Dear Princess Celestia
Yes, I know you said I should stop using the honorific when writing personal letters, but it’s been so ingrained into me that without it, any letter feels incomplete. I’ve always been a little anxious if I don’t follow my daily routines. In my early days back when the library still stood, I had a checklist of everything from waking up to walking out the door. And I mean everything. Where I put my toothbrush, the best cup for morning coffee, even what I was going to lay out for suggested reading the following week.
Routines work, so no need to fix what’s not broken, after all. I appreciate you seeing me as an equal in the eyes of the law along with just seeing me as nothing more than a regular pony when we’re together. I know that you are frowning at my insistence, but it’s what I’m comfortable with. I understand that doing so might make you uncomfortable, so how about we sit down and talk about it next time I stop by Canterlot?
Boy, I really lost track of where this letter was going real fast. This is why it’s good to have Spike help me draft them. I tend to ramble too easily.
Anyway, the purpose of this letter. I’m afraid this one has a more philosophical note to it. I know we’ve had some philosophical discussions in the past, and sometimes even Princess Luna partakes in the discourse. Back when I was a filly in Canterlot castle, I was one to want little. I didn’t care for friends. It wasn’t out of some disregard for social interaction; I was fully comfortable just being on my own. One of my favorite pastimes was to sit by the window during a snowstorm and read.
Now that I have several friends across town, I can see their use in more than just a utilitarian sense like I did as a child. Fun is no longer just sitting in the quiet. I love my friends. Sure, there are many days where I pass on picnics or outings to stay indoors by myself, but it’s become the better of two options rather than the only option. Pinkie’s love, AJ’s sense of family, Fluttershy’s compassion. Now that I have things like that, I don’t want to give any of that up.
And so we come to the crux of the problem. I don’t want to give up what I have here. I don’t mean in a “I don’t want to move out of Ponyville” sense, I mean I like what’s here and I never want to let it go. In a way, I blame the Nightmare Moon incident (If you ever read this Princess Luna, I bear you no ill will in saying that). The six of us did what we had to out of a sense of camaraderie and fearful self preservation. Then came Discord, then the Changelings, Sombra, etcetera. Nightmare Moon inoculated me against feeling that fearful sense of death every time it happened thereafter.
It’s been on my mind more and more with each passing month. Once, I awoke from a dream where I was in Ponyville completely as is, but my friends were gone and absolutely no one remembered them but me. I’ve had many adventures and have even saved the world a fair few times. I’ve grown up enough to understand that much of what we’ve gone through was only successful with a healthy injection of luck every now and then.
We’ve been lucky. By the powers, I’m grateful for what I have, but I am fearful of the time where fate won’t be so kind. I’m reminded of a thief’s prayer: “Never question good luck, only pray it never runs out.”
Who knew I’d start having a midlife crisis at age 28? I suppose I’ve seen and done more things than ponies twice my age, or even Daring Do. Make no mistake, I’m still happy here in Ponyville, but these thoughts have been fermenting in the back of my mind. I admit, I’ve been afraid of what could happen. I can help my friends through so much, and magic is good for many things, but no pony can cheat death yet. That fear I felt back during the Summer Sun Celebration is different now. I’m not afraid for my own life, but I desperately fear what my life would become should I lose my friends.
Perhaps it is needless worrying. In all likelihood it is and I’m spouting nonsense fears like a foal afraid of thunderstorms. Death is inevitable, I know, but I’ve never had to face it. I’ve had losses, but never defeat.
Regardless, I believe I should cease before too much worrying makes me gray prematurely. I’m waiting on Spike for more inkwells anyway. At your earliest convenience, however, could we have a chat during my next visit to Canterlot?
The letter had been in the back of Twilight’s desk for close to a week. The forewarning was well-earned, and Spike’s input would have been invaluable making it more coherent. She shuddered at the thought. Spike was close to a brother to her, but despite their relationship, the contents of the letter struck a little too close to home. Spike knew her likes, dislikes, interests, secrets, favorite foods, embarrassing insecurities, and had even caught her in a rather compromising position late one night with the contents of the box under her bed. However, there were still some thoughts and feelings that she held close to the chest.
