• Published 13th May 2012
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Austraeoh - Imploding Colon

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Matriarch

Ember Speak's eyes were clenched shut and her entire body was trembling. Gently, a blue hoof nudged her cheek.

“Hey,” Rainbow said in a low, hoarse voice. “It's okay. We're safe... for the moment.”

With a gasp, Ember opened her eyes. Sweating, she found herself situated on a rocky ledge close towards the ceiling of a cavernous chamber. She blinked, surprised that she had enough light to see with. The earth pony became aware of a bright red glow from the subterranean landscape below. Pensively, she crept closer towards the edge to take a look. Just as she caught sight of a glittering expanse of reflective material, four leathery bodies surged by.

“Gaaah—!” she began, before her mouth was silenced by Rainbow's hoof. The pegasus pulled her back as several dragons surged past them and towards the center of the huge chamber.

After a few seconds, Rainbow Dash spoke in a calm voice, “Why are you so freaked out? I thought you've been battling these creeps all your life.”

Once Dash removed her hoof, Ember gulped and stammered, “It's j-just that I've never b-been so close... and to so many of them...”

“I remember what you've said about the ponies who entered this place before,” Rainbow Dash murmured. “But don't you worry. We're gonna break the streak; I'm gonna get us both out of here once we've had our talk with the Matriarch.” The pegasus blinked and made a crooked face. “By the way, does she have a name?”

“Not that I know of.” Ember glanced over at Rainbow Dash and did a double-take as soon as she noticed that the pegasus wasn't trembling as much as she was. “How can you be so calm at a time like this?”

“For the same reason you're not,” Rainbow Dash muttered. “I just try not to sweat it.”

Upon hearing that, Ember Speak realized how incredibly hot it was inside that place. She ran a hoof through her mane and remarked, “Yes, well, I just don't understand it. This is the”—she froze as several more bodies soared by—“home of my mortal enemy.”

“They're very bad dragons, but they're not my enemy,” Rainbow Dash said. “As far as I'm concerned, they're a bunch of bullies who need to be told how to behave by somepony with the authority to cut them down a size.”

“I don't know whether to envy you for your simplicity or pity you for it.”

“Beats me. But I'll go with envy. It's always a good day when ponies envy me for something.”

“I still can't get over how you chose to get us into this place!” Ember hoarsely exclaimed. “We were a sneeze away from that dragon! What if it turned around to see us?”

“Well, it didn't. So let's make the best of it.” Rainbow Dash squatted down low and approached the edge of the cliff, squinting towards the glowing center of the chamber. “What in the hay are they doing?”

“Hmm?” Ember squatted next to her and stared in the same direction. “Oh, well wouldn't you know it...?”

“Wouldn't I know what?”

Ember pointed at a giant hole carved into the stone. A gigantic fire was blazing in the huge crucible. As each flock of dragons glided in, they dropped huge chunks of rubble and debris into a pile. Several wingless drakes stood at the ready, and once the collective junk of Silvadel was deposited in front of them, they proceeded to shred the material apart. Anything that was jaded, rusted, or decrepit was shoved into the burning pit. However, in the off chance that something shiny and valuable was found, it was passed over to another group of even smaller whelps who dutifully carried the material towards the far side of the chamber. There, a bright gold aura formed as a result of the distant flames reflecting off a veritable mountain of gold, silver, and pearlescent bits. In the center of the mesa, the children of the Matriarch were gathering a monumental pile of treasure.

“It's her hoard,” Ember Speak said.

“Hoard?” Rainbow Dash made a face. “You mean that's what all of this is about? Giving birth beneath the earth? Trashing your city? Killing any pony that comes near?” Her expression twisted in disgust. “It's all for a bunch of lousy gold trinkets?”

“A hoard is more important to a dragon than its bloodline,” Ember explained. “Or, at least, that's how the elders always explained it to us. Long ago, our forbears assumed that this was the purpose of the dragons' destruction of Silvadel. To this day, Sam Rose's expeditions into the ruins hardly turn up anything made of metal. It would seem that the matriarch's dragon whelps have pilfered the gave of Silvadel of all valuables.”

