• 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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15 — Crossing the Chasm

Chapter 15:
Crossing the Chasm

Trixie’s hooves were perched precariously on the edge of the chasm as she craned her neck out as far as she could. At the edge of her vision, still somewhat obscured by the snowfall, she could make out the far side of the rift. It seemed impossibly far away, but still paled in comparison to how far down the chasm stretched.

The rocky face of the cliff walls were jagged and sharp and covered in icy snow. They seemed to disappear in the blackness as they went down, creating an abyssal look that made the fissure feel endless. She kicked a loose piece of rock off the wall and watched as it tumbled through the air and into the void. She lay down on the ground, with her head sticking out into the chasm, and listened intently, straining her ears to hear a sound that never came.

As she carefully stood up, Trixie brushed the snow from her coat and said, “How far down does it go?”

Polaris and Astrid stood next to her, both peering over the edge as well. Polaris was about to answer, but Corona, who was standing behind her, beat him to it. “Don’t know, no one does.” He paused as he walked up on Trixie’s right side. He glanced sidelong at her then across the chasm. “I’ve heard that it goes all the way to Tartarus itself.” He laughed. “Of course, that’s probably just an old pony’s tale.”

He took a few steps back from the edge and looked at Trixie while scratching his chin. “No, if I had to guess I would say it’s at least a few miles deep, maybe more. Some of the ponies around here just call it 'the black'.” Leaning over the edge, he chuckled lightly under his breath as he gazed downwards. Shooting a quick glance at Trixie, he said, “I guess you can see why.”

She didn’t answer. Frowning slightly, he kicked at the snow, sending thousands of snowflakes over the edge. He watched as they drifted down and were consumed by 'the black'.

Astrid let out a soft sigh, laying her head against Polaris’. Her ears felt cold against the snow in his mane, but it didn’t bother her. She nuzzled him, saying, “I’m glad we all made it safely here at the very least. With everything that’s happened, it’s a bit of miracle we’re all here in one piece, and,” she said, looking over to Corona, “we have you to thank for at least part of it.” She smiled warmly at him. He returned the smile, noting that Trixie was still staring out into the abyss silently. Then, crinkling her nose and turning to the cliff edge, she said, “But I’m curious, how do we actually get across? There doesn’t seem to be any way to cross.”

Polaris chuckled quietly. “Heh, I forgot this your first time crossing the Frozen Chasm.” He cleared his throat. “Well, let’s see.” He tapped his chin thoughtfully. “If I remember right, and maybe our friend Corona here can confirm, there was a special enchantment put on this hole, cast by Celestia herself back in the old days, that lets travelers like ourselves pass. Course, what I don’t remember is how to activate it.” Astrid’s eyebrows rose as she stared at him. “Now, now, calm down, Astrid. Just because I don’t remember it right now doesn’t mean I won’t eventually.”

She closed her eyes and shook her head. “Dear, what do you mean you don’t remember?”

He shrugged. “It’s been quite a few years since I’ve been this way. Can’t expect me to remember every detail. Plus,” he nodded in Corona’s direction, “I’m sure the kid knows how.”

“What if he weren’t here? What if—”

“It’s fine, Mrs. Astrid,” Corona said quickly. “Let’s not get hung up on what could have happened, and let’s focus on what’s going to happen.” He shuffled his feet nervously. “Look, we don’t have a lot of time to sit around and pass out criticisms.” He glanced up at the sky, gauging the sun’s position. His brow furrowed in concentration. “Hmm, I’d say we have a few more hours of sunlight left, and it takes at least an hour to cross. Once we’ve reached the other side it’ll be a short hike to Frostvale.” He smiled at Trixie, who was now listening intently, her eyes fixed on him. “If all goes well, we should be in the city well before nightfall. You can’t see it from here, but on the other side of this gorge there’s a small hill, and on the other side of that is Frostvale.” He pointed his hoof out towards the far side of the chasm. Trixie followed his hoof to a seemingly innocuous location that she assumed must be where the hill was located. A combination of snow and wind made it difficult to see anything past the far cliff face.

She glanced over at Polaris and Astrid who were still staring across the chasm, then back to Corona. “So we’ll be there tonight, right?” He nodded. “Good.” She allowed herself a small smile. He found himself noticing just how pretty her smile was, and was about to say something, but thought better of it and bit his tongue. Trixie eyed him suspiciously. After a moment, she relaxed her gaze and said, “Anyway, you still haven’t told us what exactly this enchantment does that allows us to cross.”

“Yes,” added Astrid, “what does it do?”

“Hehehe,” Polaris chuckled dryly. “That’s the fun part,” he said. “Wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise for the ponies that ain’t seen it yet.” His face seemed to light up as a boyish grin lifted his cheeks. He shot Corona a knowing glance. “Let’s just let the kid do his business and you’ll see soon enough.” He looked sidelong at Trixie, gave her a smile. “It’s not a sight you’ll want to miss, miss.”

