It had been a long month and a half for Twilight Sparkle, the lavender young protégé of the Solar Princess, Celestia. The series of events that had lead to this point with her in a dimly lit barn with Big Macintosh tied up in the corner menaced by three black cloaked fillies wielding pitchforks, had started about four weeks ago despite feeling like and eternity for her.
Rainbow Dash, who had finally made it to the try-outs for her dream team, the Wonderbolts had been the first of them to meet her fate. The rainbow-haired pegasus had claimed, before the final bout of challenges, that she would win every single one with ease. Amazingly enough the cyan pegasus made good her promise, absolutely crushing all her competitors with ease. Speed, agility, even poise, her admitted weak point. In all three of them, Rainbow Dash outclassed even the best of her competitors. Some of these included former Royal Guards, regional champions, and even a former Wonderbolt whose reason for leaving the team was unknown. He had originally counted on his ties with the team for a easy way back in, but the team's captain, Spitfire, put her hoof down saying that despite his ties he needed to prove he was still good enough to be on the team after his absence. He had agreed readily enough to the fair terms and re-entered in the tryouts where he meet more than his match in Rainbow Dash.
It was in the final deciding event, a group-run through a high-speed obstacle course that disaster had struck. The goal had been to fly through the course at breakneck speeds and then come to a dead stop at the end. Rainbow Dash naturally sped through the course at a record breaking speed, hitting every turn and dive like she had practiced it a thousand times. However some of the other flyers were having a tougher time. Some were not able to get up to the insane speeds required to make the time for the course. Other fliers were not agile enough in the air and more than a few suffered from a mixture of both. One particularly weak, but brave flyer who had some how managed to make it to the finals, had been laboring to make it up to speed to pass the next obstacle, a giant rotating fan. The giant flat blades rotated at a fair rate, the sheer size of the blades taking awhile to pass the contestant's target, a small tunnel through which they needed to pass. The trick to this test was balancing speed, coordination. Knowing when to shave off speed without losing too much time.
This particularly slow flyer had labored to a decent rate of speed before the fan tunnel and probably would have made it with just a few shaved tail hairs when one of the former royal guards thundered past her. As the mare slowly righted herself, the former Wonderbolt blitzed past her upsetting her even more. Now instead of blazing through the tunnel at speed she was heading towards the wall. Rainbow Dash seeing the mare's plight on her victory lap through the course again, speed up to help the tumbling mare before she crashed. Just as Dash had grabbed ahold of her and was trying to right her, another crowd of hopefuls outright smashed into them.
The mare landed on a fluffy cloud where as Rainbow Dash had been catapulted forward directly into the fan. Her neck connected with the leading edge and for one last time, the fastest flyer in Equestria's speed worked against her. The Wonderbolts had posthumously made her a member, awarding her own uniform before allowing the runner up in. It had been the former Wonderbolt. Twilight and her friends had been devastated. Fluttershy retreated even more into her house, barely even seeing her closest friends. Rarity and Applejack poured themselves into their work to hide their grief while Twilight retreated into her books. A pall came over the town since the boisterous pegasus passed. One night Twilight remembered vividly was when they couldn't locate Fluttershy and then she and the others finally found the meek yellow pegasus, curled up, weeping on the door step of Dash's immense cloud house.
Then the other accidents started happened. Rarity fell deathly ill from a new line of make up accessories that had a horrendous reaction with unicorns acting as a steady poison. Twilight found out later Rarity had been the one pony in over a million users to have this reaction to the cream. It's symptoms included extreme exhaustion and irrational bursts of anger. One day Twilight found the fashionista laying in her front yard, spent from magically overexerting herself. According to Rarity, she had a sudden fit of anger and had spent almost all her magic in one massive burst. Sweetie Bell confirmed this saying she had run outside at a sudden shriek of anger followed by an immense burst of magic. She'd found her sister in the same sad state shortly before Twilight arrived. All Rarity had said at the time was. "Dumb rock." She died later that night from the drain on her system by not only the poisonous cream but from her overexertion. Applejack a few beds over had died slightly before while Rarity was asleep.
