• Published 13th May 2012
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Austraeoh - Imploding Colon

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Remnants

“Aaaaaaugh!” Rainbow shrieked, howled. She awoke, sitting up in a sweating gasp. Two spots on her forehead were bleeding, and she immediately clutched her skull with a pair of shaking hooves. As her panting breath settled and she shook off the sobs, her nostrils flared, and she smelled burning flesh.

Grimacing, she turned and glanced towards the far end of the cavern. A few dismal survivors were shuffling through the smoldering underground fields. Their muzzles were covered in white masks, and they proceeded with the grim task of piling charred flesh into a rickety wagon.

Seething, Rainbow Dash stood up on dizzied legs. The blood was dried on her coat and the pain in her forehead was gone. She regretted this as she trudged limply through the carnage, her senses filled to the brim with misery.

She trotted into the corridors beyond, a difficult task as she had to duck under portions where the stone roof had collapsed. She passed corners where young colts and fillies sobbed beside the breathless shells of their parents. Under the care of frazzled medics, armored stallions moaned in pain as their battered limbs were being treated. Huge burn marks marred the walls and doorways of the place. Then, as she entered the large residential chamber of Sanctuary, Rainbow Dash stumbled upon a limp body of scales. She saw a dead dragon, then another, then more yet.

The floor of the place was littered with huge meaty desposits of draconian flesh. Brown, dried stains of blood caked the stone beneath Rainbow's hooves. This sight was of little consolation to her, because for every dragon body there was another five equines lying dormant under canvas shrouds. Rainbow Dash smelled a thicker stream of smoke. She glanced up and saw several of the living hovels burning steadily. There were chunks of rock blown out of the ceiling, and several limp dragons dangled like fleshy chandeliers, their scales skewered in dozens of places by ballistas and arrows.

Rainbow Dash heard a shuddering voice to her right. She spun and glanced through limply trotting groups of survivors. A stallion was sitting against a smoldering cluster of rocks, clutching a meaty gash in his left side. Sam Rose was squatting before him. The Silvadelian Prince was covered from head to hooves in scrapes, bruises, and deep scratches. His mane was soaked in dragon blood, and yet he maintained his composure—for the stallion's sake if nothing else.

“Did you see the second wave flee?” Sam Rose asked.

“Y-yes, your h-highness,” the stallion stammered. “It m-must have been minutes after y-you arrived. If it wasn't for y-you, I don't know how we... h-how we...”

“Shhh...” Sam Rose carressed his face. “Sanctuary stands because of your bravery. I'm sorry that I could not fight by your side. If I had only anticipated the Matriarch's attack...”

“We sh-should have b-been dead as soon as th-they burst through,” the soldier sputtered to say. “We got m-more shots off than we expected.” He gulped as a tear ran down his burnt face. “It was b-because they wanted n-nothing to do with the defenders. They... Th-they went after the mares and foals f-first. They're mindless brutes, y-your Majesty. They only w-wanted to wipe us out. We...” He clenched his eyes and shuddered. “We tr-tried to stop them. But n-no matter how many we st-struck down, they k-kept attacking the hovels. They... They devoured them alive...” He ran his one good hoof over his sobbing face. “Oh, blessed elders, the screams... the sc-screams...”

Sam leaned in and nuzzled the stallion, murmuring gently, “Be at ease. I shall find a medic to treat your wounds. I will not forget your bravery today...”

“Forget...” The stallion openly sobbed. “Can't forget. Can never forget....”

Sam Rose remained by his side. The sight of the two faded as Rainbow Dash marched on. She trotted past the Council Chamber, which was smoking in over a dozen places. The hallways beyond were full of sobs and moans, and yet she trotted numbly through the noise. She paused at a junction, watching from afar as several clusters of families reunited in a passageway beyond. Parents and their children held each other closely. The ponies who weren't sobbing merely stared off into space with vacant eyes. Rainbow's heart stopped, for she could swear that a hoofful of foals were gazing directly at her.

When the hoof rested on her shoulder, Rainbow jumped. She spun aside to see Ember's calm eyes.

Ember smiled, though it was a fairly weak gesture. A bent crossbow and an empty quiver hung from her body. Her voice was the only warm thing about her, “I'm glad to see that you're okay.”

“That I'm okay?!” Rainbow Dash's voice cracked. After a few seconds of silence, she calmed herself, gulped, and murmured, “How did you fight them off?”

Ember's lips went straight. “We didn't. I mean, certainly, we wounded several of the broodlings. Sam, naturally, took out his fair share. But they retreated under their own volition.”

“Retreated?”

“There was what sounded like a loud, high-pitched howl through the holes that had been punched through Sanctuary,” Ember explained. “Some of us figured it was the Matriarch calling her children back.”

“But...” Rainbow gulped and gazed at the decimated lengths of Sanctuary. “But why?”

Ember shrugged with a weathered sigh. “Maybe she sensed that we were destroying too many of her children. Maybe your sonic rainboom had disrupted the invasion force. Maybe she's preparing for a final, far deadlier assault.” She shuddered and ran a hoof through her dirtied mane. “If nothing else, it's giving us a chance to recover. But the damage is done.”

Rainbow glanced at the survivors and the desolation surrounding them. Her eyes twitched and brightened in alarm. She looked at Ember once more. “The weapon?! Zetta's death water contraption! Is it—”

“It's safe,” Ember said in a firm breath. “When the dragons attacked, the defenders formed a line around the unicorn district.” Her lips curved slightly. “Sam had trained us all well. If that wasn't the case, we... we wouldn't have had a shred of hope...”

Rainbow Dash fell on her haunches, whispering, “If I hadn't taken you to Axan to try negotiating in the first place, then Sam would never have left Sanctuary. He would have been here where he was needed. The defense would have been stronger. Maybe... just maybe none of this—”

“Hey...” Ember leaned in and placed a hoof on Rainbow's shoulder. “Don't even think like that. Axan knew more than all of us gave her credit. She likely had this diabolical plan in motion long before—”

Just then, Rainbow Dash gasped.

Ember squinted. “What is it?”

Without speaking, Rainbow dashed down one of the corridors in a full gallop. Breathless, Ember broke into a canter and desperately followed her, darting left and right around debris and lingering survivors.

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