• Published 26th Nov 2012
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Letters From a Friend at the End of the World - alexmagnet



Twilight receives a letter from Trixie one day, but it raises more questions than it answers.

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10 — Flickering Flames

Chapter 10:
Flickering Flames

Trixie was vaguely aware of a flickering warmth through what she was fairly sure was her fur-trimmed coat, and she could hear the muffled sounds of conversation as she slowly woke. The sounds became cleared and more defined as she gained a firmer grip on consciousness.

She heard two, no, three ponies talking and laughing merrily. If she listened carefully, she could almost make out what they were saying.

“—Frostvale, eh?”

“What a coincidence, that’s just where we were heading.”

“Oh really? Well, I’d be more than happy to take you there myself.”

She recognized the first two voices. It sounded like Astrid and Polaris, but she didn’t know who the third voice belonged to.

“Of course, we won’t be able to leave until morning. It’d be far too dangerous to leave now.”

“Aye, and with her still resting her pretty little head, we’ll have to wait until she wakes anyhow.”

Trixie felt her cheeks redden.

“Heh, I know better than to wake a sleeping princess. She’ll come to in her own time. It’s best if we just let her rest now.”

The red deepened.

“Dear, I don’t think you ever told us your name. Forgive me, but who are you exactly?”

“Me? I’m nobody. Just a kid from out of town, so to speak. But they call me Corona. Corona Borealis.”

Trixie’s eyes shot open and she sat bolt upright as she instantly remembered where she had heard that voice before. All three ponies’ eyes turned towards her.

They sat in a semi-circle around a small fire. Polaris and Astrid were huddled together on the right side, and a cream-colored unicorn with a flaming red mane sat on the left side. All three of their heads were turned towards her with surprised looks adorning their faces.

Before any of them could say anything, Trixie cried out, “You!” while pointing at Corona.

He pointed at himself, mouthing, “Me?”

She suddenly became aware of the fact that, in her haste, she had thrown off her coat and it was intensely cold. She withdrew her hoof and curled up into a shivering ball.

Corona’s lips curled into a tiny grin.

Trixie’s coat lifted itself from the ground, surrounded by an orange glow, and wrapped itself around her shoulders. Her hooves shot out and grabbed at the coat, pulling it tighter around her body.

Polaris chuckled. “Cold still bothering you, miss?” He patted the ground. “Move a little closer to the fire. Might warm those skinny bones of yours.”

Astrid nudged his side. “There’s no need to make fun of the poor dear. She’s doing remarkably well for somepony so unused to the frigid northerly climate.”

He massaged his side as he said, “Yes, yes, dear, I know. But look at Corona.” He pointed at the stallion across from him. “The kid’s gotta be some kinda prodigy. You’ve been up here how long?” he asked.

“It’ll be four years this month,” Corona answered.

“And he’s already acting like a true son of the north.”

Astrid looked at him pointedly. “And how long has Trixie been here?”

Polaris made to respond, but Trixie answered for him. “It’s been four months since I left Vanhoover and met Polaris.”

All three ponies turned their attention back to her. She had moved a little closer to the fire, but was otherwise unchanged. “Four months and I still haven’t reached the End of the World.”

Polaris opened his mouth, but Astrid shot him a warning glance. Corona spoke up instead. “You’re trying to reach the End of the World? What for? What possible reason could you have to go there, of all places?”

Trixie stared into the fire, watching it flicker and crackle. “I have to... It’s something I need to do. No one else can do it for me. I have to go. Me and me alone.”

“But...”

Trixie looked at him with her round, violet eyes. “I don’t expect you to understand. It’s just... I have to do this.”

Silence filled the campsite for few minutes as they all became lost in their own thoughts. No one spoke a word for what felt like hours. They all just stared at the flickering flame, watching it crackle and spark, licking the few tree branches that had been thrown into the fire.

Finally, after what felt like an eternity, Trixie spoke up. “I never actually thanked you,” she said, looking at Corona. “For saving us, I mean.”

