• Published 13th May 2012
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Austraeoh - Imploding Colon

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Retirement

“From what Darkstinian scholars have told me, it is a barren landscape of desert and wasteland for countless leagues,” Cold Canter said, gazing at the far end of the massive canyon. He turned around and gave Rainbow Dash a thin-eyed glance. “I happen to know it's more than that.”

“I'm listening,” Rainbow Dash said. She hovered above the elder unicorn as he paced slowly over the creaking wooden boards of the cliffside's precarious platforms. Tattered red flags whipped in the dusty wind overhead as the two wandered gradually south along the edge of the ravine.

“Years ago, when I was much younger and full of energy, a group of earth ponies scaled the cliff.”

“I think you mentioned that to me, yeah.” Rainbow nodded.

“What I didn't mention was how dazed and speechless they were when they finally arrived on our end. I summoned several of the unicorns from posts to the north and south of here to assist in lifting them up to the top of the canyon's edge. The outtrotters were hardly threatening, and we knew we had nothing to fear of their unexpected arrival. The painful elements of the desert had done its worst to them. They were emaciated, scrawny things. It was a miracle that they lived any longer than a day in our company. However, there was something more to their suffering than the merciless gauntlet of the desert.”

“Like what?” she asked, her ruby eyes thin and inquisitive.

“I've seen many a soul trot through this place. Travellers have graced me with all sorts of expressions, both honest and insincere. However, there was nothing that I could read beyond the glossy-eyed gaze of these poor creatures. The will to smile had been utterly drained from the earth ponies, and for a young Darkstinian to notice this means that it was nothing to take lightly.”

“Yeah, I imagine not.”

“We asked them what they had seen. We asked them where they had come from.”

“And...?”

Cold Canter shrugged. He paused and leaned against a wooden railing with his flank to the gaping chasm. “They didn't answer us. They didn't so much as speak to us. By next sunrise, all the ones still left alive had galloped towards the west. To this day, I never found out if they made it to the capital city of New Ring or not. All I know is that something deep and primal inside of them wanted to get away from the east as much as possible.”

“I'm guessing something really freaked them out.”

“I've seen many frightening things in my day, filly,” he said. “Not all creatures with wings are as sweet and innocent as you.”

“Awww. You're gonna make me blush and crap.”

“I'm serious.” His eyes became frigid pinpricks. “Something isn't right about whatever's on the far end of this ravine. Everything is so... desolate and lifeless. At my age, you'd think I would have given up on the notion of danger being beyond this outpost. But with each passing day, I'm glad that I'm here and not elsewhere. I feel as though I have a job to do.”

“Did you ever witness any other ponies coming from across the ravine?”

“No,” he said flatly, then fidgeted. “Well...”

“Hmm?” Rainbow Dash leaned her head down from where she hovered.

He sighed before finally speaking, “About a decade ago, there was movement along the ridge across the canyon. The stallion who was assigned to the outpost with me at the time had a good eye, and he used the state-issued spyglass to observe the figure from afar. He said he saw what looked to be an earth pony wearing rusted plates of armor. We were too far away from the pony to engage in verbal communication, but the stallion seemed to be a smart fellow. He had with him some reflective object, and he started engaging us with a series of bright strobes, using the sun's glint to convey a message.”

“Really?”

“Mmmhmm. We replied back with our own signals, and the two of us managed to perform a simple conversation with the lone figure.”

“And what did he say? Did he tell you anything?”

Cold Canter's eyes appeared to go hollow as he stammered, “He said that 'It was all gone. They had burned everything. I am alone.'”

Rainbow Dash bit her lip. “And then what?”

The elder looked at her solidly. “And then he died.”

Rainbow Dash said nothing. She pivoted and stared towards the far end of the yawning trench.

“You strike me as the adventurous type, filly,” he said in a hoarse voice. “And undoubtedly you have encountered your own fair share of perils.” He paced over and stood beneath her, giving her an imploring look. “I do not know where you are headed, nor is it my place to question the drive that inspires you to scale such immeasurable lengths. But please, consider heading south and crossing the divide there. The canyon's thin stream coalesces into a thicker river that feeds into a far more hospitable landscape with forests and emerald glades to the southeast corner of Darkstine's borders.”

She remained staring, her eyes hard and steady.

He spoke, “It is... a great deal safer to take an alternate route. You can still make it east, I imagine. You need not risk your own life for the sake of exploration, no matter how daring.”

“That's just it, dude...” She turned and looked at him. “How many ponies have been here, just like I am now, and have said the exact same thing you're asking me to do?”

He took a deep breath, giving a weathered smile. “I suppose they all have me to thank for living longer lives, or to blame for experiencing far less exciting ones.”

“Hey, no biggie,” Rainbow Dash said with an airborne shrug. “You're just doing your job. You deserve to be called 'Best Cautionary Guard,'” she muttered. “Maybe once you retire, you should head back to New Ring to receive such a title. Goddess knows Governor Mintelle has a flankload of them lying around someplace...”

“I'm afraid you're mistaken, filly,” he said. “This is the closest thing to retirement I will ever enjoy.”

“Even with your bedroom windows looking out onto dry, arid creepyville?”

He shrugged. “I've known old friends who have laid their heads in places far less conducive to philosophy.”

“To each their own, I guess.” She scratched her chin while scanning the far end of the canyon. “Just where exactly did this earth pony in rusted armor spend his final minutes?”

Cold Canter turned, squinted at the opposite end of the ravine, and spoke, “About twenty degrees to the north, above the batch of exposed minerals.”

“Would you mind—I dunno—pointing? I left my geology major at home in Equestria.”

“I seriously doubt that after a solid decade of desert punishment that there'll be anything left of his materials to find.”

She smiled placidly. “Humor me.”

Nostrils flaring, Cold Canter trotted up towards the edge, leaned against the railing, and pointed.

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