• 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.19 City of Clouded Words

~Chapter 19: City of Clouded Words~

A gentle nudging in his ribs woke Draft up from the nice dream that he had been having, about somepony he couldn’t recall upon waking. Downpour’s smiling face was the first thing he saw upon opening up his eyes and it was a strange sight to behold.

“What in the hay are you smiling about, Downpour?” his brother asked. “You’re kind of creeping me out, doing that.” Sure it was better than how his brother usually woke him up, but not by a very wide margin.

“So, I wake you up too roughly and I’m a giant ass, but if I wake you up as sweetly as I possibly can then I’m a creep?” Downpour asked. “How’s a pony supposed to get on your good side?” The bluish pegasus let the ridiculous smile disappear from his face and sat down on his bedding unhappily.

“There is such a thing as moderation you know. Just because you’re too much of a jerk sometimes, doesn’t mean that everypony wants you to change into a goody-goody priss all of a sudden,” Draft explained as he kicked off his warm blankets and sat upright. An insistent growling from his empty stomach alerted Draft to the fact that he was ravenously hungry. He couldn’t remember if they had eaten any dinner or not, because dealing with their wounds had been the only thing on his mind the previous night. He forced himself to stand up and shamble over to his bags, so he could rummage around for some good food to eat.

“I suppose you’re right, Draft. I guess that it’s just going to take me a bit to stop being so, uh…” Downpour seemed to be having trouble finding the right word, so Draft decided to give him a few helpful suggestions.

“Egotistical, narcissistic, chauvinistic, pretentio-”

“Okay, I get it. I’m a terrible pony that no one could ever love,” Downpour huffed in annoyance.

“No, you just aren’t as unbelievably amazing as you’ve always tried convincing everypony that you were,” Draft smirked at his older brother, who responded by throwing an orange at his head. The younger pegasus managed to catch it in his forehooves and decided it would make a decent enough breakfast. In a few seconds he had it peeled and was busy popping pieces of the slightly sour fruit into his mouth. “Mmm, holy hay, I was hungry,” he announced with a smile. “Thanks for the orange.”

“Yeah, I was trying to hit you with it, not give it to you to eat, but you’re welcome anyway,” Downpour chuckled as he reached down and plucked another one of the plump fruits out of his bag and began peeling it. “So, I guess after we eat, we should probably just pack up our stuff and take off, huh?”

“Unless you have another plan to stop this war from happening,” Draft replied. The brothers sat in silence for awhile after that, each of them finishing off their simple breakfast, until Draft spoke up again. “A part of me is really scared, Downpour. What if we can’t do this or what if we get there and it’s already too late?” The younger stallion had been uncertain if he even wanted to voice what he was thinking, as if the mere act of speaking the thought aloud was enough to doom them to failure. “We’re just two average pegasus after all.”

“Hey now, we aren’t just two average pegasus,” Downpour argued. “We are Downpour and Backdraft, defenders of Equestria and bane of the Red Eye scourge.” Both of them had to laugh at his words. Just the thought of them as mighty heroes was ridiculous. The princesses believed they had a chance of success though and, no matter how the odds were stacked against them, they would do their best to serve the country they loved.

“Yeah, ‘defenders of Equestria’, I’ll keep that in mind the next time we’re getting our flanks handed to us,” Draft said with a chuckle. “Alright, let’s just get our junk packed up and go.”

It didn’t take the two of them long before they were soaring northbound again. The days were definitely getting colder, Draft thought, as a shiver ran the length of his body. The further north that they flew the worse the weather would be too. The first day of winter was only two days out and once that came, he had no doubt that snow would be following soon after. Something told him that their trip was going to be a giant pain in the flank, but they would just have to make the best out of it, for Equestria’s sake.

“I’ve been meaning to ask you something,” Downpour suddenly said. “When did you get those wing blades and why the hay didn’t you buy me some when you did?” Draft was pulled from his thoughts by his brother’s random question. He looked over to the bluish pegasus with an awkward expression.

“Uh, well… to be honest, I didn’t really think about it. I had just assumed that if you wanted weapons you would buy them on your own,” Draft replied. It wasn’t his responsibility to arm his older sibling after all. “When we get to Cloudsdale on our way north I’ll give you what bits I have left so you can get your own.” His brother shrugged in response. “What, you don’t actually want any?”

