Journey: North

by AppleTank

First published

A pony walks north

A pony walks north and towards a mountain with a glowing peak.

Inspired by Gavin Dunne's "Stay By My Side"

For the Noble Jury "Frozen North" Contest

First Stop: Distant Silhouette

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Pure whiteness reflected the meager light from above. A massively thick cloud layer shed flakes of snow eternally in heavy silence. In the distance, a flickering yellow glow valiantly attempted to pierce the darkness.

A black shape formed behind the tide of snow it punched through. Then the massive cylinder of the locomotive peeled the snow back momentarily when it bounced on its rails. Its superheated white blood leaked from frostbitten cracks. Clouds of insulation stubbornly clung the train’s body where it hadn’t shattered and been left behind hundreds of miles away. Sparks shrieked as the train’s wheels somehow found the rails again, wobbling, then continued on its journey. Its furious chugs from a throttle left wide open struggling against a massive weight echoed momentarily in its wake, then was soon smothered by Winter’s grip.

After a few minutes, its path was indistinguishable from the dunes that spanned in every direction.

The pony hissed as she shoveled another clump of coal into the boiler hole thing. Even with the door open, even while wearing a ridiculous amount of winter gear, she could still feel the chill beneath her hooves. Tendrils of frost grew, then melted, then grew again. She bit back a curse as the train shuddered underneath her hooves. Chunks of snow had been compacted hard enough to briefly shake the train as it pushed through, worsening the stability of a train already struggling to push through a meter and a half of snow.

She glanced the dials in front of her with worried eyes, the one for pressure already in the redline. Despite it, the train was going nowhere near its max speed of eighty ... whatever that unit was. Now it was barely past fifty. The rest of the other dials bounced and wiggled, meaningless to her.

“Come on, faster,” she whispered fervently. She glanced outside in frustration. She wanted so badly to go out and fly herself, but she knew that even her own resistance would do nothing more than delay death by fullbody frostbite by minutes.

With a resigned sigh repeated countless times she dumped more coal into the fingers of flame, pushing back the spider-legs of frost that threatened her cabin once more. The pressure needle wiggled in a vaguely upwards direction. She leaned on her shovel as the featureless wasteland blurred past.

There was a sudden deceleration. She lurched on her hooves, her eyes flashing across the dials. The speed dial dropped below thirty. The pressure dial shot through the redline--!

Superheated steam punched rivets--

Flames and shearing metal--

A desperate leap through shattering glass--

A fist of air punched hard into her chest, sending her ragdolling across the dunes of snow. She finally bounced to a stop, smashing into the side of a frozen tree. She squeezed her eyes shut and groaned, taking several deep breaths before she could lever herself up on an elbow. She squinted at the burning wreck.

The cabin was burning, and the coal cart behind it was starting to catch the flames. She grumbled unhappily at her ride being destroyed, and glanced at it one more time, seeing lines of frost spreading--!

She dove into the snow bank as the rest of the train blew up, spreading shrapnel everywhere. After the ringing in her ears was gone, she carefully poked her head out. The only components left of the train were the wheels and the part of the coal cart. The rest was scattered across the snow, smoldering, freezing.

So was the distant wave of freezing rain.

“Wait, what!?”

The pony squeaked when the snowfront got closer. She dashed across the snow until she came across a crystalline shard jutting out of the snowdrifts. She ducked behind it and began hastily digging out a hole. When it was big enough to fit her, she rolled in, then covered in the entrance with more snow.

“Ah, just in time -- ack!” She flinched as the wall behind her shuddered, and she quickly pushed more snow onto it. The light from overhead faded dark, and the howls began to start.

She sighed. “Waiting. The least awesomest part,” she said unhappily, and curled up to preserve her warmth.

Six hours later, the landscape was scoured flat and clear. A weak sun peeked through the cloud cover. Only shards of frostbitten metal revealed where the train once rested.

