Reaping Rainbow

by The Hat Man

First published

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

Hallo! Sorry I'm late. But then, it seems... so are you, Rainbow Dash.

And so the late Rainbow Dash comes face to face with Death himself! And he's... surprisingly cordial, actually.

But when Rainbow ends up in his debt, there's only one way to get back to the life she knew: take up the role of the Grim Reaper herself while Death takes a little holiday. Will Dashie be able to stay quick among the dead? Will she be the most awesome reaper ever... or will Death have to cut his vacation - and Rainbow's life - tragically short?

(Apologies and honors to the late Sir Terry Pratchett.)
Editors: Reese, GenerousGhibli, E3gner
Illustrations: Greenfinger

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“Ugh… what happened?” Rainbow Dash stood up, eyes still shut tight, as she rubbed her head and groaned. All the while, her alarm clock beeped rhythmically. She reached for it to turn it off and found nothing but empty air. She opened her eyes expecting to see her bedroom but was instead greeted by a small room with mint green walls and a white tile floor. A wooden door with a narrow rectangular window was just ahead.

“Huh? Where am I?” she muttered. She turned around.

“Oh, there I am,” she said with relief when she saw herself lying in a hospital bed.

Then she froze, realizing that everything about that sentence was very wrong.

Not factually, mind you. She did in fact see herself in a hospital bed, head slightly elevated, with machines hooked up to her to help her breathe, a neck brace doing an adequate job bracing her neck, and a bandage around her head. She realized that the sound she’d mistaken for an alarm clock was, in fact, a heart monitor.

Her eye twitched. “Okaaay,” she whispered uneasily. “That’s… probably not good. Oh, unless that’s not actually me!” She leaned closer to the unconscious pony in the bed, inspecting her. “Well, I mean, it’s still not ‘good’ even if it isn’t me. For that pony. But if it is me, then yeah, really bad. For me.”

The rainbow mane certainly matched her own, the color of her coat did as well. But she couldn’t see the mare’s cutie mark under the covers, so she went to lift them to see if it matched as well… only to have her hoof drift right through the solid matter of the entire bed.

She yelped and leaped back, momentarily taking to the air in instinctive surprise.

“Okay,” she said, trying to calm herself. “Okay,” she said again after the first ‘okay’ didn’t work. She swallowed and settled back on the ground. “...Okay,” she said for the third time, feeling slightly better. “Something’s definitely up. I just have to figure out what. Maybe this is another Mirror Pool clone, like when Pinkie made copies of herself? Yeah, that’s possible. And the reason I can pass through stuff is… Twilight or Starlight did a weird spell that I don’t remember right now? Yeah… yeah, that’s an explanation, right? I mean, it’s not like anypony else has another explanation.”

Well, I might have one, said a strange new voice behind her.

Rainbow Dash felt a sudden chill run down her spine, and she froze in place, her eyes bulging. She slowly turned around to see who had spoken.

A pony stood there. Or, more accurately, the skeleton of a pony stood there.

He wore a long, hooded black cloak and carried a tall, curving black scythe that looked as though it had been carved out of the purest obsidian in Equestria and sharpened so much that it cut

off the end of this sentence just by being talked about.

She stared at him, and he, in turn stared back at her with the tiny pale dots of flame that seemed to occupy his eye sockets.

Hallo, he said, raising a hoof in greeting. Sorry I'm late. And so are you, by the looks of things

Rainbow Dash remained silent.

The skeletal pony chuckled, his ‘voice’ sounding dry and whispery, yet perfectly audible with just a hint of a Trottingham accent.

Ah, that joke always kills me, he said. Er, sorry. Poor choice of words.

Rainbow Dash finally managed to hold up a trembling hoof. “Y-you… you’re… you can’t be…”

Yes, I can.

“But you’re not! Not really!”

No, I am. Very much so.

“But then that means…”

It's possible.

Rainbow Dash let out a scream and slumped to the floor. “Noooo, I can’t believe this!” she wailed. “How could this have happened?!”

Oh, I can help with that, actually, he said. Do you by any chance remember the last thing you were doing before you ended up here?

Rainbow Dash paused, tapping her chin. “Um… oh!” She suddenly wore a wide grin. “Yeah, I remember! I decided that I should come up with some new tricks to share with the Wonderbolts! So, I came up with this idea to bounce off a cloud and soar right through the middle of Whitetail Woods! With the extra wind speed, I’d suddenly pull out of the dive at the last minute with a 720 degree turn, pulling up all the leaves around me into a huge tornado. It’d be like this gigantic colorful spiral with me in the center of it! It’s perfect.”

And so you went to try it out?

“You bet I did!” Rainbow said, thumping her chest proudly. “Everything went perfect! I was zooming through the air-”


“-I bounced off the cloud-”

Go on...

“-and then I rocketed down through the trees-”

Almost there...

“-and was about to pull up when I saw that big one—”

She froze, her enthusiastic expression melting into one of horrified realization.

And there we are. And there you are, actually, he said, indicating her unconscious body on the bed.

“Wait, then you must be—”

Ah, well, perhaps we should just stop beating around the bush, if you don't mind, he said. To make it plain, yes, I am Death, and yes, this is really happening to you because you smacked headfirst into a tree.

“But… but that’s so lame!” she shrieked. “I can’t have died that way! That just can’t be it!”

Actually, you're right, Death said. After you hit the tree, which was old and rotting, it snapped and fell on top of you.


Yes. And, ah... then the squirrels living in the tree attacked you for destroying their home.

Rainbow’s jaw dropped open.

Seeing that she had gone silent, Death decided to continue: And now, Rainbow Dash, I have come for you.

Rainbow Dash swallowed and began to back away. “So, this is it,” she muttered, mostly to herself. “My life is over. You’re going to take me away.”

Well, actually, in this particular case—

“Unless…” Rainbow said, narrowing her eyes.

Wait... please tell me you are not thinking of—

“Unless you’re too slow to catch me!” she shouted before taking to the air and soaring out the open hospital window.

Death rolled his wispy eyes. Oh dear, he sighed. I should have known she'd be a runner.

He raised his scythe and slashed at the air, creating an opening in space and time that he then trotted through.

Three... Two...

Rainbow Dash shot away from the Ponyville General Hospital and through the window of her cloud house on the outskirts of Ponyville. She went up the stairs and leaped through her bedroom door…

...Only to come face to face with Death, who was sitting in the middle of the room.

One... he finished.

“Augh!” Rainbow Dash yelped, coming to a sudden halt in midair. She whirled around, intending to escape again, when Death suddenly lowered his scythe, hooking it into her tail, causing her to get no more than half a meter away before she was yanked back to the ground.

Please don't do that again, Death admonished.

“No!” she screamed. “Let me go!”

Rainbow Dash, would you please just listen?

“P-please don’t take me!” she wailed, bursting into tears. “It was just one mistake! I’m t-too young to dieeeee!”

Death sighed as Rainbow loudly sobbed on the floor, tears streaming down her cheeks as she hysterically pleaded for her life.

All right, that's enough of this, he mumbled. He seized Rainbow Dash by the neck, brought her face up to his and bellowed:

Be silent, impudent mortal!!

She fell silent and stared back at him with fearful, tear-stained eyes.

There, now that I have your attention, he said, I can continue: I'm not necessarily here to take you away.

Rainbow Dash blinked away tears. “R-really?”

Death nodded.

Rainbow Dash breathed a sigh of relief. “So I’m not dead,” she said. “Heh. I guess I should have figured that out since my heart monitor was still going. Anyway, so how long until I wake up?”

A few days.

“Well, that’s a relief. I guess spending a few days as a ghost won’t be so—”

Or never.

She gawked at him again. “But you said you weren’t here to take me!”

No, I said not 'necessarily.'

“Then what are you doing here? If I’m not dead, then why come after me?!”

I do apologize, but this is a rather awkward situation, he said, bowing his head slightly. You see, sometimes I am summoned prematurely, and this happens to be one of those cases. You're having what we in 'The Biz' refer to as a 'Near Death Experience.'

“A ‘near death experience’?” she repeated incredulously.

Well, I am Death, you are near me, and it seems to be quite an experience for you, judging by your reaction. I would say that counts.

“So, let me get this straight,” she said, holding out her hooves, narrowing her eyes at Death. “You mean to tell me that I’m not really dead, but I’m also not really alive either? Like I’m stuck in the middle?”

Oh, that sums it up nicely, yes, Death said. You'll either come out of your coma and go back to your usual life or... not.

“So, if I don’t, then—”

Ah, then you will be coming with me, Death replied.

Rainbow Dash swallowed.

It isn't so bad. And, in the meantime, most animals will be able to see you. Oh, speaking of which, there's your pet tortoise!

He paused, seeing Tank, Rainbow Dash’s tortoise, slowly make his way out of the little house Rainbow had bought for him. Death raised a skeletal hoof.

Hallo, Tank!

Tank slowly craned his neck to look up and see Death standing before him. His beady eyes went wide and he immediately retreated into his shell.

Ah. I seem to have that effect on most animals, unfortunately. Except for cats. A shame. I would love to try keeping a little companion. Perhaps something that would appreciate my work... like a crow! Oh, or a rat with a tiny cloak and—

“Could we please focus on me, here?” Rainbow asked, tapping him on the shoulder.

Oh. Of course. I am terribly sorry. Is there something else I can do for you? Do you have any other questions?

“Only, like, a bajillion questions!” Rainbow exclaimed. “Like, what happens after you die? And if I do die, am I going to Pony Heaven?” She paused, biting her lip. “Or… Pony Hell?”

I'm afraid that I don't know the answer to those questions, Rainbow Dash, he said. I'm simply here to collect the spirits of those who have left the mortal coil and guide them on to whatever lies beyond. What that is, I cannot say. It simply isn't part of my job description.

Rainbow rolled her eyes. “Well, that’s a letdown,” she grumbled. “In that case, for my next question, why are you doing this anyway?”

Doing 'this?' he asked, tilting his head to the side. Could you be more specific?

“You know… killing ponies.”

At this, his eyes flashed with sudden, intense flames.

I do no such thing! he shouted. I go where I am needed and help those who've passed on to accept their fate, but I do NOT steal lives from anyone.

“Okay, okay!” Rainbow said, holding up her hooves hurriedly as she backed away. She offered a sheepish grin. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you, Mr. Grim Reapony.”

Please do not call me that.

“Sorry,” she said quickly. “So, I was also wondering… if somepony doesn’t want to die, can they get out of it somehow?”

Death let out a long, bone-dry sigh. He went over to Rainbow Dash’s desk and pulled out a chair, taking a seat. (Apparently he was more solid than she was, she observed.)

Technically... yes. There are a few select rules in place for one in your position, he said.

“Really?!” Rainbow Dash exclaimed, taking flight and flying close enough to be muzzle to muzzle with him.

He pushed her back gently. Yes, but there are only three options, and I doubt you'll like any of them, if that is what you're asking.

“Oh my gosh, I knew it!” she exclaimed. “What’s the first?”

If a pony simply cannot give up on this mortal coil, they can remain a ghost and haunt the living until they finally accept their death or a sufficiently skilled cleric, priest, or mage exorcises them.

Rainbow Dash made a face. “Ugh,” she said. “That sounds lame. I mean, it’d be great for pranking at first, but after that…” She sighed. “Okay, but wasn’t there another way? Twilight was telling me about this book she read where somepony played a game against Death - I mean, you - and managed to win? What do they call that? A… um…”

A duel?

“Yeah!” she exclaimed. “Like, if I challenged you to… let’s see…”

A race, perhaps?

“Ha! Exactly! I bet I could… wait.” She paused, remembering how Death had easily beaten her back to her house when she’d tried to escape him earlier. “Okay, no, not a race. Ummm…”

Well, most ponies challenge me to a game of chess, he offered helpfully.

“Pfft! I’m not playing an egghead game like that!” she scoffed.

In any case, you should probably know that the terms of the duel are—

“Ah ha!” she suddenly shouted, raising a hoof to the sky. “Death, prepare yourself! Because I’m about to beat you in a game that nopony has ever beaten me in before! I challenge you to (pause for dramatic effect)... a game of Monopony!”

Death shrugged. Well, it's your funeral, he said.

With a tap of his scythe, a table appeared between them with a Monopony board already set up.

3 hours later…

Rainbow Dash was in a cold sweat and too nervous to figure out how a non-corporeal spirit could sweat in the first place.

Death sat across from her, a cup of tea in his hoof. He sipped it calmly in a way that would have perplexed Rainbow if she hadn’t been so focused on the task at hand.

You know, this is actually rather fun. I'm not sure why some ponies say they'd rather die than play it again.

Rainbow Dash shot him a glare as she held the dice in her hoof. “Okay… I’m so close to passing Go and collecting those 200 bits. Dice don’t fail me now!”

With an enthusiastic cry, she rolled the dice. Her eager smile faded as she saw the results of the roll.

Oh dear, it seems that you've landed on Parkneigh Place, Death said. And I happen to have a hotel on that. That's certainly going to cost you, but if my math is correct, and it always is, you do not have enough to cover the cost. He leaned back. I believe that means that I am victorious.

Rainbow Dash lowered her head in defeat. “I can’t believe I lost,” she sighed. “Well, I guess we’ll just have to see if I wake up or not in a few days, right?”

But Death stood and tapped his scythe, causing the board game to vanish.

Ah, Rainbow Dash, if it were only that simple. But you see, the terms of this duel were that I would instantly restore you to life if you won... and you would forfeit said life if you lost.

Which you have.

Rainbow stared back at him in horror. She slowly began to back away. “N-no way,” she whispered. “No way! I… I didn’t know! C-come on, best two out of three?”

I'm afraid not, Rainbow Dash, he said. This has been delightful, but my time is up. And, regrettably, so is yours.

He raised the scythe.

Rainbow ducked, covering her head with her forelegs. “Please, just give me another chance!” she cried. “I mean, didn’t you say there were three options to get out of this? Let me take the third option! I’ll do anything!”

Death paused. Anything? he asked.

Rainbow cautiously opened one eye. “Y-yeah?”

Are you quite certain about that?

She swallowed. For having a face that was essentially a grinning skull, she somehow felt he was grinning more now than he was before. Still, what choice did she have, given the circumstance?

“Yes. If it means I get to be alive and go back to my friends and my family and Scootaloo and everypony else… then yes, I’ll do anything.”

Death lowered his scythe. Well, then, I believe I can offer you a deal. The third way to earn a reprieve is to do me a favor. And I believe that I've earned a short holiday.

“Oh. Uh,” Rainbow Dash mumbled, “that sounds cool. If you want some suggestions or maybe a traveling buddy, I guess Las Pegasus is pretty awesome. Oh, or we could try the beach! Or—”

Actually, Rainbow Dash, you misunderstand, Death said, holding up a hoof. While I am on holiday, another must fulfill the role of the Reaper in my stead.

Rainbow Dash blinked. “Wait, you can’t be serious,” she said. “This is a joke, right? You’re not really saying you want me to—”

Death took hold of his cloak, then swept it off and threw it onto Rainbow Dash in one swift movement. When she looked down, she saw that she was not only wearing his cloak, but holding his scythe in her hoof.

Death himself was wearing a straw hat and a gaudy tropical shirt.

Congratulations, Rainbow Dash! Death said, patting her on the shoulder. You're the new Grim Reaper!

To be continued…

Death of a Salespony

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“Whoa whoa whoa whoa whoa!” Rainbow Dash exclaimed, dropping the scythe immediately and backing away from it as if it were a poisonous snake. “I so did not agree to this!”

Oh, but I'm afraid you so did, Rainbow Dash, Death said as he picked up the scythe and offered it back to her. And a bargain is a bargain after all.

Rainbow sat and folded her forelegs, turning her nose up at the scythe. “Not on your life!” she shouted.

No. On your life, actually.

She winced. “Okay, so, not that I’m not glad you gave me another chance,” she said, offering him her sweetest smile, “but I’m really not sure I want to go around killing ponies.”

I believe I already stated that I do not kill ponies; I merely come to collect them at the ends of their lives. Thus, you have no need for concern.

Rainbow Dash swallowed. “But… I mean, I’ve got my own life to live! I don’t want to spend it doing this!”

Oh, is that the problem? Not to worry! After all, I only wish to take a short holiday. I only need you to take over for a few days. Let's say... three? Yes, I believe that will suffice. Three days as the Grim Reaper and you will wake up amongst your friends and family in perfect health.

Rainbow Dash bit her lip. “W-well… I guess three days isn’t so bad. I mean, how many ponies die in a day anyway?”

Death shrugged. It depends. A few thousand, perhaps?

Rainbow blanched. “A few thousand?!”

Yes, but you'll be glad to know that I don't have to show up personally most of the time, Death said, waving his skeletal hoof dismissively. Actually, would you mind if we conducted this conversation somewhere more appropriate?

“Like where?” she asked, raising an eyebrow.

Death tapped his scythe on the ground, and the scene around them seemed to fade away into shadow. Rainbow felt as though there was blackness all around until, gradually, she became more accustomed to the light - or lack thereof - and took in her new surroundings.

They stood on a seemingly endless empty plain of bare earth the color of pumice. A starless midnight sky stretched overhead, and the only light was from a crescent moon that curved like a scythe’s blade. Nearby there was a charcoal gray house where white lilies bloomed in a garden in the yard. Behind the house was a huge field of row upon row of tall, ashen corn. She noticed that the stalks seemed to be waving slightly in the wind despite the fact that there was no wind to speak of. In fact, she realized, the entire realm was completely silent to the point that even her hoofsteps sounded eerily muffled.

The whole sight left her awestruck, and her mouth dropped open at the gothic, ethereal beauty of it.

Ah, home sweet home, Death said, motioning for Rainbow to follow him as he trotted toward the house.

“You mean you live here?” she asked.

He chuckled dryly. In a manner of speaking, I suppose, he replied.

He went to the black door of his house and opened it, going inside.

Rainbow wasn’t certain what to expect when she crossed over the threshold of Death’s house, but, to her surprise, the place looked surprisingly ordinary. There was a living room, a kitchen, a dining room, and various pictures of Death posed with surprisingly ordinary-looking ponies.

For pony’s sake, this place looks like my parents’ house, she thought.

“Um, nice house?” she ventured. “It’s… cozy?”

You're too kind, Death said. By the way, I see that you've noticed some of my photographs. I'm quite fond of that one with Hoofdini. Funny story, now that I think of it: quite a lot of ponies showed up to his funeral thinking he'd faked his death, and that it was all one big trick. I made a rare exception and let his ghost attend as well, and he thought the whole affair was hilarious. We had quite the chuckle over that one.

Rainbow grinned. “Heh. Yeah, that is a little funny,” she said, relaxing slightly.

Ah, but I digress. This way, please, he said, leading her to the living room.

(It should be noted here that the irony of Death having a “living room” struck Rainbow Dash considerably later, though such irony was actually unintended. Death refers to that room as his “parlor,” but in any case, what is important is that this is the room where Death relaxes and occasionally entertains other guests who may be ponies or beings who, much like himself, represent abstract concepts.)

Death motioned for Rainbow to have a seat on his sofa while he went to the kitchen.

You prefer your tea with lots of sugar, yes?he asked from the kitchen.

“Huh? Oh, uh, yeah,” she said, still feeling awkward given her situation.

Wonderful. I'll have it ready in a moment, Death said. While the kettle is on, I'll fetch you some necessary supplies.

“For tea?”

For the job, he replied.

She gulped. ‘The job.’ Those two little words carried a lot of weight distributed over six letters.

Death returned with a book, a pocket watch, and a clipboard.

I'll be brief, Rainbow Dash, he said. Most ponies are quite able to accept their passing and require no help from me at all. But some are not so fortunate, and thus they require some added assistance. My appearance helps them come to terms and lets them know that someone is there to greet them.

In the end, some ponies simply can't face their fate alone. In the absence of others, I alone am there to be a friend to them. You of all ponies can appreciate that, can you not?

Rainbow Dash rubbed the back of her neck. “Sure? I mean, I guess so,” she said, not very convincingly.

Death sighed. Well, perhaps you'll come to appreciate it in time. For now, here are the tools of my trade.

He set the pocket watch on the coffee table. She picked it up and saw that it had no numbers and no hands.

This watch sounds a chime whenever you are summoned. Simply stare into it, and you will know where to go, Death said.

He then passed her the clipboard. It had a few papers clipped to it, but they all looked blank to her.

When you go to reap a newly-passed soul, he explained, their name and all necessary information will appear upon the top paper. Once your task is done, sign on the bottom and leave it in my inbox in my office in the next room. I will add it to my personal ledger once I've returned from my holiday.

“Well, that’ll come in handy,” she said.

Indeed so. For all other matters, he continued, placing the book on the table, please consult this manual. It's a training guide for substitute reapers that I created for just such an occasion.

Rainbow picked it up. It was a surprisingly thin book with a black faux-leather cover. The title embossed on the front read Reaping and You: The Dos and Don’ts of Death.

She made a face. “Nopony told me I’d have to study for this job,” she said.

While the job isn't terribly complicated, Death said, leaning in close to her, his dim eyes burning coldly, I strongly recommend reading this book. Is that understood?

Rainbow swallowed. “Okay,” she squeaked.

Splendid! Death said cheerfully. That just leaves this...

He presented the long, black scythe. This time, she accepted it, if somewhat reluctantly.

With this, you may manifest your will. Return to this place with a tap to the ground. Slice through the air and you may tear through the fabric of spacetime to travel wherever you wish to go. And, should the need arise, you may use it to latch onto a soul to prevent escape should one prove... fiesty, like certain mares I could mention.

She grinned sheepishly. “Well, you can’t blame a filly for trying,” she said.

Perhaps not, he said, but be prepared to be on the receiving end of such behavior every now and again.

Finally, once a soul is ready, raise the scythe into the air to signal that they are ready to pass on. They should fade from sight, and you may then move on to the next. In any case, you must not leave until you've completed your task. Now, do you feel a bit more prepared?

“Right, right,” Rainbow said, nodding. “Sure… piece of cake!” she said, though her expression belied her discomfort.

You are not a terribly good liar, Rainbow Dash, Death said. But not to worry; I will accompany you on your first job. In the meantime, why not enjoy your tea?

“But you haven’t finished making—”

She looked down and saw that a teacup was sitting on a saucer in front of her.

“—it? Wait, when did you… I didn’t even see you bring that in!”

