The Everfree Forest holds many dark and twisting ways. Ponies fear what lurks in that darkness, and rightfully so. That patch of foreign malice in the middle of Equestria is like a blatant, evil laugh in the face of all reason and reality. As anypony could tell you, the weather there acted on its own. Animals, namely the monsters that called the place home, ran rampant and free of any need of pony care. Even the plants grew haphazardly and out of control. Gnarled trees that were far older than Equestria itself soared to claw at the sky and silently promised that they would be there long after the pony nation had passed away.
In short, it was not a happy place. It was definitely not a place anypony with half a lick of horse sense would want to be caught in. Thus, it was the perfect place to hide a secret.
They had thought that nopony would ever expect to find her there, and they were right. Besides, even if somepony had thought to look for the most valuable magical anomaly in Equestrian history in The Everfree Forest, the very thought of such a place surely would’ve deterred them.
There was no need for Royal Guardponies to patrol the perimeter. No, only the Forest itself and a few paranoia-induced safety spells closely surrounding the secret kept the place safe and free from prying eyes. No pegasi, or any other sane sentient creature, dared fly this far over the Forest. Even if they had, the illusory charms would cause the clearing in which the secret resided to appear as nothing more than another patch of dark canopy indistinguishable from the rest of the trees.
And if all else failed, there was the Guardian, who had been there and refused to leave since day one. Even the creatures of the Forest feared the Guardian, and he never let a single pair of menacing eyes so much as casually glance at the secret—his secret, his treasure—without tearing them to shreds and burning the shreds into ash. But, though the guarding spells persisted, even the Guardian himself could not endure the tides of time that eventually claimed all but the sleeping secret.
Of course, the secret herself knew none of this. No, all she knew was that when she finally awoke, she was very, very confused. Not long after, she would find that she was all alone in a world she didn’t belong in.
. . .
Rarity stretched and yawned, relishing the soft cushions of her bed. Wait, her bed? But hadn’t she just been…Oh, how thoughtful! Twilight must have moved her here after that enchanted apple sleeping aide worked its magic. And what magic it had been. The spell had worked right away, and the white unicorn must have fallen asleep right then and there on her hooves. Now that she thought about it, the last thing the fashionista remembered was taking a bite of the apple and watching Twilight’s surprised face as the ground rushed up to meet her.
Rarity hadn’t felt this rested in ages; she’d simply have to thank her magical friend and ask for more of those apples. There was no way the dedicated dressmaker, as much as she needed to stay up late when the job required it, was going to let insomnia keep her up when the job did not.
Rarity, realizing something, felt about with her hind hooves. Opalescence was usually snuggly asleep at the end of her bed in the early mornings when the unicorn awoke. If she wasn’t, then that could only mean…Oh, don’t tell her she’d overslept?! How strong had that enchanted apple been, anyhow? Maybe Rarity would have to give Twilight a scolding instead of a thank-you. How long had she been asleep, anyway?
Rarity opened her eyes and turned to the side to face her bedside clock. There was nothing there, nothing but darkness. The early morning light should’ve been streaming through her curtains by now to illuminate at least that much space, but as she looked around the white unicorn couldn’t see anything but the oppressive, encroaching blackness.
Don’t tell her it was night! She couldn’t have slept all day and then into the next night, could she?! Wait, maybe she hadn’t…Yes, that had to be it. The sleeping aide, instead of working too well, must have worked half as well as Twilight had thought it would. Instead of helping Rarity sleep through the night, the enchanted apple must have only made her sleep through half of it, or something in between the evening she ate the apple and the next morning. It could be anywhere between ten-o’-clock at night or five in the morning.
Rarity breathed a sigh of relief. Her insomnia problem might not have been cured, but at least she hadn’t slept the day away. She tried to close her eyes again and slip back into the welcome slumber for as many hours as she had left of the night, but try as she might the loss of consciousness wouldn’t come. The white unicorn felt restless, like she had slept enough for the rest of her life.
Well, that was insomnia for you, the fashionista supposed. It looked like it would be another long night of waiting sleeplessly in her bed, staring up at the ceiling she couldn’t see, until Celestia raised the Sun at long last to start the day.
But if it was still nighttime, then why wasn’t Opal purring contentedly at the edge of her bed? Rarity, a twinge of fear blossoming in her stomach, lifted herself up into a sitting position and swung her hind legs off the side of her bed…or she would have if she hadn’t bumped her head against something in the dark.
Cursing under her breath and then cursing herself for cursing, as it was a very unladylike thing to do, Rarity cautiously reached a front hoof forward to touch whatever she had hit her head on. It was cold, but made a slight, clear ringing sound when she touched it. Rarity’s fur stood up on end as she hastily withdrew her hoof, seeing crackles of magic dance along her foreleg. Sniffing the air confirmed it; whatever was there in the dark above her was magically charged.