A red glow pulsed underneath one of the hundreds of snow drifts. Snow hissed, sank and caved in. The pony popped her head out gasping for air. A jagged crack in the lens of her goggles pestered her eye. She rubbed it gently, feeling the minute bump from where it shifted. It would have to hold.

She swept her gaze around, and for a brief flash, saw the afterimage of a lost brick road. She lifted her scarf to rub at a golden chest plate buried within, and the red glow died. She followed the memory of that path.

In the distance, a piercing glow in the mountains pulsed to her hoofsteps.

Second Stop: Kindred Ribbons

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The pony slid down the snow dunes. She was instructed to gather supplies for the remaining leg of her journey, and that there were stores of it that remained in what remained of the Crystal Empire. With a bit of longing, she diverted slightly off to the side where she could see parts of the Crystal Palace stand, its partly crumbled heights steadfastly staring into the storms.

In an hour, she managed to come to the city limits. What little of the Crystal Heart’s power still remained, making it easy to tell were the edge was: a sudden drop in snow level.

She pawed at the edges, and sighed slightly when she found a broken shard of crystal. She pushed them aside, and went towards the only tall pillar of snow in the middle of the entire circle.

She recognized it, despite being almost completely obscured. She had seen this place before, one civilization agol. She could see where the balconies used to be, where the towers and spires used to be from where she used to look over the world.

She lifted her scarf to rub at her pendant again, letting a warm red glow to spill out. She shuffled awkwardly sideways, pointing the glow at a tower's walls. It took a few minutes before it reared the edge of a buried window. She kicked through a wall of snow to reveal one of the third floor balconies. She walked in and looked around. She was told that supplies were left behind in the kitchen, wherever they were.

She trotted through the empty halls, wincing slightly whenever her hoof steps were too loud and echoed repeatedly through dead silent tunnels. She wandered until she found a room she recognized, reoriented herself, then went in search for the kitchens. She found the staircase and began walking down, careful to place each hoof carefully in case of ice.

She glanced at some of the rooms she passed, a solemn look passing over as old memories briefly overlayed the ruined rooms. Bedrooms snowed in, art galleries iced over and fractured, cold and desolate hallways drained of life. She took what solace she could get from the hope that defrosting could bring back the castle she once felt such joy in exploring.

Soon, the kitchen door was forced open, and she stepped in. Food rot was mostly halted from the worldwide freezer, and she quickly picked out what she could eat, what she could store, and what she would have to burn for heat.

She pushed her choices outside, then opened up her satchel to pull out a cut branch. She retrieved a hatchet from her other satchel, and shaved pieces off to make a small pile of kindling, which she started burning from a packaged flint. The heat helped melt some of the drier foods, which she proceeded to help feed the flames enough to warm the rest of her meals and finally give her muscles a chance to relax from the chill.

She pulled down her scarf, gasping in fresh air after hours of muffled breathing. She began scarfing down food as fast as her mouth could warm them, the chill being a constant drain on her energy reserves.

It took half an hour of constant chewing before she felt satisfied, and after a brief rest, she started packing the remaining food for the rest of her Journey.

Returning to the surface was another lonesome Journey. She wanted to pull out her wings, but now that she left her fire the air temperature was back to ‘freeze your eyeballs’ unless you wore insulated goggles.

She found a window that was covered in snow after several flights of stairs, and stepped back out into the snowfall. The wind was had picked up again. A light snow still fell constantly, swirling past her, creating frost she had to rub away. She paused to glance back at the glowing point of the mountain--

A wall of snow on the side of the tower puffed outward as a gloved talon punched through. Another heavily clothed figure stepped through, an outline of a beak underneath the heavy scarf wide open, yawning. The griffon froze when she saw another standing with her, and made a sound of questioning.

The pony shrugged, and pointed at the mountain.

The griffon nodded, looking across the snow dunes and mostly buried buildings. She looked back at the pony, grinned, then slid down the slope, rapidly building up speed..