Time holds little meaning here, Rainbow, Death said. But you mortals are better at tricking it than you give yourselves credit for. You've heard the phrase, 'A watched pot never boils'? The true trick is to forget the tea completely if you want it made really fast.

Rainbow took a sip. She smiled. “Whoa… this tea is awesome!”

I am very glad that you like it. But still, you may wish to drink it quickly. Your first assignment should be coming along any minute now...

There was a loud chime, like the tolling of an iron bell, and Rainbow held up the watch. “Oh,” she said quietly. “Uh, can I finish my tea first?”

Don't you think we should hurry?

“I thought you said ‘time holds little meaning here,’” she shot back, giving him a smug grin.

Death chuckled. Ah, I see you are a quick learner. Still, it would not do to neglect the harvest. Drain your cup, Rainbow Dash, for our work is at hoof.

Rainbow stepped through the rift created by her scythe and found herself standing in a small kitchen. Looking out the window, she could see the skyline of Manehattan.

Death stepped in behind her and tapped her on the shoulder. She watched as he pointed and then followed him over to the kitchen table.

A stallion sat alone at the kitchen table. He’d collapsed over the table and was face down in his oatmeal, still as a statue.

“Oh my gosh… is that pony… dead?!” Rainbow asked, looking back at Death.

Death slowly turned to face her. For having a face that was nothing more than a skull, he somehow managed to give her an expression that said “Are you bucking serious right now?”

“R-right, right, stupid question,” she said, looking back to the deceased pony at the table. “Uh, so what should I do?”

Use your scythe to draw his spirit out, Death said, and then we'll have a little chat with him.

Rainbow nodded. “Okay… here goes!”

She timidly held her scythe over the body and gently tapped it before yanking her scythe back as though shrinking from a venomous snake.

A shape began to take form in the air next to the body at the table, swiftly coalescing into what looked like an exact copy of it. The pony standing there looked around in confusion before settling his eyes on his own corpse.


That one word seemed to hang in the air and, for a moment, Rainbow felt a pang in her heart for this pony and what he must be going through. She’d gone through something similar herself, after all, not long before.

The pony wore an ill-fitting, shabby brown suit and his mane was thinning. He’d combed it over and his face was creased with wrinkles, though not enough to qualify him as “elderly.” His coat was reddish orange, and his cutie mark was a suitcase stuffed with papers.

“Um, excuse me?” Rainbow asked.

The stallion whirled around and gave only a momentary start when he saw her.

“Huh,” he said, his voice throaty and masculine. “I didn’t expect you to look that way.”

“Oh, I’m not—” she began, but then stopped, realizing her position. “Well, I mean, I am, but—”

She's in training, Death said. He gave a small bow. Please forgive the slight inconvenience.

“Oh, I see,” he said, nodding with surprisingly casual understanding. “I’ve had to take trainees on the job before too. It’s fine.”

Rainbow smiled. “Thanks,” she said. “So, uh, let’s get started and don’t mind if I screw up too much, okay?”

The stallion nodded. “Sure, sure, go ahead,” he said. “You already look the part with the robe and the… what do they call that curved thing? A sickle?”

Scythe, actually, Death corrected.

“Hey, do you mind?” Rainbow said. “Sickle works!”

Ah, yes. Very well, you may continue, Rainbow Dash.

Rainbow looked at her clipboard and squinted, reading the fine print on it.

“So, uh… it says here your name is… Billy Brogan?” she asked.

“That’s me,” he said, holding his head up. “Salespony extraordinaire!”

“Wife, two kids,” she continued, reading his statistics off the sheet, “financially strained, unsuccessful—”

“Hey!” he cried. “I’m… I’m just in a slump!” he added indignantly. “That’s lasted… five years oh who am I kidding!”

He heaved a sigh.

Rainbow felt a hard nudge in her side and turned to see Death elbowing her.

“You… feel like talking about it?” she asked.

“It’s not like I didn’t try,” he said, rubbing his temples. “Ponies just want a little more flash and pizzazz now! So I’m not quite as young as I used to be… I still have value! I can sell these vacuums! I can sell anything! Lemme tell you, I once sold twenty vacuums in one day to some of the best families in Canterlot!”

Rainbow Dash grinned. “That’s kinda cool!” she said. “How did—”

She felt another nudge and saw Death shaking his head. In retrospect, she realized, she probably didn’t really want to know the finer details.

“Well, anyway,” she said, “you ought to be proud.”

“I am!” he said. Then his expression weakened. “I mean… I was. That day when I sold all those vacuums was one of the best of my life. I came home, my wife was so happy, my boys were jumping around… I thought that it was just the beginning.

“But that was really just my peak. I never sold anything close to that to anypony that important. I’ve thought about what I could have done differently, but…”

He shut his eyes. “I guess now it doesn’t matter, does it? I’m dead and there’s no point worrying about what could’ve been.”

Rainbow shook her head. “No, but look on the bright side: now you don’t have to worry about it.”

Billy smiled. “I guess you’re right,” he said. “So, how’d I die anyway?”

Rainbow checked the paper. “It says here that you died of a sudden heart attack.”

His eyes bulged. “What? No way!” he shouted. “My doctor told me last year to take better care of myself, so I’ve been eating more oats!”

Rainbow Dash looked over to the bowl of oatmeal.

“Did you put cream in that?” she asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Only a little!” Billy said defensively. “And some butter. And a little brown sugar. Just like I do… every… morning… oh. Damn.”

Rainbow covered her mouth with her hoof, trying not to laugh.

“Well, I guess I’ve got nopony to blame but myself,” he sighed. “Still, I’m glad I took out that big life insurance policy. My wife and kids will be all right with all that money.

“Heh… I’m worth more dead than I was when I was alive,” he observed, shaking his head. “I can’t decide if that’s funny or just sad.”

“You were smart enough to take care of your family,” Rainbow said. “That totally counts for something. Heck, I don’t think I’ve got a life insurance policy. If I’d croaked for real, the only thing I’d leave my friends and family is a bunch of trophies and a tortoise!”

Billy chuckled. “Well, I wish I’d retired a few years back when I had the chance, but I had a good run, and a great family,” he said. “I think that’s still something to be proud of.”

Rainbow Dash nodded.

“So… what happens now?” he asked.

Rainbow looked back at Death, who pantomimed holding up the scythe.

“Oh, right,” she said, holding the scythe aloft. “Take care, Mr. Brogan.”

“You too, rookie,” he said. He wore a serene smile on his face as his spirit faded, and then he was gone.

Well done, Rainbow Dash, Death said. Let us return to my abode, and then we can finalize things.

“Well, that wasn’t so bad,” Rainbow Dash said as they both stepped through the rift and back into Death’s parlor.

I am glad to hear that, Death said, though I admit that it was a fairly soft case. They may not always be so easy.

“Pfft,” Rainbow scoffed, rolling her eyes. “I was nervous at first, but after that, I think these next three days will be a piece of cake!”

Well, I would caution you against being overconfident... but perhaps it is in your nature. Oh well, you've shown the ability to roll with the punches, so even if things get tough, I believe you'll find a way forward.

“Thanks, I think?”

Death nodded and suddenly clapped his hooves together. Rainbow watched as a new rift appeared in midair.

In that case, I believe we can consider your training finished, Rainbow Dash, he said and began moving toward the rift.

“Wait, you’re leaving already?” she asked.

Well, since you feel so confident and since I am eager to begin my vacation... yes! He paused and looked over his shoulder, adjusting his straw hat slightly. I strongly suggest you read that manual closely, but you may contact me should a real emergency arise. And I do stress 'emergency,' Rainbow Dash. It must be a life and death situation... er, figuratively speaking.

She held her head high and nodded.

Excellent! he said. Oh, and one more reminder: this deal I've offered to you is not yours to offer to another. In short, don't even think of passing this job off to another pony. I've entrusted you with this duty, so nopony but you can assume it for now.

“I-I wasn’t thinking of passing it off!” she cried.

Death simply stared back at her in silence.

“Okaaay, maybe a little,” she muttered, looking away.

Apologies, Rainbow Dash, but there will be no subcontractors for this job. Now, if you'll excuse me...

Death moved to the rift, going through it. Rainbow peered inside and saw a glimpse of a sunny beach next to a crystal-blue sea.

...good luck, Rainbow Dash. I'm certain you'll do a fine job.

The rift closed, and Rainbow found herself alone in Death’s house.

“Okay,” she told herself, taking a long, calming breath. “I can do this. I’ll start by reading up on this book.”

She took a seat on Death’s couch and opened the first page. “Let’s see… ‘Chapter One: Your Scythe and You. Your scythe is like your best friend. It can do all sorts of things besides reaping. At first it can seem overwhelming! But don’t worry, you’ll be fine as long as—’”

Her watch suddenly chimed, the unnaturally loud tolling of the bell startling her badly enough to make her drop the book.

“I guess I can read this later,” she said, setting it down on the coffee table. She held up the watch. “I’ll just go ahead and take care of this pony—”

The watch chimed again.

“These two ponies—”

The watch chimed again. And again.

Rainbow Dash swallowed. “Okay then… I guess if it’s gonna be like that…”

She gripped her scythe hard and put on her best game face.

“...then let’s do this!”

She opened a new rift with her scythe and bolted through it. Her career as the Reaper was about to begin.

To be continued…

DOA (Dash On Arrival)

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Twilight Sparkle sighed as she took a seat on her throne. She and the others all encircled the magical map which directed them to friendship problems around Equestria. Unlike those situations, however, their current issue was much closer to home than any of them had ever anticipated.

Twilight did her best to maintain a look of calm to reassure her friends, all of whom wore somber looks.

“The doctor says there’s been no change in Rainbow Dash’s condition,” she said and, quickly noting their crestfallen expressions, added “but he has stressed that recovery is still entirely possible. Lots of ponies have come out of comas similar to this one, and Rainbow is definitely not in any danger in the meantime.”

“Well… that’s some good news, at least,” Rarity said with a weak smile.

“In the meantime,” Twilight said, “I think we should all try to do what we can for Rainbow and for her friends and family. Spike and I made a list of things for each of us to do. Spike?”

“I’ve got it!” Spike unfurled a scroll and laid it out on the table before her.

“All right, let’s start:

“Pinkie, Rarity, I’d like you to raise the spirits of the ponies in town. Maybe help them by organizing a project for Rainbow to make one big gift instead of flooding her hospital room with flowers. You can also help to coordinate hospital visits.”

Pinkie brightened. “A present from the whole town? That’d make anypony happy! We’ll make it so nice that Dashie will wake up for sure!”

“At the very least, it might help some of us to take our minds off things,” Rarity said, tapping her chin. Then she smiled. “All right, Twilight, you can count on us!”

“Good. Applejack,” Twilight continued, “could you keep an eye on Scootaloo? She’s not taking this well at all.”

Applejack nodded. “Sure thing, Twilight,” she said. “Since the Cutie Mark Crusaders’ clubhouse is at Sweet Apple Acres, I’ll do everything I can to help her an’ the others get through this. I’ll have a talk with Applebloom to see how I can help.”

Rarity frowned. “The poor dear. I’ll work with Sweetie Belle to do the same.”

“That just leaves you, Fluttershy,” Twilight said.

“Oh! Do you want me to go see Rainbow Dash’s parents?” she asked.

Twilight shook her head. “No, Spitfire said she’d handle that as Rainbow’s C.O. in the wonderbolts. I’d like you to pay a visit to Mage Meadowbrook to see if she knows of any medicines or potions that might help Rainbow’s recovery. I’ve already informed Zecora, and she’s working on that as well.”

Fluttershy nodded. “That sounds like a good idea,” she said, perking up at the thought. “If anypony can come up with a way to revive Dashie, it’ll be one of them!”

“In the meantime,” Twilight said, “I’ll be here doing some research on Rainbow’s condition. I’ve requested more medical texts from Canterlot, so that may help, even if it’s a long shot. I’ll also help Starlight, who may need to hire substitutes for us at the School of Friendship when Spring Break ends… Rainbow Dash in particular.”

They all fell silent at that. They all knew that even if Rainbow Dash recovered quickly, she’d probably be out of commission until she was completely back on her hooves.

“Okay then, everypony, if we all know what to do, then we should get to it. Let’s do this for Rainbow Dash!”

“Right!” they all shouted as one.

Twilight watched them all depart and then made her way to the library.

Rainbow Dash, I know you’re tough, she thought to herself, but nothing like this has ever happened to anypony I know. I wonder if you can even hear us when we visit…

She swallowed a lump in her throat and shook her head.

No, I need to focus! I’m sure Rainbow Dash wouldn’t give up if she were in my place. Whatever’s going through Rainbow’s head right now, I need to keep mine clear!

Unbeknownst to Twilight, what was going through Rainbow’s head at the moment was a mixture of disbelief and exasperation.

“...So that’s why everypony in Manehattan respects me,” said the stocky stallion with the slicked-back mane. “Nopony messes with me. They know that they take one step outta line, and my boys will come by to pay ‘em a little visit if ya know what I’m sayin’. Nopony would dare cross me. That’s how I know you’re lyin’ and there’s no freakin’ way that I can possibly be dead!”

Rainbow Dash blinked. “Uh, I’m pretty sure.”

“Yeah?” said the stallion with a sneer. “What makes you say that?”

Rainbow Dash pointed behind him. The stallion turned and his eyes bulged when he saw his own body, hooves encased in concrete, resting at the bottom of the Bay of Manehattan. His eyes had rolled to the back of his head and his greasy mane swayed in the gentle current.

“What… what the… you mean I’ve been whacked?!”

“Uh, sure looks like it,” Rainbow said, examining her clipboard. “Yeah, it says it right here: ‘Tough Guy’ Trotsky, Gangster—”


“Gangster,” Rainbow Dash said, shooting him a look before going back to her clipboard. “Hit on the head with a blackjack, hooves encased in cement, thrown into Manehattan Bay. Death by drowning.”

“Wait, who hit me over the head?”

“It doesn’t say,” she said, lowering the clipboard. “Try to think. Who were you last with that you remember?”

“Just me an’ a few of the boys. We went to a bistro, had lunch, I walked out first…”

He paused, a look of horror on his face. Rainbow Dash didn’t notice because she was busy watching a fish start to nibble on Trotsky’s body’s ear.

“Those dirty, backstabbing, lousy sons of—”

Rainbow Dash stood there. Most ponies she knew were devoted to keeping their language clean. True, most Wonderbolts could get a bit salty with their language at times, but they were nothing compared to Trotsky. For several minutes, she stood by as he stomped about the seafloor uttering a veritable cascade of profanity the likes of which she’d never heard. A good number of them were words she’d never heard before, and the rest were combined into long strings of obscenity that flowed from one to the next with poetic precision. Despite the vileness of his words, she saw a strangely bizarre beauty in his vulgarity, and wondered if this was how it felt to witness the unveiling of an artistic masterpiece by Ponatello, Hoofael, or Horse Leonardo da Vinci.

At last Trotsky quieted down, panting after his long rant.

“You feel better?” she asked, offering a hopeful grin.

“A little,” he said. “All right… no problem. I got this…”

“Got… what?” she asked.

“So, listen,” he said. “Here’s the deal. You bring me back. I don’t care what it costs, I’ll pay it. Then I want you to take down those guys that whacked me. I want them dead. Their families? Dead. Their pets? ...Eh, I dunno, maybe just scare ‘em a little. Their mistresses and girlfriends? D—”

“Okay, let me just stop you there,” Rainbow said, holding up a hoof, “because I am not going to do any of that.”

He stared back at her. “But… but I can pay you!”

“Look, I can’t bring you back anyway, and even if I could, I wouldn’t take money from a ‘businesspony’ like you.”

“Hey, do you know who I am?!”

“Yeah. A dead mobster at the bottom of the ocean,” she replied casually.

“Hey, that’s… I’m… I could…”

He slumped to the ground and grew strangely quiet. “Huh… so that’s it? I spent all this time becomin’ the toughest pony in Manehattan, buildin’ up all that money, an’ then just like that it’s over?”

Rainbow Dash sighed. “I’m afraid so,” she said.

His frown deepened. “It… I mean, I never thought it’d happen to me…”

Rainbow rubbed the back of her neck. “Well, uh,” she said awkwardly, “if it makes you feel any better, there’s a good chance somepony will ‘whack’ those guys that got you.”

He raised his head slightly. He even grinned. “Yeah. Yeah, maybe you’re right. I guess that does make me feel better. Thanks.”

“Okay, whatever makes you feel better,” she muttered, raising her scythe. “See ya!”

“See ya ‘round, kid,” Trotsky said as he faded away.

“Ugh,” she groaned. “I can’t believe that guy.” She held up her watch. “Okay, who’s next?

“So it says here that you were on a family vacation…”

Rainbow looked up from her clipboard at the family of four standing before her, eerily wide smiles on all of their faces, save the youngest, a filly with her mane in curls.

“We still are!” said the father.

“Daddy… why is that lady dressed like that?” the daughter asked, tapping her father on the shoulder.

“Oh, it’s nothing to worry about, sweetheart. She must be, uh… a farmer!”

Rainbow raised an eyebrow. “Um… not exactly…”

“Now, honey, we shouldn’t assume things about ponies we’ve never met!” the mother said, playfully bopping her husband on the head. “Why perhaps she’s just got her own fashion sense! Maybe she’s one of those, um, ‘goff’ ponies.”

“You mean ‘goth,’ Mom!” the son said.

“Oopsie! My mistake!”

They all shared a mutual laugh.

This is so wholesome it’d make Fluttershy’s family ill, Rainbow thought. Kinda making it hard to tell them the bad news.

Rainbow cleared her throat. “Look, I don’t mean to interrupt, but it looks like before you— er, before I showed up, you were hiking in these mountains,” she said, gesturing to the narrow mountain pass they found themselves in. A gorgeous green valley stretched out before them as they stood at the exit of the pass. “And you were singing a song about…” she checked her clipboard “ much you like singing?”

“Oh, we sure were!” the mother said.

“In fact, let’s give her a verse, kids!”

The family broke into smiles again. “Ohhhhh…”

“No no no, that’s okay,” Rainbow said, holding up a hoof. “I mean, I’m sure it’s nice and all, buuuut… well, you remember those signs about the danger of avalanches and rockslides and such?”

“Oh, but who can resist the urge to sing when a song just leaps into your heart?!” the mother said. “In fact, that’s in our song. Ready, kids?”


Rainbow Dash zipped over and put her hoof to the mother’s lips. “No! No song! Look, I… could you and your husband come talk to me for a second in private?”

“Hm? Oh, sure. Come on, hon.”

The mother and father went with Rainbow a short distance away. They listened as she explained who she was and what she was doing, smiling politely the whole time. They listened as she reminded them that merry songs, while fun, were capable of triggering avalanches. Again, they kept their smiles. She then pointed to the large pile of rocks just a bit behind them and the foreleg that was protruding from under the pile that looked strikingly similar to the father’s.

At that point they stopped smiling.

The children stood by idly, obediently, doing their best to not listen in as their parents talked to the stranger in the cloak with the long pointy rake.

“Yes, but… Sure, but … anything you can… uh huh… What do you mean you’re not sure if… ...give us a minute?”

The mother and father trotted back to their children.

“S-so, kids, um… turns out we’re going to take a bit of a detour now!” said the father.

“I love detours!” said the son.

“Wait, who’s the lady in the funny robe?” asked the daughter.

“She’s… the Tooth Fairy!” the mother replied.

“The… Tooth Fairy? But we haven’t even lost any tee—”

“She’s on vacation, dear, justgowithit!” the mother said with sudden intensity.

“Okay, okay!”

“Now, kids, we want you to just close your eyes and the, uh,” the father said, giving Rainbow a sideways glance, “Tooth Fairy will cast a spell. And then we’ll all go on a magical journey assuming Pony Heaven is real.”

“Wait, what?”

“All right, kids, let’s close those eyes!” the father said.

“Well, happy trails, everypony!” Rainbow Dash said.

“Oh, wait! Before we go, we can sing our song again to Miss Tooth Fairy!” the son exclaimed.

“Good idea, son!” the father said. “Okay, everypony, and a one, and a two—”

Rainbow balked. “Look, you really don’t have to—”

“Ohhhhhhh…. Puppies and kitties and sun all day long
These are the things that fill me with song!
Roses and gumdrops and—”

By this time, Rainbow had already raised her scythe, wincing as the singing family faded away.

“Eugh,” Rainbow said, shivering. “Even the ponies I hang out with don’t sing songs that sappy.” She took out her watch. “Okay, who’s next?”

“So,” the pony with the hard hat said as he spoke with Rainbow Dash in the midst of Ghastly Gorge, “you’re telling me that I was eaten by one of the giant quarray eels?”

Rainbow nodded. “Yeah. Sorry.”

“Well, are you absolutely certain? I mean, last I remember, I was just collecting some geological samples when—”

Behind them from the depths of a giant hole in the cliffside came a huge belch. A moment later, a chewed hard hat slathered with digestive juices that looked exactly like the one the pony was wearing tumbled out of the hole and came to rest at their hooves.

“Totally certain,” Rainbow said.

“Ah,” said the now-late geologist. “Well… f:yay:k.”

“Look, I don’t know how to tell you this, but… you’re dead.”


“Yes. And I’m the Grim Reaper. Well, his substitute.”

“No kidding!”

Rainbow Dash felt a bit relieved. The elderly mare was remarkably accepting of her death in contrast to everypony who’d come before. Then again, they were standing right next to her bed (her very literal deathbed, as it were), where she’d died in her sleep, so it was a bit undeniable.

“I’ve gotta say, you really seem like you’re okay with it,” Rainbow remarked. “Like, waaaay more than most ponies.”

“Oh, that’s because of what comes after this,” she said.

“Well, if you mean an afterlife, then I should tell you—”

“No, no, not that!” the old mare said, rolling her eyes. “My rotten son and his wife have been waiting for me to kick off so they can collect their inheritance. What they don’t know is that I went and spent it all already! A million bits buying a warehouse full of ice cream!”

“Well, maybe they’ll enjoy the ice cream?”

“Lactose intolerant!”

“Then… they could sell it?”

“It’s garlic flavored!”

“Eugh! That sounds awful!”

“I know! They’ll probably lose money trying to get rid of it! Gahahahahahaha!” she cackled.

Rainbow Dash raised her scythe, hearing the echoes of the old mare’s cackling ringing in her ears.

“Okay, that’s the last one for now,” she groaned, rubbing her forehead. “I wonder if Death keeps any cider in his house, because I could really use some…”

As it turned out, Death did keep cider in his house, a fact that was of great personal comfort to Rainbow Dash as she leaned back on Death’s sofa and took a long drink from her mug.

