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The Cold Hand of Mercy, Chapter 1

Fluttershy had known from the beginning, she supposed—the rabbit’s wounds were too terrible, even for her expert healing abilities. The poor thing; she’d found it several yards away from her cottage, bleeding from a wicked bite in its back—the wound reached just above its spine.

It had been three days since then, and Fluttershy had tried everything she knew to keep the rabbit alive with no success:  it had lost too much blood, and its brain had lost the vast majority of its functions.

The yellow pony sighed, rubbing her raw, red eyes and sweeping her tangled mane out of her face. Even now little Hector, as Fluttershy had named him, was having trouble breathing; every time his tiny chest rose and fell, he seemed to grow more exhausted—simply living was taking its toll on him. His black eyes rolled around in his head, sightless and clouded. There was no way he’d live through the night.

Fluttershy had lost animals before—it was impossible to avoid with the kind of work she did—but not for many years, and even if she had, she’d never have gotten used to it. She was supposed to be nursing these animals back to health, helping them get their lives back on the road. And yet here was Hector, knowing that she’d failed him, knowing that his life was on the verge of ending.


Fluttershy found herself wondering if her talents meant anything at all.

Her train of thought was interrupted when Hector let out a squeaky, pitiful cough; Fluttershy felt the cold knife of guilt twisting in her stomach. The waiting was agonizing, and Fluttershy hadn’t slept all three days of it, but she hadn’t been able to bring herself to leave Hector’s side. She wanted to be with him when he passed.

However, as Hector’s eyes closed and his chest started the familiar, slow pattern of unconscious breathing, Fluttershy could no longer stave off the needs of the other animals—as important as Hector’s life (or what remained of it) was, she knew she needed to fix herself up, get some sleep, and help the other animals, or it could be her on the deathbed next. She kissed Hector gently on the forehead, stood, and made for the door.

Her breath caught in her throat when she saw the black-cloaked figure in the center of her private-care room.

“Oh, um, excuse me…” she stammered, heart hammering. “I didn’t hear you come in.” The figure shook its head, black cloak rippling.

“I didn’t use the door,” the figure said with the voice of a stallion, soft and dark.


Fluttershy swallowed. “Well, um…is there anything I can help you with? I’m Fluttershy, and, um…I’m good with animals.”

“I know,” the figure said, moving closer, almost indistinguishable from the shadows, “and yes, I suppose you can help me, in a way. Though, to be honest, my visit is more for your benefit—and the rabbit’s.”

Fluttershy’s head instinctively snapped back to her patient. “Hector?” she said, puzzled. “I’m sorry, but…well, there’s nothing more that can be done for him.” It hurt her to say it out loud, but it was the truth.

The figure shook his head. “Not what I meant,” he said. “I’m acutely aware of your little friend’s health. He’s dying—basically dead already.” Fluttershy winced, at once shocked and stung by the stranger’s bluntness, and his knowledge of Hector.

“How…how did you know that?” she squeaked. “I haven’t told anypony else, and Hector’s been under my care for three days—he hasn’t left my sight.”

The shadowy pony walked forward, no sound coming from his hooves as he neared the bed. “I know,” he said. “I know plenty of things. I’ve been watching you for some time now—Hector is a more recent distraction. His addition to my list proved quite fortuitous.”

Fluttershy found it hard to breathe as the stranger got closer—the area around him was ice-cold. “Um…” She could barely find the words to speak. “Who…who are you?”

The figure’s head slowly swiveled to face her. “Many things. I could give you some long speech about how I’m the Shadow in the Night, how I’m the thing that stalks you in your dreams, the thing you beg for when you need sweet, eternal release… But unlike my predecessor, I don’t have a flare for the dramatic, and I don’t want to bore you.”

Fluttershy moved towards Hector protectively—terrified as she was, it was clear this pony was here for Hector. “Well, um…what’s your name?” she asked, trying to delay him.

The shadow chuckled. “You want a name?” he asked, shaking his head with bemusement. “Fine, fine, I’ll give you a name.” He paused for a moment, then raised his hooves to his head. “I’ll be simple for you. In the far west, my name is Pergia. In the far east, I’m known as Fequitus. Around here, I believe you ponies just call me Death.” The hood fell away, revealing a stallion with a beautiful white coat, long dark hair, and golden eyes. “For the sake of convenience, just call me Blanche—I’m pretty sure that used to be my name.”

Fluttershy recoiled, pressing up against the bed in fear. “Death…?” she whispered, not able to manage any more.

Blanche smirked, moving his waves of hair behind his neck. “No, Blanche,” he said. “I swear, nopony ever reacts well to my arrival except the ones who’ve been expecting me…it’s kind of depressing, honestly.”

Fluttershy’s eyes darted back to look at Hector, and she instinctively swept him up in her hooves, trying to keep her teeth from chattering as she glared at the stallion.

Blanche wasn’t impressed. “Don’t bother,” he said. “I’ve seen it before—when you’ve been Death as long as I have…well, you’ve seen it all. I can take his soul from here if you want—forcefully. Or you can accept that little Hector’s number is up, let me gently whisk him away and allow me to cross his name off my list; we’ve still got other business to attend to, you and I.”

Fluttershy’s eyes stung with held-back tears, and her grip weakened, exposing Hector to Blanche—the pony could have been lying for whatever reason, but then, he did seem to have a chilling reverence about him…

“Cute,” Blanche said. “Very picturesque, but there’s no need for it.” He stepped forward, smiling and raising his hoof. “Thanks for cooperating, though. It’s never fun having to drag out a soul.”

Fluttershy turned her head away, but was unable to close her eyes. Blanche placed a hoof carefully on Hector’s chest, cooing as the poor little thing’s soul was taken straight from his body. Hector didn’t fight on the way out; in fact, Fluttershy almost thought he looked relieved.

Blanche took Hector’s soul—an adorable, blue-lit thing—and raised it up toward the ceiling. It floated upwards and through a glowing light which appeared in the solid oak boards, giving a squeak of approval. Blanche, having completed his task, motioned for Fluttershy to lay Hector’s body back down on the bed.

The white stallion took in a long breath through his nose and smiled at Fluttershy. “There,” he said. “Wasn’t so bad, right?”

But when Blanche looked at Fluttershy, he saw her crying, tears spilling from her eyes and onto the floor. She tried to say something, but it was lost in her sobbing.

Blanche sighed. “Guess I couldn’t have expected a happy reaction,” he said. “Ponies like you have such a hard time dealing with death… I don’t understand it.”

Fluttershy raised her head, swallowing hard as she looked up to the ceiling. “W…where’d he go?” she asked, voice barely audible.

Blanche looked up with her, smiling gently. “The Ever,” he said. “Same place everypony goes.” He smirked. “Couldn’t tell you what it’s like—I’ve never been.”

Fluttershy wanted to yell at him, wanted to cry and ask him why he took Hector, wanted to ask why it had to be now…but all she said was, “Why?”

Blanche shrugged. “Not allowed,” he said. “Unless you mean about Hector.” When Fluttershy nodded, he shook his head. “Every creature walks this earth, and when it’s time to go, it’s time to go. Death’s number-one policy is to never be swayed by emotions—the second is to never brook argument.”

When Fluttershy remained silent, her gaze shifting to the floor; Blanche rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly. “Well, I guess it’s time to move on to the second order of business.” Fluttershy’s head came up as she remembered that it dealt directly with her.

“What…what is it?” she asked, trying to ignore the cold knot in her belly.

Blanche raised his hooves up, unfastened his cloak, and smiled, tossing it onto the formerly occupied bed. “Well, it needs a bit of background before I get to the meat of things,” he said, “so, as much as I don’t care to, I’ll explain.

“Death is not a single eternal being,” he began matter-of-factly. “It’s a title, passed down through ponies generation after generation.” He chuckled. “I can tell you’re confused; that’s natural—I was too.”

Blanche leaned against the wall, continuing. “The purpose of the passing-on of the title of Death is simple: once a pony stops being Death, their soul passes on and enters the Ever, where they’re given, from what I understand, special treatment. They’re given their own personal corners of the Ever, to do whatever they want.  There’s only one stipulation:  the pony has to archive and catalogue everything they’ve learned. It’s supposed to be good for the collective knowledge of the Ever or something—it’s been so long I can hardly remember what my predecessor said about it.

“If only one pony was Death, there’d only be one perspective in the archives—only one school of thought would be represented. Changing the title out every several hundred years keeps things fresh, and helps to keep the ruling body of the Ever—whoever that may be—versed in different ways of seeing Equestria.”

Blanche grinned. “Personally, I’m looking forward to it. The Death before me was a real grouch—he never really came to terms with having to become Death…or with what he had to give up.”

Fluttershy finally found her voice. “Give up?” she asked. “What do you mean?”

Blanche tapped his chin a moment, thinking. “Well, every pony who becomes Death has to give up their life, essentially. After all, nopony wants to be your friend when you’re stiff and cold…” He looked down and chuckled. “Aside from that, you also have to pick something special to you, something that binds you to the Equestrian realm, and give that up too. Don’t ask me why—I’ve never gotten an explanation.”

Fluttershy swallowed. “What, um…what did you give up?”

Blanche gave the mare a look. “Me? Well…I never had much to give, you see. No friends, no parents…all I’d ever really had were my looks, my brains, and my physical body.  And, since I wasn’t willing to give up my looks or brains…” He moved forward, sweeping his hoof through Fluttershy’s body—a nasty chill was left in its wake. “…you can see pretty clearly what I chose.”

Fluttershy was horrified, but also puzzled. “So…a pony can be Death and still be…here?”

“Yes, and in fact, that’s how most Deaths have been. I’m a very rare exception; I just wasn’t willing to part with my looks or my brains, being the stupid, vain pony that I was. A vain orphan—who ever heard of such a thing? But hey, I was a fresh stallion when it happened—can you blame me for a young pony’s mistakes?” He laughed. “In case you’re wondering, my predecessor gave up his eyesight—that was all he had, too, even though he was an old gelding. I think he used to be in some kinda cult.

“Anyway, that’s the gist of things. And with that in mind, you probably know what I’m going to say next.”

Fluttershy knew; somewhere inside she knew, but she couldn’t bring herself to acknowledge it. “No…”

Blanche sighed. “I’m here to ask you to be my successor. I want you to become Death.”

Fluttershy’s heart dropped into her stomach when the words finally came out. “M…me?” she squeaked. “But…I…why?”

Blanche smirked. “Two reasons,” he said. “One: I’m almost certain you’ll grow into the role. Personally, with time, I think you’ll be the Ever’s number-one Death. Second: Well, how to put this…as you are now, well…hmm. Let’s just say that, when you’ve lived for four hundred and twenty-one years, you develop a keen sense of irony.”

When he smiled, Fluttershy wanted to scream at him. Instead, she asked, “What…what if I refuse? I can’t become Death…I could never take the lives of other ponies.”


Blanche chuckled. “Of course you could,” he said. “I didn’t think I could either, honestly. But that’s not the point. If you refuse, well…since I’ve bound my choice to you already, I’d have to take your soul with me to the Ever after I made my next selection. So those are your choices; become Death, or die. Die peacefully, but still.”

Fluttershy couldn’t believe what she was hearing, couldn’t believe how unfair all of this was:  become Death or die?! There was no way she could take other ponies’ lives…but she didn’t want to die either…

“Do I at least get some time to say goodbye?” she asked, hoping to stall.

To her relief, Blanche nodded. “I didn’t,” he said, “but I’m a nice guy, so I’ll give you three days. That’s more than enough time to say your goodbyes, one way or another. Just, uh…don’t mention what’s going to happen. I’m going out on a limb, letting you do this, and I trust you won’t betray my confidence. I revealed myself to you; Death isn’t supposed to be seen until Death is needed, and if ponies knew about you, well…just don’t let it happen.”

Fluttershy nodded. “I just…have a few ponies I really need to say goodbye to.”

“I know,” he said. “I’m not sure the Ever is going to be happy with me picking an Element of Harmony, but you’ll technically still be around if you’re needed in that role, not that anypony will be able to see you until their time is up...or until you’re needed, I guess. They never exactly primed me on these things.” With that, Blanche turned and started towards the door. He stopped under the frame, turning back. “Don’t worry,” he said. “It’ll all be okay in the end. I promise.” And then, as quickly as he’d come, he was gone.

Fluttershy was empty. Everything had been squeezed out of her—there were no more tears, no more sobs…no more anything. There was just a gaping hole where Fluttershy used to be.

It wasn’t the letting go that made things hard. Honestly, that was the easiest part. Fluttershy was prepared to let go of her own life, to give it up in order to become Death, unfair as it was. It was seeing how much it hurt her friends that crushed her. She couldn’t tell them where she was going or why; it had to be practical and unemotional.

Fluttershy began her three-day grace period by waking up with her head tucked between her hooves, eyes red-rimmed and bloodshot. She’d ached through her entire being, down to the pit of her soul. She first went out back and buried Hector, the way he deserved. She’d tried to force down some breakfast, but the pained churning of her stomach had made that impossible.

Weary and haggard, Fluttershy had slunk back to bed and lay still for several hours, thinking about how terrible being Death was going to be, how much she was going to miss Dash and Twilight, and Pinkie and Rarity and Applejack, and especially Angel…she’d had him since he was just a bunny! What was he going to do without her? What would all of the animals do without her?! And her friends…could they go on without her?

But as time went by, Fluttershy came to understand that, as much as her leaving would hurt her friends, they could carry on—as she went through them one by one, the world kept turning, and they carried on.

Fluttershy sat on her bed, staring at the cloak that Blanche had dropped off, remembering what he’d told her on the second day. When you’re ready, or when the three days is up—whichever, I guess—go ahead and put it on. I’ll know, and I’ll come to get you. It was nearly midnight of the third day now, and Fluttershy wasn’t ready. If she’d had a hundred days, a thousand, she wouldn’t have been ready.

Haltingly, Fluttershy reached out and put hoof to cloth, holding the cloak in front of her, the silky, ethereal fabric rippling as wind wafted through the window. Her heart was hammering in her chest, refusing to be still.

Fluttershy looked at the cloak, the deep, almost-purple color reminding her of Twi’s eyes…


The walk to her friend’s treehouse library seemed longer than ever that day, and her entire body felt leaden. After she knocked on the treehouse door, the minutes passed like hours before Twilight finally came.

“Fluttershy!” she said with a smile. “What can I do for you?” Seeing the look on her friend’s face, she added, “Is something the matter?”

“No, Twilight,” Fluttershy responded, “It’s just…well…” she swallowed hard, stammering, “I…I have to leave, Twilight, and, um…I can’t come back.”

Twilight’s eyes widened. “Fluttershy, what do you mean?” she asked, “Leaving? Can’t come back? What’s the matter?”

“I, um…” Fluttershy couldn’t find the words—her tongue felt fat and clumsy. “Well, you see, uh…I’m leaving for…a place. And I can’t really…” her voice dropped, “…can’t really come back. Ever.”

Twilight shook her head. “But Fluttershy,” she said, “where are you going? Why are you going there?”

Fluttershy shrunk back. “Well…I, um…I can’t really tell you. I…I can’t really tell anypony. Um, ever.”

Twilight took a step forward, her expression confused. “But we’re the Elements of Harmony, Fluttershy! We’re best friends! Why can’t you tell me? Is it something dangerous? You know we’re not just going to sit by if you’re in danger Flutter-

Fluttershy’s voice shot up an octave. “I just can’t!” she squeaked, looking down and away, tears welling up in her eyes. “Please…I can’t say. I’m not allowed. Don’t...don’t ask anymore...

Twilight’s mouth flapped for a moment as though she was unsure of what to say, but finally she nodded. “…alright, Fluttershy,” she said, sounding defeated, “I guess if you really can’t tell me, I won’t push you any further.”

Fluttershy tried to say something, but all that would come out was a sour whine.

Twilight walked forward and wrapped her hooves around Fluttershy’s neck, hugging her tightly. “Just...promise me you’ll take care of yourself, okay?” When Fluttershy didn’t respond, Twilight pulled away, looking deep into the yellow mare’s watery green eyes--her voice cracked. “Okay?” Fluttershy just nodded.

Twilight took a few steps back, forcing a smile. “Don’t worry, Fluttershy,” she said, “I…I’m sure everything will be just fine. In fact, maybe everything will work out for the better, when it’s all said and done.” When Fluttershy nodded, she closed the door. Twilight hadn’t cried then and there, but as Fluttershy ran back to her cottage, she’d known there would be tears.

It only hurt her more that Twilight had restrained herself.

Fluttershy bit her lip, the cloth feeling like fire against her hooves. Her stomach was twisted up in knots—she wanted to throw up, and she didn’t even have the cloak on yet!

It couldn’t be true. Fluttershy went three days, slept, woke, and tended her animals, and still some part of her wanted to believe that everything was just a bad dream, and that this terrible, unfair circumstance wasn’t real.

Blanche had warned her that saying goodbye wouldn’t be easy, but no amount of talking could’ve prepared her for the way Rarity had acted when she’d heard the news…the way she’d pretended everything was just fine.

“…Going away, dear?” Rarity asked, her groomed eyebrows furrowed. “If you don’t mind me asking…going away where, exactly? Will you be coming back, I hope?”

Fluttershy shook her head, looking away. “Um, no, Rarity, you see…I, uh, can’t really say, you know. And, no…I’m not coming back.”

Rarity swallowed hard, raising an eyebrow. “Are you…are you certain that you can’t tell me why, Fluttershy?” she asked. “After all, we’ve been friends for some time now…I’d at least like to be able to contact you.”

Fluttershy tried to smile, unsuccessfully. “Rarity,” she said, “you know I’d love to tell you where I’m going…” Rarity’s ears perked up. “…but I can’t. Really—all it would do is cause more trouble.”

The unicorn shook her head. “Fluttershy, dear, forgive me for saying this,’re not making any sense. We six are the Elements of Harmony--you can’t just leave all of us hanging, can you?” Fluttershy’s ears folded down. “Fluttershy, dear...” Rarity looked deep into her friend’s eyes. “Do you need help? Is that it? You needn’t hesitate to ask, Fluttershy, you know that we’re here for you.”

The yellow pegasus shook her head, more fervently than before. “No, Rarity,” she said, “I’m sorry...I’m sorry for the mystery and how I can’t say anything...but really, I’m not allowed to...”

Rarity’s eyes widened. “Fluttershy, what do you mean, ‘not allowed to’?” Her eyes grew hard. “Somepony is after you, aren’t they?” Before Fluttershy could respond, Rarity pawed the ground, snorting. “Well, if they want to mess with our little Fluttershy, they’ll have to come through the five of us first!” Fluttershy opened her mouth, but Rarity’s hoof silenced her.

“Now now,” she said, “you needn’t tell me that it’s not our problem, because it is! Who is it, dear?  Gilda? That awful Trixie?” Rarity gasped, “Has Discord returned? I assure you, whoever it is, they’ll learn a lesson!”

Fluttershy moved away from Rarity, freeing her mouth. “No, Rarity!” she nearly cried, “It’s not anything like that! Please...please, just don’t ask me anymore! It’s...” she swallowed, “ hurts already...”

Rarity looked at Fluttershy for a few moments, traces of sadness in her ice-blue eyes. “...very well, Fluttershy,” she said softly, her hair falling into one of her eyes. “If you really can’t tell me, I understand.” Fluttershy nodded, reaffirming it. “And…” The white mare forced a smile, even as the ice in her eyes turned to salty water. “...and I hope that, wherever you go, your life is as fabulous as it was here.”

“I...Rarity, I’m sorry I was short with you. That was wrong of me.” Fluttershy’s throat felt tight.

“No no, dear!” Rarity cried, “I’m the one who should be apologizing, really! I was insensitive to your feelings...and while I would really prefer you be able to explain things to me, I don’t want to...don’t want to hurt you any worse, dear. I apologize.”


Fluttershy swallowed hard as Rarity wrapped her front hooves around her neck. “You truly are a great friend, Fluttershy,” she said, sniffling. “I always enjoyed our visits to the spa. Maybe you’ll find someone else who you can do that with!”

Fluttershy shook her head. “Oh Rarity, I could never find somepony like you, not ever!”

Rarity scoffed, letting go of Fluttershy. “Nonsense, dear!” she said. “Why, with your charm, you’ll probably find a thousand ponies like me!” The smile on Rarity’s face reminded Fluttershy of porcelain.

Fluttershy, with no way to respond, turned and walked away, biting her lip. “Goodbye, dear!” came Rarity’s voice, “Safe travels! Write often!” When Fluttershy turned around, at the very end of the road to the Boutique, the blinds were drawn and the door was closed.

Fluttershy stood, dropping the cloak on her bed while she went to look at the window.

The weather outside seemed perfect for today—gloomy and sodden, with thin gray clouds drizzling rain.

The yellow mare sighed, looking out at the spot where she’d buried poor Hector—that rabbit, much as Fluttershy hated to admit it, had started all this mess, it seemed, stumbling into her tree.

Fluttershy’s gaze drifted over to Sugarcube Corner, where flocks of balloons hung in the rain, in stark contrast to all the darkness. When the lightning struck, Fluttershy saw a pink sphere among the yellow and blue—it brought Pinkie to mind. She had taken Fluttershy’s leaving especially hard. Despite that, Pinkie had tried to continue appearing happy in spite of the awful circumstances.


Pinkie, at first, had been shocked and visibly saddened by the news, moreso because Fluttershy couldn’t even tell her where she was heading.


But, Pinkie being Pinkie, she’d bounced back quickly.


“We should have a party, Fluttershy!” she’d hollered, “Oooh, and I’ll make a big vanilla cake with the words ‘Goodbye, Fluttershy!’ It’ll be fun!” The mare smiled sheepishly. “Well, y’know…until you leave, that is.”


Fluttershy shook her head. “There can’t be a party, Pinkie…I’m sorry, but I just wouldn’t be able to attend.”


Pinkie deflated visibly. “Oh…but you’ll be back, right?” Then the cheery smile returned. “I can throw you a ‘welcome back’ party!”

Again Fluttershy shook her head. “I’m sorry, but…I’m never coming back. Once I leave, I’m not allowed to come back.”

