• 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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26 — Washed up on the Rocks

Chapter 26: Washed up on the Rocks

The clip-clop of hooves punctured the silence as four ponies, and one dragon, trekked along a narrow, winding, dirt path. The sun was well past its peak and was already beginning to set, leaving them with only another hour or two of sunlight. Luckily, they didn't have much further to go before they reached Hoofington.

“Ughhhhh,” Rainbow Dash groaned. “We've been walking, like, forever. How much longer is it gonna be?” She reached a hoof to her side and gingerly touched her bandaged wing, wincing slightly from the contact. “My freakin' wing is killing me.”

“Oh, quit your whining, Rainbow Dash. We've only just begun walking,” Rarity said, tossing her mane. “If you're going to whine about anything it should be this dreadful humidity.” She pulled a section of her mane down and frowned. “It's absolutely ruining my coiffure.” She released her mane, letting it bounce back into place. Normally well-kept and brushed to perfection, Rarity's luscious violet mane was getting frizzier by the second. She sighed, mumbling, “Took me hours to get it just so.”

“Rare's right, for once,” Applejack added, while using her hat to fan herself. “We ain't been walkin' longer 'an a few minutes. Maybe thirty, tops. 'Sides,” she said, squinting up at the sun, “we still got a ways to go.” She placed her hat back on her head, tilting it down a bit. “I just can't believe it's still so hot. Ain't it supposed to get cooler as the sun goes down?”

Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes. “Okay, first off, I wasn't whining. I was just saying that my wing, which is totally probably broken by the way, was hurting... that's all. Second, I thought it was just me that noticed how hot it was. I kinda thought I was imagining things.” She used her good wing to wash cool air over herself while simultaneously, and accidentally, making Rarity's mane even more frizzy.

“Rainbow!” Rarity cried, clutching her mane in a desperate attempt to keep it from being blown even more out of control than it already was. “Stop that this instant!”

“Oops,” Rainbow chuckled, tucking her wing back against her side. “My bad. It's just so hot, y'know?”

Twilight, who had been silent up to that point, keeping her eyes forward, but her head in the clouds, said, “Yes, it does seem abnormally hot, especially for the time of day and how far North we are.” She had been lost in her own thoughts for the last half hour or so, but was still able to keep one ear on the conversation. Twilight glanced at Spike, who was on her back, and said, “Any ideas what might be causing that, Spike?”

Spike looked taken aback. “Do I have any ideas?” he said incredulously. “I thought you were the brains around here?”

“I have a few ideas of my own, yes, but I want to know what you think, Spike,” Twilight replied, not a hint of amusement in her voice.

Spike raised an eyebrow. “But why?”

“Because, Spike, I'm not always going to be here to help. You're going to have to figure these things out for yourself eventually, so I'm hoping that you can get some practice now while I sill am here to help,” Twilight said softly. She looked around at her friends, who all gave her smiles as she looked at them. “This journey could be dangerous, Spike, really dangerous, and there's no telling what might or could happen. If something happens, and we get separated, I need to know you can think for yourself, and deduce things without me, or any of us, here to help you.”

Spike was silent for a moment. “Twilight,” he said slowly, “why are you being so serious all of a sudden?”

Twilight gave a little sigh. “It's just...” She trailed off.

“She's jus' worried 'bout you is all, Spike,” Applejack jumped in, sensing Twilight's trepidation. “You ain't exactly had the toughest life so far,” she continued, “but that may change soon.” She placed a hoof on his head, giving him a loving noogie. “Far as I can tell, we're headed purty far North, and it ain't gonna get any easier as we go, and while I'm sure you getting separated is the last thing Twilight would want, the possibility of that happening is, unfortunately, a bit higher 'an normal.”

Spike frowned. “I can take care of myself,” he said indignantly. “I may only be a baby dragon, but I'm just as brave as you or Rainbow Dash.” He puffed out his chest, putting his arms akimbo. Applejack smiled despite herself, patting him on the head.

“I must say,” Rarity said, “for a baby dragon, Spike is quite mature. Why, just earlier today he—” Spike made a slicing motion with his claw at his throat, then pulled an invisible zipper across his mouth. Rarity frowned. “Hmph,” she sighed, “if you're not going to tell them, then I will. You should be proud, not ashamed.”

Twilight's ears perked up. She turned her head to look at Rarity. “Tell us what? What did Spike do?”

Rarity gave Spike a doe-eyed look. He bit his lip, then sighed. “All right, all right, fine...” Spike hopped off Twilight's back and walked ahead a few paces. He turned back to the group and said, “Remember earlier when Rarity said that I had an 'accident'?” All of them except for Rarity nodded. “Well, uhh.” He scratched the back of his neck nervously, kicking his feet against the dirt. “It was less of an 'accident' and more of 'failure',” he continued. “You see, I was trying to breathe fire—real fire—and I ended up doing it... sort of.”