“How come they're still flying out in steady groups, then?”

“You saw it when you first came here: the flock was flying back from having gone a great, great distance. Somehow I wouldn't doubt it if the Matriarch's brood have scoured the very edges of this continent.”

“Yeesh. That's really dang greedy, don'tcha think?”

“Well...”

“I mean, I'm no novice when it comes to dragons,” Rainbow Dash said. “I know all about them hoarding and stuff, but this right here?!” She whispered loudly and gestured towards the gigantic pile glittering before them. “This is friggin' crazy! Talk about overkill!”

“You've seen dragon hoards before?”

“Dang straight.”

“And it wasn't the same size as this?”

“Not even by a long shot.” Rainbow Dash's ruby eyes narrowed. “This is enough treasure to make a dozen big dragons happy. And if I didn't know better, I'd say these guys”—she pointed at the scores of dragons flocking over the crimson interior—“don't have any claim to the junk.”

“Oh?”

“I mean, they're tiny. Well, they're big compared to you and me. But the dragons who had hoards in Equestria were crazy big, like fifty times any one of these freaks.” Rainbow Dash ran a hoof through her mane as she thought aloud, “I'm wondering if there's much purpose to these dudes other than this single, boring task of gold-collecting. I mean, you see what they do to their teeth. I don't remember any dragons giving up their chompers that easily.”

“You mean to suggest that these are nothing more than expendable workers?” Ember Speak smiled bitterly. “You wouldn't be the first pony in this part of the world to come to that conclusion, Rainbow.”

“But they're still intelligent! Like, I still can't accept any excuse to slay them left and right!” Rainbow Dash remarked.

“Do you think they have the capacity to feel the same sense of pathos for you, Rainbow Dash?”

The pegasus took a deep breath, fuming. She rubbed her hooves against the edge of the rocky cliff and muttered, “This world isn't gonna get any cleaner if we keep spilling our blood over it.”

“That's what we're here for, yes?” Ember leaned forward. “To prove a point?”

“So long as we don't get the point,” Rainbow remarked as several more bodies flew past. She raised a hoof to her pendant and grumbled at its dim glow. “Come on, Princesses. Get it together...”

“What's taking them so long?” Ember said in a desperate whisper.

“Beats me. I mean, it's not exactly an easy spell that they're casting. Whenever sun and moon stuff mixed in the past, it's hardly been a walk in the park.”

“But they should be getting through anytime now, right?”

“Yeah. And if you ask me, I should be getting into position.”

“What... do you mean?” Ember asked, squinting.

“Who's to know how long this thing lasts,” Rainbow Dash said, pointing at the pendant around her neck. “I wanna have the Matriarch's attention as soon as the magical transmission begins, that way the Princesses can get as many words in as possible.”

“But I thought they said the spell would last over an hour.”

“If you've had as much experience with magic as I have... heh...” Rainbow Dash smiled tiredly. “You learn pretty quick to expect the worse.”

“You don't strike me as a pessimist.”

“Girl, I haven't struck you, period.”

Ember blinked at that, but gasped upon hearing a shouting voice in the distance.

Rainbow spun about, wings outstretched. “What was that?! A pony?!”

“No... no...” Ember Speak said, pulling herself and Rainbow down so that they were squatting again. “It's one of the speakers...”

“Speakers?”

“Yes, remember? Like the one who appealed to us when they burned... wh-when they burned—”

Rainbow Dash patted her shoulder and nodded. “Yeah. Gotcha. Speakers.” She craned her neck to get a good view at the source of the shouting.

Marching through the space between the burning pit and the glittering hoard, a slightly larger drake with a fan of spikes around his cranium glared at the laboring whelps and grunted towards the incoming workers depositing fresh debris from the air.

