• Published 13th Oct 2015
  • 9,799 Views, 18,142 Comments

Utaan - Imploding Colon



Rainbow Dash endures many trials to reach the edge of the world.

  • ...
44
 18,142
 9,799

PreviousChapters Next
A Floating Mountain of Filth

His tiny brown hooves gripped the broom as he swept... swept... swept over the same patch of rusted metal deckspace for the hundredth time in a row.

Tired yellow eyes peered out of a tired young face with a scraggy brown coat. Dutifully, the dirtied colt swept his way across the deck, sending dust and metal filaments overboard so that they fell into the muddy, choppy waves below. His nostrils inhaled salt and grime, and his lips remained ever-chapped from countless exposure to steam.

Horns rolled in the distance, followed by the whistling of tight brass vents. Both sounds echoed across dozens upon of dozens of hulls. Seagulls shrieked in the sky, filling up the right side of the little colt's skull, making it ache—as always. His right ear twitched to the noise. His left ear didn't—for it was missing. What's more, the coat hairs on the left side of his face were considerably shorter and more coarse than his right. In fact, the only truly symmetrical thing about the colt was the scarring on his flanks—marking both sides.

With a sigh, the colt continued sweeping. Eventually, his task forced him to pivot around. As he did so, a wild conversation suddenly blossomed just a few meters off to the side, coming into full clarity in his ear.

“...a goddess-dayum monster! No ordinary pony, oh no! Could a single mare possibly have done that much damage to an entire township?!”

“What township are we talking about?”

“The Quade, ya smog guzzler! The Rainbow Rogue tore it to bits!”

“Eugh... not more of this Rainbow Rogue stuff...”

The colt froze. He leaned on his broom and tilted his nose up, blinking with pursed lips.

A few steps away, a group of stallions chatted from across two rusted ships that had been welded tightly together—forming a single dinghy platform. Brass steam vents billowed smoke and fumes around their fearless, sun-bleached bodies.

“I'm telling you, she's real! Not only that, but she's likely headed in our direction!”

“What, towards Red Barge?”

“Don't be a dumbass. If anypony—monster or not—traveled east from the Quade, they'd be gutted by pirates. Or else carried by the current to those White Barge bastards in the north.”

“Not this mare! Nooooo... word is—the Rainbow Rogue comes from beyond the Blight!”

“Beyond the Blight?! Tch... now you're just guzzling foam, ya mucker!”

“Think about it! The Blight fell, didn't it?”

“That's an even stupider rumor.”

“No! It did! It totally did! We've got sources from both Colonialists and Continentalists that that shit's no longer a thing!”

“Even if that was true... why would anypony... anything living beyond the Blight want to mess with the Luminards?”

“Cuz it's a demon monster! A corrupter of Verlaxion's spirit! After all, when the Blight Fell, did she stick around Kihutaja or any of those other godless islands? Nooooo... the demon made a straight beeline for the Quade! Ripped the holy Reed to shreds!”

“No shit! The Reed's gone?”

“Burnt to a crisp! Total bloat! On account of some demon pendant around the monster's neck!”

“So there's a crazy monster out on the seas. Big whoop. Bring it over here so I can spear it!”

“Hah! As if you could get close enough! I hear this Rainbow Rogue tore the throats out of twenty monks in just one minute!”

“Throw yourself overboard... for real?”

“It's a Demon Reckoning, I tell you! It's like in the old legends! A fire from the west wants to take out Verlaxion's spirit! Undo all the work that's been done since Unification, eons ago!”

“Well, let it happen! I want to see the law abolished that says we can't dine on seapony meat!”

“Hahahaha!”

The colt leaned against the broom, exhaling. He blinked curiously, brushing aside his dark brown bangs. As the stallions laughed and laughed harder, the little pony even found himself smiling.

Just then, he felt vibrations through the left side of his body.

“... ... ...?” Curious, he swiveled his neck, craning his good ear in time to hear five heavy hoof-clops... followed by a massive punch to the skull. WHACK! Yelping, the colt fell over and rolled against a bulkhead.

“You—...—little—...—of sea foam!” he made out during his tumble. At last, he ended on the floor, trembling, with his good ear tilted up. The colt's eyes caught the snarling face of a bearded stallion hissing down at him. “I told you to sweep the deck, Swab! Not eavesdrop on dredgers!”

“I... I-I'm sorry, Digiff!” The colt flinched, hugging the broomstick like a shield. “I-I didn't mean to eavesdrop, I swear! Look!” He pointed at the deck. “All swept up!” He gulped. “M-mostly!”

