The Crystal War Book I: A Spark to Light the Dark

by NatureSpark

Ch.30 Long Way from Home

~Chapter 30: Long Way from Home ~

A hindrance was what Downpour felt like, being strewn across Ursa’s back. His forelegs may have been broken, but the pegasus was determined to put his wings to good use, even if it killed him. If he remained a helpless pile of fur and feathers, it was sure to get the both of them captured or worse. While Ursa continued his reckless journey through the polished halls of the palace, Downpour stretched out his wings to get a feel for the remaining strength of his muscles. It was now or never, he decided, as he lifted his feathered appendages into the air and brought them back down in a pitiful attempt to gain some lift. Seeing his failure, the injured stallion took a deep breath and forced his wings though their motions one more time.
“What are you doing?” Ursa asked as the pegasus’s weight momentarily lifted off of him before dropping back down and nearly sending them stumbling onto their faces. “Are you trying to get us killed, Downpour?”
“As a matter of fact, no, I am not,” Downpour replied in an aggravated tone. He attempted to rise into the air once again and this time his wings wavered from the effort for a split second, before finally catching the air and holding his body aloft. “I’m trying to keep us from getting captured.” Ursa glanced back in astonishment and Downpour shot him a wink.
“You’re crazy. You know that, right?” Ursa asked in a huff. Downpour chuckled, too focused on staying in the air to bother replying to the earth pony. It was difficult, but he was managing to keep up with his companion, even as his broken legs dangled limply beneath him. The two stallions rounded a corner only to spot a trio of knights further down the sparkling hallway. Downpour’s wings pumped forward with as much force as he could muster, slowing his momentum enough for him to turn around. Ursa whipped his body around in an instant, but his hooves slid over the smooth floors for a few yards before he was able to gain traction and head back in the direction they had come from. They could hear the guards’ shouts coming from their backside as they searched for another route.
“I see stairs down that hallway,” Ursa said. Downpour glanced in the direction that the emerald stallion had motioned to and saw a winding set of steps leading up higher into the Crystal Palace. Without knowing exactly where the pegasus’s younger brother was, they had no choice but to wander the building haphazardly and hope to cross his path.
“Works for me,” Downpour replied as he banked left in the direction of temporary escape. With his legs hanging uselessly below him, there was more drag than he was used to and he nearly missed the turn. The airborne pony could feel the solid edge of a pillar brush against his outstretched wingtips as he took the corner. If he wasn’t careful, he was going to end up crashing to his inevitable death.
Sweat glistened along both of their hides as the pair topped the stairs and headed left, down a corridor that was nearly indistinguishable from the others that they had already traversed. Downpour could hear Ursa’s labored breathing over the sound of his beating wings; it seemed that carrying him had taken a heavy toll on the larger stallion’s formidable stamina. They couldn’t keep fleeing forever, he acknowledged, because the guards would eventually overtake them.
“This isn’t working. We need to find Draft immediately,” Ursa called over his shoulder. The words had no sooner left his mouth when a pair of guards dashed out from an intersecting path, cutting off their route and forcing them into an ill-timed conflict.
“Shit! We have to go back!” Downpour shouted as he forced his body into a flip. The sudden change in direction nearly got the best of him and the three guards that had been on their tails had finally caught up. There was nowhere for them to run.
Downpour’s eyes darted back and forth, salty sweat dripping from his tattooed face as he fervently searched for some way of escape. There were only two ways through the hall, back down the stairs and straight ahead. They were cut off. The pegasus’s heart began to race as the knights proceeded to close in around them. Their only choice was to fight their way through, he decided.
“Do you think we can take them?” Ursa asked as he took a few steps back. Downpour looked over his shoulder, meeting the crystal pony’s questioning face with a halfcocked smile, and chuckled humorlessly.
“Nope, but we’re damn sure going to try,” Downpour replied as their well armored enemies took a few more steps towards them, forcing the pair backwards until they were nearly flank to flank.
The knights made the first move, a jab from the youngest guard’s spear narrowly missing Ursa’s right shoulder. The guard pulled his weapon back with a practiced skill and stood back in formation with his compatriots. Ursa countered with a fake charge, causing three of the guards to jump back far enough for him to maneuver his rear legs around to face them. The next guard to lunge at the earth pony encountered a metal clad hoof into his neckline, denting the armor with a thunderous clang of metal on metal and sending him sliding backwards across the crystalline floor a few yards. They were well trained however, and the soldier returned to his position in mere seconds, visibly shaken, but still in fighting condition. Even with enchanted shoes, Ursa was going to have a hard time defeating them.
Downpour was even worse off. With his legs broken, the pegasus’s only advantage was his aerial position. Thankfully, the pegasus knights seemed to be positioned elsewhere in the city, most likely where they could survey the streets, and so his enemies were all grounded. The largest of the knights thrust his spear upwards, aiming for Downpour’s exposed chest, but the pegasus was more agile, even in his bruised and broken condition. He managed to avoid being impaled, the spear tip flashing harmlessly past his side. A second guard followed immediately with a powerful jab of his own spear. Downpour could see his reflection as he barrel rolled to the side, his tattooed eye staring back at him from the metal point. He remembered what Chestnut had told him about the zebra symbol. He needed to be patient, now more than ever. If he could wait for the perfect moment, he may be able to exploit a weakness in their attacks.