“Pile them on faster, you worthless wyrms!” he grunted, his tongue lashing in the air as his slitted eyes reflected gold on one side and crimson on the other. “There are only half of you; that doesn't mean you can slack off! Her time of peace is coming! We must add to her name and honor!”

Ember's eyes narrowed. “Only h-half of them?” She glanced aside at Rainbow Dash. “What do you suppose that means?”

Rainbow Dash merely listened more intently as the speaker marched around the golden pile below.

“This isn't enough! We need more! More!” He grabbed one of the fliers with a merciless talon about the throat. “Fly until there is no land left! Then scour the ocean's floor if you have to! All that is metal belongs to her glory!”

Just then, a booming voice shook the entire cavern, causing flakes of dust and pebbles to fall from above. “My child, do not bruise the scale of my scales.”

The speaker froze in spot. He released his grip of the drake and pivoted to face a glowing source of violet light from beyond the gold. “They are slacking off, your eminence. I only wish to ensure the wealth of your immortal title.”

“Let me be concerned over what is or isn't immortal.” The voice had an undeniable refinement to it, as if belonging to an eloquent soul who belonged in palaces and not in caves. Regardless, Rainbow Dash shared some noticeable trembles with her Silvadelian companion at the end of each thunderous phrase. “It would do the brood good that you practice patience. After all, half of your siblings are away, attending to things far more honorable than you.”

The speaker recoiled from that, but nevertheless held his tongue. He bowed, his long slender neck pivoting his spikes forward. “As always, I am humbled by your strength and wisdom, your eminence.”

“I have begotten hundreds before you, and I will bring dozens more to this world before time claims me. Your strength and wisdom is like flowers before the fire compared to mine. Do not forget this.”

“Verily, I shan't, life-giving one.”

“Please proceed with a greater degree of silence. I have much meditation to do.”

“As you wish.”

Ember Speak's face was contorted in confusion.

Rainbow Dash flashed her a look. “What? Is she what you expected?”

“It's not that. I just find some of what she said...”

“What?”

Ember Speak gulped. “I'm just so overwhelmed by this place. I do hope we don't have to be in here for too long.”

“My thoughts exactly.” Rainbow Dash stood up and flexed her wings. “I'm going in.”

Ember breathed in sharply and uttered, “Already?”

“No point in wasting time. Luna should be sounding off soon, and by then it'll be too late to hide.”

“If you insist...”

“Stay here. It's a good enough vantage point, don't you think?” Rainbow looked Ember's way.

Ember Speak pulled out a crossbow, loaded it, and winked with a nervous smile. “I have you covered, for what it's worth.”

“A lot more than you think.” Rainbow Dash flapped her wings and stepped off the side. “Here goes nothing.”

Ember hissed after her, “Just try to be careful!”

Rainbow Dash dropped straight down in a glide. “You kidding? I'm the life of the party!”

She landed on a shadowed patch of rock below. No less than a second after her hooves made contact, those same shadows came to life. Ten resting dragons stirred, flexed their scales, and glared at her. The temperature climbed as the air grew dense from their sulfuric snarls.

A bulb of sweat ran down Rainbow's neck, then evaporated from the sheer heat. “So, I'm guessing no spin the bottle...?”

All ten drakes shrieked and blew fire at her.

“Hnnngh!” Rainbow Dash soared straight up, only to have several columns of burning plasma converging on her. She twirled, dodged, and flung herself through the infernal web of launched breaths. Squeezing through the maelstrom of flame, she was forced to sweep low over the pile of glittering gold. Small whelps and lizard-shaped drakes scurried in every other direction as she skimmed the sea of trinkets, a wave of burning froth close on her trail. In desperation, she pulled up, backflipped, dodged the angry swipes of two intercepting dragons, kicked off their crowns, and dove low again.

“What in blazes—?!” the speaker turned and gasped at her.