“Nnngh!” Digiff slammed his hoof down.

CLANG!

The colt flinched again. He opened his eyes to see that the bearded stallion's hoof had landed just centimeters from his face.

“Talk back to me, ya sniveling little piece of sea foam?!” Digiff spat. “Do you want to eat tonight?! Huh?!” He yanked the colt up by the scruff of his neck. “Want I should tear off your one good ear?!”

“No! D-don't! I'm sorry!” Swab dangled in his grasp. “I won't eavesdrop again! I swear it!”

“Damn straight, you won't!” Digiff dropped him. Frowning, he dusted off his coat. “Friggin' fleabag. You're the weakest one of the mucking lot, you know.”

Swab shuddered, bowing his head. “Yes, Digiff.”

“Why Quint and Whony haven't carved your chest out and made a toilet by now, I'll never know.” He squinted across the murky waters. “Must be saving you for kicks when they get older. Mrmmff... damn sea foam. Can never know with you pathetic brats these days.”

“Want me to sweep the west decks, Digiff?”

“Who's giving orders now, huh?!” The stallion turned towards him, growling again. “Gimme that damn broom!” He yanked the item from him and handed him a sheet. “Here. Take this to the Skag Hole.”

Swab took the folded paper in shivering hooves. “You... you want me to deliver this to Top Dredger Skagra?”

No, want you to swallow it, do a little shimmy, and then crap it out on his work bench!” Digiff reached forward, slapping the top of Swab's skull. “Are you total deaf, Swab? Do what I tell you!” His nostrils snorted. “It's the latest report from the Harvesters. I'd deliver it myself, but there's a steam leak on the south skiffs. Some of us are too big and important for menial tasks, not like you'll ever live long enough to know that. Hrmmmf... Now get your worthless butt in gear!”

“Yes, Digiff!” Swab scampered off, panting. “I'll get it to Skagra right away!”

“You'd better... or I'm taking this here broomstick and turning you into fried stabfish for the Top Dredger himself!” Digiff fumed. He took one look at the broom, then tossed it to the deck. “Bah! Piece of crap tool... when are we getting those damn supplies in already?! Ugh!... gotta do everything around here!”

Wheezing, Swab scampered his little way over the edge of the nearest boat. He cleared the hull, flew for four feet, then landed hard on another deck. He repeated this motion several times—for their were several boats... all old worn-out vessels that had been fused to one another, welded together through rickety... oftentimes shoddy workponyship. At a distance, the ramshackle details of the construction disappeared, and in its place appeared one of several long, rust-red slabs of metal, fused together in order to make a lateral cross section—just a piece of a far more enormous construct. For there, in the middle of a dark patch of polluted sea, there stretched a large square array of fused ships and retired sailing vessels, in the center of which floated what appeared to be an enormous iron platform with a series of raised terraces. Each level of central Red Barge—and each outer strut of fused boats, for that matter—billowed steam and smog into the air, indicating a series of clouded mechanical processes churning and swirling deep beneath the waters' surface.

Swab had made it across several rusted platforms in a short span of time, hopping and gliding and sliding his way with impenetrable ease. The little colt breezed passed multiple stallions hard at work in hammering brass pipework together, fusing broken steam vents and testing them for structural stability. Along the way, he shuffled past the broken front half of what was once a luxury yacht—now a hollowed out hull that had been reconstituted as a dense apartment complex. Shuffling old ponies and grime-stained mares lingered at canvas-dangling windows, either slicing up fish or tinkering to make tiny, complicated gearworks. Swab smelled a foul stench in the air, and he paused as a housemare high above tossed a pail of bodily fluids out the window, littering the soiled waters below. Once that was done, Swab readjusted his grip of the note and continued scurrying along his way.

He had to stop upon reaching a line of fused boats where a thick metal bridge was being raised. A loud whistle blew from a raised round tower built out of metal mesh. When Swab's body wriggled, contemplating jumping across the thin space anyways—the stallion in the tower whistled louder. Swab winced, his one ear twitching as he stood anxiously in place.

“Mrmmff...” Another pony hauling scrap bumped purposefully into the colt while waiting at the raised bridge with several other workers. “What's yer friggin' hurry, sea foam?”

Swab winced, his tail flicking aside in a futile attempt to cover his scarred flank. “S-sorry...”

More whistles lit the air. The stallions seated in three consecutive towers along three different struts of the Barge waved high-signs to one another. The guard closest to Swab shouted into the air: “Clear the way! Drifting!”

