and their burgeoning power forced the rulers to acknowledge them.


Pale Hoof stood beside Luna and Celestia before the trio of rulers. Princess Platinum, Commander Hurricane, and Chancellor Puddinghead all sat upon their respective thrones, eyeing the three alicorns standing before them. Three for three. Pale Hoof could picture them the way they were when he first came to the palace – stately, proud, youthful, and full of hope for their new nation. Pale Hoof had only been a tiny colt then, shaking and terrified before the three powerful ponies. But while he’d grown taller and stronger, the three rulers had shriveled. They did not sit on their thrones – they sagged. Wrinkles pulled at their hides. Their faces looked like skulls with dark circles under their tired eyes.

Princess Platinum spoke first. She coughed delicately into her hoof. Her graying mane was pinned up with at least half a dozen diamond barrettes. A sumptuous red velvet cloak, lined with fur and beading, pooled around her creaky, old hips. “We summoned you three here today for a reason.” She began, her voice moist and wheezy, “You three ponies were born with great gifts and the time has come to put those gifts to use.”

“Exactly!” Commander Hurricane boomed, his voice gravelly and strong despite his age. He glinted in heavy Pegasi armor, his face half-hidden by his helmet. Pale Hoof could still see the taut muscles beneath his sagging skin, “We’ve been keeping an eye on you three ever since you came here. For the longest time, none of us knew what to do with you. But thanks to Clover the Clever and Smart Cookie, we’ve figured out a way to handle your…uh…”

“Gifts.” Princess Platinum finished.

Commander Hurricane grunted. “Gifts, right.”

Chancellor Puddinghead cleared her throat. “All this time, we’ve been thinking inside the chimney. We need to think outside the fireplace! Outside the whole house, even!” The other two leaders stared at the Chancellor, who grinned, “It’s time for you silly fillies to start serving Equestria. Clover?” Clover the Clever stepped forward from her position beside Princess Platinum’s throne. Smiling, she bowed her head to the three alicorns.

“If what your magic teacher’s told me is correct,” Clover began, “You three could very well be the most powerful magicians in all of Equestria. We need that kind of power on our side.”

“Just get on with it, Clover.” Commander Hurricane growled. Clover glowered at him, but continued.

“As you three know, it takes an immense amount of magic to raise and lower the sun every day. We need whole teams of unicorns just to accomplish it. The Daylight and Evening teams are so exhausted after each sunrise and sunset that they can barely walk. And it’s only getting harder.” Clover sighed, gazing down at the marble floor, “Celestia, Luna…your tutor told me that you two show a great aptitude for manipulating light and shadow. If you could aid the unicorns in creating dusk and dawn, it would take a lot of strain off our magicians.”

Celestia stared at the unicorn, eyes wide. Timidly, she glanced down at Luna. Luna, who only reached Celestia’s shoulder, peered up at her sister. Nervously, Celestia shuffled her hooves. “We…we’ll do our best.” The white alicorn replied uncertainly, “But…I’ve never brought about daylight before. And Luna’s younger than I am…How will she be able to control the night?”

“You won’t have to do it alone.” Clover reassured them, “Our Daylight and Evening teams will be there to back you up.”

Luna nuzzled her big sister, “This might help us get our cutie marks, sister.” The small, blue alicorn whispered. Celestia smiled nervously.

Pale Hoof stared at them, frowning. Finally, he took a step forward. “And what about me?” He asked, gazing down at Clover. Clover glanced sideways, rubbing her neck in embarrassment.

“Well, you see, Pale Hoof…” She began, “Your magic teacher tells me you’re very powerful, but…well, she says you don’t really have an aptitude for light manipulation. You can try to help if you wish…”

“I have plenty of spells. Powerful spells.” Pale Hoof answered, “I can offer more than just helping to change night to day.”

Princess Platinum narrowed her eyes at him. “Is that so? And just what are these powerful spells, young man? The magic tutor we hired told us he didn’t teach you three any advanced magic.”

“I am not a fool. I can teach myself.” Pale Hoof answered. Princess Platinum drew back, eyes widened at his boldness. Pale Hoof thought for a moment, going over all the spells he knew. One stood out very vividly in his memory – that one sunny afternoon where, as a filly, he’d brought a sparrow back to life, “I know spells that can bring the dead back to life. Not just ponies. Animals too.”

Clover’s eyes widened. “That’s…that’s impossible, though. Life magic is too difficult for just one pony to perform. And nopony’s ever brought somepony back from the dead. My master, Starwswirl, tried, but even he wasn’t powerful enough to do it.”

“I was able to do it when I was just a foal.”

“Lies.” Commander Hurricane spat, “Starswirl was the best magician in Equestria. You may be an alicorn, but you have not received his level of magical training.”


“Peace, Commander.” Princess Platinum shot a glare at the pegasus. Commander Hurricane grumbled, but did not respond, “It does seem a little…hrm…improbable that you would be able to perform that level of magic, Pale Hoof. If our best magicians weren’t able to bring something back from the dead, what makes you think you can?”

