The frigid winds of the Drakris cut through Twilight’s manteau, chilling her to the bone and causing her to shudder. Snow and ice covered most of the path and cliffs as flurries pelted the mares from the sea of dark gray clouds above, making it hard for Twilight to see ahead of her. She put her hoof up to keep the snow out from her eyes, but she knew she had to keep moving; those soldiers could still be following them. With the snows and the coming night dropping the visibility to all but null, they followed the still fresh hoof tracks of where the Ventian soldiers marched to make their way through the mountain pass.
“They followin’ us?” Applejack asked, looking over her shoulder and back down the mountain pass.
Twilight turned and peered down the path, seeing only the faint red glow of the town below. “It doesn’t look like it. We should keep moving though; I don’t want to take any chances.”
“Applejack, please tell me you bought boots from Zipporah. My hooves are freezing, not to mention all the muck,” Rarity complained, shaking her hooves dejectedly each time she stepped.
“I’m mighty sorry, Rarity. We only had room for food, the cloaks and not much else. I didn’t even think about boots at all,” Applejack apologized, peering down at her own hooves, taking notice of the ice crystals that threatened to encase them. “Ain’t as though mine are lookin’ much better.”
As they hiked up the mountain, Twilight tried to keep her hopes up but the thought of the burning town made her shudder. She kept envisioning the looks of the scared townsfolk, each recoiling at each crunch of shattered glass and burst of fire, mothers holding tightly to their children, and grizzled veterans hanging their heads in shame and cowardice as the Ventians marched.
“We should’ve helped them,” Twilight said, perking the ears of her two companions. “Those soldiers were chasing after us; those townsfolk didn’t have to be involved.”
“You ran just as fast as we did, Twilight,” Rarity stated as she looked to the purple unicorn.
Twilight sighed, trying desperately to alleviate the burden of the town’s fate from her conscience. She hadn’t slept since she had woken up on Applejack’s back, and her exhaustion was wearing on her to the point where every step pained her.
“I mean, I just....” she trailed off, hanging her head as she looked down at the hoof marks ahead.
Rarity opened her mouth to speak, but no words came as she realized her error and quickly backpedaled. “I’m sorry. I didn’t think we would have to do that either. Yes, they were after us, but what were we to do? It was three ponies against an entire army, not a bunch of straggling griffons. Besides, the only reason we survived in Wheatown was because of that accident with my element,” the white unicorn finally said, leaving the three to trudge along in silence.
The trail wound around the mountain side and grew rockier and slicker as they traveled, forcing the trio to step carefully as the jagged peaks of the Drakiris loomed overhead. The snowfall softened into a gentle flurry as time wore on, but the tracks ahead had already begun to disappear with the fresh accumulation.
They had been traveling for several hours, the sky clearing to reveal the full majesty of the mountains. Even wrapped tightly in her cloak, Twilight shivered relentlessly, her fur bristling as her breath came out in increasingly dense wisps. With Equestria and the Outlands baking in the summer sun, none of the three ponies were prepared for cold, let alone the frigid mountain blizzards. The Drakiris extended along the Ventian border, creating a natural wall around the country that left no alternative ways of entering the country save for the winding path on which Twilight, Applejack and Rarity now traveled. Jagged rises and cliffs towered over the ponies while, far ahead, the trail widened, dipping into a small basin before reaching a large expanse surrounded by evergreen forests.
“What do y’all think Mistral City is like?” Applejack asked, breaking the harrowing silence.
“From the sound of it, it does not seem to be a very nice place in the least,” Rarity answered. “Do you remember what the princess called it? The ‘city of the damned?’ I know that I, for one, would never enter such a dreadfully sounding place of my own accord.”
“I don’t know, Rarity. Luna said that Mistral is where ‘space and time converge’, there could be an infinite amount of cultures and societies that have traveled from far beyond Equestria merging into one city!” Twilight clamored, trying to imagine Mistral’s visage.
She pictured a massive city, filled to the brim with ponies, griffons, dragons, and other various creatures sharing ideas and knowledge from lands long passed and far in the future. It warped her mind when she attempted to think of how it would be possible, but she continued her imaginary sojourn with a giddy smile. The streets were lined with shops and homes, each decorated with its county’s own fixtures. It was a truly a sight the scholar wished to see, but as reality quickly sunk back in, the smile on Twilight’s face was wiped away. Knowledge of the ‘demons’ and the burning town below seeped its way to the forefront of her thoughts.
