• 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.28 The Golden Lie

~Chapter 28: The Golden Lie~

Ragged breaths escaped from Downpour’s chapped lips as he struggled with the weight of the saddlebags that hung from his waist. He could see the pointed roofs of foreign architecture jutting into the black skies. Fat drops of rain fell from the heavens and broke against his face and damp cloak as he and Ursa tread over the slippery ground. The two stallions hadn’t stopped once all night and dawn was just beginning to break as they drew closer to the capitol city. Downpour stopped in his tracks and doubled over in pained coughing as his lungs expelled a conglomeration of mucus. The ponies had almost reached their goal and he wasn’t going to let a little cold stop him. The pegasus caught his breath and pushed his failing legs even harder to keep up with the earth pony’s admirable pace.

Downpour stared forward, towards the city they were approaching as the woods disappeared into the hills at his back. Then the inevitable happened, he felt the first snowflake of winter cling to his nose, before dissolving into liquid. Gradually, more flakes began to pepper the landscape, small white dots drifting down to coat the colorful spires of the crystal buildings as the two stallions approached. Draft was still draped across Ursa’s back, the grey pegasus’s unconscious body bouncing slightly with every long stride that the earth pony took. A plethora of fears filled Downpour’s mind, swirling incessantly much like the snowflakes around him. Each second that passed brought his younger brother closer to death and panic spurred his wings to lift him into the air once again as he pushed himself to edge of his physical limits.

The sounds of Ursa’s hoofsteps and both of their ragged breathing mixed with the thundering of Downpour’s heart as they closed the distance. Through the increasing snowfall, he could see the palace, jutting up like a shining mountain from the heart of the Crystal Empire. Had he not been in such a manic state, the pegasus may have stopped to admire the interesting architecture of the crystallic structure, but his gaze only rested briefly on the palace before returning to his brother’s limp form.

“We’re almost there!” Ursa bellowed. Snow clung to his shaggy body as well as Draft’s, wherever their hides were exposed, but the deep chill that Downpour felt inside was not from any ice crystals.

“We have to hurry!” Downpour replied to his emerald colored companion. “Where is the hospital?” The winged stallion’s body ached and his muscles protested against the effort as he picked up more speed, but he pushed the pain out of his mind.

“It’s not far, but we may have a problem,” Ursa’s responded between gasping breaths. Downpour squinted through the snowfall in the direction the earth pony was gazing and his heart skipped a beat at the sight before him. There were guards posted at the end of the wide road, standing at the gates of the city and barring passage. The street was completely blocked off and it appeared as if the knights were there strictly to make sure nopony entered the capitol. With his brother so close to death, Downpour was in no mood to be stopped by the knights. If they tried to break through to the road it would surely affect their plans to talk with the duke, the pegasus mused. The outcome for such actions would undoubtedly lead to a prolonged stay in a dungeon cell for the three of them.

Downpour’s voice was hoarse as he asked, “What should we do?” Even the slightest delay could mean the difference between Draft seeing the sun rise in the morning or taking his last breath before they completed their quest. Each silent second that passed seemed like an eternity to the pegasus as they approached the barricade.

“I don’t see any choice. Draft needs medical attention and I’ll be damned if he doesn’t get it,” Ursa spat out in a gasping breath. Even if Downpour didn’t approve, there was no denying the crystal pony’s unwavering feelings toward his younger brother.

“That’s good enough for me,” Downpour said as he narrowed his eyes to reduce the force of the icy wind that assaulted them, as his heart beat in an erratic tempo. Each motion of the pegasus’s beating wings elicited screaming resistance from his muscles, but soon enough he was only a few body lengths from the knights. They guards’ voices boomed with a command that the pegasus couldn’t understand over the sound of rushing wind, but he could clearly see the surprise on their faces as he shot past them. Ursa followed close behind, bounding over the barricade with a flawless grace that belayed his large size.

