• Published 29th Oct 2017
  • 1,183 Views, 72 Comments

Trixie And The Beast - Mitch H



Trixie thought the amulet she'd bought would bring her vengeance. It brought her something else, something much more important. An audience.

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Bring It On Home

The courtyard inside the walls was well-paved with cut stones, but not, perhaps, as well-fitted as they ought to have been. Beyond the roadway between the gate and the fortified door of the tower across the yard, the paving-stones were tangled in ghost-white weeds, and heaved here and there from the runaway growth that had abused and near-wrecked what looked to Trixie like thousands of bits of work that had gone into laying all of that stone.

Trixie knew in her bones just how expensive and precious paving-stone of that quality was; please don't ask why.

The weeds were much the same as those you would find in Equestrian wood-lots the world over, excepting their shocking whiteness. It was as if the world they grew in drew all of the color and vitality from the nettles, the wild roses, and the pigweed which ran riot and rank inside the walls of this sadly neglected pocket-fortress. There was a rather tumbledown barracks barely visible across the tangle of weeds in the yard; from the looks of it, Trixie rather thought it hadn't been occupied in generations.

Or perhaps centuries.

The hoof-prints of those centuries had kept down the weeds between the paving-stones along the path between the gate and the front portal of the fortified tower, but only barely. Trixie was barely able to restrain her irritation at this lack of maintenance.

The great oaken doors swung open like their hinges had been oiled yesterday, and for all Trixie knows they had been. She followed the great Beast as he passed through the portal, and joined him as they marched up the stairs set at a ninety-degree angle to the left, a stone wall opposite the gates undecorated but for a peculiar-looking bronze shield or aegis of archaic pegasus pattern hung in a place of honor at the head-level of the lord of this little castle.

Trixie eyed the aegis to her right as she climbed behind the curling shadows of the Beast. The shield's design tickled something at the back of your narrator's memory, but nothing shallow enough that it sprung immediately to mind. It shone like it was burnished daily, and it didn't have a fleck of verdigris upon its gleaming surface. It could have been cast…

Yesterday.

The uneven high stone stairs that led into the tower were wide but cluttered along each side with… stuff. Barrels full of staves and tools shoved up against the inner and outer walls, rolls of half-rotten cloth, banners, battered-looking boxes, precariously piled jars and waxed containers slowly losing their waxing. It had a sort of pack-rat organization, as if somepony had hauled all sorts of supplies into the fortress, and then just left the most of it in the stairwell, as close to the door as they could fit it all, without having to haul them up the steep stairs any further than they had to go.

The Beast lit the sconces along the right wall of the stairwell, casting a sickly, sad grey light over the stairs as they rose. Trixie rushed to catch up to the long strides of the vast-limbed lord, scrabbling in his wake up and over the awkward stones which were as much ladder as stairwell.

A single flight of this led us out of the narrow confines of this cluttered entry-way through another pair of heavy, oaken doors, unbarred and open, and into a vast darkness barely relieved by the dim outside half-light trickling fitfully through the narrow slit-windows Trixie had seen cut into the heavy outer walls of this little donjon. Trixie's eyes barely had time to adjust to the darkness when the Beast repeated his trick with the sconces, and greyfire licked the walls around this great hall, spiraling outwards with the thoughtless, practiced ease of centuries.

It had once been a place of some grandeur and style, an ancient earth-pony-style dining hall with some unicornic grace-notes. Trixie couldn't go so far as to say it had a high ceiling, as this was not exactly true, the roof-line bulged downwards here and there overhead where apartments had been set in the corners of each of the confluences of the heavy masonry walls, thinner inner half-timbered walls framing out from the massive stones which represented the strength and armor of the tower itself. As Trixie spun around on her hooves, she noted that the upper floors were separated by a high and narrow vault between the apartment-stacks, leading her eyes upwards in an almost elevating fashion until she could spy a clerestory letting some of the outside green-grey light into the space from full-size windows stories overhead.

Above the stairwell from which we had emerged, crouched a heavy dais, with a great lord's-chair placed so that the owner of this fortress-tower could hold court in a narrow, somewhat perilous space to the right of the main floor of the great hall, and at the same time, keep an eye on the main foyer in case of interruption. There was a smaller throne next to the larger one which was buried under with all the detritus of lordship – scrolls, codexes, quills and papers, trinkets and what looked like a half-eaten bowl of – gruel? – perched precariously on a stack of said books.

