• 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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27 — The Bear and the Maiden Fair

Chapter 27:
The Bear and the Maiden Fair

She was drowning, that much was very clear. The rest of it, though, was a bit fuzzy. Haze clouded her vision, obscuring the object shooting through the water towards her. She couldn’t be sure, but it looked a bit like a hoof, which would be really helpful right now. If only she could reach it.

Trixie was dimly aware of her own hoof stretching out towards the mystery hoof, almost of its own accord. And she was equally dimly aware of her own lungs filling with water. Then, she was overwhelmed by a sudden rushing sensation as she felt herself breach the water. Coughing and sputtering, she breathed in what felt like a newborn foal’s first gasps at life. When the fog of near-death had left her, she finally got her first glimpse of her rescuer: a faintly pinkish mare with the kindest smile she’d ever seen, and eyes deeper and darker than even the clearest of night sky’s, yet with a certain warmth to them that was uncannily familiar.

After a few more rasping breaths, Trixie finally managed to choke out a quick, “Thank you,” which the mare responded to with a smile and nod of acceptance. As she helped Trixie up, she asked, “Are you all right?”

Trixie nodded weakly. “I’ll be fine.”

She smiled again, looking relieved. “That’s good, I was worried.” She held out her hoof. “My name’s Aurora, by the way. Aurora Borealis.”

Trixie took her hoof and gave it a shake that was probably a lot less firm than she had intended. “Trixie,” she said, answering Aurora’s unasked question, “just Trixie...”

Aurora released Trixie’s hoof and looked past Trixie to the river she had just emerged from. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Trixie,” she said, “I just wish it were under different circumstances. What were you doing all the way out here? And in the Iron Mill river no less?”

A sudden look of apprehension creased Trixie’s face. She turned around to face the river and began scanning it for any signs of seaponies. Satisfied that they were at least out of any immediate danger, she gave a relieved sigh. “It’s a long story, one that would best be talked about far away from here,” she said, giving a nervous glance over her shoulder to the river. “To summarize, I was nearly eaten by a pack of ravenous seaponies and they’re probably still chasing me even now, so if we could go away from here—as far away as possible—that would probably be best.”

Aurora looked confused, but didn’t bother questioning her. She grabbed Trixie’s hoof and pulled her towards a path that was just visible at the edge of the woods that ran along the river’s edge. “Come on,” she said. “We’re not very far from Hoofington. I’ll take you to my house and we’ll get you all cleaned up and fed.” They reached the path and started walking at a steady pace towards a small hill, over which Trixie could just barely make out an all-too-familiar clockface and matching set of hands. She shuddered inwardly. Aurora, who either didn’t notice, or chose not to care, about Trixie’s slightly pained expression, mumbled quietly to herself, “And we’ll see what this whole seapony thing is about as well.”

The walk from the river had not been a very long one, nor a very talkative one. In fact, they were only about five minutes away when Aurora had rescued Trixie, so for the most part, they walked in silence, though not without the occasional glances from Aurora who seemed to notice now that Trixie was acting oddly uncomfortable. Though, she retained her previously established silence on the matter.

As they breached the town’s perimeter, entering through squat wooden gates that were part of a long fence that encompassed the entirety of the small town, Trixie couldn’t help but feel somewhat smothered by all the familiar sights and sounds. Everything about Hoofington was exactly was she remembered it, despite the fact that the last time she had been here was years and years ago, when she was still just a filly. The bakery, the tavern, the blacksmith, the old schoolhouse just over the ridge on the far side of town, even the clocktower that loomed over the village like a massive crow, with its hands perpetually pointing at precisely 6:30, was exactly as she remembered it. Dreadful.

“Welcome to Hoofington,” Aurora said happily, snapping Trixie out her self-induced trance. She waved her hoof at the town square, naming each building as she passed over it. Not wanting to alert Aurora to her familiarity with the small town, Trixie said nothing, but nodded along as Aurora rattled off the names of the shops, and their owners. “Oh, there’s a lovely little bakery over here owned by a mister and missus Truffle. Ooh!” she exclaimed as they passed in front of the clocktower. “And this is Hoofington’s most famous landmark!”

