• 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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31 — The Long Road Ahead

Chapter 31:
The Long Road Ahead

“Mm… must see somehin’ in ya. Can’t imagine what, though,” mumbled Typhon as he sighed, shifting the lantern he was holding to his other hand. The glow from the light cast dark shadows along the wall, depicting two figures, one four-legged, and the other snake-like, making their way through the sparsely-lit tunnels.

Trixie paused for the briefest of moments to shoot a glance over her shoulder at Typhon. “What was that?” she asked. “I didn’t quite catch what you said.”

Typhon made a clicking sound with his forked tongue. “I said, she must think you’re somethin’ special, lettin’ you go like that. You should count yourself lucky, pony. Ain’t too many who’ve just been released without so much as a lashin’. If it weren’t for what Lady Tiamat done for us, I’d have half a mind to be questionin’ 'er leadership. But I ain’t the sort to ask questions that ain’t got no answers. If she asks somethin’ ‘a me, I do it. If she tells me to let prisoners go, I won’t say no. I do it because I know Lady Tiamat ain’t got nothin’ but our best interests on ‘er mind. She ain’t done nothin’ to ‘urt us yet, and she won’t start now.” His face hardened until his jaw was one sleek line. “I’d do anythin’ Lady Tiamat asked ‘a me, even give me life. Wouldn’t even stop to ask why.”

Trixie’s hoof instinctively moved to her chest, where her brooch had been. The familiar feel of the jewel against her hoof was replaced by the still-familiar, though less comforting, feel of her own fur against her hoof. Her heart sank a little, but she tried to ignore the feeling, pushing it away. “You really feel that strongly about Tiamat?” she asked, trying to keep her mind off things she couldn’t get back.

“Aye,” was Typhon’s terse, one-worded reply.

“Why is that?”

Typhon stopped, causing Trixie to stop as well. The way he held the lantern made it so that his face was mostly cast in shadow. Only his brow and upper-jaw line were visible. His eyes, hidden in the dark, still glinted whenever the flame flickered. “Our Lady Tiamat’s the only thing keepin’ us drakes from slippin’ into the shadow ‘a the dragons. Without her, we’d be nothin’. A footnote in the history ‘a the world. But she made us strong. She made us proud. She gave us somethin’ ta fight for.”

Trixie furrowed her brow. “Something to fight for? Like what?”

He turned his head downwards to look at Trixie, a motion that illuminated more of his face, but cast the rest into an even deeper darkness. “Like somethin’ that don’t concern a little pony like yourself.”

“Does it have something to do with the Mountain’s Heart? Is that why she told me it was dying?”

“If Lady Tiamat saw fit to inform you about something, then far be it from me to question her, but I ain’t gonna be fillin’ any ‘a the blanks for you. Suffice it to say, Drakkengard ain’t always been the peaceful, cheery place you’ve been enjoyin’ since ya got here.”

Trixie rose an eyebrow. “What do you mean?”

Typhon snorted. “Ain’t I just told ye that I ain’t givin’ away things that ain’t meant to be given away?” With a sigh, he hefted his lantern and started moving forward again. “Look, we’re drakes, you understand? We ain’t quite snakes, we ain’t quite dragons, but we’re somewhere in between. We ain’t ‘ad a place to fit in for’s long as I can remember. Not just us, neither, but other drakes too. Been plagued by constant attacks we ‘ave. The snakes think we’re too ‘igh and mighty, and the dragons look down on us, but we ain’t better ‘an either of ‘em. We’re just tryin’ to survive, ye understand? You ‘ave any inklin’ what it’s even like to feel so universally ‘ated?”

Trixie winced, her hoof moving to her chest again.

“Even us drakes don’t all get along. Been more in-fightin’ in these past few decades than I ever seen in me whole life, but we ain’t disappeared yet. You know why that is?”

Trixie started to answer, but Typhon wasn’t going to let her speak. He cut her off with a wave of his claw.

“It was Lady Tiamat’s doing, it was. Weren’t for ‘er, Drakkengard wouldn’t even be here now. None of us would. We owe her our lives.”

Trixie cast her eyes down. “I didn’t realize you thought so well of her. If half of what she told me was true, she is quite an amazing leader.”

