• 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.12 Regrouping

~Chapter 12: Regrouping~

His back was very stiff; that was the first thought in Spark’s head when he awoke that morning. His spine popped several times as he got to his hooves and stretched out, but nothing life threatening. Everypony else was still sleeping soundly and the unicorn did his best not to wake them as he used his magic to open the door and leave the room. They had quite a bit to do that day and Spark figured he could get part of it finished while his friends caught up on their sleep. The hospital was less busy early in the morning, so getting out the front door didn’t take as long for him as it would have if he’d tried in the afternoon.

Celestia was just starting to raise the sun, so the air still held the cold chill of night. Spark shivered as he made his way to their parked chariot and grabbed a cloak from his bag. He wrapped it around his body tightly and then sat down on the back of the vehicle. His horn began to glow as he floated out some herbs and a paper. The unicorn wasted no time rolling a joint and lighting it up with a contented sigh. The shops wouldn’t be open for a while and Spark had no idea when Downpour and Strata would be arriving, so he figured there was a little time to kill.

“What a crazy life you have lately, Spark,” he observed out loud. “You’re sitting outside of a Canterlot hospital and getting ready to go on a mission sanctioned by the princesses themselves.” Spark glanced around quickly after he’d spoken. Draft had a habit of sneaking up on him when he talked to himself and it was beginning to make the unicorn paranoid, but he didn’t spy the dark grey pegasus anywhere. He shrugged his shoulders and resumed smoking, the high soon causing his mind to wander.

“I guess now is a good time to write a letter to Charm and I suppose one for my mother couldn’t hurt,” Spark said to himself. He levitated a piece of parchment and a quill in front of his face, but wasn’t really sure where to start. He decided to write to Charm first and began to recount most of the events of the past week, quill scribbling furiously in his magical grip. Spark made sure to tone down the dangerous parts; there was no reason to make his marefriend worry after all. He also wrote down some of his feelings and desires, but they were hard to convey on paper. The frustrated unicorn really wished that he could simply talk to Charm face to face, but that wasn’t going to happen for a while it seemed. He scribbled furiously for a few minutes more, as he tried to cram everything he wanted to say into one letter and then signed it ‘With Love, Nature Spark’. He had never really written any love letters before, not that this was exactly a love letter, but it seemed an appropriate way to end the note. After he was done with the first letter, Spark began to write one to his mother. It was essentially the same, minus the mushy love stuff, so he finished with it quickly and then rolled both pages up and tied a ribbon around each one with his magic.

“I wonder where a post office is. Guess I’d better go wander around until I find one,” Spark mumbled as he strapped on his saddle bags. He shoved the letters inside and left to search out a post office. He could most likely find out where one was from some pedestrian, Spark thought. Somepony was bound to help out if he asked, because he was in the capitol of Equestria, the most peaceful country in the world, after all.

Spark walked around the city for a half an hour or so before he even found a pony that didn’t look too busy to help him. She was a turquoise mare with a light blue mane and her cutie mark looked like it may have been ice cream or something. Spark didn’t get a very good look because she was sitting on a bench as he approached. The mare, whose name he soon learned was Pepper, pointed him in the direction of the nearest post office.

“It’s about six blocks that way,” she pointed out to him. “It has a big sign out front, so you can’t miss it.” Spark thanked her and was once again on his way.

It looked to be about seven by the time Spark made it to the post office and dropped the letters off to be delivered. They would take a couple days, but that couldn’t really be helped. He paid the mailmare and then decided to find some breakfast. The unicorn’s herb induced hunger was starting to get the better of him and his stomach rumbled its unhappiness.

“I wonder where the closest place to get some haycakes is,” Spark asked himself. He was missing Coffee Bean’s Diner as he walked past block after block of overpriced restaurants. The syrupy soaked cakes he got in Dodge were the best Spark had ever had and he was doubtful that any eatery in Canterlot would have the hometown charm he enjoyed. “I guess I’ll just have to settle for anything hot and fresh,” he sighed.