“I don’t know. I haven’t really needed a weapon yet, but if I find something unique then maybe I’ll get it for myself,” Downpour replied.

“Unique?” Draft asked, a little confused by his brother’s statement.

“You know, like something that would leave an impression and make ponies cower at the very sight of me,” Downpour explained. The serious expression was too much for Draft and he lost it. The laughter didn’t seem to amuse Downpour though and he shot his younger brother a stern glare. “What’s so funny about that?”

“I’m not really sure,” Draft answered while he tried to hold back his laughter. “I guess just the thought of you with some deadly weapon, scaring ponies for the thrill of it.” The laughter won out against Draft’s self control and he started giggling at the thought of his big brother terrorizing ponies in a full suit of armor.

“That is something that the old Downpour would do. I’m different now,” Downpour retorted. “I think I’ll follow in Spark’s hoofsteps and become a pacifist.” Yeah, Draft would believe that when the moon turned purple and dragons blew rainbows instead of fire.

“If you say so,” Draft replied, “but I think you’ll probably change your mind as soon as we get attacked again, maybe even sooner.”

“I guess we’ll just have to wait and see,” Downpour snapped haughtily.

“I’m just saying, that when we’re in the heat of battle, you probably won’t be thinking about holding back,” Draft explained. “It’s just not in you, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, Downpour.” It was strange having this type of conversation with his older brother, Draft thought, but maybe he really did want to change for the better. Still, now probably wasn’t the most opportune time to attempt that sort of personal transformation. “Maybe one day everypony can be nice and get along, but I’m afraid that won’t be in our lifetimes.”

“You might be right, but that doesn’t mean I won’t try. If that scrawny little unicorn can survive fights without killing anypony, well, then I should be able to as well,” Downpour huffed.

“Nature Spark is just odd like that though,” Draft shrugged. “I really don’t think he could purposely kill somepony, even if his life depended on it.” Which in their current situation was likely to be more of hindrance than a help, but maybe Downpour’s marefriend would balance that out. If Strata didn’t, then she, Spark and Inferno would probably wind up in a bad way.

“True, but I think he’s on to something. Acting the way I have been certainly isn’t going to make Equestria a better place, but maybe if everypony tried as hard as he does to be better ponies, well, things might just get a little better,” Downpour admitted.

Draft nodded his head as thick clouds passed over them. The younger pegasus nearly ran into a few as they flew through the skies. His mind was just too preoccupied thinking about his friends and all manner of other useless worries. He tried to clear his head, but the thoughts wouldn’t stop pestering him as they glided onward.

“I really need a break. My entire body is still sore from yesterday and if I don’t take a rest I think I’m going to drop out of the sky soon,” Downpour gasped. They had been flying all morning without stopping, which normally wouldn’t have been too much trouble, but after the fighting yesterday he was feeling pretty awful. The part of his flank that Draft had removed the broken spear tip from had closed, but it was still really tender and every movement of the stallion’s leg made it throb annoyingly.

“I hear that,” Draft agreed. “I didn’t realize how much pain I was going to be in today, so much for the ‘bane of the griffons’, huh?”

“Ha ha, yeah,” Downpour replied. He spotted a fluffy looking cloud that seemed comfortable enough for them to take a rest on, so he motioned for his brother to follow him and they landed upon it in mutual exhaustion. After shirking off their saddlebags, the brothers let out dual groans of contentment. “Oh Celestia, that feels so much better.”

“Mhmm, I’ll be glad when we’re done with this damned quest already,” Draft said as he sprawled out on the cushioned surface. Downpour took the opportunity to dig up a little of the herbs out of his bag and handed them to his younger brother along with a rolling paper.

“That’s the last of the smokeables, so we better enjoy the hay out of it while we can,” Downpour told him as he fell back onto the cloud beside the grey pegasus. His brother had gotten ridiculously quick at hoof rolling joints and within seconds he had task completed.

“Do you have some way to light this thing?” Draft asked him as he handed over the herb.

“I have a flint somewhere in this bag,” Downpour replied, rooting around in the jumble of supplies until he grabbed hold of his prize. “Aha, see.” A quick flicking of stone caught a spare rolling paper on fire and Downpour was able to light the end of the joint with it fairly easily. After taking a large lungful of smoke for himself, the stocky pegasus passed the rolled up herb to his brother. “It’s going to be boring as hay flying for weeks without anymore of that stuff.”