“Oh yeah, that’s the stuff,” she moaned. “Jeez, this job can get depressing. I hope I did everything right for those ponies… hmm…”

She noticed the book she’d left on the coffee table and reached for it.

Maybe instead of reading it right from the start I could look up the things I’ve already been dealing with and go from there? I mean, I’m already in the thick of it, so a little skimming and jumping around here and there’s probably a good idea, right? I bet Twilight would think so!

She opened the book and searched the index for things like “murders” and “group deaths,” thinking back to the mobster at the bottom of the ocean and the song-happy family.

She shivered thinking about it. “Ugh. This is too morbid. I need more cider if I’m going to read this…”

An hour later, Rainbow Dash had simply fallen fast asleep. This might have seemed completely normal in one respect, as she had, in fact, had a particularly tiring day. However, when one considers that she was, at the time, a completely incorporeal being with no tether to the physical world, then the need for rest may seem inconsequential and completely irrelevant. However, if we may think of “tiredness” as a state of mind and general fatigue rather than a physical ailment, then perhaps we may forgive Rainbow Dash for the paradoxical crime of falling asleep on the couch after a few cups of cider and some dry reading.

In any case, she was suddenly awakened by a pounding on her (that is to say, Death’s) front door.

“Ghhuh?” she muttered, sitting up on her couch. “Wazzat? Who?”

She blinked and remembered her situation.

“Oh right. I’m the Grim Reaper. Unless that was a dream…”

She looked down and saw that she was still wearing her black cloak and her scythe was leaning on the couch beside her.

“Nope. Real. Darn it…”

She got up and stumbled her way to the door.

Maybe it’s Death, back from his vacation. Maybe he decided to call the whole thing off and let me go back to my life instead of making me put up with two more days of this horse hockey! Maybe he decided that I was so good at his job that he needed to come back before I totally replaced him! Yeah! And… and maybe he also decided to give me a trophy that says “Best Reaper Ever!” (exclamation point included) to show how great a job I did, and—

She opened the door at this point.

Death of Ponies! Greetings, Death of Ponies!

She found herself face to skull with a hulking skeleton in a dark cloak. However, unlike the Death she knew, this being had two huge horns protruding from his skull, and each horn was adorned with string from which dangled several coins with holes through the middle.

“Uhhhhhhhh…” Rainbow intoned, not sure how to take the strange being before her.

The skeletal creature before her had the same dim flames in his eye sockets as Death, and those eyes suddenly flared as they took in the sight of her.

What? You... you are not Death of Ponies! Imposter! the skeletal being shouted as he lunged forward, knocking Rainbow Dash off her hooves and onto her back. What sorcery is this? How tiny blue pony come here?! You answer now!

“Whoa whoa whoa!” Rainbow Dash exclaimed, holding up her hooves. “I’m his substitute! He asked me to take over for him while he went on vacation!”

The creature tilted his head. Vacation? he asked. Hmmm... this possible. Death of Yaks investigate.

The creature marched past her and examined the items in the living room, including her book, her scythe, and her clipboard (which she’d placed on the coffee table next to her nearly-empty stein of cider).

Blue rainbow-haired pony seem to be telling truth... but only one way to tell!

The creature reared back and lunged forward, using one of his prodigious horns to seemingly tear through the fabric of reality and create a Rift. Rainbow Dash got to her hooves and peered through it.

Through the rift, she spied Death, still in his tropical shirt, lying on a towel on a white sandy beach by a vast blue sea.

Ah ha! There Death of Ponies! Death of Yaks find you!

Death lifted his head and lowered his sunglasses (though protecting his eyes was thoroughly unnecessary, given his lack of eyes).

Oh, hallo, Death of Yaks. May I help you with something? Death asked.

Death of Yaks came to visit, the creature (which Rainbow had come to recognize as the Death of Yaks) said. Found blue pony. Says she is Death of Ponies's substitute. This true?

Death nodded. Oh, quite true, my friend. I've asked her to take over for a few days while I get some rest. You haven't attempted to smash her, have you?

The Death of Yaks shook his head. No. Death of Yaks would not smash pony without reason. Death of Yaks only mean to look out for friend's best interest.

Ah, then in that case, Death said, you needn't trouble yourself. I can assure you that she is doing just as I asked her. Please treat Rainbow Dash kindly and offer her any advice and asistance you can in my stead, my friend.

Death of Yaks will do that. Sorry to interrupt vacation, Death of Ponies!

With that, the rift closed, and the Death of Yaks turned to Rainbow Dash. He offered her his hoof and she took it, receiving the roughest hoofshake she’d ever experienced.

So sorry to trouble you, Blue Pony! the Death of Yaks said. Death of Yaks only concerned about friend. Death of Ponies best friend of Death of Yaks, and Death of Yaks is best of best friends!

Rainbow Dash blinked. “Okay then,” she said simply. “I… so… wait, there’s a ‘Death of Yaks’?!”

Of course! Death of Yaks is best Death!

“So you’re the Grim Reaper for yaks instead of ponies?”

Not Grim 'Reaper!' Grim Smasher! Death of Yaks find lost souls of yaks that pass away and then Death of Yaks SMASH them into next life!

Rainbow Dash staggered. “That sounds… kinda rough.”

Tch. And using stupid farming tool to take souls make soooo much sense. Blue Pony need to expand mind!

“Well, I guess you’re right, but…” She paused, then heaved a sigh. “Look, I’m sorry. This is all new to me, and it’s a lot to take in.”

The Death of Yaks nodded. Death of Yaks understand, he said. Death of Yaks help. You ask questions, and Death of Yaks will smash away Blue Pony's doubts and ignorance.

“Well,” Rainbow began, “for one thing, does this mean that every creature in the world has its own Grim Rea— er, version of Death?”

No, not every creature, the Death of Yaks said, waving a hoof dismissively. There Death of Ponies for small ponies. Death of Yaks for yaks because yaks only accept best Death, and Death of Yaks is best!

Rainbow Dash resisted the urge to roll her eyes. “Uh huh.”

Other creatures no need being like me or Death of Ponies. Griffons and dragons no care if they die... they accept death as part of life. Hippogryps care, but used to change, so they no need either.

“What about, say… changelings?”

Bah! Changelings not even have sense of individuality enough to think about death until recently! the Death of Yaks scoffed. Maybe now that their society change, they create new Death of Changelings, but only time tell.

“Oh. Neat!” she said, suddenly curious. “Hey, what about—”

Time of asking about other Deaths over now! the Death of Yaks declared, raising his hoof suddenly. If Blue Pony no have worthwhile question, then Death of Yaks leave!

He marched to the door, but Rainbow Dash took to her wings and shot ahead of him, blocking the exit.

“Wait!” she cried.

Yes? Death of Yaks listening...

“It’s just… I mean…”

She heaved a sigh. “Look, I’m sorry,” she said. “I don’t really have any good questions coming to mind right now, but I… I’m just a little weirded out by all this. Dealing with dead ponies and reaping them and not knowing what to say… it’s just a lot to take in.”

The Death of Yaks nodded solemnly. Ah. Death of Yaks understand. He patted her roughly on the shoulder. Mortal beings have hard time thinking about death. Make them think about how they die one day. Difficult for mortals, is it not?

“I… I guess I never really thought about dying until I met Death,” she said. She lowered her head. “But for him, meeting ponies after they… y’know… pass? It’s every day. I can’t…”

She shut her eyes and lowered her head. “I can’t wrap my head around it,” she said quietly.

Then, to her surprise, the Death of Yaks hugged her.

Oh, there there, Blue Pony, he said. It be okay. You strong. You must be, or Death of Ponies not ask you to do this.

Rainbow tensed up when the Death of Yaks embraced her, but she relaxed and heaved a sigh. “Heh. Maybe you’re right. I guess a few more days of this couldn’t hurt. Maybe I should even count myself as lucky… not too many ponies get another chance to live, do they?”

The Death of Yaks released her. There, Blue Pony understand. You be okay. Strong ponies like yaks: see a problem, andthen smash it!

She chuckled. “I guess you’re right,” she said. “Thanks, Death of Yaks. I feel a little better now. But, to be honest, I’d feel even better if I could talk to my friends. And, yeah, I know I could just use my scythe to go watch them, but it’s not like any of them could see me too.”

True, said the Death of Yaks as he made for the exit. Unless they really good at magic.

Rainbow Dash froze. She again shot forward and barred the Death of Yaks’s exit.

“Whoa whoa whoa what?” she asked. “What do you mean ‘good at magic’?!”

The Death of Yaks lowered his head. Blue Pony not even know that?! Bah!

He suddenly charged and headbutted her out his way before marching past her.

If Blue Pony want to do job right, she should read book Death of Ponies left for her! Then maybe she have easier time!

“Wait, what should I—”

But when she got to her hooves again, the Death of Yaks had mysteriously disappeared. There was nothing save the endless ethereal plain and the silent midnight sky above.

“Okay, okay, let’s see,” she said, darting back into the house. She went to the book and flipped to the index. She saw the entry marked “Magic” and then looked at the related entries. When she found the one marked ‘Powerful Magic Users (see Wizards)’ she found the appropriate page and read the entry intently:

...While you may be invisible to most ponies, this is largely a result of conditioned blindness to things that the average pony finds difficult to accept. Many children and animals, who by nature are prone to see the truth of things without judgmental eyes, are likely to see you, so exercise caution. Similarly, ponies with great magical skill or knowledge may possess enough insight to see you plainly. Such magic-users may panic when they see you, or simply accept you as a matter of course...

“No way… then that means…!”

She took her scythe and sliced a new Rift in reality, immediately dashing through it.

Twilight Sparkle collapsed onto the book in front of her. She was surrounded by dozens and dozens of other texts that had been carefully studied and discarded. Page upon page of notes had been scribbled and left nearby, and the library that she normally kept in order was now in complete disarray as she’d desperately searched each tome for some kind of clue to help her now comatose friend.

She groaned and raised her head.

Twilight Sparkle!

She jerked her head back as a dark, hooded figure stood before her, a razor-sharp scythe raised above its head.

...Your time has come and your soul is MINE!!

“No!” Twilight screamed before she scrambled away, backing up against a tall bookshelf in her library.

Then she heard a strangely familiar voice as it burst into laughter.

A blue foreleg shot forward and booped her on the muzzle.

“Hahahaha!” the voice laughed. “Gotcha, Twilight!”

Twilight blinked. Her eyes took in the sight before her, though she could scarcely believe what she was seeing.

The being in front of her wore a dark cloak and carried an obsidian scythe, true, but she had a blue coat and bore wings and a brilliant rainbow mane.

“R-rainbow Dash?” Twilight croaked.

“In the flesh (sort of)!” she said. Then she frowned. “Uh… sorry, Twilight? Was that a little too much?”

Then Twilight’s eyes filled with tears. “Rainbow Dash!” she cried, leaping forward and embracing her. “Oh my gosh, you’re all right! You’re… oh, thank goodness…”

Rainbow softened and dropped her scythe, returning the hug. “Heh. Yeah. It’s good to see you too, Twilight.”

A plum-colored pony with a raspberry mane stumbled past the clocktower in Ponyville.

She nearly lost her footing and whirled around wildly as the bell tolled 1 AM.

“Whothebuckizzz… wha… whassat?”

Berry Punch slowly looked up and saw the face of clock as she swayed back and forth unsteadily on her hooves. The vision of it was spinning.

“Oh… issa clock… tick tock… heh… heheh…”

She chuckled to herself and continued stumbling through the darkened streets of Ponyville that night until she at last found her house. She opened the door and went through it… only to headbutt into the doorframe next to it. Then she tried a few more times until she actually opened the door and managed to find her way into her house.

“Home sweet… home… sweet home…”

She made a stop at the bathroom that took entirely too long as she half-dozed, humming familiar songs to herself, before stumbling back out and up the stairs.

Her bed was an inviting sight, and she was about to simply collapse upon it when she spied the bottle she’d set on the nightstand next to the bed.

“Huh? That’s… wait, was that? Maybe it was… no no…” She shrugged her shoulders and pulled the cork from the bottle with her teeth. “Oh well… nightcap!”

She guzzled heartily from the bottle.

“Ha! One more for the… for the… ugh, I don’t feel so good… prolly gonna… regret (hic) re… regert that inna… mornin’...”

Berry Punch fell back on the bed, her head spinning and her limbs numb. The alcohol quickly made its way into her system, adding to the prodigious amount that had already been added from her long evening at the local pub.

Her raspy, gurgling breathing became long as she fell asleep. Then it became shallow.

Then it stopped entirely.

To be continued…

A Corpse is a Corpse (Of Course, Of Course)

View Online

Death approached the alleyway restaurant in Canterlot, pausing to look at the elephants adorning the colorful sign above the establishment before walking inside.

Hm... what an odd decoration, Death said to himself. I was not aware of ponies eating elephants. Perhaps this is simply one of those 'design choices' mortals seem to care so much about.

Coriander Cumin, the host of the Tasty Treat, was setting things up for the morning crowd when he heard someone enter through the front door of he and his daughter’s establishment.

“Hello, and welcome to the Tasty Treat,” he said jovially. “You are in luck, sir, I was just about to open for breakfast. Though our full menu is available as well.”

The customer - whom he could not quite figure out what he actually looked like despite standing there before him - sniffed the air with a bizarre, hollow sound like air whooshing through an empty cavern or playing a sour note on an ocarina. Coriander maintained his smile but couldn’t help feeling just slightly nervous for some reason.

Hallo. I have heard that this restaurant is considered exotic, Death said.

“Well, perhaps for Canterlot, sir,” Coriander replied with a chuckle. “For my daughter - our wonderful cook - and I, it is merely the traditional food of our homeland.”

I suppose that is true; everypony's 'exotic' is somepony else's 'ordinary.' Still, I have heard that one of the ways that one may best enjoy a vacation is to try exotic cuisine. Yes, I believe I will stay for a meal.

“Wonderful!” Coriander said, showing him to his table. “Are you on vacation, sir?”

Yes. I haven't really taken one before, Death replied as he took a seat.

“Oh? How long have you been in your line of work?”

Since the first primitive intelligence on this star was able to comprehend its mortality as it collapsed, breathed its last breath, and contemplated oblivion while its comrades looked on.

Coriander’s forehead started to feel hot and itchy. He wiped his brow but kept his smile. “Then you are overdue!”

I'd also heard that lying on a white, sandy beach was fun, but I don't believe it was so for me. The only thing that happened was that my bones got bleached and a flock of seagulls kept trying to pick at me. Oh, and an ambitious crab thought to make a home out of my cranium. Not a good start to my time off.

“I see. Well, perhaps our food will be more to your liking. Here is a menu, Mr…?”

Death paused. Bill?

Coriander raised an eyebrow and pursed his lips, obviously suspicious of the very unponylike name.

Death glanced back at the entrance, considering making it his exit, and then hit on an idea.

Bill... Door? Yes, Bill Door.

Coriander relaxed. After all, lots of ponies were named “Door.” Open Door and Double Door, two regular customers, were a pair of brothers who ran a sizable door emporium shop in Canterlot, not to mention their cousin Swinging Door, who had something of a reputation for wild late-night parties that had something to do with keys. (Coriander didn’t question this, however; doors needed keys, he reasoned.)

“Well, Mr. Door, let me know if anything strikes your fancy,” he said, turning to go.

Actually, Death said, pointing at an item on the menu, I'd like to try this one.

“Ah, the vegetable curry with rice. Excellent choice, sir,” Coriander said, taking the menu back. “I’ll tell my daughter and be back shortly.”

True to his word, a few moments later he returned with a plate of steaming hot curry with a side of rice and a cup of reddish tea.

“Enjoy your meal, sir,” Coriander said, turning for a moment before pausing and turning back. “Oh, and will you be having des—”

The curry and rice were completely gone and the cup had been drained. Coriander hadn’t even heard the clatter of silverware or any of the other usual sounds of someone enjoying a meal. Nonetheless, it was gone. The stranger’s eyes seemed to glow more intensely.

“Ah… I see you were quite hungry, sir.”

That was...

Coriander started to sweat again.


Coriander breathed a sigh of relief.

Death raised a hoof. I'd like another, if you please.

Coriander blinked. “A… another entree, sir?”

Yes, if that's all right.

“Certainly! I’m certain Saffron Masala will be pleased to know how much you enjoyed it. Just a few more minutes, sir!”

As he walked away, Death felt himself relax. He’d wondered if taking a short sabbatical like this was such a good idea, but since the universe hadn’t suddenly started coming apart at the seams, he decided that Rainbow Dash must be performing the Duty well enough. Thus, he relaxed and began to enjoy his vacation, knowing that his scythe was in good hooves.

Twilight sat in silence for a moment after Rainbow finished her tale. The two of them had moved to the dining room to enjoy some tea. (Spike had been in there as well and, being unable to see Rainbow Dash, he just silently stared as Twilight had seemingly carried on a vigorous conversation with herself before quietly backing out the room.)

“I… wow,” she said. “Just… wow.” She then made a face and asked “So they actually tried to do the same musical number that got them killed?”

“I know, right?! And it wasn’t even good!” Rainbow Dash exclaimed, slamming her hoof on the table.

Twilight made a face. “Bizarre.”

“Yeah, this is definitely the weirdest thing that’s ever happened to me,” Rainbow said before heaving a sigh.

Though Rainbow was often prone to hyperbole, this was not an exaggeration. Becoming the Grim Reaper was very easily the strangest thing that had happened to her. For the curious, the second strangest thing was an incident involving the theft of over 800 pieces of underwear from Victorious Secret’s shop in Manehattan by an untrustworthy relative who tried to shift the blame onto her that she spent the better part of a month explaining to Cloudsdale police before finally deciding to just move to Ponyville and be done with the whole thing before her reputation suffered any further. As a distant third, there was the time she and the others had been turned into Breezies. When being turned into a member of another species is a distant third in terms of one’s strangest experiences (and it’s not even the only time such a thing has happened), one might be tempted to think hard on one’s life choices.

Rainbow, however, was not one for introspection, and so she said “So, did you know about this whole thing?”

“Huh?” Twilight asked. “What thing?”

“The whole ‘magic users can see Death’ thing,” she replied, purposefully bulging her eyes for emphasis.

“Oh, well, I’d read about it in old legends and there were some old professors at Celestia’s school back in Canterlot,” Twilight said, tapping her chin as she reminisced. “I honestly thought it was something they made up to scare foals.”

“Well, you did seem pretty scared when I first showed up,” Rainbow said smugly.

Twilight rolled her eyes. “And I’m sure you were perfectly calm when you saw Death standing in front of you and in no way, shape, or form tried to fly away and then begged him to spare you when you lost at Monopony.”

Rainbow blushed. “Okay, fair point,” she muttered.

“So, you never told me how you figured out that magic users can see Death,” Twilight said. “Did you just happen to get spotted by somepony with magical ability?”

“Huh? Oh, no, uh… the Death of Yaks told me.”

Twilight raised an eyebrow.

“Yeah, that’s a thing,” Rainbow said. “Anyway, I looked it up in my book just to make sure, and then I came over here.”

Twilight suddenly leaned forward. “Did you say… book?”

Rainbow’s eyes bulged, and she started to grin. “Hey, yeah! Death never said I couldn’t let anypony else look at it!”

She took up her scythe, slashed a rift back to Death’s domain, and went through it, shortly returning with the book in her hoof.

“This is the book that Death gave me and—”

Twilight had already snatched the book from Rainbow. She was wearing a wide grin as her eyes sparkled.

“Incredible… a book written by Death himself! What strange mysteries and new discoveries lie in wait between these pages?!”

Rainbow blinked. “It’s… kinda cut-and-dry, really,” she said. “I got through some of it, but it’s pretty boring. I mean, A for effort to Death and all, but he makes something as metal as being Death itself seem like any other job.”

“To him it probably is,” Twilight observed, dragging herself out of her book euphoria. “Still…”

Rainbow paused, thinking for a moment. “Hey, since you seem so interested in the book, maybe you could read it for me and just give me the short version of things I need to know!”

Twilight frowned. “That sounds a bit like cheating.”

“It’s not cheating!” Rainbow said, crossing her forelegs. “It’s like we’re… study buddies!”

“More like tutoring at best.”

Rainbow sighed. “Look, I don’t want to screw this up, and all I’ve got to do is last two more days before Death lets me off the hook, and I can come back to life! If you aren’t going to help me, then give me the book back so I can read it myself!”

Rainbow reached for the book, but Twilight held it close to her chest and backed away. “B-but I wanted to read it!”

“Then cut me a break and help me figure this out!” Rainbow exclaimed.

Twilight sighed. “Okay. I guess it’s a small price to pay for getting to read it. And I guess you’re right. If this helps you get through this and come back to us, then it’s worth it, Rainbow.”

She smiled, and Rainbow couldn’t help but smile back in return.

“Oh, by the way, Twilight,” Rainbow said, “do me a favor and don’t tell the rest of our friends about this okay? It’d just make things more complicated, and it’s not like they could see me anyway.”

“What about Starlight?” Twilight asked.

“Well, I—”

At that moment, the door to the dining room opened and Starlight walked through, levitating a plate of pancakes.

“Good morning Twili—”

She froze when she saw the cloaked figure holding a scythe. The pancakes clattered to the ground.

“YOU’LL NEVER TAKE ME, REAPER!” she screeched, and suddenly shot forth a massive beam of energy from her horn that engulfed Rainbow, leaving nothing but a wisp of smoke as she ran screaming from the room.

Twilight stood there in shock before a new rift appeared and Rainbow stepped back through it.

“...So, yeah, turns out that being Death means that I can’t ‘die’ and just pop back into Death’s dimension, so that’s good to know,” she said, “but do me a favor and have a talk with Starlight later.”

Twilight massaged her temples. “Yeah… yeah, I probably should.”

“Anyway, do you mind if I hang out here and read some Daring Do books while you study? I don’t have anywhere else to be right now, so—”

There was the sudden sound of a tolling iron bell that rang throughout the dining room.

“What in Equestria was that?!” Twilight asked.

“Ugh, it looks like duty calls,” Rainbow said, taking out her watch. She looked at it for a moment and then grew quiet. “Oh no…”

“What?” Twilight asked. When she didn’t get a response from Rainbow, she asked again “Rainbow, what is it?”

“I… I gotta go, Twilight,” she said. “This is… it’s somepony I know. I really hoped it wouldn’t be.”