“Not allowed to?” Pinkie asked curiously, cocking her head, “What do you mean, Fluttershy? this some kinda private school or something?”

Fluttershy shook her head, smiling despite the circumstances. “No, Pinkie. It’s just...I might be able to visit now and again, if I’m lucky, but...I’m just not supposed to come back.”

Pinkie raised an eyebrow. “That’s what keeps getting me...” she said, trailing off.

“What keeps getting you, Pinkie?” Fluttershy asked.

“Well, it’s just keep talking about this stuff like it’s an order or something, and you’ve gotta leave, and you’re not allowed to come back...are you okay, Fluttershy?”

Fluttershy sighed--having heard it twice before, the pegasus could hardly bear it anymore. “I’m...I’m okay, Pinkie,” she said, trying to keep her voice steady, “It’s just...I really can’t say.”

Pinkie craned her neck forward, looking deep into Fluttershy’s eyes. “But...are you really really really sure?”

Fluttershy blinked. “...yes, Pinkie, I’m fine.”

Pinkie shook her head. “Are you reeeeeaaaallly sure? I mean, we’re all friends! You can’t just leave, right? That’s not just silly, it’s kinda mean, too...”

Fluttershy breathed in, held it a moment, and responded, “Pinkie, please...this is hard enough already...”

Pinkie would not relent. “But Fluttershy!” she said, “Please...can’t you tell me? Can’t you tell us!? We’re your friends! We’re supposed to be there for you!”

Fluttershy had no more more words--she shook her head.

Pinkie looked down at the ground. “But, Fluttershy…we’re best friends, all six of us…y’know? It just won’t be the same if there’s only five of us…”

Fluttershy could feel her heart breaking. “Pinkie…”

Pinkie stuck out a hoof, shaking her head as she looked up. A smile still wavered on her lips, though her eyes were flat and joyless. “It’s okay,” she said. “Nopony really leaves forever, right? I’m sure we’ll see each other again.” She let out a small, unconvincing giggle. “My Pinkie Sense says so!”

It was then that Fluttershy, unable to take any more, turned and ran away.

Fluttershy looked away from the window, a feeling of melancholy overtaking her. Heartbreaking as it had been, Fluttershy hoped that Pinkie was right; imagining a life without her friends had already been tough, and seeing Pinkie like that had been hard.


The pegasus felt her stomach rumble and sighed—it was already time for her last meal before becoming Death…

Fluttershy reached under her bed, producing a basket of fresh, ripe apples. She bit into one, happy that she could actually taste it—for the last three days, food had turned to ash in her mouth—her impending fate sapped all the taste from food.

The taste brought a smile to her lips—juicy and flavorful, just the same as ever. Applejack had given her the basket on the day she’d told her the bad news.

Applejack raised an eyebrow, looking Fluttershy over. “You sure about this, sugarcube?” she asked. “I mean, you’ve got a lot going for you here. Friends, animals, etcetera.”

Fluttershy nodded. “I really have to go…” she said. “…I’m sorry. I know it must be hard on everypony …”

Applejack chuckled, patting her friend’s back. “Ain’t nothing to be sorry about, Fluttershy.” The farm pony raised her head with a smile, the fading sunlight catching in her straw-colored hair. “You gotta do what you gotta do, right? That ain’t nothing to apologize for.”

Fluttershy smiled widely. “Thanks, Applejack,” she said. “It…means a lot to hear you say that.”

Applejack nodded. “Whatever you’re doing, it sounds important, Fluttershy. Don’t let us hold you back.” She nudged a basket of apples forward with a grin. “Can’t do important stuff on an empty stomach, right? Take ‘em, free of charge.”


Fluttershy graciously accepted the basket, balancing it on her back. “Thank you, Applejack…for everything.”

Applejack nodded. “And thanks to you, Fluttershy,” she said, her green eyes lit up, “for being such a good friend. I’m only sad it didn’t last longer…” The earth pony looked up at the sun, the brim of her hat blocking her eyes. “Now get on outta here,” she said, “Sounds like you got plenty to do. Happy trails, Fluttershy.”


Fluttershy nodded, said goodbye, and left to go home and sleep—there was only one pony left to tell and, with Applejack having gone so well, she was beginning to think Pinkie was just a fluke; Dash might not go as badly as she thought!

Fluttershy returned to the window when she’d finished a few apples, looking outside to see the moon peeking through the clouds overhead—the storm, minor as it was, had finally started to break up.

The day was initially scheduled to be bright and sunny with moderate temperatures, but after Ponyville’s weather captain had received a certain announcement, there’d been a sudden change in the scheduling on the back end of excuses that the down needed the rainfall.

Naturally, Fluttershy knew exactly why Rainbow Dash had arranged for this downpour…

Rainbow Dash hadn’t been an easy pony to find—whereas the locations of the other four ponies were usually static, Dash drifted around Ponyville often, and it was only after a few hours of searching in the dead of night had Fluttershy found her sleeping on a cloud over her practice field.

Fluttershy had been unable to get any sleep, and she hoped that Dash wouldn’t be too rankled when she was woken from hers. The yellow pegasus floated over to the cloud slowly, hovering a few feet away from it.

“Um, excuse me, Rainbow Dash?” she ventured softly. Dash rolled over in sleep, snorting. “Um…Dash…” she tried again, a little louder. Dash’s eyes fluttered, but she stayed asleep. Finally Fluttershy reached out with her hoof, giving Dash’s shoulder a light shake.

“Huh?” came Dash’s voice, “Wha…? Who’s there? I ain’t scared of you…” She was still half-asleep.

“Um, Dash…it’s me, Fluttershy.” The yellow pony rubbed her hooves together uncomfortably.

“Fluttershy?” Dash responded, sitting up slowly and giving a yawn, “What the heck’re you doing out here at this time of night? I was trying to sleep!”

Fluttershy nodded, upset that she’d upset Dash. “I know,” she said, “and I’m sorry, it’s just…there’s something very important I have to tell you. It couldn’t wait.”

Dash raised an eyebrow, frowning. “Important?” she asked, “What’s so important that it couldn’t wait until morning?”

Fluttershy tried to keep herself steady, remembering how well things had gone with Applejack. “Well, you see…I’m, um…I’m leaving.”

Dash frowned deeper. “That’s it?” she asked, “You woke me up in the middle of the night to tell me that you’re going on vacation?” She rolled her eyes. “Geez, Fluttershy, it’s not like I can’t survive without you for a few days.”

Fluttershy swallowed. “Well, that’s the thing,” she said, “It’s not just a few days. I’m leaving, well…forever. I’m not coming back.”

Dash blinked a few times, then tilted her head. “Forever, huh?” She asked, “Like…forever?”

Fluttershy grimaced. “Yes,” she said, “I’m never coming back. I can’t. And, um…I can’t say where I’m going, either.”

Dash was silent for a few moments. Then, to Fluttershy’s great surprise, she burst out laughing, tears pouring from her eyes as she fell over on the cloud, legs kicking.

“Um, I’m sorry, but…why’re you laughing?” Fluttershy asked, worried.

Dash wiped tears from her eyes, shaking her head. “It’s just…heh…that was really funny,” she said, “I mean, I don’t really appreciate you waking me up in the middle of the night to tell me jokes, but I guess I can forgive you this time, since that was so good.” She snorted. “You, leaving; that’s a laugh. If anypony was leaving, I’m pretty sure it’d be me!”

Fluttershy was taken aback—Dash thought it was a joke? The yellow pegasus shook her head. “Dash,” she said quietly, her heart shriveling, “…I’m not joking. Really; I’m leaving forever, and I can’t tell you where.”

Dash’s stare grew annoyed. “Alright Fluttershy,” she said, “it was funny the first time, but it’s not funny anymore, okay? I’ve gotta get back to sleep.”

Fluttershy felt helpless—why wouldn’t Dash believe her? “No, really!” she said, trying her hardest to make Dash believe, “It’s the truth…” She wanted to cry—Dash was frustrating her so badly!

Rainbow Dash looked Fluttershy over for a few moments, biting her lip as she studied her friend. Finally, she drew in a long breath, her eyes flinty. “…you’re serious, aren’t you?” she said, voice rough-edged.

Fluttershy nodded meekly.

Without warning, Dash flew closer, glaring daggers at Fluttershy. “And you can’t tell me where you’re going, huh? We’ve been friends all these years, and you can’t even bother to tell me where you’re going?” Her hooves shook as she grit her teeth. “What, did you just forget we were friends, is that it?”

Fluttershy squeaked, her lip trembling. “No…I just can’t say…I’m not supposed to…”

“Oh, you’re not supposed to, huh? You’re not allowed?” Dash’s eyes were hard as she laughed in disbelief. “That’s weak, Fluttershy, that’s just weak.” She snorted. “Can’t tell me…can’t tell me?! Your best friend?”

Fluttershy couldn’t even speak as Dash reamed her—she shrunk back, tears welling up in her eyes.

“What, you’ve got nothing to say to that?” Dash’s mouth twisted in a snarl. “You’re just gonna clam up, quit talking…?” Dash’s look softened for a split second, anguished. “…so that’s it, huh? We’re just not friends anymore? It’s over? You spend all these years with us, go through so much with us, and then just decide to leave it behind?” Her hoof shot back, destroying half of the cloud she’d been sleeping on.

“Well fine then,” she said, fighting to keep her voice even, “just…get out of here.” Her mane hung down over her eyes, limp and listless. When Fluttershy didn’t move, frozen in place by her fear, Dash’s head whipped up, her mane falling wildly around her rage-filled, teary eyes. “Are you deaf or something? I said, get out of here, before I do something I regret!”

Fluttershy, sobbing, wheeled around and flew away as fast as she could, her heart hammering in her chest.

Fluttershy was jolted from her memories by the sound of a voice behind her. “Three days and that’s how you spent ‘em, huh?” Blanche said. Fluttershy turned around to find him standing in the middle of her room, smiling softly. “Can’t say it’s what I would’ve done, but hey, to each their own, I guess.”

Fluttershy nodded. “It was all I could manage,” she said, “…it was much harder than I expected.”

Blanche clucked his tongue, waggling a hoof. “And here I figured you’d take my warning to heart,” he said, “but I guess I can’t begrudge you that. Even if I’m physically younger than you, I’m a lot older, and younger ponies seem to have this problem with listening to advice…” He shrugged. “Oh well. Are you ready? Not much time left.”

Fluttershy picked up the cloak and snapped in on, nodding—it fit around her neck perfectly. Blanche began to glow with white light, his form fading. “So…what did you choose to give up?” he asked, voice dim.

Fluttershy’s eyes widened. She’d completely forgotten about that! She looked around, stammering. “Um…uh…” Suddenly, she felt something warm against her leg. She looked down and saw Angel, staring up at her with his usual “are you that big an idiot?” expression.

The yellow mare shook her head. “Angel…” she said softly, “…no, please…you don’t…you can’t…” The bunny shook his head, sticking a paw out defiantly. He turned to Blanche and stomped his foot, glaring up at the white pony.

Blanche raised an eyebrow. “Is he what you want to give up?” he asked, “Are you sure? Isn’t there anything else you can think of that ties you to this world?”

Fluttershy tried her hardest to think of something, anything else that bound her to this world, truth, the only things she cared about were here friends, the animals, and Angel…and one of those was offering himself freely. Meekly, biting her lip, Fluttershy nodded.

Blanche sighed. “Very well,” he said, “this isn’t done that often, and it’s a senseless death, you must realize…” Angel continued with his defiant stare, tapping his foot impatiently. “…but since you’re sure, I guess I can do it.” He reached out to Angel, almost hesitant in his motions.

Slowly, just like with Hector, Angel’s soul began to break free from his body, pulling from his chest. The bunny, stoic as ever, seemed to stare with boredom at his soul for a few moments before it exited him completely, floating over to Blanche.

Fluttershy couldn’t contain the tears—she’d had Angel for so long, and to see him give himself up…she almost couldn’t take it.

As the portal to the Ever opened up and Angel began to float up to it, he looked down at Fluttershy, his hard black eyes watching her intently. She looked back at him, tears running down her cheeks and, for the first time since she’d found him, Angel smiled, and then he was gone.

Blanche closed the portal with a sigh and a smile. “It’s always nice when they don’t fight…” he said softly, turning back to Fluttershy. “Now then, there’s a few more things we’ve gotta go over. Firstly,” he gently set Angel’s body on the bed, “I’m going to be helping you with your first few kills from my post in the Ever. If you hear my voice and you can’t tell where it’s coming from, you know.

“Secondly, you know that you can’t been seen by living until you have to take their soul, but I never elaborated on your ability to come back as an Element. Normally, I don’t get anything from upstairs, but they figured you could use the information.” He cleared his throat, producing a scroll from his robe. “Essentially, you’re still bound to the mortal realm as the spirit of Death--you can keep your physical body, but...blah blah blah, you know all this.

“In the event that the Equestrian Realm is threatened once again, and the Elements of Harmony are needed, you’ll be given back your ability to be seen and the ability to affect events in the mortal plane beyond just Death.” Blanche chuckled. “It doesn’t say anything about temporary revoking of your powers or anything like that, so I feel sorry for whatever decides to attack Equestria.

“As for your friends, if you have to come back, well...” Blanche tugged at his collar. “Well, there’s really no instruction I can give for that, I’ll be honest. Just make something up, I guess...or you could tell them part of the truth--that you were allowed to come back to help prevent Equestria’s destruction, and leave it at that. Although...if their initial reactions were anything to go by, you’re going to have a nasty time getting away if you have to come back.”

Blanche sighed, throwing the scroll to the side. “Alright, lastly, I’m required to ask one more time: Are you ready for this? You can still choose to just die.”

Fluttershy looked between the window, the cloak, and Blanche for what seemed like an eternity, the memories of her friends racing through her mind. Everything rushed through her all at once—Dash’s unflinching loyalty, Twilight’s peerless leadership and calm confidence, Rarity’s unfailing generosity, Pinkie’s tireless laughter, and Applejack’s strength, Angel’s sacrifice…“Yes,” she said, even with her heart wavering.

And in that moment, two things happened.

Fluttershy, as Equestria knew her, ceased to exist.

And Blanche, after hundreds of years of waiting, finally took flight.

What happened afterwards, Fluttershy could hardly remember. When she regained her senses, she felt empty—like some part of her that she desperately needed was gone. Her stomach was empty, she knew, and even though she’d been passed out, she hadn’t slept at all. Yet even knowing all this, she didn’t feel that she needed to sate herself. It was like all of her mortal needs had vanished.

More worryingly, when Fluttershy reached into one of the pockets sewn into the robe, she produced a list. She swallowed hard, looking over it—there were names scrawled on the parchment in thick black writing. She didn’t know a single one of them.

Her head was pounding, the implications of what had happened over the last three days finally washing over her—she’d been hoping there’d be some kind of saving grace in the eleventh hour, something to whisk her away from all this, to save her from what happened. It was clear at this point that it simply wasn’t going to happen…

“Hey,” came Blanche’s voice, echoing in her head, “how’s it going, sleepyhead? I’ve never seen a pony out that long before.” He chuckled. “Well, I have, but they were all dead.”

Fluttershy blinked. There were many questions, but all she could think to say was, “How long…?”

“About four days,” Blanche said—hearing him without seeing him was highly disquieting. “If you’re done napping, you do have assignments to take care of. The Ever’s expecting the ponies on that list sharpish.”

Fluttershy swallowed—her throat felt bone-dry. “Um…if you don’t mind me asking…what exactly is different about me now? I…feel really hungry, but it also doesn’t feel like I need to eat…”

“You don’t,” Blanche responded, “you’ll feel hungry, but there’s no actual, physical need to eat anymore. Personally, I couldn’t tell you how to deal with it, considering I gave up my physical body when I became Death—I couldn’t feel hungry anyway. In any case, you don’t need sleep, food, or water anymore, but you can still have them, if it makes you feel better, I guess.”

Nothing could make her feel better anymore, but Fluttershy nodded all the same.  To think, now she had a list…had to kill ponies…it didn’t bear thinking about. She’d been too shocked before to even think about everything, but now…her heart felt like a withered apple.

Her thoughts were interrupted when Blanche chuckled, the ceiling opening as it had before to allow the white pony to drift down from the Ever. “I’m sure you’re wondering how to find them,” he said, “I was getting tired of answering the complex stuff, so this is going to be simple. Look at your list.” When Fluttershy did, she noticed that all of the names had locations marked next to them. “When you want to choose a specific pony to take—Old Bones, for example—you just touch their name on the list. You’ll get there, trust me.”

Fluttershy frowned. “Um…I’m sorry, but isn’t that a little vague?”

Blanche snorted—the sound made Fluttershy’s anger, long since bubbling beneath the surface, flare. “Vague?” he asked, “Well…hm…I guess so?” He sighed. “Look, when you touch their name, the knowledge of how to find them—routes, house number, apartment number, all that good stuff—is transferred from the archives here in the Ever into your noggin. It might take some hoofwork, but you can get there, trust me—not needing to rest makes things a lot easier.”

The yellow pony cocked her head. “I have to walk?” she asked, “Um, I hope you don’t mind me asking, but…why can’t I just ‘pop’ to the places I need to be?” She still wasn’t used to the idea of all this yet, and Blanche’s offhanded comments and rough-edged attitude were wearing thin.

“Because,” Blanche said, “you don’t gain that ability until a little later. I can only speculate, but I’m pretty sure it’s to give you time to think about your first few kills while you’re on your way to make them.”

First few kills…the thought made Fluttershy shudder. “Well, er…about that…how I am supposed to…” she swallowed hard, “…kill anypony?”

Blanche raised an eyebrow. “It’s not hard,” he said, “just put your hoof up to them, and declare in your mind that you’re going to draw their soul from their body and send it to the Ever. The rest kinda just happens naturally.”

Fluttershy shook her head. “That’s not really what I meant…”

Blanche sighed. “Look, I can’t tell you how to cope with being Death,” he said, “beyond telling you what worked for me, that is.” When Fluttershy drew back, hurt, the white pony slumped his shoulders. “Listen,” he said, “you’ll figure something out. I have a lot of work to do, and they didn’t tell me I had to hold your hand. I’m sorry if you’re confused or whatever, but if I got used to it, you can too.”

Fluttershy drew back, as if slapped—somehow, she knew that if her friends knew who she really was, what had really happened, well…they’d only given in to avoid making things harder for her. If they’d known, chances were they’d have turned up at Blanche’s doorstep demanding that he rescind his choice. The thought made Fluttershy giggle, but it also sent a pang of sorrow through her—she hoped her friends would be okay without her…

“That all?” Blanche asked, “Or do you have more questions? If you’ve got anything to say, please do say it now—there’s a lot of paperwork waiting for me.” When Fluttershy didn’t respond, he turned, waved, and began to float upwards.

Everything that had happened—Blanche’s offer, Angel’s sacrifice, her friends, the sorrow, the anger, the indignation she’d felt…the way her heart had twisted in her chest, done flips, made her feel like she was going to throw up when she simply took a step…it all came washing back over Fluttershy in an instant, as though the floodgates of her mind had finally exploded.

“Wait!” Came Fluttershy’s voice, suddenly solid, unflinching. Blanche twitched in surprise, wheeling around.

“Yes…?” he asked, irritation clear in his tone.

“I know I might have said something like this before, and I’m sorry if I have, but…” Fluttershy, for the first time since he’d met her, managed to furrow her brows at him, almost like she was angry. “But…how is this fair?” she asked, “I mean…this isn’t just hurting me, this is hurting my friends!” She suddenly seemed so…confident in what she was saying.

“Isn’t it a little late to raise these concerns?” Blanche asked, “You’re Death, your bunny bit the dust for you, you said goodbye to all your friends…shouldn’t you have spoken up before?”

“I know,” Fluttershy said, “I know I should’ve said something before all of this happened, and I was scared, and in shock…and that’s my fault, but…this is just so unfair!” She looked up at Blanche. “To take away Angel…take away my friends…to just dump all this on me without warning…whatever this Ever is, it doesn’t sound like a very nice place at all, if this is what it does!”

Blanche opened his mouth to speak, but the stream of words continued to tumble from Fluttershy’s lips. “I’ve been friends with Twilight, and Rarity and everypony for years now! Is it fair to just decide that, in the middle of my life, I have to give all of them up? How can you do that?” She shook her head. “You can’t, that’s the answer! It’s just no fair at all! So please, just take these powers away, give me back Angel, and let me live my life! I just…” she looked down. “This isn’t really about me...” she said, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean for it to sound that way...but you’re hurting my friends as badly as you’re hurting me, and that I just won’t stand for.”

Blanche narrowed his eyes. “You think I didn’t feel the same way? he asked, “You think I just said ‘Okay, well, everything’s hunky dory, let’s go be Death!’” He snorted, and Fluttershy’s blood boiled even hotter, “It wasn’t any easier for me than it is for you. But you know what? I sucked it up, dealt with it, and went out there and killed ponies. You’ll do the same.”

Fluttershy’s head snapped up, giving Blanche the full brunt of her famous glare. Her heart was hammering inside her chest at the prospect of what she was doing, but she pressed on. “Do you think you can push ponies around, just because you’re Death? Do you think it’s okay to hurt my friends and ruin their lives?” she asked incredulously, “You think that just because you can kill ponies, it’s okay to jump into somepony’s life and tell them that they have to be Death, and make them tell their friends that they’re just up and leaving forever?” Her voice had raised a few octaves, more out of fear than anything.

“It’s not fair!” she continued, seeing Blanche starting to wither, “It’s just not fair at all! I had a life, and friends, and a pet I loved very, very much, and I’ve never so much as hurt a pony in my entire life! I can’t hurt anypony! I can’t even hurt a bug!” Blanche was beginning to shrink back, ears flattening against his head. “So you march right back up into the Ever and you tell them that, even though I’m sorry I waited this long, I need my life back!”

Blanche’s jaw flapped for a few moments, as though he was unsure of what to do, what to say, but finally he responded, “…fine,” he said, “if you’re going to insist so fiercely, then I guess I can go ask what can be done.” He narrowed his eyes. “But I’ll warn you, I already got chewed out about not giving you a heads-up—I guess that’s the normal etiquette, but I was never told—but it didn’t change a thing. Don’t get your hopes up.” With that, the white pony floated back up into the portal, leaving Fluttershy alone.