“Driftinnng!” echoed a guard from the next strut, followed by an even more distant shout.

All along the struts, brass vents puffed boiling hot steam into the air. Swab stepped aside with expert timing. A vent two spaces behind him blew into the air, and the sheer heat curled the hairs on his tail. He shuddered slightly, concentrating on keeping the paper intact.

Meanwhile, before him and the other workers in wait, the struts spread apart. Thick motors fired jets into the murky, muddy water. Soon, there was a wide space between both sections of the Barge. Over the course of the next two minutes, a tugboat carrying two crates full of dull black rocks roared through the freshly-made canal. Once the cargo of raw fuel reached the outer struts, the air once again filled with whistles.

“Redrift! Slideside!”

“Slidesiiiiiide!”

The steam vented again. Slowly—inch by inch—the two struts of fused boats drifted back together.

Swab sighed, tapping his hoof as he stood, waiting.

From the side... “Psssst! Swab! Hey! Hey Swab!”

Swab looked over.... then up.

A guard in his tower had swiveled a massive bolt-launcher, aiming the crosshairs right on the colt. He pulled the trigger.

“Eeeee—!” Swab flinched, clenching his yellow eyes shut.

Click! The dirt-faced stallion smirked behind the weapon. “Haahaahaaaaa!” He stood up, smirking. “Bang! I got ya, sea foam! You're dead bloat!”

Swab sighed, staring away.

“Hey! Hey!” The guard snarled, frowning this time. He stuck a very real bolt into the very real turret. “Tell me that I got ya!”

Swab blew his brown bangs out before his eyes. “...you got me, Saxon.”

“Heeheehee!” Saxon pounded the edge of his tower and laughed. “I sure did, ya half-headed freak! Snkkt! Hahaha!”

Swab stared at the floor. Suddenly, the strut he was on wobbled, and the bridge before him slapped down.

“All clear!” Saxon shouted, then leaned back to continue a half-eaten sandwich.

The workers all clambered to get across, and for once Swab had a tiny bit of difficulty making his speedy way through. Once he had cleared the crowd, however, he ran like greased lightning, dashing over and under dormant steam pipes still hot from their latest venting. With expert grace, he avoided scalding his flesh on the hot, hot metals.

There was a final stretch, and then—at last—a series of large fishing boats led up like enormous steps to a bulky box of a platform with a two-story structure built on the top of it. Several muscular stallions marched along the outer platform, armed with blades and crossbows. A few platforms over, massive smokestacks stretched into the air, billowing with soot and grime.

Swab was almost to his destination when several other colts—some considerably older, but most of them sizably larger—scampered along with him.

“Watchagotthere, Swab?”

“A letter from your parents, Swab?”

“Hah! Seafoam ain't got no parents!”

“I-I'm just delivering a note to Skagra.”

“You?!” One colt arched an eyebrow. “On the way to the Skag Hole?”

“Liar! You're supposed to be sweeping the west struts!”

“Digiff's gonna rip off your other ear and toss you into the sea to bloat!”

“N-no! It... it was him who gave it to me!” Swab panted in mid-gallop. He weaved left and right, but he couldn't shake the foals. “Just a bunch of notes from the dredge harvest! Honest!”

“Honest! Honest!” A particularly large colt smirked and dove in. “Gimme that note!”

“Gah!” Swab recoiled from him, nearly tripping into a stretch of pipes. “Knock it off, Quint!”

“Oh yeah?” Quint stretched up on his hindquarters, suddenly towering over Swab. “You wanna make me?”

“Please, I gotta get this to Skagra!”

“Hold him down, Whony!”

“Hey! Knock it off!” Swab snarled, waving and bucking at the jeering colts. But they were far larger than him and one nearly got his teeth on the note. "Nnngh! Quit it! I-I need to eat!"

“The hell is going on here?!” grunted a deep voice from straight ahead.

The bullies instantly leapt off Swab's body like grasshoppers. They backed up with their tails between their legs.

“N-nothing, Dredger Nixkit,” Whony murmured before the looming stallion.

“Yeah!” Quint leaned in and wrapped a hoof around Swab's shoulder. “We were only playing, weren't we, Swab?”

Frowning, Swab shook Quint's weight off him.

“Whoahhhh...” Quint backed up, pointing with a wicked smirk. “Better sleep with one eye open, cuz I'll be stabbing that one ear tonight, ya mucker!”