Downpour didn’t dare look back, for fear that it would shatter his concentration, but he was positive that the knights would be hot on their trail. The bluish pegasus slowed his pace slightly, allowing Ursa to lead the way through the foreign city. Beautifully crafted buildings made of the most stunning crystals flashed by in the peripherals of his vision, their craftsmanship going unnoticed by the panicked pegasus.

“Which way now?” Downpour shouted at the Crystal Empire native, but Ursa was too focused on maintaining his speed to reply. The emerald stallion veered off to his left and the pegasus followed him without another word. Downpour thought he could hear screaming coming from somewhere close behind them, but he paid it little attention. The duo weaved their way down mostly empty streets, dodging around towers of sparkling crystal as they approached a large building at the end of the road. He assumed that the building was their destination and being so near to their goal pumped a last burst of energy into his failing body.

“We made it!” Ursa shouted out, a moment before one of the guards from the edge of the city landed before them, blocking the doorway. “Shit!”

“Keep going! I’ll take care of him,” Downpour exclaimed as he dove straight for the armored stallion. He slammed into the soldier with all of the momentum he had behind him. There was a loud crashing as he toppled over into a tangled pile with the crystal pegasus. Downpour felt cold air whisk past his back as Ursa jumped over his battered body and burst through the doorway. Breath escaped the pegasus’s burning lungs in a satisfied gasp as he dropped his weary head to the ground. They had made it to the hospital and that was all that mattered right then. The consequences of their actions might be dire, but at least his brother had a chance now. “Celestia watch over him,” Downpour whispered as he rolled onto his back and tried to catch his breath.

Draft’s brain felt like it was pushing against his skull in an attempt to escape the bone casing that surrounded it. Every aching throb resonated with pain as the pegasus stirred from his unconscious daze. His shallow breathing sounded wet in his lungs and when he started coughing, the familiar taste of blood greeted him. Opening his grey eyes was near impossible. Not only did his eyelids feel like lead, but the light around the wounded stallion was enough to send shooting pain into his already aching head.

A mix of detached sounds and fuzzy images were all Draft could recall as he lay motionless and waited for the pain to ease. He could remember being attacked by griffons and fighting them off with Ursa and his brother, but he wasn’t sure how it all had ended. The idea that he had died, briefly crossed Draft’s mind, but he dismissed it. The pegasus seriously doubted that death would hurt so much or that it would come with shackles. He felt the weight of chains as he finally forced his foreleg up to rub his face.

Draft’s grey eyes squinted as he attempted to peer around the place where he was imprisoned. It seemed far too clean and bright to be a dungeon; in fact, it almost seemed like a hospital room. It took a few more moments for his vision to clear and when it did, the foreign pony’s suspicions were confirmed. He was definitely in some sort of medical facility, although the reason for his bondage was unclear. It didn’t feel as if he would be able to leave the room even if he had wanted to. It was at that second that he recalled the events leading up to his current dismal situation.

There had indeed been a fight, one violent enough to send a cold shiver down Draft’s spine as he pondered it, and he must have been injured somehow. The pegasus remembered the smell of rain and sweat, the clang of metal weaponry and the sound of booming thunder. He could also see a flash in his mind that painted his griffon foe in stark contrast to the black skies and then there was the feeling of cold steel penetrating his body. The very memory of being impaled was enough to churn Draft’s stomach and he threw his head to the side of the bed in time to paint the clean floor with his bloody vomit. Now that he had regained his memories of the fight, he simply had to deduce why exactly he was chained to a bed in what he assumed was a hospital.

“Hello, is anypony there?” Draft asked in the loudest voice he could muster. It didn’t have enough volume to have been heard outside of the room however. The pegasus’s eyes scanned his surroundings, checking for some hint as to his whereabouts. With any luck he was somewhere in the heart of the Crystal Empire and his brother was talking with the duke right then, but he didn’t believe that they would be that fortunate.