“I’ve done it. Celestia and Luna can vouch for me.” He gestured to the two alicorn sisters. Celestia lowered her head, letting her pink mane fall in front of her face. The leaders eyed them.

“Is this true?” Commander Hurricane growled.

Celestia shuffled her hooves, “I..I don’t know. I remember him bringing a sparrow back to life, but it was a long time ago. I was only a filly.”

“I understand. Fillies are prone to imagining things.” The Princess replied.

Pale Hoof stamped his feet on the tile. “Bring me something, then. Anything! I’ll make skeleton dance if I have to!”

“Hold your tongue, colt!” Commander Hurricane spat, “Very well. Bring the colt something to test his supposed magic on. Clover?” He gestured to the unicorn. Clover glanced around, frowning. Catching sight of a wilting houseplant in the corner of the room, she cantered over to the pot, pushing it out from the corner and toward Pale Hoof. The palace staff had seemingly forgotten the fern, as it stood limply in the ornate vase, fronds drooping sadly. The tips of its fronds were turning a crusty brown. Pale Hoof frowned at the plant. Commander Hurricane squinted at him from atop his throne, “Well?”

“It can’t be a plant. It has to…” Pale Hoof paused, trying to think of the word, “That is, plants don’t have…”

Commander Hurricane rolled his eyes. “I’ve heard enough, then. Celestia, Luna, you heard Clover. Starting tomorrow, you’ll be helping raise and lower the sun. As for you…” He stared pointedly at Pale Hoof, “I’d start working on your attitude.” With a grunt, Commander Hurricane hopped off of his throne and trotted toward the door.

The other two leaders followed. Princess Platinum beckoned to Clover. “Come along now, Clover.”

Pale Hoof lurched forward. “Wait! I can do it! It just has to have a soul! I can’t bring back something with no soul!” He cried out, but the leaders were already gone. He sighed, lowering his head. Gently, Celestia placed a hoof on his shoulder, “Plants don’t have souls…”

“It’s all right.” Celestia comforted, offering him a smile. Pale Hoof did not smile back, “I’m sure they’ll find something for you to do.”

Pale Hoof glared at her. “Why didn’t you vouch for me? You’ve seen me do it.”

Celestia huffed. “Well…it was a long time ago! And it could have been a one time thing.” She answered, removing her hoof, “Besides…Commander Hurricane would have put you to the test anyway.”

“You came away clean while I made a fool of myself.” Pale Hoof growled. Celestia frowned deeply.

“I hardly think that’s my fault! I…” Celestia paused midsentence when Luna tugged on her tail. She glanced back at her little sister.

“I think we ought to leave Pale Hoof alone, big sister.” Luna suggested. Celestia let out a sigh, then turned back to Pale Hoof.

“Talk to me again when you’re not in such a bad mood.” Head held high, she strutted past him. Luna made to follow her, smiling tentatively at Pale Hoof.

“I believe in you.” The small, blue alicorn mouthed as she passed, trailing after her big sister. Celestia slammed the door behind them. Pale Hoof let out a low growl. Rearing back, he smashed the pot with his front hooves.


As timid as Celestia had been when Clover first asked her, she raised the sun the next morning as though she’d been doing it every day of her life. The unicorns applauded and cheered for her, slapped her on the back, praised her for her talent. As luck would have it, that was the day she earned her cutie mark. A stylized sun symbol glowed on her thigh. Pale Hoof nodded approvingly when she showed him, but withheld any other praise. Even as a filly, Celestia had shown more than enough power to move the sun across the sky. She’d simply lost her confidence as she’d grown up. Luna, likewise, manipulated the moon and stars with incredible ease.

Pale Hoof stood back and watched. With Luna and Celestia now single hoofedly raising the sun and moon, Equestria was now well aware of its alicorn residents. Of the three alicorns that lived in Equestria, Pale Hoof was the only one without a cutie mark.

While Equestrian society adopted and praised the two sisters, they left the strange, grey-coated alicorn in the dust. The sisters were a utility after all – no longer would unicorns have to devote their resources to raising and lowering the sun. Pale Hoof, on the other hand, was simply a burden. He was just as powerful as the sisters when it came to magic, but he had no special talent to devote to the Equestrian cause. He could feel power inside him, whispering deep, secret spells, but he had no idea where that power came from or even if they worked.

The years rolled on. Pale Hoof watched as the leaders of Equestrian continued to age. No amount of make up or jewelry could hide the deep wrinkles on Princess Platinum’s face. Milky cataracts formed over Commander Hurricane’s eyes. Chancellor Puddinghead, once bouncy and exuberant, now had to shuffle slowly with a cane. Only when Commander Hurricane crashed into a tower during an evening air patrol did the ponies of Equestria realize that their leaders were on their way out.


