• Published 13th May 2012
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Austraeoh - Imploding Colon

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Gold Petals sighed. That day she stood—as she did every day—beside the caravan cart full of bundled things. She dusted the wheels off and prepared the wagon for the journey that would begin and yet wouldn't. The pile of containers sat in the perpetual fog of Windthrow, waiting for the first word from Hushtail before the trek would begin under Fulltrot's command.

In the last few days, there had been no word from the town's elder or his closest advisors. Gold Petals and the rest of Fulltrot's usual subordinates hovered in perpetual waiting. The last monster attack had depleted them of most of their glowing crystals. The fog was doubling, quadrupling in thickness. The air felt colder as the few Windthrow inhabitants who were brave enough to wander the catwalks did so in a slumped fashion from building to building. Hushtail's silence merely reflected a grand melancholy that had infected the entire mountain village. Ponies refused to leave the patios of their homes. The marketplaces hung in constant abandonment. Guards lethargically anchored themselves to their posts as an air of misery filled their lungs.

Rockspot's disappearance was a nail in the coffin that most ponies had denied existed until then. As soon as he disappeared—and a certain winged savior along with him—all the scant, remaining hope in the city had dwindled. There had been mourning. There had been shouting. Sladesteed shared many brutal, choice words with Hushtail, and Hushtail admonished his very son's brashness with equal fury.

In the end the joy and life within Windthrow had been snuffed out. Many ponies didn't go to work, much less show their faces in public. The community essentially stopped functioning, and there was talk everywhere—literally in every crook, cranny, alleyway, and corner—of something drastic, of a deconstruction, of a departure. Many ponies wanted to leave their home, or else move and make their home elsewhere. Everypony knew it; they just refused to say it. Instead, the village was bathed in constant and miserable silence as Fulltrot—ever faithful and diligent—prepared yet another caravan to journey for the much-needed crystals, though the village was stripped of bits to pay for them as it was.

Gold Petals glanced across the way. She could barely make out the shape of Ironhoof. The large stallion was working on a wagon wheel, grumbling to himself as the spokes of the thing resisted his intricate engineering. He briefly caught Gold Petals' eyes, but said nothing, for beyond him was an even more somber shadow.

Red Turnip Junior leaned against the wooden side of a Windthrow building. He was bundled in the traditional leather of Wintergate hiking gear. However, he didn't move a single muscle. He simply gazed into the mists that collected beyond the edge of town, his eyes matching the gray colorlessness of the world that had consumed his home... and his family.

Gold Petals' nostrils flared. She briefly leaned against her wagon, closing her eyes and shadowing her face beneath the protective cover of her leather hood. Her face tensed, and she began sniffling... when a strange sound pricked at her ears.

Her eyes flashed open. A shuffling noise increased, followed by distant murmurs of alarm. Her heart skipped a beat; she thought it may have been the first monster attack in days. But as the commotion persisted, it was entirely lacking of horror, though still full of shock and surprise.

She looked over to see that Ironhoof was already craning his neck to observe the curious scene. Fulltrot marched out of the shadows, his elderly eyes squinting towards the face of the mountain against which the village hung. Red Turnip barely moved, until he heard the lightest of pitter-pattering hooves. Raising an eyebrow, the young stallion swiveled about and peered across the courtyard of Windthrow.

A large crowd of ponies had gathered, mostly miners. The Windthrow ponies marched in a straight line, bowed in the center. They gazed in wonderment at a series of figures, eventually stopping in their tracks to let the strangers march on through. The further the procession went, the louder the commotion rose until more and more villagers started popping out of their homes and shops and businesses to gawk at the scene.

Leading the line of strangers was a tiny figure. As he came into focus, his bright eyes searched every pony's face, until he found Red Turnip's. “Red!” Rockspot gasped with the widest of smiles.

Ironhoof and Fulltrot spun about. Red Turnip was shuddering, his mouth agape. “Bro...?” He stumbled forward in a numb fashion. “Bro, is it... is it really you?”

“Red!” Rockspot bounced. “Guess what! Guess what! Miss Dash and I found—” The foal gasped as he was suddenly tackled in a huge embrace. “Daaah! Reddddd!”

“Oh Spotty, thank the Sun Goddess!” Red Turnip held him close, nuzzling him dearly as his voice cracked. “I thought you were a goner, little bro! That stupid creep swept you up and... and...”

“But I'm fiiiiine, Red!” Rockspot giggled and nuzzled his emotional brother back. “Miss Dash saved me! And then she brought us here!”

Red Turnip sniffled and squinted at him. “Us...?”

A tall figure stepped out of the mists. “H-hello, son...”

