• Published 13th May 2012
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Austraeoh - Imploding Colon

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Sanctum

“For seventy long, dark years I have lived in these sacred corridors,” spoke an elder mare in the centermost seat of the Council. Around her, most of the chairs were empty, save for no more than eight other aged ponies in various states of injury. “I always knew that a time would come when the Matriarch's wrath reached our sanctum.” Taking a deep breath, she tilted her head towards the sundered ceiling and closed her tired eyes. “I never once thought that I would be alive to see such a terrific event.”

Sam Rose bowed his head. He stood beside Zetta in the center of the chamber. On the sidelines, guards loyally occupied their posts in spite of the burns on their limbs or the fractures in their armor. A weary group of ponies huddled along the fringes, among which were Swirls and Ember Speak, their faces dull and dismal. Rainbow Dash sat on the furthest edge, lingering in the shadows.

“It is by a complete miracle that we survived this latest onslaught,” the elder said, once more gazing upon the meager crowd amidst the rubble. “The Matriarch—who we now know is named 'Axan'—has withdrawn her forces, undoubtedly for the sake of sending them at us once more in double the numbers.”

“Blessed elders,” Sam Rose spoke towards the seats, “I must apologize for my horrendous absence.” He gulped and stood tall in spite of his many scrapes and bruises. “If I had instead performed my duty as the chief protector of Silvadel, then Sanctuary would have had a greater defense against the initial waves of—”

“We shall not waste the minutes of this proceeding on unnecessary pretense!” the elder said, frowning. “The fact is that Axan planned this attack well in advance of any of our actions, impulsive or otherwise. You had every chance of being here as you had performing the surfacing when her children attacked. It is our duty to focus on the next task at hoof before she sends another flock to finish us off.”

Sam Rose bowed humbly. “Yes, dear elder...”

The old mare turned to gaze at the unicorn beside him. “Zetta. What is the situation with the Grand Project?”

He was gazing at the stone floor, running a shaking hoof over his shaven mane.

“Zetta...”

He jumped, wincing. “I'm sorry, elder. I...” He sniffled and maintained his composure with a nervous smile. “I haven't gotten much sleep, I'm afraid. And... and...”

“Be calm. We merely wish to know the state of the weapon.”

Zetta took a deep breath and said, “The tunnel to the Matriarch's nest was the first to go. Several of the dragons—in fact—burst through the opposite end and attacked from there. I lost many good stallions when the chamber surrounding it caved in. We abandoned the explosive charges in the confusion, not that they would be of much use to us now.”

“And the container of death water?”

Zetta calmly stated, “It is in one piece. We carried the item back to the deepest chamber of the unicorn district. There, we set up a thick defense and held the wyrms off. Just as it was getting really hairy, the prince returned. Sam joined our melee and fell many dragons. Within the hour, the Matriarch's cry was heard, and the drakes withdrew.”

“Where is the weapon now?”

“It is locked within the arcane vault of the unicorn district, waiting for the elders' command to be relocated.” Zetta gulped and glanced nervously at the other ponies in the chamber. “I can only assume that is the next course of action?”

The ponies murmured nervously amidst each other. Curiously, Rainbow Dash glanced at the crowd. She saw Ember Speak biting an anxious lip. Swirls was holding Limey's goggles close to her muzzle.

The elder stood up, nodded, and spoke, “Indeed. The Council has already weighed the most recent tragedy and decided.” She took a breath and said, “Axan's children outnumber us by over tenfold. The bastions of Sanctuary are crumbled enough as it is. We will not survive another attack if we stay here. Our only option is to move everypony to the depths of Inner Sanctum and endeavor to outlast the Dragon Queen's invasion.”

The murmurs grew louder, more worried. Zetta's body shivered. Sam Rose stood dead still.

