Letters From a Friend at the End of the World

by alexmagnet

First published

Twilight receives a letter from Trixie one day, but it raises more questions than it answers.

For almost a year now, Trixie has been sending letters to Twilight. The only problem is, Twilight hasn't gotten a single one... until today. But now that she has, Twilight is left with more questions than she knows how to answer. Fortunately, she has a plan. Unfortunately, she doesn't know if that plan will work.

Featured on Equestria Daily
Reading by: WhoLandon
Reading by: PonyFicsOutLoud

1 — Dear Twilight Sparkle

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Chapter 1:
Dear Twilight Sparkle

Knock. Knock. Knock.

Twilight looked up from At the Edge of Space and saw that there was someone standing at the door. She could barely see a blue cap perched atop a tawny mane through the tiny window near the top of her door. I wonder who that could be.

Three more knocks came, slightly louder than before.

“Just a minute!” Twilight called. She slipped one of her many bookmarks into the open book and set it aside on a small table. Her horn glowed as she trotted towards the door. With a tiny burst of magic, she opened it.

As it swung open she saw a stallion. Standing there in the threshold, with a blue cap covering his tousled brown mane and a matching blue uniform strapped tightly about his chest, the mailpony held an envelope in his mouth. Written on the dull, white envelope were the words, ‘Twilight Sparkle of Ponyville’.

“Can I—”

“Miss Twilight Sparkle?” he asked. His voice was gruff, but it had a professional air to it.

She blinked a few times, then nodded. “That's me.” She pointed to the envelope in his hooves. “Is that for—”

“Letter for you, ma'am.” He dropped the letter into his hoof and extended it, offering the envelope to her. A familiar light consumed the letter as it moved to Twilight. It was heavy and bulged slightly at one end.

“Thank you,” she said, eyeing the letter. Her brow creased as she examined the envelope. That's funny. Usually the Princess doesn't send letters by regular mail. She paused. Wait. This isn't from Princess Celestia. “Excuse me, do you know who sent this?” she asked.

He shook his head, tossing his mane about. “Couldn’t say, ma'am. There's no return address on it, but it looks like it's come a long way.” Twilight cocked her head to the side. “Flip it over; on the other side, you'll see that it's been stamped by every town it's passed through.”

The envelope’s weight shifted as she flipped it around. He was right. There were at least a dozen, probably more, stamps on the back.

“You don’t know anything else about this?”

He shook his head, then shrugged. “I just deliver the mail, ma’am.”

He gave a short nod, spun around with all the grace of a mailpony, and then began trotting off. After he had gotten a fair distance away, Twilight shut the door and turned her attention back to the envelope.

Twilight turned the letter back over and examined the hoofwriting. She didn’t recognize it. Though, admittedly, she probably wouldn’t even if she knew who it was from.

Upon closer inspection, she saw there were even more stamps than she realized. Ponyville, Emerald Falls, Hoofington, Ebonwood, Smokey Mountain, Tall Tale, Vanhoover... the list went on and on. How many places has this passed through? Despite its apparent travel distance, it seemed no worse for the wear. The edges were a little rough, but that was about it. I wonder who sent this?

I guess there’s only one way I’ll find out. Twilight carefully slit the top of the envelope open with a thin blade of magic. She slid the contents out and tossed the empty shell next to her book. Inside, she found a letter tri-folded and roughly cut sapphire trimmed with faux gold. Her name was printed in violet ink on the outer fold.

As she unfolded it, her eyes automatically moved to the beginning of the letter. It was dated nearly a month and a half ago in delicate cursive. She definitely didn’t recognize this hoofwriting.

August 13, 1001

Dear Twilight Sparkle,

It's been a few weeks since I sent my last letter. I've been a little busy lately, sorry about that. I'm getting closer though. I can feel it in the air, and I can see it in the wildlife. It's become increasingly cold since I reached the Crystal Mountains, and it’s only gotten worse since I passed them. You'd think, that once you had reached the point where even your saliva starts to freeze the moment it leaves your mouth, that it couldn't possibly get colder, but it does. Believe me, it does, and it continues to do so.

I really hate the cold. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned that before, but it’s true. I hate this stupid cold. Why'd this thing have to make its home so far north? Why couldn't it have lived on a tropical island or something? I swear, this wind will be the death of me. Oh well, at least I’ll make a nice ice sculpture. Maybe then ponies would come see the great and frozen Trixie. That would be a sight to see. Did I mention that I hate this cold? I think I complain too much.

Anyway, you're probably wondering why my brooch is in this envelope. Then again, maybe you aren’t. Either way, there's two reasons for that. One, the darn thing keeps falling off, so that’s really annoying. Ever since my run-in with that timber wolf—you know, the one that ripped my cloak in half—I've never been able to keep it on straight. I knew I had to get rid of it after it fell off and I tripped over it. You’ll see once you put it on. It’s deceptively heavy. Anyway, it's not worth very much, so, instead of selling it, I decided to send it to you. I’ve had it for so many years that I can’t imagine just throwing it away. I'm hoping that you can keep it for me, so that when I get back we can take it to your friend—the one whose mane I turned green—to get it put on a new cloak. If I remember right, she was the one who made that beautiful dress out of my stage curtains. I'm sure she can do something about this cloak too; it's beginning to look a little... lived-in. Of course I'll pay her for her time and all that. Now, where was I? Oh, right, reason two. And two, I want you to have it. At least until I get back, that is. I can't think of anypony I'd rather have taking care of it. It may not be worth much, but it means a lot to me. I know it'll be in good hooves with you. Plus, if you ever need somepony to talk to, it’s a good listener. I know that probably doesn’t make much sense, but that’s okay. Just make sure you keep it with you, okay?

I wanted to write more, but it looks like the caravan is moving out now.

I'll write again soon.


Trixie Lulamoon

Mouth agape, Twilight stared at the letter, unable to formulate any coherent thoughts. She quickly re-read it. Then, she read it a third time, and then a fourth time. What in the wide, wide world of Equestria is going on here?

It was like someone had loaded a shotgun with questions and fired it at her brain. Trixie? But, why would Trixie be writing me? And why’d she give me her brooch? What’s she doing so far north? What’s she looking for up there? And why is she—

Twilight’s thoughts were interrupted by a loud thud and the sensation of being flung across the room. By the time she had regained her composure, she found herself lying on her back ten feet further from the door than she had been. She tried to stand but found herself pinned to the ground by a soft, heavy something.

“What the...” she said, groggily.

“Heh heh, sorry, Twi. Didn’t see ya there.”

The weight lifted off her chest as Rainbow Dash flapped her wings. She hovered in mid-air with a silly grin on her face and a hoof running through her rainbow mane. “Sorry about that. Oh, lemme help you,” she said as she saw Twilight struggling to stand up.

After she had been helped to her hooves, Twilight brushed herself off and gave Rainbow a reproachful glance. “I guess knocking would be too much to ask.”

Rainbow Dash floated lightly to the ground like a feather, in stark contrast to her entrance just moments before. “It kinda looked like the door was already open from far away.”

“It wasn’t.”

“And I didn’t think I was going that fast.”

“You were.”

“Plus, I thought I woulda had plenty of time to slow down.”


“But, you were in the way.”

Twilight rolled her eyes. “Didn’t mean to get in the way of your flying.”

Rainbow shrugged. “How was I supposed to know where you’d be?”

Twilight opened her mouth to respond, but thought better of it and said, “I assume there was a reason for your, ahem, visit?”

Her eyes lit up like she had just remembered the answer to a test. “Oh! I almost forgot.” She began searching around frantically, scanning the shelves and countertops. “I heard you got the new Daring Do book.” She lifted into the air and began flying up and down the line of books. “AJ told me,” she said, answering Twilight’s unasked question.

“Oh?” Twilight said, cocking her head to the side. “Is that all?”

Rainbow stopped suddenly and fired a wide-eyed glare at Twilight. “‘Is that all?’ Do you even hear yourself? This is Daring Do we’re talking about! The coolest and most awesome pony of all time.” She threw her hooves in the air. “Daring Do, Twilight. Daring Do!”

Twilight couldn’t contain herself; she burst out laughing, much to the chagrin of Rainbow Dash. After a moment, she calmed herself down. Wiping a tear away, she said, “I’m sorry, Rainbow Dash. I just, I didn’t think I would ever see the day when you got so excited over a book.”

“Not just any book, Twi. This is—”

“Yes, yes,” Twilight said, waving a dismissive hoof, “this is Daring Do we’re talking about.” She allowed herself another chuckle before continuing, “Anyway, AJ was right. I was in Canterlot a few days ago and I bought it while I was there.” She walked over to one of the many neatly organized shelves adorning the walls of the Ponyville library. She mumbled quietly to herself as she ran a hoof across the spines of the books. “Ah, here we go,” she said.

“Sweet!” Rainbow cried as Twilight levitated the book into her hooves. She hugged it to her chest tightly. “Oh man, this is gonna be so awesome.”

Twilight smiled warmly. “I’ve already finished it, so you’re welcome to borrow it.”

“Awesome. Thanks, Twi. I’m gonna—”

She stopped suddenly as something caught her eye. She was staring at the far end of the room where she had crashed into Twilight. The brooch, overturned and next to the letter Trixie had sent, had sparkled for the briefest of moments and grabbed Rainbow’s attention.

Ignoring Twilight’s confused look, she glided over to it. “What’s this?” she asked.

“What’s what?”

Rainbow leaned down to look more closely at the letter. The letter lay on its back, with the words inside clearly visible. As she began to make out the words, Rainbow’s eyes shot open. She backed away quickly and said, “Oh, umm, I just remembered. I’ve got weather duty right now.”

“But what about—” Twilight began.

“See ya later, Twi.” Without stopping for so much as a second, she shoved Daring Do and the Search for Magrathea into her saddlebag and rocketed out the front door and into the sky.

Twilight shook her head. “Well that was weird.” She saw that the brooch and letter were still lying on the ground. “Oh, almost forgot about you.” The two objects were surrounded by a purple light as Twilight lifted them up and brought them to herself. “Where was I?”

She tapped a hoof to her forehead. “Hmm, this definitely isn’t the first letter she’s sent me, but why is this the first one I’ve gotten?”

“Who’s sending you letters?” asked Spike. He stood in the threshold of the doorway, holding an envelope in his scaly hands. Twilight’s eyes shot to the letter in Spike’s grip. “Oh, and speaking of letters, that mailpony guy said that he forgot to give you this.” He waved the envelope in his hands. “By the way, was that Rainbow Dash just now?”

Ignoring him, Twilight's eyes widened. She snatched the letter away from him in a flash of lavender light. She stared at it like she had just gotten the newest issue of Astrology Quarterly.

Spike tapped his foot impatiently. “Wanna fill me in, Twilight?”

She paid him no mind and continued to examine the letter. With a careful incision, she sliced open the top of the envelope and emptied the contents into a small magic field.

Spike cleared his throat loudly.

Twilight snapped out of her trance and looked up at him. She blushed slightly, not looking up from the letter. “Oh, sorry, Spike. I'm just... I need to read this first. I need to figure out what the hay is going on.” She delicately opened the letter, unfolding it and flattening out the crease as gently as she could.

Dear Twilight Sparkle,

I’m getting close now, at least, I think I am.

The others tell me it’s not far now. I don’t know. It seems like we still have a long way to go. I haven’t even seen this town everyone is talking about yet. Frostvale, I think it’s called.

Well, either way, my journey is almost at an end. It’s taken me almost a year, but I’m finally about to reach the End of the World. I can’t wait to be back. It feels like forever since I’ve seen anything but snow and ice. I’m looking forward to the green hills and sunny pastures of Ponyville.

It's kinda funny that I'm talking about Ponyville like it's my home. I've only ever been there that one time. Maybe it’s just this cold that’s making me long for warmer places. Maybe it’s because I've been writing you so much? I don’t know.

Anyway, I can't wait to be back. I hope you've kept all of my letters. I want to read them again. I'm sure we'll both get a nice laugh at all the ridiculous things I said before. Isn’t it funny how much things can change in a year? I never thought we would be friends, for one.

Speaking of that, is it weird that I think of us as friends? I've been writing you for almost a year now, and even though the conversation's been decidedly one-sided, I still think of you as my friend. Maybe it’s just a side-effect of writing the same pony over and over again for a year straight. Do you think of me as your friend? I suppose it doesn't matter what you think of me as; I'll always consider you my friend... as weird as that may or may not be.

Well, just wanted to give you a quick update on my progress and all that. I should be done here in the next few days, assuming all goes well, and then I'll be on my way back. I'd guess it'll be about three weeks or so before I'm back in Ponyville. Who knows, if I'm fast enough, and lucky enough, maybe I'll even beat this letter back.

I’m sure you’re probably worried about me. I’ll be fine though. I am the great and powerful Trixie after all. What was it I said? “The greatest equine who has ever lived”’. That sounds like something I would’ve said.

Hope to see you soon!

Your friend,

Trixie Lulamoon

Once she had finished reading, Twilight placed the letter to the side. Her eyes moved to the brooch. It bobbed slightly in the magic bubble, caressed by a magenta glow. She plucked it from its stasis and examined it closely.

It was cut haphazardly, giving it a finished appearance from far away, but a rough one when looked at in more detail. The gold trim was scratched, and the sapphire inside wasn’t much better off. Scuffs and scrapes criss-crossed the gem and dulled its sheen. Without the proper equipment it was nearly impossible to tell its age, but it certainly looked old. Even harder was trying to figure out how long ago it had been set into the brooch. However old it was, Trixie was probably not the first owner.

“Well?” Spike asked, after waiting patiently for a few minutes.

“Sorry, Spike,” Twilight replied. “I’m just having a hard time deciding what to make of all this.” She shook her head. “I mean, what the hay am I supposed to think when a letter from a pony I only met once shows up out of the blue?”

He raised an eyebrow.

In response, she floated the pair of letters into his claws. Answering his question before he even asked it, she said, “They're from Trixie.”

Spike opened his mouth.

“I don't know either, Spike. That’s what I’m trying to figure out,” she said, cutting him off. “Go ahead, read them. Maybe you can make some sense of all this.”

Wordlessly, Spike unfolded the first letter. He read it slowly. When he was finished, his eyebrow raised a little higher, but he didn’t say anything. Instead, he just read the next letter.

Another few moments of silence passed as Twilight watched him read. Finally, when he had finished, he said, “I don’t even know where to begin.”

Twilight laughed. “You’re telling me. Suddenly I start getting letters from Trixie saying that she’s looking for... something north of the Crystal Mountains, and that she’s giving me her brooch.”

“Yeah,” said Spike as he ran a claw across his head, “and it seems like these aren’t the first letters she’s sent you.”

“I know, Spike. That’s what I was wondering about, too. It doesn’t make sense.”

He put one claw on his hip and the other under his chin, with his thumb and fore-finger forming a ‘v’ shape. “I'm pretty sure the only letters you get are from Princess Celestia, and I should know.” He patted his stomach. “Those things aren’t always pleasant to deliver.”

Twilight shook her head and shrugged. “I know. I don’t know what to make of all this.” Violet light washed over the room like a wave as she levitated the letters, brooch, and Spike into the air. Placing the letters and brooch in her bag and Spike on her back, she said, “I think we need to go to the post office and try to figure out where the rest of those letters are.”

As he wrapped his arms around Twilight’s neck, Spike said, “Maybe that dude has the other letters too?”

She sighed softly. “I hope so, Spike. I really do.”

2 — Polaris

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Chapter 2:

“Your... friend... Trixie... Lula... moon. There, done!” With a relieved sigh, Trixie leaned back in her chair. The candle on her desk had burned down to a tiny mound of wax and few balled-up pieces of parchment lay on the ground around her. She placed the quill back into its nearly-empty inkwell and looked over her letter once more. Her lips pursed as she reached the end where she had signed her name. “Hmm...”

“I... need... to... do...” she paused for a moment before placing her quill back on the parchment. “See... you... in... a.. few... weeks.” As she placed the final dot on the exclamation mark a tiny smile crept across her face. She carefully folded the letter into thirds and then reached into her saddlebag and pulled out an envelope. Delicate blue light washed over the letter as she slipped it into the envelope. As she went to seal it, she caught herself. Pulling the letter back out, she placed it on the desk and grabbed her other quill.

With a practiced motion she spelled out the mare’s name in elegant cursive. Placing the quill down, she held up the letter to the light. The violet letters seemed to shimmer in the dancing flame’s light. Satisfied, she slid the folded letter into the envelope and sealed it with a wax stamp.

Grabbing the first quill one more time, she spelled out 'Twilight Sparkle of Ponyville' on the front of the letter. After she had finished addressing it, the letter lifted itself from her hooves and made its way to her bag where it slipped into an open pouch.

Sighing softly, she looked out the window. It was dark, much too dark to leave. That was just as well; it was much too cold to leave too. Her horn lit up as she drew the curtains closed over the small window.

She pulled her fur coat tighter, allowing its warmth to surround her. As the candlelight dimmed, she moved to the rough bed that had been laid out for her earlier in the evening. The straw poked through the thin blanket covering the bed and jabbed into her sides and back, but it wasn’t entirely uncomfortable. At least she had her coat.

As she closed her eyes, the last thing she saw was the saddlebag, and one corner of the envelope sticking out of the pouch. A small smile found its way onto her face as she fell asleep, her mind drifting to warmer days.


Knock, knock, knock.

Three short raps came in quick succession, waking Trixie unceremoniously. She sleepily opened her eyes and searched for the source of the disturbance. She shielded her eyes as the wooden door cracked open and light flooded the room. A tall, but thin-looking earth pony stood in the doorway. He looked over and saw that Trixie was still in bed and quickly averted his eyes.

“Miss Lulamoon—” he paused “—are you... decent?”

Rubbing the sleep from her eyes, Trixie responded groggily, “Yes, Polaris, I’m decent.”

He turned his head back in time to see Trixie slowly rising from her slumber. He couldn’t help but notice how slim she looked, and how the light played with her silver mane as she tossed it about. It may have been a little unkempt, and more than a little dirty, but it still seemed to glow with an inner light. As she stretched, letting out a tiny yawn, a chill breeze blew through the open door and caused her to yelp in surprise. She quickly gathered up her coat and pulled it close.

Polaris let out a light chuckle. “Still getting used to the cold, eh?”

“I hope I’m never used to it. If I am, then that’ll mean I’ve been here far too long,” she said with an exasperated sigh.

“Heheh, bet a mare like you probably never had this kinda cold before, eh? But, you’d think that after two months you’d have learned to deal with the cold a little better. ” He chuckled again as he saw her struggle to gather up the pieces of parchment that had been blown away because of the breeze.

“Would you shut that door, please? This cold is bothering me enough without the wind to make things worse.”

Shifting his back leg, Polaris lightly kicked the door shut. “Apologies, miss. Didn’t mean to cause you any trouble.” He stepped closer to her as she was gathering up the last few pieces of paper. “Been writing to that ‘Twilight Sparkle of Ponyville’ some more, eh?”

Trixie stuffed the parchment she was holding into her saddlebag before responding. “Yes, as a matter of fact I have, Polaris. I just finished writing another letter last night.”

“You know, you’ve been writin’ that mare as long as I’ve known you, but I’ve never seen you get any letters back. So why is that?”

It was a fair question, and one that Trixie had heard several times before. Luckily, she had an answer prepared for whenever this question came up.

“That is a personal matter between me and Twilight Sparkle, and I’d rather not discuss it if it’s all the same to you.”

Polaris laughed loudly, his chest bouncing up and down. “I’d wager this isn’t the first time you’ve told somepony that. Got yourself a nice little ready-made excuse, eh? Well, that’s fine with me. It’s not my place to go meddlin’ in other’s affairs. If you don’t want to talk about, then that’s your business. I know when to leave well enough alone.”

“I appreciate your understanding,” Trixie said kindly. “I hate to be so blunt about it, especially when I owe you so much, but it’s not something I want to talk about.”

He raised a hoof. “Understood, miss. I’m just here to shepherd you along anyhow. I know where my place is.”

A smile tugged at Trixie's lips. “Thank you, Polaris. You’re too kind.”

“Don’t mention it. Now come on, miss. Breakfast is gettin’ cooked up right now. If you hurry, you might even get it while it’s still hot.” With a nod of his head, and a wave of his hoof, he motioned towards the door.

Saddlebag packed, and coat firmly secured about her chest, Trixie grabbed her hat and cape from the corner of the room and headed out the door. As she opened the door, cold washed over her in icy waves. First, the sheer temperature drop from being outside, then the wind, and finally snow began to blow about her face in frigid wisps. She shivered, her teeth clattering together.

As she clambered down the small wooden steps of her caravan she was filled with a sudden longing to be back in her bed. It may not have been as warm as Ponyville, but at least it was warmer than outside. She heard the door shut as Polaris cut off her only escape. Oh well, nowhere else to go but forward.

As Trixie made her way through the camp she passed dozens of stern-looking ponies, barely any of them even spared her a passing glance. Of all the ponies she’d met north of Vanhoover, Polaris seemed to be the only one who wasn’t as cold as the weather. She was lucky she had met him, too. Not many mares happen upon professional guides while wandering aimlessly through small towns.

“Come along now, miss,” said Polaris from behind Trixie. “Let’s get to the kitchen for some breakfast before we head out again. Don’t wanna lose your strength in the middle of the road, eh? Gotta get them skinny bones of yours fattened up. ‘Specially if you’re gonna be heading up that way,” he said, pointing due north. “If you think it’s cold here, just you wait, missy.”

“It gets even colder than this?” She shuddered at the thought of a place colder than this Celestia-forsaken camp.

Laughter was his only response.

Making his way past Trixie he led the way through the camp. As he walked in front of her, Trixie noticed his cutie mark. It was a white, five-pointed star, and it stood out handsomely against his cobalt blue fur. The northern star, she thought, how very appropriate. If I manage to finish this, and make it back in one piece, I’ll have to remember to thank him properly. He deserves that, if nothing else.

Eventually they reached the kitchen. Really though, it was more like a public fire-pit with some communal cookware. Polaris just liked to call it a kitchen because he thought it sounded better than “public fire-pit”. Either way, it wasn’t the most well-stocked kitchen, but it was better than nothing. Fortunately, Polaris’ wife, Astrid, had already begun cooking them some breakfast, and was nearly done when they arrived. She was a lovely little thing. Full white body, with light-gray mane that was done up in a small bun and held together with an emerald brooch—her wedding gift, she had explained.

After a short meal and some light conversation, Trixie thanked Astrid for the breakfast and turned to Polaris.

“So, when do we head out?”

“Soon as the missus is ready, I s’pose.”

“Excellent, I hope we can make it to Frostvale today. That would put us a little ahead of schedule. Who knows, maybe with a little luck we’ll be done sooner than expected!”

Polaris shook his head. “I wouldn’t count on it, miss.”

3 — Change of Address

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Chapter 3:
Change of Address

“I’m sorry, ma’am. I’ve double-checked—I’ve triple-checked—but there’s nothing here addressed to you besides the letters I already gave you.” The mailpony shrugged apologetically.

“There has to be something else,” Twilight insisted. “Check again.”

He sighed. “Look, ma’am. I’ve already checked three times, and nothing was there any of those times. What makes you think something is going to magically show up now?”

Twilight’s lip curled into a pouting expression. “Just look one more time, please?”

With an exaggerated roll of his eyes and heavy sigh, the mailpony shuffled out of the room.

Twilight let out a soft sigh of her own. “This is so odd,” she said, looking down at Spike. “How could Trixie have been sending me letters all this time and yet I’ve never even gotten one until today? I don’t understand.”

Spike folded his arms across his chest. “Don’t you think you’re overreacting, just a bit? So what? Trixie sent you some letters, big deal.”

“It is a big deal, Spike. Didn’t you read the letters? She seemed different than I remember her, and she thinks I’ve been getting all her letters. There must be a reason why she’s sending me them in the first place.” She closed her eyes in concentration. “Think, Twilight, think. Why would Trixie send me letters? And what is she looking for?”

Spike stifled a yawn, interrupting Twilight’s thoughts. “Come on, Twilight, we’ve been here forever. That guy said he couldn’t find anything, so why are you still asking him to look? Maybe we should just go back home.”

“We can’t go back yet,” Twilight said determinedly. “Maybe he missed something? There’s no way a year’s worth of letters just disappeared without a trace. That just wouldn’t make sense.” She tapped her hoof against the wooden floor unconsciously, lost in thought.

A few minutes later, the mailpony came back, a slip of paper clenched firmly in his mouth. Twilight’s eyes lit up. He placed the paper on the counter and smoothed it out.

“Don’t get your hopes up,” he said. “This is just a note I found back there. But,” he added, “it does have your name on it.”

Twilight cocked her head to the side. She looked down at the little scrap of crumpled paper. Through all the tiny bumps and ridges, she could see that it did indeed have her name written on it. Multiple times, in fact.

“Request to have the mailing address of one, Ms. Twilight Sparkle, changed has been approved by the Ponyville District Post Office,” said Twilight as she read the note aloud. “In the future, all parcels and packages addressed to ‘Ms. Twilight Sparkle of Ponyville’ should be directed instead to the neighboring district—” She came to a sudden stop as she reached the end of the note. It was torn near the bottom, cutting off the last of the message.

She held up the note to the mailpony. “That’s all you found?” she asked. “There wasn’t anything else? No other letters or explanation for why my address was changed?”

He shook his head. “I’m afraid not, ma’am. That’s all I found. You’re lucky I even found that, too. The darn thing was lying underneath somepony’s desk, all crumpled up and covered in dust. Only found it because I dropped my hat by mistake and had to bend down to pick it up. There it was, just lying there all by its lonesome.”

“But, how am I supposed to know who changed my address, or why? Isn’t there anything else you can do?”

He removed his mailpony’s cap and scratched his head. “Sorry, ma’am. I’m not sure how much I can help you.That note’s almost a year old,” he said, motioning towards the paper. “Check the date at the top.”

Twilight squinted; she could barely read the faded lettering at the top of the paper. “September twenty-third, one-thousand,” she read. “So, you can’t tell me who submitted it?”

He shrugged. “About the best I can do is point you in the direction of the neighboring district’s post office. They might be able to tell you whose address you’re on now, but I doubt we would’ve kept records for an address change for this long. Not many ponies live here, so our records don’t need to be updated very often. Half the time we don’t even update the records book at all,” he chuckled.

Twilight sighed. “Well, thanks for your help anyway. I suppose we’ll need to head to that other post office now. You said you could point us in the right direction, right?”

He nodded. “Come on, I’ll show you how to get there.”


A tiny bell chimed as the Twilight opened the door to the small post office. It was much smaller than the one in Ponyville and there was only one old, graying pony working at the desk. Twilight let the door close softly behind her as she approached the mare behind the desk.

“Umm, excuse me, ma’am,” said Twilight softly. “Can you help me with something.”

The old mare didn’t even look up from her newspaper to respond. “Mail goes in the basket, payments go in the bucket,” she said, indicating each receptacle in turn.

“That’s not why I’m here, ma’am.”

She lowered her newspaper and stared at Twilight. She had the bored expression of a young foal on her face, but the sagging wrinkles of an elderly mare. “Yes? What do you want?”

“Well,” began Twilight, “I’m looking for a record of address changes from September of last year. Do you have anything like that? Or do you know where I can find something like that?”

Spike nudged Twilight’s leg. “Don’t forget to ask her about buying more stamps,” he whispered.

“Shh, Spike. Not now,” Twilight whispered back. Clearing her throat, she looked the elderly mare in the eye. “So, can you help us?”

She stared back at Twilight for what felt like hours before finally sitting up and approaching the receptionist’s desk. “Records from September of one-thousand, huh? Yeah, I got what you’re looking for.” With heave and a grunt, she lifted a heavy-looking leather-bound folder onto the desk. Unfastening the strings holding it together, she allowed the book to fall open. She spun it around to face Twilight. “You’ll find all the records of address, name, and any other information changes here.” She flipped to the last third of the book. “Here’s where September starts”

Twilight’s eyes gleamed. “Thank you so much!” She placed her hoof beneath the first name and began dragging it downwards, scanning the names. It was in alphabetical order, so she skipped ahead a bit to get to the ‘S’ section. Her brow knit further and further as she read name after name. Eventually, she stopped on one name.

“Twilight Sparkle, Ponyville,” she read. “Found it! Okay, now let’s see what it says about an address change. Request to have, blah, blah, blah. ‘Ms. Twilight Sparkle of Ponyville’. Ah, here we go. The new address is... wait,” she paused. “I know whose address that is. It’s...”

Spike raised an eyebrow. “...Rainbow Dash?”

4 — Through the Woods

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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.”

5 — Soup and Cider

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Chapter 5:
Soup and Cider

“How long you plan on staying here?” asked the bartender gruffly. “I ain’t got all night to stay here feedin’ you drink. I got the missus at home waitin’ for me, and you’re here keepin’ me from her.” He placed the empty glass he was cleaning on the counter top roughly. “Are you at least gonna buy something, make it worth my while to waste away the night hours with you?”

Trixie’s only response was to halfheartedly wave her hoof dismissively at him. She didn’t even look up at him.

“Damn mares. You’re more trouble than you’re worth.” He heaved a sigh and returned to cleaning the last few empty pint glasses.

Silence pervaded the room, perforated by occasional clinking sounds of glass on glass. Alone, more or less, with her thoughts, Trixie re-played the events in her head. She cringed as she recalled the Ursa Major—Minor, it was a Minor, she reminded herself—crushing her wagon with one of his great celestial paws. Years of saving every bit she earned reduced to a pile of rubble and a couple of colorful flags.

At least I was able to save my hat and cape, she thought. She had snuck back into town shortly after making her dramatic exit and retrieved them. The cape was torn, and the hat flattened, but at least her brooch was safe. She unconsciously ran a hoof across its surface as it entered her thoughts.

If it weren’t for those two foolish colts, this never would’ve happened. I’d still be performing in Ponyville, showing those simple ponies what true magic is.

Her hoof ground into the floor her thoughts turned to Twilight. Twilight’s the one I should be blaming. If she had just accepted my challenge and lost then those two colts wouldn’t have brought that Ursa Minor into town for me to vanquish. Don’t those foals understand that I can’t simply vanquish a beast like an Ursa Major without any preparation? She sighed. On the whole, the entire day had been a disaster and it cost her more money than she had. What with losing her wagon and all her magic equipment.

Fortunately, there’s always someone willing to pay to see magic. She just needed to draw a crowd. Though, that was easier said than done in this backwater little town at two in the morning.

She kicked at the bar stool next to her, rocking it unsatisfyingly. I hate you, Twilight. I hate you for ruining my life.

“Not a big fan of this ‘Twilight’ are ya?” asked a pegasus stallion as he walked into the bar.

Trixie looked up, bewildered. “How could you know that?”

He chuckled. “You just said, ‘I hate you, Twilight Sparkle’. I could hear it from outside.”

“What? But I—”

As he stepped into the bar, the glow from the fire light him up and the bartender cried, “Thunderclap! I haven’t seen you since... since, well, I can’t remember the last time I saw you actually.”

Thunderclap laughed. “It’s been awhile, Lager. How ya been?”

The bartender glanced at Trixie. “I’ve been better. Got this mare here, she won’t leave no matter what I tell her. She ain’t even bought anything. She’s been sittin’ there for the past three hours, just mutterin’ under her breath about this ‘Twilight’ character.” He shrugged. “I have no idea what she’s on about.”

Thunderclap approached Trixie. Now that he was close she could see that his eyes were a deep green, matching perfectly his coat. He gave Trixie a toothy grin.

“This ‘Twilight’ got you down in the dumps is it?” He sat down next to her. “Do you wanna talk about it?”

“Talk about it?” she huffed. “With you ignorant foals? Hmph, I’d rather sleep out in the cold than have to sit here and talk to you worthless ponies.”

“She’s got a bit of bite, eh Lager?”

He nodded. “She’s been given me lip ever since she got in. If she wasn’t mutterin’ to herself, then she was mouthin’ off to me like I ain’t got nothing better to do than listen to her call me an ignorant foal for the hundredth time.”

“As far as I’ve seen,” Trixie butt in, “I was the only pony in this bar until,” she gave a distasteful look to Thunderclap, “he showed up.”

Thunderclap studied Trixie with a careful eye. Her mane was frizzled and it stuck out at odd angles in several places. Her eyes were bloodshot, and there were dark circles below her eye socket. She eyed him warily, following his eyes as they searched all across her body.

“What are you staring at? The Great and Powerful Trixie does not like being studied like an animal.”

“Oh,” said Lager, “so you’re speaking in third-person now? At least it’s something different I suppose.”

Thunderclap clapped his hooves together, startling Trixie and Lager briefly. “Well, at least we know why she won’t leave now.” The two gave him puzzled expressions. “You’re homeless, aren’t you?”

Trixie’s eyes flashed. “Trixie does not need sympathy from the likes of you. She can take care of herself.”

“Whoa there, just calm down, little lady,” said Thunderclap. He reached out to her slowly, she recoiled. “I just want to help you, and the same goes for Lager.”

“Speak for yourself.”

Thunderclap rolled his eyes. “At least I just want to help you.”

“I don’t need your help,” Trixie shot back. “I’m perfectly capable of taking care of myself.”

“Okay, okay.” He thought for a moment. “Well, would you at least let me buy you something to eat? Maybe something to drink?”

Trixie’s stomach growled and she thought about how she hadn’t eaten a proper meal in several days. “Fine, but just one thing.”

“Fetch this mare some soup, Lager, and bring her something to drink as well. It’s on me.”

Lager disappeared through a doorway and soon the sounds of metal pots banging together were audible. A few minutes later, he was back and with a bowl of soup for each of them, and a steaming mug of cider for Trixie.

Thunderclap looked at her expectantly. She didn’t acknowledge him. “You know, this is usually where you thank the pony, or ponies, who helped you.” Still, she said nothing.

“I didn’t even want this. I won’t be saying thank you for something I didn’t want.”

Thunderclap shook his head. “Fine, we’ll play it your way.”

For a while, they ate in silence, until finally Lager spoke up. “So tell us about this ‘Twilight’.” Trixie began to protest, but he cut her off. “You at least owe us that, if nothin’ else. We fed you and I’m lettin’ you stay here the night. The least you could do is tell us about this mare you seem to hate so much.”

Trixie sighed. “I suppose that’s a fair trade. But,” she added quickly, “don’t expect much. I don’t want to talk about everything that happened.”

Thunderclap and Lager nodded in unison. “Deal.”


“...and after that she told me that it was just a baby.”

Lager’s eyes widened. “That thing was just a baby? But you said it was at least twenty feet tall, maybe more, and it crushed your wagon without even trying.”

Thunderclap nodded sagely. “I’ve seen an Ursa Major before, just once. What she described sounds like it’s definitely a baby.”

“How big is the full-grown one?” asked Lager.

“You don’t want to know. Anyway, what happened next, Trixie?”

She paused for a moment. “That’s pretty much the end. After the Ursa Minor incident I knew I had to leave town, but in doing so I also left behind all my belongings.”

“That’s terrible,” said Thunderclap. “Is there any way we can help?”

Shaking her head, Trixie answered, “No, I’m sure everything is destroyed by now, and it’s all that,” she paused, grimacing, “Twilight’s fault.”

“Y’know,” Lager said slowly. “I once heard that if you were mad at somepony, then you should write them a letter explaining your feelings. You could try doing that for Twilight. Maybe she’ll be more understanding than you think.”

His lips pursed, Thunderclap leaned back in his stool. “I think that’s probably a good idea, too. Writing a letter to Twilight might help you get over your anger.”

Trixie’s eyebrow knitted as she lost herself in thought. After a few seconds she was back. “All I need to do is write a letter, huh? I can do that, I can write a letter.”

“It’s real simple,” said Lager. “Just tell Twilight exactly how you feel. If you’re honest, then I’m sure she’ll have no choice but to explain herself to you.”

Thunderclap nodded. “Yeah, I’m sure you’ll find out that Twilight is actually really nice. Maybe you girls can even be friends one day.”

Trixie chuckled silently. Yes, that’ll be the day. “Well,” she said, looking out the window into the black night, “it’s getting late. I think it’s time for me to get some sleep. I need to think about this letter too. I want it to be perfect.”

After bidding the two goodnight, Trixie retired to a cozy corner of the room where blankets and a pillow had been set out for her.

“I hope she finds what she’s looking for with that letter,” said Lager. “And I hope that Twilight turns out to be a nice young mare, just like we said she would be.”

“Wait,” Thunderclap said, “do you think she’s actually going to send that letter?”

“I don’t know, but I hope so.”

“I thought that when you wrote a letter to pony you were angry at, it was only supposed to be so you could get your frustrations out. I didn’t think you were actually supposed to send it.”

“Should we tell her that?”

“Let’s just let it go. Maybe everything will work out better that way,” suggested Thunderclap.

“Or, maybe it’ll turn out way worse.”

“You’re such a pessimist, Lager,” Thunderclap laughed.

6 — Accidents

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Chapter 6:

Cloud after cloud met its untimely demise as Rainbow Dash bucked them into oblivion. They were torn to shreds by her powerful kicks, exploding in an un-satisfying ‘poof’.

“Man, I can’t believe I got stuck with cloud duty... again. This is, like, the nine-hundredth day in a row I’ve had to do it.” She kicked at another cloud, causing it to burst and release what little water it had stored inside. As it rained down on some poor, unsuspecting pony Rainbow crossed her fore-hooves. “This sucks. I just wanna go home and read Daring Do.”

She scowled, setting her sights on another cloud just a little ahead of her. Her body became streamlined as she straightened out, her wings flapping faster and faster. Wind whistled in her ears as she tore across the sky, making a beeline for the scared little cloud.

Nearer and nearer she drew, finally flipping herself around just before impact so that her hind legs would tear through the cloud with all the force of a hurricane. Despite what most ponies thought, clouds were not, in fact, soft and fluffy. Clouds are nothing more than a mass of liquid droplets that are light enough to float above the ground. So, when Rainbow tore through the cloud, the only thing she felt was a slight dampness from the moisture.

“Gah! I’m so sick of clearing out these dumb clouds,” she said after coming to a stop shortly after mutilating another helpless cloud. “Man, weather duty is the worst. I just want to go on an adventure, like Daring Do.”

At that exact moment, a voice called from below.

“Rainbow Dash, is that you?”

She looked down. Twilight was standing, eyes upturned, with Spike on the path below. “Oh, hey, Twilight!”

“Can you come down here for a minute, Dash? I need to talk to you about something.” Twilight was shouting, but Rainbow could barely hear her.

“What was that? I can’t hear you,” she yelled back.

Twilight frowned. “Come. Down. Here,” she said, jabbing her hoof first at Rainbow, then at the ground.

“Ohhh, okay!” Rainbow said, nodding. Twilight tracked her movements as she descended towards the ground.

Rainbow’s wings curled up as she touched the ground, folding themselves tight against her sides. “What’s up, Twilight? Did ya need something?”

Twilight’s horn glowed as she pulled out Trixie’s letters and showed them to Rainbow. “Know anything about these?” she asked, her voice only a little more accusatory than she intended.

“Uhh... no?” Rainbow responded after a second. She squinted at the letters, cocking her head to the side. “Should I?”

A tiny sigh escaped Twilight’s lips. “Maybe you know something about this?” she said as she brought out the change-of-address forms she had borrowed from the post office. “Hmm?” Her eyebrows raised. “Recognize this?”

Rainbow’s eyes widened. “I, uhh. I don’t know what you’re talking about, Twi. I mean, those just look like forms or something. I don’t really know that much about filling out forms and stuff,” she chuckled, giving a nervous smile. “I’m just a weather-mare. No form filling-out-type stuff here, no siree.”

“Oh really? Then, would you like to tell me why my address was changed from the library to your house?” Twilight’s eyes hardened. Her gaze narrowed.

“Nope, I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Rainbow shook her head vigorously. “I told you I—”

Twilight cut her off. “All right, enough playing dumb. You’re not fooling anypony.”

Spike wagged his finger at Rainbow. “Yeah, we’ve already been to the post office, and we saw that you changed the address.”

“And,” Twilight added, “I have a pretty good idea why.”

Rainbow sighed. “All right, fine. Ya caught me.” She threw her hooves up. “But it wasn’t my idea to change your address.”

“Wait,” said Twilight, confused. “It wasn’t your idea?”

“Well, not exactly.” Twilight raised an eyebrow. “Uhh, well, maybe it’d be better if I just start from the beginning?” Rainbow Dash put a hoof on Twilight’s shoulder. “It all started almost a year ago. Waaaay back when I got that first letter.” Twilight brushed her hoof off. Dash didn’t notice. “Well, I didn’t really ‘get’ it like most people ‘get’ their mail.”

Spike’s lip curled into a frown. “I don’t like where this is headed.”

“I was flying around Ponyville, y’know, being my usual awesome self, when I ‘accidentally’ ran into Ditzy.”

“What do you mean, ‘accidentally’?” said Twilight, her gaze narrowing.

“I was trying out a new stunt. Sometimes there’s casualties.” She shrugged. “But that’s just how it is bein’ me. I live a life of danger.”

Twilight rolled her eyes. “Well, what happened after that?”

Rainbow put a hoof to her chin. “I guess that was when she dropped the mailbag, which totally wasn’t my fault by the way.” Twilight gave her a look that said, “Mmhmm”, but Rainbow ignored her and continued with her recollection. “Anyway, I was helping her pick up all the mail and I found a letter addressed to you,” she said, pointing at Twilight. “So, when I saw that I decided, ‘Hey, I’ll just deliver this to Twilight myself.’ so I told Ditzy to not worry about it.”

Twilight nodded. “Okay, then what?”

“I may have, ‘accidentally’, opened the letter, completely by mistake. I definitely was not trying to read your mail,” she said, waving her hooves from side to side. “So, since it was lying there, and someone had to read it, I read it. It was really...” her voice trailed off as she struggled to find the right word. “Mean,” she finally landed on. “It was really mean.”

“But,” Twilight began. “These letters weren’t mean at all.” She showed Rainbow the letters she had received earlier that morning. As Rainbow quickly read through them, her expression became more and more puzzled.

“Wait, this isn’t anything like the letter I read,” she said. She looked up at Twilight. “She was just a big jerk, so I figured that you didn’t need to see it.”

“Rainbow Dash,” Twilight said calmly, but with a terseness that caught the other pony off-guard. "You can’t just hide mail from other ponies. They—I—have a right to know who’s sending them letters, no matter how mean they may be.”

Rainbow made a pouty face. “I know. I was just so angry at that stupid jerk for being such a... well, jerk, that I couldn’t let you read it.”

“I know your heart was in the right place, Dash, but it’s still wrong.”

A soft sigh escaped Rainbow’s lips. “I’m sorry, Twi. But, at least I have all the other letters!” she said, suddenly excited.

“Oh, right!” Twilight said, becoming equally excited. “But, wait. You still never explained how you got all those letters after the first one. “

Embarrassed, Rainbow blushed. “Heheh, well, I asked Ditzy if there was any way I could get all these letters instead of you, and she suggested that I change your address to mine. I mean, it’s not like you get any mail from the regular post office anyway. I figured, what’s the big deal?”

“They just let you change my address without even asking why?”

She nodded. “Yep, they didn’t really ask any questions. It kinda seemed like they didn’t know if they were supposed to ask me anything.”

Spike laughed. “Oh man, I guess that dude wasn’t kidding when he said they rarely had ponies changing their information.”

“Wait, how come I got these two letters today, then?”

Rainbow shrugged. “Beats me. Maybe someone just messed up? It kinda seems like the mail service here ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.”

Twilight pulled a notepad and quill from her saddlebag and started writing. The feather was a flurry of motion, dancing across the page like leaf in the wind.

“What’cha writing, Twi?” said Rainbow, craning her neck to see the notepad.

“I’m writing myself a note.” she said, not looking up from her writing, “to remember to talk to the postmaster about their methods. This is just negligence that I can’t ignore.”

Rainbow waited for her to finish. Once she had put away the quill and notepad in her saddlebag, she said, “Anyway, I gotta finish clearing out these dumb clouds.” She jabbed a hoof towards the sky. “But, when I’m done, I’ll show you all the rest of the letters.”

A silly grin spread across Twilight’s face. “Oh! I can help you with that.”

Dash looked at her quizzically.

“I’ve been practicing a new spell,” she said, rubbing her fore-hooves together. Rainbow watched as Twilight’s horn filled with violet-hued magic. Twilight clenched her eyes shut and bit her lip. A bolt of violet light shot towards the nearest cloud in a jagged streak. Upon impact, it dissipated the cloud into vapor with a quiet hiss. She smiled triumphantly. “It’s a heat spell,” she explained. “I just raised the temperature of the cloud so it’s molecular density would decrease, causing the molecules to become more spread apart, which, in turn, would cause the cloud to turn into gas and disappear.”

Rainbow’s eyes glazed over. “Well, uhh... okay then. Cool stuff, Twi. Really cool stuff... I guess.”

Oblivious, Twilight took the compliment happily. “Isn’t it? I’ve been waiting for a chance to try it in the field. I’m just glad it worked so well.”

“Uh huh. Anyway, since you’re magic is so cool and all, maybe we could hurry up and get this done.” Her wings unfurled as she said, “I gotta get home to read that Daring Do book. That thing ain’t gonna read itself.” A moment later, she had taken to the sky. A few seconds later, and she had already destroyed three clouds.

Between her and Twilight, they were able to finish after just a few minutes. Once they were done, Rainbow hovered back down to earth. As her hooves touched dirt, she said, “All right, let’s go look at those letters.”

Twilight nodded quickly. “Let’s.”

“And then I can finally read my book...”


“Gah! I’m never gonna get to read this stupid book!” Rainbow threw herself onto her bed dramatically, causing it to bounce up and down.

“Maybe if you helped me look, then this wouldn’t take so long.” Spike and Twilight were digging through a pile of letters that had been stuffed into a box in Rainbow’s closet.

“There’s, like, a million letters,” she complained. “It’s gonna take forever to read them all.”

“There are not a million letters, Rainbow.” Twilight rolled her eyes. “It looks like there’s only, maybe, thirty or forty, roughly. And besides, we don’t have to read them all, I just want the oldest one.”

“How am I supposed to know which one’s the oldest! It’s not like I have some kinda age-guessing superpower.” Rainbow rolled over, her voice becoming muffled in the sheets. “Mmm mhm mhhhmm hhmm mhm.”

“Well too bad. You created this mess, Dash. You’re going to at least help me fix it,” she said as she tore open another envelope.

Spike grabbed Twilight’s hoof suddenly. “Wait, Twilight. I think I found something.”

“What is it, Spike?”

“This one says, ‘September twenty-ninth, one-thousand’,” he said, holding up an unfolded letter. Twilight snatched the letter with her magic, pulling it towards herself.

“Hmm.” Her eyes shot back and forth as she scanned the letter. She did a double-take at one part, and then put her hoof on one particular word. “Oh, this doesn’t look good.”

The bed squeaked as Rainbow rolled back over. “Uh oh. That sounds like bad news, Twi. What’s it say?”

Twilight re-read the letter before answering. “I’m not sure exactly, but I know what we have to do.”

Spike and Rainbow Dash asked in unison, “What?”

“We’re going to Emerald Falls,” she said matter-of-factly.

“Hold on,” said Rainbow, as she held up a hoof. “Emerald Falls? Where’s that?”

“It’s a little town just north of here. I’m not surprised you haven’t heard of it.” Twilight’s horn began to glow as she filled the room with her magic. All the letters bounced into her saddlebag, becoming smaller as they did. One by one they hopped in, until the bag was filled to the brim. As Twilight buckled it shut, making sure the strap was as tight as possible, she continued, “They like to keep to themselves mostly. I’m pretty sure it’s not even on most maps.”

“So,” Rainbow began, drawing out the ‘o’. “What’s in Emerald Falls?”

“I don’t know, but I know that Trixie passed through there and I know we need to find out why.”

“Why does it matter?”

“Because." She paused "Her life may be in danger.”

7 — Not Out of the Woods Yet

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Chapter 7:
Not Out of the Woods Yet

Polaris’ gaze shifted downwards. He opened his mouth slowly. “Well... I guess we’re not camping here.”

A loud shriek ripped through the forest, causing them to wince, as the clouds descended further. Astrid looked at Trixie, and then to Polaris. “I think it’s best that we leave,” she said. “Right now.”

Trixie’s eyes shot back and forth between Polaris and Astrid. “What are wendigos? What’s happening?”

Polaris pulled Trixie up as he said, “No time to explain, miss. Astrid’s right; we need to leave.”

As she stood up Trixie noticed that clouds above them had begun to take the shape of a herd of malevolent-looking stallions. Their stormy manes and tails bounced as they circled faster and faster downwards. Silver eyes, alight with malice, stared down at them.

Another ear-piercing shriek, followed by a series of whinnies, broke out. The branches shook, raining needles and pine cones on them.

Her eyes widened as one of the stallions broke formation and charged at them. He was quickly followed by several more, and soon a whole slew of celestial stallions were stampeding towards the ground.

Polaris shouted suddenly, “Run!”

Before she even knew what was happening, Trixie was tearing through the forest, barreling through bushes and branches, following Polaris, and with Astrid trailing slightly behind.

They ran for a full minute, never slowing or stopping. Not even pausing to glance behind them. Polaris led the way, his hooves thundering against the ground as he ran through the woods. Not far behind, Trixie kept up a steady, but slightly slower, pace, keeping herself just ahead of Astrid, who was beginning to feel the effects of a full sprint.

She was much older than Trixie, and not nearly as strong as Polaris. Trixie could hear begin to draw ragged breaths as they continued on. But she didn’t look back. Astrid would be fine, she’d make sure that nothing happened to her.

She kept her eyes facing forward. She couldn’t see the wendigos as they closed in, but she could still hear them. She could hear their shrill winnies, and she could feel their chill breath upon her back. She galloped faster, leaping over a downed log and skidding into Polaris who had stopped and was staring down one of the wendigos.

A moment later Trixie felt another pony bump into her. She turned and saw Astrid, mane frayed and filled with leaves, right behind her. Polaris, without breaking his stare, called out to them.

“You two go on. I’ll hold them off here.”

Trixie was about to protest but Astrid beat her to it. “No!” she cried. “I’m not leaving you here.”

“I’m not either,” said Trixie. “You think that after all you’ve done for me, I’d leave you behind?” She laughed despite the danger. “I owe you more than my life, and I’m not going to let you die for me.”

He shouted angrily at her. “I’m not going to die! I’ll be fine, just get my wife outta here.”

Astrid put a hoof on Trixie’s shoulder. “We’re not leaving him,” she whispered.

Trixie grinned. “I know.”

Blue aura surrounded them as Trixie’s horn burst with magic. Sparking and sputtering, azure light poured from her horn, forming a dome that separated them from the wendigos. As the dome completed, Trixie began to breathe heavily.

Polaris whirled around. “What the—I told you two to leave!”

Trixie smiled weakly at him. “And we told you we weren’t going to.” She started to fall over, but Astrid caught her. “Heh, I don’t think I’ve ever managed this spell so completely before. Good thing it worked.” She slipped further and Polaris moved to catch her.

Propped up between Polaris and Astrid, she chuckled weakly. “Guess it took a little more out of me than I thought it would.”

Astrid smiled at her. “That was amazing, dear. Now we’re safe from those horrible wendi—”

A dull thud caught her off mid-sentence. They all looked up and saw that the wendigos had surrounded the magical dome and they were now kicking at it with their muscular legs. They kicked, and another thud echoed. A small crack appeared as they kicked a third time. Then it grew larger.

“We’re not safe yet,” Polaris said. He looked down at Trixie. “How long do you think you can hold them off, miss?”

“I don’t know,” she replied groggily. “Maybe... a few more minutes at most. I don’t think I can keep the spell up any longer than that.”

He nodded. “That might be enough.” Hooking his hoof through Trixie’s, he said, “Astrid, you grab her other side. When I say to, lift her onto my back.” She nodded and slid her hooves beneath Trixie’s belly. Meanwhile, the thudding grew louder as the crack grew larger. “Okay,” he grunted. “On three. One. Two. Three.” Pushing with all her strength, Astrid helped Polaris lift the mare onto his back.

“Will you be okay carrying her, dear?” Astrid asked worriedly.

“I’ll be fine,” he grunted. “Now, we’ve gotta get out of this forest.” Glancing over his shoulder he saw that Trixie’s eyelids were fluttering weakly. He frowned. “You need to stay awake, miss. Wrap your hooves around my neck and hold tight.”

As she snaked her hooves across his neck she criss-crossed them and locked them together. “I’ll be fine,” she whispered.

There was another echoing thud, and the crack spread another few inches.

Astrid shot Polaris a worried glance. “Will we make it out of here in time?”

“...I don’t know,” he answered gravely after a moment’s pause. “I don’t know.”


The crack had turned into a hole, and it was growing bigger by the second. Pieces of the magical shield chipped, broke off, and then melted away as the wendigos pounded on the dome. For the past five minutes, Astrid and Polaris had been sprinting through the forest. They had to keep slowing down their pace as Astrid became weaker and weaker. But they could see the edge of the treeline now.

The sun’s rays poured in, washing the ground in its warm light. They were only a few hundred feet from edge, but the shield wouldn’t hold much longer, and Trixie was fading fast.

Her hooves slipped off Polaris’ neck for the dozenth time, and she began to slide off. His right hoof shot out to catch her, and, with Astrid’s help, he pushed her back onto his back.

“We’re almost there,” he said. “We just need to hold out a little longer.”

A large chunk of the shield broke off, crashing to the ground where it melted into the earth. The wendigos kept up their barrage, now able to angrily fit their muzzles through the hole. Their cries rattled the barrier, breaking off even more pieces of it.

“I don’t know if we can hold out a little longer,” Astrid cried. “And even if we do, what then? We can’t fight them off like this.”

“At least out in the sunlight we’ll have a chance. In here, in this blackness, they have us beat. I don’t know what’s going to—”

He was cut off abruptly as huge slab of azure shielding snapped off, kicked in by one of the wendigos. Trixie groaned, and what little was left of the barrier began to flicker. The wendigos pounded tirelessly on it, nearly breaking through with every kick.

Polaris’ face hardened, and his hoofalls became more powerful. He lowered his head and charged towards the treeline, now a mere fifteen feet away.

Astrid struggled to keep up, inching further and further away from him as he gained speed. But Trixie’s dome held strong for the last few precious seconds until they burst through the last layers of fern and out into the open, snow-covered field.

Polaris’ eyes gleamed as the sun shined down on his face, and a smile found its way on to his face. Maybe a quarter of a mile away, he could see the Frozen Chasm, waiting for them with open arms.

He strained his neck to look over his shoulder as he shouted, “We made it! We’re throu—”

Just then, the shield finally gave way and shattered into a thousand tiny pieces, throwing Polaris off-balance.

Trixie was sent flying from his back as he flipped over. She slid through the snow, coming to a stop a few feet away.

Astrid, equally unprepared for the sudden destruction of their shield, was sent hurtling through the air, landing five or six feet away in a heap.

As Polaris rolled over, he saw Astrid and Trixie sprawled out in the snow. He cried out to them, “Astrid! Miss! Are you all right?”

Astrid didn’t respond, but he could see Trixie’s hooves moving as she struggled to stand herself up. A wave of relief washed over him. A wave that was quickly overcome by the wave of despair as the wendigos descended upon them, their fangs bared and their eyes gleaming.

He managed to kick one of them in the face, causing it to recoil, but only briefly. He backpedaled as quickly as he could. He tripped over a soft, warm object and landed on his back again. He looked to his side and saw Trixie’s eyes flutter as she struggled to stay awake. On the other side, he saw Astrid, eyes closed, lying motionlessly. The wind blew her mane about, and the snow had already begun to pile on her sides and face.

He looked back at Trixie as the wendigos drew ever closer. Alight with magic, her horn glowed brightly. She was fully awake now, but unable to stand. He watched as she tried to force a final bit of magic from her horn.

Before he could call out to her, one of the wendigos kicked his head and his vision went black. But the last thing he saw, before going unconscious, was a wave of light washing over them.

The last thing he noted, was that the light felt warm, pleasantly warm, and then he was out.

8 — Locomotion

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Chapter 8:

September 29, 1000

Dear Ignorant Foal Twilight,

I still hate you.

I hate you for ruining my life, and running me out of town. I hate you for

making me the laughing stock of Ponyville. I hate you for making me write

this letter. I hate you for bringing that Ursa Minor to destroy my wagon, and

forcing me to live without shelter. I hate every fiber of your stupid, ignorant,

weak, pathetic, cruel, heartless, being.

I will get my revenge on you, Twilight. I promise that I will make you regret

the day you crossed the GREAT and POWERFUL Trixie! You’ll wish you

had never met me. All your little friends will bow before me as I make you

bend to my will. I will crush that disgusting little town, and force all of YOU

to suffer the same fate I did when you cast me out. No more will I be the

made fun of, or pointed and laughed at. They call me the weak and

helpless Trixie now, but I will prove them wrong. I will become more than

a magician, more than ‘great’ and ‘powerful’. They will call me the

SUPREME and ALL-POWERFUL Trixie, and I will make you, your friends

and all the inhabitants of that backwater, podunk town you call home, suffer

for all the suffering you caused me. It’ll only be a matter of months before I

am able to exact my revenge.

At least the ponies of Emerald Falls are more accommodating. They told

me about a beast that lives far in the north. They say it is the most deadly

creature in all of Equestria. Once I kill this monster I will finally prove that I

am the greatest and most powerful unicorn in all of Equestria. And then,

then I will finally prove, once and for all, that I am better than you, Twilight

Sparkle. You will have no choice but to bow before my awesome might,

and gaze in wonder at my magnificence. Just a few short months from now

I will have you on your knees begging for mercy.

I will beat you, Twilight Sparkle.

Sincerely, and emphatically,

Trixie Lulamoon

Twilight sighed as she finished reading the letter for the dozenth time. Oh, Trixie, what were you thinking? Folding the letter back into its original shape, she slipped it into her bag and buckled it shut. She turned her head, and looked out the rain-streaked window. Trees, and fields passed by in a watery blur. Resting her chin in her hoof, Twilight watched as another tiny house flew past. She yawned.

It wasn’t quite nighttime yet, but she could tell the sun had begun to set. It cast a beautiful orange glow over the valley as it sunk beneath the clouds, and became obscured by the mountains. Twilight’s eyes shined as she watched the sun slowly dip past the point of no return.

It was amazing how, within a few minutes, the soft orange glow of dusk was swept away by the coming night, and, for the briefest of moments, you could see the rare mix of the ruby sun and the sapphire night creating a quiet violet glow that was quickly washed away as night took over. A smile tugged at Twilight’s lips, but it quickly faded as she recalled why they were here.

Her head turned as she looked at the seats across from her and saw Rainbow Dash and Spike sitting quietly. Rainbow looked as if she couldn’t have been more bored. She was resting her head against one of her hooves and sighing every couple of minutes. Her wings, usually unfurled and flapping with the wind, pushing her ever faster towards whatever destination she chose, were pressed against her sides, looking cramped and uncomfortable. Spike, on the other hand, didn’t look nearly as bored. Though, that was most likely due to the fact that he had fallen asleep mere minutes after leaving Ponyville station.

Twilight giggled inwardly. It had been a rather hard day for him. Travelling all over Ponyville, chasing down mysterious letters, and now riding a train to Emerald Falls, he had certainly had his fill. His lolled from side to side with each bump.

The Friendship Express rocked lightly on its wheels as it chugged along the track, pulling them ever closer to their destination. Emerald Falls was only forty miles away, but it would’ve taken much too long to walk there, so they had decided to take the train instead. A choice that Spike was very much pleased with, and Rainbow was not.

As if on cue, Rainbow let out another sigh. She glanced up and saw Twilight looking at her. Seizing the opportunity she asked, “Why did I have to come along again? Why did any of us have to come?”

Twilight let out a tired sigh. “Because,” she said, “It sounds like Trixie’s life might be in danger, and we have to help her.”

Dash scowled. “Why should we? She’s been nothing but a stuck-up jerk to us. Why should we do anything for her?”

“Don’t give me that look, Rainbow. I know that she’s been less than pleasant—”

“More like rude.”

“—but, we have a responsibility to help her.” Twilight crossed her fore-legs. “I would’ve thought that you, of all ponies, would understand that, being the Element of Loyalty and all.”

“I’m loyal to my friends,” she said, emphasizing the word with a jab of her hoof, “not to loudmouth wannabe showoffs. I say, who cares if she gets herself killed? We’d be better off without her anyway.” She slumped back into her seat.

Twilight’s eyes widened. “How could you even say that?” She shot an angry glare at her. “It doesn’t matter what she did to us, or how she treated us. She may need our help, and I intend to give it to her.”

“I don’t get it, Twi. Why do you care so much about that stupid jerk? She said it herself, she only wants to humiliate you, and all of us too.” Rainbow’s face hardened. “I hope she does die. The world would be better off without her.”

Twilight’s eyes flashed with anger as she drew herself up, causing Rainbow to recoil. “I can’t believe you. You hope she dies? That’s a horrible thing to say about anypony, no matter how mean they may have been to you, or me, or anypony. Death is not something you should wish on anypony. Even Nightmare Moon, and Discord were not killed by Celestia, even though they were more than just ‘loudmouth showoffs’. So why would you think that Trixie, or anypony at all, should deserve that?” Twilight’s eyes calmed and her voice softened. “Trixie confided in me by writing those letters. You saw yourself that she’s changed. I don’t know how, or why she’s changed, but she has. She’s not the same braggart she was before.” Twilight paused, calming herself even further. “Trixie said that she’s going to the north to kill some kind of monster to prove she’s better than me. Even if that still is her reason, she could be in grave danger. From the way she described it, it seems like this creature is immensely powerful. So, it is our duty to stop her, or, at the very least, help her in any way we can. Something about her is different, and I don’t think she’s doing this just to prove she’s better than me.” She let out a long sigh. “So that’s why we are heading to Emerald Falls, Rainbow. We’re going to find out what she’s hunting and figure out where she went.” She sat back in her seat. “Maybe we’ll find out that it’s nothing, and Trixie was just exaggerating as usual. Something tells me, though, that that isn’t the case.”

Rainbow let out a slow whistle. “Well okay then. I still don’t agree with you, but if you care so much, then I’ll help you however I can. But,” she said, holding up a hoof, “I’m doing this for you, not her.”

Twilight smiled. “That’s all I ask.”

Rainbow nodded, and the car fell silent. For long time, the only sound that could be heard was the quiet ‘clak clak clak’ of the train’s wheels running over the joints in the tracks. Twilight noticed that the moon had begun to rise above the mountains now, casting it’s soft glow over the valley as the sun had done before it. She watched it silently for a few minutes before Rainbow Dash broke the pervading silence.

“Soooooo,” Rainbow said slowly. “How long until we get to Emerald Falls?”

Twilight glanced over at her, noticing that Spike was still sound asleep as she did.

“I’m not sure,” she responded. “I think we’ve still got another half an hour or so.”

Rainbow groaned. “Ugh, I’m so bored. I wish I had some Daring Do to read.” She threw her hooves up. “I can’t believe I forgot to bring that one you lent me.”

“Don’t worry, Rainbow,” Twilight said comfortingly. “I’m sure we’ll find you ano—” Her eyes sparkled and her horn lit up as she opened her saddlebag.

Surrounded by sparkling violet light, a book emerged.

Rainbow gasped. “Is that...” Twilight nodded. Rainbow’s hoof shot into the air in a triumphant hoof-pump. “Sweet! Which one is it?”

“Umm, hold on...” Twilight pulled the book in front of her, and she read from the cover. “Daring Do and the Gathering Storm. I think I had this one in my bag because I was going to read it awhile ago,” she said. “But, I never got around to it,” she added sheepishly.

Rainbow held out her hooves and Twilight tossed the book to her. “Thanks, Twi. At least now I have something to keep from being bored to death.”

Twilight grinned. “Glad I could help.”

“Man, I can’t wait to read this.” She cracked the book open, letting its pages flutter quietly until she had reached the beginning of the book. Sliding herself down the seat, she settled in and began to read.

Twilight shook her head bemusedly. At least she’s


The sound of the train whistle cut her off mid-thought and caused her to sit up suddenly. Rainbow tumbled out of her seat, and landed on her book.

“What was that?” she asked.

Looking out the window, Twilight saw that they were slowing down rapidly as they approached a brightly lit train station.

“I guess that means we’re here,” she shrugged. “Look,” she pointed out the window, “We’re at the Emerald Falls train station.”

“Man, I’m never gonna get to read this book,” Rainbow muttered. She slowly righted herself and sat back in her seat, setting the book aside, crumpled pages and all.

Spike, still somehow asleep after the train whistle, was woken by Twilight a few moments later. As he groggily opened his eyes, Twilight said softly, “We’re here, Spike.”

He let out a long yawn, before responding, “Here where?”

“Emerald Falls, remember? We got on the train awhile ago.”

He stretched his limbs out, popping them. “Oh, right. I forgot.” He rubbed his eyes. “What time is it?”

Twilight shook her head. “I don’t know exactly, but it’s nighttime already, so we should probably find somewhere to rest.”

Spike nodded vigorously. “I like that plan.”

“But where?” asked Dash.

The train slowed to a halt as she finished her question. A moment later, the doors opened and they were shooed off the train by one of the conductors. “Come along now,” he said. “Other folks need ta get on the train too y’know.”

After clumsily making their way off the train they stepped onto the wooden platform and glanced around. There wasn’t much to see. The town seemed to have one major street flanked by a handful of stores and houses, and, what looked like, a small pub down at the end.

“I suppose we’ll have to find somewhere that will take us,” Twilight said. “I don’t see many inns here.”

Rainbow squinted, peering into the dark. “More like, none at all.”

Spike tugged at Twilight’s leg. “Maybe we can stay at that pub,” he said, pointing to the far end of the street.

Twilight followed his line-of-sight and saw the small pub he was pointing to. “Hmm, The Steel Bit?”

He nodded. “Yep.”

As Rainbow’s wings unfurled and began flapping, lifting her into the air, she said, “Sounds good to me. I’ll go check it out.” Giving Twilight a quick nod, she took off, her wings beating in perfect rhythm.

“Well,” Twilight said quietly, looking down at Spike. “Hopefully we’ll be able to find out something from whoever runs that place.”

“Maybe they met Trixie when she passed through here?” he suggested.

“I sure hope so. That would make this search a lot easier.”

9 — Corona

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Chapter 9:

“What the hell?”

His breath came out in wisps of fog as he voiced his disbelief. Off in the distance, he could see the Snowfall Forest writhing with, what appeared to be, an amorphous tornado. The clouds seemed to be circling downwards ever faster, but tornados were extremely uncommon in this part of Equestria.

His eyes hardened into thin slits as he squinted, stretching his vision to its limit. Corona had always prided himself on his exceptional vision, and it was often why he was chosen as the scout, but no matter how good his vision was, it did not allow him to see what was happening over the Snowfall Forest.

His soft leather coat began to whip around as the wind picked up, and his scarf nearly blew away before it was engulfed in ruby light and wrapped tightly about his neck. Sliding his thick goggles back over his eyes, he said, “Guess I better go check it out.”

As he pulled his cloak tightly about himself, he began trudging through the snow towards what looked like a storm gathering over the forest.

Despite having lived so far north for the majority of his life, Corona had never really become accustomed to the cold. He shivered as another gust of wind blew through him, whipping his cloak violently. He found himself wishing, for the hundredth time, that he had said ‘no’ when asked if one leather cloak, and a wool scarf would be enough to keep him warm.

The ponies of Frostvale need those clothes more than I do, he thought. It wouldn’t be right for me to take them, especially when I’m perfectly capable of keeping myself warm. Still though, a nice fur coat would really help with this frigid wind.

That was the worst part, not the ice or the snow, but the wind. Without it, the cold was more than tolerable, but with it he might as well have been walking through a wall of ice.

His horn began to glow a warm red, but he stopped himself, thinking, No, I should conserve my energy. I might need it later.

For a few more minutes, he silently pushed onwards, keeping his head down to avoid the brunt of the wind’s chill. There was a loud crackling sound that caused him to look up suddenly, and he saw that the forest had grown much closer, bringing with it the storm clouds. Which, now the he was closer, he could tell were actually something else entirely.

He lifted his snow-encrusted goggles up, and pushed them back over his horn. He looked up and saw that the clouds had moved closer to the edge of the forest and they seemed to be moving closer still as he watched.

“That can’t be good.”

Slipping his goggles over his horn and back over his eyes, he tightened his scarf and hurried towards the forest’s edge.

His trotting turned into a gallop as he drew closer and saw that the clouds were, as he had guessed, something else entirely. He was about a hundred feet away when a group of ponies burst from the forest, surrounded by what he could only assume was some kind of magic shield, hounded by—

“Wendigos,” he muttered. “Should’ve guessed.”

His only comfort was in knowing that they were at least protected by some kind of spell, and they didn’t appear to be in any immediate danger. Of course, that changed when he noticed that the bubble appeared to be cracked, and the wendigos were pounding mercilessly on it.

He quickened his pace just in time to see the shield shatter, exploding into a beautiful, yet macabre, display of blue light. The pieces seemed to melt as the touched the ground, disappearing back into the ether. As for the ponies that had been protected by that shield, they were sent flying by the resulting explosion.

Corona’s eyes widened as he watched three ponies get tossed into the air and sent sliding across the snow. The one nearest to him, a white unicorn, seemed to be unconscious as she didn’t move after hitting the ground.

He pushed himself harder, and lowered his head down, still keeping one eye on the three ponies as he careened towards them, his horn beginning to spark to life.

The second pony, the one in the middle, was still conscious and Corona could see him turn himself over to look up at the wendigos. The last one’s horn sparked with blue light as she struggled to cast some kind of spell. He watched as her horn sputtered once, twice, a third time, and then faded away.

He heard the middle one cry out moments before one of the wendigos inadvertently kicked him in the head. Corona’s horn flared to life, and a wave of ruby magic surged towards them as the wendigos bared down on them.

