• 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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4 — Through the Woods

Chapter 4:
Through the Woods

Wind howled in Trixie’s ears as she stumbled along the snowy path. Her fur coat did little to protect her from the biting chill and it certainly did not guard her hooves from the icy snow. Polaris, and his wife, Astrid, blazed a trail through the mounds of snow just a few steps ahead of her.

“How much farther until we reach Frostvale?” she asked, her voice barely audible above the howling wind.

Polaris paused. He looked over his shoulder at her and said, “At least half a day yet, miss. Likely it’ll take longer if this accursed storm doesn’t let up.” He glanced over to Astrid. She smiled weakly at him. He sighed. “We might need to set down for the night if we don’t at least make it to the Frozen Chasm by nightfall. I don’t want to see neither one of you gettin’ hurt. We can’t be pushing ourselves too hard, miss.”

Trixie cursed under her breath. “It’s already been two days since we left the caravan. Why is it taking so long to get there? I thought from where we were it was only supposed to take a day.”

“‘Supposed to’ being the key part of that phrase, miss. I told you not to count on it,” he chuckled. “The wind is what’s really slowin’ us down. If it weren’t for that we might be making good time.”

“Isn’t there a faster way? Another path we can take that will get us there quicker?”

He shook his head. “This is the only safe way to get there. I know it doesn’t seem like it, but this is actually the easy way. Don’t worry, miss,” he said comfortingly. “We’ll get there in due time. It just may take a little longer than you were hoping.”

Trixie hung her head. “I’m not sure I can stand another night in this cold. I wish there was a faster way.”

“Dear,” Astrid said softly to Polaris. “What if we cut through the forest? That might save some time and shield us from the wind too.”

“We don’t know what lives in there, Astrid,” he replied. “It would be too dangerous. What if we were attacked by timber wolves? We don’t have the whole caravan at our side now. I can’t protect you both.”

“I can fight for myself,” Trixie cut in. “I don’t need to be protected by anypony.”

“Even still, miss. The forest can be a dangerous place, and I couldn’t bear it if something happened to either of you.”

Astrid placed a hoof on his shoulder. “Look at her, dear,” she whispered. “She’s freezing to death out here. At least in the forest she’d have the trees to hold back the wind. We don’t even know if there is anything in there.” She stared at him pleadingly. “We have to at least try, if only for her sake.”

“I don’t like it,” he sighed, “but you may be right.” He looked at Trixie. Shivering, she stood waiting for him to say something. Her face pink with cold, but adorned with a look of determined resolution. He shook his head. “I may end up regretting this, but let’s cut through the forest. If all goes right, we’ll save nearly a quarter of a day’s hike, and keep the wind off our flanks to boot.” He chuckled nervously.

Trixie clapped her hooves together. “Excellent, we should be able to make it to Frostvale today after all. That might put us back on schedule.”

“Don’t get your hopes up too much, miss,” he cautioned with a wink. “We haven’t made it out of the woods yet.”

Astrid rolled her eyes. “Well, come on then. We’ve still got this wind to contend with.”

“I might be able to do something about that,” Trixie offered. Soft, blue light surrounded her horn as she concentrated on creating a magical barrier. It flowed in waves towards Polaris and Astrid, finally coalescing into a pointed wall of light, jutting into the wind and pushing it to either side of the wall. “There,” she said. “That should help a little.”

Polaris whistled quietly. “Been practicing have you?”

A prideful smile played across Trixie’s face.

“Try not to look too pleased with yourself, miss,” he chuckled.

“My, that’s really something,” Astrid said, marveling at Trixie’s handiwork.

“I’m proud of you, miss. I’m glad to see you’re improving so much. But,” he said, his voice becoming suddenly serious. “How come you couldn’t do that before? We’re freezin’ our flanks off in this cold!”

“To be completely honest,” Trixie said sheepishly “I wasn’t sure it would work. I hadn’t been able to cast that spell successfully until recently, and I didn’t know if I’d be able to do it out here.”

He laughed. “Well, we’re all glad that you did, miss. Now,” he continued, “we should probably start making our way through the forest if we want to actually gain any ground.”

“Yes,” Trixie said. “Let’s do that.”

Turning their backs to their previous path, they headed towards the forest. Its ominous presence loomed just at the edge of their field of view. Shadows seemed to be all that were around it.

As they began walking towards it, and Trixie gazed at the forest’s foreboding visage, she was suddenly filled with a sense of dread.

Well, Trixie thought, this should be interesting.

***

“Whose idea was it to cut through this forest?” Trixie asked as she fought off what felt like the hundredth tree branch.

It had been slow going, cutting through the forest. Though, admittedly, it was no slower than their previous pace, and they were making good time. Frustrating and painful time, but good time nonetheless.

“I think you were the one who was asking if there wasn’t a faster way to the Frozen Chasm, miss,” Polaris replied as he helped Astrid shake off a particularly stubborn bush. “I have to admit,” he said. “I didn’t think it would be this... tedious.”

“Well,” Astrid said as she kicked away the remnants of the bush clinging to her coat, “at least we’ve been able to stay out of the wind. That has to count for something.”

“I s’pose so, but I still would take the ice and snow over this,” he lifted his front hooves up, “mud. Snow’ll melt away, but this mud’s gonna be caked into my fur for weeks. And it’s freezing cold too, as if it weren’t bad enough already.”