As Trixie looked around this ancient example of an earthen great hall, she noted that almost the whole of the space was overtaken with further examples of the lesser throne's slovenly disarray. Projects half-completed, half-discarded cluttered up every horizontal space. Rubbish, trash, and outright garbage lurked in every corner, and various little tables and stools and chairs – many of them themselves half-battered to rubbish – lay scattered everywhere, making yet more corners in places that ought not have had them, turning what should have been a wide and solemn space into a riot of decay and disarray.

It reminded Trixie of nothing so disreputable as Cousin Cattail's dubious 'maintenance' of the ancient family homestead. Trixie was beginning to think that this aggressive refusal to keep one's living-spaces clean and presentable was an inextricable aspect of stallionhood, or at least, stallions living without the benefit of proper feminine oversight.

The Beast had not paused to allow Trixie time to take in the details of his living-arrangement, and had continued onwards and upwards, passing behind the lord's-chair to yet another, more modest door framing a stairwell stack. When Trixie got over her mild revulsion at the filth and disarray, she noticed that she was alone, and raced to follow the tromp of shadow-hooves upward into the second stairwell.

This one was somewhat more airy and light than the heavy-framed entrance to the great hall, and a generous half-light poured down the curve of the stairs from a cupola at the head of this sub-tower. Mostly closed doorways lined the stairs as they ascended, and as Trixie's hooves tapped on the solid oak timbers which made up the steps, she could see overhead something glowing which was far more substantive than the sickly twilight that she'd grown accustomed to outside the Old Bailey, as the Beast had called it.

Another turn around the stairwell brought Trixie to where she could see the source of the greenish light, a large, shining magic time-piece, all glass and sand and gears. As she followed the Beast upwards, the time-piece came into full view, and Trixie had a brief impression of something built solidly, and cleverly. An archaic design, but tightly fit and cleverly arranged, the time-piece's gears were mounted to a levered apparatus which used the weight of the grains as they descended into the lower chamber of the overlarge sand-glass to advance various gearings. The gear-trains were mounted to a clever sort of belled glass harmonica, which Trixie had been hearing this entire time, telling off the nonexistent hours of this half-world, the Beast's 'watches' and 'glasses'.

She watched the Beast re-set the timepiece, rotating the fully-descended sands of the lower bulb around the axis of the device, inverting lower and upper bulbs, and re-setting the restraining-pin. Oddly enough, the elegant design had been built around a gross and nonsensical axle holding up the sand-glass bulbs, a heavy, rough shovel-handle run through the middle of the device. The shovel head itself was still attached to this improbable axle, as well-maintained and spotless as the pegasus-shield in the foyer had been.

The resetting of the time-piece in the cupola at the top of the tower took only a moment, and then, suddenly, Trixie's ears were assaulted by the heavy, punishing tones of this retrofitted clock-tower, trapped inside the bell-space. Thankfully, the design of the sounding bells were such that the majority of the cacophony was directed outside the walls of the tower, and she was not deafened.

More or less.

"Come," said the great Beast, when his contraption's ration of aural abuse had been expended in its war against the unheralded advance of the hour. "I have these villains to return to their rest, and others to wake from theirs."

"Villains? Did you say villains? What were their offenses? Why is Trixie only now hearing about this villainy? Is this a prison-world?"

The Beast stared down at your redoubtable show-mare, and squinted in confusion. "How on earth did you come to that – no, villains, villagers – peasants, servantry, the help, mechanics, the lower order. Has Equish decayed so much over the centuries?"

Trixie may have blushed a bit. But only a bit. "Uh, carry on?"

"Hrm," graveled the Beast in uncertainty, and Trixie had to suppress a reflexive start, so much did it sound like the tower's stonework settling or shifting. "Yes, of course. Follow me. To their rests, these must go."

Trixie and the Beast doubled back on their trail, and the great lord opened one of the doors they had passed on the way up, revealing another large chamber full of the tower's usual kibble and disarray. It had once been a unicorn lord's ritual space, and you could make out the painted circles under the tumble of the usual wizard's tools and supplies splayed out over all surfaces.

At the back of the chamber where Trixie would have expected the primary ritual-court was, indeed, a cleared space dominated by a vast half-built cabinet, all luminous ebony woods with silver chasings. It would have been immensely impressive, if it weren't, indeed, half-constructed, well over a third of the shelving replaced by oak planks laid out on stacks of cut stone clearly taken from the same quarry that had been used to pave the courtyard outside the tower.

But the rest of the cabinet was quite fine work, the work of a master-carpenter, carefully and painstakingly wrought. Trixie could see the work-space of said master-carpenter to the side, all the wizard's kibble pushed far out of the way of the missing artisan, whose ebony-wood supplies and partially-fitted pieces were sitting upon work-benches as if he or she had merely stepped out to find a garderobe, and never returned.