The wave of energy crashed into the wendigos, causing them to recoil briefly, but turning their attention on him. He smirked. “That’s right!” he cried. “Come and get me, you stupid, over-sized horses!”

They whinnied angrily, their eyes flashing with anger. As they charged towards him, his horn began to glow a deep red, and fiery sparks spilled out.

One of the wendigos dove at him suddenly, forcing him to roll right. As he recovered, another wendigo opened its mouth and crashed down on top of him.

A solid beam of fire burst from his horn as Corona forced the wendigo off of him.

A wide grin spread across his face as he turned to look at the rest of the wendigos. They had stopped moving towards him, but they hadn’t gone away either. Trotting back and forth across the sky, they kept their eyes trained on him.

Horn still aglow with fiery light, Corona yelled, “Well come on then, show me what you’ve got!”

The wendigos neighed fiercely, and as one collective force, charged down at him. Spreading his legs into a more stable stance, he fired another beam of fire from his horn. It caught the lead wendigo straight in the chest and launched it into the air. He raked the fiery cone across the wall of wendigos, pushing them back slowly but surely.

His neck shrunk as he forced more magic from his horn, pushing the wendigos further and further back. Finally, with one last burst of red light, he forced them into the sky where they dissipated into nothingness.

As the beam of fire slowly faded away, Corona allowed himself a victory cheer. “Yeah! Take that you stupid wendigos! Nopony tangles with Corona Bor—”

He was cut off mid-sentence as something crashed into him from behind, knocking him to the ground. Sliding across the ground, he thought to himself, Forgot about you...

Corona flipped himself onto his back. Before he could do anything else, another wendigo was on top of him. Its jaws were opened fully and it was thrashing wildly.

Corona’s hoof shot out, and caught the wendigo’s snout, stopping it. It pressed against him, keeping him from concentrating on casting his magic. His other hoof reached forward and stopped its lower jaw from getting any closer. The wendigo gnashed its jaws fearsomely writhing against his grip, but was barely able to hold it back.

With no small amount of effort he was able to use one of his lower legs to kick the wendigo in the chest, causing it snap its jaws shut and back away.

Seizing the opportunity, he jumped to his hooves and charged straight at the wendigo. He tackled it to the ground, pinning his left hoof against its neck, and cocking his right hoof back. He launched his hoof forward and punched the side of its head as it struggled beneath him. After a moment it was able to throw Corona off, and he was forced to back away.

“All right,” he said. “Enough horsing around. Let’s send you to meet your friends.”

A tiny smirk found its way onto his face as crimson light washed over his horn. The wendigo snorted, sending puffs of wispy fog into the air, before charging at him, neighing like some kind of hellish demon.

Corona tilted his head down and fired a wave of ruby magic at the wendigo. It struck it with all the force of a raging fire, and sent the wendigo careening backwards. He widened his stance and sent another burst of magic, putting the final nail in the wendigo’s coffin. It dissipated into a puff of smoke as the fire destroyed it.

With the last wendigo gone, Corona breathed a sigh of relief. He was about to sit down when he remembered the other ponies, the ones who had been chased by the wendigos.

He looked around frantically and finally spotted them a few dozen feet away, covered in a light dusting of snow. Corona galloped over to them and saw that the blue unicorn was still conscious.

As he approached she opened her mouth to say something, but he swooped in and put a hoof over her lips. “Shh,” he whispered. “Save your energy.”


“Don’t worry,” he said. “You’re safe now. The wendigos are gone. I sent those stupid horses packing.” He grinned, and she looked confused.

“You beat them?” Her voice came out in short, ragged breaths. Corona nodded. “But what about...” She trailed off as she glanced past him and towards the other ponies lying in the snow.

“They’re safe too,” he assured her. “I promise you that you’ll all be safe now.” He placed a hoof comfortingly on her head. “Come on, I need to get you somewhere safe.”

She nodded, but still looked confused. “Who are you?”

He smiled. “The name’s Corona. Corona Borealis.”

She smiled back at him, then her eyes rolled back in her head and she fell limp.

He sighed as he looked at the three unconscious bodies. “Man, I wish I knew a levitation spell.”

10 — Flickering Flames

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Chapter 10:
Flickering Flames

Trixie was vaguely aware of a flickering warmth through what she was fairly sure was her fur-trimmed coat, and she could hear the muffled sounds of conversation as she slowly woke. The sounds became cleared and more defined as she gained a firmer grip on consciousness.

She heard two, no, three ponies talking and laughing merrily. If she listened carefully, she could almost make out what they were saying.

“—Frostvale, eh?”

“What a coincidence, that’s just where we were heading.”

“Oh really? Well, I’d be more than happy to take you there myself.”

She recognized the first two voices. It sounded like Astrid and Polaris, but she didn’t know who the third voice belonged to.

“Of course, we won’t be able to leave until morning. It’d be far too dangerous to leave now.”

“Aye, and with her still resting her pretty little head, we’ll have to wait until she wakes anyhow.”

Trixie felt her cheeks redden.

“Heh, I know better than to wake a sleeping princess. She’ll come to in her own time. It’s best if we just let her rest now.”

The red deepened.

“Dear, I don’t think you ever told us your name. Forgive me, but who are you exactly?”

“Me? I’m nobody. Just a kid from out of town, so to speak. But they call me Corona. Corona Borealis.”

Trixie’s eyes shot open and she sat bolt upright as she instantly remembered where she had heard that voice before. All three ponies’ eyes turned towards her.

They sat in a semi-circle around a small fire. Polaris and Astrid were huddled together on the right side, and a cream-colored unicorn with a flaming red mane sat on the left side. All three of their heads were turned towards her with surprised looks adorning their faces.

Before any of them could say anything, Trixie cried out, “You!” while pointing at Corona.

He pointed at himself, mouthing, “Me?”

She suddenly became aware of the fact that, in her haste, she had thrown off her coat and it was intensely cold. She withdrew her hoof and curled up into a shivering ball.

Corona’s lips curled into a tiny grin.

Trixie’s coat lifted itself from the ground, surrounded by an orange glow, and wrapped itself around her shoulders. Her hooves shot out and grabbed at the coat, pulling it tighter around her body.

Polaris chuckled. “Cold still bothering you, miss?” He patted the ground. “Move a little closer to the fire. Might warm those skinny bones of yours.”

Astrid nudged his side. “There’s no need to make fun of the poor dear. She’s doing remarkably well for somepony so unused to the frigid northerly climate.”

He massaged his side as he said, “Yes, yes, dear, I know. But look at Corona.” He pointed at the stallion across from him. “The kid’s gotta be some kinda prodigy. You’ve been up here how long?” he asked.

“It’ll be four years this month,” Corona answered.

“And he’s already acting like a true son of the north.”

Astrid looked at him pointedly. “And how long has Trixie been here?”

Polaris made to respond, but Trixie answered for him. “It’s been four months since I left Vanhoover and met Polaris.”

All three ponies turned their attention back to her. She had moved a little closer to the fire, but was otherwise unchanged. “Four months and I still haven’t reached the End of the World.”

Polaris opened his mouth, but Astrid shot him a warning glance. Corona spoke up instead. “You’re trying to reach the End of the World? What for? What possible reason could you have to go there, of all places?”

Trixie stared into the fire, watching it flicker and crackle. “I have to... It’s something I need to do. No one else can do it for me. I have to go. Me and me alone.”


Trixie looked at him with her round, violet eyes. “I don’t expect you to understand. It’s just... I have to do this.”

Silence filled the campsite for few minutes as they all became lost in their own thoughts. No one spoke a word for what felt like hours. They all just stared at the flickering flame, watching it crackle and spark, licking the few tree branches that had been thrown into the fire.

Finally, after what felt like an eternity, Trixie spoke up. “I never actually thanked you,” she said, looking at Corona. “For saving us, I mean.”

Polaris and Astrid looked up from the fire. He was the first to say something. “I don’t think we ever rightly thanked you either,” he said.

“Yes, it’s true, dear. We are in your debt,” added Astrid. “We owe you our lives, at the very least.”

Corona blushed lightly. “No, you don’t owe me anything,” he said. “I was just doing what any decent pony would’ve done. There was nothing special about what I did.”

“Nothing special? Dear, you saved us from a herd of angry wendigos. They surely would’ve killed and eaten us had you not stepped in when you did,” Astrid replied. “I think, at the very least, a ‘thank you’ is in order.”

He blushed harder. “No really, it’s nothing. I—”

Polaris cut him off. “It’s not nothing. Our flanks were toast. We were as good as dead. That is, until you stepped in.” He smiled. “The last thing I remember is you galloping up and saving our sorry hides. I assume you also brought us here,” he said, looking around at the surrounding forest. “Leastways, you saved us, and that’s what matters.”

Astrid looked around confusedly. “Speaking of that,” she said. “Where is here?”

Trixie hadn’t said anything, but she had the same feeling she was sure Astrid did. The forest that surrounded them looked eerily similar to the one they had just escaped.

Corona answered her question after a moment. “Well, there weren’t a lot of safe places near where I found you guys, so I took you to the next best place.” He paused. “The Snowfall forest is relatively well protected, so it was the best I could do.”

“Wait,” Trixie began, “You’re telling me that we’re back in the Snowfall forest? Isn’t that where we just escaped from? Aren’t there wendigos, whatever those are, here?”

Corona answered her questions before she could add any more to the list. “Yes, I brought you back to the edge of the Snowfall forest,” he said. “It’s the safest place around here. Don’t give me that look. I know it doesn’t seem like it, but being here is actually much safer than being out in the frozen wastes right now.” He held up a hoof, stopping Trixie before she could even ask her next question. “And about the wendigos. We should be safe from them here. Besides the fact that I already beat most of them, their den should be much farther inside the forest, so they won’t be bothering us way out here.”

Astrid cocked her head to the side. “I wonder why they chased us so far? I don’t know much about wendigos,” she admitted, “but I know that they don’t like to face direct sunlight, so it seems odd that they followed us all the way out into the open.”

“It does seem a little strange,” Polaris added.

“Well, usually,” Corona said, looking at each of the other ponies in turn, “wendigos only feed off of disharmony and hatred,” he paused. “But I’ve also heard that they are attracted to fear and doubt. I’ve also heard that, if they’re hungry enough, they’ll chase prey for miles and miles, with no regard to how far they had strayed from their dens.” He stared into the fire. “I’m not sure what made them chase you so far, but you’re lucky to be alive right now.”

Trixie found herself moving ever closer to the fire, and staring intently at Corona. “What, exactly, are wendigos?” she asked. “I’m still not sure what they are, or why they’re here.”

Corona looked over at Trixie. His chestnut eyes seemed to bore directly into her own violet ones. “Wendigos are spirits who feed off of disharmony and hatred, like I said. They live, usually, in the north where those feelings are more common. No offense,” he added, looking at Polaris and Astrid.

Polaris shook his head. “None taken. We northerners have never been known for being a peace-loving bunch.”

“Anyway,” he continued, “once they find the source of disharmony, usually a pony, they devour it and drain its power.”

Trixie creased her brow. “Wait, why do they look just like horses then? Are they actually just a different type of horse?”

Corona chuckled grimly. “No, they are spirits true and true. They are not dead however, though, neither are they actually alive. They are in-between the two. Stuck in a perpetual state of near-living.” He sighed. “It’s a little sad actually. I wish there was some way to help them.”

Astrid smiled warmly. “It’s noble to wish such an impossible thing, but it will never happen.”

“Aye,” Polaris added. “They are a miserable bunch, wendigos. It’s best if we avoid them, rather than try and help them.” He looked over at his wife. “There’s no helping the damned.”

No one knew what to say to that, so silence washed over the camp again like a wave of quietude. After a long time, Trixie said, “How is it that you know so much about wendigos, Corona?” She raised an eyebrow. “I’ve never even heard of them before today.”

Without looking up from the fire, he responded, “I studied them when I was in school. I’ve always been fascinated by spirits and apparitions.” He looked up from the flickering flame and over to Trixie. “Though, I’m a little surprised you’d never heard of them before.”

“It does seem rather strange,” added Astrid. “Did you not learn about them when you were a foal?” she questioned.

Polaris chimed in, “I thought that you, of all ponies, miss, would’ve seen the Hearth’s Warming Eve play.” He looked over at Astrid, chuckling. “I remember you played Clover the Clever because you were one of the only unicorns at school, and I had to be a wendigo.”

Astrid giggled. “That’s probably because you were one of the biggest colts in class. Somepony had to look intimidating.”

He scrunched his muzzle, “I know, I know. I just wish I could’ve been Commander Hurricane.” He looked wistfully to the sky. “I’ve always wanted to be a pegasus.” He gazed up at the darkened night sky, lost in his memories.

Astrid shook her head, bemusedly. “Don’t mind him. Anyway, dear, did you not ever see the Hearth’s Warming Eve play?”

Trixie shook her head back. “No, I was never in public school, so I must have missed that.”

Corona was the first to respond. “Well, to give you the short version of it, six ponies are attacked by wendigos because of disharmony in their group.”

“And then what happened,” Trixie said.

“Hold on, I’m getting to that,” Corona replied, holding up a hoof. “Then they manage to escape because they realize that friendship is holds them together and Clover the Clever uses the ‘Fire of Friendship’ to beat back the wendigos.”

“The ‘Fire of Friendship’?” Trixie said, cocking her head to the side.

Corona chuckled at her expression. “Makes for a nice story doesn’t it? The ‘Fire of Friendship’ is stronger than the cold, unfeeling strength of a dozen wendigos.” He sighed. “I guess the real story doesn’t have as much philosophical meaning behind it.”

Trixie’s eyebrows raised. “Real story?”

He looked back into the dancing flames of the campsite’s fire. “I’m not even sure this is the real story, but what I read is that the ‘Fire of Friendship’ was less of a metaphorical fire, and more of a real one.” The flames seemed to burn a little brighter as he said, “It seems that Clover the Clever was more than just an apprentice to Starswirl the Bearded. She was a bit of a self-taught pyromancer.”

“What!?” said Polaris and Astrid in unison.

He nodded. “Yep, the story seems a little less meaningful when you take that into account, huh?” He laughed. “I guess whoever wrote that play decided that ‘Fire of Friendship’ sounded better than ‘Fire of Extermination’.” A sigh escaped his lips. “It’s too bad though. Most ponies will never know the true story of what happened on Hearth’s Warming Eve. Clover will probably never get the real recognition she deserves.”

No one knew how to respond to that, so they all sat in silence for a while. They all stared at the flames, now burned halfway through the logs, with dead eyes. Finally, Polaris spoke.

“Clover may never get the recognition she deserves, but we’ll make sure you do, kid.” He gave a wide grin to Corona. “You’ll be a hero.”

Corona didn’t respond for a moment, but finally he said, “Thanks, I appreciate the thought, but I don’t want to be a hero.” He pursed his lips. “I was just being me, nothing special. No one needs to know about what happened here.”

“But, dear,” Astrid said warmly. “You saved us, from wendigos no less. You should at least be known as a hero in your hometown, Frostvale, right?”

He shook his head. “Please, I don’t want to be known as anything, or anyone, other than Corona. That’s who I am, and that’s all I’ll ever be.”

Trixie watched as Polaris opened his mouth to say something, but Astrid looked at him and shook her head. She didn’t know what to say, but she knew she had to say something. “Thank you,” she eventually decided on. “Thanks for being there when you were. Without you, I—I don’t know what we would’ve done.” Corona looked away from Trixie’s gaze, his cheeks reddening.

“Actually, that raises a good question,” said Astrid. “Why were you here when you were?” She put her hoof under her chin. “You said you were from Frostvale, but it’s unlikely that you got all they way here from there in time to save us.”

Trixie’s eyes lit up. “You’re from Frostvale?”

He ran a hoof through his mane. “Well, not exactly. I live there now, but it’s not where I’m from.” He looked over to Astrid. “But to answer your question, ma’am. I was patrolling the area south of the Frozen Chasm for some floeberries. They’re a bit of a northern delicacy,” he said upon seeing Trixie’s confused look.

Astrid’s eyes widened. “Oh, it’s been years since I’ve had any floeberries.” She looked hungrily at Corona’s saddlebags. “You didn’t happen to find any, did you?”

Polaris chuckled, shaking his head. “I think the last time we had any was when we were married. Some friends gave us a bushel as a gift. I’ve never been a big fan, but I won’t deny that they have a certain charm to them.”

Trixie scratched her head. “So what’s so special about these berries?”

Corona started to respond, but Astrid butt in. “They’re only the most delicious berries you’ve ever eaten, and they have the uncanny ability to stave off hunger even if you’ve only had a few.”

“I’m not sure about ‘delicious’,” Polaris laughed, “but she’s right about them being filling.” He turned his gaze skyward. “I once heard of a stallion who survived for three months off of nothing but floeberries and a single canteen of water.” Trixie’s eyes grew several times larger. “Now whether that’s true or not, I don’t know.” He chuckled. “Makes for an interesting tale though, eh?”

“Well, I’m not sure about all that,” said Corona. “I just use them for study.” His horn glowed a dull orange as a his saddlebag unlatched and a pair of crystalline white balls floated out.

Astrid’s eyes followed the floeberries hungrily. She was about to make a grab for one, when Corona said, “Watch.”

Before Astrid’s horn could even light up, the berries were engulfed in flame and she shrunk back, crestfallen. “No...”

Corona focused on the berries, flames pouring from his horn. His eyes glowed red and yellow and flashed with light. After a few seconds, he stopped, and the flames disappeared.

The little white balls were perfectly unharmed and completely un-singed. He floated them back into a small pouch on his saddlebag and said, “You see? They’re entirely resistant to flame, but I have no idea why.” He sighed. “I’ve been studying them for months, and I still can’t figure out how they are able to repel flame. As far as I can tell, they have no innate magical properties, nor any enchantments that prevent burning.” His shoulders slumped. “I’m at a loss.”

Trixie raised a hoof. “Isn’t it just because they grow so far north that they are resistant to flame?”

“Heh, you only need look to the wendigos to prove that being from the north does not make you inherently resistant to flame,” Corona said, without looking at her. “Anyway, that’s only part of my research. Floeberries are merely a hobby at this point.”

Trixie absentmindedly tossed a twig she had found into the fire. “So, what is the main reason you’re here?” she asked. “You said that you’re not from Frostvale, so why are you here?”

He watched as the twig she had tossed into the flames burned away into nothing but ash. “I was sent here by the Royal Canterlot Scientific Research Society, but my research will have to wait until tomorrow.” He yawned suddenly. “You all had nice naps while I rescued you, but I haven’t been able to sleep for nearly a day now, so I’m going to take my leave and sleep.”

“Wait,” Trixie said, throwing her coat off and standing up. “We’re not going to leave now?”

Corona didn’t respond, but Polaris did. “Miss, you should know better than to go traipsin’ off into the frozen wastes in the middle of the night.” He shook his head. “We’ll have to wait until tomorrow to leave.”

“What?” she moaned. “But we’ve already wasted three days just getting this far”

“Exactly,” Astrid replied. “What’s another day added on top?” She floated a blanket from her own saddlebag over top of herself and Polaris. “You’ll just have to be patient,” she said kindly. “We’ll get to Frostvale tomorrow, I promise.”

Trixie sighed. “Fine, I suppose another day doesn’t really matter at this point.” She sat back down and grabbed her coat, wrapping about herself. As she lay her head against her makeshift pillow, she thought, Oh well, at least it’s only one more day now.

11 — The Steel Bit

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Chapter 11:
The Steel Bit

“Well, we don’t. I’m sorry, ma’am,” said a burly-looking earth pony standing behind the bar counter, rag in hoof, wiping away the soap scum from a thick glass. “This ain’t an inn, we ain’t got any rooms for rent, and I definitely ain’t running a charity.” He set the glass on the counter, leaning forward. “So either buy something, or get your broke flanks outta my pub.”

Rainbow Dash slammed her hoof down on the counter, rattling the pint glasses. “All right, guy,” she said, giving him a squinty-eyed glare. “I don’t think you understand.”

“No, I’m pretty sure I do.”

“We came all the way from Ponyville, on the last freakin’ train” —she jabbed at his chest—“to get to this stupid backwater town.” She rose up in the air, puffing out her chest. “And all we want is a place to stay the night, and you’re tellin’ me that you don’t have any rooms? Where the hay is somepony supposed to sleep in this stupid town?.” She rose a little higher. “What kinda half-flanked business are you running here? I already wasted a whole day I coulda spent doin’ something useful, like reading my stupid book that I’ve been wanting to read ever since we got on that stupid train to come to this stupid town.”

Twilight and Spike stood behind Rainbow Dash watching her bob up near the roof, waving her hooves around angrily. The bartender’s face grew increasingly bemused as he watched Rainbow get angrier and angrier.

“—and I got dragged all the way out here for some stupid mare that we haven’t even seen, or heard from, in almost a year. So now you’re tellin’ me that we can’t even get a stupid room to sleep in?” Rainbow floated to the ground and let her head fall against the countertop. With her forehead smooshed against the counter, she let out a long groan. “I just wanna go home.”

The bartender scratched his chin and looked down at Rainbow Dash. “Ya all done now?”

She didn’t respond.

He nodded, picked up another glass and started to clean it. “All right then, now that that’s settled, you all can scram.”

Spike pulled at Twilight’s leg. She looked down at him. “So, where are we gonna stay now?”

She smiled comfortingly. “Don’t worry, Spike. I’m sure we’ll find somewhere to stay.” Lifting Spike onto her back, she put a hoof on Rainbow’s back. “Come on, Rainbow. Let’s go look somewhere else.” She looked up at the bartender and bowed her head. “Thank you anyway,” she said courteously. He nodded curtly, focused on wiping off a particularly stubborn bit of dirt.

Twilight nudged Rainbow again after a moment. “Don’t worry, Rainbow. I’m sure we’ll find somewhere else to stay.”

Rainbow gave a muffled response. “Hmph, whatever.” She lifted her head from the counter and glared at the bartender. “I wouldn’t wanna sleep in this dump anyway.” Spinning around, she said, “Let’s get outta here, Twilight.”

The bartender stopped wiping the glass and looked up. “What’d you say?”

Rainbow looked back over her shoulder and gave him a cold, hard stare. “I said, ‘I wouldn’t wanna sleep in this dump anyway’.”

He set the glass on the counter and tossed the rag aside. “No, not that part.” He nodded towards Twilight. “What’d you call her?”

“What’s it matter to—”

Twilight stepped in front of Rainbow Dash, cutting off her intended reply. She placed a hoof over her chest. “My name is Twilight Sparkle,” she said. His eyes lit up and he leaned forward. Twilight took a small step back. “Do I know you?” she asked.

He just stared silently at her for a few seconds. She stared back, a nervous smile cracked across her face. After a long, and awkward, pause, he sat back and let out a boisterous laugh. “Well, I’ll be damned. The infamous Twilight Sparkle.” He shook his head slowly, a smile working its way across his face. “I never thought I’d see the day.”

Rainbow Dash shoved her way past Twilight, followed by Spike. She stomped her hoof against the ground. “You got some kinda beef with Twilight?”

Spike looked back at Twilight. He put a hand up to his mouth and whispered, “Do you know this guy?”

She shook her head. “No, I’ve never met him.”

The bartender didn’t seem to hear Rainbow, so she stomped her hoof again, her face scrunched up in an angry glare. “Hey! I’m talkin’ to you.”

He waved dismissively at her. “Yeah, yeah, I hear you. Hang on a sec.” He turned towards a darkened corner of the room. “Oi!” he shouted. “Thunderclap, you’ll never guess who just walked in here!”

A silvery voice shouted back. “Oh? Who might that be?”

He glanced back at Twilight, giving her a wink. “Twilight Sparkle.”

There was the sound of someone knocking over a chair quickly followed by the click-clack of hooves against the stone floor. As if he were the Princess himself, everyone turned their attention to the stallion as he came into the light.

His black mane, split down the middle by a white stripe, bounced jovially as he trotted up to them. His deep, forest-green eyes, the same color as his coat, gleamed in the light, and his wings were curled up against his sides. He looked back and forth between Twilight and Rainbow Dash excitedly. “So which one of you is Twilight?”

Twilight grinned awkwardly. “Umm, that would be—”

Rainbow Dash flew up into the air and flung her hooves out, yelling, “Hold up!” They all looked up at her with raised eyebrows. “Somepony needs to start explaining this to me, because I don’t know what the hay is goin’ on anymore.” She looked down at Twilight, jerking a hoof over her shoulder. “You know these guys?”

Twilight shook her head. “No, I keep saying that.”

Thunderclap held up a hoof. “Maybe we better start from the beginning, eh, Lager?” He glanced up to his friend. “And it might be better if you tell it. I’m not so great with stories.”

Lager chuckled. “Says the guy who was in drama club.”

“Yeah, that was only, what, twenty years ago?”

“Something like that, yeah.” Lager ran a hoof through his mane. “All right, fine, I’ll tell the story.” He scratched his chin, gazing upwards like he was trying to spot his memories on the ceiling. “So, where do we begin? Ah, I know.” He cleared his throat. “I’d say it was nearly a year ago that a mare came in here pretty late at night. Much like yourselves,” he said, gesturing towards Twilight and Rainbow Dash, both of whom were still looking at each other wondering what was happening. “Anyway, this mare was pretty stubborn. I tried to get her to leave but she wasn’t having any of it.” Thunderclap nodded in agreement, a smirk on his face. “Eventually, she tells me her name, Trixie, and then—”

“Trixie was here?” Twilight interrupted.

Rainbow Dash placed a hoof against her forehead, closing her eyes. “What was Trixie doing here?”

Lager sighed. “If you two’d let me finish, you’d know the answers to those questions.” Thunderclap chuckled under his breath while Lager scratched his chin. “Now where was I? Oh, right, right. So, Trixie starts goin’ off about this ‘Twilight’ pony who she says wronged her.”

Both Spike and Rainbow Dash started to speak, but Lager cut them off. “Just sit there quietly and let me finish my story,” he said, a hoof aimed pointedly at them. “If you’ve got questions, sit on ‘em. I don’t wanna hear it until I’m done. Sheesh, now I know why you didn’t want to tell the story, Thunder.” He shook his head. “These damn mares are always givin’ me trouble. Anyway, I couldn’t get her to tell me anything about it. She just sat there mumblin’ to herself like she was hearin’ voices or something. I only caught bits and pieces, but she seemed to be pretty hung up on this ‘Twilight’. Always saying that name like it was the most evil word imaginable.”

Twilight’s eyes drifted downwards. She stared at the ground.

“This went on for awhile and she kept scarin’ away patrons. I’d see ponies walk inside, see her sittin’ there, mumblin’ to herself, and they’d just turn right around and start walkin’ away.” He looked down at the wooden counter, his eyes squinted. He scratched at some discolored mark, scraping away a bit of dirt. Brushing away the remains, he said, “Eh, business had been pretty good the day before, so I wasn’t worried. Couple hours later, she was still sittin’ there, and wouldn’t leave.” He let out a long sigh. “Most stubborn mare I’ve ever met, this Trixie. To her credit, her stubbornness did work out for her.”

Spike cocked his head to the side. “What do you mean?”


“That’s when I showed up!” Thunderclap said suddenly. He grinned toothily at them. “Being the kind-hearted stallion I am, I bought her some food and drink.”

“You wanted me to tell the story, didn’t you?” Lager asked, eyebrow cocked high enough to make his expression look equal parts questioning and accusatory.

Thunderclap held up his hooves in mock-surrender. “Sorry, didn’t mean to step on your story, buddy.” He gestured towards him. “Continue.”

Lager rolled his eyes. “Anyway, like Thunder said, that’s when he showed up. We got Trixie all fed and watered and managed to pry some information from that iron jaw. She was surprisingly unwilling to talk for somepony so hard to shut up. Once we got her started though, words came spillin’ outta her mouth like water from a waterfall.” He leaned back, looking upwards. “Long story short, she spilled her guts about the whole ‘Ursa Major’—”

“Minor,” corrected Thunderclap.

“Minor’ debacle,” Lager finished, shooting a warning glare at Thunderclap.

“She told you about that?” Twilight said, her ears flattening slightly. “What did she say?”

Thunderclap laughed heartily. “What didn’t she say? She went on and on about how it was all your fault that she lost her home and that she was now the laughingstock of Equestria. Thinking back on it,” Thunderclap said, tapping a hoof to his chin. “She didn’t have a single nice thing to say about you. Which I guess isn’t surprising given what you did to her.”

“What!? Twilight didn’t do anything to that stupid jerk!” shouted Rainbow, rising into the air. “That loudmouth bragged to the entire town that she ‘vanquished’,” she made air-quotes with her hooves, “an Ursa Major.”

“Yeah!” Spike jumped in. “She was trying to prove that she was the best unicorn in Ponyville, but Twilight wouldn’t show her up.” He crossed his arms. “It’s not her fault that Trixie couldn’t actually do any of the stuff she said she could do.”

“I kinda always knew that she wasn’t tellin’ us the whole story,” said Lager thoughtfully. “I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.”

“That jerk got what she deserved,” Rainbow Dash snorted.

Twilight, who had been quietly thinking to herself through most of the conversation, spoke up. “It’s true that Trixie may have lied about what exactly happened that day, but she does deserve some credit.”

“Huh?” said Spike and Rainbow Dash in unison.

“Well, think about it,” Twilight said, looking at each pony, and Spike, in turn. “Even though Trixie knew she had never actually ‘vanquished’ an Ursa Major before, she still tried. She didn’t run away, or put anypony else in harm’s way to save herself. She actually tried to stop it.” She looked Rainbow Dash in the eye. “Even if she didn’t stop it, that has to be worth something.”

“Well—I—she.” Rainbow sighed. “I guess you’re right. It was pretty brave of her to stand up to that freakin’ huge bear that she had, like, no chance of beating, let alone ‘vanquishing’. But,” she said, holding up a hoof. “That doesn’t mean I forgive her. She’s still a big show-off and a complete jerk. A stupid, but kinda brave, jerk.”

“But what happened after she told you two her story?” asked Twilight.

“Oh!” Thunderclap said excitedly. “This next part was my idea.”

“What was?” she said, looking back and forth between Lager and Thunderclap.

Lager rubbed his chin. “Well, after she ranted about you for such a long time, we knew we had to do something. Now, it ain’t my place to go meddlin’ in other ponies’ affairs, but Thunderclap suggested that she write a letter to you. A letter that said everything she wanted to tell you about what she was feeling. Ya know how you sometimes write letters to ponies that made you mad? And you tell them exactly how you feel, just to let it all out? Right, well that’s what we told her to do.”

Twilight’s horn lit up as an opened letter bobbed its way out of her saddlebag. “So that’s why she wrote me this letter?”

Lager’s hoof shot out and he snatched the letter. “Wait, she actually sent you the damn thing?” His eyes shot back and forth as he read the letter. His eyebrows rose higher and higher as he read more and more. Finally, he finished the letter and turned it over, seeing if there was more on the back. Seeing that it was empty, he handed it back to Twilight. “I didn’t think she’d actually send the damn thing.” He placed a hoof to his forehead. “But what was that bit about, ‘the End of the World’?”

As Twilight slipped the letter back into her saddlebag, she said, “That’s what I was hoping to find out from you. In the letter she says she found out about it while staying in Emerald Falls. We came here hoping to get some more information.”

Lager whistled slowly. “You’re plum outta luck there, missy. That’s the first I’ve heard of this, ‘End of the World’. Sounds like one hell of a place though. I wonder what the End of the World would look like?” he mused. “Can’t imagine it’s a very pleasant place.”

Thunderclap, lost in thought, was tapping his hoof against his forehead. After a moment, he let a sigh escape his lips. “I know I’ve heard of that somewhere, but I can’t think of where.” He ground his teeth together. “Gah! It sounds so familiar.”

Lager shrugged. “Well, I’m stumped. This ain’t exactly a travelin’ town so we don’t always hear all the stories.” He stroked his chin. “The only pony I can think of that might be able to help you folks is that damnable witch who lives on the edge of town. She ain’t a unicorn, but that hasn’t stopped her practicing magic. It ain’t natural.” He sighed. “But, I suppose she’d be able to help you, leastways she could point you in the right direction.”

Rainbow Dash floated back to the ground. “Looks like we know where we’re goin’ then, eh, Twi?” She nudged Twilight’s shoulder roughly. “C’mon then. Might as well get goin’ now.”

“Do we have to go right now?” moaned Spike. “My feet are killin’ me.” He lifted one foot and began massaging it gently while balancing on the other. “Can’t we do that tomorrow?”

“Why bother waiting?” said Rainbow Dash. “We can’t stay here anyway.”

Thunderclap shot a glance at Lager. “Oh come on, big guy. You’re not gonna let these kids stay out in the cold, are ya?”

Lager let out an exaggerated groan. “All right, fine, fine. I’ll tell you what, I wasn’t lyin’ when I said that I didn’t have any rooms and that this ain’t a charity, so you gimme twenty—ten bits and I’ll let you three sleep in the storage room. I won’t lie, it ain’t gonna be like sleepin’ at your mother’s house, but it’s a damn sight better than sleeping in the cold.”

“Ten bits!” Rainbow shouted. “That’s—”

“That’s fine,” Twilight said, cutting her off. “Ten bits is fair.” Magenta light surrounded her bag as it opened itself and a small drawstring bag floated out. She emptied it into a ball of magic and began counting it. “...thirty-eight ...thirty-nine ...forty” She separated ten bits from the pile and passed them into Lager’s outstretched hoof. Rainbow looked at her incredulously. “Don’t worry, Dash. We’ve still got another thirty. That should be more than enough.”

“Tch, not at these prices,” she mumbled.

“Hush, Rainbow. Don’t be ungrateful.” She looked at Lager and nodded politely. “Thank you very much, sir.” Lifting Spike onto her back and nudging Rainbow towards the back of the pub, she said, “We’ll go ahead and get out of your way now. We should really be getting some rest anyway. It looks like we might have a big day ahead of us tomorrow.”

“You’ll find sheets and pillows in the cupboard. Try not to get them too dirty,” Lager called after them.

Thunderclap shook his head slowly, staring at Lager in disbelief. “Ten bits is too much. What do you have against helping some kids?” he asked quietly.

Lager picked up a glass and started wiping it down, glad to be back in his routine. “I told them, this ain’t a charity. I gotta make a living too.”

“Sometimes, I just don’t get you.”

As they walked away, Spike wrapped his arms around Twilight’s neck. “I just hope that this witch, whoever she is, can help us. I don’t wanna end up wandering all across Equestria looking for Trixie. Sheesh, I wonder what’s so important that she had to go to a place called the End of the World?”

Rainbow Dash following behind her, Twilight trotted into a small, cramped room with barely enough room for three ponies. After setting Spike down and finding the sheets and pillows, she said, “I don’t know what Trixie’s after, Spike. But I intend to find out.” She watched as Rainbow Dash looked distastefully at the barren room. She tossed blanket and a pillow over to Rainbow, and set a pair down for herself and Spike. As she lay down, she said, “Something tells me that this is only the beginning.”

12 — Dragon's Eye

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Chapter 12:
Dragon's Eye

The first thing she noticed was the overwhelming smell of sulphur assaulting her nostrils as she entered the dank, smoky room. Her nose crinkled in disgust and her eyes watered.

It was difficult to see anything in detail as the entire room was lit only by two small candles hanging from the ceiling and nestled in a cocoon of animal bones, a small fire burning beneath a bubbling flask, and what little sunlight was let in through the single grimy window, but she could see shelves stocked with various jars and ingredients, covering each of the walls, as well as a small end table shoved haphazardly in the one open corner in the far left of the room.

Hmph, not exactly the nicest shop I’ve ever seen. There was a large jar just to the right of her that contained, well, something. She leaned forward to look more closely at it, peering into its murky depths.

Inside was a lumpy, oblong object suspended in a thick substance which was a sickly yellow. Whatever it was, it was pointed at one end, smooth along the shaft, except for the ridges that seemed to spiral up to the tip, and it got wider as it went down, finally terminating in a jagged-edged end that looked like it had been roughly cut from wherever it had come from. It had a familiar look to it, but she couldn’t place why.

It almost looks like a—

Her thoughts were interrupted by a high-pitched shriek from behind her. She whipped around quickly, horn alight.

She scanned the room, searching for the source of the noise, blue light emanating from her horn. Sitting on the small end table, she noticed the large glass flask was bubbling more violently than before. The fire beneath it now burned a bright blue and the sinister looking liquid inside the flask splashed about furiously.

Blood-red and frothing angrily, the contents filled the small room with the sounds of something being boiled alive. Trixie cringed as the ear-piercing shrieks grew louder and louder. She backed away, attempting to cover her ears as best she could, but it didn’t even slightly muffle the sound.

Seconds seemed to crawl by as the shrieking grew louder, eventually smothering all other sounds. Her horn glowed brightly as she prepared to remove the infernal noise. As she was taking aim, a metal claw reached out and snatched the bubbling flask by the neck. Almost instantly, the room became deathly silent.

Her eyes were drawn to the other end of the metal claw where a shadowy figure stood, shrouded in smoke and covered in frayed and graying robes.

It moved stiffly into the center of the room—almost limping—ignoring her. She watched, transfixed, as it poured the liquid into a metal bowl. It splashed as it hit the bottom of the bowl, and a few droplets landed on the wooden desk the bowl was sitting on, causing it to sizzle and smoke. It didn’t seem to bother it though as it was now grabbing a silver spoon from a drawer and stirring the liquid.

She stared silently, unable to say anything, as it worked. After a few seconds of steady, calculated stirring, it looked up at her. She started, unaware that it had even noticed her.

Its metal appendage gleamed dimly in the light as it pulled back the hood obscuring its face. As the hood fell away, an ashen mare’s face was revealed. Her chalky mane fell about her shoulders, unkempt and knotted. Her dull iron claw extended outwards and a single digit pointed at Trixie, then curled in on itself, motioning for her to approach. Trixie swallowed her fear and stepped forward.

The tiny room was cramped enough as it was, but the desk that nearly split the remaining floor space in half made the whole area feel much smaller than it was. But, it kept Trixie physically separated from the mare, an attribute for which she was grateful.

As she walked towards the center of the room, she weaved her way through piles of wood, glassware, crates, and somethings she was fairly sure were severed bird wings. She ducked under a string of garlic hung from the ceiling, and around what she hoped wasn’t a pony’s skull.

Trixie had taken her hat off before entering the room, but she had neglected remove her cape, which she was now regretting as it dragged along the dirt-caked floor and over piles of rat skeletons. The strange mare watched her carefully as she made her way through the maze of objects, and eventually reached the desk.

Now that she was closer, Trixie could see the mare’s features more clearly. She was taken aback at how young she looked. Her emerald eyes seemed to shine almost unnaturally bright in the dim light, and her frayed and dirty mane still managed to somehow look strangely beautiful, in a macabre sort of way. Thin and dull pink, her lips were curled into a near frown, pulling her gray cheeks down with it.

Trixie’s eyes drifted down towards her where her right hoof should’ve been. Instead she found the same iron claw she had seen before. Now that she saw it up close, she could tell that it was just as dirty as the rest of her. The metal leg, which disappeared beneath the faded robes, was rusted at the joints, and spotted with flecks of dirt. It rested on the wooden desk, claw splayed out, displaying its four separate digits.

Each digit ended in a sharp-looking talon that curved downwards malevolently. Each looked as if it had been sharpened to a fine point, and it was the only part of the leg that looked clean. Trixie could even see the fire bizarrely reflected in the shiny surface of each talon.

Suddenly realizing that she was staring, Trixie’s eyes shot up and she saw the brief flash of a smirk skirt across the mare’s face before it returned to its previous state of apparent disinterest. She opened her mouth for the first time, and said, “You won’t find what you’re looking for here, Trixie Lulamoon.” Her tone was even and words were neutral, but Trixie sensed a hint of remorse in her voice.

“Wait, how do you know my name?” Trixie asked, surprised.

Ignoring Trixie’s question, she continued, “I know why you have come here, and I know what you seek.” She paused, staring directly into Trixie’s eyes. “Power is not something that is easily gained, Trixie Lulamoon. You seek to ascend your strength to the next plane, but you don’t even know what true strength is.”

“Hmph,” Trixie huffed. “How dare you. Trixie is the most powerful unicorn in all of Equestria!”

The smirk from before briefly flashed across the mare’s face again before it returned to the same deadpan expression. “If that is the truth, then why have you come here?”

Trixie stumbled over her words. “I, uhh, Trixie is the most powerful unicorn in Equestria, but she just can’t prove it yet.” Trixie stomped her hoof on the ground. “That’s why I came here. I want something that will make me the greatest and most powerful unicorn of all time.” She glared at the mare. “I want to prove I’m better than Twilight.”

Gears whirred as the metal leg lifted from the desk and made a fist in the air between Trixie and the mare. “You want power? The strength to move mountains, turn back the hands of time, create everything from nothing, make the very stars weep in awe, and make even the goddesses envy you?”

Trixie’s eyes widened. She nodded.

“I cannot give you that power,” said the mare. “I do not have the ability to, nor would I if I did.”


“I cannot give you that power,” she repeated, “true strength is earned, not given away freely.”

Trixie face was crestfallen. She bit her lip. “But there must be something you can do, right? You have to help me.”

“It is true that I cannot give you the power you seek, but I can help you find it yourself.”

Trixie’s eyes gleamed, then she frowned after a moment. “Wait, what does that mean?”

The mare removed her metal leg from the desk and turned to the wall of ingredients. Trixie noticed her gray tail poking out from beneath her cloak, just as frayed and knotted as her mane. There was the clinking of glass on glass as she picked small bottles from the wall and dropped them in her robes which she held up like a basket with her other hoof.

After what felt like ten minutes, Trixie began to tap her hoof impatiently on the ground. The mare ignored her and reached for a small crystal bottle on the top shelf. It was filled with a vibrant green liquid, and it seemed to give off a dim inner light.

Finally, with the last bottle in her grasp, the mare turned back to the desk and dumped the ingredients out. Bottles rolled left and right as she carefully placed the crystal bottle down.

Trixie eyed all the various glass objects rolling around, then looked at the mare. “Is this for a potion that will make me stronger?” she asked.

“No,” the mare replied as evenly as before. Her metal claw grabbed a pair of bones tied together with string and dropped them into a large stone mortar. She also added some dried leaves, a jet-black flower, three orange mushrooms, and a tiny pearlescent opal. Using her regular furred-hoof to hold the mortar in place, she used her claw to grab the stone pestle and began grinding the ingredients into a fine powder. As she ground, she said, “As I said before, there is nothing that I can do that will make you anything other than what you already are. Your true strength is buried inside yourself and only you can dig it out. I can only guide you on your path, not walk it for you.”

Trixie watched as she ground used the pestle to crush the opal with quick thrusts. It remained unbroken for a few seconds, until one particularly powerful thrust cracked the opal in half. As it was ground away, Trixie said, “Then what is this for?” She nodded at desk, cluttered with ingredients.

“It is a potion that will help you see, truly see.”

“How’s that supposed to help me?”

The mare paused, her mortar now filled with a fine, shiny dust. She turned the stone bowl over, dumping its contents into the blood-red solution that was still sitting on the desk. It crackled and fizzed as it disappeared into the mix, soon followed by a number of other liquids, each one causing a tiny puff of smoke to emit from the bowl as it joined the concoction. Finally, all the ingredients had been added, except for the crystal bottle which the mare held up to the light where it shined brightly.

As she held the bottle up, the mare said, “This will show you exactly what you need to see, nothing more, and nothing less.” Her eyes fell on Trixie. “But before we begin, I need something from you.”

Trixie took a small step backwards. “What do you mean?”

“I want something only a unicorn can give. Something precious to you,” she said coolly.

Trixie’s hoof moved reflexively to her horn, as if she were trying to shield it from something. “You don’t mean...” she trailed off, glancing over her shoulder at the jar she saw when she came in.

The mare grunted. “Hmph, despite what you may think of me, I do not maim my fellows. No, what I want is far less sinister.”

Trixie’s hoof fell. “But, what about—”

She curled her claw into a fist and held it up, examining it and silencing Trixie. “Sometimes, pieces must be sacrificed for the betterment of the whole.” She uncurled her fist, and motioned Trixie forward. “Come, I need your magic.” She held up the crystalline bottle as Trixie approached. “This is dragon’s blood mixed with the nectar of the dragonsbane flower, and an uncut emerald,” she explained. She offered the bottle to Trixie. “You must drink this before we can begin.”

Trixie eyed the bottle suspiciously. Then, after a moment, took it. She held it up and examined its contents. Inside, a milky green substance swirled about. If she strained her eyes, she thought she could almost see the face of a dragon amongst the cloudy jade.

“I just need to drink this, then?” she asked.

The mare nodded. “When ingested by unicorns, that mixture has the ability to transform your magic, briefly, to that of a dragon’s. For a few seconds, you will have all the magical prowess of Equestria’s oldest and most powerful beings. But only for a few seconds,” she said, stressing the limited nature of the potion. “In those brief moments, you will need to use your newly acquired magic to breathe fire on this mixture.” She indicated the blood-red potion that sat ominously between them.

Trixie put the bottle down. “How come we can’t just use the fire you already have? Why do I need to drink dragon’s blood?”

The mare grabbed the silver spoon and began stirring the mixture slowly. “Dragonflame has unique properties,” she explained. “It can burn in the coldest wind, and will never go out unless commanded to do so by the one who created it. It also burns hot enough to melt gold and even steel, if given long enough. But since you are not a dragon, the flame you create will not be strong enough to melt gold, and it will only burn for as long as you have the powers of a dragon.” She stopped stirring and set the spoon aside. “However, while your flame will not be as hot, or as potent as a real dragon’s, it will still retain the other magical properties of dragonflame. And for our purposes, that will be more than enough. When you breathe fire on this potion, it will dissipate and you will see exactly what you need to see.”

Trixie’s eyebrow rose. “And this will show me how to become more powerful?”

“It will show you what it needs to show you,” she said simply. “What that will be, I cannot say. What the Dragon’s Eye shows is different for everyone. You may see nothing, and you may see everything. The Eye sees all, past, present, and future, but it only reveals what needs to be revealed.” She took a step back from the desk, her face becoming obscured in shadow now that the candle’s glow couldn’t reach her. “Drink, Trixie Lulamoon. See what the Eye would have you see.”

Trixie gazed at the crystal bottle, watching its contents swirl about. Finally, she picked it up again. Biting down on the rubber stopper, she pulled it out with a muffled pop. Taking one final look at the slightly luminescent green liquid, she swallowed her trepidation and brought the small bottle’s mouth to hers.

Almost instantly, she felt the liquid rushing down her throat. It burned as it went down, but it wasn’t hot, or painful. It was like a cool flame that danced its way into her stomach. The taste was unlike anything she had ever experienced. It was oddly refreshing, like a glass of ice water on a hot summer day, but it warmed her as it ran down her throat, like a mulled wine. As it hit her stomach it began to feel like a fire was burning inside of her. Her chest warmed to an almost uncomfortable level, and her forehead burned.

There was the quiet thump of glass on wood as Trixie set the bottle down. She stood quietly for a moment, waiting for something to happen. Besides the odd sensation of a fire burning in her stomach, she didn’t feel any different. Her magic felt the same as it always did, coursing through her body like the dragon’s blood she just drank.

“I don’t feel any different,” she said after a moment. She looked over to the mare, worriedly. “Maybe it didn’t wo—”

She was interrupted by the sudden sensation of a thousand fires burning all throughout her body. All along her limbs and in her head, she felt heat emanating. It was like someone had just wrapped her in the world’s warmest blanket. Besides the heat though, she also felt a sudden surge of power. Her magic, normally a muted feeling, suddenly burst with life. She could practically feel herself brimming with magic just itching for release. She felt as if she had the power to rip apart the very fabric of reality. She wondered for a moment how dragons were able to keep their power in check, then, all of its own accord, her horn began glowing a dark, vibrant green. It pulsated with each beat of her heart. Her mouth slowly fell open. Unable to speak, she simply stood agape of her own power.

Remembering the mare’s warning about the time limit imposed upon her, Trixie immediately turned her attention to the Dragon’s Eye potion on the desk. She almost stopped, realizing that she didn’t know how to breathe fire but was amazed when she suddenly did know how. It was like the knowledge and experience of the eldest dragons had been passed on to her through their blood.

Taking in a deep breath, she aimed at the bowl. Then she breathed outwards, but not from her lungs. From her gut, flames poured out of her mouth, flames as green as the emerald used in their creation.

The fire washed over the potion like an emerald wave, and lit the room in a ghostly green glow. For a few seconds, the mare’s face was visible. The beginnings of a smile tugged at her lips, but there was a hint of sadness in her eyes as she looked down at her mechanical leg.

After a few seconds of sustained fire-breathing, the potion was completely gone and Trixie could feel the effects of the dragon’s blood ebbing away. As she the fires in her body died, so did the strength in her heart. She felt all the power of the dragons escaping, leaving her the very same mare she was before.

Even as she lost her briefly attained power, however, she felt a new sensation take hold of her mind. Her head swam and she felt dizzy. She stumbled backwards, losing her balance. With a loud thud, she fell over a pile of logs and crashed to the ground. As she lay there amongst the wood, and the dirt, her vision darkened. She felt weak, unable to move as the darkness overtook her.

As her eyes fell shut, the inky blackness was instantly replaced with bright, blinding white light. She would’ve tried to shield her eyes if they weren’t already shut. Into this white void an astral shape appeared. It was nothing at first, an amorphous pile of white lights encased in a glow as deep green as the fire she had spewed. As time passed, it began to take a more defined shape. It flattened into an oval, and its ends became more pronounced. The lights gathered in a circle near the center of the oval, which was becoming flatter every second, around a black spot.

A few seconds later and Trixie recognized the shape. “The Eye,” she whispered under her breath. The Eye hung there in the void, silently. Its pitch black pupil stared at Trixie, unflinching. A loud, deep voice boomed out, breaking the silence.

“Gaze into the Eye, Beholder, and bear witness to your destiny...”

Trixie watched as the Eye drew closer and closer, consuming her vision. Eventually, its massive pupil was the only thing she could see. Blackness surrounded her once again.

Suddenly, she found herself in the middle a snowstorm. Wind rushed past her, blowing snow in her face and obscuring her vision. She instinctively began shivering, then realized that she wasn’t actually cold, and she couldn’t feel the snow on her face. She didn’t even feel the snow beneath her hooves, or hear the wind in her ears.

Vast, empty whiteness stretched out endlessly before her.

Where am I?

“The End,” the voice answered. “The End of the World.”

13 — Revelations

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Chapter 13:

Trixie stood, cape flapping in the ethereal wind, and phantom snow blowing about her face, looking out over the endless whitewashed landscape before her. The sky was shrouded by gray clouds, the sun’s rays fighting to be seen. In front of her she saw nothing but endless flatlands blanketed in snow, but behind her was a vast mountain range. Black rock jutted from the snow-covered land like evil spikes. Capped white, and impossibly sheer, they formed an obsidian wall that left her with only one way to go. She turned back to face the abyssal white void.

“The End of the World?” she said, confused. “I don’t understand. What do you mean, the End? What’s going on?”

“This,” the deep, rumbling voice answered, “is the End. It is the end, and the beginning, of all things simultaneously. It is where your world meets the next, Beholder, where birth and death are one in the same, where time and space cease to matter. This place acts as the bridge between the real and the ethereal. It is Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.”

“Am I dreaming? Is any of this real?” Trixie called out into the sky.

“What you see before you is only an illusion, Beholder. This is the power of the Dragon’s Eye,” the voice rumbled in answer. “You have been given a great gift. The Eye does not deign to grant all who gaze into it the same liberty. Your hopes, your dreams, your future, your destiny, all has been laid out before you, Beholder. You exist in a world where fate controls your every action; you are bound to it from the time you are born to the moment of your passing. Your fate will dictate everything you do, and everything that will ever happen to you, Beholder. It is an immutable truth of the world you inhabit; your life, your choices, your actions and inactions, your every thought and idea, are a product of your fate, your destiny.”

Trixie gazed up at the sky, staring into the cloudy abyss. “I am no one’s slave!” she yelled. “My actions and my life are my own.”

“We are all slaves to fate, Beholder. Its will makes playthings of us all.”

Trixie’s hoof moved unconsciously to the brooch fastened to her cloak. She looked down at it. “I don’t believe that. I won’t believe that.”

“What you believe is irrelevant, Beholder. What is true and what is not is not simply changed by what you believe. Your destiny has been a part of this world since before you were. All are subject to fate, and all must obey its will. Even the Princesses of the Sun and Moon call fate master. Even the spirit of disharmony, Discord, is ruled by his destiny. None can escape its infinite grasp.”

Her lips pursed and her eyes narrowed. “Was it fate that brought me here, then? Was it my destiny to meet that mare and drink that potion? Was it my fate to be humiliated by that insufferable unicorn? Was it my destiny to be ostracized and laughed at? Everything I’ve ever done, all of this,” she held her hooves out, shaking them, “was supposed to happen?”

“Yes,” the voice said simply. “You have been brought here because of your actions which are a product of your fate. Ergo, your fate is the reason you are here now.”

“But why?” she asked, looking up into the clouds. “Why has fate brought me here only to tell me that nothing I do matters because it was already decided for me, then? What purpose does that serve? If my fate has already been decided, then why go to the trouble of showing my me fate?” She stomped her hoof on the ground angrily. “It was my choices that brought me here! If I had chosen differently, then I wouldn’t be here now. How can you say that what I choose doesn’t matter because it is all part of my destiny?” Her face hardened. “I am my own master.”

“It is true that your choices were predetermined, as is your fate, but they are far from inconsequential. Your actions and your decisions, as a product of your preordained fate, are necessary for the completion of your destiny. As such, you have unknowingly been following a path that was already laid out before you were ever born. A path, Beholder, that you have walked your entire life, and has led you, inexorably, here.”

Trixie gazed out over the frozen wasteland, watching as snow swirled about furiously. She was silent for a few minutes, thinking to herself. “You said that the Eye would show me my destiny. Is this my destiny?” She gazed upwards. “Is it my destiny to come to the End of the World?”

“All come to the End before their time is done. It is the End. The End that everything must face at some point.”

“Then my destiny is the same as everyone elses? I know that everyone dies at some point. Why show me this? Why tell me something I already know?”

“For most, only their spirit reaches the End. For all life must come to an end, even the ones you call immortal, are bound to this same fate. Though, their time will come when the world’s time has come. But you are different from most, Beholder. You have been given an extraordinary opportunity.”

Trixie’s ears perked up. “What do you mean?”

“Fate rules all, and it dictates the actions of every being. Everything is predetermined and every outcome of every event of every second was destined to happen. Amongst the multitude of possibilities for every action, one has already been decided upon by fate, and there is no power that can change that. But you, Beholder, are being given a chance to choose your destiny. Most only see the End at their end, but you will see it long before your time is done.”

“Wait, I don’t understand. What does this all mean?”

“You asked if it was your destiny to face the End. It is, but not in the same way that most face it. You will journey here while you are still flesh and blood and you will face the End, and its guardian. That much has already been decided. What hasn’t been decided, is what happens once have faced the End. That has been left for you to choose.”

Trixie rubbed her temple. “But what was all that about fate and destiny? You went on and on about how everything is already decided, which I still don’t believe, but now you’re saying that I get to choose? Why?”

“Because that is your destiny.”

“It’s my destiny... to choose my own destiny?”

“It is a rare opportunity, Beholder, one granted to a very small number of individuals. You are being shown the pathway of your destiny, so that you may choose where it leads you. You may become the most powerful unicorn of your age, or you may die alone, frozen in the snow, but whatever happens will be entirely based upon your choices, choices that may shape the fate of many others as well.”

At the words ‘most powerful’, Trixie’s eyes widened and her mind began to race. So lost in her own thoughts she was, that she didn’t hear the rest of his speech. Most powerful unicorn, hmm? Yes, this is perfect. That impudent foal Twilight won’t be able to match me once I’ve become the most powerful unicorn of all time.

“Power alone does not make one better than another. In its basest form, power is simply the ability to act when necessary. Being more skilled in the magical arts, or being physically stronger than another is meaningless. Power for the sake of power is the same as weakness.”

Trixie ignored the voice, still wrapped up in her own thoughts. After a time, she was able to collect herself and ask plainly, “So what do I need to do?”

“The End lies at the edge of the world, forming a path that bridges your world and the next. It exists in the farthest plane of existence, and it is beyond the mountains you see behind you.”

Trixie looked over her shoulder at the black mountains poking out of the ground. She eyed them warily. “I need to cross those?”

“The Onyx Mountains form a barrier around the End, protecting it from unnecessary interference. They are among the tallest and the steepest mountains in your world, and they have claimed many lives, but you will cross them, that much has been decided, and you will not be the first to do so. You will meet another on your journey that will help you pass the impassable, and with their help you will reach the End. But from then on, what happens is up to you. You will become the master of your destiny, Beholder.”

Trixie looked back to the sky. “You said something about a ‘guardian’ before. What did you mean?”

“In addition to the Onyx Mountains, the End is protected by the Shepherd. He is the custodian of the gateway that leads into the next world, and it is he that you must face once you have reached the End.”

“Are you saying that I have to fight him?” asked Trixie, eyebrow raised.

“What happens when you meet him remains to be seen, Beholder. What you choose to do will decide your future, and shape your destiny, and you must be the one to walk that path for yourself.”

Trixie lowered her head, thinking. “How will I know when I’ve reached the End?” she asked. “And for that matter, how do I get there in the first place? It must be to the north if all this snow is here, but I don’t know where exactly.”

“That is for you to discover by yourself. You were only brought here to be shown the end of your path, not the full length. You will know the End when you reach it, though. Once you have passed the mountains, you will find it, and the Shepherd, waiting for you.”

“You said that this was the End of the World when I first saw the snow and mountains, but I don’t see anything that looks like a gateway, or any kind of guardian.” She held out her hooves. “Where are they?”

“The Gate and the Shepherd will be revealed to you once you have passed the mountains; until then, they will remain unseen. Few have ever ventured beyond the Onyx, and fewer still have ever seen the Gate. The sanctity of the End demands that only a small number of individuals be allowed to see it. There was a time when it was less guarded, and all creatures, from the oldest dragon to the smallest foal, knew of its existence, but much has happened since then. Now few know of the Gate’s existence, and an even smaller number of those know how to reach it, but you will reach it, Beholder. It is your destiny.”

Trixie’s eyes hardened into thin slits. She looked up through the swirling snow. “You keep saying that it’s my destiny to do this, and I’m fated to do that. What if I choose to do nothing? I know what I’m supposed to do now, so what if I do something different?” Her hoof moved unconsciously to her brooch, stroking it. “What if I choose not to do what I’m supposed to do?”

The clouds rumbled and she heard the voice’s low rumble echo through her mind. “You will reach the End, Beholder; it is inevitable. You may think you are defying your fate, for a time, but until your destiny is fulfilled, you will always walk the path that has been laid for you. Most walk that path their entire lives, Beholder. You are in the company of the few who have been given a choice, and it is good company.”

Her brow furrowed. “Who else was given a choice? Did they all see the same thing as me?” She gazed skyward. “Was it you who told them about all of this? About their fate and their destiny? About their choice?”

“In time, you may come to find the answers to those questions, Beholder, but this is not that time. As it is, your time here is drawing to a close. Soon, you will reawaken and then your true journey will begin.”

Now that the voice mentioned it, Trixie had begun to notice that the white landscape was growing even whiter. The snow blurred imperceptibly with the clouds and the mountains faded out of view.

She looked up one last time, shouting into the sky. “Wait! But I still have more questions!”

“None that need answering right now,” was the simple answer she received in return.

The voice was becoming muffled as Trixie’s vision blanked. She saw nothing besides white nothingness, but she could still barely hear the rumbling voice. “Who are you?” she called out, her mind going blank.

“Names are meaningless, and forgettable, Beholder. I have been called many over the years, but none of them any more significant than the last. I simply am.”

“But what do I call you?” she shouted through the emptiness.

“You don’t.”

Whiteness surrounded her, then faded into black as she slowly woke. She could feel cold wood against her back, and smell sulphur. She was vaguely aware of something looming over her. One eye cracked open, revealing a dimly lit room and a mare with a knotted gray mane and one cruel mechanical leg leaning over her, the metal hoof extended in offering. The mare wore a sly grin, and a knowing look in her eyes that suited her quite well. The hood of her tattered cloak was pulled back, allowing Trixie to see her strangely beautiful face fully.

Trixie reached up, grasping the metal claw. She felt the metallic coldness against her skin, and it made her shiver inwardly, but she took care not to show any outward signs of discomfort. As she pulled herself up, the mare gave Trixie a shrewd smile, saying: “Welcome back to the real world, Trixie Lulamoon.”

14 — Old Friends and New

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Chapter 14:
Old Friends and New

Chill wind blew in her face as Twilight stepped outside. She glanced over her shoulder and saw a sleepy-eyed Spike covering his yawning mouth with one claw. He noticed Twilight looking at him and said, “Did we really have to leave so early? It’s not even light outside yet.” He leaned forward and lay his head against Twilight’s neck. “Let’s just go back to sleep for a few more hours.”

“Aww, is poor wittle Spike still sweepy?” said Rainbow Dash in a mock-baby voice. She was standing next to Twilight with a silly grin spread across her face. She nudged Spike’s side with her foreleg. “Ya can’t sleep all day, Spikey-boy.” She unfurled her wings in one fluid motion, spreading them out like an umbrella. With a few powerful strokes she lifted herself several feet into the air and gazed skyward. Looking back down at Spike, she said, “We’ve got a mysterious mare to find.” Without so much as another word, she beat her wings and shot upwards, leaving Spike no chance for a rebuttal.

Twilight watched with detached interest as Rainbow Dash soared into the still-dark sky, briefly silhouetted as she passed in front of the dawning sun that was rising just past the mountains. “Lager said that the pony we’re looking for lives past the west edge of the town, about a three hour walk from here. He said that she’s gone frequently, so leaving earlier was the best chance of catching her.”

“Yeah, yeah, I know,” Spike grumbled. “But couldn’t you just have teleported us there? We could’ve slept in a little longer that way.” He sighed wistfully. “I could still be all warm and cozy right now.”

Twilight watched as Rainbow Dash did loops in the sky, leaving a rainbow trail of light behind her. She flew through a couple of smaller clouds, bursting them apart in a silent explosion. Taking her eyes off Rainbow, she trotted westwards up the street. “Teleportation doesn’t work that way, Spike. You should know that. Didn’t you read that book I gave you for your birthday last year, Teleportation, Psychokinesis, and Other Unicorn Magic?”

Spike yawned again. “Must’ve missed that one,” he said, nuzzling his head against Twilight’s. “I get so many great books from you, sometimes I just can’t find the time to read them all.” Twilight thought she could detect a hint of sarcasm in his voice, but she ignored it, writing it off as a figment of her imagination.

“Well,” she said matter-of-factly, “if you had read it, you would know that blind teleportation is extremely dangerous, and could lead to fatal splicing if performed imprecisely.” She glanced up to make sure that Rainbow was still overhead and saw that she had already managed to pick a fight with someone. She had her forehooves splayed out, and her wings were flapping angrily. It looked like the pegasus she was arguing with, a rather small stallion with overly large yellowish wings, was probably part of the weather crew given that he was pointing fiercely at the clouds Rainbow had just destroyed.

Twilight shook her head inwardly. Rainbow always seemed to cause trouble wherever she went. But, she supposed, that was an integral part of what made her the way she was, and she wouldn’t change that for anything. She just hoped that Rainbow could see that about Trixie.

Curious, and oblivious to Twilight’s skygazing, Spike asked, “What do you mean, ‘blind teleportation’? And what’s ‘splicing’?” He sat up. “That doesn’t sound like a good thing.”

Twilight chuckled, “Well, no, no it’s not really a good thing.” As she continued walking, she lifted a twig from the ground and levitated it above her head so Spike could see. “See,” she began, “when you perform a teleportation spell, you imagine the place you want to teleport to inside your head, kind of like if you were drawing a picture. You have to do this because if you don’t, then you could end up anywhere, or, even worse, nowhere.” Spike watched as the twig, surrounded by magenta light, disappeared in a flash of light and reappeared a few inches to the right.

“What do you mean, ‘nowhere’?”

“I can teleport this stick because I can picture where it’s going, but if I were to attempt to teleport it without picturing a place then it could end up anywhere, or, perhaps, simply disappear entirely.” The twig flashed white again, but this time didn’t reappear. Twilight looked over her shoulder at Spike, her face serious. “This is why teleportation magic is so rarely used, and so dangerous. Only a few unicorns can even manage it, and the only reason I know it is because I was Celestia’s student. They would never have taught us this in ordinary magic school.” She turned back to the street, now noticing that the early-morning light had begun to creep over the small town.

All the shops and homes, and market stalls were bathed in a soft dark orange light. She could hear ponies begin to stir in their homes, the occasional rattle of a door closing, or the telltale trickle of a faucet being turned on. This sleepy little town was beginning to wake, and soon would be bustling with activity.

“So,” Spike said slowly. “what happened to that twig just a second ago? Where did it go?”

“I can’t answer that, Spike.”

“What? Why not?”

“Because I don’t know where it went.” They were nearing the edge of the town now. She could see where the stone path turned into a dirt one about a quarter of a mile up the road. “As far as I know, Spike, nopony knows what happens when you do a blind teleportation. Maybe the twig just ended up in the middle of the ocean somewhere, or maybe it’s back in the forest.” She shrugged. “For all I know, it’s disappeared entirely, ceased to exist.”

Spike whistled softly. “Whoa, so, like, if you did that to somepony would it kill them?”

Twilight shook her head. “Not necessarily, it might just send them somewhere random, or maybe even to another dimension.”

“Is that possible?”

“It’s magic, Spike. Anything is possible.”

For a few more minutes they trotted along in silence, occasionally Twilight would look up and see Rainbow Dash still arguing with that poor stallion. She was sure Rainbow must’ve talked his ears off already. It was a wonder he was still able to continue arguing with her. Eventually, he shook his head and flew off, leaving a thoroughly pleased-looking Rainbow Dash behind.

With a smug look on her face, and a joyful beat of her wings, she soared down towards them. As she gently glided downwards, Spike remembered something.

“Oh yeah,” he said suddenly. “You said something about ‘splicing’ before, but you never said what it was.” He watched Rainbow descend towards them, the light of the new sun showering her in an almost regal light. “I get the feeling that it’s not something you want to happen.”

“Well we did establish that it was not a good thing,” Twilight chuckled. “Basically, it’s when—”

“Man, it feels so good to be right!” Rainbow shouted, interrupting Twilight. She was just a few dozen feet above them and falling fast. Pulling out of her dive in time to land, then skidding to halt in front of Twilight and Spike, she said, “These Emerald Falls weather pegasi think they know more about clouds than me.” She laughed derisively. Ignoring Twilight’s attempt to speak, and Spike’s raised eyebrows, she continued on. “That dude told me that I shouldn’t be doing any cloud-busting ‘cuz they were scheduled to have overcast today, but those were cumulus clouds. Rain clouds, Twilight!” She shook her head, laughing even more. “What an idiot. If I hadn’t busted those suckers up then they woulda had more than a little overcast today. That dude shoulda been thanking me. That’s free weather service right there, provided by Rainbow Dash, weathermare extraordinaire.” She puffed out her chest proudly, but only received exaggerated eyerolls in return.

“Even if you’re right, Rainbow,” said Twilight calmly, “you still shouldn’t be messing around with other towns’ weather. It’s not your place to do that.”

Rainbow Dash waved her hoof dismissively. “Pff, whatever. I did that dude’s job for him. He’s probably got, like, tons of free time now.” She curled her wings against her chest and tossed her mane out of her eyes. “They should call me the Element of Generosity,” she said jokingly.

Spike and Twilight exchanged glances, head-shakes, and more eye-rolls. “Anyway, Spike,” Twilight said. “Like I was saying, splicing is when—”

“Splicing?” Rainbow Dash asked, cocking her head to the side and interrupting Twilight yet again. “What’s that? Sounds kinda cool.”

“As I was about to explain to Spike,” Twilight said, slightly annoyed. “Splicing is anything but ‘cool’.” She spat the word ‘cool’ out like it had insulted her mother. “Teleportation can be extremely dangerous, especially if an inexperienced unicorn attempts it. Like I said before, the subject can end up anywhere, or, if focus is lost during the casting, only part of the subject will be teleported.”

Spike scratched his head. “So, wait, are you saying what I think you’re saying?”

Rainbow Dash’s eyes lit up. “Whoa! So, like, if you tried to teleport and messed up you could, like, lose a leg or something?”

“Yes, or worse,” Twilight replied dryly. “Again, this is why only a few unicorns have ever even been taught how to teleport, and even fewer use it regularly like me.” She tilted her head thoughtfully. “Come to think of it, I don’t think I know of anypony else who can teleport. I mean, I’m sure Celestia and Luna can, but I’ve never seen them do it. Huh...”

“All right, so I guess teleporting is out of the question, huh?” Spike said. “Guess we’re walking.”

“Hold the phone,” Rainbow Dash said, holding out her hoof. “You can teleport us to this mare’s house, Twi? Why don’t we just do that?”

Twilight shook her head in disbelief, and Spike just stared at Rainbow, his mouth slightly open. Sighing, Twilight said, “Come on, let’s get going. We’ve still got a decent walk ahead of us.”

Rainbow Dash watched them walk away, her head cocked sideways. “Are you saying we aren’t going to just ‘poof’ over there?”

“Come on, Rainbow,” Twilight called over her shoulder.

“Man, walking sucks...”

After a few hours of walking, and more than a little grumbling from Rainbow Dash, they had reached their destination, a dilapidated old shack that was a little off of the trail that led back towards Emerald Falls. It was nestled in a small grove, covered in vines that ran like snakes across its wooden surface, and surrounded by tall trees. They were standing in a small clearing just in front of it.