Sweat was gathered on the back of Fluttershy’s neck, and her heart was pounding so hard she was worried it might explode, but she knew she’d done what needed to be done, albeit late.

Left alone with her own thoughts, Fluttershy began to imagine going back to her friends, telling them that she didn’t have to leave after all, getting to see the smiles on their faces again…she began to think about Angel, about cuddling him against her, giving him little kisses between the ears, when he allowed it. A small smile crossed the pegasus’ face—Pinkie would want to have a party for her, no doubt.

And, of course, there would be animals to tend that she hadn’t tended in the last three days. That was important, to be sure. The poor little bunnies with broken legs, the deer with aching backs, the bears with thorns in their paws…Fluttershy pledged that when she got back to normal, she’d help the animals twice as much, and make sure every one of them walked away happy, healthy and, most importantly, alive.

Again her thoughts were cut short when Blanche floated back through the portal, a grim look on his face—surely he’d been told off by the powers-that-be and had been forced to rescind his choice. Fluttershy’s famous glare had never failed before! Blanche stood there for several moments, glaring daggers at Fluttershy, before he finally cleared his throat and spoke. Fluttershy’s heart pounded in her chest, and the seconds seemed to pass like days.

“No dice.”

Fluttershy’s mouth hung open unconsciously—no dice!? But…but that wasn’t fair! She’d thought that, if anything, the powers in the Ever could help her! How could they have said no?! Blanche had already admitted that he’d gotten chewed out for what had happened! How…hot tears began to well up in Fluttershy’s eyes. How could they say no?

Blanche sighed and shook his head. “Listen, I know you were probably getting hopeful and everything, on top of hot-blooded, but…” he looked down for an instant, “you have to remember that you’re dealing with the most significant powers in the universe here, alright? They’re, well…not exactly the easiest to convince, no matter how good your case is.”

When Fluttershy didn’t respond, her head hanging limply against her chest, Blanche continued. “I asked them as sincerely as I could. They chewed me out again, but otherwise…they said my decision was final, just like I told you.” He paused a few moments, as if unsure of what to do or say, and finally said softly, “…I’m sorry. I tried.”

“But…” came Fluttershy’s voice, sounding far-away and very small, “…all I want is to be with my friends again…I just want to see Angel again…is that too much to ask?”

Blanche bit his lip. “…no…” he said, “...not at all.” He took a deep breath. “Fluttershy, what you want, er…” the words came out awkwardly, as though Blanche’s tongue was knotted, “It’s reasonable, okay? It’s the same as I wanted. But…oh Celestia, how can I say this?” He swallowed.

“The Ever, as I understand it so far, well…it’s more a force of nature than anything. The things that it says, the things that it does…the decisions it makes…even the souls housed inside…they’re impossible to fight. I know it was me that made the final decision, and it was my mistake not to bounce the idea off you first, try to convince you, but I can’t change what I’ve done any more than you can.

“I can go back up and beg for you as many times as you ask me to—as your predecessor, I am, in a way, at your beck-and-call—but it’s not going to change anything. I…I’m sorry this happened to you, I am, but trust me, I picked you for a reason. I picked you…” he shook his head. “I can’t say why, not yet, but rest assured, as little comfort as it might offer, I picked you for good reason, and now that that decision is made, well…there’s no fighting it. The Ever is a greater power than either of us, by a long chalk. Trying would be like fighting fate.”

Fluttershy sobbed, looking up at Blanche. “But…if the Ever is supposed to be, well…good and everything…”

The white pony shook his head. “The Ever is good,” he said, “but nopony ever said it was fair all the time. I can’t speak from its perspective, but…I can’t imagine that running everything, absolutely everything, is an easy job. Some things have to bend every now and again.”

When it became clear that Fluttershy wasn’t going to engage him further, Blanche tried to force a smile. “Fluttershy, you’ll…I promise you’ll grow into it. That’s all I can promise, but…you will. There’ll be tears, trust me, and a lot of anguish, and a lot of hating yourself, but eventually…you kinda get used to it.” Fluttershy twitched at that, and Blanche floated up towards the Ever.

“…it’ll be okay,” he said, awkwardly as ever, and floated away, leaving the pegasus alone once again.

Haltingly, Fluttershy picked up her list, the motion making her weary body ache, and looked it over. Old Bones, Crazy Legs, Blue Mountain, Pale Horse…they weren’t any ponies she recognized, but Fluttershy figured that was more because of the Ever than luck.

The pegasus knew she couldn’t lay around crying forever—her eyes were already raw, red and puffy, and besides, she just didn’t have it in her to cry anymore. Nothing was going to change, that much was very clear now, and moping around, well…it wasn’t going to change The Ever’s mind, whatever it was.

Crumpling the list in her hoof, Fluttershy stuffed it into the pocket of her robes, drew her hood over her face, and opened the door to her hallway. She took one last look back at her room, knowing this would be the last time she would see it like this. Giving a long, drawn-out sigh, Fluttershy closed the door, feeling like she was shutting the last of her hope inside.

The Cold Hand of Mercy, Chapter 4

Fluttershy had had a rough time leaving town, considering it was the middle of the day and ponies were packing the streets of Ponyville. It was terribly odd feeling, being in a sea of ponies, all of whom were chatting animatedly about the weather, the upcoming Running of the Leaves and how the autumn rains were going to affect it, and about Mr. and Mrs. Cake’s newest confectionary inventions. It was ironic, Fluttershy reflected—she’d never participated in any of this small talk while she was still mortal, but now that she couldn’t, she missed it. It made her heart heavy when she thought about it, moreso than she was used to recently.

Curiously (or perhaps not so curiously), none of Fluttershy’s friends were out, but Spike was—in fact, the little dragon was running around town busily, huffing and puffing and stopping to rest when he ran out of breath. It struck Fluttershy as being extremely out of place, and were it not for Blanche’s nagging voice in her head, she might have looked into it further before she headed off for Old Bones’ cottage.

Strangely enough, leaving the house, leaving Ponyville, and getting out onto the open road, with the sky around her and the grass on either side of her, made Fluttershy feel a bit better. She’d been shut away in her house or running around Ponyville for the last few days—it was good to get back outside and reconnect with nature in some way, even if it couldn’t reconnect with her in return.

Old Bones was a pony who’d been one of Canterlot royal advisors for sixty years, or so the file on him claimed. Apparently, he’d been invaluable in solving disputes between rival nations, such as those that belonged to the quarrelsome griffons to the north.

Fluttershy could hardly believe that when she read it—how could one orator calm an entire frothing herd of ponies? She shook her head—somepony must have embellished the record, she thought, or else Old Bones was just that good, and Fluttershy found that hard to believe.

He lived way, way out in the hillsides surrounding Ponyville—an area locals referred to mostly as “The Barrows.” Fluttershy had never heard of anypony living all the way out there, as there weren’t many trees around, least of all fruit-bearing ones—the only things I pony could live on out there were well-water and grass. His file said that, after he retired, he became a hermit, so it seemed to make sense enough. Seemed he hadn’t wanted to be missed.

Beyond that, there wasn’t much information on Old Bones. He’d run a local history hall in his younger days, before becoming advisory to the Princess, and before that he was a student of local history at the College of Canterlot. Seemed he’d always wanted to be a historian, which made it a little odd that he’d become an advisory instead.

“Blanche,” Fluttershy said, her throat tightening as she stepped past the border into The Barrows, “do you know anything about this pony?” She asked, hoping to distract herself from the impending task ahead of her.

“Not really,” he responded, “seems to me he was the kind of pony who didn’t want anypony else knowing about him. He kept mostly to himself except when he needed to orate in the Princess’ place.”

“But why did he need to orate in her place?” Fluttershy asked, trying to steady the beating of her heart, “Shouldn’t the Princess be doing all of that on her own?”

She could almost see Blanche shaking his head. “No,” he said, “the duties of a Princess are many and varied, Fluttershy. Most ponies think that being the Princess means sitting on the throne, giving speeches and granting a pardon or two. In reality, it’s a lot more complex than that.

“When Princess Celestia deals with an insurgency—and believe me, there have been more than a few from the less peace-loving ponies who stubbornly hang around—she has to give orders to her guards, hold personal conferences between herself and the leaders of the insurgency and, of course, she also has to be watching her ranks for spies.” When Fluttershy’s eyes widened in shock, Blanch chuckled. “Equestrian politics are more complex and dangerous than most ponies give them credit for.”

Fluttershy nodded slowly, pulling her cloak more tightly over her head, “But, um…how did he manage to calm that entire rebellion by himself?” she asked, “How could one pony manage all that?”

Blanche sighed. “He didn’t,” he said, “official records say he did, and that’s what our profiles follow, but in reality, he simply distracted the crowd while the Princess cast a “soothe” spell on them to shut them up while she negotiated. Without the roaring crowd backing him up, the insurgency leader pretty much melted and withdrew his terms. His part in it was significant enough, I guess, but royal records embellish it for the sake of making him famous, in a way. He never really did anything special, but he was an invaluable advisor and, as I understand it, Celestia wanted to reward him.”

Fluttershy nodded. “It says here that he retired soon after…was he angry about that?”

“Ask him yourself,” Blanche said, “I don’t know.” And that was the end of that—once again, Fluttershy was left with her own thoughts.

She’d found herself becoming more and more reflective when left alone with herself these days, rather than being self-pitying, as she had when the whole situation had first come to light. She’d thought about the pony she was and, more importantly, the pony she was going to be. There wasn’t likely going to be much social interaction, but there were many moral decisions to make…Fluttershy wondered how she was going to react to all that? Would she even be able to take the life of this “Old Bones” pony? He sounded like he’d led a long, fulfilling life, but didn’t that mean he’d want all the time in the world to look back on it?

Fluttershy bit her lip, looking over the hills of The Barrows—there still wasn’t a house in sight. Heaving a sigh, Fluttershy pressed on—she didn’t like being all alone like this. She’d used to think, each night when she laid down to sleep, that it wouldn’t be so bad, being all alone with oneself. You couldn’t embarrass yourself if you were alone, you couldn’t get made fun of for being a terrible flier by yourself, and you certainly couldn’t make mistakes if you were all alone.

Now, Fluttershy realized as she walked through the hills, the silence around her suffocating, that if there was one mistake you could make, it was being alone in the first place.

The wind rustled Fluttershy’s cloak and she shivered despite herself—it was chilling, hearing only the wind. Fluttershy found it rather ironic—she loved nature, or so was her perception, but nature, the real nature, beyond the flora, fauna and chittering bugs, was so lonely and crushing she could hardly stand it. There wasn’t anything out here except the wind and the grass.

Fluttershy began to think about her friends—how they were doing, what they were doing, who they were talking to and what they were talking about…and most of all, how they were coping. That question had been eating away at Fluttershy for a long time now; were her friends getting on okay without her?

“Hey kid,” came Blanche’s voice once more, “you doing alright? I mean…it’s not really my job to care, but…you look like a sad puppy.”

“I…Blanche,” she said, “how are the rest of my friends? I know you can’t tell me a lot of things, but can you at least tell me that?”

Blanche sighed. “Yeah, I guess I owe you that much,” he said, “considering everything. It’s…not exactly pretty though. I know you’d probably expect nothing less, but it’s a little worse than you think.

“Well…where to start? I guess Twilight’s first on the list. She, well…she wrote to the Princess immediately. Celestia knows about our system of succession, though, and I can’t imagine her response is going to give Twilight any more comfort than yours did. She woke up a few hours ago and sent Spike out to talk to the rest of your friends, then sat down straight away to look for books detailing things like this. As vague as you were, she’s not going to find anything and she knows it, but she’s so desperate for answers she’ll read until, well…”

Fluttershy felt like her heart was in a vice. “And Spike?” she asked, “How’s he?”

“He cried,” Blanche said, “and he was crushed, but whatever he and Twilight are planning must be giving him enough confidence to get out there and get in touch with everypony else.

“Uh…who else…Pinkie is okay, I suppose. She doesn’t show it, but what happened…it’s hurting her inside. Whereas Twilight studies and writes letters until she passes out, Pinkie just… It’s, well…” he cleared his throat, “…it’s nothing, don’t mind it. She’s just upset. But she gets by during the day, even manages to be happy.”

Fluttershy knew he was sparing her—he was doing an awful job of it.

“Rarity and Applejack are managing well enough,” he went on, “Rarity goes away inside and focuses on her work. It hit her hard at first, but somehow she’s managed to pull herself back together and keep going. Applejack is similar, but, I guess…different?” He paused a moment. “Where Rarity just puts herself away and works, she at least takes breaks and tries to think about what happened; Applejack throws every bit of herself into it. Her brother’s tried to stop her before, but she just works and works and refuses to stop. She’s already hurt herself a few times, but she gets up the next morning and does it again.

“Dash is doing about as well as you’d expect her to be doing. It seems like you two were close, Fluttershy, and she’s taking it really hard. She pretends well enough, but it’s eating away at her, and she doesn’t know what to think anymore.”

“I see…” Fluttershy said. She wanted to say so much more than that. She wanted to tell Blanche how he’d been the one who ruined all of their lives, that it was all his fault she was listening to how her friends were in turmoil. “Can you tell what Spike is doing?” she asked.

“Lemme see,” he said, as Fluttershy crested a hill and a house became visible over the horizon, “…oh, well, there’s Old Bones’ house! Love to stay and chat, but I’ve got to be going, you see. Plenty of writing to do! And remember, no matter how scared you are, standing around isn’t going to make it go away.” Fluttershy tried to stop him, but he refused to speak.

Fluttershy looked forward anxiously—the house wasn’t much, more like a shack, really, but it didn’t exactly look inviting, what with its crumbling roof, shattered window, and the yellowed grass around it. Nonetheless, Fluttershy trotted down the hill, heart hammering, and knocked on the door. She still wasn’t sure if she could do this, but, like Blanche had said, standing around wasn’t going to take Old Bones off of her list.

“Hello?” Came a voice, soft and weak, “Hello? Is somepony there? Please do come in. It’s been a while since anypony knocked on my door…” Fluttershy pushed on the door, blinking in surprise when it swung open.

One could certainly say many things about the inside of the shack, but most of them weren’t pleasant. The drapes hanging in front of the windows shot off billows of dust when the slightest breeze rolled by, the holes in them letting in so much light as to reveal that the whole room was coated in dust.

The floors were made mostly of splintery, rough, grey wood—each board creaked under Fluttershy’s hooves as she advanced into the room beneath a weathered and poorly-constructed awning which seemed out of place in such a small house.

The furniture within was spare, to say the least. The only things in the room were a small, steel-shuttered lantern resting on a wobbly end table, made from the same prickly wood as the flooring and the small bed frame in the center of the house, upon which Old Bones lay.

The stallion was in just as poor a shape, if not worse, than his house—his hair had all fallen out save a few pathetic white wisps clinging to his forehead, which sat above a pair of rheumy, unseeing eyes framed by a sagging, grey face. A toothless mouth sucked at the dusty air uselessly, barely able to form words.

“Hello?” he called, “Hello? Is anypony there? I heard my door open…who are you? Why’ve you come to visit me?”

“Um…sir…” Fluttershy started nervously, but Old Bones cut her off.

“What’s that?!” he yelled, “You need to speak up! I can hear well enough, but you’re talking too quietly, missy!”

Fluttershy tried raising her voice. “Sir,” she said, “I’m, er…well…I’m Death, and I’m here to…” She could hardly force it out—the tension in the air was killing her, and the thought of killing this poor old stallion made Fluttershy sick to her stomach.

“Deaf?” Old Bones asked, “Well that’d be a shame if it were true, missy, but you seem to hear well enough to me! Now what was it you were here for again? I didn’t catch that.”

Fluttershy sighed and raised her voice a little more, advancing towards him until she was standing at his bedside. “I’m Death, sir…and I have to-”

“Death?!” Old Bones cried, his voice rising a few octaves. Fluttershy grimaced—she’d hoped this wasn’t going to be hard; nopony wanted to die, and she kicked herself for thinking this was going to be easy.

“I’m sorry,” Fluttershy said, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it, I’m sorry! I’ll leave right now, and I promise I won’t come back-”

Old Bones’ hoof raised up feebly, touching Fluttershy’s wrist. The old stallion tilted his head up to her, his sightless eyes seeming to stare straight through her. His mouth shifted back and forth for a few moments wordlessly, but finally he said,

        “Do you know how long I’ve been waiting? It’s been years and years and years, and my sons stopped coming…did you know that?” He chuckled. “They have lives now, and I don’t begrudge them it or anything, but…I’ve still been kept waiting by you, you lazy, silly mare. Haven’t you ever been told that it’s impolite to keep an elder waiting?”

Fluttershy watched the old man in shock; the things he was saying just weren’t making sense! What pony would ever “wait” for Death? “Sir, um…pardon me for asking, but what do you mean, ‘waiting’?”

Old Bones sighed and looked away, his hoof dropping from Fluttershy’s wrist. “I’ve lived a long time, miss,” he said, “and I’ve done a good many things throughout my long life. But, as happy as I am with the way everything has turned out for me, how successful my sons are—they’re a potter and a royal guard, you know, and such good children—I’ve more than come to terms with the fact that my time has run out. I’ve been waiting on you for three years now, ever since my arthritis crippled me.” He coughed and smiled weakly. “But now you’re here. It’s about time, if you ask me.”

Fluttershy’s throat felt tight—to think that, especially as old as he’d managed to get, Old Bones had been waiting on Death for so long, and Blanche had never reached him…

“Sir,” she said, “…before I do this, is it okay if I ask you a few things about your life? I was reading up on you and, well, there were a few things I was curious about.”

Old Bones’ smile widened. “Of course, little miss, but please, don’t be all day about it.”

Fluttershy pulled out his file, looking for the spots she’d wanted to ask about. “Well, it says here that you were one of the Princess’ advisors, and that you helped defuse a situation between Avania and Equestria. What exactly happened?”

Old Bones shook his head. “Oh, that,” he said, his milky eyes rolling, “that was a foolish dispute, to say the least. Old King Pterya came over to Equestria whining and complaining that Equestrians were beginning to range over the mountains and settle his lands which, he said, was needed to support all of the griffons. The Princess, after days and days of negotiation, was pretty well against the ropes; Pterya refused to back down, and had even started talking about needed Equestrian land grants to support his people, or else he was going to start a war. The Princess wasn’t willing to get so many of our people slaughtered in a war with those stubborn beasts, and she was ready to sign the document.

“I told her to wait, and had it out in the private debate room with Pterya. The story the Princess got from me was that I’d diplomatically presented our terms to him once more and, after some deeper explanation, he’d backed down. The truth of it is that I bluffed him out. I told him that if he invaded, Dragonia to the south would declare for Equestria, and he and all his people would be destroyed. Looking back on what I did, I regret it, and I think some part of me knew it was wrong at the time.”

It had been shrewd, Fluttershy thought, albeit very underhoofed. “What about when you helped the Princess quell the rebellion? It says you retired very soon after; what happened?”

Old Bones’ gaze grew hard. “That…I don’t wish to talk about. The Princess was justified in her choice to give me the credit, but, morally, I don’t agree with what she did, I didn’t back then, and I quit because of it. Let’s leave it at that. Now, are you going to get on with this or not?”

Fluttershy flinched—it seemed Old Bones had run out of patience. “A-alright…I’m sorry,” she said, raising a hoof and trying to remember what Blanche had taught her. Just place your hoof on their chest, and imagine pulling their soul out and sending it to the Ever, he’d told her, nature does the rest.

“Um, sir…” Fluttershy said as she gently touched his withered chest, his grey fur coarse under her hoof, “One last time…are you sure you want me to do this? I know it’s not my place to ask, and I’m sorry, but…are you really sure?”

Old Bones grinned, lifting some of Fluttershy’s nerves, “Does that file say I wanted to be historian?” he asked, and when Fluttershy nodded, he did as well. “I’ve read many things, and I think I know just what to say. It’s something a very famous pony wrote in older times.” He cleared his throat and said,

In the sleep of death, dreams may come, when we have shuffled off this mortal coil, must give us pause, and there’s the respect, for one who bore the whips and scorns of time.” He laughed. “I was never completely sure what that meant, but it seemed appropriate—I think it went something like that. In any case, yes, I’m ready.”

Fluttershy’s eyes stung, and she could hardly see through the tears welling up in them, but she sucked in a breath and tried pulling. Her breath grew hot in her chest, choking her as Old Bones’ soul slid out of his body painfully slowly, the image thereof of a much younger pony, extremely handsome, with a chiseled, grinning face and a book beneath his arm.

The glowing apparition looked down at Fluttershy, and its smile grew even wider as it did—Fluttershy began to sob as a portal opened in the ceiling. Old Bones’ ghost reached down to wipe the tears from her cheek, but his hoof passed through uselessly.

“Whoops,” he said, chuckling, “Guess I can’t do that like I used to. Relax, little miss…if it’s any consolation, you’ve made me happier than I’ve been in years.” He looked down at himself as he began to float up, whistling. “I used to look his good? Heh, it’s a shame I got old…g’bye now, miss. You take care. And tell my sons, if you can, that I was happy at the end. I’m sure they’re gonna be broken up about this—they always were a little soft.” He winked at her, and then he was gone.

Fluttershy’s knees gave out under her, the fading light of the sun bathing her through the holes in the curtains as she collapsed onto the floor.

When she woke some time later, Blanche was standing over her, wearing an amused smile.

“Can’t say I expected you to have the same reaction I did my first time,” he said, floating down to the floor, “Guess we’re more alike than I figured. I’d offer my hoof, but that’d probably just make you faceplant.”

Fluttershy, still feeling weak, forced herself up in the darkness. “What…what time is it?” she asked wearily, painfully conscious of Old Bones’ body behind her.

“Not too late,” Blanche responded, “still about two hours until bedtime. Are you okay?”

Fluttershy nodded—whether she was just getting a second wind or death’s stamina was taking over, she was beginning to feel better swiftly. “I’m okay, I suppose, but…I killed him, Blanche…he’s dead.”