Twilight swallowed. “Family?” she asked cautiously.

“No, and not even a close friend, but still…” She heaved a sigh. “I should go take care of this. I’ll be back later and we can talk about the book then. See ya, Twilight.”

Twilight nodded as Rainbow created a new rift and stepped through. It vanished a moment later, leaving Twilight alone once again.

Twilight looked at the book and hesitated for just a moment before opening it and beginning to read.

Rainbow found herself in a darkened bedroom with bare wood floorboards. Across the room was a bed with a nightstand next to it. On the nightstand was a picture of Berry’s younger sister Pinchy and an empty bottle. A few more empty bottles were lying on the floor nearby.

And in the bed, totally motionless with limbs splayed out as if making the world’s worst snow angel, was the body of Berry Punch.

“Aw, jeez, Berry,” Rainbow muttered to herself, bowing her head.

She didn’t know Berry very well. She probably knew Berry the same way everyone else in Ponyville knew her: as the town party animal.

Oh, sure, Pinkie threw the best parties, but it wasn’t really a party unless Berry Punch showed up. She’d been called Berryshine as a child, but took her new name once her legendary punches became famous. They were sweet and festive and fruity… and after dark, when the colts and fillies were at home, they were unbelievably potent.

Her sangria, for instance, was practically the lifeblood of any raucous bash where ponies expected to be brought home stacked on top of each other in a cart. (Big Mac, being a teetotaler, made a killing on weekends doing this.) It was a perfect mixture of wines, fruit juices, brown sugar, rum, brandy, and some special fizzy water she got direct from Manehattan.

The first time Rainbow Dash had gone to an adult party in Ponyville, Berry had offered her a tall cup of that punch. She had no memory of what happened next, but she could take a guess based on the numerous citations she’d received from city hall fining her for making “obscene shapes out of cloud formations.”

The fines hadn’t been fun, but she had to admit that she’d laughed once she saw the pictures.

But now Berry Punch would not be going to any more parties, at least not in this world. Rainbow idly wondered if there was hard liquor in heaven (and sure hoped so), but shook herself free of those thoughts to do what needed to be done.

“Sorry about this, Berry,” she whispered, and raised her scythe.

With a quick tap on Berry’s corpse, her soul sat up and stretched its forelegs.

“Hmmmm, wow,” Berry said, stretching her back, “I was expecting a hangover, but I don’t feel a thing!”

She smacked her lips and got out of bed, and that’s when she locked eyes with Rainbow Dash.

“Hey, Berry,” Rainbow said softly.

Berry’s eyes widened. “Oh no… oh man,” she smacked her forehead and shut her eyes. “I can’t believe this happened again.”

Rainbow blinked. “Wait, what?”

Berry sighed and tried to smile. “Heyyy, so, I’ll be totally honest: I do not remember what happened last night. I’m not sure what you’re doing here Rainbow, but just so you know, sometimes when I drink too much I get a little… experimental. But the truth is that I’m, um… not into mares.”

Rainbow stared back at her blankly. “What?”

“I mean, not that you aren’t pretty and everything!” Berry said hastily. “It’s just that I don’t like you that way. I’m reeeally sorry… but at least that does settle things. I mean,” she chuckled, elbowing Rainbow in the ribs, “ponies have been wondering about you for a while, if you know what I mean…”

Rainbow continued staring back at her.

“Jeez, Rainbow, you’re making this kind of awkward,” Berry said, rubbing the back of her neck. “Look, I’ll make you breakfast if you want, and I’ll be glad to hang out the next time we have a party, but, well, I mean… whatever we did last night, it didn’t really mean anything.”

Rainbow said nothing for a moment. Then it finally clicked. Her eyes went wide.

“Wait, you think… you mean you thought that you and I…?”

“Oh, so we didn’t?” Berry asked. She breathed a sigh of relief. “Oh thank Celestia, I did not want to have to deal with this crap again after that thing with Lyra. And then that thing with Bon Bon. And then that thing with Lyra and Bon Bon—”

“Ewww!” Rainbow said, having stopped listening once she’d figured out Berry’s meaning.

Berry made a face. “What’s that supposed to mean? You don’t think I’m good enough for you?!”

“What?! No, it’s not that—”

“I’ll have you know that I’m a huge catch!” Berry shouted. “Fun, perky, great kisser…”

“Look, that’s not why I’m here—”

“You don’t believe me? Here, check this out!” Berry puckered up and reached for Rainbow.

“Gah! No, darn it, Berry, I’m not here for any of that, so cut it out!” she said, shoving Berry away roughly.

“Well, you don’t have to act so disgusted,” Berry grumbled.

“Look, I’m here because you’re… well…”

Berry stared at her. “I’m… what? You better not say alcoholic! I swear, if this is another intervention...”

Rainbow sighed. “You’re dead, Berry,” she said quietly.

Berry was silent. “Are you threatening me?” she asked, raising an eyebrow.

“What? No!”

“Then what do you mean I’m dead? I’m right here! In fact, I feel great! I’m—”

Rainbow grabbed Berry by the face and turned her around to look at her corpse stretched out motionless on her bed.

“Huh,” Berry said. “That’s… weird.”

“Look, Berry, it’s a long story, but I’m here because I’m doing the Grim Reaper’s job for a little while, and the bottom line is that you’re dead, and I’m here to help you, um… pass on.”

“But… that’s… I mean, what did I even die of?!”

Rainbow checked her clipboard. “According to this, alcohol poisoning.”

“Oh, that’s a bunch of horse hockey!” Berry said, rolling her eyes. “I can hold my liquor!”

“Apparently a lot of it,” Rainbow remarked. “Enough to kill you, in fact.”

“I have a very high resistance! There’s no way I’d just croak from alcohol poisoning!”

“Well, this paper and your corpse say otherwise.”

“Look, I can’t be dead, I must be…”

Rainbow raised an eyebrow. Oh, this oughta be good.


Rainbow Dash narrowed her eyes. “Resting,” she repeated.

“Yeah!” Berry said. “This is just a dream or one of those, uh… out of body experiences! In fact, that’s probably why I don’t have a hangover: I’m still asleep!”

“No, Berry,” Rainbow groaned, “you’re dead. Like, really really dead. Dead as a doornail. Stiff as a board. Cadaverific.”

“No, no, this is all just a booze-induced fever dream,” Berry said, going over to her body, stroking her chin (her soul’s chin, not her body’s chin, just to be clear). “I’m just asleep.”

Rainbow rolled her eyes. “Okay, if you’re just sleeping, then I’ll wake you up,” she said, trotting over to the other side of the bed. She put her muzzle right next to Berry’s corpse’s ear.

“Berryyyyyy!” she shouted. “Wakey wakey! I’ve got a nice Bloody Marey with your name on it if you wake up!”

She tapped on Berry’s forehead.

“Testing, testing!” she said. She lifted Berry’s foreleg and dropped it, only for it to drop back down limply. She then slapped her several times across the face, eliciting no reaction at all. “This is your nine o’clock alarm call!”

Berry glared at her.

“See? Now that’s what I’d call a dead pony.”

Berry shook her head. “No no, I’m just in a really deep sleep. You’ll see, any minute now I’ll wake up and voom!”

Rainbow groaned. “Berry, this pony wouldn’t voom if you put four million volts through her!” she shouted. “This pony is no more! She has ceased to be! Bereft of life, she rests in peace! I’d slap her again to try to prove my point but, much like the point I’m trying to make, that would be beating a dead horse!”

Berry bit her lip. “I… no.”

“Berry Punch, look, I’m sorry, but—”

“No, you know what, I don’t accept this!” Berry shouted. “I can fix this, I just need to get back in there and then everything will be fine!”

Rainbow Dash stared at her. “You know, nopony else gave me this much trouble,” she said.

“Yeah, and look where that got ‘em! Dead!” Berry retorted. She climbed onto the bed. “Okay, so, maybe if I…”

She shoved her leg into her corpse’s mouth, as if trying to put on her body like a pair of pants.

“What the heck are you doing?!” Rainbow asked. “You can’t get back in there that way!”

“Well, I’m sure as heck not taking the other route!” Berry shot back.

Rainbow blinked. “Oh, gross… that is so not what I meant!”

“Oh, you mean I’ve got the right entrance, I just need to try this headfirst?” Berry asked. “Perfect!”

Rainbow heaved another long sigh and took a step back. “You know what? Fine,” she said. “I’m just going to watch this play out until you accept that you’re really dead.”

“Well, be prepared to wait a long time!” Berry snapped. She leaned down and pried her body’s mouth open.

“Ugh… wow, is my breath always this bad?!” she groaned, recoiling from the stench emanating from her body’s mouth. “No wonder my love life is on the rocks!”

“If it makes you feel better, your breath’s probably much worse now that, you know, you’re actually dead.”

Berry ignored that, took a deep breath, and managed to shove her head into her body’s mouth.

(For those wondering how she was able to do this, it turns out that since your spirit is incorporeal, it doesn’t have to follow the same sorts of rules physical objects often do. Thus, with enough willpower, the ghost of a pony could conceivably thread their entire ethereal body through the very literal eye of a needle. This works for the spirits of other beings, by the way, with the strange exception of camels.)

Rainbow started to laugh. “Oh my gosh, you look ridiculous!” she managed to say. “I can’t believe you’re even managing to fit that far in!”

“Sh-shut up!” Berry’s muffled voice said as she pushed herself further down her body’s esophagus. “Ugh, this is so gross… but it’ll be worth it to be back in my body and see the look on your face!”

“Okay, if you say so,” Rainbow said, wondering if it would be inappropriate for her to raid Berry’s pantry and make popcorn while she watched this bizarre spectacle.

“I can do this… just… a little… further…!”

Suddenly something gave and Berry suddenly slid forward, her entire spiritual body entering her physical one.

The body opened its eyes.

Rainbow froze. “Wait… what?!”

Berry Punch sat up and turned to face Rainbow Dash. “Ha! I told you I could do it! In your face, Rainbow Dash!”

“B-but… I mean… how?!”

“I’ll tell you how,” Berry said, placing a hoof on her chest. “Sheer willpower! Guess I’m not as dead as you think!”

“Whoa, wait, this… this has gotta be a mistake…”

“Well, if you say so,” Berry said smugly, hopping off the bed and making her way to the bathroom. “I’m gonna go take a bath and get my day started. I think I’ll schedule a nice day of being alive. You can see yourself out and find some ponies who really are dead. Don’t worry, we all make mistakes!”

Berry slammed the door behind her while Rainbow continued staring after her, but then Rainbow’s brain re-engaged, and she flew to the door and started pounding on it.

“Hey, wait a second! I’m pretty sure this isn’t supposed to happen!” she shouted.

“What’s that?” Berry shouted back. “I can’t hear you over the bath running and you sucking at your job!”

Rainbow groaned. “Look, Berry, I—”

Just then, her watch gave off several more chimes.

“Okay, you know what? Fine!” she yelled, stamping her hooves on the floor. “Sure, pretend to be alive! See if I care! I’ll go handle these other ponies until you come to your senses! Let me know when you’re ready to accept the truth!”

She sliced through the air with her scythe and hurried off through the rift she created. A moment later it closed, leaving Berry Punch’s bedroom empty.

Inside the bathroom, Berry stuck her hoof in the tub as it continued to fill.

“Come on, can’t this water get any hotter?” she grumbled. Then she shivered, grumbling “No idea why, but I just can’t seem to get warm this morning…”

Rainbow stared at the stallion before her as they stood by the side of a dirt road on a steep hill in the middle of a forest. The stallion was an orange pony with a black shirt on. He wore a racing helmet but removed it, revealing a closely trimmed blonde mane. He had beady eyes, and she did not care much for his grin or the hungry look he was giving her.


“Hey girl, I tell ya whut, ya got that dang ol’ like goth look thing goin’ on there, man, but it’s cool, it’s cool, like with that dang ol’ bit with the, like, cloak an’ that curved pokey thing be like ‘Shah, the darkness within!’ gives me the dang ol’ willies, man, but… like a good way, man.”

She blinked. “Not sure what you mean, sir,” she said slowly, “but… I’m the Grim Reaper, and you’re dead.”

“Whoa, hey man whatchu talkin’ bout bein’ all dead like… sounds like a dang ol’ bit o’ roleplay, man, talkin’ like… ain’t one to judge or nothin’ man, just… freaks me out with that Reaper stuff, man, but if you’re into it back at my place if you’re interested.” He raised an eyebrow.

“No, seriously,” Rainbow said, ignoring his proposition. “You were racing your derby cart down that hill, lost control, and hit that tree.”

He turned and saw the wreckage of his cart. He also noticed the pony-shaped object wrapped around - and decently embedded into - a large pine tree. His eyes bulged.

“Yeah, that’s you,” Rainbow said, pointing at the corpse. “I mean, I’m kind of impressed you went fast enough to smack into the tree that hard, if it makes you feel any better.”

He dropped the helmet and fell to his knees.

“Oh no, man! I tell ya whut I just… just dang ol’ built that thang I tell ya whut, always be like… ‘safety dad gum first’ can’t believe I… I mean just dang ol’ look at this, man, I done gone and… like… all smooshed into that dad gum tree like… geh… dang ol’...”

He unexpectedly broke into uncontrollable sobbing.

Rainbow cringed, watching all his swagger and bravado drain from him. She gently patted him on the back.

“Uh, there there,” she said. “Hey, at least you died doing what you loved, right?”

“Man, lemme tell you whut, man, got that dang ol derby, wind in yer face just gotta be like, dang ol’ hoot an’ holler, just… just never quite knew that dang ol’ ‘live fast die hard’ kinda crap there man, just… like…”

He closed his eyes. “...dang ol’ cycle of life, man,” he finished solemnly.

“So, um, that… sounds like you’ve come to terms?” Rainbow Dash asked.

The stallion nodded.

“Whew! Okay, happy trails!” she raised her scythe and offered him a warm smile. “And hey, if there’s an afterlife, maybe we can race sometime!”

He gave her a wink as he faded away.

She grinned for a moment and then created a new rift to go on to her next job.

“So, what’ll you have, stranger?” the dusty brown mare behind the bar asked.

I have heard that many ponies celebrate their vacations with a drink, Death said.

Dust Devil blinked. Something almost registered with her, but not quite.

“I suppose that’s true,” she said. “Well, if ya feel like celebratin’, then how about a nice glass o’ Old Overcoat whiskey. I got this here bottle from Old Overcoat himself!”

You are very kind, Death said.

He was seated at a bar in Appleloosa, and the bartender, Dust Devil, was particularly cordial. He’d kept a supply of hard drink at his home for his more esteemed guests, rare though they were, but he never indulged himself. Still, he could recall somewhere in his journeys that ponies who went on vacation often indulged in food and drink, and now that he’d indulged in food (quite a lot, to the amazement of Coriander Cumin and Saffron Masala, his generous hosts at the Tasty Treat), he decided drink was next on the agenda.

Dust Devil returned with the glass.

Death drained it. (Or at least the whiskey was very suddenly not there.)

“How is it?”

Wet, Death replied. Am I having fun yet?

Dust Devil raised an eyebrow. “Well, ya might give it some time, stranger. Though I suggest ya pace yerself. I mean, this stuff is powerful strong an’ ya seem - if you’ll excuse me - a mite thin. I’d even call ya skeletal.”

Thank you? Death offered.

Dust Devil raised an eyebrow. She hadn’t meant her statement to be a compliment, but at least her patron wasn’t insulted.

“Tell ya what,” she said, pouring him a glass, “things are a mite slow here, so lemme pour ya another glass an’ tell ya a tale. It’s all about me an’ a bunch o’ ponies that met up in the Crystal Empire…”

Please do. I love stories, Death said.

Some time later…

“...And then she goes ‘just putting it out there, no pressure - but I really ought to say it: you two have missed a lot of birthday presents for your grandkids.’”

Dust Devil laughed at the end of her tale. “So that’s my story, stranger. Whaddya think?”

That was lovely, Death said, his forelegs resting on the bar. And I know that feeling. I have pershonally never been invited to a birfday party.

Dust Devil raised an eyebrow. Her patron appeared to be drunk, which made sense after he’d drained the entire bottle of Old Overcoat in less than an hour (and a few more bottles after that, she realized). It was more surprising that he was still standing at all, but still, at least he was still the relatively mellow type of drunk, as opposed to the belligerent kind.

“Seriously?” she asked. “Not even yer own? Didn’t yer Ma an’ Pa ever throw ya a party?”

I had neither a Ma, nor a Pa, nor could I really say that I was 'born,' Death replied, resting his bony forehead on the bar. And it'sh not like anypony ivitesh me to their birfday party...

Dust Devil’s smile became forced. “Oh, um… is that right?”

Everypony hateshhh meeee... he groaned.

“Aw, c’mon,” Dust Devil said, patting him on the shoulder, ignoring the fact that it felt like patting a sack full of dice. “Ya seem like an okay feller to me! Ya must have some friends somewhere, right?”

Well, I - hic - suppose, Death said, raising his head. But not many ponies would call me a friend.

“Well, I like ya just fine, stranger!” Dust Devil said, giving him a warm smile.

Reeeally? Death asked, stepping back from the bar. That'sh the nicest thing anypony'sh ever said to me...

He put a bag on Dusty’s bar. Thish should cover everything, he said, turning toward the swinging door of the saloon. I think I'll go meet up with my old friends. We haven't met up shhhhenturies!

Dusty was about to ask what he meant, but then she looked inside the bag. The coins inside didn’t look like bits, but judging by the strange markings and the text on them, they were most likely very old, and probably worth more than your average bit.

She would be even more surprised when she discovered that they were pre-Equestrian coins minted by Chancellor Puddinghead’s regime of earth ponies and often placed on the closed eyelids of dead ponies when they were buried.

“Apples! We got fresh apples right here!” Applejack called as she stood next to her cart in the Ponyville marketplace. It was a busy morning as usual in the marketplace, with throngs of shoppers browsing the stalls, stands, and carts to stock up on produce, grains, and a few other necessities. In addition to apples, Applejack usually brought some of Granny Smith’s pies, some jars of applesauce, apple butter, leftover zap apple jam, and occasionally some things that had absolutely nothing to do with apples (but you had to ask about those and come back when it wasn’t so busy; AJ had a reputation to uphold, after all).

“I’ll take a few apples!”

Applejack turned to face the speaker and gave a start.

Berry Punch was standing there. That, in and of itself, was not surprising. Berry was a regular customer, after all. What was surprising was how she looked.

“Uh, you all right, Berry?” Applejack asked, raising an eyebrow. “Yer lookin’ a mite rough around the edges today.”

Applejack did not voice her specific meaning, which was that Berry looked like she had partied a bit too hard the previous evening and not done a very good job of making herself look presentable.

“Me? I’m fine!” Berry said, waving a hoof dismissively. “Why do you ask?”

Berry’s eyes looked sunken and yellow. Her coat somehow looked a bit duller than usual. The way she was moving looked a bit stiff and unnatural, as if her joints had turned to metal and then immediately rusted over.

But it was more than that. There was a feeling Applejack got when she looked at Berry. Something that wasn’t easily put into words, like catching the faint whiff of something awful on the wind but not knowing exactly what it was or where it had come from.

Applejack decided to be diplomatic and forced herself to smile. “Oh, no reason, I s’pose,” she said, tipping her hat. “Just thought you looked a little tired is all. Sorry, I didn’t mean nothin’ by it.”

Berry smiled. “No problem, Applejack! Anyway, I’ll take a dozen apples, please!”

Applejack piled the apples into the bag and gave them over to Berry, who immediately placed them in her saddlebag.

“An’ here’s an extra, on the house!” Applejack said, tossing a shiny red apple to her.

Berry caught it. “Well, don’t mind if I do!” she said.

She breathed on it and polished it on her chest before taking a bite. Then she made a face and spat it out.

Applejack blanched. Oh gosh, I sure hope there wasn’t a worm in that one! Out loud she asked “What’s wrong, Berry?”

Berry Punch held up the apple. The insides were brown and mushy.

“It’s rotten,” Berry said, narrowing her eyes. There was most definitely an edge to her voice. The kind of edge so noticeable that one could reasonably expect a cartoon coyote to fall off it.

“But… that’s impossible! I picked this batch of apples just this mornin’!”

Berry’s expression didn’t change. She brought the bag of apples back out and practically shoved them back into Applejack’s hooves. Then she held out an empty hoof expectantly.

Applejack sighed and returned Berry’s bits.

“Look, I won’t hold this against you, Applejack,” she said, turning to go. “Honestly, there must be some kind of blight or something going around. This keeps happening today! I can’t get decent produce to save my life today!”

Applejack watched her go. She reached back into the bag that Berry had given her. She gasped.

“That can’t be,” she muttered.

She brought out the apples, the ones that had been fresh and firm mere moments ago. They were already going soft and had brown spots on them. She went to the other apples on her cart and found that they were showing the first signs of rot as well. Worse, her other products, at least the perishable ones, were also starting to turn: Granny’s pies had mold on them and the applesauce and apple butter were starting to ferment.

“What the hay is goin’ on here?!”

She closed her stand and went up the road to check out the rest of the marketplace, following a sickening gut instinct that she hoped was wrong.

It wasn’t. All throughout the marketplace, vendors who prided themselves on the freshest produce in town suddenly found themselves with ruined fruits and vegetables. She wondered about Berry’s suspicion about blight, but that seemed unlikely… she knew of no blight that worked so quickly and struck every single vegetable.

All she knew was that something was rotten in Equestria.

She decided to return to Sweet Apple Acres. After all, there was no point in trying to sell rotten goods.

I should tell Twilight about this, too, she thought. Maybe it’s nothin’ serious an’ I’m just overreactin’, but somethin’ about this feels wrong. It ain’t natural, an’ somethin’ about it makes me feel strange.

She paused. She realized that she actually did feel very strange all of a sudden. She felt lightheaded and dizzy. Her steps became unsteady, and she broke out into a cold sweat. “Ugh,” she groaned. “What the—”

She began to cough. She decided to sit down for a moment.

“Maybe I better rest fer a spell,” she mumbled.

Up the road, she heard another cough. Then several more. The sound began to echo out over the marketplace.

To be continued...

Dashes to Dashes

View Online

Mr. Waddle made one last note on his report and gave a somber nod at the pony lying before him. He adjusted his glasses and sighed, a gentle smile on his wrinkled face.