No matter. Spike likely knew everything the letter said about her without even seeing it. He knew what the pair of them were doing tonight.
Twilight shook her head. Those thoughts were for later. She carefully returned the letter to her desk, locked it, and left her office for her castle library.
Twilight liked to peruse her bookshelves to kill time. She knew the placement of every tome, their every contents down to the last word. She knew where to go today. Behind the history section, around the reference books, and straight into biology. She thumbed through the books and academic articles, each and every one devoid of dust from Twilight’s recent and active use.
Harnessing Electric Control by Quick Pen
Canterlot City’s Journal of Internal Medicine by Helios
Canterlot Journal of Pony Physiology by Mythic Star
Seven Sanctums by Poetic Prose
Migration and nutritional status of orphaned schoolchildren by Orchid Heart
Zebrican Brain Mapping by Arid Novel
Psychological stress and the pony immune system by Mythic Star
She picked out Arid Novel’s book. The spine had been worn with much use and opened to a page at the start of the third chapter. Words. Words that she had read many times before and could recite them in her sleep. According to Spike, she had.
“Across all races, the brain is one of the most fragile. Lack of oxygen or blood flow may cause damage to living tissue after one minute of deprivation. Cell death occurs between three to six minutes of inadequate blood flow, and are considered nonviable in all fields of medical science after twelve minutes. There are rare cases where the body’s metabolism has been slowed, such as acute hypothermia, and have been revived close to an hour after a lack of oxygen. The effectiveness of such a method is untested and unproven due to the ethical implications of testing extreme cold on the body.”
Twilight heard a knock upon the library door. She returned the book.
Despite his size, Spike was quiet. He was short and stubby for a dragon, and even carried a little bit of pudge to him, but now he even rivaled her in terms of height. His amethyst hide had hardened into beautiful scales. The only downside to his growth was that he had to consistently file down his spines and claws. Twilight’s own bookish, pudgy body had finally developed some curves. Did she get eyes from stallions because they saw the implications of her wings and horn, or that she finally, as Rainbow Dash crudely explained, “had something to grab onto”?
No matter. Bothersome thoughts. There was work to be done.
“Everything’s ready,” Spike said with a hiss. Twilight wasn’t sure why he was more quiet than in his youth. His voice had taken on a lovely baritone now that he’d matured some, yet the formally outgoing and friendly drake spoke with a calm and concise etiquette. Larger size, deeper voice, a face full of fangs. Well, Ponyville was a superstitious town and ponies were skittish by nature. Perhaps a subconscious observance of fear induced a psychosomatic response that resulted in a quieter voice.
Rats. Distracted again.
Observations and experiments for another time. She filed away a reminder to ask him about it later.
She got up. Better get it over with. Spike followed her into her office where she reopened the desk draw and removed the parchment she’d just read. Before she could change her mind, she rolled it tight, tied it with a ribbon, and reached for the candle. Her seal was her own cutie mark. Rather unoriginal, but Twilight had no need for extravagance. She poured some wax and pressed her seal tight as it dried.
She handed it over. Spike took it and with a quick breath of emerald flames, the letter vanished. He set down the rucksack he had slung over his shoulders and pulled out the contents one by one. Inkwells, extra parchment, empty vials, book binding tape, and a small arsenal of goodies that would need to be unpacked in the basement.
“Spike, time for a log.”
Quill and parchment were in his hands before she finished her sentence. He smirked.
“Oh, wipe that look off your face.”
“Can’t help that I know you better than you know yourself, Twi.”
“Don’t make me start writing everything on my own.”
“We both know my penmanship is better.”
Well, he’d got her there.
“Quit your lip,” she pouted, “and write.”
Twilight cleared her throat.
“October first, twenty-one hundred hours. Spike and I are about to take the next step in my experiments. I admit my heart’s been beating heavy with anticipation and anxiety. So much has been building up to these next few hours. So much research and patience. This may very well be my masterpiece, my magnum opus. I have all the necessary research material, all of the biological texts and surgical equipment prepared. The spellcraft is in place and my reagents in proper doses. I am as ready as I will ever be.