“Mhmm, but I’m sure that we can find it growing wild if we just keep an eye out for it.” A cloud of smoke accompanied Draft’s words, rising into the blue sky above them and spreading out until it had mixed with the cool air. The herb did its job and Downpour could feel every muscle in his well toned body relaxing, even where he had been stabbed in his flank. It was magical. He wasn’t sure what they were going to do if they got in another big brawl, especially since they only had one healing potion left, but they would just have to figure something out when the time came.

“I wonder what the Crystal Kingdom is like,” Downpour mused aloud as he snatched the joint from his brother’s outstretched hoof. “Do you think it’s much different than Equestria?”

“Well, it is a pony owned country, so I can’t imagine things will be too much different, but I guess you never really know,” Draft replied.

“I just hope that the king will hear us out when we get there, otherwise our job is going to be much more difficult,” Downpour continued.

“You got that right,” Draft replied with a half hearted smile. If the king wouldn’t listen, then there was a high probability of them ending up as prisoners of war. Downpour really wanted to avoid that outcome if he could.

Once they had finished smoking, the two brothers spent an hour resting and eating some lunch, but eventually they decided it was time for them to start traveling once again. The afternoon sun was at its highest point in the sky by the time they took off from the cloud and it provided a little more warmth for the pegasus, but there was still a biting chill to the winds that blew past them. At first Downpour was shivering subtly from the cold, but as he worked his muscles more, his body warmed back up.

“Hey, Downpour, do you want to stop in Cloudsdale still?” Draft asked with a glance back to his black maned sibling. “We might be able to find you a weapon, but I wouldn’t get your hopes up.”

“Yeah, I know they only manufacture weapons for the military,” Downpour replied. “We should have gotten a letter from the princesses stating that we could purchase some arms from the city, but I didn’t think about it at the time.”

“So what do you want to do then?” Draft asked him.

“Well, we can always try to buy some from a less than reputable source I suppose,” his brother suggested. Leave it to Downpour to suggest a questionable business deal concerning weapons, Draft thought, as he rolled his grey eyes with a groan.

“Somehow I don’t think illegal arms dealing is something a good pony would do,” Draft explained. “We should probably check out some shops and see if there’s anything else we need to pick up though.”

“Aw, you spoilsport,” Downpour replied with a grin. The brothers adjusted their wings and changed course for the city in the sky. The air around them filled with the scent of rainbow exhaust and forging smoke as they drew nearer to the large metal forges. It was truly a testament to pegasus ingenuity, the industrial city complex. Nowhere in Equestria or any other country could have been built anything to compare to the architectural phenomena rising before them.

Backdraft and Downpour swooped down to the edge of the floating collection of clouds that was the base of the city and saw a large number of ponies waiting to get through the front entrance. There were pegasus of all colors and talents milling about in groups and Draft even spotted a few griffons, although none that were from the Red Eye faction. The brothers took a place at the back of the gathering and began the dull task of standing in line for admittance.

“For the love of Celestia, this is going to take for-rutting-ever,” Downpour exclaimed in an annoyed voice. “Why is it taking so long? I don’t remember the city ever being this hard to get into before.”

“I don’t know, do you think it’s because of the approaching war?” Draft asked. The grey eyed pegasus peered around the large gathering to get a look at the soldiers standing guard. They appeared to be very thoroughly inspecting every cart, crate and saddlebag that was being taken into the city. It was as if they were expecting something dangerous to be smuggled past the gates. “It would make sense that they reinforced their security in case of an early attack.” Why the princesses had allowed their largest industrial city to be constructed so close to a border was beyond Draft, but that might have been why he never really understood politics, government just wasn’t his strong suit.

“I don’t doubt it, but that’s going to make it a pain in the flank for us. At this rate we won’t be in the city until late afternoon… at least.” Judging by the slow pace of the inspections, Draft had to agree with his brother.

“I really wish we had thought to get an official letter, so we wouldn’t be having this problem,” Draft said before dropping his bags on the ground beside him. There was no reason to continue wearing them if they were only taking a few steps every five minutes or so, he figured.

