• Published 13th May 2012
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Austraeoh - Imploding Colon

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Shroud

“Esteemed opinion: It would most certainly look like it,” Desert Light said. He stood across from Rainbow Dash and Cold Canter as he leaned over the table in the middle of the shack and examined the excavated skeleton up close. “There are no signs of structural fractures on the limbs of he who would be the earth pony signaler from ten years ago.” He pointed at the smoothed ends of the legbones. “Discreet analysis: these show signs of exposure to extreme heat. Be it an elemental or accidental, this body was exposed to extreme temperature, to the point that it undoubtedly amputated his rear limbs.”

“You can tell all of that?” Rainbow Dash remarked with a suspicious squint. “I mean, no offense and all, but this skeleton is pretty dang old. What if—I dunno—the earth pony was born without fully developed legs and this is all we got for his remains?”

Desert Light frowned. “Obligatory defense: I who would be a Darkstinian citizen studied in forensics and unicorn anatomy as a minor before enrolling in the national guard. If the state of this skeleton was a matter of natural deformity, the entire build of the legbones would be different. What's more...” He leaned towards the upper half of the equine structure and pointed at the forelimbs. “While there were no signs of extreme stress on the rear legs, the front hooves show extreme wear and tear, as if a great deal of weight and labor was exerted on them.”

“He may be full of himself, but the kid's bright,” Cold Canter remarked. He looked at Rainbow Dash, then over at Desert Light. “Does this mean what I think it means?”

Desert Light nodded gravely. “Solemn conclusion: whatever had injured this poor soul, it did not kill him. I believe that he used his forelimbs to bring his sundered self to the edge of the canyon.”

“Whoah, hand on a sec...” Rainbow Dash raised a hoof, her face blank. “You mean to tell me that this poor sap somehow got burnt in half... and then crawled halfway across the desert before giving CC here and the guard before you a signal?”

Desert Light merely shrugged. “Obligatory digression: I who would be a learned pony of science cannot pretend to know anything save for what evidence suggests to me.” He brushed his way past Rainbow Dash and made for the front entrance of the shack. “If you who would be an outtrotter would excuse me, I have a patrol to perform. Good industry be upon you.” And he was gone.

Rainbow Dash leaned back against a wall, rubbing a hoof over her chin and gazing forlornly at the skeleton.

Cold Canter's shuffling hooves brought him limply across the room as he drew a dark sheet over the dusty bones. After a spell, he took a deep breath and murmured her way, “You said that he had some things on him?”

“Hmmm?” She looked up at him, blinked, then snapped out of it. “Oh! Uhm. Yeah. But... not much to go on...”

“Humor an old stallion.”

“Uhhh...” Rainbow Dash shuddered. “He had a bunch of old journal pages, too burnt to read well. A leather saddlebag, charred at the edges. And... uhm... some sort of medallion.”

“Let me guess,” Cold Canter sighed. “Also burnt?”

Rainbow Dash gulped. “Yeah.”

Cold Canter turned to look at her. “Could I see it?”

She reached towards a side table, pulled the coin out of the bag, and flipped it towards him.

Cold Canter caught it in a field of magic. He calmly floated the thing before him in a telekinetic grasp. “Hmmm...” His eyes narrowed. “I've seen this symbol before: the one with the circle and the curves. I do recall seeing it on the belongings of the haggard earth ponies who had made it to the west side of the ravine decades ago.” He turned it around again. “I don't recognize the buildings in this engraving, though. It looks almost like pegasus architecture, strangely enough. And the pegasi—as far as history is concerned—based their architecture on the alicorns of ancient times.”

“Yeah, well, you can make a lot of big, snazzy buildings with clouds,” Rainbow Dash said with a light smirk.

“One thing's for sure...”

“What's that?”

“This coin is old,” he said.

“How old?”

“Really old,” Cold Canter emphasized with a grunt. “I may have lost the funky Darkstinian speech, but I'll always have a certain skill in metallurgy in my blood. Comes with the horn, you see.”

“Righto...”

“This couldn't have possibly been minted in recent times.”

“Like, how long ago are we talking about?” Rainbow Dash asked. “Decades? Fifty years?”

“Try centuries, filly.” Cold Canter gazed up at her. “Now what pony in their right mind would be carrying this around as a means of practical currency in our day?” He twirled the medallion one last time in his magical grip. “No. I suspect the only reason a pony would possess something this old would be if it was looted from someplace.”