Despite herself, Trixie giggled softly. “Then by all means, Corona, carry on.”

Corona nodded happily, beaming, “All right, let’s get started. It’s pretty simple really,” he said. “You just stand on either side of the chasm, recite a few words, and you’re good to go.”

“So,” Trixie said slowly, “it’s the words themselves that activate the spell?”

Corona rubbed his muzzle with his hoof for a moment, then shrugged. “You know, I’m not entirely sure what makes the spell work, but this was how I was taught to do it, so this how I do it. Could be you don’t even need to speak the words at all, but I’m not about to test that theory now.” He grinned childishly. “Besides, it’s a lovely poem.”

Trixie was about to ask him exactly what he meant by that when he began to speak, slowly and steadily, but with a sort of rhythmic bounce to his voice. He spoke loudly, but his voice seemed quiet to her, little more than whisper. Certainly he must have been doing something magically to his voice, but she didn’t stop him to ask. She, Astrid, and Polaris listened with rapt attention as he recited the poem.

Awake, awake, you sleeping stones,
Arise up whence you lie.
Your time has come; your ancient thrones
Of slumber now deny.

The holy magic of the sun
That in you now does rise:
Obey its call, and do not shun;
Obey, and pave the skies!

Our humble plea do not disdain,
These mountains you divide
Must meet once more: unite the twain.
We fear not what they hide.

For well we know their hidden pow'r,
But we must make a start;
So help us cross now at this hour.
In danger there is art

As he spoke, his voice echoing like a quiet thunder through the chasm, the jagged cliff face began to crack and split. Huge chunks of gray rock, twenty feet across, peeled themselves from the wall, floating into an ever-growing line that now stretched several hundred feet out into the abyss. And as Corona continued, the splitting and the cracking grew more frequent until it seemed as if the entire wall was going to rip itself out and lie flat for them. Seconds crept by, and more and more chunks of smoky, gray rock were feeding into the near-complete ‘bridge’.

The others, transfixed by Corona’s dulcet tones, hadn’t noticed the rocks at first, but each came to realize what was happening shortly after it started. Trixie was the first, she broke her gaze on Corona and turned instead to the bridge being formed. She watched as thousands upon thousands of icy rocks coalesced into a narrow bridge, no more than five or six feet wide, that stretched across the gorge. Despite everything that was happening, the rocks were deathly silent, and the only thing that could be heard was Corona’s voice as he neared the end of the poem.

As he came to the last word, the final rock, lifted by some unknown force, placed itself right in front of them—a stepping stone to the bridge. Astrid’s eyes were wide and her mouth slightly agape, but she said nothing. Polaris wore mirthful smile, and seemed to be holding back a chuckle. Corona merely grinned. But the grin quickly turned to a smirk as he saw Trixie’s face, jaw dangling and eyes the size of apples. He snickered under his breath. Placing a hoof on her shoulder he leaned in and whispered in her ear.

“Not quite what you were expecting, huh?”

“Well not exactly, no.”

Polaris paused for a moment to think, causing Astrid to bump into his flank and make him falter warily on the narrow bridge. He tensed up, spreading his legs to balance himself. The rocks were slick with ice and rubble, making it easy to slip on the uneven pathway. More than once already, someone had managed to slip and fall, nearly casting themselves to their deaths in the endless abyss. Trixie and Corona spun around quickly to make sure Polaris hadn’t fallen, and breathed a sigh of relief when they saw he was still there. Astrid offered a sheepish apology and Polaris kindly told her there was no need, and then they were on the move again.

They had crossed nearly a third of the bridge by now and were nearing the halfway point. After Corona had finished his poem, and the bridge was complete, they had taken their first tentative steps on to it. Corona, having the most experience, went first and showed them that it was safe, relatively speaking. After a some convincing, and more than a little bribery, they were all on their way across the bridge.

It was very narrow, and they were forced into a single-file line as they crossed. The path was wildly uneven too, raising nearly half a jagged foot in the air at some points, and disappearing completely at others. There were cracks, and holes between were the rocks ‘connected’ and some of them were bigger than others. Most they were able to safely step over, but at least once they had to leap across a slightly larger gap. So far though, they hadn’t come across any splits that they couldn’t traverse. However, the worst part of it was the way the rocks seemed to be moving constantly, never straying too far, but never staying still either. They seemed to rumble noiselessly, making it feel like the entire bridge was shaking all the time.