“I... I’m sure it’s not so bad,” Twilight stated weakly.
“If you say so,” Applejack muttered as she shoved her hat into her bag to keep it from flying away in the wind.
“Hey! You told us there was no room for boots in the bags,” Rarity protested, huffing as she checked the contents of her saddlebags.
“Boots wouldn’t have fit in here anyhow, an’ I don’t think any of us felt like trudgin through them plains back there with boots on,” Applejack explained, ignoring the white unicorn’s dismissive roll of her eyes.
“What good that does us now, my legs are still freezing. What part of ‘eternal winter’ did you miss?” Rarity huffed.
“Wait, what’s over there?” Applejack asked, pointing out a jutting chunk of metal in the distance. It was buried halfway in snow, allowing only a curved, reflective segment to be seen.
“Hey, you can’t just—”
“Is that armor?” Twilight wondered, cutting off Rarity as she rushed ahead, curious as to the nature of the metal. It was a curved, shined armor piece, dented and splashed with splotches of blood that slowly oozed down as Twilight held it upright with her magic, giving Twilight the feeling that these wounds were fresh. Looking around, she could see that other stained armor pieces surrounded it, leaving the purple unicorn sick with unease. “This is bad... What happened here?” she asked, looking at her friends with a worried gaze.
“What is it, Twilight?” Rarity asked, slowly approaching the scene.
“Look at this.” Twilight lifted the largest piece out from the drift and hovered it in front of her friends, showcasing the golden tint of the shoulder guard. “The colors are the same as those soldiers we fought, and this blood is fresh.”
Rarity and Applejack both recoiled back from the sight, their faces contorting in disgust as a drop of blood dripped into the white snow. “What could’ve done this?” Applejack asked, peeking around and taking notice of the shredded pieces that still lay on the road.
“I don’t know, and I don’t like it. Maybe it was—” Twilight stopped herself, pondering the ridiculousness of her statement. “No, a griffon couldn’t do something like that to a fully armored soldier... could they?”
“What are we gonna do? We’re completely out in the open here,” Applejack stated, looking around at the unobstructed sky and straight, but uneven path.
Twilight looked around, desperately seeking anyway progress without drawing any attention. She had yet to see another sign of life save her and her friends, but the bloody armor set her on edge. The cliffs were bare and straight, leaving them no crevices in which to hide. Up ahead laying far past the tail was nothing but flat, open land. Snow drifts and howling winds made it hard for her to see anything, which put her mind a little at ease.
“They have to be here somewhere. Find them!”
Twilight snapped to attention, hearing the voice of an officer she recalled from before faintly from somewhere behind them. Panicked, she turned to see a trail of orange light wrapping around the jagged pass walls. Applejack and Rarity turned to look as the lights grew larger and brighter.
“Run!” Twilight yelled as the three bolted down the path, bounding over jagged rocks and pools of ice.
From the sky, several pegasus soldiers dove and swooped past the three, causing them to stagger and slow their frantic pace. The large orange glow glinted off the snow below the three’s hooves, shadows crawling out in front of them as the army made their final approach.
With the glow of Twilight’s horn, the air around the mountain swirled and sheared the snow off the cliffs, whipping it at the poised guard. Applejack ran ahead and intercepted a diving pegasus guard, knocking it down with a well-timed buck. The guard rolled down the path, smashing into the cliff side and passing out. Rarity quickly joined her friend, releasing sewing needles into the air and striking their wings with pin-point accuracy. After escaping the wind tunnel, two guards rushed down and slashed their swords at Twilight, making her jump back before she forced them back with white pulses of energy.
As more pegasi descended upon them and formed a ring around the mares, forcing them to huddle together, poising to strike. Out from the ranks, a lone, heavily armored earth pony stallion appeared, raising his hoof. The soldiers stopped their approach, backing away from the three as he moved closer. He stood, covered head to hoof in plate armor with red and gold sashes hanging off his sides. A gold dragon insignia sat prominently upon his chest, surrounded by red flames.
“You’re cornered; you have nowhere to run,” he said in a cold voice. Slowly, he made his way down the path, drawing a blade from its scabbard with his mouth and glaring at the trio.
“What do you want? We haven’t done anything to you!” Twilight yelled, darting her eyes between the soldiers to watch their movements.