“Baaah!” A pale stallion with matted hair stomped towards them. “Scurry off, all of ya! This is Skagra's platform! Better not find you staining any of it!”

The colts chanted and galloped off, laughing amongst themselves.

“Hrmmmf... Goddess-forsaken sea foam...” Nixkit cracked his neck joints and hobbled around. “Should send them all to the dredge furnaces. I swear.” He squinted down at Swab. “You there. Turdlette. What's so damn important?”

“Erm... a note...” Swab shook off his trembles and raised the sheet in question. “About the Dredge Harvest. I-I think it's this morning's progress report, sir.”

“And since when were you so damned smart?” Nixkit nevertheless stared at the sheet. He blinked, and then a heavy sigh escaped his mucusy nostrils. “Nnnnngh... dammit... dammit...” He crumbled the sheet while glaring into the smoggy sky. “Third time this week...

“A-aah!” Swab winced, gnawing on his fetlock.

“What's the matter, kid?”

“Erm...” Swab whimpered slightly. “The note...”

“Doesn't matter. I got it in here.” Nixkit pointed at the skull beneath his moth-eaten mane. “And I'm practically Skagra's third testicle.” He sniffed. “Hrmmmf... I smell Digiff on ya, sea foam. He sent this?”

“Yes, Dredger Nixkit.”

“Grrnngh... lazy bastard. Gonna drown his fat mucking head 'til he bloats, one of these days. I swear.” Nixkit wiped his chin, squinting. “Ya earned your nibbles yet, kid?”

“N-no, sir.” Swab nevertheless squirmed. “Though... I-I did already sweep the west struts like Digiff asked.”

“Heh... don't be honest, sea foam. It'll starve you someday.” Nixkit nevertheless motioned. “Come up with me.”

“T-to the Skaghole, sir?”

“Yeah... mrmmfmff... I'll get you to mop the floor for some nibbles or something.”

“Oh... th-thank you, Dredger Nixkit—”

“And don't drag your ass!” He grunted over his shoulder, nevertheless trudging up a set of uneven metal steps towards the top platform. Horns blared and seagulls shrieked in the distance as he muttered to himself with each lumbering trot. “The only thing worse than a little shit is a little shit with half a brain.”

Swab said nothing. Nevertheless, he took a deep breath, gazing out at the full lengths of Red Barge—a sight he wasn't used to, considering how seldom he trotted these heights.

Nixkit shuffled past several guards leaning against the sun-baked metal ledges of the topmost platform.

“Gonna go see the boss?” one asked.

“Yup. Latest reports from the Harvest.” He spat into the air with a grunt.

“That bad, huh?”

“Do you think I like turning gray?”

The guard nodded at Swab. “What's with the urchin?”

“Gonna let him mop for some grub. Figured it'd teach him right for when he gets to dredging age.”

“I thought that was Digiff's job.”

“Do you even hear yourself at times?”

“Heh. Right.” The guard shuffled off with a lazy smirk. “I'll grab a mop and bucket.”

Nixkit shuffled up to a door where two guards stood side by side. The pale stallion paused, then pointed across the balcony towards Swab. “Stay right there, sea foam. When the pony brings you the mop... you mop.”

“S-sure thing, sir.” Swab bore a tiny smile. “And thank you.”

“Mmmmff... gag me.” Nixkit cleared his throat before pounding a hoof on the door. “Yo, Skag! Skagra? Digiff's numbers are in! You want me to tear the door off its hinges? Or tell you the bad news first so you can do it yourself?”

A muffled voice spoke from within. “Just bring it in here, Nix. You wear sarcasm like an elephant wears a negligee.”

Swab blinked, for he was surprised at how well he could hear that. His eyes glanced up, and he realized that an open porthole loomed just above his right ear. The little colt said nothing... but merely leaned back and stood in place. Just as he was told.

With a metallic creak, Nixkit shuffled in through the door. He closed the thing behind him, but Swab's right ear immaculately picked up the clopping of hooves and shuffling of weight from within.

“Here ya go," spoke Nixkit with a weathered sigh. "If you wanna beat somepony up about it, I'm sure Digiff is off doing pipework along the southern struts.”

“Lemme guess. There's less ore on this shelf than we anticipated?” replied the deep voice.

“Mmmmrnnfgh... correctimundo.”

“Nix... how many times do I have to tell you? Don't be in a bad mood for me.”

“It's just that I know how much the latest Dredge Harvest means to you boss and—”

“Is this luxury suite we're in called the 'Nix Hole?'”

Nixkit's voice hesitated. “Uhhhhhh... no?”