It seemed to be a sort of garden area, only the plants that grew here were unlike any that Twilight had ever seen. They were bizarre and twisted, with sharp growths poking out of some, or colorful but ominous-looking flowers protruding from others. It was the kind of garden that Twilight was sure Zecora would’ve had a field day with. It’s too bad she’s not here, lamented Twilight. I’m sure she could help us. She always seems to know what to do. She sighed softly. I wonder what she's up to right now. Probably making some new potion or something. Maybe I should go talk to her when I get back. I'd like to catch up with her; it's been so long—"

“You know,” said Dash suddenly, bringing Twilight out of her thoughts. “As much as I love standing in front of creepy houses with weird gardens, maybe we should knock and see if she’s home? I mean, don’t get me wrong, I could sit here and look at this,” she pointed at a black flower, “all day, but with Trixie being imminent danger and all, maybe it’s best if we hurry this whole operation along.”

Spike laughed. “Since when do you care so much about Trixie?”

“I don’t,” she shot back, her eyes glowing angrily. “I just want to get the heck outta here. This place is givin’ me the creeps like you wouldn’t believe.” She looked around cautiously. “Something’s seriously up with this place, like, something weird.”

Twilight smiled comfortingly. “Don’t be silly, Rainbow. I’m sure there’s nothing to be afraid of.”

“Afraid? Who said I was afraid? I’m just a little, uhh, creeped out, y’know. Anyway, where is this mare?”

Twilight peered into the window, holding one hoof over eyes to block out the light. She saw a cramped little room filled with bottles and baskets filled with Celestia-knows-what. There was a small fire burning beneath an iron cauldron in the back of the room, but it was otherwise unlit. If she strained her eyes, she could almost see something hanging down from the ceiling. It looked like a string of... bones. She backed away, removing her hoof.

“It doesn’t look like she’s in there,” she said. “Plus, I’m sure she would’ve heard us by now if she were.” She sighed, turning to face Rainbow and Spike. With a shrug of her shoulders, she said, “I guess we’ll just have to wait for her to come back.”

Rainbow shook her head vigorously, unfurling her wings and lifting into the air. “Nuh uh, there’s no way I’m staying here to wait for some creepy old witch that we aren’t even sure lives here.”

Twilight’s lips curled into a sly smile. “I thought you weren’t scared?”

“I’m not, I’m just—don’t look at me like that!”

Twilight covered her mouth to stifle her giggling. “Good thing you’re not the Element of Courage,” she joked. “Otherwise we might—”

Rainbow’s hoof moved over Twilight’s mouth, cutting her hoof. Twilight pushed it out of the way with her own hoof.

“I’m sorry, Dash. It was just a joke.”

She pressed her hoof against her lips, shushing Twilight. “Shh,” she whispered. “I think I hear somepony.”

Spike hurried over to them, whispering, “What is it? What’s going on?”

Twilight looked down at him, his eyes wide. “Rainbow said she heard somepony, but I don’t—”

Rainbow held up a hoof, silencing her. “Quiet,” she said. “Listen, you can hear two ponies not far from here.”

They stood silently, straining their ears. Twilight and Spike heard nothing, but Dash on the other hand seemed to be listening intently, as if she were eavesdropping on some far off conversation. Her head was turned so that her right ear was facing back towards the road and her eyes were narrowed in concentration.

“It sounds like they’re arguing. Something about... hold on.” She leaned a little farther forward. Suddenly, her eyes widened, and then narrowed again. She relaxed her muscles, leaned back and chuckled. “Gimme a sec,” she said. Before Twilight could ask what had happened, Rainbow was already flying back towards the road.

Twilight cocked her head to the side. “Well that was weird.”

“Yeah,” Spike agreed. “I wonder what’s up with her.”

She shrugged. “Must have something to do with what she heard, I guess.”

They waited patiently for a minute or so for Dash to return, their eyes trained on the trail leading into the clearing. Eventually, they could hear the familiar sound of hooves against dirt, and the rustling of bushes not far away. As the sounds got louder they began to hear voices with them.

“I just don’t know how in the heck we were supposed’ta find this place way out in middle of the woods. It’s not like there was sign or somethin’, sayin’ ‘Come on over, witch’s house this way!’”

“Dear, I think you may be taking this rather personally. If we had simply stopped back when I said we should, we could’ve asked for directions and then we wouldn’t be in this predicament now would we?”

“Now look here, missy. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been around a few times. I know what I’m doin’ when it comes to navigatin’ and such. It ain’t my fault that this place ain’t on the beaten path. Heck, it ain’t on any path for that matter. Still though, probably wouldn’ta found it if Rainbow hadn’t gone and found us, so I guess you could be right.”

“Heh, yeah, if it weren’t for me, you guys’d still be lost. Lucky for you, Rainbow Dash, navigational extraordinaire is here to save the day.”

Even though she couldn’t see them, Twilight knew that Applejack and Rarity were rolling their eyes right now, probably because she was doing the same. Meanwhile, she just heard a simple, “Ugh,” from Spike.

About ten seconds later, a trio of ponies came crashing through the underbrush, Rainbow leading them with her head held high like she was leading an army into battle. Applejack was right behind her. Her hat, covered in leaves, nettles, and vine, was in her hoof being cleaned with her mouth. She would delicately bite a vine and toss it aside every few steps. Behind her, Rarity somehow managed to look elegant even while tromping through the woods. Her hoofsteps were light and dainty, like she was walking through a glass house.

As they entered the clearing, Dash lifted into the air and put her hooves at her sides, sucking in her stomach. She waved a hoof behind her. “Ta da! Look who I found, Twi,” she said proudly. “Looks like we weren’t the only ones looking for this creepy place.”

Noticing the house for the first time, Rarity was taken aback. “My, my, my, it does have a certain air about it, does it not?”

Dash nodded. “Yeah, like a creepy air or something. Like I told Twi, this place gives me the heebie-jeebies something fierce.”

Applejack, after spitting out the last leaf, placed her hat back on her head and said, “This place don’t look so bad to me. Might need a little TLC—”

“And a flamethrower.”

“—but it looks downright cozy if you ask me.”

Twilight laughed. “I don’t know if I’d go that far, but it has a certain charm to it, I must say.” She glanced over her shoulder at the still-empty house. Looking back at AJ and Rarity, she said, “Anyway, what are you girls doing way out here? Shouldn’t you be back in Ponyville?”

Applejack opened her mouth, about to respond, but Rarity quickly cut her off. “Yes, well, dear, I was looking for some emeralds for my new design, and I thought, what better place to find emeralds than Emerald Falls, no?”

“And she conned me into goin’ with her,” Applejack said bitterly. “Shoulda known there weren’t no apple convention that I ain’t heard of.”

Rarity glanced around shiftily, playing with her mane. “Regardless of how I, er, convinced dear Applejack to join me, we eventually found ourselves scouring the town in search of emeralds. To my great dismay, not a single shop sold the ones I was looking for. Can you believe it?”

“Breaks my heart thinkin’ about it,” said Applejack, shaking her head slightly. “A real cryin’ shame.”

Ignoring her, Rarity continued, “In any case, it appears that soulstone emeralds are exceedingly rare, even in these parts. But, with a little sweet talk, and no small amount of perseverance, I was able to ascertain where I could find soulstone emeralds.”

“Basically, some stallion we met at a pub, Lager I think his name was, told us that this here ‘witch’, or whatever, might have some she’d be willin’ to part with. Course, then we had to find the darn place, which obviously took a little longer than we had anticipated.” She glared at Rarity. “And that is the long and short of it, Twi.”

Twilight let out a quiet sigh. “Well, I guess that explains that.”

“Indeed,” said Rarity, “but it doesn’t explain why you girls are out here.”

Spike, and Rainbow Dash let out a collective groan. “Trust me, Rarity,” said Spike. “You don’t wanna know; it’s a long story.”

“Yeah,” added Dash, “and one that involves Trixie, too.” She lowered herself to the ground and placed a hoof around Rarity’s shoulders. “Like Spike said, it’s a long story. You don’t wanna hear it.”

As soon as Dash had said, “Trixie”, Applejack’s curiosity had been more than whetted. She held up a hoof, pushing Rainbow away. “Now hang on a minute, Dash. Rarity here might not wanna hear this, but I do. What’s all this about Trixie now? What’s she got to do with you bein’ way out here.”

Rarity’s eyes lit up. “Yes, yes, I’m quite interested as well. I can’t for the life of me figure out what reason you could possibly have to be out here that would have to do with that... that beast who destroyed my beautiful mane.” She pulled her mane down in front of her eyes. “It took me nearly three days to get it back to this color,” she complained. “What could this have to do with that ruffian?”

“Well...” Twilight said slowly, trailing off.

Before she could continue her thought, a loud, ear-splitting roar rocked the woods, shaking the trees and raining leaves down on them.

“Uhh,” said Spike, “what was that?”

“Probably not good,” Twilight replied.

They waited for a moment, then heard another roar, loud as the first, echo through the forest, followed by a much quieter, though still loud, scream. All five of them turned to face the sound, their eyes widening.

“Do you girls think we could finish this discussion another time?”

They all nodded in unison.

Without another word, Twilight grabbed Spike with her magic and tossed him on her back. They tore off into the woods, following behind Applejack and Rarity who were leading the way with Rainbow Dash overhead.

As they went deeper and deeper into the trees, the sound grew louder and louder. They followed the screams as best they could, adjusting their path on the fly. They leapt over bushes and ducked under branches, nearing ever closer to the source of the roars. Once, Applejack nearly tripped over a rock, but Twilight and Rarity were able to catch her without stopping, and soon they were back on their way.

Twilight looked up and saw Rainbow dive downwards, she knew that they must be close.

A few seconds later, they reached a clearing in the woods. They didn’t know how deep in they had come, but they had run for at least a minute. Laying on her back, and with a massive chimera looming over her, a mare was holding up all four hooves. One of them, Twilight thought, looked peculiar, almost like it was made of metal. She was pushing against the beast, but was unable to keep it from pressing down even harder.

From somewhere above the trees, Rainbow Dash crashed through the branches and flew straight at the chimera’s side. With one leg extended outwards, she rocketed towards it in some kind of ‘flying-kick’ attack. She crashed into it with all the force of a hurricane and caused it to tumble backwards.

The mare quickly picked herself up and shot a glance back at them, then up to Rainbow. “Thank you for the help." As she turned back to the chimera, she said, “Perhaps you’d be willing to offer a little more.”

15 — Crossing the Chasm

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Chapter 15:
Crossing the Chasm

Trixie’s hooves were perched precariously on the edge of the chasm as she craned her neck out as far as she could. At the edge of her vision, still somewhat obscured by the snowfall, she could make out the far side of the rift. It seemed impossibly far away, but still paled in comparison to how far down the chasm stretched.

The rocky face of the cliff walls were jagged and sharp and covered in icy snow. They seemed to disappear in the blackness as they went down, creating an abyssal look that made the fissure feel endless. She kicked a loose piece of rock off the wall and watched as it tumbled through the air and into the void. She lay down on the ground, with her head sticking out into the chasm, and listened intently, straining her ears to hear a sound that never came.

As she carefully stood up, Trixie brushed the snow from her coat and said, “How far down does it go?”

Polaris and Astrid stood next to her, both peering over the edge as well. Polaris was about to answer, but Corona, who was standing behind her, beat him to it. “Don’t know, no one does.” He paused as he walked up on Trixie’s right side. He glanced sidelong at her then across the chasm. “I’ve heard that it goes all the way to Tartarus itself.” He laughed. “Of course, that’s probably just an old pony’s tale.”

He took a few steps back from the edge and looked at Trixie while scratching his chin. “No, if I had to guess I would say it’s at least a few miles deep, maybe more. Some of the ponies around here just call it 'the black'.” Leaning over the edge, he chuckled lightly under his breath as he gazed downwards. Shooting a quick glance at Trixie, he said, “I guess you can see why.”

She didn’t answer. Frowning slightly, he kicked at the snow, sending thousands of snowflakes over the edge. He watched as they drifted down and were consumed by 'the black'.

Astrid let out a soft sigh, laying her head against Polaris’. Her ears felt cold against the snow in his mane, but it didn’t bother her. She nuzzled him, saying, “I’m glad we all made it safely here at the very least. With everything that’s happened, it’s a bit of miracle we’re all here in one piece, and,” she said, looking over to Corona, “we have you to thank for at least part of it.” She smiled warmly at him. He returned the smile, noting that Trixie was still staring out into the abyss silently. Then, crinkling her nose and turning to the cliff edge, she said, “But I’m curious, how do we actually get across? There doesn’t seem to be any way to cross.”

Polaris chuckled quietly. “Heh, I forgot this your first time crossing the Frozen Chasm.” He cleared his throat. “Well, let’s see.” He tapped his chin thoughtfully. “If I remember right, and maybe our friend Corona here can confirm, there was a special enchantment put on this hole, cast by Celestia herself back in the old days, that lets travelers like ourselves pass. Course, what I don’t remember is how to activate it.” Astrid’s eyebrows rose as she stared at him. “Now, now, calm down, Astrid. Just because I don’t remember it right now doesn’t mean I won’t eventually.”

She closed her eyes and shook her head. “Dear, what do you mean you don’t remember?”

He shrugged. “It’s been quite a few years since I’ve been this way. Can’t expect me to remember every detail. Plus,” he nodded in Corona’s direction, “I’m sure the kid knows how.”

“What if he weren’t here? What if—”

“It’s fine, Mrs. Astrid,” Corona said quickly. “Let’s not get hung up on what could have happened, and let’s focus on what’s going to happen.” He shuffled his feet nervously. “Look, we don’t have a lot of time to sit around and pass out criticisms.” He glanced up at the sky, gauging the sun’s position. His brow furrowed in concentration. “Hmm, I’d say we have a few more hours of sunlight left, and it takes at least an hour to cross. Once we’ve reached the other side it’ll be a short hike to Frostvale.” He smiled at Trixie, who was now listening intently, her eyes fixed on him. “If all goes well, we should be in the city well before nightfall. You can’t see it from here, but on the other side of this gorge there’s a small hill, and on the other side of that is Frostvale.” He pointed his hoof out towards the far side of the chasm. Trixie followed his hoof to a seemingly innocuous location that she assumed must be where the hill was located. A combination of snow and wind made it difficult to see anything past the far cliff face.

She glanced over at Polaris and Astrid who were still staring across the chasm, then back to Corona. “So we’ll be there tonight, right?” He nodded. “Good.” She allowed herself a small smile. He found himself noticing just how pretty her smile was, and was about to say something, but thought better of it and bit his tongue. Trixie eyed him suspiciously. After a moment, she relaxed her gaze and said, “Anyway, you still haven’t told us what exactly this enchantment does that allows us to cross.”

“Yes,” added Astrid, “what does it do?”

“Hehehe,” Polaris chuckled dryly. “That’s the fun part,” he said. “Wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise for the ponies that ain’t seen it yet.” His face seemed to light up as a boyish grin lifted his cheeks. He shot Corona a knowing glance. “Let’s just let the kid do his business and you’ll see soon enough.” He looked sidelong at Trixie, gave her a smile. “It’s not a sight you’ll want to miss, miss.”

Despite herself, Trixie giggled softly. “Then by all means, Corona, carry on.”

Corona nodded happily, beaming, “All right, let’s get started. It’s pretty simple really,” he said. “You just stand on either side of the chasm, recite a few words, and you’re good to go.”

“So,” Trixie said slowly, “it’s the words themselves that activate the spell?”

Corona rubbed his muzzle with his hoof for a moment, then shrugged. “You know, I’m not entirely sure what makes the spell work, but this was how I was taught to do it, so this how I do it. Could be you don’t even need to speak the words at all, but I’m not about to test that theory now.” He grinned childishly. “Besides, it’s a lovely poem.”

Trixie was about to ask him exactly what he meant by that when he began to speak, slowly and steadily, but with a sort of rhythmic bounce to his voice. He spoke loudly, but his voice seemed quiet to her, little more than whisper. Certainly he must have been doing something magically to his voice, but she didn’t stop him to ask. She, Astrid, and Polaris listened with rapt attention as he recited the poem.

Awake, awake, you sleeping stones,
Arise up whence you lie.
Your time has come; your ancient thrones
Of slumber now deny.

The holy magic of the sun
That in you now does rise:
Obey its call, and do not shun;
Obey, and pave the skies!

Our humble plea do not disdain,
These mountains you divide
Must meet once more: unite the twain.
We fear not what they hide.

For well we know their hidden pow'r,
But we must make a start;
So help us cross now at this hour.
In danger there is art

As he spoke, his voice echoing like a quiet thunder through the chasm, the jagged cliff face began to crack and split. Huge chunks of gray rock, twenty feet across, peeled themselves from the wall, floating into an ever-growing line that now stretched several hundred feet out into the abyss. And as Corona continued, the splitting and the cracking grew more frequent until it seemed as if the entire wall was going to rip itself out and lie flat for them. Seconds crept by, and more and more chunks of smoky, gray rock were feeding into the near-complete ‘bridge’.

The others, transfixed by Corona’s dulcet tones, hadn’t noticed the rocks at first, but each came to realize what was happening shortly after it started. Trixie was the first, she broke her gaze on Corona and turned instead to the bridge being formed. She watched as thousands upon thousands of icy rocks coalesced into a narrow bridge, no more than five or six feet wide, that stretched across the gorge. Despite everything that was happening, the rocks were deathly silent, and the only thing that could be heard was Corona’s voice as he neared the end of the poem.

As he came to the last word, the final rock, lifted by some unknown force, placed itself right in front of them—a stepping stone to the bridge. Astrid’s eyes were wide and her mouth slightly agape, but she said nothing. Polaris wore mirthful smile, and seemed to be holding back a chuckle. Corona merely grinned. But the grin quickly turned to a smirk as he saw Trixie’s face, jaw dangling and eyes the size of apples. He snickered under his breath. Placing a hoof on her shoulder he leaned in and whispered in her ear.

“Not quite what you were expecting, huh?”

“Well not exactly, no.”

Polaris paused for a moment to think, causing Astrid to bump into his flank and make him falter warily on the narrow bridge. He tensed up, spreading his legs to balance himself. The rocks were slick with ice and rubble, making it easy to slip on the uneven pathway. More than once already, someone had managed to slip and fall, nearly casting themselves to their deaths in the endless abyss. Trixie and Corona spun around quickly to make sure Polaris hadn’t fallen, and breathed a sigh of relief when they saw he was still there. Astrid offered a sheepish apology and Polaris kindly told her there was no need, and then they were on the move again.

They had crossed nearly a third of the bridge by now and were nearing the halfway point. After Corona had finished his poem, and the bridge was complete, they had taken their first tentative steps on to it. Corona, having the most experience, went first and showed them that it was safe, relatively speaking. After a some convincing, and more than a little bribery, they were all on their way across the bridge.

It was very narrow, and they were forced into a single-file line as they crossed. The path was wildly uneven too, raising nearly half a jagged foot in the air at some points, and disappearing completely at others. There were cracks, and holes between were the rocks ‘connected’ and some of them were bigger than others. Most they were able to safely step over, but at least once they had to leap across a slightly larger gap. So far though, they hadn’t come across any splits that they couldn’t traverse. However, the worst part of it was the way the rocks seemed to be moving constantly, never straying too far, but never staying still either. They seemed to rumble noiselessly, making it feel like the entire bridge was shaking all the time.

But despite all the dangers, it had been an uneventful journey so far, save the occasional slip. Corona headed up the line, with Trixie right behind him, and used his fire magic to heat the stones as they approached them, melting the ice and then drying them out to make them less slick. It was taking a toll on him physically and magically, but he never complained and just kept pressing on. According to him, they were getting close to the halfway point, which meant that they were maybe half an hour away from the other side, but now surrounded by an endless black void that left them feeling very exposed.

“Anyway, like I was saying, miss,” continued Polaris as the group pressed on. “Drakes are similar to dragons, but not the same. They’re kinda like... well... hmm, what do you think, dear?” He glanced over his shoulder to Astrid whose eyes were fixated on her hooves. She seemed not to hear him. “Dear?” he said, a little louder.

“Hmm?” Her head shot up. Her normally white face somehow looked even whiter; her eyes were darkened, and her lips were pale.

“I was asking about drakes, Astrid,” Polaris said, cocking his head to the side. “I’m trying to figure how to describe ‘em to miss Trixie here. I s’pose they’re kinda like—”

“Snakes,” she said quickly, returning her gaze to her hooves.

Polaris clicked his tongue. “That’s it!” he said excitedly. “They’re a bit like snakes, miss. Long, thin, squirmy little creatures with them forked tongues and beady little eyes. Only, they ain’t quite so little. Most of ‘em are at least twenty or thirty feet long I’d say. Though, I’ve heard they can grow even larger than that.” He paused for a moment. “I once heard about this sand drake that lived way out in the middle of the desert wastes, holed up in some cave no doubt. Apparently, the son of a gun was a full hundred and fifty feet long. Killed damn near everypony that got near it, or so I heard.”

“They can get that big?” asked Trixie worriedly.

“Well, not usually, not far as I can tell,” Polaris responded casually. He kicked a stray rock over the edge of the bridge and watched it fall silently. “Nah, seems most of ‘em are about, like I said, twenty or thirty feet.”

“Why was that one so big then?” she asked.

“Beats me, miss. I only heard talk of it from passing Saddle Arabia traders back when I was in some of the southern towns. They didn’t say much other than it was bigger than any they’d ever seen. Used to make this whistling sound all the time, said it was the call the drakes made when they were hunting.” He sucked in his breath and pursed his lips, and blew out. A sharp whistle, high and shrill, echoed through the empty gorge, bouncing off the walls and disappearing into the emptiness.

Astrid placed a hoof on his withers. He looked over his shoulder at her. Her face was fraught with worry, and her eyes were darting back and forth. She didn’t say anything, but Polaris just smiled and said, “Sorry, dear. I didn’t mean to scare ya.”

After he whistled, Trixie thought she heard a distant rumbling, but dismissed it as a trick of the wind. She watched as Corona’s tail bounced up and down, waving side to side as he walked. Struck with a sudden thought, she asked, “So, have you ever seen any ice drakes, Corona?” He looked back at her quizzically. She pressed him further, “You spend a lot of time outside the city, right?” He nodded. “Well, have you ever seen any ice drakes when you were out hunting for floeberries? Or while passing between towns? Or maybe just when you were out in the woods sometime?"

He hesitated, then said, “Well, yes, I have seen one or two, but usually they were very far off and I’ve never been attacked by one before. I hear they mostly live in caves and caverns. Apparently they like the darkness, ‘least that’s what I always heard.” He turned his attention back to melting ice and said, “Anyway, I’m sure we’ll be safe as long as we avoid any dark places.”

“You mean like the one we’re crossing right now?” Trixie said playfully.

He laughed nervously, “Yeah, heh, like the one we’re crossing now...”

For a few more minutes they traveled in silence. Corona’s horn alight with fiery magic, burned a path across the stones, and providing a dim ambient light. Trixie followed close behind, enjoying the warmth that being close to Corona provided. His horn gave off a dull red glow, and radiant heat that must have felt like a burning coal on the top of his head, but he didn’t seem to mind. Polaris walked a few feet behind Trixie, a boisterous smile played across his face, despite the wind and the snow. Every dozen steps or so, he would glance over his shoulder at Astrid and give her a warm smile. She was looking even more pale, and her steps were becoming shaky as they got even further. Eventually he called for them to stop and he put his hoof under her chin, lifting her eyes to his.

“We’re halfway there, dear,” he said as reassuringly as he could. He nuzzled her, saying, “Don’t worry, we’ll be fine.

She smiled weakly. “I know, it’s just this cold is really starting to get to me.” She coughed, covering her mouth. “And the heights aren’t helping either.” Her eyes wandered to the edge of the bridge, then squeezed shut. “I’ll be fine though,” she said. “Let’s just keep going.”

Corona and Trixie looked on, trying to find something they could do. Careful to avoid the edges, Trixie approached Astrid. “Maybe you should walk behind Corona,” she said. “He’s clearing a path for us and the magic feels warm when you’re next to him.” Wrapping her hoof around Astrid’s, Trixie pulled her forward. “Here,” she said, placing her behind Corona, “he’ll keep you warm.”

Corona smiled at her, nodding his head. “Yep, I’ll do my best to warm you up, Mrs. Astrid.”

Her quivering lips curled into a tiny smile, and she said, “Thank you, dear.”

Now with Corona still leading, and Astrid following behind, they continued on. Polaris, bringing up the rear, whispered to Trixie, “That was mighty kind of you, miss. I’m sure the missus appreciates it.”

Trixie shook her head, “No, it’s nothing. You and Astrid have been more kind to me than I deserve. This was the least I could do to repay some small portion of the debt I owe you.”

Polaris looked affronted. “Miss,” he said sternly, “you don’t owe us a thing. You were a poor, lost soul and we helped you, but we didn’t do it because we expected anything. That’s just what decent ponies do: they help each other.” His features softened. “Don’t think for a second that you owe us any kind of debt, miss.”

Trixie struggled to find words to respond, eventually settling on, “Thank you. I don’t know what I would’ve done without you two.”

He chuckled. “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch, miss. Last I checked we still ain’t crossed this bridge yet.” He sighed, letting out a slow whistle. “Well, we’re getting close leastways.”

Trixie thought she heard the same distant rumbling again, but ignored it. “Hopefully we won’t run into any more trouble between now and when we get to Frostvale,” she said. She looked ahead to the other side of the chasm and caught a glimpse of a couple of rocks tumbling into the abyss, presumably having broken off from the wall. “Huh,” she said, “that’s kinda weird.”

Corona stopped suddenly and turned around. “What? What did you see?”

Trixie eyed him suspiciously, then said slowly, “Nothing. It was just a few rocks, that’s all. Why? What are you worried about?”

“It’s just,” he shook his head, “nothing, never mind. Let’s just keep—Mrs. Astrid!” he cried out suddenly, reaching out to catch Astrid as she fell over. Polaris pushed Trixie aside, practically diving over her to help Corona catch Astrid. Trixie just stood, paralyzed, as the two ponies caught the third moments before she slipped off the edge. Her body was limp, and her eyes closed. Polaris was brushing her mane away from her face and hugging her head to his chest.

“Astrid—Astrid, sweetie,” he whispered. “Wake up, dear.” His eyes began to water as he held her limp form.

Corona pulled himself up and dusted himself off. Looking down at Astrid’s body, he said, “Don’t worry, she’s just passed out. She’ll be fine as long as we can get her to Frostvale quickly.” He reached down and helped Polaris stand up, pulling Astrid with him. “It’s not very far now,” he said. “She’ll be fine, trust me.” He gave Polaris a reassuring pat on the back, smiling at him.

Trixie watched helplessly as they hoisted Astrid across Polaris’ back and secured her. She was about to say something when she felt the rocks beneath them begin to shake. Pebbles bounced around on the bridge, and chunks began to break away. Ice that still covered the later portions of the bridge began to crack and split. All three conscious ponies looked around wildly as the stony bridge vibrated more and more violently.

Polaris shouted about the din that now filled the air, “What’s happening? Is the bridge falling apart?”

Trixie saw out of the corner of her eye a dozen or so shapes emerging from the abyss, and a dozen or so more from the holes in the cliffs. She couldn’t tell what they were, but whatever it was, there were a lot of them. She pointed to the nearest one, shouting, “Look!”

Corona’s eyes widened as he saw the figure approaching. He glanced behind him and saw the edge of the cliff. “We’re almost to the end,” he shouted. “We have to run!”

They needed no further motivation. Immediately, all three ponies, Astrid slung across Polaris’ back, were galloping across the bridge; black shapes approached on all sides. Trixie dared a quick look over her shoulder and saw that the bridge had completely collapsed and was now falling apart beneath her feet. She spurred herself even faster, and looked ahead. Her heart sank as she saw that the bridge had collapsed on that side too, and was now crumbling away in front of them.

Corona skidded to a stop, slipping on the ice and tumbling over the edge. Polaris tried to stop, but the extra weight sent him careening into the abyss as well, causing Trixie to shout, “No!” She managed to stop just in time for the bridge to collapse beneath her, and she felt the world drop out from under her hooves. She tumbled helplessly through the air, catching a glimpse of a long and slender, but massive, creature as it passed beneath her.

In her last moments before she was completely consumed by the darkness, she saw Polaris, Astrid held tightly in his hooves, and Corona, a little further away, get swept away by one of the lithe creatures. A moment later, she felt herself being squeezed, as if by some giant bird, then everything went black.

16 — Captured

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Chapter 16:

The sun beat down on Trixie’s back, through the light foliage, as she trotted along happily through the woods. A cheerful smile split her face, spread from ear to ear. She relished the feel of the dirt beneath her hooves, so different from the frigid ice of the frozen north. And the smell of the grass, and the leaves, those too she savored, breathing in their scent deeply. It smelled like home to her. She heard birds chirping happily in the trees, and light wind rustled the leaves ever so slightly. The flowers, the tree bark, even the halcyon blue sky, they all felt so remarkably familiar to her, and yet so inexplicably remote. But her attitude remained decidedly bright and sunny, much like the current weather, she noted.

Her ever-present violet hat and cloak were perched atop her head and wrapped about her shoulders respectively. They felt oddly heavy, but she chose not to notice and instead cast her eyes forward as she saw the tips of a few stone chimneys and thatched roofs peak over the top of the hill. Her eyes shone in the light, and her pace quickened to a light trot.

As she followed the winding path, up the hill, past the lone tree standing like a sentinel over the town, and into the town, her smile grew wider and wider. With every step, every bounced of her hooves, she drew closer to that place she called home. Trotting through the cobblestone streets that were chipped and uneven, she passed several ponies, smiling at them and giving them a spirited wave of her hoof.

“Hey there, Trixie!” a snow white pegasus called down as she pushed a cloud across the sky.

“Oh, you’re back, Trixie!” said a passing unicorn. Her cerulean mane and tail bounced joyfully as she spun around to wave at Trixie as she went by.

“Hello, Trixie!” said a pair of earth pony colts in unison as they pulled two wooden carts loaded with vegetables. Trixie gave them an especially enthusiastic wave, for she was nearing her destination and she could feel her excitement building.

Even more so than the grass and trees, the sights, sounds, and smells of the town, it was the other ponies, their welcoming smiles and warm hearted gestures, that told her she was where she belonged. Her heart soared as she came upon the massive oak tree in the center of town, its branches splayed out like the welcoming hooves of some immense wooden pony, welcoming her into its leafy embrace.

She noticed one of the windows was propped open with thick book. Its spine was creased from years of use, but it held the window wide open, the yellowed pages, worn with age, fluttered lightly in the subtle breeze. She could almost smell the decades old scent of hundreds of books wafting through the open window. Again she was reminded of how good it felt to be back. With a tiny skip, and flourish of her hooves, she removed her hat and knocked on the door in one fluid motion.

Knock, knock, knock.

She waited patiently, her heart beating out of her chest with anticipation as she rocked back and forth on her hooves. Hat and cape gone now, she didn’t need them anymore, Trixie let her lustrous mane flow down her neck like a silvery waterfall. Aglow with an inner fire, her eyes, like cut amethyst, blazed with excitement, and her smile, stretching from ear to ear, spread across her face, revealing pearly white teeth that gleamed in the mid-morning light.

There was a rustling on the other side of the door as she heard someone fiddling with the doorknob. A moment later, the door swung open, revealing a miniature dragon whose snake-like eyes stared up at her. His claw, still clutching the doorknob, slipped off and fell limply at his side.

“Trixie?” he asked, utterly confused. “What are you doing here?”

She beamed. “I’ve come back,” she said proudly. “Twilight should be expecting me.”

He scratched his head, pushing back his scaly green spines, and said, “Well, uhh, come on in then, I guess.” He stepped aside as Trixie brushed past him on her way into the foyer. She spun around, gazing at the seemingly endless array of books stacked upon innumerable shelves. Spike watched her for a brief moment, then said, “Just wait here for a sec; I’ll go get Twilight.” He padded his way across the room and up the stairs to what Trixie presumed must be Twilight’s room.

With Spike gone, she was free to scour the books. Running her hoof along the spines, she ran down one row of books with her eyes closed, stopping randomly on a thin red book with some faded letters printed on the spine. Her horn burst into life as she pulled the book from the shelf and flipped it over so she could see the cover.

Printed in dull golden letters were the words, The Understanding, and Interpreting of, D—. The title cut off at the end. Only the letter ‘D’ remained, but she seemed not to notice. Flipping the book open, she began to read from the first chapter, titled, “The Unconscious Mind”. Her eyes flitted back and forth as she read. After a few seconds, she became bored and decided to place the book back in its home and instead she pulled another book, one higher up, off the shelf.

This book, this was one she could enjoy. Daring Do and the Dragon’s Downfall floated gently down into her hooves. On the cover she saw Daring, her mane blowing in the wind, and her trademark pith helmet seated upon her head, standing at the top of a snow-capped mountain, gazing out over a vast landscape filled with even more mountains and swirling clouds. Far, far off in the distance, she could see what must have been a massive dragon silhouetted against the sun. Its wings were flared out, and the tail stretched down twenty or thirty feet she guessed. It was hard to guess how big it was just by looking at the picture, but she felt certain it was a massive beast, far larger than any dragons that she had seen at any rate.

As she went to flip the book open, she heard a familiar voice, sweet as honey, call down to her. “Did you know that that was one of the least popular Daring Do books?” Trixie whipped around, the book still held in her hooves, and saw her standing at the top of the stairs, Spike right behind her. “The author killed one of the main characters at the end of the book,” she continued as she walked down the stairs. “Not Daring, of course, but somepony else, and fans weren’t too happy about it. Apparently they thought it was ‘out of place’ in a Daring Do novel to have somepony die.” Her whole body seemed to shine and sparkle as the sunlight streaming through the window caught her just right. Trixie said nothing. “Now me, on the other hoof,” she said, pointing at herself. “I thought it was a very fitting end for that character. His story had come full-circle, and he had already lost his love, so there was nothing left for him to do. Having fulfilled his purpose, there was no reason that he should live, and he was ready to be reunited with his late companion anyway, so why not have him die in a heroic sacrifice?” She shook her head, sending waves through her silky lavender mane. “I guess other ponies just didn’t see it that way.” Sighing, she said, “But it wasn’t all bad. At least Daring still finished her quest and returned home. And her best friend lived too. I guess that’s what you’d call a ‘bittersweet’ end.” Clear, bell-like laughter burst from her like a fountain.

Trixie’s eyebrows rose, and she cocked her head to the side. Wiping away a tear as she calmed down, Twilight said, “Oh, it’s nothing. It’s just, you looked so lost, like you had no idea what I was talking about. I’m sorry, please, come into the kitchen. I’ll make us a cup of tea.” Violet magic scooped the book from Trixie’s hooves and replaced it on the bookshelf. She turned away and began walking towards door nestled under the stairs.

“Umm, wait, Twilight,” Trixie said, reaching her hoof out half-heartedly. Twilight stopped, turned back around.

“What is it?”

Trixie suddenly found herself unable to speak. Her tongue, now dry and thick, stuck in her throat. She had to force herself to say, “I was hoping we could talk. You know, about my letters.”


Trixie shuffled her hooves nervously. “Well, I mean, I said a lot of things. A lot of mean things.”

Twilight’s left eyebrow was cocked up above the right, and her eyes had taken on a piercing quality. She seemed to stare straight through Trixie, pinning her to the wall. “Do you mean these letters?” she asked as she produced a stack of envelopes of varying size and shape, all held together by a long piece of twine tied into a knot at the top. “The letters you’ve been sending me for the past year? The letters where you poured your heart and soul out to me, but only after continually insulting me?”

“Well, yes...” Trixie replied sheepishly. “I—I wanted to say that I’m sorry for the things I said.” Her face was red, and her voice seemed as if it were about to crack at any moment. She shied away from Twilight’s penetrating gaze, mumbling an unheard apology.

“So,” Twilight said, her voice dripping with malice. “Is that how you thought this was going to work? You just show up after all this time and make peace and everything would change for you?” She laughed, but not the clear laughter from before. It was more of a cackle now, harsh and cruel. “Do you think that’s how the world works? Just write a few letters, mumble a few insincere apologies and then everything would be sunshine and daisies? Ha!” Twilight’s face grew dark, and shadowed as she spit on the ground. The envelopes she held in her hooves floated between the two of them, and then burst into eerily familiar violet flames. The room darkened into an impenetrable blackness where the only thing Trixie could see was the flaming pile of letters. She sank to her knees, staring up at the blazing inferno that threatened to engulf her.

Dancing through the amethyst flames, Twilight’s head appeared. She wore a disdainful expression and her eyes were icy cold. “You’re the worst kind of pony, Trixie,” she said. “A wretched little showoff not even deserving of the tiniest amount of pity. What did you hope to accomplish coming back here, hmm? Did you think that we would become ‘friends’?”


“Shut up. You don’t deserve friends. You came into my town, and insulted my friends, and even got those two innocent colts involved.” The flames around Twilight’s head burned brighter, and Trixie could feel the heat getting closer and closer to her face.

“I didn’t mean for them to get involved,” Trixie pleaded. “I—I just wanted ponies to be impressed, and to look up to me.” She fell forward, hitting her head against the ground, and began sobbing. “I’m sorry, Twilight. I’m sorry.”

Now the flames swirled all around her, and she spun around in circles, seeing Twilight’s angry eyes staring down at her from all sides. Then, she stopped spinning and Twilight walked through the wall of fire in front of her, not even flinching as the flames licked her sides. She walked right up to Trixie and then stared down at her, unmoving. Casting her eyes away, Trixie couldn’t bring herself to look at Twilight. “Look at me,” said Twilight. Trixie didn’t move. “Look at me!” As if by some unseen force, Trixie felt her head being forced up so that she stared directly into Twilight’s eyes. Silently, she stared at Twilight, waiting for her to say something, then finally she did. “You don’t belong here, Trixie. You will never belong here.” Twilight lifted up one hoof, holding it high above Trixie’s head. “You’re worse than the lowest piece of trash in this town. Even the dirt between my hooves belongs here more than you.” And with that, Twilight brought her hoof crashing down on Trixie’s upturned face.

“Ah!” Trixie cried, as her eyes shot open. She tried to move her hooves shield herself from the blow but found them strangely immobile.

“Oi, it appears as though our little pony ‘ere’s gone and woke ‘erself up from ‘er pleasant nap,” came the gruff voice of something very close to Trixie’s face. But it was too dark for her to see anything. “‘Ang on a sec, love. Lemme get us a bit a light so’s I can see ya clear-like.” A moment later, a bright light filled her vision, and she clenched her eyes shut. A scaled claw slapped her face. “Wakey wakey, princess. Nappy time’s over.”

Trixie slowly opened her eyes and saw an upside down face looking back at her. In the orangish glow of the lantern light she could tell that it was unlike any face she’d seen before. A long snout, punctured by two slits near the tip, led up to an arrow-like head that was icy blue and at least as long as her entire body. Its eyes were golden yellow, and seemed to give off a glow of their own in the dim light. Above the eyes were thick, bony arches that were covered in scales, much like the rest of its face. On either side of its face was a row of spikes that grew smaller in a radial arc that sloped downwards. They almost looked like bizarre ears, she thought to herself. But perhaps the most threatening part was the twin horns that jutted out nearly a foot above its head. They were a yellowish-white ivory color, and they were sharp as a tack on top. It looked as if they had been filed to a point. In fact every spike on the creature’s face looked sharper than any needle she’d ever seen.

It smiled at her, revealing a row of razor-sharp teeth and forked tongue. “Wot’s the matter, eh? Never seen a drake up all close-like?” He laughed the same cackling laughter Trixie had heard Twilight use. She tried to move and felt herself get lightheaded. It was at this point that she noticed she was hanging upside down, looking through her fore-hooves. Through the haziness she felt, she noticed that her hooves felt cold and they were definitely stuck, she determined, as she tried to move them again.

“What did you do to me?” she asked, frantically. “Why can’t I move?”

He laughed again. “It wants to know what’s keepin’ it in its place, eh?” he said to no one in particular. “‘Ave a look, love.” It moved the lantern down a foot or so and illuminated Trixie’s fore-hooves. Now illuminated by the orange glow, she saw that her hooves were encased in ice, thicker than any she’d ever seen. She struggled to break free, but it was no use. She slumped back. “It’s no use strugglin’ like that, my dear. Drake ice is tougher ‘an steel, and right bit shinier too.” His gravelly laughter filled the room. “You ain’t gettin’ outta there ‘less I sees fit to release ya’s. And as it ‘appens,” he paused, “I ain’t seen fit to release ya yet! Hahaha!” Trixie closed her eyes, trying to shut out the raucous laughter.

After a moment, he seemed to calm down, and Trixie said, “What do you want with me, and why did you bring me here?” She screwed up her face in the most determined look she could muster, but that only elicited even more laughter from the drake.

“Is that the best ye can muster? That your ‘war’ face?” He practically doubled over with laughter after that, nearly dropping the lantern as he writhed around. Finally, after another bout of laughter, the drake ran one of his sharp talons across Trixie’s face. She tried her best to remain unmoved, but she couldn’t help but flinch as it passed over her mouth. “To answer your question, my dear, it ain’t me wot brought you ‘ere, and it ain’t me wot wants anything to do with ya’s.” He spun around so that his face was right-side up from Trixie’s perspective. As he did, Trixie noticed that his body was surprisingly slender. It was just like Polaris had described it. Snake-like and thin, his body was perhaps a foot or so in diameter but stretched for at least ten feet, as far as she could see. From what she could tell, he only had one set of limbs, and those were the claws that were a few feet down from its head which held the lantern aloft. He appeared to simply float in the air, unsupported by any second set of legs. “If I ‘ad my way,” he said, “I woulda killed the lot of ya soon as ya got ‘ere. But I ain’t ‘ad my way in a good long time, so’s I keep me mouth shut, and says not a word when they be bringin’ in new stock. Wouldn’t do to go upsettin’ ‘er, wouldn’t do at all, says I.”

“What did you do with my friends?” she asked. She was doing her best to keep her voice strong and confident, but she felt her strength waning away quickly. Hanging upside down was making all blood rush to her head, and she was beginning to feel somewhat sleepy.

“I ain’t done nothin’ with ‘em, love, not a thing. They’re safe as safe can be. Got ‘em all put in separate cells-like.” He indicated three different directions with his free claw and then said, “Wouldn’t be doin’ me job if I put ye in all the same room so’s ya can strategize-like and escape. I’d be downright incompetent iffin I’s let ye communicate. But worry not, my dear. Ain’t no ‘arm gonna come to ‘em ‘less she ‘erself be orderin’ it.”

“She?” asked Trixie.

“She,” he repeated, “be the Queen wot runs this gatherin’ of drakes. I’d say she be not too dissimilar from your ‘Princess Celestia’, what with ‘er royal guard and castle-like. It be ‘er that be bringin’ ya’s here, ‘least by ‘er orders, and it be ‘er wot’s keepin’ you from bein’ a meal, and keepin’ me in me job.” He twisted back around, returning to his upside-down state. “Me job which, sadly, my dear, I must be gettin’ back to. Apologies.” With that he gave an exaggerated bow and turned away, slithering snake-like out of the room.

“Wait!” Trixie called, hoping he would hear her. For a second, she thought he didn’t hear her. There was no sign of him returning, that is, until she saw the orange glow of the lantern come swimming back across the room. He held up the lantern, revealing his scaly face yet again.

“Yes, my dear, what is it?” His voice, still like crushed gravel, seemed oddly sweet.

“What’s going to happen to me, to us?” She could feel her head swimming as she did her best to stay conscious. “Are—are you going to kill us?”

He smiled, teeth shining in the lantern’s light. “As I said, love, it ain’t up to me wot ‘appens to ya’s. Think of it as game, my dear. Play your cards right, and ye may yet live to see the light of another day. Play the wrong hand, and you’ll be lucky to see this ‘ere lantern again.” He waved the lantern in her face, rattling its cage. “Anymore questions ‘fore I leave ye again?”

Trixie’s head felt full of questions but she asked the most obvious one, “Where are we right now?”

“Why, ain’t I told ya that already?”

Trixie shook her head, causing her to feel somewhat nauseous.

He grinned toothily. “This ‘ere be the jail, love. And, since I suspect ye’ll want more information ‘an that, to be a bit more broad, we are in the ‘eart of the Drake Kingdom, wot’s ruled by the Queen as I told ye before, and even broader, the Frozen Chasm as you calls it.” He spread his arms wide, saying, “Welcome ‘ome, my dear.” Crossing his arms back, he said, “All right, since I’m feelin’ extra generous today, ye can ask me one more question, love.” He held up one talon. “Just one.”

Her mind raced as she tried to think of one last question to ask. “What’s your name?”

He looked taken aback for second, then regained his composure. “Me name? And why should ye care wot me name is? I ain’t even asked yours.”

She smiled, despite the blackness pressing in the corners of her vision. “My name is Trixie,” she said. “And yours is?”

He moved closer to her, putting his face right up next to hers. “My name,” he said, “interesting last question.” He stroked her face with his free claw. “Sypher, my dear, at your service.”

“Sypher,” she repeated. He nodded. “Lovely name.”

“Well, I must be off now, love. Your friends need tending, and I need me job.” He spun around in the air and slithered away, leaving Trixie frozen in ice, alone with her thoughts.

Sypher, huh?

With the darkness now about to fully engulf her, she let herself slip into unconsciousness, hoping it wouldn’t be the last time she was alive.

17 — Secrets, Secrets, and More Secrets

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Chapter 17:
Secrets, Secrets, and More Secrets

October 1, 1000

Dear Jerkface Twilight Sparkle,

I’ve been thinking a lot about what I said to you in my last letter (which I doubt you’ve received yet), and I decided that what I said was wrong.

I don’t hate you with every fiber of my being. I hate you with every cell of every molecule of every fiber of my being. If you were to print the word ‘hate’ on every inch of every page of your thickest book, it would not equal one-one thousandth of the amount of hate I feel for you.

But that is beside the point.

I realized something more important than that. I blamed you for everything, the Ursa, my carriage, my career, my life after what happened, but I know now that that’s wrong. It’s not your fault that you defeated the Ursa Minor and upstaged me. It’s my fault for not crushing your pathetic excuse for a town when I had the chance. I had those idiots eating out of the soles of my hoof, but I threw it all away because I was too kind to simply destroy you when you refused to challenge me. It would’ve been a simple matter, too. Make no mistake though, the next time we meet I will not be so generous. You’ll wish that I had not been so good-natured the first time around.

I will defeat you. It is my destiny.

This is likely the last letter you’ll receive from me. I’m going away now, on a quest you might say, and the next time you see me I’ll be more powerful than you could ever imagine.

Until we meet again,

Trixie Lulamoon

Twilight read the letter again, scrunching her face. She sighed softly, setting the aside the letter and extinguishing the tiny spherical light source she had conjured up.

She looked a little to her right and smiled as she saw the bundle of woolen blankets heave slowly up and down. Spike may be a precocious baby dragon, but he was still a baby dragon. She reached over and placed a hoof on where she guessed his head was, petting it softly.

There suddenly was a loud snort that shattered the silence, and Twilight’s eardrums, from the other side of the cramped room. She glanced over just in time to see a sleeping Rainbow Dash roll over and exhibit a decidedly more quiet, and yet indiscernible, “Mmmhmhhhmm”. She giggled quietly.

It’s probably time for me to get some sleep too, I guess.

As Twilight was adjusting her pillow, she heard the quiet creak of the door opening and she looked up to see Lager entering the room. He didn’t notice her at first, not until Twilight said, “Lager? What are you doing up so late?”

He froze, something jingled in his free hoof, then he looked down.

“I could ask you the same, ma’am.” She didn’t really know how to respond to that, so Twilight just waited for him to say something. He grunted. “Hmph, well, fine, you caught me.” She raised an eyebrow. He backed out of the room and nodded his head back towards the bar area, saying, “C’mon then.”

Twilight’s brow creased, then, after a moment, relaxed and she shrugged. Following him to an empty booth, she sat down after he offered her a seat.

“Lemme jus’ go get a light real quick,” he said.

“Oh, no need,” Twilight replied. Her horn flashed briefly then the same ball of light appeared in front of them, slightly brighter this time. It illuminated Lager’s dark-brown fur, and the creased wrinkles beneath his sad blue eyes. They almost looked like little pools of fresh water amidst all the mud. In the faint, vaguely purplish light, she could see a tiny smile crack his thick lips.

“That’s quite impressive,” he said, indicating the makeshift lantern.

Twilight grinned. “Oh, that’s just some silly spell that I made up awhile ago so I could read at night and not wake Spike up.”

“You made that up by yourself?”

“Sure, I’ve made up lots of spells.”

He clicked his tongue. “Well, I’ll be damned. Ain’t that somethin’?”

The tiny light wasn’t quite bright enough to show off Twilight’s reddening face. “Oh, it’s nothing,” she said. “All I did was isolate the light that is normally produced from the horn when casting spells, they call it the “corona effect”, and then I move it to wherever I want using the same telekinesis spell I used to create the initial light in the first place. It’s actually very simple. It’s just a matter of—nevermind. I’m probably boring you with all this silly magic theory stuff.” Twilight cleared her throat and sat back down.

Lager waved his hoof dismissively. “No, no, it’s interesting to hear about magic. Don’t get to see much of it, bein’ an earth pony and all.” His eyes seemed to get just the tiniest bit sadder.

“Anyway, I doubt you came into our room to talk about magic theory, and I’m willing to bet that you didn’t even plan on me being awake. So that begs the question: why were you in our room at all?” Twilight said, perhaps a little more accusatory than she meant.

For a moment, Lager seemed to be fumbling with something underneath the table, then he produced a small leather bag tied together by a twine drawstring. It hit the table with a metallic thud, and the contents seemed to jingle happily.

He pushed it towards Twilight, saying, “That’s for you and your friends.”

She picked it up hesitantly with her magic, then looked past it at Lager. “What is it?”

“Bits,” he said simply. “Your lodging fees plus a little extra, what little I could spare.”

“I can’t take this,” she said, trying to hand it back to him. He refused, putting his hoof out to stop the floating satchel. “But, we’re the customers. Why are you giving us money?”

His right hoof reached up under his jaw and scratched his chin. “Look,” he said, “I’m not the kinda guy to go around handin’ out money to strangers, but I gotta feelin’ you’re gonna need it more than me.”

Twilight shook her head. “But why us?”

“Lotta folks pass through here every day. Most don’t even stay for more ‘an a few hours, the rest are gone by the end of the day.” He shrugged. “But that kid, Trixie, she was something different. Don’t know what it was, but I hafta admit, I got a soft spot for her.” In the dim light, Twilight could see his eyes staring off into space, not really focused on anything, misty. “I just don’t want to see her get hurt,” he finally admitted. Putting his hoof over Twilight’s, he said, “Far as I can tell, you three mean to find her and bring her back. Giving you a bit ‘o money is the least I can do.”

“I’m sorry. I really can’t accept this,” Twilight said as politely as she could. “I don’t feel right taking your money.”

“It’s your money too,” he said. “I charged you way too much anyway.”

“But why even charge us in the first place then?”

He leaned back in his chair and let out a long, slow sigh. Crossing his fore-hooves, he said, “Look, I’ve got a reputation around here. Like I said, I ain’t the kinda guy to go around givin’ money to strangers. If they saw me handin’ out free rooms with a bag ‘o bits I’d be outta business in a week.” He played with the stubble on his chin. “Hell, I didn’t even want you to know I was givin’ you money. Of course it’d be just my luck to find you wide awake,” he said, somewhat amused.

Twilight’s eyes glazed over as she stared at the small money pouch. After a few seconds, she said, “I–I don’t know what to say.”

“Nothing,” Lager said, leaning forward suddenly. “I don’t want you breathing a word of this to your sleepin’ friends, you hear?” Twilight nodded. “Can’t go around advertising my generosity, can I?” He chuckled warmly.

Twilight smiled, taking the satchel and placing it somewhere safe. “Thank you so much, Lager. Really, you’re too kind.”

“Don’t go tellin’ anyone else that, heh,” he laughed. He put his hooves on the table and scooted himself out of the booth. “I think it’s time both you and I get some rest,” he said. Helping Twilight out of her seat, he added, “I’ve no doubt you’ve got quite a journey ahead of you.”

After she had managed to evict herself from the cushiony seat, she glanced over her shoulder and blew out the little light ball, eclipsing them in total darkness.

“Oh, sorry,” Twilight apologized.

“S’all right,” Lager replied. “I know my way round this bar light or no. Been in this place thirty yea—Ow!”

There was a dull thud, followed by a crash and a yelp of pain.

“Oh my gosh!” Twilight cried. “Are you okay?”

Wheezy laughter echoed dryly. “Yeah, yeah, I’m fine. Nothin’ bruised ‘cept my pride.”

“Hang on a second.” Twilight’s horn ignited with purple flame for a brief moment then another one of her light orbs bounced off and lit the room with its vaguely purplish glow.

In a heap, on the ground, Lager lay face-down. He wasn’t wearing his usual bar tender’s apron, and Twilight saw his hind legs for, she realized, the first time. One was completely normal, a leg coated in a thick layer of dark-brown fur and with a flagon-shaped cutie mark, overflowing with foam near his haunches. But the other, it was different. Something about the way it moved seemed unnatural, almost robotic. It twitched, startling Twilight.

She jumped back. “Umm...”

Sighing, Lager heaved himself up and looked Twilight in the eye. “Well,” he said without a hint of the laughter from before, “Guess that’s two things you ain’t gonna speak of again.” He patted his left back-leg.

It almost sounded hollow, and definitely not like a normal leg. Twilight’s eyes widened. “Augmentation,” she said breathlessly.

He nodded. “Busted my leg a few years back in an accident involving a chimaera, and, since I wouldn’t’ve been able to work anymore without it, I, well, had it ‘fixed’.”

Twilight’s jaw hung open slightly. She stared at the leg. As far as she could tell from here, it looked fairly normal, but it felt wrong. “I’ve heard about augmentation before,” she said. “But, I’ve never seen it in real life, and certainly not so close.”

“Tonight’s just the night for firsts ain’t it?” He smiled unhappily.

“I don’t understand. How does nobody know about this?”

“Well, not ‘nobody’. Thunderclap, he’s been my best friend for Celestia-knows-how-long, so he knows, him and a few others. But I don’t like the rest of the town to know my business,” he said gruffly. “After a few years, you get pretty good at hiding it. No one knows about this if I don’t want them to.”

“Except for me,” Twilight said quietly.

“Except for you.”

She shuffled her hooves awkwardly, biting her lip. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I–I didn’t mean to, uhh...”

He waved her away with his hoof. “Nah, don’t worry about it,” he said. “I ain’t blamin’ you; wasn’t your fault.” Suddenly, he put a hoof on Twilight’s shoulder and said, “Now, I think that’s enough secrets for one night, don’t ya think?”

Still somewhat bewildered, Twilight simply nodded. After a moment she regained her composure and added to the nod. “I think that it’s time I go back to bed.” She turned around and walked towards their ‘bedroom’ door. Lager watched her open the door before he turned towards his own bedroom.

As Twilight was closing the door, she saw Lager cross the room, his head held up, and an almost imperceptible limp in his left back-leg. She stopped, opened the door again and said, “Thank you again. I’m sorry about your...” she trailed off. He glanced sidelong at her and gave a nod. She was about to close the door again, but instead added, “Goodnight.”

He turned, gave her a kindly smile and said, “Goodnight to you as well, ma’am.” Twilight smiled back, and pulled the door close. But right before it clicked, he said, “When you see her, tell her I said hello.”

She stopped, holding the door just barely cracked open. “Her?” she said, barely more than a whisper.

Twilight was just about to ask who ‘her’ was when she heard Lager’s bedroom door click shut, followed by the dull thunk of the lock sliding into place. She sighed, then closed her own door and lay down in her makeshift bed.

“Her?” she repeated.

18 — The Chimaera

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Chapter 18:
The Chimaera

The chimaera loosed a thunderous roar as it charged headlong towards the cloaked mare, its lion’s head growling menacingly. Two massive, curved horns, thick as tree branches and even longer than a bison’s, lowered as it prepared to crash into her.

“Look out!” Rainbow shouted, holding out her hoof in warning.

With a surprising amount of agility, the mare sidestepped the charging chimaera, causing it to skid to a halt and whip around, snorting out puffs of smoke from its goat head. The snake’s head tail hissed and thrashed about wildly, spitting venom and flitting its forked tongue. Letting out a low growl, it paced around the mare, looking, waiting, for an opening.

Rarity looked as if she’d been turned to stone. Unable to even make a sound, she stood just on the edge of the clearing, her mouth and her eyes opened wide in silent horror. She stood, unmoving, for a long time before finally she was forcefully moved.

Applejack, tossing her hat to the side, pushed past Rarity and galloped full speed at the beast, crying at the cloaked mare, “Get away from that thing!”

The mare either didn’t hear her, or refused to listen as she stood perfectly still, only her eyes moving as she followed the chimaera’s every step with a practiced precision. She tensed as it suddenly stopped and looked up, taking notice of Applejack.

Rainbow Dash flapped overhead, unsure of what to do. She darted back and forth, waiting for the chimaera to make its move. As Applejack galloped closer, now only a few yards away, Rainbow decided to press the attack. With reckless abandon, she sped at the chimaera heedless of any danger.

“You distract it, AJ!” she shouted. “I’m gonna kick this thing straight into next week!”

Applejack grinned, lowering her head, but the other mare did not share their enthusiasm.

“No! You must wait!” she cried, losing her focus on the chimaera. “Wait for an opening!”

Oblivious to the mare’s pleading, Applejack galloped harder as Rainbow Dash thought she saw an opening. The chimaera, its attention split between Applejack and Rainbow, decided to go after the nearer of the two ponies.

As the lion head gave a mighty roar, the goat head breathed a great ball of flame that singed the air with its intense heat. Unable to alter her path in time, Applejack’s eyes widened as she was consumed by angry fire. At least, she would have been if moments before she hadn’t been tackled to the ground by the cloaked mare. In a tangled mess of limbs and a tattered, black cloak, they rolled to the side.

“AJ!” Rainbow Dash shouted, losing her concentration on the chimaera as she watched them tumble to the side. She returned her attention to the chimaera, almost too late as another ball of flame hurtled towards her. With lightning fast reflexes, she barrel-rolled out of the way, only barely clipping her right wing on the ball of fire.

She winced from the glancing burn, but then her eyes narrowed into thin slits as she stared down at the chimaera. “That’s it. You’re going down, you big, ugly thing.” Letting out a cry that would have impressed her Pegasopolian ancestors, she charged full force at the monster.

Her hooves outstretched, and her profile thin as a feather, she dive-bombed the chimaera, weaving past another fireball and then around another, keeping her eyes trained on its eyes.

Meanwhile, Twilight, her face fraught with worry, hurried over to where Applejack and her rescuer had landed. Rarity, on the other hand, was still overcome with fright and unable to move. She watched as Rainbow Dash swooped beneath a third fireball and right into the chimaera’s head.

But rather than being caught off-guard by the attack, it fought back, using its thick horns to push against Rainbow. Locked in a struggle for power, they muscled each other back and forth, but the chimaera was slowly gaining ground. With its legs splayed out to stabilize itself, it had far more leverage and eventually was able to toss Rainbow to the side, sending her crashing into a tree trunk with a sickening thud. She slumped to the ground, her wing bent out at an odd angle.

Seeing this, Rarity snapped out of her daze and took on a fiery look in her eyes. Her horn, alight with periwinkle light, flared to life. She clenched her teeth, growling, “All right, you ruffian. I will not allow such a crude beast to harm my friends. Have at you!” Letting out a “Chaaaaarge!” that her Unicornian ancestors would not have been impressed by, she hurtled towards the chimaera.

Hearing Rarity’s battlecry, Twilight glanced to her right and saw Rarity, her mane bouncing and her horn glowing, galloping across the clearing. She looked down at Applejack.

“I’m fine,” she said, waving Twilight away. “Go get that son of a gun.” Twilight nodded and hurried to catch up with Rarity. Standing up, Applejack extended her hoof towards the other mare, now bereft of her cloak, and said, “Thanks fer saving my hide.” She winked. Cold metal grasped her hoof as she pulled the mare up.

For the first time, Applejack saw the face of her savior. Ashen gray mane, tangled and knotted, covered a large part of the mare’s surprisingly young face. Her features were soft, and so young looking, yet seemed to hide a much deeper age. Her eyes belied her true age, for, to Applejack’s eyes, it was clear they had seen a great many things, far more than even she had. As she released her grip on Applejack’s hoof, gears whirred and the claw at the end of her metal leg opened. “This battle is not over yet,” she said quietly.

Applejack nodded. “No ma’am, I don’t reckon it is.”

“Your friend is in need of assistance,” she said, indicating Rainbow Dash’s unconscious form lying against the base of a gnarled oak tree.

“And so are my other friends,” Applejack replied, indicating Rarity and Twilight. “I’ll go make sure Rainbow ain’t hurt too bad, and you go help them finish off that chimaera.” The mare gave a tacit nod, and Applejack returned it.

Splitting up, the pair ran in opposite directions, with Applejack heading towards the downed Rainbow Dash and the mare galloping to catch up with the two unicorns who were now in a fierce battle with the chimaera.

Twilight’s horn sparked with magenta light every time the massive forcefield she had erected was struck by another fireball. Both ponies stood behind the translucent wall of energy, unable to move due to the constant barrage of fiery attacks. Twilight winced as another flaming orb struck the shield. “I can’t hold this wall up forever,” she said, looking at Rarity who had lost some of her earlier fervor. “We need a plan, or something.”

Rarity bit her lip. “Yes, you’re quite right, Twilight. Perhaps we should, umm, run away?” she suggested.

“And leave Rainbow Dash and Applejack behind?”

Rarity gasped dramatically. “Never! I was merely suggesting a, er, strategic withdrawal. Only for the time being, of course.”

The chimaera howled again, stamping its feet and then charging at the pair while breathing a steady stream of flame in their direction.

Twilight’s eyes went wide. “I think I know what to do,” she said, looking over to Rarity. “When I give the word, I need to you take over holding this wall up,” she continued, indicating the magical barrier she was currently pouring her energy into.

“What! Surely you must be joking?” Rarity shook her head vigorously. “I don’t have the magical strength to hold that up by itself, let alone against that thing.”

“No time, Rarity!” Twilight shouted. She caught a glimpse of the gray mare out of the corner of her eye as she came up beside them. Twilight could see the chimaera about to leap on the wall, and whipping around as quickly as she could, she said, “Now Rarity!”

In a split second, the wall flickered from the magenta color of Twilight’s magic, to the sky-blue of Rarity’s magic. Twilight leapt out of the way, and Rarity cringed, as the chimaera collided with the shield. For a second, it looked like it might hold, then, it shattered into a thousand tiny shards of magical energy, each piece reflecting the chimeara from a different angle as the beast came crashing to the ground.

Rarity stumbled backwards as if she had been hit, and Twilight’s horn flared to life again as she caught the chimaera in mid-air. It thrashed around, its tail and heads all hissing and growling, trying to spit fire at her, but unable to. Sweat pouring down her forehead, and sparks flying from her horn, Twilight heaved the monster over their heads and, unknowingly, towards the ashen mare.

“Are you okay, Rarity?” Twilight asked, keeping her attention focused on keeping the chimaera aloft.

“Yes, I’m fine, dear,” she replied, as she dragged herself up off the ground weakly. “You needn’t worry about me.”

Twilight smirked. “I knew this spell of greater levitation would come in handy one day.” But her smugness was short-lived, as the chimaera fought against her bondage, she could feel herself losing her grip. She poured more energy into the spell, but it made no difference. Before long, the chimaera broke free of the levitation spell and landed, legs splayed out to balance itself, on the ground.

“What the...” Twilight’s head cocked to the side in confusion.

“Its innate magic is too powerful,” said the gray mare solemnly, keeping her eyes trained on the chimaera. “You won’t beat with your magic alone.”

Twilight’s mind raced. I can’t beat it with magic? What am I supposed to do? She looked to the mare, her eyes pleading. “How do we stop it, then?”

“I don’t know,” she confessed. “I hadn’t planned on fighting it to begin with.”

Rarity looked at her in disbelief. “You don’t know?” She shook her head. “How could you not know?”

As Rarity began to panic, Twilight glanced around and, for the first time, took in all of her surroundings. To her left, Applejack was helping a groggy Rainbow Dash to her hooves, and to her right the mare was watching the chimaera with a careful eye. All around them were dozens of trees, and not much else. Nothing she could use to stop the chimaera. She cursed under her breath.

She ran through the a list of spells in her head. Levitation, transmutation, teleportation, illumination—wait! Teleportation, that’s it! Twilight looked up suddenly. The chimaera was still at a relatively safe distance, and the mare was still following its movements carefully. “You,” she said, speaking to the mare and pointing her hoof at her. “I need you to distract it for me while I go help Applejack.”

The mare arched an eyebrow. “Trust me,” Twilight said. “I’ve got a plan.” The mare nodded knowingly. She glared at the chimaera, waving her hoof at it.

“Well, come on then.”

The chimaera roared, flaring its nostrils and releasing a stream of smoke. As its snake’s head tail hissed, Twilight disappeared in a flash of purple light, re-appearing a second later beside Applejack and Rainbow Dash.

“Are you girls okay?” she asked.

“I’m fine,” Applejack replied, “but I dunno about Rainbow. She don’t look so good. I think her wing might be broken.”

“Don’t worry about me, Twilight,” Rainbow Dash said, waving her away. “I’ll be—gah!” She flinched as she tried to flex her right wing. The feathers were crumpled and it was bent at an odd angle. She tried to curl it against her side, but cringed in pain. “Heh, guess it might be broken after all,” she laughed mirthlessly.

“Don’t worry, we’ll get you to a hospital as soon as we’re out of here,” Twilight said.

“And when’s that gonna be?” Applejack asked, a concerned look on her face.

“Just a few more minutes. Do you have any rope with you?” she asked.

Applejack eyed her suspiciously. “Well, sure, I always keep a bit of handy, but I don’t know why you’d be—”

Twilight grinned.

“Oh... I see.” Applejack shook her head. “Sometimes I wonder if you ain’t a lot crazier ‘an ya look, Twi. Well, shoot, if that’s yer plan, then we best get started.” She reached into the saddlebags strapped across her back and fished out a length of rope, tying a knot at one end so there was a wide loop that she could use as a lasso. She twirled the rope above her head and nodded, satisfied. “Ready an’ waitin’, Twi. Jus’ give the word.”

Twilight gave Rainbow one last look, saying, “Are you going to be okay waiting here for a minute?”

Rainbow grimaced painfully. “Yep, no problemo, Twilight. I’ll just chill here for—urgh,” she gripped her wing, wincing, “—chill here for a bit.” She relaxed. “Don’t worry about me. I’ve been through much worse. Go kick that thing’s ass for me.”

Twilight smirked. Then, closing her eyes in concentration, her horn glowed purple and she and Applejack disappeared with a quiet pop.

With an equally quiet pop, they reentered existence just a few feet away from the nameless mare as she swatted away a ball of flame with her metal hoof. Twilight watched her, seeing the familiar way in which her leg moved, and understanding hit her. “Oh,” she breathed quietly.

“What’s that, Twi?” Applejack asked.

Twilight shook her head. “Uh, nothing, it’s nothing.” She looked over and saw Rarity biting her lip, and quivering. Twilight bit her own lip in concentration. “Applejack, I need you to go help her,” she said, pointing towards the mare fending off the chimaera. “Wait for my signal.”

Applejack gave a quick nod, then turned around and stood next to the mare.

Twilight put her hoof on Rarity’s shoulder kindly, and said, “Rarity, I need your help. Think you can do that?”

Rarity’s face hardened, lines drew from the corners of her mouth, and her eyes narrowed. “If it is to help my friends, then I can do anything. It would be very un-ladylike to not offer any assistance. What do you require of me?”

Twilight smiled. “Nothing much, but for now...” she trailed off as light enveloped them. With a flash of light, they were gone, re-appearing behind the chimaera. “Hey!” Twilight shouted. “Over here!”

The snake head saw Twilight first, giving off a menacing hiss, then, with a powerful thrust of its legs, it spun around to face the pair of ponies, ignoring the other two. It howled, tossing its head back.

“I’m all for helping you, Twilight,” Rarity said, “but I fail to see how getting ourselves killed is going to help the situation.” She watched with bated breath as the chimaera loosed another flaming ball at them. She turned her head, waiting for the inevitable impact.

But, before she even felt the fire singe her fur, they were gone again, re-appearing about twenty feet away, and on the left side of the chimaera.

“Trust me,” Twilight said, smirking. “I know what I’m doing.”

“Twilight, dear, I didn’t realize you were so—whaaa!” She cried out as another ball of flame raced towards them. Before she knew it, they were on the other side of the chimaera now. “Brash,” she finished breathlessly.

“Heehee,” Twilight giggled. “Missed me!”

The chimaera’s eyes flashed angrily, and it belted out a mighty roar, releasing with it another fireball. But again, they dodged it easily, appearing behind it now.

“Aww, too slow,” she said in a mock-baby voice. "Give it another shot."

It spun around again, a little more slowly this time, and breathed more fire.


“Darn, that one was so close too,” Twilight mocked as she saw the smoldering patch of grass they had just left moments before.

The chimaera whipped around, shaking its head angrily, and fired another fireball wildly.


“Twilight,” Rarity whispered, as they flashed back into existence. “Are you sure you should be antagonizing it like that?”

“Don’t worry, this is all going according to plan,” Twilight whispered back. “Look,” she said, pointing to the chimaera as it turned to face them once more, more sluggishly than before. “It’s getting dizzy. Just a few more times and it’ll be ready.”

“Ready for what?” Rarity asked.

“You’ll see,” Twilight said knowingly. “Just a few more—”

She was cut off as she felt the heat of the ball of fire begin to wash over her. In a panic, she quickly winked them out of existence.

They re-appeared next to Applejack and the other mare who had been watching the whole scene with bemused expressions.