Spark walked around aimlessly for awhile, until he found an open diner. It was a decent looking place, a bit fancy for his taste, but most places in Canterlot were. The sign above the door read ‘The Hub’ and it looked like a busy place. There were quite a few ponies gathered in the building and Spark could only see a few open tables when as he made his way through the throng of bodies. I guess The Hub is where ponies like to hang out, he thought to himself. It must have been a pretty decent place to get breakfast. The unicorn took an open seat in the back where he could pony watch while he waited for some service, but it didn’t take long for a pretty, sand colored waitress to spot him and walk over to take his order.

“Hi, I’m Sandra and I’ll be your waitress this morning,” she beamed at him. Of course you are, Spark thought as he eyed the mare. “What can I get for you today? Our specials are the alfalfa waffles and the breakfast sandwich. Both of those come with fresh orange juice or coffee.” Sandra smiled at him and her horn glowed with yellow magic as she levitated a paper and quill out in front of her.

“Umm, you know what, Sandra. I think I’ll take some haycakes and a coffee,” Spark told her. She scribbled down his order quickly as he spoke.

“And is that going to be all for you?” she asked him after she’d finished writing.

“Yeah, I believe so,” he replied.

“Okay, that will be out in just a few minutes,” Sandra informed him as she filled his cup with steaming black coffee. “Just let me know if you need anything else.” The waitress turned and zigzagged her way through the room full of ponies before Spark could thank her, disappearing through the doors to the kitchen. He spent the time waiting for his meal by checking out the décor and the patrons. The unicorn was struck by the variety of pastel colors surrounding him. Ponies were certainly a very diverse race, though he couldn’t fathom the reason why. Spark’s food was brought to him fairly quickly, or so it seemed since his attention wasn’t focused on the time, even though the diner was very busy.

“Here are your haycakes,” the waitress said as she walked up to the table. “Did you need more coffee?” Sandra levitated a plate over to him as she spoke. The haycakes were golden brown and dripping with syrup, just the way he liked them.

“Nope, I think that’ll be all. Thank you, Sandra,” Spark replied. He gave the cute mare a smile as she left and then took a bite of the delicious looking food. It was good, not quite the same as Coffee Bean’s, but very good none the less. He’d have to remember where this place was if he ever found himself in Canterlot again.

Spark finished his breakfast at a leisurely pace and leaned back in his seat contentedly once it was gone. That really hit the spot, he thought. He made sure to leave a few bits for a tip and then exited through the front doors, apologizing as he bumped into another pony that was trying to enter. Stepping out into the cloudy day, Spark took in a breath of fresh air and set off for the hospital. His friends should all have been up by then, so the stoned stallion figured that it was a good time to talk with them about their plans for the day. He certainly had a few tasks to take care of as well.

Star was going to talk to the princesses about financing his excursion and Inferno would be helping her out. Draft would probably want to wait around for his brother to get back, so Spark would wait with him and then they could try to find Silver Blood if they got the time. Once that was over with, it would be time to take Strata, Downpour and Draft with him to the castle so that they could all talk with Celestia and Luna. Barring any unforeseen circumstances he expected them to be able to leave in the morning.

Nature Spark’s thoughts had drifted as he traveled the maze of streets and he soon found himself walking down an unfamiliar path.

“I have got to stop daydreaming all the time,” he groaned. A quick scan of his surroundings didn’t prove to be much of a help, so he tried to retrace his hoofsteps and reach the street he should have turned down originally. He only managed to get even more lost than he had been. Each of the tall buildings in the area looked similar to each other and it was really confusing the half blind stallion.

“Oh, buck me sideways,” he said exasperatedly. “Just what I needed right now was to get lost in the biggest city in Equestria.” Maybe he could find a pony to point him in the right direction, Spark considered, it had worked for him when he needed to find the post office, after all. He trotted up and down streets for a short while before seeing anypony to ask, but was finally rewarded with the sight of a small, lavender colored pegasus leaning against the side of a brick building.

“Thank Celestia,” Spark said, his words coming out between panting breaths. “You, uh, wouldn’t happen to know how to get to the hospital from here, would you?” He smiled hopefully down at the mare and waited for a response, but one never came. Upon closer inspection, he noticed that her eyes had rolled up into her skull, so he tried shaking her a little. The mare only slumped to the ground and began convulsing in response. “Aw shit, she’s overdosed on something.” Spark’s mind began to race as he mentally compared her symptoms to different drugs reactions he’d seen before.

