They did not talk much after that. Pinwheel settled herself near a window overlooking the nearby chasm while Pale Hoof set to work remaking his body. She watched him work for a moment, but when he started regenerating his eyeballs and popping them back into place, Pinwheel decided her stomach wasn't quite strong enough. They made a wet, gushy noise when he pushed them into his socket. Just the noise was enough to make Pinwheel's guts churn.
Pale Hoof pieced his mortal body back together like he was building a model ship. He crafted each tendon with extreme care, placing them with the precision of a surgeon. As a result, the rebuilding took hours. By the time he was finished layering the muscles on his face, the moon had risen up above the Everfree forest. Pinwheel could make out its hazy, blue-white glow through the clouds. Watching the sun fade, Pinwheel twisted around to look at Pale Hoof. Skin and fur crept like a fungus over the newly formed muscles in his face. It crept up his nose, over his forehead, and finally covered his ears with a final 'squelch'. Pale Hoof stretched his jaw and blinked his eyes. His mane and tail had not quite grown in yet. Pinwheel could see the short black fuzz crawling up the back of his neck, though.
"All fixed?" Pinwheel asked. Pale Hoof looked toward her, his left eye lolling freely in its socket. He knocked the left side of his head. One blink later, the eye was back in alignment.
"All fixed." With his powers suppressed, his voice no longer carried the eerie resonance it had with his skull exposed.
"Do you have to cover up your skull?" Pinwheel asked, sliding down off her pile of rubble. Pale Hoof blinked at her.
"Is this face ugly to you?" He asked, touching his cheek with a hoof. Pinwheel shook her head.
"No, it's not ugly. You look fine. I'm just used to the skull is all." Pinwheel replied, "You don't look like you with all that skin all over your face."
Pale Hoof let out a wheezy chuckle. "I recall that, on our first date here, you wanted me to cover up my skull."
"Well, that was a long time ago!" Pinwheel scoffed, brushing the dust from her rump. As she approached Pale Hoof, though, her expression switched, "So what's the verdict, big guy? Will Celestia be able to track us here?"
"Unfortunately, that is unavoidable." Pale Hoof pointed up toward the sky. Pinwheel tilted her head back. His trail of magical bleed was still extremely apparent, even against the darkening sky. It hung like an inky black veil over the stars. It marked a trail directly from Pinwheel's house to the door of the ruined castle. Pinwheel swallowed hard.
"How long until it fades?" Pinwheel asked.
"It will fade within a day or so. It is pure magic, after all, and pure magic cannot hold solid form for long." Pale Hoof reassured her. Gently, he patted her on the shoulder, "We ought to find a place to hide soon, though. We are very lucky they have not followed us yet."
Pinwheel nodded, then turned to look at the ruined entrance hallway. Doors and arches lined the walls of the hall, but most of them were blocked by rubble. Some doors lead nowhere at all. One promising archway stood on the extreme edge of the nearby chasm. Crumbled pillars in the misty gorge suggested that wasn't always the case, though. A battered staircase led up out of the hall toward a lone tower still standing despite the ravages of time. The tower overlooked a weedy, overgrown courtyard. Pinwheel pointed toward the tower. "Looks like that's our best bet."
Pale Hoof looked up at the single tower. "I suppose…" Pinwheel motioned for him to follow her. The two of them started up the staircase. As they ascended, Pale Hoof turned his head and looked down into the courtyard. Fallen columns lay in the tall grass, evidence that the courtyard used to be surrounded by an arcade. A massive old willow stood in the heart of the courtyard, its fronds whispering in the cool night wind. Pale Hoof paused at the sight of the willow, "I remember this place."
Pinwheel paused mid-stride. "Huh?" She looked down at the courtyard, "That courtyard down there?"
"Yes. I used to play there, as a foal."
Pinwheel's mouth dropped open. "You were a foal?"
Pale Hoof lowered his head. "I suppose I have not been entirely honest about my origins." He replied, "But my memories of that time are so muddled, I do not know if they are entirely real."
Pinwheel chewed her bottom lip in thought. "Well, you always said that you were immortal and eternal. So that's just what I assumed." She looked up at him with a small smile, "After all, you are Death. Death's been around since the beginning of time."