But despite all the dangers, it had been an uneventful journey so far, save the occasional slip. Corona headed up the line, with Trixie right behind him, and used his fire magic to heat the stones as they approached them, melting the ice and then drying them out to make them less slick. It was taking a toll on him physically and magically, but he never complained and just kept pressing on. According to him, they were getting close to the halfway point, which meant that they were maybe half an hour away from the other side, but now surrounded by an endless black void that left them feeling very exposed.

“Anyway, like I was saying, miss,” continued Polaris as the group pressed on. “Drakes are similar to dragons, but not the same. They’re kinda like... well... hmm, what do you think, dear?” He glanced over his shoulder to Astrid whose eyes were fixated on her hooves. She seemed not to hear him. “Dear?” he said, a little louder.

“Hmm?” Her head shot up. Her normally white face somehow looked even whiter; her eyes were darkened, and her lips were pale.

“I was asking about drakes, Astrid,” Polaris said, cocking his head to the side. “I’m trying to figure how to describe ‘em to miss Trixie here. I s’pose they’re kinda like—”

“Snakes,” she said quickly, returning her gaze to her hooves.

Polaris clicked his tongue. “That’s it!” he said excitedly. “They’re a bit like snakes, miss. Long, thin, squirmy little creatures with them forked tongues and beady little eyes. Only, they ain’t quite so little. Most of ‘em are at least twenty or thirty feet long I’d say. Though, I’ve heard they can grow even larger than that.” He paused for a moment. “I once heard about this sand drake that lived way out in the middle of the desert wastes, holed up in some cave no doubt. Apparently, the son of a gun was a full hundred and fifty feet long. Killed damn near everypony that got near it, or so I heard.”

“They can get that big?” asked Trixie worriedly.

“Well, not usually, not far as I can tell,” Polaris responded casually. He kicked a stray rock over the edge of the bridge and watched it fall silently. “Nah, seems most of ‘em are about, like I said, twenty or thirty feet.”

“Why was that one so big then?” she asked.

“Beats me, miss. I only heard talk of it from passing Saddle Arabia traders back when I was in some of the southern towns. They didn’t say much other than it was bigger than any they’d ever seen. Used to make this whistling sound all the time, said it was the call the drakes made when they were hunting.” He sucked in his breath and pursed his lips, and blew out. A sharp whistle, high and shrill, echoed through the empty gorge, bouncing off the walls and disappearing into the emptiness.

Astrid placed a hoof on his withers. He looked over his shoulder at her. Her face was fraught with worry, and her eyes were darting back and forth. She didn’t say anything, but Polaris just smiled and said, “Sorry, dear. I didn’t mean to scare ya.”

After he whistled, Trixie thought she heard a distant rumbling, but dismissed it as a trick of the wind. She watched as Corona’s tail bounced up and down, waving side to side as he walked. Struck with a sudden thought, she asked, “So, have you ever seen any ice drakes, Corona?” He looked back at her quizzically. She pressed him further, “You spend a lot of time outside the city, right?” He nodded. “Well, have you ever seen any ice drakes when you were out hunting for floeberries? Or while passing between towns? Or maybe just when you were out in the woods sometime?"

He hesitated, then said, “Well, yes, I have seen one or two, but usually they were very far off and I’ve never been attacked by one before. I hear they mostly live in caves and caverns. Apparently they like the darkness, ‘least that’s what I always heard.” He turned his attention back to melting ice and said, “Anyway, I’m sure we’ll be safe as long as we avoid any dark places.”

“You mean like the one we’re crossing right now?” Trixie said playfully.

He laughed nervously, “Yeah, heh, like the one we’re crossing now...”

For a few more minutes they traveled in silence. Corona’s horn alight with fiery magic, burned a path across the stones, and providing a dim ambient light. Trixie followed close behind, enjoying the warmth that being close to Corona provided. His horn gave off a dull red glow, and radiant heat that must have felt like a burning coal on the top of his head, but he didn’t seem to mind. Polaris walked a few feet behind Trixie, a boisterous smile played across his face, despite the wind and the snow. Every dozen steps or so, he would glance over his shoulder at Astrid and give her a warm smile. She was looking even more pale, and her steps were becoming shaky as they got even further. Eventually he called for them to stop and he put his hoof under her chin, lifting her eyes to his.

“We’re halfway there, dear,” he said as reassuringly as he could. He nuzzled her, saying, “Don’t worry, we’ll be fine.

She smiled weakly. “I know, it’s just this cold is really starting to get to me.” She coughed, covering her mouth. “And the heights aren’t helping either.” Her eyes wandered to the edge of the bridge, then squeezed shut. “I’ll be fine though,” she said. “Let’s just keep going.”

Corona and Trixie looked on, trying to find something they could do. Careful to avoid the edges, Trixie approached Astrid. “Maybe you should walk behind Corona,” she said. “He’s clearing a path for us and the magic feels warm when you’re next to him.” Wrapping her hoof around Astrid’s, Trixie pulled her forward. “Here,” she said, placing her behind Corona, “he’ll keep you warm.”