Okay, okay, Spark needed to think. Besides convulsions, what was wrong with her? He peered in her mouth, ears, eyes and nose to check for any noticeable peculiarities. She had dry mouth, discoloration of the tongue and her lips were bluing; oxygen deprivation in the blood. Better check her pulse, Spark told himself. He could feel a heart beat, but it was very faint, as was her breath, which meant she’d had trouble breathing. Her tiny pupils were the most telling symptom, however. “Bucking hay, she’s overdosing on opiates!” The unicorn knew what he should do, but wasn’t sure that he had the right drugs to counteract the chemicals.

Spark began to frantically tear stuff out of his saddle bags, sending clothes and various mixtures flying about. Finally his magic gripped what he was looking for, a small vial full of a clear liquid. “Bingo!” He grabbed the vial and slammed a small metal tube into the end of it. After that was finished, he spun around and jabbed it right through the pegasus’s ribs in one swift motion. It pierced into her heart and his magic instantly pushed the fluid out of the vial into the unconscious mare’s bloodstream. She awoke with a jolting scream a split second after.

“Aaaaahhhhhh!” she screamed. The pegasus’s eyes were wide with terror and she began to shiver from fear. Her gaze darted around the empty street before finally resting on the light brown unicorn that had saved her life. Spark just smiled at her and offered a hoof to help her to her own. “Get the hay away from me you freak!” The lavender mare turned and fled from Spark, soaring away as if he’d tried to molest her. Spark just stared after her with his mouth hanging open in complete disbelief.

“What is wrong with this Luna forsaken city?” Spark screamed at the brick faced building. That was the last reaction he had expected to receive after saving a mare’s life. He hadn’t even gotten the chance to ask her for directions to the hospital. “Whatever, I’ll just find it on my own.” His voice echoed off of the rundown walls of the city. Judging only by the buildings around him, Spark certainly wouldn’t have known he was still in Canterlot, but thankfully he could still spot the castle, rising above the squalor like a shining beacon of hope.

Spark knew he could find his way back to the hospital if he just got to the main road that led away from the castle, so he faced himself north and set off for it at a steady pace. He was not about to let the city get the best of him. If he could make it through Stone’s gang and a pack of diamond dogs, then he could make it through Canterlot.

“It’s going to be a long day,” he muttered as he tightened his saddle bags and continued down the street.
Once he found the road he was looking for Spark made his way to the hospital with relative ease. He arrived at the front doors before noon and sighed with relief as he stepped through the entrance. The unicorn made his way down the halls to the room where Star was staying and as he entered, Spark was greeted by the sight of all of his friends, even Downpour and Strata.

“Well, look at what the manticore dragged in.” Draft commented as he grinned at his friend. Downpour looked pretty beat. He had deep scratches along his left side and one of his ears had a small chunk missing from the tip. Strata was looking a little rough around the edges as well, so Spark asked the obvious question.

“What in the hay happened to you two?” They glanced at each other and broke into a fit of laughter.

“It is a long story, Nature Spark,” the hippogriff replied as she slumped into her chair and Spark levitated his own seat over. “I hear that you three had quite the trip as well.”

“I suppose we did.” Spark shrugged his shoulders and continued to say, “I think we can spare some time to hear your story though. I get the feeling that it’ll be a good one.” Everypony sat in rapt attention at Downpour and Strata began to recount the days after they had left their friends.

“Wow, you two had quite the adventure, didn’t you?” Star asked with a shake of her head. She was especially surprised to hear about the attacking griffons that they had faced on the way to Canterlot. It was pretty apparent that the Red Eyes were, in fact, the ones responsible for the crime against the Crystal Empire. That was the only reason they would have worked so hard to stop Strata from making it to the capitol of Equestria. Thankfully, she and Downpour were safe in the city now.

“I can’t believe that you two hooked up,” Spark stated, doing his best not to laugh as he spoke. “How, um, pardon me if this comes off as rude, but how is your family going to take the fact that your in a relationship with a pegasus?” The pair had skimmed over some of the details, though not enough to stop Star from blushing furiously and covering her ears, but the fact that they had hit it off so well was a surprise to everypony.

“To be honest, I’m not really sure how my family will take the news. I suppose we will find out when I take you to meet with them,” Strata replied. Downpour wrapped a foreleg around the griffon as she spoke.

