• Published 29th Nov 2022
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Cammie - Jarvy Jared



A mother's journey to the north inevitably leads her to a journey through her own heart.

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12 - Fracturing

Chamomile’s prediction proved correct. At dawn the next day, the rain had stopped, and within a few hours, the clouds had cleared, allowing the sun to gently dry the deluge-soaked land. By the time the passengers awoke, the world was that humid purgatory indicative that a storm had recently passed through. Steam breathed against the train and the smell of wet grassland entered through open windows. The water had left behind deep grooves across the surface of the ground, snaking around and around in crossing patterns like they were their own kinds of miniature railroads, and some of the earth ponies commented on how they made the land look heavily scarred.

With the weather fair and their visions unobstructed, all the ponies could see the mountains nearly in full.

There were some trees in Bridlewood that were massive, with trunks and branches thicker than any torso, and leaves that could block out the sun on even the summer solstice—but these were mere imitations of the idea of the gargantuan. The mountains rising before them encompassed the entirety of that word and then some, casting shadows the size of a city. Impossibly steep on all visible sides, shrouded in impossible darkness on one end with a faint halo vainly attempting to shine over the other’s edge, and airship-sized cumulonimbi swarming the peaks like fluffy planetary rings—these were among the first features Chamomile could discern. The near-incomprehensible vastness of those mountains and how they seemed to eclipse the whole sky made her tremble, and she could see that a similar reaction affected many of them. Even the stalwart Zipp appeared in awe of the sight.

Only one pony was unaffected.

“Well, it’s about time!” Polar Blast exclaimed, standing next to the train and looking at the impressive expanse. He was grinning, flapping his wings in clear excitement. “Didn’t think we’d make it!”

Clip, standing behind him, let out a snort. “I take it your concussion is officially gone, if you’re that enthusiastic?”

Polar’s enthusiasm didn’t falter. He grinned at Clip. “You got it! The doc gave me the go ahead—just in time, too!” He flipped his wing to show them a note that was so illegible, it could only have been written by a doctor. As quickly as he’d taken it out, he packed it into his bag. Then he lifted his other wing. “I’ve even got the winter gear I need.” He showed off the coat and scarf like they were trophies, before throwing them into the air and expertly flying through them both to put them on.

“You’re awfully excited by the prospect of manual labor,” Clip noted when he came down.

“Well, duh! You try being cooped up in a bed for days on end and not go crazy wanting to actually do things!”

Chamomile watched the display with only some amusement. The rest of her was hyper-fixated on the fact that this was the nearest to Gaea she’d been in recent memory. The two of them were standing behind Clip and Polar, watching while they chatted, Gaea with a noticeable smile—perhaps she was relieved that Polar appeared all right.

Chamomile wanted to talk to her, but she couldn’t get the words out. Even if she did, she doubted she’d know what to say. What gulf expanded between them could not be bridged by words alone, yet she felt that words were all she had. She chose to stay quiet, hoping that Gaea would not find her silence offensive—or, even better, not notice it.

Zipp flew down to meet them, and she gaze uncertainly at Polar. “You sure you’re up for this?” she asked.

He blushed under her gaze, before recovering. “I’m fine, Pr—Zipp,” he said, though his smile seemed a tad bit nervous. “Really. Once I get going, I’m sure it’ll be a breeze.”

“And you know what you’re doing?”

“Of course!” He raised a wing and counted down his feathers. “Coordinate the direction of the beams and keep an eye out for adverse weather conditions. That’s about it, isn’t it?”

Zipp was taken aback momentarily. “That’s… indeed about it, sure.”

“See?” He paused, then stepped forward, straightening his back in a manner reminiscent of cadets. “I won’t let you down. I promise, Zipp.”

Zipp seemed taken aback by his declaration. So was Chamomile. It was simple, yet, by how he said it, it held great significance.

“Well, all right.” Zipp looked past him at the others. “But I don’t think it’s necessarily my call to make. What do you guys say?”

Surprised to be addressed at all, Chamomile fumbled with her words. Without meaning to, she looked to Gaea for guidance, and surprisingly, she offered a nod. It seemed encouraging—or perhaps was simply saying, Whatever you say.

Polar was looking at them, too, and he appeared worried by the silence. Around them, ponies were starting to rally themselves to start up the work again. He was antsy to join them. But if that was a good or bad thing…

“He can join us,” Chamomile said. Polar grinned and seemed about to hug her. Next to her, Gaea looked away, but Chamomile had the oddest feeling that she approved.