He was alone in the morgue, save for the body of old Mrs. Teacake. He’d known her in life, though they weren’t close, and knew she’d lived a long full life… or at least that’s what her family would almost certainly say at her funeral, as ponies typically did when a relative lived to an exceedingly old age. In truth, Mrs. Teacake had tired of knitting and tea parties and letting her children use her as a free babysitter for her ill-behaved grand foals, and she really wanted to go to Las Pegasus, party like a boss and have relations with a stallion half her age, or at least watch one dance provocatively while wearing a black leather saddle, so she didn’t really consider her life fully lived.

Thus, if the afterlife is indeed like what ponies say and filled with whatever activity you want to do best, then any relatives of Mrs. Teacake who would pass on in the future were in for quite a surprise when they reunited with her. In fact, though, given the lascivious and excessive desires many ponies possess, it’s likely that Heaven - if it exists at all - is nowhere near as wholesome as ponies would like to portray it; it is most likely a positively filthy place.

As coroner and funeral director of Ponyville, it was Mr. Waddle’s sad duty to file a last report on cause of death and later prepare the body for showing at the funeral.

He had assistants, of course, and after years of doing the job, he was strongly considering retiring and passing things off to one of them.

He signed the final report, listing “Complications due to old age” as the cause of death. He put the paper down and zipped up the body bag that contained Mrs. Teacake before wheeling her over to the square refrigerated unit in the wall - one of many - and placing her inside.

“Rest in peace, Mrs. Teacake,” Mr. Waddle whispered.

He washed his hooves and stepped out into the funeral home. Nothing was scheduled that day, so many of his assistants were either taking the day off or catching up on their paperwork. He decided to take an early lunch and stepped outside.

He shivered, startled at how cold it was. Strange, since it was supposed to be a warm day and the sun was out with a near-cloudless sky.

Something is wrong.

He wasn’t sure why he suddenly felt that way, nor was he sure about why he was so sure that he was right. The reason was, of course, that all his years working with the dead had given him a sense of it. Dying was, of course, natural.

What he was feeling now was decidedly unnatural.

“Hello, Mr. Waddle!”

Mr. Waddle turned, broken out of his stupor, and smiled at the mare who’d greeted him. “Oh, hello, Miss Berry!” he said. “How are…”

As Berry Punch was passing by the funeral home, he immediately noted her appearance. The sunken yellow eyes, the dull coat, the way she moved as though riddled with rigor mortis… she looked like a corpse that had climbed out of its coffin.

“Oh, d-d-dear!” he cried. “Miss Berry, are you ill?”

She scowled as she walked by. “I wish ponies would stop asking me that! I’m fine! I’m just a little stiff!”

Mr. Waddle watched her go on her way but couldn’t shake the chill he felt going down his spine. He tried to ignore it, but his instincts told him that would be a grave error.

He swallowed and turned back into the funeral home. He wasn’t hungry anymore. He felt an odd compulsion drive him back into building, toward the morgue. He went inside and found himself once again surrounded by the chilled compartments. Once there, he merely stood there, silent and still as a statue.

Then he heard a knock. He looked back at the door. “Come in?” he asked uneasily.

No one entered.

There was another knock, only now it had become a pronounced thump.

He slowly turned around, his mouth going dry. He listened as the sound intensified in both frequency and volume. He crept toward the sound which was most distinctly coming from where it should never come from: the compartment where he’d placed Mrs. Teacake.

Steeling himself, wondering if perhaps there was just some problem with the refrigeration unit or maybe a small animal had gotten inside the body bag, he went to the door and opened it.


He pulled out the flat drawer where he’d place the body bag and unzipped it.

Mrs. Teacake was still there, completely still in restful repose.

“Oh… just my imagination,” Mr. Waddle sighed, the tension draining from him.

Then Mrs. Teacake’s eyes opened. Her eyes fell on him. With a dry, rattling groan, she reached for him.

He screamed, stumbling back until he was stumbling over his hooves. All around him, the other chilled cabinets began to shake as their residents began to stir and struggle free of their body bags until the morgue was a cacophony of thuds, crashes, and groans.

Mr. Waddle scrambled to the exit, ran through, and shut the door behind him, quickly locking it. His assistants had all gathered to see what the commotion was.

“Mr. Waddle?” asked one mare. “What’s going on?”

His heart pounding, he managed to say between desperate gasps, “Bar the door! Don’t let them out! We need to find Princess Twilight!”

He immediately ran off as fast as his old legs would carry him as his stunned assistants all looked at each other.

“Uh, are we being punked?” asked one young stallion.

Then they all jumped as something began banging on the door, a chorus of groans audible through the wood.

“Bar the door!” shouted the most senior among them. “If this isn’t a prank, I don’t want to find out by having my brains eaten!”

“...and so you see, it was never about taste - mere simple taste! - but about the harmony of texture and presentation.”

Rainbow Dash’s latest “client” had seemed amicable at first, if a bit snooty, when she’d introduced herself as a food critic, and Rainbow had expressed enthusiasm about getting to taste so many different foods.

At the word “taste,” the mare’s expression had turned sour and she’d said, “Ugh! You see, this is the problem with pedestrian cuisine these days! Let me tell you something about food…”

Rainbow was trying to be polite and patient with the pale gray mare with white hair before her, but the ramble had gone on for the last few minutes and she just wanted to finish work and get back to Twilight to see if she’d made any progress with Death’s guidebook.

Also, she felt like she’d heard about this pony before, though she couldn’t place where.

She looked again at the name on her clipboard: “Zesty Gourmand.”

“...which would have spread to all of Equestria if I hadn’t fallen out of favor in Canterlot! But still, I am certain that I will be vindicated once ponies realize how artless their food has become! Then Rarity and that boorish friend of hers will realize what a mistake it was to involve themselves in a world they have no business being in!”

“Wait, Rarity?” Rainbow asked, tapping her chin. “Food… snooty pony… hey, I know who you are!”

Zesty ignored the “snooty” comment and beamed. “But of course! I am Zesty Gourmand! The preeminent food critic in all of—”

“You’re that pony that made everypony in Canterlot cook all that bland, terrible food!”

Zesty’s face turned sour, her eyes glaring so hard at Rainbow that she resembled a cockatrice turning its victim to stone.

Rainbow was oblivious as usual, of course, and had broken into laughter. “Oh wow, wait until I tell Rarity and Pinkie Pie about this!” she said between guffaws. “Seriously, even I’ve eaten at the Tasty Treat, that restaurant you wouldn’t even try, and it was awesome! And you thought everypony should eat food that barely has any taste to it?!”

Zesty rolled her eyes. “How typical. And just when I thought you were enlightened enough to understand,” she said. “Were you not listening to a thing I said? Art! Texture! Presentation! Overly obvious flavors ruin the experience of the meal!”

“Jeez, lady, how’d you get a name like ‘Zesty’ when you don’t even like zesty food?” Rainbow asked. “Maybe you should’ve changed it to something like… I dunno… ‘Blandy Hatesgrub.’”

“You have an awful lot of nerve!” Zesty shouted, pointing an accusing hoof at Rainbow. “You dare to come into my home and insult me?! Get out! Get out this instant! Once I’ve regained my place in Canterlot society, you’ll never be allowed in any restaurant in Canterlot again!”

Rainbow raised an eyebrow. “Yyyyyeah, that comeback you’re talking about? It’s not gonna happen.”

Zesty smirked. “Are you so sure?”

“Totally sure.”

“Hm hmm… and how is that, pray tell?”

Rainbow pointed at something behind Zesty. The gray unicorn turned with a sigh and then froze in her tracks.

She saw herself, her body, slumped back in her chair at the head of her long dining room table. Her eyes were wide, and her mouth was hanging open. A half-eaten lump of… something was on the plate in front of her. (Rainbow wasn’t sure what it was, as Zesty apparently insisted on eating everything in weird, pretentious shapes, so it could easily have been sushi or lasagna or a child’s craft project.)

“W-what is the meaning of this?!” Zesty demanded, spinning around to face Rainbow Dash. “What’s going on here?! Who is that imposter at my table?!”

“That’s not an imposter,” Rainbow Dash said calmly. “That’s you. Well, your body at least. You’re dead.”

“I’m… I’m what?!”

“Dead. D-A-E-D, dead.”

“That’s not how you spell that!”

Rainbow blushed. “Look, I like to read, I’m just a bad speller, okay? We all have our flaws! I’m bad at spelling, for instance, just like you’re a food critic with terrible taste in food!”

“I do not have terrible taste in food! I have a refined palette that can detect the slightest subtle… wait, how did I die?”

Rainbow looked at her clipboard. “Uh, looks like poisoning.” She glanced at the plate of food in front of Zesty’s corpse. “Probably in your dinner. Guess your palette didn’t pick up on that, though.”

“What?! Impossible! My chef has been held to the highest standards! He would never serve contaminated food! He—”

Just then, a blue unicorn wearing a chef’s hat and smock walked into the room. He glanced at Zesty’s corpse impassively and then went to her, placing his hoof on her neck to check her pulse. He then held his ear up to her chest, and then, just to be thorough, put his hoof over her mouth, just to make absolutely certain that she wasn’t breathing.

“Well, Mademoiselle Zesty,” the chef said as he stroked his thin mustache, “it seems zat you have enjoyed ze delicate almond flavor of my secret ingredient in your meal: cyanide.”

Zesty’s spirit gawked at him. Her mouth worked silently as she struggled to find the words to say, not that the chef would have heard her anyway.

“Poor Zesty,” the chef continued with a smirk. “I ‘ave spent years and years cooking for you zis terrible food. Zis is for all ze times you made me cook your meals again and again until zey were bland enough for you. And all ze times you forced me to make zem into ridiculous shapes! You would not even let me make food for myself unless it met your own répulsif standards!” He spat on the ground in disgust. “But now your reign of terror over ze world of cuisine has come to an end. I will relish working for an employer with an actual sense of taste, much like I will enjoy ze money all those restaurateurs paid me to put you out of your misery for all ze insults you heaped upon zem!”

The chef tapped Zesty’s body lightly on the cheek before walking out of the room, his laughter echoing throughout the house.

“My own chef murdered me?!” Zesty screamed. “That ungrateful, artless buffoon! He had the honor of cooking for me, the greatest food critic in all of Canterlot, and he… he just…”

“Wow, this is my second murder case in two days,” Rainbow said. “I mean, if it makes you feel better, I’ll totally tell the police about him after I get back to my own life.”

Zesty grit her teeth. “Plebeians! Wretches! Simpletons!” she shouted. “Is there nopony in this world that understands that food is meant to be enjoyed as an art form? Can’t they see that I brought greatness to their dinner tables? Are they not grateful that I have freed them from the tyranny of flavor?!”

Rainbow blinked. “Uh, maybe it’s just me, but I like it when my food tastes good,” she replied. “Seriously, did your parents just raise you eating white rice and water or something?”

“Of course not!” Zesty snapped. “My dearly departed parents were critics, certainly, but they were chefs as well. They made such wonderful meals! Gazpacho… paella… pie a la mode… positively delicious!”

“So… what’s with the whole ‘food should look good, not taste good’ thing?”

Zesty sighed. Suddenly all her energy drained away and when she spoke, it lacked the haughtiness it had before. “Look, it’s… when my parents passed, I was just starting my career. I had to establish myself somehow, but all my detractors and rivals thought I would just follow in my parents’ hoofsteps. I had to distinguish myself somehow! So, I executed a bold new vision for food! A totally new direction! Food as art! Food liberated from the obvious tastes of the past!”

She paused, looking down at her corpse, and then heaved a sigh. Then she smirked and actually began to chuckle.

“But it was all a big waste of time, wasn’t it?” she asked. “Even if I had just done the same thing as my parents, I would have been happy and the ponies of Canterlot wouldn’t have wasted all that time on the pretentious kibble I browbeat them into making.”

She wore a serene smile as she looked to Rainbow Dash. “Perhaps there will be delicious meals in the afterlife. Maybe I can get something decent to eat for a change.”

Rainbow smiled. “Well, only one way to find out,” she said, raising her scythe. “Enjoy your meal!”

Once Zesty faded from sight, Rainbow stretched her back and let out a loud groan. “Well, I think that’s the last for now. I better head back to Twilight so I can—”

Just then, she heard a loud chime come from her watch.

“Okay, never mind,” she muttered, holding it up as she stared into its face. “Oh great, another job in Ponyville. This day is just getting worse and worse!”

As Berry Punch made her way through the streets of Ponyville, she couldn’t help but notice how quiet everything was. Ever since she’d gone to the marketplace, it seemed that the busy little town had gone deathly silent.

She saw a few ponies here and there and greeted them like usual, but she could tell there was tension in the air, and it wasn’t helped by everypony asking her if she was all right.

Of course I’m all right! she told herself. That thing with Rainbow Dash this morning was just a big misunderstanding. Maybe I just feel a little weird because I didn’t quite reattach my soul to my body correctly. Yeah, like… maybe it’s like breaking it back in again? Like a new pair of boots or something?

She smiled. That explanation, however odd it was, seemed plausible enough. All that mattered was that she was alive, and nopony, especially not Rainbow Dash in her stupid costume, was going to tell her otherwise.

She finally reached her destination, Sugarcube Corner, and trotted merrily up to the door… only to find a large “Sorry, We’re CLOSED” sign hanging there.

“What?!” she exclaimed. “What gives?” She started pounding on the door. “Hey! I was meeting my sister here! Open up!”

She heard a noise above her and looked up to see Pinkie Pie leaning out of her window on the top floor of the bakery.

“Hi, Berry!” she called down. “Sorry, Mr. and Mrs. Cake had to close the bakery early today!”

“Why?” Berry asked. “Sugarcube Corner is always open at this time of day! I was coming here to meet Pinchy!”

Pinkie, usually one of the most cheerful ponies in town, wore a surprisingly sober expression. “Haven’t you heard? Some weird, awful sickness is spreading around Ponyville! The Mayor’s been going around asking ponies to stay inside their homes and close their shops! But I think I saw Pinchy here earlier, so she probably went back to your parents’ house or something.”

“Sickness?” asked Berry, pausing to consider that. “Hm… I haven’t been feeling well lately myself. Maybe I should go see a doctor too.”

Pinkie gasped. “Oh no! You should hurry! I heard that a bunch of ponies got sick at the marketplace this morning!”

“The marketplace?!” Berry exclaimed, her eyes widening. “I was at the marketplace this morning too!”

“Eek!” Pinkie shrieked. “Then you really need to go to the hospital, Berry! To tell the truth, you don’t look so good, and you don’t want to end up like poor Applejack or the others!”

Applejack’s sick too? I was talking to her… maybe she got me sick!

“Okay, I’ll head over to the hospital,” Berry said. “Thanks, Pinkie!”

She turned and galloped toward the hospital, leaving Sugarcube Corner and Pinkie behind.

“Wow, Gummy,” she said, turning back into her loft apartment to address her pet baby alligator, “this is really serious! If it gets any worse, I might have to turn my Party Planning Cave into a plague shelter! I mean, it’d still be the funnest plague shelter ever, but those are still some of the most un-fun things ever!”

Gummy blinked slowly in response.

“You’re right, Gummy,” Pinkie continued. “I shouldn’t get carried away. After all, this is probably one of those 24-hour bugs or maybe just a bad case of food poisoning or something.

“And speaking of food, since nopony’s going to eat all those baked goods downstairs, I think I’ll help myself to a few!”

Pinkie went downstairs as she mentally weighed having cake, pie, or a nice fruit tart (and decided that she might as well have all of them). Once she reached the bottom floor, however, she paused as a sickly odor reached her nostrils.

“Eugh… did somepony make a quiche with rotten eggs or something? I better toss it out before—”

She froze when she reached the display case of the bakery. She staggered back. Her chest tightened and she broke into a cold sweat.

“N-no,” she managed to croak. “That’s… that’s impossible!”

Every single item in the display case, and even back in the kitchen, was dry, stale, and covered with spots of mold. The entire bakery’s contents of fresh-baked goods had gone bad in the few hours since they’d been baked.

“Nooooooooo!” Pinkie shrieked, howling to the heavens. “It’s not just a pony plague! It’s a cake plaaaaaaaague!

Spike was dusting Twilight’s reading table in the library when a flash of light startled him enough to make him stumble backward and land roughly on his own scaly tail. When he looked up, he saw that Twilight herself had teleported back into the library.

“Welcome back, Twilight,” Spike said, getting up and dusting himself off (with his own feather duster no less). “You sure left in a hurry earlier! What’s going on?”

Twilight trotted over to the medical history section of the library, drawing out several books with her magic. “I was here reading that book Rainbow Dash gave me when Nurse Redheart from Ponyville General Hospital came to see me,” she replied as she laid out the books on the table. “There’s some strange disease sweeping through Ponyville and nopony can make heads or tails of it, so they called me to see if it was something else.”

“What do you mean, ‘something else’?” Spike asked. “Wait, you mean like… magic?”

“Exactly, Spike,” Twilight said. “And based on my own experience and a diagnostic spell I learned a while ago, I think that’s just what’s going on. I can sense some strange magic at work here. Maybe an enchantment or curse of some kind, but I can’t figure out exactly what it is.”

Spike gulped. “How bad is it?” he asked.

Twilight bit her lip. “I’m… I’m not sure, Spike.” She glanced over to him. “It’s spreading all over town, infecting our friends and neighbors and… it’s infected Applejack.”

“Oh no!” Spike exclaimed. “Any idea what the cause is yet?”

“No, I just—”

Just then, there was a commotion outside. A voice began calling for Twilight.

“What now?!” Twilight groaned. She teleported herself and Spike down to the foyer to see who was there. To their surprise, it was Mr. Waddle, the funeral home director.

“Mr. Waddle?” Twilight asked, tilting her head to the side. “What’s the matter? You’ve never come to my castle before today.”

“It’s… it’s impossible!” he panted. The elderly pony was drenched with sweat and wheezing like an old bellows. “The d-d-dead… the dead are…” He took a few more wheezing breaths.

“What?!” Twilight asked. “The dead are… missing? No? The dead are smelly?”

“Oh, let me try!” Spike cried. “The dead are gross? The dead are even deader than before? Umm… the dead came back to life?”

Mr. Waddle pointed at Spike emphatically.

“Ha! I win!” Spike exclaimed.

“Spike, be serious! That’s not what he means!”

“Yes I do!” Mr. Waddle shouted. “The dead… the dead live!”

Twilight gawked at him. “Wait… what?!”

“They’re… they’re rising from their b-b-body bags in the morgue! I had to bar the door, and I barely got out alive! I… um… why can’t I feel my front leg?”

He held up his left front leg, wiggling it about as if the limb had fallen asleep.

“Mr. Waddle?” Twilight asked. “Are you okay?”

“I, um… I feel a bit lightheaded. And my front leg is numb. And my chest hurts a lot. I… oh. Oh dear. I think I’m having a—”

He suddenly clutched his chest.

“Mr. Waddle!”

“Hrk! I’m coming, Elizabeth!” Mr. Waddle exclaimed before his eyes rolled back in his head and he collapsed to the floor.

“Oh my gosh!” Twilight cried, rushing to Mr. Waddle’s side. “Mr. Waddle, are you okay?”

“Wait, who’s Elizabeth?” Spike asked.

“Not now, Spike!” Twilight snapped. “Quick, we need to give him CPR!”

“We do? But I don’t even know how to find Tree Hugger!”

“I said CPR, not CBD!”

“Well, why don’t you do it?”

“I never learned how!” Twilight shouted, pulling at her mane. “Quick, Spike, we need to find someone who knows CPR!”

A moment later, there was a slash through the thin air next to them all and a rift opened. Rainbow stepped through it, pulling the hood on her cloak as she entered Twilight’s foyer.

“Rainbow, you’re back!” Twilight exclaimed.

“Oh, hey Twilight!” Rainbow said. “I didn’t expect to see you here.”

“Huh? But… I mean, I live here,” Twilight muttered. She then shook her head. “Never mind that! Rainbow, do you know CPR?”

“I sure do!” Rainbow said. “Why do you ask?”

“Mr. Waddle’s collapsed! I think he’s having a heart attack!”

Rainbow glanced down and finally noticed the collapsed form of Mr. Waddle on the floor.

“Wait, Mr. Waddle? Hang on…”

She looked at the sheet of paper on her clipboard. She winced.

“Uh, sorry, Twi, but I don’t think CPR’s going to help him now.”

“Why not?! Hurry, Rainbow, you need to help him or he’s going to d—ohhhh… oh. Oh.”

Rainbow sighed. “Well, I better take care of this,” she said. She tapped the corpse of Mr. Waddle with her scythe.

A moment later, Mr. Waddle’s spirit stood up from his corpse to stand among them.

“Hm? Oh, I feel much better now!” Mr. Waddle said. “Anyway, as I was saying, Princess Twilight, the dead are… wait, who is that pony on the floor? Is that me?!”

“Um… nooooo?” Twilight said, forcing herself to smile.

“Yeah, I think it’s better to just tell them, Twilight,” Rainbow Dash said, tapping Mr. Waddle’s spirit on the shoulder.

“Huh?” Mr. Waddle said, whirling around to face Rainbow. He paused a moment and adjusted his glasses. “Oh. Oh, Miss Rainbow Dash, it seems like you’re dressed as the Grim Reaper.”

“See, the thing is, I’m kinda subbing for him for a few days.”

“Oh. I see,” he said, frowning slightly. “You know, with all the time I spend surrounded by death, I thought Death himself would show up for me.” He paused and took another look at his own dead body on the floor. “But since that’s my body, I guess that’s not the case.”

Rainbow sighed. “Look, I’m sorry that I’m not what you were expecting, but apparently nopony I’ve met today expects to see me. Or Death. The real one, I mean. But it could be worse: you could have gotten the Death of Yaks.”

Mr. Waddle pouted, drawing circles on the floor with his hoof. “Well, sure, I can understand that,” he said. “Still, after all the close experiences working with the dead… I mean, I even met him once…”

“Look, Mr. Waddle,” Twilight said, waving her hoof to get their attention, “I think we have more important things to worry about right now.”

“Oh, yes, of course!” Mr. Waddle said. “The dead in my funeral home have come back to life! They were escaping their body bags and trying to come after me!”

“Wait, so… you mean zombies?” Rainbow asked, raising an eyebrow. “Real ones? Not like that time everyone pretended to be cookie zombies to scare me?”

Twilight and Mr. Waddle shared a chuckle.

“That was pretty funny, actually!” Twilight said.

“Some of the most fun I’d had in years!” Mr. Waddle agreed.