“I don’t know what she told ya, and I don’t wanna know, but you can bet your life that it weren’t no lies.” He nodded. “Lady Tiamat is many things, but a liar she ain't.”

“Even still,” said Trixie, “some of what she told me seemed rather farfetched, like it came from a storybook and not real life.”

Typhon growled, releasing a puff of icy mist into the air. “Even if that were true, which it ain’t, what purpose would be served by ‘er lyin’ to ye? Lady Tiamat ain’t got nothin’ to gain by tellin’ ye fairy tales, missy.”

Trixie let that thought sink in for a moment. It bounced around in her head like a spastic ping-pong ball until she eventually reached a conclusion. With her eyes forward, peering into the impenetrable darkness, Trixie said, “Maybe she does have something to gain?”

Typhon let out a throaty chuckle. “And what, my little pony, would that be?”

“My cooperation,” Trixie mumbled, speaking more to herself than Typhon. “But what does she want?” Trixie asked, again, more to herself than Typhon. “What, exactly, is Tiamat after?”

“Quit yer mumblin’ and speak clearly,” Typhon growled. “Can’t understand ya when you ain’t enunciatin’ properly.”

Trixie shook her head. “Oh, it’s nothing. Just talking to myself is all.”

“Aye, so I see. While you’re at it, maybe you could just stop talking altogether, eh? Give ol’ Typhon some peace and quiet from your insufferable blatherin’.”

“If that’s what you’d like—”

“I’d like nothin’ more.”

“—then fine. I won’t speak anymore.” She turned away from Typhon. “I need to think about some things anyway,” she added under her breath.

With that little spat, the two fell silent, echoing the eerie silence of the caves they were traversing. They remained that way for the remainder of the journey back to the cells, the silence only broken by the clip-clop of Trixie’s hooves and the occasional drip-drop of water from overhead. It wasn’t the most exciting journey, but it did allow Trixie some much-needed time to mull things over in her head while she wasn’t being led blindfolded or being carried through the tunnels. She used this time to go over recent events in her head and try to work things out. Unfortunately for her, she hadn’t made much progress by the time they had reached the cells. When Typhon knocked on the stone door, sending echoes down the tunnel they had just walked through, it brought Trixie out of her self-induced trance.

“Oi! You lot are comin’ with me. Lady Tiamat’s orders.”

Trixie heard rustling from the behind the stone door, but it was muffled, and it was hard to make out if there were any voices saying anything. After waiting a second, Typhon brought up a scaly claw to the door. It was at this point that Trixie realized something odd. There was no handle on the door. It was just a thick slab of stone with a tiny window near the top, but no discernible mechanism for opening it. She was about to ask how Typhon planned to open the door when her question was answered before it was even asked.

As Typhon’s claw touched the door, a wave of ice seemed to shoot out. It covered a small area at first, then expanded until it covered a few square inches, eventually growing thicker and thicker until it had formed a ball-like structure not dissimilar from a doorknob. With a twist that looked like it should’ve cracked the knob in half, Typhon turned the icy handle and opened the door. Seeing Trixie’s look of confusion, he smiled, showing off a row of pointy teeth.

“Never had anyone break in or out before. Bit ‘ard to pick a lock where there ain’t no lock to be pickin’, eh?”

“I’ve never seen anything like that before,” Trixie said quietly. “How does it work?”

“What, and tell you how to break into one ‘a me cells? I don’t think so. Drake magic is all I’ll say. Ain’t somethin’ you ponies would understand.”

“Mm…” Trixie mumbled. “It’s quite impressive, to say the least.”

Typhon nodded. “Aye. Now shut up and get your friends outta me cell.”

Trixie said nothing, but entered the darkened room anyway. It was cold, much like her own cell had been, and no bigger either. The only light came from a tiny candle that was all but a pool of wax on the floor. She looked around, but didn’t see anypony. She turned back to Typhon to say something regarding this fact, but before a single word could escape, she felt something grab her from behind, wrapping its limbs around her mouth.

“Move a single muscle and I’ll blast your head clean off. Wait… Trixie?”

With the mystery pony’s grip released, Trixie was able to face her attacker. His face illuminated by the glow of his horn, Corona stood there with a confused expression snaking its way across his face.

“Why are you here?”

Trixie smiled, reaching out and pulling Corona into a hug. “We’re being released!” she said excitedly. “I spoke with Tiamat and she agreed to free us.”

