• Published 13th May 2012
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Austraeoh - Imploding Colon

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Sand

There was only enough sunlight left in the day for Rainbow Dash to tell that the sandstorm was occupying the entire eastern horizon and coming up fast. A brown, hazy cloud of dirt approached her, sweeping over the flat landscape like a solid curtain. Her solution was to fly higher, but still the wall of sediment threatened to drown her. So, she climbed and climbed altitude. Finally, as she reached a thin layer of chilled atmosphere, she scaled beyond the summit of the storm. Her ears rang from the tumultuous wind that whipped at the pocket of air below.

Soon, she found herself flying directly over the ceiling of the desert phenomenon. Even in the starlight, she could gaze down and see the churning miasma of grit and ash. It occurred to her that she had hoped to take a break sooner than later so that she might rest her hooves. However, the possibility of that happening anytime soon was now zero. Composing herself with a deep breath, she evened her wing beats and glided ahead.

Rainbow Dash flew east, sandwiched between the shroud of night and the billowing storm below. It was difficult to make out the shape and volume of the mess in the darkness, but the sheer sound of it left no doubt in her mind that it was a continental affair. She wondered how often sand blew over the landscape like this, weathering the dry earth away until it was the barren rocky bones of the world and nothing else.

It was a daunting task to keep her focus. On top of not having relaxed her wings, Rainbow Dash hadn't relaxed her mind in a while. She was running on lack of sleep, and it didn't help that all parts of the ground was now being pelted with sand and dust particles. She could only hope that, as she scaled the lengths of the world below, she would come upon the end of the entire ordeal.

This did not seem to happen. A dim beacon lit up ahead of her. For a brief moment, she thought it was a building or a bonfire or an air vehicle with a lantern. As the light crested over the storm cloud in all its brilliance, she realized it was the sun. Golden rays pierced the outer layers of the dust storm, only to be swallowed ravenously within the dense heart of the arid tempest.

It was then that Rainbow Dash saw—below and all around her—that the dust storm was quite literally encompassing that entire portion of the world. It was like she was gliding over a sea of ash, churning and rolling with brown tidal waves. There was no end of it in sight from any angle, and Rainbow Dash knew that there was no point in trying to retrace her flight and land on the ground before the event horizon of the storm.

It didn't help that Rainbow's wings were starting to ache. The pegasus knew that she was always better at speed than at endurance. Although her latest travels had helped her exercise her long-term abilities of flight, she had always enjoyed the possibility of having a landscape beneath her to land on and rest at any given moment. And, of course, there was always the hope of a cloud to sleep on.

Here, there was nothing. The bright yellow sky lacked any clouds whatsoever. In truth, Rainbow Dash hadn't seen any during her initial flight through the desert. It wasn't an issue until that very moment, as her wings started to throb in pain and exhaustion. Now, when she needed a cloud the most, she didn't have any to choose from.

Rainbow Dash grumbled. She looked at every horizon as she glided ahead. Her eyes pleaded for a white wispy shred of vapor. Still, she found nothing. Chewing on her lip, she gazed down at the duststorm. Slowly, experimentally, she descended until her hooves were dangling just above the gritty tempest. Then, with meager grace, she dipped her limbs into the mess.

Her pegasus hooves did not—as she hoped—make firm contact with the material. Instead, her hooves sank through the material. The sensation was hot, searing. With a hiss, she flapped her heavy wings and pulled up sharply. She looked at her hoof and gawked at a rash that had immediately formed. A shot of pain ran up her spine, along with a knot in her stomach. There was no purching on the dust storm; it simply was not pegasus friendly.

The agonizing day had consumed itself, and a dimness cast over the miasma as the sun lowered towards the horizon to her flank. It was around this point that Rainbow Dash realized what a bind she was in. It felt with each flap of her wings that her appendages would fly clean off. On top of that, her body was exhausted, and she was starting to lose the cohesiveness of her vision. If she couldn't rest her body soon, she'd collapse like an airborne boulder. Rainbow Dash knew from the age of a little filly what happened to pegasi who fell asleep in mid-flight.

She didn't have the aid of sunlight to help in her distress. She thought of Cold Canter, but knew that talking to him would be useless. Besides, she had to save her breaths for as long as she could. Still, she could barely think. Her lungs were starting to heave with the effort of keeping her quivering body aloft for hour after hour.

Rainbow Dash tried to stay calm. She turned herself upside down, facing the stars, and pulled a few things out of her backpack, balancing them on her chest. She ate a few leaves of lettuce and took several swigs from her flask. As her wings started to heave and buckle in the darkness, she thought quick to prepare for what was coming next. With a hoof, she summoned a ruby glow from her pendant. Using her limbs and teeth, she pulled her blanket out, removed her hatchet, and sliced the end of its length off. She soaked the improvised rag with water and wrapped it tightly around her mouth like a rag. Breathing slowly, she tightened her goggles and tied what was left of the blanket over her like a cloak. She formed a hood over her mane, covering as many parts of her body as she could.

Her wings were going numb. The stars bowed as she felt herself descending. The noise of swirling winds filled her ears. She was going down.

She spun about, angled herself with the horizon, and dove swiftly. If she was to pierce the storm, she might as well slice her way to the earth as swiftly as possible. In the night, a great onyx wall of madness churned directly ahead. She took several breaths, stuck her wings out straight, and summoned a mental command from deep within. In a bright, platinum flash, Queen Whitemane's shield kicked in.

Rainbow Dash hit the sandstorm. Even with the shield on, it felt like slamming into a brick wall. She grunted but soared forward all the more quickly, bulleting through the dust and sediment like a hot knife through butter. The world howled and hissed at her from every angle imaginable. Her vision rocked and buckled in the nightmarish turbulence. She could barely see beyond a foot ahead of her, maybe two. Then, as the whistling and whipping winds intensified, she reached the surface of the world.

She landed awkwardly, her hooves scraping against the rock. Wincing, she anchored herself as firmly as she could and leaned against the wind. The heart of the storm was deafening. She could no longer feel her wings. With madness and cyclonic dust spinning all around her, she forced herself to concentrate. Queen Whitemane's shield would be depleted in a matter of seconds. She pulled her saddlebag completely off, whipped out her hatchet again, and began hacking away at the ground. She managed to make two equidistant notches in the ground. Within these holes, she stuck a pair of sticks that she had gathered from Cold Canter's and Desert Light's outpost. To these, she tied her saddlebag, praying to the goddesses that the lunar silk would live up to its famed versatility. Once this was erected, and the magic shield was starting to buckle, she scrunched up to the side of the saddlebag opposite to where the sand was blowing from and crouched as low as she could, covering every inch of her with the blanket as she breathed through the moist rag.

Right then, as she was just scrunching up against the saddlebag, the shield failed. The cold of the desert instantly stabbed at her, and she felt the blanket would tear. She clutched its length tightly to herself and stuck her face against the shape of the saddlebag, breathing as much clean air she could manage as a fine powder bled through the material of the blanket, threatening to suffocate her. Her goggles were already covered in a fine layer of brown grime. She wiped them clean, only to see how terribly her hooves were trembling.

Stifling a whimper, Rainbow Dash hid her masked face in the crook of her limbs and gave shallow breaths, praying that the blanket wouldn't rip apart, thinking about warmer, gentler days. She teetered upon a blackout, her entire body going numb. Reaching deep into the darkness, she tried to imagine something soothing, something hopeful. All she could envision was green eyes, and that was when her body went limp.

The storm collapsed thunderously upon her.

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