• 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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19 — Sheep Among Wolves

Chapter 19:
Sheep Among Wolves

It was dark, very dark, of that much she was sure, and decidedly chilly.

She could taste the scent of burning charcoal through the burlap hood placed over her head, and she could hear the crackle of torches, and the quiet, but constant, sound of water dripping overhead. Its splashes echoed loudly in the distance.

Noiselessly she drifted through the air, dimly aware of cold claws wrapped around her body and the rope tied around her neck. It wasn’t too tight, but tight enough that she had no hope of clumsily removing it with her hooves.

She concentrated on her horn, sending magic flowing through her body to it, but nothing happened. She couldn’t feel any of the usual magical aura inside herself and she felt unusually weak, and a little nauseous. Her mind felt oddly foggy, and more than a little disoriented.

She tried moving her head but felt the grip tighten around her chest, choking her slightly. Her mind went blank, shrouded in whiteness and a warmth that was uncannily familiar. She thought she heard coughing right before she passed out, but it was hard to tell. The bag on her head didn't help with her hearing.

When she woke next, she felt rough stones beneath her, and she no longer felt herself moving, or the claws that had gripped her before.

Now’s my chance, she thought dimly. If I could just... She tried to ignite her horn again, but stopped suddenly when she heard a voice echo from a just beside her.

“Oi, wot’s all this then, eh?”

The voice was harsh and cruel, like sandpaper on metal. He spat the words out like venom. This was in stark contrast to the next voice whose words dripped out like oily mucus.

“Wot’cha mean by that, eh?”

The first voice spoke again, angrily grumbling back, “Are you lot takin’ the piss outta me? Or are you just tryin’ta piss me off?” He grumbled something, then said, “I swear, if you two weren’t me own flesh an’ blood, I’dda lopped the ‘eads off both of ya by now.”

A third voice joined in, sleek and smooth, but with a hint of malice in his tone.

“Brother, I do believe I ‘aven’t the foggiest what you’re refferin’ to. We ain’t done nuffin ‘cept what we’s supposed ta.”

“If that be the case, then wot the ‘ell is that one doin’ without ‘er ‘ood on, eh? Answer me that, brother.”

There was a momentary silence, punctuated by echoes of dripping water. Trixie lay completely still, listening intently. Do they have the others too? Who are they talking about?

“Like I said, brother. We’s only done what we’s supposed’ta. Me an’ Sirrush ‘ere are just followin’ Sypher’s orders as laid down by the drake hisself.”

“Aye, it’s like he says, Typhon; we’s jus’ followin’ the rules.”

“Followin’ the rules, eh? Me memory’s a little ‘azy, do us a favor, Anshar, and remind me wot the first thing Sypher said was in regards to our guests ‘ere.”

Trixie’s blood turned to ice. Sypher? That means Polaris and the others are here too. I have to find out if they’re all right. She tried moving her back legs and found them unbound, but she froze as she heard one of the drakes approaching her.

She could feel his presence looming over herself, but he didn’t bend down, instead, he said, “He said we wasn’t supposed’ta let ‘em see nuffin’, what wif the bags and all. But that weren’t the only thing he said, brother.”

“Oh? That so, is it? Go on then, wot else he say?”

“We ain’t to be lettin’ any ‘arm come to ‘em lest we face his wrath, the likes’a which this world ain’t seen for a ‘undred ‘undred years, I think were ‘is exact words.”

“Shut the ‘ell up, Sirrush. I ain’t asked you.”

“But that is what he said, brother. They’s to be brought before the Queen ‘erself, and they ain’t to be ‘armed in anyway ‘fore she gets ‘er go at ‘em.”

“Aye, it’s like he says, Typhon. Jus’ followin’ the rules we is.”

There was a thud as a pair of somethings were dropped to the ground, followed by a loud smack and a cry of pain.

“Sirrush, I swear to the Great Mother Tiamat ‘erself, you speak outta turn again and I’ll give you more ‘an jus’ a bruise.” He snorted, pausing for a moment. “Sypher’s says we ain’t to ‘arm ‘em, eh? Fine, we ain’t done nuffin to ‘arm ‘em anyway, but that still don’t explain why you took ‘er ‘ood off and broke the only real we been given.”

