• 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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36 — Stoking the Fire

Chapter 36:
Stoking the Fire

Sparks flew as Anvil brought the hammer down on the red-hot iron. His hoof held high, he pounded the soft metal over and over again, slowly bending what had been a straight bar of iron around the horn of the anvil, curving it into a more rounded shape.

As the glow from the metal began to dim, he set aside his hammer, picked up a pair of tongs and placed the curved iron bar into the furnace. Placing his hoof on the bellow, he pumped it a few times, causing the flames to rise higher and higher. Once he was satisfied, he wiped his brow, then his apron and turned to Trixie who’d been standing to the side watching him work.

“Think you can handle that?” he asked, jerking his head toward the hammer. “Takes a lot of concentration.”

Trixie nodded, a small smile playing across her face. “Shouldn’t be too much trouble. With my magic, it’ll be a breeze.”

Anvil chuckled. “You thought you were gonna get away with using that horn, did ya? Ain’t gonna happen, Trix.” Seeing the crestfallen look on her face, he laughed again, patting her roughly on the back.

“But I thought…” Trixie bit her lip. “How am I supposed to do it then?”

Anvil held up a hoof. “You’re gonna learn the same way I did, Trix. Hooves provide the kind of precision that you can’t get using magic, plus you’ll never get a feel for the metal if you don’t have the hammer in your hoof. It’s gotta be part of you. The hammer isn’t just a tool, Trix.”

Trixie frowned. “But it is, though. It’s just a tool that you use to shape the metal.”

“Well, I guess you’re right,” said Anvil with a verbal shrug. “Just like your horn is just a tool for casting magic.”

Unconsciously, Trixie brought a hoof to her horn. She brushed her mane aside, saying, “That’s different. My horn is part of my body. I can’t just take it off and put it aside.”

Anvil nodded knowingly. “And that’s just how a blacksmith should be with his hammer. Sure, you may have dozens of different hammers, but just like you know dozens of different spells, each one is a part of you. Lemme ask you this, Trix. How do you cast a spell?”

Trixie blinked, slightly taken aback. “I’ve never really thought about it,” she said. “It’s just something I do.”

“Try thinking about it. Go through the process.”

“Okay, well,” Trixie began, furrowing her brow in thought, “I start by concentrating on gathering magic into my horn from the leylines in my body. From there I decide what I want the magic to do, and then I do it.”

Anvil chuckled, glancing over to the furnace to check on the half-completed horseshoe that was in there to make sure it wasn’t ready to be pulled out yet. “You don’t know how you do that? How you pick what you want the magic to do?”

Trixie’s brow furrowed further. “It’s not really something I think about. If I want sparks to shoot out, I just imagine sparks and then they happen.”

“So, what if you wanted to try a new spell, how would you do that?”

“What do you mean?”

Anvil picked up the hammer from his workbench and held it over the anvil. “Imagine I have a raw piece of iron here. I have to shape it into what I want, but if it’s something I’ve never made before, where do I start?” He mimicked hitting iron, moving up and down its invisible length. “I know the basic shape of what I want, so I start with that. As it begins to take form, I work off previous experience to make something new.” He held up his hoof. “For example, I’ve never made a weapon before, but I have forged knives for the kitchen, and pitchforks for the field. Knowing that, I have some idea of what I’ll need to do. Draw out the iron, bevel the edges, sharpen it, and so on and so forth. So what’s it like for you when you perform a new spell?”

“Well, I suppose it’s kinda like that,” Trixie said. “I start with what I know and then build from there.”

Anvil grinned, passing the hammer to Trixie. She took it. “Exactly,” he said. “You ready to try it out yourself, Trix?”

Trixie glanced down at the hammer in her hooves. Her grip tightened. She nodded. “What are we making?”

Anvil took a pair of tongs, shoved them into the furnace and pulled out the bright yellow iron, setting it on the anvil. “A simple horseshoe,” he said. “That’s all for now.”

Looking down at the fiery metal, Trixie’s resolve hardened. She nodded. “I can handle that.” As she rose her hammer, ready to strike the first blow, Anvil put out his hoof in front of her.

“Whoa there, Trix. You’re not just gonna start wailing on it, are you?” He nodded towards the iron. “What’s gonna happen if you hit it right now?”

“Umm…”

“It’ll go flying off somewhere ready to start a fire.” He took the tongs he’d used to pull the bar from the fire and gripped one end of the piece. Handing over the tongs to Trixie, he said, “Hold on to it with these, and don’t let go.”