Zipp was quiet, weighing her words. Then she said, “All right. If that’s your call, that’s your call. Polar, you’re back on duty.” He beamed, and, seeing this, Zipp chuckled. “Man, you look like I just kissed your baby or something.” She looked away, spread her wings, and flew off—and in doing so, missed his ferocious blushing entirely.

Polar trotted over to Chamomile and Gaea stood. “Thank you,” he said. “I know I messed up pretty badly back in Ponyville, but I really appreciate you giving me another chance.”

“Sure thing, Polar,” Gaea said. Her voice was quiet but filled with conviction. “Everypony makes mistakes. It’s better we learn from them when we can, and move on.”

Something about the way she said this suggested she meant more than to just encourage Polar. But Chamomile had no time to question it, for as soon as these words were uttered, Gaea flicked her mane and trotted after the other workers, leaving the three of them behind. Chamomile stared after her. When she glanced at her companions, she found them staring, too.

“Is it just me, or does Gaea seem different?” Polar said.

“No, I’ve noticed it, too,” Clip said. He looked knowingly at Chamomile, then hesitated, remembering what she had asked him.

“Yeah,” Polar continued, not noticing, “she seems more… distant, actually.”

“Maybe she’s just trying to stay focused on the job,” Chamomile suggested.

But Polar shook his head. “No, no, that’s not it, I can tell. Something else is bothering her. Something…” He paused, and his eyes flickered over to meet Chamomile’s. He opened his mouth halfway, a thought just about to form, but then he himself seemed to hesitate.

She remembered what he had said in the medbay, what he had asked of her. Then she remembered what else he had said—how she and Gaea were good for each other. No doubt that same memory was playing behind his earnest eyes, but the thought of him voicing it only caused her to feel sudden, inexplicable pain.

Chamomile turned away. “We should get started, too,” she stated briskly. Not bothering to look behind her, she trotted forward to join the other workers. But she could still feel their questions, silent yet loud nonetheless, batter her hide, questions that—she was trying not to remember—resembled much of her own.


Work had a distinctly awkward atmosphere to it afterwards. Between steel beam guiding, laying, and crosstie nailing, Chamomile caught Polar and Clip whispering amongst themselves, in terse, half-formed sentences specific to those conversations meant to convey information quickly and secretly. Though they did not point, it was obvious they were talking about Chamomile and Gaea, and they seemed to be trying to come to a consensus as to what was going on, or who to ask, or if they should say anything.

She spent that morning in a heightened state of anxiety which she pushed aside with a willpower she had not believed she had in her for many years. While her physical efforts were spent on carrying each steel beam to their place, her mental efforts were expended on trying to portray outwardly that she was perfectly calm, that Polar and Clip’s misgivings were misplaced, that nothing was occurring between herself and Gaea, and for some time, she could convince herself that it was true. Then her head would tilt up, and she would catch sight of that mare standing only a few feet from her, brow furrowed in concentration as she swung the sledgehammer with great, steady precision, and Chamomile would suddenly remember their last full conversation and how it had ended. She would recall the closeness of their bodies and their breaths, and her face would flush, and she would lose her concentration and have to recover the beam’s position. Each time this happened, she knew Polar and Clip were watching, and this only furthered her anxiety. For whatever reason, however—perhaps out of respect for the immediate necessity of their job—they did not speak to her or Gaea about the matter.

The afternoon could not arrive soon enough. When it did, it was marked by a singularly throbbing sun that gleamed harshly off the sides of the mountains. The air had grown steadily cooler and cooler, which Chamomile did not notice, owing much to her heated cheeks and flushed form. She paused a moment to fluff her parka and air out the insides, reveling for a moment in the fresh coolness. She rubbed an itch out of her head, removed her hat, inspected the inside, then replaced it with a grunt. She looked back towards the train. It was some distance from them, and the supply depot was no longer in sight.

She became aware, then, of something missing. It took a moment for her to realize what: the sound of Gaea’s hammering. Hesitatingly, Chamomile turned to see what had happened, and saw Gaea frowning with the sledgehammer still in her teeth.

“Gaea?” Chamomile said.

Gaea lowered her head to gently deposit the tool onto the ground. “Something’s off,” she muttered—there was a strange warble to her voice. “Can you feel it?”

Chamomile paused. Gaea addressing her was monumental enough. But she didn’t feel anything other than the cool weather. “No…?”