“Lord Rissen has sent us to take care of the Equestrian threat, meaning you three.” the captain explained. “You can either come quietly and alive, or attack us and we shall kill you and bring the lord your corpses instead. Your choice.”
“How do you know we’re Equestrian?” Applejack yelled, nostrils flaring. “We’re just passin’ through.”
The stallion chuckled. “I don’t need to know, we’re only looking for three mares. Whether or not you’re the Equestrians doesn’t concern us; you’re coming with us either way.” The surrounding soldiers brandished their weaponry and bolted at the three. Twilight backed into her friends, horn glowing brightly as Rarity magically stripped the needles from the downed pegasi’s wings and pointed them at the opposing force. Their leader charged ahead, quickly closing the gap between them with sword in mouth. With a spell in mind, Twilight charged her attack as a piercing screech sounded above her.
Before she could look up, a tawny griffon dove and slammed into the stallion, dragging it through the snow and rocks as it tore through him with its claws. The soldiers ceased their charge as more griffons dropped from the sky and mercilessly struck at them, sending wails of pain echoing through the pass.
Without a moment’s hesitation, Twilight pushed her two friends up the path, fleeing as the soldiers were distracted fighting off the sudden assault. Above them, a pair of pegasi fought against a lone griffon, whizzing past it and striking it with incredible speed. After several attacks, the griffon grabbed one of the ponies and thew it to the ground, directly in ahead of the frantically running mares. The pegasus’ wings and two of its legs had been shattered, leaving it to cry out as Twilight and her friends barreled past.
Open field and pinewood forest lay before the mares as they continued down the pass. The sound of the griffons’ attack fell quieter, leaving Twilight feeling relived. She looked back, watching as the griffons continued their assault on the soldiers. She was almost thankful to the griffons for having distracted the Ventians. The three slowed to a trot as they entered the basin proper, panting and nervously laughing at their lucky escape. They stopped for a moment, then Twilight slipped her canteen out of her bag and took a drink, smiling as the water sloshed around in her parched mouth. She passed it to the others, giving them time to rest before they made their way through the forest.
“Where did they come from?” Rarity asked, watching the griffons in the distance.
“Don’t you remember, those griffons we fought back in Wheatown came from here. I’m just shocked they didn’t attack us—” Twilight cut herself off as she spotted something fast approaching in the distance. Several other silhouettes joined it, making Twilight step back and point at the figures. “Wh- what are those?”
“I don’t know, but run!” Applejack yelled, jamming the canteen into her bag as they sprinted into the field, rushing for the forest’s edge.
A loud, harrowing screech came from behind Twilight, causing her to turn her head. Her eyes widened as a griffon soared towards her, staring her down with its ice blue eyes. It flew over Applejack and Rarity, extending its claw and grasping Twilight’s neck, slamming her into the frozen tundra. She winced and screamed as her side scraped across the snow, and gasped for air as the griffon’s claw pushed at her neck. Weakly, she lifted her head up, watching the griffon’s large, pewter wings fold back onto its body. She struggled and flailed her body, trying to break free, causing the griffon to press into her neck. Twilight gasped for air as she struggled to breathe, nearly causing her to black out. Several griffons landed beside Applejack and Rarity, restraining them and forcing them into the ground.
After letting the pressure off Twilight’s neck, the blue-eyed griffon opened its beak, expelling various incomprehensible chirps and screeches, staring into the purple unicorn’s eyes. The griffon fell silent, waiting as if expecting a reply. Noting her silence the griffon coughed, ears twitching as it looked over to her two friends
“My apologies, I forget sometimes that I must use the Equine tongue when speaking to horses. It has been a while.”
“Y-you can talk?” Twilight asked, her curiosity overriding her survival instinct
“Of course I can. Just because my tribe and I live in the mountains does not mean we are degenerates. Learn some respect, horse,” it said in a gruff voice before pressing its talon a bit harder into Twilight’s throat.
“W-What do you want from us?” Twilight choked out, tears beginning to well in her eyes.
“We are after the same thing those sellswords were after: three Equestrian mares who are headed for Mistral City.”
“Sellswords? They were just mercenaries?” Twilight pondered, wincing from the claw’s pressure. “Why do you think we’re Equestrians? We’re just explorers making our way to Mistral City.”