“You think that earth pony who died on the ridge was a robber?” Rainbow Dash asked.

“Heh. You're still not getting it. This obviously held a great deal of meaning to his culture, or whatever may have become of it.” He tossed the coin back at Rainbow Dash. “If anything, it's a time capsule.”

Rainbow Dash caught it in two hooves. “So, he was delivering a message.”

“One that never got across the canyon.”

“Until now...” Rainbow Dash stared at the soot-stained engraving. “But just what was he trying to tell you guys?”

“I think the coin speaks for itself,” Cold Canter murmured, pointing. “Whatever is left of his society, it's in ashes... perhaps from the same thing that burned half of him to a crisp.”

“What kind of determination would it take to endure so much pain and agony just to reach the canyon's edge?” Rainbow Dash thought out loud.

“What else?” Cold Canter's eyes were narrow. “It's a warning.”

Rainbow Dash looked up at him.

He was slowly shaking his head. “Don't do it, kid. Don't cross the ravine. Don't go into those lands.”

She took a deep breath and placed the coin back on the table. “Look. I know you're used to minding this post and believing that it's the end of the world and all—”

“That's my job,” Cold Canter said bluntly. “I'm telling you this as a pony, a fellow spirit. You're only asking for trouble.”

“Heh...” Rainbow Dash chuckled dryly, running a hoof through her mane. “If I didn't want trouble from life, I would never have set out for the east to begin with.”

“That's just what I don't understand...” He shuffled a few steps towards her. “What's so important a destination that it necessitates you flying in a straight line, no matter what unknown dangers lie in wait?”

Rainbow Dash's eyebrows rose. “I didn't tell you that yet?”

He slowly shook his head.

She cleared her throat and shifted where she stood. “Uhm... the... th-the Midnight Armory,” she eventually said with a glint of pride in her ruby eyes.

His eyes blinked. He sat down on his haunches as he exhaled. “The... dark side of the world...”

“So you know about it?”

“I know that you'll only kill yourself trying to get to it, filly!”

“No you don't,” she said calmly, shaking her head with a soft expression. “How could you possibly know that?”

“Kid, the odds of you even crossing the edge of the world to reach the dark side is—”

“That's the funny thing about odds...” She paced towards him, scraping the wooden floor with her hooves. “Limits, barriers, barricades... all that sort of stuff...” She strolled limply around the table, her eyes gazing at the form beneath the somber shroud. “They only exist when we let them stop us. You think it stopped this dude?” She brushed a hoof over the edge of the blanket so as to cover an exposed length of bone. “I'm not one to brag, but, I just came from a place that had a huge wall. And if I let that wall stand in the way of things that I needed to do, a lot of ponies would be in a bad place right now.”

“You...” He narrowed his eyes on her. “You speak of New Ring?”

She kept on pacing and talking, “I don't know how long it will take me to get to the Midnight Armory, or just what crap I might run into along the way. As much as I care, that hardly matters, cuz it's neither here nor there. Now this crazy desert is staring at me and I don't like the look in its ugly face.” She smirked at Cold Canter and came to a stop. “So I intend to force it to blink.”

Cold Canter's nostrils flared. “You're mad.”

“No, I'm alive,” she said, pacing back towards the front door of the shack. “And unlike some ponies, I think that the best living can be done while on the move. Cuz the only excuse I have for not going any further is when my body refuses to move. Until then, fire or no fire, ashes or no ashes, I'm going to see what the landscape to the east has in store for me. Cuz at this point, I'm not sure I could live proudly with myself if I just let such a mystery go to waste. What's the point in crossing the ends of the earth if you know nothing about it, ya feel me?”

“There are more ways to live than dangerously, filly.”

“Goddess help me if I ever settle for any one of those boring reasons.” She paused at the door and winked at him. “And don't pretend that there isn't a curious bone inside you either... uh...” She curtsied apologetically towards the shrouded figure atop the table. “Present company excluded...”

“You know...” Cold Canter ran a hoof through his gray mane as he murmured aloud, “There could possibly be a way for you to make this next leg of your journey an advantage for the likes of Desert Light and myself.”

“Oh? How's that?”

He looked fixedly at her. “Tell me, pegasus, have you ever utilized sound stones before?”

Her eyes briefly crossed. “Buh?”

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