Gaea turned her head, looking down the length of it back towards the train. Her eyes were scanning for something, but she wouldn’t say what.

“Hey!” Polar exclaimed from above them. “What’s the hold up?”

“I’m not sure,” Chamomile answered. She watched Gaea closely, trying to figure out what was going on. Gaea’s face was drawn, the afternoon sunlight highlighting her cheeks. She seemed to be wrestling with some sense only she could feel.

On the opposite side of the track, Clip let out an observant grunt, which Chamomile took as him figuring something out. “What is it?” she asked.

“Might be nothing,” he said. He stepped across the track and stood next to Gaea, looking the same way she did. “Or… might be something. Look. Actually,” he added swiftly, “don’t just look. Listen.”

Chamomile tried to do both. At first, nothing occurred to her, but after a few moments, she realized that the usual clangs that would have echoed down the line were eerily missing. Earth ponies, instead, all stood with their hammers, rivets, and fasteners in mid-position, and many of their fellow non-earth-pony workers peered at them with concern. Even the afflicted themselves appeared at a loss as to what was happening, because they looked at each other, at the others, and at the ground, all without moving.

Polar flew down and landed next to Chamomile. “Guys? What’s happening?”

Chamomile didn’t answer him. She drew close to Gaea, and, to her astonishment, saw that she was trembling.

“Something’s wrong here,” Gaea said, turning sharply to Chamomile. Her eyes were wide and filled with such confused fear that Chamomile didn’t think she was lying.

“Do you know what, exactly?”

“I’m… not sure. I don’t know why you haven’t felt it.”

“But clearly the other earth ponies have,” said Clip.

“What are you feeling?” Chamomile asked. “Can you describe it?”

“Nauseous, I think. Unsteady, dizzy… and, floaty?”

“Floaty? Like, light-headed?”

“No, not that.” Gaea chewed on her lip. Though still garbed fully in her winter attire, her pink coat had turned pale. “It’s like… have you ever been going down the stairs, and normally you’d go down fine, reach the bottom and all, but on the last step, you miscalculate and end up lurching ahead, and you’re caught between walking and falling?”

Gaea looked like she was about to faint. She brought up a hoof, but seemed perturbed by it, and scuffed it gently against the frozen ground.

Polar glanced between them. “Maybe it’ll pass? We really shouldn’t be stopping for this, you know.”

“Gaea’s not feeling well,” Chamomile said. She noticed that she had stepped protectively in front of the other mare, and, realizing this, stepped back self-consciously. “Isn’t that reason enough to stop?”

“For her, yeah, but for the rest of us…”

“We should at least try to figure out what’s going on,” Clip said. “Especially since it’s not just us.”

Polar made a grunt of his own. He looked back down the line, then at them. He fluffed his wings, not quite in an impatient manner, but it was clear he was displeased to have stopped.

“Maybe you’re just tired,” Chamomile offered—but she didn’t even believe that herself.

“Maybe…”

Gaea took a step forward. Then she swooned and dove for the ground. Chamomile caught her in her magic, crying out, “Gaea? Gaea, what on earth—”

“It’s not just her!” Clip cried.

Down the line, every earth pony appeared to faint. Some pitched onto their sides, nearly crashing into their partners, and others managed to remain somewhat standing. The other workers cried out in alarm, rushing to check on their companions.

Somepony whistled shrilly—a sign for the medics, no doubt. The pegasi had come aground, and Zipp, among them, was busy with one group, trying to figure out what was going on.

Chamomile, meanwhile, was attempting to rouse the other mare. But Gaea would not respond to her voice. She felt monstrously light, to Chamomile’s growing horror.

Polar then stepped in front of her, leaning down to be at eye-level. “We need to move Gaea.”

“Move her?” Chamomile gaped at him. “She can barely stand!”

“Neither can the other earth ponies. Getting them on the train would be a good idea,” Clip said, shaking his head and frowning thoughtfully. “Look, something big’s happening. If it’s affecting just them—”

Just then, Gaea mumbled something too quiet for them to hear. “What was that?” Chamomile leaned closer.

“The earth…”

“The… huh?”

Gaea’s eyes shot open. She flailed her hooves around, accidentally hitting Chamomile in the nose. Crying out, she let go of Gaea, who fell to the ground in a mess of disjointed limbs.

They tried to help her up, but she managed to stand on her own. Her eyes were wild, and she was breathing rapidly. “It’s the earth,” she gasped, and hearing the panic in her voice made Chamomile forget the pain in her nose. “Something—something’s wrong with the earth!”