“My experiments on animal carcasses have been promising, but such data can only show me so much. None of it will take into account the sheer complexity of a brain capable of sapient thought. For those rare cases that will, they cannot compensate for the inherent magic that resides in ponies. After all, I am not working my way up to barnyard fowl or bovine capable of carrying a conversation. No, I have my eyes on a larger prize.
“It is times like these that I wish Ponyville championed medical science like Canterlot. I could then have easy access to the subjects I require. There are none here in Ponyville, not even donations to medical advancement due to the town’s small size, but neither can I move my lab to Canterlot without attracting unwanted attention.”
At this, Twilight paused. Spike dutifully took the time to finish what he had yet to write. He had phenomenal recall.
“I love Celestia dearly. Like a mother. I do not think she will approve of what I have done, or what I am about to do. It was and still is my solemn word to do no harm to a living soul even if my experiments end in total failure. I do this for the greater good. I do this so loved ones don’t endlessly suffer for a mistake that occurred because fate dealt a poor hand one day. I do it to stop dread, the pain of loss.”
Twilight’s foot was bouncing. A sign of restlessness. Good. Better than reservation.
“Best case? Before the night is over, I will do what none before me has done before. I will cheat death.”
Twilight felt the bile rise in her throat. Distasteful task. Disgusting. Almost sacrilegious.
Spike had volunteered to go alone tonight, bless his soul. If Spike got caught, the situation would be bad, but salvageable. If it was her face on the morning paper, everything she had built, even her work that had nothing to do with her current project, would vanish like smoke on a windy day. This was something she needed to do.
Spike had unlocked the mortuary window earlier that day. Bigger though he was, he slipped inside first and held out a hand. Twilight grasped it and slid into Spike’s arms. Each of them wore clothes of a soft, dark blue to blend into Luna’s bright moonlight. They needed to carry Twilight’s new test subject across town, and if by chance an insomniac caught them on their roundabout trek back to the castle, at least they might be able to cut their losses and hide. Twilight’s wings were bound close to her back and under a layer of clothes. Her horn was impossible to hide, but her wings were not. There was only one alicorn in town, so if they were seen, it wasn’t hard to guess the identity of the mystery mare.
Setting her down, Spike closed the window and locked it. They wouldn’t be exiting through the window anyway.
He motioned Twilight forward. Even though no one was supposed to be in the building, Twilight did her best to keep her breathing level and quiet. Spike was careful, and very good at following orders. He knew where to go. That did nothing to alleviate the tension in the back of her neck that demanded she fidget and stretch her wings.
Spike lead them through doors and doors until they met one that was locked. Spike tried the knob and it stubbornly refused them access.
Twilight’s horn was alight for just a moment with lavendar energy before the lock clicked. Why bother locking the door when no one in their right mind would break into a mortuary? No break-ins meant low security, which meant cheap locks.
“And here I wanted to try out some bobby pins,” Spike whispered.
The pair of them slunk into the office. Spike’s long and sinuous tail slid a chair out of the way for her. It was a simple office. Papers stacked the simple desk, and an old, rusted shovel was mounted on the wall above a safe. Twilight licked her lips.
She almost jumped as she heard the loud, clanging iron directly behind her. Oh, no, they tripped a silent alarm on the window and the police were here to arrest them both. Twilight’s gut sank through the floor.
“They’re not in the safe, Twi.” Spike twirled an iron band around a finger, the two ancient, iron keys clinging together with every spin. Behind him was a cork board with several hooks. The only empty one was labeled “Cemetery Key”.
“Spike, scare me like that again, and I swear I will turn you into carpet.”
“Sorry for the spook. Just trying to lighten the mood.”
“There’s hardly room for jokes during a grave robbery.”
“Hey, I know my routine will knock them dead.”
Twilight could have flown over—even teleported over—but both would have been problems for carting her subject back to the lab. She couldn’t fly both Spike and a body over the stone walls. Teleporting into the cemetery wasn’t a problem, but she dared not risk having her magic clinging to her test subject and contaminating her plans for tonight. She still needed to cart a body back to the lab with Spike. It was a long way back to the castle with nothing but a snarky drake and a corpse to keep her company.
“It could be worse.”
“We could get caught?”
“It could be raining.”