Blanche nodded. “That’s usually what happens when you get done,” he said, smiling, “it’s sorta in the job description. Did you not catch that?” When Fluttershy looked over at him, practically biting a hole through her lip, Blanche’s smile softened. “Hey,” he said, holding a hoof to her shoulder in a comforting gesture, “You did what needed to be done. You heard him—he was waiting for you.” Fluttershy nodded sullenly, but didn’t seem comforted.

“Hey,” Blanche said, “cheer up. You gave him peace, alright? I don’t know what else to say, beyond that, but trust me, you made him happy. Okay?”

Fluttershy breathed in deeply and exhaled, finally smiling weakly. “I…did, didn’t I?” She swallowed, “I guess…I never thought I’d help anyone by doing this…”

Blanche nodded. “You do. More than you figure. Now then, I think your friends are all meeting up at the library in Ponyville—you’d better hightail it over there if you expect to make in time to satisfy your curiosity. I gotta get going, myself.” He began to float up towards the ceiling, but stopped a moment, turning back around. “And Fluttershy? Don’t…don’t beat yourself up, alright? Just take care of yourself. And try to keep that smile. Looks better than a frown.”

Fluttershy nodded silently, and then Blanche, too, was gone. The yellow mare looked toward Old Bones’ body for a moment, saw the smile frozen on his face, and took a deep breath, starting out the door. Hopefully she’d make it in time…

The town was deserted when Fluttershy arrived back. The causeways no longer teemed with the talking ponies and laughing foals who had been there when she left. Instead they were dominated by mounds of fresh, powdery snow. Fluttershy pulled her cloak tighter around herself against the chill; a breeze ruffled the black fabric, sending a shiver down her spine.

The entire way back, Fluttershy was unable to keep her mind off of Old Bones—he’d actually been waiting for Death to show up, of all things…Blanche had reassured her that not everypony was afraid to die, and that many older ponies, well past their prime and in no shape to go on, actually wished to Celestia for Death to come to them. It was cold comfort at best.

On the way back, Blanche had spoken to her. “I looked into what Spike was doing,” he’d said, “turns out, well…he was acting as a runner for Twilight and trying to pull the rest of your friends together. She apparently didn’t have time to go out and talk to all of them personally, so they’re meeting in the library in a few hours. I suggest you don’t take as long to get back as you did getting here, or you’re going to miss it.”

And she hadn’t. She’d made tracks for Ponyville as quickly as she could, though the snow mounds impeded her progress. To think the snowfall had come so quickly…the ground was blanketed by the white stuff as she lay passed out on the floor, and compared to the birds chirping and wind blowing as she’d made her way here, Fluttershy found the world eerily dead on the way back.

Fluttershy entered the town via the road next to the windmill at ten-thirty.  She’d tried to ask Blanche when exactly the meeting was happening, but he was either busy or ignoring her, because he refused to answer. It was so odd…Fluttershy knew she’d been out here at some point before, but she’d never noticed how lonely it was without colts and fillies playing in the hills.

It wasn’t hard to spot the lights on in the library across the way—they were the only thing lit up in the entire town square. Fluttershy walked across those cold cobblestones and to the window of the library, hesitant. Whatever was going on inside, it was loud. 

As Fluttershy passed through the wall, the harried feeling in the room hit her full-force; there were books scattered about on the ground, the lights were full-blast, and everywhere one turned, ponies were shouting over each other, leafing through books, and throwing things both up and down to each other. Spike was nowhere to be seen—Twilight had probably taken him someplace less loud to sleep. Despite the chaos, however, Fluttershy noticed that, in truth, the meeting hadn’t started yet—they were just reading through materials, and Rainbow Dash was still absent.

“Rarity!” Twilight hollered, setting down a book, “Did you find that volume on ‘spiritual absence’ or whatever it’s called?”

“Yes, Twilight!” Rarity called back, “But it doesn’t say anything in here about victims of it telling their friends about leaving! They sort of just, well…vanish! There’s no chance to do anything!

Twilight groaned in frustration. “Well, she definitely didn’t ‘just vanish’,” she said, tossing her current book to the side, “Applejack, have you found anything?”

The farmer pony raised her head from the book where she’d had it buried. “Can’t say I have, Twilight! Whatever happened to Fluttershy, it’s not in anything I’ve read.”

Twilight placed her elbows on the desk and put her face in her hooves, utterly exasperated. “We’ve been at this for what seems like forever, and I’ve been doing it for days now…collectively, I’d swear we’ve looked through the whole library!” She sighed heavily, leaning her cheek on a hoof, “Is Rainbow Dash coming? Did anypony find out?”

Pinkie Pie turned away from the window. “Dashie said she’d be a little late. She didn’t really wanna come over, but I convinced her!”

Twilight raised an eyebrow. ‘Pinkie, I know we have more pressing concerns, but…how in the world did you do that? I thought she hated Fluttershy.”

Pinkie shrugged. “It may not seem like it, Twilight, but Dashie trusts me. I just told her that it was really important for getting Fluttershy back, and that we really, really needed her help and she said she’d be here, just a little late…it’s only been thirty minutes, give her a little time! I know she doesn’t hate Fluttershy, I just know it! She’s just...really upset is all.

Twilight sighed. “Alright, Pinkie,” she said, standing up from the desk, “we’ll wait a little while longer. I just hope she makes it.”

Rarity looked over from her work. “Twilight, not to be pessimistic, but didn’t Fluttershy tell us that she was never coming back? Why are we doing all this work if, well…” She didn’t finish, but the mood in the room darkened considerably. Twilight’s eyes, however, gleamed with determination.

“Because, Rarity,” Twilight said, “If Fluttershy isn’t going to come back, it’s our job as our friends to go and get her back. You saw her…we all did! Fluttershy wasn’t leaving for the heck of it, that much was obvious—whatever is going on, we won’t stand for it. We may not have any leads, but that’s not going to stop us. Fluttershy is our friend, and she belongs here with us.”

Pinkie nodded emphatically. “Yeah!” she cried, “Fluttershy looked so sad when she came to talk to me! I mean, I’ve never seen her that sad—well, maybe except for when Philomena burned up and she started crying, or maybe that time when Gilda yelled at her, and well, that was really mean, but this would have to be something seriously mean to make her so-”

Applejack chuckled and cut her off. “Pinkie and Twilight are right; Fluttershy wasn’t looking too good when she showed up at Sweet Apple Acres. I didn’t say anything about it, but it was pretty dang obvious that Fluttershy wasn’t leaving because she wanted to.”

“Goodness…” Rarity said, smiling and standing up, “I feel sorry for whatever is between us and Fluttershy, because we’re going to make it regret taking her away from us!”

All the ponies shouted emphatically, raising hooves into the air. As enthused as they looked, though, Fluttershy couldn’t help but notice the way their eyes didn’t share the smiles on their faces, or the fact that their hooves dropped limply to their sides when they’d finished. Right after the cheering was finished, all the energy in the room seemed to just die…

They weren’t half as confident as they appeared, Fluttershy knew—they were just trying to put on brave faces, to give themselves a boost of self-assurance that they desperately needed. Still, Fluttershy smiled—they hadn’t given up yet, and that was the important thing. In truth, she was almost surprised…they had absolutely no idea what they were up against and here they were, huddled together in the cold library, poring through volume after volume, trying to find anything that could get them on the right path.

And to think, it was all for her…Fluttershy raised a hoof to her mouth, her eyes stinging. “Everypony,” she tried to said, knowing in the back of her head that it was futile, “You don’t need to do all this for me, really…” But they continued, her protests unheard.

“Twilight,” Rarity said, “wasn’t there anything in that letter that the Princess sent you that could give us a lead?”

Twilight gasped, a spark in her eye. “I think I have a theory,” Twilight said, “it’s a little crazy, but…when I got Princess Celestia’s letter back, I was shocked by how vague it was! All she told me was ‘Fluttershy’s leaving is a tragic loss for Ponyville, and even Canterlot will miss her influence dearly. I am sorry I cannot provide more comfort than that.’”

Twilight shook her head. “The Princess has never been that vague with me before, girls. It’s obvious there’s something much bigger than we figured going on here. There’s no telling exactly what it is, of course, but just the fact that the Princess dodged my questions the way she did…it’s almost like somepony told her to.”

Rarity put a hoof to her mouth. “Twilight!” she cried, “You can’t possibly be suggesting that Celestia was intimidated, can you? She’s the most powerful pony in Equestria! What could possibly scare her that badly?”

Twilight thought a moment, then levitated a book over, flipping through the pages. “It might not be that simple…” she said, “There’s no being in Equestria who could scare the Princess, I’ll grant you, but what if it was someone else…? What if it wasn’t even a pony?”

Avania, Dragonica, and Mythos…there’re too many variables for us to just dismiss the intimidation theory. Too many other powerful beings, like Rex III, Wobbles, and Icewings…any one of them threatening war could’ve made the Princess so anxious that…that…” She bit her lip, trying to piece it all together with Fluttershy’s departure.

“Ooh, I know!” Pinkie piped up, “What if Fluttershy was asked by the Princess to leave to the, uh…country that wanted war as some kinda peace pony?”

Applejack’s eyes hardened. “Or as a slave.”

Twilight nodded grimly. “Or a ransom…‘take one of our Elements of Harmony to prevent a war’…” Twilight shook her head. “Only I can’t imagine who Equestria would’ve gotten in return.”

“Probably a crown prince, or an extremely important advisor!” Rarity cried, “It’s all beginning to make sense! Twilight, you’re simply brilliant!”

“Don’t get too excited,” Twilight responded, “That’s only one theory. It’s a good one, but we have to consider everything here…after all, being too hasty has gotten us into more than one jam in the past. We’ve gotta think about every angle.”

Applejack cocked her head. “Well what else is there to think about, Twilight? We know there’s nothing else that could make the Princess send Fluttershy away except for the other countries…”

Fluttershy, still off in the corner, was shaking her head vigorously, desperately shouting at her friends that they were going in totally the wrong direction! More than ever she wished they could see her.

“Well…there is one other thing,” Twilight said, grabbing a different book, “it’s a little farfetched, mind you, but it’s basically all we’ve got beyond the war theory.” She flipped through the book and settled on a page. “It’s amazing we didn’t think of this before, but…The Ever.”

Fluttershy’s heart shot into her throat.

“The Ever?” Pinkie asked, “I feel like I’ve heard of that before!”

Twilight nodded. “You have; they taught it in school back when we were still fillies—that was before the whole idea was considered debunked and the teaching of it was phased out. It’s supposed to be some kind of mystical place that ponies go when they die, and supposedly the rulers therein are the most powerful beings in existence. Put simply, it’s a theory that deals with what happens after we die, and attempts to explain how we all got here.”

Applejack blinked. “Twilight, beg your pardon, but ain’t that a little silly? I mean, that’s just an old story they told us in school.”

Rarity nodded in agreement. “Twilight, I’m almost certain that this is a red herring—Fluttershy is probably wasting away in some horrid foreign country; the poor dear is probably scared half to death! We can’t be wasting time with-”

Twilight raised a hoof. “Let me finish,” she said, “I know it sounds farfetched, extremely so in fact, but there’s an old myth associated with The Ever, about some kind of Death cycle.”

Fluttershy was practically bouncing around now—her friends were so close!

“Basically, what happens is, every thousand years or so, Death comes down to Equestria and picks a successor; don’t quote me on this, but I guess The Ever trusts Equestrians more than any other race…in any case, the book ‘documents’ the last time this switch took place, and it was around six hundred years ago. Maybe…maybe Death asked Fluttershy to take his place?”

When everypony gave her a skeptical look, Twilight sighed. “I know, I know, it’s silly, but still, it’s a theory. If the war one is disproved, then it’s all we’re going to be able to fall back on...though I can’t imagine how we’d even be able to track down a cosmic power. Everything we’ve taken on is, well...physical, in a way. There was always a way to combat it. If this is true, well...I can’t see how we can stop it.”

Fluttershy closed her eyes--it was almost a certainty that they couldn’t stop it.

“Well, I think that’s all we should consider it—a fallback,” Rarity said, “It’s definitely out there, and if the war idea falls through, I’d rather not go on a wild goose chase.

Pinkie and Applejack nodded in agreement. “But Twilight,” Pinkie said, “how do we start looking into all this stuff? This is kind of a lot to think about!”

Twilight thought a moment. “I’ll start by sending a letter to the Princess letting her know that we’re going to come to Canterlot as a group to address her—if she tells us that there’s nothing wrong, then we just have to believe her. If not, then hopefully that’ll put us on the right track.”

Fluttershy hoped desperately that they didn’t get off-track with their investigation –they were her only hope to get back to normal now. She looked around, hoping even more that Blanche hadn’t heard any of that.

“For now,” Twilight concluded, “I think we could all seriously use some sleep—it’s past twelve-thirty. So, if there’s nothing else, let’s-”

“I made it!” came a voice, accompanied by the door opening and Dash whizzing in, floating in the middle of the room. “What was it you girls needed me for?”

When everypony put a hoof to their foreheads in exasperation, Dash looked around, confused. “Did I miss something…?”

The Cold Hand of Mercy, Chapter 6

Time had been passing much too quickly for Fluttershy. It only seemed like yesterday she’d made the long walk out to the Barrows and talked to Old Bones, and made her first kill… In only three weeks, she’d taken at least twenty just like him—old, exhausted, and terribly tired of everything. In fact, older ponies had been the only ones she’d been asked to kill so far.

It was like Blanche said:  after some time, you start getting used to the jobs you’re given. Even so, she hadn’t totally adjusted—walking through the town square and watching ponies pull their scarves tighter around their necks when she moved past always made her uncomfortable.

Fluttershy’s list never ran out of victims, either. Every time she brought a pony into the Ever, another name would pop up on the bottom of her list. Somewhere in the back of her mind, Fluttershy had desperately hoped that she’d run out of victims, and that maybe the Ever would let her stop being Death—it was abundantly clear now that wasn’t the case.

And all the while, Twilight and the rest of the Elements had been hard at work—Twilight’s letter had been emphatic, and thankfully, Celestia hadn’t shot her down like last time.

Even so, Celestia had ‘regretfully’ informed Twilight that she wouldn’t be able to see her for another month, and that’d been two-and-a-half weeks ago. Fluttershy couldn’t take the anticipation—even when she was on assignments, it was all she could think about. Twilight had written and rewritten her presentation to the Princess time and again, and it never seemed good enough for her. Spike was always running around as well, getting more papers, quills and things. Whatever she came up with, Fluttershy knew it would be perfect.

Pinkie had decided to make a celebration cake way, way in advance, and had been getting a recipe put together—by the looks of it, it was going to be huge, hilariously so.

Dash had taken a lot of convincing once she’d found out what the topic of discussion was, but they’d helped her come around—she was going to give Fluttershy heck when she made it back, but at least she was on board, though she hadn’t been doing much to help. She’d mostly been managing the weather, lazing around on clouds, and making idle conversation in the square—she was probably still trying to forget about everything.

Applejack hadn’t been doing much besides working—the farm needed tending to, even as the days passed and the Elements got ever-closer to their appointment with the Princess.

Rarity made regular appointments with Twilight, always heading over to the library when she had a minute to help Twilight with her presentation, and lifting Spike’s spirits when he was getting down.

And Fluttershy continued on with her assignments, the same as ever. Things remained relatively mundane—Blanche visited every now and again, in the ‘flesh’, but mostly Fluttershy was left on her own, adding to the painful anticipation.

Whenever Twilight and the rest of the Elements got together for a meeting, it was seldom very coherent. Dash and Applejack would shout over Pinkie, who was passing pencils down to Rarity, who would mark down a few ideas on a sheet of paper, then pass it to Twilight, who would mark what she liked. The presentation for the Princess had gone through several versions as it was, and it didn’t look like it was going to stop changing any time soon.

Despite how little they seemed to get done, the meetings were always a focal point for morale—when they were alone, each of the Elements were like stained glass; pretty to look at, and strong-looking on the outside, but all-too-easy to shatter. Getting together, getting loud and reassuring each other helped them keep going. Fluttershy even got into it, even though none of them could hear her. It helped her remember that, despite her fate, she could still enjoy the little things.

When Fluttershy awoke from her slumber, she gave a powerful yawn and stretched deeply, looking out the window of her house—the sky was steely grey and looked fragile, with puffs of snow floating down. The ground was covered in the white stuff, and the market was just beginning to wake up—ponies were putting out their fruit stands and pie carts, the shutters of Sugarcube Corner were opening up, and Carousel Boutique’s windows swung outwards to greet the morning.

The air was crisp and cold, and smelled like a sheet of ice had been placed over the entire world. Fluttershy could see ponies bundled up tightly, with hats pulled down tightly over their heads and wooly vests on their chests. They made small talk with one another as they passed by, breath seeping from their lips in a frosty mist. For the moment, everything was at peace.

It didn’t take long, however, for the peace to be broken by fillies and colts running out of their houses to roll around in the fresh snow, screaming in high-pitched voices and throwing snowballs at each other, which exploded on the buildings behind them, the snow settling back onto the ground afterwards.

Fluttershy couldn’t help but smile—the market looked so full of life… She wished, as she had every day for the last three weeks, that she could’ve been a part of it while she was still alive.

“Fluttershy,” came a familiar voice, “good to see you’re doing alright.” Blanche smirked at her as she turned away from the window.

“Um, yes, well…” Fluttershy moved a lock of her hair out of her eyes distractedly, “I guess so…as much as I can be, in any case. You know, being Death and all…” She tried to force a smile, something she often did when things around her were depressing—she’d learned that there was no sense in being sad all the time, so she’d tried to use Pinkie’s approach—smiling the problems away.

Blanche chuckled. “Are you finally developing a sense of humor?” he asked. “Now there’s something I thought I’d never see.” Blanche looked out the window. “Pretty gloomy day, huh? You’d think Dash would be trying to make the weather all happy and stuff…” The stallion sighed. “Your weather team is beginning to make me wonder whether they’ll ever wrap up winter.”

Fluttershy joined Blanche. “I know Rainbow Dash hasn’t been doing so great…” she said. “Maybe the weather is just her way of expressing her feelings. She is the captain of the weather team, after all.”

Blanche smirked. “I don’t think that’s how it works,” he said, pushing his hair behind an ear. “But in any case, I hope it’s not making it too hard for you to get around. Your intake of souls has been steady, but not terrific.”

Fluttershy bit her lip and pulled out her list. “I’m sorry…” she said. “It’s just that, well…it can be hard to get around. Some of these ponies were in faraway towns, and it took me several days to get there… Isn’t there any way I can travel faster, Blanche?”

Blanche nodded. “Yes…the pony given the powers of death can teleport—I think I remember you asking me about that earlier—but as I told you, that’s reserved until after you’ve made your first few kills.” He smiled. “I believe you’ve more than qualified for that.” Blanche cocked his head in Fluttershy’s direction, and a small flash flitted from his horn. “There you go!” he said. “Teleportation.”

Fluttershy blinked. “…Er…are you sure?” The mare looked herself over. “I, um…I don’t feel much different.”

Blanche shook his head. “What, you expect every little thing I give you to be some huge, dramatic ceremony?” He laughed. “I guess it’s a reasonable thing to expect; after all, things have been rather dramatic for you these last few weeks, eh?” The stallion turned. “Just focus on where you want to go, and imagine yourself there. Simple.”

Fluttershy closed her eyes. When she opened them, there she was. The mare looked around, mouth agape. “Um…oh my…”

Blanche chuckled. “Well, you’re certainly less excited than I was,” he said, “I believe the first words out of my mouth were much fouler and less coherent.”

Fluttershy blinked. “Um…does this mean I can teleport to the places on my list now…?” She pulled out the scroll of paper, looking it over.

Blanche nodded. “Yeah,” he said. “Since you already get an image of the place in your head when you touch the name on the list, all you’ve gotta do now is close your eyes and envision it, and poof! You’re there.” Blanche tapped Fluttershy’s list with a meaningful look. “But it also means that you’re going to be expected to get more done each day. The Ever understands that every now and again, you need to use time for yourself, and as Death, your schedule is under your own jurisdiction, but do keep in mind that you can’t slack off just because you can teleport. Understand?”

Fluttershy nodded. “I know that,” she said, “it’s just, um…when my friends go to visit the Princess, I probably won’t—”

Blanche held up a hoof. “I understand,” he said, “you need to be there anyway—I don’t mean to put a damper on things, you know, but I’m not sure your friends are going to find out anything new; the Princess knows not to be forthcoming with information about The Ever and such, and she’ll tell Twilight the truth about her political relations—namely, that there’s nothing going on.” He smirked. “By the way, I’ve always known about your friends’ plan, even though you tried to hide it from me. I don’t think it will work.”

Fluttershy sighed. “I know…” she said. “I…knew that as soon as Twilight came up with her plan. But I’m hoping it’ll put them on the right track. Hopefully, when Princess Celestia can’t help them, Twilight will start to think more about The Ever…if I know as well as I think I do, I know she will.”

Blanche’s smirk faded slowly, and his eyes grew hard. “I don’t think you realize, Fluttershy…” He swept a hoof towards the ceiling. “I’ve told you before that The Ever is a power that even I don’t understand, still, and I’m a part of it. You need to focus on your job, not these hopes that your friends are going to get it together, defeat the Ever—and myself, I’d assume you’re hoping—and make everything better. It’s not going to happen.”

Fluttershy didn’t respond, and Blanche flew back up into the Ever, one last thing echoing in the room.

“Ponies have tried before, you know.” And then he was gone.

Fluttershy looked out the window at the grey sky, the angry, fragile clouds scudding along the sky slowly, puffs of snow floating down from them. She could almost see Twilight and Spike bustling around the square, Rarity designing outfits fit for them to address the Princess, Pinkie baking that celebration cake…

Blanche was wrong. Fluttershy knew it; he had to be wrong.

The mare produced her list from her long hair with a frown, looking over it. She hadn’t actually made a kill in the last few days—her friends’ preparations had been so heated in that space of time that she hadn’t wanted to miss any of it. But with things on the backburner for the Elements as of late, Fluttershy knew it was time to get back to work.

