• Published 8th Aug 2012
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The Crystal War Book I: A Spark to Light the Dark - NatureSpark

A unicorn burnout, two pegasus brothers and Princess Luna's protégé, along with many other friends they meet along the way, embark on an epic journey to prevent war from consuming Equestria.

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Ch.11 A Royal Pain

~Chapter 11: A Royal Pain~

Splash! Spark was going to kill Downpour for dousing him this time. The hungover stallion opened his eyes and was assaulted with a blinding pain that shot through his head and made his entire brain throb.

“Ahahaha, make it stop!” Spark moaned as he doubled over, clutching his head in his hooves. I’m never drinking again, Spark promised to himself, as he always did the morning after a binge. That sent memories flooding back, like the whole reason he had been drinking in the first place. “Where’s Star!?” His eyes opened in a squint and he could make out grey walls and bars around him. “What the hay did I do last night?” Spark mumbled aloud. The last thing he remembered was sitting at a dive bar and then… he couldn’t remember actually leaving.

“Get up, you drunk, there’s somepony here for you,” a stallion’s voice called to him from the other side of his prison. The guard that had doused him with cold water shook his head in disgust as he opened the cell door. Spark looked up into the face of Draft, who had apparently come to bail him out.

“I leave you alone for one night and you get in a fight with three night guards. What were you thinking?” Draft asked him. He reached out a hoof and helped Spark get up on all fours. The room began to sway before the unicorn’s blurry vision and he had to fight the urge to vacate his stomach contents all over the cold stone floor. Spark regained his composure soon after though and managed to walk out of the dungeon with a little help from his friend.

They walked a few blocks before either of them spoke, Spark had been enjoying the quite and trying to clear the haze from his mind, but Draft finally broke the silence.

“She’s doing fine now. She woke up this morning,” Draft informed him, referring to Star’s condition. Thank Celestia, Spark though, because he didn’t know how he would have forgiven himself if she hadn’t made it. “The doctors say that she can leave this afternoon, but she probably shouldn’t even try to use magic for the next few days.” That made sense, since most unicorns wouldn’t even be able to ever use magic ever again after the stunt she’d pulled off.

“I’m glad to hear it. I want to go check up on her,” Spark replied. He felt terrible for everything that had happened the night before. He had handled the whole situation in the worst possible way. Thankfully, his other friends were a little more put together than he was and had kept their eyes on Star.

“That will have to wait. Luna came to visit her after she heard what had happened and we have an appointment to speak with her and Celestia in an hour,” Draft informed the unicorn. “I don’t think we should be late.” He was right, but it would be strange for Spark to meet with the princesses after getting arrested for fighting with the guards. Not that the unicorn remembered why he had even been stupid enough to do it in the first place. His raging hangover wasn’t going to help matters either.

“Of course we do,” Spark groaned. “Alright, let’s get this over with.” He would just have to do his best to ignore his raging headache and churning stomach.

“I thought you would be a little more, uh, excited about meeting the rulers of our country,” Draft said as they walked down the road.

“I am. I just feel like crap right now. A hangover doesn’t make for a great disposition,” Spark replied. He would have preferred a few hours to recover and a joint wouldn’t have hurt either. “I’ll get over it though.”

“You know what happened last night wasn’t your fault right?” Draft asked after a moment. “It was just one of those unavoidable mishaps.” He was trying to cheer Spark up, but the hungover stallion wasn’t in the mood to feel better. The fact was, that Spark had played a big part in what happened. “Star doesn’t blame you for it.”

“I’m glad to hear it,” Spark mumbled in reply. He made a vow to himself right then, that he would do whatever it took to make sure that nopony, especially not his friends, ever got hurt because of his decision to go on the stupid mission, ever again. After he got Star and Inferno to Manehatten, Spark planned to continue on alone. It was for the best, he figured.

The rest of the walk passed, more or less, in silence. The city streets were busy, but nopony bothered the two stallions while they walked. It gave Spark plenty of time to think about what he was going to say to the princesses. Apologizing was the foremost idea in his mind. He was honestly surprised that they had still agreed to meet with him after what a moron he had been last night. They must have realized that any information that could help prevent a war would be useful, even if it came from somepony that they hadn’t gotten the best first impression of.

