• Published 13th May 2012
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Austraeoh - Imploding Colon

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Temple

“Tell me, C-squared,” Rainbow Dash murmured as she flew lazy orbits tighter and tighter around the twin mesas in the heart of desolate Silvadel. “Was it a full moon last night where you're at?”

“I don't see how it matters to you. From what you've described of that landscape, you can't even see the sky through all the smog.”

“Humor a girl.”

“It will be a complete full moon in about two and a half nights. Why do you ask?”

Rainbow Dah smiled wearily as she gazed at the demolished buildings below. “Cuz I might be having to put you on the other line for a bit soon.”

“Oh?”

“Nothing personal. I just have an interview with a princess.”

“How intriguing. Perhaps she would like to know a bit about what you've discovered in your travels as of late.”

“Uhhhh...” Rainbow Dash looked at the crumbled houses, temples, and aqueducts far below. “I'm not so sure if I should rain on her parade.”

The next morning had come in a gray lurch. Rainbow Dash could hardly tell it was daytime, nor did it matter. She had barely gotten any sleep that night. After eating a hearty helping of lettuce, she took off from her plateau and proceeded to scope out the landscape from up high. Still, she didn't ascend higher than the twin mesas of central Silvadel. Not yet.

“I wish I could put my hoof on this smell I'm getting,” Rainbow Dash said, her face scrunching up. “It's sort of gotten more noticeable over time. I smell it more when I'm closer to the ground, as if the stuff is coming from beneath the rubble.”

“Could you describe the smell?” Cold Canter's voice inquired.

“Uhhh.. Really, really, really nasty.”

“Do try to be more detailed, filly.”

“Uhm... Like rotten eggs?”

“It's most likely sulfur. Desert Light and I think that some sort of huge geological event must have happened to have leveled the entire city that heavily.”

“What, like a volcano or something?”

“Do you see any signs of magma or freshly hardened rock?”

“Uhhh... No...”

“A more likely scenario could be a highly pressurized pocket of sulfur beneath the earth's surface that was somehow exposed to the less dense air above.”

“Wouldn't that have caused a huge, friggin' explosion?”

“Presumably. It could also have gassed all living things to death within a specific radius.”

“Then why haven't I seen any bones or dead remains or whatnot?” Rainbow Dash murmured to the winds, circling and frowning. “Not that I'm hoping to find anything so freaky or grim, of course. But come on...” She gazed at the half-demolished palace lying on one of the twin mesas. “If this place has been trashed and abandoned for this long, I'd think somepony from the outside would have stumbled upon the ruins before me.”

“The nature of Silvadel suggests that the place was a remotely located kingdom even in its prime. With a deep ravine to the west and goddess-knows-what to the east, it's not all that surprising that little to no ponies have settled in the area.”

“Sorry, CC. But I'm not buying it. I gotta learn more about this place.”

“I thought you were on a desperate quest to pierce the eastern horizon.”

“Oh. Uh. That too.”

“Your impulsivness and fickleness comes hoof and hoof.”

“Don't you sass me!” Rainbow Dash remarked with a smirk. “You're dying to find out more about this place too!”

Cold Canter's voice chuckled through the resonating sound stone. “I would rather be knowledgeable than dead. Do carry on.”

“I think I will!” Rainbow Dash banked to the right, twirled, and ascended towards the fractured palace of past-glory. “And I'll do it in the direction of that big, flippin' palace!”

“You mean the one that was enscribed on the coin?”

“Yup. Who'd a thunk it?”

“From your descriptions of the structure, I doubt you'd find any ponies there. It's a veritable island in the middle of chaos.”

“Then I'm sure I'll be right at home,” she muttered.

Her goggles glinted with gray light as she flew her way up through the smog and ashes. Flakes of white sediment floated past her as she became level with the ginormous structure. A huge dome remained mostly intact, with a chunk of its north face having crumbled to join the rubble of the twin structure beneath the mesas down below. As she glided closer, she became aware of several elaborate stone walkways weaving and circling around the upper length of the mesa, interconnecting to form a complex series of labyrinthine platforms and buildings. The charred remains of gardens lingered on burnt out balconies. Courtyards were dusted over with ashen snow, and from Rainbow's point of view it looked as if a huge blast had knocked out the structure from the far side, sending permanent scorch marks stretching across the alabaster face.

“I've made a decision, filly.”

Rainbow Dash nearly went cross-eyed from the jolting effect of Cold Canter's sudden voice.

“Ahem. What about, old guy?”

“I will take leave in the coming winter to go visit my daughters in the Darkstinian Heartland.”

Rainbow Dash blinked. “Oh really?” She smiled. “What brought this about?”

“You, to be perfectly frank.”

“I'm touched, to be perfectly franker.”

“You remind me a lot of my second youngest child.”

“Yeesh. Am I that stiff?”