The next blow was a buck directed at Ursa’s head. The guard’s weaponized back legs kicked out in a blur of motion catching the earth pony by surprise. He ducked low in an attempt to avoid the lightning quick strike, but his size worked against him. The strike grazed the back of his neck, knocking off the emerald stallion’s center of balance and nearly causing him to drop down to his knees. Two of the knights took advantage of Ursa’s faltering stance and struck out with spears poised to draw blood. Swish! The edge of the first spearhead missed by a hair, but the second found its mark, burying itself in his left shoulder. Downpour could hear him grunting in pain as the weapon was pulled free from his flesh, a drop of blood falling from the superbly crafted edge.
Downpour’s foes stared intently at him and he stared back, waiting with bated breath for them to make their next move. A slight twitch in the neck was all that he needed to see in order to avoid the thrust of another spear. Time seemed to slow as he watched the metal point careening towards him. The pegasus dodged to the side, letting the wooden pole slide against the inner part of his back legs. He squeezed his thighs together in a vice grip and twisted his body in a swift motion, snapping the wooden pole near its apex and rendering the weapon useless. He could see a spark of fearful recognition in the soldier’s magenta eyes as the crystal pony realized his enemy would not fall so easily.
A thin streak of blood spilled from the inch deep wound on Ursa’s shoulder, streaking his emerald hide with crimson, like a buffalo’s war paint. The knight’s formation was perfect, his reaction time refined and his motions in sync with the others as they sidestepped back and forth, feinting and trading weak blows meant only to gauge the emerald stallion’s defenses. They made one mistake however, because every one of them saw Ursa’s great size and assumed it affected his agility, but years of treading through forest paths, running along uneven, treacherous ground and carrying lumber had honed the earth pony’s agility and grace. The very second one of his enemies would attempt to attack without restraint, he had already begun to parry and throw his own blow in return.
Downpour dipped and dived, wings working overtime to move him gracefully through the air. The tired pegasus could feel the muscles from his back all the way through his wings beginning to wear down, protesting each time he forced his body into a roll or flip. If he didn’t incapacitate these guards soon, then he was likely to collapse from exhaustion. The guards seemed to know this, attacking with pathetic jabs and slices meant only to keep him moving. They were simply trying to wear him out, biding their time for his inevitable crash landing. They may not have to wait long, he realized, as one of their spears managed to bite into his front leg, sending a fresh rush of searing pain in the already mangled limb.
Ursa was tiring as well, the effort of carrying Downpour for miles having taken its toll on the earth pony. Every assault of the knights came closer to cutting through a vital area. He had multiple slash marks now, running across his flank and shoulders. Each time he tried to send a buck into one of them, he was too slow. They were cutting through Ursa’s endurance blow after blow, eating away at his resolve like water running over the dirt, until it eventually wore a fatal scar into the earth. His breath came in ragged bursts, erratic and shallow as his body screamed for a moment of peace. Then a familiar figure strolled around the corner, cantering up from behind the soldiers at a steady pace.

“Draft!” Ursa cried out as he weaved around a guard’s kick. The metal clad hoof passed harmlessly beside the earth pony with the unbalanced force of a sledge hammer. Hearing Ursa’s cry, Downpour glanced back over his shoulder and saw his younger brother coming towards them. Draft’s mane was a tangled mess and his fur was filthy and bandaged, but there was no mistaking the grey pegasus. Even being bandaged from chest to stomach, he was efficient enough in a fight to change the winds of their vicious battle.
Downpour’s minute distraction was a terrible mistake and he paid the cost in blood. He felt the cold steel of a spear slide effortlessly into the barrel of his chest. It was quick enough that the pegasus didn’t even realize he had been struck, until the knight yanked back on his weapon, tearing out a small chunk of his flesh along with it. Downpour cried out in pain as his body spasmed from the attack. His wings jutted out as every nerve in his body sent a static jolt to his brain. The wounded pony dropped to the floor in a crumpled heap. Even the high amount of adrenaline surging through his veins wasn’t enough to numb the agony of the combined wounds.
Ursa caught sight of a feint attack originating from one of the younger guards, but instead of avoiding the stallion’s spear, he took the half hearted thrust into his haunches. It stung like hydra venom, but the effect was exactly as the earth pony had expected. The guard was anticipating his sidestep and was completely unprepared for him to absorb the blow and retaliate with a merciless kick. Ursa’s hoof connected squarely in the knight’s armored throat, collapsing the metal plate and pinching the neckline together. The soldier dropped to the floor in seconds, as his mouth made suckling motions, trying to breathe in air that was unable to pass through his collapsed windpipe. Ursa had a great disdain for violence, especially when it was used lethally, but he would do anything to save the stallion he loved, even if it meant taking a life.
“Draft, are you alright?” Ursa questioned frantically as he avoided the retaliation from the fallen knight’s companions. “Have you been injured?”
“Why isn’t he responding,” Downpour asked, his attention focused on the stallions he was battling with. All three of the armored foes attempted to hit the pegasus while he was down. Two of them thrust spears while the disarmed guard tried his hoof at stomping on the winged stallion’s flailing body. Downpour performed a roll just in time to avoid having his skull trampled into paste, the guard’s hooves slamming into the crystal ground a moment later. Crack!
“Enough!” called the all too familiar voice of Duke Doré Langue from down the hallway, as the power hungry steward marked with three gold bits stepped around the corner into Ursa’s sight. His steps were slow and deliberate as he crossed the polished corridor of the palace over to where the two friends were in the midst of fighting. “You have done a good job, but I can take it from here, soldiers.” The knights continued to stare down Downpour and Ursa, unsure of the reasoning behind their current leader’s instructions. “I said stand down!” the duke commanded in a booming voice.