“Mm,” Trixie mumbled, not looking up at the disheveled clocktower but below it where a vacant space covered up what once was a modest, two-story house with a garden out front where the owners used to grow herbs to sell at the market. Of course, that was a long time ago. Now it was just an empty plot of land with a sign shoved into the ground out front saying, “Available For Lease”.

“Well, I say ‘most famous’,” Aurora continued, oblivious to Trixie’s quiet reflection, “but it’s probably the only thing that even comes close to being famous in all of Hoofington.”

“Why is that?” Trixie asked absentmindedly, not even really hearing the question.

Aurora looked surprised. “Oh, I thought most ponies had heard what had happened here, but maybe it’s not as well-known as I thought.” She frowned. “Well, it was years and years ago, and at the time, there was this family of unicorns that used to live here,” she said, pointing to empty plot of land that lay directly below the clock’s 6:30 position. “Real nice they were. Always heard good things about them,” she continued. “Anyway, one night, completely out of nowhere this massive bear-thing came lumbering out of the Silverleaf Forest.”

Well, not entirely out of nowhere.

She made a motion like she was three-hundred pounds heavier and stomped slowly towards the clocktower. “It was bigger than anything anypony had ever seen before, and all covered in stars, like a big constellation come to life.” Trixie nodded along, doing her best to look invested in a story that she knew by heart. “For whatever reason, it seemed dead-set on this house,” she said, indicating, again, the vacant plot. She put a hoof to her chin thoughtfully. “Maybe it was because of the girl,” she said, thinking out loud. “I can’t remember her name, though. I’ve only heard this story second-hoof,” she explained. “It was something with an ‘M’. Mid-something. Midsummer. Midra. Mid—”

“—Midnight,” Trixie said, her face solemn. Her right hoof moved unconsciously to her breast. She felt the hard crystal brooch beneath her hoof. “Her name was Midnight,” Trixie repeated. Her thoughts turned to the past briefly as she recalled the last time she had heard that name aloud. Midniiiiiight! She shook her head, trying her best to clear her thoughts.

Aurora’s face contorted into a look of curious confusion. She cocked her head to the side. “Midnight?” she said with just a hint of questioning. “Did you... know her?”

Trixie stiffened, realizing what she had just said. She quickly moved her hoof away from the brooch as she said, “Oh, just... just a lucky guess is all.”

Utterly unconvinced by Trixie’s answer, but not wanting to press the issue, Aurora shrugged and continued her story. “Anyway, as I was saying, Midnight might’ve been why it was drawn to this house. She was out here, her horn ablaze with magic, drawing it closer and closer. They say she battled with it for over an hour,” Aurora said matter-of-factly.

It was closer to two hours.

“And that she’s the only one to have survived fighting one.”

Not the only one. Not anymore, Trixie thought bitterly.

“Of course,” Aurora said nervously, even more so after Trixie’s odd reaction to the girl’s name. “After defeating it, she was left too weak to move when the beast came falling down. Crushed her and her poor family in their house. I don’t think any of her family made it out alive,” Aurora said sadly. “It’s a rather disheartening story,” she added. “But none of what I said really explains why this clocktower is famous, or infamous as may be the better term.”

She pointed up to the clock’s face, where the hands were stuck in an infinite downwards gesture. “After tumbling over and into the house, the bear hit the clock as well, shaking it and causing its hands to get stuck like that. It’s been that way for as long as I’ve know it,” she said. “Over the years, a few ponies have gone up and tried to fix it, but nopony’s been successful yet. Some say it’s a bad omen, and that we should take it down, but others say that if it ever was fixed, the bear would return. Still others claim it’s all just silly superstition and that nothing will happen whichever outcome is decided for it. Of course, nothing’s been done about it for years, so I doubt that will change anytime soon. They just call it Midnight Tower now, almost ironically given its time.” She pointed up the hands stuck in position directly opposite midnight. “Now Midnight Tower and the story surrounding it, have become part of the town’s folklore. Legend almost. A tale old mare’s tell their grandchildren when they want them to behave.”

