• 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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37 — Frostvale

Chapter 37:
Frostvale

Trixie stood outside a squat building with many windows. She paced back and forth, occasionally glancing back at the door. Looking up, she, for the first time, took in the immensity of the city she now found herself in. Frostvale, it seemed, was far beyond anything she had expected, or experienced.

The entire city was surrounded on three sides by a massive stone wall at least forty or fifty feet high. On the fourth side, the north side of the city, was a steep mountain face that rose up high above the city, looming over the inhabitants like a rocky specter. Pacing atop the walls, guards patrolled the perimeter, keeping a vigilant eye on another ominous mountain that lurked just south of the city. Having just come from that mountain, Trixie knew it to be the one she and her friends had been prisoners in for several days. It was the same mountain that was the home of the drakes, and though she couldn’t be sure, she felt that the ponies here knew that too.

When they’d first arrived in the city, she and Polaris carrying Astrid between them, Trixie hadn’t really taken the time to notice anything about the city they were currently in. But now that she had a chance to look around, as brief as it may be, she began to realize what a drab and decaying city it was. Despite its outward appearance of grandeur and beauty, inside the city was crumbling.

Homes, shops, streets, the very walls that guarded the city, all of it was in a state of utter disrepair. Cracks criss-crossed every flat surface, and chipped corners were prevalent. Whole stones were missing from the street, leaving large gaps where mud and water pooled. Ponies’ homes, with broken shutters hanging off a single hinge, often had no smoke billowing from the chimney, and they walked from building to building as if in a hurried state, always casting a glance up at the massive tower that spiraled upwards in the center of the city, then looking away just as quickly.

Though it was not snowing at the moment, it was clear that snow was a frequent fixture in Frostvale. Roofs piled with snow, dripping onto the street, and icicles hanging from the gutters were everywhere. Ponies wrapped themselves in tight-fitting scarves and raggedy hats. Not a single one of them that passed by Trixie as she paced in front of the building even so much as gave her a polite nod. They kept their heads down, talking in hushed whispers, if at all, scurrying about like cockroaches.

Trixie was quickly coming to the realization that she did not want to be here, followed yet more quickly by the remembrance that she couldn’t leave, at least not yet. She turned her head back and looked at the door again.

Nothing.

She sighed. It had already been a few hours since she and Polaris had first brought Astrid to the doctor. Corona had gone ahead and warned the doctor that they were coming, so when Trixie and Polaris arrived, she was already waiting outside for them. She had ushered in Polaris and Astrid as quickly as she could and told Trixie to wait outside. That was the last she saw of them. Corona, on the other hand, had told Trixie that he had some business to attend to back at home, and that he’d be back shortly. He still hadn’t returned.

Trixie unconsciously felt her hoof move to her saddlebag. Even through the thick fabric, she could feel the cold blade of the dragon tooth dagger. It was strangely comforting to her in an unfamiliar city. She thought back to her time in captivity, which wasn’t all that long ago, yet somehow felt like a lifetime away. Tiamat’s words echoed in her head.

“Destiny, fate, these words mean nothing. They don’t exist in this world anymore than they do in any other. Every choice, every decision you’ve made that’s brought you here was exactly that: a choice. A choice you made, without the guidance of any preordained path set before you by some cosmic being.

Was it really just choice, random chance, that brought her here today? She rolled the knife around inside the bag. No, it couldn’t be. Things happened for a reason, right? But what if Tiamat was right? What if everything she’d been told was an elaborate lie? Trixie shook her head. It was too much to think about right now. Astrid was more important.

She let go of the knife and turned back to the street just in time to see a pair of ponies quickly turn their heads away and hurry down the street. She pursed her lips. To her left, she overheard, just barely, another pair of ponies whispering between themselves.

“She’s from the outside, isn’t she?”

“I thought the Warden wasn’t letting in outsiders?”

“They came from the south… from the mountain.”

The other pony gasped, looking up to see Trixie watching them. They too scurried off as soon as they noticed Trixie.