According to Applebloom, she and Applejack had been in the orchard bucking apples. Applejack had just bucked a particularly large tree when a large boulder fell from the sky landing directly on her shoulders, shattering the strong earth pony's shoulders, spines and crushed a great many ribs. Amazingly enough, the tough earth pony survived the initial impact due to Applebloom's quick actions. The little filly had bolted for help immediately, retrieving her big brother who moved the boulder. Big Macintosh immediately had Applebloom hitch the wagon to him after putting their sister's pitiful, broken body in. He had cantered off to the hospital. Applebloom, after inspecting the rock, ran off towards Carosel Boutique, sobbing after she saw the message inscribed on the boulder what seemed ages ago by a certain playful dragon: LOOK OUT! HERE COMES TOM!
Said playful dragon had not been there at the time, having been on a 6-month study abroad in the draconian homelands to learn of his heritage. That left three ponies out of six to grieve. The horrendous accidents didn't stop there. Next was poor, gentle Fluttershy. She died a relatively peaceful death, having tried using the Stare on a basilisk while defending Angel Bunny from the dreadful serpent. Twilight had been on her way to the butter yellow pegasus's house to provide her some much needed comfort when she spotted the limp form in front of the immense serpent. She had felt a white-hot surge of anger and the next thing she remembered was explaining through broken sobs to a sympathetic Celestia how this rare specimen of snake had imploded.
Pinkie was the second to last pony standing. She'd bravely tried to keep up her spirits in the horrendous series of events, but eventually even her spirit could not bear the pain of so many lost friends in so little time. When she wasn't trying to drown her pain in sugar and hot sauce, the once bouncy and lively Pinkie would eventually find her way into her room at some point in the day to cry. At first the Cakes thought it was the twins crying until one day they discovered the two infant ponies trying to cheer the inconsolable pink party pony. Many empty bags of flour attested to their efforts. Nothing the Cakes tried worked. Parties, the infant's antics, and even the exceedingly rare occasion the Cakes, having no other option, called in the rest of the Pie clan to see if a visit from family would work. Twilight tried talking to her, but the memories the lavender unicorn dredged up were too painful for Pinkie to bear.
With four of her closest friends dead and the fifth emotionally traumatized, Twilight turned to seek out a solution to end Pinkie's plight as well as to ease her own case of grieving. Though Princess Celestia had been with her as much as her royal duties allowed, Twilight Sparkle cried herself to sleep many nights. Questions of "What if" thundered through her mind. What if she had been there at Fluttershy's sooner? She could have teleported Fluttershy away from the deadly creature. What if she had been there for Rarity? Maybe she could have found away to prevent her from using up her magic. What if she had been there at Sweet Apple Acres? She could have caught the boulder with her telekinesis. All these thoughts poured through her mind. The wretched librarian turned to herself to her one outlet of reading.
Her beloved books didn't give her the answer to her problems, but they did inspire her idea that could potentially solve it. To enact her plan she'd need to ask one last thing of her friends. Twilight Sparkle had been reluctant at first to move along this dark path, but support for the dangerous venture came from the oddest source. Applebloom, Sweetie Bell, and Scootaloo, the three Cutie Mark Crusaders, upon learning she may have some way to bring back their loved ones and idol, pressured her to do so no matter what it cost. Fueled with their encouragement and her own grief, Twilight set out to perform the single most ambitious act of arcane spellwork of all time: To bring back the dead to true life.
As they acted to push her to this course of actions, the once playful CMC trio offered to help Twilight with the hardest task: Retrieve the bodies of their loved ones. Twilight had originally planned to do it herself on her own, but the stubborn trio insisted she accept their help. Despite her argument that what they would do and see could scar them for life, she relented when Sweetie Bell pointed out that her and Applebloom's sister were dead and this was the only way they'd ever see them four had to retrieve Rainbow Dash's corpse due to her being dead the longest and was slated for cremation as per the pegasi tradition. With the aid of Twilight's hot air balloon, the CMC were able to sneak into the crematorium at night. Once they checked the place for the living, Scootaloo buzzed back to the dark balloon holding station in the night sky, while Sweetie and Applebloom watched the doors and only the doors, too creeped out to look elsewhere.