“You and me both,” Downpour agreed as he too shirked his bags and let out a tired yawn. This was going to be a long day, Draft thought, as he watched another pony pass through the metal braced passage into Cloudsdale.

“It’s about damn time!” Downpour huffed. He and his brother had been waiting to get into the city for two hours as the guards checked everypony’s bags one by one. It was cold, boring and most of all, a huge waste of their time; they did have an important job to complete after all. “I swear to Celestia that you soldiers have got to be the most inept group of pegasus that I have ever had the misfortune of meeting.” He could see Draft facehoof at his ranting, but Downpour didn’t care because he was ticked off.

“Sir, one more outburst like that and I will lock you up and throw your flank in the mines,” a large pegasus guard told him in a stern voice. Each of the armored ponies were about a head taller than Downpour and built just as thick, but he didn’t really care at the moment. If Draft hadn’t stepped in to do the talking for him, then they both would have most likely ended up in shackles.

“I am terribly sorry about my brother, sir. We have been traveling for days and I think it’s starting to wear on him,” Draft explained. The guards frowned at the two brothers, but seemed to accept the explanation he gave.

“Please remove your bags for inspection. If they are deemed free of contraband then you may proceed into Cloudsdale,” the other soldier told them. The brothers shrugged off their saddlebags at the guard’s orders and handed them over to be scrutinized. The soldier combed through Downpour’s stuff first and then handed his bags back to him, but the guard that was checking Draft’s bags seemed to find something he didn’t care for.

“Sergeant Strike, we have weaponry in this bag,” the brown pegasus called to his commanding officer as he passed over Draft’s wing blades and fixed the brothers with a look of anger. “Don’t you two know the new rules? Weapons are to be checked into storage before you are permitted to enter the city.” Draft’s eyes widened in surprise at the information. That rule had never been in effect before.

“Uh, sorry, sir. We had no idea about that,” Draft explained to the guard, but his story didn’t seem to appease the pegasus. The sergeant took charge after that and walked up to where the brothers were shuffling nervously in place.

“Why are you carrying weapons with you?” the violet pegasus questioned. “You are civilians, are you not?” The sergeant annunciated each of his words, as if he thought that they were slow.

“Yes, sir, but we’re on a mission from the princesses to act as emissaries to the Crystal Kingdom.” That statement seemed to take the large soldier by surprise, but only for a moment.

“Well, if that is the case, then I don’t suppose you boys would mind accompanying me to a holding cell while we sort this mess out,” Strike replied. It wasn’t a question and while he was speaking, three other soldiers were already moving into positions around them. Draft really didn’t feel like being locked up, but there didn’t appear to be any other options for them at the moment.

“If that is what has to happen I guess,” Draft sighed.

“What?” Downpour gawked. “This is total crap.” Oh please, Downpour, Draft thought, please do not do something that we’ll both regret later. “How do you think Celestia or Luna are going to react when they find out you delayed our mission?” Downpour got up in the sergeant’s face, but was immediately blindsided by the pegasus’s armored foreleg. Draft’s older brother hit the ground with a thud.

“That is for me to deal with, not you,” the soldier replied. “I have my orders to follow, son.” The sergeant turned his back on Draft and began walking through the reinforced gates into the city, his rainbow tail snapping in the air behind him as he went. “Guards, I want you to take them to holding and lock them up. If they give you any trouble, do not hesitate to take them out with force.” Downpour was dragged behind the large stallion by the brown pegasus guard, while the other two soldiers took a hold of Draft and led him close behind them.

“Welcome to Cloudsdale,” was the last thing Draft remembered hearing before he felt a metal clad hoof slam into the back of his head, blacking out his vision and causing the young stallion to sag limply in the guards’ hooves.

“When I get out of this cell, I am going to kick your flanks! You can’t just lock up innocent civilians like this, especially not ones that are working for the princesses, you asses!” Downpour screamed at the top of his lungs, but the guard was a master of ignoring ponies. It must have come with the job. He finally gave up and sat down on the wooden bench that lined the back of their dingy cell. It seemed that his yelling had only served to rouse his younger brother from unconsciousness and the pegasus’s head rose off the ground slowly. Draft’s long grey hair waved back and forth as he surveyed their cell, the white streaks catching what minimal light there was.

“What the hay happened?” his younger brother asked him in a slight daze.

