• 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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38 — Hoofington at Midnight

Chapter 38:
Hoofington at Midnight

The sun was beginning to set, casting its fiery glow over the landscape as it dipped beneath the hills, when Twilight and company came upon Hoofington. The small village blended in with the surrounding landscape, practically melting into the rolling hills, but at the same time you'd be hard pressed to miss it. It was the only place the narrow road they were on led to. Twilight nodded towards the entrance, glancing back at her friends. "There it is," she said. "Looks like even with some of the setbacks, we still made it here before dark, so that’s good."

Rainbow Dash, her wing still wrapped in bandages, walked side-by-side with Applejack. "What, does this place get dangerous after dark? It looks like the most peaceful village ever. They don't even have a gate."

"Well, no, it's not particularly dangerous here. I just didn't want to show up after dark because that would be rude," said Twilight, giving Rainbow a knowing look. "Although," she brought a hoof to her chin, "I've heard that some of the areas north of here can be a bit dangerous after dark. Apparently timberwolves and other monsters roam the forests around here."

Rarity, who was a little behind Applejack and Rainbow, walking beside Spike, shuddered. "I can't imagine running into one of those ghastly things in the middle of the night. All the creaking and howling, and those awful eyes." She made a face.

Applejack chuckled. "Shoot, I bet they ain't too tough. They're just made a branches and stuff, right? Should be easy to just give 'em a good kick... and pow!" She smirked. "Wouldn't know what hit 'em."

"That may be true for timberwolves, yes," said Twilight slowly, "but their relatives don't go down quite so easily. Or so I've heard anyway."

"Relatives?" asked Spike. "Do you mean, like, regular wolves?" He cocked his head to the side a bit.

Twilight pursed her lips. "There’s no point in worrying about while we can’t do anything. For now let’s just say that timberwolves and chimeras aren’t the only things wandering the woods at night, and they’re certainly not the most dangerous. Now come on," she said, waving her hoof, "It's best if we get there as soon as possible, especially if you want a warm dinner tonight."

Rainbow’s eyes shot up at this. "Wait, there's food waiting for us?"

"Well, I hope there is, anyway," Twilight muttered under her breath.

"Wait," said Applejack, her eyes narrowing, "does this friend of yours even know we're coming, Twi?"

Twilight chuckled awkwardly. "No... not exactly. Which is why I want to make sure we get there earlier. We'd probably look like jerks if we showed up in the middle of the night."

"So, wait, I'm confused." Rainbow scratched her head. "Is there gonna be food there or not?"

"I don't know," Twilight admitted. "But I do know that we're not gonna find out standing out here." She waved her hoof. "So, let’s go."

A few minutes of silence passed as they trudged down the road. Drawing nearer to the town, it became clear that, though the village was small, it was by no means sparsely populated. Thin trails of smoke billowed up over the town, a handful to the west and couple more to the north. As the sun fell lower and lower, its beams bounced off the smoke and made the sky look hazy, but it only added to the beauty of the pinks and reds of the sunset. This contrasted sharply with the somewhat drab colors of the village. Thatched roofs covered dully-colored stone buildings, except for the occasional home which was constructed entirely out of thick wooden logs. A tall clock tower soared above the surrounding houses, peaking out like a candle on a birthday cake.

By the time they had reached the gates, the night watchmen had already taken up their posts, patrolling along the town's perimeter with all the casualness of a sleepy village and none of the rigor of a trained guard. A cheery stallion with a cap too large for his head and thick jacket waved to them as they entered, a light-hearted grin on his face.

"Evening, ladies," he said, removing his cap and bowing in one swift motion. "It's a lovely night tonight, isn't it?” He put the cap back on, still smiling. “You just coming for a visit, are you? The tavern's down around the bend over there," he said as he turned slightly to point his hoof down the main road.

"Oh, thank you, but we're not looking for a place to stay tonight," said Twilight, smiling back at him. "We'll be staying with a friend."

He grinned, showing off a chipped tooth, and a couple missing ones. "Friendly company's the best company I always say. In any case, don't go wandering too far from the town while it's still dark. The wolves have been getting more aggressive lately. Wouldn’t do to have you lovely ladies get in any danger."

Twilight nodded. "Well keep that in mind, thank you."

With that, the group headed past the guard and deeper into the village. He returned to his patrol, and they continued on. The sky was starting to get dark now, and lights began to appear in windows and on porches. The handful of ponies that were wandering around still did so leisurely. No one seemed to do anything in a hurry, but the same could not be said for Twilight.

"If I remember right, her home is down this way," said Twilight. She motioned towards a little side road the broke off from the main one and headed east. "It's only a short walk from here. A block or two down at most."

Rarity let out a little sigh. "Oh, I do so love little towns like this. They remind me of Ponyville. All this fresh air and the friendly faces."

"Yeah, except Ponyville doesn't have guards walking around at night," said Rainbow Dash. "Kinda makes it more cool, right? Makes it feel more dangerous, or something."