The pony gaped in shock, before a grin started growing across her face. She laughed once, sharply, and dashed after her, quickly sliding down the loose snow.

She lowered her head, dodging cracked crystal roofs as she chased the griffon. Heart thundering in her chest, she let out a whoop as she leapt over the griffon, somersaulting before landing back on her hooves. She jerked her head, as if daring the griffon to go faster than her.

The pair shot meters above the snow-buried streets, bobbing and weaving between the spires that stock out of the endless dunes, letting speed remind them of the days of blue skies and endless thermals.

Ahead of them, the mountain and the small, huddling buildings clinging to the sides of the slopes loomed.

Third Stop: Sapphire Highway

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The pair collapsed on a pile, muffled giggling piercing the cold winds and frosted air. When they calmed down, they stood up together and looked at a large, frosted over gate. With a deep breath, they put their respective forelimbs against the wall and pushed.

Ir creaked open just enough for the pair to dart through before the wind pushed it back. In front of them was a frozen over outpost. Large towers decorated with icicles once watched over the frigid wastes, a vantage point in case another tried passing through this way again.

The pair winced at the door’s echoing thud, and waited a moment for the sounds to die.

The pony’s ear perked, listening intently to the fading echoes. Her partner swept piercing eyes around. The only movement were tattered flags dancing in the breeze and intermittent howling winds. The griffon twitched violently whenever a howl blew past.

They continued onwards.

Beyond the towers, there was an old military base. Barracks and tables and armories and administration buildings were scattered across the side, like toys forgotten. It was the only wind cover the two could use as they crept along the mountains edge.

Every door they passed, they pushed through frozen sleet to peek inside. Most of the time there was nothing besides a feel pieces of solidified furniture left. The occasional polearm glittered in the light from opened doorways, before being returned to their slumber.

There were still some that never managed to leave. Every once in a while, a howling blizzard would blow through the narrow mountain pass, and they would share a dark abode with a nameless soldier who would wait for leave that will never come.

“Winds stopped. Come on,” the griffon whispered.

“I gotcha,” the pony replied, muttering a quiet apology to the blued ghost before following her companion.

A cafeteria was found. The pair pounced into the pantry, digging out some canned food left behind.

“Need help?” the griffon asked, her claws unsheathed.

The pony shook her head, pulling out her hatchet. “Can you get a fire started? Maybe the tables?”

“If you're sure,” she said, hovering briefly over the pony before accepting the command and darted off.

A meager meal was shared besides the crackle of a lonely dancing flicker. Eyes closed, and slept.

Fourth Stop: Ever Climbing

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Blankets were rolled up, food stored, and bag straps tightened. The companions made sure their heavy winter cloths were wrapped up tightly, then stepped back into the stinging flakes of ice.

They reached the back of the outpost in short time, it appeared the weather had calmed down just the slightest bit. Once they left, they were faced with a narrow pass that they could barely see through the constant fog as it curved upwards.

The griffon glanced down at the petite pony. “?”

The pony nodded, eyes narrowed, and stepped onto the cracked stones that marked the path.

The griffon sighed and followed after her. The walls pressed claustrophobically towards her, and the winds stabbed tiny needles of ice as it pulsed through the valley. She gave a wistful glance at the skies above, but an even harsher blizzard stormed above, ending the thought to get there even if they were able to get their wings out unfrozen.

After pushing through the winds, they were met with a opening into another ghost town. The pair was about to step forwards when the griffon suddenly darted forwards and pulled the pony back into the shadows of the pass, a talon muffling her muzzle. “!!!”

“!?” the pony asked, looking into the griffon’s frightened eyes. Then the unearthly howls began, sending shivers down both of their spines. They cautiously peeked out of the shadows, and saw furious red eyes soaring in the clouds above. Every so often one would swoop down, searching through the ruins, and screeching when they found nothing. Fingers of ice blossomed at their ethereal hooves as they soared back into the raging winds.