Just then, as Trixie watched with a careful eye the other ponies around her, she heard the door open behind her. She turned around to see the doctor with a rather somber look on her face. The doctor, Trixie noticed since she hadn’t had the time before, was tall… very tall. She stood at least a full head taller than Trixie, much the same way the other ponies in the city stood much taller than her. Her mane was platinum blonde, and her coat pale white. She had a severe look about her; sharp nose, sharp eyes, even sharp ears. All her features were pointed, and yet, inexplicably, she managed to maintain a softness about her that was uncanny. Her eyes, sharp as they were, remained inviting, and her the corners of her mouth, plagued by wrinkles, looked like the kind of corners that were often upturned in a smile.

She nodded once. Trixie nodded back, approaching her quickly.

“Is Astrid all right?” she asked as soon as she was close enough to the mare to speak quietly. “Will she be okay?”

The other mare didn’t answer. She simply motioned towards the door and ushered Trixie inside. The pair of them shuffled down the hallway, past a row of empty rooms, to the one occupied room at the end of the hall. As they came to the door, the doctor said simply, “She’s inside.”

Trixie swallowed the lump in her throat and rounded the corner, entering the room as quietly as she could. She almost wanted to close her eyes, afraid of the worst, but she forced them to remain open. However, the sight she was greeted with made her breathe a sigh of relief.

Astrid, laying against the headboard of an ancient bed and covered by a dirty white sheet, wore a smile on her face as she saw Trixie enter. Polaris, likewise, bore a wide grin, one hoof placed over Astrid’s, as he watched Trixie. Astrid was the first to speak. She said, “Trixie, I’m so glad you’re here.”

Trixie laughed nervously. “Where else would I be?”

Astrid chuckled. Her smile faltered for a second as she was struck by a coughing fit, but she quickly recovered. “I’m sorry that you and Polaris had to carry me all the way here. It must’ve been quite difficult for you.”

Trixie shook her head. “Even if it was, that wouldn’t have mattered. You were in trouble, and I knew I had to help you. You and Polaris have helped me out on more than one occasion, remember?”

Polaris snickered. “I seem to recall more than one near-death scenario.”

Trixie went a little further into the room, taking a seat in rickety chair at the end of Astrid’s bed. She caught the doctor out of the corner of her eye turn to leave. As she walked away, she said, “I have to check a few more things, but I’ll be back shortly.”

Polaris nodded. “We’ll be here.”

As soon as the doctor was gone, Trixie turned back to Astrid. “So, did she tell you what was wrong with you? And are you going to be okay?”

Astrid smiled. “Don’t worry, dear. Dr. Snowmane says that I’ll be just fine. Apparently it’s just a simple cold is all.”

“Just a simple cold?” Trixie raised an eyebrow. “Why did it take so long for her to come get me then? I’ve been waiting outside for nearly three hours.”

“Well, she had to run a lot of tests, and she kept disappearing into the back every time Astrid would tell her something else,” said Polaris. He moved a hoof to Astrid’s forehead, running it through her mane. “But what she told us in the beginning was that she was fairly sure it was just a cold.”

Trixie thought about questioning whether that was really a safe bet, but then thought better of it and instead asked, “So, are you going to be released soon, Astrid?”

She nodded. “Dr. Snowmane wants to keep me here overnight to make sure things don’t get worse, but after that I’ll be okay to leave, and then we can continue our journey.”

“About that,” said Trixie nervously, “I’m not so sure it’s a good idea if you two come with me any further north. You’ve been captured by drakes, nearly killed by windigoes, and now fallen ill all because of me.” Trixie shook her head. “I couldn’t live with myself if anything happened to you two because of something that was my fault.”

“Trixie, dear, we’ve come this far with you. We’re not going to abandon you before you reach the end.” Astrid smiled at Trixie. She glanced over at Polaris.

He nodded. “She’s right, y’know. We ain’t leaving you until this thing is done.”

Trixie smiled despite herself. “You stubborn old ponies. Fine, but we’re not leaving for at least a few days then. Astrid needs some time to rest, to get over her cold at the very least. Corona’s already agreed to let us stay at his home for as long as we need, so we’ll stay there until Astrid is better.”

Polaris shrugged. “If that’s what you want, Trixie. Speaking of Corona though, where is that young stallion?”

Trixie shifted in her chair a bit. “He said he was going back to his home to take care of a few things, but that he’d be back sometime today. I haven’t seen him since he left though,” she said.