“I’ll tell you what happened,” Downpour replied angrily. “Those bastards cold cocked me and apparently you too. Then they locked us up in this Celestia forsaken dungeon and I have no idea how long we’ve been down here.” Downpour was so mad that his voice cracked with emotion as he spoke. It wasn’t a very good way to start off being a better pony, but he wasn’t the one to blame for that, so he didn’t think this day counted.

“What the buck is going on in this city?” Draft asked groggily.

“I’m not sure, but I get the feeling that something isn’t right in Cloudsdale,” Downpour huffed. Draft brother took a seat next to him and rubbed a hoof against the back of his head.

“Am I bleeding?” the younger stallion asked. Downpour took a look at the area that his hoof was touching, but he couldn’t see any blood. There was definitely a good deal of bruising though.

“No blood, but I bet you’re going to have one hay of a knot back there,” Downpour told him.

“Yeah, my head is throbbing already,” Draft replied.

“Well, I’d offer you the last bud, but I had it hidden in my bag and we never got our stuff back,” Downpour said as he slouched down on the bench in defeat. Their quest to prevent a war was being hindered by political garbage and there was nothing he could do about it. This is what I get for trying to help my country, he thought.

“You had some hidden? You devious little pegasus,” Draft grinned at him, but Downpour didn’t feel up to returning the smile. There was nothing for them to smile about in their situation and he wasn’t even in the mood to fake one. How could his brother be so calm when they were trapped in a cold cell for Celestia knew how long? Downpour closed his eyes and waited for whatever was coming next.

Draft was still sitting on the uncomfortable bench, succumbing to severe apathy, while his older brother had resumed screaming and rattling the bars of their cell. It had been two hours since he had woken up or maybe four, he couldn’t really tell without being able to see the sun. The only illumination in the stagnant darkness was a few torches spaced out down the stone corridor and the only other occupants across the hall were a couple of even more dismal looking prisoners who were asleep and one guard, a pegasus who Downpour was in the process of annoying.

“You’re going to piss him off you know,” Draft explained, to no avail.

“Why the buck do you think I’m yelling at him, because I like the sound of my own voice?” Downpour asked. Before Draft could respond, his brother whispered the answer to him. “Well yes, I do like the sound of my own voice, but I’m actually yelling because I have an idea.”

“Oh Luna, what kind of idea?” Draft groaned.

“A good one,” Downpour assured him. “Just be prepared to move when I give the signal. I’m going to get us out of here.” The younger pegasus sighed at his brother’s unrelenting stupidity. At the rate the older pegasus was going, they would end up receiving the death penalty. “Hey, you! Armored bucker, over here!” Downpour continued on with his hollering and bar shaking.

“I swear, sometimes you seem like you’re trying to be as dumb as possible,” Draft told him.

“Yeah, keep talking down to me,” Downpour replied. “We’ll see who’s dumb when my plan works.”

“I won’t hold my breath,” Draft said as he walked back to the bench and lay down. He wondered how crazy he would go being trapped in a small prison with his brother for the rest of their lives. He assumed it would drive him completely insane in a matter of weeks. Just as the pegasus was contemplating his fate, another voice sounded out in contrast to his older brother’s.

“Shut the hay up, before I come in there and beat you senseless! You’re driving me nuts with all of that sissy shrieking!” the dungeon guard yelled back at Downpour as he approached their cell.

“Make me, you stallion lover!” Downpour retorted. Now he’s done it, Draft thought, we’re both about to get our flanks beat all because he called a soldier gay. I really hope he’s proud of himself this time. The door to their cell let out an awful screech as it was unlocked and forced open. “Now!” His brothers shout caused Draft to bolt to his hooves in confusion.

“Now what?” Draft asked as he stumbled forward.

“Now help me take this bucking guard out!” Downpour yelled as he wrestled the soldier to his knees. Draft panicked for a minute, wondering what in the hay his brother was thinking. The younger pony finally managed to force his legs to move and proceeded to kick the guard in the stomach. Downpour was delivering blow after blow to the soldier’s face, but the pegasus had obviously gotten his job for a reason and no matter how many hits his brother landed, the guard wasn’t staying down. Finally Draft managed to react more aggressively and stomped down on the helmet, squeezing it like a vice against the stallion’s head.