“Something is wrong,” Downpour whispered discreetly into Ursa’s ear, eyeing the duke suspiciously.
“Yeah,” Ursa agreed, “Draft is acting as if the duke hasn’t done anything wrong, but even if he doesn’t know that the duke is corrupt, he should at least be trying to help us drive off these guards.” Draft’s gaze was fixed on the two of them and his grey eyes stared unwaveringly as he approached their position. The knights each backed away slowly, finally heeding the duke’s advice and retreating from the strange situation. Downpour couldn’t blame them; they weren’t paid to question authority, after all.
“Are you okay?” Downpour asked his brother as the guards retreated down the stairs, dragging their wounded companion behind them and presumably returning to their various posts around the palace. “Did he hurt you?”
Doré Langue’s face lit up with a devious smile as he replied, “Your brother is perfectly fine, Downpour.”
“No one was talking to you, Doré Langue,” Ursa spat at the crimson unicorn.
“He just needed a little bit of reeducation and now he’s seeing the world in a whole new light,” the duke said as he approached them.
“What are you talking about? What did you do to him!?” Downpour screamed, worry for his brother pushing his blood pressure to a boiling point. Draft still hadn’t answered for himself. The younger pegasus’s eyes appeared glazed over as he tread across the sparkling floors to his companions. Something was seriously wrong, Downpour decided, as he met his sibling’s faraway gaze.
“I simply informed him of your true intentions and he began to see things my way,” Doré Langue responded with a chuckle. The unicorn stopped a few yards away from his enemies, golden tail swishing back and forth carelessly as he watched the effects of his actions unfolding before his cruel, orange eyes.
“Draft, please say something,” Ursa cried out, his pained emotions laid bare in the tremble of his deep voice. “What did he do to you?” Draft’s face blazed with an unexpected anger as he finally answered Ursa’s plea.
“Shut the hay up, Ursa,” Draft hissed back. “I know why you’re here and I refuse to let you harm the duke.” The young pegasus’s plumage flared out as he approached, his grey wings standing on end emphasizing the furry in his words. “You think that you can come here, into Doré Langue’s palace and threaten his life without consequence? I will defend my friend to the death.” Downpour couldn’t fathom what his brother was saying or why he was acting so strangely.
“What the buck did he do to you?” Downpour asked.
“He looked out for me, unlike you!” Draft replied coldly. “He’s always been there for me and now I’m going to repay his kindness!” Behind Draft, the duke was laughing.
“What are you talking about?” Ursa questioned. “The duke is a vile stallion. He’s the one who paid the griffons to capture the empress. He’s trying to start a war with Equestria!”
“Lies,” Draft spat back at the emerald pony. “Doré Langue is a good stallion and you are his enemies.”
“No, he’s tricked you. Can’t you see that?” Downpour asked. His words fell on deaf ears. Draft continued to advance on his former companions, rage oozing from every pore on his body. Ursa and Downpour’s mouths hung open in shock at the lanky pegasus’s demeanor. It looked as if Draft meant to kill them and the thought sent a mutual shiver up their spines.
“You don’t get it yet, do you?” Duke Doré Langue asked them from his place behind Draft. “He won’t listen to you. Draft belongs to me now.” The duke’s words were accompanied by another bout of wicked laughter. “You should have run away while you had the chance you foals, because now you’re going to die.” Draft lunged forward suddenly, mouth practically foaming with hate as he struck out at Ursa. The larger stallion was so stunned that he didn’t even attempt to block the blow. Draft’s left hoof connected with the side of the earth pony’s head. Crack! Ursa stumbled back into Downpour, half dazed from the hit.
“Are you crazy, Draft?” the earth pony questioned in a daze. “It’s me, Ursa. I thought you cared about me.”
“The only thing that I care about, is protecting ponies from your sick plans!” Draft screamed as he swung at Ursa with his right hoof. Downpour leapt into action, knocking his brother’s foreleg to the side in time to keep Ursa from receiving another shot to the face. Draft didn’t hesitate in his attack, throwing a quick jab at his brother’s exposed chest. Downpour danced back on his rear legs, keeping just out of reach of his brother’s punches. Draft had always been more agile than him however, and without the full use of his front legs, Downpour had no real defense against the onslaught of flying hooves sent his way.
“Draft, think about what your doing. I don’t know what he did to you, but we’re not your enemies here, he is,” Downpour grunted.
“Do you see, Draft? They’re trying to trick you and turn you against me, your oldest friend,” Doré Langue said as his horn was enveloped in golden light. Downpour waited for a spell to strike either him or Ursa, but nothing happened. Then he remembered the night they had been dining with the duke. The crimson pony was able to communicate with his servants telepathically.
“Ursa,” Downpour whispered to his friend as they continued slowly back stepping from the enraged young pegasus assaulting them, “I think that the duke is using his magic to mess with Draft’s head. We need to lead him out of the spell’s range.” Ursa nodded his agreement as they started backing up, more quickly than before. Draft matched their pace, still swinging at them with every step. Every so often he would land a hit and Downpour’s already severely wounded body would flash with pain, but it was a small price to pay for his brother’s safety.