But what could it be? Rarity wasn’t quite so scared now as simply curious; the only explanation she could think of was that Twilight had cast some sort of spell over her bed. Why her magical friend would do such a thing, though, was beyond the white unicorn. What purpose could a magical barrier around her bed serve? Why would Twilight cast such an enchantment?
Enchantment or not, Rarity quickly came to the conclusion that whatever this thing was wouldn’t stand in the way of her finding her beloved cat, wherever she had scampered off to. It wasn’t like Opal to stray from Rarity’s side at slumber, and the idea that something had caused her to do so sent unwelcome chills of worry down the white unicorn’s spine.
Rarity concentrated and her horn sparked, flashed, and then burst into a strong glow. Now she would get to the bottom of whatever was keeping her constrained to her bed, and hopefully shed some light—no pun intended—on whatever had happened to Opal.
But before the white unicorn could even get a look at anything with her light spell to cut through the darkness, the world reversed and exploded into blinding light that obscured everything. Rarity cried out in pain and hid her eyes, the burning sensation of the bright burst still hammering away at her sight. The flash lasted for less than a second, and Rarity hesitantly peeked out from behind her hooves after the afterglow of the blast had finished causing spots to dance behind her eyelids.
Rarity found herself in the midst of a clearing in a dark forest, sunlight shining down from above to cut swathes in the shadows that played about the edges of the tree line. There were flowers growing all around the glen, and the bright green grass swayed in the slight summer breeze.
Rarity looked around in utter confusion. It went without saying that this wasn’t her room, but what dumbfounded the usually clever unicorn was why in Equestria she was outside in the first place. And why had it been dark just seconds ago when now it was clearly day? Had she slept until morning after all? If so, that was good news for her insomnia and gratitude due Twilight after all. But what was she doing outside?!
Rarity snorted, thinking that this was probably a certain pegasus’ idea of a joke.
“Very mature, Rainbow Dash,” Rarity chuckled despite herself. She’d have to retaliate of course, but that’s where the fun came in. Just because Rarity was a lady didn’t mean she wasn’t allowed to partake in some good-natured vengeance.
The white unicorn swung her legs over the side of the bed, too late realizing that she’d simply hit the magical barrier. Only that didn’t happen. The barrier must have disappeared during that flash of light. Rarity realized just as quickly that Twilight must have cast the spell over her bed to make it seem dark inside the barrier, so that she would remain asleep even without dawn’s first rays creeping over the horizon. Rarity would certainly sleep through anything without her alarm clock or the morning’s light to wake her.
“Shame on you, Twilight,” Rarity huffed. “I didn’t take you for a prankster. You must have let Rainbow goad you into her silly plan. Then again, maybe that means you’ll be willing to help me get a little payback.”
At least that solved the mystery. The sleeping aide had worked, and may have even been a part of the prank all along, the other ponies prying off of Rarity’s recent insomnia to work some mischief. After falling right to sleep in the middle of Twilight’s library, the lavender unicorn and their cyan pegasus friend must have levitated her to her bed and then taken that out in the woods somewhere near the edge of town. The barrier would ensure that Rarity wouldn’t wake up until who knew when, and her friends would all have a good laugh when she grumblingly trotted back into town with her mane all in a frizz.
It would work, too. Rarity would be in a bad mood for weeks if she had to walk though Ponyville without being able to go through her morning preparations. The white unicorn sighed. Oh, well. That would just make her revenge twice as sweet when the time came. Maybe she could even recruit Rainbow Dash to help her get back at Twilight after she had gotten Twilight to help her get back at Rainbow Dash.
Sighing exasperatedly as she got to her feet, the fashionista turned to survey her surroundings more fully, and screamed.
Rarity backed away at a breakneck pace from the…thing…grinning evilly in front of her, leering at her with its jagged black teeth. Rarity turned to run, but came face to face with the back of the creature, where its massive spiked tail slid underhoof to trip her up and send the white unicorn tumbling on the grass.
Rarity cowered into a ball, knowing there was no way she could outrun the monster now. What had her friends been thinking?! She had thought they hid her bed in the outskirts of Whitetail Wood, not in the Everfree Forest!
“Please, don’t eat me!” Rarity shrieked, hooves covering her head.
She waited for the inevitable CHOMP of the monster’s teeth ripping into her flesh.
But it never came.
Rarity opened one eye in surprise, looking back at the beast, seeing it grinning at her all over again. The white unicorn shrieked once more, but the creature didn’t so much as flinch.
Rarity hesitantly rose to her hooves, and even more hesitantly trotted up to the monster, noticing a very key detail as she did so.
The thing was dead, and had been for a while. The monster, though a massive creature with terrible claws and teeth and horns and spines and wings and a tail was now nothing more than a rotting skeleton. The thing, which Rarity realized must have been a dragon in life, stared back at her with its empty eyes.