Polaris and Astrid looked up from the fire. He was the first to say something. “I don’t think we ever rightly thanked you either,” he said.

“Yes, it’s true, dear. We are in your debt,” added Astrid. “We owe you our lives, at the very least.”

Corona blushed lightly. “No, you don’t owe me anything,” he said. “I was just doing what any decent pony would’ve done. There was nothing special about what I did.”

“Nothing special? Dear, you saved us from a herd of angry wendigos. They surely would’ve killed and eaten us had you not stepped in when you did,” Astrid replied. “I think, at the very least, a ‘thank you’ is in order.”

He blushed harder. “No really, it’s nothing. I—”

Polaris cut him off. “It’s not nothing. Our flanks were toast. We were as good as dead. That is, until you stepped in.” He smiled. “The last thing I remember is you galloping up and saving our sorry hides. I assume you also brought us here,” he said, looking around at the surrounding forest. “Leastways, you saved us, and that’s what matters.”

Astrid looked around confusedly. “Speaking of that,” she said. “Where is here?”

Trixie hadn’t said anything, but she had the same feeling she was sure Astrid did. The forest that surrounded them looked eerily similar to the one they had just escaped.

Corona answered her question after a moment. “Well, there weren’t a lot of safe places near where I found you guys, so I took you to the next best place.” He paused. “The Snowfall forest is relatively well protected, so it was the best I could do.”

“Wait,” Trixie began, “You’re telling me that we’re back in the Snowfall forest? Isn’t that where we just escaped from? Aren’t there wendigos, whatever those are, here?”

Corona answered her questions before she could add any more to the list. “Yes, I brought you back to the edge of the Snowfall forest,” he said. “It’s the safest place around here. Don’t give me that look. I know it doesn’t seem like it, but being here is actually much safer than being out in the frozen wastes right now.” He held up a hoof, stopping Trixie before she could even ask her next question. “And about the wendigos. We should be safe from them here. Besides the fact that I already beat most of them, their den should be much farther inside the forest, so they won’t be bothering us way out here.”

Astrid cocked her head to the side. “I wonder why they chased us so far? I don’t know much about wendigos,” she admitted, “but I know that they don’t like to face direct sunlight, so it seems odd that they followed us all the way out into the open.”

“It does seem a little strange,” Polaris added.

“Well, usually,” Corona said, looking at each of the other ponies in turn, “wendigos only feed off of disharmony and hatred,” he paused. “But I’ve also heard that they are attracted to fear and doubt. I’ve also heard that, if they’re hungry enough, they’ll chase prey for miles and miles, with no regard to how far they had strayed from their dens.” He stared into the fire. “I’m not sure what made them chase you so far, but you’re lucky to be alive right now.”

Trixie found herself moving ever closer to the fire, and staring intently at Corona. “What, exactly, are wendigos?” she asked. “I’m still not sure what they are, or why they’re here.”

Corona looked over at Trixie. His chestnut eyes seemed to bore directly into her own violet ones. “Wendigos are spirits who feed off of disharmony and hatred, like I said. They live, usually, in the north where those feelings are more common. No offense,” he added, looking at Polaris and Astrid.

Polaris shook his head. “None taken. We northerners have never been known for being a peace-loving bunch.”

“Anyway,” he continued, “once they find the source of disharmony, usually a pony, they devour it and drain its power.”

Trixie creased her brow. “Wait, why do they look just like horses then? Are they actually just a different type of horse?”

Corona chuckled grimly. “No, they are spirits true and true. They are not dead however, though, neither are they actually alive. They are in-between the two. Stuck in a perpetual state of near-living.” He sighed. “It’s a little sad actually. I wish there was some way to help them.”

Astrid smiled warmly. “It’s noble to wish such an impossible thing, but it will never happen.”

“Aye,” Polaris added. “They are a miserable bunch, wendigos. It’s best if we avoid them, rather than try and help them.” He looked over at his wife. “There’s no helping the damned.”

No one knew what to say to that, so silence washed over the camp again like a wave of quietude. After a long time, Trixie said, “How is it that you know so much about wendigos, Corona?” She raised an eyebrow. “I’ve never even heard of them before today.”