They placed Commander Hurricane in a coffin made out of cloud. Any normal pony would fall right through it, but even in death, Commander Hurricane was light as a feather. He wore his finest armor, the metal polished to a mirror-like sheen, with the Equestrian flag held in his front hooves. Celestia, Luna, and Pale Hoof stood to the side as the funeral guests filed past his coffin. At the sight of her friend and co-ruler in the coffin, Princess Platinum burst into tears. Chancellor Puddinghead kept one hoof around the Princess’s shoulder the entire time, quietly whispering her encouragements. When all the guests had at last paid their respects, Puddinghead lead her out of the room with the other guests. Only the three alicorns were left. Slowly, Celestia, Luna, and Pale Hoof approached the coffin.

“I can’t believe this happened.” Celestia said, peered down at the dead Commander, “I thought Commander Hurricane would live forever. He was the strongest pegasus I knew…”

“He would have if he’d let me use my spells. The stubborn old fool.” Pale Hoof growled, glaring down at Commander Hurricane. Celestia shot him a nasty look.

“That’s a horrible thing to say. He was a great stallion.” She snorted. Pale Hoof clenched his teeth, refusing to reply.

“What will they do now, big sister?” Luna asked timidly, peering over the side of the coffin.

Celestia shook her head. “I don’t know, Luna. I suppose the pegasi will simply have to elect a new leader.” She turned, beckoning to Luna, “Come on, now. I don’t want to hang around in here with a dead body.” Luna trailed after her sister as she turned to leave. Just before exiting the room, she glanced back at Pale Hoof, “Are you coming?”

“No.”

“Suit yourself.”

Pale Hoof heard the door close behind him. Slowly, he looked up. They’d held the funeral in the palace’s entrance hall, on the same dais where the three thrones stood. Marble columns lined the hall, supporting the high vaulted roof. Now that the guests were gone, the hall languished in silence. Pale Hoof’s hoof beats echoed hollowly off the high walls. Turning, he gazed down the hall. Between the rows of wooden chairs set up for the funeral, he could make out the shape of a single pony half-hidden behind a column. “Hello?” The pony jerked, quickly ducking behind the column. Pale Hoof stepped off the dais, “I saw you. Come out!”

Slowly, the pony crept out from behind the column. Even from his distance, Pale Hoof could see there was something wrong with him. He walked with a limp, favoring his front right leg. He supported his head with his shoulder. His neck flopped as he walked, as though it had no bones in it at all. Dust and bits of gravel clung to his mane. He shed wing feathers with every step, but the feathers faded into nothingness as soon as they touched the ground. Pale Hoof stared.

“I…didn’t know anypony…could see me.” The injured pony gurgled, despite his clearly broken neck. Pale Hoof knew the voice. It was none other than Commander Hurricane. Twisting around, Pale Hoof looked at the coffin. The Commander still lay there in his armor, unmoving.

“Commander Hurricane?” Pale Hoof whispered, taking a few tentative steps forward.

The Commander’s eyes rolled up toward the alicorn. “I should have figured. You alicorns have all sorts of powers we common ponies don’t…” He coughed, letting loose a cloud of dust, “The two sisters, though…they didn’t notice me, did they?”

“No, Commander.”

“Then it’s just you. Always the odd one out.” The Commander let out a wheezy laugh. He glanced around, surveying the number of chairs, “I never thought I’d attend my own funeral.”

Pale Hoof frowned at the Commander. Squinting, he could make out the floor tiles through the Commander’s pale, misshapen body. “So…you’re some kind of ghost?”

“It’s that obvious, eh.”

Pale Hoof took a few steps closer to the specter. “You came back to attend your own funeral?”

The Commander’s eyes flicked back toward Pale Hoof. Slowly, he shuffled around. “As long as I’m here, I figured ‘why not?’”

“As long as you’re here? I would have thought you’d be in a hurry to move on.”

The Commander chuckled again. “You would think that, wouldn’t you? And you’d be right. But, unfortunately, dying isn’t as easy as it seems.”

“It’s not?”

Commander Hurricane’s expression changed. His eyes flickered downward, the corners of his mouth twitching. He scuffed a hoof against the marble floor. “We all know how it’s supposed to go. You do something stupid, you black out, and then you wake up in a beautiful paradise. I woke up to see myself falling from 150 feet in the air with my neck twisted in the wrong direction.”

“It’s still twisted in the wrong direction.”

“Observant one, you.” Commander Hurricane huffed. Suddenly, his expression softened. He gazed at the floor, “Truth be told, I’m not sure there is a beautiful paradise. Or even another side. Maybe it’s just like this. Wandering around forever and ever.”

Something innate stirred inside Pale Hoof. A shudder rippled up his spine. “Don’t say that.”

“Why shouldn’t I?”

“You’re wrong.”

“And how would you know? You ever been dead before?”

Pale Hoof lowered his eyes. “No. But I know. I feel it.” He answered finally, lifting his head, “And I can see you when nopony else can. Doesn’t that prove something?”