Spark paused momentarily in his self depreciating thoughts to admire the city that they were now walking the streets of. It was very large, almost overwhelmingly so. There were ponies of all kinds bustling about the streets, most of them were unicorns, but Spark saw pegasus and even a few earth ponies as well. The buildings became larger and grander the closer to the castle they walked. He couldn’t imagine living in such close proximity to all of this noise, because he was a pony who valued his peace and quite, but their was definitely a certain charm to the capitol.

“State your business in the castle,” a stallion ordered them. Spark had been so lost in his thoughts that he hadn’t noticed the guard standing right in front of him. The unicorn was fully armored and wore a stone faced expression as he addressed them. They had arrived at the castle doors without Spark even realizing it. He faltered for a moment, unable to answer. Thankfully, Draft was more focused on the task at hoof.

“I am Backdraft and this is Nature Spark. We have a meeting with Princess Luna and Princess Celestia in a half hour,” the pegasus stated. The guards stepped out of the way and nodded them in. Spark followed his winged friend through the large doors and into the castle. When they were inside, the doors were slammed shut behind them, the noise echoing through the empty corridor causing another flash of pain to bombard the unicorn’s head. A tan unicorn stallion met them in the hallway, with a polite bow.

“Gentlecolts, if you would please follow me, I will take you to the great hall,” the servant said. He turned and began walking away, so the two friends proceeded to follow him past a series of large ornate doors, stopping finally at the largest entrance at the very end of the long corridor.

“The princesses will see you momentarily. Please have a seat while you wait,” the servant told them as he gestured to a couple of antique chairs. The unicorn walked away, leaving them to patiently wait for their turn to have an audience with their rulers.

“Are you ready for this?” Draft asked as he took a seat on one of the chairs sitting outside of the large doors. Spark took the spot next to him and figured out that they preferred pretty seats over comfortable ones in the castle. It was like sitting on a stiff board and the upholstery was itchy.

“As ready as I’ll ever be,” Spark replied. “I suppose I should lead with an apology for fighting with the guards and then get into everything I know from Chestnut and Strata. With any luck, the princesses will know a good way to proceed with the situation.” If not then this whole journey will have been for nothing, he thought.

“After this we can go visit with Star for a while, before trying to find Silver Blood. Hopefully he’s still somewhere in the city,” Draft said.

“Right, then tomorrow your brother should be arriving and we’ll get him up to speed on what’s been going on,” Spark continued.

“I’m curious to see how his little endeavor went as well,” Draft replied. The pegasus smiled at the thought of his headstrong brother traveling all the way to Canterlot with the hippogriff.

“I almost forgot we also need to find out what became of our chariot and saddle bags,” Spark gasped. A flying cart wasn’t likely to be left alone for long. They would be fortunate if it was still where they left it.

“Actually, Inferno took care of that this morning. Our stuff is waiting for us outside the hospital,” Draft assured him.

“Oh, good, that’s one less matter to attend to then,” Spark replied as he tried to think of any other business that they had to take care of, but couldn’t come up with anything that he had forgotten. I guess there’s nothing left to do now, but wait for our turn, he thought, as he leaned back in the stiff seat.

The seconds crept by agonizingly slow for Spark as he sat with Draft, just outside of the princesses’ throne room. He was normally very patient, but it wasn’t everyday that he was waiting to meet the princesses and his nervous energy quickly developed into restlessness. He occupied his mind with thoughts of Charm and decided that, before they went to meet Silver Blood, he would be sure to send her a letter. The lovely mare would most likely be worried sick about him. Finally the doors creaked open and a small group of rich looking ponies exited from their meeting. Most of them didn’t even give the haggard looking unicorn a second glance. He supposed that he must look pretty ragged and mentally kicked himself for not bathing before he met the most important ponies in Equestria. It was just one more reminder of why Spark didn’t drink to excess anymore.