"Both of those things are true." Pale Hoof replied, "I have memories of a time long before Equestria even existed – before life as you know it existed. But I also have memories of a childhood. My childhood. And many of them were here."
Pinwheel patted him gently on the cheek, "We'll have plenty of time to talk about that stuff." She answered, "I was pretty upset when we had that fight, so I'm not letting you out of my sight again. But for now, let's get to that tower." Just as she finished, a shadow rustled through the fronds of the willow. Pinwheel tensed. With her mouth pressed shut, she motioned for Pale Hoof to keep going. The two of them hurried up the rest of the way to the tower.
Pinwheel shoved the rusty door in with her shoulder. The hinges squealed and snapped, causing the door to break off and topple inward. The impact sent clouds of dust flying into the air. Pinwheel coughed as she stepped over the fallen door. Any furnishings in the tower had long since rotted, but the remains of a spiral staircase still jutted from the wall. Tilting her head back, Pinwheel looked toward the ceiling.
Moonlight filtered through a hole in the floor above. Pinwheel smiled. "I think there's a room up there." A tower room would give them a good vantage point to see any approaching ponies. Walking over to the stairs, Pinwheel tested the first step with her hoof. The stone stair held. One by one, Pinwheel ascended the stairs. Pale Hoof followed after her, waiting behind as she tested each step. The staircase reached over 80 feet high and no railing separated Pinwheel from the fall. She tried not to look down. Finally, she reached the top. Poking her head through the hole in the tower room's floor, she looked around.
Moonlight poured through the holes in the tower's roof. The clouds overhead had parted, revealing the moon in its immaculate silver glory. A single window looked out on the courtyard. Pinwheel pulled herself up into the room. Pale Hoof followed after. "Looks safe enough." Pinwheel said, smiling back at Pale Hoof, "This'll be a good lookout point—" Pinwheel's speech halted when she caught sight of wings moving outside the window. They weren't the traditional white of Celestia's guards, but a black sweep, like a bat. Pinwheel hurried to the windowsill.
"Pinwheel?" Pale Hoof asked, taking a step toward her.
"Thought I saw something—" Pinwheel let out a squeak. A dark blur cut across the sky. It banked left toward the tower and began spiraling slowly down into the courtyard. As it slowed down, Pinwheel could make out the shape of the object. It was a narrow, dark purple chariot decorated with spikes. Two grey pegasi, both armored to match the chariot, towed the vehicle. A slender, cloaked figure sat in the single seat. They touched down in the courtyard. The chariot jostled as it hit the ground, but the figure in the seat held herself with incomparable grace. Once the wheels came to a stop, the figure stepped out of the carriage. Her cloak evaporated into a cloud of bats, revealing a dark blue body underneath. Her mane, an ephemeral nebula of stars, spilled free of its hood. The elegant blue mare lifted her head and stared directly at the tower window. Pinwheel ducked, "Pale Hoof, we've got trouble!"
"Trouble?" Pale Hoof ambled over to the window, leaning over Pinwheel to see out. His body tensed as soon as he laid eyes on the mare, "Luna."
"Princess Luna?" Pinwheel peeked over the windowsill. The blue mare stared steadily back. Pinwheel could see it now – the crown, the jewelry glittering on her neck and hooves. If the starry mane wasn't enough of a hint, it was obvious now. The pony, with her chariot, crown, and guards, was, without a doubt, a princess, "Shoot! We're cornered. If we try to fly away, she'll just chase us down in that chariot."
"If she were here to capture us, why did the guards not land through the roof?" Pale Hoof asked, "They chose to land in plain view. She is calling us out."
"A challenge? Is she going to fight you?" Pinwheel asked. The princess' held a firm stance with her chest puffed and neck straight. Her starry mane rippled around her shoulders like a cape. Pinwheel could not quite make out her expression, but she could see enough to know the princess wasn't smiling. Pinwheel shrank back below the windowsill. She tilted her head back to look at Pale Hoof, "If she wants to fight, we're better off running."