Commander Hurricane shrugged. “How should I know? You alicorns are strange.”

“Let me help you.” Pale Hoof insisted. Commander Hurricane rolled his eyes, grumbling something unintelligible. Even so, he nodded toward Pale Hoof. Pale Hoof crossed the floor over to the translucent commander. A spell began to manifest in his head. He could feel it in his skull, a tight knot of pressure between his eyes. Green sparks danced around his horn. His body knew what to do before his brain did. Rearing back, he made a great slashing motion with his horn. A ripping sound echoed through the main hall. Commander Hurricane stumbled backward, shielding his eyes with a hoof. When the bright green sparks faded, there, where Pale Hoof’s horn cut across the air, was a gash. It was as though someone took a pair of scissors to reality itself, ripping open a hole into its dark underside. Beyond the portal, there was nothing but blackness. Commander Hurricane gawped.

“No way in hell I’m going in there.” Commander Hurricane said, staring into the abyss. A deep thrumming pulsed within the portal. Tentatively, Pale Hoof lifted a hoof and slipped it through the crack. Cold. Immediately, his hoof went numb. Pale Hoof drew back. “Is…is that it? Just darkness?”

“No.” Pale Hoof replied, surprised by the surety of his words. Something within him seemed to know, even if he consciously didn’t.

The thrumming seemed to grow louder, vibrating in his ears. The infinite darkness beckoned. Glancing around, Pale Hoof ducked forward into the portal. The coldness seeped into his skin, causing his teeth to chatter. Commander Hurricane hesitated, then followed. Immediately, the portal sealed shut behind them, leaving them in complete darkness. Hurricane let out a yelp, sticking close to Pale Hoof’s side. The commander emitted a mysterious light, casting a small sphere of illumination around the two ponies. Shivering, Pale Hoof looked around. It was as though he were standing in a massive cave underground. Not even the tiniest light penetrated the all encompassing blackness.

He lifted a hoof, feeling the ground beneath him. The ground was solid, if a bit sticky. One hoof at a time, he made his way deeper into the darkness. Commander Hurricane followed in his steps, never more than an inch behind. The void was featureless – there were no sounds or movements other than the empty echo of his hoofbeats. It didn’t look anything like the paradise the ponies described in church. No endless fields of grass, no glinting rainbow waterfalls – nothing at all.

“What…what is this place?” Commander Hurricane whispered. Pale Hoof turned to look back at him. As they’d been walking through the darkness, Commander Hurricane’s injuries had healed. His neck stood tall and straight and his wings were no longer crooked and ruffled. Pale Hoof paused.

“Commander. Your injuries.”

The Commander looked down at himself, eyes wide. He cracked his neck and stretched his wings. Spreading them out, he smiled at his pristine feathers. “Heh!” He chuckled, flapping his wings, “All healed! What do you know? Maybe this place isn’t so bad after all! If only I knew what this place was…” The Commander frowned into the darkness, a wrinkle forming between his eyes.

“The Realm of the Dead.” Pale Hoof answered. Again, the surety of his words surprised him. The knowledge seemed to spring forth unbidden to his lips, as though it were a fact he’d known all his life – as sure as his name.

The Commander squinted at him. “And just how do you know this?”

“Because…” Pale Hoof stepped away from the glowing Commander, venturing uncertainly into the darkness, “I feel like I belong here.”

Realization hit him like a pegasus flying at full speed. Pale Hoof doubled over, clutching his head between his hooves. Memories flooded his mind – snapshots from the very beginning of Equestria. He saw lava bubbling hot and red beneath ocean waves. He saw landmasses cooling as they surfaced out of the water. He saw the first tiny specks of life crawling up out of the surf. He saw them live and he saw them die. And when they died, they came here. But those were tiny beings with tiny souls, unable to make judgments, unworthy of paradise. The memories flashed forward, cycling through the ancestors of ponykind. Small, round-bodied striped creatures with short manes and tails, growing taller and elongated over millions of years. Becoming ponies. These creatures, they all died and their souls were forced to wander. They wanted to come here. They wanted resolution. They wanted judgment – judgment he could provide. The memories came to a screeching halt as he hit the present. Pale Hoof stared into the darkness, his brain aching. Commander Hurricane peered at him, eyes narrowed to slits.

“You okay, kid?” He asked. Pale Hoof stood up, just now realizing he’d collapsed.

“I belong here!” Pale Hoof repeated with renewed vigor, “I belong here!”

Commander Hurricane frowned at him. “Kid…if this is really the—what did you call it?—the ‘Realm of the Dead’, then nopony belongs here. Except the dead ones.”

“No, you don’t understand. I’m here to guide ponies like you. To show them where they go after death.” Pale Hoof grinned widely, looking around at the infinite blackness. All of a sudden, the void seemed unspeakably beautiful. Dim colors, strains of magic, floated free in the abyss. He had to keep himself from laughing. Commander Hurricane raised an eyebrow.