“Mister Nature Spark, Mister Backdraft, the princesses will see you now,” the servant informed them as he returned from whatever duties had pulled him away before. The two stallions stood up and walked past the unicorn, who had called for them, into the large throne room. The first detail that struck Spark was how beautifully designed the place was. It was larger than any room he had ever been in and the detail in the craftsmanship was astounding. As he looked to the front of the room, Spark saw Princess Celestia and Princess Luna seated at their thrones. Their majesty caused all thoughts of the architecture to leave his mind. The unicorn was dumbstruck with the stunning beauty of the sisters as they watched him approach.

They were unlike anything Spark had ever seen. Celestia was radiant and shining, her flowing mane lit with all the colors of the dawn. Her eyes shined with a breathtaking brilliance. Just the sight of the alicorn made him want to be a better pony. Beside her sat Princess Luna, who was quite different, but no less beautiful than her elder sister. Her coat was sleek and dark, with beautiful eyes to match. Staring into her face, Spark was struck by a feeling of mysterious enchantment. No wonder they had been the leaders of Equestria for so long, he thought as he gazed upon their enchantment. Their very presence made it hard for the stallion to think straight. Thankfully, it was Celestia who spoke first; because Spark didn’t believe he had the power to break the trance they had him under.

“YOU ARE THE ONE CALLED NATURE SPARK, SON OF THE LATE OAKEN FIELD, ARE YOU NOT!?” Celestia asked him, her voice like thunder in Spark’s head. A throbbing pain radiated from his ear drums and reverberated in his skull. He had known that fighting with the night guards would make the princesses upset, but he hadn’t expected the yelling to begin so soon after meeting them.

“Yes, Princess Celestia,” Spark replied with a bow. He wasn’t sure what else to say to her, so he chose to speak as little as possible.

“AND YOU MUST BE BACKDRAFT,” Celestia continued as she turned her attention to the pegasus. “WE HAVE HEARD A GREAT MANY THINGS ABOUT THE TWO OF YOU. PLEASE, FORGIVE OUR GUARDS FOR THE MISUNDERSTANDING THAT TOOK PLACE LAST NIGHT. THEY HAVE BEEN ON EDGE EVER SINCE WE HEARD THE NEWS ABOUT THE CRYSTAL EMPIRE’S ACCUSATIONS!” Celestia had just apologized, but for some reason she was still yelling at him. Spark didn’t sense any hostility in her words however, so he was confused by the situation.

Draft noticed the befuddlement on his friend’s face and whispered to him, “I think this is what Star meant by ‘the royal Canterlot voice’.” He was right, the unicorn realized, this must have been what Star had meant. That sly little mare had known this would happen, although the hangover was just unfortunate circumstance. Spark was going to have to have a few words with her about setting him up like she had.

“There is no reason for you to apologize on your subject’s behalf, my princess. I am just as much at fault,” Spark replied. He tried to give his most humble smile, but he was lucky just to be standing, with his hungover brain being verbally attacked the way it was. Every word the princesses shouted was like a blow to his mind.

“DO NOT MISUNDERSTAND US, NATURE SPARK. MY SISTER WAS APPOLOGIZING ABOUT STAR BEING PUT IN DANGER. WHAT YOU DID LAST NIGHT IS QUESTIONABLE AT BEST!” Luna retorted. She did seem to be a little angry at Spark, but he supposed that he deserved it from her. It was Luna’s guards that he had fought with, or so Draft had told him. “FOR NOW, WE WILL SETTLE FOR WHATEVER INFORMATION YOU MAY HAVE REGARDING THE KIDNAPPING OF THE CRYSTAL EMPRESS!”

“Yes of course, my princess, but if I may be so bold as to ask,” Spark replied carefully, “is there any way that you could lower your voice a few decibels please. You see, I have a dreadful hangover and the yelling isn’t helping me straighten out my thoughts any faster.” He smiled sheepishly at the alicorns. Spark knew that it was probably very rude to ask that sort of question, especially in his position, but he really didn’t think that he would be able to continue if they were shouting the whole time. Draft was just doing his best to hold back his laughter; the whole situation seemed to be hilarious to the pegasus.

“WE SEE YOUR PO-, ahem, I see your point,” Luna responded. “I am so used to speaking that way to everypony, that I sometimes forget how startling it can be to hear for the first time. The fact that Star did not inform you of our customs has not helped much either.” Now that she was speaking at a normal volume, Spark was able to actually enjoy the sweet melody of Luna’s speech. It was soft, but self assured; the perfect voice for a princess.