Without looking up from the fire, he responded, “I studied them when I was in school. I’ve always been fascinated by spirits and apparitions.” He looked up from the flickering flame and over to Trixie. “Though, I’m a little surprised you’d never heard of them before.”

“It does seem rather strange,” added Astrid. “Did you not learn about them when you were a foal?” she questioned.

Polaris chimed in, “I thought that you, of all ponies, miss, would’ve seen the Hearth’s Warming Eve play.” He looked over at Astrid, chuckling. “I remember you played Clover the Clever because you were one of the only unicorns at school, and I had to be a wendigo.”

Astrid giggled. “That’s probably because you were one of the biggest colts in class. Somepony had to look intimidating.”

He scrunched his muzzle, “I know, I know. I just wish I could’ve been Commander Hurricane.” He looked wistfully to the sky. “I’ve always wanted to be a pegasus.” He gazed up at the darkened night sky, lost in his memories.

Astrid shook her head, bemusedly. “Don’t mind him. Anyway, dear, did you not ever see the Hearth’s Warming Eve play?”

Trixie shook her head back. “No, I was never in public school, so I must have missed that.”

Corona was the first to respond. “Well, to give you the short version of it, six ponies are attacked by wendigos because of disharmony in their group.”

“And then what happened,” Trixie said.

“Hold on, I’m getting to that,” Corona replied, holding up a hoof. “Then they manage to escape because they realize that friendship is holds them together and Clover the Clever uses the ‘Fire of Friendship’ to beat back the wendigos.”

“The ‘Fire of Friendship’?” Trixie said, cocking her head to the side.

Corona chuckled at her expression. “Makes for a nice story doesn’t it? The ‘Fire of Friendship’ is stronger than the cold, unfeeling strength of a dozen wendigos.” He sighed. “I guess the real story doesn’t have as much philosophical meaning behind it.”

Trixie’s eyebrows raised. “Real story?”

He looked back into the dancing flames of the campsite’s fire. “I’m not even sure this is the real story, but what I read is that the ‘Fire of Friendship’ was less of a metaphorical fire, and more of a real one.” The flames seemed to burn a little brighter as he said, “It seems that Clover the Clever was more than just an apprentice to Starswirl the Bearded. She was a bit of a self-taught pyromancer.”

“What!?” said Polaris and Astrid in unison.

He nodded. “Yep, the story seems a little less meaningful when you take that into account, huh?” He laughed. “I guess whoever wrote that play decided that ‘Fire of Friendship’ sounded better than ‘Fire of Extermination’.” A sigh escaped his lips. “It’s too bad though. Most ponies will never know the true story of what happened on Hearth’s Warming Eve. Clover will probably never get the real recognition she deserves.”

No one knew how to respond to that, so they all sat in silence for a while. They all stared at the flames, now burned halfway through the logs, with dead eyes. Finally, Polaris spoke.

“Clover may never get the recognition she deserves, but we’ll make sure you do, kid.” He gave a wide grin to Corona. “You’ll be a hero.”

Corona didn’t respond for a moment, but finally he said, “Thanks, I appreciate the thought, but I don’t want to be a hero.” He pursed his lips. “I was just being me, nothing special. No one needs to know about what happened here.”

“But, dear,” Astrid said warmly. “You saved us, from wendigos no less. You should at least be known as a hero in your hometown, Frostvale, right?”

He shook his head. “Please, I don’t want to be known as anything, or anyone, other than Corona. That’s who I am, and that’s all I’ll ever be.”

Trixie watched as Polaris opened his mouth to say something, but Astrid looked at him and shook her head. She didn’t know what to say, but she knew she had to say something. “Thank you,” she eventually decided on. “Thanks for being there when you were. Without you, I—I don’t know what we would’ve done.” Corona looked away from Trixie’s gaze, his cheeks reddening.

“Actually, that raises a good question,” said Astrid. “Why were you here when you were?” She put her hoof under her chin. “You said you were from Frostvale, but it’s unlikely that you got all they way here from there in time to save us.”

