• 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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20 — In the Belly of the Beast

Chapter 20:
In the Belly of the Beast

The Queen’s leathery wings folded against her sides as she lowered herself into her stone seat. Motioning to the three drake brothers, she said, “Typhon, Anshar, Sirrush, you may leave us, and take the other two with you.”

No sooner had she spoken, then the brothers gave quick nods and gathered their respective prisoners, bowing before exiting the room. Giving a sly grin and then a nod at both sets of guards, she added, “And you may leave us as well. I would speak to this one alone. With her friends she is a minor threat, and by herself even less so.” The guards looked somewhat uneasy, but bowed respectfully and slithered out of the room, leaving Trixie alone with the Queen.

As soon as they had left, the Queen turned her saccharine smile on Trixie, a sight made all the more frightening by Tiamat’s massive teeth gleaming in the light. Trixie shifted her hooves back and forth nervously as she waited for her to say something.

For what seemed like a millennia, the Queen remained silent, simply staring at Trixie with those fiery eyes and her pointed smile. Until finally, she spoke, breaking her gaze and pointing at the icy, chandelier-like, object hanging above them with a lazy gesture.

“Do you see that?” she asked in an nondescript tone.

Trixie ignored the question. Building up her courage, she said, “Why have you taken us prisoner? We haven’t done anything to make you our enemy.”

Tiamat ignored Trixie right back, continuing along her previous line of thought. “A thousand years ago, that was but one small, meaningless, ice crystal, no larger than the horn on your head.”

Trixie said nothing, but looked up at the massive structure and imagined a time when it was so small.

“A thousand years ago, I too was but one small, meaningless, drake,” the Queen continued. “In those times, I was the only of my kind, until my sisters were born at least, but that wasn’t for another decade or so,” she said, waving a hand dismissively. “Born of true dragon and his mate, a lowly serpent, I was the first drake. Not quite a full dragon, but neither a full serpent, I was looked down upon by both sides. To the so-called ‘true’ dragons, I was but a half-breed, a lesser being not worthy of such high acclaim. But to the serpents one would think I would be regarded as a god, being half-dragon and born with half their strength, but alas, that was not the case.” She sighed, staring up at the crystal, lost in some half-forgotten memory.

Trixie’s lips felt dry and she couldn’t find the words to speak, so Tiamat continued unabated.

“Cast out by my own father, and rejected by my mother as a ‘hybrid monster’, I wandered aimlessly for a time. Honestly, I’ve forgotten how long I was alone. Time seems to blur as the years grow longer and my age lengthens,” she sighed. She paused for a moment, looking away from the crystal to stare down at Trixie.

“Does it not make you want to weep? Am I not to be pitied and looked down upon one so great as you?”

Trixie opened her mouth to respond. “I–I–”

Tiamat waved her claw, silencing Trixie. “Bah, spare me your mumbling,” she said harshly. “I’ll not be the subject of your pity, not when you yourself are so pitiful, my little pony.”

Huffing and returning her gaze to the crystal, she said, “Now then, as I was saying. Being the first of my kind presented me with a great many problems. For one, I was unsure of the extent of my longevity, nor the potency of my magic. So, seeing as I had crawled my way into this very cave we are in now, I tested my powers on the only object of note I could find: the ice crystal.”

“But,” Trixie started, furrowing her brow, “it’s just ice. What’s so special about it?”

She glanced at Trixie. “Ah, my dear,” she grinned, “that is where you are wrong.”

Without warning, the Queen swooped down and picked Trixie up with her massive claws. Together, they soared upwards towards the massive ice structure.

Despite it being a huge chunk of ice, it didn’t feel cold as they approached it, in fact, the air seemed to get warmer, almost pleasantly so. An odd energy seemed to radiate from it. Invisible, but very much palpable, it filled Trixie with an inner warmth and a sense of fullness that was unexplainable. She could feel its innate magic coursing through her, and she could sense that it was making her stronger just by being in its presence. But, on the other hand, so too was the Queen’s strength growing. Her aura was overwhelming now, nearly smothering Trixie with its overbearing willpower. She felt almost suffocated, magically speaking of course.

As they neared the ice crystal, she noticed now that it was slowly rotating in place, and it seemed to pulse with life, though just barely.

Trixie’s face reflected in its many facets as they circled around it. She saw her own worried expression a thousand times over, each face more worried than the last. As they finally came to a stop, she heard the Queen speak softly.

“They call it the Mountain’s Soul, or, sometimes, the Heart of the Mountain, and when I found it, it was fragile and weak, and in dire need of care. I poured myself into it, forcing my very essence into it its, hoping to halt its inevitable march towards decay and then finally death.”

Tiamat reached one claw out and stroked the crystal, running along its length and over the many grooves and facets. “It has come a long way since then,” she said, “and so too have I.”

Trixie saw Tiamat’s reflection in the crystal. Her eyes were hard, and her face said nothing of her thoughts. Seizing the opportunity, Trixie asked, “Why is it they call it the Mountain’s Soul?”

“Because that is what it is,” she said simply as she stroked it. “This crystal represents the life of Jormungdur, the mountain that we call home. It has kept us safe for a millennia, protected my brood for countless generations, and it is dying as we speak.”