“Thank you your majesties,” Spark replied as he and Draft bowed to Celestia and Luna, before they started their story. Spark told them nearly everything, with Draft chiming in whenever the unicorn accidentally missed something that could be deemed important. It took a while to tell, because Spark had to stop and explain certain facts to the princesses, but eventually he reached the conclusion to his tale. They were all quiet for a few minutes, while Celestia and Luna talked quietly with each other and it was Celestia that broke the silence at last.

“You have given us much to think about, Nature Spark, and the fact that I so greatly respected your father’s opinions, adds power to your words. If you are even a small part of the stallion that he was, then what you have said must be taken under careful consideration.” Celestia replied, before glancing to her sister to see if Luna had anything to add.

“From the letters that my pupil has sent me, I know that you are a pure hearted unicorn, Nature Spark. I am very grateful for all that you have done for me and am in your debt for what you have done to keep Star safe,” Luna explained. “My sister and I will have a long conversation tonight, but I’m afraid that it may already be too late.” Her countenance morphed in to one of sorrow as she let Celestia finish her words.

“We have learned that the rulers of the Crystal Empire are going to make their decision about whether or not they will declare war on Equestria, today,” Celestia explained to them.

“Oh no, but th-there has to be more time,” Spark stuttered. He couldn’t believe what the princesses were telling him. He had tried so hard to make it in time. “What if I could bring a witness to them? The hippogriff that Draft’s brother is traveling here with, she knows about the griffon involvement. We could try to convince them.” Spark just had to do something more. He couldn’t accept war as inevitability.

“It is possible that her testimony could make a difference, but I’m not so sure that going without physical proof is in your best interest. If they still decide to start a war, then you may be held as a prisoner,” Celestia replied coolly. She looked genuinely worried for Spark, but he wouldn’t let that change his mind.

“I’m afraid, your majesties, that you’ll find my friend Spark to have a mind that is very hard to change after it has reached a decision,” Draft replied, smiling knowingly at the unicorn. “Unless you expressly forbid us from going, then it would seem we have our next mission.” The princesses stared at them both for a short time before replying.

“It seems that you follow in your father’s hoofsteps to a fault. He too was a stallion determined to make a difference, even at the cost of his own life,” Celestia replied as she gave them a nod of acceptance.

“It would seem that my sister and I are in agreement on the matter then. You have our blessing to act as emissary for Equestria,” Luna added. “I wish you and your friends the best of luck, Nature Spark. Maybe you can do what we could not and end this war before it begins.”

“Thank you, my princesses,” Spark replied with yet another bowed after he had spoken and Draft did likewise. “You have done a great kindness by allowing us an audience with you. I hope that I am able to repay the favor. We will leave in a few days time.” The stallions bowed once more, out of nervousness, and were then escorted out of the throne room and back towards the castle entrance, by the same unicorn from earlier. Neither of them spoke until they reached the open air again.

“That went better than I expected,” Draft stated. He let out a sigh of relief and visibly slumped from the exhaustion of talking with their rulers.

“Yeah,” Spark agreed. Now that they were outside, he had an important matter to attend to. “I’ll be right back.”

“What the hay are you-” Draft stopped midsentence as Spark began to empty his stomach contents, mostly bile and whiskey, into a bush a few yards from the castle’s entrance. The pegasus looked around to make sure there were no guards nearby. When he had finished, Spark wiped off his mouth and walked back to where Draft was waiting for him with a slightly annoyed expression on his grey face.

“Sorry about that. I was holding that in the whole time we were in there with the princesses. I didn’t figure it would be considered good manners to throw up in the company of the rulers of all Equestria, heh heh,” Spark chuckled humorlessly. His mouth tasted sour and he needed something to rinse it out, but that would have to wait. Draft facehoofed and then started walking down the road once again. Spark followed, feeling much better after getting that little bit of unpleasantness dealt with.

“I think that we may have to make the journey to the Crystal Kingdom without Star. It wouldn’t surprise me if it takes a few days for her to bounce back,” Draft said. They passed the final gates of the castle property and began to head towards the hospital. “I’d imagine that Inferno will want to stay by her side. That will leave you, me and my brother, assuming that he makes it here in one piece.”