"I do not think she is looking for a fight." Stepping over Pinwheel, Pale Hoof made his way toward the stairs. Pinwheel followed after him. He descended briskly toward the ground, exiting the tower without waiting for Pinwheel to catch up. Below, in the courtyard, the bat-winged pegasus guards were unhinging themselves from the chariot. Pale Hoof stopped on the landing above the courtyard. He stared down at the princess, his expression neutral. Below, Luna spread her wings and took off. She landed a few steps down, mere feet away from Pale Hoof. Every muscle in Pinwheel's body seized up. The two ponies regarded each other coldly for several seconds. Finally, Luna rushed up to the landing and threw her front hooves around Pale Hoof's neck.
Slowly, she pulled away. The princess gave a small, hesitant smile. "It's been a long time, friend." She said, her voice soft.
"One thousand years." Pale Hoof replied. Pinwheel stood stunned.
"I thought you were going to kill him!" She breathed. Luna stared at Pinwheel as though she'd just popped into existence. A deep blush rose into the princess's cheeks.
"OH MY! WE ARE SORRY WE DID NOT REALIZE ONE OF OUR SUBJECTS WAS HERE!" The princess shouted at the top of her lungs. Pinwheel winced at the sudden jump in volume, "PLEASE FORGIVE OUR INFORMAL BEHAVIOR!"
Pinwheel blinked at the princess. Her face felt damp. It took her a moment to realize it was the Princess' spittle from all her yelling. Pinwheel gagged. The princess' blush intensified. She put a hoof to her mouth. "Uh. Hello to you too." Pinwheel replied, smiling awkwardly at the princess. She stuck a hoof out to the alicorn, "You're Princess Celestia's sister, right?"
"INDEED WE ARE!" The blue alicorn shouted. More spittle hit Pinwheel's face, "WE HAVE COME HERE ON BEHALF OF OUR SISTER TO NEGOTIATE WITH THE ONE KNOWN AS PALE HOOF!"
"Uh, great. Okay." Pinwheel replied. The princess looked down in shame.
Pale Hoof looked at Pinwheel, then back at the princess. "Luna, this is Pinwheel. She is a very special pony to me. You do not need to be formal around her."
Luna looked from Pinwheel to Pale Hoof. She smiled timidly. "Well… if you say so, old friend. It is my great pleasure to meet you, Lady Pinwheel." Luna inclined her neck to Pinwheel. Pinwheel smiled back, wiping the lens of her glasses on her coat, "We—er—I apologize for getting you wet."
"It's fine. A little spit doesn't hurt anything." Pinwheel pushed her glasses back up her nose, "You said you came on behalf of Princess Celestia."
"My sister said that perhaps negotiations would go smoother if I came in her stead." Luna replied. She smiled at Pale Hoof, "I am sure you do not want to stand out here all night, so…"
Pale Hoof cut her off. "Do not waste your breath, Luna. I am not going to negotiate anything."
Luna's smile dropped from her face. "But…but of course you are going to negotiate! You cannot keep fighting my sister forever!"
"I can and I will." Pale Hoof replied. Luna tried to reply, but couldn't quite get the words out. Her mouth flapped like a fish's, emitting helpless squeaks in place of language. Pale Hoof waited patiently for her to find her words. When she didn't, he casually turned back toward the tower. Luna lurched forward, grabbing his tail with her teeth. Pale Hoof stumbled forward, nearly face planting into the stairs. He spun around to face Luna, jerking his newly formed tail out of her teeth. Luna coughed, "Leave it, Luna."
"Is this how you greet a friend after a thousand years?" Luna barked, "I've been gone for so long. And I come back to find all my old friends gone or dead! Besides Celestia, you are the only one left I remember!"
Pale Hoof let out a chilly sigh. "Luna, this is beyond your understanding."
"I am no child!" Luna yelled, "I am just as powerful as you!"
"We began drifting apart long before you were sealed in the moon."
"That may be true, but you never hated my sister." Luna replied, "Even if you never spoke, you were still friends."
Pinwheel slipped in between the two tall ponies. "Hey, hey," She began. Pale Hoof and Luna stared down at her, their expressions hard. Pinwheel tried to smile, but found she couldn't, "Listen, I know you two are old friends and everything, but I'm not sure this is the time or the place to talk about that sort of thing."
Luna huffed. "Then pray tell, what WOULD be an appropriate time?"
"One that isn't now." Pinwheel replied. Without waiting for a response, she turned toward Pale Hoof, "Listen, Chuckles. I think that if Celestia's willing to talk things out, we should take her up on it."