For some reason she couldn’t explain, that hit Trixie like a hammer. She felt her heart turn to stone, and her chest became heavy. “What? But... why?”

Tiamat was silent. She gazed into the crystal’s depths, lost in thought.

The Mountain’s Soul is dying? Why? What does that mean? Is Tiamat going to die too?

The Queen spoke finally, interrupting Trixie’s thoughts. “I do not know why it is dying,” she said. “But I have felt its life dwindling away for the last two decades, slowly eating away at its soul and breaking the crystal down.” She paused for a moment. “As large as it is now,” she said, “it used to be even greater than this.” She sighed, almost wistfully.

Trixie gasped silently. This is smaller than it used to be? Celestia, how big was it before?

Tiamat mumbled something under her breath, then said, “It matters little why it is dying. All that matters is how I can stop it from dying. For centuries, I engrossed myself into studying its origins, but found nothing of any use. I know not where it came from, nor why it is linked to my and mine, but as we have grown stronger, so too has it. Now, for some unseen reason, it’s fading away, yet my brood remains strong as ever.” She stopped, shaking her head. “Ah, but why am I telling you this? Surely you must be asking yourself what all of this has to do with you.”She gestured towards Trixie, waiting for the inevitable questions.

Trixie bit her lip, unsure of what to say. “I don’t understand,” she said finally. “You said it yourself, the Soul is linked to your people, but if they’re not dying, then why is it? And, even if it is dying, why tell me? What’s my part in all this?”

The Queen said nothing for awhile, merely watched the tiny crystals that had splintered off from the main one dance around and cast brilliant patterns of light across her amethyst scales. Turning Trixie around so she could look into her eyes, she said, “I may be but half a dragon, but even I can feel when the Eye opens. My children cannot feel it because they have so little of the dragon in them that they only ability it grants them is that of flight, and, in some cases, such as Sypher, ice breath. Although,” she mused, “I hear my sister, Amphiptere’s children, breathe fire like real dragons, and Kalseru’s offspring breathe wind like tornadoes. So, perhaps there is more of the dragon's blood in them than even I know.”

Tiamat stopped herself, “Ah, but I digress.” She smiled toothily. “You see, my dear, dragons, ‘true’ dragons, real dragons, are a rare breed.” She made a dismissive motion with her free hand. “Yes, there are many dragons in this world, though they are no more true dragons than I. They may more look the part than I, but they lack the prowess and spirit of a trueborn.” She curled her claw into a massive fist and stared at it. “Only a small number remain from the dozens that used to rule the land, my father among them.” Her fist tightened. “I believe that saving the Mountain’s Soul requires the magic of a true dragon, and I have not had the displeasure of meeting one in over seven-hundred years.”

“But I’m not a dragon,” Trixie said, “and I haven’t met one either.” She shook her head. “I still don’t know what you want from me, or why you kidnapped me and my friends.”

“Kidnapped?” Tiamat chuckled. “My dear, you may be my prisoners—for the time being—but you were not kidnapped. Far from it, in fact.”

Trixie was taken aback. “What? But, your drakes captured us, and put us in prison. Isn’t that what kidnapping is?”

The Queen let out a hearty laugh. “The bridge crumbles beneath your hooves and you tumble into an endless abyss only to be saved by my children and you call it a kidnapping?” She rolled her eyes. “My my my, are all ponies this ungrateful?”

Trixie held up a hoof. “Wait, you mean it wasn’t you that caused the bridge to fall apart?”

Smiling sweetly, the Queen shook her head. “No, my little pony, it was not me, nor my brood, that caused you to fall.”

Then what did cause it?

Tiamat waved the question away. “Regardless of how you got here, what matters is that you are here,” she continued. “And as I was saying, while you may not be a dragon now, you have looked upon the Eye, something which few, especially of your kind, have ever done, and that means you breathed dragonflame, and you spoke with the Eye, one of the few trueborns left in this world after your goddess forced them out.” She spat out the word “goddess” with an angry glare. Recomposing herself, she said, “So, yes, you are not a dragon, but you have spoken with one, and that is closer than I have come in many a century.”

Tiamat moved her head closer to Trixie’s, lowering her face so they were eye-level. “I must know,” she said desperately, “what did the Eye tell you? What words did it speak to you while you were in its embrace?”

Trixie was caught off guard by the sudden interrogation. She struggled to find the right words. “I–I mean it, it told me...” She trailed off as her mind raced. What do I tell her? she wondered. The truth? Is that the right answer? What would Twilight do? “It told me... nothing,” she finally said. “It showed me a big, open field with lots of snow, but it didn’t tell me anything.”

Tiamat eyed her suspiciously. Massive pupils dilated as she stared at Trixie, then narrowed into thin slits. “Lies,” she said matter-of-factly, moving away from Trixie. “Lies, all of it.”

Trixie felt her stomach drop out of her chest as they were suddenly racing towards the ground. In mere seconds they reached the floor level and Tiamat roughly dropped her onto the stone. Seating herself back in the encrusted throne, she said with that all too familiar smile on her face, “Fine, if that is how you want to play, my dear, then that is how we will play.”