Silently, Trixie took the tongs from Anvil. Now standing on her back hooves, she held a hammer in one hoof and the tongs in the other. “So, how do I—”

“Just go with your instincts,” said Anvil. “I just want you to get a feel for the hammer and anvil right now. We can worry about the other stuff later.”

Trixie examined the object before her. It glowed yellow like the sun, except for a small section that the tongs were holding on to. That had been left out of the fire on purpose. It had been a straight piece when Anvil first started beating it, but now it was curved somewhat. The iron looked sort of looked like a wide ‘U’, where the stems on either side where only curved inwards slightly. How had he curved it, again?

Trixie looked at the anvil. There were two ends on it, and the end to her right was rounded off and tapered to a point. She seemed to recall him using that to help curve the horseshoe. Using the tongs, she moved the iron to the side of the anvil that jutted out. When she held it against the horn, she realized that it curved perfectly around, but the ends still stuck up in the air. She grinned, proud of herself for figuring out what to do.

Holding the piece against the horn, she raised her hammer and then brought it down as hard as she could on the tip of the horseshoe. She missed completely, the weight of the hammer throwing her off balance and bringing her hoof dangerously close to the extremely hot iron.

She tried again, shaking her head. This time, as she brought the hammer up, she forced herself to concentrate on nothing else besides hitting the iron in the right place. She swung downwards, using all the force she could muster. It hit!

Her immediate excitement from actually striking the metal correctly and causing sparks to shoot out, just like it had done when Anvil hit it, was washed away as soon as she saw that it had moved very little, if at all. The arm of the horseshoe remained stubbornly upright. She frowned, raising the hammer again.

She struck it again, and again, and again. For what felt like hours she kept raising the hammer over and over again, hitting the horseshoe as hard as she could, and making very little progress at bending it. All the while, Anvil merely watched her with a slightly bemused expression on his face.

Trixie knew she was running out of time when she saw the horseshoe’s color shift from bright yellow to a bright red, and then slowly start to darken to a more muted red. She hit it faster and faster, hoping that she could bend it just a little more. By the time the iron was cold enough to touch, she was still hitting it, and realizing very quickly that it wasn’t budging.

Breathing heavily, Trixie dropped the hammer and the tongs, doing her best not to collapse to the ground. She wiped the sweat from her brow and looked down at the horseshoe. She’d only been hitting one side, but now that she looked at it, she was pleased with her work. It was bent in noticeably more than the other side, and starting to look more and more like a horseshoe.

She laughed breathlessly. “Not… so… hard.”

Anvil regarded her with a knowing smile. He placed a hoof on her shoulder, nodding happily. “Yep, not so hard after all. Now you just gotta do that a few dozen more times and we’ll be getting somewhere.”

Trixie’s heart sank. “A few dozen more times?” she said incredulously. “How am I supposed to keep that up for so long?”

Anvil’s boisterous laugh filled the forge. He patted Trixie roughly on the back. “What, did ya think it’d be easy?”

Trixie sighed, then picked up the horseshoe from where it’d had fallen on the ground. “Well, at least we’re making progress, huh?” she said, admiring her handiwork.

Taking the horseshoe from Trixie, and examining it himself, Anvil said, “Well, actually this is pretty much ruined. See, you kept hitting it even after it cooled, and that caused some cold shunts to appear, which means that this horseshoe isn’t fit to wear. It’ll be weak, and prone to cracking.”

“But…” Trixie sank to the ground, shaking her head slowly. “We just spent all that time, and for nothing? It’s just a useless piece of scrap now?”

Anvil knelt down, bringing himself to Trixie’s level. He gave her a warm smile, showing her the horseshoe. “I’m gonna tell you something my father told me when I first started working the forge.” He sat down next to Trixie, and the two of them leaned back against a workbench, looking out at the cheery blue sky as clouds drifted by. “When I was young, and inexperienced, I did the same thing you just did. I was helping my dad put together some pieces for a harness, and he told me to shape the metal, just like I told you. When I was done, or thought I was done, he took it from me and told me the same thing I’m about to tell you.”

“What, that you ruined it?”

Anvil chuckled. “No, he told me, ‘Son, that’s the great thing about blacksmithing. There are no mistakes.’ Then he threw the halter in the fire and we started over.”

Trixie frowned. “But, we still have to start over, so wasn’t it all just a waste of time?”

“You learned something, didn’t you?”

“I-I guess.”

“Then it wasn’t a waste.” Anvil stood up, held out his hoof and pulled Trixie up as well. He put the horseshoe in her hooves and said, “Success teaches you nothing, but failure is how we learn. Put that back in the fire and we’ll start over.”