“What in the hoof is wrong with you!?” Draft shouted the question at his older brother as they bolted out of the jail cell and down the hall. They could hear the guard’s pained cries behind them as they fled.

“Nothing, I just can’t stand being locked up in a cage,” Downpour replied as they reached a fork in the hallway. “Uh, which way should we go?”

“I don’t know,” Draft snapped at him. “You were the one with the plan to escape.”

“Buck it, let’s go this way,” Downpour said as he took off down the right branch of the corridor and Draft followed behind. They ran as fast as their legs could carry them, unable to fly through the cramped halls, until they finally reached another choice. “Uh, this way,” Downpour said again.

“No, we need to go left,” Draft argued. “If we keep going right then you’ll end up taking us in a circle.” He galloped down the opposite hallway from his brother, but a few seconds later he heard the heavy hoofsteps of Downpour working to catch up with him. They ran on and on, passing a slew of different doors before they finally saw natural light coming from somewhere ahead of them.

“Told you,” the brothers said at the same time when they busted through a door into the soldier’s headquarters above. “Shit.” Easily a dozen pegasus guards stood between them and freedom now and it didn’t look like they were planning to let their prisoners walk out of the building and be on their way.

The two brothers tensed their muscles in anticipation of a brawl. Draft was picking out which soldier he would launch into first and imagined that Downpour was doing the same. After a minute of nopony starting an attack, Draft let his muscles relax a bit and released the breath he had been holding. Something strange was going on. That was when the sergeant they had met at the front gate stepped through the doors and fixed his eyes on the scene before him. Every soldier in the room stood at attention in his presence.

“Good Luna, what have we got here boys?” Sergeant Strike questioned. “Do not tell me that these two civilians escaped from Cloudsdale dungeon… well, did they?” The lower ranked pegasus all visibly cowered at their commander’s rage.

“Yeah, we escaped your pathetic little cell,” Downpour told him as he stepped forward, “and if you put us back in there we’ll do it again.”

The larger pegasus glared down at him for a moment before saying, “Now if we had ponies like you in the guard then I think we might be able to squash these thoughts of war before they ever formed.” Draft nearly fell onto his face when he heard the sergeant’s words.

“Beg your pardon?” Draft asked. He was just as confused as his brother.

“Your story checked out boys, Princess Celestia vouched for you two and I was just on my way to let you out of prison, but it looks like you beat me to it,” the sergeant explained. The rough voiced leader of the pegasus headed out the doors after motioning for the brothers to follow him. They glanced at each other, both of them still dealing with minor confusion as they trailed behind the sergeant.

“So you boys can see that, without knowing exactly who is pilfering weapon shipments bound for Canterlot, there is not a damned thing that we can do about it,” Sergeant Strike explained. The violet stallion seemed upset, but not nearly as angry as he had been when the brothers first met him. It helped them relax, but just a little bit.

“What exactly does that have to do with us?” Downpour asked. He and Draft were sitting in the sergeant’s office and having a talk with the beefy pegasus about what was going on in the city. When they first met him, the soldier had seemed like an arrogant ass, but in reality he was only a semi-arrogant ass. Still, they could have ended up in a much worse situation than they had. He even offered the brothers drinks when they first came in and now they were conversing over mugs of sweet cider.

“It means that I think it would be best if the two of you left the city as soon as possible,” the sergeant elaborated. “Who knows what could happen if anypony that is doing illegal arms dealing finds out that two pegasus working directly for the princesses are looking around the city? I wouldn’t want anypony to rough you boys up.” Yeah, that’s a laugh, Downpour thought.

“I’m sorry, sir, but who exactly are these illegal arms dealers selling the weapons to?” Draft questioned. The younger brother was always asking the important questions.

“If I knew that, then I would find them and make them tell me who they bought their weapons from,” Strike replied. “The only thing that I do know is somepony has been selling weapons behind my back and the city is not safe for you two boys.” That seemed to be the final word the sergeant had on the matter, so Downpour didn’t ask anymore questions. The door opened behind them and a mare’s voice called their large host out of the room. “Excuse me for a minute.”

