• Published 13th May 2012
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Austraeoh - Imploding Colon

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Wintergate

“Mmmph... Horseapples!” Rainbow Dash managed to say between deep bites of greenery. “This lettuce is good—mmfff...” She gulped and smirked over the round wooden table. “You gotta tell me: what do you put into the stuff?”

“Lettuce,” Hushtail simply replied. He, Fulltrot, and the prismatic outsider sat on a wooden balcony. The elder's house in Windthrow overlooked a stretch of vertical rockface roaring with waterfalls. “Equestrian diet is not exactly something we excel in providing I do hope a vegetable—any vegetable—is to your liking.”

“Sure as heck beats the same old bread I've been munching on for weeks at at time!” She smiled, her cheeks full inbetween savage gulps. “Hmmm... Still, though—I can't imagine you guys surviving entirely on meat.”

“I'm rather surprised you've been willing to sit with us in spite of the fact,” Hushtail said. He and Fulltrot had identical bowls with noodles and brown, stringy substances. “We've had some guests from the west before, and they didn't even want to talk to us after they found out the way of Weathergate.”

“Weather-what?” Rainbow Dash made a face.

“It's what the local population calls the region Windthrow's located in,” Fulltrot explained. “If you—a traveller—are coming from Equestria, then you're entering the westernmost fringe of the landscape. It's a very narrow strip of hilly valleys and jagged mountains dividing the Sea of Song to the west from the deserts of the Grand Choke to the east.”

“Sounds kind of boring.” Rainbow Dash gulped, then smiled nervously. “No offense.”

“You wouldn't be the first outsider to think so,” Hushtail remarked, his wrinkly face smiling gently . “Most ponies from the southern coastal cities don't bother staying any longer than a day in Windthrow. Aside from being a very remote town, this village caters only to local miners. There's very little opportunity for other Weathergaters to move in here.”

“Several generations of families have all lived and died along these mountainous slopes,” Fulltrot said. “All working on the same task.”

Rainbow Dash finished her bowl of greenery and sat back, gazing at them curiously. “And just what task is that?”

“The mountain that stretches above us.” Fulltrot gestured beyond the balcony's edge. “It is no normal structure.”

Rainbow Dash smirked. “I kind of figured as much. It looks like no other mountain I've ever seen.”

“Nopony knows the reason why, but it provides a special type of ore that can't be found in any of the surrounding rock bodies,” Fulltrot said. “The nature of the rock minerals found within makes it easily malleable and useful in creating various alloys.”

“Over seven centuries ago, our forebearers stumbled upon this mountain,” Hushtail explained in a hushed voice. His weary eyes glistened with aged respect and reverence at the thought. “We have been extracting minerals from it ever since. I have no doubt that the rock supply could support further descendants of ours for another three hundred years. We are all very fortunate to have such a happy, peaceful place to live. Only...” The elder winced, as if regretting ever having started such a thought.

Rainbow Dash gazed at him, at Fulltrot. “The smog...” She murmured aloud. “That really isn't natural, is it? It's not like any smoke I've smelled before. And the way it keeps going—at this altitude and at this time of the year—it's pretty dang weird if you ask me.” She rested both forelimbs on the table. “Does anypony know just what's going on?”

“We've been far more concerned with getting the equipment we need to deal with the fog,” Fulltrot said.

Rainbow Dash squinted. “Just what kind of equipment is this—?”

Hushtail suddenly spoke, “The inclement weather began twenty-odd years ago. At first, we thought it was a fire. Then, as all the forests remained in one piece below us, we feared that some thermal part of the mountain had been exposed by our mining. But there isn't a single hint of ash or heat or any other indication of a fiery origin to this anomaly. Regardless, that hasn't stopped the viscous soup from increasing, to the point that we find it hard to trot across our lofty town safely. What's more...”

“Yeah?” Rainbow Dash asked.

Hushtail sighed hard, his features shaking. “With the increase in smog... there have been... incidents.”

“What kind of incidents?”

“A new population of horrible and disgusting winged creatures,” Fulltrot spoke up, gathering Rainbow's attention. “They were merely a nuisance at first, raiding supplies and gnawing away at wooden structures in the heart of town. But, as the years grew by, and the fog became thicker—so did the resolve of the avian abominations.”

“Like... in what way?” Rainbow Dash's jaw clenched. “What have they been doing?”