"I will not talk to her!" Pale Hoof barked hoarsely, "She will try to banish me again. I will not allow that!"
"Luna said she just wants to talk!" Pinwheel insisted, "If you'd talk to Celestia for once without flying off the handle, maybe we can work something out! Please!" Pinwheel gripped Pale Hoof's shoulders with her hooves and stared him down. They locked eyes for several seconds before Pale Hoof jerked away.
"She will banish me. And then I will never be able to see you again." He said, turning his head away. His voice grew soft, nearly inaudible.
"Is this pony that important to you?" Luna asked, gesturing to Pinwheel. Pale Hoof whipped his head back around, his expression suddenly stern.
"The mortal world means nothing to me anymore. Why would I be here if not for Pinwheel?" He replied. Luna's eyes widened, "I love her. And I will not let Celestia take her away from me."
"My sister would not tear apart two ponies who love each other." Luna replied, "She is no tyrant."
Pale Hoof clenched his teeth. "Need I remind you of how she imprisoned you in the moon for a millennium?"
Luna's cheeks flared red again. "That…that has nothing to do with this. I have made my peace with that incident and I do not wish to discuss it!"
Pale Hoof fell silent. He turned his face away. Luna's chest heaved. Pinwheel frowned at the two ponies. Gently, Pinwheel leaned over and touched Pale Hoof's shoulder. "Pale Hoof, listen." She pleaded. Pale Hoof turned toward her, "Celestia can't banish you without the Elements, right? Twilight and her friends have them now, remember? So even if she threatens to banish you, it's not as though she can actually do it."
Luna nodded. "There is no choice but to negotiate. Please."
Pale Hoof regarded Luna and Pinwheel for several seconds. At long last, he sighed. "If I go try to speak to Celestia, it may come to blows."
"My sister would not fight you unless she had to." Luna reassured him, "And I will be there to assist, if you'll have me."
"I do not care what Celestia says, I will not return to my realm quietly." Pale Hoof growled. His voice rumbled in his throat like a miniature earthquake. The sound sent a chill rippling down Pinwheel's spine. She remembered Pale Hoof's first fight with Celestia in vivid detail. She remembered how the princess slowly aged and decayed right before her eyes. How Twilight had screamed and wept at the sight of her mentor so close to death. No part of her wanted to relive those moments.
Luna gestured toward her chariot. "Lady Pinwheel will fly with me. You ought to follow behind us." She said, "It would be better if I arrived first. To explain the situation to my sister." Pale Hoof nodded.
Pinwheel swallowed hard. Already, a million disastrous scenarios were playing out in her head. Celestia dead or Pale Hoof banished. If they fought, they would be fighting on a level playing field. Anything at all could happen. "All right, I guess…" She said at last. Turning slightly, she peered at Luna, "After you, Your Majesty." Pinwheel pointed toward the stairs. Luna gave Pale Hoof one last, suspicious glance before turning and making her way back down the steps. Pinwheel shuffled her hooves, staring at the landing. Pale Hoof took a step closer to her.
"Pinwheel," He began, but Pinwheel cut him off. She leapt forward, latching her hooves around Pale Hoof's neck. She squeezed him hard and kissed him on the cheek. Luna had made halfway down the stairs by the time Pinwheel pulled away from him.
"I figured that I'd better do that while I can." Pinwheel grinned a little too widely, "You know, just in case things between you and Celestia go sour. Er…even sourer, I mean."
Pale Hoof said nothing. He leaned forward and planted a kiss squarely on her mouth. "I will not let Celestia keep us apart."
Pinwheel blushed, "Yeah, well…don't do anything stupid, okay, big guy?" She patted his cheek, "We'll work something out."
Luna shouted up from the bottom of the stairs. "LADY PINWHEEL! ARE YOU COMING?" Giving Pale Hoof another quick peck on the cheek, Pinwheel turned and hurried down the stairs. Luna ushered her into the seat of the chariot as her two guards harnessed themselves to the front. As they buckled themselves in, Pinwheel turned and looked up at the landing. There, Pale Hoof stood silhouetted against the sky. The bat-guards stretched their wings and pulled the carriage into the air. As the carriage pulled away, Pinwheel leaned over the edge, watching as Pale Hoof grew smaller and smaller.