At Scootaloo's signal, Twilight jumped to the cloud, having prepared the Skywalk spell earlier. Passing over the securing line to Scootaloo, she went inside. Grimacing, she scanned the bodies, and eventually found the bag with her rainbow friend's body in it. With gulp, Twilight Sparkle picked it up with her telekinesis and with the CMC in tow, made her way back to the balloon after putting the decoy in place.
In comparison to the grisly highflying caper, the retrieval of Applejack's and Rarity's corpses was considerably easier. A quick venture into the Ponyville Morgue that same night, yielded the unicorn's friends. The small grave outside of Fluttershy's house, near the Everfree forest was the last place they needed to visit. Before the sun had set earlier leaving, Twilight had chanced a daring venture into the Everfree forest. Her goal was to draw out a massive arcane circle that cut deeply into the verdant darkness. Laying down the magical regents, Twilight then used her magic to set the circle there permanently, section by section until the circle was complete. It may well have been the largest one of its kind in history. Anyone well versed in the most powerful spells available to ponykind would have recognized it as a ritual circle that draws power from the very land itself. Any living creature caught with its magical boundary would be absorbed as well surrendering its life energy to the spell. Twilight chose the Everfree forest for its seclusion as well as for the forest's ability to rebound after the spell was cast, not wanting to scar the land.
Moving to another section of the forest she had drawn another circle, similar in nature, but far smaller. Its purpose was to heal the bodies as much as possible before the larger circle was used. Fluttershy, being the most recent her death a mere 3 days before, was in the best condition. Her death being magical in nature left her with little healing to be done. Rarity would be restored mostly by the major spell. However, Rainbow Dash's neck and Applejack's bones needed to fuse and heal and so the pegasus and the earth pony were the main focus of this spell. Twilight had set the two down in the center of the smaller circle and completed the rest of the arcane matrix that would focus the life-force of the land into the two in the form of the strongest healing magic Twilight could find.
As the lavender unicorns had stood there steeling herself to set off the circle's magic, a small hoof on her side reminded the librarian the Crusaders were still there. Sweetie Bell offered to do ignite the circle herself. Explaining she wanted Twilight at her best for the multi-acre one, the tiny white unicorn lowered her horn onto the outer rim of the circle. The circle flared up, the intricate designs that made up the magical matrix etched in the air. The circles only required a touch of a unicorn's horn and a small amount of magic from the horn's owner accompanied by a command word to set off. After doing so Sweetie was disoriented for a bit, but quickly pulled herself back together. The circle's ignition sent a faint column of light toward the night sky only to be stopped by the wild clouds of Everfree forest. Once the glow died down, Twilight stepped up to inspect her friends and had to refrain herself from leaping about in glee crying "Yes!" Applejack and Rainbow Dash's bodies were almost fully healed. Aside from an almost closed but still visible gash on the underside Rainbow Dash's neck and a few slightly out of place ribs on Applejack, Twilight could have sworn it was just Applejack joining the new Wonderbolt for one of her many naps. Picking the two mostly restored bodies up with her telekinesis, Twilght trotted to Sweet Apple Acres.
The Sweet Apple Acres barn was chosen to house the rest of the bodies for the megacircle as the CMC took to calling it. Another arcane circle was inscribed on the floor of the barn. This one was built to receive to powerful energies of the multi-acre circle and amplify the cascade of pure life energy hopefully to the point the ponies were restored to life. It had been shortly after Twilight had arrived that Big Macintosh happened upon the scene and saw the dead bodies in a circle. Seeing him surge forward towards his sister's body, the CMC leaped into action. They had rigged a trap, just in case this happened. As Big Mac stomped forward, a grim look locked on his normally placid face, a barrel packed to the brim with the heavy bags of grain and suspended by two of Applejack's lasso ropes, swung down and knocked the massive stallion cold. When he came to minutes later, the red draft pony found he was trussed up like a hog and three cloaked figures kept the Apple families' pitchforks trained on him.