Rarity screamed suddenly, drawing all their attentions to her. “My—my—my tail!” she shouted. “It’s gone!” She turned her flank so that they could see that her tail had indeed disappeared. It wasn’t completely gone, but cut off cleanly near the base, leaving only a tuft of violet sticking out like a poorly stitched seam.

Twilight’s eyes widened. “Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry, Rarity!” She bit her lip. “I think I might be able to fix it, but—”

She was cut off again as another fireball approached. Acting quickly, she used her magic to push Applejack and the other mare out of the way, and enveloped herself and Rarity in a flash of magenta light.

As they appeared behind the chimaera, Twilight shouted, “Applejack, now!”

Applejack, recovering quickly from the magical push, nodded and began swinging her lasso high overhead. As the chimaera turned to face Twilight and Rarity, the rope flew far across the clearing, over the beast’s back, and around its snout. With a yank, she pulled the rope tight and staggered it, but it didn’t fall down.

“Okay, Rarity,” Twilight said. “I need your help now!” Twilight’s horn glowed bright with purple light and the same light began to surround the chimaera. She tried to lift it up, but found it extremely difficult to lift. But, a moment later, Rarity’s magic joined hers as the mare stood next to her, her horn also alight with magic.

With their combined magical strength, they flipped the chimaera onto its back. Seeing that it was down, Applejack leapt forward and began hogtying the beast’s legs togther. With an expert hoof, and practiced speed, she quickly wrapped it up. Securing its legs, snout, and even its goat head, tightly together.

As the pair of unicorns released their magic, letting out twin sighs, chimaera rolled onto its side and gave them an angry stare, malice in its fiery eyes. But try as it might, it could not escape its bonds.

Applejack and the mare next to her waked around the fallen beast, and Applejack said, “Hogtying chimaeras... that’s a new one.” She let out a tired chuckle. “Jes’ wait till little Apple Bloom hears about this.” Suddenly, her grin turned to a look of horror as she cried, “Watch out fer the tail!”

“The wha—” was all Twilight got out before she looked up and saw that the snake’s head tail, which they had completely neglected, baring down on her. She was about to magic herself away when a flash of blue appeared in front of her, tackling the tail to the ground.

She looked down and saw Rainbow Dash, crippled wing and all, pummelling the snake’s head. “Take that, you stupid snake!” she cried. With its head crushed, the snake tail fell limply to the ground and Rainbow Dash rolled off to the side, her chest heaving. “That’ll teach you to mess with my friends,” she said between breaths.

“Rainbow...” Twilight said slowly. “How’d you? Your wing...”

Rainbow Dash grinned proudly. “Told ya, didn’t I? I’ve been through much worse before.”

Suddenly she let out a cry of pain as her wing twitched uncontrollably. She rolled onto her good side and reached up, caressing the wing gently. “Sweet Celestia,” she muttered. “That stings like you wouldn’t believe.” She winced as her wing twitched again. “If it wasn’t broken before,” she sighed, “heh, it is now.”

Applejack groaned. “Dammit, Rainbow! Why’d you have to go and do something foolish like that? You know darn well that Twilight woulda been fine.”

She chuckled. “Heh, guess I didn’t like everyone else doing all the work.”

Applejack shook her head. “Sometimes I think you’re even more stubborn ‘an me.”

“It’s a gift.”

There was a momentary silence as Applejack helped Rainbow Dash to her hooves and had her wrap a hoof around her shoulder to keep her steady. Rarity was the first to speak.

“So, to, er, address the elephant, or chimaera as twere, in the room,” she said. “What do we do with it now?”

The gray-maned mare answered her, “Without its tail, it will be a cripple for the rest of its life. Killing it now would be a mercy. It will not survive if it encounters another of its kind.”

Applejack sighed, “I suppose yer probably right, but it don’t feel right killin’ something that cain’t defend itself.”

“Yeah, isn’t that, like, against the rules or something?” Rainbow added.

“As much as I am loathe to admit it, I must agree with our mysterious friend here,” Rarity chimed in. “It will not have much of a life without all of its pieces.”

Twilight furrowed her brow. “No,” she said quietly after a moment.

They all looked at her, eyebrows raised.

“No?” repeated the mare. “No what?”

Twilight bit her lip, then, after another stint of silence, said, “No, we can’t kill it. It wouldn’t be right.”

“Oh?” the mare said, somewhat tauntingly. “You would have it live as a cripple until it is killed by another?”

Twilight’s lips pursed. “Should we also kill Rainbow Dash because her wing is injured?”

Rainbow’s eyes grew wide. “Whoa, man, no one said anything about killing me.”

“Calm down, Rainbow,” Applejack said, “they’re just speakin’ in hypotheticals is all.”

“Your friend will recover, this chimaera will not.”

“Maybe it will,” Twilight said.

Rarity scoffed. “Dear, I hardly think it’s going to recover from having its head crushed.”

“Not by itself perhaps.”

Twilight’s horn flared to life, and, a second later, the snake head was engulfed in magenta energy. It lifted from the ground, it’s jaw limp and its eyes closed. As the magic entered its body, the jaw tightened, and its crushed skull began to retake its original shape. After a few more seconds, even its eyes began to slowly open. Twilight poured a bit more of herself into the snake as it regained more of its life, slowly regaining consciousness and awareness.

Twilight shuddered, her magic faltering just as she completed the spell. She faltered, almost collapsing as she said, “There... done.”

The snake hissed, sticking its forked tongue out and wrapping around Twilight.

Applejack and Rainbow Dash shot forward in unison. “Look out, Twilight!” they said together.

But the snake didn’t hurt Twilight, instead it nuzzled against her cheek and licked her face. Twilight smiled, halting Applejack and Rainbow Dash’s advance. “What was it Fluttershy said?” she asked. “‘Sometimes we all just need to be shown a little kindness.’”

Unbeknownst to the other ponies, the mysterious mare let a tiny grin cross her muzzle.

Rarity gasped. “How in the name of Celestia did you do that?”

Twilight nuzzled the snake before answering. “Well, I was able to use some of the chimaera’s own life force to bring part of it back to life since it wasn’t completely gone. Plus, I had to use some of my own magic to sew all the pieces back together.”

“I didn’t even know that was possible,” Rarity whispered.

“To be honest,” Twilight shrugged, “neither did I.” As the snake unwrapped itself from Twilight and hissed happily, she added, “Although, I think that took more out of me than I expected.” Her head swam, and her stomach lurched as she smiled kindly at the snake. “Guess now we’ve got double the reason to go to the hospital,” she chuckled.

“You may come back with me,” the mare said. “I have the necessary herbs and salves to heal your wounds.”

“Well that’s mighty kinda ya, miss,” Applejack said. “But, I think we might need a proper hospital for RD’s wing here, not sure a few leaves are gonna help much.”

The mare smiled in a way that said she was not actually happy. “It really is in your best interest if you come back with me.”

Rarity leaned in towards Twilight, whispering in her ear. “She may not seem, er, all there, if you understand me, but I think she may in fact be able to help us. She might even know where this ‘witch’ we’re looking for is.”

The mare snorted. “Witch, is it? They’re still calling me that? I would’ve thought they would’ve forgotten about me by now.”

“Wait, wait, wait,” Rainbow Dash said, shaking her head. “You’re her?”

“If by ‘her’, you mean this ‘witch’ they’ve been referring to me as, then yes, I’m her.”

“Whoa,” Rainbow muttered. “Did not see that coming...”

Rarity put a hoof to her forehead, massaging it. “I must admit,” she said. “I did not expect this either.”

“I had my suspicions,” Twilight said, “but they weren’t confirmed until now.” She bowed. “Lager sends his regards.”

She scoffed. “That old fool’s still alive? I suppose it was him then that sent you here?”

Twilight nodded.

“As expected. Well, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, perhaps we could return to my cottage?” she said, waving her hoof back towards the direction Twilight and her friends had originally come from.

“Yes, I think that would be a good idea,” Twilight said as she felt another wave of dizziness wash over her. “That spell really did a number on me.”

Applejack tilted her head towards the still-tied chimaera. “What about bitey here? We jus’ gonna leave him all tied up?”

The mare gestured towards the snake head with her metallic hoof. “I think you’ll find him far more cooperative now. You can untie him safely.”

Despite the mare’s words, Rarity couldn’t help but shy away as Applejack undid the knot securing the chimaera’s legs. Pulling it apart with her teeth, she allowed the beast to break free of the its bondage and stretch its legs out before rolling over onto its feet. It let out a deep-throated roar, then bent down and nuzzled Twilight.

Twilight smiled, patting it on the head. “Don’t forget about Rainbow,” she said kindly. “You hurt her wing, remember?”

It turned towards the injured pegasus and gave her face a lick. Rainbow stuck out her tongue, saying, “Blech!” Applejack giggled.

“Looks like he’s really sorry, Rainbow. Don’t be rude now, say you’re sorry too.”

Rainbow rolled her eyes. “Fine, whatever.” She looked up at the chimaera and let out a defeated sigh. “Sorry about your, uh, tail-thing, dude.”

It licked her face again and rubbed against her injured wing, causing Rainbow to yelp in pain. “Gah! That hurt!” she cried. She reached back to rub her wing and felt that it hurt less than before. She gave it a tiny flap. “Hey,” she said quietly. “I think my wing’s actually starting to feel a little better.”

Twilight rubbed her chin, deep in thought. “Hmm,” she said after a moment. “You know, perhaps the chimaera has some sort of innate regenerative property. That would explain why it was so easy to fix it.” She felt light-headed again and swayed unsteadily. “Well, maybe not that easy.”

Rarity, who had remained silent through much of this exchange finally opened her mouth. “Well, if it’s all the same to you girls, I would prefer if we spent as little time here as possible, regardless of any change of heart it, er, ‘he’ might have had.”

The ashen mare nodded in agreement. “Yes, it would be best if we returned to my cottage now.” She pulled a small glass vial out of a compartment on her leg and showed it to them. “Chimaera venom will not keep for longer than a few hours.”

“When did you get that?” Twilight asked.

The mare merely replaced the vial and said, “There was a reason it was angry.”

“Well, as much as I love when ponies don’t tell me things,” Rainbow said sarcastically, “do you think we could get moving? I mean, like, my wing feels a little better, but yeah... still broken.”

“Oh, quit yer bellyachin’, Rainbow. You’ll be fine as long as you don’t mess around on that gimpy wing for a bit,” Applejack said sternly.

“Tch, why don’t we break your wing and see how you... oh, right... dammit.”

Applejack laughed heartily. “Come on, then, let’s get you some medicine for that poor wing a yours.”

With that, they all gathered themselves up and followed the mare back into the woods. As they left the clearing, Twilight glanced over her shoulder at the chimaera and smiled sadly as it tromped off into the dark of the forest, probably never to be seen again.

Fluttershy would’ve been proud, she thought to herself as she turned back to her friends and saw Rainbow Dash draped over Applejack’s shoulder and Rarity supporting her other side. She nodded. Yeah, Fluttershy would’ve been proud.

19 — Sheep Among Wolves

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Chapter 19:
Sheep Among Wolves

It was dark, very dark, of that much she was sure, and decidedly chilly.

She could taste the scent of burning charcoal through the burlap hood placed over her head, and she could hear the crackle of torches, and the quiet, but constant, sound of water dripping overhead. Its splashes echoed loudly in the distance.

Noiselessly she drifted through the air, dimly aware of cold claws wrapped around her body and the rope tied around her neck. It wasn’t too tight, but tight enough that she had no hope of clumsily removing it with her hooves.

She concentrated on her horn, sending magic flowing through her body to it, but nothing happened. She couldn’t feel any of the usual magical aura inside herself and she felt unusually weak, and a little nauseous. Her mind felt oddly foggy, and more than a little disoriented.

She tried moving her head but felt the grip tighten around her chest, choking her slightly. Her mind went blank, shrouded in whiteness and a warmth that was uncannily familiar. She thought she heard coughing right before she passed out, but it was hard to tell. The bag on her head didn't help with her hearing.

When she woke next, she felt rough stones beneath her, and she no longer felt herself moving, or the claws that had gripped her before.

Now’s my chance, she thought dimly. If I could just... She tried to ignite her horn again, but stopped suddenly when she heard a voice echo from a just beside her.

“Oi, wot’s all this then, eh?”

The voice was harsh and cruel, like sandpaper on metal. He spat the words out like venom. This was in stark contrast to the next voice whose words dripped out like oily mucus.

“Wot’cha mean by that, eh?”

The first voice spoke again, angrily grumbling back, “Are you lot takin’ the piss outta me? Or are you just tryin’ta piss me off?” He grumbled something, then said, “I swear, if you two weren’t me own flesh an’ blood, I’dda lopped the ‘eads off both of ya by now.”

A third voice joined in, sleek and smooth, but with a hint of malice in his tone.

“Brother, I do believe I ‘aven’t the foggiest what you’re refferin’ to. We ain’t done nuffin ‘cept what we’s supposed ta.”

“If that be the case, then wot the ‘ell is that one doin’ without ‘er ‘ood on, eh? Answer me that, brother.”

There was a momentary silence, punctuated by echoes of dripping water. Trixie lay completely still, listening intently. Do they have the others too? Who are they talking about?

“Like I said, brother. We’s only done what we’s supposed’ta. Me an’ Sirrush ‘ere are just followin’ Sypher’s orders as laid down by the drake hisself.”

“Aye, it’s like he says, Typhon; we’s jus’ followin’ the rules.”

“Followin’ the rules, eh? Me memory’s a little ‘azy, do us a favor, Anshar, and remind me wot the first thing Sypher said was in regards to our guests ‘ere.”

Trixie’s blood turned to ice. Sypher? That means Polaris and the others are here too. I have to find out if they’re all right. She tried moving her back legs and found them unbound, but she froze as she heard one of the drakes approaching her.

She could feel his presence looming over herself, but he didn’t bend down, instead, he said, “He said we wasn’t supposed’ta let ‘em see nuffin’, what wif the bags and all. But that weren’t the only thing he said, brother.”

“Oh? That so, is it? Go on then, wot else he say?”

“We ain’t to be lettin’ any ‘arm come to ‘em lest we face his wrath, the likes’a which this world ain’t seen for a ‘undred ‘undred years, I think were ‘is exact words.”

“Shut the ‘ell up, Sirrush. I ain’t asked you.”

“But that is what he said, brother. They’s to be brought before the Queen ‘erself, and they ain’t to be ‘armed in anyway ‘fore she gets ‘er go at ‘em.”

“Aye, it’s like he says, Typhon. Jus’ followin’ the rules we is.”

There was a thud as a pair of somethings were dropped to the ground, followed by a loud smack and a cry of pain.

“Sirrush, I swear to the Great Mother Tiamat ‘erself, you speak outta turn again and I’ll give you more ‘an jus’ a bruise.” He snorted, pausing for a moment. “Sypher’s says we ain’t to ‘arm ‘em, eh? Fine, we ain’t done nuffin to ‘arm ‘em anyway, but that still don’t explain why you took ‘er ‘ood off and broke the only real we been given.”

“Coughin’ she was, makin’ a right racket of it, too.”

“Sirrush, I swear—”

“I ‘eard ‘er coughin’ I did, so I says to meself, brother, do you know what I says? I says that it must be the ‘ood on ‘er little ‘ead. Tied too tight, innit? So, not wantin’ to let any ‘arm come to ‘er, I decided to just loosen it a bit, give ‘er a bit more air and such, that’s when—”

“That’s when I says to meself that she could do with a bit’a fresh air and the like, ‘specially seein’ as she’s gone unconscience again.”

“Unconscious,” Anshar corrected.

“Unconscience, right, that’s wot I says. Anyway, I figgered there weren’t nothin’ for it,” said Sirrush, “so’s I took ‘er ‘ood off to let her breathe a bit more. That’s when you turned around, Typhon, and said, ‘Oi, wot’s all this then, eh?’”

“I remembers wot I says; weren’t two minutes ago I says it,” Typhon grumbled. “All right, firstlies, there ain’t any fresh air to be had down here; we’s in the middle of cave, you idiot. Secondlies, it ain’t ‘er ‘ood wot’s got ‘er all sick-like. Look at ‘er.”

Trixie tensed. Astrid...

“Blimey!” Anshar cried. “She’s clammy as all ‘ell she is.”

“Pale as the moon, too,” Sirrush added. “Oi, I think this one might be comin’ down with something, eh? Sees, Typhon, I weren’t lyin’ ‘bout ‘er. I ain’t lookin’ to lose me ‘ead if she takes a turn for the worse.”

“Sypher ain’t said nothin’ ‘bout keepin’ ‘em ‘ealthy, now did he?” said Typhon. “We ain’t done nuffin to ‘urt ‘er, so we ain’t got nuffin to worry ‘bout. We’s done our job, ain’t we? Ain’t our fault if this one ain’t handlin’ the cold.”

Trixie wished she could see Astrid, but she found her limbs unnaturally heavy and it was all she could do to not cry out for her. Her only hope now was to wait and see what lay in store for them in the future.

Blinded, exhausted, and without magic, Trixie was helpless. She cringed as she heard the drakes speak again. Their every word only adding to her worry.

“That’s it then, eh, brother? We jus’ tie ‘er up again and continue on our merry way?”

“Ain’t nuffin for it, Anshar. We ain’t the cause’a ‘er distress, so it ain’t gonna cause us any distress. But if we keep sittin’ ‘round ‘ere talkin’ all day, we’ll be late, and then ‘er wheezin’ll be the least’a our worries.”

Trixie felt herself being picked up, cold, rough claws embracing her as she lifted into the air.

“Right then, we best get movin’, eh? Put ‘er ‘ood back on, Sirrush, and we’ll be on our way.”

She heard rustling as the other two drakes gathered up their prisoners and then they were on the move again. As she felt the cold air beneath her hooves, she shivered.

“Her royal royalness ain’t one for bein’ late, so’s I hear,” said Anshar. “We best double time it, else we ain’t gettin’ there on time.”

“I ‘eard the last drake wot showed up late got ‘is ‘ead lopped off jus’ for makin’ the Queen wait a few minutes.”

“Sirrush, shut your mouth before I shut it for you, and do us a favor and keep it shut too, eh? If I ‘ear one more bloody word outta your gullet, I’m gonna lose me patience.”

“We ain’t far from Drakkengard, brother. We’ll be all right. Jus’ make sure you ain’t lose ‘old’a that one there. She’s the one she’s truly after, innit.”

“Aye,” ‘Trixie felt Typhon’s grip tighten. “She be the real prize.”

She shuddered inwardly. Astrid... I hope you’re okay. And Polaris and Corona, too. This doesn’t look good.

“I still don’t see why I’m stuck with two of ‘em,” grumbled Sirrush. “I ain’t even got the light ones neither...”

Light flooded Trixie’s vision as the burlap sack placed over her head was removed. She blinked, turning away from the light only to have her head forcibly turned back.

“Show some respect, pony, and look the Queen in ‘er eye, eh?”

As her eyesight slowly came into focus, Trixie was able to glance up and see the face of her captor.

His eyes were like a cold fire, icy blue and harsh, much like the sharp spines protruding from his head and along his back. His arms were crossed and he sat on his tail, coiled up like a snake, whiskers hanging from the sides of his jaw. His pale blue scales shimmered in the well-lit room, and the torchlight seemed to dance across them. He was a great deal smaller than Sypher, but still much taller than him, and, by the looks of it, much stronger as well. His arms were burly, far more than Sypher’s, and his claws had been filed to razor-sharp point.

His snout, long and sleek, jutted out like the edge of a cliff, ending in a pair of nostrils that sunk into his snout like caverns. All along his sides and back, there were places where his scales were chipped, or cracked, and he had a jagged scar across his chest. When she looked closer, she also noticed that one the digits on his left claw was missing, leaving a rough bump in its place.

Typhon glanced down and noticed Trixie looking up at him. “Wot you lookin’ at, eh? Ain’t I told you to keep your eyes forward?” Trixie quickly turned her head forward.

In front of her she saw a massive stone chair. It was rough and unhewn, with sharp edges sticking out all over its frame. Emeralds, rubies, and even diamonds, were embedded in it, making it sparkle like the sea on a particularly sunny day. The throne was huge, even by drake standards. Its back stretched at least thirty feet up, and, from arm to arm, it was ten feet wide. But above all else... it was empty.

I guess she isn’t here yet.

Trixie briefly imagined what the drake Queen would look like, but then thought better of it and continued to look around.

Stone steps led up to the throne, also unhewn and very rough, with pillars of rock that stretched up to the ceiling, over a hundred feet overhead, flanking it on either side. Torches sat in holders all along its length, lighting it all the way to the ceiling.

Hanging from the ceiling, suspended by nothing, as far as Trixie could tell, was an enormous crystal made entirely of ice; at least a hundred feet wide, and twice as many tall, it gave off an eerie blue glow, and was surrounded by dozens of smaller crystals that seemed like they had broken off from it. The main crystal itself reminded Trixie of the ice she had been encased in when Sypher held her captive. Its blue color, deeper than any sapphire, shone in the torchlight as it hung ominously overhead.

Trixie glanced to her left, careful not to turn her head too much. Corona stood there, completely still, eyes fixated on the throne. Trixie hissed under her breath, trying to get his attention, but he simply looked over at her, shook his head slightly, and mouthed, “Not yet.”

Trixie mouthed back, “What?”, but he had already gone back to staring at the throne.

Standing by his side was Polaris who kept stealing glances past Trixie to where Astrid lay on her right, unconscious. He carefully tried inching his way closer to her, but a thick claw came down and pushed him back. Tensing at the touch, he stood perfectly still and stared up at the throne, giving a worried glance to Trixie before returning to the throne.

Looming over them like some kind of gargoyle, was another drake. He was smaller than Typhon, and less muscular, but with thicker scales and longer horns. The spikes along his spine too, were larger and more prominent.

His scales were much deeper blue, closer to the ice crystal, and he lacked the scars Typhon had, but his eyes were the same icy blue, cold and cruel.

His arms hung limp at his sides, and his eyes darted all over the room. She watched him for a moment as he stared wide-eyed up at the massive chandelier-esque ice crystal.

“Oi,” he whispered to Typhon, leaning over slightly. “Ain’t that the Mountain’s Soul?”

Without looking at him, Typhon answered, “Aye, Sirrush. Now shut it.”

The other drake quickly apologized then went back to absentmindedly gazing around.

To her right, Trixie saw Astrid curled into a ball on the hard ground. She looked much worse than she had when they were on the bridge. Her fur, normally a brilliant white, now looked chalky and pale, and heavy bags sagged under her eyes. Even in her current unconscious state, she was sweating profusely, her body slick with salty perspiration. Trixie wished she could do something for her, but if made any move to help her, Typhon would stop her. It was better to wait and see what happened once the Queen showed up.

She noticed now, after looking at Astrid, that there were a pair of guards on either side of the room, both blocking passageways out of the room. They were thick and muscular, clad in gilded raiments and with stony looks upon their faces. From what she could tell, they were much older than Typhon and Sirrush, and their age was apparent in their demeanor.

They stood perfectly still, spears in their outside claws and eyes fixated on the other side of the room. Larger than even Typhon, they towered over Trixie and the other ponies, their sleek bodies coiled up like a snake’s.

Everyone seemed to be waiting in silence for the Queen, even the guards, and Trixie was about to ask if she was going to show up when another asked it for her.

“Blimey, is ‘er ‘ighness ‘ere or not?” breathed the drake standing over Astrid.

He was much thinner than either Typhon or Sirrush, and his body was almost twice as long. Like an arrow, he lacked the size and muscles of his brothers, but his slender form seemed perfectly aerodynamic, and even his spines were more curved to accommodate this. His scales, unlike his brothers’, were more green than blue, and his eyes burned a fiery red. He flicked his tongue, briefly flashing a row of pointed teeth and a forked tongue that was just as slim as his body.

“I thought she ‘ated bein’ late. Well where the ‘ell is she, eh, brother?” he said, turning his head to Typhon.

Typhon ignored his gaze, but replied, “She ain’t late, Anshar. She’s right on time.”

He bowed his head extending his right arm and tucking his left in. “My lady,” he whispered.

Trixie looked up to the throne and saw no one there still. It was just as empty as it had been when they first entered. She saw that both Sirrush and Anshar were gazing upwards so she turned her head skyward and saw her. The Queen.

She was awe-inspiring, in a terrifying way. Her magnificent form snaked around the Mountain’s Soul as she slowly trawled downwards. She was at least a hundred and fifty feet long, maybe more, and, while she was not particularly thick, she was still larger than any of the drakes Trixie had seen so far.

Bobbing up and down as she descended in a spiral, Trixie couldn’t help but admire the terrible beauty of it all, despite the circumstances. The Queen’s tail, which ended in series of colorful, tufted feathers, dragged behind her, tracing great arcs in the dimly-lit overhead area. None of the other drakes had anything similar at the end of their tails, at least not that Trixie had seen, but that wasn’t the Queen’s most striking feature.

Two great wings, thin and agile, with translucent skin that the ice crystal’s light shone through spectacularly, beat in a rhythmic fashion as she glided downwards. Despite the feathers on her tail, the wings were featherless. Instead they were more akin to a bat’s wing, with tiny claws at the tips and sharp, scaled edges. As she passed directly beneath the Mountain’s Soul, Trixie could even make out the network of veins running across each wing. Even that was stunning, in its own macabre sort of way.

As the Queen approached the throne, the guards on either side of the room crossed their spear arms across their chests in silent salute. Meanwhile, Typhon and his brothers were all bowing. Trixie, Polaris, and Corona all maintained their gaping stares, unable to look away from her resplendent form.

Now that she was closer, Trixie could see that her scales were a lush purple, tinged with hints of red and blue, while atop her head, wedged between two great horns, was a golden crown, jewels inlaid all along its rim and a single, intricately cut, sapphire seated in the center. Even from far away, she could see the jewel reflecting the light in a dazzling display.

“Bow your ‘eads, dammit,” Typhon hissed while keeping his own head bowed.

Unable to refuse, Trixie lowered her head, but kept her eyes fixed on the Queen as she took her seat in the throne, her tail, along with most of her body, coiled up in the seat in a great pile of amethyst scales and rough flesh.

To her right, Trixie saw one of the guards move forward, eyes still singularly fixed upon some point across the room, open his jaw to announce, “Presenting ‘er Majesty, the ruler of Drakkengard, conqueror of the Frozen Chasm, leader of the drake army, and Queen Under the Mountain, Lady Tiamat.” Finished, he slithered back to his place against the wall and resumed his unyielding stare.

The Queen said nothing for a time, and the whole room fell silent. Chills ran down Trixie’s spine as she stared up into her icy glare. Finally, she spoke.

“So, this is the one who has looked upon the Eye?” she said, indicating Trixie.

Her voice matched her appearance perfectly. It was deep and powerful, and resounded with an innate forcefulness, but it was not loud. Rather, she spoke at a perfectly normal volume that made her voice all the more impactful.

Typhon spoke in answer. “Aye, milady, this be the one.” He pushed Trixie forward.

Trixie stumbled as Typhon roughly shoved her into the center of the room. She looked up at the great crystal and shuddered.

The Queen smiled a deadly smile, then waved Trixie forward. “Come closer, my dear. I would look upon the face of one who is to become one of them.”


Before Trixie could take another step forward she heard Corona shout from behind her.

“Now, Trixie!”

He leapt forward, his horn ablaze with fiery light. Trixie’s eyes widened. She was about to tell him to stop when he sucked in his chest then released a huge ball of flame at the Queen. As it hurled towards her, he shouted, “Quick! Run!”

But Trixie remained rooted to the spot, unable to take her eyes off the Queen who didn’t seem the least bit perturbed by the wall of fire approaching her. She moved not an inch, and even as the ball struck her, exploding in a brilliant display that momentarily blinded Trixie, the only part of her that made any motion was her jaw curling into a smirk.

Corona reached forward, trying to grab Trixie, but before he could, Sirrush scooped him up and slammed him into the ground next to Polaris. He crumpled into a heap, coughing weakly.

Trixie looked back to the throne as the last bits of fire disappeared and saw the Queen sitting in the same place she had been, unfazed and unmoved. Trixie’s jaw dropped slightly.

Steepling her claws, Tiamat leaned forward, looking down at the incapacitated Corona. In her regal voice, she said, “My my my, I expected better of one versed in inflammatory incantations. Honestly, were you even trying to kill me?” She let out a deep laugh that echoed in the cavernous hall.

Leaning back into her seat, she said, “Where is your goddess now? Where is your Celestia when you need her?” Un-steepling her claws, she curled one into a fist and pointed the other at Corona’s huddled form. “Out there, among your own kind, and your own ruler, you may be somebody. But here, in my halls, among my people, you are nothing, a worm to be eaten, an insect to be squashed.” She emphasized every 'you' with a jab of her claw and 'my' with a shake of her fist.

She waved to one of the guards and nodded towards Corona. “Take him from my sight. Give him back to Sypher if you must, but remove this pathetic fool from my throne room. I will not have him spoiling my discussion with our dear friend here.”

Smiling that same toothy smile, she watched as Corona was dragged away through one of the doors. “Now then,” she said, turning her grin on Trixie. “As I was saying, come closer would you please?”

Trixie shook with fear, but felt her body moving of its own accord, slowly ascending the steps towards the stone throne. As she reached the apex of her climb, the Queen’s head lowered to her level in a swan-like fashion.

As Trixie stared into Tiamat’s massive ruby eyes, she couldn’t help but feel so completely insignificant. Her head, nearly twice as big as Trixie’s entire body, inched closer towards her. She shrunk back, cowering.

“Do not be afraid, my dear. Unless you mean me harm, I will not harm you,” she said quietly.

“What about Corona?” Trixie stammered. “Is he going to be okay?”

“He attacked me, as I recall,” she said. “Besides, he won’t be permanently injured, I can say that much. But I cannot speak to his immediate injuries.”

Trixie shivered as she felt the Queen’s breath wash over her. It was like a chill breeze, cold and biting. Eventually, Trixie worked up the nerve to ask, “What do you want with me?”

The Queen smiled again. “My dear, telling you wouldn’t be very sporting now would it?”

Trixie cocked her head to the side. “I–I don’t know what you mean.”

“All in good time, dear. It is as I told your friend, Corona was it?” She moved closer to Trixie, whispering into her ear. “In the warmth of your goddess’s sun, you are something, but down here, in the cold light of the Mountain’s Soul, you are nothing.” She pulled back slightly to look into Trixie’s eyes, then said, “In my kingdom, you are but sheep among wolves, my dear.”

Lifting her head back into the sky, high above Trixie’s head, she spoke, her voice booming across the hall and her wings outstretched fully:

“Welcome to Drakkengard.”

20 — In the Belly of the Beast

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Chapter 20:
In the Belly of the Beast

The Queen’s leathery wings folded against her sides as she lowered herself into her stone seat. Motioning to the three drake brothers, she said, “Typhon, Anshar, Sirrush, you may leave us, and take the other two with you.”

No sooner had she spoken, then the brothers gave quick nods and gathered their respective prisoners, bowing before exiting the room. Giving a sly grin and then a nod at both sets of guards, she added, “And you may leave us as well. I would speak to this one alone. With her friends she is a minor threat, and by herself even less so.” The guards looked somewhat uneasy, but bowed respectfully and slithered out of the room, leaving Trixie alone with the Queen.

As soon as they had left, the Queen turned her saccharine smile on Trixie, a sight made all the more frightening by Tiamat’s massive teeth gleaming in the light. Trixie shifted her hooves back and forth nervously as she waited for her to say something.

For what seemed like a millennia, the Queen remained silent, simply staring at Trixie with those fiery eyes and her pointed smile. Until finally, she spoke, breaking her gaze and pointing at the icy, chandelier-like, object hanging above them with a lazy gesture.

“Do you see that?” she asked in an nondescript tone.

Trixie ignored the question. Building up her courage, she said, “Why have you taken us prisoner? We haven’t done anything to make you our enemy.”

Tiamat ignored Trixie right back, continuing along her previous line of thought. “A thousand years ago, that was but one small, meaningless, ice crystal, no larger than the horn on your head.”

Trixie said nothing, but looked up at the massive structure and imagined a time when it was so small.

“A thousand years ago, I too was but one small, meaningless, drake,” the Queen continued. “In those times, I was the only of my kind, until my sisters were born at least, but that wasn’t for another decade or so,” she said, waving a hand dismissively. “Born of true dragon and his mate, a lowly serpent, I was the first drake. Not quite a full dragon, but neither a full serpent, I was looked down upon by both sides. To the so-called ‘true’ dragons, I was but a half-breed, a lesser being not worthy of such high acclaim. But to the serpents one would think I would be regarded as a god, being half-dragon and born with half their strength, but alas, that was not the case.” She sighed, staring up at the crystal, lost in some half-forgotten memory.

Trixie’s lips felt dry and she couldn’t find the words to speak, so Tiamat continued unabated.

“Cast out by my own father, and rejected by my mother as a ‘hybrid monster’, I wandered aimlessly for a time. Honestly, I’ve forgotten how long I was alone. Time seems to blur as the years grow longer and my age lengthens,” she sighed. She paused for a moment, looking away from the crystal to stare down at Trixie.

“Does it not make you want to weep? Am I not to be pitied and looked down upon one so great as you?”

Trixie opened her mouth to respond. “I–I–”

Tiamat waved her claw, silencing Trixie. “Bah, spare me your mumbling,” she said harshly. “I’ll not be the subject of your pity, not when you yourself are so pitiful, my little pony.”

Huffing and returning her gaze to the crystal, she said, “Now then, as I was saying. Being the first of my kind presented me with a great many problems. For one, I was unsure of the extent of my longevity, nor the potency of my magic. So, seeing as I had crawled my way into this very cave we are in now, I tested my powers on the only object of note I could find: the ice crystal.”

“But,” Trixie started, furrowing her brow, “it’s just ice. What’s so special about it?”

She glanced at Trixie. “Ah, my dear,” she grinned, “that is where you are wrong.”

Without warning, the Queen swooped down and picked Trixie up with her massive claws. Together, they soared upwards towards the massive ice structure.

Despite it being a huge chunk of ice, it didn’t feel cold as they approached it, in fact, the air seemed to get warmer, almost pleasantly so. An odd energy seemed to radiate from it. Invisible, but very much palpable, it filled Trixie with an inner warmth and a sense of fullness that was unexplainable. She could feel its innate magic coursing through her, and she could sense that it was making her stronger just by being in its presence. But, on the other hand, so too was the Queen’s strength growing. Her aura was overwhelming now, nearly smothering Trixie with its overbearing willpower. She felt almost suffocated, magically speaking of course.

As they neared the ice crystal, she noticed now that it was slowly rotating in place, and it seemed to pulse with life, though just barely.

Trixie’s face reflected in its many facets as they circled around it. She saw her own worried expression a thousand times over, each face more worried than the last. As they finally came to a stop, she heard the Queen speak softly.

“They call it the Mountain’s Soul, or, sometimes, the Heart of the Mountain, and when I found it, it was fragile and weak, and in dire need of care. I poured myself into it, forcing my very essence into it its, hoping to halt its inevitable march towards decay and then finally death.”

Tiamat reached one claw out and stroked the crystal, running along its length and over the many grooves and facets. “It has come a long way since then,” she said, “and so too have I.”

Trixie saw Tiamat’s reflection in the crystal. Her eyes were hard, and her face said nothing of her thoughts. Seizing the opportunity, Trixie asked, “Why is it they call it the Mountain’s Soul?”

“Because that is what it is,” she said simply as she stroked it. “This crystal represents the life of Jormungdur, the mountain that we call home. It has kept us safe for a millennia, protected my brood for countless generations, and it is dying as we speak.”

For some reason she couldn’t explain, that hit Trixie like a hammer. She felt her heart turn to stone, and her chest became heavy. “What? But... why?”

Tiamat was silent. She gazed into the crystal’s depths, lost in thought.

The Mountain’s Soul is dying? Why? What does that mean? Is Tiamat going to die too?

The Queen spoke finally, interrupting Trixie’s thoughts. “I do not know why it is dying,” she said. “But I have felt its life dwindling away for the last two decades, slowly eating away at its soul and breaking the crystal down.” She paused for a moment. “As large as it is now,” she said, “it used to be even greater than this.” She sighed, almost wistfully.

Trixie gasped silently. This is smaller than it used to be? Celestia, how big was it before?

Tiamat mumbled something under her breath, then said, “It matters little why it is dying. All that matters is how I can stop it from dying. For centuries, I engrossed myself into studying its origins, but found nothing of any use. I know not where it came from, nor why it is linked to my and mine, but as we have grown stronger, so too has it. Now, for some unseen reason, it’s fading away, yet my brood remains strong as ever.” She stopped, shaking her head. “Ah, but why am I telling you this? Surely you must be asking yourself what all of this has to do with you.”She gestured towards Trixie, waiting for the inevitable questions.

Trixie bit her lip, unsure of what to say. “I don’t understand,” she said finally. “You said it yourself, the Soul is linked to your people, but if they’re not dying, then why is it? And, even if it is dying, why tell me? What’s my part in all this?”

The Queen said nothing for awhile, merely watched the tiny crystals that had splintered off from the main one dance around and cast brilliant patterns of light across her amethyst scales. Turning Trixie around so she could look into her eyes, she said, “I may be but half a dragon, but even I can feel when the Eye opens. My children cannot feel it because they have so little of the dragon in them that they only ability it grants them is that of flight, and, in some cases, such as Sypher, ice breath. Although,” she mused, “I hear my sister, Amphiptere’s children, breathe fire like real dragons, and Kalseru’s offspring breathe wind like tornadoes. So, perhaps there is more of the dragon's blood in them than even I know.”

Tiamat stopped herself, “Ah, but I digress.” She smiled toothily. “You see, my dear, dragons, ‘true’ dragons, real dragons, are a rare breed.” She made a dismissive motion with her free hand. “Yes, there are many dragons in this world, though they are no more true dragons than I. They may more look the part than I, but they lack the prowess and spirit of a trueborn.” She curled her claw into a massive fist and stared at it. “Only a small number remain from the dozens that used to rule the land, my father among them.” Her fist tightened. “I believe that saving the Mountain’s Soul requires the magic of a true dragon, and I have not had the displeasure of meeting one in over seven-hundred years.”

“But I’m not a dragon,” Trixie said, “and I haven’t met one either.” She shook her head. “I still don’t know what you want from me, or why you kidnapped me and my friends.”

“Kidnapped?” Tiamat chuckled. “My dear, you may be my prisoners—for the time being—but you were not kidnapped. Far from it, in fact.”

Trixie was taken aback. “What? But, your drakes captured us, and put us in prison. Isn’t that what kidnapping is?”

The Queen let out a hearty laugh. “The bridge crumbles beneath your hooves and you tumble into an endless abyss only to be saved by my children and you call it a kidnapping?” She rolled her eyes. “My my my, are all ponies this ungrateful?”

Trixie held up a hoof. “Wait, you mean it wasn’t you that caused the bridge to fall apart?”

Smiling sweetly, the Queen shook her head. “No, my little pony, it was not me, nor my brood, that caused you to fall.”

Then what did cause it?

Tiamat waved the question away. “Regardless of how you got here, what matters is that you are here,” she continued. “And as I was saying, while you may not be a dragon now, you have looked upon the Eye, something which few, especially of your kind, have ever done, and that means you breathed dragonflame, and you spoke with the Eye, one of the few trueborns left in this world after your goddess forced them out.” She spat out the word “goddess” with an angry glare. Recomposing herself, she said, “So, yes, you are not a dragon, but you have spoken with one, and that is closer than I have come in many a century.”

Tiamat moved her head closer to Trixie’s, lowering her face so they were eye-level. “I must know,” she said desperately, “what did the Eye tell you? What words did it speak to you while you were in its embrace?”

Trixie was caught off guard by the sudden interrogation. She struggled to find the right words. “I–I mean it, it told me...” She trailed off as her mind raced. What do I tell her? she wondered. The truth? Is that the right answer? What would Twilight do? “It told me... nothing,” she finally said. “It showed me a big, open field with lots of snow, but it didn’t tell me anything.”

Tiamat eyed her suspiciously. Massive pupils dilated as she stared at Trixie, then narrowed into thin slits. “Lies,” she said matter-of-factly, moving away from Trixie. “Lies, all of it.”

Trixie felt her stomach drop out of her chest as they were suddenly racing towards the ground. In mere seconds they reached the floor level and Tiamat roughly dropped her onto the stone. Seating herself back in the encrusted throne, she said with that all too familiar smile on her face, “Fine, if that is how you want to play, my dear, then that is how we will play.”

Turning away from Trixie and rapping on the armrest of her chair, she said loudly, “Guards,” the same four guards form before hurried back into the throne room at her command and bowed. “Take her back to our friend Sypher and have him keep them all separated same as before.”

All four guards nodded quickly and scooped Trixie up. As they carried her out of the room, Trixie turned back to look at the Queen.

Watching her as she went through the doorway, Tiamat muttered under breath, “I’ll discover your secrets, my dear, even if I have to squeeze them from you myself.” She clenched her fist into a tight ball before glancing up at the Mountain’s Soul. Her eyes softened. “I won’t let my children die.”

A familiar voice echoed through the room as Trixie was tossed unceremoniously onto the moist, rocky, floor.

“‘Ello, ‘ello, there, my little dove. It seems you’re back in me keepin’. ‘Appy days, eh, love?” Sypher’s face, illuminated by flickering candlelight, grinned wolfishly at Trixie. He wormed his way towards her and lit a pair of icy blue lanterns along the way.

In the dim light, Trixie could see that this room was already far better than the one she had previously occupied. In the corner, a small pile of rags constituted what she assumed was to be her bed. Beside that, a quill, inkwell, and a roll of paper sat inconspicuously. A plate of food and a cup of water occupied the other side of the room. Sypher beckoned her forward. With nowhere else to go, she obliged.

“They wanted ye to be thrown back in that same room wot you stayed in before, but I says to ‘em I says, that ain’t no way to treat a guest, and a guest you are, love.” He motioned towards the “bed” and then to the meager pile of food. “Sees? I even got a bed all made up for you with a ‘ot meal and everythin’,” he laughed. “No more—” he paused “—’angin’ about waitin’ for the Queen, eh?” He nudged Trixie, grinning, waiting for a response.

She said nothing, but picked up the quill and paper.

“What are these for?” she asked.

Sypher mumbled something incoherent, and then sighed. “Queen’s orders an’ all, weren’t my doin’.” He shrugged. “Says she she wants to write down what it told you. Says you’d know what that means. She also says that you ain’t to be gettin’ any food tills ya do, but, seein’ as I like ya, I brought that fine meal you see before ya.” He puffed out his chest proudly.

Trixie smiled, and then looked more closely at what she supposed could loosely be described as “food”, before fighting back a gag. Careful not to let Sypher see, she bit back the dry heave she could feel working its way up from her stomach and said, “Thank you, Sypher. You’re too kind.”

He chuckled, saying, “I knows it ain’t much, but you could do a lot worse, eh?” He set the lantern he was carrying down and said, “You’re the first prisoner wot cared ‘bout me name, or who ol’ Sypher was. Well,” he said sheepishly, “to be honest, you lot are the only prisoners I ever ‘ad.”

“Well you’re doing a fine job so far,” Trixie said. She flashed him a quick smile. “This is easily the best prison experience I’ve ever had.”

Sypher wagged a finger at her. “Now, now, love, flattery ain’t the way to win me ‘eart. It’ll take a little more an’ a bit’a sweet talk to fool me.”

Trixie gasped dramatically. “Fool you? Sypher, I was merely speaking the truth. I’m hurt that you would think I would try and fool you.” Trixie curled her lip into a simper and stared up at Sypher. “I would never lie to you, Sypher.”

“Aye, love, and I’d never be so easily tricked by kind words and childish pouting.” His words suddenly became harsh and his face hardened. “I’m stickin’ me neck out to ‘elp you, and I don’t need your false kindness to make me question whether I did the right thing or not.”

Trixie recoiled. “I–I’m sorry, Sypher. I didn’t–”

He cut her off, holding up a hand. “Save it for another time, love.” He turned his back on her and left the room, slamming the door behind him as he called back, “I’m off to go check on your friends now. At least your Corona is upfront about his dislike for me.”

Trixie cringed as she heard the door rattle. Maybe that was too much...

Sighing, Trixie took in her surroundings and saw that, while this wasn’t the nicest room she had ever stayed in, it was also far from the worst. At least now she wasn’t a pony-popsicle, or upside-down.

She glanced over at the food and could've sworn she saw something move. Her stomach growled as she finally felt the effects of a full two days without food. She suddenly felt somewhat light-headed and decided that terrible food was still better than no food.

As she made for the cup of what she hoped contained water, the parchment caught her eye.

Turning her attention away from her dinner, she picked up the quill with her mouth and dipped it into the inkwell. It had been a long time since she had had to use her mouth to write, but with her magic still mysteriously absent, she had no other choice.

She tapped the quill against the side of the inkwell to remove any excess ink and then made a test stroke against the parchment. A long, stuttery, stroke less flowed across the page and more attacked it, leaving jagged black wounds in its path.

I didn’t realize I was so out of practice. I might have to rewrite this once I get my magic back.

Satisfied that her writing would at least be legible, generously speaking, she re-inked the quill and started a new line.

Dear Twilight Sparkle,

These last few days have been...

She paused, thinking of what word could possibly describe the recent events that had befallen them.

... interesting.

21 — I Guess We're Headed North...

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Chapter 21:
I Guess We’re Headed North...

As they reached the clearing surrounding the mare’s cottage, Spike leapt from Twilight’s back and walked a little ahead, mumbling under his breath, “Man, I never get to do any of the cool stuff.” He turned to Twilight. “Hey, I coulda helped you guys with that chimaera, y’know?” He shuffled his feet. “I might be a baby dragon, but that doesn’t mean I can’t protect Rar—you guys.” He caught himself just before saying Rarity’s name, shooting her a quick glance to see if she had noticed. He internally gave a sigh of relief when she remained blissfully unaware, preoccupied with picking bits of tree bark from her mane.

Rainbow Dash, nursing her injured wing, limped over to Spike. She placed a hoof roughly on his head, giving him a playful noogie. “Don’t be silly, kiddo. We don’t want you gettin’ hurt and stuff, ‘cause that’d be, like, not good, plus Twilight would totally not be happy if we let anything happen to you.”

He brushed her off, slipping out from beneath her hoof to give a pleading look to Twilight. “C’mon, Twilight, it’s not fair. You guys always leave me out of everything. Like when you went to that castle in the Everfree forest, or when you beat Discord, or that time you guys—”

Twilight patted him softly on the head, smiling at him. “I’m sorry, Spike, but you know how dangerous all that stuff was. I couldn’t bear to let anything happen to my number one assistant, plus, you said it yourself. You’re only a baby.” She patted his head again, doing nothing to assuage his discontent.

“Sheesh, it’s like I don’t even exist,” he muttered.

“Shucks, sugarcube,” said Applejack, joining Twilight and Rainbow Dash. “I know it may not seem like it now, but we were all the same as you when we was jus’ kids, too. Always lookin’ to prove ourselves, ‘specially RD here.” Rainbow Dash puffed out her chest proudly, oblivious to Applejack’s intended meaning. “Everyone gets their chance to shine, sugarcube. Everyone. It’s jus’, sometimes ya gotta wait for the right moment, if ya get my meanin’.”

Spike sighed. “Yeah, yeah, I understand.” He stole a glance at Rarity. She saw him looking at her and gave him a smile. He blushed. “Anyway, uhh,” he said, quickly changing the subject. “We should probably, y’know, do what we came here to do.”

As if struck by a sudden thought, Twilight’s eyes lit up. “Ah, right!” She turned to the mare who had helped them defeat the chimaera. She was busying herself with gathering flowers from the tiny garden in front of her cottage, either ignoring, or oblivious to, their conversation.

Twilight approached her, clearing her throat loudly.

The mare placed the gathered flowers into a pocket on her person and faced Twilight.

As she opened her mouth, the mare interrupted her. “I know why you have come, Twilight Sparkle, and I know what you seek.”

“Oh...” Twilight’s jaw clamped shut. Her head tilted to the side and she raised an eyebrow. “Wait, how?”

“I know many things, Twilight Sparkle, and not all of them were easy to learn,” she answered slowly. “But, how and why are not important. All I ask is that you trust me.”

“Oh, well that’s all then?” Rainbow said sarcastically. She jabbed a hoof in the mare’s direction. “You know who we are and why we’re here, but you won’t tell us why?” She scoffed. “Who are you, and why should we trust you if you won’t tell us anything?”

Rarity stepped forward. “As much as it pains me to say this, I must agree with our friend Rainbow Dash here,” she said, eyeing the mare. “You can’t simply ask us to take your word on faith alone.”

“Now, hang on there a minute,” Applejack said, shooting glances at Rainbow Dash and Rarity. “Look, I ain’t one fer dishonesty, but if she’s got secrets she wants to keep, then who are we to force her to give ‘em up? ‘Sides, didn’t she just help us defeat that chimaera? I’d say she’s more ‘an earned my trust.”

“Pssh, whatever, AJ, you can trust her if you want, but I’m not gonna,” Rainbow Dash said. “At least not until she explains herself.”

The mare met Rainbow Dash’s gaze unflinchingly. After a momentary silence, she said, “I am Nadir, and I have not asked you to trust me, Rainbow Dash.” She turned to Twilight, ignoring Rainbow Dash’s rapidly reddening face. “The only pony whose trust I require, is yours, Twilight Sparkle.”

Twilight put a hoof over her chest. “Me? Why me?”

“Because, my words are only for you, only for the one whom Trixie Lulamoon spoke of.”

“So, Trixie was here,” Twilight muttered under her breath. “Just like Lager said.”

Nadir lightly kicked open the front door of her hut, and waved for Twilight to enter. “Enter, Twilight Sparkle, there is much I would tell you.”

Twilight bit her lip, eyes searching the faces of her friends, looking for approval. Rarity and Applejack shrugged while Spike gave her a look that said, “Well, go on then.”

Rainbow Dash, however, flared her wings out and said, “Whoa, whoa, whoa.” She put a hoof on Twilight’s back. “Look, Twi, I’m not so sure this is a good idea anymore. I mean, like, this is why we came all the way out here, but I’m still gettin’ some pretty freaky vibes from this place, and her.” She jerked her head towards Nadir. “Y’know, like the bad kinda freaky.”

Twilight considered her for a moment, then sighed. “You may be right, Rainbow, but I’ll never know unless I trust her, and frankly, I want to know what she has to say.” She gently removed herself from Rainbow and approached Nadir. Giving a last look to her friends, she followed Nadir’s offered hoof into the dingy hut. Time to throw caution to the wind.

As Twilight stepped through the doorway, Nadir followed behind her, closing the door with resolute click and leaving the others to stare at the gnarled, wooden door.

Unhappy, but unable to stop her, Rainbow crossed her forehooves and fell back on her haunches. Laying spread-eagled on the grass, she stared up at the sky. “Welp, guess we’re stuck out here for awhile, huh?”

Applejack removed her hat, placing it on the ground beside Rainbow Dash and lay next to her, sharing the other mare’s thousand-mile stare into the cloudless sky. “Yep, sure seems that way.” She chuckled. “Could be worse. ‘Least it’s a nice day.”

Rarity, refusing to dirty herself, elected to remain standing, her eyes fixated on the door. She looked away only at the sound of Spike clearing his throat.

He rocked back and forth on his feet, hands held behind his back and his eyes cast downwards. “So, uhh, how’s it going?” he said, barely more than a mumble.

A smile crossed Rarity’s face as she looked down at the blushing dragon. Her horn glowed blue as she lifted him, much to his surprise, onto her back. “Since it appears we have some time,” she said. “Why don’t we go for a little stroll?” Spike mumbled out something incomprehensible and Rarity hid a giggle. “I’ll assume that meant ‘yes’.”

As the two tromped off towards the road that led back to Emerald Falls, Rainbow Dash heaved a long sigh.

“Man, I hope we don’t have to wait too long,” she said. “Waiting sucks so hard.”

Applejack stared silently into the sky until she saw a single cloud drift by. Her right hoof shot out and jabbed Rainbow’s foreleg. “Punch cirrus,” she said nonchalantly.

Rainbow stared in disbelief at her for a second, then her face broke into a wild grin and she looked back at the sky. “Cloud games, huh? Oh, it’s on now.” She stuck her tongue out in concentration, eyes fixated on the tiny window the was created by the gap in the trees, her hoof poised in preparation.

Inside the hut, Twilight’s eyes were busy adjusting to the near-total blackness of the interior, which was somewhat surprising to her given that it was barely midday outside. Apparently the grime-covered windows did little to let in the light, and created an eerie glow that only stretched a few inches more than anything.

Once she had gained a little more awareness of her surroundings, mostly due to the multiple candles Nadir had just lit, she found herself searching every nook and cranny in the hut, examining all the jars and books lining the shelves along each wall. It took all of her self-control to not immediately dive into the nearest tome, which appeared to be decades old, and instead return to her wandering gazing.

In one of the jars near the back, suspended in some sickly green liquid, was what she could only assume, though she hoped she was wrong, was a unicorn’s horn. Mottled and chipped, it hung there, making her feel more and more queasy. Her stomach turned and she forced herself to look away. Though, that didn’t prove much better as her eyes fell on a pile of rat bones, and, unfortunately as she turned again, more rat bones.

“This is, umm, a very... interesting home you have,” Twilight said awkwardly. She motioned towards the piles of bones. “Are those, uhh—”

“Yes,” Nadir answered, not looking up from the mortar and pestle she was currently using to grind the flowers she had recently gathered. “Rat skeletons. I use them quite often in my potion-making.”

“What for?” Twilight asked, curious.

“I crush them and use the bonemeal in my painkilling remedies.”

“I see, and do you sell these remedies to the townspeople?”

Nadir took a moment to stop grinding the flowers, and reached for a tiny bottle filled with a clear liquid. As she poured it into a small pot, now placed over a tiny fire, she said, “I do, though, not as Nadir.”

Twilight cocked an eyebrow. “Why?”

Gripping the pestle with her metal claw, Nadir returned to grinding the flowers down. “They call me a ‘witch’. You know this, you’ve heard it yourself. they fear me, even those who’ve known me since before the disease robbed me call my work unnatural.” She clicked her tongue. “Even Lager, that ungrateful louse.” Her grip tightened around the pestle. “And after everything I did for him,” she muttered, barely loud enough for Twilight to hear. Although, Twilight guessed, she probably wasn’t supposed to be able to hear that bit.

“You know, there’s a zebra who lives just outside Ponyville who you remind me a lot of,” Twilight said, pretending she hadn’t heard the last sentence. “A lot of the ponies used to be afraid of her too, but then they found out she wasn’t all that scary once they got to know her.” Twilight stepped a little closer. “Maybe you could try opening up to the ponies of Emerald Falls?”

“I learned from the zebras,” Nadir said, either ignoring, or choosing not to answer Twilight’s question. “After I lost my magic, I turned to them in the hopes that somehow they would be able to fix me. It was foolish of me to deny who I had become, but at the time, all I wanted to was to return to the way things were.”

Gears turned in Twilight’s head as she watched this seemingly normal earth pony, minus, of course, the metal leg, grind away at the flowers. She glanced back at the jar containing, what she was now sure was, a unicorn’s horn. A thousand questions suddenly popped into her mind, but she bit her tongue. “I’m sorry,” she mumbled. “I didn’t know.”

“And how could you have?” Nadir said, looking up. She stared at Twilight for a long while, but Twilight did not return her gaze. Finally, after an incredibly uncomfortable, and lengthy, silence, Nadir said, “Let us not dwell on the ghosts of our past, Twilight Sparkle. As I said before, there is much I would tell you.”

Lifting the mortar and emptying its contents into the now boiling pot, Nadir, used a small wooden stick to stir the mixture. When she was satisfied, she poured it into a porcelain cup and offered it to Twilight.

Twilight eyed the cup warily. “What is it?” She asked, sure that it must be some kind of potion.

“Tea,” Nadir answered unconvincingly.


“Tea.” Nadir nodded. “I had assumed you were a tea-drinker, Twilight Sparkle. Perhaps I assumed wrong.”

Twilight gingerly grasped the cup in her magic and brought it to her mouth. She could smell... “Lavender?”

Nadir smiled. “Ah, you know your flowers?”

“Only a little,” Twilight admitted. “I read a book on botany once. An Examination of Equestrian Flora by Desert Rose, I believe was the one. Very interesting stuff.” She put the rim to her lips and sipped tentatively. Her eyes widened. “Oh!” She took another sip. “This is really quite good.”

“It’s a bit like alchemy,” Nadir said, watching Twilight closely, “tea-making is. Careful measurements, precise temperature, tea-leaves first. Change one thing and you drastically alter the flavor.”

Twilight nodded along, sipping her tea happily now. “I always tell Spike he puts too much milk in, but he never listens.”

“A dreadful mistake, I’m afraid.” Nadir, satisfied that Twilight was thoroughly enjoying her tea, poured herself a cup. “I prefer to avoid milk altogether,” she said. “I find it ruins the tea’s natural richness, but that is simply a matter of personal preference.”

For a while, they drank their tea in silence, enjoying the simple pleasure it brought upon, before Twilight finally said, setting aside her teacup on a small table and looking Nadir in the eye, “Why did Trixie come here? What was she looking for, and where did she go?”

Nadir placed her cup next to Twilight’s and motioned for Twilight to follow her. Curious, and somewhat anxious, Twilight joined the other mare beside a wall of tiny bottles, each with a wax seal placed around tiny corks. Some had been opened, some were filled to the brim, and some were empty, but the one Nadir pulled from the shelf contained a small amount of milky jade liquid that glowed with an inner light.

“Almost a year ago,” Nadir began, her eyes on the tiny bottle, “Trixie Lulamoon came to me, searching for something.”




Nadir gave the bottle to Twilight to examine. “She may not have said it directly, but she was searching for a way to make herself stronger, so that she could best you, Twilight Sparkle.”

Twilight swirled the bottle around, watching the cloudy substance splash against the walls of its container. “But why? Why is she so dead set on beating me? And besides, that didn’t seem like the case in her letters to me, at least not the later ones.”

“I can’t speak to her current condition,” Nadir said, “but when I met her, she was filled with a singularly-minded purpose.”

“Even still, why you? How did she even find out who you were? And what did you do to her?”

“Why me? That is not a question I know the answer to, nor is its answer important. As for what I did to her?” Nadir nodded at the bottle in Twilight’s hooves. “I did nothing, but that bottle you’re holding, that did a great deal.”

Twilight turned the bottle over. There wasn’t any kind of label, or identifying mark anywhere on it. “This? What is it?”

“That,” Nadir said calmly, “is the gateway to another realm. That potion, a combination of dragon’s blood and the dragonsbane flower, awakens the Dragon’s Eye. It shows the user exactly what they need to see, nothing more.”

You drank this, Trixie? Was being better than me that important to you?

“Well, what did it show her?” Twilight asked, giving the bottle back to Nadir.

She accepted the bottle and set it on a table beside her. “The only one who can answer that question is another world away by now, and she is the one you are seeking.”

“You mean you don’t know anything?” Twilight said. “Nothing at all?”

Nadir shook her head. “I only know what Trixie Lulamoon told me after awakening from her meeting with the Eye. She said that she must head North, but she did not say where, nor did she say why. I only know that she left immediately after speaking with me, and I directed her to the next town North of here: Hoofington. From there, I don’t know where she went.”

Twilight cursed under her breath. “So that means I’m really no closer to finding her or finding out the reason she went North other than an ambiguous ‘because it was her destiny’. Great...” She sighed, then her ears perked suddenly as a tiny light bulb lit up in her mind. “Wait! You said she drank that... stuff, and after that she said she was headed North?”

“Yes,” Nadir said, nodding. “The Dragon’s Eye must’ve shown her something to make her want to go North.”

“It’s simple then,” Twilight said, grinning like an idiot. “I’ll just do the same and find out what this ‘Eye’ told her.”

“No, I’m afraid it isn’t that simple,” Nadir replied, shattering Twilight’s grin into a thousand tiny frowns. “The Eye doesn’t speak to everyone, and even those it does choose to speak with, it doesn’t show the same thing. Trixie Lulamoon’s experience was unique, as would yours be if you were to look upon the Eye.”

Cheeks sagged into a defeated frown, Twilight mustered up the last of her previous enthusiasm to ask, “Well, isn’t it at least worth a shot?”

Nadir smiled grimly. “No, it isn’t,” she said. “As I said, the Eye doesn’t speak with everyone, and it has not chosen to speak with you.”

“How can you know that?”

Nadir held the bottle at eye-level in front of Twilight. “What do you see?” she asked matter-of-factly.

Twilight stared into the bottle’s depths, straining her eyes. Silence reigned as she peered into the glass vial, unsuccessfully attempting to wrest its secrets from it. Its contents swirled and played around, but all she saw was the occasional milky strand of white curl through the deep green. Giving up after some time, she finally said, “Nothing. I don’t see anything.”

“Then you are not meant to gaze into the Eye,” Nadir said coolly, placing the bottle aside and giving Twilight an unsympathetic look. “Not all are so gifted as Trixie Lulamoon,” she continued. “In fact, very few even come close.”

“So that’s really all you can tell me, huh? North...”

Nadir shrugged apologetically. “I am sorry, but that I’ve told you all I know.”

Twilight forced a smile, despite her disappointment. “Oh well, I suppose it was too much to hope that I’ve all my questions answered at once.” She chuckled. “Where’d be the fun in that?”

Nadir waved her metallic leg flippantly, catching Twilight’s eye. “Life is filled with such challenges, is it not? It’s what makes living so very entertaining.”

Twilight followed Nadir’s non-pony leg with her eyes, biting her lip. Mustering up the courage, she said, “I’ve been wondering something ever since we met you in that clearing.” She stumbled over the next few words, unsure how to ask what she wanted to ask. “How did, er, lose your leg, if you don’t mind my asking?” Twilight said, indicating the decidedly less biological of Nadir’s four legs.

Holding up the claw-toed appendage, she let it shimmer in the candlelight. “I was unsure whether you’d ever ask me,” she confessed. “I had thought you were simply too polite.”

Twilight blushed. “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean—”

“No, it’s all right,” Nadir said, waving away Twilight’s apology. “Curiosity is nothing to be ashamed of.” She flexed each digit individually, curling the talons against the metal base of her ‘hoof’, before saying, “However, it’s not exactly a tale I enjoy revisiting. Perhaps another time, should we meet again, I’ll tell you the whole story, Twilight Sparkle.” She set the hoof back down and looked at Twilight. “Suffice it to say that it’s a story that starts with Lager and I, which I strongly suspect you already knew, and ends with me losing more than just my leg. While he may choose to hide what he has become, I chose to embrace it, despite the costs.”

“I see,” Twilight said quietly. “I had suspected that it involved Lager, since he’s like you, but I don’t know in what capacity.”

“He and I have known each other for many years, and he’s far older, and wiser, than he lets on, though he hides it well.” Nadir thoughtfully stroked her chin. “I suspect he’s knows more than even he knows he knows. Although, he’s still just an old fool most of the time.”

Twilight could’ve sworn she saw a flicker of smile cross Nadir’s face, but she passed it off as a trick of the wavering candlelight.

An awkward silence fell across the room as Twilight watched Nadir drift into some half-forgotten memory. After a time, she cleared her throat to break the uncomfortable quietude. “I suppose I have nothing left to ask you,” Twilight said. “Without much to go on, it’s looking like we’re just going to have to head to Hoofington to look for more answers.” She slowly turned away and headed towards the door. “Thank you for your help though, Nadir, and for the tea. I wish I could give you something in return, but I have nothing to offer.”

Coming out of her trance-like state, Nadir remembered herself and quickly turned her back on Twilight to rummage through a few drawers. Scooping out a bundle of dried weeds and some greenish paste, she said, “Here, take these.” She pushed them towards Twilight. “For your friend with the injured wing. They’ll help with the pain, and promote a fast recovery. She should be normal within a few days.”

Twilight took the medication graciously and thanked her. As she reached into her saddlebag to pull out the small drawstring bag Lager had given her, Nadir stopped her. “Thank you, Twilight Sparkle, but I don’t require money. I only ask for one thing in return.”

Twilight raised an eyebrow.

“Tell me, how is Lager doing?”

Twilight fought back a smirk. “He’s running a small tavern in town, and business seems to be going well. He said to tell you ‘hello’.”

Nadir smiled despite herself. “I see,” she said quietly.

Twilight, allowing Nadir to occupy herself with her own thoughts, found a home for the medical supplies in her saddlebag and made for the door. As she was about to open it, Nadir stopped her.

“One more thing, Twilight Sparkle,” she said. “I–I have to admit. I haven’t been completely honest with you.”

Twilight cocked her head to the side.

“I know what Trixie is seeking, though she does not truly know it yet.”

“And what, exactly, is she after?” Twilight asked slowly.

Nadir’s face became grim, her eyes reflecting the candle fire. For a moment, she seemed uncharacteristically lost for words. She tortured her lip. Finally, with a sigh, she gave in.

“She seeks to become a god.”

“W–what?” Twilight tripped over that one word, barely able to form a complete thought.

Nadir slapped her hooves over her mouth and shook her head. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have told you that. It wasn’t my place.” She ushered Twilight towards the front door, ignoring her protests and pleas for an explanation.

Rainbow Dash and Applejack had moved from their spot on the grass to a slightly more shady patch of trees near the path that led back to the main road. Spike and Rarity had returned a few minutes earlier, with Spike looking incredibly embarrassed.

“Spikey-wikey had a little, er, accident,” Rarity had explained.

Rainbow, her back against the tree trunk, suspended above the ground, said lazily, “So, like, what were you guys doin’ here in Emerald Falls again?”

Rarity answered first. “Applejack and I had come in search of some rare jewels for a dress I’m designing,” she said. “It’s not as if all life in Ponyville simply stops when you leave, Rainbow Dash.”

“Well duh, I know that,” Rainbow said, waving her hoof dismissively. “I dunno, it just seems”—she paused, glancing down at the two ponies—“convenient I guess. Something like that...”

“Aww, shucks, Rainbow, it was just a coincidence.” Applejack put a hoof to her chin, tapping it. “Call it serendipity. Divine intervention, if ya like.”

“Yeah, yeah, whatever,” Rainbow yawned. “Guess it doesn’t really matter anyway.”

There was a loud thud all of a sudden as the front door of Nadir’s house was thrown open and Twilight stumbled out. The surprise nearly knocked Rainbow Dash out of the tree as she was barely able to hang on, her hooves wrapped tightly around the tree branch.

“Wait!” Twilight called as the door slammed shut behind her. “What did you mean?” She rapped her hooves against the door, knocking as loud as she could. “You can’t do this, Nadir!”

Unsuccessfully getting her attention, Twilight slumped against the door, cursing under her breath once again. What did you mean?

Rainbow Dash, dropping like a cat from the tree, joined the others as they shared raised eyebrows at the scene.

“Uhh, Twilight?” Rainbow said slowly, inching up behind the defeated mare. “What was that all about?”

Twilight suddenly realized the all her friends had surrounded her and were giving her questioning stares. Uh oh... She heaved herself up and brushed herself off, trying, and failing, to look like that entire incident had not just happened.

“Oh, that?” Twilight asked as nonchalantly as she could manage. “That was just, uhh...” Well, I definitely can’t tell them about the whole Trixie trying to become a god thing. She glanced at Rainbow Dash. Rainbow especially wouldn’t take that very well. “Nadir refused to give me her secret tea recipe,” she lied. “She’s very protective of it.”

Her friends exchanged “Yeah, sure” glances before shrugging and realizing that extracting the truth was probably more trouble than it was worth. At least, that’s what Twilight hoped they had decided upon.

“Aaaaanyway,” Rainbow said, drawing everyone’s attention back to her. “What did you find out, Twi? Any good news?”

Happy to have the subject changed, Twilight quickly answered, “Well, yes and no.”

Spike visibly rolled his eyes. “Great,” he muttered.

Ignoring Spike, she continued, “I know where Trixie went next, but I’m not really any closer to finding out why.” At least for now she would keep her secret. For all she knew, it wasn’t true anyway. Yeah, that was probably just an exaggeration or something, she assured herself.

“Okay then, well, where did she go?” Rainbow asked.


Spike’s thumb and forefinger formed a check-mark under his chin as stroked it thoughtfully. “Wait a second,” he said. “Didn’t Trixie say something about Hoofington when she was in Ponyville? Y’know, during her show?”

Applejack nodded in agreement. “I think y’all are right, Spike. Said that was where she ‘vanquished’ the Ursa Major, right?”

He nodded back.

“Why would she go back there?” Rarity asked, furrowing her brow. “That seems like a bit of an odd choice, doesn’t it?”

“Not really,” Twilight reasoned. “I mean, if she’d been there before, then she already knew the layout, so it’d be familiar territory. Plus, we know she was headed North, and that’s the next North town, so it makes sense really.”

“So,” Spike said, glancing up at the noonday sun, “I guess that means we’re headed for Hoofington then, huh?”

“Sure seems that way,” Rainbow added with a sigh. “Eh, whatever, I’ve never been to Hoofington anyway. Could be kinda cool.”

“Yes, I believe it’ll be quite enlightening,” Rarity said with a sparkling smile. “I hear there’s a dressmaker there who specializes in silk. I would love to meet her.”

“Heck, it ain’t applebuckin’ season for a few more weeks, and I could use a good adventure, I’ll come too,” Applejack said, tilting her hat up.

Twilight stared around in disbelief. “All of you are coming with me?” They all nodded in unison. “But, it could all be for nothing. Are you sure you all want to go?”

“Dear, you think we’d let our friend go on a potentially dangerous—”

“And awesome!”

“—journey without us?” Rarity asked with a simper.

Applejack chuckled. “Apparently you ain’t learned everythin’ about friendship yet, sugarcube.”

“I don’t know what to say,” Twilight confessed. “You guys are amazing.”

“And awesome!”

Spike, with a little help from Applejack, hopped on to Twilight’s back. Wrapping his arms around her neck, he said, “So, which direction are we headed, Twilight?”