While Downpour was occupying his brother, Ursa was busy looking for a distraction that would buy them enough time to get away from the duke. His dark green eyes passed over the well kempt hallways, scanning for anything he could use, until they finally settled on one of the large crystal pillars that were spaced throughout the palace. The earth pony worked out an idea while Downpour occupied the duke by continuing the fight with his younger brother.
Without any warning, Ursa ran over to the nearest pillar and positioned his body. He braced his front legs as much as he could against the slick floor of the corridor and bucked out with his rear legs, with all his might. The large earth pony’s natural strength, combined with the enchantment woven into the spike studded shoes he was wearing, caused a boom like the sound of an explosion going off. Downpour glanced over, ears ringing from the sound, and saw a spider web of cracks shoot out from the point of impact, traveling all around the column in an instant. Draft didn’t even acknowledge the attack and threw another hoof towards Downpour’s head without missing a beat.
A couple seconds later and the pillar gave way, crystal grinding against crystal as it collapsed to the ground, falling in a path that would land on the duke, just as Ursa had planned. Doré Langue called out in surprise as he leapt away, narrowly avoiding being crushed to death. The aristocrat’s age worked against him though and the column fell on his back leg, pinning it against the floor under an immense weight. The duke cried out in anger and pain, momentarily distracted from his enchantment on Draft.
“Let’s go!” Ursa commanded Downpour as he darted past the bluish pegasus and disappeared down the hall. Downpour saw his chance and leapt into the air, wings working their hardest to put distance between him and the demented aristocrat.
“Follow them and kill them!” Doré Langue screamed, taking the bait just as Ursa had expected. Downpour smirked as he heard the sound of his brother taking flight after him. They had needed a way to get Draft away from the duke’s magical influence and Ursa had found one. Now they simply had to escape the palace without being caught by Draft or one of the knights and then get far enough away that Duke Doré Langue couldn’t alter the grey pegasus’s thoughts anymore. Downpour groaned as he caught up with Ursa; it was all easier said than done.

Draft’s enemies were trying to escape, but they had seriously underestimated their current situation. They were both tired from fighting their way into the palace and had plenty of wounds to show for it, while he was fully rested and completely absorbed in his task. The duke wanted them to pay the price for their crimes and his hooves would take the toll in blood. The winged pony’s mane whipped behind him in a blur of grey, white and blue as he increased his speed and started gaining on his would-be killers.
They had tried lying, fighting and now running away, but there was only one way that this would end and Draft intended to be there when it did. The two stallions ducked around a corner, trying to keep out of his line of sight, but Draft was much quicker than they were. He shot around the turn in a whirlwind of ragged breath and beating wings. His entire body burned with the fury of what they had done. They had threatened the life of the duke and ponies everywhere, now they had to pay.
“He’s your brother.” The voice sounded so real, but there was no way somepony had been speaking to him. “You can’t do this.” It was coming from his head. Draft clipped a pillar with his wing, sending the pegasus into a spin that nearly ended with him crashing to the polished floor. The confused pony shook the strange thoughts out of his mind and focused on the task at hoof. He saw a glimpse of Ursa’s blue tail, as it disappeared down a set of stairs out of sight, and took off after it.
“Turn and fight me like stallions, you cowards!” Draft shouted after his former companions as he careened around the corner and shot down the stairs. His hooves touched the wall and he ran along it, keeping his momentum from working against him.
“Come and get us,” his brother called back from the bottom of the palace. Draft smirked as he worked to fulfill Downpour’s request.
“He’s getting closer,” Ursa said when he glanced back and saw Draft shoot out of the staircase in a rush of wind. Draft could see the earth pony’s panic as their eyes met and for an instant the pegasus felt sorry for him, but the thought passed as quickly as it had come and his anger was renewed. All three stallions passed by a guard, who stared after them with a stunned expression as they tore through the palace. The duke had called off his soldiers so that Draft could defeat their foes on his own and he wouldn’t let the duke down. Both of his enemies were beginning to tire and Draft was close enough that he could see the sweat on Ursa’s hide, glistening in the light of the torches that lined the smooth walls of the corridor.
“This is wrong,” the voice chimed in his head. It was a strange sensation, because it sounded like Draft’s own voice speaking in the depths of his mind. He tried to shut it out, but it was insistent, repeating its mantra that he was making a mistake in attacking them. The pegasus was so sure of himself though, because Doré Langue had told him that Ursa and Downpour were his enemies and he believed the old unicorn.
“He’s going to reach us.” Ursa’s words were barely audible over the sound of the rushing air that blew across Draft’s ears, but the voice in his head was much clearer and its message resounded in his mind. The young pegasus screamed in confusion, his heart beating in double time as he closed in on his prey. The crystal pony’s tail was a mere hoof reach away from Draft; he could see every blue hair fluttering behind the running stallion as he closed the distance. His brother was flying just above the earth pony’s head, close enough for him to feel the wind tunnel behind the slower pegasus as he soared. They were certainly quick, but Draft was still faster. Ursa’s front hoof lost traction, causing the earth pony to slip up in the tempo of his galloping hooves. The split second delay was all that Draft needed to catch his enemy, but he hesitated.
“You don’t want this,” his subconscious screamed at him. Draft tried to ignore the words, but it was enough of a distraction for the emerald pony to resume his reckless charge. The pegasus wasn’t sure what was happening to him. He felt as if his own brain was rebelling against him. He grit his teeth together hard enough to hear the enamel being ground away and forced himself to fly even faster towards his goal.