The two shared a hoof-bump.

“Okay, yes, ha ha, good job pranking ol’ Rainbow Dash,” Rainbow said with a roll of her eyes, “but maybe we should return to talking about the actual zombies in Ponyville right now?!”

Mr. Waddle regained his composure. “Oh, yes. Yes indeed! Those bodies were 100% dead. Morally, ethically, spiritually, physically, positively, absolutely, undeniably, and reliably dead!”

Twilight raised an eyebrow. “Not merely dead?”

“Really most sincerely dead!”

“Okay, okay, we get it!” Rainbow groaned. “So why the heck are dead ponies coming back to life?! I’ve got enough to worry about right now without worrying about ponies that are already dead coming back!”

She sighed. “I mean, I thought the one time was a fluke, but…”

Twilight froze. “Wait. ‘The one time’?” she asked.

Rainbow blushed. “Oh, ummm…”

Twilight narrowed her eyes. “Rainbow?” she asked slowly. “What did you do?”

“Well, I mean… look, it wasn’t my fault—”

“Rainbow!” Twilight shouted, taking her by the shoulders and pressing her muzzle into Rainbow’s. “What. Did. You. Do?!”

Rainbow Dash fidgeted slightly. “Nothing!” she protested. “I mean, Berry’s the one that did it…”


“Yeah, Berry Punch?”

Twilight paused, shutting her eyes. “Hmm… who was that again?”

“The purple pony with the grapes and strawberry as her cutie mark?”

“Hmm…” Twilight hummed, shutting her eyes even more tightly as she tried to remember.

“The second biggest party animal in Ponyville besides Pinkie Pie?! The one who always brings the best punch to every major event?!”


Rainbow groaned. “Okay, the pony who came to your Hearth’s Warming Eve party, but then you hit her with a rolled up newspaper for flirting with Spike after she drank too much of the eggnog? The one who puked in your azaleas, and then you found her asleep in your bathtub wearing a toga made out of your bedsheets?”

“Ohhh, right!” Twilight said. Then she frowned. “Right. Her.”

Rainbow cleared her throat. “Uh, again, she’s dead, Twilight.”

Twilight regained her composure. “Oh. Oh, yes, of course, it’s so sad,” Twilight said, bowing her head.

“Um, not to interrupt or anything,” Mr. Waddle’s soul said as he held up a hoof tentatively, “but I saw Miss Berry this morning. Are you sure she’s dead?”

“Yeah, totally sure,” Rainbow said, giving a dismissive wave of her hoof. “She just won’t admit it. No matter how many times I told her she was dead, she just wouldn’t accept it. She even climbed back into her body! Through her own mouth!”

Twilight’s eyes bulged. In a flat, even voice, she said “What.”

“Uh, which part do you want me to repeat?”

Twilight stared at Rainbow. “You let her back into her own body?!”

“No! I mean… I told her not to!” Rainbow protested.

Twilight teleported out of the foyer and then reappeared a few moments later. In the grip of her magic, she levitated the book Rainbow Dash had given her to study.

“Hey, that’s the book Death gave me!” Rainbow exclaimed. “Find anything useful, Twilight?”

“A lot of things, actually,” Twilight said as she flipped through the book, “but right now maybe we should focus on this!”

She opened the book to a specific page and shoved it into Rainbow’s face.

“Huh? Uh, let’s see,” Rainbow said, reading the book. “‘Even if the deceased wants to remain to warn their relatives, be adamant that the living cannot see dead ponies unless they possess a sixth sense, and that it’s generally better to just accept death and move on.’”

Rainbow scoffed. “Yeah, good luck with that! Most ponies I talk to practically need me to beat it into their skulls! I wish just once I could meet a pony who was okay with it!”

“I’m okay with it!” Mr. Waddle said helpfully.

“No, not that page, the other page!” Twilight shouted, pointing at the adjacent page. Exasperated, she heaved a sigh and began reading: “‘Though many ponies may not wish to give up their old lives, you must find ways to convince them to do so. A select few may even try to enter their recently-departed mortal remains. However, it must be stressed that under no circumstances should you allow them to do so. If anypony manages to reanimate their own corpse, they will have willingly become a member of the undead, thus becoming a lich.”

Rainbow stared back at Twilight. “So, like… one of those bloodsucking worm thingies or those ponies Applejack’s always going on about depending on the government?”

“No no no, not a leech, a lich!” Twilight shouted. “A member of the living dead! That’s…”

She froze. “Oh my gosh, that’s why all this is happening!”

“Why what is happening?” Rainbow asked.

Twilight paused and took a deep breath. “Okay, Rainbow,” she began, “remember your history class when they talked about the Necromancer’s War of 210 CYP?”

Rainbow blinked.

“Are you kidding me?! One of the few parts of history class everypony finds interesting?!”

“Look, don’t judge me!” Rainbow protested as her cheeks colored. “I hear a bunch of dates and immediately start falling asleep. And while we’re talking about it, I bet it’s not everypony who finds it interesting. I bet it’s only eggheads who like that stuff!”

Mr. Waddle held up a hoof. “Well, I thought it was interesting,” he said.

“You keep out of this, Corpsy!” Rainbow snapped.

“Look, the point, Rainbow is this: when a pony willingly becomes undead, they become a lich. As a result, they start generating huge amounts of necrotic energy. That energy starts by making food rot, but it also starts causing disease and resurrecting dead bodies, turning them into ghouls! All three of those things are happening right now in Ponyville!”

“Wait, then Berry’s responsible for this?!” Rainbow exclaimed.

“Yes!” Twilight shouted. “And if you don’t get her back out of her body soon, she’ll get worse and worse until she transforms into a horrible undead abomination! Of course, by the time that happens, it won’t really matter to anyone in Ponyville since they’ll all be dead, followed by undead right after that!”

Rainbow swallowed. “Okay, things might be a lot worse than I thought they were,” she said.

“You think?!” Twilight bellowed.

Just then, Twilight felt a tap on her shoulder. She glanced down to see Spike trying to get her attention.

She took a deep, calming breath. “Sorry. What is it, Spike?”

“Well, two things,” he said. “First, it’s starting to get a little weird watching you talk to yourself. I mean, I guess you’re talking to Rainbow Dash and Mr. Waddle’s ghost, but I can’t see either of them, so… you know… if you want to fill me in, that’d be nice.”

“Ugh, sorry, Spike, it’s just that this is kind of urgent and—”

“Okay, sure, but the other thing I was going to ask about is Mr. Waddle. So, he is dead, isn’t he?”

Twilight looked to Mr. Waddle and Rainbow Dash. They exchanged looks, each regarding each other as the resident expert on the subject (being a licensed coroner and the anthropomorphic representation of Death[’s substitute] respectively), and then turned back to Twilight with a nod.

“Yes, unfortunately, it looks like Mr. Waddle is dead, Spike,” Twilight replied.

“Then, uh… why is his body moving?” Spike asked.

They looked to the body. Mr. Waddle’s corpse was twitching. Then it sat up. Then it turned to face them with an ashen expression and lifeless eyes. A gurgling, bestial moan escaped its throat.

All four of them let out a scream.

“Ugh, what is all that noise about?!”

They turned, momentarily distracted from the sight of Mr. Waddle’s reanimated corpse to see Starlight Glimmer coming down the stairs.

“Twilight, I hate to complain, but Trixie and I were… um… practicing magic tricks,” she said, averting her eyes for a moment, “but all this screaming was killing the mood! F-for magic, I mean!”

“She’s not fooling anyone,” Mr. Waddle whispered.

“So what exactly is the big crisis here?” Starlight asked.

Then she saw Mr. Waddle’s zombified corpse as it stood and began shambling toward her, moaning and drooling as it slowly gave chase.

“THE DEAD LIVE!” Starlight shrieked, firing a massive beam of energy from her horn that disintegrated the zombie form of Mr. Waddle in a split second before screaming and running back up the stairs.

“Oh dear,” Mr. Waddle said as he looked down at the small pile of ash on the floor that had once been his body. “I guess I’m getting a closed casket funeral, then.”

“At least she didn’t blast me again,” Rainbow muttered.

“Uh, sorry about my former pupil, Mr. Waddle,” Twilight said as she rubbed her temples in exasperation.

Mr. Waddle shrugged. “I suppose it’s not really important. I mean, she probably saved me the cost of cremation anyway.”

“Okay, Spike, get something to scoop up Mr. Waddle’s ashes,” Twilight said, taking charge of the situation. “Rainbow, you need to find Berry Punch and get her out of her body immediately. Once you do, that should stop the flow of necrotic energy and everypony should be fine. I’ll start drafting a letter to Princess Celestia for Spike to send to Canterlot so we can let her know about the outbreak.”

“Sure thing, Twilight!” Spike said, running toward the kitchen.

“You got it, Twilight!” Rainbow exclaimed. She took out her scythe and created a rift to pursue her quarry.

Twilight teleported out of the foyer.

This just left Mr. Waddle’s spirit alone as he suddenly realized he’d been forgotten in all the chaos.

“Um… hello?” he called. “I think I was supposed to, um… ‘pass on?’”

Spike returned a moment later with something in his claws. He took a dustpan and a small broom and began scooping up Mr. Waddle’s remains.

“Ohhh, not a coffee can!” Mr. Waddle moaned as Spike obliviously scooped the ashes into a nearly empty can of Foalger’s. “I swear, if you end up drinking that, I’m going to haunt you and every donut you ever dip into that cup!”

To be continued…

Don't Fear the Reaper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She froze.

“Wait a minute… I’m in there!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That look in her eyes was simply… lifeless.

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

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

“Shut up!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What?!” Rainbow cried.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What the—”

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

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

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

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

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

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

He sighed as Twilight passed the letter to Spike.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No, everything is fine,” Twilight sighed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Princess Twilight,

This is grave news indeed...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“W-what?! No!” he shouted.

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

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

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

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

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

Rainbow’s eyes bulged. “Wait, what?!”

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

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

“Yes, she did!”

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

“Wait, you didn’t?!” Twilight cried.

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

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

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

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

Twilight shook her head.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Miss Starlight? What’s wrong?”

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

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

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

A moment later, he opened his eyes.

“Huh?” he asked. “What happened?”

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

He looked around and didn’t see Starlight anywhere.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He glanced back at his new body and blushed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trixie grabbed him with her magic and dragged him inside.

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

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

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

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

Do you have any threes? Death asked.

The other three groaned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m in,” said the red pony.

“I call,” said the black.

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’d be surprised, Death remarked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rainbow Dash blanched. “The… the…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The two of them shared a laugh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


“Think she bucked up?” Famine asked.

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

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

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

The other three Horses of the Apocalypse burst into laughter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ohhh snap!” Pestilence exclaimed.

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

Rainbow nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be concluded…

That Good Night

View Online

Twilight had just finished practicing one of the ward spells that Celestia had sent her when Starlight Glimmer burst into her study, quickly shutting the door behind her while panting rapidly.

“Oh, Starlight, I’m glad you’re here!” Twilight said. “I’m definitely going to need your help with these ward spells if we’re going to defeat that lich! Here, look at this scroll… uh, Starlight, are you all right?”

Starlight shook her head. “No, Princess Twilight, it’s me: Mr. Waddle!” he said. “I’ve accidentally possessed Miss Starlight’s body!”

Twilight gasped. “What? Oh no no no, I need the real Starlight’s help right now!” she cried. “How did this even happen?”

Mr. Waddle glared down at Spike. “Spike stored my ashes in a coffee can downstairs—”

“Spike!” Twilight exclaimed.

“I was gonna put ‘em somewhere else later, I swear!” he cried, claws raised in mock surrender.

“—and then Miss Starlight brewed them into a cup and drank it,” Mr. Waddle finished.

“What? But I put a sign on the can telling everypony not to drink it!” Spike said. “You mean she just ignored it?! ...Actually, yeah, that does sound like her.”

“Starlight, I’m very disappointed in you!” Twilight shouted, glaring at Mr. Waddle.

“B-but I’m not Starlight!” he protested.

“I know, but maybe she can still hear us in there!” She took a breath to calm herself down. “Have you tried, um, leaving her body somehow?”

“I-in a manner of speaking,” he said. “Miss Trixie offered to help. B-but, um… I think she thought Starlight was playing a sort of… um… game.”

Twilight tilted her head to one side. “Huh? What do you mean?”

“W-well, I…” He looked over at Spike who was still looking up at them both. He then beckoned Twilight in closer and whispered something in her ear.

“Oh!” Twilight said, pulling away as a blush came to her cheeks. “Ah, well… did you try telling her that you weren’t really Starlight?”

“Yes, but, well… she just thought I was ‘getting into the part,’” he said. He reflexively went to adjust the tie he normally wore only to realize that it was obviously not present on Starlight’s neck. (For those wondering why he adjusted an item of clothing he obviously wasn’t wearing, you’ve probably never talked to someone who tried to adjust their glasses while not wearing them.)

“I eventually managed to get away, though. Um, I beg your pardon, Princess, but I feel more than a bit self-conscious in Miss Starlight’s body. Could I borrow a bow tie, perchance? I’d feel a bit more like myself if I had one on.”

“I’ve got you covered!” Spike said, snapping his fingers as he dashed off to find one of his bow ties.

Twilight swallowed. “Well, in the meantime, perhaps you can still help me,” she said. “Even if you’re not Starlight, she’s still got a huge amount of aptitude with magic, so maybe I can try to teach you these warding spells instead?”

Mr. Waddle blinked. “Um, I b-beg your pardon, Princess,” he said slowly, “but I’m an earth pony! I don’t know the first thing about casting magic!”

Twilight rubbed her chin. “We don’t have much time. I’m not certain that I’ll be enough on my own to fight a fully-realized lich, but even with Starlight’s natural gifts with magic, I’m not sure I can teach you fast enough to pull off a complex spell like this!”

“I suppose I could try anyway,” Mr. Waddle said. “What’s the worst thing that could happen?”

“Well, the spell could backfire and kill you, or Berry Punch would be alerted to your presence and then she could kill you!”

“Oh no!” Mr. Waddle cried. Then he paused. “Wait… I’m already dead.”

“Yes, but Starlight isn’t!” Twilight snapped.

“Oh! Oh, of course!” He scratched his mane. “Well, perhaps - dear me, I’d forgotten what it was like to have this much hair - perhaps you could find somepony else with magic skills?”

Just then the door to the study burst open again. A very cross-looking Trixie glared at him. A noticeable bump was on her head.

“Starlight!” Trixie shouted. “I can’t believe you would hit me over the head with such a heavy spellbook! When I get my hooves on you—”

“Ahh! No!” Mr. Waddle screamed. “Not again!”

Suddenly his horn began to glow and he vanished in a flash of light.

“What?!” Twilight exclaimed. “Reflexive teleporting?! Where did he go?!”

There was a faint screaming outside the window which presently got louder until Mr. Waddle, still in Staright’s body, fell right past it before slamming into the ground below (at which point the screaming turned into loud groaning).

“Oh my gosh!” Twilight shouted, looking down at Mr. Waddle as he lay face down in a sizable crater. “Are you okay?”

“I think I broke my— er, Miss Starlight’s… everything…” he groaned.

Spike re-entered the room and saw Twilight and Trixie staring out the window at the ground below. A bow tie was in his claws. “Uh… what did I miss?”

“Mr. Waddle just teleported himself out the window!” Twilight screamed.

“What?” Trixie asked. “That’s not Mr. Waddle, Twilight, that’s Starlight!”

“No, Trixie, he’s accidentally possessed Starlight’s body!” Twilight said.

Trixie blanched. “The old funeral director?” Trixie asked. “Wait, then that means I was just… just…”

Trixie suddenly gagged and started spitting.

“Ohhh, I think I need a twelve-hour shower!” she shuddered.

“No time!” Twilight said, seizing her by the shoulders. “Trixie, I need you to help me cast some warding spells to stop an undead lich from destroying Ponyville!”

“Before Celestia has to do it instead,” Spike added.

“Yes, thank you, Spike,” Twilight said. “And you need to give this your utmost concentration because these are high-level spells that could very well backfire upon the caster, and we will probably only get one shot at this!”

Trixie stared back in silence for a moment. “Um… maybe you’ve forgotten that Trixie is more of a performance magic type of pony, so perhaps you could get somepony else to—”

“These spells are so complex that they require a second caster, Trixie!” Twilight said. “I would have asked Starlight, but… well, that’s no longer an option. There’s nopony else in Ponyville with enough skill to pull it off! I need you to help me defeat an undead horror or else everyone in town is doomed!”

Trixie blinked. She raised a hoof and opened her mouth to respond.

…Then her eyes rolled back in her head and she fainted, falling limply to the floor.

Spike and Twilight looked down at Trixie, then back to each other.

“Are we bucked?” Spike asked.

“Probably,” Twilight said. She heaved a sigh. “But we still have to try! Okay, get Star-er, Mr. Waddle to a hospital—”

“Thank… you…” groaned Mr. Waddle outside.

“—and I’ll try to revive Trixie and teach her these spells. It’s either that or sit around and wait to be turned into zombies and incinerated in a magical holocaust.”

“Or maybe Rainbow Dash will come through!” Spike said hopefully, offering her a grin.

Twilight bit her lip. “Yes, that’s true too,” she said. “But if she does what she’s thinking about, then… then she…” She swallowed. “Never mind. We need to get to work before it’s too late.”

“I sure do appreciate y’all comin’ to visit,” Applejack said, offering a weak smile as she lay in her hospital bed. “But maybe you should get back to the farm, Apple Bloom. An’ Scootaloo an’ Sweetie Belle should get back to their homes too, ‘fore this weird disease gets outta control.”

The three Cutie Mark Crusaders looked to each other.

“Are ya sure, Applejack?” Apple Bloom asked with a frown. “Everypony’s real worried about ya…”

“And Auntie Lofty and Auntie Holiday don’t live too far away,” Scootaloo added. “We could stay longer, if you want?”

“Honestly,” Applejack said, feeling her eyelids grow heavier, “I feel like takin’ a nice long nap. Feel like I could sleep… for…”

They waited for her to continue but then saw that she’d simply nodded off. After a quick glance at each other, they all quietly left the room.

“Wow… she doesn’t look so good,” Scootaloo said.

“Shh!” Sweetie Belle said, elbowing her in the ribs. “Now’s not the time!”

They saw that Apple Bloom was having trouble keeping the tears from her eyes as they made their way down the hallway at Ponyville General.

“It’s not like I’ve never seen Applejack sick,” she muttered. “It’s just that… somethin’ seems off about ‘er now. About everypony ‘round the hospital, actually. In fact… it seems like there’s somethin’ wrong all over Ponyville!”

Scootaloo bowed her head. “I’m sorry, Apple Bloom,” Scootaloo said. “I know how you feel. I mean, I keep paying visits to Rainbow Dash and… and she doesn’t seem like she’s doing any better…”

She froze.

“Wait. What if this disease gets to her, too?! She’s already in bad shape! What if she—”

“Hey, hey, just relax!” Sweetie Belle said, drawing both of her friends close. “Your sisters are two of the toughest ponies around! I’m sure they’ll both be fine!”

“Yeah… yeah, you’re right!” Scootaloo said.

“Exactly!” Apple Bloom added.

The three friends turned the corner to enter the lobby…

...and were immediately pulled behind the receptionist’s counter by Nurse Redheart.

“Shh!” she hissed. “Stay quiet, you fillies! Unless you want them to see you!”

“Who’s ‘them’?” Sweetie Belle asked.

Nurse Redheart held a hoof to her lips and gestured above the counter. The three fillies cautiously peeked above it and saw what Nurse Redheart was pointing at.

The lobby was filled with several ponies in hospital gowns. But they were all moving stiffly, groaning, their jaws slack, and there was a blind, empty look in their eyes as they meandered around, eventually stumbling toward the exit and awkwardly shoving themselves through and out into the streets.

Apple Bloom swallowed. “What’s wrong with ‘em?” she whispered.

“I know one of them,” Nurse Redheard replied. “One of them is old miss Spinning Wheel, the seamstress.”

“Hey, Rarity used to get some material from her!” Sweetie Belle said. “Maybe I should go say hi!”

“No, listen!” Redheart hissed. “She’d been a patient of ours until recently.”

“Until recently?” Scootaloo asked. “So… she got better?”

“No! That’s the point: she died last night!”

The three fillies stared back at Redheart.

“I don’t know how it happened, but everypony in the morgue suddenly came back to life and now they’re wandering around as those… those things!”

Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle held onto each other, eyes wide with fear as they shivered.

Scootaloo, however, had a sudden faraway look in her eyes.

“I knew this day would come,” she whispered.

“Scootaloo? What’re ya—”

Scootaloo suddenly turned and dashed out from the counter and through the exit.

“Scootaloo, wait!” Applebloom cried.

“Wait for me!” Sweetie Belle called after them.

After a few minutes, they spotted Scootaloo dragging a wheelbarrow out of Barnyard Bargains. The wheelbarrow was filled with all sorts of gardening implements and, for some reason, sports supplies.

“What the hay has gotten into ya, Scootaloo?!” Applebloom demanded.

“Sorry for running off, you guys,” Scootaloo said. “But I just realized that this is just like all those horror movies Rainbow Dash took me to when Auntie Lofty and Auntie Holiday told me not to!”

Sweetie Belle raised an eyebrow. “Still not following,” she said.

“Ponyville’s being invaded by zombies,” Scootaloo said. “If all the adults are just going to run and hide, then it’s our job to help take them down before they eat our brains!”

Sweetie Belle’s eyes went wide. “Oh my gosh… Button Mash was right…”

Apple Bloom frowned. “Y’all aren’t makin’ any sense!” she shouted.

“Wait, look!” Scootaloo shouted.

Nearby, a group of groaning, shambling zombie ponies was making their way up the street. (These ponies were a mix of undead ponies from the Ponyville morgue, undead ponies from the hospital morgue, and one Miss Chelsea Porcelain, who was not undead, but saw a group of elders shambling by and thought they were part of a flash mob and figured it might be a fun way to freak out all the younger ponies in town. The zombies, for their part, saw her as so old and decrepit that they weren’t immediately able to discern that she wasn’t one of them and figured she was just really really freshly dead.)

“Now’s our chance!” Scootaloo shouted, grabbing a shovel and running at the zombies. “Cutie Mark Crusader zombie hunters, go!”

Apple Bloom picked up an axe. “Well… I guess if that’s how it is…”

Sweetie Belle picked up a cricket bat. “Sure, why not?” she said with a shrug.