She wanted to kill him. The occasional mirth helped bring some much-needed levity to a grim situation, yet her stomach was still trying to tie itself in knots. Ever the faithful assistant. Never had Spike strayed from her side.
This was for him as much as for her friends.
Spike had managed to stow away some equipment in advance. No one was thoughtless enough to vandalise or litter in the cemetery, so Mors wasn’t one to look for things that didn’t belong. Crisscrossed shovels buried in the brush under a tree, and a body bag filled with supplies was what their tools amounted to. She followed his lead, during her best to ignore his occasional ribbing.
It was the only grave with fresh soil. The tombstone itself was solid granite and clean, but Twilight did not look at it. Her nerves were already shaky. She didn’t need a reason to stop when they were already waist deep.
They could always just come back another night—no. They couldn’t. Spike must have saw the look on her face.
“Wanna back out?”
She shook her head. Her shovel was the first to pierce the dirt.
The basement of the castle was Twilight’s own personal laboratory. She could have had the pick of the litter with how much more space the castle had over the library, but it was what she was familiar with, and so it remained. Spike had already come back after returning the keys. Both were already adorned in sterile gowns.
Twilight wouldn’t likely need them, but pony diagrams of pony musculature, skeletal, and nervous systems had been taped to the walls for reference material. To the left were her alchemical stands. A Lion’s Blood potion already concocted for weakened muscle control had been prepared ahead of time, as well as all the reagents she’d need for a quick for a few quick drafts of select elixirs.
To the right was a table full of surgical materials. Jars full of earth pony organs of identical bloodtype, all preserved in a Chilltouch draft lines the table in an orderly line. Scalpels were assorted by size and then function. Seven types of forceps, a bone cutter, rib splitter, a thread holder, retractor, scissors; she had everything she’d need and more. A freezer was tucked at the end of the table, its steady hum filling the air.
Towards the north wall was her spellcraft. Ironroot, silver dust, manticore gallbladder, and tatzlwurm blood all lay in assorted, color-coded dishes. She would be doing the bulk of that work tonight.
At the center of it all was a surgical table. An old stallion dressed in his sunday best lay across it. He had a chestnut mane stained with gray. His body had the slight smell of must and dirt, along with the familiar scent of formaldehyde. He was older than Twilight would have liked, but they weren’t flush with options.
“Smells like pickles,” Spike’s voice was muffled behind his face mask.
“That’s the formaldehyde.”
“Why does formaldehyde smell like pickles?”
“...I really don’t know.” That was never something she asked in Advanced Biology class.
Spike snapped on his own specially modified surgical gloves. Normal latex or rubber gloves wouldn’t be much use on clawed hands, filed or not.
“Ready when you are, professor.”
Huh. Professor Twilight. It had a nice ring to it. Twilight pulled on her own gloves and put up her mask. It was time to get to work.
Before anything, she had to reverse the effects of Mors’ embalming. To do that, her willing subject needed to be stripped of his funeral attire. She carefully undid the buttons on his suit while Spike performed the herculean task of removing his pants and undergarments. Each piece was bagged and stored in a cabinet. There he lay, cold and dead to the world.
Oh no, she was turning into Spike.
Deep breaths. The hard part was over. The pair of them acquired their body, the gravesite was carefully restored so Mors wouldn’t notice, and no pony was the wiser. The just had the easy part, the gross part, and the uncertain part left.
With clothes soaked in lukewarm water, the pair washed the cadaver from head to foot.
Her ultimate plan, to restore the dead to life, had two phases. Restoring the body was the easier of the two. Reversing death... well, this was what trial runs were for. Even if everything worked perfectly, if her mixture of witchcraft and science pulled through, no pony could live with an embalmed body. Twilight used the aspirator to remove what chemicals she could. The body needed to be restored into perfect working order, down to the last organ. An hour passed. Then another. The pair of them worked together with Twilight guiding both sets of hands as needed.
“Start up the pump.”
Embalming fluid, along with whatever disgusting tidbits they removed from the body, were placed in a large jar. The smell was ungodly, and Twilight took a few minutes to rub some frankincense under her nose. The worst part was pumping out the veins of fluid, an even worse sort of smell that left Twilight dry heaving twice.