Snapping herself out of her mental replay of the hellish month and a half, Twilight Sparkle glanced over at the three fillies. She had no idea where they had gotten the capes from though Twilight suspected that once she was back, Rarity, would find some of her material missing. Not that the fashionista would mind much though. The deceptively goofy and fun loving fillies had been invaluable. From their never-ending enthusiasm, to their stubbornness, to the bravery the three had shown in the face of such grisly circumstances, Sweetie Bell and Applebloom had done their sisters proud. Scootaloo was a whole new story. She had an intact family, but her dedication to her friends and their families had been more than enough to keep the little filly a firm supporter.
Deciding it was time to make the final leap, Twilight motioned Sweetie to come over. "Sweetie Bell, there is one last thing I'm going to need you to do." Twilight's grim tone was to be expected given the circumstances. Sweetie Bell sat down smartly and saluted with a hoof. "What can I do to help, Ms. Twilight." Moving her face closer to Sweetie Bell, who stood her ground, Twilight touched her horn the young unicorn's. "I'm making you a temporary anchor for my soul. Keep your horn in contact with mine through out what happens next." "What does happen next?" The little fillie's question made Twilight's face fall. "The reason I need an anchor is somepony needs to show them the way home. There's no nice way to say it. I need to die now to bring everyone's spirits back." Sweetie nodded slowly keeping her horn touching Twilight's, but her lip quivered at the same time. Regretting she had to tell her, that Twilight prepared herself. In unison, the foal and the mare touched their horns to the circle. The light spread like wild fire, sending out its invisible signal towards the Everfree Forest.
Like before, the circle that had taken Twilight so many hours to put down, flared to an intense life. The light bleeding off of it was enough to awaken Zecora in her hut several miles away in the forest. Once again a beam of light pierced the heavens, the light so bright it brought temporary day to the night. Inside the barn, it was like staring directly into the very soul of the sun. Blinded by the intense light, Sweetie Bell never saw Twilight levitate her discarded pitchfork and use the tines to pierce her throat and the arteries next to it. All that she knew was the unicorn suddenly slumped forward almost falling out of the circle onto her. Suddenly, Applebloom was beside her, steadying Sweetie and Twilight. Scootaloo jumped across the circle and grabbed the pitchfork and pulled it out. From there all the three friends could do was wait.
Twilight found partial death to be an interesting experience. Everything was abstract, almost looking as if an overly enthusiastic artist had blurred the lines of everything with his brush. Twilight watched as her tail seemed to merge with colors around it. Twilight started off into the ever shifting void of colors and noises, calling her friends names over and over. She could feel the presence of thousands, maybe millions of ponies all around her. There could be no ordered search here, so she chose the best thing she had, her heart. Feeling a familiar presence nearby she followed it. As she drew closer, she could feel memories of this pony. The rush of wind through the mane and under the wings The joy of flying just because it was possible and a hunger for speed. Extending a hoof towards the nexus of these memories she greeted her friend Rainbow Dash for the first time in what felt like ages. The star-like apparition convulsed and then took on a form. Reminiscent of a constellation in the shape of a pony, the familiar presence fell in behind her, following Twilight even through death.
Trusting her own heart again, she and the essence of Rainbow Dash set off again. This time draw forwards was subtle, almost fae. As she pushed forward, memories of a new pony started coming to her. Sophistication, glamour, the joy of creating something and having people appreciate it. The joy of seeing ponies faces upon receiving something heartfelt given to them. There was no mistaking this presence. This essence of Rarity quickly joined the other behind Twilight.
After wandering through the shifting and twisting dimension, Twilight's heart told her there was another one of her friends nearby. One pony and two pony essences pushed forward. Upon getting closer to this presence the memories came with the force and bluntness as a hoof to the face. Working hard during the summer under the beating sun, eating together and having tons of fun with friends and family, even a few memories of a friendly competition with a rainbow haired pony. This presence fell into line with the rest of it's friends.