They were nearly out of the palace, Draft realized, as the ornate glass windows whisked past in a flash of color. One of the emperor’s servants jumped out of the way of the earth pony’s path, fear etched in her features as the intruders passed by in a blur. Draft saw the terror in the mare’s azure eyes and it fueled the beating of his wings. If he didn’t end this chase soon, then innocent ponies would be put in harms way. He wished that the duke hadn’t called off his soldiers. It didn’t make any sense to him, because they could have been helping to stop the criminals.
Downpour shouted, “We’re almost out!” as he neared the gaping doorway in the palace’s front chamber. The guards posted on either side of the entrance never expected what was about to happen. Downpour shot past their heads, leaving a trail of confusion and a large, charging stallion in his wake. The knights barely had time to shout for help before Ursa burst through the doorway, slamming into the side of one of the armor clad stallions and knocking a spear from the other one’s mouth. Draft didn’t bother slowing to check on them, not when he was so close to reaching his enemies.
The three ponies tore through the freezing winter night, Ursa’s hooves thundering across the snow covered streets in time with the furious flapping of the flying stallions’ wings. Behind him, Draft could hear the sounds of the knights mobilizing, a mere whisper over his body’s own noise. It wouldn’t matter though, he was flying close enough that he could have reached out and gripped Ursa’s blue tail between his teeth had he wanted to. A few seconds later and Draft was flying directly over the earth pony’s broad shoulders, ready to take the much larger stallion out.
Draft shouted, “It’s over!” as he dove down on his enemy, slamming into Ursa’s emerald hide with his full weight. They hit the ground like a meteor strike; a tangle of limbs and fur crashing through the drifts of snow and leaving a messy trail, like a scar in the pristine white blanket that covered the dark streets of the empire. Without any hesitation, the pegasus sprang to his hooves and began to pummel his enemy mercilessly. His hooves struck the crystal pony’s body like a barrage of hail, each hit bruising flesh and eating away at the stallion’s resolve.
“Look at what you’ve done,” his mind commanded him as he continued his assault. “Ursa is your friend. This is wrong.” Draft’s movements slowed as the thoughts forced themselves to the forefront of his mind. Something felt wrong to the pegasus, but he wasn’t sure why.
Before Draft could consider the matter further, he was struck from the side by his brother. Downpour’s thick skull cracked ribs as he charged down on his younger brother, knocking him away from Ursa’s limp form. It took a second for Draft to realize what had happened and Downpour took the opportunity to pin the smaller stallion’s legs to the ground. Even while he was wounded, Downpour’s weight and strength were enough to keep Draft from breaking free.
“Draft, listen to me. You don’t know what your doing,” Downpour tried to explain. “Doré Langue tricked you. He used his magic to get into your head and make you attack us.” Draft tried to kick his hooves, but something his brother was saying crept through the duke’s lies and wormed its way into his head.
“No, he- he’s my friend. He’s always been there for me,” Draft argued.
“When!? When has he ever been there for you?” Downpour questioned. Draft opened his mouth to speak, but he had no answer for his brother. He couldn’t think of a time when the duke had ever actually been there for him. “It was all a lie, that’s why you can’t tell me,” Downpour assured his brother. “He forced those thought into your head with his freaky unicorn mind spell.”
“No, it was- it was you two who were trying to hurt me, hurt all of us,” Draft retorted as he struggled under his sibling’s weight. What his brother was saying sounded right though and it scared him. If Downpour was telling the truth, then it meant Duke Doré Langue had been in his mind and twisted his very thoughts.
“Why would I do that, Draft?” Downpour asked him. “I am your brother and I would never do anything to hurt you… well, unless you deserved it.” Downpour gestured over to where Ursa was slowly getting up from the ground and told him, “Ursa, he actually loves you. For some reason he cares about you in a way that, quite frankly, I still find a little bit weird.” Draft looked over to the crystal pony, who was walking over to them on shaky legs. Draft stared into his brother’s face and saw the concern in Downpour’s deep blue eyes.
“I, ugh, I can’t think straight. Everything feels all jumbled!” Draft exclaimed. He had stopped struggling. The voice in his head that had been telling him something was wrong had gotten more insistent and now he could hardly remember why the duke’s words had seemed so important to him.
“I’d love to give you more time, but we have company headed our way,” Ursa said, glancing over his shoulder in the direction of the Crystal Palace. Draft followed his gaze and saw a group of knights stampeding from the cool blue tower and heading down the street, straight towards them. “If we’re going to go, it needs to happen right now.”
“Come on, Draft. You know us and you know that we’re trying to help you,” Downpour told him again. Draft nodded his head in response. Doré Langue’s words were still in his mind, but they were being drowned out by doubts and memories.
“Alright, let’s go,” Draft agreed. His brother smiled down at him and wrapped his grey body up in a weak hug with wounded front legs, before rising back into the air above him. Draft pushed himself off the snowy ground and shook the flakes of ice from his fur, smiling back at Downpour and Ursa as he did. A moment later, the three of them took off down the empty street, the hooves of an entire battalion of soldiers thundering behind their backs as they made their way through the sprawling city.

It had been difficult to get past the guards at the entrance of the capitol, but thanks to the ruckus back at the palace, all three of the exhausted ponies had been able to sneak past the barricade without being spotted. They were still well away from being safe though. Every time they looked back in the distance, they could see patrols flying through the cloud strewn night skies, fanning out from the palace in an ever widening search.