Corona smiled at her, nodding his head. “Yep, I’ll do my best to warm you up, Mrs. Astrid.”

Her quivering lips curled into a tiny smile, and she said, “Thank you, dear.”

Now with Corona still leading, and Astrid following behind, they continued on. Polaris, bringing up the rear, whispered to Trixie, “That was mighty kind of you, miss. I’m sure the missus appreciates it.”

Trixie shook her head, “No, it’s nothing. You and Astrid have been more kind to me than I deserve. This was the least I could do to repay some small portion of the debt I owe you.”

Polaris looked affronted. “Miss,” he said sternly, “you don’t owe us a thing. You were a poor, lost soul and we helped you, but we didn’t do it because we expected anything. That’s just what decent ponies do: they help each other.” His features softened. “Don’t think for a second that you owe us any kind of debt, miss.”

Trixie struggled to find words to respond, eventually settling on, “Thank you. I don’t know what I would’ve done without you two.”

He chuckled. “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch, miss. Last I checked we still ain’t crossed this bridge yet.” He sighed, letting out a slow whistle. “Well, we’re getting close leastways.”

Trixie thought she heard the same distant rumbling again, but ignored it. “Hopefully we won’t run into any more trouble between now and when we get to Frostvale,” she said. She looked ahead to the other side of the chasm and caught a glimpse of a couple of rocks tumbling into the abyss, presumably having broken off from the wall. “Huh,” she said, “that’s kinda weird.”

Corona stopped suddenly and turned around. “What? What did you see?”

Trixie eyed him suspiciously, then said slowly, “Nothing. It was just a few rocks, that’s all. Why? What are you worried about?”

“It’s just,” he shook his head, “nothing, never mind. Let’s just keep—Mrs. Astrid!” he cried out suddenly, reaching out to catch Astrid as she fell over. Polaris pushed Trixie aside, practically diving over her to help Corona catch Astrid. Trixie just stood, paralyzed, as the two ponies caught the third moments before she slipped off the edge. Her body was limp, and her eyes closed. Polaris was brushing her mane away from her face and hugging her head to his chest.

“Astrid—Astrid, sweetie,” he whispered. “Wake up, dear.” His eyes began to water as he held her limp form.

Corona pulled himself up and dusted himself off. Looking down at Astrid’s body, he said, “Don’t worry, she’s just passed out. She’ll be fine as long as we can get her to Frostvale quickly.” He reached down and helped Polaris stand up, pulling Astrid with him. “It’s not very far now,” he said. “She’ll be fine, trust me.” He gave Polaris a reassuring pat on the back, smiling at him.

Trixie watched helplessly as they hoisted Astrid across Polaris’ back and secured her. She was about to say something when she felt the rocks beneath them begin to shake. Pebbles bounced around on the bridge, and chunks began to break away. Ice that still covered the later portions of the bridge began to crack and split. All three conscious ponies looked around wildly as the stony bridge vibrated more and more violently.

Polaris shouted about the din that now filled the air, “What’s happening? Is the bridge falling apart?”

Trixie saw out of the corner of her eye a dozen or so shapes emerging from the abyss, and a dozen or so more from the holes in the cliffs. She couldn’t tell what they were, but whatever it was, there were a lot of them. She pointed to the nearest one, shouting, “Look!”

Corona’s eyes widened as he saw the figure approaching. He glanced behind him and saw the edge of the cliff. “We’re almost to the end,” he shouted. “We have to run!”

They needed no further motivation. Immediately, all three ponies, Astrid slung across Polaris’ back, were galloping across the bridge; black shapes approached on all sides. Trixie dared a quick look over her shoulder and saw that the bridge had completely collapsed and was now falling apart beneath her feet. She spurred herself even faster, and looked ahead. Her heart sank as she saw that the bridge had collapsed on that side too, and was now crumbling away in front of them.

Corona skidded to a stop, slipping on the ice and tumbling over the edge. Polaris tried to stop, but the extra weight sent him careening into the abyss as well, causing Trixie to shout, “No!” She managed to stop just in time for the bridge to collapse beneath her, and she felt the world drop out from under her hooves. She tumbled helplessly through the air, catching a glimpse of a long and slender, but massive, creature as it passed beneath her.

In her last moments before she was completely consumed by the darkness, she saw Polaris, Astrid held tightly in his hooves, and Corona, a little further away, get swept away by one of the lithe creatures. A moment later, she felt herself being squeezed, as if by some giant bird, then everything went black.

Author's Note:

Special thanks to my good friend, Nietzsche, for helping me write the poem (poetry is not my strong suit). If you liked it, check out more of his poetry here.

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