She gave Trixie a one-eyed stare, imitating a crotchety old mare. “Beware of the clocktower,” she said in a creaky voice that sounded like cruel facsimile of her normally cheerful, bell-like tone. “For if you disturb it, the dreaded star-bear will return to gobble you up!” She finished with an overly-dramatic flail of her hooves. Falling back to all-fours, she giggled, covering her mouth. “At least something good came out of such a tragic event,” she said after her giggling died down. “It wasn’t even that long ago, but some ponies question how much of the story is even true. It all happened in the dead of night, so nopony really remembers it very clearly.” She sighed. “But I guess that’s just the way things go.”

Trixie stared silently at the clocktower, then back down to the vacant lot. “What do you believe?” she asked pointedly, looking over to Aurora. “About the bear and the tower and all that. Do you think it’s cursed? Or is it all just a fairytale?”

Aurora shrugged. “I think the original story is real, including the part about Midnight and her family’s death. But the parts about the tower being cursed, and the bear returning are all just made-up nonsense told to scare ponies for fun. It’s no more true than the tale of the Headless Horse, or the old mare and her rusty horseshoe. They’re just ghost stories you tell while sitting around a campfire.”

“So what happened after the bear was vanquished?” Trixie asked. “Midnight and her family, what happened to them?”

Aurora’s expression shifted, her lips curling into the look of someone who’d just been asked to solve a very difficult riddle. “Well that’s the thing, see,” she said. “The bear toppled over, crushed the house, and by the time the townsponies were able to extricate it, there was nothing left besides rubble and dust. They were never able to find any bodies, living or dead.” She looked over to the empty lot, as if she were still waiting for bodies to mysteriously appear.

Trixie nodded knowingly. “If that’s the case though, how do you know none of the family survived? You said earlier that none of them made it out alive.” Her hoof moved back to her brooch. “How can you know for sure?”

Aurora’s lips pursed into a thin line. “I... I don’t know,” she confessed. “But as far as I know, none of them were ever heard from again. So, something must’ve happened to them, don’t you think? Ponies don’t just up and disappear like that.”

“Mm, perhaps not,” Trixie replied quietly, almost more to herself than Aurora.

With a flip of her vibrant mane, Aurora flashed Trixie a brilliant smile and said, “Well, enough of this depressing talk. Let’s get you something to eat, and then we can discuss these seaponies you were talking about.”

Not one to pass up a free meal, Trixie obliged, and her and Aurora ventured further into the town. Walking past stalls and street vendors, tiny general stores and a round building with a dome on top that marked Hoofington City Hall, Trixie couldn’t help but feel like she was back in Ponyville. A feeling that she tried her best to ignore. Though that was easier said than done. As they came upon the smithy, Aurora stopped.

Trixie closed her eyes. Please, anywhere but here.

“This is it,” Aurora said, indicating the entrance to the shop.

A soft sigh escaped Trixie’s lips, unbeknownst to Aurora. She opened her eyes again and examined the building, though she hardly needed to see it now to know what it looked like. She’d spent more than enough time here as a filly to know it by heart.

It was a large wooden structure with a porch that wrapped around the left side of the building to an open area where a large stone pit held a crackling fire. Beside this was a pedal-operated grindstone, a trough filled with water, and a coal-black anvil with a single, worn hammer resting on top of it. The rest of the building was largely the same as the front, mostly large logs held together by some sort of binding, but with some masonry as the foundation and the steps leading up to the porch. It was all just as Trixie remembered, save the sign that wobbled back and forth in the breeze. Where once it had said, “Hammer & Anvil’s Smithery and Farrier”, it now simply said, “Anvil & Sons”. With only a trio of anvils where an anvil with crossed hammers used to be.

Aurora cantered up the steps, her hooves clip-clopping against the stone. She flung open the door and was immediately attacked by a pair of young colts, who were shouting, “Mother! Mother!” She laughed, hugging them both as she turned to wave Trixie inside. “Come in, come in. They won’t bite.”

“It’s not them I’m worried about,” Trixie mumbled under her breath. Will he still remember me? After all these years? As Trixie cautiously made her way up the steps, a third pony appeared behind the colts. Trixie’s breath caught in her throat. She stopped.

He was tall, very tall, even taller than Trixie remembered him being, and strikingly handsome. His muscles rippled as he stretched out to pull Aurora into a hug with the two colts. “Where’ve you been, dear?” he asked her. “I thought you’d be home awhile ago. Arc, Forge, and I have been waiting ages.”