"It can't be that dangerous," said Spike, glancing back at the entrance. "They don't have that many guards walking around, and there's not a big gate or anything."

"I reckon there's not much need for one," Applejack noted. "We're still pretty close to Canterlot Castle, and we haven't even come close to Equestria’s borders yet. Probably ain't much to be worried about out here 'sides the occasional pack of timberwolves and whatnot." Applejack shrugged, but caught a glimpse of Twilight looking worried. She lowered her voice. "Something wrong, Twi?"

Twilight bit her lip as she continued to walk. "It's just... there were no guards at all last time I was here." She shook her head. "No, it's probably nothing. Probably just a temporary thing. Besides, if there were any real danger, there'd be a lot more guards, and ponies wouldn't be walking around so casually." Twilight stopped suddenly. "Oh!" She turned around and smiled. "We're here. Told you girls it was only a short walk.”

The little cottage that stood before them was nothing special. A thatched roof covered white stones that made up the walls of the house. With the sun nearly set, the candle in the window, and the glow from a hearth inside, was far more prominent. It cast a soft light on the outside edges of the building, and on the grass surrounding it. A row of flower boxes hung from the pair of windows, and a narrow cobblestone path led up the couple of feet from the road to the door. Twilight gulped a little bit, then muttered, "Well..."

“Hang on a sec, Twi,” said Applejack, holding up her hoof. “You’ve been real quiet about who this is we’re going to meet up till now, but before we got knockin’ on this mare’s door, maybe you could tell us who she is.”

Twilight sighed. “Well, I told you before that I came to Hoofington to find Trixie after she left Ponyville, right? I didn’t know where to look, so I went to the local tavern and asked around. No one seemed to be able to help me, but then this mare came up and told me she knew Trixie. She told me to follow her back to her home and she would explain.”

“And so you just followed this mare you had never met before back to her house?” asked Rainbow Dash, raising her eyebrow.

Twilight shrugged. “Sure, she seemed nice enough, and it’s not like I was getting any clues from anyone else. None of them seemed willing to talk about her.”

“One pony is better than none,” said Rarity. “So, what did she tell you, then?”

“Well,” said Twilight, bringing a hoof to her chin, “she said that she knew Trixie from when they were kids. Apparently they went to school together, or something. I told her about Trixie’s Ursa story, and she told me that there wasn’t any truth to it, that she’d just made the whole thing up.”

“Well, duh,” said Rainbow Dash, rolling her eyes. “We already knew that, didn’t we?”

“I guess so,” said Twilight. “Still, I thought maybe there’d be some truth to it. Anyway, she told me that she hadn’t seen Trixie since she left all those years before.”

“So, what was this mystery mare’s name?” asked Spike.

“Mariette,” said Twilight.

“Well, shoot,” said Applejack matter-of-factly, “we ain’t getting any closer to Trixie standin’ out here. Might as well go inside and talk to this Mariette.”

“I’ll go up first,” said Twilight. “There’s lights in the window, so she’s probably home.” Letting out a little sigh, Twilight went forward.

She took a few steps up the path, careful to avoid stepping on any of the flowers that were growing around it. When she reached the door, she hesitated a moment before raising her hoof and giving the door a soft tap. She waited a moment, heard no answer, and tried again, but a little bit louder. There was a shuffling sound from behind the door, and then a soft creak as the door swung open.

A mare with a soft smile on her face opened the door, her deep blue mane, tied together in a ponytail, hung off her shoulder. "Hello, I—Oh! Twilight!" she said, noticing the other mare with a sheepish smile on her face. The mare looked confused for a moment, then she cocked her head to the side. "I wasn't expecting you so late… or, well, at all, really.” She blinked a few times, the light from inside illuminating her icy blue fur. She looked past Twilight and saw the other ponies—and one dragon—standing behind her. "Oh... and you've brought friends with you?"

Twilight chuckled nervously. "Hello, Mariette. I’m sorry to show up so late, and unannounced, but… well, it's kind of complicated."

Mariette nodded, chuckling herself. "I can see that. Perhaps it's better if you come inside? There's still a bit of soup left on the fire. I should have enough for all of you." She turned back inside, and motioned for the others to follow.

The group all shuffled inside after her into the increasingly-cramped cottage. It was quickly becoming apparent that it wasn't meant to hold more than three or so ponies, but their host didn't seem to mind, or if she did, she didn't say anything about it. Heading around a bend, they came to a homely little living room with a small fire crackling away while its flames licked the bottom of an iron pot. The mare pulled out an extra seat, saying, "Sorry I don't have more. I don't get guests very often." So, Twilight took the seat opposite the mare, and the rest made themselves comfortable on the ground. Spike and Rarity sat close to the fire, while Applejack and Rainbow Dash took seats a little off to the side.