“It was simply wonderful,” Rarity said, picking up where Spike had left off. “It was, err, a little less 'controlled' perhaps than I'm sure he would've liked, but it was spectacular nonetheless.” Her eyes went starry as she recounted the incident. “Oh, the flames were so gorgeous. They were brilliantly green, sort of like a polished emerald, darker than his normal flames, and so deceptively hot. It was only for a second or two, but my little Spikey-Wikey's fire was hot enough to melt a bit of rock.”

“Yeah, and almost you with it,” Spike said casting his eyes downward. “I'm really sorry, Rarity. I could've really hurt you.”

Rarity waved a hoof dismissively. “Oh, pish-posh, it was marvelous, Spike. I'm honored that I was the first pony to see it. It's not every day you get to see a dragon's first flame.”

Twilight smiled widely. “Oh my gosh, Spike, that's so great! Why didn't you tell me you could breathe fire?”

“Well, it's not exactly like I've tried that before today... or ever,” he said. “I didn't even know I could do it. Besides, it's not even like it actually worked. I mean, it sort of did, but I nearly burned Rarity's face last time I tried, so I didn't want anyone to find out and I told her not to tell you guys.”

Twilight took a few steps forward and wrapped a hoof around Spike's shoulder, pulling him in for a hug. “Oh, Spike,” she said softly. “I'm just glad no one got hurt, and I'm really proud of you. This is a big accomplishment.”

“Yeah, and freakin' awesome!” Rainbow Dash shouted. “Dude, Spike, you're totally a real dragon now. I mean, you can breathe fire and everything!” She caught herself. “Well, maybe you don't have the wings yet... but still!” She walked over to Twilight and Spike and gave the little dragon a playful punch in the shoulder. “Awesome stuff, Spikey-boy.”

Applejack, too, joined in and gave Spike pat on the back, saying, “Land-sakes, sugarcube, you really are becoming a bonafide dragon, ain't ya? Shoot, I'm prouder 'an a rattlesnake with a shiny new rattlin' tail.”

Rarity flashed Spike a dazzling smile. “See?” she said, waving a hoof around. “Did I not say they would be proud?” Spike blushed, turning away.

Twilight suddenly clapped her hooves together, as if struck by a sudden thought. “Ha! I just realized what's causing this heat!”

“Oh?” all three of the other ponies said in unison.

“Back when I first got Spike, I read a ton of books on the growth cycles of dragons because I wanted to know what I would have to look for as he matured. Now, I don't remember everything, but I do recall reading something about what a dragon's first flame does to his body. Normally, when Spike has breathed fire before, it's only been to send letters to Celestia, but those weren't real flames. They're like the difference between a pond and the ocean. One is a short burst of flame that comes from the dragon's lungs, and is only a fraction of the magical strength of a normal flame, and the other comes from the dragon's heart. The fire spills out from a nearly limitless font, and is far more powerful, hotter than any fire in Equestria, and with more magical properties than even a unicorn's horn.” Twilight took a deep breath, having said all of that very quickly. She looked around at her friends, but none of them seemed to grasp the significance of what she said. “Sooooo,” she continued, “that means Spike finally had his first heart-flame, and now that he has, his body knows that it's time to start heating up so that he can produce more fire and for longer periods of time. That first flame was like the pilot light in your oven, and now his body is just pouring more gas in so that his heart can act like a furnace, providing Spike with a massive amount of firepower. Of course, that takes years and years to complete. Right now, he'll probably only be able to manage breathing fire for a few seconds maximum. But still, that's incredible, Spike!”

Applejack, Rarity, Spike, and Rainbow Dash stared wide-eyed at Twilight.

“What?” she said.

“You remember all that from a book you read when you were just a filly?” Rainbow Dash asked, shaking her head slowly.

Twilight cocked her head to the side. “You mean you don't remember the books you read as a kid?”

“Well, like, not that much detail.”

Twilight shrugged her shoulders. “Well, in any case, at least we've discovered the source of this mysterious heat. And, now that we have, I know how to fix it.”

“You do?” Applejack asked. “I thought this was just a natural process?”

Twilight nodded. “It is, but you can stop the heat from emanating from Spike without stopping his heart from heating up.”

“So how do we do that, Twi?” Spike asked, rubbing his chest. “Because I'm starting to feel a bit hot myself.”

“Oh, that's easy. We just need to find you some nice cold water to drink and that should help cool you down,” Twilight said happily.

“Might be easier said than done, sugarcube,” Applejack said. “I ain't seen any rivers or lakes since we left Nadir's hut.” She held a hoof up to her brow and scanned the horizon. “Yep, I don't see much of anythin' here.”