“Please, baby, what is there to dislike about me?” Downpour laughed. The cocky pegasus winked at his marefriend and she rolled her eyes in response.

“I didn’t realize you liked older women, Downpour,” Draft said. The younger pegasus was making sure he got his fill of taunting in while he could. It wasn’t everyday that his older brother started dating a hippogriff.

“What can I say? I like how dominating she can be in a fight… and in bed,” Downpour chuckled. His words caused Star to choke on the water she had been sipping on and consequently, she sprayed it all over Inferno. The young dragon was not amused.

“You two need to keep the dirty talk to a minimum before you give Star a heart attack,” Inferno told them. She mock glared at the lovebirds and everypony started to laugh, causing Star’s black cheeks to turn a little red.

“Okay, let’s put a bookmark in this conversation and we’ll get back to it later, I need time to come up with some good jokes,” Spark said before he cleared his throat and tried his best to put on a serious expression. “For now, I think we should focus on the tasks at hoof. Star and Inferno, I need you to get the funding from the princesses.” They both nodded in agreement. “Now that I think about it, why don’t you take Strata with you, so that she can speak with the Celestia and Luna about what she knows.” Spark turned to the pegasus brothers as he continued. “While you three are doing that, Downpour, Draft and I will scour the city to try and find Silver Blood. Hopefully he hasn’t run away.” The two pegasus threw up mock salutes.

“Sir, yes sir!” they shouted as one. Spark facehoofed at their stupid antics.

“Right, we’ll meet back here when we’ve finished and then we can go out and get the necessary supplies. After that, I’ll go and talk with Celestia and Luna one last time to make sure that everything is in order. We should be able to leave in the morning, Spark informed his friends. “Any questions?” he asked them afterwards. He looked around the small room, but all of his friends appeared to be on the same page.

Before they left, everypony ate a quick lunch and gathered their supplies up. After dropping everything into the sky cart, they were ready to head out. The girls all left for the castle, Star having just been given the okay to leave from her doctor an hour earlier, while the boys found a quite place to smoke some herbs before they left.

“You asses let me leave without anything to smoke,” Downpour huffed as stared at Spark and his brother. “I just spent an entire week sober. I just wanted you to know that.” His glare could have scared off Discord as he spoke.

“Yeah, I thought about that after you left… my bad,” Spark grinned sheepishly. He really did feel bad about forgetting, but in the heat of the moment sending Downpour off with a bag of premium smokeables wasn’t at the front of the unicorn’s mind.

“What are you whining about? You volunteered to go and besides, it got you laid, didn’t it,” Daft asked rhetorically. Leave it to him to point out the silver lining in an unpleasant situation, Spark thought.

“Hay yeah, it did!” Downpour exclaimed. Being reminded of his little foray put the older pegasus back into high spirits and he grinned like an idiot as Spark finished rolling up a very large joint. The unicorn passed it to Downpour once he was finished.

“I’ll let you do the honors,” Spark said as he stuck out his horn. Downpour puffed on the end of the joint as he sparked it with his friend’s magic. The pegasus inhaled deeply and held it in for as long as he could before letting out a cloud of smoke, accompanied by loud coughing.

“That’s what I’m talking about right there. If I’d been able to get high after kicking those griffons flanks up and down Equestria I might have felt a little better,” Downpour sighed. His eyes grew red before he had even passed the rolled up herbs to the left.

“What did you do with the griffons after you caught them? Did you find out any information from them?” Spark asked, but he wasn’t prepared for his friends answer.

“I didn’t have the chance,” Downpour replied. “They were out for blood, so Strata and I killed all four of them. They’re probably rotting in the mountains near the White Tail Woods as we speak.” He said it nonchalantly, as if he wasn’t talking about ending the lives of four griffons, who probably had families. Draft just sat back and watched the exchange coolly.

“What the buck, Downpour, did you even give them the chance to surrender before you slaughtered them?” Spark asked. The pegasus was fuming as he got to his hooves and began to yell. “I’m guessing Strata told you that was the way it needed to be, huh? Well, that’s not the way we do shit around here!”

“You know what Spark? Go buck yourself, the pegasus retorted. “You weren’t there and you don’t know what happened.” Downpour got right up in his friend’s face. “I’d suggest that you wake the hay up and climb off your pedestal, before I knock you off. In case you weren’t aware yet, we are about to go to war. I didn’t want this, but those griffons sure seem to, so if they want to come provoke me, well then, that’s there bucking loss! Got it?” The pegasus sat back down with a scowl etched onto his face.