“Oh, really?” the griffon asked, slipping the manteau up Twilight’s flank, revealing her cutie mark. “What do you call that then?”
“Hey, leave her alone!” Applejack yelled, prompting the griffons holding her to tighten their hold.
“You can’t just expose my flank like that!” Twilight argued.
“Silence!” the pewter-winged griffon snapped. “You are in no position to make any such demands.” He turned his head back down to Twilight, looking over her body. “So, you are Equestrian... The scouts were right.”
“Scouts... the griffons that attacked us?!” Twilight snapped, glaring at her captor. “They were scouts for you? We saved those griffons when the Wheatown locals were about to kill them. You should be thanking us!”
“Oh yes, I heard about this. I honestly never would have believed that the demons’ heirs could be so naive.”
“What was that?” Applejack growled.
“It’s natural selection; ponies kill and fight off griffons, and griffons eat ponies. If you would have killed my scouts like good ponies should then I never would have known about you and passed through these mountains with ease. They told me everything: your demons’ brands, colors, voices, what bags you possessed, everything.”
“Let go!” Rarity screamed, thrashing about with her horn glowing a light blue hue. Before she could cast a spell, the griffon the held her pushed the side of her face into the snow, drawing out a yelp of pain as her neck was cruelly twisted.
“Don’t try any magic, unicorns. We know how it works; trying to bluff us with your hooves unable to move was pointless and moronic.” He hoisted up Twilight by the neck, letting her legs flail helplessly as he held them just off the ground and motioned to the other grffins. “We’re heading out. Make sure that white one is bound; don’t worry about the mud pony, she’s not a threat..”
“Where are you taking us!? What do you want!?” Twilight yelled, tears streaming down her face.
“It’s simple. We’re taking you to the bastard Rissen to bargain for part of our homeland back. We will then take you three and handsomely reward you for your assistance.” As he spoke, another tied up Twilight’s front and rear hooves together before placing her onto the ebony griffon’s back.
Rarity was treated much the same way as Twilight, violently thrashing as they bound her and tossed her atop another griffon. Applejack, on the other hoof, was simply lifted and pushed, staggering, into the middle of the two pony-carrying griffons, but given the opportunity to walk on her own legs. She brushed off some clinging snow and slunk quietly in the middle, looking over her two friends as the griffons began marching into the field.
“What are we going to do?” Twilight whispered, looking over to make sure the griffon didn’t react. “I-I’m scared.” She knew whatever “reward” the griffons had planned couldn’t be good, and didn’t want to know what that may be.
“Try talkin’ to him. Maybe Rarity and I can think of somethin’ while you distract ‘im,” Applejack suggested, then turned her attention to Rarity. Twilight had never spoke to a griffon on her own terms before, and wished that it wasn’t in this kind of environment. Nervously, she swallowed the lump in her throat and slowly turned to the massive griffon.
“Uh, hey. I’m just curious... uh, what’s your name?” She asked, plastering a fake smile across her face.
“Why?” the stern griffon asked, turning his gaze to Twilight and staring her in the eyes. The way he looked at her nearly petrified her with fear; it was as if she were reliving her nightmare.
“If you’re going to exploit us, you could at least have the decency to give us your name,” Twilight stated, trying to match his authoritative tone.
“It’s Blackwing. Sigil Astrias Blackwing. I’m guessing the next thing you’re going to ask is about my griffons, is it not?”
“Uh... no. Why us? We don’t pose any threat to anypony... or anyone. We’re just trying to bring our friend home, that’s all.”
“While your efforts may be valiant, I will not let a horse’s ambition trump my own. I have not braved this eternal winter my entire life for a pony to—”
“Hey, you. My rope is too tight, I’m getting rope burn on my delicate coat!” Rarity complained, kicking at the griffon in the side. “Is this any way to treat a lady? Not where I come from you don— My bag fell off and is lying in the snow and you don’t even have the decency to pick it up for me? How dare you!”
Twilight watched the spectacle unfold as several other griffons came to the courier's aide, trying in vain to calm the crazed fashionista. With the griffons focusing on Rarity, Twilight’s mind raced to think of an escape plan, silently thanking Rarity for the diversion.
“Stop thrashing! You’re just making it worse!” a brown griffon yelled, hitting Rarity square on the cheek.
“If you complain one more time, we’ll rip your throat out and bring the Ventians your corpse instead!” another griffon screamed, being wary of Rarity’s waving horn.