Corona’s gaze narrowed. “Why? What reason does she have to just let us go?”

“We can talk about that later,” Trixie said, brushing the question off. “First, where are Polaris and Astrid?”

“I’m right here,” came a voice from behind Corona. The clack of hooves against the stone announced Polaris’ entry as he stepped into Corona’s glow. “Astrid’s here too.” He pulled his wife forward into the light. Trixie’s heart sank as a pit formed in her stomach. Astrid did not look well.

Her eyes were ringed with dark circles, and her face looked sallow. Her normally white fur looked paler than usual, and there was a weakness in her expressions that made her look frail. She smiled, but Trixie didn’t smile back.

“Astrid…”

Astrid smiled again. “I’m fine, dear. Don’t worry about me.”

Corona sighed. “I’ve been trying to keep her warm as best as I can, but it’s difficult to sustain any spell for a long period of time. I’m no doctor, but I think she’ll be okay after she’s had some proper rest.”

Polaris nodded in agreement. “Which is all the more reason that we need to leave this place as soon as possible. You did say we were being freed, right?”

Trixie winced as she saw Astrid cover her mouth to cough a few times before putting that same smile back across her face. “That’s right. Tiamat told me that we’re free to leave. She was… feeling generous.”

Corona huffed. “I don’t believe that for a second, but there’s no point in arguing about it now.” He looked up at Typhon. “Are you the one escorting us out?”

He nodded. “Aye, I am. But ye may want to reconsider leaving right now.”

“Can’t you see that she’s sick! We need to leave right now!” Corona shouted.

Typhon shrugged. “If that’s what you want. I’ll take ye to the exit, but ye may not like what ya find. It’s still the dead ‘a night out there. A healthy pony wouldn’t last five minutes in that cold, but if that’s what you want, so be it. Far be it from me to question the wisdom of you little ponies,” he said with more than a hint of sarcasm adding bite to his words.

Corona opened his mouth, but no words came out. He sighed. “Fine, we’ll wait till tomorrow morning, but we’re leaving as soon as we can, okay?” He turned to Astrid. “You’ll be fine for one more night, won’t you?”

She nodded softly. “I’m a lot tougher than you think. Polaris and I’ve travelled through the northern wastes more times than I’d care to count. One more night of cold won’t kill me.”

Both Corona and Polaris smiled. “That’s good to hear,” the younger pony said. He turned to Trixie. “So, are you sleeping with us here tonight, then?”

Trixie started to answer, but Typhon beat her to it. “You lot won’t be sleepin’ in ‘ere tonight. Lady Tiamat has me to take you somewhere a little more comfortable. Must be feelin’ especially generous tonight, I reckon.”

“It’s true,” said Trixie. “She’s also agreed to feed us breakfast before we leave tomorrow, so we won’t have to go hungry.”

Corona shook his head. “No, we’ll just eat on the way. You guys brought plenty of supplies didn’t you?”

Polaris nodded. “We did, ‘course, we won’t be seeing ‘em again anytime soon. Lost ‘em when we fell, remember?”

“Damn, I forgot… Well, fine, breakfast it is then. We’ll eat and then be on our way.”

“So it’s settled, then,” said Trixie. She turned to Typhon. “Will you please take us to our rooms now? Astrid needs to rest as much as possible before we leave tomorrow.”

The drake waved the lantern towards one of the many tunnels that led away from the cell. “After you, little ponies.”

Polaris nuzzled Astrid’s head with his own. “C’mon, Astrid. Let’s get out of this cell, mm?”

She nuzzled him back, smiling. “After you, sweetheart.”

So, a line formed as Typhon led the four ponies out of the cell. With Trixie right behind Typhon, Polaris behind her, Astrid behind him, and Corona picking up the rear, they walked at a steady pace down the seemingly endless tunnel. It felt like it went on for miles, at least to Trixie, but in reality the whole thing was only a couple thousand feet at most. As they started to get closer to their destination, Trixie thought she could hear something familiar. It sounded like more drake voices, but she couldn’t’ be sure. It wasn’t until Typhon reached a door and opened it with the same drake magic from before that Trixie realized where they were.