Once they were mostly sure the demons were distracted. They darted towards the closest piece of rubble, a partly snowed in chunk of hallway, and crouched underneath it.

The pony carefully made to peek out, but was suddenly smothered by the griffon’s talon, holding her down. The pony grunted irritably as the griffon squinted through the cracks in the concrete, back shivering.

Ten minutes passed before the griffon felt safe enough to let the pony go, and they quickly darted to a partly collapsed doorway, having to lie flat just to squeeze underneath the door-frame. They repeated this process over and over, darting a few feet to find another chunk of rubble to hide under.

An hour later, the griffon poked her head out from underneath a fallen tower. The pony pushed at her wing, squeaking unhappily. The griffon hissed in fear, but exit to the pass was only a hop and skip away.

They rushed to the door, the griffon watching the skies with fear. The pony pulled at the gate’s latch. Parts frozen solid forced her to buck them until they shattered loose. She pushed against the door with her shoulder, her hooves digging into the snow as she forced through rusted hinges and piled up snow to get it to open.

She turned around to call out to her companion--

Gilda blinked blearily from where she had been slammed into the snow. Her head throbbed from where it had bounced off a piece of rubble. The rest of her body was starting to chill from the snow piling on her. Why was she half buried in the snow?

Shaky limbs lifted herself out of the snow, and she turned around.

Her muffled scream was quietly swallowed.

She stumbled through snow drifts and picked up the shivering mare. “Dash! DASH! Come on, wake up! Please....” Chunks of ice clung to the mare’s fabrics, and pale eyes stared into nothing. “...not again...”

The gate was open. Gilda balanced the pony on her back the best she could, and darted through before the wraiths would think about darting down again.

There was another narrow mountain pass, and Gilda ran as quickly as she dared. “Hold on,” she wheezed. “Almost ... there.”

She exited the pass and ate a beakful of icy winds. She squawked in protest before she was able to pull her head down and resume struggling upwards. The mountain top was growing blinding. Her last friend wasn't moving.

Gilda spun Rainbow Dash off her back and attempted to shield the paling petite body. “Stay with me, please,” she begged. “I can't do this without you.”

A trembling hoof briefly brushed against Gilda's breast. “Maybe ... you deserved to be Loyalty?” she whispered through blued lips.

Gilda's goggles fogged. “Not without you,” she breathed, clutching the quieting pony to her body. The glow of the mountain stung her blurring vision even while staring blankly at the cool body between her arms.




A blast of heat blew her scarf’s tail behind her, fluttering. Gilda growled. “What took you?”

Fifth Stop: Stay By My Side

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The newcomer laughed, silhouetted by a roaring bonfire sitting on a sled behind her. “Is that how you greet a new friend? Here, let me help you start over. My name is Septima. Yours?”

Gilda looked up with a glare as Septima pushed back her hood slightly with black tinted talons, then held one out to shake. She was an owl-descended griffon, and a down of pepper grey that almost disappeared into the blizzard.

Gilda's furious golden irises met Septima’s barely repressed gleeful purple. “You know who I am and why I'm here.”

Septima sighed in mock disappointment, dropping her talon. “Alright, if you want to start that way,” she said. “So, how was your trip?”


“I’ll start off.” Septima pulled out some branches and tossed it into the bonfire behind her. “Keeping the flame lit was a tough job, you know? Had to gather enough fuel across this desert so it’ll actually shine bright enough.”

She winked. “Kept me warm too.”


“Let me tell you, climbing up a mountain? Hard. Climbing up a mountain while dragging a overweight sled filled with logs? The worst. Couldn’t just sit around and complain though, so I pushed on. Glad to see you here, freezing to death is not the most pleasant ways to go.

“So how was the trip? I heard some howling from up here, I hope the weather wasn't as bad as the one I had to push through.”