“Back at ya, ugly!” Rainbow Dash plummeted, spun upside down, and passed directly underneath the spiked wyrm's belly. As she did so, she slammed all four of her hooves up. The sheer shock of the equine's blast threw the gasping speaker's skull up into the trailing wave of flame. He shrieked in pain and fell back into a splashing puddle of gold coins.

At this point, half of the nest was chasing after Rainbow Dash. She panted and wheezed and whimpered for breath, all the while twisting and threading her way through dozens upon dozens of angry claw-swipes and snapping jaws. She screamed for good measure, kicked off a pair of skulls, and flew through a fork formed by dangling stalactites. Eight dragons slammed into the ceiling and fell in a shower of rocky debris.

Banking around to avoid another volley of flaming breaths, Rainbow Dash tossed a sweaty glance through her peripheral vision. To her joy, the distant, dark ledge upon which Ember was hidden had been completely abandoned. None of the drakes were even remotely close to the concealed earth pony. This was of great relief to the pegasus, until she found herself sailing straight into a dozen sets of shrieking jaws.

“Gaaaah!” Rainbow Dash flew her body sideways and flung her wing straight out. She barely skirted past several sets of burning teeth. Diving low over the flaming tongues of the burning pit, she soared back up, curved along the wall, outpaced another group of growling pursuers.

At last, she soared again towards the golden pile. The dragons and whelplings were closing in on all sides now; she was running out of escape options.

“Come on...” Rainbow Dash slapped her hoof repeatedly over her fluctuating pendant. “Come on! Get through, Luna! Get through—”

“Cease and desist, mortal!”

The sheer wave of sound billowing towards Rainbow Dash was enough to knock the air out from under her waves. She wasn't the only one. All of the dragons around her clumsily skidded to the ground in an ellipse of quivering scales. Rainbow Dash plummeted, tumbled, and skidded to a stop against the golden mess. She stood up, wincing, only to find herself swallowed up by a thick, serpentine shadow. She looked up and saw her gasping face reflected in a pair of emerald eyeslits.

It appeared for a moment that a piece of the mountain had come alive and protruded outward from the granite wall to loom above her. However, Rainbow Dash had never known a living piece of rock to possess violet scales, a jagged set of protruding spinal blades, or a crown of spiraling horns flaring out of a titanium jawline. With a jagged ivory nose crest situated above a fuming pair of nostrils, the Matriarch lifted up on four legs of rippling violet muscle and spread her ancient, porous wings. Serrated claws glinted from the joints in her fibrous limbs as the dragon Queen opened her mouth, brandished two sets of serrated teeth, and spoke with a three-pronged tongue sparkling with embers.

“You are a remarkable specimen, to have flown into my domain with such exotic wings.” Gray smoke billowed from her mouth as her eyes flicked a hotter emerald. “But a corpse is still a corpse.”

That said, she lunged her jaws forward to consume Rainbow Dash in one snap.

The pegasus flinched, her head tilting back, her pendant lifting straight up into the gaping maw of flame.

“Axan!” A voice emanated hauntingly from the ruby lightning bolt.

The Matriarch froze just inches away from crushing Rainbow Dash into dust. Her wings coiled to her side and her eyecrests lifted. The sounds of labored breathing surged in her iron lungs.

The voice repeated from the glowing pendant, “How angry and bitter you sound, old friend. It has been a long time since we walked the virgin plains of this immaculate world.”

The Matriarch's frown returned, however she leaned back, her haunches settling weightedly on the mountain of gold as she growled from deep within. “Celestia... Goddess of the Sun... Eternal Optimist...”

“And eternally watchful of all things that walk this world, both blessed and cursed.” Rainbow Dash panted and relaxed under a sheen of sweat as the pendant continued to blossom with the sound of the alicorn's voice. “I do believe we have much to catch up on, Axan, Queen of Flame.”

The Matriarch's many teeth clicked together. Axan ran a clawed hand over her horns, squinted thoughtfully at Rainbow Dash, and replied to the ghostly voice. “Proceed, Princess...”

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