They both turned to look at the zombies who were currently getting their heads bashed in by a tiny orange pegasus with a shovel.

“Cutie Mark Crusader zombie hunters, yay!” Apple Bloom shouted, running into the fray.

“Yeah! Buck-a-doodle-doo!” Sweetie Belle shouted, raising the cricket bat as she followed.

Rainbow Dash stepped through the rift into the midst of a mostly-deserted Ponyville. A moment later, Death stepped behind her.

“Ponyville… everything’s so… quiet,” Rainbow whispered.

Such a missed opportunity, Death said. You could have said ‘Deathly Silent.’

“Is your ego so big that you have to make everything about you?!” Rainbow snapped.

Is yours? Death asked, giving the impression that he would have raised an eyebrow if he’d had any to speak of.

Rainbow rolled her eyes. “Look, can we just focus on taking down Berry Punch before she zombifies the entire town?!”

Of course. But this place does not seem like the right place to look, Death observed.

Rainbow rolled her eyes. “Yeah, obviously,” she said. “Maybe we should try one of her usual hangouts.”

Such as?

Rainbow shut her eyes, considering the question. “Well… the Berry I knew was always at a party. If she wasn’t there, she was mixing up a nice punch or sangria or… I guess just hanging out at the local bar…”

She froze. “The bar? Is it really that obvious?”

Death chuckled. You mortals are often obvious.

Rainbow sighed. “Right, I get it, we suck,” she said, rolling her eyes. “Anyway, we—”

Oh, quite the contrary, Death said. You are often obvious… and yet, somehow, you never cease to surprise me when I least expect it. You ponies truly are, in your own way… wonderful.

Rainbow paused. “We… we are?” she asked.

Oh, indeed, Death said. Did you never wonder why it was that my home looks as it does? I have attempted, with some success I should say, to emulate your dwellings so that I can, in some small way, better understand you. The photographs and portraits, the trinkets, the small touches… all of it my own way of connecting with you. That is why I choose to come not as a spectre of destruction, but as a kind friend, an usher to help mortals as they pass on. If I did not care for your kind, do you think I would come and hear your tales with such patience?

Rainbow could only stare back at this. “We should… look, let’s go… I think Berry’s favorite bar is just down this street…”

Then, by all means, Death said, lead the way.

Rarity heard a pounding at her door. This was commonplace for her, as the Carousel Boutique often had eager customers who insisted on pounding at her door despite the obvious “Closed” sign she left hanging outside. The most egregious case of this occurred at 1 AM several months ago and she, thinking it was an emergency, rushed downstairs and answered the door only to be greeted by a very haggard-looking Berry Punch (back when she was alive and not a horrifying, necromancy-spreading lich) who greeted her with a lopsided grin and a button in her hoof.

“Oh gooood,” she’d cooed. “You’re open! Say hic Rarity, can you sew back on this button back on for me?”

Rarity had forced herself to smile. “Of course, Berry… though I wish you would have called during normal daytime hours.”

“Oopsie!” Berry had said, chuckling.

“Well then… where’s the dress?”

“What dress?”

“The… the dress the button goes on?”

Berry had looked down, noticed she was not wearing a dress, blinked, and looked around several times. “Huh,” she’d said. “I guess I forgot to bring it. Haaang on Rariry, I’ll be right back with the dress!”

She had not returned with the dress that evening or any other time.

But back to her current situation, Rarity was at this time not hiding from customers but from the undead she’d heard were roaming the streets. It wasn’t that different, really, save for annoyance being replaced with abject terror and the fact that she was hiding under her bed instead of on top of it.

The carton of ice cream she was stress-eating was unchanged, however.

Oh, those ghastly creatures must be trying to break in! she thought. Hopefully they’ll go away if they think nopony is home. If I can just stay quiet… wait, maybe they can smell me? Do zombies have a good sense of smell? But I practice excellent hygiene! Surely I wouldn’t be smelly enough to be detected upstairs… unless they can smell my perfume. Wait, but why would being dead make their sense of smell better? From what I know from all those dreadful zombie films Rainbow Dash enjoys, the undead certainly don’t care how fragrant they are, so perhaps their sense of smell really isn’t very powerful, or else they would—

“Rarity!” Fluttershy screamed. “Open this door, please!”

“Fluttershy!” Rarity cried, rushing out from her hiding place and down the stairs to her door. “Just a moment, darling, I’ll be right there!”

Rarity undid the various locks on her door and opened it for Fluttershy…

...only to be tackled by her and nearly run over by the herd of animals following her.

“Fluttershy?!” Rarity exclaimed. “What is the meaning of this? Why are all these animals with you?”

“No time!” Fluttershy shouted, immediately shutting the door behind her and her animal friends.

Rarity made a face. Sheltering Fluttershy was one thing, but rabbits, squirrels, a few goats, and Harry the Bear were quite another. And she was especially displeased about the snakes and spiders.

Still, there was no use crying over stained fabric, she reasoned, and it was obvious that Fluttershy needed some sort of shelter, so she let the matter slide.

“Rarity!” Fluttershy hissed, cowering with her forelegs covering her head. “C-can you check to see if they’re still out there? We didn’t look back since we ran from the cottage!”

“Oh no!” Rarity cried. She went to her and gave her a comforting pat on the shoulder. “I can’t believe zombie ponies would wander all the way out to your cottage!”

“Z-zombie ponies?!” Fluttershy exclaimed.

Rarity narrowed her eyes. “Fluttershy, dear… what exactly are you and your animals fleeing from?”

“W-well,” Fluttershy said, still quaking with fear, “I heard a strange sound and went outside, and that’s when I saw the big barrier going up over the town—”

“The what now?” Rarity asked, raising an eyebrow.

“—and when I went behind my cottage, I was walking by the graveyard, and—”

“Hold on,” Rarity said. “The… graveyard? You have a graveyard behind your house?”

“Well, I take care of animals, and most of them don’t live as long as ponies, so when one of them passes away in my care, I bury them behind my cottage. But… but today…”

The other animals shared a collective shudder.

Rarity heard a scratching at her door. She swallowed and went to the window. At first she saw nothing.

Then she shrieked in horror as a half-dessicated squirrel jumped up and began clawing at the glass. She looked out and saw a dozen or so tiny furry creatures approaching her door. It might have been like a scene out of a fairy tale, save for the fact that most of them were in various states of decomposition.

“I t-tried to reason with them!” Fluttershy sputtered, her gaze unfocused and staring. “Angel Bunny offered Mr. Bunsworth a carrot! He shoved it away and tried to bite Angel instead! Oh, and Mr. Bunsworth used to be such a polite little bunny!”

“Before he died, you mean,” Rarity surmised, still staring at the adorable horror show outside her window.

Fluttershy nodded. “Ohhh, Rarity, this is just terrible! No matter how hard I tried to tell them that we’d gladly give them a snack, the only thing they really seem to want to eat is our brains!” She seized Rarity by the shoulders and started shaking her. “And I need my brains, Rarity! They’re my brains!”

“Yes, yes, I quite agree,” Rarity said, keeping an eye on the window. “Well… until a solution is found, and I’m certain Twilight or the other Princesses are hard at work finding one, you and your animals are welcome to stay here. Fortunately, I have a fully-stocked pantry in the kitchen. Perhaps Opalescence, will be a bit miffed about having to share her cat food, but… wait… oh no!”

Rarity shoved Fluttershy away and ran to the kitchen. She was just in time to see Opalescence, her pet cat, stagger in through the cat door she’d installed in her back door.

The white feline’s fur was disheveled and bloody and she had a blank look in her eyes.

Rarity swallowed. “Ah, now, Opal,” she said, “please tell me you’re just tired and got into a perfectly ordinary cat fight and are not slowly walking towards me because you’ve been bitten by zombie animals, thus turning you into one of them and, ah, you s-seem to be preparing to pounce at me! Ahahaha, well, if you’ll excuse me...”

She turned and bolted out of the kitchen just as Opal gave a yowl and pounced at her, claws drawn and jaws slavering. She slammed the door shut behind her and immediately used her magic to block it with her heaviest chaise longue. This was not her heaviest furniture item, but it made for convenient dramatic fainting a moment later as she flung herself onto it.

“Ohhh, poor Opalescence!” she cried. “If only I’d checked for you sooner!”

She then remembered that Fluttershy and the animals were still there as she popped open one eye and then stood up to compose herself.

“So, ah… it seems the pantry is no longer an option,” Rarity said slowly. “Unless someone is willing to ‘take care’ of my precious-but-decidedly-undead kitty cat currently occupying the kitchen.”

Angel Bunny raised a paw eagerly.

Rainbow Dash pushed open the door to the Salty Dog, Ponyville’s most popular pub, and very quickly spotted their target.

Berry Punch was sitting alone in the deserted pub. She was leaning across the bar with an entire bottle of applejack (the alcoholic spirit, not the pony, lest anyone think Berry had cruelly liquified and bottled her, because this isn’t that kind of story despite the preponderance of flesh-eating undead) and pouring it into a glass of ice.

“Well, you’re back,” Berry muttered as she turned on her barstool, glass in hoof, and took a long drink from the glass. “And you brought a… friend?”

Hallo, Death said, waving in greeting.

Berry smirked. “So, you’re him, aren’t you?” she asked. “You’re Death. The real one.”

I suppose that I am, he replied. And it seems you’ve been a rather difficult client for my substitute. I’m afraid that will simply not do.

“Okay, Berry, this has gone on long enough!” Rainbow interjected, readying her scythe. “Ponyville’s in a state of panic, the undead are roaming the streets, and I had to get the Grim Reaper himself here.”

You know, I never thought of myself as ‘Grim,’ to be fair, Death said. That’s more of a nickname ponies gave me. I find that a positive attitude will do wonders for your outlook on life. Or at least your outlook on the end of it.

“Well, no life is ending here, Death,” Berry said, taking another sip from her glass. “I’ve beaten you at your game, so beat it!”

“Berry, just give up!” Rainbow yelled. “I know we’re not very close or anything, but I know you well enough to know that you wouldn’t just sit here drinking while Ponyville goes to Tartarus in a tankard! I mean… does that stuff even do anything for you anymore?”

Berry sniffed, her smile fading. “Not anymore,” she grumbled. “That feeling… that pleasant warmth, that euphoria… I’ve lost all feeling, all sensation. You did this to me, Rainbow Dash!” She tossed the glass over her shoulder and slid off the bar stool. She began to walk toward them both. “I can’t feel anything except for this strange new power. It’s all I have left, so I’ll listen to it, not you.”

Swirls of black energy began to form around her hooves with each step. Her eyes blackened as the smokey energy began to pour forth.

Rainbow gulped. “Yeah… that’s terrifying,” she whispered.

It seems she’s not going to listen to reason, Rainbow Dash, Death said, lifting his scythe. If she will not listen to reason, then we’ll have to use force. Be on your guard and try to get through her defenses.

“Right,” she said, narrowing her eyes. “If you can get her attention, then maybe I can catch her off guard.”

Very well. Let us proceed.

A moment later, Death had rushed forward and struck at Berry with his scythe.

Berry, every bit as startled by Death’s speed as Rainbow Dash, barely formed a barrier in time, as the tip of Death’s scythe was mere inches from her muzzle. Her expression of surprise swiftly shifted into one of anger as she grit her teeth and black necrotic energy blasted forth, nearly engulfing her and ripping up the floorboards of the pub as it spread outward in a shockwave.

Rainbow quickly got over her initial surprise as well and tried to zip around to attack Berry from behind, but the black energy had blocked her before she could even swing her scythe.

“It doesn’t matter if you gang up on me!” Berry shouted, her voice a guttural, unearthly scream. “You’ll never take me alive… or dead!”

She shoved them both away with a blast of energy and, with a sweeping gesture of her hoof, blasted a hole in the wall. She seemed to melt into the very smoke that she was giving off and escaped through the hole as she made her way toward Town Hall.

“Is this normal?!” Rainbow demanded.

None of this is normal, Death replied. I would think that much would be obvious.

“I mean, is this normal for a lick!” she shouted. “She was totally normal this morning! Aside from being dead. Now she’s so powerful that not even the two of us can get through her magic!”

Ah, Death said. Then no. A lich is typically the result of a dark mage’s own machinations, not the fault of a poor reaping. Perhaps her power is the result of your mishap...

Rainbow sighed. “Okay, okay, I screwed up, you don’t have to keep mentioning it!”


Rainbow raised an eyebrow. “Or?” she asked.

Or perhaps she simply has such a will to live that it has expedited her transformation. And then, to Rainbow’s surprise, Death actually chuckled. She reminds me of you, a bit.

Rainbow looked through the hole in the wall that Berry Punch had escaped through. She felt a pang of guilt. “I… guess maybe you’re right,” she said.

Well, we should pursue her, Death said. It seems she’s made her way to Town Hall. Since it is the center of town, it would be an optimal place to spread her necrotic energy across Ponyville and infect anyone not already affected by it. If we aren’t able to stop her, far more may fall victim to her magic. And with every addition to her undead horde, she grows in power. She may even gather enough necrotic energy to survive Ponyville’s destruction, should we fail to stop her quickly enough, and then all of Equestria will be at risk.

Rainbow swallowed. “Then enough talking about it! Let’s stop her before it’s too late!” she exclaimed before dashing off in a rainbow-colored blur.

Death rolled his burning blue eyes in their deep sockets. Well, at least she’s decisive when she needs to be…

Twilight teleported along with Trixie and ended up a short distance from Town Hall.

“So… how are you holding up?” Twilight asked, raising an eyebrow as she cast a sideways glance at Trixie.

“Me? Ha!” Trixie laughed, sweat forming on her brow. “The Great and Powerful Trixie is more than prepared to deal with this threat!”

Twilight narrowed her eyes. “No. Really: how are you holding up?” she asked. “I’m sensing a lot of magical buildup from this place. Berry Punch must be nearby… I need to know how you’re feeling, Trixie.”

Trixie swallowed, her bravado fading.

“The Great and Powerful Trixie is… is… I’m terrified…”

Twilight softened. “Trixie…”

Trixie shook her head. “N-no… I’m fine, Twilight,” she said. “I… I know I’m not your first choice, but still… I’ll do my best!”

Twilight smiled. “Then let’s find Berry and finally put this to an end!”

As they approached Town Hall, the two felt a strange tingling in the air. A blackish purple haze seemed to settle over the area.

“Are you sure this is even safe?!” Trixie hissed. “What if we get ‘zombified’ just by being near this!”

“That’s part of the reason we cast a ward on ourselves before we left, remember?” Twilight whispered back. “It should repel ambient necrotic energy short of a direct burst from the source of necromancy.”

Trixie raised an eyebrow. “Uh, in Ponish this time?”

Twilight sighed and gave a roll of her eyes. “We’ll be fine as long as Berry doesn’t blast us directly.”

“Oh, good!” Trixie said, feeling her bravery return. Then, after a beat, she asked “But, um… what if she does?”

“Then we’ll be moaning and eating brains for the rest of our unlives.”

Trixie’s bravery had a second thought and started packing its bags again, this time planning on an extended sabbatical.

“Which won’t be very long, since Celestia will probably have to destroy Ponyville to save the rest of Equestria.”

Trixie’s bravery threw its hooves in the air, opting to forget the suitcase, turn tail, and run, and Trixie herself was about to do the same when Twilight put a hoof to Trixie’s lips and said “Shh! I’m going to teleport us up to the second floor! Let’s hope she doesn’t see us!”

“Mmmph!” Trixie tried to reply as Twilight teleported them both inside Town Hall to the second floor.

The tall, gazebo-like structure had several offices for the Mayor and her staff on the second floor which opened out to the ring-shaped walkway that overlooked the open floor where town gatherings and performances were often held. There was also a balcony where distinguished guests could sit and watch performances or be presented from behind its curtains. Twilight had teleported them both onto this balcony and, fortunately, the curtains were in fact closed, keeping them hidden.

“Okay, stay quiet!” Twilight hissed.

Trixie nodded and Twilight peered through the curtains and saw that Berry was standing at the center of the room and staring at the entrance. Her back was turned to them.

“Okay, Trixie, I’m going to part the curtain just a little bit so we can take aim. We may not get another opportunity like this, so stay focused. Remember, I can’t cast this spell without you!”

Trixie gulped, but nodded.

Twilight silently parted the curtain just enough for both of them to aim their horns at Berry Punch as she continued staring at the door. Their magic began to collect as the spell began to build.

“Ah, there you are,” Berry said, as two figures burst through the front door.

Twilight continued to focus on the spell, but risked a quick glance to see that it was Rainbow Dash. Somepony else was right behind her.

Oh no, Twilight thought when she saw who it was. Well… maybe Trixie won’t be able to see him? Then again, if she’s skilled enough to assist with this spell...

“Trixie!” Twilight whispered. “Just stay calm! No matter what, don’t focus on the ponies Berry’s talking to!”

(This was a bad move on Twilight’s part, as it is very much akin to saying “Don’t think about cats!” to someone who will most likely be thinking about cats as soon as you say it. Yes, cats. Furry, whiskered, possibly striped, enjoys fish, and may be an undead zombie currently being murdered by the world’s most disagreeable rabbit.)

Naturally, Trixie glanced up. “Huh? Why would I—”

I really think you ought to consider your situation, Berry Punch, Death said. You see—

“Ahhhh!” Trixie screamed. “Death himself has come to claim Trixie! Ahhhhhh!”

“Trixie, no!” Twilight shouted.

Unfortunately, the spell destabilized and blew up in their faces, blasting them both backwards while thoroughly wrecking the balcony seats and setting the curtains on fire.

“What in the world?!” Berry shouted, whirling around as soon as she heard Trixie scream.

Death didn’t waste a moment and rushed at Berry, slashing at her with his scythe. Once again, though, she blocked it with her magic. She was forced back, however, and nearly fell prey to Rainbow Dash’s follow-up attack. The two reapers slashed at her repeatedly, pushing her further and further back until…

“ENOUGH!” Berry bellowed, releasing a massive burst of energy at them both.

The pair managed to block it with their scythes but still found themselves facing their now-enraged opponent.

“You thought you could ambush me?!” Berry shouted. “Are you so hell bent on denying me my immortality that you’d sneak around like that?!”

“Berry, will you please stop and think for a minute?!” Rainbow Dash shouted back. “For pony’s sake, you’re going to kill everyone in Ponyville!”

“No no no,” Berry said, waving a hoof dismissively. “Thanks to my new powers, everyone in Ponyville will live forever! Nopony has to die!”

This is not life, Berry Punch, Death said, his eyes burning. Nor is it death. It is undeath. You are not preventing anypony’s soul from leaving their mortal frame; you are only animating dead flesh with your corruptive power. It leaves them so bereft of life that their only yearning is to taste the flesh of those not yet deceased. This is not the paradise your magic has promised you. It is madness and a perversion of the natural order.

“And besides,” Rainbow added, “even if we can’t stop you, that barrier over Ponyville is keeping us all in here until we stop you. And if we can’t, Celestia’s going to use her most powerful spell to blow up the whole town!”

Berry froze. Then she took on a strange, twisted grin. “Is she, now?”

She raised her hooves to the air and released another burst of necrotizing magic, blasting a column of it straight up and blasting the roof to pieces. The column continued upward and slammed into the barrier. The thin, glowing layer of magic took on a dark purple glow.

“Well, when she does send that spell,” Berry said, giving them a twisted grin, “instead of containing us, I made it so the barrier will blast outward, bathing all the surrounding land with my power. Who knows… it might even reach all the way to Canterlot!”

Rainbow’s eyes bulged.

You really should learn to stay quiet sometimes, Rainbow Dash, Death said.

“I ought to thank you again,” Berry said. “Thanks to you, I gained this new power. And now, thanks to you again, I’ll be able to share it with all of Equestria!”

Rainbow swallowed. Then she raised her scythe again, narrowed her eyes, and spread her wings. “That’s it,” she said quietly. “No matter what it takes, even if I have to die with you, I’m going to stop you no matter what, Berry!”

With a guttural shriek she flew at Berry. She zig-zagged at the last second, hoping to surprise her, but Berry slapped her strikes away with almost casual indifference. Rainbow frantically struck at her again and again, without thought or even precision as hot, angry tears spilled from her eyes.

At last she missed with a strike that Berry simply dodged under. Berry struck her with the back of her magic-engulfed hoof, sending her to the floor.

Rainbow looked up to see Berry was about to administer the finishing blow.

Rainbow Dash, move! Death yelled, dashing forward to snatch her up and carry her out of harm’s way a second before Berry blasted a hole in the floor where she’d been a mere moment before.

Death leaped up to the balcony and tossed Rainbow inside next to Twilight and Trixie, who were still recovering from the effects of their failed spell.

Wait here, Death said. I will handle this myself.

He leaped back down to the floor to continue his battle against her.

“Death… no, I… nng, I can still help!” Rainbow groaned, wincing as she felt the chilling effects of Berry’s attack.

There is no point in having a mortal fight this sort of foe! Death shouted back at her. She is no longer the pony you knew, and so no mere mortal can stand against her!

Rainbow slumped back. “Oh boy,” she groaned. She shut her eyes, burying them in her hooves. “I really messed up this time. There’s no way I can stop her now! Ponyville’s going to be destroyed, Equestria’s going to be next, and it’s all my fault!”

“Rainbow,” Twilight groaned, getting to her hooves. “It’s not too late! Trixie and I could still use our spell on her. If we could just get a shot on her, it would immobilize her long enough for you to reap her! That would dissipate her magic instantly!”

“And if she sees you try, she’ll blast you both! And that’ll be my fault too! I… I don’t know what to do!” she cried. “If only I hadn’t messed up when I was supposed to reap Berry’s soul back in her room. I could have… I… wait…”

Rainbow paused. She remembered seeing something back in Berry’s room when she’d first shown up. She remembered all the bottles on the table by her bed. But there was something else there. A picture.

And then she remembered who that pony in the picture was. She’d seen her before when she’d competed in…

“The Sisterhooves Social!”

Twilight blinked. “Uh, what about it?”

“Okay, I think I know how I can solve this, but I need somepony to see me!”

“So just let them see you,” Twilight said flatly. “You… you did read that part of the book Death gave you right? I mean, it was in the first chapter.”

Rainbow blushed and gave a sheepish grin.

“Ugh! For crying out… yes, normally most ponies can’t see you, but you can allow them to be able to if you want. It’s like a filter to where they can either see you, see you but not recognize you as the Grim Reaper, or see exactly what you are (and probably freak the buck out).”