“Are you off your rocker? Showing ponies where they go after death? That would make you some kind of…”

“Reaper!” Pale Hoof finished, “I’m a Reaper!”

“No, you’re just crazy.” The Commander rolled his eyes. Pale Hoof opened his mouth to reply, but a sudden burning sensation on his thigh stopped him. He twisted his neck around. A light glowed on his flank. When the light faded, he could see the image of a scythe burned into his skin. Commander Hurricane stared. Cautiously, the Commander stepped around to take a good look at the mark, “You…you can’t be serious.”

“My cutie mark.” Pale Hoof whispered.

“You’re really…that thing you said. A Reaper.”

“I must be.” Pale Hoof answered.

Commander Hurricane shook his head. “That makes no sense, though! Death has been around since the world began. You can’t be the Grim Reaper. How would ponies get to the afterlife if you just showed up now?”

“I don’t know. But I saw it. This realm has gone unattended for millennia. Perhaps there was someone before me, but that pony is gone now.” Pale Hoof whispered, gazing up into the darkness, “But that doesn’t matter because I’m here. I am Death and I will be here to usher ponies into the next world.”

Commander Hurricane gawked at him. “Here? But there’s no food or water…”

“I don’t need those things.”

“You’ve gone loopy on me, kid.”

“On the contrary, I’ve never seen things more clearly in my life.” Pale Hoof turned toward the Commander, “You said you wanted to see Paradise, Commander. You will be the first soul I reap.” Pale Hoof took a step toward the Commander. The Commander fell back on his rump, scooting away from the approaching alicorn.

“H-hold on now, kid…Let’s not get carried away with this Reaper stuff.”

“I hope Heaven is everything you dreamed, Commander.” Pale Hoof reared back. With a quick swipe of his horn, the Commander’s soul vanished. An immense feeling of satisfaction washed over Pale Hoof – as though he’d just completed a task he’d been trying his whole life to achieve. Letting out a happy sigh, he sank down to the ground. He could feel the rhythm of the realm pulsing through his body. Soon, this place would be flooded with souls, all hungry to receive their judgment and travel to the next world. Their millennia long wait was over. This was his moment of peace and triumph.

One by one, souls popped into the realm like fireflies lighting up in a summer evening. Creatures that had not been seen for thousands of years emerged from the darkness. Pale Hoof rose back to his feet. His greatest task began now.


Thought there was an enormous backlog of souls, Pale Hoof found he could reap thousands of souls with a single swipe of his horn. Within a few months, he’d caught himself up to the present. The feeling of accomplishing such an immense task filled him with incredible satisfaction. He lingered in the Realm of the Dead for near on a year, waiting breathlessly for the next soul to come in. They came, of course, but in a trickle compared to the enormous flood he reaped at the beginning. Finally, he opted to return to the mortal plane, if only to tell Celestia and Luna that he’d finally found his place.

He came too late, though.

In his absence, an evil slunk out of the Everfree Forest. It crept silent into the Everfree Palace, hiding in the shadows until it saw the chance to strike. Pale Hoof emerged back into the mortal realm just in time to witness the murder of Princess Platinum and Chancellor Puddinghead.


The draconequus lounged across all three thrones, laughing as the two hypnotized leaders dueled each other to death on the floor of the entrance hall. When he twirled his right talon, Princess Platinum did a back flip. The leaders continued dueling in spite of the cracking sounds in their geriatric hips. Celestia and Luna huddled in a corner, clutching each other close. Finally, Princess Platinum drove her saber through Chancellor Puddinghead’s chest cavity. The Chancellor shuddered, then crumpled like a dropped doll. Luna let out a high, thin cry. Celestia pressed her hard against her chest. The draconequus let out deep cackle.

“Come on, you don’t think this is funny?” The draconequus slunk over the tops of the thrones, closing in on the two alicorn sisters, “Too bad I don’t have anyone else for my old pony tournament. You two will do, though.”

“Touch my sister and I’ll…” Celestia began, clutching Luna hard against her chest, “I’ll…I’ll make you regret it! I swear!”

“Ooh, this one has some fight in her!” The draconequus laughed, pinching Celestia’s cheek. Celestia snapped her teeth at him. He let out a delighted snicker, “Let’s make YOU fight next.” He seized hold of her neck, dragging her forcefully out of the corner and toward the floor where Princess Platinum practiced her high kicks. Luna let out another wail, latching onto her sister’s back hoof. The draconequus slung Celestia around like a doll, trying to dislodge Luna as though she were a stubborn burr.

Pale Hoof watched this all through a crack in the door. Seeing Celestia picked up, he shoved the doors open. “Put her down!” He yelled. The draconequus paused, letting Celestia slip out of his talons. Falling to the floor, Celestia scrambled to her feet and, dragging Luna, bolted for the door. The draconequus watched them with mild interest, not lifting a talon to stop them. Slinking forward, he examined Pale Hoof, a frown tugging at his mouth.