Looking over her list, Fluttershy noticed one odd name at the top of her list. The rest of the names were generically old—Rusty Hooves, Blind Eye, etc.  But there was one, the next pony on her list, that seemed not to fit in with the others…Little Mint. Fluttershy bit her lip, looking around the room as if she expected to see Blanche standing there.

Little Mint…Little Mint…Fluttershy tried to think; had she heard of a pony with that name before? Fluttershy decided that no, she hadn’t. It certainly didn’t sound like an older pony…but Fluttershy tried to remain hopeful. She’d met an old mare named Jellybean some weeks ago, so maybe it was just an odd name that’d carried into older age.

Fluttershy placed a hoof on the scroll and closed her eyes, biting her lip as her mind was carried away to the pony’s location. It looked like a small house, off in the direction of Hoofington, but not quite inside the city…Fluttershy couldn’t blame them—Hoofington was less-than-ideal, to say the least.

The mare tucked the scroll back into her hair with a worried look—whoever this mare was, she’d come under unfortunate circumstances—rolled by a hay cart on the main strip. Apparently, it had broken several of her ribs and punctured a lung, the other lung barely hanging on. Poor thing…Fluttershy knew she would be happy to see her, tragic as the circumstances were. Closing her bedroom door behind her, Fluttershy thought about what the mare would say to her—the last one was pleasant enough. “Dearie,” she’d said, “I don’t mean to be rude…but please, I’m ready to go.” And she went with no trouble.

Thankfully, Fluttershy didn’t have to go into Hoofington proper. The amount of scum and villainy in that city made her cringe the last time she’d had to. Coming upon the huge house in which her victim was resting, Fluttershy felt a shiver run down her spine. Something didn’t seem right about all this…maybe it was the rain pouring down around her, edges of the sun shining around the light-grey clouds, making everything seem so gloomy.

The inside of the house was immaculate, well-decorated, and generally looked like a pleasant place to stay. A mare and stallion were both downstairs, their faces wreathed in fragile smiles, their hooves wrapped around each other. The mare’s hair fell around her face in a sickly green tangle, and the stallion’s jaw was covered in coarse yellow hair, his blue eyes flinty despite his expression.

Fluttershy stopped a moment. Who were they? Caretakers? A thought, one that had been gnawing at the back of her mind, started to push itself to the fore:  what if they were Little Mint’s parents? Fluttershy swallowed. No, that was impossible—foals, fillies, colts…they were the precious little ones…they couldn’t possibly…

Fluttershy put the thought out of her mind. It couldn’t be true.

The stairs seemed to take forever with the horrible reality Fluttershy refused to face growing closer and closer. Downstairs, she heard the mare complain about a chill in the air, a thump as the stallion closed the window for her. Fluttershy didn’t want to cause any stir, and zapped herself through the doorway which she knew led into the victim’s room.

It was a nice enough room—floral wallpaper, one window across from the door which looked out over a garden, a small end table next to a four-poster bed.

The covers of the bed, spotted with flowers, were pulled up over a form, the nose of which tented the fabric. Fluttershy’s stomach tied itself in an icy knot—it looked so brittle

No, she thought, no…I’m going to pull back those covers and it’s going to be a lovely old mare smiling up at me, thanking me for coming. The mare walked across the room, her breath growing shorter with every step, and placed a hoof on those covers, pulling them back gently.

A pair of watery green eyes stared up at her, tiny and innocent. “You’re not my mom.”

Fluttershy felt the earth shake underneath her. It was a filly, just a few years older than the Cutie Mark Crusaders. She tried to speak, but her throat was going dry.

“No…no…” she stammered, “I…no…I-I’m not…”

The filly coughed, squeaking with pain. “Then…who are you?” she asked, “Why’re you in my house…? I’m tired…I told Mom and Dad that I wanted to sleep…”

Fluttershy blinked, trying to shake an encroaching darkness from her mind which threatened to knock her out, like Old Bones’ death had. “I…I…” She swallowed and licked her lips. “I’m Death…Little Mint, and I’m here to take you to The Ever.”

As he filly’s mouth dropped, her hair, the same sickly shade as her mother’s, fell over one of her eyes. “But…but Mom and Dad said I was getting better. Whoever you are, really, just leave me alone.” She coughed and pointed to the door with a hoof. “Now.”

Fluttershy didn’t know what to do; she couldn’t kill a filly…could she? It didn’t make any sense…she was just getting started on her life! There was too much of it left to live to take her now. “I…” Fluttershy felt weak, like she was going to fall and shatter into a million pieces.

“Don’t leave.” Blanche revealed himself, standing behind Fluttershy. “Fluttershy…she has to go. Take her.”

“But…” Fluttershy stammered, looking into the stallion’s unforgiving eyes, “But she’s just a filly! How can I do that to her?”

“Who’re you talking to…?” Mint asked, raising an eyebrow.

“You can, and you will, because you’re Death,” Blanche retorted. “It’s your job to do the will of The Ever, not to question it.”

Fluttershy’s mouth moved a few times, but no words came. She turned back to Mint—those watery eyes of hers still had so much to see…she probably hadn’t even been in love…

“Are you going to leave, Miss?” Mint asked again. “I don’t mean to be rude, but my Mom and Dad said I wasn’t supposed to get visitors until I was all better.”

“Don’t,” Blanche repeated. “You’re not leaving until you take her. She has to go; there aren’t any exceptions.” The stallion narrowed his eyes. “It’s terrible, it’s wrong, and there’s nothing good about it, I know, but that doesn’t change the way things have to be. Sometimes things like this happen, Fluttershy; it’s not our job to understand it.”

Fluttershy felt trapped. “Blanche,” she said softly. “Just…go, please. I need to do this on my own.” She barely knew what she was even saying—all she knew was that she didn’t need both of them telling her what do to.

“Very well,” Blanche said, rising up to the ceiling. “But remember…you can’t leave without sending her soul to The Ever.”

Fluttershy turned back to Mint. “I’m sorry…” Her voice was hardly a whisper. “I know your mother and father tried very hard to make things better for you, but…you have to go.” Fluttershy tried to bite back the tears welling up in her eyes. “You have to go…there’s nothing anypony can do.”

Mint stared at Fluttershy a few moments. “…You’re serious, aren’t you?” she said, sitting up with a pained groan. “I…” She looked down and away. “I hoped you were just some pony playing a really mean trick on me…my parents said they were going to the store…I thought you’d snuck in. They told me they were going to buy something that would make me stop hurting all the time. I’m just kinda tired of all the hurting…”

Fluttershy swallowed hard. “Your parents are downstairs, Mint,” she said. “They both look very worried.”

“I know they are,” the filly responded. “They have been for a long time now… I got hit by that hay cart a month ago.” She looked out the window. “The stallions pulling it were going too fast…it’s their fault I’m like this, y’know. My parents just wanted to take me into town to get some food and stuff, and then…this happened.” She sighed. “I don’t remember much after that, until I woke up.”

Fluttershy pulled her cloak up over her head, trying to shield the filly from the hurt in her face. “…I understand,” she said. “I…I’m sorry it happened to you. I know you don’t want to go…”

Mint shook her head, taking a deep breath to steady her voice. “No,” she said, “I mean…my parents told me all about death after our cat died, but…they told me that, for a little filly like me, it was really far-off. I didn’t think…something like this was going to happen, especially not to me.” She laughed—the sound was terribly forced. “They were always telling me ‘Mint, you’re too smart for your own good.’ I guess they were right—a day or two after I woke up, something kept telling me I was going to see you sooner or later, even when they kept saying ‘Don’t worry, don’t worry, we promise you’re going to get better.’

“But I’m not.” Mint pulled the covers up against her chin. “And I guess, well…I knew that. I’m almost done being a filly, y’know. Or, I guess I was. Just two more years, I think. Doesn’t really matter now, I guess.” Mint turned back from the window.  “So you’re sending me to The Ever, right? My parents told me about that place, but they always said it didn’t really exist, that it was just a story old ponies passed around.” The filly licked her lips nervously. “…Is it nice? Do I get to say goodbye to my parents? Is the Ever…pretty?”

Fluttershy yanked the hood down as far as she could get it. “Y-yes…” she murmured, her voice breaking, “I’m told it’s a wonderful place, and that ponies who go there get anything they want. And…your parents…” They wouldn’t be able to see Mint’s soul exiting her body, nor would they see Fluttershy taking it. “You can say goodbye, but…don’t mention me.”

Mint nodded. “It’s kinda funny—I never expected to see Death…and I never thought she’d be so nice-looking.”

“Thank you…” Fluttershy squeaked.

Mint leaned down from her bed and tapped the floor. “They’ll be up in a sec. Um…does it hurt?”

Fluttershy only shook her head.

“Mint, dear?” came the mare’s voice as the door swung open and the parents entered, “Mint, is everything alright?” They knelt down by her bedside.

“Is there anything we can get you, hon? We just got back from the store.” Her father said, taking one of her hooves.

“No Mom…no Dad…” Mint smiled at them. “It’s just…I don’t think I can do this anymore…I wanted to say goodbye.”

Her mother’s eyes went wide. “No, Mint, no! Please, don’t say things like that! That’s…it’s not true. Please, don’t scare your dear old parents like that. Our hearts are weak enough as it is.” She forced a laugh.

“Mint, hon…’ her father said, “What…why would you say something like that?”

Mint nodded in Fluttershy’s direction, cueing her. “Dad…nngh…” She groaned as Fluttershy placed her hooves on her chest, beginning to draw out her spirit, “I can feel myself going, Dad…And Mom…I’m not trying to be scary.” Tears started to flow from all three ponies’ eyes, and Fluttershy’s cheeks were getting wetter by the moment, her eyes obscured by her hood.

“I just wanted to tell you both…since I—ahhhn—can’t go on much longer…that I’m sorry.”

Her mother had her eyes covered with an arm, sobbing uncontrollably, so her father asked, “For what, Mint…? There’s nothing for you to be sorry about; you’re the perfect daughter.”

Mint shook her head. “No…I’m not. Remember when the carpet got burned up, the one we got from Grandma…? That wasn’t the cat. It was me. I’m…sorry.” She pitched up against Fluttershy’s hooves.

Her mother collapsed onto the bed. “It’s…” her father stammered, gripping her hoof more tightly, “It’s okay, honey. You were just a little foal. I understand. We…” He sniffed, kissing her on the cheek. “We forgive you.”

Mint smiled as Fluttershy finished, the back legs of her spirit leaving her. “Thank you…I love you guys…” Her head tilted to one side, resting softly against the pillow. Her father’s grip on her hoof grew tighter as he looked down at the floor, entire body heaving.

“Well…I guess we go now, huh? Unless there was anything else? I’m sorry that I kinda made a scene…”

Fluttershy shook her head and pointed up at the ceiling—bright rays of light shot from it.

Mint looked up at it and smiled. “Oh, alright…see you later, Miss.” She floated up towards it, her body still warm on the bed and her parents in ruins. As her head entered The Ever, she gasped. “It is pretty…”

And then she was gone.

Fluttershy had no idea how she made it back to her house, but she fell onto her bed, eyes glazed over. Her hood slipped back over her ears, pink hair lying around her in a disheveled wave. She couldn’t believe what she’d just done.

“That was kinda rough, eh kid?” came Blanche’s voice. “I know the feeling. My first time doing something like that was pretty rough too.”

Fluttershy said nothing.

“C’mon, kid…you can’t let this kill you. It’s going to happen more than once while you’re Death.”

Fluttershy said nothing.

“…Fine, whatever, I tried.” Blanche shook his head. “Be that way. I’m tired of seeing you mope around all the time, but if you’re not even gonna try to be happy, then I’m not gonna try to help you be happy. So whatever.” He poofed away, leaving Fluttershy alone.

Fluttershy said nothing.

Fluttershy spent the next two weeks in a thick haze—it was like being frozen in a block of ice. She still couldn’t believe what she’d done. She didn’t think she ever would be able to come to terms with what she’d done to Little Mint. But even with the heavy weight on her shoulders, Fluttershy knew she couldn’t give up, not as long as her friends were still trying to get to the bottom of everything.

Thankfully, Fluttershy managed to make it through the last two weeks without incident—there were one or two ponies here and there that were resistant now that her assignments were getting more difficult. Blanche mentioned that they were going to be—it was obvious now that The Ever, whatever it was, had been going easy on her.

But today was the one day off she figured she’d ever be granted—Blanche refused to let her forget the caliber of strings he was pulling. Today was different from the rest. Putting on her cape didn’t make Fluttershy feel heavier, pulling the hood tight around her head didn’t make her skin crawl. Even the sky seemed a brighter shade of blue.

Today was the day her friends would set her free.

Blanche had been telling her sporadically not to get her hopes up, that plenty of ponies had tried to combat The Ever before, and that every single time they’d failed, but Fluttershy didn’t care. No matter what the stallion said, there was one thing Fluttershy knew; her friends refused to accept failure. If it took them the rest of their lives, they’d get her back.

Twilight’s research into The Ever was sparse at best…and yet, it intrigued the curious purple pony and drove her further—she wanted to explore the possibility that Fluttershy was forced into becoming Death, but her pride and integrity were at stake. She couldn’t bring that theory to Celestia—it’d make her seem like a madmare. Besides, to her, it was still just an old legend, for the moment.

Pinkie’s cake was finally finished and ready to be unveiled at Sugarcube Corner once they returned from their appointment. As predicted, it was ridiculously huge, with layers of dripping chocolate, gobs of fluffy whipped cream, and crunchy, yummy sprinkles liberally applied in the shape of stars, animals, and whatever other fun shapes came to mind.

Unfortunately, they’d been the only ones really preparing for everything—Rarity and Applejack worked, and Rainbow Dash practiced flying when she wasn’t lazing around.

But today, they’d all make the trip to Canterlot and meet with Celestia, whom Fluttershy knew was going to help them—the political feud theory was a dead end, of course, and the princess would know that, but she’d probably pull Twilight aside after the official business was conducted and let her know what was really going on.

With her day secured and death-free, Fluttershy zapped herself over to Canterlot posthaste—the Elements left several hours ago, and it was about time for them to arrive.

Sure enough, there they were, all wrapped up in winter gear. They looked tired, Fluttershy noticed—the trip must’ve taken its toll on them, or perhaps it was the task ahead of them. She didn’t envy them—none of them were expecting perfect answers, considering how long they’d been looking without any results, but if anypony could fill them in, it would be Celestia.

Canterlot seemed quiet, dead; ponies weren’t out in the streets playing, they weren’t calling ponies into their shops, and they weren’t chatting with their usual reservation on every corner—the heavy snowfall saw to that. Fluttershy could see candlelight in the windows on either side of the group as they passed through, and the wispy silhouettes of the ponies inside, moving animatedly as they told stories. Happy as the aura inside was, Fluttershy couldn’t help but look at her friends, shivering as they moved slowly along the street, and compare it to a vigil.

“Twilight.” Applejack’s voice broke the silence. “Are you sure about this? That train back to Ponyville ain’t left yet, and it’s like I told you, Celestia probably ain’t got any more information than we do, or she’d have told you. I got as much faith in her as the next pony, but…I get the feeling we’re gonna be disappointed.”

Twilight shook her head. “This is all we’ve got left, AJ,” she said, “I’ll admit I don’t feel very good about it myself, but it’s all we’ve got left. If the Princess can’t tell us anything, well…then we’ve only got one theory to work with, and it’s a crackpot theory at best.” She looked up at the high, stony towers jutting up from the castle. “Poor Fluttershy…whatever happened to her, I hope Celestia can help us get her back…she’s probably out there somewhere, crying her eyes out.”

Fluttershy smiled—she hadn’t cried for a while now, of course, but Twilight knew her too well—if she’d been capable, she’d have cried for everything she was worth, but her tears dried up a long, long time ago.

“Yeah,” came Applejack’s voice, “I can’t imagine what it must be like for her—I did okay for myself, the couple of times we’ve gotten separated, but…I remember it hurting a lot. Fluttershy must feel like the whole darn world fell apart on her.”

Rarity closed her eyes a moment. “I don’t know what I’d do without you all…it scares me to even think about it! Whatever happens here, we have to find a way to retrieve Fluttershy, no matter what.”

“Yeah!” Dash shouted, taking to the air for a few moments, “We’ll get out there and kick whatever took Fluttershy to the curb, make it run home crying to its mommy!” She pressed her hooves together and ground them. “Nopony takes Fluttershy and gets away with it!”

Pinkie was the last to speak. “I just hope they didn’t ruin her appetite—I don’t think just the five of us can finish that cake!” That elicited a few laughs, even from Fluttershy—Pinkie always knew how to lift everypony’s spirits.

Unfortunately, even Pinkie couldn’t dispel the heavy atmosphere of the castle.

The doors, so gigantic and inviting before, now seemed to bar them with their size, the massive slabs of oak looming over them, further darkening the ground around them—it almost felt like nighttime, standing there.

The guards, stoic as ever, almost seemed to have an aura of malice about them—their wing-blades looked sharper, blue eyes like chips of ice which never stopped staring; hard, gold-colored gauntlets on their hooves. The heavy air was too much for the group to handle, and they swiftly retreated inside.

Even there, they couldn’t find any comfort. The way the temperature shifted so extremely from freezing cold to burning warmth made them shift uncomfortably. The chandeliers, carpets, vases, jars, jugs and pots, even the massive stained glass window at the top of the stairs—nothing felt quite as inviting as usual...

“Geez,” Dash piped up, trying not to let the unease in her voice show through, “Didja see the looks those guards were giving us? They looked more serious than ever. Talk about a bad welcome; don’t they know we’re here to see the Princess?”

The jibe got by Twilight, who was too focused on maintaining her composure to notice it. “They knew,” she said, “I rarely come here anymore unless it’s on official business…they had to have known.”

Pinkie raised an eyebrow. “But why would they be acting like that? Sure, they can be kinda serious at times, but that was waaaaay serious, even for them.”

Twilight bit her lip, swallowing hard. “Isn’t it obvious?” She said, fear thickening her voice, “We’re poking our noses into something that we weren’t ever meant to know…something even the Princess is scared of. She doesn’t want to address the issue because, well…” Twilight stopped. Fluttershy bit her lip; it couldn’t be possible. There wasn’t anything out there more powerful than Celestisa, was there? There couldn’t be! Not even the Ever!

“I fear Twilight may be correct,” Rarity said, “I’m certain I’m not the only one who has noticed how unwelcome we are here. The guards wouldn’t greet us, the town was quiet…everything simply feels wrong.”

“…let’s just keep going,” Applejack said, looking up the vast stairs, “Ain’t gonna figure nothing out standing around here talking.”

With that, they started up the stairs, trying to ignore the chilly wind blowing down on them from above. Fluttershy stayed close behind—was this dramatic irony? Knowing that something bad was about to happen but not being able to stop it?

The walk to Celestia’s throne room was no more inviting than the foyer had been—long, cold hallways despite the candles, stoic guards on every corner, a thick, heady, foreboding feeling weighing each of the Elements down…even Fluttershy felt it. Celestia invited them in, true, but every inch of the castle rejected them.

Even seeing Celestia couldn’t calm Fluttershy. The Princess was seated on her throne, a calm, radiant expression on her face, but it felt fake, surrounded by so much bad atmosphere.

“Twilight Sparkle,” the Princess said cheerily, “I see you’ve brought your friends with you as well.”

Twilight nodded—her legs were visibly locked to keep from shaking. “Yes, Princess,” she said, “The matter I sent you a letter about a month ago, well…they helped me do the majority of the research.”

Celestia raised an eyebrow. “Research? You didn’t mention anything about research in your letter.” A searching expression crossed her face. “…what is this matter you wanted to discuss with me, Twilight?”

Fluttershy’s chest tightened. “Well, Princess,” Twilight said, managing to keep her voice even, “It’s just that, well…we were curious about the political state of affairs around the area.”

“What she means is ‘are we at war’ or something?” Dash spoke up, floating in midair, “Fluttershy left, and wouldn’t tell us where she was going. We thought maybe she was some kinda…” she trailed off awkwardly, the implication hanging bitterly in the air.

Celestia stopped a moment—something crossed her face in an instant. Was it fear? “There is no cause for concern about that, I assure you,” she said, “Fluttershy is fine.”

Dash’s expression turned hard, and she opened her mouth to shout, but Applejack’s hoof clapped over it.

“Sorry, Princess, we don’t mean to seem, uh…forward? But that ain’t really tellin’ us much. Did Fluttershy send you a letter or something?”

“Yeah!” Dash yelled, breaking free, “Don’t tell me you just ‘know!’

Celestia shook her head. “I am sorry, but I cannot tell you any more than I already have,” she said, “The reason why Fluttershy left is something I cannot disclose.”

Fluttershy’s jaw moved uselessly for a few moments, disbelieving.

“But Princess,” Twilight said, desperation clear in her voice, “We…Fluttershy is our friend! Wasn’t it you who sent me out to Ponyville in the first place to try and make new friends? I’ve enjoyed my time with all of them greatly…how can you say there’s nothing to be done? She can’t just be gone!”

“Yeah!” Pinkie piped up, “Fluttershy’s so nice, and sweet, and kind, and she takes really good care of animals, and she always does her best when we need help, and—”

Rarity’s hoof cut her off. “I apologize, Princess, but I believe we are in the right here. Fluttershy is very dear to us, you understand, and we don’t want to be demanding, but she’s a part of our lives now—it’s unfair to withhold information.”

Twilight looked up at Celestia, swallowing hard. “Please, Princess…you’ve seen how much Fluttershy taught me about the magic of friendship…I want to keep learning from her.”

Twilight Sparkle...” Celestia said with a knowing smile, followed by a sigh. “Very well, I can tell you this much; the matter that called Fluttershy away is of extreme importance. The politics in Equestria are quite stable, so I can assure you she is not some sort of political prisoner or anything of the sort.” She nodded. “In fact, where she is now, she is perfectly safe and secure.” Her smile dropped. “Now, I am sorry, Twlight, but that truly is all I can tell you, within my power. I implore you, Twilight, do not worry yourselves over Fluttershy’s leaving overmuch. I promise you, she will come back in her own time.”