The small group had already run for a couple of miles and Downpour was having trouble staying in the air, his wings struggling to keep him aloft as he forced himself onward. He wanted to sleep, more than anything else the pegasus needed rest. It had been days since he had slept through an entire night, not counting Doré Langue drugging him in his mansion. If they hadn’t had an entire platoon of soldiers after them, Downpour would have collapsed right then. He passed over a large snow drift and couldn’t help but think that it looked like a plush, white blanket. If he could just lie down and close his eyes for a few minutes, it would do wonders on his stamina, but that wasn’t going to happen anytime soon.
“Please, tell me that there’s somewhere we can stop close by,” Downpour pleaded with Ursa, his eyelids held open by sheer willpower as he struggled to keep up with his companions. “I haven’t slept in forever and I can’t really feel my legs anymore.”
“It’s not safe here. We’ll probably have to travel all night and well past morning,” Ursa replied. Downpour’s head sagged when he heard the news, because it was going to be another long day for him. “I can carry you again if I have to.” Downpour peeked over at the emerald pony from the corner of his tired eyes and saw how exhausted he was. As nice as Ursa’s offer sounded to his sleep deprived brain, Downpour’s pride had already taken a savage beating during their brief visit to the capitol and he wasn’t about to let it take another blow.
“No, I- I’ll manage,” he groaned.
“I’ll keep an eye out for any place that looks like it will give us protection from wandering eyes,” the earth pony replied, “but I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you.” Ursa shot a glance behind him after he spoke, checking on the silent, third member of their ragged group. Draft followed behind his friends quietly, his brow furrowed in concentration. Downpour couldn’t blame the younger stallion; having somepony prying into your thoughts couldn’t have felt very comforting.
“Are you holding up alright?” Downpour asked his younger brother. Draft mumbled an incomprehensible response, which the stocky pegasus took to mean he was managing. “I’m glad we got you out of there.” Draft just nodded his head.
It had stopped snowing at some point, all though in all the excitement, Downpour hadn’t noticed. There was still a slight breeze and the wounded stallion wished that he still had his cloak, but all of their supplies had been taken by the duke, so he had to do without. He certainly wasn’t about to go back and get them.
“So, what happens now?” Ursa asked in a tired voice.
“We need to get back to Equestria,” Downpour said. “The princesses need to know about Doré Langue as soon as possible.” Ursa nodded his head in agreement.
“I guess this means that I can’t go home,” the earth pony acknowledged. “I’m sure Duke Doré Langue will have his stallions watching over my place before we get there.”
“I’m sorry, Ursa,” Downpour sighed. “I know that you grew up there and maybe one day you can go back, but until the Doré Langue is taken care of, it isn’t safe here… for any of us.” Downpour looked over and saw a tear roll down the stallion’s emerald cheek. He couldn’t imagine what it must be like, not knowing if he would ever be able to see home again, so the pegasus had no idea how to comfort his friend. Draft would have known what to say, but it didn’t look like he was going to be talking for awhile, so they all continued on their way in silence. They were fatigued, famished and frustrated, but they were also alive and that was enough for Downpour’s face to be graced with a slight smile as he flew.

“I can’t. I just- I can’t do it anymore,” Downpour complained. Draft snapped out of his inner thoughts long enough to glance up at his brother’s sudden words. “I don’t care if they find me and kill me, because if I don’t get at least a little bit of sleep soon, then I’m going to die anyway and at least the knights would probably give me a quick death,” Downpour huffed as he dropped to the ground in a sweaty heap of dirty fur and feathers.
They had been traveling nonstop all morning and now the sun was high enough in the sky that Draft assumed it was nearly noon. It hadn’t felt that long to him, but then again, he had been lost in his own thoughts for most of the trip. The grey eyed pegasus peered around, examining his surroundings and realizing that he had no idea where they even were at the moment. The trees made it obvious that they were somewhere in the woods, but they hadn’t been following the path like they had on the way to the city. Ursa must have been leading them south, through the denser part of the forest so they wouldn’t be easily spotted, Draft assumed.
“Yeah, I think we can stop here for a bit, but no fires and no wandering off,” Ursa told them as he took a seat near the spot Downpour had collapsed. “The last thing we need is for one of the duke’s soldiers to find us.”
“My legs are pretty numb. How long do you think it will take before they get infected and fall off?” Downpour asked with a pained chuckle. Ursa didn’t seem to find his words very funny and he grimaced as he leaned in to examine the wounded pegasus’s broken limbs. “Are they really that bad?” Downpour asked when he saw the crystal pony’s expression.
“I think that we need to get you to a hospital very soon, before they get infected or worse,” Ursa told him in a humorless tone. “Until then, there really isn’t anything that we can do without any medical supplies.”
“Well in that case,” Downpour said as he rolled onto his side, “I might as well just go to bed.” Ursa shook his head slowly with a sigh of disbelief.
“Is he going to be okay?” Draft asked, speaking for the first time in hours.
Ursa glance glanced up, gave Draft a tired smile and replied, “After everything that we’ve been through, I sure hope so.” Draft smiled back and sat down next to his friend. “How about you, Draft, how are you feeling?”
“Wrong, I ju- I just feel so weak. I mean he used his magic to control my thoughts and I can’t help but wonder what else he changed in my head,” Draft told his friend. “You don’t know what it was like. He actually had me convinced that I had to kill both of you and I can’t understand why I believed it.” Draft ran a hoof through his unkempt mane and took a slow, deep breath. “I just want to forget about it.”