As Blackwing moved to join them to settle things himself, Twilight noticing that the griffons’ attentions lay fully on the now wailing unicorn.
I hope this works, Twilight thought, channeling magic to her horn. Wind from the west swept through the field, magically picking up intensity. The griffons began to shiver and look towards the fierce gusts, being pushed back as Applejack ducked down into the snow, the farm mare slinking off towards Twilight. Twilight slipped off the griffons back and onto the snow, face first. She lifted her head and spat out some snow
“What’s going on?” Blackwing hollered, unaware that Twilight had slid off his back. “Why is there a draft coming off the mountain this far down?”
Twilight focused all the energy she could into the windstorm, lifting packed snow from the ground and whipping it at the bewildered pack as they scrambled to keep tabs on their captives. Amidst the confusion, Rarity was bucked off the griffon’s back, landing face first into the snow. With a final surge, the wind blasted and batted away the tall-standing griffons, leaving Twilight able to see Applejack and Rarity without obstruction. The fierce glow of Twilight’s horn stopped, her focus shifting to another spell. A sudden, unnatural jolt of energy ran through the mare as she charged the spell, almost breaking her focus.
Blackwing shielded his eyes with his talon, watching as Twilight’s horn began to intensely glow white. Ducking his head, he pushed against the barreling winds, folding his ears down. “Stop!” he yelled, watching as the three Equestrians disappeared in a blinding flash of white light, leaving the dying wind to take their places.
Damn it!” Blackwing shouted as he slammed his talon into the snow. The winds from the Equestrian’s spell had died down, leaving the griffons alone in the wintery wastes. The sigil grimiced and groaned as he searched for any sign of magic around them. “I can’t believe that horse distracted me. We had them!”
“We have prepared the scouting teams to find them, Sigil,” a pewter griffon said, politely bowing his head. “We are sorry for our folly; we’ll make sure it never happens again.”
“Wait,” Blackwing commanded, putting his claw to his beak in thought. “Maybe we can play this to our advantage still.”
“Take the scouting team back to the pass and carry the mercenary corpses back up to the Apex and make sure the sick, the fledglings and any who will stay behind make use of them as we prepare to leave. I want the pass completely clear to get rid of any evidence of our involvement. If we leave in a small group to Mistral in a day, we can make it seem as though we never encountered the demons, pushing all the blame to Rissen.”
“Yes, Sigil!” the scout leader said with a bow. The griffon took the rest of the griffons and flew south to the pass, leaving Blackwing to stew amidst his thoughts.
How did she perform magic without a drawing a rune first? If she can perform powerful magic like that on a whim, that purple mare could be useful still. Blackwing thought, standing up and spreading his wings. Rissen’s men would have no chance against that sort of magic. Getting him to side with me would be only a matter of time. He took off, heading back to the Drakiris as a cloud of snow rose from the still earth. Mistral City will implode with the Equestrians present. A small smile crept its way across the sigil’s beak as the Apex came into view, littered with griffons gathering supplies for their hunt.
This should be fun to watch.
Twilight hit the ground with a thud, her mouth filled with snow and frozen dirt. She spat it out, squirming as she tried to free herself of her bindings. Somewhere in the distance, she heard the faint cries of the griffons before the sound drowned by the wind rustling through the forest. She looked around, seeing Rarity and Applejack still shaking off the effects of the teleportation spell.
The trees that surrounded the mares were massive, with lush green pine needles obscuring their view through the trees. It looked as though they were a ways into the forest, almost completely boxed in by the mass of trees. Twilight felt safer around a mass of trees than in the open for the griffons to follow.
“Oh, my head,” Rarity moaned, rubbing her head with her still bound hooves. “Where are we?”
“I don’t know, but as long as we’re away from those monsters, it’s a better place,” Twilight stated, panting and watching her breath evaporate into the air. Applejack firmly planted her hooves and checked to see if her saddlebags were still intact. “Applejack, hurry and untie us. I don’t know how far away we are from the griffons and I’m too tired to teleport us again if they find us.”
“You got it!” Applejack said before tearing through Twilight’s bindings with her teeth, ripping them off with relative ease. Twilight shook her hooves, trying to ignore the rope burn on her ankles as she stood. A large bruise throbbed on her side and she could still feel the pressure of Blackwing’s talon pressing on her neck. The long day and night seemed to have not fazed the farmer as she quickly went to Rarity’s aid, tearing off the leg bindings.