Trixie sat against a rock that jutted out of the ground at a ninety-degree angle. As she started picking out the leaves and bark from her coat, she said, “I wasn’t expecting it to be so dark here. I know that the trees block out a lot the sun, but even still, it seems... unnaturally dark.”

“Dear, I think your mind may be playing tricks on you,” Astrid said kindly. “I wouldn’t worry about it. So far we haven’t come across any signs of life in this forest, so I doubt anything lives here.”

“Which is good,” added Polaris. “Because I don’t think I could fight off anymore of those timberwolves with all these trees and bushes and whatnot in the way. I’m even having a hard time navigating in here.”

“What do you mean?” asked Trixie.

“Normally I navigate by watching the sky, lookin’ for stars and such. But in here, with all the trees blocking my view, it’s hard to tell which way is which.”

“But you’re not lost, right?” Astrid asked worriedly. “You do know which way you’re going, right, dear?”

“Of course I know which way I’m going,” he retorted. “What kinda guide would I be if I didn’t? I said I normally navigate using the stars. I do have other ways of figuring out where I’m going. Amateur navigators use one method, I use multiple.”

“I’m sorry to have offended you so, oh great navigator,” Astrid said jokingly. “I didn’t realize you were so far above us mere mortals.”

Trixie laughed, and Astrid gave her a wink.

“Oh, ha ha,” Polaris chuckled dryly. “Go ahead, laugh it up. You’ll be thanking me once we make it out of here.”

“Yes, yes, we’re all very grateful to you,” Astrid said, patting him on the back. “You know I was only kidding around.”

“Although,” Trixie said, “now I’m curious to know what your methods are. Is it some kind of magic?”

Polaris grinned slyly. “You, of all ponies, should know a magician never reveals his secrets. But,” he added upon seeing their downcast faces, “I’ll make an exception—just this once. I s’pose you wouldn’t call what I do magic, at least not in the way you know it, but I like to think of it as ‘earth pony magic’.”

“Earth pony magic?” said Trixie. “But, earth ponies don’t have magic.”

“Heheh, no, I don’t s’pose either of would know anything about it, being unicorns and all. Like I said, it’s not really magic, more like intuition.”

Trixie cocked an eyebrow.

“See, I can feel which way I’m going, in a way. I like to use the stars because they’re more accurate, and they’re consistent. But, if I need to, I can feel the earth beneath my hooves. I know it sounds kind of crazy, miss, but believe me, it’s just as real as your magic.”

Astrid’s eyebrow rose right along with Trixie’s.

“It’s not like the ground tells me which way is north or anything like that,” he said. “Heck, it doesn’t really tell me any kind of cardinal direction for that matter. It’s more like, I feel which way I’m supposed to go, but that isn’t always the way I want to go.”

“What do you mean by that?” Trixie asked.

“I guess life sometimes has different plans for me.” He shrugged. “It once told me to take the long way to the train station, and I ended up missing my train. Ended up having to wait another day, and buy another ticket. That’s when I met Astrid. I s’pose you’d call it fate, I called it ‘wasting twenty bits’.”

Astrid giggled. “So that’s why you couldn’t pay your bill?”

“Funny thing, fate. One minute you find yourself being chased down the street by a bartender, and the next you’re meeting the love of your life.” Polaris and Astrid shared a smile and a knowing glance, leaving Trixie feeling decidedly left-out. “What I always wondered,” he added, “was, what was a pretty mare like you doing in that dump?”

Astrid placed a hoof over her lips. “I think I’ll save that story for another time,” she said.

“All right, you lovebirds,” Trixie said, stepping between the two. “Before you get all nostalgic, we should really keep moving. It looks like it’s getting even darker, if that’s possible.”

It was, indeed, getting darker. The shadows beneath the trees seemed to melt into the pervading darkness, making the ground look almost inky black. The sky overhead, what little was visible through the trees, was a mass of swirling black clouds.

Polaris looked up at the brewing storm. “Looks like it’s about to get a lot worse here. We should probably try to find some shelter. If the storm gets bad enough, it’ll be too dangerous to continue on through it.”

“But,” Trixie started.

Polaris cut her off with a wag of his hoof. “I told you before, miss, the last thing I want is to see either of you hurt. If this storm picks up, the chances of that happening increase by a lot. We can’t take that risk, especially since we still need to cross the Frozen Chasm.”

“Plus, dear, you’ll need to keep your strength up in case something bad happens,” Astrid added. “You never know when we might need your magic. Celestia knows I’m nowhere near as versed as you in magical spells. I hardly use this thing at all,” she said, pointing to her horn.

Trixie sighed. “Fine, it’s probably for the best anyway.”

“That’s a good girl,” Astrid said warmly. “We should look for some kind of cave, or maybe a clearing where we can set up camp.”

Polaris nodded. “Shouldn’t be too hard to find something like that here.”

“Hey,” Trixie said as she looked up at the swirling storm clouds. “Is is just me, or is it getting darker... again?”

Harsh whistling sounds filled the air as the wind picked up and lightning crackled around them. Thunder rumbled from the clouds above, and the swirling clouds began to get closer and closer to the ground.

“That’s not a good sign,” Polaris said warily.

Astrid shot him a worried glance. “You don’t think it’s...”

He nodded gravely. “Yep.”

“What?” asked Trixie. “What’s happening? What’s that sound?”

Eyes skyward, Polaris said slowly, “...Wendigos.”

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