“Well,” she started. Maybe I can tell them about Trixie? Hmm... no. I’ll wait and see how everything goes in Hoofington first. Twilight gave one last look over her shoulder to the tiny, beat-up cottage. She saw a flash in one of the windows and could’ve sworn she saw Nadir’s face staring out at her. She looked up at the sun, gauging its distance across the sky. Everyone looked at her expectantly. “I guess we’re headed North.”

22 — Simply Signal S.O.S.

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Chapter 22:
Simply Signal S.O.S.

“Welcome back to the real world, Trixie Lulamoon.”

Her voice was like a muffled chorus of metal scraped against metal, harsh and biting, though it did not match the look on her face. The cloaked mare stretched out her thick metal limb in offering, a slight smile on her face.

A cold chill ran down Trixie's spine as she grasped the mare’s hoof, but she was careful not to let it show. Through the haze of her half-wakened state, she could just barely make out muted light streaming through a grime-covered window, and guessed that it must still be daytime. Steadying herself on a heavy wooden table, she brought a hoof to her forehead and lightly massaged her temple.

“Ugh, my head,” she moaned. “It feels like I was just beat with a log.”

The mare appeared unfazed, merely spinning around to scoop a carved-wood cup off a small table. The liquid inside the cup sloshed around as she held it out for Trixie.

Warily, Trixie eyed the contents of the cup with a raised eyebrow. It smelled like lavender, but it could’ve been anything for all she knew. “What is it?” she asked. “Another potion?”


Trixie’s brow furrowed. “Tea?”

She nodded. “For your headache,” she said, nodding towards the hoof Trixie was currently using to rub her temple.

Still cautious, though more than willing to rid herself of this splitting headache, she took the cup in her magic and held it up for inspection. Everything seemed fine, though, it was hard to tell given the general lack of light in the area. Deciding that if this mare had wanted to poison she would’ve already had ample opportunity, Trixie tipped the cup against her lips and let the warm tea slide down her throat.

Her eyes shot open. Sputtering and coughing, she nearly choked as the acerbic liquid hit her tongue. With a grimace that even the most disgruntled donkey would’ve been jealous of, she held the tea at arm’s length, sticking out her tongue in disgust.

“That is most certainly not tea,” she said.

Trixie could’ve sworn she heard the mare chuckle, but the look on her face was unassuming as usual. The only indication of mirth she gave was the slight twinge in the corner of her mouth that threatened to spread into a fully-matured smile.

“Bitterroot,” she said, pointing to the cup. “It’s lavender tea mixed with bitterroot. It's a natural painkiller,” she explained.

“Ah, I see. That would explain why it’s so, err, bitter,” she said, thinking that ‘bitter’ was not nearly a strong enough word to describe the taste. More like, pungent, or acidic. Setting the cup aside, she said, “Yes, well, perhaps I’ll finish it later.”

“You will not cure your headache by not drinking it,” the mare said with hints of a smirk hiding behind her expressionless face.

“Maybe so, but Trixie is not particularly interested in burning her tastebuds off just yet.” She could still taste the stuff in her throat, and it made her lips curl into an unpleasant frown. Deciding to ignore it as best she could, she nodded at the window where light was still trickling its way inside. “How long was I unconscious?”

“Only a few hours,” the mare answered. “Though, you were not unconscious, merely asleep, experiencing a dream-like sate. A vision, if you will.” She approached the previously indicated window and unlatched it, throwing it open to let more light stream in. Now illuminated, though no more expressful, her face remained distinctly unreadable.

“So, that was a dream?” Trixie asked more to herself than the mare. “But... it felt so real.”

“It was real,” she said. “More metaphysical than you're used to perhaps, but no less real than you or I.”

Trixie shook her head. “But you just said it was a dream.”

“I said it was a dream-like state, not a dream. A minor, but important, distinction I might add.”

Trixie ran a hoof through her mane subconsciously, then looked down at the brooch on her chest. She placed her hoof on it and felt the edges of the gem against her skin, allowing its coldness to permeate her body. She bit her lip, then looked to the mare. “If it was real, then...” She trailed off, looking back down at the brooch.

“Then you know what you have to do,” the mare finished for her.

“The most powerful unicorn who ever lived,” she said quietly, barely more than a whisper. The mare pretended not to hear. Clenching her teeth, and squeezing the brooch, she nodded, more to herself than her. “Yes, I know what I have to do. What I’m meant to do.” Steeling herself, she straightened up and locked eyes with the mare.

The mare’s demeanor suddenly shifted, and a smile came over her face. “Well then, allow me to point you in the right direction, Trixie Lulamoon.”

It was surprisingly beautiful day outside. The sun shone warmly across the land, and not a single cloud was to be found in the sky. There was even a light breeze that kept it from becoming too hot. None of this, though, made Trixie feel any better.

She ground her hoof into her forehead, trying to drive the headache from her mind with sheer force. With a pitiful moan, she quietly regretted not drinking the rest of the tea she had been offered. As horrid as it had been, she would still have gladly taken that over this skull-splitting migraine.

Walking along the dirt path, her cape’s fringes dragging along through the rocks and gravel, fraying and tearing more with each passing day, she couldn’t help but wish for the hundredth time she still had her mobile-stage. Losing that had been a major blow. Still though, it had been nothing compared to the blow to her ego losing to Twilight Sparkle had been. All that would change soon enough though, and she would become more powerful than any unicorn in existence. Although that would mean she would be doing exactly what the Eye told her to do, she decided that it was a small price to pay for absolute power. Besides, she could still do whatever she wanted once she had that power, so it wasn’t like she was just doing as she was told anyway, at least, that’s what she told herself.

She did her best to take her mind off the intense headache by letting her eyes wander around, mulling over what the Eye had told her. Finally, after a few minutes, she spyed a small lake off in the distance. Her heart soared. The water would help soothe her aching head, and besides, she needed to refill her waterskin. It was running low and she suspected that she had long journey ahead of her.

As she trotted through the grass towards the lake, she recalled the mare’s last words before she left.

“North,” she said. “You’ll be going North from here, to a small town nestled in a cozy valley, called Hoofington. It's merely a simple trading outpost without much to its name. Most ponies leave when they're young, but the ones that stay often become merchants or craftsmen due to the lack of any other jobs being available.”

Trixie frowned. “Yes, I’ve... been there before.” Her hoof moved to her brooch again.

“Ah, good. Then you’ll know it when you see it?” the mare asked.

Trixie nodded, though, with a glazed-over look in her eyes. “I don’t think I could forget it if I tried.” She chuckled mirthlessly.

The other mare noticed Trixie’s behavior, but said nothing of it. Instead, she continued, “There’s a smithy located on the far side of town, past the mill and around where the river curves to the northeast. The master there will help you in any way he can. He is a good man, and he can direct you further, perhaps even give you some supplies for your journey. But be warned,” she said, her face suddenly becoming grim. “You mustn’t stray from the path when you leave here. The road to Hoofington is safe enough yes, but wander too far and you may find yourself in deadly peril. Bandits and thieves roam the countryside, preying on unsuspecting passersby.”

Again, Trixie nodded. “I’ll keep an eye out,” she said, only half-believing that there was truly any danger. She turned to leave, pausing for a moment at the door. Turning back around, Trixie said, “I... thank you—” She stopped. “I don’t even know your name.”

The corner’s of the mare’s mouth curled into a sly grin. “You never asked,” she said. Trixie opened her mouth to protest, but realized that she hadn’t ever asked. “It’s all right. I understand,” she said. Placing her steel limb over her chest, she dipped her head ever-so-slightly in a miniature bow. “I am Nadir.”

“Nadir,” Trixie repeated. Nadir gave a subtle nod. “Thank you, Nadir. Thank you for everything.”

“Nadir...” she mumbled under her breath, as she approached the lake. She came to the water’s edge and leaned over, peering into the shallow waters. She saw her reflection staring back at her, ragged cloak flapping lightly in the breeze and brooch glimmering in the early-afternoon sunlight. She smiled. “Thank you.”

Taking a deep breath, Trixie puffed out her cheeks and dunked her head in the water, immediately deciding that coming to the lake was the best decision she'd ever made.The cool water brought a wave of relief over her, and put her headache in a choke-hold, forcing it into submission. She relished the feeling, but soon had to breathe and so pulled her head from the water, throwing droplets through the sky and creating a stunning rainbow that lasted for the briefest of moments before dissipating.

She brushed errant strands of her wet mane from her eyes, tossing it back over her shoulders and soaking her cape. With her face upturned, she stood for a moment, simply enjoying the feeling of the sun on her face. She let out her breath slowly through her nose, her eyes closed.

“What’cha doin’?” The voice was small and childish, with just a hint of songbird-like quality.

Trixie’s neck nearly snapped due to how fast she turned to face the owner of that playful voice.

Sitting, half-submerged in the water, was a pony, her front-legs crossed in front of her, supporting her head as she lazily rocked it back and forth, a mirthful grin playing across her face. Trixie shook her head. Clearly she must be seeing things. Opening one eye slowly, she saw that the pony was still there, her grin transformed into a look of amused perplexity.

“You look silly,” she said, giggling. “How come you’re shakin’ your head like that, silly?”

“Because you can’t possibly be here,” Trixie answered resolutely.

“Why not?” Her voice grated against Trixie's ears. It had such a sweet-sounding, sing-songy quality to it that made her sound like a petulant child.

“Because I didn’t see anypony else when I walked over here, and I didn’t hear you coming, so you must be some kind of hallucination brought on by this insufferable migraine.” She fell back on her haunches and squeezed her head between her two fore-hooves, pressing on either temple. She rubbed circles around them, assuming that that would somehow excise this impossible pony from her sight. Try as she might though, the pony remained there, now happily blowing bubbles in the water and giggling as they popped.

“What’s a migraine?” the pony asked, looking up from her bubbles.

Trixie sighed. “It’s like a really bad headache,” she said. “And apparently it causes extremely vivid hallucinations.”

The pony chuckled, covering her mouth with one hoof. “I’m not a hallucination,” she said after a moment. “Here, I’ll prove it.” Before Trixie could say anything, the pony spread both her limbs out and brought them crashing down into the water like a pony tossing a skipping stone, only with less skipping and more splashing.

Cold water washed over Trixie, and this time it felt decidedly less relieving, and much more aggravating. She shook her head, throwing water everywhere. Doing her best to straighten out her mane, she let it all hang in front of her so she could squeeze the water from it.

“I wouldn’t bother,” the pony said. “It’s just gonna get wet again anyway.”

“Not if I can help it,” Trixie mumbled. Tossing her mane back, Trixie gave the playful pony her best glare, but it didn’t seem to faze her. She merely smiled that same stupid smile. “Fine,” Trixie said, giving up. “You win, you’re real.”

The pony clapped her hooves excitedly. “I win! I win!”

“Yes, yes, you win. Now then, come out the water so you don’t splash me anymore,” Trixie said, waving the pony out of the lake. Despite Trixie’s insistence, she didn’t move. Her face curled into a small frown.

“I can’t,” she said sadly.

Trixie groaned. “And why not?”

“‘Cus my dad told me not too,” she said as if it was the most normal thing in the world. “He says I’m just supposed’ta come up here and talk to ponies, but I can't leave the lake.”

Trixie’s eyebrow rose up. “What? Why?”

“He says seaponies aren’t supposed’ta leave water, ‘cus we need the water to survive.”

Trixie rubbed her temples again, trying to clear away the migraine because she had clearly just misheard what the pony said. “Did you say... ‘seapony’?” she said, sure that she was about to be corrected.

The pony, or rather, seapony, smiled happily. “Yup!” She rolled over in the water and flashed her dull green tail, using it to splash the water, soaking Trixie again. She giggled, and offered a half-sincere apology. “Whoopsie, my bad.”

Trixie was dumbfounded. This migraine was really doing a number on her. “But this isn’t even the sea,” she said. “This is a lake! Shouldn't you be... lakeponies or somehting?”

“Yeah, I know right!” she said, suddenly ecstatic. “I keep telling my dad that we should call ourselves ‘lakeponies’ but he doesn’t listen." Her face lit up, and she wriggled her tail happily. "Maybe you could tell him that! I bet he’d listen to you.”

Trixie held out a hoof, doing her best to silence the seapony. “Whoa, whoa, whoa, I’m not telling your dad anything,” she said. “Look, I’m kind of in a hurry, so I really should be on my way. But, it's been, err, nice meeting you.” With that, she gathered herself up and turned to walk away.

“Wait!” the girl cried. “Don’t go! Come swim with me.” She splashed the water desperately trying to get Trixie's attention.

Trixie turned back around and saw a look of utter sadness cross the seapony’s face. For a moment, she almost felt sorry for her and was about to say something when she came to her senses and told herself what a ridiculously bad idea that was. “Sorry, but I really must be going.”

The seapony lazily floated on her back. “The water’s really nice,” she said in a sing-song voice. “It feels really good.”

Trixie hesitated, wanting to turn around and walk away but feeling herself strangely wanting to take a dip in the lake with the odd seapony. She debated the pros and cons to herself, meanwhile keeping an eye on the girl. She had almost made up her mind when she saw a wild look come over the seapony.

Her eyes lit up with excitement as she dove into the water with the agility of a barracuda. A second later, she resurfaced with a fish in her hooves. Smiling happily and licking her lips, her eyes flashed as she bit into the fish ravenously, tearing it apart in a bloody mess. Trixie’s eyes practically exploded out of head with how wide they grew.

She was rooted to the spot. She couldn’t look away as the girl ripped the fish apart, throwing bloody scales everywhere. For a brief moment, she saw the girl’s mouth was lined with a hundred tiny teeth, all razor-sharp and thin as blades of grass. Her heart was beating itself out of her throat now, so she swallowed it back down. After a few seconds, the seapony had finished her meal and smiled a bloody smile at Trixie.

"Mmm, fish are so tasty," she said sweetly, though more to herself than to Trixie.

"What exactly did your dad tell you to do again?” Trixie asked.

The little seapony licked her lips clean, then said, “Oh, he told me to come up here and talk to ponies who come to the lake.”

“And then do what?” Trixie asked, biting her lip nervously.

“Y’know, just try to get them to swim with me,” she said nonchalantly.

“For what purpose?”

“Because swimming is fun.”

“No other reason?”

“Well...” The seapony brought a hoof to her chin and tapped it thoughtfully. “I suppose there is another reason. But it’s a secret,” she said playfully, putting a hoof over her lips and making shushing sounds.

Trixie felt like she knew where this was going now, and she almost couldn’t bring herself to ask what that reason was. She gulped and slowly started to back away from the lake’s edge. Keeping her eyes trained on the seapony. “I see, well, it’s been lovely talking to you and all,” Trixie said, holding a fake smile as she retreated, “but maybe we’ll see each other again soon.”

The girl giggled. “Heehee, probably sooner than you think.”

Trixie stopped, tensing her legs in preparation for a quick escape. “What do you mean by that?”

She backstroked in a circle, not looking at Trixie as she said, “Oh nothing.” Spitting a stream of water out in a fountain-like spout, she sat up in the water, then nodded. “Okay, you guys, you can take her now.”

Trixie felt two shadows looming over her. “You guys?” she repeated. “Who guys?”

“Us guys,” came a gruff voice from behind her.

She turned around just in time to see two muscular seaponies, balancing on their tails and holding tridents, before there was a loud ‘thwack!’ and stars exploded in front of her. Darkness overtook her as she fell to the ground.

As the two stallion seaponies picked her up and began dragging her limp form into the water, the girl waved at her, saying, “Night, night, sleepyhead!” Then she disappeared beneath the glassy surface of the cold lake, leaving no trace of her, nor Trixie's, existence.

A single raven, on the opposite shore of the lake, picked at scraps from a small pile of bones, some as thick as a pony's leg before giving a sorrowful caw and flying away.

23 — Just a Friendly Reminder

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Chapter 23:
Just a Friendly Reminder

Twilight absentmindedly watched Applejack and Rainbow Dash as they argued over which Daring Do villain was the most “radical”. Of course, since Applejack had never read any of the books in the series, it was a rather one-sided debate. She watched with a sort of detached interest, her mind more focused on her own internal debate.

I don’t know if I should tell them about Trixie or not, I mean, I don’t even know for sure what she’s up to. What did Nadir mean about Trixie 'seeking to become a god'? And why did she say that Trixie didn’t know it yet? Twilight racked her brain, calling on all the knowledge she possessed to try to solve this puzzling situation. Think, Twilight. Lay out the facts. What do we know?

Rainbow Dash puffed out her chest and stood on her hind legs, bobbing her head up and down. She stuck her tongue out and began making hissing noises while holding her fore-legs tightly against her side. Moving her body like a wave, she writhed around awkwardly, much to Applejack’s amusement.

Stifling a chuckle, she said, “Uh huh, and what are you supposed to be again? Some kinda worm or somethin’?”

Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes and let out an exasperated sigh. “Not what,” she said defensively, “who. I’m being Adhi, y’know, that big snake dude from Temple of Time?” She waited for Applejack to respond, but she just shrugged apologetically. “Ugh, he was, like, the major antagonist three books running.”

“‘Antagonist’, eh? Using fancy words now because you’ve been readin’ all them books, huh?” Applejack said, with more than a hint of teasing in her voice.

Rainbow’s cheeks flushed, and she quickly added, “I mean, like, that’s what Twilight told me at least. All I know is that he was one wicked cool snake guy.”

Twilight and Applejack hid smiles of amusement beneath masks of calmness, though Applejack did it better than Twilight. Twilight’s tiny smile blossomed into a full-grown smirk, and then metamorphosed into a quiet snort. Applejack meanwhile maintained her composure perfectly.

She put a hoof to her chin, tapping it thoughtfully. “Hmm, Adji, no I don’t think I remember that guy.”

“Adhi,” Rainbow snapped.



Applejack removed her hat in one quick motion and scratched her head, squinting as she looked up at the sky. “Nope,” she finally said, looking back at Rainbow, “t’ain’ ringin’ any bells.”

Rainbow groaned. “He’s only, like, the coolest villain that Daring Do ever fought. I mean, he’s a snake, AJ! A giant freaking snake!”

“Oh, well that does sound cool,” Applejack said. “This Adgi fella sounds like a right pain in the flanks.”

Rainbow bit her tongue and clenched her eyes shut, practically shaking.

Twilight drew her attention away from the two mares and decided to answer her self-imposed question. Okay, here’s everything we know. One: Trixie has been sending me letters for almost a year, according to the timespan between when she sent the first letter, and the most recent letter. Two: she’s on a mission of some kind. Three: she was sent on that mission presumably by Nadir, who wouldn’t tell me exactly what that mission was. Four: according to Nadir, she’s trying to become a god, but I don’t know the details, and, apparently, neither does Trixie, which I guess is good... or something. Five: Trixie went to Hoofington next, which is why we’re going there now. Six: I’ve somehow managed to drag my friends into following me on this potentially wild goose chase. Seven: I have no idea what I’m doing or where I’m going outside of a vague North. Eight: I’m leading my friends on what could possibly be a very dangerous journey blindly. Nine: I can’t even decide if I should tell them about Trixie. Her head sunk lower and lower as she thought about the danger she may have unwittingly put her friends in. But they wanted to come. Practically forced me to let them come. They don’t even know what they’re possibly getting into though. I don’t even know what we’re possibly getting into. Twilight glanced up and saw Rarity and Spike walking side-by-side, chatting away happily, and Applejack and Rainbow Dash still embroiled in their “debate”. Ten: I’m a terrible friend.

In that moment, Twilight felt supremely alone. Despite her friends’ physical proximity, it felt like she was a million miles from anywhere. The weight of the world rested on her shoulders.

“...And so Rainbow Dash comes shooting out of the house like she just saw a ghost, right?” Spike said, using his hand to imitate a pegasus swooping into the sky.

“Why would she do that?” Rarity asked, cocking her head to the side.

Spike chuckled, “That’s the funny thing. See, Twilight had gotten a letter earlier that morning from Trixie, and then another one that the mailpony had given to me to give to her.” Rarity nodded along. “So when we read the letters, it was pretty obvious that these weren’t the first she had sent, but for some reason Twilight had never gotten any others. Twilight was really confused and so we went to the post office to try and see what happened. When we finally got to the bottom of things, we found out that Rainbow Dash had managed to intercept all the letters Trixie had sent, except for the two Twilight got that morning.” He held up his hand indicating he wasn’t finished yet. “But the really crazy thing is how Rainbow Dash tried to deny it when we asked her about the letters.”

Rarity’s brow furrowed. “So, Rainbow Dash was deliberately withholding this information from Twilight?” Spike nodded. “But, why?”

Spike opened his mouth to respond, but Rainbow Dash interrupted him.

“Hey, what are you guys talking about?” she asked. “I heard someone say my name.”

“I was just asking Spike what your reasoning was for lying to Twilight for all that time. That doesn’t seem like something somepony’s friend would do.”

This prompted Applejack to jump in the conversation too.

“Now hang on just a moment,” she said. “What’s all this about lying and such?” She looked up at Rainbow Dash. “They talkin’ about you, Dash? What’d you lie about this time?”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Rainbow Dash said, waving her hooves frantically. “When did this turn into ‘let’s all blame Rainbow Dash’?”

“Ain’t nobody blaming you, sugarcube, calm down. I’m just tryin’ to figure out what’s going on. We’ll save the blamin’ and hoof pointin’ for later.”

Twilight cleared her throat, drawing the others’ attention. “Perhaps it’s best if I explain everything. Besides, you girls did ask about the letters earlier, but we never got around to discussing them.”

“That sounds like a mighty fine idea,” Applejack said. “Shoot, Twi.”

“Yes, dear, I would like to have this whole letter business cleared up before the journey gets too out of hand.”

Spike waved his hand over the area in front of them. “I guess that means you have the floor, Twilight.”

Twilight let out a soft sigh. “Hmm, maybe it’ll be best if I start from the beginning.” She produced one of the letters from Trixie from her saddlebag and looked down at it, opening the envelope and pulling the letter itself out slowly. “This is the letter I received from Trixie yesterday morning,” she explained. “Here, perhaps you girls should read it for yourselves.”

Soft, blueish light surrounded the letter as Rarity pulled the letter between her and Applejack so both of them could read it.

In unison, their eyes widened and softened as they read down the letter, stopping occasionally to re-read a certain part, or point something out. By the time they had finished, Rarity was thoroughly confused, even re-reading the letter, but Applejack had a look of understanding on her face, softened features and a hint of a smile.

Rarity shook her head. “I don’t understand, what’s all this about the Crystal Mountains and the brooch? Why would she send you this letter?”

“That’s what I was wondering too,” Twilight answered. “And that’s why I knew I had to find the other letters.”

“And did you?”

In answer, Twilight produced a handful more letter from her bag and then carefully placed them back inside. “Rainbow Dash had them,” she explained.

Rarity’s lip curled into a frown. “You hid these from Twilight?”

Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes, quickly answering, “Well, yeah, but I thought I was doing her a favor. You shoulda seen some of the first letters. She was a real jerk.”

“Still, dear, does it not seem a tad disingenuous to hide these from your friend?”

Rainbow cocked her head to the side.


Rainbow shrugged.


“Well, like, I guess maybe a little dishonest,” Rainbow said slowly. Then added quickly, “But it was only because I thought it was the right thing to do. I mean, who wants to read letters from some jerk who only blames you for ruining her life?”

Rarity made to reprimand Rainbow Dash again, but Applejack stopped her, holding out a hoof, saying, “Her heart was in the right place, Rare, even if her mind wasn’t. You can’t blame her for doing something she thought was right. ‘Sides, it’s not like she destroyed the letters or anything.”

“Well, not all of them,” Rainbow Dash muttered under her breath.

“Anyway, that’s neither here nor there,” Applejack continued. “What matters now is finding out what exactly Trixie is after and why we’re trying to find her.”

“She might be in grave danger,” Twilight said. Applejack seemed to understand, but Rarity furrowed her brow in confusion. “I don’t know that for sure, but she sounds like she’s on a quest to defeat some kind of monster or something, the way she talks about it.” Twilight bit her lip. “I can’t help but feel like this is my fault. She’s doing this to prove she’s better than me, but she might get herself killed in the process, and I can’t let that happen.”

“So now you’re followin’ the letters right back to where she sent them from in the hopes of finding out where she is now.” Applejack stated more than asked. She grinned. “Sounds like a plan to me.”

Twilight gave a short nod. “Yes, that was my plan. I had hoped not to drag you girls into it, at least not past Emerald Falls, but—”

“Nonsense, dear, we’d help you no matter what. That’s what friends are for, are they not?” Rarity said, giving a demure smile.

Applejack smiled, adding, “Yep, even if it’s to help that uppity showmare.” Handing the letter back to Twilight, she said, “Well, now that we got all that sorted out, I guess we best hurry ourselves along to Hoofington.”

“Hang on a sec,” Rainbow Dash said suddenly. “I just had an idea. Why is that we don’t just read all the letters now and figure out where Trixie went, y’know, instead of all this wandering around?”

“Hey, that’s not a bad idea,” Spike agreed. He looked over to Twilight. “Yeah, how come we’re not doing that?”

Twilight tapped a hoof to her chin, “Hm, I suppose that is a possibility, but we already know that Trixie doesn’t say exactly where she’s going because we have her most recent letter, and that doesn’t say where her destination is, right? Plus, by following her path, we’re more likely to figure out what she’s doing, and find clues about where she’s going along the way. If we read all the letters at once, we could easily miss something about a specific place if we don’t go to that place. It’d be like only reading the last chapter of a book to find out the ending, or conducting an experiment but only observing the end result. You’d miss out on all the stuff in the middle that helps you understand why the ending is the way it is.”

“Y’know, for once, I actually understand what you mean, Twilight,” Rainbow Dash said unexpectedly,. “I mean, sure, we’d get to see Daring Do beat the heck the outta that manticore, but then we’d miss all the cool puzzle-solving and that part where she jumps over the sea of snakes.” Everyone but Twilight gave Rainbow raised eyebrows in response. “Ugh, I’m talking about The Monkey’s Paw, duh.”

Twilight nodded. “Right, and Daring would’ve never even have known to find that manticore if she hadn’t explored that underwater temple and found those carvings.”

“Oh man, that part was awesome! Then right after that, she has to escape the mermares and—”

“I think we get the point, Rainbow,” Applejack cut in. She turned to Twilight. “Okay, so do we have the letter she sent right after she left Nadir’s hut? That might help us figure out what she did on her way to Hoofington, right?”

“If she even sent a letter then,” Spike said. “The best we can do is look at the dates and the origins of the letters to try and guess where she sent them from, but there’s no guarantee that they’ll be of any use.”

“Perhaps not, but it’s still worth a go, isn’t it?” Rarity said, glancing over to Twilight.

They all looked to her for an answer, but she wasn’t sure what to tell them. Her heart told her to tell them that everything would work out, but her mind told her that that might not be the case. She bit her lip, then said, “Yes, it’s worth a shot. Let’s see what Trixie has to say about her journey to Hoofington.”

Unfastening the clasp on her saddlebag, she pulled a pile of letters out and began searching through them. Envelope after envelope flashed by as she worked her way through the pile, finally stopping on a pair of letters. She slipped the remainder into her bags and then held the two in her magic field up, saying, “There’s two here from Hoofington. One was sent a week after the other.”

“Well go on, read the first one then,” Rarity said eagerly.

Twilight carefully sliced open the top of the letter and removed the contents. Along with a folded piece of paper, a small silver coin also popped out. Etched on it, was a depiction of a pony who looked entirely normal, save the fish tail that sprouted from its rear, where its back legs should’ve been. Deciding to ignore the coin for now, Twilight instead turned her attention to the letter.

Upon unfolding the letter, she immediately noticed that it was much shorter than the others. Only one small passage was written in the middle of the paper, followed by Trixie’s usual flowery signature.

Dear Twilight,

Just a friendly reminder, not everything is as it appears.

Trixie Lulamoon

Twilight flipped the letter over, looking for more, but the other side was blank. She even tried casting a spell of revealing on it, hoping that maybe there was some hidden message on it, but the letter remained stubbornly bare. Quickly, she opened the second letter and scanned it.

Dear Twilight Sparkle,

I’m beginning to think that I shouldn’t have sent you that coin. It may have bought me some food, or at the very least, some passage out of this town. I wish that I had never stopped here. I never really liked Hoofington, even when I was a filly. What am I telling you this for? It’s not like you’d care.

Anyway, I’m sending you this letter now to tell you that I’ve found out where I need to go next, but I won’t be able to leave for awhile. The master of the smithy has been kind to me, but I have to work for him to earn some money before I can leave. Don’t worry though, soon I’ll be back on track and on my way to defeating you. Every day that I spend here hammering away at shoes and farmer’s tools is just another day that I get stronger. I may not have the range of spells that I need yet, but my magic is getting stronger everyday.

Keep an eye on the horizon, the Great and Powerful Trixie will return one day, more powerful than ever.

Ever greater and more powerful,

Trixie Lulamoon

Well that didn’t really help explain much.

“What does it say, Twilight?” Applejack asked. “Is there anything useful?”

“I’m... not really sure,” Twilight answered slowly. “But I at least know that Trixie stayed in Hoofington for some time. I don’t know for how long though.”

“What about that coin?” Spike asked, pointing to the silver coin still floating in front of Twilight. “What’s that all about?”

Twilight shrugged. “She doesn’t say. The letter the coin was in only says, ‘Not everything is as it appears’.”

“That’s it? Like, nothing else... at all?” Rainbow Dash asked.

Twilight shook her head. “Nothing. I don’t get it either. It must be some kind of clue, or something, but what?”

“May I see it, dear?” Rarity asked, motioning towards the coin.

“Please, maybe you can tell us something about it,” Twilight said as she handed the coin to Rarity.

For a few moments, they waited for Rarity to examine the coin. She furrowed her brow and squinted as she slowly spun it around, carefully looking at it from every angle. Once she flipped it to the side with the mermare, her eyes seemed to light up.

“Ah, I’ve heard of these,” she said. “They say they’re given as tokens of gratitude by sea-dwelling ponies, but that’s just an old mare’s tale. I’ve seen a few fakes in my day, but this one—” she used her magic to try and bend the coin, unsuccessfully “—seems to be real. It’s truly remarkable that Trixie happened to find one.” She held the coin in her hoof, weighing it. “I wonder how it came into her possession?”

“She didn’t say,” Twilight replied. “The letter doesn’t mention anything about the coin except to say that she wished she had sold it instead of putting it in the envelope.”

“Mm, I can imagine it would’ve fetched quite a sum had she indeed sold it. I wonder why she mailed it away then?” Rarity handed the coin back to Twilight. “Perhaps it was meant as a sort of trophy?”

“Pff, that thing, a trophy?” Rainbow scoffed. “Please, couldn’t she have come up with something a little bigger, and more impressive? I got bigger trophies than that when I was just a stupid kid.”

“It ain’t the size of the thing that matters, Dash, it’s the size of the deed,” Applejack said as if she were admonishing a child. “She musta done somethin’ impressive to earn that, I reckon.”

“Yeah, but what?” Spike asked.

“Who knows?” Twilight, giving the coin one last look, slipped it, along with the two letters, back into her bags and then fastened them tightly. “Either way, we’ve wasted enough time sitting around talking about it. We should get moving before the sun starts to set.”

Rainbow Dash glanced up at the sky and noticed that the sun was well past its zenith and had begun making its way west, and in a few hours or so it would sink beneath the distant mountains, casting the land into darkness.

“Dang, I hadn’t realized it was so late,” she said. “I guess that whole thing with the chimaera took longer than I thought.”

“It certainly seems that way,” Twilight said. “At least we’re pretty close to Hoofington now. We should be there in an hour two.”

Spike raised an eyebrow. “How do you know that?”

“Because I’ve been this way before.”

“You have?”

“Once,” Twilight answered. She brought out Trixie’s brooch and stared into its depths, seeing herself reflected a thousand times in its surface. “I had to find something out.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Rainbow Dash asked, oblivious to Twilight’s pained look.

“Hush now, Rainbow,” Applejack said quietly. “There’s no need to go pryin’ into others' affairs.”

“No, it’s fine,” Twilight said, equally quietly. “I just wanted to find out if anything Trixie had said was the truth. Whether there was any grain of sincerity in her claims. There wasn’t,” she said, answering their unasked question. She flipped the brooch over and read the inscription on the back.

M. L.

“Not a single grain,” she whispered.

24 — And Around the Moon the Brothers Did Gather

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Chapter 24:
And Around the Moon the Brothers did Gather

Trixie rolled about fitfully in her sleep, never staying still for more than a few minutes at a time. Her eyebrows were furrowed in a look of semi-pain, almost as if she were wincing, and her legs kicked now and again of their own accord, making it seem as though she were trying to run away from something in her dream. Although, it could also have been that it was nigh impossible to find a comfortable position.

Through most of the night, she was never fully asleep, always waking herself up only to glance around the room as if she were looking for something, or someone, and then, with a disappointed sigh, fall back into the ragged cloth blanketing the ground. Several times, she mumbled a few half-words and almost-thoughts in her restless sleep, but only one word came out even semi-coherent.

“Midnight,” she whispered to herself in her dreams, only to have the word torn away from her as a loud bang heralded the entrance of an all-too-familiar voice.

“Oi, Lady Tiamat be requestin’ your presence in ‘er royal oculary,” said Typhon as he slithered into the room holding a flickering lantern in one claw and a long spear in the other. He waved the lantern in Trixie’s face, forcing her to hold her hooves up to block the light. His gravelly laughter echoed distantly as he moved the lantern away and used the blunt end of the spear to jab her roughly in the ribs. He chuckled again as she squirmed. “And by ‘request’, I mean get your rump up and get outta this room. I’m takin’ ye there meself, and I ain’t aimin’ to be late again, sees?.”

With a particularly strong jab, he forced Trixie to her hooves and shooed her out the door. She didn’t put up a fight because she knew that there was no point, and besides, she wanted to speak to Tiamat again. Perhaps she’d be able to work out some kind of deal with the drake queen. If she played her cards right, maybe she'd get her friends saved, get all of them saved.

As Typhon pulled the heavy door closed with his tail, he produced a bag and gave a knowing nod to Trixie. Again, she didn’t bother protesting, knowing that it was useless.

Her instinct was to seize the bag with her magic, but as she tried to excite the leylines in her body and force magic to course through her, she found herself unable to produce so much as a tiny spark. She felt cold, naked almost as the normally electric energy she was used to failed to make an appearance. It was like someone had simply turned the flow of magic off.

Her mind went back to the first day of their capture, when she had tried to use her magic to escape and found herself in a similar circumstance. At the time, she had thought it was simply fatigue, but now she wasn’t so sure. Something far more sinister was at work here, but she knew better than to ask Typhon about it. She could likely get the somewhat slow-witted drake to give up the answer, but she didn’t want him to know how weak she was. Instead, she did her best to play off her failed magic attempt as feigned reluctance and then awkwardly grabbed the bag with her hooves and slipped it over her head.

Once she was engulfed in darkness, she said, “I can’t tie it by myself. You’ll have to do it for me,” though it was somewhat muffled by the thick material.

“Do I need to?” Typhon asked. “You ain’t plannin’ on misbehavin’ I ‘ope. That would make this little adventure very unpleasant for the both of us.” He brought his face right up to Trixie’s and let out a puff of warm air from his nostrils. In a low growl, he said, “You keep yer ‘ood on yeself, and I won’t be forced to tie you up and carry ye meself. Clear?”

Trixie nodded slowly, but said nothing.

“And don’t go thinking I’ve gone soft, or nuffin’. This ain’t my idea, it’s the Queen wot told me to ‘ood ya, but let ya walk free." He huffed. "Somethin’ about seein’ how willin’ you were to cooperate,” he added quickly. “If I had it my way, it wouldn’t just be your ‘ead in a bag.”

So, a test then? Hmm, I’ll play along for now.

With another jab of his spear, he pushed Trixie forward and began leading her down the damp pathway.

“Keep movin’, sweet. So long as you don’t get too far in front of me, you won’t get lost. Ain’t too far anyhow.”

Ain’t too far, as it turned out, was much farther than it sounded. They had already been walking for about fifteen minutes when Trixie asked, “What’s happened to my friends? Are they all right? What about Astrid? Is she still sick?” Muffled though his voice was, Trixie could still hear Typhon grumble something about being stuck with ‘the annoying one’, but he didn’t answer her question. Deciding to push her luck, she asked him again. “What about Polaris, or... or Corona? Where are my friends?”

“I don’t remember sayin’ you could ask me questions. You keep yer mouth shut and yer eyes forward and we won’t ‘ave any problems, see?” He jabbed her again, just for good measure.

Trixie winced as she felt the butt of the spear poke into her hindquarters. Gritting her teeth, she sat down suddenly and crossed her fore-hooves. She looked rather silly sitting on the ground with her black hood over her head, and her legs crossed, but her face, though he couldn't see it, showed anything but mirth.

Typhon snorted. “You ‘avin’ a laugh, sweet? Think this is a game, eh? Get your ass up and get movin’ before I get angry.”

“No, I don’t think I will,” Trixie replied firmly. “I’m quite comfortable right here.” She wiggled her hindquarters a bit and settled in more deeply.

“You little—”

“Yes, me,” Trixie said. “It’s me that your queen wants, and clearly she wants me unharmed, she said as much herself earlier. So what do you think is more important to her, bringing me to her unharmed, or say, your head?”

He sputtered angrily, but no words managed to find their way out.

Trixie spun around to face him, her head still hooded. “Perhaps Tiamat would like to know how you threatened me, or maybe I’ll tell her that I refused to cooperate because of you. How do you think she would take that? Do you think she’d just kill you right there? Or would she let you rot awhile in a cell first? Maybe she’d even—”

“All right, all right, fine,” Typhon said quickly. He let out a heavy sigh. Fine, ‘ave it your way. Your friends ain’t been ‘armed. They all been kept in separate cells-like, but ain’t been nothin’ done to ‘em.”

“Well, what about Astrid? How’s she doing?”

“The old lady’s been given some medicine, and she’ll be all right for now. She was in a bad way for awhile there.”

“Thank goodness. What about Corona?”

“That young bloke wot attacked the Queen’s a bit bruised, but he’ll live.”


“He mostly just stands at the door yelling to see his wife. He’s fine too. A bit loud, but fine.”

Trixie breathed an inward sigh of relief. Thank Celestia they’re all all right still, especially Astrid. I wonder if I’ll get to see them soon? I suppose the only thing I can do is see what Tiamat wants and maybe talk my way into seeing them.

“There, that satisfy your curiosity, sweet? ‘Ave I answered your questions thoroughly enough?” Typhon said gruffly and with a detectable amount of bitterness.

Trixie smiled, though he couldn’t see it. Standing up, she said, “Yes, it’s good to know that my friends haven’t been injured.” Turning around, she added, “Shall we continue, then?”

“Aye, we shall,” Typhon grumbled.

After another ten or fifteen minutes of stumbling through the darkness, Trixie felt a gust of fresh air as the bag was pulled from her head. Just judging by how long it had taken them to get here, Trixie was sure that they were a good distance from her cell, and, by how much of that time had been spent climbing, a good deal higher as well.

She shivered as she felt cool air waft in, and she wondered whether they were outside or not. Her eyes were still busy adjusting to the dim light that permeated the area and she couldn’t see anything really. It was sort of like looking at the world through a muddied window with a fire on the other side of it. It was all just a mess of lights and darks all dancing around in an incomprehensible ballet of colors. Through the haze, a voice, familiar again, but different from Typhon’s, floated down to meet her.

“I trust you slept well, Miss Lulamoon?”

Trixie’s vision came into focus just as the drake queen’s head came into view. Her long slender body seemed to dance in the torchlight, and she was silhouetted by a white glow that made her look almost angelic, though she would undoubtedly have made for a terrifying angel. With a curt nod to Typhon, she turned back to Trixie and cocked her head slightly to the left, waiting for an answer. Trixie watched Typhon slither back down the tunnel they had come from before facing her.

“As well as you would expect of a pony who’s been kidnapped and held against her will while her friends suffer an unknown fate at the behest of that same kidnapper,” she said without any discernible expression. Her face was deadpan, but her eyes said everything her words did not.

“Mm, quite,” Tiamat said in reply. “You have been granted all the amenities befitting one in your position, and the others as well are being well cared for, I assure you.” She seemed singularly unperturbed by Trixie’s eyes or her words. In fact, she looked more bored than anything, as if this is exactly what she had been expecting and she was just waiting for Trixie to be finished.

“But we are still your prisoners, yes?” Trixie asked, slightly more accusatory than she had intended.

Tiamat considered her for a moment, her breathing slow and steady. “Yes,” she said finally. “Until such a time that I see fit to release you, you are, for all intents and purposes, prisoners of Drakkengard.” Waving her hands dismissively, she continued, “But lets us be done with this wearisome conversation. I have no interest in discussing your position right now.”

Trixie huffed. “It may not be important to you, but it’s slightly more pertinent to me. All I want is to see my friends again,” she pleaded. “We’ve done nothing to earn your distrust.”

Tiamat’s eyes narrowed. Her slender neck curved downwards, bringing her eyes level with Trixie’s. “Nothing? You’ve done nothing but earn my distrust, my dear,” she said harshly. “In my own throne room, I was attacked by your fiery-tempered friend, and after that, you lied to me when I asked you what the Eye had shown you, even though I divulged to you information about the Mountain’s Soul that only I was privy to before. Miss Lulamoon, my dear, you’ll have to remind me, why exactly do you deserve my trust?”

Trixie’s lips pursed. She’s right...

“Nothing to say?” Tiamat said, almost mockingly.

Trixie remained silent, but kept her eyes trained on the Queen.

“Enough of this,” she said, rising up again. “I didn’t have you summoned to squabble over petty details.”

Trixie’s lips tightened, whitening around the edges.

Tiamat turned around and began gliding away, into the white light that shined down a little way away. “Come,” she said as she went. “I have something to show you.”

Trixie watched her silhouetted form slowly shrink before looking over her shoulder towards the inviting tunnel. It seemed so close. I could go right now. Run. I’d be halfway back before she knew what happened. She heard Tiamat’s voice rumble into her ears.

“You’re welcome to try, my dear. Though, you’ll find that a damp cell will be the least of your worries if you do.”

Then again, I can’t leave the others behind. Especially not Astrid...

Taking a deep breath, Trixie turned back to see Tiamat staring at her, once again wearing a shimmering white coat. “I wouldn’t dream of it,” she said.

Tiamat’s lips parted into a sharp grin. “No, of course not.”

Following in the massive drake’s shadow, Trixie navigated her way across the rocky floor towards an area a little bit from the entrance where the mysterious beam of light that had silhouetted Tiamat had shined down, creating an almost perfect circle. As they approached the light, Trixie began to feel the breeze from earlier again, though stronger this time, and she thought she could hear the wind blowing faintly.

The nearer they got to the center of the room, the more apparent it was to Trixie that the circle of light was actually much bigger than she had initially thought. It poured down into a stone basin with curved edges that must have been at least thirty or so feet in diameter. The sky hung over the basin like someone had torn the mountain in half. A massive gash stretched across the length of the curved stone and was opened wide enough that the entire night sky was visible clearly. Not a single cloud obscured Trixie’s view as her mouth fell open slightly.

Somehow, it felt like she was closer to the stars than she had ever been before. Like she could reach out and pluck the Moon from the sky and cradle it in her hooves. She had never seen it so clearly before. It was like looking into a black sea that was dotted with flits of white and yellow lights, and, if you looked hard enough, you could just barely see a few far off planets, blue and red, floating in the distance.

Trixie had drawn with the stars before, using them to help tell her stories, but this was different. It was like a massive canvas just waiting for someone with the skill to use it. She felt a shiver run down her spine as the immenseness of it hit her. She simply stared upwards, neck craned and eyes wide, for what felt like hours before Tiamat’s voice broke the silence.

“I discovered this place during my first few years inside Jormungdur,” she said softly, almost as if she were speaking to herself. “I used to come here every night and watch Angar the Black hold his council in the sky, and wait for Scytherian to drag the sun from its slumber and start the day anew.” Tiamat’s eyes gleamed in the moonlight, reflecting the thousands of tiny dots in her massive pupils as she watched the stars with a pensive look upon her face. A thousand year’s worth of memories played across her crimson eyes.

Trixie didn’t know what to say, or if she was even supposed to say anything. Eventually, she decided to just go with her gut instinct. “It’s beautiful.”

The Queen didn’t respond, but there was a low hum that seemed to voice her agreement.

For another minute or two, the pair didn’t speak. But finally, Tiamat broke the silence yet again. “Do they have star-drawings where you’re from?”

Trixie lowered her gaze to look at Tiamat. “Some, but what does this have to do with anything?”

“Indulge me.”

She sighed. “Well–” she pointed to a group of stars clustered near one particularly bright star “–over there is Mythos, the scribe who penned the Celestial Annals which described Princesses Luna and Celestia’s ascent. And then a little to left of him is Strongarm the Brave who was the first pony general to defeat the Griffons in open battle.” She brought a hoof to her chin as she recalled the location of another constellation. “Oh, and waaaaaaay over there, next to that red orb are Brio and Morient. They say those two stars are the mother and father of the Princesses, but I’m not sure I believe it.”

With more than a hint of curiosity, Tiamat asked, “Oh? Why is that?”

Trixie shrugged almost apologetically. “They’re just stories mothers tell their foals to keep them entertained when there’s nothing else to do. What makes those stories anymore real than my stories? I convinced an entire town that I had single-handedly defeated an Ursa Major, and they believed me, but that doesn’t mean my story is the truth just because people believe it. Even if everypony in the world believed it, it still doesn’t make it true.”

Tiamat’s lips tugged into a sly grin, and her eyes narrowed. “A sound argument, but what if I told you that my stories were the truth?”

Trixie considered her for a moment. “But, I don’t even know what your stories are.”

“Does that matter? If I tell you they’re the truth, then does it matter what I say?”

Trixie’s brow furrowed in thought. “Hmm, well... I guess not. But still, just because you say they’re the truth doesn’t mean they are. It’s the same thing as before, only now it’s you telling the stories instead of my mother.”

Tiamat’s grin widened into a toothy smile. She pointed through the crack and up into the sky. “Angar the Black was the firstborn son of the dragons, and it was he that first wove the stars into his image. When he created the night, he left his mark in the form of constellations. Later, when Scytherian was born, he brought light unto the world and so was given the title Scytherian the Kind. He was the first of the dragons to take pity on the lesser beings bring unto them the Sun.”

Trixie shook her head. “No, it’s still just a story. I was taught Celestia and Luna were the ones who raised the Sun and the Moon, not this Angar, or this Scytherian. It’s the same tale with the names changed around.” She stamped her hoof into the ground, somewhat impatiently. “They’re just lights in the sky and nothing more.”

Tiamat ignored Trixie and continued. “After Scytherian came Calidor the Builder. He was weaker than either of the two older brothers, but he had a mind for creation, so he built himself a new race of mortals. These are the dragons you see today. They may look like trueborns, but they are far from it. Long-lived and just as fearsome, they lack the raw magical strength of the trueborns however, and are not immortal. Then finally,” she said, pointing to the blue ball of light hanging innocently in the sky, “Akatoss was born.”

Akatoss? The name sounded familiar, though why, Trixie couldn’t say. It just had that sort of sound to it that made it seem as if she had been hearing it her whole life. “Akatoss?” she asked, cocking her head to the side.

“Akatoss,” Tiamat repeated, her grin souring into a scowl, “or as he’s better known, Death, was the last of the Dragon Brothers, and the most powerful.” She turned her head skyward, the moonbeams playing across her face. She let out a long, slow, breath. “Akatoss saw it as his duty to usher dying souls into the Abyss, where they may rest in peace, and for many years, that’s exactly what he did. But he grew tired of his work, and hungered for more power, more control. He tried corrupting his brothers, but they wouldn’t listen to his madness, so instead he forced them to do his bidding. Calidor he forced to make twisted creatures, amalgamations of normal animals such as the manticore, or the chimaera. But worst of all, he drove his brother to create the creature you know as ‘Discord’, chaos incarnate.”

Trixie’s mind reeled. This was too much to take in all at once, even if it wasn’t real. She massaged her temples, trying to work out everything in her head. “So Akatoss, or Death, used Calidor to make monsters? But... why? What purpose did that serve?”

“He plotted to overthrow his brothers so that he could control the universe and he needed an army to do it, but when Angar learned of his treachery, he and Scytherian were able to save Calidor from their brother. Once he was safe, they asked him to create a creature that could stop Akatoss, and so, with the last of his magic, he brought to life the ‘goddesses’ you know as ‘Princesses Celestia and Luna’.”

Trixie’s hoof shot up almost immediately. “Wait, he created the Princesses?”

Tiamat nodded solemnly. “It took all that he was, but he split his godhood into two separate beings, one for the day and one for the night. Those beings are your Princesses.”

“But, but what about them raising the Sun and the Moon? Wouldn’t that still have been Scytherian?”

Tiamat’s own hand raised in answer to Trixie’s. “If you’ll let me finish.” Her claw extended towards the Moon as she stared down at Trixie, one digit pointing directly at its surface. “It was shortly after the birth of the Princesses that Calidor perished, the immense magic required having taken his own immortality from him. But before that, Angar had held a council of the Brothers around the Moon so as to decide how to defeat Akatoss. You can even see their last meeting etched into the sky if you know where to look,” she said.

Trixie followed the invisible line created by Tiamat’s claw all the way to the Moon where, if she looked at just the right angle, she could sort of make out three vague shapes arranged around the Moon in a triangular fashion. She traced between the stars to create images in her mind that possibly could’ve resembled great dragons convening around the Moon, but then again. These were stars, you could make whatever images you wanted, so long as you had the skill to do so.

Tiamat watched Trixie draw the lines and waited for her to finish before continuing. “As I said before, it was after this meeting that Calidor’s immortality faded and he passed into the Abyss. With him gone, Angar and Scytherian’s positions were weakened and they were more susceptible to Akatoss’s attacks. However, with the rise of the Princesses, they were able to drive Akatoss back, forcing him into his own domain in the Abyss.”

“But, wouldn’t that be incredibly dangerous?” asked Trixie, turning back to Tiamat. “I mean, they’d be fighting him on his own turf, right?”

“Exactly,” Tiamat replied with a knowing smile. “You catch on quickly. Angar and Scytherian were able to drive him back, but once they entered the Abyss, they weren’t able to defeat him. He had become too powerful, wrapped up in the souls of the vanquished, so they were forced to retreat.” Her claw moved from the Moon, to another grouping of stars to the north. “There you can see what happened next.”

Trixie looked, and she tried to see what the Queen was talking about, but nothing in particular stood out to her. I just looked like a mess of bright spots of light surrounding a decidedly black patch of the sky. “I don’t see anything,” she said. “It’s just a black spot.”

“That’s because there’s nothing there to see, at least not anymore.” Tiamat’s body stretched up and she reached out as if trying to touch the sky. “Angar and Scytherian, once they had trapped Akatoss inside the Abyss, did the only thing they could: they sealed him inside using the last of their magical ability. And so it took the combined strength of the three older brothers to subdue and trap the youngest.”

Trixie’s eyes flowed up Tiamat’s curving form, all the way up to her head. “So what happened to Angar and Scytherian, then? Did they die as well?”

The Queen slumped back down, coming eye-level with Trixie, though maintaining a healthy distance from her. “Sadly, yes. Neither survived the ordeal as the wounds they had suffered at the hands of Akatoss combined with the energy it had required to seal him away had been too great. As their dying wish, they had granted the remainder of their powers to Celestia and Luna. Unfortunately, it was this extra power that corrupted the Princess Luna, eventually turning her into the one you call ‘Nightmare Moon’, but that is neither here nor there,” she said, waving her hand. “The reason I have told you all this is because I want you to see that sometimes the stories we tell are true.”

All you’ve done is tell me a long story about a bunch of dragons who kill each other.

“You say they’re true, but that still means nothing. I could say they’re not true just as easily,” Trixie retorted. “Where is your proof that this is how Equestria was made?”

A smirk split Tiamat’s face. “Proof?” she asked. “Why, I am living proof.”

Trixie’s jaw dropped. “You? But, you weren’t even in the story.”

The Queen nodded. “True, I was not there in the beginning, but I know someone who was.”


For a moment, Tiamat considered the question, but said nothing. She gazed back up at the sky. Trixie followed her line-of-sight to a shooting star that happened to be crossing the sky as they had been speaking. Its shimmering tail traced a wide arc across the black wash of the night sky and eventually it disappeared into the void again, leaving the two of them staring at the Moon’s scarred surface. Riddled with pockmarks and valleys, the Moon looked more like a wounded veteran than a celestial body. It hung in the sky like a massive cocoon, with some unknown mystery hiding inside.

Something about looking at it suddenly made Trixie sad, as if she had just remembered a long-forgotten friend. She looked away, at her hooves, wishing she still had her brooch with her.

“Do you know why the Brothers gathered around the Moon?”

Trixie looked up into Tiamat’s ruby eyes as they stared back at her. “I... assume because it was far away from the Abyss and Akatoss.”

“Mm, not quite, no,” she hummed. “I didn’t tell you who their father was, did I?” Trixie shook her head and Tiamat nodded. “He was the first of the Dragons, a true god. Abraxas, they called him. He and his wife, Sirana, bore the four Dragon Brothers, and it was he that first breathed life into the universe. Unfortunately, Sirana was killed when Akatoss was born. He tore a hole through her belly to escape, but his father, their father, he lived on. After the death of his wife, he came down to this world to find a mate. He found that mate in the form of an immense serpent called, Nymael.”

Wait a second...

“She gave birth to multiple daughters over the years, but the first...” She paused.

There’s no way.

“The first was me.”

Trixie felt her knees tremble a bit. She wobbled slightly, steadying herself after a moment. “So...” She trailed off. The night sky felt like it was crushing down on her now, no longer open as it had been a few minutes ago. “So, you’re the daughter of Abraxas?”

“I am. He abandoned me after I was born, unhappy that I was not a true dragon like himself, but little did he know that Nymael would only bear drakes for him. His sons all gone, he would have no one to carry on his seed,” Tiamat said with a half-laugh. “After Nymael had given him only drake-daughters, he left her as well, heading for the one place he could safely wait for another true dragon to be born: the Moon.” Trixie’s head felt like it was spinning in place. She suddenly felt dizzy. “It was after he had taken refuge inside the Moon that Akatoss had made his move, and so when the three remaining brothers had convened to plot his defeat, they joined our father in the Moon.” She watched with detached amusement as Trixie looked around wildly, as if waiting for someone to spring out and tell her that this had all been an elaborate practical joke. “Abraxas refused to help, claiming that he would not kill one of his own sons, and so he instead entered an eternal slumber deep within the Moon, communicating with the outside world only through visions and dreams. After that, he became known as Abraxas the Undying.”

I think I need to sit down, Trixie thought as she fell to her haunches rather ungracefully.

Tiamat regarded her with a look of bemusement. With the hint of a smile playing across her face, she leaned in to Trixie as she stared blankly ahead.

“So, I’ll ask you again, my dear,” she said. “What did the Dragon’s Eye tell you? What did my father say?”

25 — Dinner and a Show

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Chapter 25:
Dinner and a Show

“You can stare at it for as long as you like, but that won’t make it disappear, my dear.” His voice echoed in the cavernous hall, soft and bubbly, a bit like what she imagined a bubble bath would sound like if it could speak. It would’ve been rather lovely to listen to were it not for the circumstances under which Trixie was hearing it.

Her stomach growled in protest as she eyed the seashell plate in front of her. It was stacked with carrots, celery, lettuce, and all sorts of lovely vegetables. It was right in front of her, and yet so far away, so frustratingly out of reach. She licked her lips.

She stretched a hoof out, only to have it stop just short of the plate. The starch-white bars of the cage prevented her from reaching any further. She whimpered softly. Then, her eyes narrowed. Screwing up her face, she began to excite the leylines in her body and force the magic to her horn, but stopped when she heard cheery laughter frothing up from the other side of the room.

“Hohohoho,” he laughed. “How terribly rude of me. I should’ve realized you weren’t hungry.”

Trixie lost control of her magic as she looked up to see the barrel-chested seapony at the end of the long coral table smiling and chuckling as he waved his hoof flippantly, calling over a pair of armed guards to take the plate away. Trixie stretched her hoof out as far is it could go, trying to stop them, but the stony-faced seapony guards didn’t even look at her. They scooped the plate up and brought it to the other end of the table where the fat seapony licked his lips happily.

Trixie’s stomach growled again.

He picked up a carrot and twirled it around, a wild look in his eye. Just as he opened his mouth to take a bite, he stopped. His chubby face contorted into a look of mock concern, and he looked up at Trixie.

“You wouldn’t mind terribly if I ate this... would you? It’s just, I’m positively famished. I haven’t had a bite to eat in almost an hour.” His lips curled into a frown, but when Trixie said nothing, they quickly curled the other direction into a twisted smile. “Ah, good!” He bit off the end of the carrot with a sort of ravenous ferocity, tearing the poor vegetable in half. Chewing loudly, and waving the stumpy carrot about flamboyantly, he kept his head upturned, as if considering something as he ate. Eventually he pointed the half-eaten carrot at Trixie—after making a big show of swallowing—and said, “Now, my daughter tells me that you came from up there.” He jabbed towards the ceiling with the carrot. Taking another bite, he added, “But I have to admit, it’s been quite some time since I’ve seen anypony like yourself.” He swallowed another bite and then used the carrot to point at his own forehead. “Particularly I’m interested in this bit,” he said, jabbing at his forehead again.

Trixie unconsciously reached up to her horn, and felt its fluted ridges. My horn?

The seapony took another bite of the carrot and then threw the small nub that was left aside. “Yes, yes, that... err, protrusion you have there.”

Gears turned in Trixie’s head. My horn? He hasn’t seen a unicorn before? Her eyes widened a bit as understanding hit. This might just work to my advantage then. These rubes will never know what hit them once The Great and Powerful Trixie is done. She let a tiny smirk escape. This will certainly make for an interesting tale at my next show if nothing else.

A loud knock snapped Trixie out of her thoughts as the seapony rapped the table. “Ah! I’ve just remembered!” he said excitedly. Trixie gulped. “There was a lad—years ago—had one of those things on his head as well.” He stroked his chin. “But I can’t seem to recall what it was used for.” He tapped the table with his hoof while humming quietly and looking up at the ceiling. He waved his hoof and shook his head. “Well, in any case, it’ll come to me later. Let’s not dwell on that for the time being.”

Trixie breathed a sigh of relief. Celestia, that was close.

“For now,” he said, standing up from his chair, “let us discuss you. Chiefly, what to do with you.”

“What to do with me?” Trixie asked.

He nodded. “Yes, you see, my daughter is rather rambunctious, and she is of the opinion that we should just eat you and be done with it.”

“Well, let’s not be hasty,” Trixie said quickly. “I mean, we haven’t even been properly introduced yet.” She stuck out her hoof. “My name is Trixie Lulamoon.”

He eyed her hoof from across the room, smiled. “Formalities are such a bore, my dear. I’d rather dispense with them, if it’s all the same to you.”

Trixie retracted her hoof and frowned. “Will you at least tell me who you are?”

“I suppose there’s no harm in that.” He gave a small bow. “I am the king of the seaponies, or... at least the king of what’s left of them.”

“What’s left of them?” Trixie repeated. “What do you mean? Where’d they go?”

The seapony king sighed. “Where’d they go? Hmm, yes, that’s the question isn’t it?” He picked up a stray piece of lettuce and nibbled absentmindedly on the corner of it, lost in his own thoughts.

Trixie’s stomach rumbled again. She placed a hoof over it to silence its moanings. “Are they all dead?”

“Dead?” he repeated with a chuckle. “No, no, I doubt it. Most of them struck out on their own some years ago.” He waved his hoof around. “Said something about finding their own lakes and ponds and such. Didn’t want to live all cooped up in the same watering hole as it were. Of course, so many of them left, now it’s just me, my daughter, a few guards, and the fish left.” He sighed again.

Trixie cocked her head to the side. “They left? But how? If you’re seaponies, then doesn’t that mean you can’t live on land?”

The king shook his head, causing his flabby cheeks to ripple. “A common misconception, my dear.” His hoof made a circle around his head as he said, “Look around you. We are on dry land right now, are we not?” He smiled, adding, “Dry being relative of course,” with chuckle.

It was odd that Trixie hadn’t thought of it before, but the damp cave-like hall they were in wasn’t underwater. For some reason, the thought had never occurred to her. “So you can live on land then? Why live under the water if that’s the case?” He sucked in his cheeks and puckered his lips, making a fish face. “Ah,” Trixie said, her voice trailing off.

His face returning to normal, he said, “Besides, it’s not so much that we can’t live on land as it is we don’t want to live on land. It’s very uncomfortable, all this,” he said, pointing the way his lower half was awkwardly squashed on the ground. “Though, as you can see, we aren't entirely opposed to it. We eat and sleep on dry land, for the most part,” he said, revealing a row of shiny teeth as he smiled. “My daughter prefers catching prey in the wild, while I’m more inclined to enjoy a nice, relaxing dinner at a table like a civilized pony. Of course,” he added, with yet another flippant wave of his hoof, “civilized being relative.” Trixie eyed the bone-white cage she was enclosed in uneasily.

Suddenly, the king clapped his hooves together and a pair of guards disappeared into a hallway where, a moment later, Trixie heard a splash of water. “Where are they going?” she asked.

“Oh, they’re just off to retrieve Aria,” he said nonchalantly. “My daughter,” he explained at Trixie’s confused look, adding, “We’ve talked enough as it is. I’d rather not keep her waiting any longer. She can be somewhat... tenacious.”

Trixie sat back in her cage, causing it to rock slightly. “Waiting... for what?” she said slowly, almost breathlessly.

“Dinner to be served,” he answered equally slowly. “I had to soften you up a bit before we started. You know how it is.” He shrugged apologetically.

Trixie’s mind was doing cartwheels over itself as she tried to think of something. She could perhaps cause bright flash of light and confuse the seaponies long enough to escape, but she didn’t have an easy way out of the cage. Years ago she had tried escape-artistry, but she had never been very good at it. It would take awhile to undo the lock, unless...

“A show!” she said suddenly.

The king swallowed the piece of lettuce he had been chewing on, coughing as it had gone down too quickly. Pounding his chest, he turned to Trixie, saying between coughs. “A—" cough "—show—" cough "—you say?”

She smirked. The Great and Powerful Trixie still has a few tricks under her cape. “I’m a travelling magi—showmare by trade,” she said. “Perhaps we could work out a deal?”

The seapony king let out a belch, patting his chest lightly. “A deal?” he said. “What sort of deal?”

Trixie tried to make herself look as dignified as possible as she stood up, but it was difficult when the cage kept moving around. “I perform my stage show for you, and then you let me go free.”

The king laughed a hearty laugh that echoed ominously. “I think not,” he said. “My daughter caught you and so it’s only fair that she be allowed to keep her prize.”

Trixie grinned. “Well at least allow me to perform for you anyway. Think of it as ‘dinner and a show’. Entertainment for you and your charming daughter.”

He considered her for a moment, then shrugged. “I suppose there’s no harm in that.”

Trixie motioned to the cage door and said, “Now, of course you’ll need to let me out. I can’t very well perform if I’m locked up, now can I?”

“Quite right.” The king nodded to another set of guards who quickly moved across the room and unlocked Trixie’s cage. As they pulled her out, the king, his jowls bouncing as he spoke, added, “What is it that you do, exactly?”

Trixie stepped onto the damp cave floor, brushing herself off. She put a hoof to her lips and said, “It’s a secret. If I told you now, that’d take all the fun out of it.”

The king’s bellied laughter rang out. “Quite right, quite right, indeed,” he said.


He turned to the hallway the guards had disappeared down earlier and said, “Bring Aria in. I’ve got a special treat for her.”

Trixie too turned to the hallway to watch as the same little filly she had been fooled at the water’s edge by came prancing out of the hallway. Her mane bounced up and down as she hurried towards her father, giving him a big hug, or as big as her tiny hooves could manage. “Daddy Daddy!” she exclaimed. “Is it time for dinner?”

He patted her on the head. “Almost, my dear. This lovely young mare is going to be doing something a little special for us first.”

She clapped excitedly. “Yay! What’cha gonna do, huh?” she said, cocking her head to the side as she looked at Trixie expectantly.

Trixie clicked her tongue, wagging her hoof. “Ah, ah, ah. It’s a secret.” She smiled. “You’ll just have to wait and see.” Aria frowned, crossing her hooves. “All right, now stand back everypony,” she said, waving the guards away. They looked to the king before backing away. He nodded. With everyone on the opposite side of the room, Trixie cleared her throat. “Well then, let’s get started.”

Carefully making sure to keep her horn somewhat obscured, Trixie began to conjure up fog and bathed the room in a soft darkness. The king let out a low whistle. Aria clapped her hooves as Trixie turned the ceiling above them into a magnificent display of lights. To her trained eye, they were a perfect recreation of the night sky, all the stars in their place, but to the seaponies, it might as well have been random lights, but they were enchanting all the same. Now that they were all distracted and staring at the starry ceiling, Trixie began to let the magic course through her more completely, letting it flow into her horn. It began to glow a soft blue, but the seaponies were so distracted, they didn’t notice, except for the king, whose eyes squinted through the fog, piercing right through it to Trixie.

She saw this, but ignored him and instead began telling her story, using the stars to paint a celestial picture and the fog to conceal her movements.

“Many years ago, in the little town of Hoofington—”

“I know that place!” Aria shouted.

“Shh,” the king said, placing a hoof over her mouth but keeping an eye on Trixie.

“—there lived a mare named Midnight, and she was beloved by everyone there. One day, from out of the forest, a massive Ursa Major came crashing through the town.” She pulled a few stars out of the sky and swirled them into a bear shape and bathed it in fog, making its roar release wisps of foggy air. “Nopony knew what had brought it, but they knew they couldn’t stop it. Not without the help of Midnight. So the villagers hurried as quick as they could to her house to warn of the Ursa Major and ask for her help.” A few more stars came down from the ceiling to form a horde of ponies carrying torches. She made them gallop through the sea of fog, finally drawing away the king’s attention. She pushed a little more magic into her horn. “When they reached her house however, the found it empty. The townsponies despaired for they knew their village was doomed.” The little star-ponies wept, their foggy tears mixing into the sea as the bear moved ever closer. “But, just when all hope was lost, from out of the forest came Midnight!” A starry forest formed just in time for a mare wreathed in light to come galloping out of it. Her horn was aglow with starry magic as she charged the bear. “Using all of her strength, Midnight drove the bear back and saved the village.” The mare’s horn grew brighter and brighter, becoming almost blindingly so until finally, the light exploded from her horn in dazzling display of colors.

The fog dissipated, the stars receded, and the mare, after giving a wink to Aria, disappeared. Applause erupted from the seaponies as light began to flood the room again and the fog evaporated. Quickly though, the applause turned into only one or two claps as they all spun their heads around as if looking for something.

“Where’d she go, daddy?” asked Aria.

The king’s eyes narrowed. “It’s all coming back to me now.” He grunted. “Magic. That’s what that thing on her head was for.” He turned to his guards who were still standing around loooking for Trixie, and said, “Well don’t just stand there looking like imbeciles. After her!”

Trixie rounded a second corner, still snickering to herself. Heheh, fools. Did they really think The Great and Powerful Trixie would be so easily captured? Ha! I think not.

Her hooves clattered against the ground as she turned yet another corner and entered into a domed room with small pedestal in the middle. She approached the stone pedestal cautiously, hoping to herself that it wasn’t some kind of trap.

Surrounding it at five different points, were streams of water that poured off its edges, along troughs carved into the cave floor, and then into pitch blackness. One of the streams pointed back the way she came, but the largest went in the way she was going, but in the middle of it all was a basin where water that dripped from the ceiling collected. She stood up on her hind legs and peered into the basin.

She knew she didn’t have time to be standing around, but something was telling her to look in the basin. The urge overwhelmed her. There, at the base of the shallow stone basin was a small coin. It was silver and had a picture of a seapony on it. Oh ho, this might be worth something. It might be able to buy me safe passage, or at least a hot meal and a warm bed.

Using her magic, she swiped the coin from the basin and slipped it into a small bag slung across her back. Just then, she heard shouting from behind her.

“I think I saw her go down here!” someone shouted.

“That’s what you thought about the last turn too,” another said.

“Fine, then don’t check it. I won’t be the one taking the blame when she gets away though,” the first voice said.

Uh oh, time to get moving.

Making sure the coin was secure, Trixie followed the largest trough to black pool of water at the other end of the room. Ah, we must be in some kind of underwater cave system. She hesitated jumping straight into this murky pool, but the sound of the seapony guards getting closer changed her mind. Well, nowhere else to go but forward. Taking a deep breath, Trixie slipped into the pool as quietly as she could.

It was black.

Black was everything she could see, and she couldn’t even feel any walls around her. Panic set in as she realized how incredibly reckless it was to jump into a pool of water that leads Celestia-knows-where. Knowing that panicking was the quickest way to drown, she calmed herself down and ignited her horn. It was a good thing magic is water-proof.

Even now, with her horn’s blue glow lighting up everything around her, it didn’t make seeing where she was any easier. For all she could see, she might as well have been at the bottom of the ocean. At least then I could see the ground. she thought somberly.

Without warning, she suddenly felt a tug as she slipped almost accidentally into a current of water. It pulled her along quicker than she could figure what was happening. Before she knew it, she could see light, faint at first, but it was there,as definite and tangible as the rapidly-decreasing oxygen supply in her lungs.

Tumbling out into the light-filled water, she felt it getting noticeably warmer. The water in the cave hadn’t been frigid, but it certainly didn’t give her this warm tingly feeling. That could also be the drowning. Deciding to throw caution to the wind, she swam upwards as quickly as her awkward stroke could carry her.