Fulltrot could be heard murmuring something. Several other villagers around him exhaled in shock. Red slowly looked up, and he fell on the haunches at the sight of his father. Red Turnip Senior smiled, his shoulders heaving as he tried to contain his breaths.

“You're as strong as I ever imagined,” the senior said. “Spotty has told me so much, and I'm proud of you.”

“F-father?” The younger stallion murmured, his lip quivering. He reached a hoof up, only to have the elder squat down to hug him closely. That's when Red lost it, and he clutched tightly to his father's shoulder, weeping like a foal. “Father! Oh praise the Goddesses, you're alive!”

“I'm alive, son. And I'm never leaving you again...”

“But I don't understand!” Red hiccuped and whimpered. “How are you not dead?! Where have you been?! What is—”

There was a deep gasp from the far side of the courtyard, followed directly by Rockspot's squeaking voice, “Momma!”

Red Turnip Senior shot up with a gasp. His son nervously disentangled from him as the father looked across the suddenly crowded village. A wide-eyed mare stood with a hoof over her mouth above a bundle of dropped supplies. Several young ponies stood at her side, also gaping. It only took two or three steps on Red Turnip Senior's behalf to show that he was alive, and she was galloping towards him. The two collided with a twirling embrace, falling to their knees and nuzzling each other as quickly as they could dry each other's joyful tears. Red Turnip Junior and the other young ponies clustered around the two, followed by a bouncing and giggling Rockspot.

This wasn't the only reunion to be transpiring so heavenly. All across the courtyard, gasps and shrieks of joy emanated, almost parting the fog with their increasing severity. Hooves shook the wooden platforms as ponies—divided by years of misery and despair—reunited with the “dead.” Families came together. Couples rejoined. Friends and loved ones shook hooves and laughed in merriment.

Gold Petals was watching all of this with wide eyes. Her heart was beating heavily through her chest. Then, there was a sight she didn't expect. She saw several unicorns shuffling through the mists. Astral and his group stood awkwardly in the center of the village, gazing in muted enthusiasm as the prisoners reunited with their families and loved ones. Then, hovering out of the mists right next to them...

“Rainbow Dash...?” Gold Petals stammered. Her grin became as wide as her quivering eyes. “Rainbow!” She galloped across the sea of reuniting ponies. Her hood fell down, revealing her short hair and effeminate features, but she made no attempt to conceal it. She skidded to a stop in front of the pegasus. For a moment there, she looked like she was about to leap with the power of an exploding mountain. “Rainbow, you're...!” She froze in her tracks, blinking. With a clearing of her throat, she bit her lip and sat down on her haunches. “You're, back. You went after Red's little brother, and... You came back...”

“Yeah, well,” Rainbow Dash gave a shrug and slicked her mane. “Figured this town deserved an encore. Boring enough without me, huh?”

“These ponies...” Gold Petals remarked. “I thought all of them were dead. How... How...?”

“What, these ponies?” Rainbow Dash gestured. “Pfft! If they were dead, then just who the heck has been chewing my tail off for the past two days of spelunking?!”

Gold Petals' mouth hung open. She slumped where she sat, slowly shaking her head. “Do you ever... ever stop being awesome?”

Rainbow Dash grinned devilishly. “And since when were you keeping count? Huh?”

Gold Petals gazed back, and a slow redness was forming beneath her coat—

“Well, well.” Fulltrot marched up out of nowhere. He patted Gold Petals' shoulder before standing square before Rainbow Dash. “You are always full of surprises, Miss Dash. Since when could a pegasus bring back the dead?”

“Er, yeah.” Rainbow Dash fidgeted. “I'm a little confused about that myself.”

“Obviously there is much to talk about. For instance, dare I ask exactly where you discovered all of our long lost companions?”

Rainbow Dash gulped. “Erhm... Do you really want to know?”

“Most definitely.”

“The minotaur camp,” she said bluntly.

Fulltrot merely blinked. “Really? That is... most curious.”

“It's most tragic, is what it is,” Astral said.

Fulltrot gazed at him, and his elderly eyes widened upon the sight of the pony's horn. “A unicorn. Good heavens. I've waited for so long to meet your kind in person.”

“I could say the same,” Astral replied. “Though... I did my waiting from behind the cold door of a minotaur prison cell.”

Gold Petals blinked widely. She gave Fulltrot an alarmed look.

Fulltrot's mouth hung agape in confusion. “This... this is most troubling. Exactly how long have you—?”

“Alright, what is up with all of the commotion?!” shouted a familiar, irascible voice from the sidelines. Several of the ponies turned to look...

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