The elder raised her voice above the frightened crowd, “Inner Sanctum was carved out years ago for just such a purpose as this. Until we can devise another way to unleash the weapon on Axan, we have no other choice. We are what remains of Silvadel. We owe it to ourselves to stay alive, or else all that we have suffered for—the last shred of our civilization—will be wiped out completely. You have all fought bravely. Many of you have lost loved ones and family. I myself have been separated forever from those I hold dear.” She inhaled deeply and continued, “But that which remains is that which must be spared. After the Matriarch is slaughtered, by any means necessary, then we can mourn the dead, for we will have a new and glorious future awaiting us. We must be strong and have faith.”

Sam Rose spoke up, “When shall the exodus into the depths begin?”

“As soon as possible, dear prince,” the elder replied. The remaining council members stood up around her as she said, “We shall make our trip to Inner Sanctum tomorrow morning. Gather what few belongings you can. Be wise, but be frugal. The most precious valuables are our lives, and we must guard them with the same tenacity that has prolonged our existence for so many decades. Zetta?”

“Yes, elder?”

“You shall be in charge of carrying the weapon. Assemble a team. Your group shall take up the middle.” With a shuffle of their hooves, the elders made for the rear exits of the council chamber. “The last meeting of Sanctuary is adjourned.”

The air filled with a quiet hush as the various ponies shuffled for the adjacent corridors. Swirls left with her family, limping while trying to contain her tears. Zetta numbly joined his fellow unicorns, murmuring to each other and strategizing a method for transporting the death water. Sam Rose stood alone as the chamber emptied around him. Slowly, with a haggard expression, he turned and glanced at Rainbow Dash.

Rainbow Dash gazed back.

Sam's eyes were tired, weary, and even soft. He breathed gently, casting neither a smile nor a frown. After a few seconds, he turned and whistled towards a nearby guard. Rainbow Dash watched as Sam rose leaned in and whispered into the guard's ears. The stallion gave the prince a curious glance, but nevertheless bowed. He then reached into a compartment of his armor and hoofed Sam a velvet pouch. Sam took it, turned around, and trotted slowly towards Rainbow Dash.

She watched nervously as he approached.

Stopping a foot or two short, he opened the satchel with his teeth and produced a large, brass key. He dropped it to the stone floor and slid it over to her.

“There. That will open the gate to the east passageway. Last time I checked, the dragons hadn't damaged the corridors of Sanctuary around there. The doorway should still be intact.”

Rainbow Dash's eyes narrowed on him. “East... passageway...?”

“It leads to a place beyond the crater. We once sent two of our messengers through it ten years ago. I doubt very much that they made it off the continent alive, but neither of them had the wings that you do.”

Rainbow Dash looked at the keys, then back at the prince. “Sam, I—”

“You must know by this point that heroism isn't enough to save Silvadel,” he said calmly. Swallowing, he added in a hoarse voice, “As I now realize that neither is blood.”

Rainbow Dash bit her lip. She leaned forward and quietly uttered, “This Inner Sanctum place; just what is it?”

“A small hole in the ground,” he replied bluntly. “Dug beneath an even larger hole, that now lies in ruins.” He took a deep breath and looked upon the many shuffling residents of Sanctuary. “I'm sure we will last longer than most of the dragons. We may even take out half of their numbers. But will we survive?” He slowly, gravely shook his head. “We will be killed, slaughtered, and ended.” He gazed back at her. His jaded eyes turned warm as he said, “But we will be home.”

She exhaled upon hearing that.

He leaned forward, his eyes imploring. “This was never, ever a place for you, Rainbow Dash.” He reached a hoof down and slid the key an extra inch before gazing at the ceiling. “This is the grave of a glorious civilization, and I am so very proud to die here.” He turned around and marched boldly towards the far end of the chamber. “Now go, take wing, and find that which you have to be proud of.”

Rainbow Dash opened her mouth, but had nothing to say. As Sam Rose disappeared amidst the crowd, she bit her lip. Calmly, she closed her eyes and breathed evenly until that tranquility melted away. When her eyes reopened, she was sporting a furious frown. In one swoop, she grabbed the key off the floor in her teeth and galloped towards the nearest exit.

She wasn't unseen. Ember Speak's head turned to follow her. With a concerned expression, she kicked at the ground and pursued the pegasus in a swift canter.

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