Her vision began to darken around the edges as she approached the light. She could feel her lungs gasping for air, but she knew that she had to push them just a little bit longer. There it was, just within reach. She could practically taste the sunshine as she approached the water’s surface.

Her limbs became sluggish. Her vision fading faster and faster. She pushed as hard as she could, but it was getting difficult to kick anymore. The surface was so frustratingly close, and yet so inescapably far away.

Just.. one... more... kick...

Her eyelids fluttered, and she began to sink back down. Damn... she thought. So close.

All of the sudden, she felt a hoof wrap around her own. Water rushed past her as she was pulled upwards and towards the surface. Light washed over her as she breached the water, coughing and sputtering like a kid after his first swim lesson.

“Whoa there!” came a voice through the haze. “Are you all right?”

She could barely hear her. Her voice sounded muffled, like she was speaking through a pillow and from across the room. She could see her though, or at least see a yellowish blob that she assumed was her.

“Miss,” she said. “Miss, are you okay?”

Trixie opened her mouth to respond, but all that came out was a mouthful of water as she sputtered some more. As she coughed, her vision came back slowly. The haze disappeared and she could see a pinkish face, hidden behind wet locks of green and blue hair that melded together to form a single wave of color.

She smiled at her as Trixie coughed some more. Brushing Trixie’s silvery mane from her face, the mare said, “That’s it, let it all out.”

Giving another set of sputtering coughs, Trixie finally managed a few words in between gasps for air. “Who... w-who are... y-you?”

The mare tossed her mane from her eyes and revealed a pair of deep blue eyes, so blue in fact, that they almost looked black. But there was a definite blue tinge to them. It was like looking into the night sky.

“Aurora,” she said. “My name’s Aurora.”

Trixie hacked and wheezed a few more times before returning the mare’s smile and sticking out her hoof. The other mare took Trixie’s hoof in her own and shook it. “Trixie,” Trixie said. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Aurora.”

Aurora chuckled softly. “The pleasure’s all mine.”

26 — Washed up on the Rocks

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Chapter 26: Washed up on the Rocks

The clip-clop of hooves punctured the silence as four ponies, and one dragon, trekked along a narrow, winding, dirt path. The sun was well past its peak and was already beginning to set, leaving them with only another hour or two of sunlight. Luckily, they didn't have much further to go before they reached Hoofington.

“Ughhhhh,” Rainbow Dash groaned. “We've been walking, like, forever. How much longer is it gonna be?” She reached a hoof to her side and gingerly touched her bandaged wing, wincing slightly from the contact. “My freakin' wing is killing me.”

“Oh, quit your whining, Rainbow Dash. We've only just begun walking,” Rarity said, tossing her mane. “If you're going to whine about anything it should be this dreadful humidity.” She pulled a section of her mane down and frowned. “It's absolutely ruining my coiffure.” She released her mane, letting it bounce back into place. Normally well-kept and brushed to perfection, Rarity's luscious violet mane was getting frizzier by the second. She sighed, mumbling, “Took me hours to get it just so.”

“Rare's right, for once,” Applejack added, while using her hat to fan herself. “We ain't been walkin' longer 'an a few minutes. Maybe thirty, tops. 'Sides,” she said, squinting up at the sun, “we still got a ways to go.” She placed her hat back on her head, tilting it down a bit. “I just can't believe it's still so hot. Ain't it supposed to get cooler as the sun goes down?”

Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes. “Okay, first off, I wasn't whining. I was just saying that my wing, which is totally probably broken by the way, was hurting... that's all. Second, I thought it was just me that noticed how hot it was. I kinda thought I was imagining things.” She used her good wing to wash cool air over herself while simultaneously, and accidentally, making Rarity's mane even more frizzy.

“Rainbow!” Rarity cried, clutching her mane in a desperate attempt to keep it from being blown even more out of control than it already was. “Stop that this instant!”

“Oops,” Rainbow chuckled, tucking her wing back against her side. “My bad. It's just so hot, y'know?”

Twilight, who had been silent up to that point, keeping her eyes forward, but her head in the clouds, said, “Yes, it does seem abnormally hot, especially for the time of day and how far North we are.” She had been lost in her own thoughts for the last half hour or so, but was still able to keep one ear on the conversation. Twilight glanced at Spike, who was on her back, and said, “Any ideas what might be causing that, Spike?”

Spike looked taken aback. “Do I have any ideas?” he said incredulously. “I thought you were the brains around here?”

“I have a few ideas of my own, yes, but I want to know what you think, Spike,” Twilight replied, not a hint of amusement in her voice.

Spike raised an eyebrow. “But why?”

“Because, Spike, I'm not always going to be here to help. You're going to have to figure these things out for yourself eventually, so I'm hoping that you can get some practice now while I sill am here to help,” Twilight said softly. She looked around at her friends, who all gave her smiles as she looked at them. “This journey could be dangerous, Spike, really dangerous, and there's no telling what might or could happen. If something happens, and we get separated, I need to know you can think for yourself, and deduce things without me, or any of us, here to help you.”

Spike was silent for a moment. “Twilight,” he said slowly, “why are you being so serious all of a sudden?”

Twilight gave a little sigh. “It's just...” She trailed off.

“She's jus' worried 'bout you is all, Spike,” Applejack jumped in, sensing Twilight's trepidation. “You ain't exactly had the toughest life so far,” she continued, “but that may change soon.” She placed a hoof on his head, giving him a loving noogie. “Far as I can tell, we're headed purty far North, and it ain't gonna get any easier as we go, and while I'm sure you getting separated is the last thing Twilight would want, the possibility of that happening is, unfortunately, a bit higher 'an normal.”

Spike frowned. “I can take care of myself,” he said indignantly. “I may only be a baby dragon, but I'm just as brave as you or Rainbow Dash.” He puffed out his chest, putting his arms akimbo. Applejack smiled despite herself, patting him on the head.

“I must say,” Rarity said, “for a baby dragon, Spike is quite mature. Why, just earlier today he—” Spike made a slicing motion with his claw at his throat, then pulled an invisible zipper across his mouth. Rarity frowned. “Hmph,” she sighed, “if you're not going to tell them, then I will. You should be proud, not ashamed.”

Twilight's ears perked up. She turned her head to look at Rarity. “Tell us what? What did Spike do?”

Rarity gave Spike a doe-eyed look. He bit his lip, then sighed. “All right, all right, fine...” Spike hopped off Twilight's back and walked ahead a few paces. He turned back to the group and said, “Remember earlier when Rarity said that I had an 'accident'?” All of them except for Rarity nodded. “Well, uhh.” He scratched the back of his neck nervously, kicking his feet against the dirt. “It was less of an 'accident' and more of 'failure',” he continued. “You see, I was trying to breathe fire—real fire—and I ended up doing it... sort of.”

“It was simply wonderful,” Rarity said, picking up where Spike had left off. “It was, err, a little less 'controlled' perhaps than I'm sure he would've liked, but it was spectacular nonetheless.” Her eyes went starry as she recounted the incident. “Oh, the flames were so gorgeous. They were brilliantly green, sort of like a polished emerald, darker than his normal flames, and so deceptively hot. It was only for a second or two, but my little Spikey-Wikey's fire was hot enough to melt a bit of rock.”

“Yeah, and almost you with it,” Spike said casting his eyes downward. “I'm really sorry, Rarity. I could've really hurt you.”

Rarity waved a hoof dismissively. “Oh, pish-posh, it was marvelous, Spike. I'm honored that I was the first pony to see it. It's not every day you get to see a dragon's first flame.”

Twilight smiled widely. “Oh my gosh, Spike, that's so great! Why didn't you tell me you could breathe fire?”

“Well, it's not exactly like I've tried that before today... or ever,” he said. “I didn't even know I could do it. Besides, it's not even like it actually worked. I mean, it sort of did, but I nearly burned Rarity's face last time I tried, so I didn't want anyone to find out and I told her not to tell you guys.”

Twilight took a few steps forward and wrapped a hoof around Spike's shoulder, pulling him in for a hug. “Oh, Spike,” she said softly. “I'm just glad no one got hurt, and I'm really proud of you. This is a big accomplishment.”

“Yeah, and freakin' awesome!” Rainbow Dash shouted. “Dude, Spike, you're totally a real dragon now. I mean, you can breathe fire and everything!” She caught herself. “Well, maybe you don't have the wings yet... but still!” She walked over to Twilight and Spike and gave the little dragon a playful punch in the shoulder. “Awesome stuff, Spikey-boy.”

Applejack, too, joined in and gave Spike pat on the back, saying, “Land-sakes, sugarcube, you really are becoming a bonafide dragon, ain't ya? Shoot, I'm prouder 'an a rattlesnake with a shiny new rattlin' tail.”

Rarity flashed Spike a dazzling smile. “See?” she said, waving a hoof around. “Did I not say they would be proud?” Spike blushed, turning away.

Twilight suddenly clapped her hooves together, as if struck by a sudden thought. “Ha! I just realized what's causing this heat!”

“Oh?” all three of the other ponies said in unison.

“Back when I first got Spike, I read a ton of books on the growth cycles of dragons because I wanted to know what I would have to look for as he matured. Now, I don't remember everything, but I do recall reading something about what a dragon's first flame does to his body. Normally, when Spike has breathed fire before, it's only been to send letters to Celestia, but those weren't real flames. They're like the difference between a pond and the ocean. One is a short burst of flame that comes from the dragon's lungs, and is only a fraction of the magical strength of a normal flame, and the other comes from the dragon's heart. The fire spills out from a nearly limitless font, and is far more powerful, hotter than any fire in Equestria, and with more magical properties than even a unicorn's horn.” Twilight took a deep breath, having said all of that very quickly. She looked around at her friends, but none of them seemed to grasp the significance of what she said. “Sooooo,” she continued, “that means Spike finally had his first heart-flame, and now that he has, his body knows that it's time to start heating up so that he can produce more fire and for longer periods of time. That first flame was like the pilot light in your oven, and now his body is just pouring more gas in so that his heart can act like a furnace, providing Spike with a massive amount of firepower. Of course, that takes years and years to complete. Right now, he'll probably only be able to manage breathing fire for a few seconds maximum. But still, that's incredible, Spike!”

Applejack, Rarity, Spike, and Rainbow Dash stared wide-eyed at Twilight.

“What?” she said.

“You remember all that from a book you read when you were just a filly?” Rainbow Dash asked, shaking her head slowly.

Twilight cocked her head to the side. “You mean you don't remember the books you read as a kid?”

“Well, like, not that much detail.”

Twilight shrugged her shoulders. “Well, in any case, at least we've discovered the source of this mysterious heat. And, now that we have, I know how to fix it.”

“You do?” Applejack asked. “I thought this was just a natural process?”

Twilight nodded. “It is, but you can stop the heat from emanating from Spike without stopping his heart from heating up.”

“So how do we do that, Twi?” Spike asked, rubbing his chest. “Because I'm starting to feel a bit hot myself.”

“Oh, that's easy. We just need to find you some nice cold water to drink and that should help cool you down,” Twilight said happily.

“Might be easier said than done, sugarcube,” Applejack said. “I ain't seen any rivers or lakes since we left Nadir's hut.” She held a hoof up to her brow and scanned the horizon. “Yep, I don't see much of anythin' here.”

Rainbow Dash fluttered her good wing frustratedly. “I would go look, but, y'know...” She awkwardly tried to move her injured wing, causing herself to wince in pain again. “Dang, I gotta stop doing that,” she mumbled.

“Oh!” Twilight said suddenly. “That reminds me.” She flipped open her left-side saddlebag and fished out the medicine that Nadir had given her. Handing it over to Rainbow Dash, she said, “Nadir gave that to me. She said that it should help your wing heal, and, I assume, make you feel better.”

Rainbow Dash eyed the odd paste and dried weeds suspiciously. “Uhh, I guess I don't have much choice, huh?” She gulped. “Welp, bottoms up.” Tossing the dried plants into her mouth, she chewed them quickly, grimacing as the no-doubt bitter plants worked their way down her throat. Swallowing, she stuck out her tongue in disgust. Her eyes fell on the sickly green paste. “I'm not sure I can eat that,” she said.

“I don't think you're supposed to,” Twilight said, stifling a chuckle. “It looks like some sort of salve. It's likely supposed to be applied topically to a localized area.” Rainbow Dash cocked an eyebrow. Twilight groaned. “Just... rub it all over your wing.”

Rainbow Dash perked up. “Ah! Cool.” She held the paste awkwardly in one hoof and tried to smear it over her bandaged wing, but managed only to messily smear it all along her side. “Whoops...”

Applejack shook her head, laughing. “Careful now, Dash, don't hurt yourself. I'll do it for ya.” She used her hoof to scrape as much of the green goop as she could from Rainbow's fur and used her mouth to carefully unwrap the pegasus's bandaged wing. She gave Rainbow a stern, yet comforting, look. “Look here, Rainbow,” she said. “This is gonna hurt a mite, but try an' keep still. Okay?” Rainbow Dash nodded, biting her lip.

As delicately as she could, Applejack pulled Rainbow Dash's wing out, stretching the thin membrane around her wing and spreading the individual feathers apart. Rainbow Dash stifled a yelp, torturing her lip. “Just... hurry up, please,” she groaned. Applejack ignored her, or couldn't answer because she had Rainbow's wing in her mouth. Using the hoof with the mossy paste on it, she began spreading it in between her blue feathers as gently as she could. Once the majority of it had been thoroughly rubbed in, Applejack let Rainbow's wing go. It stayed splayed out as Rainbow grimaced again, unable to pull it back to her side. “Heh,” she chuckled, wincing, “little help here.”

Applejack chuckled along with her. “Sorry, sugarcube. Lemme help with that.” She placed her hooves on Rainbow's wing, pushing it to her side. Then, grabbing the used bandages, she re-wrapped it, pulling the wrappings as tight as she could without causing Rainbow Dash more harm than necessary. Satisfied, she gave a nod. “There ya go, all done.”

"Thanks," Rainbow said, smiling. She flapped her uninjured wing happily. “I'm feelin' a little better already. I guess that stuff works fast, heh.”

“Nadir told me that you'd be back to normal in a few days,” Twilight said. She had watched Applejack apply the ointment, studying it as she rubbed it in. It was difficult to say without running a few tests, but the paste, whatever it was, seemed to have some intrinsic magic to it. She could've sworn she saw it melting into Rainbow's feathers and fur as it was applied. “In any case, I'm glad you're feeling better, Rainbow. Just be careful and try not to move that wing too much. As long as it stays mostly still, I think you'll be fine.”

Spike tapped Twilight on the shoulder, trying to get her attention. “So anyway,” she said, dragging out the 'so' far longer than necessary. “About that water.”

Twilight's eyes lit up. “Oh, right, water.” She looked past Spike, and to a clearing up ahead a ways. She frowned. “I'm not one-hundred percent sure, but if I'm remembering right, there should be a small lake just past that clearing up there.” She picked Spike up with a violet cloud of magic, and placed him on her back. “It's not too far, and once we get there, we'll only be a short walk from Hoofington. Come on, girls,” she said, motioning to her friends.

“Thank Celestia,” Rainbow muttered. “I need something to wash the taste of this disgusting stuff outta my mouth. It feels like I ate rotting hay.” She stuck her tongue out. “Blegh.” Applejack chuckled again.

It didn't take them long to reach the lake, and as they approached it, both Spike and Rainbow's eyes became excited. The lake was deep blue, and a bit murky, but to the pair of suffering friends, it was like an oasis in the desert. It was surrounded by a thin shoreline peppered with rocks and random detritus. A log here, a soggy leaf there. But on the far end of the lake, just a little too far to clearly make out, was something that looked a little different from the rest of the flotsam and jetsam. It was bone-white, and in a small pile that looked eerily like stacked ribs. Of course, both Rainbow Dash and Spike were far too preoccupied with the refreshing-looking water to be bothered by something even as foreboding as that.

“Man, in retrospect,” Spike remarked as he leapt from Twilight's back and rushed over towards the water's edge, “it was really dumb not to bring any water with us. That seems like Big Epic Adventure 101.”

“Yeah,” Rainbow Dash agreed. “Really not the greatest planning on your part, Twi.”

Twilight would've rolled her eyes if she had heard them, but she was too busy paying attention to the disturbance on the lake's surface. She saw ripples as something ducked under the lake, just in time to not be seen. She crinkled her muzzle in concentration.

“What is it, Twilight?” Rarity asked, following Twilight's line of sight.

“Spot something, sugarcube?” Applejack added, also following the invisible line into the middle of the lake.

Twilight shook her head. “No, it's probably nothing,” she said. “Just fish I'm sure.”

Completely oblivious to any possible danger, Spike and Rainbow Dash raced towards the water, laughing as they ran. Twilight, Rarity, and Applejack, staying a little farther back, waited as Twilight kept her eyes trained on the water. She narrowed her eyes, something in her gut telling her not to look away.

“Either you saw something, or you're just really interested in this lake, Twi,” Applejack said, pursing her lips. “And I'm bettin' it ain't the latter.”

Twilight, without looking away from the lake, responded, “I don't know, but I've got this really weird feeling, like something bad is about to happen. Of course that's ridiculous, but still...”

Applejack took off her hat, holding it to her chest as she squinted, trying to see whatever it was that Twilight saw, or thought she saw. “Where's Pinkie and her Pinkie sense when you need her?”

Twilight grinned, despite the situation. “I'm not sure she has a tic for 'mysterious lake ripples'.”

Rarity narrowed her eyes as well. Then, as if struck by a sudden idea, she brought a hoof to her chin. “Wasn't there something in one of Trixie's letters about things not always being as they seemed?”

“Hmm, that's just vague enough to apply to this situation,” Twilight said. She relinquished her relentless gaze on the lake, turning to her friends. She shrugged. “I'm sure it's nothing. Like I said, it was probably just fish or something.”

Applejack shrugged along with her, placing her hat back on her head. “If you say so, sugarcube.” As she started to canter towards the lake, she said, “Well, since we're here, I'mma go ahead and get some water too. I'm getting thirstier than an armadillo in a marathon.”

“Yes, I think I'll have a sip as well,” Rarity added, following Applejack down.

Just then, Twilight noticed that she too was feeling a bit dry in the mouth. Throwing caution to the wind, she followed the other ponies to the lake's edge. As Spike and Rainbow Dash reached the water, dunking their heads in as soon as they did, Twilight stopped, seeing another, larger, ripple in the lake.

“Stop!” she shouted, halting Rarity and Applejack in their place. “I just saw something in the lake again.”

Rainbow Dash, unaware of Twilight's previous sighting, shouted back to her. “Oh please, Twi. It's probably just fish or something. What could possibly live in this lake that's dangerous?” She waved a hoof dismissively, leaning her head back towards the water. “You're just imagining things.”

As if simply to spite Rainbow Dash, the water suddenly began to churn with ripples in many places. With an explosive force, the water exploded as a dozen armored ponies leapt from the water and grabbed Rainbow Dash and Spike, holding sharp tridents to their throats.

Rainbow Dash craned her neck to look up at her captor. “Oh, you have got to be kidding me,” she groaned.

Twilight's eyes went wide. She immediately used her magic to grab Applejack and Rarity, pulling them out of harm's way and to her side.

“Shoot, I guess you weren't seeing things, Twi,” Applejack muttered. “This ain't lookin' so good.”

“Spike!” Rarity shouted, holding her hoof out towards the squirming dragon. “Hold on!”

Always trust your instincts, Twilight. You should know that, Twilight thought, reprimanding herself. She eyed her friends' captors, noticing that they were not like normal ponies. Besides the armor and tridents, they also had long, scaled tails instead of rear-legs, and seemed to have gills along their necks. “Seaponies,” she mumbled.

Applejack danced nervously on the tips of her hooves, fumbling with a dozen ideas for what to do in her head. She turned to Twilight. “So, uhh, what now?”

Twilight's jaw went slack. She mouthed words, but no sounds came out. “Umm,” she finally said, “I... don't know.”

Applejack stared wide-eyed at her. “Well, ain't that just great.”

Rarity snapped her head towards Applejack. “Oh, you have an idea then?” she said, a little more sarcastically than she had intended.

Applejack nodded slowly, adjusting her hat just a bit. “Just one,” she said. Kicking up some dirt with her right hind leg, she snorted, lowering her head. “Chaaaaaaaarge!” Letting loose a loud cry, she sprinted forward, right towards the dozen armored seaponies.

“I guess that's one idea,” Twilight said, somewhat in shock. “Rarity?” She turned to see that Rarity too had begun charging towards the line of seaponies with reckless abandon. “Oh boy... this won't end well.”

27 — The Bear and the Maiden Fair

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Chapter 27:
The Bear and the Maiden Fair

She was drowning, that much was very clear. The rest of it, though, was a bit fuzzy. Haze clouded her vision, obscuring the object shooting through the water towards her. She couldn’t be sure, but it looked a bit like a hoof, which would be really helpful right now. If only she could reach it.

Trixie was dimly aware of her own hoof stretching out towards the mystery hoof, almost of its own accord. And she was equally dimly aware of her own lungs filling with water. Then, she was overwhelmed by a sudden rushing sensation as she felt herself breach the water. Coughing and sputtering, she breathed in what felt like a newborn foal’s first gasps at life. When the fog of near-death had left her, she finally got her first glimpse of her rescuer: a faintly pinkish mare with the kindest smile she’d ever seen, and eyes deeper and darker than even the clearest of night sky’s, yet with a certain warmth to them that was uncannily familiar.

After a few more rasping breaths, Trixie finally managed to choke out a quick, “Thank you,” which the mare responded to with a smile and nod of acceptance. As she helped Trixie up, she asked, “Are you all right?”

Trixie nodded weakly. “I’ll be fine.”

She smiled again, looking relieved. “That’s good, I was worried.” She held out her hoof. “My name’s Aurora, by the way. Aurora Borealis.”

Trixie took her hoof and gave it a shake that was probably a lot less firm than she had intended. “Trixie,” she said, answering Aurora’s unasked question, “just Trixie...”

Aurora released Trixie’s hoof and looked past Trixie to the river she had just emerged from. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Trixie,” she said, “I just wish it were under different circumstances. What were you doing all the way out here? And in the Iron Mill river no less?”

A sudden look of apprehension creased Trixie’s face. She turned around to face the river and began scanning it for any signs of seaponies. Satisfied that they were at least out of any immediate danger, she gave a relieved sigh. “It’s a long story, one that would best be talked about far away from here,” she said, giving a nervous glance over her shoulder to the river. “To summarize, I was nearly eaten by a pack of ravenous seaponies and they’re probably still chasing me even now, so if we could go away from here—as far away as possible—that would probably be best.”

Aurora looked confused, but didn’t bother questioning her. She grabbed Trixie’s hoof and pulled her towards a path that was just visible at the edge of the woods that ran along the river’s edge. “Come on,” she said. “We’re not very far from Hoofington. I’ll take you to my house and we’ll get you all cleaned up and fed.” They reached the path and started walking at a steady pace towards a small hill, over which Trixie could just barely make out an all-too-familiar clockface and matching set of hands. She shuddered inwardly. Aurora, who either didn’t notice, or chose not to care, about Trixie’s slightly pained expression, mumbled quietly to herself, “And we’ll see what this whole seapony thing is about as well.”

The walk from the river had not been a very long one, nor a very talkative one. In fact, they were only about five minutes away when Aurora had rescued Trixie, so for the most part, they walked in silence, though not without the occasional glances from Aurora who seemed to notice now that Trixie was acting oddly uncomfortable. Though, she retained her previously established silence on the matter.

As they breached the town’s perimeter, entering through squat wooden gates that were part of a long fence that encompassed the entirety of the small town, Trixie couldn’t help but feel somewhat smothered by all the familiar sights and sounds. Everything about Hoofington was exactly was she remembered it, despite the fact that the last time she had been here was years and years ago, when she was still just a filly. The bakery, the tavern, the blacksmith, the old schoolhouse just over the ridge on the far side of town, even the clocktower that loomed over the village like a massive crow, with its hands perpetually pointing at precisely 6:30, was exactly as she remembered it. Dreadful.

“Welcome to Hoofington,” Aurora said happily, snapping Trixie out her self-induced trance. She waved her hoof at the town square, naming each building as she passed over it. Not wanting to alert Aurora to her familiarity with the small town, Trixie said nothing, but nodded along as Aurora rattled off the names of the shops, and their owners. “Oh, there’s a lovely little bakery over here owned by a mister and missus Truffle. Ooh!” she exclaimed as they passed in front of the clocktower. “And this is Hoofington’s most famous landmark!”

“Mm,” Trixie mumbled, not looking up at the disheveled clocktower but below it where a vacant space covered up what once was a modest, two-story house with a garden out front where the owners used to grow herbs to sell at the market. Of course, that was a long time ago. Now it was just an empty plot of land with a sign shoved into the ground out front saying, “Available For Lease”.

“Well, I say ‘most famous’,” Aurora continued, oblivious to Trixie’s quiet reflection, “but it’s probably the only thing that even comes close to being famous in all of Hoofington.”

“Why is that?” Trixie asked absentmindedly, not even really hearing the question.

Aurora looked surprised. “Oh, I thought most ponies had heard what had happened here, but maybe it’s not as well-known as I thought.” She frowned. “Well, it was years and years ago, and at the time, there was this family of unicorns that used to live here,” she said, pointing to empty plot of land that lay directly below the clock’s 6:30 position. “Real nice they were. Always heard good things about them,” she continued. “Anyway, one night, completely out of nowhere this massive bear-thing came lumbering out of the Silverleaf Forest.”

Well, not entirely out of nowhere.

She made a motion like she was three-hundred pounds heavier and stomped slowly towards the clocktower. “It was bigger than anything anypony had ever seen before, and all covered in stars, like a big constellation come to life.” Trixie nodded along, doing her best to look invested in a story that she knew by heart. “For whatever reason, it seemed dead-set on this house,” she said, indicating, again, the vacant plot. She put a hoof to her chin thoughtfully. “Maybe it was because of the girl,” she said, thinking out loud. “I can’t remember her name, though. I’ve only heard this story second-hoof,” she explained. “It was something with an ‘M’. Mid-something. Midsummer. Midra. Mid—”

“—Midnight,” Trixie said, her face solemn. Her right hoof moved unconsciously to her breast. She felt the hard crystal brooch beneath her hoof. “Her name was Midnight,” Trixie repeated. Her thoughts turned to the past briefly as she recalled the last time she had heard that name aloud. Midniiiiiight! She shook her head, trying her best to clear her thoughts.

Aurora’s face contorted into a look of curious confusion. She cocked her head to the side. “Midnight?” she said with just a hint of questioning. “Did you... know her?”

Trixie stiffened, realizing what she had just said. She quickly moved her hoof away from the brooch as she said, “Oh, just... just a lucky guess is all.”

Utterly unconvinced by Trixie’s answer, but not wanting to press the issue, Aurora shrugged and continued her story. “Anyway, as I was saying, Midnight might’ve been why it was drawn to this house. She was out here, her horn ablaze with magic, drawing it closer and closer. They say she battled with it for over an hour,” Aurora said matter-of-factly.

It was closer to two hours.

“And that she’s the only one to have survived fighting one.”

Not the only one. Not anymore, Trixie thought bitterly.

“Of course,” Aurora said nervously, even more so after Trixie’s odd reaction to the girl’s name. “After defeating it, she was left too weak to move when the beast came falling down. Crushed her and her poor family in their house. I don’t think any of her family made it out alive,” Aurora said sadly. “It’s a rather disheartening story,” she added. “But none of what I said really explains why this clocktower is famous, or infamous as may be the better term.”

She pointed up to the clock’s face, where the hands were stuck in an infinite downwards gesture. “After tumbling over and into the house, the bear hit the clock as well, shaking it and causing its hands to get stuck like that. It’s been that way for as long as I’ve know it,” she said. “Over the years, a few ponies have gone up and tried to fix it, but nopony’s been successful yet. Some say it’s a bad omen, and that we should take it down, but others say that if it ever was fixed, the bear would return. Still others claim it’s all just silly superstition and that nothing will happen whichever outcome is decided for it. Of course, nothing’s been done about it for years, so I doubt that will change anytime soon. They just call it Midnight Tower now, almost ironically given its time.” She pointed up the hands stuck in position directly opposite midnight. “Now Midnight Tower and the story surrounding it, have become part of the town’s folklore. Legend almost. A tale old mare’s tell their grandchildren when they want them to behave.”

She gave Trixie a one-eyed stare, imitating a crotchety old mare. “Beware of the clocktower,” she said in a creaky voice that sounded like cruel facsimile of her normally cheerful, bell-like tone. “For if you disturb it, the dreaded star-bear will return to gobble you up!” She finished with an overly-dramatic flail of her hooves. Falling back to all-fours, she giggled, covering her mouth. “At least something good came out of such a tragic event,” she said after her giggling died down. “It wasn’t even that long ago, but some ponies question how much of the story is even true. It all happened in the dead of night, so nopony really remembers it very clearly.” She sighed. “But I guess that’s just the way things go.”

Trixie stared silently at the clocktower, then back down to the vacant lot. “What do you believe?” she asked pointedly, looking over to Aurora. “About the bear and the tower and all that. Do you think it’s cursed? Or is it all just a fairytale?”

Aurora shrugged. “I think the original story is real, including the part about Midnight and her family’s death. But the parts about the tower being cursed, and the bear returning are all just made-up nonsense told to scare ponies for fun. It’s no more true than the tale of the Headless Horse, or the old mare and her rusty horseshoe. They’re just ghost stories you tell while sitting around a campfire.”

“So what happened after the bear was vanquished?” Trixie asked. “Midnight and her family, what happened to them?”

Aurora’s expression shifted, her lips curling into the look of someone who’d just been asked to solve a very difficult riddle. “Well that’s the thing, see,” she said. “The bear toppled over, crushed the house, and by the time the townsponies were able to extricate it, there was nothing left besides rubble and dust. They were never able to find any bodies, living or dead.” She looked over to the empty lot, as if she were still waiting for bodies to mysteriously appear.

Trixie nodded knowingly. “If that’s the case though, how do you know none of the family survived? You said earlier that none of them made it out alive.” Her hoof moved back to her brooch. “How can you know for sure?”

Aurora’s lips pursed into a thin line. “I... I don’t know,” she confessed. “But as far as I know, none of them were ever heard from again. So, something must’ve happened to them, don’t you think? Ponies don’t just up and disappear like that.”

“Mm, perhaps not,” Trixie replied quietly, almost more to herself than Aurora.

With a flip of her vibrant mane, Aurora flashed Trixie a brilliant smile and said, “Well, enough of this depressing talk. Let’s get you something to eat, and then we can discuss these seaponies you were talking about.”

Not one to pass up a free meal, Trixie obliged, and her and Aurora ventured further into the town. Walking past stalls and street vendors, tiny general stores and a round building with a dome on top that marked Hoofington City Hall, Trixie couldn’t help but feel like she was back in Ponyville. A feeling that she tried her best to ignore. Though that was easier said than done. As they came upon the smithy, Aurora stopped.

Trixie closed her eyes. Please, anywhere but here.

“This is it,” Aurora said, indicating the entrance to the shop.

A soft sigh escaped Trixie’s lips, unbeknownst to Aurora. She opened her eyes again and examined the building, though she hardly needed to see it now to know what it looked like. She’d spent more than enough time here as a filly to know it by heart.

It was a large wooden structure with a porch that wrapped around the left side of the building to an open area where a large stone pit held a crackling fire. Beside this was a pedal-operated grindstone, a trough filled with water, and a coal-black anvil with a single, worn hammer resting on top of it. The rest of the building was largely the same as the front, mostly large logs held together by some sort of binding, but with some masonry as the foundation and the steps leading up to the porch. It was all just as Trixie remembered, save the sign that wobbled back and forth in the breeze. Where once it had said, “Hammer & Anvil’s Smithery and Farrier”, it now simply said, “Anvil & Sons”. With only a trio of anvils where an anvil with crossed hammers used to be.

Aurora cantered up the steps, her hooves clip-clopping against the stone. She flung open the door and was immediately attacked by a pair of young colts, who were shouting, “Mother! Mother!” She laughed, hugging them both as she turned to wave Trixie inside. “Come in, come in. They won’t bite.”

“It’s not them I’m worried about,” Trixie mumbled under her breath. Will he still remember me? After all these years? As Trixie cautiously made her way up the steps, a third pony appeared behind the colts. Trixie’s breath caught in her throat. She stopped.

He was tall, very tall, even taller than Trixie remembered him being, and strikingly handsome. His muscles rippled as he stretched out to pull Aurora into a hug with the two colts. “Where’ve you been, dear?” he asked her. “I thought you’d be home awhile ago. Arc, Forge, and I have been waiting ages.”

“Oh, I just decided to go for a walk down by the river,” she said casually. “Of course, I wasn’t expecting to save anypony’s life when I did.”

The stallion’s brown eyes narrowed in confusion. He cocked his head to the side, tossing his short-cropped, anvil-black mane. That’s when he noticed Trixie for the first time. His eyes shot open in a mixture of shock, disbelief, and more confusion. His mouth opened slowly as he said, “Trixie... is that you?”

Now it was Aurora’s turn to look confused. She turned back to Trixie. “Wait. You two know each other?” She looked back and forth between the stallion and Trixie.

Well, it was only a matter of time. Trixie sighed softly. “It’s been awhile, Anvil,” she said, smiling that same awkward smile she always did when she talked to Anvil. Or at least, when she used to talk to Anvil.

He laughed a single dry laugh. “Yeah... it has.”

“I’m sorry, but could you explain just one more time?”

Aurora, Trixie, and Anvil were all sitting around the kitchen table; the two young colts had been given a set of chores to do, so they were outside working the forge making horseshoes to sell at market. Aurora was still having trouble grasping the situation, so she asked Trixie again, “I thought the Lulamoon family disappeared along with that house. How are you even still alive?”

“Midnight was the one who disappeared,” Trixie corrected her. “She left that night, and I haven’t seen her, or our parents, since.” Trixie folded her hooves across the table. “I don’t really remember what happened all that well. I—I sort of ran away from home.”

Anvil frowned. “I guess that would explain why you never came back, but why would you run away from home? What were you running from?”

Trixie heaved a sigh. “Look, I don’t like talking about it, but the important thing is I wasn’t there when the Ursa attacked. My sister was. I don’t know what happened to her, but I do know I don’t care.” She huffed. “Good riddance, as far as I’m concerned. All she ever cared about was herself anyway.”

Aurora’s forehead creased with worry. “How can you say that? She’s your—”

Anvil placed a hoof on her shoulder. “Just leave it,” he said quietly. “It’s not our place.” He looked over to Trixie, smiled at her. “Let’s not dwell on the past, shall we? I wanna know how you came upon my wife way out here. I mean, what are you even doing back in Hoofington?”

Trixie fiddled with the glass of water in front of her, holding it up and looking at Aurora and Anvil’s distorted faces through the water. “It’s a rather long story,” she said, “one I’d rather not get into right now. But suffice it to say, I don’t plan on staying in Hoofington very long. Maybe a day or two at most.” She placed the glass back down, shooting a quick glance at Anvil.

Aurora reached her hoof and placed it over Trixie’s. “Well, you’re more than welcome to stay here if you need to. There’s a spare bed by the boys’ room you can use.”

Trixie moved her hoof away. “Thanks,” she said coolly, “but I think I’ll just rent a room at the pub.”

“Oh, umm...” Aurora looked taken aback, but she recovered quickly. “Well, our home is always open to you, should you need it.” She smiled again, hoping she looked as comforting as she was trying to be.

“Thanks,” Trixie mumbled.

Anvil suddenly stood up and lumbered over to the cabinet and began fishing something out. “So fine, you’re not staying in Hoofington long and you don’t want to talk about why. I can respect that. But you can at least tell me how you came upon Aurora, can’t you?” He came out of his fishing expedition holding a set of plates and utensils and began setting them on the table. “And you can tell me all about it over dinner.” He shot a glance over to Trixie. She looked away. “You’re not too proud for that, are you?” He smirked.

Trixie made to answer, but her stomach beat her to it. With a growl that would’ve put a lion to shame, Trixie realized she hadn’t eaten since leaving Emerald Falls. She laughed despite herself. “No, I suppose I’m not.”

Anvil’s smirk changed into a goofy grin. “Good, because I make a mean bean salad.” He turned back to the cupboard and pulled out some bowls, setting them on the counter.

As Anvil began preparing their dinner, Aurora’s gazed shifted to Trixie. “So,” she said slowly, “you know Anvil from when you were kids?” It was more of a statement than a question.

Trixie nodded, not looking at Aurora, but at Anvil. “Yeah... something like that.”

28 — Moonlight

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Chapter 28: Moonlight

Tiamat stood in the center of the room, liquid moonlight raining down on her through the cave’s oculus. Even drawn up to only half her full height, she still cut an imposing figure. A figure made all the more imposing by the harshness in her eyes and the way her claws laced together to form a network of sharp points. She had a sort of half-smile on her face, the same one that adorns a wolf’s face when their pack has surrounded some unfortunate prey. Only, Tiamat didn’t need an entire pack of wolves to be intimidating. She managed just fine on her own.

Trixie, on the other hand, could barely bring herself to stand up. She sat back on her haunches, looking up at the drake queen and contemplating her response. She opened and closed her mouth a few times, only empty, wordless air coming out. Eventually, Tiamat grew impatient. She unlaced her fingers.

“It’s not a difficult question, my dear,” she said. “All I ask is that you tell me exactly what my father—what Abraxas—told you when you spoke. And before you try to lie to me again, know this: one word from me and all your friends’ short lives will be made even shorter.” Her face hardened, as much as it could, being scaly and hard to begin with. “I know you must think of me as some kind of monster, but I have no intention of bringing harm to your friends, nor you. Not unless I need to, and should that be the case, I will not hesitate. That, I’m sure, you can believe.”

Trixie chuckled humorlessly, despite the situation. “I don’t suppose I have much choice then,” she responded. Propping herself up using a nearby rock, Trixie did her best to look calm and composed. Her eyes upturned, she looked to Tiamat and said, “But how can I know that you won’t just throw me back in that cell and keep us all locked up forever once I tell you what you want to know? How will you guarantee their safety, and mine?”

Tiamat’s laughter boomed in the cavernous room. She swooped down and came face-to-face with Trixie. With her ruby eyes, she studied Trixie for a moment, then said, “My dear, I think you misunderstand the situation. From where I’m standing, you have no leverage. You can’t bargain with something you don’t have.”

“But I do have something. I do have some leverage.”

“Oh?” Tiamat raised an eyebrow.

Trixie nodded. “Yes, I have the information you want.”

The drake queen’s lips curled into a serpentine smile. “You do have that,” she admitted. “But let’s imagine, for example, that you didn’t tell me what I want to know, what then? I have your friends killed, and you placed back in the dungeon. Yes, you may win temporarily, but your friends will be dead, and it will only be a matter of time before you open up to me.” Her smile grew even wider. “Time, might I remind you, is an old friend of mine, and he is certainly on my side.” She brought up a claw to Trixie’s face and stroked her jawline. “So, my dear, it’s up to you what happens from here, but might I suggest that you be a good girl and just tell the truth? It really is in your best interest, as well as your friends'. I told you before, if you do as I ask, no harm will befall you, or your friends. I give you my word as queen of the drakes.”

Trixie considered Tiamat’s words for a moment, then shrugged. “You drive a hard bargain,” she said. “I won’t let Polaris and the others be hurt because of me, so fine... I’ll tell you what the Dragon’s Eye told me.”

“Good answer,” Tiamat said, her lips curling back to reveal sharpened teeth.

Trixie sucked in her breath, then let it out in a slow sigh. “So where do I begin?”

“At the beginning, of course,” Tiamat said expressionlessly.

“Ah, yes...”

“And I expect to hear everything.” She added.

“Well, obviously—”

“So get on with it.”

Trixie nodded quickly. “Right, of course,” she said, looking away. “So, it all started when I traveled to the backwater town of Ponyville. After a successful performance, and through no fault of my own, an Ursa Minor was brought into the town where it wreaked havoc and destruction and whatnot. Anyway, unable to stop it... again” —she muttered under her breath—” another mare, Twilight Sparkle, stepped in and saved the town. Naturally, I—”

Tiamat waved her hand dismissively. “I’m not interested in whatever squabbles you have with any other ponies. I care only what you were told while speaking with Abraxas. You may skip to that part.”

Trixie held up her hoof. “Ah, but this is important to the story, because it was due to this defeat that I sought out Nadir, and it was Nadir who told me about the Dragon’s Eye.” She looked up to Tiamat for approval to continue, but she said nothing. Taking that as her answer, Trixie returned to where she had left off. “Nadir told me about a potion that I could drink to speak with the 'Dragon's Eye'. She told me that it would tell me exactly what I needed to hear, and nothing more. After I drank the dragon’s blood, I woke up in a dream, in the far north, past the Onyx Mountains.”

Tiamat bobbed her head, like she had heard this all before. “Yes, he did always have a certain fondness for mountains and snow,” she mumbled. “Continue. What did he say when you arrived?”

Trixie brought a hoof to her chin as she thought. “It was all very cryptic,” she said. “There was lots of talk about this being my destiny and how it was fate that I should speak with him. He went on and on about that. It seemed like he wanted to make sure that I knew that..." Trixie said slowly, as if realizing something.

“Mm, and a flair for the dramatic, it seems,” Tiamat said under her breath. “What else?”

Trixie tapped her chin again. “He said that it was my destiny to choose my own destiny. That I would have to travel to the End of the World to see what it had in store for me, and that I would meet a pony along the way who would help me. He said that I would have to face the Shepherd, whoever that is.”

Tiamat’s eyes narrowed. “The Shepherd?” She frowned, muttering, "I'm unfamiliar with this name."

Trixie nodded. “That’s what he said. Although, he did say that I didn’t necessarily have to fight it, the Shepherd I mean, or anything. He said that I would have to choose what to do.”

The drake queen stroked her jaw. “And this is all Abraxas told you? About your fate, and your destiny? Anything else.”

“I didn’t really believe him at the time, but...” Trixie’s words trailed off. She bit her lip, looking up to the starry sky, hoping for some kind of guidance. “I... I don’t know,” she admitted. “It seems like things have sort of been falling in place since I was told it was my destiny to pass the Onyx Mountains. I met two ponies who agreed to help me get there, just like he said I would. I’ve nearly died countless times, but I’ve always made it through somehow. It all feels too convenient to be luck.” Trixie shuffled her hooves. "Maybe it is my destiny?"

“Clearly you must believe Abraxas at least in part,” Tiamat observed.

“What do you mean?”

She splayed out her hands. “Look at where you are, my dear. You didn’t come this far for something you don’t believe in. If you really didn’t believe it was your destiny, then you wouldn’t have traveled this far to test that theory. Whether or not you consciously thought it, you always believed what Abraxas told you, even if you may have doubted it at the time. I’m sure whatever he said you would gain from this quest must’ve sounded very enticing.” She frowned. “But I still can’t discern what his goal his. What is my father getting out of this?”

Trixie shook her head. “What is he getting out of this? I thought he was just telling me my destiny? Isn’t that his job as the Dragon’s Eye? Why would he gain anything from it?”

Tiamat chuckled. “Oh, my dear, you are so delightfully naive. Do you really think that an all-powerful dragon such as Abraxas, the very being who brought your world into existence, would do something as menial as speak with mere mortals, describing with cryptic words their fates or their destinies?” She chuckled again. “No, I assure you, Abraxas is very much doing this for himself and no one else. I just don’t know what it is he’s after.” She flicked her tongue. “Abraxas, you crafty old dragon, just what the hell do you want?”

Trixie stared at Tiamat, her face clouded in confusion. “But, what about all that destiny stuff? Aren’t I meant to face the Shepherd and scale the Onyx Mountains?”

“Destiny, fate, these words mean nothing,” Tiamat said harshly. “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. You said that you had cheated death numerous times in coming here, correct?” Trixie nodded slowly. “You did so by your own strength, or the strength of others, not because it was meant to be. Destiny, as you see it, simply doesn’t exist.”

“But—but why?”

“Why?” Tiamat raised an eyebrow.

Trixie stood up, tilting her head to the side. “If that’s true, and destiny truly doesn’t exist, then why would Abraxas lie to me? And further, how come everything he told me would happen has happened? I found it hard enough to believe that I wasn’t in control of my destiny, but after everything that's happened, it seems more and more likely. Now you’re telling me that it's all a lie. Who am I supposed to believe?”

Tiamat sighed. “You ponies are such simple creatures. It’s like you can’t think for yourselves, or logically for that matter.” She pointed up to the Moon, through the hole in the ceiling. “Abraxas, my father, is up there, right now. He lives in an actual physical place. If you were to travel to the Moon this instant, you would find him in the center, still slumbering away, speaking with gullible mortals like you through mystical potions and other ethereal means. He may be the only true dragon left, but he doesn’t hold so much power as to be able to shape the fate of the world, or even individuals, himself. I’ve lived long enough to know that nothing in this world is certain, and especially not the future. Time is the true ruler of the universe. The only reason everything has happened the way he said it, is because you believed what he said was the truth, so you’re own belief in this false truth made you subconsciously follow through with it. You have been fulfilling your own prophecy.” She brought her hand back down and pointed at Trixie’s chest, jabbing for emphasis. “The short and simple truth is that you are being played by my father. He has fooled you into believing you're on some noble quest, but really you're just his errand girl. For reasons unknown to me, he has chosen you to be his pawn in whatever cosmic chess game he's playing. I don't know what he's after, but I know that it's not your happiness, and I know that he'll do anything to get what he wants. Especially if it involves fooling mortals.”

Trixie slumped back down. “So... all this time? I’ve been doing this for nothing?” She glanced up at Tiamat. “How am I supposed to believe you? Maybe you’re the one who's trying to trick me into believing that destiny isn’t real so that I won’t complete whatever it is Abraxas wants me to do. How can I know what you’re saying is the truth?”

Tiamat laughed. “I don’t care what you believe, my dear. All I’m doing is telling you the truth. Whether or not you want to see it that way is your business, but regardless, you will pass through the Onyx Mountains and reach the End of the World.”

Trixie’s jaw dropped slightly. “What?” she said slowly.

“You will do exactly was Abraxas has told you. You will cross those black mountains north of here and face this ‘Shepherd’. I want to know what my father is up to, and this is the best way to find out. You will follow the path he set for you, and when he reveals his hand, I’ll be there to see it.” She wrung her hands. "I won't let whatever scheme he's hatching come to fruition."

“So... you’re letting me go?” Trixie asked cautiously. “I’m going to be allowed to leave?”

Tiamat nodded. “Yes, you are free.”

“And my friends?”

Tiamat remained silent for a moment, considering this, then said, “Yes, and your friends may go free as well.”

Trixie did her best not to let her excitement get the better of her. Despite this, she couldn’t keep a grin from exploding across her face. “So then it must be destiny? I’m getting to continue my journey, and with the two ponies I need still unharmed.”

Tiamat smiled for what felt like the hundredth time that night. Her sleek features pulled back into a tight, wolfish, smile. “Destiny,” she repeated. “As I said before, I don’t care what you believe, but know that you and your friends are leaving safely because I have made a choice, and certainly not one that was made lightly, not because of your imagined destiny. To cement this, I’ll inform you of another choice I plan to make in the future.” Trixie cocked her head to the side. “I’ll have you escorted back out of the caves tomorrow morning, and you will be sent on your way to Frostvale. From there, you will continue on your journey to the End of the World. However, should you stray from your path, or attempt to leave or run away,” she grinned again, “the choice I’ll be making won’t end so pleasantly for you or your friends. I’ll be keeping an eye on you and your journey, and I won’t hesitate to remind you of your duty, should you forget.”

Drawing herself up, Trixie said, “I won’t try to run. I’ll do as you ask, but not because you told me to. Because it’s my destiny. I’m meant to reach the End, and so I will.”

“Whatever you must believe in order to do this,” Tiamat said, waving her hand flippantly. “It does not matter to me. So long as you keep to your path, we won’t have any problems. Fate or no, you'll do as I ask.” She looked to the door behind Trixie and said loudly, “Typhon!”

The door rattled open, swinging wide to reveal a very familiar drake. Typhon, his head bowed respectfully, said, “Aye, my queen?”

“Escort our guest back to her friends and then have them set up in a more comfortable room. Then, tomorrow, after you have fed them breakfast, take them from our caves and back to the surface. The Frostvale exit, if you please.”

“My lady?” He said questioningly.

Tiamat sighed. “Typhon, I did not ask you to question my orders, only follow them. Take the lady back to her friends now.”

He bowed. “ Of course, as you command.” Grabbing Trixie’s waist roughly, he pulled her close and began to tie a blindfold around her eyes. “C’mere, little pony,” he said gruffly.

Before he could finish tying it, Tiamat stopped him. “Please don’t bother with the blindfold, Typhon. It’s such a needless hassle.” She shook her head. “Honestly, what are you trying to hide from her?”

Typhon grumbled something about just following orders and then removed the half-tied blindfold from Trixie’s eyes. Stuffing it into a small pouch on his side, he turned back to the door and held it open for Trixie. We waved for her to go through, saying, “Well, go on. I ain’t got all night, missy.”

Trixie, not knowing what else to do, followed him through the door, but not before giving one last look over her shoulder at Tiamat. Bathed in silvery moonlight, she stared up at the sky, lost in her own thoughts and ignoring Trixie. As the only pony in the room, Trixie couldn’t help but feel somewhat small compared to the other occupants, and yet, somehow looking at Tiamat now, she didn’t seem so big and frightening. The way the cold light played across her face made her look rather stunning, almost like one of the statues in Canterlot. If anything, she now looked... serene. Finally making up her mind, Trixie, before exiting the room, called out to the drake queen. “Thank you.” she said, “for letting us go.”

Tiamat slowly turned away from the light, and looked over to Trixie. She smiled once again, but this time it wasn’t the cruel smile of a predator, but the soft smile of a mother. “Don’t thank me,” she said. “Not yet.”

29 — Out of the Frying Pan and into the Lake

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Chapter 29:
Out of the Frying Pan and into the Lake

It wasn’t often that Twilight found herself in a situation where she was unsure of what to do; where she didn’t have an answer for everything. She was, after all, the personal protege of Princess Celestia. She was her star student. But right now, in this moment, she felt like a helpless filly in front of a panel of keen-eyed judges all gauging her performance. Except if she failed this test, she wouldn’t just be told, “Sorry, better luck next time,” she’d be putting her life, and the lives of her friends at risk. There was no easy answer to this pop quiz.

As Twilight surveyed the scene before her, time seemed to slow down. A few dozen feet away from her, lining the shore of the glassy lake, stood twenty or so armored seaponies wielding cruel-looking tridents. They moved with liquid-like smoothness into a readied position with their tridents raised against the charging ponies. Two in the middle had their weapons pointed at the necks of two prisoners, namely a very angry Rainbow Dash, and a frightened Spike.

Twilight’s heart raced as she watched in grim terror as Rarity and Applejack, their mouths open in primal screams, galloped at full speed towards the line of tridents. Recklessly they kicked up dirt and lowered their heads in preparation for ramming into the seaponies. Twilight racked her brain for an answer, a solution, but nothing worthwhile came to her.

If she acted now, she could quickly pull back Rarity and Applejack, but for what? They still wouldn’t be in any better a position. It was still three against twenty. On the other hand, she could attempt to teleport herself and her friends out of harm’s way, but that was potentially more dangerous than doing nothing. Between the fact that she’d be spreading her magic across a large area and over multiple objects, and the fact that doing this in a split second, even under the best of circumstances, would be near impossible, she didn’t really see how teleportation could possibly be the answer. Another possibility would be to join Rarity and Applejack in their charge and hope that they could fight off the seaponies together. But even with her magic, Twilight wouldn’t be able to dispatch the seaponies quickly enough to be assured that neither her nor her friends would be harmed. She briefly entertained the idea of simply teleporting herself away so she wouldn’t have to deal with this problem, but that was obviously out of the question since she wouldn’t abandon her friends even if it cost her her life.

In this moment of desperation, Twilight, oddly enough, found herself wondering what Trixie would do. It seemed a weird thing to ask herself, but she asked it nonetheless. When Trixie was faced with the Ursa Minor, she didn’t run away despite the fact that she was facing a foe she knew she couldn’t defeat. She stood her ground and fought. Granted, it was still in vain, but it still sounded somehow appealing to Twilight. She could stand her ground here and fight, even if she knew there was no way she could be assured of victory.

As she was resolving to throw herself into battle with her friends, a thought occurred to her. There was no way to know this plan was going to work, but neither was she sure of any of her other plans and at least this one stood a somewhat better chance of success.

Acting quickly, Twilight combined several of her plans into one and scooped up Rarity and Applejack moments before they clashed with the seaponies while simultaneously fishing a certain object out of her bag and teleporting herself forward. In the blink of an eye, Rarity and Applejack landed on the ground where Twilight had been a split second before, and Twilight appeared in front of the seaponies that had captured Rainbow Dash and Spike holding a familiar-looking coin in the air in front of her. Her eyes were hard, and her face serious, as she stared at the pair of guards.

“Here,” she said, moving the coin forward, “take this.”

The seapony hesitated a moment, then his eyes went wide as he saw the coin Twilight was presenting to him. He quickly held up his arm and yelled at the others to halt. Gingerly, he reached forward and plucked the coin from Twilight’s field of magic. After taking a moment to examine it, he nodded to the guards holding Rainbow Dash and Spike. They nodded in acknowledgment and released their prisoners.

Spike quickly ran over and hugged Twilight’s leg while Rainbow Dash followed close behind him.

“Twilight,” she whispered, “what the heck did you give him?”

Twilight kept her eyes on the seapony holding the coin. “Trixie’s coin,” she explained. “I remembered I had it and what Rarity had said about it. It seemed like a longshot, but I was hoping it would mean something to them.”

“Sheesh, well I guess you were right.”

Suddenly, the seapony holding the coin looked at Rainbow Dash. “Yes,” he said, “your friend here was right. This coin does mean something to us.”

“Whoa!” Rainbow Dash recoiled a bit. “You guys can talk?”

The seapony raised an eyebrow. “You’re surprised by this?”

“I mean, I guess it makes sense. I just wasn’t expecting it for some reason.”

The guard grinned, revealing sharpened teeth. “Is that so? Then you’ll be even more surprised to learn that this coin was stolen from us nearly a year ago.”

Twilight’s eyes went wide. “What?”

The grinning guard turned to her. “That’s right. A pony, much like yourself came here almost one year ago and stole this coin from us. I’m sure his highness would be very interested to learn how you came into possession of it.” He looked to both sides and motioned to the guards. “I’ll ask that you come quietly and save us all some trouble. If you refuse, we’re more than prepared to take you by force.”

Twilight cursed herself. Had she known where this plan would lead, she never would’ve gone through with it. Of course, it was the only real plan she had at the time, so it wasn’t like she had much choice. She turned back to look at Applejack and Rarity who had been inching closer all the time.

“It’s okay, girls,” she said. “I’m just going to go explain what happened and everything should work out fine. You girls wait for me up here.” Twilight turned back to the seapony holding the coin. “My friends stay here. You only need me.”

The guard chuckled. “I don’t believe you understand the concept of leverage. You see, you have none. We’ll take all of you to see the king, and not a one less.”

Twilight smirked. Her horn flared up as she waved it menacingly at the guard. “I do have some leverage,” she said.

The guard recoiled, his face contorting into a grimace. “Horns,” he muttered. “Fine. The two standing back there may stay, but you, the blue one, and the little dragon are coming with us.” He pointed to each subject in turn.

Twilight considered this for a moment, then nodded. She faced Rainbow Dash and Spike. “You’re okay with this, right?”

Rainbow Dash made a face that seemed to indicate the answer was obvious. “Uh, duh,” she said. “Like I’d leave you to go down there by yourself.”

Spike nodded in agreement, thumping his chest. “Yeah! Same goes for me!”

Twilight smiled. She turned back to Rarity and Applejack. “I guess Spike and Rainbow Dash are coming with me. You girls stay put until we get back.”

“Horseapples ta that!” Applejack shouted. “I ain’t gonna sit around waitin’ for you to come back. I’m comin’ with ya.”

Rarity, with a flick of her mane, said, “And I would feel terribly awful if something were to happen to you. I will accompany you too.”

The pair made to follow Twilight, but before they could even get a few steps, Twilight held up her hoof. “No. You stay up here. I just need to explain how I got this coin and everything should be fine. I don’t want to unnecessarily drag you girls into this.” She smiled softly. “Trust me. Everything’s going to be fine. We’ll be right back.”

Applejack pursed her lips. “Hmph, if you say so. C’mon, Rare, will stick it out up here. If Twi’s right, shouldn’t take ‘em long to get back anyhow. Plus,” she said, leaning in towards Rarity and whispering out of the corner of her mouth, “we ain’t just gonna sit here. Soon as they’re gone, we’re gonna follow ‘em.”

Rarity smiled. “Oh, how devilish. A ruse then,” she whispered. “Yes, Twilight,” she said, turning to Twilight, “as Applejack says, we shall wait for you up here on dry land.”

“Good,” said Twilight. “We won’t be long.”

“My left hoof you won’t be,” muttered Applejack.

Twilight turned back to the seaponies and said. “Okay, we’re ready. Let’s go see this king of yours.”

The seapony guard nodded. “Yes, I’m sure he’ll be very pleased to speak with you. Oh, but you’ll be needing these,” he said, handing Twilight, Rainbow Dash, and Spike each a small necklace. “Wear these or else you’ll drown, and that won’t be good for anyone.”

Twilight took the necklace and examined it with a trained eye. The chain was thin and seemed easily breakable, but the pendant that hung from it was something else entirely. It was a small, but thick, chunk of coral shaped to look like a series of interwoven lines probably meant to represent something, though Twilight wasn’t sure what. Cautiously, she slipped the necklace over her head and waiting for, well, something to happen. At first, she didn’t notice anything, then suddenly she felt herself gasping for breath. She saw Rainbow Dash and Spike doing the same thing and quickly ripped the necklace off. Her breath restored to her, Twilight sucked in a big mouthful of air, then looked at the necklace again.

“There’s some kind of enchantment on these, isn’t there?” she asked.

“Wouldn’t be much good if there weren’t,” said the guard.

Twilight inspected the pendant again. A faint glow faded away just as she held it up. She squinted her eyes, but nothing in particular stood out to her. “Hmm,” she mused. “Is it perhaps some kind of breathing spell? It must affect lung function in some way.”

He nodded, impressed. “Quite right. It modifies the user’s oxygen intake so that they can more easily extract it from water. Of course,” he added, “that also means it doesn’t work out of the water. Essentially, you become a fish, or a seapony I guess, out of water.”

“I see,” Twilight mumbled. She furrowed her brow. “How is that you can breathe both out of and in water?”

He reached towards his neck and pulled out a necklace from beneath his armor. It was identical to the one Twilight held in her hooves.

“It works in the opposite fashion for us,” he explained. “Though, it is possible for us to breathe out of water. The problem is that it requires we expend a great deal more energy, so it is not very practical.” He slipped the necklace back under his armor. “But that’s enough talk for now. My king will be waiting for you, and though he may be patient, his daughter is not.”

Twilight cocked her head to the side. “His daughter?”

The guard grimaced, but said nothing. Instead, he turned to his companions and jerked his head towards the water. They nodded in return then began to file into the lake. Twilight barely had time to slip the necklace back over her head, and see that Spike and Rainbow Dash had done the same, before the guard gave her a smirk and said, “Time to go for a swim.”

Twilight shot one last look over her shoulder at Applejack and Rarity. Neither of them were smiling. They were whispering back and forth though. From this distance, however, Twilight couldn’t make out what they were saying. She just hoped they weren’t planning anything risky. She was sure she could resolve this situation non-violently.

Twilight turned back to the lake and watched as her friends cautiously entered. Before long, their heads had sunk below the surface and she and the guard standing next to her were the only ones left. He nudged her forward. Instinctively, Twilight took a deep breath before entering the water.

As soon as she broke through the surface, she instantly felt the chill water wash over her. It wasn’t frigid, but it certainly was no hot spring either. Twilight held her mouth shut, still afraid of breathing in the water. Eventually though, lack of oxygen forced her to open her mouth and breathe in the cool lake water. She expected it to feel like drinking water, though she wasn’t sure why. Instead, however, it felt more like breathing, just… wetter. It was difficult to explain and Twilight feared that if she concentrated too hard on thinking about the logistics of breathing water, she may drown herself. So, she pushed those thoughts out of her mind and focused on finding where Rainbow Dash and Spike had gotten too.

While the pendant may have allowed her to breathe underwater, it certainly didn’t allow her to see any better. The lake was dark and murky, and the lower she descended, the harder it was to see. However, if she strained her eyes, she could just barely make out Rainbow a dozen or so feet ahead using her wings to propel herself forward. Twilight considered telling Rainbow Dash that the upward motion of her wings would create more drag than the downward stroke was worth, but then she remembered that she couldn’t speak underwater either. Perhaps these pendants weren’t so great after all.

A little behind Rainbow Dash, she saw Spike paddling his way forward. His method may have expended less energy than Rainbow’s way, but it was a heck of a lot slower. Clearly dragons weren’t meant for swimming. Twilight decided to see where the seapony she had spoke with was and looked to her left and right, but he was nowhere to be found. Then, she looked up, and there he was.

It was amazing how at-home they, the seaponies, looked in the water. Though, Twilight supposed, it wasn’t that surprising given their name and all. On land, they had been somewhat sluggish, and their movements, practiced as they were, didn’t look normal. But here, under hundreds of gallons of water, they moved through the water like Rainbow flew through the air. Their fins propelled them forward at great speeds, though it was clear they were purposely moving slow so as to not lose track of their prisoners.

Twilight then realized that she was moving awfully slowly. She had been so focused on gathering information on her surroundings, that she hadn’t even realized she was barely kicking at all. Ponies, as anyone can guess, weren’t exactly made to be water-faring creatures, but Twilight had done some swimming before. She wasn’t particularly good at it, but she was able to flail around enough to propel herself forward at an acceptable speed. She wished she had had more time to develop some sort of transformative spell to give her more hydrodynamic limbs specifically for this purpose, but she knew it was just wishful thinking. An explosive spell would’ve also worked, but she had a feeling the other ponies, and seaponies, and Spike, wouldn’t appreciate the concussive blast she would’ve had to create.

As it stood, Twilight had to be content with slowly doggy-paddling her way towards, well, now that she thought about it, she didn’t know where they were headed. She was just following Spike and Rainbow Dash, who were following the seaponies ahead of them in-turn. Without anything else to do, Twilight resigned herself to following blindly for the moment and she was rewarded for her patience not too long after.

It started off as a faint glow, just a sort of vague light in the distance, but as they got closer, that glow became brighter and brighter. It was only now that Twilight realized how far down they had gone. It appeared that this lake was a lot deeper than she had previously thought. They were now approaching what appeared to be a building. It had a few lights hanging around the entrance that were made of some sort of bioluminescent material, and as they got closer, Twilight realized that there were a pair of guards hanging around the entrance. The entrance, by the way, was not a hole in the rock as she would’ve expected. In actuality, the entrance was beneath the rock-face. And as they got closer and closer, she noticed that the seaponies leading the pack were diving beneath the wall of rock and disappearing.

She had only begun to suspect that perhaps they were entering some sort of underwater cave when it was her turn to dip beneath the rock. She looked up. She could see the surface of the water where Rainbow Dash had just broken through and was helping Spike up and her suspicions were confirmed.

With a few extra-powerful kicks, she pushed herself towards the water’s surface and broke through into a damp, though well-lit, cave. She attempted to take a deep breath when she realized she was still wearing the necklace and her deep breath turned into a gasp. As she was busy struggling with removing the necklace, she felt a pair of hooves, and dragon claws, grasp her flailing limbs and pull her up.

She felt the necklace being torn from her neck, and oxygen was restored to her lungs. She inhaled deeply, feeling a wave of relief wash over her. As she attempted to regain full cognitive function, she felt a hard pat on her back. Coughing, she looked up. Rainbow smiled back down at her.

“Not bad, Twi. Never figured you for much of a swimmer. Did better than Spike though, heh.”

Spike frowned. “Dragons weren’t made for swimming. It’s not my fault I have these stubbly little arms.” He waved his arms around to show their stubbliness.

Rainbow chuckled. She gave Spike a playful noogie. “I’m just messin’ with ya, bud. No offense meant.”

He pushed her hoof away. “Yeah, yeah, whatever.” He looked around. “Hey, wait,” he said suddenly. “Where’re all the seaponies?”

Twilight looked around. He was right, there were no seaponies to be found. It was odd. It was like they had just disappeared without a trace. Before Twilight could offer an explanation though, the guard from before clambered out of the water and into the cave with them. He looked down at Twilight.

“The king is right through here,” he said. “He’s waiting for you.”

Twilight nodded solemnly. “Let’s go meet him then.”

Rainbow Dash nodded too. “I’ll tell him what’s what.”

Spike sighed, mumbling, “My gut tells me it isn’t gonna be that easy.”

The seapony motioned towards the tunnel leading away from the pool they had exited from. “Shall we?” he said.

With a collective intake of breath, the pair of ponies and singular dragon gathered themselves up and followed the guard down the torch-lined hallway.

Meanwhile, up on the surface, Applejack glanced over to Rarity.

“Welp, I think we’ve given ‘em long enough. Whaddaya say, Rare?”

Rarity, who looked even more restless than Applejack, nodded firmly. “Yes, it’s been quite long enough indeed. Let’s go get them.”

Applejack chuckled. “Heh, yer more fired up than I am. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for gung-ho, but mind if I ask what’s got your bridle in a bunch?”

Rarity’s lips tightened. “Spike, he…” she trailed off. Her eyes drifted to the lake, then hardened. “He told me something earlier,” she finished. “But let’s not dwell on the past. Let us look to the future. The future where we rescue Twilight, Rainbow Dash, and Spike from villainous seaponies that is.”

Applejack grinned. “Now that’s a future worth fightin’ for. Well, heck, we’ve kept ‘em waitin’ long enough. I think it’s about time we head after ‘em, don’cha think?”

Rarity simply stared at the lake, unmoving. “Quite,” she said.

With that, they pair headed towards the lake’s shore. As they were about to dive in, Applejack held up a hoof.

“Hang on, a sec. I was just thinkin’ about somethin’,” she said. “How’re we supposed to, y’know, breathe down there?”

Rarity stopped in her tracks, all her previous conviction suddenly vanishing. “Uhh…”

“Well, shoot…”

30 — Making Peace

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Chapter 30:
Making Peace

Trixie leaned back in her chair, patting her stomach. After eating one serving of Anvil’s surprisingly delectable bean salad, she had still been hungry, but refused to ask for seconds. It was only when Aurora had been very insistent that she not be so modest, that Trixie agreed to have another helping… and then another and another. Three bowls later and she felt ready to burst. A feeling which she hadn’t felt in years. Living as a traveling magician hadn’t granted her much time to relax and enjoy a full meal. She hadn’t realized how much she missed it.

“Thank you for the dinner, Anvil,” she said. “It was delicious.”

Anvil eyed her thrice-empty plate. “Did ya now? I wouldn’t have guessed given how, er, little you ate.” He chuckled. “Been awhile since you ate this well, huh?”

Trixie avoided Anvil’s gaze, shifting her eyes to her plate instead. “Not that long,” she insisted. “It was just a particularly exhausting day is all. Normally I eat very well,” she lied. “Ponies often grace me with gifts of food after my shows. Plus, fancy restaurants love to have me perform for them, and I always get paid a little extra with some food.”

Anvil nodded. “Is that so?”

“Of course!” said Trixie quickly. “I’m quite famous in Manehattan and Fillydelphia, as well as many other large cities.”

“That’s good to hear.”

“Ponies flock from miles around to see the Great and Powerful Trixie perform her awesome feats of magic.”

Anvil nodded again. “So, your show is going well, then?”

Trixie unconsciously shuffled her hooves under the table. “It couldn’t be going better,” she lied again.

“Well, I’m glad to hear that, Trix,” he said, calling her by her old nickname. “I always knew you’d be successful.” He smiled at her. She looked away. “Well,” said Anvil, standing up, “I think it’s about time we head to bed.”

Aurora frowned. “What about the dishes?”

Anvil waved his hoof dismissively. “Eh, leave ‘em in the sink to soak. We’ll have the kids do them tomorrow. What’s life without a little manual labor?”

Aurora giggled. “You just don’t want to do them, do you?”

He shrugged. “Still good for them to have some responsibility. Anyway, are you sure I can’t convince you to stay with us, Trix?” he asked, turning to Trixie who was still glaring at her plate.

“No, I’ll be all right,” said Trixie, also standing up. “In fact, I think I’ll go ahead and leave now.” She turned to walk away, pushing her plate towards Anvil.

“You’re welcome back anytime,” said Anvil, “you know that, right? If you need food or a place to stay, just come knockin’.”

Trixie, without looking back, said, “Thanks, I will.” She then left the dining room and walked to the front door.

As she was about leave, Anvil said, “It was good seeing you again, Trix. Real good. I missed you.”

Trixie bit her lip, and placed her hoof on the door. Anvil started to say something else, but she pushed it open and stepped out into the night. It was dark now, and the chill air made Trixie shiver, but she didn’t stop to think about it. Instead, she began walking towards, well, she didn’t know exactly towards what, but it didn’t really matter. Whichever direction she went, she still didn’t have enough money to afford to rent a room, even for just a night. She had had barely enough money just to make it to Emerald Falls, and then Hoofington in the first place. It wouldn’t be comfortable, but it also wouldn’t be expensive, and it also wouldn’t be the first time she had been broke and forced to rough it. It wasn’t that bad once you got used to it. Though, she was now lamenting the loss of her carriage more than ever.

Trixie wandered aimlessly through the streets of Hoofington, letting her hooves carry her wherever they pleased. Meanwhile, she took the time to look up at the moon and think about how cold it was up there, in space, amongst the stars.

“I wonder if it’s colder than the Onyx Mountains?” she mused aloud.