Upon the rough planks and the elegant ebony framings of the great cabinet lay stone after stone, hundreds of them, in rank after rank. Each was individually labeled, in some tiny horn-script which Trixie could not make out from where she sat, watching the great Beast as he worked.

He placed each of the obsidian stones which had so recently had been earth-ponies into empty slots in the face of this great cabinet, reverencing before each as he went. Then he bowed his great black mattock-head, and closed the white blotches which served as his eyes.

"Do you need Trixie to be quiet?" asked Trixie after a couple minutes of this tedious meditation.

"That would have been nice, Dame Trixie, but it is not necessary. I merely needed to make my decisions here."

Trixie didn't quite have time to express her alarm at this unsettling assertion, before the Lord of Shadows' tendrils licked out from his centred pose in front of his cabinet, and picked up a stone from the finished portion of the construction, and then two stones sitting side-by-side on the rough planking to the left.

All three blackstones looked as much alike to your educated narrator as any other hoof-full of igneous dragon-glass she had seen, including the three the Beast had just returned to the holding-cabinet. But then, Trixie's skill in rock identification was mostly the fruit of six months' anonymous labor on a southern Equestrian rock-farm, so don't expect of her the expertise of a proper rocktorate. The blackstones glided into rotation around the bulk of the great Beast, and glowed in some preparatory cantrip.

And then three tendrils shot out like spear-heads, and impaled each stone in an impressive display of thaumaturgic precision. The tendrils warped the stones away from their interrupted orbit, and pulled them down into the open space between the Beast and his ritual-cabinet. The rocks and the tendrils throbbed and flashed an unsettling black-light as they were directed into their places, and Trixie's eyes were dazzled by the display.

In one moment, the three black blotches were throbbing before the Lord of Shadows, three smaller but growing points of shadow in echo of their Lord, and then – it was over.

And three ponies stood upon the oaken floor of the Beast's ritual chamber, staring up in adoration at that terrible black visage. They were clothed like the others had been, two in rough head-wrappings and saddle-bags, and the third in a more prosperous yet still archaic vest and hat, a key hanging by a chain upon his vest. All earth ponies, they took a moment, and then their stillness was broken, as they snapped out of whatever trance the Beast's magic imposed upon its… subjects?

One of the worker-ponies, looking around, spotted Trixie sitting over beside a pile of jars and scrolls half-tumbling off of a work-bench.

"Hej Sharp Hone, se på det, se engang, en dame!" said the sturdy peasant-mare.

"Ja, det er en dame, du er dog også den skarpeste kniv I skuffen, Loose Bind. Som næste trin arbejder vi på at skelne mellem forskellige træer," replied the other villager, a nervy-looking stallion with a yellow coat.

" Tror du, at vores herre har fået sig en elskerinde ?" asked the mare.

"Hvordan skulle jeg vide det? Måske?" demanded the stallion in return.

Then the more prosperous stallion’s hoof licked out, and clipped both peasants across the ears.

"Spick proper Ponish in front ay th' laird, ye latrine-scrapings!" barked the clearly-dominant earth pony stallion. "Yer pardon yer grace, there's nae much tae be expected frae thes lot. An' why are they an' I oot an' aboot at th' sam time?"

"We weren't able to finish up the harvest in the last glass, so I need Sharp Hone and Loose Bind here to finish the reaping."

"Ah, but 'at means mah materials arenae ready! Hoo can Ah mill if Ah hae naethin' tae grist?"

"I'm sure you'll make do, and we have an extra set of hooves this glass, as I can see you're asking with your aggressive refusal to mention Dame Trixie's presence, despite her sitting right there."

"Dame Trixie, may I introduce Miller, our little world's foremost expert in organization and most importantly, milling my land's grain. Miller, this is the Great and Powerful Trixie, a visitor to our humble land."

"Ah, an' it's guid tae meit a guest ay his Grace, yer ladyship. Welcome tae thes, uir prood Land ay Ever-Dusk! But first, Ah need tae gie these muckle-heids started oan their wark, ur we'll ne'er finish in thes glass. 'Main 'en, ye boggarts!"

And with that, the Miller drove his underlings out of the ritual-chamber, and down the tower-stairs. As Trixie stared after the mechanics and the burgher, at a loss for words, the Beast strode past her to join his folk in the beginning of their day – no, their glass.

"These are my ponies, Dame Trixie. They exist, from time to time, so that this land does not fall into total disarray and decrepitude."

He paused, standing in the doorway.

"And perhaps, so I might have a little company from time to time."

Author's Note:

Again, thanks to Oliver and the Company. And also to Celefin for looking over my Danish for sense and flow.

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