“I know everything is messed up right now, but if we just start killing everypony that we come across who has some issues with us, then what the hay makes us any better than them?” Spark questioned. He tried to keep his voice a little more calm, but it was hard for him right then. The next words Downpour spoke however, took the fight out of the heated unicorn.

“What makes you think we are?” Downpour asked. The stocky pegasus stood up without another word and flew off, his wings slowly carrying him over the city.

“So, that just happened…” Draft mumbled. He was only trying to break the tension, but Spark wasn’t in the mood for joking around.

“Buck it. Hopefully that prick remembers to look for Silver Blood,” Spark huffed angrily. He turned his back to the grey pegasus walked down the street calling over his shoulder, “Why don’t you fly around the city too?”, as he left. “Ask around and see if anypony knows where Duke Silver Blood is and if you see your brother, hit him in the face for me.”

The clouds had begun to gather as Spark walked around the city and it did nothing to improve his dismal mood. He had been combing the streets for hours, asking everypony he saw if they knew Silver Blood. Many of them did in fact know the unicorn, but none of them knew where to find him. After meeting his twentieth or something dead end, the unicorn decided it was about time to meet up with his friends in front of the hospital.

“I may have to just forget about talking with Silver Blood, hopefully I’m not missing out on any vital information,” Spark sighed.

“I wouldn’t be too sure about that,” Draft replied as he descended to the ground a couple yards away from where Spark was walking.

“Of course you just happened to be flying down here while I was talking to myself. You know that I really don’t do it that often, right?” Spark asked his friend. Draft gave him a skeptical look as he spoke. “No really. You just always happen to be around when my crazy starts to show,” Spark assured him. Lightning flashed to the east as more clouds came rolling into the city’s airspace, casting shadows across the street.

“Whatever you say,” Draft chuckled as fell into pace with the unicorn, so that they could talk about what he had learned while flying around the city. “Anyway, I found somepony who says they know where Silver Blood is hiding out. They told me the duke didn’t feel safe knowing that griffons were after his head, so he’s hiding in a small town that was founded just a few years ago. He said it’s called Ponyville and I guess Downpour passed right over it on his way here,” Draft continued. “I caught up with him by the way.”

“Oh yeah? Is he in a better mood now?” Spark asked. The unicorn certainly wasn’t, but that was mostly due to walking around the city for hours and stewing in his emotions.

“He seems to be in a better mood then you,” Draft replied, while he hovered backwards in the air facing Spark. “Now, if you’re done with this little pity party, I think we should meet up with everypony back at the hospital. I want to get out of this rain as soon as possible.”

“What? It’s not eve-” Spark caught himself before he committed the classic situational mistake. Lightning flashed in the sky and the thunder roared anyway. A few seconds later, rain began to fall in raging torrents upon the stone cobbled road. “I didn’t even finish saying it!” Spark was yelling at the sky, much to Draft’s amusement. “It’s not even raining! There, now I said it!”

“Feel better now?” Draft asked with a grin. The unicorn gave his friend a blank stare in response to his sarcastic question.

“No,” Spark mumbled. His head dropped low as he stared at the ground. “Let’s just go before this day gets any more depressing for me.” After that brief meltdown was over with, the two stallions continued on their way to the hospital.
The rain steadily worsened as they made their way through the empty streets. Lighting flashed overhead a few more times, with the crack of thunder not far behind and the stallions were thoroughly drenched before they had made it more than a few blocks.

“I have to say, so far, Canterlot doesn’t seem all that great,” Draft sated dryly. The pegasus had given up on flying and was now walking alongside his flightless companion instead.

“Tell me about it. I’d be perfectly happy never stepping hoof in this city again,” Spark agreed as he used his magic to push his dripping mane out of his face. “I’ll take Dodge over this place any day of the year.” It didn’t hurt that Charm and his family both lived there. They walked in quite contemplation for a while, Spark’s mind lost in thoughts of his marefriend and how much he wanted to hold her next to him as they passed block after block.