“Heheheh... I'm their father, filly. I think I have it within me to read their emotions beyond the industrial exterior.”

“And what is it that you read?”

“That it would be a shame if I didn't at least visit them one last time before it's too late.”

“Well, that's good to know, dude,” Rainbow Dash said, circling the shattered bits of the dome in hope of finding a clear landing spot. “I hope you don't put it off any.”

“I'm quite determined. Besides, I can only stand so much of Desert Light's attitude for so long.”

“Heh, if you say so...” Rainbow Dash finally landed on the edge of a stone balcony at the base of the dome. “I'm glad, C-Squared. Really, I am. You've got time on your hooves. I don't care how many wrinkles you have.”

“I try not to count.”

“A pretty healthy habit,” Rainbow Dash said. She passed slowly into the dim chamber beyond the exit of the balcony. “You know, CC, I've... I-I've seen a lot of things in my travels.”

“I can imagine.”

“Yeah, sure. But, y'know... not all of the stuff I've been through has been...” She fidgeted briefly, her lips growing tight. “Mmmm... pleasant.” She sighed. “Sometimes, I think the reason I head east is cuz I wanna see if the world can toss things my way that are nastier than what I've already been through.”

“I hadn't thought of it that way before,” his voice returned. “If that's the case, then why keep traveling?”

“Cuz I gotta know.”

“Know what?”

She smiled thinly. “If the grand picture is any prettier than all the ugly little lines.” She ran a hoof over her pendant and produced a crimson glow. “Okay, Cold Canter. I'm trotting through what must be... mmmm... the Silvadelian capitol building.”

“Affirmative.”

“Are you getting all of this?”

“I haven't stopped writing down the details you've given since yesterday.”

“Good unicorn. I wasn't sure if you paid attention to my evaluations or not.”

“Heaven forbid.”

“Okay... uhm...” Rainbow Dash squinted her eyes at the narrow, pale walls lingering beyond. “I'm in a dark hallway.”

“Absolutely brilliant.”

“Shhh! Just give me a second! Gosh!” She trotted at an even pace, careful not to trip over any lingering clusters of debris. Eventually, she came into a large chamber, so grand that it devoured the lengths of her illumination. The air was deathly thin and still. It was quiet, quieter than even the snowy mountains east of Windthrow. It was hard for her to believe that just a few flights away was a gigantic crater full of a sunken city's ruins. She paced a bit slowly, gazing left and right, until she rand directly into a pony... or else the shape of one.

Doing a double-take, she raised her goggles and squinted. A red equine figure was embossed into the wall with crimson tiles. She took a few steps back and aimed her glowing pendant higher. A lightning-bolt-shaped spotlight displayed a grand mosaic, two dozen feet tall, showing several ponies galloping across a majestic city flanked by giant stone structures of organic complexity. The symbol of the circle with two curved lines was displayed repeatedly, and many of the ponies were gathered around them. What was more, none of them possessed any sign of horns or wings.

“Ugh...” Rainbow Dash grunted. “It's always freakin' earth ponies, I swear to Luna.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“What does nature have against flying ponies, huh?” Rainbow Dash grumbled as she turned to the right and ascended a pale flight of stone steps. “Just once, I wanna stumble upon a society with ponies that can give me a run for the money in a race.”

“Tired of being a goddess among insects?”

“Don't go there. My ego's been bursting through its saddle ever since a bunch of mares gave me a bath in Verdestone.”

“Mares? A bath?”

“Erm...” Rainbow Dash's wings twitched as she turned a shade of red. “Forget I said anything...”

“But you haven't said anything... at least of importance.”

“Ahem. I saw a mural. It displayed a bunch of earth ponies galloping around the Silvadelian symbol.”

“So Silvadelians were earth ponies?”

“Looks like it.”

“Any sign of the former occupants of that place?”

“It's a large palace. The chamber I'm in is really huge. It has multiple tiers, I think. I'm walking up a set of stairs along the outer edge. I see... uhh... some pottery towards my right. There are pictures of tree branches and grass reeds on them. That seems to be what the Silvadelians really digged. Shrubbery and stuff.”

“It must have held some sort of spiritual significance to them.”

“Or maybe... snkkt... heeheehee...”

“Hmm? What now, filly?”

“Nothing. Nothing.” Rainbow Dash waved a hoof and sighed. “I just had a stupid thought. It's not very appropriate right now.”

“Nice to know that you're capable of restraint.”

“When it counts.” Rainbow Dash turned to the left and squinted, for a gray light was falling over her. “Hmmm... I think I might be approaching the north edge. It looked torn to bits from my circling. Gonna take a closer look.”

“Careful. There's no telling how unstable that building is beneath you.”

“That's why it helps to have wings, old guy.” Rainbow Dash sniffed and made a face. “Ungh... What a stench!”

“More sulfur?”

“No. It's... I dunno. It's kind of worse.”

“Where's it coming from?”