“I suppose you’re right. I have to say that it’s probably for the best. I was going to have Star stay in Manehatten if we had to continue anyway,” Spark repied. It wasn’t that he thought Star was a liability, but the unicorn would feel better if it was only Draft and Downpour accompanying him. The brothers knew what kind of trouble being friends with him could put them in, where as Star did not. Granted, his current objective was a fair bit worse than a ‘bad trip’, so he would rather make the journey completely alone. Finding a way to keep the pegasus from following would be an improbable task though.

“Really? After she traveled with us for a week, not to mention saving your sorry flank, you’d leave her behind?” Draft asked. He looked aghast that his friend would even consider doing that to Star, though he had planned to do the same thing himself.

“Yes. Even if she was in good enough shape to make it all the way north with us, I wouldn’t let her,” Spark replied flatly. “The fact is, that she almost died and, whether or not it was my fault, traveling with me will only lead to more risks at this point.” Spark wasn’t sure why Draft couldn’t just accept his concerns.

“I just think that your being a bit hast-”

“The point is moot, Draft,” Spark interjected, cutting the pegasus off. “She couldn’t make the journey if she wanted to. Star got hurt trying to save us, or did you forget about that!?” He had no right to yell at his friend, but Spark already felt bad for what he had done. Draft trying to convince him to put her in danger for a second time certainly wasn’t going to help anything.

“I’ll meet you at the hospital,” Draft replied as he took to the air and quickly disappeared over the tall buildings. Way to royally buck up, Spark thought, as he mentally kicked himself for the second time that day. The princesses had forgiven him, so he could always go back and shit on their throne or something, if he wanted to make things worse. Spark wanted to blame all of his actions on the booze, but the fact that he was screwing up lately was all on him. He rounded, what he thought was, the last corner before he would reach the hospital. The sun wasn’t quite at its apex yet and Spark knew then that it was going to be a long day as he stared up into the cloudy skies.

Spark arrived at the hospital soon after Draft and saw their flying chariot sitting a little ways from the entrance. He didn’t see any of their belongings and assumed that they must have been put in Star’s room. Draft was waiting for him at the entrance of the building with a stern expression as he trotted over.

“Look, I know that you feel bad about what happened last night, but you need to stow it while we’re in there. I know you blame yourself and I do too, but this isn’t the time to act like a dick, so whatever issues you have should be saved for later,” Draft lectured him. The pegasus was right of course, Spark had no reason to take his feelings out on those closest to him. He blamed it on not getting high at all that day.

“I’m sorry, okay?” Spark sighed defeated as he hung his head in shame. “I should be better than this. No, I will be better. I just… I don’t know.” He wasn’t sure what to say, because he had reacted badly to a bad situation. There wasn’t much more the unicorn could do than to try better from then on.

“I know, Spark. You care, maybe too much, but for everypony’s sake, can you just try to put on a happy front and get through this?” Draft asked.

“Yeah, that’s the least I can do for Star and for the princesses,” Spark replied with a forced smile. It wasn’t just his friends depending on him now, it was also the princesses and, by extension, all of Equestria.

“She did what she thought she needed to do. You would have done the same,” Draft told him. The pegasus may have been younger, but it was Spark that felt like a foal at that moment. “If we have any hope of succeeding with this, then you have to learn to accept the decisions that your friends make. You aren’t the only one that wants to keep Equestria from going to war!” Draft lowered his voice as one of the nurses walked out of the front doors. “Mistakes are going to be made, it’s unavoidable, but that’s the only way we learn how to be better ponies.”

“I get it,” Spark assured his friend. “Let’s go see Star. I’m sure that Inferno is eager to get to whatever business she wanted to attend to.” He walked through the front doors as Draft followed behind him.

The hospital was just as stark and depressing as Spark recalled and the memories of his night there hit him like a tidal wave. The rush of doctors and nurses, their talking drowned out by his self pity and his inability to help with anything swarmed through his head. The unicorn took a deep breath and walked beside Draft, down the halls towards the Star’s room. The walk felt like it took an eternity to Spark.