Twilight opened her mouth to respond, but stopped. “Alright, Princess,” she said, “I appreciate your help very much, and thank you for your time.”

Celestia nodded, forcing a smile. “It was good getting to see you and your friends again, Twilight,” she said, “please, do not hesitate to visit me any time, especially now that things are so hard for you all. I will do whatever I can to help you through this. I know this is a difficult time for you, but trust in me, you will see Fluttershy again. Goodbye for now.”

Twilight turned to leave. “We will, Princess,” she said, a forced smile on her face as well, “and I promise I’ll keep sending letters. Goodbye.”

Rainbow Dash’s eyes were flashing with anger. “But Twilight!” she protested. Twilight was already leaving, however, alongside the rest of her friends.

“C’mon now, Rainbow,” Applejack said, gripping the pegasus’ tail in her teeth, “We gotta get goin’, or we’ll miss our train!”

When her friends were finished filing out of the room, Fluttershy walked over to where Celestia sat, hoping to overhear something important.

“Please forgive me, Twilight,” the alicorn said under her breath, “but there were things ponykind was not meant to know.”

At that, the Princess left the room, a thoroughly anguished look on her face.

Fluttershy felt sick. Her friends had traveled all this way, taken the time out of their lives, been so hopeful that the Princess would help them…and this was what it amounted to.

There was nothing more for them here.

Opting to take the train home, the Elements were silent the entire way. They weren’t just defeated, they were broken; the most powerful pony in all Equestria, and even she couldn’t help them.

“Twilight, remember what you said before?” Rarity piped up, looking across from her to where the purple pony sat. Her voice quavered with false confidence. “About how Fluttershy…might have become Death?”

Twilight looked up from under her bangs—there was nothing in her eyes, flat and purple. “Mmm,” she grunted—her voice was barely above a whisper.

“You said that, should this fail…it was all we’d have left to turn to, didn’t you?”

Twilight shut her eyes, mouth turning down at the corners. “…sure,” she said, a few wet lines leaking down from under her bangs, “Sure, why not? If the Princess can’t help us, then we’re better off just chasing whatever ridiculous theories we can.” She laughed bitterly. “What if it was true?” she asked, the question dying seconds after it left her mouth, “We couldn’t fight something otherworldly—I’m pretty sure that, whatever’s out there, it’s harmonious enough that our powers combined would amount to…to…” her hoof slammed down on the cushion, “to nothing!”

Rarity opened her mouth to say something, but stopped, stunned into silence. Fluttershy felt her heart breaking as she watched the spectacle, standing there in the middle of the aisle.

“By Celestia, that’s really it, ain’t it?” Came Applejack’s voice from the adjacent seat. She was holding together much better than the others.

The only answer was the rattling of the train’s wheels against the tracks.

Dash and Pinkie were gone, to the back of the train at the start of the ride—there was no telling how broken up they were about all this, and Fluttershy wasn’t sure she wanted to see anyway. She wanted to scream at her friends, to shake them, to make them see that her becoming Death really was what had happened. But all she could do was watch as Twilight’s head slumped forward, into her hooves.

“What do we do?” She said quietly, “What do we do? There’s…” A sob wracked her body, but no more tears came. “There’s nothing left, is there?” She raised her head, chest heaving, and looked at her companions.

The two of them sat silently, Rarity busying her hooves with a frayed stitch on the seat, nearly drawing blood from her lip as she bit it, and Applejack, with her hat cocked down, overshadowing her eyes. It was too much; Fluttershy turned and exited the train.

It didn’t matter where she went, as long as she wasn’t there. Even being the way she was, Fluttershy had never felt so helpless before. In an instant, the bottom dropped out of her stomach, and now she was left facing reality once more, something she’d tried desperately to avoid in the past.

However, as she laid down in a treetop to sleep, she felt a presence behind her. “Blanche?” she called, “Is that you?”

Blanche nodded, standing on a thick bough of branches. “Couldn’t very well be anypony else, could it?” he asked. “Listen, uh...I wanted to make sure you were okay.”

Fluttershy shook her head silently.

“I figured.” Blanched shifted uncomfortably. “I know, it’s rough. Even Celestia’s not allowed to talk about the Ever, you know.”

Fluttershy sighed. “Why?” she asked, “Why can’t she? She’s the Princess...what could the Ever do to her?”

Blanche shrugged. “I have no idea,” he said, “far back as I’ve read, the punishments for acting against the Ever’s wishes--bad behavior during life, telling ponies things one isn’t supposed to, things like that--are always different. One pony might get a year or two knocked off their lifespan, another might get denied their section of the Ever--though that only happens to really bad ponies--or for a pony like Celestia...I have no idea what it could do to her.

“As far as I can tell, the Ever can only affect things that happen in the future. couldn’t come down and smite Celestia on the spot for revealing everything to your friends. The most it could do is probably shorten her lifespan...but then, she’s immortal, so that wouldn’t matter much. There was a pony I read about, way back in the beginning of the Deaths, and she passed information about the Ever and Death on to the living through a victim. The whole thing caused a huge war of ideology and, when it was all over, she lost her spot in the Ever and never got to reclaim her sacrifice. I have no way of knowing what would happen to Celestia or to you, but it probably wouldn’t be nice, either.”

Fluttershy shivered. “What happened to her?”

Blanche bit his lip. “Dunno,” he said, “whoever wrote her story out--because it certainly wasn’t her--decided not to include that. Maybe she got thrown into some kinda limbo? I can only guess. But whatever it was, it wasn’t pretty.”

Fluttershy shook her head. “But my friends would keep it to themselves,” she argued, “they’d never go around telling everypony what happened to me, or what the Ever is.”

Blanche nodded. “I know. But what your friends would do is go the rest of their lives knowing what happened to you and knowing there was nothing they could do about it. Even if they found a way to defeat the Ever, that would destabilize pretty much all of existence. In the end, it’s probably better that they never know.”

When Fluttershy didn’t respond, Blanche sighed. “Okay, well...I’d better get going. Take it easy, Fluttershy. And take Celestia’s advice, too; don’t keep sweating it.”

As he left, Fluttershy curled up into a ball, just wishing this was all over.

“Fluttershy,” he said, staring down at his hooves. “Fluttershy, come on.” His voice was solid, unmoving…but she wouldn’t respond. She wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of hearing her speak again.

“Fluttershy.” Softer this time—it reminded her of when she used to call small animals. That seemed so long ago now—still, she wouldn’t answer.

“You’re tiring me out, Fluttershy.” It wasn’t pleading, just a statement of fact. She was tiring him out, and that was all there was to it. “You’re going to give me a hemorrhage or something. It’s odd for me to worry about stuff, you know.” He chuckled. “Not that a hemorrhage would matter much at this point.”

Dry and sarcastic as ever—that was Blanche. As long as Fluttershy had known him, that’s all he’d been. There were moments when his attitude cracked, when the chinks in his armor started to show, but they left as quickly as they came.

“Would it help if I told you a story, Fluttershy?” Desperate now, finally letting his frustration seep in. “Is that what you’re after? Do you want me to divulge all the secrets I’ve been keeping back from you? Will that make you happy?”

She sighed—it didn’t matter. She couldn’t understand why he kept trying to get under her skin like this. Wasn’t it enough that she’d finally resigned herself to being Death? Did she have to be happy about it, too?

“I know the last one was rough for you, Fluttershy. But you can’t just keep shutting down.” He was, of course, referring to Sawgrass. The young stallion fought and kicked, roared at the top of his lungs, even knocked over most of the furniture and, if she’d have been able to feel pain, he might have taken the breath out of her.

But it didn’t matter. It was just part of the job. A job that, with no end in sight, Fluttershy merely accepted. But Blanche kept trying to get her to do more than just go through the motions. He wanted her to live, in a sense, to continue experiencing things. Ironic in that she was dead.

Being immortal skewed Fluttershy’s sense of time. Days, for her, passed like minutes, and it wasn’t long before she stopped keeping track. It could’ve been three months or three years since she’d lain down on that tree outside Ponyville—since the realization hit her that she couldn’t escape the position that was thrust on her.

Blanche opened his mouth, but closed it again. She knew what he wanted to say. He wanted to tell her to pull herself up, dust herself off, and learn to live with what she was. She knew that because it was all he’d been telling for a long, long time.

“A story about me, Fluttershy?” he offered, “Will that make you realize that you can’t lay around for the rest of your time as Death?”

Her answer was a simple sentence. “I’ve come to terms with it, Blanche.” She hated the thought, was disgusted by it, but usually, it made him leave.

“No, you haven’t, not by a long shot. Four years isn’t long enough to establish your perspective.” “Answer my question, Fluttershy.”

She didn’t.

After several moments of silence, Blanche sat down across from Fluttershy. She always felt cold, even when it was warm. Blanche’s face was a mix of anger and sadness—his eyes were watery.

“Fine then,” he said, tucking his front hooves between his flanks, “I’m telling one anyway. Your quota’s up for today—and good job on that, by the way—so I have the time to. I hope you’re ready to listen—it might save you some grief.”

Fluttershy didn’t turn away, so he continued. “I was young, at the time, but I already told you that.” He was smiling, but something in it seemed fragile. “The ‘me’ that you’re seeing…well…” he swallowed. “It’s me when I was seventeen. Freshly christened a stallion, and a very prime one, I might add, in spite of my circumstances. Strong, healthy, and with plenty of vigor.

“I never knew my parents. It’s never been a big thing, for me, though. Whoever my parents were, well…all signs say I killed them without ever knowing it.” He chuckled. “The irony there is that they brought me into the world, but I took them out of it, in the end.”

He paused, taking a moment to rub at his forehead. “But that’s not the focus of the story—I got off-track. So anyway, I was a stallion, finally, and I was living with a group of other ponies in an orphanage in Hoofington. Before you ask, yes, that is where Equestria’s worst tends to collect.”

A new expression flashed across his face, one directed inward and full of poison. “I wasn’t a nice orphan, for the record. As impersonal, dry and blunt as I am now, in fact, but add in a mean streak a mile long. When other colts would look up and ask ‘Do you think my parents will find me here?’ I was the one who told them no.

“That’s the way it was. We didn’t end up there because of a mistake. You know, that’s basically how I’ve always seen things; cut and dry, without a lot of grey. Things are, or they aren’t. We were orphans because our parents were gone, or they didn’t want us. Other colts in there sometimes didn’t make it because not all of us could make it. Some of them just weren’t built for it, and some of them couldn’t hang, emotionally.”

Fluttershy’s eyes opened slightly, but she gave no other reaction, and Blanche continued. “I liked to think I knew how things were, honestly I did. I had it all figured out—Equestria, for all the varnish and veneer to make it seem holy and untouchable, was a place where bad things happened all the time. Nopony was really safe, in the end.

“It’s like I told you, I was stupid back then.”

The white pony shifted, evidently uncomfortable. “But you want more,” he said, “it’s never enough to just give a little, it always has to be everything or nothing.” His smile returned. “Ironic that I’m the one facing that perspective, now. Anyway, you want to know why I’m telling you this. Why I’m explaining it all; what this all means to you. We’ll get to that, so be patient.”

Fluttershy didn’t want to be patient—she wanted answers. She’d been patient for four years. Still, she kept silent.

He breathed in deeply, letting out a long sigh. “It wasn’t until a little later, when I became Death, that I started to realize how things really were.

“My predecessor’s name was Kiwi Swirl, believe it or not. He had this long, green hair that fell down past his hooves, and it scraped along the floor. No eyes, like I said before.”

Blanche chuckled softly. “I found a lot of odd things in his archives. He was a miller, and he had a couple of little ponies—both of them grew up, though, and were gone when he died. No dark past, either. Just a miller who loved his foals.”

The smile on Blanche’s lips died. “He was old, very old, and ready for the end, when Death showed up. Back then, as I understand it, the Ever was still popular, and Kiwi was one of the ones who went along with the theory—he wanted his own piece of the Ever, wanted to archive his thoughts. But that wasn’t what he got handed.

“Instead, Death told him that he wanted Kiwi to take his place.” Blanche shook his head ruefully. “Kiwi didn’t really know what to say. He tried to talk his way out of it, tried to reason with Death…and you know the second rule of being Death. I think that, when he submitted to Death, he gave up inside, too.

“I can’t sit here and say I blame him for it, but from what I understand, he had to take his own children, in the end. I think, after that, he was just tired. Lost. When it came time to choose his successor, there wasn’t any joy or anger in him, just emptiness. I don’t know how or why he went on as long as he did, but I respect him for it.”

He sighed and ran a hoof along his hair. “Kiwi went on being Death for two-hundred and sixty-seven years. Then he came to me.

“Kiwi showed up outside my window one night, when I was trying to sleep, and told me very little. He told me that I was going to be the next Death, provided I consented, and all the responsibilities thereof. It was the part of naming you my successor that I messed up, if you’ll recall--I named you without checking first.

Blanche stood, shifting uncomfortably. Fluttershy’s eyes were open fully now, and she uncurled a little bit.

“So, yeah, I became Death, obviously—at the time, I was hoping it would get me away from my situation. Ended up pretty similarly to you—dumped into the job out of nowhere by somepony who couldn’t be bothered to ease me into everything, forced to make my choice under pressure. But that’s neither here nor there.

“Being Death, supposedly being the pony that was going to end the lives of other ponies all around Equestria…not the best feeling I’ve ever felt. But it was something in what I thought was a sea of nothing. A way out, I guess. But, when Kiwi chose me…when I saw him there, saw how broken and dejected he was…” He stopped a moment, looking Fluttershy dead in the eyes. “I saw a pony with nothing left, Fluttershy. He didn’t care about the way his victims felt when they passed—his methods were brusque, unfeeling. I think, somehow, he expected me to become the same way—to repeat his…school of thought, I guess.” He smirked.

“So I decided not to.

“Instead, I dedicated myself to being everything Kiwi couldn’t be—wouldn’t be. It’s a wonder he even completed his archives, to be honest with you, but having read through them, he didn’t do it to be nice. The thoughts he left in there are cohesive, but just barely.”

The white pony stood, looking down at Fluttershy, who was relaxing steadily.

“Faced with no body and nowhere to go, nopony to be, I drifted for a while. Went here, there, but never really found a place I wanted to settle as Death. So…I kinda just didn’t settle in. I wandered everywhere for the first sixty years of my cycle. Did good things, did bad things, took ponies big and small. But sixty years is, obviously, a long time when you’re alone with yourself. I had a lot of time to think about the way things were, how everything was so unfair and that killing ponies like I was, well…that it was something I did to get back at Equestria and the Ever for lying to me.

“As I thought more and more, though, I realized something. Equestria…it’s exactly what it seems like.” He smiled, and let loose genuine laughter. It was an odd sound, like his laughing muscles were broken.

He stood tall, the smile on his face clear. “It’s not dark, like I thought, at least not entirely. My situation was bad, but Fluttershy…even with Death, even with the Ever, even with the uncertainty we have to face more often than not…it is what it is. And ‘what it is’ happens to be a place where neighbors laugh at each other’s’ bad jokes, a place where dogs and cats mostly get along, and a place where you can stop at somepony’s house because you got cold, and be invited in.”

Blanche sighed and shook his head. “I was isolated in Hoofington, couldn’t really see anything on the outside. Being Death gave me a lot of freedom, a lot of room to move around. Yeah, I was causing death around me, but I could see plenty now; see Equestria for what it was.

“Fluttershy,” he said, “I’ve read the records. I didn’t have this hindsight back then, but maybe I didn’t need it. I wanted to be a relatable Death, I guess. The ones who came before me were either cold, detached, or, like Kiwi, dead inside. I’d been a snot-nosed jerk my entire life, but…in this, I guess I saw a way to start making things right. It was a way to deserve my place in the Ever, rather than just being handed it.”

Blanche chuckled. “I got to meet Little Mint, in case you were wondering. Her section of the Ever is…charming. Simple, but charming. She’s a really sweet little filly.” He sighed and looked upwards. “It was easy to think of the Ever the wrong way, especially when my cycle first began. I considered it some kind of evil entity, hanging over us Equestrians. But back in the older times, when ponies considered the Ever the place where we’d all end up, it wasn’t thought of like that. It was supposed to be a place of lightness and goodness, but that’s not right either.

“The Ever’s not interested in morality, from what I’ve seen—just perspective. Odd place, really, albeit pleasant. There’s no good or bad about it—you’re given what you’re given and you contribute your view to the collective knowledge. What the plan is for all that knowledge, I have no way of knowing, but I try not to question it. Asking too many questions about things like that will just leave you frustrated.”

His gaze focused on one point in the ceiling—the same spot he’d sent Hector through. “Equestria isn’t perfect, Fluttershy,” he said, “there’s never been a place that’s perfect. But Equestria’s pretty darn close. Crime here and there, Death, of course, and emotional strife, but mostly…” He smiled widely.

“Everything you’ve felt, Fluttershy, is justifiable. Moreso than most of the things I felt. You, like me, had a lot of life left to live. The difference is that you had somewhere to live it and ponies to live it with. You were already doing good in the world. All the same, I knew I wanted you to replace me. I’m sorry for the way things happened, by the way.” He looked back down and out the window behind the bed. “There’s a lot to Equestria, Fluttershy. A lot that most ponies never get to see. You’re getting that opportunity, to see the good and the bad. To really start to understand all the different ways kindness can manifest.

“I was the Ever’s longest running Death. I spent that time trying to make passing…bearable, I guess. It’s not fun, by any means, but it has to happen. I, as Death, tried to make it better. No telling if it worked, now, but there it is.

Fluttershy was sitting up now.

The white pony turned to Fluttershy. “I guess what I’m trying to say is…Equestria’s not immune to conflict and terror, not immune to bad things and scary things. We ponies have our monsters in the closet, and our bogeymen. But, even with all that in consideration, in spite of the stuff that could weigh us down…

“In Equestria, one way or another, things have a way of turning out for the better.

“When Sawgrass fought you, Fluttershy, even socked you a few times, you didn’t yell. You didn’t cry, or tear out his soul or whatever. You just waited until it passed, until he was ready to go, and then you sent him off gently. In some way I’ll never understand, you made it okay.”

He stopped, gathering his thoughts. “And that’s why I picked you. Because—pardon the pun— I think with enough time, you’ll be in your element. I know it.”

“I’m not here to tell you that everything will be alright when you wake up tomorrow, or the next day, or the next month. I’m not going to tell you that your friends will save you, and I’m definitely not going to tell you to ‘just deal with it’ anymore. I know you need more than that. You’re in a bad way, Fluttershy, but I can tell you that you’ll make it. I don’t want you to keep going like this. You can’t.”

She still didn’t say anything, but Fluttershy’s eyes were a little brighter. She didn’t want to believe that Blanche knew what he talking about, that he’d been holding back sympathy, but…he was centuries older than her. He’d seen a lot, especially if he was the oldest Death ever. And he was genuinely trying to reach out to her, albeit clumsily.

“I know you’re wondering why I waited so long, too,” he said, “thankfully, that’s simple. I gained my angle on things as Death without any outside input. I didn’t want to spoil your untouched view, Fluttershy; I didn’t want to impose on you what I thought—you needed to grow on your own, realize things your own way, like I did. But the more I observed you, tried to hint subtly at you, the less you seemed to understand. So this is the only way I can stop you from turning out like Kiwi, I guess.” He chuckled. “In hindsight, I’m glad I did this, though. You needed the extra outlook, and I needed to get all that off my chest.”

Blanche opened the door, starting to take his leave. “Remember, Fluttershy, if you don’t take anything else away from this—not everything is black and white. Not even here. But with effort, we can keep things mostly good and make the hard moments easier. So I guess, on that note, I’ll leave you to think, decide whether this was worth the time.” He was halfway out the door when Fluttershy spoke.

“Blanche…” she squeaked, “…thank you.”

Blanche stared back at Fluttershy for a few moments, stunned, then smiled. “My pleasure,” he said. His exit was silent, the door left open behind him.

Things weren’t going to fix themselves in a day, but…something about it all made Fluttershy feel a little warmer. She needed to think—there was too much new information to process.

But that was for later. For the moment, Fluttershy was incredibly drained—even if it was light outside, and all of her friends were busily living their lives, Fluttershy felt like it was time to do something she hadn’t done for the last few years.

Flopping backwards onto her bed, Fluttershy let her hair splay around her and shut her eyes. Sleep came easily for the first time in far too long…

Despite all that Blanche told her, the wounds of losing both her life and her friends were still too fresh to allow it all to sink in at once. Fluttershy wanted nothing more than to be able to refute everything he’d told her, as much sense as it all made. ‘Living without being alive’ was a concept that was just too foreign for her.

And so she continued to drift around Equestria with neither purpose nor room in her heart for anything but sadness. She saw the weak, the outcast, the broken and destitute; she saw ponies of every stripe off to the Ever. Some were awful to her, others accepting, and there were even a few more cases of older ponies that’d been waiting for her a long time.

In her eyes, they essentially all bled together into an uncomfortable mass. But a year passed, then another, and another, and Fluttershy began to slowly believe that Blanche was right. She wasn’t near ready enough to simply accept what he’d told her, but for every death she caused, she saw two foals being born. She saw flowers sprouting, parties and celebrations passing by. She began to wonder if maybe it wasn’t so bad after all.

But it seemed things weren’t going to get easy for Fluttershy just yet.

It was three years after Blanche’s talk with Fluttershy, and the day was nondescript. Quiet, warm—most ponies were inside to try and escape the thick summer heat. The sounds of Pinkie’s laughter wafted from inside Sugarcube Corner, but it was otherwise almost completely silent.

Fluttershy was out on a call to a neighboring town, one only a few hours away from Ponyville. The pony to be reaped was named Cold Shoulder, known more for being aloof and brusque than anything. And indeed, when Fluttershy showed up to escort the old pony to the Ever, Cold Shoulder barely gave her the time of day.

But all the same, he went relatively quietly. In fact, to Fluttershy, he’d seemed remarkably impatient—not relieved to see her, like other older ponies, but rather upset that she hadn’t arrived sooner.