Trixie’s eyes lit up. “You’re from Frostvale?”

He ran a hoof through his mane. “Well, not exactly. I live there now, but it’s not where I’m from.” He looked over to Astrid. “But to answer your question, ma’am. I was patrolling the area south of the Frozen Chasm for some floeberries. They’re a bit of a northern delicacy,” he said upon seeing Trixie’s confused look.

Astrid’s eyes widened. “Oh, it’s been years since I’ve had any floeberries.” She looked hungrily at Corona’s saddlebags. “You didn’t happen to find any, did you?”

Polaris chuckled, shaking his head. “I think the last time we had any was when we were married. Some friends gave us a bushel as a gift. I’ve never been a big fan, but I won’t deny that they have a certain charm to them.”

Trixie scratched her head. “So what’s so special about these berries?”

Corona started to respond, but Astrid butt in. “They’re only the most delicious berries you’ve ever eaten, and they have the uncanny ability to stave off hunger even if you’ve only had a few.”

“I’m not sure about ‘delicious’,” Polaris laughed, “but she’s right about them being filling.” He turned his gaze skyward. “I once heard of a stallion who survived for three months off of nothing but floeberries and a single canteen of water.” Trixie’s eyes grew several times larger. “Now whether that’s true or not, I don’t know.” He chuckled. “Makes for an interesting tale though, eh?”

“Well, I’m not sure about all that,” said Corona. “I just use them for study.” His horn glowed a dull orange as a his saddlebag unlatched and a pair of crystalline white balls floated out.

Astrid’s eyes followed the floeberries hungrily. She was about to make a grab for one, when Corona said, “Watch.”

Before Astrid’s horn could even light up, the berries were engulfed in flame and she shrunk back, crestfallen. “No...”

Corona focused on the berries, flames pouring from his horn. His eyes glowed red and yellow and flashed with light. After a few seconds, he stopped, and the flames disappeared.

The little white balls were perfectly unharmed and completely un-singed. He floated them back into a small pouch on his saddlebag and said, “You see? They’re entirely resistant to flame, but I have no idea why.” He sighed. “I’ve been studying them for months, and I still can’t figure out how they are able to repel flame. As far as I can tell, they have no innate magical properties, nor any enchantments that prevent burning.” His shoulders slumped. “I’m at a loss.”

Trixie raised a hoof. “Isn’t it just because they grow so far north that they are resistant to flame?”

“Heh, you only need look to the wendigos to prove that being from the north does not make you inherently resistant to flame,” Corona said, without looking at her. “Anyway, that’s only part of my research. Floeberries are merely a hobby at this point.”

Trixie absentmindedly tossed a twig she had found into the fire. “So, what is the main reason you’re here?” she asked. “You said that you’re not from Frostvale, so why are you here?”

He watched as the twig she had tossed into the flames burned away into nothing but ash. “I was sent here by the Royal Canterlot Scientific Research Society, but my research will have to wait until tomorrow.” He yawned suddenly. “You all had nice naps while I rescued you, but I haven’t been able to sleep for nearly a day now, so I’m going to take my leave and sleep.”

“Wait,” Trixie said, throwing her coat off and standing up. “We’re not going to leave now?”

Corona didn’t respond, but Polaris did. “Miss, you should know better than to go traipsin’ off into the frozen wastes in the middle of the night.” He shook his head. “We’ll have to wait until tomorrow to leave.”

“What?” she moaned. “But we’ve already wasted three days just getting this far”

“Exactly,” Astrid replied. “What’s another day added on top?” She floated a blanket from her own saddlebag over top of herself and Polaris. “You’ll just have to be patient,” she said kindly. “We’ll get to Frostvale tomorrow, I promise.”

Trixie sighed. “Fine, I suppose another day doesn’t really matter at this point.” She sat back down and grabbed her coat, wrapping about herself. As she lay her head against her makeshift pillow, she thought, Oh well, at least it’s only one more day now.

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