Star was sleeping when the stallions entered and they decided it was best not to disturb her for the time being. Inferno was sitting in a chair near the foot of the mare’s bed, the dragon’s expression caught somewhere between exhaustion and sadness as she waited for her companion to awaken.

“Hey, we’re here to relieve you of your watch,” Spark told her. She smiled up at the unicorn when he spoke.

“It’s about time you showed up. Did you have a fun night?” Inferno questioned. She grinned up at him and Spark wondered how much she had heard about his night. “We talked to the guards this morning,” she explained. “They had tracked down the owners of the sky chariot. They said that they lost you in the city streets. By the time that they found you again, you were apparently very intoxicated and tried to fight them when they stopped you to talk.” That matched up with what Spark had heard. “I guess we made quite the entrance into the city, didn’t we?”

“Yeah, I guess we did,” Spark chuckled. He took the chair next to Inferno and peered over to Star. The small unicorn seemed to be stable right then, but had bandages wrapped around her horn. “You said that you had somewhere to go didn’t you?”

“Spark and I will be here if she wakes up,” Draft chimed in. “We wouldn’t want you to miss out on attending to your plans.” The pegasus had taken the only other open seat in the sparsely furnished room. The few chairs along the wall weren’t much more comfortable than the ones in the castle though.

“Yes. It shouldn’t take long,” Inferno replied. “I just wanted to see my mother while we were in town.” The young dragon hopped off of her chair and walked out the door without another word.

“Wait. Did you say your mother?” Spark called after her. He was to late though, because she had already left the room. Inferno’s mother; she must be an interesting dragon, Spark thought, but he couldn’t fathom why she would be living in the city. He looked over at Draft, who seemed to be thinking along the same lines.

“I’m not even going to bother asking her about it,” Draft grinned back. They looked each other in the eyes and laughed after that. It felt good for them to be tension free, even if it was just temporary and Spark enjoyed the feeling of contentment.

Spark and Draft both waited patiently in the hospital room for what seemed like hours. They talked about the past week they’d had, for the most part, but also about what was likely to happen when they left the capitol. It wasn’t long after lunch that Star finally stirred from her sleep, greeting them in a raspy voice.

“Good morning,” Star called out as she looked around the room and rubbed the sleep from her eyes. “How did the meeting with the princesses go?”

“It went well,” Draft told her as he got up and walked to her bedside.

“You are a crafty mare. You know that right?” Spark asked. He joined the grey pegasus standing near her once he had. “You could have given us a better warning about the Canterlot voice.” Star stared up to him with feigned ignorance.

“Why Spark, whatever do you mean?” Star asked softly. She couldn’t help but to giggle a bit, which elicited a pained expression on her face.

“Don’t you play dumb with me. I had to talk to the princesses with the worst hangover I’ve had in years,” Spark glared playfully. His horn glowed as he pulled up two of the chairs, so that Draft and he could sit down while they talked to their injured companion. “I thought you were my friend.”

“You should have seen his face, Star, it was priceless. Then we finally walk out of the front door and he pukes all over one of the bushes,” Draft laughed.

“Then it was completely worth it,” Star responded. She looked at Spark and he facehoofed at her gleeful expression. There wasn’t anything more embarrassing than that.

“Yeah, yeah, laugh it up. So, I guess I should just get down to business,” Spark mumbled. The brown stallion’s expression changed to one of concern as he locked eyes with the mare. “I’m truly sorry for what happened to you.”

“Don’t worry about it. I already talked to Luna and she apologized for her guard’s uncouth behavior,” Star shrugged.

“Yes, but all the same, I still put you in harms way by bringing you with me,” Spark told her.

“Oh, and I suppose that you think traveling alone is any safer?” Star asked as she shot him a look that could have frozen water. “Draft was right; you are a martyr. The fact is, that I would have been worse off if I had traveled with Inferno alone, so you have no reason to act all angsty about it. If anypony here has a reason to complain it’s me.” She made a good point, Spark realized.

“Alright, I concede all angst to you,” Spark retorted as he threw up his hooves in defeat. “Can you forgive me though?”

“Of course I forgive you. What kind of friend would I be if I didn’t?” Star asked. She groaned as she forced her hoof out to touch his cheek. “Just promise me that you will be easier on yourself in the future.”