“Finally,” Draft sighed. At his friends words, Spark snapped out of his daydreams and found himself staring at the face of the hospital. He couldn’t remember another time he had been so happy to get inside of one. “That wasn’t so bad, now was it?” Yes it was so bad, the unicorn thought, but he just smiled halfheartedly at his friend and walked through the doors.

The girls had already made it back and were waiting in the lobby for them to arrive and Downpour showed up a few minutes later. They were all dripping wet and decided to dry off a little before tackling the next part of their day. Spark made sure to talk to Downpour while he was out of earshot of his other friends.

“I figured I should apologize. I shouldn’t have snapped at you, because I know you only did what you had to for survival,” Spark told the pegasus. Draft glanced at him, but didn’t speak until he had finished drying himself off with a towel.

“That’s right. I did what I had to and someday you will too, Spark. You’ll face the option to do something horrible to somepony you don’t know or let somepony else that you care about get hurt,” Downpour replied. The pegasus let out a deep sigh before continuing. “I want to tell you that I made the right choice, but I didn’t. There is no right choice in that type of situation Spark, there’s just whatever decision you think you can live with. I made mine and I’m prepared to live with it, so save your apologies for somepony more deserving.” He tossed his towel to the ground after he finished and started walking towards the others, but Spark stopped him.

“I… I guess I can’t really know what you mean until I’m in your place,” Spark said quietly. “I’d like to think that I would find a better way, but maybe you’re right. Maybe sometimes there just isn’t a better way. Even if you won’t take my apology, I’m still sorry for what you went through.” The unicorn held out his hooves and embraced his longtime friend in a hug.

“I’m sorry too,” Downpour replied. The pegasus flicked a tear out of his eye with his wingtip and continued on. “I hope that you never have to make that choice, but with the path we’re walking, it seems inevitable.” They broke the embrace and Downpour cleared his throat and let out a strained chuckle. “Enough of this touchy feely talk, let’s figure out the next move.”

When everypony had finally dried themselves off enough, they sat in a circle in one of the unused hospital rooms, after receiving permission from the staff of course, and started to form their plans.

“Let’s start with you, Star. How did the meeting with Celestia and Luna go, did you get any bits for the cause?” Spark asked the small mare.

“Mhmm, Princess Luna was quite generous when she heard about our need. Helping clear her name and having her favorite personal student asking didn’t hurt either,” Star giggled. “You should have more than enough to fix up the chariot, buy some food and whatever other equipment that you think you’ll need.” The unicorn smiled in satisfaction of her accomplishment.

“Way to go, Star,” Spark replied as he held out his hoof for a hoof bump, but the mare seemed at a loss with what to do. She ended up shaking his hoof with an awkward expression on her face. I’ll have to teach her about hoof bumping when I have a chance, Spark thought. “What about Strata, did she get a chance to talk with them about the griffon attacks?” He glanced to the hippogriff, who was on her back hooves with her forelegs wrapped around Downpour.

“I filled them in on everything that I knew and they seemed very pleased to hear it,” Strata explained. She nuzzled her coltfriend with her beak before adding, “I have to say that your princesses are just as stunning to behold as I have always heard.”

“I’m glad to hear it and yes they are quite breathtaking aren’t they?” Spark asked. The unicorn’s memories of his encounter with the two immortals were crystal clear, even though he had been dealing with a major hangover at the time. “Okay, that leaves our news, unless of course you have something to add, Inferno.”

“Not that I can think of,” she replied. The dragon scratched her head, but didn’t appear to have anything more to say.

“Well, Draft found out that Duke Silver Blood is hiding out in a small little settlement called Ponyville. I believe Strata and Downpour may have seen it on the way here,” Spark stated. The two lovers simply nodded while he finished his statement. “I propose that we head there early in the morning, before continuing our journey to the Crystal Empire. First, we will have to buy our supplies though.” Strata spoke up when she heard Spark say that.

“Wait, have you forgotten about our arrangement? You need to come with me to meet with the hippogriffs, so that we can form this alliance,” the hippogriff told him. Spark had really been hoping that she wouldn’t bring that up for a while, but he supposed that was too much to ask for.

“I know, I know, but the only way that would work is if we split up again,” Spark replied. He noticed the hippogriff’s face was caught between a smile and a grimace. “Oh, no. No way. We literally just met up today and now you want us to split up again?”