“Glad ya’ picked up on that diversion, Twilight. Rarity and I were hopin’ you’d come up with somethin’ if we gave you some time,” Applejack complimented, helping Rarity up to her hooves.
“Y-yeah, it was nothing...” Twilight said, trailing off as she looked at Rarity’s condition. Her face was badly bruised as well as her side was completely raw. Applejack looked completely unfazed, let alone a small amount of snow and dirt on her belly. With a step, Twilight forced herself to move and stumbled over herself, landing face first again into the snow as a wave of exhaustion flooded over the unicorn. Applejack ran over and lifted her up to her hooves before reassuringly patting her on the back.
“You alright?” Applejack asked, watching Twilight hobble and wince as her bruises flared painfully. “We can stop here for a while if we have to.”
“No, we have to keep moving... Have to... Get.. away...” the purple unicorn mumbled before falling again, her body refusing to move from exhaustion. She lay there, watching the snow fall down through the evergreens as it began to lull her to sleep.
“Twilight?” Applejack asked, leaning down to look Twilight in her tired eyes. “You don’t look good at all. Come on, we need to find somewhere warm to rest.”
“I... can’t, I just...” Tears welled up in the unicorn’s eyes once more as her voice started to crack. “I never should’ve brought you two along.”
“What are you talking about?” Rarity asked. “I thought you were over this when we helped you defeat Nightmare Moon!”
“It’s just... Fluttershy’s disappearance is my fault, Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie are gone now, we were nearly killed by griffons, and some Ventian lord is after us now... I shouldn’t have made you risk your lives to help fix my mistakes...” Twilight trailed off, staring dejectedly at the ground.
“Fluttershy is our friend too. We’ll do anythin’ to help get her back home, sugarcube. Who knows what would’ve happened to you if you came out here on your own,” Applejack protested, hoisting Twilight back up to her hooves. “Those griffons could be anywhere by now, we gotta keep movin’ like you said.”
“Right,” Twilight agreed, wiping her eyes and forcing herself to keep pace with her friends with a small wind in her sail.
As they walked through the dull, snow-covered evergreens, Twilight looked around, noticing a lack of a direction marker; the brush was so dense that she nor her friends could see outside of the forest. Each way she looked appeared exactly the same: trees blanketed by snow surrounded by a carpet of white. Wary, she caught up to friends, stopping them from advancing.
“Do we know what direction we’re going in? Are you sure this is north?” Twilight asked.
“I reckon it is, but I’m not too sure,” Applejack said, scratching her head.
“Right now, as long as we stay out of sight of those griffons, we’ll be fine. We’ll just poke our heads through the trees to make sure they aren’t there when we find a way out,” Rarity suggested, continuing to hobble forward through the trees.
“Fine, as long as we can find somewhere warm to stay,” the purple unicorn yawned, once again dropping back to follow behind as she wrapped her scarf tight around her neck. “If we stay out here much longer, we could catch hypothermia. I think I need some sleep, so let’s find somewhere quickly.”
As the three mares walked, the sky above began to clear, revealing the rising sun. The light burrowed through the forest, illuminating their path ahead and warming the trio’s spirits.
“Well, we know where we’re headed now,” Twilight stated with a smile on her face as they continued their north-bound trek. The days prior had been a roller coaster of events, most of them tragic and highly disturbing, but the scholar felt a strange sense of calm. She didn’t know what it was, but even when she had been pinned to the ground by Blackwing, she and her friends had remained highly calm and collective. She didn’t know if it was her drive to bring back Fluttershy that had pushed back her distress, but she took anything she could get. With a small, curious smile on her face, she took a sip from her canteen before Rarity stopped in her tracks.
“Girls, look up ahead.” Rarity pointed through the trees, noticing a small clearing ahead with what looked like small, jagged structures that were obscured by the dense brush. “What do you think it is; a town or a camp?”
“I don’t know, but we’re going. As long as there isn’t anything that wants to eat us or exploit us for personal gain, I’m all for it,” Twilight said, continuing slowly and wary as the clearing grew closer. The trees ahead thinned out until the three made their way into the expansive grounds. “It’s... it’s...”
