• Published 6th May 2013
  • 12,334 Views, 322 Comments

Lost Cities - Cold in Gardez

North of Canterlot, in the far marches of the Equestrian lands near the Griffon tribes, there is a mountain that flies.

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Fabled Cities: The Ice and What It Holds

North of Canterlot, past the floating fortress of Derecho, past the border with the Griffon tribes, past fabled Dream Valley, one finds a world of ghosts.

Many of these spirits are much reduced from their mortal estate. They are little more than sparks of light that flit between the trees, around and behind the tall, straight trunks of black pines with snow-laden boughs. During the winter nights, which are quite long this far north, these spirits flicker and dance, tiny motes alive one moment, gone the next, leaving only the evaporated shadows of their passing to draw travelers further into the wood, away from the safety of the path, eager for just another glimpse of these irresistible lights.

Beneath the mounds of snow, away from the trails, one sometimes finds travelers' frozen bones, curled in slumber. The empty hollows of their eyes are filled, when one starts to glance away, with a strange, half-imagined glow.

Other ghosts remember their forms. At night in these woods, a black shape sometimes races across the sky. It is only noticed when it obscures the stars with its wheeling passage, its black wings outstretched, reaching from horizon to horizon, enfolding between them the entirety of the night.

It is good that this spirit is too dark to see except in occlusion. They say that to view its form, to see it spiraling above you, illuminated perhaps by the diaphanous glow of the aurora, is to be marked with an evil omen. That ponies who see it thus will see it every night thereafter, no matter how far they run from this forest, this endless boreal forest, and that it will gyre above them ever more, invisible to all others, until in panic, maddened, the victim runs from a cliff or dives into the ocean.

That is probably an old mare's tale. All the same, travelers passing through these woods keep their eyes downcast at night.

The forest is not endless, though it can seem that way. Eventually the trees grow smaller, their trunks thinner, their crowns bent lower to the ground under the weight of the snow. Finally the trees stop, and before the traveler is only a vast plane of ice, stretching infinitely forward. In the distance, rising above the blinding glare, there is a rough line across the sky that may be a range of mountains.

This is the White Ocean, a glacier that covers nearly one-quarter of the entire continent. Beneath it, mountains rise and recline, their peaks never coming within a mile of the surface.

At the margin of the forest and the glacier, an old wood post bears a beaten sign. How it can still exist, after so many thousand years alone with the wind and snow, no pony can say. Magic, perhaps. The words this sign once bore are gone, blasted away by a thousand years of ice, but in the subtle tracery of the wood one can discern a shape: an arrow, pointing north.

It points toward Windhome, the first city.

* * *

There are many legends about Windhome. Most center around the Windigoes, the insane spirits that gallop across the sky, sowing hatred, reaping discord. The Hearthwarming legends teach of the disputes between the three pony tribes, before the Princesses came to bind them. The legends teach of pegasi warriors and their pride, of unicorn nobles and their dreams of power, of stubborn earth ponies who worked the land.

All of them lived in Windhome. It was the only city ponies knew then, and when the long winter brought by the Windigoes began, they fought against leaving, until the cold grew so bitter that the unicorns' spells failed, and the pegasi's thick coats froze through, and even the stones beneath the earth ponies' hooves cracked and became like frost. And so they left, and eventually they found peace and unity far to the south in Dream Valley.

But that is a tale for another time. Behind, at the foot of those mountains rising in the distance, proud Windhome was left empty and derelict. The Windigoes raged on and on in the sky, and the snow fell, never melting. Inch by inch, year by year, it filled the streets and boulevards, it filled the sewers below, compacting into ice and crawling up the gutters, up the houses to their broken windows, into homes and bakeries and citadels. The ice penetrated everything, and anything it could not penetrate it crushed, until all the city was entombed except the highest towers and the slender minarets around whose spires pegasi once flew. And the years passed and more snow fell, until even these towers surrendered, and nothing remained of Windhome except a windswept plane of unbroken ice, as far as the eye could see.

How long this state lasted, none can say. With the city locked in ice, there was nothing left to measure time. Perhaps a decade, perhaps a century. Perhaps far, far longer.

Eventually, the Windigoes grew tired of their triumph, and they fled upon the wind for other lands. Their kind have never been seen since. Perhaps they never existed. Perhaps they, like so much of Windhome, were simply a legend or myth.

Whatever the reason, the vast glacier that, even today, dominates this part of the world ceased to grow. The summer sun, which rose above the horizon and circled the sky for six months of the year, began to warm the highest layers of ice, those entombing Windhome's mightiest spires and minarets. And on the longest day of summer, when the sun rose highest in the sky, the ice cracked a few inches beneath the surface, and it began to slide away, down the gentle slope of the mountains, across the glacier's vastness, toward the distant sea. Within this sheet of ice traveled the highest stone from the highest minaret, sliced clean from its sisters.

In time – years later – this sheet of ice reached the ocean and floated upon it. The brackish water melted the ice, and all that remained was that high stone, that tiny fragment of Windhome, which sank quickly into the depths.

The next year, another sheet of ice arrived at the ocean, containing the next highest stone from Windhome's highest pinnacle. It too melted, and this stone too sank through the black waters, finally coming to rest atop its long-lost sibling.

And so it went that every year thereafter, another sheet of ice flowed down the mountain, thinner than a foal's hoof, bringing with it another fragment of Windhome. Through chance or magic or fate these pieces sank onto each other, until over the centuries the cleaving glaciers sliced ancient Windhome apart and brought it here, to this cold coast, and slowly, slowly, slowly, the shards of Windhome sank, and the city itself was reborn.

Beneath the waves, now, far beneath the waves, Windhome's highest spire digs into the mud. And atop it grows a tower, upside-down, like the rest of the city. And it may be, if this odd miracle continues long enough, that eventually the inching glaciers will deliver every piece of Windhome to the ocean, and the basest stone will be exalted, and the sewers will twist like riddles amongst the kelp, and between the weak shafts of the sun tiny sparks of light will dance, as like will-o-wisps in the forest, and all the ghosts of this city, the first city, will find at last their graves.

And someday ponies will visit these watery inverted corridors. They will swim here, and teach their foals of the sorrow to which pride gives birth.

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