“Well, well…I didn’t know there were three of you.” The draconequus snorted in Pale Hoof’s face, blowing his mane back, “But I’m always happy for a new plaything. Even if you’re looking a bit under the weather, Mr. Frowny Face.” He reached out, grabbing a lock of Pale Hoof’s mane. Growling, Pale Hoof jerked his head back, pulling free of the monster’s grip. With a wave of his horn, he shot a bolt of green lightning into the draconequus’s face. The creature stumbled backward, hissing and clutching his wounded face.

Pale Hoof whirled around to face the alicorn sisters. “Run!”

“But, the Princess!” Celestia pointed toward Princess Platinum. Pale Hoof shoved the two sisters through the door.

“Just go!”

Celestia and Luna exchanged glances, but did as they were told. Pale Hoof peeked back at the Draconequus, who was still rubbing his eyes, then chased after them. They fled at full gallop down the hallways, putting as much distance between them and the monster as possible. Finally, they reached the outside. Above, the sky had turned a bubblegum pink. The ground underhoof had gone checkered like a chess board. Pale Hoof paused, frowning as he lifted a hoof to look at the grass. All the trees had turned unnatural shades of pink and blue. Some even floated upside down mid air. In fact, some of the palace’s towers seemed to be floated up there next to the clouds. Pale Hoof blinked.

“What…what happened here?” He gaped. Celestia sighed.

“Discord, that draconequus in there? HE happened.” She replied, “He just appeared one day out of the forest. Next thing we knew, he’d hypnotized half the ponies in court and was having the leaders fight each other to the death.”

“Why didn’t you stop him?”

“We tried. He’s too powerful for us to face by ourselves.” Celestia glared at Pale Hoof, “If you were here, we probably could have taken him! Where have you been? Everyone in the palace thought you’d run away! Chancellor Puddinghead and Princess Platinum were going to stage a nationwide search for you!”

While Celestia was ranting, Luna wandered over to Pale Hoof side. Catching sight of the mark on his flank, she pointed to it. “Look, sister! He has his cutie mark!”

Celestia paused. She stretched her neck to get a good view of the mark. “Is that…a scythe?”

“Yes.”

Celestia’s frown deepened. “What did you do to earn a scythe cutie mark? And furthermore, you look like you’ve been buried underground.” She lifted a hoof, brushing his mane. A few strands of long, black hair fell out, “Your hair’s coming out.”

“What do you mean, I look like I’ve been buried?” Pale Hoof asked, glancing down at himself. The changes in the Realm of the Dead had been subtle – so subtle that Pale Hoof barely noticed them. Still, standing next to two healthy alicorns, he could see the changes his body had gone through. His ribs stuck out in sharp relief on his side. His grey coat was patchy -- long in some places, short in others. His thick, dark mane was now nothing more than a few limp strands of hair. Same for his tail. He’d grown pale in his time in the other realm. His name fit now more than ever. He shook his head, “My looks don’t matter. What matters is that there’s a mad draconequus sitting in the throne room.”

As if on cue, the sound of laughter echoed from within the palace. “Oh, my little pooooonies…” A singsong voice called. Chills ran down Pale Hoof’s spine, “Where aaaaare you?”

“It’s not safe here.” Celestia’s voice dropped to a whisper, “We need to go someplace safe, someplace where we can plan an attack.”

Pale Hoof nodded. “Come with me.” Motioning with his hoof, he lead them deep into the forest. However, no matter how far they went, they could still hear the mad cackling of the draconequus. The world began slowly decaying around them. Squirrels barked like dogs, chunks of ground spontaneously lifted up and floated like balloons into the sky, and the clouds rained down chocolate milk. Finally, reaching a safe clearing where the grass was still partially green, Pale Hoof reached inside himself for the portal spell. It was there, bubbling up in his mind as naturally as a cork bobbing to the top of a glass of water. When he ripped open the portal, the two sisters gasped.

“What is this?” Celestia asked, experimentally sticking her hoof through the portal. She gasped, drawing back, “It’s so cold!”

“It’s the Realm of the Dead.” Pale Hoof answered. Celestia stared at him.

“Realm of the Dead?” She repeated.

“The scythe cutie mark.” Luna offered, “He’s the Grim Reaper.”

Celestia’s eyes widened. “Is this true?”

Pale Hoof ducked his head. “I…I think so. I discovered this realm when I was helping Commander Hurricane move on. This is where I’ve been for the last few months.”

Celestia looked at Luna, then back at Pale Hoof. “Will we be safe if we go in there?”

Pale Hoof thought for a moment. “I don’t know what effect the realm might have on mortal ponies…” He began, “But I have a spell that can extend the lifetime of a pony indefinitely. I don’t think the realm will hurt you if you’re immortal.”

“Immortal?” Celestia looked down, rubbing her chin with a hoof, “I’m not sure. Being immortal sounds...strange.”

“It’s only for now. I can revoke it if need be.”