“Ruined,” Applejack interrupted, taking notice of the snow covered ruins. Half-broken down wooden structures littered the clearing, most of their materials either caved into the broken down walls or came off and scattered around its base. Remnants of wooden carts and what looked to be old merchants’ booths were buried by snow and pine needles. Twilight walked in further, sighing in disappointment. “Ah, horse apples. I thought this could’a been somethin’.”
“Hold on,” Twilight said before walking up to a ruined shack. She climbed over one of the breaks in the wall, digging through the snow and debris. After throwing out half the pile into the field, lying on the pile was a leather-bound book. With a twinkle in her eye, she hastily threw the remainder of the lumber off the book and lifted it in the air, showing her friends her find. Eager to open the text, she climbed out of the house and opened the book, allowing Applejack and Rarity to take a look.
“What’s that?” Applejack asked, trotting out the back to see the book’s cover.
“It’s a book, but I’ve never seen one so weirdly worded before,” Twilight said before flipping through the parchment pages. The ink and parchment were both mostly dry, seeming to confirm Zipporah’s claim of an eternal winter... at least one that never goes above freezing temperatures. The writing itself was still readable, but the grammar, structure and dialect made difficult for her to understand. It appeared to Twilight to be some kind of novel .
“What does it say?” Rarity asked, struggling to make heads or tails of the archaic text.
“It’s a story about... something. I’m not really sure,” Twilight explained before shutting the book. “The diction is weird; I can’t make any sense of this. Maybe when we get someplace warmer I can concentrate.”
“That’d be great once we get outta here,” Applejack yelled from the middle of the town, motioning them over to her. Twilight shoved the book into her bag and trotted over, watching Applejack put her hat back on her head. “How long until we set up camp? We can’t keep goin’ like this.”
“Later, we need to find someplace warm first,” Twilight explained, scanning the ruins again. The town looked the same all around with not a single building still standing. “What happened to this place? It’s fairly old by the looks of it.” She jumped inside another building, taking notice of standing wooden shelves filled with filled flasks. Taking a flask, she popped the cork and took a whiff, immediately pulling herself away. It was strong and pungent, burning Twilight’s nostrils. With her eyes tightly shut from the pain, she motioned Applejack over and gave her the flask. “Do you have any idea what this is?”
With a sniff, Applejack swished the flask around before taking a sip, her face contorting from the taste. She swallowed the foul liquid before violently shaking. “Yep, that’s whiskey alright. Old stuff too, never tasted whiskey so strong before.”
“Liquor? That’s it?” Twilight sighed. “I was hoping it was an old potion or something.” She took her leave from the building then trotted up to Applejack. “Let’s go, there’s nothing here.”
“Hey, over here!” Rarity yelled from the tree line, her head peeking out from the brush. “There’s a way out of the forest over here!”
Twilight and Applejack sprinted towards Rarity, watching her run through the trees ahead of them. Ahead, Twilight could see a faint line of blue sky near the horizon as the trees thinned out into a large expanse: a large, empty expanse.
“Where are all the towns?” Twilight wondered, quickly turning her head to search. The mountains in the north were now too far away to be seen, leaving only the emptiness of the snow’s white blanket.
Up to the horizon, nothing but trees rose above the ground; No towns or city lay in sight. She sighed and turned her head right, seeing a large spindle jutting up into some of the remaining clouds. With her eyes transfixed, she bolted towards the tower, barreling through the heavier snow as Rarity and Applejack followed.
The path ahead turned into a steep incline, but Twilight wasn’t fazed. A chance that somewhere habitable was just ahead made her ignore the pressing exhaustion. As she trudged on, the hill became steeper before dropping off suddenly in a cliff. At the apex, Twilight stopped and gazed over the horizon, her eyes widening at the sight.
“I think I sent us farther than I thought.”
An enormous ocean butted up against the peninsula, expanding beyond the horizon. On land, lay an enormous walled city, hazed in smoke and its entrance barred by massive iron gates. A nigh uncountable number of buildings filled the inside of the walls, surrounding the sky-piercing tower the made its home at the center of the city. Above the buildings at the city’s center, lay a flat spread of land with a mass of variously sized buildings that loomed over sections of the city. One small, hair-size path snaked its way to the gates as the crumbling ruins of other towns lay beside it, rejected and dwarfed by the outer walls of the city alone.
“Is that it?” Rarity asked, looking over to Twilight.
“The most northern city in the land,” Twilight said, re-telling Luna’s directions. “Mistral City.”