“I can’t say that I blame you,” Ursa replied as he stretched out onto his back. Draft took the earth pony’s lead and sprawled out on the cold ground. Thankfully, most of the clouds had dispersed and much of the snow cover had melted away, so he only had to deal with mud instead of ice. The two stallions stared up into the bluish skies, watching the gentle swaying of the barren tree branches above their heads as they rested their weary bodies.
“Ursa, there’s something that I’ve been meaning to tell you,” Draft said with watery eyes as he turned his head to gaze into his companion’s visage.
“Oh, what’s that?” Ursa asked in a hushed voice.
“I think- I think I love you,” Draft replied, warm tears spilling down his face as he scooted closer to the large stallion beside him. The pegasus had promised himself that he would tell Ursa how he felt and now he had. It felt good to get it off his chest, to finally admit what he had been feeling for awhile, but it also left Draft feeling terribly exposed. He had opened his heart up and waited to see weather he would feel the warm touch of affection or the cold grip of rejection.
Ursa smiled softly at the grey pegasus and told him, “I know and I love you too, Draft. From the first time I tried kissing you I’ve felt this way and I’m glad to hear you admit that you feel the same.” The earth pony rolled onto his bruised side and pulled Draft closer to him, strong forelegs wrapping around the smaller stallion in a caring embrace. Draft closed his eyes and buried his face into Ursa’s chest. He could feel the comforting tempo of the shaggy stallion’s heartbeat against his cheek and he wept softly in the safety of his lover’s embrace.
They stayed like that until well after noon, holding each other close in the middle of the withered forest, with only the sounds of Downpour’s shallow breathing to remind them that they weren’t alone. Draft cried quietly, the confusion and pain of the last few days melting away like snowfall in the sunny heat of Ursa’s love. The pegasus wished that he could have stayed that way forever, but there were promises to keep. Eventually they would have to move on, but for that short period of time, Draft felt like he might live to see true happiness one day, with Ursa, his very special somepony.

There were only a few more miles between them and Calvary, but the couple hours of rest hadn’t been enough for Downpour. Now he was having a hard time simply keeping his eyes open, let alone navigating safely through the twisted branches of the forest. His brother seemed to be doing much better though. Ursa and Draft had been walking side by side and talking in hushed voices interspersed with plenty of quiet giggles. It seemed that the two love birds were feeling much better after their short break. He didn’t bother asking why, because he didn’t care to know the details.
“When do you think we’ll reach Calvary?” Downpour asked. The answer didn’t actually matter too much, but he was getting bored of being the only one not talking and boredom was making him sleepier than he already was, so he asked anyway.
“It will probably be pretty late, even if we keep all of our future rest stops as short as possible. Traveling through this part of the woods is pretty slow going compared to using the trail,” Ursa explained.
“Shouldn’t we be avoiding towns anyway?” Draft asked. “There’s a good chance that Doré Langue will have knights watching over all of the cities in the empire.” Ursa nodded his head in agreement, but Downpour had another idea that he wanted to run by them and it involved heading straight into the town.
“I think we should chance it,” Downpour told them as he matched their pace so that they could converse easier.
“Why in the hay would we do that?” Draft asked his older brother.
“I might know somepony that can help us out,” he explained. “I met this stallion called Spade. He’s the one who owns the Full House.” Ursa and Draft shot him confused glances, so he elaborated further. “It’s the bar that I met those pegasu-”
“The prostitutes,” Draft interrupted in an annoyed tone.
“Mares of the evening,” Downpour replied with a scowl. “Anyway, I talked to Spade quite a bit and he seems like a trustworthy stallion. He told me that he has quite a few connections from here to Equestria.”
“So you think he can help us out?” Ursa asked.
“I think that it’s certainly worth a shot, unless one of you has a better idea.” Judging by the looks on their faces, Downpour didn’t think that they did.
“It sounds like a pretty risky shot in the dark, Downpour,” Draft told him. His brother was right, but Downpour couldn’t see any other options. They had no food, water or medical supplies and without money, they wouldn’t be able to buy any. They were all completely drained of energy and wounded, him most of all, so town was looking like their best option for survival. He just had to hope that Spade would be willing to help.
Downpour gave his friends some time to mull over his idea in silence, which is why he was able to hear the sound of flapping wings coming from beyond the tree line. Draft looked up at him as he slowly rose up to peek over the branches. The tattooed pegasus held a hoof in front of his mouth to silence his younger brother, without remembering it was broken in several places. He winced from the pain, but bit his tongue to keep from crying out.
There were knights flying over the forest, searching for them, Downpour figured, but they were still a few hundred yards away. He dropped back down until he was hovering near Ursa’s shoulder, gliding as silently as he could to avoid being discovered. His companions both looked up at him with concern in their eyes.
“What’s wrong?” Draft asked in a whisper.
“Doré Langue’s knights are searching the woods. There are at least five or six of them, maybe even more,” Downpour whispered back. “We need to get out of here as quickly and quietly as possible.” Ursa and Draft nodded in silent agreement and the three stallions picked up their pace. The pegasus both flew on silent wings while Ursa did his best to step gingerly around fallen branches. They needed to reach Calvary in a hurry or risk being captured and dragged back to Duke Doré Langue.