Trixie took the horseshoe back. She stared at it for a moment, then cast a glance at Anvil, a small smirk making its way across her face. “So this is how your father taught you? He just let you make mistakes?”

Anvil shrugged. “What can I say? It worked, didn’t it? Didn’t make those mistakes again. Well… not all of them.”

“How many mistakes are you going to let me make?”

“As many as it takes, Trix. You can’t rush failure.”

Trixie laughed, despite herself. “You’re the worst teacher, you know that?”

Anvil smiled, showing off his soot-blackened teeth. “That’s what I used to tell me dad.”

“Used to?” Trixie raised an eyebrow. “What do you tell him now?”

Anvil went silent for a moment, his gaze drifting to the furnace where the fire was crackling away happily, burning hotter than any fireplace could ever hope to get. He watched the flames for a moment, his eyes reflecting the tongues as they licked at the air. Anvil’s voice was heavy when he said, “I tell him thanks.”

Trixie’s face was solemn. She looked at Anvil, and he looked back at her. She smiled. “Maybe someday I’ll be saying that about you.”

Anvil smiled back at Trixie, but it was a weak smile. He took the horseshoe from Trixie and placed it carefully in the fire. As it started to take on a red hue, he said, “When that day comes, you’ll know I have nothing left to teach you.”

Trixie placed her hooves on the railing surrounding the forge. She watched as a pair of ponies passed by. They waved to her. She waved back. “Don’t you mean if that day comes?

Anvil turned back to Trixie, smiled again, this time stronger and more like his usual self. “I meant what I said. It’s gonna be awhile before that day comes though. You’ve got a long way to go.”

Trixie made a pouting face. “I thought I did pretty well.”

Anvil laughed. “I don’t doubt you did.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

Anvil shook his head, chuckling. “I mean your form sucks. The way you throw around that hammer—” He stifled another laugh “—You’re gonna wear yourself out if you keep swinging like that.”

Trixie frowned, pursing her lips. “But I was hitting it as hard as I could.”

Anvil nodded. “I know, that’s the problem. It’s as much about control as it is strength. Yes, you have to swing the hammer hard, but if you just do it without thinking, all you’re going to do is tire yourself out.” He picked up the hammer from the anvil and bounced it up and down in his hoof. “These things are heavy, Trix. You don’t need to put in a lot of force to make them do the work. Just let their weight carry them.”

“But won’t that mean I’m bending the metal less if I’m hitting it softer?” asked Trixie. She took the hammer from Anvil and tested its weight. “Shouldn’t swinging it harder mean I’ll get the work done faster?”

Anvil shrugged. “Sure, if you don’t mind shoddy work.” He reached for a piece of wood and placed it on the anvil. Pointing to it, he said, “Here, let’s try a little experiment. Try hitting the same place three times, and swing that hammer as hard as you can.”

Trixie scoffed. “You think I can’t do that? Please, this is no problem for Trixie.”

Anvil’s eyebrow rose. “Confident, eh? Well then, by all means.” He stepped aside, allowing Trixie to get a clear shot at the wooden plank.

She licked her lips, using one hoof to steady the plank while the other rose in the air, hammer in her grip. Bringing it down with as much force as she could muster, she made a nice dent in the wood, right in the center. She smirked. “Dead center.”

Anvil nodded. “Good work,” he said. “Now do that two more times.”

“Easily.” Trixie brought the hammer up again and focused on the spot she’d just hit. Biting her lip lightly, she swung the hammer down, hitting the spot just to the right of the original spot.

“Close,” said Anvil. “Try again.”

Trixie grunted, lifting up the hammer again. This time she was determined to hit the same spot. Her eyes were cold, and her lips tight. Letting out a soft ‘huf’ she brought the hammer down, this time completely missing the middle of the board and instead hammering her own hoof. She let out a yelp, dropped the hammer, and stuck her hoof in her mouth, nursing the wounded limb.

Anvil put a hoof over his stomach as his laughter filled Trixie’s ears. Still laughing, he bent down to pick up the hammer. He looked over at Trixie. She shot him an angry look, her hoof in her mouth like a foal. “Oh, don’t be like that,” he said, unable to stop laughing. “I was just trying to prove a point. If you swing that hammer without any control, you’re going to end up making more mistakes than progress, and you’re going to spend a heck of a lot of time fixing those mistakes.”

Trixie pulled her hoof from her mouth, smarting from the pain. “I thought you said mistakes were a good thing.”