As the door swung open, a massive hall was revealed, and Trixie quickly figured out that they were right back where they had been not long after their capture. A large throne sat in the middle of the room, and a vaulted ceiling dwarfed everything around it. Hanging at the top of this ceiling was the Mountain’s Heart, just like it had been before. Trixie couldn’t help but marvel at its beauty yet again. No matter how many times she saw it, she was sure she’d always be stunned by the sheer size and magnificence of it. She wasn’t able to gaze for too long, however, as Typhon interrupted her thoughts by calling out to a pair of drakes standing on the other side of the room.

“Oi! Anshar! Sirrush! Get ye lazy bellies over here and help these ponies to their rooms, aye?”

The two drakes, one smaller and the other quite a bit larger, turned away from their conversation to look at him. The smaller one squinted, then gasped.

“‘Ang on a sec’, ain’t those the prisoners wot we brought ‘ere before? Wot’s they doin’ outta they cells? Ain’t they supposed’ta be bein’ watched over?”

“Aye, this be them, but they ain’t prisoners anymore. Lady Tiamat’s lettin’ ‘em go, and they’re to be given special rooms for tonight.” Typhon glanced down at the ponies piled up behind him. “Go on, then. They’ll take ya to yer room.”

The larger drake frowned. “Lady Tiamat said that? Why?” he raised his eyebrows suspiciously. “That don’t sound like somethin’ she’d say.”

“Well it’s a good thing it ain’t up to you to decide what Lady Tiamat does and doesn’t say, ain’t it, Anshar? If she tells me these ponies are to be given new rooms and their freedom, then that’s what I’ll do. I ain’t in the business of questionin’ the Queen.”

Anshar’s frown deepened. “If you say so, brother…”

Anshar and Sirrush made their way across the room, slithering on their bellies in that snake-like way that always made Trixie feel oddly uneasy. Sirrush gave a toothy smile while Anshar maintained his stoic frown.

“So,” said Sirrush, “they’s to be given new rooms, eh? The nice ones?”

Typhon turned away and started to head back the way they came from, “Aye, and see to it they’re given one with a fireplace. Lady Tiamat would not be pleased with me if that one died.”

Sirrush tilted his head to the side. “That one?” He looked down.

Astrid, as if on cue, coughed, doing her best to cover her mouth while she leaned on Polaris for support.

“Think he means that one,” said Anshar.

“Thank you, Anshar, couldn’t figure out that one by meself,” he said sarcastically. “Bleedin’ ‘ell, it’s a good thing your ‘ere to tell me these things.”

Anshar rolled his eyes. “Just shut up and help me carry ‘em, aye?”

Trixie quickly stepped forward as Anshar and Sirrush leaned down to pick the ponies up. “We can walk just fine,” she said. “Just lead us to our rooms and we’ll be okay.”

With a nod, Anshar and Sirrush both turned away and started to slither off in towards the opposite end of the hall, Trixie and company in-tow. Much like before, they didn’t have to travel very far through the tunnels before they reached the rooms, but unlike before, these tunnels were well-lit. Lanterns dotted the walls at regular intervals, keeping the place from ever getting too dark. Even the air felt warmer here. It was like they were in a completely different place all of a sudden. Trixie was about to note this when the two drakes stopped.

“This is the first room,” Anshar said, as he stood in front of a large door. “Normally we don’t have guests, so this is just a regular room for a drake, but it should be big enough for ponies like you.” He pushed on the door and it swung open. Trixie noted that these doors did not require special magic to open, but assumed it was because these weren’t prison-cell doors.

As the door opened, a spacious room was revealed that took Trixie aback for a second. It was much larger than anything she had anticipated, and even though they were supposed to be given separate rooms, she felt quite sure that they could all comfortably fit in this one. The walls were the same stone that made up the rest of the city, but instead of the roughly hewn walls of the cell, these were smooth and flat, in some places even polished to a shine. It was a far cry from the room Trixie had slept in before. Besides the large ice-chandelier hanging from the ceiling, there were several lanterns hanging on the walls and a fireplace with a hearth in the middle of the room. On either side of the fireplace were two beds, larger than what she was used to, but a lot warmer than the rags she had slept under the previous night.

“It’s so… large,” Trixie commented. “I wasn’t expecting something this big.”