Twilight walked to the fridge and removed pint after pint of blood. The most important piece of the night was in a little case directly behind the last pack. Eight vials of a glowing green fluid beckoned her. It was time. They were calling to her.
She removed one and placed it on the table next to her blood supply. Given the time it was taking, putrefaction was a concern. Yet a body still needed blood. Spike’s hands were as deft as any surgeon and he found the femoral vein on the first try. He began cycling the body with blood. Bag after bag was pumped into the corpse.
Spike reached for the glowing vial, needle in hand.
“I’ll do it.”
He nodded and handed both to Twilight. This was it. The final stage of her work.
“Thirty CCs of reagent,” she told herself. That was her guess, anyway. The needle was slowly filling with the liquid. Pulling it off the cap, Spike held the head up to give her the body’s spine. “Injecting into the brain now.”
The reagent disappeared little by little. Spike immediately put down the corpse’s head and stepped back as Twilight hopped towards her reagent table and mixed ingredients. This was for herself. It didn’t matter what the taste was. Now they were on a clock.
Finishing off the concoction, Twilight’s horn began to vibrate with the same lavendar light as earlier that night. A dash of lightning for the nerves, water for the organs, and wind for the lungs. Her thaumaturgical craft vibrated in the air. The body shook as the nerves were shocked into life. Smells, sights, and sounds all passed her by, but Twilight’s mind was on weaving her spells. She was blind, deaf, and mute to the world, unable to respond to the most basic stimuli. This was magic of the highest caliber, and as black as the gates of hell.
The image of her lab vanished and was replaced with the lingering threads of power circling the air. It wasn’t just a single spell that she needed to craft, but layers on layers that interlocked and worked in perfect harmony. Healing magic alone was dangerous due to the wrong bit of flesh moving being unimaginably torturous. Light, fire, and everything in between swam in her vision.
“How many fingers am I holding up?”
Twilight blinked. She was on the floor with the masked face of Spike looking down at her. He held up three clawed fingers, which he changed to two, then four, back to three, then five.
“How about me?” She held up only one.
He held a hand and lifted her to her shaky legs. The body hadn’t moved.
“You’ve been out for about two minutes,” Spike said.
“I’ve been watching. No signs of movement, respiration, heartbeat, anything.”
Twilight sighed. Then it was a waiting game.
This was it. The calm before the storm.
All she needed to do was wait. It was out of her hands now.
But this was taking a while.
More reagent next time?
His hand moved. Both Spike and she froze. Another twitch. No outwards stimuli, not even light across the optic nerve. This was completely independant. She didn’t move. This was it.
“It’s alive... It’s alive !”
He sat up and screamed.
The former corpse’s skin was flush with fresh blood in his veins. He turned to Twilight. She didn’t even have time to react as the reanimated body flung itself off the table and wrapped a pair of meaty hands around her throat. She saw stars as her head was bashed into a table and the world flashed white. Blood pooled around her subject’s mouth. Not once did he stop screaming in her face, just an endless barrage of noise. The fingers tightened on her neck. She tried desperately to breath, but nothing came. Even her held breath had nowhere to escape.
Her face was coated in a wave of red fluid and the fingers released themselves. Twilight turned away and started coughing, never more thankful to get a taste of sweet, wonderful oxygen than she was now. Something thumped to the floor. She turned towards the pony that she had given life and scrambled away, slipping on a patch of blood.
Spike held the stallion by the throat, while his other hand had plunged through his chest so hard, Twilight saw his claws poking through the other side. The once dead pony was now dead again, a gaping hole in his chest dripping fresh blood. Spike removed his arm from the pony’s chest. Viscera and droplets of blood clung to his arm, the vibrant scales now stained crimson. Blood began to pool on the clean floor.
Twilight couldn’t stop herself. She started snickering. Giggling. Soon she was openly laughing in between coughs caused by her damaged throat. Why was she laughing? Her reanimation project failed, at least the first trial run did. They’d both robbed a grave. She’d brought the dead back to life, if that could be called life. It didn’t matter. She had to laugh.
And Spike, bless his soul, still wouldn’t shut the hell up.
“Well that didn’t work.”