“Do you see any alternative?” Downpour asked. Spark didn’t have an answer to his friend’s question, so he shook his head. “I didn’t think so. Let’s face it; the only way we can get everything done is to split up again. Star is sick, so she has to stay in the city with Inferno. You and Strata need to go to the hippogriffs and form a new treaty and that leaves Draft and I to find Silver Blood.” The pegasus was self assured, but Spark was still the leader of their little team, or whatever it was, and he was going to make the decisions.

“You’re right. We do need to split up, but not exactly like that,” Spark disagreed. His friends looked intrigued by his words. “First of all, Star will have to stay here of course, however Inferno does not. I think it would be best if she went with Strata and I, so that we can get the treaty formed quicker. Having a direct link to Luna will speed up the process. This is reliant on Star and Inferno being willing to separate of course.” He looked into the mare’s eyes as he asked his next question. “I hate to ask you something like this, but will you entrust me with Inferno’s care? I won’t lie to you, this is probably going to be dangerous, but I promise that I will do anything I can to keep her safe. Will you let Inferno join me on the trip to the hippogriff territories?”

“I, uh-” Star looked torn between her desire to see the conflict ended and her protective love of the young dragon that she had raised from infancy. “I…I just can’t,” she stuttered. Her head drooped low as she covered her face in her hooves and began to tear up. “I want you to succeed, but I would be too worried about her. I couldn’t bare it if something were to happen to Inferno.” Star looked up into the dragon’s face as Inferno put a clawed hand on her shoulder. She blinked back a few tears and sniffed to try and clear her nose.

“I know you want to keep me safe and I know you love me,” Inferno explained. “I love you too, but if I can help end this ordeal any quicker then I want to do my part.” Her red mouth formed a sweet smile as she spoke. “Please, let me go… mom. I’ll be okay if you let me leave.” Star seemed at a loss for words when she heard the dragon call her mom.

“Oh, Inferno. I love you so much, but you already have a mother,” Star sadly replied.

“She might have given birth to me, but she was never there when I needed her,” Inferno shot back. “You’ve always been the one to care for me and if that’s not a mother, then I don’t know what is.” The little dragon’s voice cracked with emotion as she began to talk quietly with (her mother?) Star. Everypony else in the room was just doing their best not to stare at what should have been a private moment between the two, except for Strata, who’s female emotions seemed to be exposing themselves because of the tear fest before her.

“That is the most touching conversation I have ever heard,” Strata told them. “I wish my mother talked to me like that, but the closest she has ever gotten was when she told me she was glad to see I hadn’t died yet.” The hippogriff cleared her throat as she suppressed her own tears that were beginning to form.

“Well, this was, uh, unexpected,” Spark mumbled. He didn’t know if he should try to move the conversation along or if it would be better to let the two wade through their feelings at their own pace. Lucky for him, he didn’t have to make a decision, because Star and Inferno had come to an agreement.

“I’ll let her go with you, Spark,” Star finally said, which made Spark grin. “But if anything happens to her, I will hold you personally responsible and will bring Luna’s wrath down on you.” Spark’s smile disappeared as his brain registered the fact that she could actually manage that feat.

“Like I said, I will do everything in my power to keep her safe,” Spark reiterated. He didn’t have anything that would mean more to her than his word.

“It’ll be fine. I’m not completely helpless you know. I am still a dragon,” Inferno replied. She straightened up and tried her best to put on a fierce face. Star just giggled and dried her eyes. “Besides we’ll have the flying chariot, so it won’t be a long trip, right?” She aimed the question towards Strata, knowing the hippogriff would have the answer.

“I have not pulled this flying chariot, but alone I have made the trip in eight days,” Strata informed them. She seemed to think that was good time and Spark realized he had no idea where the hay they were actually going.

“Okay, so three weeks round trip, at the longest. Can you handle being apart for that long?” Spark asked the mother and daughter. Neither of them seemed to object, but Spark wanted them to be sure. “This is your last chance, because we’ll be leaving early in the morning.”

“I think we will manage,” Star replied. The unicorn gave her ‘daughter’ another hug after she’d said it.