“Aye, well we don’t normally accommodate for ponies, so this is a regular room for a citizen of Drakkengard,” said Anshar. “Now, if the rest of ya will follow me, I’ll take ye to your rooms.”

Trixie held up a hoof. “Wait, I think we can all stay in this room just fine. It’s quite large and I don’t want Astrid to go any farther than she has to.” She looked at the other ponies. “That’s fine, right?”

Astrid nodded. “Yes, this room will be plenty for all of us.”

Anshar glanced over at Sirrush, then shrugged. “Suit yourselves.” He waved to his brother. “C’mon, Sirrush. Let’s get back to throne room. I got a feelin’ Typhon’ll be waitin’ for us there.”

Sirrush nodded. “Aye. That brother ‘a ours is always waitin’ for us somewhere, ain’t he?”

With a mirthless laugh, the two drakes turned and slithered away, leaving just the four ponies standing by themselves in the middle of the hall.

“Well, we best get inside and get that fire goin’ brighter, eh?” said Polaris. “Astrid’s feeling a bit chilly.”

Corona nodded. “I’m on it.” He followed the the ponies inside as Trixie shut the door and then went to work making the fire in the fireplace bigger. His horn flared with energy as he poured magic into the fire making it grow several times its size. Within just a few seconds he had made the whole room several degrees warmer.

Astrid let out a sigh. “That feels nice, Corona. Thank you. Looks like I owe you again,” she laughed weakly.

Corona rubbed the back of his neck, blushing. “Oh, it’s nothing. Just doing what I always do.” His face suddenly grew serious. “But you should be getting some rest now. It may be a few hours of walking tomorrow before we reach Frostvale. You’ll need lots of strength, especially since we’ll be walking through some deep snow.”

She nodded, smiling. “I told you, I’ll be just fine. I’m not some frail mare that needs looking after.”

Polaris chuckled. “That’s the truest statement I ever heard. Sometimes I wonder if Astrid ain’t the tougher of the two of us. She’s certainly a lot more hardy than your average mare.”

“I don’t doubt you,” said Corona with a cheerful smile. “But still, we all need some rest. It’s been a few days since any of us has a had a good night’s sleep.”

“You’re right about that,” said Polaris, nodding. With that, he helped Astrid to one of the beds and lay her down in her in, pulling the sheets over her body and kissing her forehead before climbing into the bed next to her and saying, “See you ponies bright and early. We’ve got a bit of a journey ahead of still to come. After Frostvale, we’ve still got some time before we reach the Onyx Mountains and who knows what after that. The long road ahead will be waiting for us, but it won’t wait forever.”

Neither Corona nor Trixie said anything after that. A few minutes later and both Polaris and Astrid had fallen asleep. The two remaining ponies sat in front of the fire in perfect silence, save the crackling of the wood. Trixie watched the flames dance around and let her mind wander aimlessly, eventually leading her on a path to her past. Both the recent past, and the past of her youth. The last time she had really stared into a fire this big was when she was with Anvil at his forge. She sighed. It all felt so very far away now, and yet it wasn’t even a year ago that she’d stayed with him. Sometimes she wondered if she wasn’t having an elaborate dream, and that she’d wake up one morning to find herself at Anvil’s house again, breakfast on the table and the two little foals bouncing up and down, trying to get her out of bed. She could almost smell the food being cooked.

A sudden wave of nostalgia hit her, and she felt a dampness around her cheeks. She brought a hoof to her eye and felt a teardrop disappear into her fur. She laughed quietly. “I can’t believe I’m crying over something so silly.”

Corona’s ears perked up. He turned to Trixie. “Did you say something?”

She shook her head. “No, I was just thinking about something.”

“Oh yeah, what?”

“Something that happened a long time ago. Something I can’t change.”

“I know that feeling,” Corona said, turning back to the fire. “I said something to my sister once that I wish I hadn’t. I haven’t spoken to her in years. I don’t even know where she is anymore.”

Trixie turned her head, looking over at Corona. His face was soft, but his eyes were hard. “What was her name?”

Corona smiled sadly. “I was born first, so they named me Corona after my father, Sol, you know, like the Sun. So when my sister was born, a few minutes later, they named her after our mother, Dawn. They called her Aurora, like the lights you see at night.”

“Aurora,” Trixie repeated. “That’s a pretty name.”

“Yeah, it is.”

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