Okay, THAT was too far. Putting the dead skeleton of a DRAGON around her bed in the middle of The Everfree Forest?! Where had her friends even FOUND a dragon skeleton? And what if Spike learned of this? How could the baby dragon live knowing his best friends had handled the remains of his own kind for kicks?
Well, he couldn’t, and Rarity knew for a fact that Twilight would never dream of even trying. Neither would the other ponies. That had to mean that this was not their doing…
That twinge of fear in Rarity’s stomach from earlier grew into the beginnings of a panic. The last thing she remembered was taking a bite of the enchanted apple Twilight had offered her after she had come to the lavender unicorn’s library seeking a sleeping aide. Now she was in The Everfree Forest, who knew how deep within, facing a dragon skeleton. And her friends had nothing to do with this.
Something was very, very wrong.
“What’s going on?!” Rarity whispered fretfully to herself as she turned in place, looking for any sign of where to go from here. If there was one thing she did know, it was that she couldn’t stay in The Everfree Forest.
The white unicorn whirled about, facing her bed once more. Though, now that she was actually looking at it, Rarity could see that it was definitely NOT her bed. It looked more like a…coffin. Richly enameled black wood topped with white sheets and a pillow with no covering but what must have once been the now dissipated barrier.
There was a golden plaque adorning this side of the coffin. Rarity trotted up and squinted her eyes to read it, but jumped back when a green light burst into being in front of her, obscuring the plaque entirely. Rarity gasped in surprise, for what she saw before her now was a completely green version of…Twilight?
“Good morning, Rarity!” the green Twilight announced cheerily. “We’re so happy you finally woke up!”
“Wha—” Rarity tried to say.
“Please do not attempt to communicate with me, as what you see before you is nothing more than a magical recording. I left it for when you woke up,” the green Twilight went on as if Rarity wasn’t even there. “We didn’t know how long you would be asleep. We tried everything to wake you, but nothing worked. I’m so sorry this had to happen to you; I had no idea that apple I gave you had an enchantment this strong on it. That’s what puzzles me. I know for a fact that not even my magic is strong enough to put a pony to sleep for this long.”
What was she talking about? How long had Rarity been asleep?! As the white unicorn looked closer, she did indeed see that this false image of Twilight looked…older?!
“After a while, we realized that we couldn’t wake you with simple spells and potions,” the recording carried on. “And the magical community at Canterlot was starting to ask questions. I realized that this incident could very well be the next big magical anomaly. This would make you very valuable research material, and none of us wanted to wake up one morning to find that you had been stolen from us by some unscrupulous thieves wanting to sell your sleeping self to the highest bidder.”
Was that a grey streak Rarity saw in Twilight’s mane? Were those…wrinkles?!
“So we hid you deep in The Everfree Forest,” the not-Twilight continued. “Where nopony would think to look or dare to go. Don’t worry; I made sure to put up the highest grade of magical defenses I could. These same spells will protect you on your way out of the Forest and lead the way back to Ponyville, but they shouldn’t really be necessary anyway. Spike here insisted on staying to watch over you just in case.”
That…that dragon…the little baby purple-and-green bundle of joy…Twilight’s number one assistant…the skull…the skeleton…no, no it couldn’t be—
“We all look forward to your return to Ponyville,” the recording finished. “We’ve been waiting for this day for some time, as you can imagine. Thankfully, we all found jobs close to home, so you shouldn’t have to worry about it being hard to find one of us. See you soon!”
The green Twilight winked out leaving Rarity alone with…with…
“Spike!” Rarity burst into tears, falling on the dragon’s skull. “NO! THIS-THIS CAN’T BE! THIS CAN’T BE HAPPENING!”
How long had she been asleep?! How long that even a dragon hadn’t lived long enough to see her wake?! And why didn’t she feel or look a moment older then when she’d been in Twilight’s library who knew how long ago?! How could she have slept through the entirety of what must have been her friends’ lives?! Through all of Spike the long-lived dragon’s life?! How could she have been blissfully unconscious without even dreams to disturb her when everypony she had ever known and loved had long since turned to dust or bone?
Rarity sobbed for Spike, for her friends, for her family, for all she had lost for she didn’t know how long. Her tears stained the yellowed bones of the dragon who had once loved her, had loved her enough to stay by her side to even past his own dying day. They trickled down the cracks in his skull, into his empty eye sockets, and down his blackened fangs.
Rarity lifted her head at the sound, tears still streaming down her face. Not really caring anymore whether it was a horrible monster come to eat her, whether the safety spells had long since decayed away with Spike’s flesh, Rarity saw instead the little golden plaque she hadn’t gotten to read earlier.
“Here sleeps Rarity,” she read through her tears. “The most generous pony in Equestria. A true friend, daughter, and sister. We eagerly await the day she awakes and returns to us all.”