“It isn't, is it?” Skagra's voice grumbled: “Then allow me to be the stallion who shits in it. Got that?”

“Erhm... sure thing, boss. You're not gonna... flip your lid or—?”

“Nix...” Shuffling hooves. “...one week, Digiff will be doing crap to disappoint me. And you know what? That week will probably have a Tuesday in it. You got anything new to tell me about Red Barge?”

“Erhhhgh... not exactly, Skagra.”

“Good. Because I have something new to tell you. And it's gonna make the latest Digiffery feel like a drop of rain.”

“What's that, boss?”

“Hey!” The guard came back along the balcony, grunting. “Sea foam!”

“G-gah!” Swab jolted, standing straight up and shivering. “I-I wasn't eavesdropping! Please don't tell Digiff!”

“Pfft. You're afraid of Digiff?” The guard dropped a bucket and a raggedy mop. “There ya go. Have fun, ya little wussfart.”

“Th-thank you...” Swab dipped the mop into the bucket, but blinked at the clear water. “Uhm...”

“What's the matter?” the guard huffed, examining his crossbow.

“It's... it's j-just that...” Swab gulped, the pointed at the container. “No soap?”

“Piss in it.”

Swab clenched his jaw. His one good ear twitched as he nevertheless started spreading the moisture around and scrubbing the balcony. Meanwhile, he craned his neck, picking up more of the conversation wafting through the porthole.

Skagra's voice murmured from within: “... ... ...remember that I said whatshisname—the fat cat from our new 'Prefecture Office'—would be likely be waltzing in on us, demanding 'repayment' for his loan of dredge blades or some bullshit?”

“I... I think so.” Nixkit's voice paused. “Wait... the Magistrate is coming here?

“Pffft. Hell no. That flower petal fruit snack wouldn't be caught bloated getting his pretty nose within a hundred klicks of Red Barge. But he's coming out of the woodwork to demand business from us.”

“Like what? Dredge Coal? Don't we funnel enough into Rohbredden through his channels?”

“No. I think this is something more akin to 'patronage' or some other hoity toity Continentalist bullshit. But make no mistake. The guy's got connections. And now that the Northern and Southern Hooves have bit it, word out on the waves is that he's wanting to score big.”

“Pffft. How so? The Syndicate's bloated, Skag.”

“Maybe so. But it takes a wise pony to know what that means. There's a whirlpool in this ocean... rearing to suck in all the salt. He figures he's got enough grab in our Dredge Coal, so why not make the next step?”

“And just what is that next step, boss?”

“Well, I just found out yesterday evening that a certain nasty mister somepony is making a delivery to the fat cat's front doorstep.”

“What nasty mister somepony? You mean Jerry?”

Nooo! The other one.”

“Oh. Monket?”

“Right. Dirty, slavin' bastard's been pulled away from Mudtop... and he's commandeering a Robhredden dreadnought to make it look legit.”

“No way. What's he delivering?”

“A matter of who as opposed to what. Whatever the case, Monket's ship was last seen speeding like a dayum leviathan to Rohbredden Proper. He's even laying into port at Frostknife.”

Swab paused in mopping, blinking up at the porthole. His lips pursed.

“Frostknife?” Nixkit's voice breathed. “Then... then he's basically on the hoofsteps to the Grand Council!”

“Which gives us time,” Skagra said. “Whatever our so-called 'friend' is up to with Monket, he's going to have to disentangle himself from the usual bureaucracy before he can even hope to dig his stinking teeth into the fresh waters. I'm sure you heard about the nasty business in the Quade.”

“Guh... please. Who hasn't?”

“I'll bet you my last surviving nosehair that any issue with a crazed freak attacking some of Verlaxion's 'blessed children' is gonna get shot up to the top of the Council Chamber over any and all kerfuffle with what happened in Shoggoth weeks back. We have time to prepare for this guy's move. And when he sends Monket here—and I know he will—I want us ready to bury the mucker before he can even smell his own bloat.”

“But... what if they send teeth?”

“Pfft. What kind of teeth?”

“I mean... he's part of the Council! What if Monket shows up with... like... the Right Talon of Verlaxion?”

“Oh please...” The sound of a creaking chair. “Verlaxion doesn't love sea foam. And if you can't be arsed to love, then you can't be arsed to kill.” The creaking stop. “Mark my words, Nixkit. Be ready to bag and tag... cuz with the Dredge Harvest this low, I'm ready to make big on this idiot's next move.”

PreviousChapters Next