That thought brought her back to her meeting with the Dragon’s Eye, in that snowy dream. It felt like that had been forever ago, but it had only been a day. What a long day it had been, though. She had hoped to avoid Anvil while passing through Hoofington, but she realized now that that was a futile hope. It seemed the stars were not aligned properly.

She sighed. “I guess that must be part of my destiny too, huh?” she asked no one in particular. “Destiny sucks…” She laughed bitterly. Her laughter abruptly stopped when she looked up and realized where she was. A lonely tree stood in front of her. She was only a couple blocks from her house, and she knew exactly where her hooves had taken her.

Apparently her hooves had been playing a joke on her. This was the last place she wanted to be. Although, now that she was here, she couldn’t help but think about her childhood. She placed her hoof on the tree trunk and ran it along the surface, feeling the deep, gnarled initials carved into it. They felt old.

“A plus T,” she muttered. It all seemed so cliche now, but back then it was everything she had. But that was when they were kids. Now Anvil was older, and he had a wife and kids, and his own house and business running the forge. And what did Trixie have? The clothes on her back? Hopes? Dreams? Her destiny? Maybe the Eye was right. Maybe it was her destiny to become the most powerful unicorn in history. Then she’d be respected and loved.

She placed her forehead against the knotted trunk and let the memories replay in her head.

Chairs and desks screeched as the students simultaneously exited the classroom excitedly, having heard that school was over seconds beforehand. A dull hum of chatter filled the room. Slowly dying down as more and more ponies left. Trixie was oblivious to all this however, as she was eagerly packing her things into her bag with childlike fervor.

She could already see him standing outside the window. His thick shoulders looked almost too big for his little colt body, and his heavy jaw made him look much older than he was. Anvil was, in every sense of the word, handsome. In reality, he was only two years older than Trixie, but because of his sire, he was nearly twice her size, and bigger than all the other kids in his year.

Trixie gave him a quick smile, then hurriedly stuffed the last book into her seemingly bottomless bag. Gripping the strap with her mouth, she flung it over her back and trotted out the door, waving a goodbye to Ms. Dandelion as an afterthought.

Before she would make it two steps outside the schoolhouse, Anvil appeared in front of her. He smiled widely, his eyes alight with excitement.

“C’mon!” he said quickly. “I want to show you something!”

Trixie barely had enough time to nod and say, “Okay,” before Anvil had grabbed her by the hoof and began leading her away from the school. Trixie was completely bewildered, but nonetheless jubilant. Her mane bounced up and down as she practically skipped along, following Anvil. Her eyes were bright and her smile wide as she asked, “So, where’re we going?”

Anvil’s wide jaw split into a silly grin. “And ruin the surprise? You’ll just have to wait and see when we get there.”

“How am I supposed to know where ‘there’ is?” Trixie asked, pouting.

Anvil’s grin turned to a smirk as he answered, “Oh, you’ll know.”

For a few minutes, Anvil and Trixie happily trotted through town, passing by several other ponies from school, and even Anvil’s dad when they passed their family’s forge. As they came to Trixie’s house, Trixie looked up to see her older sister leaning out of the window, watering plants in the windowsill.

“Hi, Midnight!” Trixie said, happily waving her hoof and giggling.

Midnight looked up and saw Trixie. She smiled at first, then she saw Anvil and her smile grew into a sly grin. She set her watering can down and cupped her hooves over her mouth. “Dinner’s in a few hours, Trix. Don’t be late or Mom’ll get mad!”

They were already starting to round the corner when Trixie called over her shoulder, “I won’t be!”

“Trix, huh?” said Anvil.

“Yeah, Midnight calls me that sometimes.”

“I kinda like it,” he said thoughtfully. “Maybe I’ll start calling you Trix from now on?”

Trixie frowned. “Only my sister is allowed to call me that,” she said indignantly.

Anvil grinned. “Oh really? Then I won’t call you Trix, Trix.”

“Anvil!” Trixie cried angrily. “You jerk!”

“What’s the matter, Trix?” he asked, mock concern on his face.

“You just—”

“Oh look, we’re here!” Anvil said, cutting off Trixie before she could even be properly mad at him. He pointed his hoof directly in front of himself.

Startled, Trixie closed her mouth and followed Anvil’s hoof. He seemed to be pointing at a tree, but that didn’t seem right. Trixie leaned to the side and tried to look around the tree, but nothing stood out to her. “Is it behind the tree?” she asked.

Anvil laughed his boyish laugh. “No, no, it’s not behind the tree,” he said. “It is the tree.”

Trixie pursed her lips. “I don’t get it,” she complained. “The surprise is a tree? There’s tons of trees around here. That’s not so special.”

“Oh, but this one is very special, Trix.”

“How come?”

Anvil nudged Trixie towards the tree. “See it yet?” he asked.

Trixie shook her head. “I don’t see anything.”

He pushed her a little closer. “It’s there, trust me.”

Trixie took a few more steps closer, but still saw nothing. “I don’t get what I’m supposed to—” She stopped as something caught her eye. She had been looking in the wrong spot. Further up the tree, nearer to its leafy branches, she saw fresh scars marring its surface. Her eyes glided up the tree until she could make out a pair of initials that had been crudely carved into the tree. “A plus T?” she said.

Anvil chuckled. “I’m sure you can guess who the ‘A’ and the ‘T’ are, can’t you?”

Trixie suddenly felt a wave of heat wash over her face. “Me and you…” she said quietly.

“Of course!” said Anvil, hugging Trixie. “This isn’t just any tree, Trix. It’s our tree. As long as this tree is still here, it’ll be a symbol of our friendship. No matter what happens to us, we’ll always be friends.” He looked down at Trixie expectantly. She simply stared at the tree silently. “Trixie?” he said.

Trixie closed her eyes, shutting out the tears that threatened to break loose. Doing her best to hold those same tears back, Trixie opened her eyes again and turned back to Anvil. “Right,” she said. “Friends.” Just as she could feel the heat of more tears welling up in her eyes, Trixie quickly pushed Anvil aside and started to gallop away from the tree. “I—I have to go eat dinner now,” she said through choked tears. “I’m… I’m sorry.”

Anvil simply stood there, scratching his head, watching as Trixie scampered away, her head down.

Trixie took her forehead off the tree and stepped back a bit. She could feel a warm wetness on her cheeks as she brought up her hoof to her eyes. She did her best to wipe away the handful of tears that had managed to squeeze themselves out, but as soon as she wiped away one, several more took its place.

Just then, she heard the rustling of leaves behind her. She turned around to face the intruder, her horn aglow with magic.

“Who’s there?” she said loudly. “Show yourself!”

A stallion stepped out of the shadows, his face illuminated by the light from Trixie’s horn. She recognized him immediately and let her horn’s light fade a bit.

“Thought I might find you out here, Trix,” said Anvil. “Whether it was by luck or not, I’m glad I did.”

Trixie frowned,trying to hid her fresh tears. “What are you doing out here? Shouldn’t you be asleep by now?”

“I could ask the same of you.” Anvil’s face softened, and he stepped a little closer to Trixie. “You said you were going to rent a room, right? From the pub if I recall correctly.”

“That’s correct,” said Trixie. “I was just taking a bit of a stroll first.”

Anvil’s lips pursed. “All the way out here?”

“Sometimes a walk helps me sleep better.”

Anvil sighed. “Dammit, Trixie,” he said softly. “Why do you have to keep lying to me? Can’t you just tell me the truth?”

Trixie recoiled a bit, eyeing Anvil suspiciously. “I don’t know what you’re—”

“Just stop!” he yelled. “Just for one second stop with the faux ignorance and tell me the truth. You think your little escapade in Ponyville didn’t make it to the newspapers here? You think I don’t know you’re dead broke? You think I don’t know you’re back in Hoofington because you don’t have anywhere else to go?”

Trixie’s eyes were wide as she stared silently at Anvil. He shook his head incredulously.

“You don’t have anything to say? No, ‘I’m sorry I lied to you’, or ,’Please forgive me’? Nothing?”

Trixie finally opened her mouth to speak. “How come Aurora didn’t recognize me?”


“If I was in the newspapers, then shouldn’t she have recognized who I was?”

Anvil shook his head. “You weren’t named in the article, but I knew it was you, or at least I had my suspicions. Suspicions which were confirmed when you showed up on our doorstep.”

“Not even worthy of bothering with my name, huh?” she muttered under her breath. “So you think that’s why I’m here?” she asked, eyeing Anvil. “Because I was beaten by some no-name unicorn?” Trixie chuckled unhappily. “I suppose in a way it is the reason I’m here, but it’s not the real reason. I told you before, I’m just passing through.”

Anvil’s frown deepened. “Just passing through? Why can’t you admit you need help?”

“Because I don’t!”

He sighed. “Yes, Trix. Yes you do.” He pointed to the tree Trixie was standing in front of. “Remember that? I imagine you do. That’s why you’re here now, right?”

Trixie nodded slowly. “Remember? How could I forget?”

“So you remember what I told you then?”

Again, Trixie nodded.

“No matter what happens to us, we’ll always be friends.” Anvil took a step closer to Trixie, and then another when she didn’t back away. “I’ve always loved you Trix. You’re like family to me. I can’t stand to see you hurting like this.”

Trixie’s eyes darted between the tree and Anvil. She took a deep breath, then said, “Do you know why I left that day?”

“I know exactly why you left,” Anvil responded.

Trixie frowned. “You do?”

“It’s not like it was difficult to figure out,” he said. Anvil stepped one step closer until he was right next to Trixie. Putting his hoof around her shoulder, he said, “I always knew you liked me, Trixie. From the first day we met… I knew.”

“But, then why?”

Anvil pulled Trixie closer, and looked into her eyes. “Because I loved you like a sister, Trix. I didn’t want to hurt you, so I did the only thing I could think of. I made something that would prove to you that we would never be separated. I knew you probably wouldn’t understand at first, but I hoped that in time you would.”

Trixie was silent. Her mouth felt hot and dry, and her eyes watered with fresh tears. “Anvil, I… I’m sorry,” she said, “I’m sorry for running away after Midnight died, and I’m sorry I never came back.”

He smiled sadly. “I know. I know you are.” Anvil gave Trixie a tight hug and said, “C’mon, let’s get you back inside. It’s a bit chilly out, isn’t it?”

Trixie fumbled for for words. “Inside, but I, you…”

Anvil gave a knowing look. “Oh please, like after all that I’m just going to let you walk away into the cold dark night to go sleep under some tree or something.” He have her cheek a quick kiss. “You’re family now, remember? You’re coming back with me, and I’m setting you up with your own room. You can stay as long as ya like. Plus,” he added, scratching the back of his neck, “I promised Aurora I wouldn’t come back without you in tow.”

“So she knows about me, then?” Trixie asked.

“Well, sure, it’s not like I could stop myself from telling her. After you left, she grilled me for information on you. It felt like being interrogated by the police. She wanted to know everything about you.” Anvil laughed heartily. “I’ve never seen her so interested in anything before. Of course, after I had finished telling her about you and I, she told me that I had to go after you and that I couldn’t come back until I had convinced you to stay with us.”

Trixie smiled softly. “Aurora’s too kind for her own good.”

“Heheh, tell me about it.” Anvil took Trixie’s hoof and began to lead her away from the tree. “Let’s get outta here. We’ll take the old way back. You know, the one we took when I first showed you this place.”

“Can we make a stop on the way?” she asked.

Anvil raised an eyebrow. “Hmm?”

“I want to… I want to stop by my place on the way back.”

“No problem. If we leave now, we’ll be there in a few minutes.”

With that, the two, hooves joined together, left the tree behind and headed back into Hoofington. They walked in silence for most of the trip, only breaking the silence when they had reached Trixie’s old house, or what was left of it. Anvil released Trixie’s hoof and stepped back, letting her make her way towards the center of the empty plot.

Trixie walked carefully through the vacant lot, taking care to step over any rocks she could make out in the dim moonlight. When she had reached the center, she stopped, and looked around. In her mind’s eye, she could see everything just as she remembered it. To her left was the kitchen, and her mother was in there cooking whatever it was they were going to have for dinner that night. To her right, was Midnight’s room. Midnight smiled and waved at her, asking how school went before going to back to her desk to write some more of that novel she had been working on. Trixie turned around. She saw Anvil standing there, and in her head, her father was next to him. He had his hoof around Anvil’s shoulders and was playfully tugging on him. Trixie turned back to Midnight’s room, and she saw a filly version of herself walk out and into the room next to hers. She followed herself into her room. The walls were decorated with the same star-studded pattern she remembered and the dresser next to her bed still had that picture from the talent show with an even younger Trixie holding up a silver trophy with massive smile on her face.

Trixie watched herself reach into a drawer and remove a small blue diary and scribble something down quickly. Then, just as quickly, she slipped it back into its original place and let her head fall against her pillows.

“I had forgotten about the diary,” Trixie mumbled. “Feels like another life.”

Having finished reminiscing, at least for the moment, Trixie closed her eyes and made the visions disappear, replacing them with blackness. She breathed in slowly and deeply, then let it all out in one big exhale. Keeping her eyes closed, she started speak. “Mom, Dad, Midnight… it’s me… Trixie. I don’t really know how to say this, but… I’m sorry, you know, for leaving you guys. If I hadn’t left, maybe…” she trailed off. “Anyway, I’m sorry. I know there’s nothing I can do to change what happened, but if it helps, I wish I could. I miss you guys so much.” She felt her knees begin to tremble, then she dropped to the ground. “I miss you,” she whispered.

Seeing Trixie fall to her knees, Anvil quickly rushed over. “Are you okay?” he asked. He bent down and saw that she was crying, so he quickly stood back up. After a moment, he placed a hoof on her back and patted it softly. Finally, after a few minutes of standing over her, Trixie stood up. Her face was wet with tears, but she had a smile on her face.

“Okay,” she said. “I think I’m ready to go.”

Anvil grabbed her about the neck and pulled her into a loving embrace. “I’m sorry about what happened to them,” he said softly. “It wasn’t your fault.”

Trixie didn’t respond.

“Besides, we’re your family now,” he said, smiling. “You’ll always have us.”

“Thanks,” said Trixie. She rested her head against his and sighed. “I needed to hear that.”

31 — The Long Road Ahead

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Chapter 31:
The Long Road Ahead

“Mm… must see somehin’ in ya. Can’t imagine what, though,” mumbled Typhon as he sighed, shifting the lantern he was holding to his other hand. The glow from the light cast dark shadows along the wall, depicting two figures, one four-legged, and the other snake-like, making their way through the sparsely-lit tunnels.

Trixie paused for the briefest of moments to shoot a glance over her shoulder at Typhon. “What was that?” she asked. “I didn’t quite catch what you said.”

Typhon made a clicking sound with his forked tongue. “I said, she must think you’re somethin’ special, lettin’ you go like that. You should count yourself lucky, pony. Ain’t too many who’ve just been released without so much as a lashin’. If it weren’t for what Lady Tiamat done for us, I’d have half a mind to be questionin’ 'er leadership. But I ain’t the sort to ask questions that ain’t got no answers. If she asks somethin’ ‘a me, I do it. If she tells me to let prisoners go, I won’t say no. I do it because I know Lady Tiamat ain’t got nothin’ but our best interests on ‘er mind. She ain’t done nothin’ to ‘urt us yet, and she won’t start now.” His face hardened until his jaw was one sleek line. “I’d do anythin’ Lady Tiamat asked ‘a me, even give me life. Wouldn’t even stop to ask why.”

Trixie’s hoof instinctively moved to her chest, where her brooch had been. The familiar feel of the jewel against her hoof was replaced by the still-familiar, though less comforting, feel of her own fur against her hoof. Her heart sank a little, but she tried to ignore the feeling, pushing it away. “You really feel that strongly about Tiamat?” she asked, trying to keep her mind off things she couldn’t get back.

“Aye,” was Typhon’s terse, one-worded reply.

“Why is that?”

Typhon stopped, causing Trixie to stop as well. The way he held the lantern made it so that his face was mostly cast in shadow. Only his brow and upper-jaw line were visible. His eyes, hidden in the dark, still glinted whenever the flame flickered. “Our Lady Tiamat’s the only thing keepin’ us drakes from slippin’ into the shadow ‘a the dragons. Without her, we’d be nothin’. A footnote in the history ‘a the world. But she made us strong. She made us proud. She gave us somethin’ ta fight for.”

Trixie furrowed her brow. “Something to fight for? Like what?”

He turned his head downwards to look at Trixie, a motion that illuminated more of his face, but cast the rest into an even deeper darkness. “Like somethin’ that don’t concern a little pony like yourself.”

“Does it have something to do with the Mountain’s Heart? Is that why she told me it was dying?”

“If Lady Tiamat saw fit to inform you about something, then far be it from me to question her, but I ain’t gonna be fillin’ any ‘a the blanks for you. Suffice it to say, Drakkengard ain’t always been the peaceful, cheery place you’ve been enjoyin’ since ya got here.”

Trixie rose an eyebrow. “What do you mean?”

Typhon snorted. “Ain’t I just told ye that I ain’t givin’ away things that ain’t meant to be given away?” With a sigh, he hefted his lantern and started moving forward again. “Look, we’re drakes, you understand? We ain’t quite snakes, we ain’t quite dragons, but we’re somewhere in between. We ain’t ‘ad a place to fit in for’s long as I can remember. Not just us, neither, but other drakes too. Been plagued by constant attacks we ‘ave. The snakes think we’re too ‘igh and mighty, and the dragons look down on us, but we ain’t better ‘an either of ‘em. We’re just tryin’ to survive, ye understand? You ‘ave any inklin’ what it’s even like to feel so universally ‘ated?”

Trixie winced, her hoof moving to her chest again.

“Even us drakes don’t all get along. Been more in-fightin’ in these past few decades than I ever seen in me whole life, but we ain’t disappeared yet. You know why that is?”

Trixie started to answer, but Typhon wasn’t going to let her speak. He cut her off with a wave of his claw.

“It was Lady Tiamat’s doing, it was. Weren’t for ‘er, Drakkengard wouldn’t even be here now. None of us would. We owe her our lives.”

Trixie cast her eyes down. “I didn’t realize you thought so well of her. If half of what she told me was true, she is quite an amazing leader.”

“I don’t know what she told ya, and I don’t wanna know, but you can bet your life that it weren’t no lies.” He nodded. “Lady Tiamat is many things, but a liar she ain't.”

“Even still,” said Trixie, “some of what she told me seemed rather farfetched, like it came from a storybook and not real life.”

Typhon growled, releasing a puff of icy mist into the air. “Even if that were true, which it ain’t, what purpose would be served by ‘er lyin’ to ye? Lady Tiamat ain’t got nothin’ to gain by tellin’ ye fairy tales, missy.”

Trixie let that thought sink in for a moment. It bounced around in her head like a spastic ping-pong ball until she eventually reached a conclusion. With her eyes forward, peering into the impenetrable darkness, Trixie said, “Maybe she does have something to gain?”

Typhon let out a throaty chuckle. “And what, my little pony, would that be?”

“My cooperation,” Trixie mumbled, speaking more to herself than Typhon. “But what does she want?” Trixie asked, again, more to herself than Typhon. “What, exactly, is Tiamat after?”

“Quit yer mumblin’ and speak clearly,” Typhon growled. “Can’t understand ya when you ain’t enunciatin’ properly.”

Trixie shook her head. “Oh, it’s nothing. Just talking to myself is all.”

“Aye, so I see. While you’re at it, maybe you could just stop talking altogether, eh? Give ol’ Typhon some peace and quiet from your insufferable blatherin’.”

“If that’s what you’d like—”

“I’d like nothin’ more.”

“—then fine. I won’t speak anymore.” She turned away from Typhon. “I need to think about some things anyway,” she added under her breath.

With that little spat, the two fell silent, echoing the eerie silence of the caves they were traversing. They remained that way for the remainder of the journey back to the cells, the silence only broken by the clip-clop of Trixie’s hooves and the occasional drip-drop of water from overhead. It wasn’t the most exciting journey, but it did allow Trixie some much-needed time to mull things over in her head while she wasn’t being led blindfolded or being carried through the tunnels. She used this time to go over recent events in her head and try to work things out. Unfortunately for her, she hadn’t made much progress by the time they had reached the cells. When Typhon knocked on the stone door, sending echoes down the tunnel they had just walked through, it brought Trixie out of her self-induced trance.

“Oi! You lot are comin’ with me. Lady Tiamat’s orders.”

Trixie heard rustling from the behind the stone door, but it was muffled, and it was hard to make out if there were any voices saying anything. After waiting a second, Typhon brought up a scaly claw to the door. It was at this point that Trixie realized something odd. There was no handle on the door. It was just a thick slab of stone with a tiny window near the top, but no discernible mechanism for opening it. She was about to ask how Typhon planned to open the door when her question was answered before it was even asked.

As Typhon’s claw touched the door, a wave of ice seemed to shoot out. It covered a small area at first, then expanded until it covered a few square inches, eventually growing thicker and thicker until it had formed a ball-like structure not dissimilar from a doorknob. With a twist that looked like it should’ve cracked the knob in half, Typhon turned the icy handle and opened the door. Seeing Trixie’s look of confusion, he smiled, showing off a row of pointy teeth.

“Never had anyone break in or out before. Bit ‘ard to pick a lock where there ain’t no lock to be pickin’, eh?”

“I’ve never seen anything like that before,” Trixie said quietly. “How does it work?”

“What, and tell you how to break into one ‘a me cells? I don’t think so. Drake magic is all I’ll say. Ain’t somethin’ you ponies would understand.”

“Mm…” Trixie mumbled. “It’s quite impressive, to say the least.”

Typhon nodded. “Aye. Now shut up and get your friends outta me cell.”

Trixie said nothing, but entered the darkened room anyway. It was cold, much like her own cell had been, and no bigger either. The only light came from a tiny candle that was all but a pool of wax on the floor. She looked around, but didn’t see anypony. She turned back to Typhon to say something regarding this fact, but before a single word could escape, she felt something grab her from behind, wrapping its limbs around her mouth.

“Move a single muscle and I’ll blast your head clean off. Wait… Trixie?”

With the mystery pony’s grip released, Trixie was able to face her attacker. His face illuminated by the glow of his horn, Corona stood there with a confused expression snaking its way across his face.

“Why are you here?”

Trixie smiled, reaching out and pulling Corona into a hug. “We’re being released!” she said excitedly. “I spoke with Tiamat and she agreed to free us.”

Corona’s gaze narrowed. “Why? What reason does she have to just let us go?”

“We can talk about that later,” Trixie said, brushing the question off. “First, where are Polaris and Astrid?”

“I’m right here,” came a voice from behind Corona. The clack of hooves against the stone announced Polaris’ entry as he stepped into Corona’s glow. “Astrid’s here too.” He pulled his wife forward into the light. Trixie’s heart sank as a pit formed in her stomach. Astrid did not look well.

Her eyes were ringed with dark circles, and her face looked sallow. Her normally white fur looked paler than usual, and there was a weakness in her expressions that made her look frail. She smiled, but Trixie didn’t smile back.


Astrid smiled again. “I’m fine, dear. Don’t worry about me.”

Corona sighed. “I’ve been trying to keep her warm as best as I can, but it’s difficult to sustain any spell for a long period of time. I’m no doctor, but I think she’ll be okay after she’s had some proper rest.”

Polaris nodded in agreement. “Which is all the more reason that we need to leave this place as soon as possible. You did say we were being freed, right?”

Trixie winced as she saw Astrid cover her mouth to cough a few times before putting that same smile back across her face. “That’s right. Tiamat told me that we’re free to leave. She was… feeling generous.”

Corona huffed. “I don’t believe that for a second, but there’s no point in arguing about it now.” He looked up at Typhon. “Are you the one escorting us out?”

He nodded. “Aye, I am. But ye may want to reconsider leaving right now.”

“Can’t you see that she’s sick! We need to leave right now!” Corona shouted.

Typhon shrugged. “If that’s what you want. I’ll take ye to the exit, but ye may not like what ya find. It’s still the dead ‘a night out there. A healthy pony wouldn’t last five minutes in that cold, but if that’s what you want, so be it. Far be it from me to question the wisdom of you little ponies,” he said with more than a hint of sarcasm adding bite to his words.

Corona opened his mouth, but no words came out. He sighed. “Fine, we’ll wait till tomorrow morning, but we’re leaving as soon as we can, okay?” He turned to Astrid. “You’ll be fine for one more night, won’t you?”

She nodded softly. “I’m a lot tougher than you think. Polaris and I’ve travelled through the northern wastes more times than I’d care to count. One more night of cold won’t kill me.”

Both Corona and Polaris smiled. “That’s good to hear,” the younger pony said. He turned to Trixie. “So, are you sleeping with us here tonight, then?”

Trixie started to answer, but Typhon beat her to it. “You lot won’t be sleepin’ in ‘ere tonight. Lady Tiamat has me to take you somewhere a little more comfortable. Must be feelin’ especially generous tonight, I reckon.”

“It’s true,” said Trixie. “She’s also agreed to feed us breakfast before we leave tomorrow, so we won’t have to go hungry.”

Corona shook his head. “No, we’ll just eat on the way. You guys brought plenty of supplies didn’t you?”

Polaris nodded. “We did, ‘course, we won’t be seeing ‘em again anytime soon. Lost ‘em when we fell, remember?”

“Damn, I forgot… Well, fine, breakfast it is then. We’ll eat and then be on our way.”

“So it’s settled, then,” said Trixie. She turned to Typhon. “Will you please take us to our rooms now? Astrid needs to rest as much as possible before we leave tomorrow.”

The drake waved the lantern towards one of the many tunnels that led away from the cell. “After you, little ponies.”

Polaris nuzzled Astrid’s head with his own. “C’mon, Astrid. Let’s get out of this cell, mm?”

She nuzzled him back, smiling. “After you, sweetheart.”

So, a line formed as Typhon led the four ponies out of the cell. With Trixie right behind Typhon, Polaris behind her, Astrid behind him, and Corona picking up the rear, they walked at a steady pace down the seemingly endless tunnel. It felt like it went on for miles, at least to Trixie, but in reality the whole thing was only a couple thousand feet at most. As they started to get closer to their destination, Trixie thought she could hear something familiar. It sounded like more drake voices, but she couldn’t’ be sure. It wasn’t until Typhon reached a door and opened it with the same drake magic from before that Trixie realized where they were.

As the door swung open, a massive hall was revealed, and Trixie quickly figured out that they were right back where they had been not long after their capture. A large throne sat in the middle of the room, and a vaulted ceiling dwarfed everything around it. Hanging at the top of this ceiling was the Mountain’s Heart, just like it had been before. Trixie couldn’t help but marvel at its beauty yet again. No matter how many times she saw it, she was sure she’d always be stunned by the sheer size and magnificence of it. She wasn’t able to gaze for too long, however, as Typhon interrupted her thoughts by calling out to a pair of drakes standing on the other side of the room.

“Oi! Anshar! Sirrush! Get ye lazy bellies over here and help these ponies to their rooms, aye?”

The two drakes, one smaller and the other quite a bit larger, turned away from their conversation to look at him. The smaller one squinted, then gasped.

“‘Ang on a sec’, ain’t those the prisoners wot we brought ‘ere before? Wot’s they doin’ outta they cells? Ain’t they supposed’ta be bein’ watched over?”

“Aye, this be them, but they ain’t prisoners anymore. Lady Tiamat’s lettin’ ‘em go, and they’re to be given special rooms for tonight.” Typhon glanced down at the ponies piled up behind him. “Go on, then. They’ll take ya to yer room.”

The larger drake frowned. “Lady Tiamat said that? Why?” he raised his eyebrows suspiciously. “That don’t sound like somethin’ she’d say.”

“Well it’s a good thing it ain’t up to you to decide what Lady Tiamat does and doesn’t say, ain’t it, Anshar? If she tells me these ponies are to be given new rooms and their freedom, then that’s what I’ll do. I ain’t in the business of questionin’ the Queen.”

Anshar’s frown deepened. “If you say so, brother…”

Anshar and Sirrush made their way across the room, slithering on their bellies in that snake-like way that always made Trixie feel oddly uneasy. Sirrush gave a toothy smile while Anshar maintained his stoic frown.

“So,” said Sirrush, “they’s to be given new rooms, eh? The nice ones?”

Typhon turned away and started to head back the way they came from, “Aye, and see to it they’re given one with a fireplace. Lady Tiamat would not be pleased with me if that one died.”

Sirrush tilted his head to the side. “That one?” He looked down.

Astrid, as if on cue, coughed, doing her best to cover her mouth while she leaned on Polaris for support.

“Think he means that one,” said Anshar.

“Thank you, Anshar, couldn’t figure out that one by meself,” he said sarcastically. “Bleedin’ ‘ell, it’s a good thing your ‘ere to tell me these things.”

Anshar rolled his eyes. “Just shut up and help me carry ‘em, aye?”

Trixie quickly stepped forward as Anshar and Sirrush leaned down to pick the ponies up. “We can walk just fine,” she said. “Just lead us to our rooms and we’ll be okay.”

With a nod, Anshar and Sirrush both turned away and started to slither off in towards the opposite end of the hall, Trixie and company in-tow. Much like before, they didn’t have to travel very far through the tunnels before they reached the rooms, but unlike before, these tunnels were well-lit. Lanterns dotted the walls at regular intervals, keeping the place from ever getting too dark. Even the air felt warmer here. It was like they were in a completely different place all of a sudden. Trixie was about to note this when the two drakes stopped.

“This is the first room,” Anshar said, as he stood in front of a large door. “Normally we don’t have guests, so this is just a regular room for a drake, but it should be big enough for ponies like you.” He pushed on the door and it swung open. Trixie noted that these doors did not require special magic to open, but assumed it was because these weren’t prison-cell doors.

As the door opened, a spacious room was revealed that took Trixie aback for a second. It was much larger than anything she had anticipated, and even though they were supposed to be given separate rooms, she felt quite sure that they could all comfortably fit in this one. The walls were the same stone that made up the rest of the city, but instead of the roughly hewn walls of the cell, these were smooth and flat, in some places even polished to a shine. It was a far cry from the room Trixie had slept in before. Besides the large ice-chandelier hanging from the ceiling, there were several lanterns hanging on the walls and a fireplace with a hearth in the middle of the room. On either side of the fireplace were two beds, larger than what she was used to, but a lot warmer than the rags she had slept under the previous night.

“It’s so… large,” Trixie commented. “I wasn’t expecting something this big.”

“Aye, well we don’t normally accommodate for ponies, so this is a regular room for a citizen of Drakkengard,” said Anshar. “Now, if the rest of ya will follow me, I’ll take ye to your rooms.”

Trixie held up a hoof. “Wait, I think we can all stay in this room just fine. It’s quite large and I don’t want Astrid to go any farther than she has to.” She looked at the other ponies. “That’s fine, right?”

Astrid nodded. “Yes, this room will be plenty for all of us.”

Anshar glanced over at Sirrush, then shrugged. “Suit yourselves.” He waved to his brother. “C’mon, Sirrush. Let’s get back to throne room. I got a feelin’ Typhon’ll be waitin’ for us there.”

Sirrush nodded. “Aye. That brother ‘a ours is always waitin’ for us somewhere, ain’t he?”

With a mirthless laugh, the two drakes turned and slithered away, leaving just the four ponies standing by themselves in the middle of the hall.

“Well, we best get inside and get that fire goin’ brighter, eh?” said Polaris. “Astrid’s feeling a bit chilly.”

Corona nodded. “I’m on it.” He followed the the ponies inside as Trixie shut the door and then went to work making the fire in the fireplace bigger. His horn flared with energy as he poured magic into the fire making it grow several times its size. Within just a few seconds he had made the whole room several degrees warmer.

Astrid let out a sigh. “That feels nice, Corona. Thank you. Looks like I owe you again,” she laughed weakly.

Corona rubbed the back of his neck, blushing. “Oh, it’s nothing. Just doing what I always do.” His face suddenly grew serious. “But you should be getting some rest now. It may be a few hours of walking tomorrow before we reach Frostvale. You’ll need lots of strength, especially since we’ll be walking through some deep snow.”

She nodded, smiling. “I told you, I’ll be just fine. I’m not some frail mare that needs looking after.”

Polaris chuckled. “That’s the truest statement I ever heard. Sometimes I wonder if Astrid ain’t the tougher of the two of us. She’s certainly a lot more hardy than your average mare.”

“I don’t doubt you,” said Corona with a cheerful smile. “But still, we all need some rest. It’s been a few days since any of us has a had a good night’s sleep.”

“You’re right about that,” said Polaris, nodding. With that, he helped Astrid to one of the beds and lay her down in her in, pulling the sheets over her body and kissing her forehead before climbing into the bed next to her and saying, “See you ponies bright and early. We’ve got a bit of a journey ahead of still to come. After Frostvale, we’ve still got some time before we reach the Onyx Mountains and who knows what after that. The long road ahead will be waiting for us, but it won’t wait forever.”

Neither Corona nor Trixie said anything after that. A few minutes later and both Polaris and Astrid had fallen asleep. The two remaining ponies sat in front of the fire in perfect silence, save the crackling of the wood. Trixie watched the flames dance around and let her mind wander aimlessly, eventually leading her on a path to her past. Both the recent past, and the past of her youth. The last time she had really stared into a fire this big was when she was with Anvil at his forge. She sighed. It all felt so very far away now, and yet it wasn’t even a year ago that she’d stayed with him. Sometimes she wondered if she wasn’t having an elaborate dream, and that she’d wake up one morning to find herself at Anvil’s house again, breakfast on the table and the two little foals bouncing up and down, trying to get her out of bed. She could almost smell the food being cooked.

A sudden wave of nostalgia hit her, and she felt a dampness around her cheeks. She brought a hoof to her eye and felt a teardrop disappear into her fur. She laughed quietly. “I can’t believe I’m crying over something so silly.”

Corona’s ears perked up. He turned to Trixie. “Did you say something?”

She shook her head. “No, I was just thinking about something.”

“Oh yeah, what?”

“Something that happened a long time ago. Something I can’t change.”

“I know that feeling,” Corona said, turning back to the fire. “I said something to my sister once that I wish I hadn’t. I haven’t spoken to her in years. I don’t even know where she is anymore.”

Trixie turned her head, looking over at Corona. His face was soft, but his eyes were hard. “What was her name?”

Corona smiled sadly. “I was born first, so they named me Corona after my father, Sol, you know, like the Sun. So when my sister was born, a few minutes later, they named her after our mother, Dawn. They called her Aurora, like the lights you see at night.”

“Aurora,” Trixie repeated. “That’s a pretty name.”

“Yeah, it is.”

32 — In the Hall of the Seapony King

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Chapter 32:
In the Hall of the Seapony King

The damp air of the subterranean tunnel felt heavy in Twilight’s chest. Its wetness stuck in her throat with every breath. Along the slick walls, patches of bioluminescent algae grew sporadically, giving a soft glow to the whole cave. However, the light was not quite bright enough for Twilight to be able to make out much in the way of details. She imagined that the seaponies must have adapted quite well to these low-light conditions a long time ago. Still though, that didn’t make it any easier for her to see where she was going. More than once, Twilight found herself nearly tripping over Spike’s tail as he waddled in front of her, or bumping into Rainbow Dash as she tried to squint through the darkness.

Several uncomfortable minutes later, and they had entered a large dining hall, if that indeed was what it was, that was far brighter than the tunnels they had just come through. At the head of a long table, a robust seapony sat slouched in a tall chair. He was drumming his hooves against the wood and had a bored expression on his face. That, however, changed quickly as soon as he saw Twilight, along with Rainbow Dash and Spike, enter the room. A wide smile split across his face and he straightened himself up.

“Ah! My guests have arrived! Come, come, sit down, please.” He gestured to the empty chairs on either side of the table. “Makes yourselves at home.”

Spike started to approach one of the chairs, but Twilight put a hoof on his shoulder, stopping him in his tracks. “Thank you,” she said, “but we’d rather not, if it’s all the same to you.”

The seapony frowned, his jowls sagging into a blob of fat. “What kind of host would I be if I didn’t show you common courtesy? Please, sit. I insist.” He gestured more harshly this time.

Twilight sighed, then nodded. “If you insist—”

“I do.”

“—then so be it.” She looked at both Rainbow Dash and Spike and then shrugged.

The three of them crossed the cavernous hall to the table and seated themselves at the far end, as far away from the seapony as they could reasonably manage. Once they had settled, the seapony grinned. “Now then, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Adrius, and I am the ruler of this lake. These are my people.” He motioned to the seapony guards surrounding them. “We don’t often get visitors around here, especially not from your kind. What brings you to my domain?”

Rainbow Dash slammed a hoof on the table suddenly, startling the whole hall.

“Look, buddy! Quit jerking us around, okay? Let’s just get this over with.”

He stared at her silently for a moment then sighed softly. “My my my, such impatience.” He clicked his tongue, tapping his hoof against the table. “Very well, then. Enough with the formalities.” He leaned forward. “My guards tell me you have something that belongs to me. Something that was stolen from us nearly a year ago.”

Twilight nodded. “That’s right. Although, I didn’t know it had been stolen.”

Adrius raised an eyebrow. “No? Then how did you come by it?”

“About a year ago, a friend of ours came this way in search of something. See, she was on a quest of sorts and she had been writing letters to me chronicling her journey. It wasn’t until very recently that I received those letters due to an ,err, unfortunate mishap. In one of those letters, our friend had left this coin with the words, ‘Things are not always as they seem’. I didn’t know what it meant at the time, and I still don’t now, but I had a feeling this coin, and your people, were connected.” Twilight fished out the coin and held it out. “Another friend of mine told me that only those who the seaponies are greatly indebted to may hold these coins, so I knew it must hold some significance.”

“We didn’t know it had been stolen, all right? We’ll just return it and be on our way,” said Rainbow Dash heatedly. “We’re kind of in the middle of something right now, so we don’t have time to be sitting around doing nothing.”

Adrius smiled, showing off rows of sharpened teeth. “Oh no, we wouldn’t want to inconvenience you. That would be terribly rude of us. However… I can’t allow you to leave just yet. You see, my daughter, Aria, has quite the appetite and it wouldn’t do for me to leave her wanting.” He looked over to the guard on his right. “Would you bring Aria in here, please? I’m sure she’s growing quite impatient.”

The guard nodded. “Right away, sir.” He spun around, and slinked off into another damp tunnel.

The seapony king turned back to his guests. “Now then, while we’re waiting, perhaps we could discuss some terms?”

Applejack took her hat off and scratched her head as she stared at the glassy lake. “Well, this is quite the pickle, huh?”

Rarity, perfectly still, said, “Quite.”

For a moment, the two of them simply sat in silence as they watched the empty lake that had so recently swallowed up their friends. It remained perfectly still, almost mocking them and their inability to overcome the limits of their biology. Applejack sighed.

“If only there were some way we could, I dunno, make a bubble around us, or somethin’. That would sure make things a heck of a lot easier.” She kicked at stray pebble, sending it flying into the lake.

Rarity, meanwhile, was concentrating as hard as she could coming up with a solution, tapping her head angrily. “Oh, I’m not nearly as good as Twilight with this problem solving. I know there’s an answer somewhere, I just have to find it.”

Applejack frowned. She approached the edge of the lake and stuck her hoof in. “It’s pretty cool,” she remarked. “Dependin’ on how deep it is, maybe we can just hold our breath? I mean, unless you’ve got a better answer, Rare?”

Rarity bit her lip in concentration. Then, all of a sudden, her eyes lit up. “Wait, what did you say just a second ago?”

“That the water is cool?”

“No, no, before that.”

“That I wish we could make a bubble?”

“Yes! That!”

Applejack’s frown deepened. “Okay, Rare. Ya lost me. Are you saying you can do that?”

Rarity’s cheeks tugged into a sly smile. “Well, my dear Applejack, it just so happens that I may be able to do just that.” She approached the water’s edge and stood next to Applejack. “You see, some time ago, I developed a spell for keeping clothes dry.”

Her eyebrow raised, Applejack said, “Okay, and how does that help us?”

“Well, the idea was I created a sort of bubble around the clothes that kept them safe from, not only water, but anything else that might dirty them. If I were to apply that just a pony’s head, for instance, then I may be able to allow you to survive under water. Although, it probably wouldn’t be for long since the bubble can only extend so far, and allow so much oxygen in.”

Applejack blinked. “You really think you can do that? That’s mighty impressive.”

Rarity sighed. “Yes, well, it’s not a perfect solution. Like I said, the bubble would only be so large, and only hold so much oxygen, so it would hardly do us any good if we had to stay down there for an extended period of time.”

Applejack grinned, patting Rarity on the back with a heavy hoof. “All righty then, guess that means we’ll just have to be quick about it, huh?”

“Very quick. I shouldn’t think we’ll have more than a few minutes at most.”

“Good thing I’m a strong swimmer. Besides, if we’ve got a shot to save ‘em, then we need to take it no matter what, right?”

Rarity hesitated for only a moment before nodding her head firmly. “Yes, you’re right. We have to try out best, regardless of the circumstances.”

“Well shoot, sugarcube, you’re all fired up and ready to go, ain’t ya?”

“As ready as I can be.” Rarity sucked in her breath. “Okay, let’s not wait a moment longer.” Her horn began to glow a bright blue as soon as she finished her sentence, the light increasing in intensity as she poured more magic into it. She closed her eyes and creased her brow, horn sparking with life as she first directed it at Applejack.

The spell worked quickly. First, it flowed out like a strand of wispy silk from Rarity’s horn, then attached itself to Applejack’s head, slowly working its way around her entire face and down to her neck. Once the substance had covered her whole head, it expanded several inches until it looked as though Applejack had stretched a balloon over her head and blown it up slightly. Like a balloon, the shell wasn’t solid and it bobbled and rippled as Applejack moved. She tried to speak, but only a muffled sound made it past the bubble’s walls. She frowned, then shrugged. Next, the spell wrapped itself around Rarity’s head and did the same thing. Within a few seconds, Rarity had her own amorphous bubble. With a silent sigh, she let the spell go and looked over to Applejack.

Like a funhouse mirror, the other mare’s head was distorted by the shape of the bubble and its ever-changing nature. She almost laughed, but then realized that that would waste precious oxygen, so instead, she motioned to the lake and nodded. Applejack returned the nod, and both mares stepped into the cool waters, breaking the surface’s otherwise perfect stillness. With one last look at each other, they slipped beneath the water and began to swim downwards.

It was almost immediately that Rarity realized a major flaw in her plan. She had completely neglected the fact that they had no idea where to go, or where Twilight and the others had been taken. She was almost about to surface again to rethink her plan when Applejack tugged on her hoof. She followed the other mare’s hoof to where she was pointing. Far down, she could just make out a small light. She nodded to Applejack and the pair made their way towards the mysterious glow.

As they got closer, they began to realize that the light they were heading towards was no, in fact, one light, but rather a series of lights that led underneath a big rock. Kicking their hooves in sync, they pushed onwards towards what they would soon find out was the entrance to the underwater cave. Once they had swam beneath the boulder and up the shaft, they found themselves emerging in a wet cave, slick with water from recent use. Heaving themselves onto, relatively, dry land, the pair stood up and looked at each other.

Rarity reached a hoof up to her face and poked the bubble, causing it to burst into a shower of magic. She then did the same to Applejack’s bubble.

Applejack coughed, doubling over as she breathed in heavily. “Whoo…” she said slowly. “That was an interesting experience. That air in the bubble did somethin’ funny to me.”

Rarity nodded. “Yes, the magic in the air is a bit odd. I suppose I don’t really think about it anymore since I’m so used to it. But regardless, it appears as though we’ve made it somewhere.” She glanced around at the slimy walls and dimly-lit tunnel before them.

Pounding her chest to get out one more cough, Applejack said, “Yesiree. I’m not sure if this is the right place, but at least we’re makin’ progress. This thing definitely leads somewhere.” She righted herself and then stared into the mostly black tunnel. “The question is: where?”

Meanwhile, back in the dining hall of the seapony king Adrius, Twilight, Rainbow Dash, and Spike sat in silence as they waited for the king’s daughter to maker her appearance. Twilight looked around, carefully assessing the number of guards and their relative positions. If it came to that, she wanted to be ready this time, and she wasn’t going to let her friends lives be at risk like last time. Luckily, it seemed, there weren’t too many guards still in the dining hall with them. Many of the ones who had escorted them back, had left after leading them to the king.

She shot a glance at Spike. He looked calm enough, rocking back and forth in his chair slightly, more as a show of boredness than anything. Rainbow Dash, on the other hand, looked impatient. Her eyes darted back and forth, and she was fidgeting with her hooves constantly. Twilight was about to place a hoof on Rainbow’s shoulder to calm her down when she was interrupted by the sound of a new pony entering the room.

“Oh, look! Land ponies!”

The voice was saccharine sweet, filled with a bubbly tone that almost sounded like laughter without any actual laughing. The pony belonging to that voice, however, did not have that same feeling. She was small, but her eyes were wild and her smile filled with razors. She looked like a wild beast who’d been kept in captivity for years, only let out for brief periods of time. The little monster licked her lips, looking up to Adrius.

“Daddy, are they staying for dinner?”

He smiled, patting her on the head softly. “Perhaps, my dear, perhaps. That still remains to be seen.” His smiled turned into a more serious look as he gazed across the table at Twilight. “Now then,” he said, “all that remains is discuss what exactly will happen from here on out.”

Twilight sensed Rainbow about to blurt something out as the mare leaned forward and her mouth began to open. She placed a hoof on her shoulder and pushed her back into her seat, eliciting a confused look from the mare. She shook her head lightly, then looked back to Adrius.

“We told you. We didn’t steal your coin, and we are returning it to you as a show of good faith. All we want to do is leave your lands and your people in peace.”

Adrius nodded. “Yes, yes. It’s all well and good that you returned something you did not steal, but the fact remains. It was stolen from us, and someone has to pay the price, and besides, little Aria here doesn’t get visitors very often. It would mean so much to her if you were to stay for dinner.” He grinning wolfishly.

Spike leaned towards Twilight, whispering to her, “Does he mean what I think he means?”

“I don’t know, Spike. But we’re not going to stick around to find out,” she whispered back. Twilight looked first at Aria, then at Adrius. “Perhaps there is some sort of deal we can make? We have a few supplies if you want, or perhaps there is something you need magic to fix?”

Adrius tilted his head to the side, smiling softly. “A deal may be possible, yes, but allow me a moment to consult with my daughter.” He leaned down towards Aria. She spoke quickly, her eyes moving between Rainbow Dash and Spike as she whispered into Adrius’ ear. He nodded occasionally, his eyebrow raising now and again. After some time, he eventually nodded and said, “It seems as though she’s only really interested in one of you.”

Twilight cocked her head to the side. “What do you mean?”

“The little one. The baby dragon. She would like to have him alone. If you give him to us, the rest of you may go free.”

Spike’s eyes went wide. He instinctively grabbed Twilight’s fur and tugged. “You can’t let them take me, Twilight. Who knows what sort of crazy stuff will happen to me.”

She smiled reassuringly. “Don’t worry, Spike. I’d never let something happen to you.” Twilight placed a hoof over Spike, shielding him from view and pushing him slightly behind herself. “Look, we want to settle this peacefully. We won’t give up Spike, but we’ll give up the coin. Can’t you just find it in your heart to free us?”

Adrius brought a hoof to his chin and tapped it thoughtfully. “Hmm… No, I think not.” He put his hoof down on the table and said, “So, then, is that how you want it? You won’t hand your friend over to us?”

“Never!” shouted Rainbow Dash before Spike or Twilight could even say anything. “We wouldn’t give up Spike for the world. That little dude means more to us than you could possible imagine.”

Adrius gave an exaggerated sigh, rolling his eyes. “Well, if that’s the way you feel, then alas, it seems as though a peaceful resolution was always going to be just out of reach.” He turned to the guard to his right, motioning towards Twilight and the others. “If they do not want to cooperate, then make them cooperate. Seize them. Oh, and do be careful of the one with the horn. They can be feisty.”

The guard nodded. “As you wish, sir.” He looked to the other guards and the room and said, “You heard King Adrius, get them!”

Within a split second, the room went from relatively calm, to utter chaos. Twilight had sprung up onto the table and began to fire up her horn, grabbing one seapony by the tail and flinging him across the room. Rainbow Dash meanwhile spun around and kicked another hapless guard in the face, sending him reeling across the floor. Spike, however, was not as fortunate and before he could even seek cover under the table or beside Twilight, a silver seapony guard grabbed him by the arms and lifted him into the air. Neither Twilight nor Rainbow noticed when this happened as they were too distracted, and before Spike for call out for help, the guard placed a hoof over his mouth.

Just as the guard started to carry him off towards the king, a booming voice echoed through the hall.

“Unhand him, you brute!”

They all stopped and turned to see Rarity standing in the entrance, her horn ablaze with fiery blue magic as her eyes burned with anger, and Applejack standing next to her with a smirk on her face that was wider than seemed physically possible.

Applejack let out a laugh. “I’d listen to her if I were you. She can be a right pain when she’s mad.”

33 — Hoofington

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Chapter 33:

As light leaked through the cracks in the curtains, casting lines across Trixie's face and across the bed, the gentle sounds of birds chirping and the school bell ringing woke the sleeping mare. She rose slowly, sitting up and casting off the bed sheets, throwing her hooves wide as she let out a long yawn. She felt rested, more rested than she had felt in many months. Just that simple thought was enough to put a smile on her face.

With another exaggerated yawn, she extricated herself from the sheets still clinging to her like sunshine on the morning air, and made her way into the hallway where she ran head first into Anvil.

"What the?" he said, looking down. He saw Trixie rubbing her head, and smiled, letting out a small laugh. "I was just coming to get you. I know you need your beauty rest, but I figured it wouldn't be good if I let you sleep all day."

Trixie, still massaging her forehead, chuckled softly. "I didn't realize I had slept in. It's been so long since I've had a chance to do it. I wasn't even sure I could anymore."

Anvil grinned, patting her on the back with a large hoof. "Ah well, it's good to get some extra rest every now and again. Just see that you don't become complacent, eh?" He laughed again. "C'mon, Aurora made some breakfast this morning. I'm sure there'll still be some left if you hurry. I doubt the boys could've finished it off that quickly."

Trixie nodded, but didn't answer right away. Instead, she bit her lip softly. "Look, Anvil," she said, her voice quiet, "I just wanted to say thank you, again, for taking me in. I always wondered what would've happened if I had never left Hoofington. Who knows how my life might've turned out?"

Anvil's eyes were soft, and his lips curled into a kind smile. He wrapped a hoof around Trixie's shoulders and pulled her into a tight hug. "No matter what happened in the past, you can't change it, and I know you know that. There's no sense in wondering about what could've been, or how things might've gone. You just gotta point your snout forward and keep on movin', y'know? Don't let the past get ya down, or start feelin' sorry for yourself. Even if things haven't worked quite the way you wanted, that doesn't mean you won't get to where you want to be in the future." He let go of the hug, pushing her to a distance where he could look in her in the eye. "I believe in you, Trix. I believe you have the ability to do whatever you want. You just gotta reach out and grab hold'a that opportunity and never let go, you hear me?"

She tried to answer, but nothing came out. Her throat was suddenly dry and she felt a heavy weight on her chest. Finally, she just nodded in answer.

"Nothing's too great for the Great and Powerful Trixie, right?"

Trixie, despite herself, let a smile creep across her face. "Right."

After she had eaten a rather filling breakfast, Trixie decided to take a walk around the town. It had been many years since she last visited Hoofington, and she felt a sudden sense of nostalgia for a place she once hated filling her. She passed Anvil’s boys on her way out the door, and received cheery 'Good morning, miss Trixie!'s from them, much to her delight.

"First time anypony's ever called me 'miss'," she mused to herself before pushing open the front door and stepping outside. Immediately her ears were assaulted by the sound of metal on metal, a harsh, angry sound that was both loud, and somehow calming. The rhythmic sound of hammer against steel was oddly comforting to her. Trixie simply stood for a moment, letting the warm morning sun wash over with her eyes closed as she listened to Anvil work away at a piece of steel. She couldn't help but feel so unbelievably comfortable right now. She felt as though she could listen to that sound for hours, but alas, it wasn't meant to last. Only a few seconds later, the hammer stopped and Trixie turned towards the forge.

Sure enough, she didn't have to wait long before Anvil rounded the corner draped in a heavy leather apron and with a hammer in his mouth. The extra long handle on it allowed him to keep his face safely away from the molten steel while he did his work. His face was soaked with sweat, and his mane was plastered to his forehead, but Trixie thought he looked just as handsome as ever. She smiled as he smiled at her, his white teeth standing in stark contrast to his blackened face.

"You headed out?" he asked, taking the hammer from his mouth and using it to point towards the town.

"I think I'm going to go for a walk around the town," Trixie replied. "I want to see Hoofington again."

"Oh yeah? That sounds like fun. I'd love to go with you, but, well..." He hefted the hammer with an apologetic look on his face.

"I understand. I don't want to cause you any more trouble than I already have."

Anvil's boisterous laugh filled the air. "Please, Trix. What kind of old friend would I be if I didn't help you out? Besides, do you really think you're that much trouble compared to the boys? It's practically like a vacation having you here. With you around to distract them, I don't have to!" He laughed again. "Well anyway, I need to get back to work. If you happen to see Aurora while you’re in town, tell her to pick up some apples while she's out. I've been thinking about them all morning. Sweet, sweet apples." He licked his lips before retreating back to his forge. A few seconds later, and the familiar sound of hammer on anvil returned.

Relishing the sound only briefly before trotting off towards the town, Trixie gave one last look over her shoulder at Anvil. He didn't look back at her, his eyes instead focused on the fiery metal in front of him, his face hardened in determination. She sighed.

For a few minutes, Trixie simply wandered aimlessly through the town, allowing the crisp morning air to fill her every breath. There was an uncanny spring in her step, and she couldn't help but sport a cheery grin as she cantered around. Hoofington, despite it having been several years, had not really changed very much. Most of the buildings were the same, the ponies had only gotten older, and the biggest difference was the handful of new houses she saw towards the western end of town. It would seem Hoofington had not attracted a lot of new real estate investors since the Ursa incident. She felt a small pang in her chest at the thought, but pushed it out of her mind quickly. She decided to focus instead on the day ahead of her. She didn't know where it would lead, but she was eager to find out.

As she made her way towards the old market, she was lost in thought, and only returned back to the real world when she felt a hoof tap on her shoulder.

"I see you’re out of bed.”

Trixie turned around to see Aurora smiling at her, saddlebags stuffed with produce hanging off her sides. Her face was cheery, and her eyes bright and full.

“Did you have your fill of breakfast this morning?”

Trixie smiled. “Yes, thank you. It was great.”

Aurora nodded happily. “You’re welcome. Now then, since you’re here, perhaps you could help me finish my shopping?” She tilted her head towards the nearly-full saddlebags. “I’m almost done, but I’ve got a few things left to get.”

Trixie’s eyes lit up. “Oh! That reminds me. Anvil wanted me to remind you to get apples while you were out.”

Aurora gave a soft laugh. “Yes, he does have a weak spot for certain fruits.”

“He did seem rather… enthused about getting more apples.”

“Sounds like my Anvil all right,” Aurora said, smiling.

Trixie tried to smile back, but her cheeks twitched, turning it more into a sort of half-smile than anything. She felt like she’d been punched in the chest, like there was a weight pressing down on her. Seeing this, Aurora’s smile faltered as well.

“Are you all right?” she asked, cocking her head to the side.

Trixie nodded, mentally berating herself for letting her emotions show so clearly. “Sorry, it’s nothing. I was just thinking about… something.”

Aurora nodded knowingly. “Anvil told me about your family,” she said. “About what happened that night.”

Trixie sighed internally. She hadn’t realized what she was actually upset about. “Yes, being back here is… hard,” she said. “It’s been so many years, so long since I’ve even seen this town that I hardly recognize it even though it hasn’t changed. I don’t know if that makes sense to you or not.”

Aurora’s features softened as a warm smile came over her face. “I, too, know something about leaving your home.” She beckoned to Trixie. “Come on, we can talk about it on the way. Those apples won’t buy themselves.”

Trixie laughed, despite herself. “No, they certainly won’t.”

Taking Trixie by the hoof, Aurora led her through the maze of merchant stalls and salesponies hawking their wares. The further they delved into the fray, the louder and more crowded it became. Despite the town’s size, Hoofington enjoyed a modest trade income from neighboring villages, and its square was quite busy this time of year. As they passed by a stallion trying to sell his fool’s gold as real, Aurora cast a glance over her shoulder at Trixie.

“You know,” she said, “I’ve only lived here for a few years, but this feels more like home than Frostvale ever did.”

“Frostvale?” Trixie asked, catching a glimpse of a mare reciting the qualities of a winter cape she was selling. “Is that where you’re from?”

Aurora nodded without looking back. “It was my home for most of my life. The wind, the ice, the snow, the cold. Those were my world back then, but I knew I didn’t want to live there forever.”

“Why did you leave?”

Aurora didn’t answer at first, her focus more on weaving her way through a particularly dense crowd than on answering Trixie’s question, but once they had made it through, she said, “For a number of reasons. I was tired of the cold. I couldn’t find steady work that didn’t involve me spending all my time freezing to death outside of the city, and, most of all, I was tired of the cold.” She paused. “Wait, did I say that one already?”

“You did.”

Aurora frowned, pursing her lips. “Well anyway, I suppose the real reason, besides the cold, is that I wanted to get away from my brother.”

Trixie felt a pang in her chest. “What do you mean?” she asked.

Aurora sighed. “It’s… well, a little complicated I suppose. Oh!” Her frown did a 180 as they came upon a trader selling apples from nearby Trotsdam. Dragging Trixie along with her, she approached the trader. “How much are your apples going for?”

The pony behind the stall didn’t respond, only pointed to a sign hanging off his cart.

“Two for a bit, huh?” Aurora mused. “Hmm, well I’m sure there’s plenty of others I can buy from. Come on, Trixie. Let’s—”

“Wait!” the stallion said, quickly getting up. “Uhh, tell you what. How about I give you a dozen apples for… five and a half?”

Aurora tapped a hoof to her chin. “Now that’s a much better deal.” She began to reach for her coinpurse, but as she brought it out, Trixie stopped her, a smile on her face.

“Make it five bits and a baker’s dozen, and you’ve got yourself a deal,” she said, her smile now a confident smirk.

The stallion ran his tongue across his teeth, looking back and forth between his apples and Aurora’s bits. He sighed. “Fine, you’ve got a deal.”

Aurora handed the stallion five bits and he put thirteen apples into a bag, the two swapping goods as she gave him a cheery grin. As they walked away from the stand, Aurora turned to Trixie. “That was pretty good,” she said. “I thought I could haggle pretty well, but you’ve got a knack for it, I see.”

Trixie chuckled, buffing her chest with a hoof. “Well, you get pretty good at it when it’s your whole life,” she said. “The trick is to never let on how much money you actually have.” The two ponies shared a laugh before Trixie said, “So… what were you saying about your brother?”

“Oh right, I never did finish telling you why I left Frostvale,” Aurora said. She turned to Trixie, holding out the bag of apples. “Do you mind carrying these?”

Trixie shook her head, taking the bag.

“About a month before I left,” Aurora said, walking back in the direction of her and Anvil’s home, “my mother died. My father had already passed long before that, back when we were still kids, and my brother never really got over it. See,” she said, “he died during an expedition into the mountains north of Frostvale. The other ponies say he died trying to cross a chasm so he could lay an anchor on the other side. He jumped across, but misjudged the distance, and ended up hitting the ledge and falling off.”

Trixie cast her eyes down. “I’m sorry to hear that. I know how it feels to lose a parent so young.”

Aurora shot a sad smile back at Trixie. “I still had my mother though, and my brother, so it wasn’t all bad.”

“I suppose not. What was your brother’s name?”

Aurora glanced up at the sky. “Corona,” she said. “Like the sun.”

Trixie followed her gaze, though the sun happened to be obscured by some clouds today. “That’s a nice name,” she replied. “My sister was Midnight.”

Aurora’s eyes drifted downwards until they fell on Trixie, who was still looking up at the sky. “Anvil told me about her,” she said. “She sounded like a lovely mare.”

Trixie, without looking at Aurora, replied, “Maybe. I never really knew her.” She looked away from the sky, staring straight ahead towards the clocktower in the distance. “But what about Corona? What happened between you and him?”

“When my mother got sick,” Aurora began, “he took it upon himself to make her better. He spent all his time studying plants and ways he could use them to heal her, but she never got any better, despite all his hard work.” She sighed. “He asked me for help numerous times, but I refused every time.”

Trixie cocked her head to the side. “You didn’t help him?”

Aurora shrugged. “I didn’t have a choice. With mother sick, and Corona spending all his time snout-deep in flowers, there was no one to work and pay the bills. The other ponies were sympathetic, but in a place like Frostvale, the generosity and kindness of strangers will only get you so far. I did what I had to do. I worked every job I could find to make sure we had a roof over our heads and food on our plates.” She shook her head. “Corona didn’t understand. He accused me of not caring about our mother, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. I cared desperately about her, but I could only do so much.”

Trixie bit her lip. “So you two had a falling out, then?”

Aurora nodded. “Yeah, you could say that. He said some things after she finally passed, and it hurt. I was angry at him, so I left. I kind of wandered around for awhile before ending up here, but despite all that, I’m still glad I left. I still think about him all the time,” she said, glancing back up at the sun. “I wonder if he thinks about me, and if he’s come to realize why I did what I did, but… it’s been so long since I’ve spoken to him.” She laughed mirthlessly. “Sometimes I think should go back, but what would be the point?”

Trixie opened her mouth to answer, but couldn’t find the words to say. She simply remained silent for a few minutes as they continued to walk. When they finally reached Anvil and Aurora’s home again, Trixie finally said, “I think that you should at least try to contact Corona again.”

Aurora looked back at Trixie, giving her a knowing look. “I’ve thought about it, but I don’t even know how I would go about it. I mean, what if he doesn’t even live in the same place anymore?””

Trixie worked her tongue over her lips, lost in thought. Suddenly, an idea struck her. “You know,” she said, “I’m headed north myself. I might end up passing through Frostvale at some point. I could… try to find him for you?”

Aurora smiled softly. “Thank you, but that’s okay. I’d rather speak with him myself, and if he doesn’t want to speak with me, then so be it.” She tilted her head towards the forge where Anvil was busy hammering out a few horseshoes. “But enough about that. Why don’t you go give Anvil some of those apples? I’m sure he’d appreciate that. I need to go get dinner started myself, so I’ll leave you two to talk.” With that, she gave Trixie one last smile before heading up the steps and disappearing into the house, leaving Trixie standing outside with a bag of apples in her hooves and thoughts swirling around her head.

After a bit more rumination, she decided to push those thoughts out of her head and instead grab a few apples. Shoving one in her mouth, she took a big bite out before walking up to Anvil, apple juice dripping from her lips.

Anvil looked up, his face sweatier than it was before, but a massive smile on his face. “Apples!” he cried, reaching out for an apple only to be left dismayed as Trixie pulled the bag away.

“Ah ah ah,” she said. “What’s the magic word?”

Anvil frowned. “I don’t know any magic.”

Trixie shook the bag.

“All right, all right. Can I please have an apple?”

Trixie chuckled, reaching into the bag to grab an apple before tossing it to Anvil. “These are pretty good,” she said. “From Trotsdam apparently.”

Anvil licked his lips, eyeing the apple wolfishly. He opened his jaw wide and bit half the apple off in one chomp. “Trotsdam you say?” he said, his mouth full of apple.

Trixie nodded. “Yep.”

He gave the apple an approving look before devouring the other half and motioning to Trixie for another one. As he bit into it, he said, “You know, Trix, I was thinking about something while you were out today.”

Trixie raised an eyebrow. “What’s that?”

He took another bite. “Well, you said you were going on a journey, right?”

Trixie’s eyes narrowed. “Yes, that’s true… Why?”

“How exactly do you plan on paying for things along the way? And furthermore, what are you gonna do about winter clothes and all that? It’s only a few months until things start to get really cold.”

“Well, I—”

“Because I had an idea about that,” Anvil said, cutting off Trixie as he ripped some more flesh from the apple. “Man, that’s really good,” he mumbled. “Anyway, I was thinking that maybe you…”

Trixie’s eyebrow rose again. “Maybe I what?”

He fumbled with the apple in his hoof, twirling it around before he answered. “Well, what if you worked here? For me, I mean, at the forge.”

Trixie was taken aback. She frowned. “But, why?”

Anvil sighed. “Look, I’ll be honest with you, Trix.” He shoved the last of the apple into his mouth. “I’m not sure I like the idea of you running off north for any reason, but if you’re dead set on going—”

“I am.”

“—then I’m going to do what I can to help. So I thought that if you worked here for awhile, I’d give you free room and board, and a small stipend. You can save that up and use it help you get north when you do decide to leave.”

Trixie considered this for a moment, taking a bit of her own apple. “I was planning on leaving soon.”

“You’d be able to work for as long as you want. If you decide to leave tomorrow, then so be it. I won’t stop you.” Anvil set aside his hammer and approached Trixie, putting a hoof on her shoulder. “I won’t stop you,” he repeated, “but dammit, I won’t be happy about it.” He smiled at her. “I don’t want you to leave at all, but if you have to, then at least spend some time here before you do.”

Trixie didn’t return his gaze, instead opting to stare at her hooves. “I… I’m not sure,” she said. “Let me think about it.”

Anvil let out a booming laugh, stepping back. “I figured you wouldn’t take me up on that right away.” He shrugged. “Being a blacksmith is hard work. Can’t say I blame you for not wanting to do it.”

Trixie looked up at Anvil. “Hang on,” she said, holding out her hoof, “you think I can’t be a blacksmith?”

“Well, I’m not saying that exactly, but—”


“But, well, it is pretty hard work, and you’re not exactly the toughest pony—”

“I’m tough! I’ll do it!” Trixie said angrily, dropping the bag of apples to point at Anvil. “I’ll show you,” she said. “I’ll be the best blacksmith you’ve ever seen. Hmph.” With that, she spun around and walked away, throwing open the front door and vanishing into the house.

Anvil watched her go, bending down to pick up an apple after the door had closed. Polishing it against his chest, he grinned. “Too easy.”

34 — Frostvale on the Horizon

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Chapter 34:
Frostvale on the Horizon

Trixie stared at the crackling fire, watching as the logs slowly crumbled apart and turned to ash. A sudden wave of dread washed over her. She felt cold, and no matter how much closer to the fire she moved, the cold stayed, persistent and omnipresent. Glancing around the room, she saw that everyone else had long since fallen asleep.

Polaris and Astrid had wrapped themselves up in a blanket and were sound asleep on the bed. The other bed, however, remained empty, and Corona, curled up in his own cloth, lay in the middle of the room. The only one still awake was Trixie, and try as she might, she couldn’t get to sleep. It’s not that she didn’t feel tired—she did—it was more the unshakable feeling of foreboding hanging over her.

She got up and paced about for a bit, her teeth clattering from the cold. Her hoof moved unconsciously to her breast, feeling nothing but her bare fur where her brooch had been. She wished, not for the last time, that she still had it with her. That thought brought her to Twilight, and how she would most likely be receiving the brooch any time now.

Somehow, the notion of Twilight opening the mail and finding her brooch in an envelope comforted her. She smiled, despite her current situation. The idea crossed her mind to use this current wakefulness to pen another letter to the mare, but as she made her way to her bag to retrieve the writing utensils, she heard a faint knock on the door.

She cocked her head to the side. Slowly, she approached the door and opened it slightly. Through the crack she could see the body of a drake, and a tall one at that. A bit of light spilled into the room from the lantern he was holding. Trixie opened the door a little more and saw that it was Sypher standing on the other side.

Carefully opening the door so as not to wake her friends, Trixie slipped through the crack. She looked up and saw Sypher grinning down at her. “Sypher? What are you doing here?”

His grin widened. “Just thought I’d stop by is all.”

“In the middle of the night?”

Sypher’s grin curled upside down into a mock frown. “What?” he said, bouncing he lantern as he spoke. “We ain’t good enough friends that we can meet in the middle o’ the night for no reason?”

Trixie frowned.

He gave an exaggerated sigh. “All right, all right, fine. Look, if I’m bein’ ‘onest, it ain’t an accident you’re in this ‘ere room, and not in me dungeon.”

Trixie’s eyebrow rose. “Tiamat ordered Typhon to take us here, so of course it wasn’t an accident.”

“Yeah, well, that ain’t an accident neither,” he said, chuckling quietly.

Glancing back at the door, half expecting Corona or Polaris to wake up and find her speaking with Sypher, Trixie said, “What do you mean by that?”

Sypher’s grin returned wider than ever. He buffed his chest, looking entirely too smug. “Let’s just, missy, that ol’ Sypher ‘as still got some influence ‘round ‘ere. I may ‘ave put in a good word for ya to the Good Lady Tiamat. Convinced her that perhaps you’d be more inclined to ‘elp ‘er if she showed a bit ‘o compassion, innit?”

Despite herself, Trixie smiled, shaking her head slowly. “Why though? Why help us? Why help me?”

He shrugged. “Eh, what can I say wot ain’t already been said?” His claw came down softly on Trixie’s head as he patted her like an uncle ruffling his niece's mane. “I like you,” he said. “Ya got some moxie, innit? Remind me a bit o’ meself when I was just a boy, come ta think of it.” He tapped his chin thoughtfully.

A soft smile found its way to Trixie’s face, and the dread she had felt before seemed to ebb away like the tide receding. “I don’t know what to say. Thank you,” she said.

Sypher waved his claw dismissively. “Weren’t nothin’, love. Lady Tiamat was freein’ ya regardless, so I just thought you could use proper room ‘fore ya left.” His eyes lit up suddenly as he reached for a bag hanging off his shoulder. “Oh! But that reminds me.”

As he fished through the bag, Trixie said, “Sypher, I wanted to apologize to you.”

He raised an eyebrow, but didn’t look up from the bag.

“You know, for what I said to you earlier. You called it ‘false kindness’, and you were right. That’s exactly what it was.”