Anvil wagged his hoof at her. “Only if you learn from them.”

Trixie sighed. “Why can’t I just use my horn? It’d be so much easier that way.”

“That ain’t gonna happen, Trix,” said Anvil, his face suddenly turning harsh.

“Why not?”

“Because, Trixie, for as long as I’ve known you, you’ve always used your magic to get you out of any trouble. It’s always the answer for you, no matter the situation. Don’t give me that look. You know what I’m talking about.” Anvil shook his head. “It’s like you’re afraid of dealing with things yourself, with just your hooves and your head. Magic’s always there to bail you out.”

Trixie’s eyes flashed angrily. “So I’m just supposed to not use it? It’s a part of me. I can’t just turn it off.”

“That’s not what I’m saying, and you know it.” Anvil softened his voice rubbing the back of his head with a free hoof. “Look, I don’t mean to get angry, but I feel like ever since we were kids, you’ve been using that horn to get you out of any problems. It’s always the easy way out for you, no matter what. But I know that you’re better than that. That you’ve got more strength than even you know.”

Trixie stared at him silently.

“I’m having you do this the hard way because you need this.”

“Anvil…” said Trixie softly, her voice trailing off.

He smiled at her. “I know it sounds harsh, but I’m just trying to help you.”

“I don’t need any help,” said Trixie stubbornly, turning her cheek.

Anvil’s dark eyes followed her. He sighed. “Yes, you do, Trix. You need help, and I’m gonna give it whether you want it or not.”

Trixie turned back to look at him. He was still smiling that soft, welcoming smile, and she couldn’t help but feel her lips tug into a soft smile as well. “You stubborn jerk,” she said. “You haven’t changed since we were kids either.”

Anvil laughed. “Maybe not to you. Anyway, let’s get back to the smithing, okay? I still need to show you something before the horseshoe finishes heating up. “Now, watch this.” He lifted the hammer into the air and brought it down in three quick, successive hits, each in the exact same place.

Trixie grumbled, “I thought I was the showoff,” under her breath, then said, “All right, so I guess you were right. I’ll try to be a little more careful in the future.”

“It’s not really about being careful, although you do have to be when you’re handling such dangerous things. It’s more about control and precision than anything.” He held the hammer up, just a little below the top of his head. “You only bring the hammer to about here,” he said. “Any higher and it becomes hard to make sure you keep hitting the spot you want to hit. And when you strike, be quick, but not forceful. Too much strength can be just as bad as too little.” He handed the hammer back to Trixie. “Now try again, but this time do it like I did.”

Trixie took the hammer. It felt weighty in her hooves, but she was getting more and more used to everytime she held the hammer. Her hoof still felt a little sore, but she blocked that feeling out and focused instead on doing what Anvil had told her. She lifted the hammer up, her other hoof on the wooden plank. Then, with much less force than before, she brought the hammer down, striking a dent into the wood. Again, she lifted it up, and swung it down, this time hitting a little off, but closer than her first attempt. Finally, she did it a third time. She missed hitting the same spot again, but only by a little. The dents in the wood were much more evenly spaced than her first attempt.

She grinned, hefting the hammer triumphantly. “I did it,” she said. “Looks like I’m a quick learner.”

Anvil nodded. “Like I said, it’s all about control. Of course,” he said, his smile turning devious, “that was just some wood. Iron is a completely different beast.” He reached for the tongs. Grabbing the hot iron from the furnace, he placed it on the anvil and handed the tongs over to Trixie. “Are you ready to try again?”

Trixie took the tongs from him, smirked, and said, “Before you know it, this piece of iron will be a horseshoe and you’ll be begging me to work for you permanently.”

“Tough talk,” said Anvil with his own equally-smug smirk, “for someone who just started smithing this morning.”

He waited for Trixie to respond, but she was already focusing on the burning yellow iron laid before her. Her tongue stuck out slightly as she took the first swing. Sparks flew. Again. More sparks. Her strokes were becoming more controlled, and she was hitting the horseshoe consistently. Anvil had to admit that he was impressed she’d picked up the technique so quickly.

He whispered under his breath. “Now I know how dad felt.” He chuckled quietly, watching as she continued to hammer the horseshoe to bend to her will. Her face was determined, and her eyes fixated on the iron, each swing pushed the iron just a little more downwards. All the while she never said a thing, didn’t even look up to see Anvil watching her with that same look his father had watched him with. He smiled. “You watching this, Dad?” he said quietly. “She’s pretty good, ain’t she? Pretty good…”

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