“That still leaves the matter of the Crystal Empire though,” Spark said. He wasn’t sure how they could reach all of their destinations at once, but he had a rough plan. “Downpour, I want you and your brother to find Silver Blood and talk to him and after that, go straight to Chestnut.” Spark assumed that the old mule would still be in the White Tail Woods, if not searching for Silver Blood on his own. “Get them both to write down detailed letters containing everything they have learned about the situation and have them sign them. With a little bit of luck we may be able to stall the war decree until Strata and I get back.”

“Ponyville was only a day’s flight from here. White Tail Woods is another two and a half,” Downpour replied, his brow furrowed in concentration as he spoke.

“The Crystal Empire’s border is four days from the woods, but I’m not really sure how far past that the capitol city is,” his brother added. Draft shrugged after putting his two bits in.

“They should arrive at their destination a day and a half before you arrive at yours, Spark, if my knowledge of pegasus flight speeds is accurate,” Star explained. They should have asked Star in the first place, Spark thought, of course she would know.

“It will have to work for now,” Spark replied. “Can you three flyers go and buy some supplies, while Inferno helps me send one last message to Luna before we leave?” Spark wanted to get everything done, so that he could get well rested for the long flight.

“I think we can manage that, but I have to ask a quick question,” Draft told him. The lanky pegasus seemed to be in a serious mood, which Spark did not like the looks of. “How are you planning to talk with the hippogriffs when you can’t walk on clouds like a pegasus?” The feathered stallion made a good point.

“Um, I, uh… buck me,” Spark huffed in defeat.

“Easy, I’ll just teach him the cloud walking spell that I know,” Star replied. She said it matter-of-factly, as if every unicorn should just know how to use magic to walk on clouds like a pegasus. Spark wasn’t sure about his ability to perform that spell, even when he did learn it, but that was a problem for later. He could always practice on the way to the hippogriff homeland.

“See, there you go. Problem solved,” Spark chuckled humorlessly. “Now get moving, before it gets dark out.” The unicorn shooed his winged friends out the door and to the parking lot outside, where he watched them take off, flying through the pouring rain. “I hope they don’t get sick from the cold,” he mumbled as they vanished from his sight into the cloud cover.

By the time his friends returned with all of the supplies they had bought, Spark was done writing his letter to the princess and was in the midst of trying to practice casting the cloud walking spell on himself. It wasn’t going very well for the unicorn.

“Oh good, you’re back. How did the shopping go?” Spark asked his friend’s as they approached. He then eyed their full saddle bags with suspicion.

“We got food without any problems,” Draft replied as he set his bags down and opened them up, revealing an assortment of ready to eat and easily portable nourishment.

“Clothing is taken care of as well,” Strata added. She pulled out heavy cloaks for all of them, as well as fur lined boots that they could wear when they headed north.

“We didn’t get any weapons though, so we’ll have to hope that the blacksmith opens in the morning,” Downpour explained. “That also means that the cart won’t be fixed until then. I did buy a map of the Crystal Kingdom though, hopefully it’s accurate.” The pegasus shrugged off his bags and slumped to the floor. “Glad that’s over with.”

“Well, we might get a bit of a late start because of the blacksmith situation, but you all did well,” Spark told them. “Let’s eat and get some sleep. We have a very long couple of weeks ahead of us.” They had all dove into the food before Spark had finished speaking and the unicorn shoved his way in, just as famished as the rest of his friends.

After the group had eaten their fill, they set about preparing places to sleep for the night. There weren’t any beds in the room, so they all had to settle for the floor. Inferno snuggled up to Star and fell asleep quickly and Star wasn’t awake for much longer than her. Draft passed out on a blanket, with his hoof still clutching a half eaten apple. Strata and Downpour were, of course, sharing a bed area and Spark did his best to squeeze into a place where he wouldn’t bother anypony. Before he actually fell asleep, Spark heard the sound of two people quietly leaving the room and doing their best not to wake anypony in the process.

“Have fun you two, because after tonight we aren’t going to see each other for quite awhile,” he whispered into the air and then rolled onto his side. Spark was wishing that he could be with his special somepony right then and all of his dreams that night were filled with Charm.

Author's Note:

Uh-oh, a little bit of friction between friends in this chapter, not to mention the crazy pegasus Spark saved (which totally isn't similar to anything I've ever experienced). A fun sidenote; Spark actually gets his love of hay(pan)cakes and coffee from me, although I don't often eat breakfast anymore.

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