Below that was a row of numbers on wheels, with the caption “Has slept for this long.”
Rarity, hardly daring to look, read how long she had been lost to the world, ignored by time itself.
. . .
Not even a dragon could live that long. And she, Rarity, the most mortal of ponies, had slept away a millennium like it was the bat of an eyelash.
Rarity didn’t know how long she contemplated this fact, legs drawn in close as she curled into a ball. Didn’t know how long she was a prisoner to her own mind as visions of her friends and family growing old and turning to dust danced behind her eyelids.
What she did know was that when she finally broke free of her mental prison, forcing her way through the chains of loss and despair and incredulity, it was brighter in the sky. The Sun was almost directly overhead, meaning it was almost noon. Hadn’t it been morning when she woke up? Rarity couldn’t remember.
The white unicorn turned to face all that was left of Spike one last time. A single tear traced her cheek, the last bit of crying she had left in her.
Just…how…could this happen?
Rarity didn’t blame Twilight. The white unicorn believed her magical friend when she said that even she couldn’t have cast an enchantment that powerful. But then…what had? Rarity was a unicorn, yes, but she was a dressmaker, an artist; she didn’t keep track of magical learning and whatnot beyond her schooling years. She was just as likely to beat Rainbow Dash in a race as she was to know something about magic that Twilight didn’t know…
…Or she would have been, if either of them were…alive…
Rarity started to sniff again. No. There was no time for that now. Later, yes, definitely, but safety spells or not, she did not want to be stuck out here in The Everfree Forest at night.
Swallowing her tears and hardening her resolve not to cry about this, not now, Rarity stepped out of the peacefully lit clearing and into the darkness of The Everfree Forest. Leaving Spike behind, as well as the coffin where she had slept a thousand years.
No, mustn’t think about that. Must think about…Ponyville? What would it be like after a millennium? Would it even be there at all? It had to be, didn’t it?
But if even a dragon couldn’t last a thousand years, then what guarantee did Rarity have that Ponyville had? Her old beloved boutique was probably in ruins now, if it hadn’t been demolished hundreds of years ago to make way for some crude building of concrete. If so, that building—and the one after it, and the one after it—were all probably long gone by now anyhow.
What could possible last a thousand years? And why had she been able to?
Well, The Everfree Forest certainly seemed to have aged well. It didn’t look the slightest bit different. Same gloomy atmosphere, same dark trees, same horrid sounds of things better left alone lurking just out of sight.
But that wasn’t a very comforting thought. The Everfree Forest had been here long before Equestria itself, which was a very, VERY old nation. Who knew how long the Forest could last. What Rarity needed wasn’t the same location, what she needed was a familiar face.
Of course! Why hadn’t Rarity thought of her sooner?! The Solar Princess was immortal. Nopony even knew quite how old she really was, and she didn’t seem to have any inclinations of telling. But who cared?! The Princesses, both Celestia and Luna, had to be alive. Surely they would know of Rarity’s plight, and surely they would want to see her once they learned she had finally awoken.
Picking up her pace and determined to see a familiar face, Rarity launched herself into a gallop. Just as quickly, though, the white unicorn skidded to a halt. Did she even know which direction Canterlot was from here? The Everfree Forest was deep, and she could very well be lost inside it forever if she didn’t have some way of finding her way out…
“Twilight’s Spell!” Rarity brightened up, but then deflated again. “But after a thousand years, even the enchantments would’ve deteriorated, wouldn’t it have? But, my sleeping spell didn’t, so…it must still be effective!”
Rarity beamed, looking around, but saw nothing.
“But…how does it work?” the white unicorn wondered. Snorting angrily at yet another though decidedly smaller difficulty, Rarity stomped her hoof. Sparks erupted from where she’d touched the ground, leaping up with Twilight’s old familiar purplish aura. The magic swirled into a floating orb in front of Rarity’s face, waited a moment, and then sped away through the woods. “Wait!”
Rarity galloped after the thing, certain it was the spell meant to guide her back to Ponyville…or whatever the place where Ponyville had once been now was. Why did Twilight have to make the spell so fast?!
Rarity twisted and turned, racing down the dark paths of the Forest. The spell was always just out of the white unicorn’s reach. She followed the trail of sparks it left in its wake like a madpony, desperate not to let her one chance of getting out of this horrid wood and back into sunlight get away from her.
Left, right, right, forward a bit, around the boulder…
Rarity was panting for breath by the time she finally stumbled out of the Forest. Gasping for air, the white unicorn raised herself up and watched the spell orb dissipate, its work complete. Rarity really wished Twilight had made that spell slower; the white unicorn may have been in shape, but she wasn’t practically a professional athlete like Rainbow Dash was…er, had been.
Biting back tears and straining not to give into the emotion, Rarity looked up at what had once been Ponyville.
. . .