Celestia nodded, but kept frowning. “Well, if it’s only for now.” Bowing his head, Pale Hoof summoned the spell into his mind. He focused the power into his horn. Green sparks danced all along its length. Finally, the sparks leapt toward Luna and Celestia. The two princesses reared back in fright. The sparks crawled across their skin, the charge sinking into their bodies. Finally, the lights faded. Luna and Celestia peered down at themselves. Celestia bit her bottom lip in thought, “I don’t feel any different…”

A sudden, chilling laughter echoed from the nearby trees. The three alicorns tensed. Pale Hoof jerked his head toward the portal. “No time to talk about it. Hurry.” Celestia took a last look at the corrupted forest before her, then leapt through the portal. Luna followed. Pale Hoof peered around cautiously. He could feel the draconequus’s eyes on him, like burns in his skin. Swiftly, he turned and stepped through the portal, sealing it behind him.


They stayed in the Realm of the Dead for months. Under Discord’s rule, pony souls flooded the realm. Pale Hoof could remember the looks on Celestia and Luna’s faces as they saw him reaping the souls. The open mouths, the shrunken pupils – looks of disgust and horror. They never said anything, but Pale Hoof knew enough about body language to see how they felt. Celestia spent days pacing back and forth, struggling to come up with some solution, some way to save Equestria. Luna tried to console her, but Celestia would have none of it. As more and more ponies crowded the realm of the dead, Celestia grew more and more determined to save Equestria.

It was then that they uncovered the Elements of Harmony. The power of the Elements resonated even in the abyss. Realizing how powerful the artifacts were, Celestia became convinced that they would give her and Luna the focus to overthrow Discord. She began demanding that Pale Hoof send her back to the mortal plane to find them.

He had no other choice but to give into her demands. He could barely manage the strain of all the souls flooding his realm. Celestia pressured him and pressured him until he couldn’t stand it any longer. He couldn’t juggle both Celestia and the excess of dead ponies.

He was not there to see Luna and Celestia seal Discord away. He only noticed when the flood of dying ponies reverted back to a trickle. The souls that did come to him told him of Celestia and Luna’s triumph. As thanks for saving Equestria, the surviving ponies named Celestia and Luna the new rulers of the land. ‘Princesses’, they were called. It was appropriate, Pale Hoof supposed. After all, a princess had ruled Equestria in the past.

Communication between the alicorns dropped off entirely. Pale Hoof kept to his dark, quiet realm while the Princesses ruled on the mortal plane. For years, he heard nothing from them. Centuries passed like this. Pale Hoof heard nothing but praise from the souls who passed through his realm. It was only when the rush of souls resumed that he realized something was wrong.


He entered the mortal realm with a burst of green static. His bony hooves clattered on the marble floor, his long black cloak whispering across the tiles. The portal sealed shut behind him, releasing a rush of cold air into the palace entrance hall. Celestia, who sat poised on the central throne, slowly lifted her head. Her mane had changed colors in the years Pale Hoof had not seen her – the usual pink now blended with pastel blue and green. It rippled magically in the air, moving with her as she lifted her head. A tall crown with a star shaped jewel sat atop her head, supported by her long, white horn. A chill rattled Pale Hoof’s exposed bones. He could feel power radiating from that crown, overwhelming power.

“CELESTIA.” He began. His voice had warped from his time in the Realm of the Dead. It had deepened. He could hear a slight reverberation in his voice.

“Pale Hoof.” Celestia tried to smile, but couldn’t. Her expression fell back into a look of grim dignity, “It’s been a while, friend.”

“ARE THE RUMORS TRUE?” He asked. Celestia cocked her head, frowning at him.

“What rumors?”

“YOU KNOW WHAT I AM TALKING ABOUT. THE RUMORS ABOUT LUNA.” Spirits were often quite talkative when they first entered his realm, eager to discuss the exact details of their death. Although he had not set foot in Equestria for centuries now, he was well aware of the happenings that took place in the country. Fires on the prairie, townships springing up here and there, the construction of a new palace on the mountainside. Pale Hoof could not claim to care about these things. One spirit would tell him all about the wonderful frontier town he’d grown up in. The next spirit would tell him all about how the same frontier town burned to the ground in a lightning storm. Things changed so quickly. He couldn’t be expected to keep track of every rumor that passed through his ears. This rumor, however, was relevant to his interests. For months, no spirit could pass through his realm without telling him the story of Equestria’s mad princess. The demonic mare who raised the moon and steadfastly refused to lower it.

Celestia didn’t speak for a long time. Finally, holding her head high, she looked directly at him. “Yes. The rumors are true.”

Pale Hoof stood stock still. “YOU DID IT, THEN. YOU BANISHED HER.”

“I had no choice.” Celestia answered, “She wouldn’t lower the moon. I tried to reason with her, but she wouldn’t listen. Crops were dying, Pale Hoof. Ponies were dying.”