“I promise, Star…” Spark replied quietly. He started to tear up and had to excuse himself before he could ruin the mood of the room. The unicorn cleared his watery eyes and decided it was a good time to find a private place to get high. He slowly made his way back outside, dodging the ponies rushing around the halls, and to the belongings they had left in the chariot. It didn’t seem like anything had been stolen as he walked up, but Spark double checked all of his gear just to be sure. He found his pouch of herbs, his dagger and the healing potions that he had brought. “Well, at least everything important is still here, that’s what I was really worried about.”

“You should really stop talking to yourself, at least out loud. It makes you come off a little crazy,” Draft informed him with a chuckle as he walked up.

“You should work on not sneaking up on ponies,” Spark replied. “It makes you seem like a creep.” Spark smirked back at his friend. “Shouldn’t somepony have stayed with Star?” he asked a second later.

“I was going to, but her food came and she said that she’d rather not have me staring at her while she tried to eat,” Draft explained.

“See, even she agrees you’re a total creep,” Spark joked. His horn glowed green as his magic rolled up a joint and put away all of their supplies. “Now, any idea where we can go to light this bad boy? I don’t want to be bothered.”

“As a matter of fact, I found the perfect spot behind the hospital. I saw it when I was flying over to the dungeon to bail you out,” Draft told his friend.

The stallions made their way to a small clearing in the middle of some bushes and spent the next ten minutes doing their best to forget about the previous night. It worked fairly well and the pair were soon laughing and making general fools of themselves. Spark counted his blessings that nopony could see them as he chortled and shouted. It probably wouldn’t help with the reputation he was forming in this city.

“You don’t remember at all?” Draft asked. The pegasus was in the midst of questioning Spark about his memories of the fight, but he wasn’t getting anywhere.

“Nope. I’m telling you, I was flat out drunk at that point,” Spark replied. “For all I know, they could have made the whole thing up, but judging by my aching body, I don’t think so.” He stood up and started to make his way out of the bushes and Draft followed behind him. The air had a chill to it still, but Spark ignored that for the time being. He could worry about freezing to death when they all traveled north, to the Crystal Empire. “I just realized that we’re going to need some warmer gear if we plan on completing this mission, because it’s getting awfully close to winter.”

“Oh yeah, I hadn’t thought about that,” Draft replied. The pegasus scratched his head as he considered it. “How much money do we have?”

“Not nearly enough to buy clothing, food and medicine. We might have to get a loan or something,” Spark informed his friend. He didn’t like owing ponies money, but the unicorn couldn’t see any other choices.

“What if we ask the princesses?” Draft asked. “I’m sure that they wouldn’t mind funding us. We are going there for them after all.” He was right about that, but the unicorn was loathe to borrow money from Celestia and Luna. “It’s either that or we find a way to make some quick bits.” How they could manage that was beyond either of them though. Spark sighed as he turned to his winged companion.

“Asking the princesses it is then. Maybe Star could do it for us though,” Spark mumbled. The pegasus shot him a blank stare. “What? I just think she has a better shot.”

“You’re pathetic,” Draft groaned.

“I know,” Spark sighed as he kept walking past his hovering friend, into the hospital where they could leave the cold weather behind them for awhile.

“Yeah, I suppose I could ask Luna to loan you some bits,” Star responded to their request, once they had returned from their quick smoking session. “I don’t think she’d have any problem with that. How much do you need?” The mare was looking much better after she had gotten some food down, Spark noticed. Her head was still bandaged, but she told them her skull wasn’t aching nearly as much as it had been.

“Enough to get Draft, Downpour and I equipped for the trip,” Spark replied. He stopped her before she had the chance to object to his statement. “I know what you’re going to say, but there is no way that you are up to traveling that far right now and I want Inferno here to keep you company.” Star lay back down with a resigned huff.

“Fine, I’ll send a letter to Luna when Inferno gets back, but you owe me one and I still expect you to take us to Manehatten when you get back,” Star snapped. She put on a pouty face, which seemed completely unfair to Spark. Not that he was planning on changing his mind about escorting the pair to Manehatten, but that look would have made it impossible if he had been on the fence about his decision.