Hushtail's face was long as he gazed through the table between them. “We've lost a dozen of our own kind in the last five years.”

“No frickin' way...” Rainbow Dash muttered. “They've been attacking villagers?”

“Quite violently at times,” Fulltrot said. “They're rather unpredictable.”

“Have you tried—I dunno—fighting back?”

“We have so few tools at our disposal,” Hushtail spoke in a weary tone. “And we are far from the populous regions of Weathergate. We can only survive on our own devices, and those are things equipped to break stone not feathers... erm... no offense.”

“None taken. I know you're not talking about me.” Rainbow Dash looked at Fulltrot. “So, is that what this equipment is? You've been loading up on weapons to take out these suckers?”

“Not exactly,” Fulltrot said.

“Oh?”

“We've done our fair share of combating these monstrosities,” the stallion said. “But no matter how many of them we eliminate, their numbers simply increase. In the time we've taken to deal with them, we discovered that they seem to thrive off of this strange fog. Luckily, we encountered a group of wandering minotaurs years ago who were establishing a mining colony far to the north of us, and they knew of a traveling group of unicorn profiteers selling all sorts of enchanted stones. Among the magical supply was a special crystal that could manipulate weather phenomena at a short range. After a careful experimentation, we found that these crystals could be used to drive away the fog. However, the magical effect wears down. We discovered this, and we knew we'd have to refill our stock if we were to keep the creatures at bay.”

“So, I initiated a trade agreement with the minotaurs,” Hushtail said with the barest hint of a proud smile. “My good associate Fulltrot would lead a caravan to their colony in the north. In exchange for the rocks they got from the unicorn tradeponies, we'd give them samples of our mined resources. They'd give their mining resources to the unicorns who gave them the enchanted stones. So you can see, traveler, out here—in the middle of mountainous nowhere—we've established for ourselves a fine circle of coexistence. Just thirty years ago, such interaction would have been unheard of for Windthrow residents.”

“Still, it really stinks that you haven't found a solution to knock out these evil pests,” Rainbow Dash said in a blunt tone. “Mr Fulltrot, haven't you—like—at least tried to hang out at the minotaurs' colony long enough to see these unicorns up close and ask them face to face if they could—I dunno—send somepony up here to try and fight off the fog for good?”

“I've tried many times to meet unicorns and other magical ponies,” Fulltrot said with a nod. “I've been unsuccessful as of yet.”

“Besides, we've learned long ago not to rely on the magic of unicorns,” Hushtail explained. “I once sent my son, Sladesteed, to the Wintergate capital of Blissview down south, and nopony on the magical council was willing to help him. Unlike Equestria, traveler, the practice of mana in Wintergate is far too often weighed in money, none of which we have in great abundance.”

“But you do have these minerals that the minotaurs need,” Rainbow Dash said. “I guess you guys decided that you needed all the help you could get.”

“It's not been an easy process,” Hushtail said solemnly. “With each pony we've lost over the years, I think hard about the decisions I've made. But I remain resolute. Windthrow has never fallen to any outside power in over half a millennium. I'm not about to let a flock of surly monsters make us defend our home with any less gusto.”

“Yeah... I can see that...” Rainbow Dash remarked, nodding. Her gaze briefly focused on the waterfalls cascading outside.

“Still, traveler, enough of us,” Hushtail said with a gray grin. He leaned forward. “I would love to hear more about the land you hail from.”

“Oh... Eh heh...” Rainbow Dash fidgeted with her hooves on the table's edge. “The west is not all it's cracked up to be.”

“Humor an old pony,” Hushtail remarked. “It's been a long time since I've seen one of your kind.”

“It's getting night soon, and the moon will be out.” Rainbow Dash murmured aloud, her eyes tilting up towards the foggy expanse stretching along the height of the mountain. “I kind of have some place to be.”

“Stay in our village for a few days. We will give you supplies for whatever journey you have ahead.”

“Wow, that's pretty darn nice of you,” Rainbow Dash said with a smile. “What would I owe you guys?”

Hushtail merely smiled.

Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes, groaned, and stood up. “Alright, you win. Equestria 101 it is. Still, I hope you don't mind if I flex my limbs a bit.”

“Sounds perfectly fine.” Hushtail tried moving. Fulltrot had to help him up to his hooves. “We can take a walk while we converse.”

“Mind if I hover? I do my best talking when I hover.”

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