After Cold was sent off to the Ever, Fluttershy decided to take a walk back through the forest separating the town from Ponyville—she often liked to walk back from her destinations as a way of catching her breath and compartmentalizing the experience with all the others she’d had in her seven years as Death.

The birds around her chirped, and the animals chittered softly in the background—the sound calmed Fluttershy, made her feel more at home. Once or twice, she even stopped on the forest road to stare up at the canopy of trees above, watching the leaves slide along in the breeze as they left the branches.

It was during one of these pauses that Blanche surprised her.

“Fluttershy,” he said, “I see you’re taking your time, hmm? That’s good.” He smiled. “It’s nice to take a break from it all every now and again, isn’t it?”

The pegasus nodded. “Yes it is. Sometimes it’s so hard, seeing these poor ponies get hurt, try to tell me to leave when I arrive…” Her voice grew quiet. “Especially the little ones…”

Blanche sighed. “I know how you feel,” he said, “and I know that you’re still not exactly buddy-buddy with me, so I’ll try to keep this brief. I’m not here with good news, Fluttershy.”

Fluttershy’s eyes widened. “W-what?” she responded, “Bad news? But…what could have happened?”

Blanche paused. “Fluttershy…It’s Rainbow Dash.”

The entire world fell away around Fluttershy.

“Rainbow Dash?” she stammered, “But…she’s not even very old! What could’ve…oh no, no please…please Blanche, don’t tell me she…”

“She was flying around in her practice field, trying to get a certain move down, when her left wing locked up. I guess she just…” Blanche closed his eyes. “I think she worked it too hard. She spun into the ground and the crash…” He stopped, seeing tears welling up in Fluttershy’s eyes.

“Blanche…” Fluttershy squeaked, “Please…please tell me you’re joking. Please. Dash would never let that happen to herself.”

Blanche shook his head. “Fluttershy, she hurt her wing a long time ago. I know you remember. She’s worked herself too hard before. This time she just wasn’t as—”

“Stop.” Fluttershy voice was pleading. “Just stop. Please. I know. I don’t want to hear any more.” She took a shuddering sigh, her hair covering her eyes. “Do I have to take her?” she asked, “I don’t…I can’t…I can’t do that, Blanche.”

“Fluttershy, you have to,” he said. “There’s no other option. I can’t just put the cloak back on and take her for you. Besides, maybe it’ll take some of the sting out of it if you do it.”

Fluttershy shook her head. “What happens if I won’t do it?” she asked. “What if I can’t…?”

Blanche looked at a loss. “I…She…” He sighed, spitting it all out at once. “Fluttershy, she’ll sit there and continue to be in pain forever. If she gets found, then she’ll be taken to the hospital, where she’ll stay in pain because the doctors won’t be able to fix her. At this this point the most merciful thing you can do for her is send her to the Ever. But you’re Death,” he concluded, starting to rise back towards the Ever, “it’s your decision, not mine.”

Fluttershy just sat there, unable to know what she should do. Finally, as though thinking by themselves, her wings carried her off the ground and towards Dash’s practice field.

The sight there was worse than she expected.

As she touched down near the still form of Rainbow Dash, the only sound in the air was pained grunting—Dash’s hoof was broken and resting across the remains of her wings. The feathers were ripped apart, all the way down to the pinfeathers, and the brittle bones were wrecked. Fluttershy tried to be strong, but tears were already pouring down her face.

Hearing the noise, Dash’s head turned around weakly—her hair was in tatters and her eye was bruised. “Who is that?” she croaked, “I’m hurt…”

Fluttershy walked forward despite the leaden feeling in her legs, but couldn’t bring herself to say anything.

Dash’s good eye went wide once Fluttershy got closer. “Fluttershy…?” she said breathlessly. “Is that you?” Her face flooded with relief, but soon changed to something more venomous. “You made it back…thought you weren’t ever gonna.” Her eyes were full of hurt.

“Dash…” Fluttershy managed, “I…”

Rainbow Dash choked down a sob. “You what?” she spat. “You’re sorry? You left for seven years, Fluttershy! You can’t just come back and say that you’re sorry and make it all better!” Her teeth were gritted, and a few tears leaked from her eyes. “What’re you even doing back here?”

When Fluttershy told Dash, everything seemed to stop. “That’s where you were?” she gasped. “That’s where you went?! Fluttershy, we were all…” She used her good hoof to slam the ground, forcing up a cloud of dust. “We were all worried sick over you, and you were Death!?

“Dash, please…”

“Fluttershy, we thought you left us because something horrible happened! We thought you were in danger!  You can’t…” She let out a strangled sob. “You can’t just come back…not now…not like this…”


“No,” Dash said, “No, just don’t…just…ah…” She was starting to lose her voice. “Fluttershy, just…” She put her hooves over her eyes, trying to conceal her sobbing. “Not yet, okay!?” The air around them felt thick and heavy. “Not yet, not yet, not yet! Not now! I…” She slammed the ground again with her hoof, sobbing openly. “I’m not even a Wonderbolt yet!”

Fluttershy didn’t know what to say—she just put her hooves around Dash and held her, and Dash didn’t fight. They stayed like that for a long time, Dash quietly sobbing into Fluttershy’s hair.

Finally, Dash whispered, “I’m scared, Fluttershy. I can’t go yet. I’m not ready.”

Fluttershy could barely stop herself from starting to cry all over again. “I know, Rainbow,” she said, “I know.” She started to move her hoof forward, placing it against Dash’s belly. The blue pegasus tried to move a hoof in resistance, but couldn’t summon the energy.

“Fluttershy, no...” she whispered—the life was leaving her more quickly by the second.

But Fluttershy couldn’t stop now. “Dash…I have to…” she whimpered.

Dash opened her mouth to speak, but the words died on her lips. Instead, after a long pause, she closed her eyes, took a deep sigh and nodded. “I know,” she said. “I’m sorry. For yelling and at you and whatever.” She shook with effort as she forced her good hoof up, her spirit nearly halfway out of her by now, and hugged Fluttershy tightly. “I’m glad you came back. Don’t forget about me—I’ve got too much to say to you. So…goodbye.” As Dash ascended to the Ever, free of the broken form below, she spread her wings wide, pulling a final loop before she left Equestria.

Rainbow Dash never completely got over Fluttershy’s leaving. In such a short space of time, the wound couldn’t have been expected to heal. But she carried on, putting on a brave face around her friends, and put more and more time into her training, wanting to become a Wonderbolt—part of her hoped that, in achieving her childhood dream, she could draw Fluttershy back, or find her while traveling around. In truth, she never stopped saying goodbye to Fluttershy, always wishing she could’ve had the chance to say it more properly.

And in that moment, she finally got to.

The funeral was short, but depressing. A smattering of ponies, all dressed in black, gathered around a form they barely recognized to pay their respects. Her friends made tearful speeches, Fluttershy cried all over again, and when it was all over, everypony went home worse for the wear. They’d lost two friends, only seven years apart, and that was two too many.

But as time passed without any other tragedy, the other Elements, Fluttershy included, began to move on. The hole Rainbow Dash left could never be filled, but Twilight and the others carried on.

Much to Fluttershy’s surprise, ten years after Rainbow Dash passed on, thinking back on the incident didn’t make her feel the deep pain she’d felt then. Fluttershy felt that perhaps, as she grew and experienced, it became impossible to stay grounded in the past.

In that moment, she wondered if that was what it meant to move on. Not pulling oneself forward, but being pulled forward by time.

She began to see things a little differently. In her final moments, Dash was happy, that much she knew. Blanche’s story, his words, began to come more into focus as time passed and, with it, ponies.

From a distance, Fluttershy saw her friends at their strongest and at their weakest. She saw the things that happened on the periphery, like Big Mac and Cheerilee’s wedding, the smiles on their faces as they watched their colorful children play, their looks of bemusement as Applejack stepped into the role of “auntie” with gusto, making their farm-work fun, always helping keep them on the straight and narrow.

It wasn’t until thirty-four years later that “auntie” Applejack passed on.

Fluttershy was sitting alone, in her old backyard, with the familiar sound of birdsong in her ears when she decided to take a look at her list. Blanche had been by earlier that day to warn her that Applejack was beginning to fade out, so it didn’t come as a surprise when the earth pony’s name showed up on the list.

It had been a long time since Rainbow Dash’s death, more than enough time for Fluttershy to adjust to the inevitabilities of her position—enough time to reconsider what it meant to be Death. If nothing else, she could be sure that Applejack would be happy to see her.

Big Mac was outside with the children when Fluttershy arrived at the farmhouse. He was taking them around the farthest reaches of Sweet Apple Acres—two young mares and a colt carried on behind him, excited chattering about how much responsibility they were being given while Cheerilee shushed them, trying to let Big Mac get a word in edgewise. They were living quite a long time themselves, probably owing to the fact that, as they’d aged, they’d started to take it easy, whereas Applejack carried on as though she wasn’t any older.

Fluttershy smiled at the spectacle, but unfortunately, that wasn’t what she was there for. With a heavy heart, she slipped in through the front door of the farmhouse, trying to ignore what her purpose was.

Her steps on the stairs were silent, and she thought back to the past as she ascended—she’d been here only a few dozen years ago, when Granny Smith passed on. To think Applejack was going so early…but then, she was an earth pony, and Granny Smith’s longevity was an exception, not the rule.

With a sad look, Fluttershy pushed open the door to where Applejack lay in her bed.

“Who’s that?” Applejack asked, her voice still brazen and strong, despite her age and fragility. “Big Macintosh? Cheers? Need me to do something? I’ll get it done lickety-split, don’t you worry!” She started to rise, then grunted in pain and fell back onto her pillow. “Well, maybe not lickety-split…dang hip.”

Fluttershy took a deep breath and corrected the earth pony. “Applejack,” she called softly, “it’s me, Fluttershy. I’m here for—”

“Fluttershy?!” Applejack shouted. “Why didn’t ya say so, Fluttershy!” She turned to Fluttershy with a broad grin. “Heh, didja find the fountain of youth or something? You don’t look older at all! Come on in, come on in! I can’t get around that well these days, what with my hip and all, but I can show you around! Did Big Mac introduce you to his kids? Good bunch of kids, they are.”

Fluttershy sighed and shook her head. “Applejack, I’m not here to visit…”

She explained what had happened all those years ago, starting with when she first left, to how she’d had to take Dash, and everything in between. It felt good to finally have the entire story out there.

“Land sakes…” Applejack whispered, stunned. “So all this time, that idea Twilight had about you bein’ Death was true? By Celestia, that’s the wildest thing I’ve ever heard…” She chuckled. “So…I guess that means you’re here to take me to the Ever, huh?”

Fluttershy felt like her heart was made of lead. “Yes,” she said, “I’m sorry.”

Applejack shook her head, picking up her hat from the ground beside her bed. “Ain’t nothing to be sorry about, sugarcube,” she said. “You gotta do what you gotta do, right?” The fading sun caught her hair through the window—wisps of blonde in a sea of grey.

Fluttershy sighed and took Applejack’s hoof. “You don’t really mean that, Applejack,” she said, shaking her head. “Well, you do, but…”

Applejack looked down and away. “I mean it, Fluttershy, but you’re right. I don’t think it’s my time, yet. Too much left to do here… Without me around, who’s gonna keep the farm running smoothly? Who’s gonna be there when ponies need somepony with an honest heart? Who’s gonna keep Rarity in line?” She chuckled. “No, Fluttershy, I ain’t ready. Ain’t there anything you can do?”

Fluttershy closed her eyes sadly, shaking her head. “No, Applejack. I’m sorry…if I could, I would.”

Applejack sighed. “I told you not to be sorry,” she said, “and besides, everypony’s gotta go sometime, right? I suppose if the Ever decides that it’s my time, well…” She looked out the window, her green eyes full of hurt. “I wish I could’ve stayed longer and helped out more, but I guess it’s just my time.”

Fluttershy had her eyes shut tight as she placed a hoof on Applejack’s belly, slowly drawing out her soul.

As she floated up to the ceiling, trademark hat in place, Applejack gave Fluttershy a parting nod.

Applejack lived her life on her own terms. She was hurt after Fluttershy left, more than she was willing to let on, but over time, those wounds faded until they didn’t hurt so badly anymore. Sure, there were nights she wondered whether she could’ve done more to keep Fluttershy around, and Rainbow’s far-too-soon death weighed heavily on her soul, but with her work to keep her busy and the passage of time, her strong will helped her shoulder those burdens and keep living.

After Big Mac and Cheerilee had their children, she dedicated a lot of time to being a doting aunt, making sure the children were focused on what they liked, making sure that Big Mac and Cheerilee got help and babysitting when they needed it, and seeing that the kids helped around the farm when they had the spare time. Alongside that, she continued helping the ponyfolk of Ponyville, with her foremost goal being her hard work and dedication. She always hoped that she’d leave her mark on the world, an example of what a pony should be.

And as the three offspring outside proved, she’d done just that.

After Applejack’s passing, Fluttershy’s view began to change further. Applejack’s death was regarded as her going out how she wanted, and leaving a legacy of hard work and passion. There was sadness, sure, but the event felt happier, somehow.

The pain faded more quickly for Fluttershy, this time. Remembering the good times with Applejack didn’t make her feel like her heart was dropping into her stomach—instead, all the sadness was replaced with fondness for those times. Rather than making her hollow, they made Fluttershy feel fuller than ever, almost alive.

She began to realize that she was wrong before. Moving on wasn’t about being pulled along by the currents of time. It was about the change to one’s memories, changing them from bitter memories of times she could never get back to wonderful things that were in the past now, with more wonderful things to come.

The mortality of her friends didn’t seem quite so daunting to Fluttershy anymore. She was starting to realize that a pony’s life story couldn’t be a story without an ending—the purpose of the story, she came to realize, was to make the ending worth it. And if any pony knew how to write a story without using words, it was Pinkie Pie.

Six years later, however, that story came to an end.

Pinkie passed on in the dead of winter, amid record-breaking snowfall. Fluttershy got the word while visiting the graves of her friends, a yearly tradition since Rainbow Dash’s death.

Pinkie had inherited Sugarcube Corner from the Cakes—neither of their children had become adept bakers, and so Pinkie was given the store after volunteering to take it over. The store, under her guidance and bright personality, flourished. She didn’t spend quite as much time with her friends, but she made whatever time she could for them.

Needless to say, she was ecstatic to see Fluttershy.

“Fluttershy!” she cried, sitting straight up in her bed, “Fluttershy, you’re back!” Despite her age, she zipped out of bed and embraced Fluttershy tightly, prompting the latter to smile and hug her old friend.

“Hello, Pinkie,” she said happily. “It’s nice to see you again, after all this time.”

Pinkie’s eyes lit up. “Remember, Fluttershy?” she cried. “Remember when you were gonna leave and I said ‘Nopony leaves forever, right?’ Remember?” She giggled—apparently age had barely slowed Pinkie down. “I totally knew you’d come back! That’s why I said that!” She tapped her head. “Pinkie Sense never lies!”

Fluttershy’s smile widened. “Yes, Pinkie, I’m back, but—”

Pinkie stopped her. “Wait, wait…” She giggled. “This is a guessing game, right? Um…well you don’t look older… You came to tell us all how to get young again, right? Or maybe you’re an alien Fluttershy or something!” She reached out and stretched Fluttershy’s face. “Hmm…aliens are stretchy, and you’re not stretchy, so that can’t be it…”

Fluttershy let out a giggle of her own, shaking her head. “No, Pinkie,” she said, her smile dropping a little. “I, um…”

After the explanation, Pinkie didn’t seem fazed. “Like Twilight said, right?” She clapped her hooves. “Oooh, she’s gonna be really happy to find out she was right! You know how Twilight loves being right! But…if you’re here…” She deflated a little. “Does that mean…?”

Fluttershy nodded sadly. “I’m sorry, Pinkie but it does mean that. I have to take you to the Ever.”

Pinkie nodded. “Gotcha, gotcha,” she said, as though she hadn’t even been listening, “Oh, hey, before you ‘take me’ and whatever, I have a big surprise for you!” She dashed down the stairs before Fluttershy could protest, and she was forced to follow.

In the main area of Sugarcube Corner, Pinkie sprung her surprise.

“Okay Fluttershy, are you ready?”

One quick nod and Pinkie tapped the counter, sending a pull-rope down from the ceiling. “I was saving this for when you got back, but…I guess you’re back enough!” She giggled. “Okay, here we go!” She yanked on the rope.

Fluttershy couldn’t believe it. So many years they’d been apart…and she’d had this ready that entire time? Her heart felt like it was going to explode.

A big banner dropped down from the ceiling with “WELCOME HOME, FLUTTERSHY!” written on it in huge, cartoony letters.

Fluttershy vaguely felt Pinkie’s embrace around her, rubbing at her wings. Her mouth was wide open in shock.

“Pinkie…you…” She gaped.

“Yep! I had this ready for you because I knew you’d come home! So…” She nuzzled Fluttershy’s head. “Welcome home, Fluttershy!”

With that, she let go and smiled. “Okay, okay, you can take me now!” She spread her hooves out wide around her with a wide grin, her pose reminiscent of a cheerleader.

Fluttershy took a moment, wanting to cry but knowing that if she did, she’d ruin Pinkie’s happiness. So she put on a gentle smile and placed her hoof squarely on the pink pony’s belly, starting to draw out her soul.

“Oooh, ha, hahahahaha!” Pinkie squirmed and laughed, “That tickles! Heheh—Oh, Fluttershy—heeheehee—make sure you come and find me in the Ever! I gotta give you a proper—hehe—party!”

As Pinkie’s soul rose to the ceiling, she did a spin in the air, experimenting with her newfound freedom.

Pinkie Pie, though she never married nor bore foals, lived a life most ponies would have been jealous of. She ate candy every day, partied constantly, had tons of friends, and never let anything get her down for long. Her parties made her a minor celebrity throughout Equestria, and she was even called on to plan a few of the Grand Galloping Galas. Throughout it all, she maintained her sense of “Pinkieness,” as she called it. Smiling, cheerful and an ever-present source of joy to those around her, Pinkie Pie remained a beacon of happiness even after she passed.

After Fluttershy left and Rainbow Dash died, Pinkie hit a rather nasty skid of depression, but like anything else, with a little support from her friends, she was able to bounce back and regain her status as Ponyville’s number-one party animal. Despite the Sugarcube’s success, in spite of her notoriety and in spite of her age, Pinkie kept only two goals in mind throughout her life: spread happiness through Equestria and make lots of friends.

And with all of Ponyville at her funeral, it was safe to say she’d accomplished both.

Without Pinkie Pie around, Ponyville seemed at once more quiet and more productive. The sounds of parties diminished and, eventually, Ponyville became a quiet, yet friendly town.

However, there was one place left in Ponyville which could not be considered quiet—Rarity’s boutique. The place was always flashing and booming with music as clients entered in spades. Rarity, after all her time in the fashion industry, had finally struck gold when an exhibitor from Canterlot showed up at her doorstep, promising her that he could popularize her dresses and suits all around Canterlot.

He delivered on that promise and more.

In just a decade, the Carousel Boutique grew from a little two-story shop to a five-story megastore with expansions planned across Equestria. Rarity, unable to keep up with the work, started to pass down her tricks of the trade, drilling her eager, bright-eyed students in the ways of color-coordination and fashion.

Throughout Equestria, Rarity was known as a designer of the best fashions money could buy—her stores became a business empire and, with the funds, Rarity upgraded her stores and gave wherever she could—passing ponies on the street, down-and-out ponies, and children especially.

However, through it all, Rarity stayed rooted in Ponyville, running the other stores through mail and other communication—the people running the other outlets were trustworthy enough.

And it was in Ponyville Rarity passed away, thirty years after Pinkie.

Rarity was in bed, infirm, when Fluttershy came to her. Her face was no longer sterling, but dimpled with lines and wrinkles. She’d offered to make Fluttershy tea, all the while trying to deny how sick she was.

“Rarity,” Fluttershy told her. “Please, I really don’t need any tea. And you’re sick—you shouldn’t be up and moving around.”

Rarity scoffed at that! “I may be old, dear, but that does not mean I have an excuse to mistreat my guests—especially not old friends! Now please, darling, sit down and allow me to brew the tea.” She tried to move, but winced and leaned back. When Fluttershy gave her a look, she giggled. “Okay, okay,” she said, nodding—her purple curls had long since gone grey, and they bounced at her sides. “Perhaps I shouldn’t be making any tea.” Her eyes grew curious.

“Now, darling, you must tell me how you’ve managed to stay looking so young all these years! And why you’re wearing that cloak, for that matter—black is not your color at all.”

Fluttershy was so used to telling the story by this point that she did it almost mechanically, running through all the details with perfect recollection.

“Oh, dear…” Rarity said. “That must have been terrible, darling! Though I suppose it does explain that odd banner we found near Pinkie…We knew something was wrong when Celestia turned us away, but…when Twilight presented her theory about you being Death, well…we all supported it so that we would have something to support. How…” She choked. “How did you get through something like that, Fluttershy? I can’t even begin to imagine how horrible it was.”

Fluttershy shook her head. “It’s…” The words became hard to find. “It was hard at first. Extremely.” She sat down on the edge of Rarity’s bed.

“When I first became Death and I was told to go and take Old Bones to the Ever…I didn’t know what to think. I wanted to think about how terrible it all was. In fact, that’s what I thought.” A little smile crossed her face. “Nothing was right anymore. I watched all of you from the sidelines. It was nice, knowing that you never forgot about me, and were always hoping I’d come back…even after you moved on.

“But I think…I think once Rainbow Dash passed on…something changed. But I’m sure you don’t want to hear about all that, Rarity. Suffice it to say, I’m okay now.”

Rarity sighed. “Fluttershy, I’ve lived for dozens of years, now. I know when a pony is hiding her feelings. I know more than a few ponies with baggage they need to get off their shoulders.”

Fluttershy opened her mouth to rebut, but stopped. “I…yes, Rarity, I’m not telling you everything. But…is it alright if I don’t want to? I’ve come to terms with all that. I’m sorry if you wanted to hear the whole story.”