“Coughin’ she was, makin’ a right racket of it, too.”

“Sirrush, I swear—”

“I ‘eard ‘er coughin’ I did, so I says to meself, brother, do you know what I says? I says that it must be the ‘ood on ‘er little ‘ead. Tied too tight, innit? So, not wantin’ to let any ‘arm come to ‘er, I decided to just loosen it a bit, give ‘er a bit more air and such, that’s when—”

“That’s when I says to meself that she could do with a bit’a fresh air and the like, ‘specially seein’ as she’s gone unconscience again.”

“Unconscious,” Anshar corrected.

“Unconscience, right, that’s wot I says. Anyway, I figgered there weren’t nothin’ for it,” said Sirrush, “so’s I took ‘er ‘ood off to let her breathe a bit more. That’s when you turned around, Typhon, and said, ‘Oi, wot’s all this then, eh?’”

“I remembers wot I says; weren’t two minutes ago I says it,” Typhon grumbled. “All right, firstlies, there ain’t any fresh air to be had down here; we’s in the middle of cave, you idiot. Secondlies, it ain’t ‘er ‘ood wot’s got ‘er all sick-like. Look at ‘er.”

Trixie tensed. Astrid...

“Blimey!” Anshar cried. “She’s clammy as all ‘ell she is.”

“Pale as the moon, too,” Sirrush added. “Oi, I think this one might be comin’ down with something, eh? Sees, Typhon, I weren’t lyin’ ‘bout ‘er. I ain’t lookin’ to lose me ‘ead if she takes a turn for the worse.”

“Sypher ain’t said nothin’ ‘bout keepin’ ‘em ‘ealthy, now did he?” said Typhon. “We ain’t done nuffin to ‘urt ‘er, so we ain’t got nuffin to worry ‘bout. We’s done our job, ain’t we? Ain’t our fault if this one ain’t handlin’ the cold.”

Trixie wished she could see Astrid, but she found her limbs unnaturally heavy and it was all she could do to not cry out for her. Her only hope now was to wait and see what lay in store for them in the future.

Blinded, exhausted, and without magic, Trixie was helpless. She cringed as she heard the drakes speak again. Their every word only adding to her worry.

“That’s it then, eh, brother? We jus’ tie ‘er up again and continue on our merry way?”

“Ain’t nuffin for it, Anshar. We ain’t the cause’a ‘er distress, so it ain’t gonna cause us any distress. But if we keep sittin’ ‘round ‘ere talkin’ all day, we’ll be late, and then ‘er wheezin’ll be the least’a our worries.”

Trixie felt herself being picked up, cold, rough claws embracing her as she lifted into the air.

“Right then, we best get movin’, eh? Put ‘er ‘ood back on, Sirrush, and we’ll be on our way.”

She heard rustling as the other two drakes gathered up their prisoners and then they were on the move again. As she felt the cold air beneath her hooves, she shivered.

“Her royal royalness ain’t one for bein’ late, so’s I hear,” said Anshar. “We best double time it, else we ain’t gettin’ there on time.”

“I ‘eard the last drake wot showed up late got ‘is ‘ead lopped off jus’ for makin’ the Queen wait a few minutes.”

“Sirrush, shut your mouth before I shut it for you, and do us a favor and keep it shut too, eh? If I ‘ear one more bloody word outta your gullet, I’m gonna lose me patience.”

“We ain’t far from Drakkengard, brother. We’ll be all right. Jus’ make sure you ain’t lose ‘old’a that one there. She’s the one she’s truly after, innit.”

“Aye,” ‘Trixie felt Typhon’s grip tighten. “She be the real prize.”

She shuddered inwardly. Astrid... I hope you’re okay. And Polaris and Corona, too. This doesn’t look good.

“I still don’t see why I’m stuck with two of ‘em,” grumbled Sirrush. “I ain’t even got the light ones neither...”

Light flooded Trixie’s vision as the burlap sack placed over her head was removed. She blinked, turning away from the light only to have her head forcibly turned back.