Just one more pony remained. This time Twilight's brain and heart managed to team up. Look for the presence far from the others said her brain. Look for butterflies came her heart's confusing answer. With that in mind Twilight drove on. Sure enough the unicorn sensed the faintest sign of a pony's essence nearby. This presence seemed to shrink on itself like a collapsing star as Twilght closed with it. It seemed inert as if it was shutting itself off from her. Twilight was stumped for a bit, when an idea came to her. She focused all her mind on summoning up an image of Spike to her. Sure enough it worked. The meek presence unfolded a bit at the memory of the baby dragon. Twilight caught glimpses of tons of animals in the memories. Even an immense flock of butterflies numbering in the thousands. Then more came as the pony's essence relented. Images of her and the rest of her friends, Helping Rainbow chose a new pet, staring down an immense red dragon and finally the very first time the whole group had really met during the Nightmare Moon incident. Meekly, the essence joined the rest.
Her job here almost done, Twilight reached out with her magic and found her anchor to Sweetie Bell still intact. Something stopped her though. In this grey, ever shifting world of death, Twilight Sparkle noticed something odd. There was one section of the ever changing light and colors that seemed to almost swirl. The disturbance almost looked like water going down a drain. "Or a black hole" Twilight's mind helpfully quipped. What seemed most disturbing was in the dark heart of the vortex Twilight sensed another presence. No memories came, but a seething sense of dread erupted in Twilight. Whatever was in there she could feel it. Just it's presence caused the lavender unicorn shudder. Vague wisps of alien thoughts emanated from the dark vortex. Twilight didn't know why she consciously avoided these. Just something about them made her feel that if she were to ever touch them, it's taint would never come off. Morbidly curious, the unicorn found herself staring directly into the dark void of the disturbance. She was almost transfixed when she suddenly felt a sharp tug on her tail. With a start, Twilight looked behind her. The vague pony-like shapes of her friends very essences were right behind her. Twilight's tail was in the grasp of the essence of Rarity. The apparition quickly dropped her tail as it started to smoke. Smiling, she gathered them together. Despite herself, Twilight Sparkle chanced one last look at the disturbance. It was then she felt it. The ever present sense of dread she had ever since laying her eyes on it erupted in full force. Now the swirling slowed as the center convulsed towards her. Terrified as she had ever been, Twilight triggered her anchor to Sweetie Bell and then everything became white.
Sweetie Bell was just wondering if she'd ever be able to see again due to the blinding light of the spell when it stopped. A chorus of 'ouch'es and 'ow's emanated from within the circle. After the temporary blindness passed, The Cutie Mark Crusaders eye's widened in shock before their childish natures took over. Rarity, Applejack, and Rainbow Dash had barely regained their hooves when three miniature comets rocketed into them, knocking them right back down. Applejack might have made it back up even with Applebloom attached to her, when a far larger red comet collided with her. Big Macintosh had broken free in time to see the spell end. The three crusaders promptly started sobbing into their sister coats. It didn't take long before the big red stallion started sniffing too.
Another shock came after the fillies finally disengaged themselves from their sisters and idol. Scootaloo, Applebloom, and Sweetie Bell were now just slightly smaller than the other ponies. "I think it's from them being directly exposed to the magic used in bring us back." Twilight's idea seemed the most likely. Soon Twilight found herself giving that very same explaination to a very surprised Princess Luna as the column of light sent up by the second circle had been visible from Canterlot. Luna had witnessed the sight as had most of the capital.
Twilight informed the Night Princess of what had transpired, who in turn managed to look mortified and deeply touched at the level of devotion shown. Eventually the dark blue princess retired back to the castle, promising that both she and her sister would be there to discuss what had happened the next day. With Luna taking her leave, the five friends sneaked over to Sugarcube Corner in the dark. Pinkie Pie was the first pony invited to the first ever Welcome Back to Life party and by the end, her characteristic laughter had returned to Ponyville.