“I’m sure he’ll be back,” said Astrid. “That Corona is a good stallion. We owe him quite a debt of gratitude.”

“Yes,” said Trixie quietly, lowering her head a bit.

The room fell silent for a bit. Polaris and Astrid held hooves while Trixie thought back to what the ponies outside had said. Something she remembered Polaris saying once struck her.

“Polaris, you’ve been here in Frostvale before, right?” she asked.

Nodding, Polaris said, “Aye, more than a few times. Why?”

“Is it always so…”

“Depressing?” Polaris suggested.

“Yeah, the ponies outside looked frightened about something, and they were all whispering to each other. I heard one of them say something about the ‘Warden’.”

Polaris leaned back in his seat, letting out a long, slow sigh. “I’ve been here many times, and as long as I’ve known the ponies of Frostvale, they’ve always been a dour bunch. The city is under constant reconstruction, and that icy monstrosity rising up in the center of town gets bigger every time I see it.”

“What is it?” asked Trixie. “The tower?”

“Y’know,” said Polaris with a shrug, “I don’t really know. I’ve asked about it a few times, and the only real answer I’ve gotten is that it’s called ‘The Warden’s Watchtower’. Aye,” he added, anticipating Trixie’s question, “I reckon it’s the same Warden you heard ponies talking about. He’s the—well he’s not quite a king, but he’s the ruler of this city.”

“But the Warden, though?” Trixie rubbed her chin. “That sounds like he’s the head of a prison rather than a city.”

“It’s not an unfair comparison,” said Polaris with a sour expression. “Most the ponies here don’t like to talk about the Warden. They say he’s always watching from his tower, but I don’t know if that’s true. He’s very strict about who gets let in and out of his city, and to be quite honest I was surprised we got in as easily as we did.”

“So who is this Warden guy anyway?” Trixie glanced out a cracked window. “How’d he become the ruler of Frostvale?”

“Ah, now that I don’t know,” said Polaris. “You’d best ask Corona. I reckon he’d know a fair bit more about his own city than I do.”

“I see,” said Trixie, still looking out the window. She could see, through the cloudy glass, the pillar of white shooting up into the sky. The Warden’s Watchtower went so high that its top disappeared into the clouds, and, she suspected, even on a clear day you’d be unlikely to see the top. “So what about north of the city? Have you ever been there?”

Polaris shook his head. “I haven’t, no. Never had the occasion to until now. I’ve a feeling the Warden might give us a bit of trouble though. Nothing we can’t handle, I’m sure, but it may take a bit of persuading to get us out there in the Onyx Mountains.”

“Well, whatever the problem, I’m sure we’ll overcome it,” said Trixie, rather more confidently than she’d expected of herself. “We’ve made it this far, haven’t we?”

“Aye, that we have.”

A few more minutes of silence passed, then Dr. Snowmane returned, breaking the still air that hung about the room. She coughed once to get everyone’s attention.

“Mrs. Astrid, I have a few questions for you. I need you to answer them honestly to help me determine what’s wrong with you.”

Polaris cocked an eyebrow. “I thought you said it was just a cold?”

“That’s what I said I thought it was, but I also told you I’d have to run some tests and check a few things,” said Dr. Snowmane tersely. “These next few questions will help me determine what is the appropriate course of action here.” She turned to Astrid. “Now then, these questions are of a somewhat personal nature, so if you want to be alone we can ask your husband and Miss Trixie here to leave.”

Astrid shook her head. “That’s fine. They can stay.”

“All right.” Dr. Snowmane’s horn glowed a bright white as she lifted a clipboard into her hooves along with a pencil. She tapped it against the page and said, “You told me earlier that you first started to feel sick about a week ago, and that it’s been getting worse since then. Is that correct?”

Astrid nodded. “Yes.”

“And when was your last estrous cycle?”

Astrid blinked a few times. “Uh, I think was maybe a month or two ago.”

“And did it continue throughout the summer season?”

“No.”

Dr. Snowmane nodded, writing something down on her clipboard. “I see, and did you and your husband copulate during that time?”

Astrid blushed. “Yes.”