Once they'd all settled, Mariette began ladeling what was left of the soup into small bowls and handed them out. Twilight noted that it was potato and leek soup, and that it smelled rather good, before she set it aside for the time being. Once she was finished, Mariette sat back in her seat and said, "So, it's been awhile, hasn't it? Almost a year, right?”

Twilight nodded. "Yes, almost a year now. I'm sorry I didn't come visit more... or at all."

The mare smiled sweetly, shaking her head. "No, it's fine. I wouldn't have been around anyway. I've been... gone for some time. In fact, I only recently got back last month. Some things came up that I had to take care of."

"Oh?” Twilight cocked her head to the side. “Where were you?"

"It doesn't matter," Mariette said, deflecting the question with a dismissive wave of her hoof. "I'm more curious to know what you're doing here, and with all your friends no less. You’re lucky I was here, you know. They’re all full up at the tavern."

Twilight sighed. "Well, it's a bit complicated,” she said, “but basically... we're tracking down Trixie. We’re following in her footsteps."

Mariette visibly tensed. Her lips formed a tight line while her ears twitched just a bit. "Trixie? Is she... has she gone missing?"

"Well, no, not exactly," said Twilight as she reached for her bag. Fishing out a pair of letters, she handed them to the mare. "See, I got these letters from Trixie, but they came a year late."

Mariette raised her eyebrow. "Why?"

"That'd be my fault," said Rainbow Dash, looking up from the soup she'd been happily scarfing down. "We already went through all this though, so maybe you should just get to the point, Twi."

"Right," said Twilight, nodding. As the mare opened the first letter, Twilight continued, "I received those from Trixie, but they were late, and now I'm trying to retrace her path to see where she went, and why." Twilight’s face became serious. "I think she might be up to something, or she might be in danger, or something. I really don't know, and that’s what worries me."

Mariette’s lips curled into a frown as she read the letter. Her amber eyes scanned the parchment, causing her frown to deepen the more she read. When she finished, she looked up. "Why did you come to me?”

“We were hoping you could help,” said Twilight slowly. “We were hoping that maybe… you’d seen Trixie at some point. One of the letters says that she stopped here on her way north, and since you know her—”

“Knew her,” interrupted Mariette, handing the letters back to Twilight. “I knew her.” Her voice was soft, as were her features. Turning slightly, she glanced out the window at the slowly-rising moon. Its glow fell down, half lidded by clouds and the fact that it was waning. Mariette gave a quiet sigh. “I haven’t seen or spoken to Trixie since we were kids. She left years ago, and then I did too. If she came back here within the last year, then I wasn’t here.” Her ears twitched again, and she looked away from the window. “I’m sorry,” she said suddenly. “I can’t help you.”

“But,” Twilight began, leaning forward a bit, “aren’t you worried about her? She could be in danger, or she might need our help. Isn’t there anything you can tell us?”

Mariette turned back to Twilight, a sad smile on her face. She let a single mirthless chuckle. “I could tell you so many things… so many stories and so many lies, but none of it will help you.”

“Now hang on just a minute,” said Applejack as she set aside her bowl and stood up. “Whaddya you mean by ‘so many lies’?” Her eyes narrowed. “Is there something you ain’t tellin’ us?”

“Applejack, please!” said Rarity, shaking her head in a huff. She quickly got up and pushed Applejack back to the ground. “We are guests in her house, dear. You can’t go throwing around accusations like that. It’s very rude.”

Now it was Rainbow’s turn to stand up, which she did with a bit of grunting and wincing, still nursing her wing. Taking a stand next to Applejack, she said, “I kinda wanna know what she meant by that too. We’ve already come this far, haven’t we?” She turned her gaze on Mariette. “I feel like we at least deserve to hear the truth.”

“If there is a truth to hear,” added Spike as he, too, stood up. Brushing off his knees, he shrugged. “If everyone else is gonna stand up, then I might as well too. Oh, and I’m with Rainbow and AJ here. Thanks for feeding us dinner and everything, but we didn’t come all the way from Ponyville just to be told that there’s no leads.”

Rarity stamped her hoof. “Girls, please! You’re being very rude to our host!” She turned on Spike. “And you too, Spike. How can you side with them?”

“How can you not? This is why we came here, isn’t it? We came to find out what happened to Trixie, didn’t we?” Spike’s scales reflected the flickering fire as she turned back to Mariette. “Please,” he said, holding out his claw, “just tell us what you know. That’s all we want.”

Twilight remained silent, simply keeping her eyes on Mariette’s face, watching as she seemed to struggle internally with something. After a moment, she said, “I suppose it’s only right that I tell you the truth, Twilight.” She met Twilight’s gaze. “When we met nearly a year ago, and I told you I was a friend of Trixie’s… that was a lie. My name’s not Mariette, and I’m not who you think I am.” She paused, taking a moment to breathe in slowly and then stand up from her chair, letting the moonlight fall on her face. “My name is Midnight, and I’m Trixie’s sister.”

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