“Oh, I just decided to go for a walk down by the river,” she said casually. “Of course, I wasn’t expecting to save anypony’s life when I did.”

The stallion’s brown eyes narrowed in confusion. He cocked his head to the side, tossing his short-cropped, anvil-black mane. That’s when he noticed Trixie for the first time. His eyes shot open in a mixture of shock, disbelief, and more confusion. His mouth opened slowly as he said, “Trixie... is that you?”

Now it was Aurora’s turn to look confused. She turned back to Trixie. “Wait. You two know each other?” She looked back and forth between the stallion and Trixie.

Well, it was only a matter of time. Trixie sighed softly. “It’s been awhile, Anvil,” she said, smiling that same awkward smile she always did when she talked to Anvil. Or at least, when she used to talk to Anvil.

He laughed a single dry laugh. “Yeah... it has.”

“I’m sorry, but could you explain just one more time?”

Aurora, Trixie, and Anvil were all sitting around the kitchen table; the two young colts had been given a set of chores to do, so they were outside working the forge making horseshoes to sell at market. Aurora was still having trouble grasping the situation, so she asked Trixie again, “I thought the Lulamoon family disappeared along with that house. How are you even still alive?”

“Midnight was the one who disappeared,” Trixie corrected her. “She left that night, and I haven’t seen her, or our parents, since.” Trixie folded her hooves across the table. “I don’t really remember what happened all that well. I—I sort of ran away from home.”

Anvil frowned. “I guess that would explain why you never came back, but why would you run away from home? What were you running from?”

Trixie heaved a sigh. “Look, I don’t like talking about it, but the important thing is I wasn’t there when the Ursa attacked. My sister was. I don’t know what happened to her, but I do know I don’t care.” She huffed. “Good riddance, as far as I’m concerned. All she ever cared about was herself anyway.”

Aurora’s forehead creased with worry. “How can you say that? She’s your—”

Anvil placed a hoof on her shoulder. “Just leave it,” he said quietly. “It’s not our place.” He looked over to Trixie, smiled at her. “Let’s not dwell on the past, shall we? I wanna know how you came upon my wife way out here. I mean, what are you even doing back in Hoofington?”

Trixie fiddled with the glass of water in front of her, holding it up and looking at Aurora and Anvil’s distorted faces through the water. “It’s a rather long story,” she said, “one I’d rather not get into right now. But suffice it to say, I don’t plan on staying in Hoofington very long. Maybe a day or two at most.” She placed the glass back down, shooting a quick glance at Anvil.

Aurora reached her hoof and placed it over Trixie’s. “Well, you’re more than welcome to stay here if you need to. There’s a spare bed by the boys’ room you can use.”

Trixie moved her hoof away. “Thanks,” she said coolly, “but I think I’ll just rent a room at the pub.”

“Oh, umm...” Aurora looked taken aback, but she recovered quickly. “Well, our home is always open to you, should you need it.” She smiled again, hoping she looked as comforting as she was trying to be.

“Thanks,” Trixie mumbled.

Anvil suddenly stood up and lumbered over to the cabinet and began fishing something out. “So fine, you’re not staying in Hoofington long and you don’t want to talk about why. I can respect that. But you can at least tell me how you came upon Aurora, can’t you?” He came out of his fishing expedition holding a set of plates and utensils and began setting them on the table. “And you can tell me all about it over dinner.” He shot a glance over to Trixie. She looked away. “You’re not too proud for that, are you?” He smirked.

Trixie made to answer, but her stomach beat her to it. With a growl that would’ve put a lion to shame, Trixie realized she hadn’t eaten since leaving Emerald Falls. She laughed despite herself. “No, I suppose I’m not.”

Anvil’s smirk changed into a goofy grin. “Good, because I make a mean bean salad.” He turned back to the cupboard and pulled out some bowls, setting them on the counter.

As Anvil began preparing their dinner, Aurora’s gazed shifted to Trixie. “So,” she said slowly, “you know Anvil from when you were kids?” It was more of a statement than a question.

Trixie nodded, not looking at Aurora, but at Anvil. “Yeah... something like that.”

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