Rainbow Dash fluttered her good wing frustratedly. “I would go look, but, y'know...” She awkwardly tried to move her injured wing, causing herself to wince in pain again. “Dang, I gotta stop doing that,” she mumbled.

“Oh!” Twilight said suddenly. “That reminds me.” She flipped open her left-side saddlebag and fished out the medicine that Nadir had given her. Handing it over to Rainbow Dash, she said, “Nadir gave that to me. She said that it should help your wing heal, and, I assume, make you feel better.”

Rainbow Dash eyed the odd paste and dried weeds suspiciously. “Uhh, I guess I don't have much choice, huh?” She gulped. “Welp, bottoms up.” Tossing the dried plants into her mouth, she chewed them quickly, grimacing as the no-doubt bitter plants worked their way down her throat. Swallowing, she stuck out her tongue in disgust. Her eyes fell on the sickly green paste. “I'm not sure I can eat that,” she said.

“I don't think you're supposed to,” Twilight said, stifling a chuckle. “It looks like some sort of salve. It's likely supposed to be applied topically to a localized area.” Rainbow Dash cocked an eyebrow. Twilight groaned. “Just... rub it all over your wing.”

Rainbow Dash perked up. “Ah! Cool.” She held the paste awkwardly in one hoof and tried to smear it over her bandaged wing, but managed only to messily smear it all along her side. “Whoops...”

Applejack shook her head, laughing. “Careful now, Dash, don't hurt yourself. I'll do it for ya.” She used her hoof to scrape as much of the green goop as she could from Rainbow's fur and used her mouth to carefully unwrap the pegasus's bandaged wing. She gave Rainbow a stern, yet comforting, look. “Look here, Rainbow,” she said. “This is gonna hurt a mite, but try an' keep still. Okay?” Rainbow Dash nodded, biting her lip.

As delicately as she could, Applejack pulled Rainbow Dash's wing out, stretching the thin membrane around her wing and spreading the individual feathers apart. Rainbow Dash stifled a yelp, torturing her lip. “Just... hurry up, please,” she groaned. Applejack ignored her, or couldn't answer because she had Rainbow's wing in her mouth. Using the hoof with the mossy paste on it, she began spreading it in between her blue feathers as gently as she could. Once the majority of it had been thoroughly rubbed in, Applejack let Rainbow's wing go. It stayed splayed out as Rainbow grimaced again, unable to pull it back to her side. “Heh,” she chuckled, wincing, “little help here.”

Applejack chuckled along with her. “Sorry, sugarcube. Lemme help with that.” She placed her hooves on Rainbow's wing, pushing it to her side. Then, grabbing the used bandages, she re-wrapped it, pulling the wrappings as tight as she could without causing Rainbow Dash more harm than necessary. Satisfied, she gave a nod. “There ya go, all done.”

"Thanks," Rainbow said, smiling. She flapped her uninjured wing happily. “I'm feelin' a little better already. I guess that stuff works fast, heh.”

“Nadir told me that you'd be back to normal in a few days,” Twilight said. She had watched Applejack apply the ointment, studying it as she rubbed it in. It was difficult to say without running a few tests, but the paste, whatever it was, seemed to have some intrinsic magic to it. She could've sworn she saw it melting into Rainbow's feathers and fur as it was applied. “In any case, I'm glad you're feeling better, Rainbow. Just be careful and try not to move that wing too much. As long as it stays mostly still, I think you'll be fine.”

Spike tapped Twilight on the shoulder, trying to get her attention. “So anyway,” she said, dragging out the 'so' far longer than necessary. “About that water.”

Twilight's eyes lit up. “Oh, right, water.” She looked past Spike, and to a clearing up ahead a ways. She frowned. “I'm not one-hundred percent sure, but if I'm remembering right, there should be a small lake just past that clearing up there.” She picked Spike up with a violet cloud of magic, and placed him on her back. “It's not too far, and once we get there, we'll only be a short walk from Hoofington. Come on, girls,” she said, motioning to her friends.

“Thank Celestia,” Rainbow muttered. “I need something to wash the taste of this disgusting stuff outta my mouth. It feels like I ate rotting hay.” She stuck her tongue out. “Blegh.” Applejack chuckled again.

It didn't take them long to reach the lake, and as they approached it, both Spike and Rainbow's eyes became excited. The lake was deep blue, and a bit murky, but to the pair of suffering friends, it was like an oasis in the desert. It was surrounded by a thin shoreline peppered with rocks and random detritus. A log here, a soggy leaf there. But on the far end of the lake, just a little too far to clearly make out, was something that looked a little different from the rest of the flotsam and jetsam. It was bone-white, and in a small pile that looked eerily like stacked ribs. Of course, both Rainbow Dash and Spike were far too preoccupied with the refreshing-looking water to be bothered by something even as foreboding as that.