“I wouldn’t even think of breaking my word,” Spark replied. He smiled at her and chuckled, “By the way, is Inferno really visiting her mother?” He would have liked to meet the dragon that gave birth to the young girl.

“Yes. She lives in a cave underneath the city,” Star explained. “I’ve met her a couple of times, but Inferno is a little embarrassed of her.”

“Really, but why?” Spark questioned. He wondered how a dragon came to be living under the capitol of Equestria, but assumed that it was a long story that was best saved for later.

“Well, that isn’t really my place to say. If you want to learn more about her, I would suggest you ask Inferno yourself. I wouldn’t expect much of an answer though,” Spark replied with a quick wave of her hoof.

“When do you think she’ll be back?” Draft asked as he stretched out his wings restlessly. Like most pegasus, he didn’t care for cramped quarters.

“I can’t imagine that she’ll be gone for long. She and her mother do not exactly get along,” Star told him. “She usually only visits for a few hours and then comes back in a sour mood.”

“In that case, I think I’ll go stretch my wings for a while. Are you two fine here?” Draft asked them. They both nodded at the pegasus and he walked out of the room, leaving them to chat until Inferno returned. The time passed fairly quickly though.

It was just a few hours before sunset when Inferno did eventually make it back to Star’s room. She didn’t seem to be in a terrible mood, but Spark still didn’t want to ask her about the visit. The chubby dragon took a chair next to Star’s bed and the two friends caught her up on the events of the day. It didn’t take long and when they were finished, Inferno appeared to be back to her old self again.

“Going to the Crystal Empire, you say? When are you stallions going to be leaving?” Inferno asked him. Spark hadn’t given the trip much thought, besides the plan to wait for Downpour of course.

“The sooner the better, I guess. We need to try and get this situation diffused before it blows out of everypony’s control. I’d imagine that we’ll leave the day after tomorrow, at the very latest,” Spark told her. They would need a little time for Draft to fix up the sky chariot and to gather supplies, but he figured that between the three of them it wouldn’t take longer than a day.

“I hate to admit this,” Inferno replied, “but I think I’m actually going to miss you two… just a little bit.” She smirked at the stallion and giggled.

“Please, you’ll probably be crying once you don’t have us around anymore. I can see it now,” Spark said and then did a poor interpretation of her whining as he spoke. “Oh Star, I miss them sooo much. Spark most of all, because he’s the nicest, funniest and most good looking stallion in aaall of Equestria.” Inferno just rolled her eyes at him.

A few minutes later, Draft rejoined them in the room and they all spent the rest of the night laughing and talking. Spark was overjoyed that everything sppeared to be going their way for a while. He was especially happy that he wasn’t going to wake up in a cell again. The hangover he’d had only wore off a little while after Inferno returned and Spark didn’t want a repeat of the experience.

The three ponies and single dragon went to bed earlier than they usual did, still exhausted from their trip to the capitol. Inferno snuggled up with Star on the bed and the stallions grabbed some blankets from their supplies outside. Inferno and Star fell asleep quickly, but Spark and Draft stayed up for a while, talking about whatever came to their still slightly inebriated minds.

“My brother should be back tomorrow,” Draft stated.

“Mhmm,” Spark mumbled in recognition.

“I wonder if Strata is going to be with him,” Draft continued. Spark was pretty sure that the hippogriff would be, because his whole plan depended on her.

“She wants my help pretty badly, so I’ll tell her that if she comes with us then I’ll go with her and try to convince the hippogriffs to side with Equestria,” Spark assured his friend. If she didn’t join them, then Spark would have to rethink his strategy quite a bit. “We can deal with that mess when the time comes though. I want to get some sleep.”

“Yeah, me too,” Draft agreed. “Night, Spark.” The pegasus yawned and rolled onto his side. Spark sighed deeply and closed his eyes a moment later.

“Good night, Draft,” He replied as he closed his tired, brown eyes and let sleep take him under its spell and into the surrealism of his dreams.

Author's Note:

Ah, the joys of hangovers. They're much more fun to write about than experience, but so are quite a few things. Spark finally gets the opportunity to meet with Celestia and Luna in this chapter, quite the buildup for what is essentially just the beginning of the story I suppose.

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