“Show some respect, pony, and look the Queen in ‘er eye, eh?”

As her eyesight slowly came into focus, Trixie was able to glance up and see the face of her captor.

His eyes were like a cold fire, icy blue and harsh, much like the sharp spines protruding from his head and along his back. His arms were crossed and he sat on his tail, coiled up like a snake, whiskers hanging from the sides of his jaw. His pale blue scales shimmered in the well-lit room, and the torchlight seemed to dance across them. He was a great deal smaller than Sypher, but still much taller than him, and, by the looks of it, much stronger as well. His arms were burly, far more than Sypher’s, and his claws had been filed to razor-sharp point.

His snout, long and sleek, jutted out like the edge of a cliff, ending in a pair of nostrils that sunk into his snout like caverns. All along his sides and back, there were places where his scales were chipped, or cracked, and he had a jagged scar across his chest. When she looked closer, she also noticed that one the digits on his left claw was missing, leaving a rough bump in its place.

Typhon glanced down and noticed Trixie looking up at him. “Wot you lookin’ at, eh? Ain’t I told you to keep your eyes forward?” Trixie quickly turned her head forward.

In front of her she saw a massive stone chair. It was rough and unhewn, with sharp edges sticking out all over its frame. Emeralds, rubies, and even diamonds, were embedded in it, making it sparkle like the sea on a particularly sunny day. The throne was huge, even by drake standards. Its back stretched at least thirty feet up, and, from arm to arm, it was ten feet wide. But above all else... it was empty.

I guess she isn’t here yet.

Trixie briefly imagined what the drake Queen would look like, but then thought better of it and continued to look around.

Stone steps led up to the throne, also unhewn and very rough, with pillars of rock that stretched up to the ceiling, over a hundred feet overhead, flanking it on either side. Torches sat in holders all along its length, lighting it all the way to the ceiling.

Hanging from the ceiling, suspended by nothing, as far as Trixie could tell, was an enormous crystal made entirely of ice; at least a hundred feet wide, and twice as many tall, it gave off an eerie blue glow, and was surrounded by dozens of smaller crystals that seemed like they had broken off from it. The main crystal itself reminded Trixie of the ice she had been encased in when Sypher held her captive. Its blue color, deeper than any sapphire, shone in the torchlight as it hung ominously overhead.

Trixie glanced to her left, careful not to turn her head too much. Corona stood there, completely still, eyes fixated on the throne. Trixie hissed under her breath, trying to get his attention, but he simply looked over at her, shook his head slightly, and mouthed, “Not yet.”

Trixie mouthed back, “What?”, but he had already gone back to staring at the throne.

Standing by his side was Polaris who kept stealing glances past Trixie to where Astrid lay on her right, unconscious. He carefully tried inching his way closer to her, but a thick claw came down and pushed him back. Tensing at the touch, he stood perfectly still and stared up at the throne, giving a worried glance to Trixie before returning to the throne.

Looming over them like some kind of gargoyle, was another drake. He was smaller than Typhon, and less muscular, but with thicker scales and longer horns. The spikes along his spine too, were larger and more prominent.

His scales were much deeper blue, closer to the ice crystal, and he lacked the scars Typhon had, but his eyes were the same icy blue, cold and cruel.

His arms hung limp at his sides, and his eyes darted all over the room. She watched him for a moment as he stared wide-eyed up at the massive chandelier-esque ice crystal.

“Oi,” he whispered to Typhon, leaning over slightly. “Ain’t that the Mountain’s Soul?”

Without looking at him, Typhon answered, “Aye, Sirrush. Now shut it.”

The other drake quickly apologized then went back to absentmindedly gazing around.

To her right, Trixie saw Astrid curled into a ball on the hard ground. She looked much worse than she had when they were on the bridge. Her fur, normally a brilliant white, now looked chalky and pale, and heavy bags sagged under her eyes. Even in her current unconscious state, she was sweating profusely, her body slick with salty perspiration. Trixie wished she could do something for her, but if made any move to help her, Typhon would stop her. It was better to wait and see what happened once the Queen showed up.