“From up ahead.” Rainbow Dash ascended another set of stairs and turned a corner of rubble, facing the gray deathscape beyond. “If I didn't know better, I'd say I was...” She froze in place, her ruby eyes wide and twitching.

“Hmm? You'd say what?”

Rainbow Dash was silent. She stared forward, her mouth agape.

“Filly? Rainbow Dash?”

She gulped slowly. With a shaking hoof, she smoothed back her mane. “C-Squared?”

“Yes...?”

“Get ready to write,” she said. She took a breath, but almost instantly retched. Hesitantly, she shuffled forward to a clifface made out of a shattered stone platform. Stretched before her in equadistant fashion was a line of black X's fashioned out of splintery wood. Plastered to the criss-crossing planks were the charred husks of equine figures. “I've... found bodies. They... they appear to be dead. All of them. I... uhh...”

Grimacing skulls hung off their restraints, their bony joints fluttering with scrapes of papery skin. White teeth showed in ghostly contrast to the obisidian-black remaints of petrified flesh.

“They... th-they appear to be nailed to the boards with what looks like... what looks like...”

Pensively, Rainbow Dash crept towards the closest corpse. Its burnt limbs were impaled to the boards with giant, alabaster shards of bone.

“Teeth?” she murmured. “But... But what would have teeth this large? Or get rid of it?”

“Rainbow Dash...”

“These aren't the only ones.” Rainbow Dash was standing in the middle of the dead ponies, tilting her head back and looking up. “I see more. Oh jeez...” She winced as she saw floor after hollow floor of exposed temple space occupying the body of the dome above her. Each platform was filled to the brim with the charred crucifixes. “They're all burnt. I can't tell if... if they were burnt first or pinned to the wood first. I'm... I'm no expert on the way bodies decay and—”

“Rainbow Dash, perhaps it would be best if you left that vicinity.”

“They're...” She took a somber breath. “They're just bodies, Cold Canter. It's not like this is the first time I've seen—” She paused, her nose twisting. She almost retched again and looked disdainfully to her right. “No. No... this one... this one is recent...”

“How do you mean 'recent?'”

Rainbow Dash slowly approached a limp, fleshy figure. The body belonged to a mare. Its mane had burned off and the coat had been seered to a hellish black. The smell of rotting organs filled the air. Without meaning to, Rainbow Dash caught a good glimpse of the victim's bowels through a deep gash in its belly. The laceration matched a deep groove cut in its burnt back.

“I think... I think she was bitten by something before she was placed on this thing.” Rainbow Dash looked at the bone structure pinning the figure to the boards. “The tooth on her looks as old as on the rest of them. I... I just don't get it...”

“What makes you think that particular pony is recently deceased?”

“Cuz of the smell, CC. Also, I think I see some moisture. Maybe blood.” She leaned in close and squinted at the charred face. “And if I didn't know better, I'd say there was still steam rising from the—”

An eye opened, twitching.

Rainbow Dash jerked back.

The burnt pony thrashed on the beams, wheezing and sputtering in agony.

“OhgoshOhgoshOhgosh!” Rainbow Dash's voice cracked. She stumbled back on her haunches, holding two hooves over her muzzle.

“What is it?!”

“Mmmmm...” Rainbow whimpered, gulped down the rising bile in her throat, and stood up. She waved a hoof. “Just calm down. Please. It's going to be okay. I know it hurts, but I'm going to take care of you—”

The pony merely gurgled and retched, spitting up blood and ashes. It started to twitch all over, rocking the wooden crucifix it was on.

“Rainbow Dash, what's going on?” Cold Canter's voice stammered desperately.

“She's alive!”

“What?”

“She's alive! I gotta help—”

The pony stopped twitching. It shivered as one eye widened in fright. Something bright and red darted off the reflective surface.

Rainbow Dash turned around—

A plume of fire flew into her.

“Gaaaah!” Rainbow dodged to the side. The world around her melted. The bodies of equines caught aflame all around her. She squirmed, scampered. Her hooves scraped over concrete before finally propelling her forward.

A roaring noise; another wall of flame.

Rainbow Dash somersaulted, flew over the plasma, and barreled through three charred corpses. Wooden splinters and bones splashed across the floor around her. She panted and looked up. All was ash and heat and noise.

“Rainbow Dash!”

“Cold Canter! Nnngh—It's so hot! I can't—”

A leathery body slammed up against her spine.

“Aaaugh!” She tumbled over the platform and teetered on the edge. Her sound stone fell free and rolled across the ground. She could barely see it from where she dangled by a single limb.

“Rainbow Dash! Fly! Fly! Get out of—!” Cold Canter's voice was silenced when a clawed foot slammed over the sound stone, crushing it to dust.

Rainbow's ruby eyes pulsed. Just as her hooved grip of the balcony slipped, she peered up.

A set of iron jaws was opening, and an eruption of fire encompassed her vision.

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