“Man, in retrospect,” Spike remarked as he leapt from Twilight's back and rushed over towards the water's edge, “it was really dumb not to bring any water with us. That seems like Big Epic Adventure 101.”

“Yeah,” Rainbow Dash agreed. “Really not the greatest planning on your part, Twi.”

Twilight would've rolled her eyes if she had heard them, but she was too busy paying attention to the disturbance on the lake's surface. She saw ripples as something ducked under the lake, just in time to not be seen. She crinkled her muzzle in concentration.

“What is it, Twilight?” Rarity asked, following Twilight's line of sight.

“Spot something, sugarcube?” Applejack added, also following the invisible line into the middle of the lake.

Twilight shook her head. “No, it's probably nothing,” she said. “Just fish I'm sure.”

Completely oblivious to any possible danger, Spike and Rainbow Dash raced towards the water, laughing as they ran. Twilight, Rarity, and Applejack, staying a little farther back, waited as Twilight kept her eyes trained on the water. She narrowed her eyes, something in her gut telling her not to look away.

“Either you saw something, or you're just really interested in this lake, Twi,” Applejack said, pursing her lips. “And I'm bettin' it ain't the latter.”

Twilight, without looking away from the lake, responded, “I don't know, but I've got this really weird feeling, like something bad is about to happen. Of course that's ridiculous, but still...”

Applejack took off her hat, holding it to her chest as she squinted, trying to see whatever it was that Twilight saw, or thought she saw. “Where's Pinkie and her Pinkie sense when you need her?”

Twilight grinned, despite the situation. “I'm not sure she has a tic for 'mysterious lake ripples'.”

Rarity narrowed her eyes as well. Then, as if struck by a sudden idea, she brought a hoof to her chin. “Wasn't there something in one of Trixie's letters about things not always being as they seemed?”

“Hmm, that's just vague enough to apply to this situation,” Twilight said. She relinquished her relentless gaze on the lake, turning to her friends. She shrugged. “I'm sure it's nothing. Like I said, it was probably just fish or something.”

Applejack shrugged along with her, placing her hat back on her head. “If you say so, sugarcube.” As she started to canter towards the lake, she said, “Well, since we're here, I'mma go ahead and get some water too. I'm getting thirstier than an armadillo in a marathon.”

“Yes, I think I'll have a sip as well,” Rarity added, following Applejack down.

Just then, Twilight noticed that she too was feeling a bit dry in the mouth. Throwing caution to the wind, she followed the other ponies to the lake's edge. As Spike and Rainbow Dash reached the water, dunking their heads in as soon as they did, Twilight stopped, seeing another, larger, ripple in the lake.

“Stop!” she shouted, halting Rarity and Applejack in their place. “I just saw something in the lake again.”

Rainbow Dash, unaware of Twilight's previous sighting, shouted back to her. “Oh please, Twi. It's probably just fish or something. What could possibly live in this lake that's dangerous?” She waved a hoof dismissively, leaning her head back towards the water. “You're just imagining things.”

As if simply to spite Rainbow Dash, the water suddenly began to churn with ripples in many places. With an explosive force, the water exploded as a dozen armored ponies leapt from the water and grabbed Rainbow Dash and Spike, holding sharp tridents to their throats.

Rainbow Dash craned her neck to look up at her captor. “Oh, you have got to be kidding me,” she groaned.

Twilight's eyes went wide. She immediately used her magic to grab Applejack and Rarity, pulling them out of harm's way and to her side.

“Shoot, I guess you weren't seeing things, Twi,” Applejack muttered. “This ain't lookin' so good.”

“Spike!” Rarity shouted, holding her hoof out towards the squirming dragon. “Hold on!”

Always trust your instincts, Twilight. You should know that, Twilight thought, reprimanding herself. She eyed her friends' captors, noticing that they were not like normal ponies. Besides the armor and tridents, they also had long, scaled tails instead of rear-legs, and seemed to have gills along their necks. “Seaponies,” she mumbled.

Applejack danced nervously on the tips of her hooves, fumbling with a dozen ideas for what to do in her head. She turned to Twilight. “So, uhh, what now?”

Twilight's jaw went slack. She mouthed words, but no sounds came out. “Umm,” she finally said, “I... don't know.”

Applejack stared wide-eyed at her. “Well, ain't that just great.”

Rarity snapped her head towards Applejack. “Oh, you have an idea then?” she said, a little more sarcastically than she had intended.

Applejack nodded slowly, adjusting her hat just a bit. “Just one,” she said. Kicking up some dirt with her right hind leg, she snorted, lowering her head. “Chaaaaaaaarge!” Letting loose a loud cry, she sprinted forward, right towards the dozen armored seaponies.

“I guess that's one idea,” Twilight said, somewhat in shock. “Rarity?” She turned to see that Rarity too had begun charging towards the line of seaponies with reckless abandon. “Oh boy... this won't end well.”

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