Once the sergeant left, Downpour immediately began searching through his stuff as discretely as possible, but if anypony had happened to walk in, the stocky pegasus still would have been doomed. He turned his head back to his brother and saw the look of horror on Draft’s face. Downpour mouthed the words ‘watch the door’ and resumed snooping around the large office. Something hadn’t sat right about the sergeant’s story and he wanted to find out what. The older stallion tried his best to be silent as he rummaged around the military files, but Draft could still feel his heart racing.
After checking through a few drawers, Downpour couldn’t come up with anything substantial. He did manage to find a few bits, which he pocketed, after telling himself they were for all of the trouble the sergeant had put him through. All of the paperwork had been confusing to the bluish pony and he didn’t learn anything helpful. Just a little while after he sat back in his chair, the door of the office opened and the sergeant called them out. Downpour could hear his brother exhale in relief that they hadn’t been caught.

“Well boys, you have my permission to leave now, although I will recommend not leaving the city center out of concern for your safety,” the sergeant explained. “Cloudsdale has been a dangerous place as of late. Mark my word though; I will bring this city back to its former glory.” They were led out of the military establishment and their belongings were returned at the gates leading out to the rest of the city. “You will have to pick up your weapons at the main gates before you leave the city. I can’t have civilians walking around armed after all.” The brothers nodded their agreement and walked away in slightly better moods.

“Well, that was something, wasn’t it?” Downpour stated as he began looking through his saddlebags, checking to make sure all of his property had been returned.

“Yeah, I’ll say,” Draft agreed as he also checked his bags and upon seeing that everything was in order, slung them over his back and latched them up. “Just what the hay were you looking for in there anyway?”

“I’m not really sure, but something he said didn’t sit right with me,” Downpour informed his brother.

“Oh really and what was that?” Draft asked with intrigue evident in his tone.

“The sergeant told us that somepony was taking weapons and selling them on the black market, right?” Downpour asked.

“Yeah,” Draft shrugged.

“That doesn’t make sense though, does it? The only possible way that that the military wouldn’t notice large weapons shipments up and disappearing would be if somepony working for them was forging paperwork or if a high ranking soldier was responsible,” Downpour elaborated.

“So what do you think?” Draft asked him.

“I think that we need to dig a little deeper,” Downpour replied as they made their way down the shadowy streets of Cloudsdale.

“We don’t have anymore time to waste on this little investigation of yours, Downpour. I want to know what’s going on in this city as much as you do, but we have an infinitely more important mission to complete or did you forget about the Crystal Kingdom already?” Draft asked his brother, finally irritated with their search.

They had been walking around asking pedestrians if they knew anything about the black market for hours, but to no avail, which Draft had expected. If anypony knew anything, they sure weren’t telling the brothers about it. The sun had already set and the day had been wasted. The only thing that they had actually accomplished was needlessly wearing out their muscles and Draft was getting sick of it. He regretted suggesting that they even look for an arms dealer in Cloudsdale, but it had seemed like an okay idea to him at the time.

“I guess you’re right. I don’t know what I was hoping to accomplish,” his brother sighed. “Let’s just grab something to eat and head out.” Downpour hung his head in defeat and started trotting towards the nearest food vendor. Most of the ponies that ran the stands that dotted the main shopping district were already packed up, but there were a few stragglers trying to make a couple more bits before the evening ended. “Two of your kabobs and two mugs of your hardest cider, please,” the pegasus asked as he scratched his black hair.

“That’ll be eight bits,” the mare behind the counter replied.

“I got it,” Draft responded as he dug out some of the coins from his bag. They paid for their meal and downed the hard cider right where they were standing. The brothers decided to walk while they ate though and Draft noticed a slight sway to his steps as the alcoholic beverage began to seep into his mind.

They made their way to the city’s main gates as they finished off their tasty kabobs, but when they rounded the last block, Draft stumbled because of his inebriated state and ran into a griffon. He fell over with a gasp and the griffon glared at him before flying off. Something about the half-eagle startled the pegasus, but his alcohol soaked brain made it hard to put a hoof on exactly what it was.

“You all right?” Downpour asked as he helped him back up.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” Draft muttered. “Did you notice anything strange about that griffon that I bumped into though?” Maybe Downpour had registered something that he couldn’t, the younger pegasus thought.

“No, I didn’t get a very good look,” Downpour replied. “Why?”

“I don’t know. There was just something off about his face I think,” Draft said. “Maybe I’m just drunk though. It was probably nothing.”