Turning away from Trixie and rapping on the armrest of her chair, she said loudly, “Guards,” the same four guards form before hurried back into the throne room at her command and bowed. “Take her back to our friend Sypher and have him keep them all separated same as before.”

All four guards nodded quickly and scooped Trixie up. As they carried her out of the room, Trixie turned back to look at the Queen.

Watching her as she went through the doorway, Tiamat muttered under breath, “I’ll discover your secrets, my dear, even if I have to squeeze them from you myself.” She clenched her fist into a tight ball before glancing up at the Mountain’s Soul. Her eyes softened. “I won’t let my children die.”

A familiar voice echoed through the room as Trixie was tossed unceremoniously onto the moist, rocky, floor.

“‘Ello, ‘ello, there, my little dove. It seems you’re back in me keepin’. ‘Appy days, eh, love?” Sypher’s face, illuminated by flickering candlelight, grinned wolfishly at Trixie. He wormed his way towards her and lit a pair of icy blue lanterns along the way.

In the dim light, Trixie could see that this room was already far better than the one she had previously occupied. In the corner, a small pile of rags constituted what she assumed was to be her bed. Beside that, a quill, inkwell, and a roll of paper sat inconspicuously. A plate of food and a cup of water occupied the other side of the room. Sypher beckoned her forward. With nowhere else to go, she obliged.

“They wanted ye to be thrown back in that same room wot you stayed in before, but I says to ‘em I says, that ain’t no way to treat a guest, and a guest you are, love.” He motioned towards the “bed” and then to the meager pile of food. “Sees? I even got a bed all made up for you with a ‘ot meal and everythin’,” he laughed. “No more—” he paused “—’angin’ about waitin’ for the Queen, eh?” He nudged Trixie, grinning, waiting for a response.

She said nothing, but picked up the quill and paper.

“What are these for?” she asked.

Sypher mumbled something incoherent, and then sighed. “Queen’s orders an’ all, weren’t my doin’.” He shrugged. “Says she she wants to write down what it told you. Says you’d know what that means. She also says that you ain’t to be gettin’ any food tills ya do, but, seein’ as I like ya, I brought that fine meal you see before ya.” He puffed out his chest proudly.

Trixie smiled, and then looked more closely at what she supposed could loosely be described as “food”, before fighting back a gag. Careful not to let Sypher see, she bit back the dry heave she could feel working its way up from her stomach and said, “Thank you, Sypher. You’re too kind.”

He chuckled, saying, “I knows it ain’t much, but you could do a lot worse, eh?” He set the lantern he was carrying down and said, “You’re the first prisoner wot cared ‘bout me name, or who ol’ Sypher was. Well,” he said sheepishly, “to be honest, you lot are the only prisoners I ever ‘ad.”

“Well you’re doing a fine job so far,” Trixie said. She flashed him a quick smile. “This is easily the best prison experience I’ve ever had.”

Sypher wagged a finger at her. “Now, now, love, flattery ain’t the way to win me ‘eart. It’ll take a little more an’ a bit’a sweet talk to fool me.”

Trixie gasped dramatically. “Fool you? Sypher, I was merely speaking the truth. I’m hurt that you would think I would try and fool you.” Trixie curled her lip into a simper and stared up at Sypher. “I would never lie to you, Sypher.”

“Aye, love, and I’d never be so easily tricked by kind words and childish pouting.” His words suddenly became harsh and his face hardened. “I’m stickin’ me neck out to ‘elp you, and I don’t need your false kindness to make me question whether I did the right thing or not.”

Trixie recoiled. “I–I’m sorry, Sypher. I didn’t–”

He cut her off, holding up a hand. “Save it for another time, love.” He turned his back on her and left the room, slamming the door behind him as he called back, “I’m off to go check on your friends now. At least your Corona is upfront about his dislike for me.”

Trixie cringed as she heard the door rattle. Maybe that was too much...

Sighing, Trixie took in her surroundings and saw that, while this wasn’t the nicest room she had ever stayed in, it was also far from the worst. At least now she wasn’t a pony-popsicle, or upside-down.

She glanced over at the food and could've sworn she saw something move. Her stomach growled as she finally felt the effects of a full two days without food. She suddenly felt somewhat light-headed and decided that terrible food was still better than no food.

As she made for the cup of what she hoped contained water, the parchment caught her eye.

Turning her attention away from her dinner, she picked up the quill with her mouth and dipped it into the inkwell. It had been a long time since she had had to use her mouth to write, but with her magic still mysteriously absent, she had no other choice.

She tapped the quill against the side of the inkwell to remove any excess ink and then made a test stroke against the parchment. A long, stuttery, stroke less flowed across the page and more attacked it, leaving jagged black wounds in its path.

I didn’t realize I was so out of practice. I might have to rewrite this once I get my magic back.

Satisfied that her writing would at least be legible, generously speaking, she re-inked the quill and started a new line.

Dear Twilight Sparkle,

These last few days have been...

She paused, thinking of what word could possibly describe the recent events that had befallen them.

... interesting.

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