The lights of Calvary burned bright against the moonless sky, tiny embers in a coal black night that marked their only chance of safety. The air was cold and still against their filthy hides and Draft envied Ursa his shaggy coat as the skinny pegasus shivered quietly beside the emerald pony. There was less than a mile between them and the stallion, Spade, who they were going to meet with. The skies appeared to be clear of prying eyes at the moment, but the three stallions crept cautiously over the muddy terrain none the less.
They had been dodging patrols every step of the way since they had spotted the first group while sneaking through the woods and it had left them all slightly paranoid. Together they had managed to stay one step ahead of the duke’s search, but Draft was worried that this was where their luck would run out. Entering the city would be difficult, especially looking like they did. A trio of beat up ponies was sure to be remembered by any witnesses, so they had to make it to the Full House without being seen.
The outskirts of the city were deserted, besides a few houses which still had candlelight flickering in the windows, but the three stallions stuck to the shadows and back alleys to be safe. The cobblestone streets made it hard for Ursa to move stealthily and he had to stop and take off his metal shoes to quiet the sound of his hoofsteps. Draft and Downpour took turns flying up to the rooftops, keeping lookout in case any soldiers happened to be traveling by. Draft’s heart hammered in his chest every time he heard even the softest of sounds from his surroundings, but he knew that is was too late for them to back out now.
“Which way is it?” Draft mouthed to his older brother, hoping that there was enough background light for Downpour to read his lips. His tattooed sibling nudged his head east and they set off down an alley, sides pressed against the building as they moved single file towards the center of the city. One false step could mean the death of them all. Draft reminded himself of that fact with every silent breath he took. He would kill himself before he gave Doré Langue the chance to get in his head again, but that would only be his last resort.
“It’s straight ahead,” Downpour whispered into his companions’ ears. Draft and Ursa peeked around the corner of a small green building and saw Spade’s bar lit up with colorful fairy lights like a bonfire in the middle of the city.
“Are you bucked in the head!?” Draft asked his brother.
“How are we supposed to make it to the doors without being seen?” Ursa followed up. They had snuck so close, but now it looked as if they weren’t going to be able to make it after all. Draft sighed in annoyance as he tried to think of a new plan, but Downpour had other ideas. Before his brother could stop him, Downpour strolled casually out of the alley and headed directly for the Full House. Draft and Ursa had no choice but to follow his lead and walk as if they belonged, all the while wishing they would go unnoticed.
Draft couldn’t believe that it was working. All three of them made it to the doors of the bar without arousing suspicion, although now Draft was more worried about dropping dead from a panic attack. The colorful paint and flashing lights of the building swirled around the pegasus’s vision as he cast furtive glances back and forth. They stopped at the entrance long enough for his older brother to whisper something to the bouncer and then they entered into the bright, noisy building that was known as the Full House.
Everywhere Draft looked there were intoxicated stallions and mares, some of them sitting at the bar, but most gathered around stages. Mares of all colors and races danced atop colorful platforms in time to the upbeat music. Downpour seemed to be right at home, walking directly to the bar and taking a seat in front of the one eared bartender. Draft followed behind and took an empty spot next to his brother while Ursa took sat beside him. He gazed around the room, taking in the sight of a variety of ponies, any of which could have blown the whistle on them in an instant. It felt very exposed being in such a crowded place, but Draft had no choice but to trust his older brother.
“Can we get three shots of apple whisky?” Downpour asked the earth pony behind the counter. The black stallion turned around and his face lit up with recognition.
“Holy Tartarus, look at what the manticore dragged in,” Spade observed with a smile.
“More like dragged in, chewed up and spit out,” Downpour replied with a matching grin. Draft assumed that this bald headed stallion was Spade, the pony who was supposed to help them get home.
“Three shots of whisky coming up,” Spade told them as he turned around and snagged a bottle off of the large shelves behind him. “Who are your friends?” he asked as he poured them each a healthy shot of the dark liquor.
“This is my brother, Backdraft, and his coltfriend, Ursa,” Downpour responded before tossing back his drink without the use of his hooves.
“So I take it you worked out your issues then?” Spade asked, motioning to Downpour’s visible wounds.
“Yes, but that’s not how I got so bucked up,” Downpour responded. One of Spade’s eyebrows rose in mild surprise at the pegasus’s statement. “We had a run in with Duke Doré Langue,” he informed the earth pony.
“Ah, so you’ve seen our new leader at his finest then.”
“I guess you could say that,” Downpour replied.
“So what did you think?” Spade asked as he waved over one of his employees to cover the bar for him.
“He’s insane, but we have something else we need to talk to you about right now,” Draft said in a tone that urged discretion. Spade walked around the bar where Draft and his companions could talk to him more quietly. He motioned for them to follow him and led them to a table in the corner of the bar. They took their seats and resumed their conversation in hushed voices.
“You have friends from here to Equestria, right?” Downpour asked. Spade nodded his head in reply. “We need help getting back home. The duke is after our heads because of what we know and I don’t feel like spending any more time in his dungeon. Do you think you can help us out?”
“I just might be able to work something out,” Spade replied with a grin, “but first I think you should meet with some friends of mine. They’re loyal to the emperor, out true ruler.” Ursa gasped quietly and the pegasus brothers glanced over in confusion.
“You’re with the-” Ursa started.
“The Crystal Resistance,” Spade acknowledged with a smile. “You tell us everything you know about the duke and we’ll see to it that you three make it home in one piece.” All three stallions looked at each other and chuckled with relief.
“Deal,” they replied in unison.