Polar looked quizzically at her. “What is that supposed to mean?”

Gaea shook her head. “I don’t—I don’t know. I just know—I can feel it, okay?”

When she looked at Polar and Clip, however, they were obviously doubtful of her word. Gaea, seeing this, looked hurt. “I know how it sounds, but I’m telling you…”

“Let’s just focus on getting back onto the train, okay?” Polar said.

Gaea rapidly shook her head. “N-no, I don’t—I don’t know about that…” She looked fearfully at the train, like she was afraid it would rear up and attack her.

Down the line, the other earth ponies were beginning to stir. A few shouted incoherently, scaring their cohorts. Panic was growing, and some ponies were already backing away from the tracks, as though something in them was repulsive. Zipp quickly became overburdened with shouts and questions. Chamomile doubted she would have heard them if they shouted for her.

Still, if whatever was happening was only affecting the earth ponies, then it seemed a good idea to centralize them. And getting on the train appeared to be the best choice, even if she didn’t like it.

“Let’s move you first,” she told Gaea. “Then we’ll figure out what’s going on.” She nodded to Clip and Polar. The former lit his horn while the latter stepped back to let them pass.

Gaea then fell forward into her. Was she suffering from vertigo? An inner ear problem? “Chamomile, we can’t be here,” she whispered fiercely.

“Here? On the ground?”

“Here, there, anywhere—oh, I wish I could explain it better than this!”

“I really think the train might help—”

“It won’t.” Gaea shook her head. “This whole place—this whole area, train or no train—it’s unsafe. Everything’s unsafe!”

Chamomile tried to hold her up, but she was shaking so badly, her goggles threatened to slip off of her hat. “I can tell you think so,” she said carefully, “but I just don’t understand what there is to be afraid of—"

A mighty, high-pitched whine briefly preceded a sharp wind-burst that tore into their bodies like a phalanx squadron charging ahead. It was so powerful that Clip, the lightest among them, tripped forward, and with a startled yelp, he collided into Polar. The two of them went sprawling. Gaea, meanwhile, was lifted up off her hooves. It was only thanks to Chamomile’s magic that she was not taken away.

“Hang on!” Chamomile shouted, but the wind almost immediately stole her voice away. It picked up, growing not only colder but also shriller, so much so that it easily pierced Chamomile’s parka and disrupted her magical concentration. The levitation field around Gaea spluttered like a pony gasping for water.

“Chamomile, I’m—”

The wind struck Chamomile so hard that she lost her concentration, and with a cry, Gaea was sent flying.

“No!”

She tried to turn to look to see where she’d gone—where anypony had gone—but then her vision burst into blinding whiteness. Snow, she dimly realized, but unlike the soft flurries that sometimes fell in Bridlewood, these were ice-tipped spears that stabbed her exposed fur and forced her to duck her head. The wind surged and piped with maddening, growing intensity, a cacophony of chaos that strummed a discordant melody in her ears and left her shaken and disturbed. Her scarf flapped and fluttered against her face, further blinding her; sightless, she crouched protectively down, trying to not get swept away herself.

It was all happening so fast. She barely registered the terrified screams of the other workers as that impossibly frigid air stampeded through their ranks. She couldn’t see where Gaea or Clip or even Polar were. Calling out for them proved impossible, for her voice was lost in the uproar.

A voice cried out from way behind her—some part of her managed to recognize it as Zipp. Somehow, she managed to shout loud enough to be heard above the wind: “It’s a frost storm! Everypony get inside the train!”

Distant hooves thundered in aimless reverberations around her. Chamomile tried to stand, but she could barely move, let alone think of moving. It was like the cold had welded her legs to the ground. Rapidly, she could feel the coldness infect her joints, and even her very bones felt chilled to their core.

There was a rumbling sound, and because she was surrounded by so much whiteness and wind, she didn’t know where it was coming from—but she sensed it was somewhere in front of her. But rendered discombobulated by the elements, she had no idea what the rumbling meant.

Somepony rushed up to her. It was Polar, and were he not wearing his colorful coat, he would have blended in perfectly. His face was covered by his goggles and his lips were curled back into a determined snarl. “Where’s Gaea?!” he yelled in Chamomile’s face.

“I—I accidentally let go of her,” she yelled back. “She’s gotta be somewhere nearby—”

“Never mind that! We need to get you out of here!”

She would have protested, but fear had flooded her system and she was falling back on self-preservation instincts. She tried to move, but felt something take hold of her legs.