Dr. Snowmane wrote something else down. “Had you been feeling weak prior to getting sick?”

“Maybe a little,” said Astrid, now realizing where Dr. Snowmane was going.

Nodding, the doctor placed her clipboard aside and looked Astrid in the eye. “Mrs. Astrid,” she said, “you’re pregnant. I don’t know if you knew or not beforehand, but you’re probably at least a few weeks into the pregnancy. It likely put you into a weakened state, and made you more susceptible to illness. My guess is that you caught a cold at first, which normally wouldn’t be a problem, but then it progressed into something much worse since you weren’t able to get proper rest. At best, you’ve got pneumonia, and at worst, pleurisy.”

Astrid froze. She looked over at Polaris who was similarly incapacitated. Trixie was the first to speak. “So… what does that mean?”

Dr. Snowmane took in a deep breath. “It means we’ll have to keep you here overnight so I can keep an eye on you, Mrs. Astrid. If this were two or three weeks ago, it might not have been a problem, but because it’s advanced so far without any treatment… Well, the next few days are going to be tough, to the say the least.”

Polaris swallowed hard. He ran his hoof along Astrid’s front leg, giving her a soft smile. “Don’t worry, sweetheart,” she said. “You’re gonna be okay. I’ll be right here with you.” His hoof moved to her stomach. “You and our child.”

Astrid smiled at him, though it was a faltering smile. “I know you will,” she said quietly.

Dr. Snowmane watched the two of them for a moment, then motioned to Trixie. “Can I speak with you in private for a moment?”

Trixie nodded hurriedly and followed her out into the hallway. Closing the door behind them, they walked a little ways down the hall before Dr. Snowmane gave Trixie a look that frightened her and she wasn’t sure why. Her eyes, not just soft anymore, were now filled with pity, and some other emotion she couldn’t pinpoint.

“How bad is it?” asked Trixie as bluntly as she could.

“It’s not good,” replied Dr. Snowmane. She let out a sigh. “I ran some tests on swabs of her spittle, and… it looks like her lungs are filling, or are filled, with fluid. The fact that she’s coughing so much tells me she’s not feeling too much pain in her chest yet, but that will quickly change.”

“Is she going to live?”

“I can’t say one way or the other, but I’ve had patients like her go both ways. It all depends on the individual in question. All I can say is that I’ll do my best to treat her, but don’t expect any miracles. If she survives, it’ll be by her own willpower.” Dr. Snowmane put a hoof on Trixie’s shoulder. She looked like she wanted to say something else, but instead she simply said, “Go be with her for now. I’ve got some medicine I need to make.”

Trixie nodded. As she turned away from the doctor, the pair of them heading opposite ways down the hall, Trixie couldn’t help but feel a pang in her chest, one she couldn’t explain. Suddenly, she heard the door open behind her.

Turning around, Trixie saw Corona, his mane wet with snow, enter the building. He caught sight of Trixie and hurried towards her.

“Good news!” he said excitedly. “The Warden wants to speak with you personally. I’m sure you’ll be able to convince him to let you into the Onyx Mountains. He can be a reasonable fellow when he wants to be.” He stopped when he saw Trixie’s face. “Uh oh, what’s the matter?”

Trixie contemplated telling him many things, but eventually settled on, “Astrid’s going to be staying the night here.”

“Oh, well that’s fine,” said Corona. “No problem there. Is she still not feeling well?”

“No, not exactly.”

“Can we go see her?”

Trixie nodded. She pointed towards the door at the end of the hall. “She’s down there. Polaris is with her now, but you can go talk to her if you want”

“Well, let’s go then,” said Corona, grabbing Trixie’s hoof and pulling her towards the door.

Trixie, however, stopped, and slipped her hoof out of his. “I think I’m going to stay here for a few minutes. I need to, uh, talk to Dr. Snowmane about something.”

Corona shrugged. “All right, I’ll see you in a bit then.” Trotting down the hallway, he came to Astrid’s room and entered slowly. Trixie, on the other hand, remained behind, in the same place Corona had left her.

She looked down at the cracked tiles of the floor. Dirt covered most of them, and the only clean tiles were the ones where there was only half a tile left. She swallowed the lump in her throat, whispering, “Astrid…”

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