“YOU THINK I DIDN’T KNOW? I SPOKE TO EVERY SINGLE ONE OF HER VICTIMS.”

“Then you understand why I had to do it.” Celestia gestured to one of the tall windows of the Everfree Palace. Outside, the moon shone bright and full, its once white surface speckled with craters. The craters formed the shape of a unicorn head, “She isn’t dead. I sealed her within the moon, just like we sealed Discord.”

Pale Hoof let out a low growl. “DO YOU EVEN HEAR YOURSELF? DISCORD WAS A MAD DEMON. LUNA WAS YOUR SISTER!”

Celestia’s eyes narrowed. “I did what I had to!”

“YOU DIDN’T HAVE TO BANISH HER! I FEEL THE POWER COMING FROM THAT CROWN, CELESTIA. MORE THAN ENOUGH POWER TO SUBDUE HER. YOU COULD HAVE HELPED HER!”

Celestia rose from her throne. “Don’t you dare criticize me! Where were you when Luna refused to lower the moon? You’ve done nothing but sit in your little realm. I made the choice that made sense at the time. You have no right to lecture me.”

“I WAS NOT THERE. BUT I WILL NOT ACCEPT WHAT YOU’VE DONE.”

Celestia lowered her head, covering her eyes with her hoof. “Is this the only reason you came back? To scold me?”

“SHE WAS YOUR SISTER.”

“Of course she was!” Celestia barked, jerking her hoof away from her face. Twin streams of tears trailed down her cheeks, “Why do you think I waited so long? I let her keep the moon up for weeks. I tried my best! But she wouldn’t listen! How dare you criticize me over something you know nothing about!”

“I DO NOT NEED TO HAVE BEEN HERE TO KNOW THAT WHAT YOU DID WAS WRONG.” Pale Hoof answered coldly, “YOU HAD THE POWER TO SAVE HER AND YET YOU DID NOT.”

“Be quiet!”

“I AM STATING THE FACTS.”

Celestia stormed off the dais, crossing the floor to meet him. Her violet eyes blazed. “You…you have no right to be here and insult me like this. Leave or I shall make you leave.” She growled through gritted teeth. Pale Hoof took a step back. He could feel the power radiating from her tiara. The power was enough to make his bones prickle as though he still had skin. Years in the realm of the dead had caused his flesh to slough off, leaving only yellow bone in its place.

“YOU ARE NOTHING BUT A TYRANT.” Pale Hoof whispered, turning and walking away before she had a chance to respond. Once outside the palace, he ripped open a new portal and slipped back into the familiar comfort of his bleak abyss. The void stood quiet and empty before him – no one had died today. Equestria was a land of plenty where everypony could get healthy food and clean water. Cures came in the form of magic from unicorn healers. Under Celestia and Luna’s rule, ponies lived long, healthy lives.

Lowering his head, Pale Hoof touched his horn to the ground. Barely anypony besides Celestia remembered the small, grey alicorn he’d once been. Even now, his job as Reaper had changed him so much that he barely identified with his old self anymore. Of the two alicorns living in Equestria, one was as good as dead and the other ruled as a tyrannical god-empress. Lifting his head, Pale Hoof slammed his forehead hard against the ground. A cracking noise reverberated through the darkness. Shards of bone skittered off his skull. Cracked at the base, his horn tumbled away from his head, landing softly on the ground. Pale Hoof felt the spot where his horn had once been. Nothing was left but a rough patch in the middle of his skull.

Green sparks enshrouded the broken horn. Pale Hoof watched as the horn elongated, darkening from pale yellow to black. It thinned and lengthened to the size of a staff, its shape gnarled and pointed like the branch of a thorny tree. A pale blade, long, curved, and wickedly sharp, formed on the end of the staff. The sparks faded from the transformed horn. Slowly, Pale Hoof bent to pick it up. Clutching the handle of the scythe in his teeth, he could feel the same power that lived within his old horn. This scythe matched the one emblazoned on his thigh – his chosen tool.

He did not need to be like Celestia and Luna. With this scythe, he’d shed the last vestiges of his mortal form. Now, with his tool, he was a true Reaper. Now and forever, he was Death.


Pale Hoof shook his head, snapping back into the present. When the memories came back, they came so vividly he might as well have been experiencing them for the first time. He remembered the rush of power he’d felt when he first brought that sparrow back to life. He remembered his shock at seeing the ghost of Commander Hurricane. He remembered the sickening crack his horn made when he broke it off. All these things, in lush, life-like detail.

In the centuries since his old argument with Celestia, he’d lived here in the cold, growing more and more detached from the mortal world. He no longer spoke with the spirits he reaped, aside from the occasional pony that wished to challenge him for their soul. Often times, he simply reaped them without even explaining who he was or why they were there. In fact, the last conversation he could remember was the one he’d had with Pinwheel, where she’d earned a second chance at life from him.

Pinwheel.

For the first time in one thousand years, he had a reason to care about the mortal world.

But now that reason was gone.