She noticed now, after looking at Astrid, that there were a pair of guards on either side of the room, both blocking passageways out of the room. They were thick and muscular, clad in gilded raiments and with stony looks upon their faces. From what she could tell, they were much older than Typhon and Sirrush, and their age was apparent in their demeanor.

They stood perfectly still, spears in their outside claws and eyes fixated on the other side of the room. Larger than even Typhon, they towered over Trixie and the other ponies, their sleek bodies coiled up like a snake’s.

Everyone seemed to be waiting in silence for the Queen, even the guards, and Trixie was about to ask if she was going to show up when another asked it for her.

“Blimey, is ‘er ‘ighness ‘ere or not?” breathed the drake standing over Astrid.

He was much thinner than either Typhon or Sirrush, and his body was almost twice as long. Like an arrow, he lacked the size and muscles of his brothers, but his slender form seemed perfectly aerodynamic, and even his spines were more curved to accommodate this. His scales, unlike his brothers’, were more green than blue, and his eyes burned a fiery red. He flicked his tongue, briefly flashing a row of pointed teeth and a forked tongue that was just as slim as his body.

“I thought she ‘ated bein’ late. Well where the ‘ell is she, eh, brother?” he said, turning his head to Typhon.

Typhon ignored his gaze, but replied, “She ain’t late, Anshar. She’s right on time.”

He bowed his head extending his right arm and tucking his left in. “My lady,” he whispered.

Trixie looked up to the throne and saw no one there still. It was just as empty as it had been when they first entered. She saw that both Sirrush and Anshar were gazing upwards so she turned her head skyward and saw her. The Queen.

She was awe-inspiring, in a terrifying way. Her magnificent form snaked around the Mountain’s Soul as she slowly trawled downwards. She was at least a hundred and fifty feet long, maybe more, and, while she was not particularly thick, she was still larger than any of the drakes Trixie had seen so far.

Bobbing up and down as she descended in a spiral, Trixie couldn’t help but admire the terrible beauty of it all, despite the circumstances. The Queen’s tail, which ended in series of colorful, tufted feathers, dragged behind her, tracing great arcs in the dimly-lit overhead area. None of the other drakes had anything similar at the end of their tails, at least not that Trixie had seen, but that wasn’t the Queen’s most striking feature.

Two great wings, thin and agile, with translucent skin that the ice crystal’s light shone through spectacularly, beat in a rhythmic fashion as she glided downwards. Despite the feathers on her tail, the wings were featherless. Instead they were more akin to a bat’s wing, with tiny claws at the tips and sharp, scaled edges. As she passed directly beneath the Mountain’s Soul, Trixie could even make out the network of veins running across each wing. Even that was stunning, in its own macabre sort of way.

As the Queen approached the throne, the guards on either side of the room crossed their spear arms across their chests in silent salute. Meanwhile, Typhon and his brothers were all bowing. Trixie, Polaris, and Corona all maintained their gaping stares, unable to look away from her resplendent form.

Now that she was closer, Trixie could see that her scales were a lush purple, tinged with hints of red and blue, while atop her head, wedged between two great horns, was a golden crown, jewels inlaid all along its rim and a single, intricately cut, sapphire seated in the center. Even from far away, she could see the jewel reflecting the light in a dazzling display.

“Bow your ‘eads, dammit,” Typhon hissed while keeping his own head bowed.

Unable to refuse, Trixie lowered her head, but kept her eyes fixed on the Queen as she took her seat in the throne, her tail, along with most of her body, coiled up in the seat in a great pile of amethyst scales and rough flesh.

To her right, Trixie saw one of the guards move forward, eyes still singularly fixed upon some point across the room, open his jaw to announce, “Presenting ‘er Majesty, the ruler of Drakkengard, conqueror of the Frozen Chasm, leader of the drake army, and Queen Under the Mountain, Lady Tiamat.” Finished, he slithered back to his place against the wall and resumed his unyielding stare.

The Queen said nothing for a time, and the whole room fell silent. Chills ran down Trixie’s spine as she stared up into her icy glare. Finally, she spoke.

“So, this is the one who has looked upon the Eye?” she said, indicating Trixie.