“Ugh,” Trixie groaned. “Did… did we get her?” she asked.

There was another explosion that tore a hole in the increasingly-wrecked Town Hall as Death swatted away a blast of necrotic energy with his scythe.

“No. No we did not,” Twilight said bitterly.

“Look, just sit tight here. If I’m right and this gets Berry’s guard down, be ready to blast her with that spell of yours.”

“And if it doesn’t?” Trixie asked.

“Well, at this point, it’s not like things can get any worse, right?”

“Please don’t tempt fate,” Twilight grumbled.

“Okay, like I said, I’ll be right back. Just be ready!”

With that, she used her scythe to create a rift and jumped through.

The house was quiet and dark, but relatively undisturbed. The living room had a typical bookshelf, chairs, and a sofa. There was a kitchen and dining room, and a wooden staircase led upstairs.

Okay, I’ll just have it so anypony who sees me will just see good ol’ Rainbow Dash, she thought to herself. If anypony asks about the scythe and cloak, then… um…

“H-hello?” called a small voice from up the stairs. “Is somepony down there? Mom? Dad? S-Sis??”

Rainbow followed the voice up the steps. “Hello?” she called back. “It’s me, your friendly neighborhood Rainbow Dash!”

“Rainbow Dash?” the filly’s voice called out. “Oh, thank goodness! My Mom and Dad told me to stay here while they went out to look for Sis!”

Rainbow finally found the young pony hiding under her bed in her room.

“Is it safe to come out?” she asked, poking her head out.

“For the time being,” Rainbow said, not meeting her eyes.


“Never mind, it’s safe,” she said.

The little unicorn filly came out and stood before her. She had a pink mane, a magenta coat, and yellowish green eyes. Rainbow didn’t know her very well, but she’d seen her at the Sisterhooves Social competition this past year competing with her older sister in the relay race.

Her name was Ruby Pinch, better known by her nickname “Pinchy,” and she was Berry Punch’s younger sister. It was her picture Rainbow had seen on the table next to Berry’s bed.

Rainbow swallowed. “So, listen… I found your sister, Pinchy,” she said.

“You did?!” she cried, her eyes lighting up. “Oh, thank goodness! I was supposed to meet with her today, but then Mom and Dad made me come home. Where’s Berry? Is she okay?”

Rainbow pursed her lips. This was harder than she’d realized it would be.

“She’s… okay, I need you to listen to me really carefully,” she said, “because I need your help, and we don’t have a lot of time…”

Trixie risked a glance out of a nearby window (or, to be more exact, a nearby hole that had been blasted in the walls by Berry Punch) and swallowed.

“Twilight,” she said, “I don’t mean to panic, at least not more that I already have been, but it’s sunset, Rainbow Dash is still not back, and Death still hasn’t taken down Berry!”

Twilight shut her eyes and took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. “I know,” she said, “but we just have to trust that Rainbow Dash will be back in time. Even if she did mess things up, she’s never the kind of pony to just abandon her friends or her town. She’ll come through.”

As if on cue, Rainbow stepped through a rift on the ground floor.

“Berry!” she shouted. “Listen to me!”

“You again?!” Berry growled as she deflected another of Death’s attacks. “I thought you left after your boss here saved your sorry flank!”

“Look, can we just call a timeout?!” Rainbow asked. “Just for, like, a minute?”

Berry glanced suspiciously from Rainbow to Death. “Drop the scythes first,” she said.

Rainbow immediately dropped hers. She looked over at Death, who was still clutching his. “It’s okay,” she said. “I know I messed up, but I’ve got this.”

Let us hope so, Death said, letting his scythe clatter to the ground.

“Good…” Berry said.

Then she fired a massive beam of necrotic energy at Death, leaving nothing but a few scraps of his cloak floating to the floor.

Rainbow watched in stunned silence. Did she just kill Death? she wondered. Oh man… if he doesn’t come back, I think that just means I inherited the role permanently… unless Berry kills me now, too…

“Care to quit while you’re ahead, Rainbow Dash?” Berry asked, a cruel sneer on her face as the necrotic energy gathered in her raised hoof.

“Berry, there’s somepony here to see you,” Rainbow said calmly. She stepped aside.


Berry froze. Her little sister was staring at her with a look of horror she’d never seen.

Rainbow glanced up at the balcony, meeting Twilight’s eye. She nodded and motioned to Trixie to begin casting the spell while Berry was distracted. Rainbow just hoped she would stay that way.

“Pinchy?” Berry asked. “What… what are you doing here, Pinch?”

“No, sis, what’re you doing here?!” Ruby Pinch cried. “Rainbow Dash told me that it was you that was causing everything. I didn’t want to believe her but… but, Sis, you… what happened to you?”

Berry swallowed but tried to smile. “Pinch, listen,” she said. “I… look, Rainbow Dash just showed up and told me I was dead. But I wouldn’t accept it. And now, thanks to me, nopony else ever has to die again! We can all just last forever!”

“As zombies?!” Ruby exclaimed. “Oh my gosh… Rainbow was right… you really are the one doing this to everypony! I thought maybe she was lying, but—”

She suddenly erupted in a coughing fit.

“Pinchy?!” Berry cried as she ran toward her.

“Berry, freeze!” Rainbow exclaimed. “It’s that energy you’re giving off; it’s making her and other ponies all over Ponyville sick!”

“I… I don’t feel so good, Sis,” Ruby said, suddenly feeling chills. She was becoming dizzy and sank to her haunches. “What’s… happening?”

“Berry, think about it for one minute!” Rainbow shouted. “Is this really what you want? Death thought you were already too far gone, but I think the real you is still in there, so just think for a minute: if you get your way, you’re gonna kill your own sister! Are you really okay having her as just another one of the undead?!”

Berry’s mouth dropped open. The black swirls of necromancy dissipated for a moment.

“N-no, Pinch, I… I just wanted to live a little longer! I just…”

There was a flash of light as Twilight and Trixie cast their spell. Suddenly Berry found herself frozen in place, unable to summon her magic, as ethereal magic chains suddenly bound her.

“Get these off me! Let me go to her!”

As she screamed in surprise and rage, Rainbow dove for her scythe, grabbing it and using her wings to propel herself at Berry, crossing the distance in the blink of an eye. She struck Berry in the chest with the scythe, hooking it into her soul and dragging it from her body as she sped past.

Berry’s body instantly began to topple over. The necrotic energy it contained poured from her lifeless eye sockets and mouth. As it hit the ground, a shockwave of light radiated out, banishing the dark mist that hung in the air, spreading out to purify all of Ponyville.

All across town, the undead suddenly went still and collapsed. In Ponyville General, the sick suddenly stabilized, and some began to regain consciousness. The dome over Ponyville returned to its normal color.

Rainbow looked up at Twilight. “Twilight, go get Spike and tell Celestia not to cast her spell!” she shouted. “Hurry! It’s almost sundown!”

Twilight nodded wordlessly. She grabbed a still-hyperventilating Trixie and teleported away in a flash.

“Ugh,” Berry Punch groaned as she sat up and rubbed her head. “What… what happened?” She looked down and gave a start when she saw the scythe blade that had gone through her chest.

“You seriously don’t remember anything?” Rainbow asked, raising an eyebrow.

“I remember… this morning,” she muttered. “I got back in my body. But it was cold… and then I heard ponies were getting sick…”

Slowly the day’s events came back to her. She was used to remembering things through a haze, but this time it was not through an alcoholic fog, but through the fog of being drunk on dark magic power.

“Oh no,” she muttered, her eyes wide in horror. “I did all that?! I almost… wait… where’s—”


They looked and saw that Ruby Pinch had gone to the fallen body of her sister. For whatever reason, Rainbow Dash was invisible to her, as, of course, was Berry’s spirit.

“Sis, wake up!” she cried, shaking her. “Sis! S-Sis… Sis, no…”

Tears formed in her eyes, and she collapsed once she realized the truth. Her sister wasn’t breathing, her eyes were utterly lifeless, and her body had gone cold.

“Pinch,” Berry whimpered. “No… no, please, I’m right here! Pinch, it’s me!”

She struggled to get to her, but Rainbow’s scythe held her in place.

“Let me go, Rainbow!” she begged, her eyes filling with tears.

“She can’t hear or see you, Berry,” Rainbow said solemnly. “I’m sorry. I’m really sorry… but there’s nothing I can do.”

I’m inclined to think there’s nothing you can’t do after that performance, said a familiar voice.

They both turned and saw Death standing there, back in his cloak and holding his trusty scythe.

“Death! You’re alive!” Rainbow exclaimed. “Awesome! I thought Berry killed you!”

So long as there are beings in need of passing on, I will endure, he said. Though I appreciate your concern. You are, likewise, ‘awesome,’ Rainbow Dash. It seems you were able to get through to Berry Punch in the end after all. You mortals never cease to amaze me.

Rainbow grinned. “So… uh, since I did such a good job, do you think maybe…”

Death rolled his eyes. I suppose since you were the one to prevail in the end, it is only fair, he said. Very well, Rainbow Dash: I give you back your life. You will not be dying today.

“Yeah, woo!” Rainbow cheered, raising a hoof in triumph.

However, Death added, that still leaves this remaining loose end to take care of.

Berry stared up at him. “Wait… no, please,” she whimpered. She tried to scamper away, but Rainbow’s scythe held her firmly in place. “Please! I… can’t I just stay here?!”

As a wandering spirit you would merely exist without a body, Death said. You would be unable to talk to anyone, interact with anyone, or do anything other than watch as the world went on without you. The sad existence of a lost soul is a cruel one, and I will not let you suffer such a fate. And given that you already attempted to re-enter your body once, I cannot take the chance that you would do it again.

He raised his scythe.

“No!” Berry shrieked, looking around wildly. She locked eyes with Rainbow Dash. “Rainbow! Please, you have to help me!”

“Berry,” Rainbow said softly. “I… the thing is, I don’t really—”

“We competed in the Sisterhooves Social!” Berry cried desperately. “Remember? What about all those parties? Hearth’s Warming! Your birthday? What about that time I helped you study for the Wonderbolt Reserves exam? I was there the first time you flew with the Wonderbolts when you replaced Wind Rider! I cheered on the Ponyville Buckball team you helped create on their first game! I… I’ve always been there, Rainbow… p-please…”

Rainbow watched as she broke down, sobbing hysterically into her hooves. “Please… I want to stay… I d-don’t want to die… I just want to live a bit longer… I want to go to a few more parties… I want to go to more shows with my friends… I want to see everypony enjoy my latest punch… I w-want to spend more time with P-Pinchy… I want to see her grow up! Don’t let him take me, Rainbow Dash!”

She looked up at her through tear-stained eyes. “Don’t let him take me! Please! Please please please, I just want to live!” she screamed.

Rainbow looked helplessly from Berry to Death and back again. Death stood there, still as a statue. Ruby Pinch’s grief-stricken sobbing echoed throughout the hall.

Your zest for life is indeed admirable, Death said. But a life, once lost, cannot be returned. Such is the fate of all creatures, though at times, even I wonder why it must be so…

Rainbow shut her eyes and took a deep breath.


Death tilted his head. Yes? he asked.

“I… look, maybe she can’t have her life back,” Rainbow said, “but, I mean, since I’m the one who caused this whole mess and put everypony through Tartarus to set things right… what if she took mine instead?”

Death stroked his bony chin. An interesting proposal, he murmurred.

Berry froze, looking up at Rainbow with wide-eyed disbelief. “You… you’d give up your life for me? After everything I did?!”

“I don’t want to,” she said. “But Death gave me another chance, and all I did was mess it up. Maybe somepony else should have that chance.”

“But… I don’t want to take it from you, Rainbow Dash!” Berry exclaimed. “That’s not fair either!”

“Well, I don’t see any other alternative!” Rainbow snapped.

No, but perhaps I do, Death said, raising his hoof. Rainbow Dash, you wish to make amends? Berry, you wish for another chance? And, I believe, everypony involved would probably be better off if all this damage was undone?

The two mares nodded emphatically.

Then listen carefully, Death said. Rainbow Dash, rather than giving your life as a whole to Berry Punch, I will permit you two to share it. What that means, however, is that you two will live on the same borrowed time: when one expires, the other will perish within a day.

Rainbow Dash and Berry Punch grinned.

“Yes!” Rainbow said.

“Sounds good to me!” Berry added.

Really? Are you certain, given the recklessness you two have shown in your lives?

Rainbow and Berry froze, glancing at each other.

“Uhh, I guess I could practice a little more moderation,” Berry offered.

“Yeah, yeah, and I could be more careful when I practice new stunts,” Rainbow said.

Hmph. Well… we’ll see if you two can indeed maintain your own existences… in the meantime...

Death raised his scythe, then brought it down, striking the ground.

For a moment, the world went white. Blinded, Rainbow Dash held up her hooves to shield her eyes. Then the light faded, and she found herself back in Death’s living room. Death was seated at the sofa, perusing a photo album.

“What the… what are we doing here?” Rainbow asked. “Where’s Berry?”

Death patted the cushion next to him on the sofa. Now, now, he said. There’s no reason to worry. Sit down and drink your tea before it gets cold.

“What—” Rainbow began, suddenly noticing the hot cup of tea in her hoof that had most definitely not been there a moment ago. “—tea?”

She slowly sat down next to Death.

You know, few mortals truly approach life with such a joy as you or Berry Punch, he said. That enthusiasm may make you reckless, but perhaps it is better than a life lived too cautiously. In any case, you should know that, as a consequence of our arrangement, Berry Punch woke up in her bed this morning with only subconscious memories of what transpired...

He pointed at a picture of Berry sitting up in bed, wincing as she rubbed her head. addition to a truly apocalyptic hangover, he chuckled. He pointed to another picture that showed her looking very ill as she lay next to the toilet in her home.

“Ooh,” Rainbow said. “I don’t envy her for that,” she said. “But wait… so, the zombies, the dome over Ponyville, Starlight zapping Mr. Waddle…”

All undone, Death said. He flipped through the pages and showed images of Mr. Waddle waving to his staff as he left the morgue, a healthy Applejack hauling an empty apple cart back from the marketplace, Rarity stroking a very not-undead Opalescence in her lap as she sat on the sofa, Starlight and Trixie examining a spell book, and even an image of Berry hugging Ruby Pinch as they met for lunch.

Rainbow cracked a smile. “Heh… well, how about that,” she breathed. “I guess it all worked out, huh?”

Yes, well, there is one last thing to attend to, Death said.

He stood and tossed his cloak and scythe aside, once again wearing his tropical shirt and straw hat.

A deal is still a deal, Rainbow Dash, he said. You still owe me one more day of vacation...

Rainbow swallowed. “Uh, see, the thing is—”

Ahem, Death said, picking up his scythe in one hoof and pointing at Rainbow with the other.

“I m-mean, I’d be glad to!” she said, mustering a smile.

Oh, I am so very glad to hear it, Death said. And, ah, before you carry on the work...

He tapped his scythe on the floor, and Rainbow’s copy of Reaping and You: The Dos and Don’ts of Death appeared on the coffee table. (Somewhere else, Twilight began yelling “Nooooo!” to the heavens when it disappeared from her hooves.)

...I suggest reading the manual carefully. His blue eyes momentarily burned brighter. I daresay you should study as if your very life depended on it. And no pawning it off on Twilight Sparkle, this time.

“Sure thing, boss!” Rainbow said, giving him a salute just a bit too quickly. “Enjoy your vacation! Hope you have a good last day!”

And you as well, Rainbow Dash, Death chuckled, creating a rift that would lead him to Las Pegasus. We all do indeed hope for a good ‘last day.’ Good luck with your reaping, Rainbow.

Rainbow waved as he went. She plopped down and flipped open her book and began reading intently. If she had to be Death for one more day, she would make certain to do a better job than she had with Berry, both for those who left this world peacefully, and for those who would not go gently into that good night.


Rainbow Dash sat up in bed. She’d been dreaming of that strange time when she’d first encountered Death, and how she’d been his substitute.

She yawned, wincing as she stretched the stiff joints in her wings. She knew why she’d been thinking of that time, of course. It all came rushing back when she’d heard the news…

She reclined on her pillow, glancing out the window, admiring the view from her cloud house. It was a peaceful day, the sky as blue as sapphires, and she smiled as a flock of birds flew by. If today was to be her day, well, she supposed that she was okay with that.

She brushed her mane out of her face. It was mostly white now but still had some telltale streaks of color here and there leftover from her wild and dazzling youth. As her hoof lowered, she felt it graze the wrinkles of her face.

“Jeez, I’m tired,” she muttered, shutting her eyes. “Mmm… but I should probably stay awake. I don’t want him thinking I forgot he was coming…”

Despite telling herself this, she nearly dozed off until she heard a voice outside her door:

“Yes, but… well, okay, if you’re sure… okay, I’ll tell her…”

A younger mare with a bright rainbow mane stuck her head through the door.

“Grandma, are you awake? There’s some skinny guy here who says he knows you.”

Rainbow grinned and sat back up in her bed. “Sure. Send him in, okay?”

The younger mare nodded.

“Oh, and Prism Dance?”

“Hm, yes, Grandma?”

Rainbow smiled. “I love you,” she said.

Prism smiled. “Heh. You’re getting sappy in your old age, Grandma.”

“Yeah, yeah, just send him in,” she said, rolling her eyes.

A familiar figure in a black cloak entered, his blue eyes dimly burning in their sockets.

Hallo, Rainbow Dash, Death said. Er, I hope this is not a surprise, but…

“No, no,” Rainbow said, shaking her head. “I, um… I heard about Berry Punch. They said she went late last night, so I figured you’d come sometime soon.”

Indeed. Once I collected her, she remembered our arrangement as well. She sends her apologies for some of the close calls over the years.

“Yeah, well, now she knows why I apologized to her that time I almost broke my neck doing that dive.” She chuckled. “So, uh… she didn’t put up a fight this time?”

If you mean ‘Did she try to climb back down her own body’s throat again?’ then no. No she did not. She was quite at peace with her death. But then, she has a lot to be proud of. As do you.

Rainbow smiled and looked around her room.

Seventy years. Seventy wonderful years of adventures had passed since that day with Berry Punch. Saving Equestria, advising Twilight after her ascension to the throne, becoming Captain of the Wonderbolts… and of course, the one thing she hadn’t anticipated in her youth: a family.

“Four generations,” she muttered, a serene smile on her face.

Death glanced in the direction she was looking and nodded. Soon to be five, I hear, he remarked. It was a similar story with Berry. So many children, so many grandchildren—

“No surprise with all the boyfriends she had,” Rainbow added, snickering.

Well, she was always one to indulge, Death said. At least she married one.

“Yeah, more than one, actually.”

Death shared in her chuckle. Ahhh, I do enjoy our chats, Rainbow Dash. I do apologize for calling on you to take up my scythe from time to time, yet you never seemed to complain.

“Eh,” she said with a shrug. “After that first time, the others were waaay easier.”

Well, giving me the chance to rest my bones once a decade or so was appreciated. He paused. Er, pardon me, but would you like to go for a flight? Perhaps even a race?

She raised an eyebrow. “I think my racing days are behind me, Death,” she said. “I mean, my wing joints are kinda stiff, and even if I'm still the fastest old nag in Equestria, I’m not much competition for most ponies anymore.”

Death held out a hoof. Oh, come on… indulge an old friend?

Rainbow sighed, rolling her eyes. “Oh, fine,” she said. “Not like there’s going to be another opportunity, right?”

She took his hoof and stepped out of bed. They went to the window. Rainbow gingerly stepped through and out onto the cloud which formed her house.

Huh… I kinda thought I’d be a little more sore, she thought. Well, maybe this won’t be so bad. And even if it is bad, it’s not like I’ll have to deal with it tomorrow!

“Okay, Death… first one to that cloud over there!” she said, pointing to a distant, white puff. “And no rifts this time!”

Death nodded and seemed to sprout a pair of bare, featherless, bony wings.

“Ugh. So creepy,” she muttered, even though she wore a grin. “Okay, ready… set… go!”

She rocketed forward, becoming a rainbow-colored blur as she moved with speed she hadn’t possessed in years. Her joints felt loose and her wings pumped with power that she’d only possessed at her peak. For a brief moment, she felt as though all the bygone years had simply melted away…

The sky seemed to crack as she broke through the sound barrier, a sonic rainboom bursting forth, spreading a wave of color and sound across the sky.

She skidded to a halt on the surface of the cloud. Death landed just behind her.

“Ha!” Rainbow exclaimed. “I can’t believe I just beat you! Oh man, I even managed a sonic rainboom! In your bony face, Death!”

Death chuckled. Yes, you’ve beaten me, Rainbow Dash, he said, even sounding slightly out of breath, which was all the more impressive when you realized he didn’t have lungs.

“Well,” Rainbow sighed. “Maybe we shouldn’t beat around the bush… when, um… when will I… y’know… go?”

About five minutes ago, actually, he said.

Rainbow froze. “W-what? No way! When!”

Just as you took my hoof, he replied. He pointed back at the house, and though the distance was great, Rainbow could see her body lying in the bed, so peaceful that she could have been sleeping.

She caught a glimpse of her reflection in Death’s scythe. She now wore the face of her youth, her muscles taut and her mane brilliant and shining in the midday sun.

“Wow,” she said. “I… guess I didn’t know what to expect. I… I mean, what happens next?”

I suppose you’re still against taking over for me and letting an old Reaper retire? Death asked, tilting his head.

Rainbow shook her head and held up a hoof. “No way. It’s not such a bad gig, but not something I want to do for life. Or, uh… well, you know what I mean.”

Then, in that case, Rainbow Dash, I suppose there’s only one way to find out what happens next. Are you frightened?

“Me? Pssht, as if!” she exclaimed. “Besides, who knows what waits on the other side. Big adventure, tons of fun?”

Perhaps. It will be… a pity to say goodbye, he said softly. We’ve truly become something like friends throughout these many, many seasons, both good and bad. I will miss that.

“Well, don’t get soft on me now, Bonehead,” she said. Despite that, she playfully punched him in the shoulder, remembering that it felt like hitting a sack of dice. “Mind if we hold off on the whole reaping thing for just a bit? I’d really like to see some friends first. Maybe we’ll see each other on the other side. What do you think?”

Death nodded. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least. Well, Rainbow Dash, it seems we must go together at last.

Rainbow took Death’s foreleg, and the two took off into the sun, traveling together into the light one last time toward a new, unknowable horizon under an endless blue sky.