• Published 13th May 2012
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Austraeoh - Imploding Colon

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Mines

The first thing Rainbow Dash observed was how low the ceilings of the tunnels were. On several occasions, she had to crouch low in her walk, even going so far as to fold her wings in or else she'd brush the rocky walls of the place with her feathers. With her body retracted to size of an earth pony, she still found it a difficult process to navigate the shafts. Every corridor she trotted down was filled to the brim with sweaty, leather-clad workers busily drilling or hammering away at the stony interior of the mountain.

The tunnels were undeniably labyrinthine, but Rainbow Dash never got lost. The Wintergaters had established a legible series of detailed signs. And whenever she got a little confused as to the next passageway to choose, a pony was swift to volunteer information.

Rainbow Dash couldn't help but feel pleased with the degree to which the citizens of Windthrow practiced good manners. Considering all of the hardships that they faced on a regular basis, she was amazed that they remained in such positive spirits. Sladesteed, of course, was a different matter altogether, and he was presently the goal of her descent.

“Who? Master Sladesteed?” A pony responded to Rainbow's latest inquiry and pointed down a steep, dimly lit corridor with his pickaxe. “You can find him thattaways, by the secondary ore reserves.”

“Thanks a bunch!” Rainbow Dash shouted above the whur of steam-powered machinery. She crouch-walked her way down the passage. The air was getting warmer the further she pierced the heart of the mountain. The way before her was lit by a lantern, grew dim, and then was illuminated by yet another strung lantern before all light could vanish. This sort of monotonous pattern continued for a remarkably extended length, until Rainbow Dash reached a large cavern geometrically carved out of the belly of the earth.

She glanced around, her pegasus sensibilities put off by the looming presence of a rocky ceiling everywhere all at once. She swallowed hard for courage and adjusted the pendant around her neck just as she took a step forward.

Suddenly, something dark darted across the ground before her.

Gazing down, she blinked, then smiled. “Huh... Will you look at that...?”

It was a mole, a very large one at that. Rainbow Dash had never seen a species quite like it. It waddled harmlessly across the dirt-speckled floor, sniffing around blindly for morsels of food.

“Well, aren't you a curious little guy?” she murmured aloud.

The mole stopped in place. It tilted its eyeless skull up and wriggled several pale feelers at her. Just then, a bright metal pole skewered it bloodily down the center.

“Daaah!” Rainbow Dash jumped back, flinching.

At the far end of the pole was a goggled earth pony. Lifting the twitching body of the mammal up for a closer look, Sladesteed lowered his headpiece and gazed at the dying thing closely. He blinked and glanced over at Rainbow Dash.

“Hmmm. Sorry for startling you, Equestrian.”

“Oh... Uhm. No pr-problem!” Rainbow Dash smiled nervously and gulped. “I'm perfectly fine!”

“Uh huh.” Sladesteed passed the skewered mole to another work pony who dropped the corpse into a burlap bag along with several more like it. “It's more than minerals that we get from these tunnels. They're oftentimes a source of food as well. I'm sure you can understand...”

“Uh. Sure. Mole Alfredo. Sounds tasty.”

“You don't need to be pretentious for my behalf.”

“Good,” Rainbow Dash sighed heavily. “Cuz I think it's frickin' icky.”

“Don't know how you westerners manage it,” Sladesteed spoke while shuffling over towards a wooden table full of mining plans and rough subterranean maps. “Here in the land of Wintergate, ponies know to take advantage of everything nature gives to us. We have our own belief in harmony, and it's all about survival.”

Rainbow Dash found herself absent-mindedly stroking the golden body of her pendant. “I... uhm... know a thing or two about surviving.”

“I bet.” He murmured without looking at her. His hooves stretched out another map as he said, “And what about diplomacy?”

Rainbow Dash randomly belched. “Excuse me, what?”

“Right, then.” Sladesteed cast her a sideways glance. “Just what are you doing here? Because if my father sent you, then you might as well turn your colorful tail and go back up to the surface.”

“Actually, I came here on my lonesome.”

“Did you now?”

“Uh huh.”

“What's on your mind?”

“Smoke is on my mind,” Rainbow Dash said, walking by several piles of equipment while working ponies shuffled from station to station behind her. “Or, more to the point, where the smoke comes from.”

“We incorporate several steam-powered devices in our mining, but if you took notice along your way down here, we do a fine job of funneling the exhaust to locations around the entrance.”

“Yeah. I saw those pipes and stuff. But I'm not trying to say that you guys are the ones responsible for this otherworldly smog.” Rainbow Dash stood beside him. “You're down in these tunnels a lot. Could you have seen something—anything—that might suggest where the crap comes from?”

“I don't see what it matters. We've found no evidence of where the creatures place their nests. If we did—I assure you—we'd have dealt with them swiftly a long time ago.”

Rainbow Dash glanced over to where the bag full of dead moles was lying. “Yeah. I kind of guessed that was the case. Uhm... Still, though.” She looked at him. “With all the time you have on your hooves to drill into these rocks like crazed dentists, have you ever taken the time and opportunity to explore the rest of the underground and see if maybe the creatures are hiding away in this place?”

“I could write a book on how many times I've tried exploring the inside of this mountain.”

“Yeesh. Well, as much as I hate reading, think you can run some of that by me?”

“I can do you something better,” Sladesteed said as she swept up a saddlebag of equipment, fitted it overhimself, and motioned towards a dark corridor on the far end of the cavern. “Here. Walk with me.”

“What for?”

“Do you want to see or don't you?”

“See what?”

“That's what you should walk with me for.”

Rainbow Dash sighed. “Fine. Whatever. Just promise me you'll take it easy on the moles for a while.”

“First thing's first,” he said.

She blinked. “Huh?” She winced as a yellow hard hat was slapped over her head. Her eyes thinned boredly. “Sure. Okay.”

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