Her voice matched her appearance perfectly. It was deep and powerful, and resounded with an innate forcefulness, but it was not loud. Rather, she spoke at a perfectly normal volume that made her voice all the more impactful.

Typhon spoke in answer. “Aye, milady, this be the one.” He pushed Trixie forward.

Trixie stumbled as Typhon roughly shoved her into the center of the room. She looked up at the great crystal and shuddered.

The Queen smiled a deadly smile, then waved Trixie forward. “Come closer, my dear. I would look upon the face of one who is to become one of them.”


Before Trixie could take another step forward she heard Corona shout from behind her.

“Now, Trixie!”

He leapt forward, his horn ablaze with fiery light. Trixie’s eyes widened. She was about to tell him to stop when he sucked in his chest then released a huge ball of flame at the Queen. As it hurled towards her, he shouted, “Quick! Run!”

But Trixie remained rooted to the spot, unable to take her eyes off the Queen who didn’t seem the least bit perturbed by the wall of fire approaching her. She moved not an inch, and even as the ball struck her, exploding in a brilliant display that momentarily blinded Trixie, the only part of her that made any motion was her jaw curling into a smirk.

Corona reached forward, trying to grab Trixie, but before he could, Sirrush scooped him up and slammed him into the ground next to Polaris. He crumpled into a heap, coughing weakly.

Trixie looked back to the throne as the last bits of fire disappeared and saw the Queen sitting in the same place she had been, unfazed and unmoved. Trixie’s jaw dropped slightly.

Steepling her claws, Tiamat leaned forward, looking down at the incapacitated Corona. In her regal voice, she said, “My my my, I expected better of one versed in inflammatory incantations. Honestly, were you even trying to kill me?” She let out a deep laugh that echoed in the cavernous hall.

Leaning back into her seat, she said, “Where is your goddess now? Where is your Celestia when you need her?” Un-steepling her claws, she curled one into a fist and pointed the other at Corona’s huddled form. “Out there, among your own kind, and your own ruler, you may be somebody. But here, in my halls, among my people, you are nothing, a worm to be eaten, an insect to be squashed.” She emphasized every 'you' with a jab of her claw and 'my' with a shake of her fist.

She waved to one of the guards and nodded towards Corona. “Take him from my sight. Give him back to Sypher if you must, but remove this pathetic fool from my throne room. I will not have him spoiling my discussion with our dear friend here.”

Smiling that same toothy smile, she watched as Corona was dragged away through one of the doors. “Now then,” she said, turning her grin on Trixie. “As I was saying, come closer would you please?”

Trixie shook with fear, but felt her body moving of its own accord, slowly ascending the steps towards the stone throne. As she reached the apex of her climb, the Queen’s head lowered to her level in a swan-like fashion.

As Trixie stared into Tiamat’s massive ruby eyes, she couldn’t help but feel so completely insignificant. Her head, nearly twice as big as Trixie’s entire body, inched closer towards her. She shrunk back, cowering.

“Do not be afraid, my dear. Unless you mean me harm, I will not harm you,” she said quietly.

“What about Corona?” Trixie stammered. “Is he going to be okay?”

“He attacked me, as I recall,” she said. “Besides, he won’t be permanently injured, I can say that much. But I cannot speak to his immediate injuries.”

Trixie shivered as she felt the Queen’s breath wash over her. It was like a chill breeze, cold and biting. Eventually, Trixie worked up the nerve to ask, “What do you want with me?”

The Queen smiled again. “My dear, telling you wouldn’t be very sporting now would it?”

Trixie cocked her head to the side. “I–I don’t know what you mean.”

“All in good time, dear. It is as I told your friend, Corona was it?” She moved closer to Trixie, whispering into her ear. “In the warmth of your goddess’s sun, you are something, but down here, in the cold light of the Mountain’s Soul, you are nothing.” She pulled back slightly to look into Trixie’s eyes, then said, “In my kingdom, you are but sheep among wolves, my dear.”

Lifting her head back into the sky, high above Trixie’s head, she spoke, her voice booming across the hall and her wings outstretched fully:

“Welcome to Drakkengard.”

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