Gilda’s talon dug into the snow. “Oh I don’t know, considering RAINBOW DIED!” she shrieked, her free arm squeezing the pony’s body.

Septima winced. Gilda didn’t believe it. “Oh, that is pretty bad.”

“Why? Gilda asked. She snarled at the griffon. “Everytime, you’re never on time!”

Septima stared blankly back. She turned back to the bonfire cart, unstrapped a log, and dropped it into the flames. She faced the flames, listening the Gilda seeth, before turning around, an inscrutable shadow wreathed by flames. “Destiny guides her, chains her. I was strongly advised that this was the only way to survive.”

She sighed, and said, “Its not my usual way in life, but I didn’t have much of a choice.” She gestured at Gilda. “I’m sure you felt the same. Not your first Journey, yet you always climb silently to meet amnesiatic me. And now you’re at the end of this cycle. Are you willing to go again?”

Septima waited as Gilda stared into the snow. With raspy breath, she whispered, “Always.”

“Many thanks,” Septima drawled, biting the tip of a claw, drawing blood. She slapped it against the ground, and dragged a bright red line to the blazing cart. Runes lit up the snow around them like festival lights. She blurred forwards, energy crackling up her limbs towards her outstretched arm. Her talon smacked into Gilda’s face, and pushed

A weak sun sent golden fingers through the thinning cloud layer. Bits of frostbitten metal poked out of snowdrifts. Scattered coal looked like chocolate ice cream under the fresh snow.

There was a muffled yawn, then a red glow pulsed underneath a pile of snow. Snow hissed, then burst before an outstretched hoof. A pony covered in heavy cloths stumbled out, gasping for breath. She rubbed her goggles clean once she stopped wheezing, and looked out beyond into the distance.

There, a mountain stood before her. A flickering tower of light shown from its top.


Extra Stop: Journey

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A sudden Thump smashed into Septima's lungs from the sudden air pressure drop. The flames imploded, leaving only streaks of ash spread radially. A cold rigid pegasus sank softly into the snow.

Septima hissed at the magical burns, relaxing her limbs gingerly, one at a time. When they felt comfortably numb, she reached underneath her cloak and withdrew a tiny potted plant. It had no leaves covering its gnarled branches besides dangling crystalline chimes.

“Well, Tree, job’s done,” she said to the plant, grabbing the pony’s body by the neck and squinting at it. She sliced at it until she could see a golden shine, and yanked it off. It was a pendant, a dull red lightning bolt made of crystal sitting in its center. No snow clung on despite the renewed snowfall.

Septima turned and hung it from one of the Tree’s branches. It seemed to hunch slightly under Septima’s gaze.

“Enough?” the griffon asked.

The Tree twisted slightly, a sad tinkling whispering through the air.

“Aw, why so surprised?” the griffon said, glaring. “I know you went out of your way to convince me every single time. Despite knowing what I do, you chose me. I wanted to try something else, but this was the path you chose. A path you will walk for many more cycles.” Septima leaned heavily against the charred cart, but her purple eyes gleamed with rage. “Stand tall, and walk without fear! Do not let your duty slow you down, or all those lives sacrificed will be for naught. You have the strength to lead this world to salvation, do not disappoint me.”

Ice cracked.

“Oh, and you owe me one,” Septima added. Spiderwebs of blue crept over her cloak. “I have someone I want to deliver some angry words. Try not to forget. See you ... on the .... other ......... side...”

The Tree looked up into Septima’s glassy eyes. She had worn little in order to not cook besides the fire’s raging heat, but now there was no fire. It stared at the pendant hanging from its branches, then back at the griffon’s stare. She stared blankly off into the distance, yet with a fierce grin across her beak.

After a moment, the Tree gathered its resolve and ...


A fresh storm flew over the mountain tops and raged. Bursts of snowfall swept through.

After a few short hours, there was nothing.