Rifling through the bag, Sypher grinned as he came across the item he was looking for. Pulling a thick bone-white dagger out the bag and displaying it, he said, “Words ain’t nothin’ but tools for the powerless, love, and you and I both know you’re anythin’ but. You’ve got more power in ya than ya realize, I’d wager, and that’s why I’m givin’ ya this.” He handed Trixie the dagger.

She took it in her magic, but not without a bit of hesitation. Twirling it about, she examined the dagger. It was thick and round, more like smooth rock than a forged blade. But despite that, when she ran her hoof along its edge to test its sharpness, she cut herself a little. The blade part of the dagger was clumsily bound with bits of leather to a roughly cut rock that served as the handle. As she held the dagger up, she couldn’t help but notice that the color of the weapon was very familiar.

Sypher grinned. “Ah, noticed it, ‘ave ya? Ain’t a regular dagger, innit?” His grin widened, and it was then that Trixie noticed a suspicious gap in Sypher’s teeth. “Got in a fight with me mate when we was kids, I did,” he explained. “One thing leads to another and next thing I know, poor ol’ Sypher’s layin’ on the ground and me tooth’d gone missin’.” He laughed. “Well, I ain’t one to take that sorta thing lyin’ down, so I found me mate, knocked ‘im senseless, and took back me tooth. Now, it’s not like I could just ram the thing back in my face, so I did the next best thing: turned it into a weapon, I did.”

Trixie examined the dagger again, and sure enough, once she took a closer look, it was very clearly a tooth. The white color aside, the dagger had ragged edges and wasn’t as smooth as it first appeared. “This is your tooth?” she asked, almost not believing it.

He nodded. “Aye, love, that it is.”

“Why are you giving this to me?”

Sypher sighed, casting a glance towards some unknown corner of Drakkengard. “Ya got somethin’ special in ya, love. Somethin’ I wish I had when I was younger. Lady Tiamat sees it too, so it ain’t jus’ me. It’s in the eyes, it is,” he said, smiling at her. “Saw it when we first spoke, and I still see it now. More than anythin’, ya got courage, confidence in yourself, and more heart than I could ‘ope to ‘ave in a lifetime.”

Trixie felt her heart catch in her throat. “What… what are you saying?”

He placed a claw on her shoulder, and leaned down so he was face to face with her. “Lady Tiamat says she’s sending you on a mission, innit?”

Trixie nodded.

“I don’t need an apology, love, never have. I jus’ need ya to do what she tells ya, that’s all.”

Trixie said nothing at first. She simply stared at the daggger, its razor sharp edge glinting in the candlelight. After what felt like an eternity, she said, “I don’t know if it’s fate, or destiny, or whatever you want to call it, that’s been guiding me here, but I’m glad that I met you, Sypher.”

He gave a single laugh. “Destiny… fate… they’re just words, love. Words ain’t mean a thing in the face of action. The only thing wot matters it the choices ya make. Fate is for the weak, the ones wot ain’t strong enough to shape life into what they want it ta be. It’s easy to say screw up and pin it on destiny, love, but it ain’t easy to take responsibility for your decisions and the consequences wot follow.”

“But, what if destiny is real? What if I’m supposed to be having this conversation with you now?” said Trixie, gesturing to him.

He shook his head firmly. “Fate ain’t told me to come down here, love. I did. I made a choice, innit?”


“And you made a choice too, to open that door.” He sighed again. “Look, it’s late, and ya got a long road ahead of ya, so it’s best if you get some rest. I’m goin’ back to me dungeon, so I guess this is goodbye, love.” He gave one last smile and then turned away, leaving Trixie standing in silence. “Oh,” he said, glancing over his shoulder, “I forgot to mention, but seein’ as that dagger be one a me own teeth, it’ll be ice cold all the time. With your ‘ooves I imagine ya won’t be able to wield it exactly, but I’m sure you’ll find a use for it.” With that final statement, he turned his head back and disappeared into the darkness of the hallway.

Trixie watched him go, and only after she was sure he wasn’t coming back did she return to the room. Once inside, she held the dagger up in the fire’s light and whispered to herself, “Goodbye, Sypher.”

Trixie was woken by a gentle nudge and a soft voice whispering in her ear.

"Trixie... Trixie, it's time to get up," it said.

Her eyes opened slowly, and she saw a fuzzy orange outline bobbing around on the edge of her vision. She didn't remember falling asleep, but she found herself wrapped up warmly in bed with Sypher's dagger hugged tightly to her chest. It felt cold, and yet was at the same time comforting. She slipped it into her bag over the side of the bed as she got up.

With her vision coming into focus, Corona as well became sharper. He had a worried smile on his face, and Trixie saw Polaris helping Astrid out of bed behind him.

"C'mon, Trixie," he said, "Anshar and Sirrush are waiting outside for us. They're going to lead us out of Drakkengard."

Trixie nodded and rubbed her eyes before rolling out of bed. She grabbed her bag and slung it over her back, turning to Astrid and Polaris as she did.

"How is she?" she asked, gesturing to Astrid.


"I'm fine," said Astrid, interrupting Polaris. She gave Trixie a reassuring look. "Really, I'm fine."

Polaris stared at her, his eyes fraught with worry. He shook his head, sighing a bit. "She's fine," he said. "But let's not waste any time getting to Frostvale, all right?"

As Corona slung his own bag over his back, he said, "Shouldn't take too long from here. Depending on where we exit, we may only be a few hours walk from the city." He gave a cheery grin to Astrid. "Don't worry, ma'am. We'll be there in no time at all!"

Trixie looked around at everyone. They were tired, she could tell, but none of them seemed to want to show it, least of all Corona. His baggy eyes belied his eager attitude. She wondered if she looked the same.

"Is there a road we can follow once we leave Drakkengard?" she asked, turning to Corona.

He grimaced, rubbing the back of his neck. "It's hard to say, honestly. I don't know where we're coming out, so there may or may not be a road. I mean, there is a road that leads to Frostvale, but assuming we're even near it, there's a good chance it's covered in snow anyway. Winter hits hard in the north, and they don't call it Frostvale for nothing."

Trixie frowned. "Well, there's no point sitting around here any longer. Along with the snow comes short days, so we better use what little light we have to get there."

All three ponies nodded in agreement. So, without another word, they gathered the few things they had left, and exited the room. On the other side of the door, Anshar and Sirrush stood with folded arms waiting impatiently for them.

"Oi, you lot done wastin' me time?" said Anshar, punctuating the question with a jab of his claw.

Trixie gave a curt nod.

Sirrush sighed with an exaggerated roll of his eyes. "About bleedin' time, innit? Been waitin''ere all damn mornin', we 'ave. 'Bout ready to gnaw me own legs off if I 'ad to wait any longer."

"Oh, shut up," said Anshar. "It ain't been that long." He shook his head, looking down at Trixie. "C'mon, little pony, let's get you lot the 'ell outta here." He jabbed a claw over his shoulder, down the opposite way they had first come. "Exit's this way."

After a bit more mindless grumbling from Sirrush, they were on their way. The two drakes led the way, and Trixie followed behind, with Corona trailing her slightly. In the back, Polaris followed behind Astrid, keeping a close eye on her as they walked. In silence, they trudged through the still tunnels, illuminated only by the pair of lanterns held aloft by Anshar and Sirrush, and the occasional torch jutting out from the rocky walls.

They travelled wordlessly for what felt like hours. Though they were heading towards the surface, it never felt like they were rising any higher, just going deeper.

“S’what happens when you’re in the middle of a mountain,” Anshar had said, though the thought didn’t ease Trixie’s anxiety.

Down, down they went, further along until Trixie was sure they were being tricked, led into some kind of trap, but the life of her she couldn’t figure out what or why. She started to slow her steps a bit, falling in line with Corona. Leaning towards him, she was about to whisper her concerns to him when she suddenly felt cool air wash over her. Gone was the musty, dank air of the tunnels, and in came the fresh, crisp air of the mountains. It was like an oasis in the desert to Trixie. She had forgotten how good it felt running through her mane.

Corona eyed her suspiciously, and opened his mouth to say something, but chose not to when she leaned away from him again and returned to her normal pace. He glanced over his shoulder at Polaris and Astird, making sure they were still getting along, and was pleased to see that the clean air seemed to perk the older mare right up.

“I assume we’re close to the exit, then?” asked Corona, turning back to look at the drakes ahead of him.

Without bothering to even glance back at him, Anshar answered Corona. “Aye. It’ll be right ‘round this bend.”

“Impatient, ain’t they?” said Sirrush with a snicker. “Like wee little babies, they is.”

“Said the kettle,” replied Anshar with a sarcastic snap.

The smaller drake folded his arms and huffed. “Fine. I’ll jus’ keep quiet then, shall I?”

“Aye. You shall.”

Sirrush huffed again, though Anshar seemed not to notice… or care.

For another minute, they shuffled along in quietude, until a ring of light crowned a rise ahead of them. It looked like the sun cresting a hill in the morning, and felt just as invigorating. All four ponies perked up at the sight, and they hurried along a little bit quicker up the last stretch of the tunnel.

When they reached the top of the rise, an opening displayed itself to them. It was so bright, they had to squint just to look at it, but to Trixie at least, it was the most beautiful sight she’d seen in a long time. From this distance, and before their eyes had adjusted to the light, it looked like little more than a spot of a light in a dark tunnel, but it was more than that. To Trixie, that spot of light meant freedom.

With hurried steps, they trudged down the last bit of the tunnel and appeared at the mouth of an innocuous-looking cave. All four ponies made their way out of the tunnel one after the other, stepping into the frigid air like they were taking their first steps. The snow, before their enemy, was now a welcome sight, and its powdery softness felt like spring grass beneath their hooves. Trixie breathed in deeply through her nose, letting the mountain air course through her.

“Here it is,” said Anshar as he too stepped out into the light. “You’re free to go now.”

Sirrush grinned toothily. “And good riddance, I says.”

“From ‘ere, just ‘ead straight north and you’ll reach Frostvale before noon. Ain’t more ‘an a few hours walk from ‘ere, even with such short legs.”

Corona nodded. “I know this area well enough,” he said. “I remember seeing this cave in my travels, but I never dared to enter it.”

“Smart of ya,” said Sirrush with a cackle. “Not many are foolish enough to wander into caves in drake lands, but there ‘ave been some.” He licked his lips.

Anshar shot a glance at Sirrush, though he was ignored. He shook his head. “Anyway, we done our duty. You lot best get a move on ‘fore ‘Er Benevolence has a change a ‘eart.”

“We understand,” said Trixie. “We’ll leave now.” Nodding to her friends, she motioned for them to start walking. As they left the cave, leaving a trail of hoofprints in the snow, Trixie cast a glance over her shoulder once more. She considered giving the drakes a farewell and thank you, but they had already disappeared into the darkness once more.

Corona wore a wide grin on his face as he led the way down the mountain and through the sparse woods that populated this face. He pointed towards the bottom of the mountain where, through the trees, they could just barely see the edge of a road. “What a stroke of luck!” he said excitedly. “That big drake was right. We’re practically on the edge of the city right here.” He frowned, suddenly thinking of something. “Huh, come to think of it, I had no idea the drakes lived so close.”

Trixie’s eyebrow rose. “You’ve never had a problem with them before?”

He shook his head. “Not as far back as I can recall. I’d heard stories about them living in the mountains, but no one had ever seen them until now.”

Polaris let out a deep chuckle. “S’pose you’ll have a good story to tell your friends now, eh?”

Corona chuckled back. “Yeah, I guess so. To be honest, I’m surprised we made it out of there alive. All the stories I heard about drakes said they didn’t take prisoners.”

Astrid, leaning slightly against Polaris as they made their way downhill, said, “Stories are just fiction, dear. The only truth is what you see.”

“Well,” said Corona, “even if that’s the case, what I saw was them taking us prisoner, so I’m not sure that’s much better.”

“But they released us, didn’t they?” said Astrid, giving him a knowing look.

He shrugged. “True, but I’m not sure that would’ve been the case were it not for Trixie here.” He turned to Trixie, giving her a pat on the back. “Right?”

Without really thinking about it, an image of the dagger Sypher had given her popped into Trixie’s mind. Her mouth curled into frown. “They’re not all bad, and even if Tiamat had to let me go, she didn’t have to release you three as well.”

“No, I guess she didn’t,” said Corona with a shrug. “Regardless, I’m glad to be out of there.”

“Yeah…” said Trixie with a long pause. “Me too.”

After that, no more conversation was had until they reached the foot of the mountain and found themselves on the road once more. It was a little icy, and poorly maintained, but just being on the path to civilization made Trixie feel better. She relished the feeling of rocks beneath her hooves, even more so than the snow when they had left the cave. All of it just meant she was getting that much closer to the End of the World.

Onwards they walked towards the city of Frostvale as the winter sun hung in the air, barely visible through the hazy clouds that dripped snow out in slow streams. There was almost no wind, and it somehow didn’t feel particularly cold, but the snow still came down, drifting lazily like autumn leaves.

Trixie looked over at Corona who was walking with his head held high and a grin creeping its way along his face. “So, Corona,” she said, drawing his attention. “What’s Frostvale like?”

He sighed wistfully. “Oh, it’s an amazing city, like nothing you’ve ever seen before.”

“Oh?” said Trixie, raising an eyebrow doubtfully. “I’ve been to Canterlot, and that’s not a city I’ll soon forget. You think Frostvale is more amazing than that?”

Corona’s lips tugged into a smug smile. “Let’s put it this way: Canterlot is like Ponyville compared to Frostvale.”

Trixie’s eyebrow rose higher. “Somehow I doubt that,” she said with a giggle. “You don’t think that you’re maybe exaggerating just a litt—” She stopped suddenly as they rounded a corner and saw a massive city looming in the distance.

Its icy blue spires jutted out from the white landscape like candlesticks on a birthday cake. The walls, higher than any she’d ever seen, surrounded the city in a stone barricade. The outskirts of the city were dotted with many small cottages and cabins. Ponies, just dots in the distance, worked the fields around these homes despite the snow continuously falling. Many tall towers spiked above the walls, giving the city the appearance of a thorny crown, but one of them stood far above the rest. Higher and higher it rose, seeming to almost disappear into the clouds as it spiralled upwards like a lance.

Trixie’s mouth hung open slightly. Corona noticed this and his smirk deepened.

“So? What do you think?”

Trixie, unable to articulate any thoughts, simply mouthed wordlessly as she stared at the city before her. “It’s… It’s—”

“Astrid!” Polaris cried out, ripping Trixie away from her listlessness.

She turned just in time to see Astrid collapse to the ground, stopped only by Polaris’ hoof reaching out to catch her. He held her up, his face ghostly pale. “Astrid!” he cried again.

A weak smile came over Astrid’s face. She brought her hoof up to Polaris’ cheek and said, “I’m fine, sweetheart. I’m fine.”

He shook his head. “No. No, you’re not fine. We’ve got to get you to somepony that can help right now.” He quickly turned to Corona, making sure to not let go of Astrid. “Where can we take her?” he asked hurriedly.

“There’s a place just below that tower for sick ponies,” he replied, pointing to the large spiral tower in the distance. “They’ll be able to help.”

“Good. Let’s go.”

Corona nodded. He turned to Trixie. “C’mon, we’ll help Polaris carry her, okay?”

She shook her head. “No. Corona, you go on ahead and warn them that we’re coming. You know these ponies, we don’t. I’ll help Polaris myself.”

Corona hesitated a moment, casting a glance at Astrid. “But—”

“Go!” shouted Trixie.

His face hardening, Corona nodded and then began sprinting towards Frostvale, leaving Trixie and Polaris alone with Astrid. Polaris helped her up so that she could stand, and then placed his forehead against hers.

“She’s burning up,” he said. “Even in this cold.”

Trixie’s eyes lit up. “Wait! I have something.” She quickly flung her bag off and began rummaging through it as quickly as she could manage. “Ah ha!” she cried, pulling out the white dagger Sypher had given her the night before. “This is a drake tooth,” she explained. “It’s permanently cold. I’ll keep it pressed against her forehead while we carry her, and it should help keep her fever down.”

“A drake tooth? Where did you—nevermind, that’s not important right now.” He looked back down at Astrid and managed the most confident smile he could. “We’re gonna take you to the city, okay? I’ll make sure you’re taken care of.”

Astrid’s weak smile faltered slightly, but she forced it to stay put. “I know you will.”

Before she could say anything else, her eyelids fluttered, and then closed as she fell unconscious. Polaris gritted his teeth.

“I’m not letting anything happen to you, you hear?”

Trixie put a hoof on his shoulder. “I won’t either. Now, let’s get her to Frostvale.”

As her horn began to glow, Astrid’s limp body lifted into the air and onto Polaris’ back. He would support her as they ran, and Trixie would make sure she stayed stable while she simultaneously kept the dagger pressed against the unconscious mare’s forehead. With one last look at each other, they both started trotting as quickly as they could towards the waiting city, and hopefully… a waiting nurse.

35 — Back on Dry Land

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Chapter 35: Back on Dry Land

The dining hall of King Adrius which had, just a few moments ago, been neat and orderly, with plates of food spaced out evenly along the long table that sat in the center of the room, and perfectly symmetrical chairs lining the sides, was now a scene of incredible chaos. Chairs were flung this way and that way, hitting the walls or the ground and splintering into thousands of tiny pieces. Bolts of magic, violet and blue, zipped around the room, striking seaponies in the chest or in the face and sending them reeling backwards.

King Adrius, cowering behind his tall-backed chair, was shouting orders to his guards, but none of them could hear him over the din of battle. Twilight, meanwhile, was maneuvering her way closer to the King, hoping she’d be able to get a clean shot at him and so end the battle quickly. Unfortunately, as she was circling around the table, her focus on the seaponies opposite her, she failed to notice the guards approaching from beside her.

As she shot another blast from her horn and made a seapony collapse into a crumpled heap, she turned just in time to see another guard raising his trident high, poised to strike. She flinched, unable to force herself to teleport out of danger in time. Before the blade struck, though, the trident was blasted from his grasp, skittering across the floor, snapped in half.

“Don’t you dare,” growled Rarity from the other side of the room. Her horn was glowing bright blue, and she was panting heavily.

“Watch it, Rare!” shouted Applejack as she slipped underneath Rarity, knocking her to the side just in time to throw yet another guard’s trident off target. Instead of coming down on Rarity’s head, like the guard had been hoping, the trident grazed past Applejack and put a clean slice through her hat, causing it to fall to the ground. Applejack’s face hardened. Spinning around and cocking her back legs in one fluid motion, she released them like a coiled spring, hitting the guard right in the chest. Her practiced thighs packed quite a punch, and when the blow struck, it caused him to stumble backwards into another guard, clutching his chest.

Applejack bent down and swiped her hat off the ground, flipping it up onto her head as she gave Rarity a wink. “Gotta keep an eye out,” she said. “These guys aren’t kidding around.”

Spike peeked out from behind one of the few pieces of furniture that wasn’t a pile of rubble. “You’re telling me.”

After Rarity and Applejack had burst into the room mid-kidnapping, she had blasted the guard right in his head and sent Spike tumbling to the side. Twilight had warned him to take cover, and the battle continued on as more and more guards had poured in from the halls.

Just then a guard jumped up on the table where Spike was hiding and tried to take a swing at the dragon as he poked his head out. This time, however, he was saved by Rainbow Dash as she bolted towards the guard and rammed him with her side, bumping off the table and onto the cold hard ground. She puffed out her chest proudly, but the gesture didn’t last long as more guards approached her and started swinging their weapons at her. Her wing may have been injured, but she was still light on her hooves, and as tridents flew at her, she dipped and dodged out of the way, kicking at one of the guards as she ducked under his swing.

“Whoa!” she cried, tossing herself to the side to avoid another blow. “That was pretty close.”

“Stay down, Spike,” Rarity said, propping herself up with a random trident. “It’s dangerous.”

Spike gave her a pained expression, but said nothing.

At the same time that this was happening, Twilight was still making her way around the table. She was almost even with Adrius now, and she caught a glimpse of his daughter disappearing beneath the table just as she rounded the corner.

“Adrius!” Twilight shouted. “We can end this now, just tell your guards to stop.”

The seapony king, huddled up against his chair, motioned to a pair of guards who’d just came into the room. “Stop her!” he cried. “Don’t let her get to me!”

They nodded obediently and slithered across the floor towards Twilight. She grimaced. “Fine, that’s how we’ll do it.”

Twilight’s horn, encased in a pulsating violet glow, started to glow even brighter as she ripped the trident out of the hooves of one of the seaponies. He looked surprised, but before he could do or say anything, Twilight spun the trident around and used the shaft to trip the guards up. As their flippers were pulled out from beneath them, they crashed to the ground in a heap, and Twilight tossed the trident out of their reach. She dodged out of the way just in time as another trident, this one thrown from across the room, whizzed past her and stuck in splintered chair. Diving forward, Twilight slid past another guard and stopped right in front of a cowering Adrius.

Moving quickly, she seized the king and dragged him up so that she was holding him hostage. She was about to demand that he order his guards off, when a trio of guards surrounded her and all held their tridents to her neck. She backed away slowly, but she only made it a few inches before another guard appeared and stopped her.

Adrius, who, only a moment ago, was shivering with fright, now chuckled quietly under his breath. “It seems you’re trapped, my dear.”

“My friends aren’t trapped,” Twilight noted.

His lips curled into a thin smile. “No, but if they try anything, you’re finished.”

The guards around Twilight raised their weapons a little higher, and moved them a bit closer to Twilight’s neck. Twilight’s mind raced as she tried to think of a solution, but she was coming up blank. She was about to release Adrius when a voice called out from the far side of the dining hall.

“Hey, Adrius. Look who I’ve got!” shouted Spike as he crawled out from beneath the table, dragging with him a squirming little seapony filly. She was writhing around, trying to get free, but Spike’s grip was tight, and as he pulled her over to Rarity and Applejack, Rarity magicked a trident off the ground and held it up next to Aria’s head.

Applejack jabbed her hoof at Aria, and then at Adrius. “We got your kid, guy. Now, we can end this like civilized folk and nopony needs to get hurt. Well… nopony else,” she said, noting the litany of guards that were all over the room, most of them unconscious or nursing wounds.

Twilight raised her eyebrow, looking down at Adrius. His tail went limp, and he sighed. “Just… don’t hurt her.”

“First, tell your guards to back off,” Twilight said, nodding to the guards surrounding her.

Adrius gave a resigned sigh and nodded to his guards. They nodded in return and withdrew their weapons. Stepping back a few paces, they moved away from Twilight. Satisfied that they were a safe distance away, Twilight gave Applejack the okay to release the squirming seapony. At the same time that Applejack released Aria, Twilight let go of Adrius and she watched as the two awkwardly stumbled across the room towards each other. Twilight followed behind them and stood over Adrius as he scooped his daughter up and hugged her to his chest.

Her horn was still lit up when she said, “Now, just let us leave and you won’t have anymore problems.”

He cast a quick glance over his shoulder at Twilight. “I won’t stop you,” he said. “Just go,” and then turned back to Aria, giving her a soft smile.

Twilight let the magic in her horn die out, the flow fading away as she walked past Adrius and headed towards her friends. Applejack gave her a grin while Rainbow Dash motioned towards the exit. Spike nudged Rarity and pointed in the same direction. Twilight nodded. “Let’s go,” she said. “It’s only a few hours until dusk and we’ve still got a bit of a walk until we reach Hoofington.”

Gathering themselves up, the five of them headed back towards the tunnel they’d entered the cave from. “Hey, how’re we getting back out?” asked Spike, glancing over at Twilight.

She tapped the pendant still hanging about her neck with a hoof. “We’ve still got these,” she said. “It’s just a simple matter of swimming back to the surface.”

“Y’all think you do that spell of yours again, Rarity?” asked Applejack. “We weren’t quite so lucky as to get magic jewelry.”

Rarity nodded. “I think I can manage it again. It shouldn’t be too difficult to repeat the spell, especially now that I know how to do it better.”

“Shoot, Rare, you’ve got a lot more talent than you let on.”

“I only know what I need to know, dear,” Rarity replied. “Nothing more and nothing less.”

“Still though,” Rainbow chimed in, “it is pretty sweet that you girls managed to get down here so quickly.”

“All thanks to Rarity,” Applejack said, patting her friend on the back. “Couldn’t have done it without her.”

“Wait,” said a voice from behind them.

They all stopped and turned to look at the one who’d suddenly spoken out. Adrius was standing up, Aria beside him, and his lips her pursed. “Wait,” he said again.

“Oh man, this guy better not be trying to pull somethin’,” Rainbow said, scowling.

Adrius shook his head. “No. I want to ask you something, before you leave.”

Twilight raised an eyebrow. “Ask us what?”

“The coin. The one you showed my guards. Do you know what it is?”

“Rarity mentioned something about it being a type of coin usually given as a gift,” Twilight recalled.

The king smiled sadly. “I’ve heard of other clans giving them away, but for most—for us—these coins are the lifeblood of a clan.”

“What do you mean?” asked Twilight, her brow creased.

“It rests in a special chamber in a pool of water that is constantly being filled by a spring from underground. As the water passes over the coin, it flows through channels carved into the coins bowl and into the lake, take the coin’s magic with it.”

Twilight took a few steps closer to Adrius. “What does the magic do?”

Adrius let out a long slow sigh. He gazed around the room at all the fallen guards. Falling back on Twilight, he said, “It gives the lake life. Without it, all the plants and animals in this lake have been slowly dying over the past year. My people are starving, and I can’t provide for them.”

All the ponies fell silent, and Spike did as well. After a short time, Twilight gestured to the king. “You’ve got the coin back now though, right? Will the magic still work?”

“We’ve got it back, yes, and the coin will still work its magic.”

“So, what’s the problem?” Rainbow Dash asked, holding her hoof out.

“When the unicorn from a year ago stole the coin, she also stole a piece of this lake as well, and that will never come back.” He sighed. “But that doesn’t matter anymore. We can go back to the way things were now.”

“Will you also stop luring unwary ponies to your lake?” asked Rarity, giving Adrius an admonishing look.

“It’s in our nature. We’re sirens,” he said with the intonation of a verbal shrug. “But I will tell my people to stop attacking land ponies. You spared my life as well as Aria’s. I am obligated to repay that kindness.”

“What about trying to eat me?” Spike asked, jumping in. “How’re you gonna repay us for that?”

Adrius considered the question for a moment, then he waved to some of the few guards who were not incapacitated. “They’ll show you the quickest route out. It’s an underground passage which will lead you right to Hoofington. Well, right outside of it anyway.”

Rainbow’s eyes narrowed. “And we’re just supposed to trust this isn’t another trap?”

“Even if it were, my dear, you’ve proven more than capable of escaping my traps,” said Adrius waving his hoof over the dining hall and all the unconscious guards. “I also give you my word that my men will only lead you to the exit and nothing more.” He put a hoof on Aria’s head, ruffling her mane slightly. “I won’t try to stop you any longer.”

Applejack leaned in and whispered to the group. “Y’all think we can trust this guy?”

“I think he’s telling us the truth,” said Twilight, whispering out of the corner of her mouth. “I don’t see any indications that he’s trying to trick us.”

Rarity gave a short nod. “I agree.”

Rainbow Dash shrugged. “Whichever way is fine with me. I wouldn’t mind kicking some more seapony butt.”

Twilight looked down at Spike. He sighed. “Yeah, might as well follow them. It’ll probably get us to Hoofington quicker anyway.”

Having all come to an agreement, Twilight spoke for the group. “Fine,” she said, “lead the way.”

Adrius nodded to the guards and they began to slither off towards another tunnel near the back of the room. With one last look at each other, the ponies and Spike trotted to catch up with the seaponies and followed them as they left the room. Casting one last glance over her shoulder at Adrius, Twilight saw him nudge Aria’s cheek before patting her on the head and sending her off into some other room. He looked up and saw Twilight watching him.

Just as they were entering the tunnel, he said, “Do send my regards to that unicorn if you ever meet her. I doubt she has fond memories her time here.” Twilight didn’t respond, instead she turned back to her friends and disappeared with them into the damp tunnel.

For the next half an hour or so, they followed the seapony guards through the winding tunnels and past more than a few empty halls and branches. Twilight only caught a few glimpses of seaponies here and there that weren’t guards. Most of them were no older than Aria, and only a few seemed to be in their adolescent years. She briefly considered asking where all the rest of the families were, but she thought better of it and said nothing instead. Apparently everyone else was either thinking the same thing, or the thought had never crossed their minds as they were equally silent.

When the group finally reached the exit, a small hole which was covered by some brush, the guards motioned them forward and helped them clamber awkwardly out of the hole and back above ground. Once they’d all come up, the guards disappeared back into the depths of the cave. Twilight glanced skyward and saw the sun was still relatively high in the sky.

“Looks like we’ve still got plenty of daylight,” she noted. “I guess that way was much quicker.”

“Maybe them seaponies ain’t so bad after all,” said Applejack thoughtfully, taking off her hat.

“You weren’t the one they wanted to eat,” Spike shot back. He crossed his arms and tapped his foot impatiently on the ground. “And where’s the thanks for catching that slippery little Aria? It wasn’t easy to keep hold of her, you know.”

Twilight chuckled, mussing up his spikes. “Thank you, Spike. You really did save our necks back there.”

Rarity smiled at him. “I thought you were very brave.” She leaned down and gave him a kiss on the cheek. “A real knight in shining armor.” Spike froze up, blushing hard from the kiss. He brought a claw to the spot she’d kissed and let out a soft sigh.

Rainbow Dash interrupted this moment of bliss rather abruptly when she clapped him on the back. “Heh, I don’t know of too many knights in shining armor who hide under tables during a battle, but it worked out in the end, so I can’t complain. Good work, bud.”

Spike rubbed his back, rolling his eyes. “Yeah, yeah.” Straightening up, he tilted his head towards the road a few feet away from them. “Should we get going then? We’ve still got some walking to do.”

“Yeah, it’s best if we get into Hoofington earlier,” said Twilight. “There’s a place we can stay, but it’ll be best if we arrive while the sun’s still up.”

“You got a place in mind?” Applejack asked, cocking an eyebrow.

Puh-lease tell me it’s somewhere with a bath,” said Rarity as she fussed with her mane. “All that awful lake water really did a number on my mane.”

Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes. “We just survived an awesome battle with seaponies and you’re worried about your mane? That is so you, Rare.”

“A lady must strive to always look her best, especially while visiting another city. Good first impressions can be a life-saver, you know?”

“Uh huh… whatever you say.”

“Well, to answer your question, Applejack,” said Twilight after she was sure Rainbow Dash and Rarity were done, “I do have a place in mind. With any luck, she might be able to help us find out more about Trixie’s journey as well as give us a place to stay. I just really hope she doesn’t mind having so many ponies over.”

“What, is this some old friend of Trixie’s?” asked Spike.

“Well, not a friend, per se, but someone who knows about Trixie at least.”

“As long as she can help us, I don’t really care who she is,” said Rainbow Dash.

Twilight chuckled. “You say that now, but you might care when you meet her.”

Rainbow shrugged. “Whatever you say, Twi.”

36 — Stoking the Fire

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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?”


“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…”

37 — Frostvale

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Chapter 37:

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.


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?”


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…”

38 — Hoofington at Midnight

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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.”

39 — The Start of a New Journey

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Chapter 39:
The Start of a New Journey

Ching... ching... ching... ching...

The sound of steel on steel echoed dully in the sweltering room as Trixie, brow furrowed and her eyes narrowed, hammered resolutely at a piece of white-hot iron. With every hammer strike, a shower of sparks flew into the air, splashing across the heavy leather apron Trixie wore to protect her chest. Sweat, beading on her forehead, trickled down her face and landed on the steel, sizzling on impact and the disappearing in a flash of steam. As she bent the metal to her will, Anvil watched from around the corner, the hints of a smile playing across his face.

Anvil felt a tap on his shoulder and turned around. He smiled, seeing Aurora standing behind him. "Did you finish already?"

She nodded. "Luckily I had no trouble finding anything, and carrots were on sale, so that was good." Peering past his shoulder, Aurora saw Trixie flip the steel piece over and start working the other side. "She's made a lot of progress over the past few months, hasn't she?"

Anvil glanced over his shoulder at Trixie, the traces of a smile now replaced by something more forlorn. "Yeah," he said, "she's got incredible raw talent, but she can't focus to save her life." He laughed quietly. "I think she'll be fine though. Trix has always been good at stubbornly pressing forward despite any obstacles. She may not be the smartest, or the strongest, or even the most powerful mare, but she's got tenacity. She's got it in spades."

Aurora sighed, looking into Anvil's eyes. "So, she's really leaving, huh?"

Anvil nodded. "Yep."

"Hard to believe it's been three months since she showed up, isn't it? Feels more like it's been three days."

"She's gotta do what she's gotta do," said Anvil with a shrug, never taking his eyes off Trixie. "She says she's gotta go up north. Apparently there's something real important to her up there."

A far off look entered Aurora's eyes. "I know how she feels," she said. "It's been so long since I spoke to my brother. I wonder if he's still in Frostvale?"

Anvil glanced over his shoulder at Aurora. "I'm sure Trixie could find out if you ask her. Frostvale's a big town, but somepony's likely to know where he is."

Shaking her head, Aurora said, "No, I'd rather not put that burden on her. Besides, I'm sure Corona is still angry with me for leaving, and the last thing I want to do is put Trixie in the middle of that." She chuckled. "It's funny though, when I spoke with her the other day she told me the same thing you did. I told her not to worry about it, but I suppose you two think alike more than I'd thought."

Anvil smiled, turning back to watch Trixie dunk the steel into the quenching trough. Steam filled the area for a brief moment, then it evaporated quickly. "Aye, we've always been like that, though she's a lot more bullheaded than I am. Serves her well though. Never known her to face a problem she couldn't stubbornly force her way through."

"It won't always be like that, you know," said Aurora, her face flat.

"I know," replied Anvil.

"But does she?"

Anvil didn't respond. He simply watched Trixie work for a bit before he said, "Do you mind packing a bag for Trixie? She'll be leaving soon."

Searching the back of Anvil's head for something she couldn’t find, Aurora said, "Of course. That's why you had me pick up those supplies, isn't it?"

He turned around and smiled. "Yep. And make sure you put that coin purse in there as well, but bury it down there so she doesn't see it right away. I know she'd refuse to take it if she knew we were giving it to her."

Aurora grinned. "Way ahead of you, sweetheart. I already took care of that."

He laughed, shaking his head. "When aren't you ahead of me? It's like you can always see two steps ahead of me."

She gave a nonchalant shrug. "Maybe you're just easy to read?"

"Maybe I am."

Aurora watched Anvil for a moment, then turned around. “Well, I’ll go get her things ready for Trixie. I’m sure you want a minute to talk to her alone, anyway. I’ll tell the boys not to bother you for a bit.”

“Thanks,” said Anvil, smiling. Waiting for her to turn the corner, he went back to watching Trixie for a second, then came out of hiding and cleared his throat. “Hey there, Trix,” he said, nodding as she turned to see him. “Still working on that bracer, huh?”

Trixie grinned, lifting a rag with her magic and wiping her brow. Holding the hot iron in a pair of tongs, she showed it off. "It's a little rough, but the curve fits my hoof nicely. I wish I had more time to finish the others, but..." She trailed off.

“Y’know,” said Anvil, taking the tongs from Trixie and holding it up to examine himself, “you don’t have to leave today. It’s getting close to noon already, and I’m sure you’re tired from working the forge. You could just sleep here one more night and then leave tomorrow when you’re fresh.” He flipped over the bracer, noting the myriad of dents and imperfection it had in it. Anvil had to resist the urge to beat all the dents out himself.

Trixie took the tongs back and smiled. “I appreciate the thought, but I’ve already made up my mind.” Moving the bracer over to the quenching trough, she dunked it in, once again filling the room with steam for a brief moment. This time, however, she let it sit in the water. “I want to leave today because there will be a full moon tonight, and I plan on using its light to travel a little extra. Besides, I’ve long since overstayed my welcome here. Three months is… much longer than I had planned.”

Sighing, Anvil put a hoof on Trixie’s shoulder. “Come on, you know that’s nonsense, Trix. You haven’t overstayed anything. Aurora and I are happy to have you here. Plus, you know how dangerous it can be traveling by moonlight, especially around here.”

“I’ve been on the road long enough to know how to handle myself,” said Trixie, slipping out of Anvil’s hold. Her horn took on a blue glow as she untied her apron and hung it on a nearby rack. Placing her hooves on the wooden railing that surrounded the smithy, she rested her chin in the crook of her intersecting hooves and looked out at the town. “More than the full moon though,” she continued, “I feel like this is the right time to leave. If I stay another night, it’ll just make leaving that much harder tomorrow. No,” she said, taking her hooves off the railing and turning back to Anvil, “now is the right time.”

“Well, I guess if you’re so dead set on leaving, there ain’t much I can do to stop you,” said Anvil with a sad chuckle. “I am serious about not traveling at night though,” he added, his voice becoming more serious. “In the forests north of here, the ones you’ll be going straight through, there’ve been calciyote sightings, and I’m sure I don’t need to tell you what that means.”

Trixie lifted a hoof and pointed at her horn. “Luckily I’ve got this. I know enough attack magic to keep them at bay, should they dare to come near me. Anyway, I’ve dealt with much worse things than calciyotes just getting back to Hoofington. I’m sure I can handle a few stray dogs.”

Anvil shrugged. “If you say so, Trix. But keep this in mind, all right? Calciyotes have no fear of fire like timberwolves, but they are deathly afraid of thunder. If you get cornered by one or two, just make a loud noise, as loud as you can, and it’ll send ‘em running. If there are more though, like a whole pack,” he grimaced, “well, you better hope you have enough magic to fend them off for awhile. Calciyotes are relentless.”

“Thunder,” repeated Trixie. “Hmm, I think I have a spell that would simulate that sound rather well.” She nodded. “Yes, I’m sure I do.”

“Good to know you’re not completely unprepared,” said Anvil, laughing. “I was worried I’d be sending you off without any means of defending yourself.’

Trixie made a pouting face. “I told you before, I’ve made it through worse just to be here talking to you. I can handle myself better than you ever could alone on the road.” She puffed out her chest. “I’m practically an expert at survival by now.”

“I’m sure you are,” said Anvil, giving Trixie a goofy grin, “but calciyotes won’t be the only thing you face if you’re planning on heading north, y’know. There’re lots of things between here and there that want to see you inside their bellies, Trix. The last thing I want is to hear about you getting eaten by some dragon.” He laughed.

“Don’t worry,” said Trixie, her voice softening, “I’ll be fine, Anvil. You don’t have to worry about me. I know what I’m doing.”

A sad smile creeping across his face, Anvil approached Trixie and put his forehead against hers. “Of course I have to worry about you, Trix. Somepony has to, and you sure ain’t doin’ it. I know you know what you’re doing, but I’ve gotta worry, don’t I? That’s what friends do, right?” He stepped back and looked Trixie in the eye. “I wish you didn’t have to go, Trix. I wish you could’ve stayed here in Hoofington. Everything would’ve been like it was back then, back when we were foals.”

Trixie shook her head. “No… it wouldn’t.” Shuffling her hooves, Trixie said, “I’m going to go finish packing my things, and take care of something before I leave. Don’t worry,” she added, seeing Anvil’s crestfallen face, “I won’t go without saying goodbye.” She turned around and walked around the corner to the front door, leaving Anvil by himself.

Anvil stood in silence for a moment, then headed over to the water barrel where Trixie had placed her finished bracer. He extracted the tongs and examined the piece for a moment. Again, all the little imperfections, the bends in the curvature of the piece, the dents from where it had been hammered poorly, the dimples from where it had been hammered too hard, stood out to him. He considered taking it over to the anvil and finishing it for Trixie, but he knew in his heart that that wouldn’t be what Trixie wanted. So, with a heavy sigh, he placed the bracer back in the barrel and followed in Trixie’s hoofsteps, heading back into the house.

As Trixie closed the door to her room behind her, she let out a quiet sigh. Her hooves heavy, she walked over to her saddlebag and removed a sheaf of parchment from one of the compartments along with a quill and her inkwell. Dipping the quill into the ink, she unrolled the paper with her magic and let the feather hover for a moment while she thought. She stayed like this for a full minute before she finally let the first drop of ink touch the parchment. As she scribbled out her letter, she found herself wondering what exactly Twilight was doing right now, not that it mattered much. When she finished, she looked back over her letter, and then nodded, satisfied.

Dear Twilight,

It’s been awhile since I last wrote to you, hasn’t it? I’ve been busy here in Hoofington, so I didn’t have the time to write until now. I’ve been staying with a friend and his wife and two foals. They’re both boys and they act like it all the time. Watching them pick on the girls they like reminds me of when I was a foal. Anyway, I don’t mean to get all nostalgic.

In case you were worried about me, I’m fine. I’ve been learning how to smith from my friend. It’s only been a few months since I started, so I’m not great at it yet, but I will be one day. Maybe when that day comes I’ll make something for you. What would you like, I wonder? I can’t make very much right now, but I’m sure in the future I’ll be able to make anything you want. I made a bracer for myself though. It was the first thing I ever made from start to finish myself. Everything else I’ve been doing was just repairs to farm equipment and stuff. This was the first time I made something just for me. It’s a little rough, and probably not all that useful as a real bracer, but I’ll show it to you when I come back. I wonder if you’d be impressed?

Well, anyway, I just wanted to give you this letter to let you know I’m leaving Hoofington. My real journey is just now beginning, and I’ve got a long way to go before I reach the end. I hope this letter finds you well. I’ll see you again someday, but for now… I’m heading north.


Opening an envelope, Trixie slipped the letter inside and then sealed it with a hot pool of wax from the desk in her room. She addressed it to Twilight, as she always did, and then put it into her saddlebag. With one last look around the room, Trixie gave a sad smile and then slung her bag over her back. She left her bedroom at Anvil’s house for the last time.

A few hours later, Trixie was standing outside the porch, Anvil, Aurora, and the two boys with her. She had her hat and her cape on, the latter held securely by her brooch. Adjusting the tilt of her hat just so, she said, “Well, I suppose this is goodbye then, isn’t it?”

Anvil nodded, his features sagging. “Yep. I guess it’ll be awhile before I see you again, eh?”

“Most likely,” said Trixie, carefully making sure to keep her voice even.

“You’ve got a big adventure to go on now,” he said, giving her a small smile. “Make sure you take care of yourself while you’re gone.”

Trixie nodded. “I will. And… thank you, again, Anvil, Aurora, for letting me stay here so long. I hope when I return to repay your kindness.”

Anvil waved his hoof dismissively. “Bah, don’t worry about it, Trix. You’re practically family. Besides, it was nice having somepony to help out with the forge for awhile. With you helping me, I was able to get twice as many repairs done in half the time. I only wish I had been able to pay you more.”

Nudging the bag on her side, Trixie made the satchel jingle. “You’ve done more than enough for me, Anvil. If anything, you probably overpayed me. I’m sure it’ll be enough.” She turned to Aurora, the mare’s mane blew in the gentle breeze. “And thank you too, Aurora. When I come back, I’ll make sure to bake you an apple pie to pay you back for all the ones you baked for me.”

Aurora’s clear laughter rang out. “Oh, I would’ve ended up making those anyway. Anvil’s got an appetite for apples like nopony I’ve ever known.”

Smiling, Trixie said, “Well, either way, thank you anyway.”

Anvil glanced down at his sons, nudging them with his back hoof. They looked up at him, and he nodded towards Trixie. Quickly stepping forward, both foals leapt at Trixie and wrapped themselves around her forelegs. “We’ll miss you, Trixie!” said one.

“Yeah, thanks for playing with us,” said the other.

Trixie gave them a warm smile and leaned down to pat them on the head. “I’ll miss you boys too,” she said. She returned their hugs and then sent them scampering back to their parents. Drawing in an elongated breath, Trixie let out a slow exhale. “I think it’s about time I head out then.”

“Before you go, though,” said Anvil, stepping forward and producing a small bag from behind him, “I want you to have this.” He walked down the steps and slipped the bag over Trixie’s neck, securing it to her saddlebags so it didn’t drag. “It’s just some fruits and vegetables to help you on your way. There’s not much in there, but it should be enough to at least last you two or three days if you eat conservatively.”

Trixie felt her heart lighten all of a sudden, despite the added weight. She grinned, then reached up and wrapped her hooves around Anvil’s neck. “Thank you,” she said. “Thank you very much.”

Putting his hooves on Trixie’s neck, Anvil hugged her back, squeezing her tightly like he was trying impart some final goodbye through touch alone. When he released her, he took a step back. “The next town north of here is only a three or four day walk, so you should be able to resupply once you get there. Ask for Holly Dash once you get there. She buys supplies from me all the time, so she’ll be willing to help you if you tell her you’re my friend.”

Nodding, Trixie said, “I’ll do that.” Feeling the extra weight added on by the bag of fruits and vegetables, but glad to have it, Trixie gave Anvil and the rest of the family one last look, then she beamed at them, more to reassure herself than them. “Well, it’s time for me to leave. Thank you all for everything you’ve done, and I’ll miss you. When I’m done, I’ll come back for a visit. Besides, by then I should be well on my way to Ponyville, so I’ll be heading back this way anyway.” She turned to leave, then stopped. “Oh, I almost forgot.”

Turning back around, Trixie’s horn lit up as she flipped open a pouch on her saddlebag. She removed the envelope she’d previously addressed from inside and then floated it over to Anvil. He cocked his head to the side, hesitating a moment before taking it. “What’s this?” he asked.

“It’s a letter for a friend,” said Trixie. “Do you mind making sure it gets delivered for me?”

Anvil nodded, slipping the letter into the front pocket of his apron. “Sure thing, Trix. Mind if I ask what it’s about?”

“It’s nothing,” said Trixie, waving her hoof. “It’s just something I’m doing. Oh, do you also mind waiting about a week or so before sending it? I want to be long gone from here before it reaches her.”

Raising his eyebrow, but not raising any objections, Anvil said, “If that’s what you want.”

Trixie nodded. “It is, thanks.”

An awkward silence hung in the air for a moment as they all stood there looking at each other. Eventually, Trixie glanced over her shoulder towards the northern gate of Hoofington and said, “Well, now it’s really time for me to go. Goodbye again, and thank you again.”

Anvil nodded, as did Aurora. They waved their hooves, watching as Trixie did a 180 and started walking away. They watched her for a moment before Anvil said, “I’m gonna miss you, Trix. Take care of yourself, all right?”

Trixie was too far way to hear this, but somehow she felt his words anyway. With her eyes fixated on the northern entrance, she refused to look back, lest she change her mind at the last minute. For a minute or so she walked in silence before reaching the gate. With a nod to the drowsy watchpony, she stepped out on to the road for the first time in months.

The streets of Hoofington weren’t paved, but there was something different about feeling the dirt of the open road from the dirt of the town. She relished the feeling for a moment, then looked out over the daunting road that stretched out before her as far as she could see. At the edge of her vision, she could see the outline of the Whitetail Woods looming over the landscape that was otherwise mostly flat. The road disappeared into these woods, swallowed up by the darkness.

With a nod to herself, Trixie started walking down the path, the steady clip clop of her hooves the only sound she could hear besides the occasional chirp of a passing bird, or hum of a cricket.

For several hours, Trixie walked without saying a word, which was unsurprising given she had no one to talk to. It was odd, she noted, how quiet things got when you weren’t surrounded by friends. She’d only been away from Anvil’s home for a few hours, and she was already missing the near constant background noise of Anvil working the forge, or the boys wrestling on the porch, or the sounds of ponies passing by as they went to the market. Now all Trixie had to keep her company was the road, the sky, her hat, and her cape… just like it used to be.

She looked up at the sky overhead, the clouds as they passed by, and she wondered if Twilight was looking at the same sky right now. It seemed too much to hope, but maybe if she were looking up at the same time Trixie was, there’d be some small connection between them, something to bring them just a tiny bit closer, despite the fact that Trixie was actively increasing the physical distance between them. She considered the somewhat ironic nature of this for a moment, then laughed despite herself.

“I used to love being alone,” she said to no one but the road. “I used to love traveling the open road, never really knowing where my next stop was going to be, or who I’d meet. But now… now I just want what’s familiar back. I want to go back to Ponyville. I want to go back to you, Twilight, even if you haven’t forgiven me yet. I can’t though. I can’t leave until I’ve finished my journey. I’m not doing it for you, and I’m not doing it because somepony told me to anymore. I’m doing this for Trixie, and Trixie wants to see this finished.” Trixie paused a moment, then chuckled under her breath. “Look at me,” she said, shaking her head, “talking to myself already. I’ve only been away from other ponies for a few hours and I’m already reduced to babbling. What’s next? Am I going to start hearing voices?”

“Excuse me, miss!”

Trixie stopped dead in her tracks. She looked around, then up at the sky. “I was just joking!” she yelled. “I don’t actually want to be crazy.”

“Miss, over here!”

A boulder to her left seemed to be talking to Trixie. She stared at it for a moment, her head cocked to the side. “Hello? Is there somepony there?”

“Yes, behind the rock! I’m stuck.”

Trixie let out a sigh of relief, wiping her brow. She quickly hurried to the rock and saw that behind it there was, indeed, a trapped pony along with another pony who, herself, was not trapped.

“Oh, thank goodness you came by,” said the stallion, laying back against the rock. “I was worried I’d have to send my wife into town by herself to find help.” He sat up then nodded to his foreleg. Chuckling, he said, “I, er, got myself caught trying to pluck a flower for my wife here. Seems a little silly now, don’t it?”

The mare he was with rolled her eyes. “I told you I didn’t need it. You should’ve just left it.”

“Oh, come on, dear,” he said, smiling at her. “I know spiderlillies are your favorite.”

“Spiderlillies?” said Trixie, raising her eyebrow.

He nodded. “Yep, that’s what they’re called. These flowers grow in the oddest of places, usually in a dark corner, or under a somethin’. It’s why they’re called spiderlillies.”

“I see…” Trixie nodded slowly. “Well, anyway, you say you’re stuck?”

The stallion tugged at his hoof, but it didn’t budge. “Sure enough, miss. Do you think you could help me out? I see you’ve got a horn there, that should be simple enough to do for a unicorn like you, right?”

“Uh, yeah, sure, just one second.” Trixie motioned for the mare to get out of the way while her horn took on a bright glow. Furrowing her brow, she aimed her horn at the rock and, with some effort, she lifted it very slightly, enough for the stallion to quickly pull his hoof out. When she was sure he was safely away from the rock, she let it fall back down with a muted thump. “Are you okay?” she asked. “Did your hoof get hurt?”

He smiled at her, shaking his hoof out. “Nope, looks like I’ll live!” He laughed heartily. “Must’ve just got caught on something. Either way, thank you, miss. We owe you one.”

Trixie waved her hoof dismissively. “It’s nothing. Don’t worry about it. I’m just glad you’re okay.”

“Me too,” said the mare. “You had me worried, you fool. I swear, sometimes I don’t know why I’m still with you.”

Clearing her throat, Trixie said, “Yes, well, anyway… I need to get going, so now that you’re free, I’ll be leaving now.”

“Oh, which way are you heading?” asked the stallion, cocking his head to the side.

Trixie pointed towards the forest north of them, now much closer than it had been when she left Hoofington. “I’m going north, through the Whitetail Woods.”

“On your way to Pinecrest, eh?” The stallion nodded knowingly. “Mm, I figured as much. Well, lucky for you we’re heading the same way. Would you care to join us?”

Trixie considered for a moment joining them, then the thought of the empty road she’d just left crept back into her mind. She smiled. “Yes, I’d love to have some company.” She bowed a bit, removing her hat. “I’m Trixie Lulamoon. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

The mare held a hoof to her chest, saying, “I’m Astrid, and this loaf is my husband, Polaris. We’ll be glad to have some company too.”

“Aye, we sure will,” said Polaris, chuckling. “I’m sure Astrid’ll be glad to have another mare to talk to.”

Trixie felt a grin cross her face. Despite herself, she laughed, feeling her heart, yet again, getting a bit lighter. “So will I,” she said. “Astrid, was it?”

The mare nodded. “That’s what my parents called me.”

“I’m sure we’ll get along just fine,” said Trixie, her smile growing wider.

40 — The End of an Old One

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Chapter 40:
The End of an Old One

The sun had long ago set, and what little light the moon could provide was blocked by the perpetually bleak and cloudy sky, so the room was lit only by the handful of candles that they could find and Trixie’s dim light spell she’d cast many hours ago. Sitting up, with her head against the headrest, Astrid wore a weary smile as she talked quietly with Polaris. The light from the candle on her bedside table flickered across her face as she spoke.

Trixie stood by the window, staring out into the black night. She was lost in thought, and only came out of it when she was tapped on the back by Corona, who was standing beside her. He said nothing, merely glancing over at Astrid, then looking back at Trixie. Trixie nodded. She stepped away from the window and took a seat next to Polaris.

“It’s well past midnight, you know,” said Trixie, drawing both Polaris and Astrid’s attention. “You should really get some sleep. Both of you.”

“I know,” replied Astrid with a soft sigh. “I’m just… I’m having a hard time falling asleep right now. I’m sure sleep will come in no time though. For now, though, Polaris is keeping me company, so I’m fine.” Smiling, Astrid glanced at her husband, placing her hoof over his.

“Aye,” said Polaris, nodding, “and before you go asking me if I want to ‘take a quick nap’ while you watch over her, now that I ain’t going to sleep until she does. Heck, even then I’ll probably just stay up anyway.”

Despite herself, Trixie laughed. “Well, I guess I can’t change your minds then.”

“Nope,” said Polaris, crossing his hooves. “My mind’s made up.”

“Then I won’t bother trying to convince you, but just so you know, Dr. Snowmane did say she should be fine for at least tonight, so you can sleep if you want to,” said Trixie, a little bit more forcefully than she had intended.

“Thanks, but I’ll be fine right here,” said Polaris as he pat the side of his chair. “I’m not even a bit tired yet.”

“Neither am I,” Astrid quickly added in. “I feel better than ever, in fact.”

Trixie chuckled. “Now that is a lie. I’m not that easy to fool, Astrid.”

After a moment of silence, all three ponies started to laugh quietly. Trixie covered her mouth while Polaris gave deep belly laughs, and Astrid only chuckled for a brief moment before her laughter turned into coughing, and she was soon doubled over, coughing so hard Trixie was sure she was about to hack up a lung.

Polaris stopped laughing and put his hoof on Astrid’s back, leaning in. “Astrid!” he shouted.

“I’m fine, I’m fine,” Astrid insisted once her coughing fit had subsided.

Polaris breathed a sigh of relief. “Don’t scare me like that. If you need us to get Dr. Snowmane in here, just ask, okay? Or if your pain gets worse, and you need more medicine, let me know, Astrid. I’m here for you.”

Astrid gave a pained smile. “I promise, sweetheart. I’m okay.”

“Do you remember when we first met?” asked Trixie. She didn’t know if she’d done it consciously, or if it was just a kneejerk reaction, but she felt compelled to change the subject to something else entirely. Trixie smiled, her hoof moving to her chest, where her brooch used to rest. “I found you trying to pry Polaris out from underneath a rock.” She chuckled. “Hardly an exciting to start to a grand adventure, is it?”

“Not exactly,” said Astrid with a weak chuckle, “but it’s not as if we knew what a grand adventure it would be once we’d met. For all we knew, you were simply a lost pony looking for a guide.”

“You’re still lost,” Polaris added with a hearty laugh. “‘Cept instead of Astrid and I leading you around, now you’ve got Corona taking you around Frostvale. He won’t be much use up north though, once we’ve passed the Onyx Mountains. Nopony will, matter of fact.”

Corona briefly glanced away from the window to respond, “I know the area better the most, I’ll have you know. I’ve studied dozens of maps.”

“Maps’ll do you no good up there, son,” said Polaris in a rumbling voice. He nodded at the window, through which could be seen the peaks of several mountains that formed part of the vast Onyx Mountain range. “Those mountains are a labyrinth of impassable spikes and tunneling caves that stretch for hundreds of miles. Maps are well and good if you’re trying to get from one town to another, but for trekking the most dangerous places, there’s no substitute for walking it with your own four hooves.”

“Well, I guess our real adventure has only just begun, hasn’t it?” said Corona, grinning.

“Our?” repeated Polaris, arching a brow. “Lad, I don’t remember you being with us for the past few months. Far as I recall, you only joined our little party a few days ago.”

“All the same, I can’t help but feel like this really is our adventure, you know?” Corona turned back to the window, placing his hoof on the glass. “After being captured by drakes, and escaping from windigoes with you guys, I feel like you’re my best friends in the world, not that you have much in the way of competition,” he said with a mirthless chuckle.

“As long as you’re with us, Corona, it will be our adventure, for better or worse,” said Astrid. She quickly moved a hoof to cover her mouth as a fit of coughing broke out. Waving her hoof, she assured Polaris she was fine, and then continued, “Besides, Corona, what would we do without you?”

“I imagine you’d get along just fine,” Corona replied with a shrug. “You managed without me for however long you’ve been traveling. Surely you could make it a little further.”

“Maybe so,” said Astrid, “but I know I’d rather have you right there beside us.”

He smiled. “Thanks.”

“Do you remember the forest we went through when we first met?” asked Trixie. “Not the one with the windigoes, but the one right after we met outside Hoofington.”

“Aye, I remember it well,” said Polaris. “I thought those wolves were going to be the end of us right then and there.”

“I wasn’t worried,” said Astrid. “We’d only just met you, Trixie, but I knew there was something special about you.”

“Would you still have helped me if you knew then what would happen afterwards?” asked Trixie. There was a hint of uneasiness in her voice, a twinge of doubt, but she asked the question all the same. In the back of her head somewhere she knew what Astrid would answer, but right now she felt in her heart that Astrid would say she wouldn’t have.

“Of course we would have, Trixie,” said Astrid, frowning. “Why would you think anything else? I don’t regret a single moment of anything that has happened up to this point. I wish things had gone a little smoother, sure, but I wouldn’t change it if it meant we couldn’t all be together.”

Polaris nodded solemnly. “I feel the same way.”

Not really knowing how to respond, Trixie merely nodded and then fell silent. For a time, silence was the only thing that filled the room. Astrid would cough occasionally, but other than that, no one made a sound. Eventually, however, after what had felt like hours passed, the silence was broken by Corona. As he moved away from the window he’d been silently staring out of, he took a seat next to Polaris and Trixie.

“So,” he said, shattering the wall of silence, “have you thought about names yet?” He gestured towards Astrid’s belly.

“Not exactly,” said Astrid as she sat up straight and glanced at Polaris. “We only just found out today, and it’s not as though we had any names in mind in the event that I got pregnant, so… no.” She grinned. “I suppose we’ll have to think of one though, won’t we?”

Polaris gave a nervous laugh. “Aye, I suppose we will, but at least we’ve got many months to decide. I can’t even imagine having to come up with a name right now. I mean, what if it’s a boy? What are we gonna call him, Drake?” He paused, blinking a few times. “Actually, you know what? That’s not a bad name at all. There’s power behind that.”

Astrid frowned at Polaris. “You want to name our son after the very creatures that imprisoned us?”

Polaris held his hooves up. “It was just an idea, dear. Don’t get too worked up over it. Besides, we don’t even know if the little bugger is going to be a boy anyway. What if it’s a girl? Are we just gonna name her after Trixie and be done with it?”

Trixie, snapping out of her self-induced ennui, looked up. “Wait, what? You’d name your daughter after me?” She shook her head. “You can’t do that. You have to pick a name that will suit her.”

“I think it’s a good name,” said Polaris, crossing his hooves.

“She’s right though,” said Astrid with a shrug. “The name has to come from the pony herself, not from whatever you can think of off the top of your head.”

“That’s a very poetic way of looking at it,” said Corona. “Do you think that’s how your parents named you?”

“My mother once told me that there’s a spark when a foal is born,” said Astrid, her voice soft. “She said that there’s a moment of unbelievable clarity where it becomes clear what the child’s name should be.”

“My mother told me that our names are chosen by destiny, and that us getting them is simply part of the plan,” said Trixie.

“Well, either way, we won’t have to worry about it for some time yet,” said Astrid. She looked at Polaris, putting her hoof on his cheek and smiling. “That’s a long way off.” Her eyes going wide, Astrid started coughing, harder than before. She was doubled over, hacking and wheezing while Polaris tried to help. After a few seconds, with no signs of her stopping, Polaris shot a glance at Corona.

“Get the doctor!” he shouted.

Astrid held out a hoof, trying to tell Polaris that she was fine, but she only got one syllable out before the coughing came back. She unconsciously clutched her chest, her expression becoming more and more pained. “Polaris,” she said, in between coughs, “help me. It hurts.”

“The doctor is coming, Astrid,” said Polaris, trying to keep his voice from sounding too worried. “She’ll be here any minute with some more medicine, and you’ll be just fine, okay?”

Trixie’s heart raced. She stood up, but didn’t move. Frozen in place, she simply watched as Polaris patted Astrid on the back, trying to help her cough while she moaned in pain. It was like everything was happening in some other world, and she was just looking in on it. It was a bizarre experience. However, it did have one particularly striking effect. Everything was crystal clear to Trixie in that moment, sharply in focus, and astoundingly resolute. Astrid would die if Trixie didn’t act.

“Her fever’s coming back!” cried Polaris, his hoof on Astrid’s head as he continued to cough.

Trixie hesitated but a moment, then rushed to her bag and rummaged around for the only object she could think of to help. “Ah!” she said, pulling out the drake’s tooth dagger from one of the pockets. It felt cold to the touch, as Sypher had said it always would, and this was exactly what Trixie was hoping for.

Hurrying over to Astrid, she lifted the dagger in her magic and placed it against Astrid’s head, pressing the flat of the blade down against her forehead. “This should help bring her fever down,” she said, hoping that that was actually true.

A minute or so passed with them standing there. Astrid’s coughing had subsided for the moment, and Corona returned with Dr. Snowmane in tow a moment later. “Is she okay?” he asked as soon as he set foot inside the room.

Polaris nodded. “For now.”

Dr. Snowmane, her face solemn, approached Astrid. “What happened?” she asked, her voice ragged.

Not taking his hoof off Astrid’s back, Polaris answered, “Her cough came back, but worse than before. She’s in a lot of pain.”

Her lips curling into a grim frown, the doctor said, “I see.”

“You see?” cried Polaris, his words harsh. “How about doing something? Give her some more medicine, or something!”

“I’ve already given her all that I can,” responded Dr. Snowmane, her voice calm and cool. “As I suspected, your wife’s cold has worsened to the point where it’s become pleurisy. If I give her more painkillers than I already have, it could cause her liver to fail.”

Polaris stared at her blankly. He stomped his hoof on the ground. “That’s not good enough! There has to be something more we can do.”

“I don’t like this anymore than you, sir,” said the doctor, her grim face watching him carefully. “But I’ve done everything that I can. Until tomorrow morning, there’s nothing more I can offer. From now until then, whatever happens will happen due to Astrid’s strength alone. The best you can do is offer her support until the coughing recedes.”

His eyes alight with fury, Polaris looked as if he was about to yell something else, but he turned back to the bed when he felt Astrid reach out to him. She placed her hoof on his shoulder. “What is it?” he asked.

Their eyes met. Astrid stared at Polaris, her pupils flitting back and forth, searching his face. She was silent for what seemed like an eternity, then she said quietly and simply, “I’m scared.”

Polaris clenched his teeth. He wrapped his hooves around her and pulled Astrid into a tight hug. She coughed again. He hugged harder. “It’s going to be okay, sweetheart. Just lay still and let the cough take care of itself.”

Astrid nodded and attempted to lay flat, but immediately sat back up, her hoof grasping at her chest. “It hurts too much,” she breathed. “I feel like I’m drowning. Polaris, I’m scared.” She clutched his hoof, squeezing it. Her cough returned briefly.

Corona stood at the foot of the bed, next to Dr. Snowmane, watching as Astrid’s breathing became more ragged, and every inhale more laborious. Trixie kept the knife pressed against her forehead, even when she bent over to cough. It was all she could do.

“Astrid,” Polaris whispered, “look at me.” He put his hoof under her chin, turning her face towards his. “Do you remember when we first met?”

Astrid nodded, a strained smile crossing her face. “You looked so lost,” she said with a slight chuckle that was almost immediately replaced by a cough.

Smiling back at her, Polaris stroked Astrid’s mane. “What about our first kiss? Do you remember that?”

“As clear as da—” Coughing replaced the last word as Astrid doubled over once again.

Tears started to form in the corners of Polaris’ eyes as he said, “And when I asked you to marry me?”

She took a moment to stop coughing, but when it finally calmed down for a moment, Astrid smiled again and said, “I asked you.”

His cheeks now wet, Polaris smiled back. “Oh, right. I guess you do remember.”

“Polaris…” Astrid’s chest heaved. She reached out a hoof, grabbing at Polaris’ face, trying to stroke his cheek. “In books and fairy tales, ponies always say things like—” she coughed “—like, ‘I’m going to a better place’ or, ‘I’m not afraid of death’—” another cough “—but I don’t think I can be a storybook heroine.”

Shaking his head, Polaris placed a hoof over Astrid’s lips. “No, no, don’t talk like that, Astrid. You’re going to be fine.”

With her weak hooves, Astrid pushed Polaris’ hoof aside and continued. “I can’t be like the ponies in fairytales.” She paused to cough a few more times. “Because I’m afraid, Polaris. I’m so scared right now.” Another cough attacked wracked her body. “I… I don’t want to die.” As soon as the words left her lips, tears burst from her eyes. She sobbed, holding on to Polaris as tight as she could as she coughed yet again, even through her tears.

As tears poured down his face as well, Polaris kissed Astrid’s cheek, saying, “You’re not going to die, sweetheart. You can’t. I know you can’t.”

“I don’t want to die!” Astrid cried, her body shaking with fear now. “I don’t want our child to die either, Polaris. What kind of mother would I be?”

“Don’t talk like that…”

“I feel—” she covered her mouth as she coughed again “—I feel like I’m drowning.” Her breathing was getting worse every second, and it was starting to sound like she was breathing through a straw. “It’s… it’s so hard to breathe, Polaris.” Her eyes wet with tears, Astrid tugged on Polaris’ hoof. “Please—” another cough “—help me.”

“I don’t know what to do,” said Polaris, his voice cracking. “I don’t…” He whipped around, staring at Dr. Snowmane. “Help her!”

Astrid’s hoof soon brought Polaris’ attention back to her. Her face soaked with tears, she said, “I… I… I… can’t… bre…” Her breathing was barely more than a whisper now. Her face was starting to turn blue, and skin grew cold.

Polaris shouted again. “Help her! Do something!”

Dr. Snowmane’s face was cold and expressionless as she stomped her hoof. “There is nothing I can do. I already told you that she will live or die by her own strength now.”

“Astrid is strong!”

Polaris’ voice shook the room, and for a tiny second, everything was silent. It was broken moments later by Astrid’s weak voice reaching out to him. He turned back to her, leaning in, putting his ear up beside her muzzle.

Astrid sucked in a tiny breath, then said, “I… I’m… so scared… Polaris.” She paused to breathe again. “I don’t... want… to… die.”

Weeping, Polaris lay his head against Astrid’s chest, tears streaming down across her stomach. “I don’t want you to die,” he whispered. “Please… don’t leave me.” Lifting his head up, he saw Astrid trying and failing to gasp another breath. His own breathing quickened. “No…”

With her tears gone, and now drying, Astrid placed her face against Polaris and said with her last breath, “I’m… sorry.” All at once, her body became heavy as she slumped against Polaris.

The room was silent once again. No one said anything for a time, then, as the sun broke over the mountain peaks, casting its first rays of sunshine down into the room, Polaris repeated, “No…”

The drake tooth dagger clattered to the ground, falling from Trixie’s grasp as she too crumpled to the ground. With her head in her hooves, Trixie felt tears streaming down the side of her face. She looked up and saw Corona standing silently, a grim look on his face. Dr. Snowmane had already left, and Polaris lay weeping over Astrid’s rapidly-cooling body.

A knock came at the door.

Only Trixie turned to see it as it opened. She was greeted by three tall stallions in leather armor with axes strapped to their backs. The middle one looked around the room and said, “Which of you is Trixie Lulamoon?”

Trixie slowly stood up. She glanced at Corona, who didn’t look back, and then said, “I am.”

The stallion nodded. “Come with me. The Warden requests your presence.”

Her brow furrowing, Trixie glanced back at Astrid. “I’ll speak to him later. As you can tell,” she said, her voice growing more angry, “there are more important things at the moment.”

Seemingly unfazed, the stallion stared blankly at Trixie. “Perhaps I should rephrase, Miss Lulamoon. The Warden demands your presence.”

Trixie clenched her teeth. “Well, he’ll have to wait then.”

“The Warden does not wait, ma’am.”

“He will for me,” said Trixie, practically spitting the words out.

The three stallions stared at Trixie. Their horns lighting up, they reached for their axes, but stopped before they reached them.


Turning around, Trixie saw Corona shaking his head. “It’s not worth it. You’ll either end up dead or in jail, and I’m sure that’s the last thing Astrid would want. Just go with them, all right? I’ll stay here with Polaris.”

“Your friend is very wise, Miss Lulamoon. You can be wise too,” said the stallion in the middle.

Trixie stared at them for a long time, then she finally broke her gaze and said, “Fine.”

The stallion cracked a broken smile. “Excellent. There is much The Warden wishes to discuss with you.”

Gathering up her bag, Trixie approached Corona, whispering to him, “Wait for me. I’ll be back as quickly as I can.”

“Be careful, Trixie,” Corona warned, his face serious. “The Warden is as cunning is he is cruel. Watch your tongue while you speak with him.”

Trixie nodded.

Motioning towards the door, the guardspony said, “This way, Miss Lulamoon. We will guide you to the tower.”

Falling in line behind the three as they exited the room, and left the hospital, Trixie muttered, “I have some questions for this ‘Warden’ as well. We’ll see just how cunning he is.”