Rarity raised her eyebrows. “But, dear…” Her eyes darkened a little. “I want to help you, Fluttershy. Things have been so quiet…nopony has needed the Elements in so long, and with my career, I haven’t had a spare moment with one of my old friends for at least a decade.” She chuckled. “Indulge an old mare, would you?”

After a time, Fluttershy nodded. “Alright, Rarity,” she said, “I just…for the first several years, it was hard. I would lie alone in my room, staring at the ceiling and constantly hoping that things would change. And for a while, the only thing that changed was what I wanted.

“First, I wanted to get my life back. I wanted Angel back, and Hector, and I wanted to go to the spa with you again. I wanted to watch Rainbow Dash do her tricks knowing that she could see me. But once you all took your trip to see Princess Celestia…I realized that wasn’t going to happen. And no matter how long I waited, the bitterness wouldn’t leave, no matter how many times Blanche told me it would fade.

“Second, I just wanted to have somepony to talk to besides Blanche. It didn’t matter whether he was telling me something encouraging, or telling me to get moving; his words never got through to me. I just wanted Twilight or Pinkie to ask me how I was doing.” Fluttershy closed her eyes. “I wanted the boring things in life again.

“But that couldn’t happen, either. And once Blanche gave me that talk…I think maybe that was the first time I ever decided to listen. I tried to toughen up, and not like my run-in with Iron Will…I wanted the strength and courage of you all. I felt like it was what I needed to keep going. Then Dash passed.

“Really, I wasn’t sure of what to do, then. I think once that had time to sink in and stop stinging, I stopped being bitter and started being scared. Every day for me, no matter what I was trying to enjoy—listening to birds, watching animals play—I would wonder who was going to go next. I was so scared that I would check my list and find another name on there I recognized.

“And like I told you, I did. But I think after Applejack passed on, I stopped being scared. Pinkie helped me reinforce that. I realized there was nothing else I could do about it. It was okay to be scared, but that didn’t mean spending every day paralyzed.” She smiled and opened her eyes. “I knew that no matter what I did, I couldn’t stop the flow of time. And those feelings from before faded.”

Rarity nodded. “Lovely, dear,” she said, “Do you feel better?” Fluttershy nodded. “Good then.” Rarity hugged Fluttershy tightly. “Do not ever forget us, Fluttershy, please. And remember—if you ever feel sorrow, don’t be afraid to speak to us as though we were still here. I assure you, we’ll be listening.” Rarity lay back on her pillows. “Alright,” she said. “I am ready, Fluttershy.”

Fluttershy bit her lip. “Are you sure, Rarity?” Her voice wavered slightly.

Rarity nodded. “Fluttershy,” she said, “I lie here with no regrets. There will be nopony to inherit my legacy, but that is fine. The world will remember me as a diva, a mogul of the fashion world—but more important, they will remember me as a mare who refused to change her methods, no matter how busy the work got. Every one of my students takes their time with the craft, and I have never let something shoddy escape my notice. I am an icon, Fluttershy.” She smiled, the gesture full of a strange irony. “I am ready.”

And with that, Fluttershy removed Rarity’s soul. Almost immediately, Rarity got what she wished—youth. As she floated up to the Ever, her big blue eyes now lacking crow’s feet and her lips free of laugh-lines, she blew a kiss to Fluttershy, vanishing for the final time.

After Fluttershy’s disappearance, Rarity’s focus went into her work in order to stave off her grief, setting her on the path to Equestria-wide fame. After a time, her obsession with her work overtook her feelings, and instead of being an outlet, it became an even larger passion.

Rarity’s death was given attention on a national scale—there was hardly a pony in Equestria who didn’t know about it, and those who didn’t soon found out. Mourners gathered outside her boutique, and they gathered all around for a candlelit vigil. Rarity’s death nearly eclipsed her life. Her legacy was remembered for many years to come.

Beneath her shallow exterior, Rarity was a pony who cared, above all else, about the quality of her craft—she became an icon on her own terms. She followed no trends, preferring to set them, instead. In the end, Rarity made two choices.

She chose to pass when she was ready, and chose to never be forgotten.

With four of her friends gone, Fluttershy was intimately comfortable with the once-painful reality of their passing. Only one pony remained—Twilight Sparkle.

The Princess’ number-one student of magic continued learning about the magic of friendship wherever she could, and when she had no lesson for the week, she would write Celestia about how her life was going.

Eventually, she gave up on her search for Fluttershy—without the aid of the Princess and with no leads to go on, Twilight found herself at a loss. She grieved for a time, but soon after Applejack’s passing, the unicorn realized that finding Fluttershy was a fool’s errand.

Twilight lived a quiet life, one spurred by neither monetary gain nor fame. She married at a reasonably young age, to a stallion named Honor. A pegasus, he was naturally full of vigor, and loved to get Twilight out of the house, when work permitted. He came from a town further to the south, and worked as a notary. His name was a joke to himself, one he loved sharing with other ponies.

It wasn’t long after she married that Spike decided to leave the library. His ultimate place in life came as Equestria’s ambassador to dragon country, a perennial help to the Princess. He wrote letters to Twilight and her husband nearly every week, always about how the sight of other countries and sub-countries fascinated him.

When Twilight was asked to further her position in Canterlot by becoming its chief instructor of magic, she respectfully declined, far too attached to the little town of Ponyville and her library.

The two of them fostered a family there, a few years after their wedding. Two colts proved to be quite a bit for them to handle, and they were happy with just that. They were energetic, incurably curious little colts, and their parents loved them dearly.

Once they’d left, one becoming a bookkeeper for a prestigious history hall in Canterlot, the other to become a gardener, Twilight and Honor continued their life, the latter passing far before the former.

With Honor gone, Twilight resigned herself to spending her days out and about as much as she could, being friendly and helpful to the townsfolk, trying to keep herself busy. At night, she would alternate between staring out the window, at the stars, pointing out constellations under her breath, and rereading every book in the Ponyville library.

Ten years after Rarity’s death, Fluttershy visited her, bringing things full-circle.

Twilight’s passing came in the middle of summer, with the sun high in the sky and the humidity high. Ponyville’s landscape had changed little in that time—in fact, the only real difference between the town Fluttershy had known all those years ago and the current Ponyville was the residents.

When Blanche showed up to tell Fluttershy—who was, at the time, lounging in Rainbow’s old practice field—that Twilight’s time had come, the yellow pegasus nodded and smiled. Twilight was finally going to get to ascend to the Ever and reunite with the other Elements.

The walk over to the library was fairly long, and gave Fluttershy time to reflect. She thought about the tough ponies—Rainbow Dash and Sawgrass chief among them—and the easy ponies, like Little Mint and Rarity, and she wondered whether Twilight would make things easy on her. She was normally level-headed and kind, but Fluttershy hadn’t watched her much for the last thirty years, so there was just as good a chance that she’d grown bitter since the passing of her husband.

As Fluttershy pushed the front door of the library open, she heard a creak from the end of the room and a soft voice.

“Hello?” it called. “Is that Page Turner? Page, don’t just stand there! Please, come in, I was just reading an old favorite of mine.” Fluttershy took a few more steps in, spying Twilight rising from her rocking chair with a genial smile as she turned towards the door.

“…Fluttershy,” she said, little surprise in her voice, “you’re here.” She looked down a moment, then grinned. “It’s nice to finally see you again.”

Fluttershy nodded. “And you too, Twilight,” she said. “Do you…know why I’m here?”

Twilight nodded. “I always sort of had a feeling, Fluttershy,” she said, sitting back down. “But to think you were really Death, well…that’s something I had a tough time with.”

The yellow pegasus closed the door behind her. “I understand, Twilight,” she said. “I hope you’re not upset or anything…I wanted to tell you all, find a way to let you know, but…I was told not to. Even if I’d left a note or something, I just had no idea what might’ve happened.”

“Probably nothing,” Twilight said, “but I can tell you, if we’d known about it, it’s…pretty likely that we’d have tried to do something about it. That wouldn’t have turned out well.”

Fluttershy chuckled. “It would’ve meant a lot to me,” she said, “but you’re right. And I guess the Ever isn’t really something that can be ‘fought’ either.”

Twilight leaned back in her chair. “Very true,” she said, “but Fluttershy, why did they come to you? Ever since I saw that banner in Sugarcube Corner, I knew, but…that’s something that’s bothered me for a long time now. Why you?”

Fluttershy explained Blanche’s motives to Twilight, alongside a few of the details.

“Sounds like he was a pretty unprofessional pony,” she said, a caustic edge in her voice, “but I suppose what’s done is done.” She smiled. “I’m just so glad you’re back, Fluttershy, even if the circumstances aren’t completely pleasant.”

Fluttershy sighed and shook her head. “It’s been so long, Twilight…” she said, “but I feel like I still know all of you. Anyway, I wish we could talk more, but…”

Twilight levered herself up from her chair. “I understand,” she said. “I’m more than ready. This old brain of mine just doesn’t work as fast anymore.” She giggled. “I’m looking forward to spending time with the girls again, too.” She paused, then added, “When will you be along, Fluttershy?”

The pegasus pursed her lips. “I’m not sure, Twilight, but I’ll be there. Save a spot for me, okay?” Her eyes were hot.

Twilight shuffled forward and embraced Fluttershy—a few tears leaked from her eyes. “I will,” she said. “We’ll miss you until you get there, Fluttershy.”

Fluttershy hugged the old pony back, starting to cry a few joyful tears of her own. “I’ll miss you all too, Twilight. Don’t worry, we’ll have all the time in the world once I get there.”

With the conversation between them finished, Fluttershy extracted Twilight’s soul, the purple pony’s horn lighting up with glee as she rose into the ceiling.

Twilight’s life could be described as hectic after Fluttershy’s leaving and Dash’s passing. She tried as hard as she could not to let her two friends’ departure follow her for the rest of her life, but her sensitive heart became tinged with grief. She kept up her letters as long as she was able, but eventually her correspondence with Celestia came to an end while she focused on her own life.

Twilight was also a devoted mother, making sure both of her children grew to love reading and learning, nurturing their innate talents and hobbies. With Honor by her side, Twilight seemed indefatigable, even in the face of heavy adversity.

And finally, having seen all of her friends, her children, and her husband off, Twilight became a teacher for Page Turner, a local mare with an interest in reading and books—she was slated to be Ponyville’s next librarian.

But as ordinary as Twilight’s life might have seemed compared to the adventures and romps of her youth and her visits to Canterlot, ponies around her could describe her life using only one word:


Cold air, dark grey sky…a winter day like any other. A winter day that Fluttershy could remember seeing thousands of, all of them exactly the same.

She ran a hoof along the silken interior of the robe, a wide smile crossing her face. It didn’t do much for the cold, but Fluttershy didn’t mind. It wasn’t like she could feel it, anyway.

She didn’t move when the door creaked open behind her. Her ears perked up at the sound of a stallion clearing his throat, and she turned around to find Blanche standing in the center of the room.

“Fluttershy,” he said with a wry smirk, “you don’t look a day older.”

Fluttershy laughed at that. “Speak for yourself,” she said, “you’re younger and spryer than me by no small stretch.”

The unicorn ran a hoof through his hair. “Says you. When you’ve seen as much as me, you start to feel your age, tangible or not.”

The pegasus turned away, back towards the window. “It’s today, isn’t it? I…wanted to make sure.” A smile, much less fragile than it had been all those years ago, crept onto her face. “And that all the red tape was dealt with.”

Blanche nodded. “Of course. The Ever was pretty happy about your choice, you know. Are you gonna watch him?”

Fluttershy sighed. “I am,” she said, then chuckled. “No rest for the weary, eh?” Her long, pink hair, unchanged by time and experience, hung down over one of her eyes. “I wanted to speak with my friends, you know…when I reach the Ever.”

Blanche looked down at the floor. “You’ll get the chance,” he said, “trust me. I did, even though I didn’t have many friends.” He chuckled. “They told me I always was transparent.”

Fluttershy turned to roll her eyes at Blanche. “You say that every time.”

Blanche snorted. “At least I have a sense of humor.” He grinned cheekily. “Not like you, all serious and whatnot.”

Fluttershy chuckled softly, and things fell silent for a time. The clouds drifting by the window of the shack looked as melancholy as today felt.

“Fluttershy,” Blanche said, “are you sure about all this? I understand your successor agreed and everything, but…you were the best Death the Ever had.” He smiled. “Definitely better than me. Do you think he can handle it?”

Fluttershy nodded. “My time has passed, Blanche,” she said, looking up at the sky, “long since passed, as a matter of fact. I should’ve set my date a hundred years earlier than this. Besides, he’s Twilight’s descendant—he has a perfect sense of responsibility, and he’s very understanding.”

The stallion in question was Tomes, Twilight’s deep descendant. A quiet pony, not disposed to making friends, obsessed with reading…Fluttershy had watched him for a long time, waited until he matured. He was a lot like Twilight herself, although he had no idea who she was, aside from the stories about her that were passed down through the generations. Fluttershy had known after a little time watching him that he’d be perfect. His own children were grown and gone, and his wife had passed of an illness earlier in life, but he wasn’t so old that he’d be embittered by missing out on his shot at the Ever.

“Is that so?” Blanche said, “Well, maybe you should have. Then I’d still be the record holder.”

Fluttershy sighed. “As obsessed with that as ever, hmm?” She giggled. “Blanche, you need to learn to let things like that go.”

Blanche shrugged. “Sure, sure. You know how all this goes, don’t you?”

The pegasus nodded. “Yes, I’ve done my homework, unlike somepony.”

A blush crept into Blanche’s cheeks. “Hypocrite. Telling me to forget about my record, and then you turn around and tell me things like that.”

“As I recall, me breaking your record didn’t force you into a lose-lose situation,” Fluttershy said, though there wasn’t any malice in her tone.

Blanche tried to change the subject. “So…are you okay?” He asked it awkwardly, one hoof rubbing his foreleg. “With all this, I mean. I know you say it’s time to go and all, but…” he sighed. “I know it was kinda tough letting go, for me. There’s a lot to consider.”

Fluttershy nodded. “Of course, Blanche,” she said. “I’ve served my purpose here, under the title of Death. I’m giving this up with no regrets.” She shifted in her robes. “Looking back at everything I’ve had to do, the ponies I had to see into the Ever…really, I think anypony else…maybe they would have done it better than me. I broke the rules.”

Blanche smirked. “Silly,” he said, “you broke the rules within acceptable bounds. You had every reason to get emotional…” He swallowed. “What was it like? I never really had close friends…family, anything like that. I just did what I did…when I saw you do it, Fluttershy, there was so much more to it.”

Fluttershy sighed. “I don’t know, Blanche,” she said, “My friends and I may have all been fully-fledged mares, but…” She stopped a moment, reaching up to throw her hood back and turn around fully. “I don’t know how to explain it. We were grown, but we weren’t done growing up, if that makes sense.

“My friends and I ended up really maturing away from each other, under totally different circumstances.” A porcelain smile spread along her lips. “I watched my friends grow, learn, experience hardships, overcome those hardships…” Her head started to sink. “I saw them learn to love.

“When I saw how things were going for them…” Her head came back up, slowly. “I couldn’t have been happier. I’d felt happiness before, but…that was another kind of joy.

“When they got married, I was there. When they had children, I was there, too, and even for the birth of those kids, alongside all of my other friends.” Her smile wavered, but came back stronger than before. “They’d said their goodbyes when I came by for my last visit. Any time they had successes, I was there, too.”

Blanche stayed silent for a little while, digesting that. “I see,” he said, “I, uh…I’m going to go ahead and head back. Before I go, though, I wanted to tell you a piece of wisdom I got from an old account I read.”

He leaned against the doorframe. “May not mean much now, but it might help you before you head to his house. Uh…how did go again? Oh, right.” He tried to put on a wizened-looking grimace, but ended up just looking silly. “‘No matter how far away you get from home, you can always return there in your sleep.’” He paused a moment, then added, “Don’t take too long, Fluttershy. It has to be today.” With that, he walked out of the room.

Fluttershy sighed deeply and flopped back onto her pillows—it was early enough in the morning that she could get away with a nap before she left to perform the final act in her time as Death.

She closed her eyes and thought about what it was going to be like, finally getting to see the Ever after all this time, and her friends, too…

Part of her was worried that Tomes wouldn’t be able to handle the duty—after all, it was a big responsibility to take on—but he seemed to take her suggestion in stride. In fact, he’d said he was honored to become the next Death, to inherit such a storied title.

To think so much had changed since Fluttershy’s inception as Death. Legends changed, minds changed, and slowly, Death became something that wasn’t meant to be feared, but rather something to be respected and loved, albeit not exactly looked forward to. The Ever was less of a myth now, though it still shared the floor with many other ideas about the hereafter.

It was almost too much to think about—it was like Fluttershy was rewriting history. Ponies died with grace and civility—she hadn’t gotten kicked or smacked by ponies trying to avoid Death for over a hundred years, now. It wasn’t a sense of resignation she saw in the eyes of her charges, either—it was a look of eagerness.

As she mulled all this over in her head, sleep finally overtook Fluttershy.

Her dreams were filled with visions of her former life, something that seemed far too long ago to even consider, now. She saw the smiles and cheerful faces of her friends, heard their laughter. She smelled Pinkie’s famous concoctions, felt the brush of Applejack’s hoof wiping away her tears when she lost the herds of bunnies, watched Rainbow Dash perform her loop-de-loops in the air, multicolored streaks following her every move. She tried dresses on with Rarity and helped Twilight study, and even tended to her animals—it was like she’d never left.

The visions changed, however, as her subconscious seemed to take her through every bit of her life, even after she’d become Death. The relieved look on Old Bones’ face flitted through her mind, as did Celestia’s cold stare, the brokenhearted look on her friends’ faces, Little Mint’s calm demeanor and acceptance…and, of course, the deaths of her friends.

In such a short time, everything changed, and refused to stop changing, no matter how much anypony tried to stop it. But in the end, Fluttershy knew that it was all for the better.

When she woke, she knew she was ready.

The house Tomes lived in was simple and neat, and stacked with plenty of reading material. He also had a habit of keeping his loft window open, and, with her robe tight around her and her heart light, Fluttershy slipped inside, her hood still off. The moon shined bright outside.

Tomes was busily reading in a rocking chair near his lit fireplace, looking pensive, but with a thinly disguised sense of excitement. Fluttershy touched down next to him, causing him to jump visibly.

“Oh, goodness…” he said with a nervous grin. “I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you come in, Fluttershy.”

“I didn’t use the door,” Fluttershy replied with a smile. “How are you doing?”

Tomes set his book down and ran a hoof through his still-dark hair. “I’m fine, thank you,” he said. “The nerves are getting to me a little, but trust me, I won’t back out on you. Er…this isn’t going to be painful or anything like that, is it?”

Fluttershy chuckled. “Of course not,” she said. “It’s perfectly harmless. Though…have you decided on what you’ll give up? I’m afraid that it has to be decided now.”

Tomes looked shaky for a moment, then nodded. “Yes, of course,” he said, “but…do you ever get it back?”

Fluttershy shook her head. “I’m sorry, but no,” she said. “It’s a sacrifice you have to live with until you reach the Ever.”

Tomes let out a nervous laugh. “Heh, ‘live with’…I see.” He took a deep breath and nodded. “I’ve decided…to give up my ability to understand the written word.”

Fluttershy’s eyes went wide. “Are you sure about that, Tomes?” she asked. “I know you’re a very big reader…can you deal with that?”

Tomes nodded, this time with more conviction. “Yes,” he said, “I can. I’ve come to terms with all this, Fluttershy; you don’t need to worry about me.”

The pegasus nodded happily. “Good,” she said. “Are you ready to hear all of the vital information? There’s quite a lot.”

Tomes simply nodded, and Fluttershy continued. “Alright. Firstly, you’ll be expected to take the lives of ponies all around Equestria and beyond—it’s a lot of responsibility, and if ponies don’t die on schedule, it’s not good.

“Second, your ‘existence.’ Your time as Death is self-dictated with a minimum service of fifty years to allow you to develop your own understanding of what it means to be Death and what it means to die, and so on. Once you pass fifty years, it will be up to you to eventually set your date of ascendance.” She smiled. “Follow me so far?”

Another nod. “Good. Third, your body will still be intact, since you didn’t want to give that up, and since you’ve said your goodbyes, you’ll simply cease to exist—did you make sure to tell everypony who needed to know?”

Fluttershy continued on, listing every single thing involved with being Death, from the non-allowance in the Ever until the service period was up, to how to take a pony into the Ever, and even the small things, like transportation and dealing with the deaths of loved ones. When it was all over, she took a deep breath and smiled as wide as she could, her eyes watery.

“Well…that covers everything you need to know,” she said. “I’m sure you can’t wait to start.”

Tomes nodded. “I won’t let you down, Fluttershy. I swear I’ll continue your legacy perfectly.”

Fluttershy shook her head. “It’s not about copying a successful Death,” she said. “Just be yourself and remember what it means to be a good Death. Always uphold the three rules of being Death, too.”

Tomes counted them off. “Be polite and patient to the victim, always keep on schedule, and most importantly, maintain a sense of ethics and morality.”

Fluttershy’s smiled started to fade—she couldn’t believe she was really here…really about to join her friends in the Ever…

Tomes’ voice snapped Fluttershy back to attention. “Is that all I need to know?”

The pegasus nodded. “That’s everything!” she said cheerily. “And, of course, I’ll always be here to answer your questions—former Deaths are given the privilege of reading all the material in the Ever’s library, and are allowed to visit Equestria when they please, as long as they don’t slack off on their accounts. So you have that to look forward to.”

Tomes’ cheeks looked fit to split. “All that reading material…I can hardly imagine it! Is it possible to visit other corners of the Ever?”

Fluttershy nodded. “Of course, provided you don’t share out too much information. All ponies in the Ever are allowed to visit their loved ones.” She looked up at the ceiling. “Today is almost over…” She unhooked the cloak and gently set it down. “When you’re ready, put on the cloak.”

Tomes hesitated, but, after one last look around, snapped the cloak around his neck.

And in that moment, two things happened.

Tomes, as Equestria knew him, ceased to exist.

And Fluttershy, after hundreds of years of waiting, finally took flight.