“I can’t move,” Chamomile gasped.

Polar look down. He spat a curse. “It’s your hooves! They’ve iced over!” Sure enough, four tubes of ice had sprouted and propagated up her legs in rapid succession. But she was so cold, she couldn’t feel them.

Polar tried to pull her out, but he wasn’t strong enough. The ice held firm. “Never mind me!” Chamomile shouted. “Gaea and Clip—you’ve got to find them!”

“I’m not leaving you—”

“Do it!” she screamed at him, not caring how her fury and desperation caused her voice to crumble, caused her to look at him with such hatred that he could only listen to her, because in that moment she didn’t want to think about Gaea being left in the cold alone.

“Fine!” Polar agreed with a sharp nod. “But get yourself outta here while I get them, you hear?!” He waited for her to nod, before turning around and galloping back into the blizzard, his scarf trailing behind him.

Once he was gone, Chamomile continued her struggle. No amount of effort on her end yielded any result; she budged not an inch from her icy shackles. She swore her lips were beginning to freeze, and her fear and desperation mounted. She threw her head around, searching for something to use. At the last possible second, she spied Gaea’s discarded sledgehammer, too heavy for the frost storm to pick up. Fighting the wind and the freezing temperatures, she lit her horn and enveloped the handle with her magic and brought the hammer over.

No time for elegant solutions. She brought the hammer close and swung it against the ice, hoping not to break her own legs. It worked—the ice broke just enough that she could crack her hoof free, and she set about freeing the rest of her.

Now free, she thought she could no longer feel anything at all. A part of her, so numb with cold, wanted to curl up into a ball and wait out the storm. But she couldn’t. She stumbled forward, calling out for anypony, for Gaea, Clip, Polar—but her voice was utterly lost in the chaos unfolding around her.

Time is both heightened and lessened in extreme situations, and when bereft of the senses, the effect is compounded. For Chamomile, this meant she couldn’t determine for how long she lurched forward—an inch, maybe a centimeter—crying out and having her throat filled with millions of icy particles. The rails and train and Equestria were a distant memory. She was alone and completely terrified.

And then she saw them. Like tortured specters in some hellish, frosty mist, they—Gaea and Polar, with Clip held up between them—shambled forward, hats pulled over their heads and coats baked in snow and ice. Clip had a cut above his eye which was starting to bleed. Gaea looked sickly pale, and even Polar was starting to exhibit signs of cold exhaustion.

Upon seeing her, Polar’s face became furious—but the fear was evident. “What the heck, Chamomile! I told you to get out of here!”

She would have rushed forward to hug them, but she was still too cold and weak. Instead, she let them approach, letting out a grateful prayer that was lost in the wind.

“The ground,” she heard Gaea shout in her ear.

“Never mind the stupid ground, we have to get out of here!” Polar exclaimed, and for once, Chamomile agreed with him. Clip didn’t speak. Chamomile feared he was unconscious.

All four attempted to go back the way they came, trudging through piles of snow that never seemed to stop growing. Gaea, her voice a low vibration in Chamomile’s ear, was still muttering about the earth; the cold, then, had rendered her inconsolable. But the chaos had removed all sense of direction. More than that, they couldn’t find the railroad itself, as though it’d been swept away by all the snow.

Chamomile was about to step in a random direction, when Gaea screeched, “The ground! The ground’s coming apart!”

They stopped against all instinct. Ahead of them, there was nothing but white; then, a few yards ahead, the ground seemed to slope downwards. An awesome popping sound, like a barrel of fireworks, exploded and collided with the howling wind in a battle for auditory supremacy. So spooky was the contrast that Chamomile’s hair might have stood on end, had it not been frozen solid.

Then what Gaea said came true. Cracks appeared and spread like wounds being ripped open all across the earth. The tapestry moved so swiftly that the many yards between them and it shrank in mere seconds; the ground continued its horrid bending, and the pops climbed and climbed in both volume and frequency.

“We need to move, now!” Polar cried.

Before anypony could follow his order, they felt the ground beneath them shift. More cracks appeared under their hooves, revealing ghoulishly dry dirt and plates of dead, decaying soil. Chamomile felt her balance tip against her will; she became aware of them all falling back, and the cracks growing in size. Then she felt floaty, and, recalling Gaea’s earlier words, was engulfed by sheer horror.

With a final, near-deafening explosion of dirt and ice, the ground beneath them was rent asunder.