“Maybe you are, no, I’m pretty sure you are drunk, because I know I am,” Downpour laughed. Hic. “They sure sell some nice cider here.” The older brother chuckled as they resumed their swaying walk to the city’s exit.

“Hello there, sir guard pony, sir. I’m Backdraft. Your sergeant told me to pick up my, um, my wing blades from here,” Draft explained in a drunken slur. The armored pegasus glared at the two brothers from behind his visor before walking off to a wooden door in the back of his watch post near the gates. He returned a few minutes later with the weapons in question and handed them over to Draft with a scowl.

“Next time you two come to Cloudsdale, try to remember that weapons are not allowed to be carried by civilians within city limits.” The grey haired pegasus nodded his head in agreement, but his brother didn’t seem as content to accept the warning as he had been.

“And you remember our faces, because the next time we’re here it will be on the princesses’ orders and I’m not taking any shit from you ponies,” Downpour retorted as he glared right back at the soldier, before turning and storming off. Draft followed close behind, though in a less straight path.

The brothers broke into an unsteady gallop after that, pumping their feathered wings and slowly traveling a crooked path into the sky. They planned on finding somewhere to camp that wasn’t too near Cloudsdale, as they had both gotten enough of the city during the afternoon. They didn’t feel like traveling very far however and soon enough Draft careened downward when he saw a flat spot to land for the night.

Downpour was just about finished with the last of his dinner when he heard his little brother gasp behind him. He turned around to see what had surprised the younger pegasus, but a quick survey didn’t reveal any new dangers.

“What? What’s going on now?” Downpour asked on edge.

“Oh uh, nothing. I just remembered what was bothering me about that griffon.” Draft stared off for a while after he answered and Downpour’s impatience got the best of him, so he broke the silence.

“Well, what the hay did you notice?” he asked his younger brother.

“I can’t be sure, but I could almost swear that he was one of the griffons that attacked us yesterday, but I thought I remembered that they were headed south,” Draft explained. “Maybe he was another Red Eye.” The slightly inebriated stallion scratched his chin as he recalled the memory.

“You think so, but why would they let a Red Eye into Cloudsdale?” Downpour asked. “Even if they didn’t know about the griffon’s involvement with the Crystal Queen’s capture, which is unlikely, we don’t have a treaty with the Red Eyes. It would be asking for trouble.” Downpour pondered the idea for awhile, but he was still a little buzzed and very tired, so it was difficult to try putting the pieces together.

“Yeah, that’s why I said I can’t be sure. It would be very strange. Not to mention the fact that we saw that group fly south,” Draft said, pausing momentarily to take a bite of his dinner. “It would mean that they purposely mislead us, so that we wouldn’t know where they were headed.”

“Why would they care though? It’s not like they know who we are or anything,” Downpour replied. He didn’t see what his brother was getting at, but Draft appeared to be on a roll, so he let him try to work it all out.

“I don’t think they know us, but maybe whoever is behind this is much more connected than even Chestnut,” Draft continued.

“That’s a scary thought,” Downpour replied, visibly shuddering at the idea of some mysterious, all-knowing benefactor backing the Red Eyes.

“Mhmm, I agree with you on that one,” Draft admitted. It was a ridiculous notion of course. The most likely scenario in Downpour’s mind was that the griffons were paid by one of the rebels in the Crystal Kingdom to take out their queen and events just got out of hoof along the line. Everything would get sorted out when they made it to the capitol though, for now he just wanted to sleep.

“Well I’m going to bed, Draft,” Downpour stated flatly. He stretched out his muscles as he yawned. Sitting in the cell had done nothing to help relieve the tightness in his limbs.

“I’m going to stay up for a little while,” Draft replied. He seemed to be deep in thought still, but his older brother was too exhausted to care.

“Alright, just don’t drive yourself crazy. We’re still leaving early in the morning,” Downpour replied as he rolled onto his side and closed his eyes. “Night, bro.” Draft didn’t seem to hear him though and Downpour fell asleep without ever getting a reply.

Author's Note:

A little bit of intrigue and mystery in this story as well? Oh my. Downpour and Backdraft may not be the brightest characters in this story, but they certainly are trying to figure things out anyway. Maybe they will, eventually.

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