That left the question of where exactly Downpour was, to be answered and Ursa’s current whereabouts as well. Chances were that the two ponies were fine. Somepony had carried Draft to the place he was, after all, but that didn’t explain why they weren’t there with him. There was a chance that they were simply out stretching their muscles, he supposed, the small white room wasn’t exactly the most comfortable looking place they had ever been in. There were a couple of uncomfortable looking chairs on either side of the bed and a generic painting of a landscape hanging on the far wall. It was all perfectly clean, with the exception of the pegasus’s puke splattered on the ground, and very impersonal, exactly what he expected of a hospital room. Knock. Knock. Somepony was at the door and Draft knew it wasn’t his brother, because Downpour wouldn’t bother knocking. The pegasus hoped that it was Ursa waiting on the other side.

“Uh, come in?” Draft tried to shout. The doorknob rattled and then opened to reveal a pale pink mare with violet and blue hair. It definitely wasn’t Ursa.

“You’re awake? How are you feeling?” she asked him with a reserved smile as she walked up to his bed and laid a hoof on his forehead to check his temperature.

Draft figured that she must be a nurse and replied, “I’ve felt better, but I’m alright I suppose. I did get sick off of the other side of the bed though. Sorry about that.” The nurse just nodded her head, seeming to be satisfied that he didn’t have a fever.

“Don’t worry about it. That happens all of the time,” she responded.

“Yeah, I suppose it would,” Draft said quietly, “Could you tell me something?”

“Hmm? What’s that?”

“Uh, how exactly did I get here and why in Equestria am I chained up?” the pegasus asked, lifting his shackled leg to show off the chain, as if the nurse wasn’t already aware of it. Draft figured that it was for his own safety or something, but he didn’t expect the answer that the nurse gave him, after she’d cleared her throat.

“From what I have gathered, you were brought in here by two other stallions. One was a pegasus like you-”

“My brother,” Draft interrupted.

“And the other was a rather large crystal pony,” she finished.

“That explains how I got here, but why the shackles?” Draft asked her with a puzzled expression. The nurse tossed her head to get a strand of violet hair out of her eyes and answered a moment later.

“I was told that your two companions rushed the gates and broke past the guards. They are considered dangerous criminals until proven otherwise. The knights have been very strict ever since the conflicts arose between here and Equestria,” she explained. The nurse’s tone was very professional, as was her demeanor while she examined Draft’s eyes, mouth, nose and other areas. Her hooves were cold and gave the pegasus a startle at first, but she was gentle and finished quickly. “It seems as if you’ll be making a full recovery, although I would recommend keeping your hooves on the ground for a few weeks.”

“How bad was it?” Draft asked. In his memory the sword wound was a vicious blow, the pain of it still vivid in his mind.

“You suffered a stab wound that punctured your left lung. Thankfully it went through clean and there were no bone fragments to deal with, but blood loss and lack of oxygen were the real worries,” the nurse continued with barley noticeable concern in her voice. “You’re lucky that your companions got you here when they did or you’d most likely have bled out.” That explained the reason for Downpour and Ursa breaking into the city, Draft decided. “Between the healing potion that they gave you before you got here and our own medical attention, your lung and chest healed nicely. There will most likely be permanent scarring, but that’s a small price to pay for living, wouldn’t you say?”

“Yeah, a little scar doesn’t matter to me,” Draft coughed. The nurse turned to leave, but the pegasus had one more question that he wanted answered. “Is there any chance that I can see my companions?” The nurse glanced back at him with an apologetic look on her pink face.

“I’m afraid not. Not only are they in prison right now, but if they’re found guilty, then you are guilty by association. We’re not to let you leave this room,” she explained before turning back around and walking out the door. Draft dropped his head onto the bed with an annoyed grunt. He really didn’t like being chained up or stuck in a room. There was nothing the pegasus could do about it however, so he took a deep breath and closed his eyes. There was always a chance that everything would be sorted out by the time he woke up, Ursa was helping them after all and Draft trusted the earth pony completely.

The buzz from the fairy lights was a ceaseless annoyance in the back of Downpour’s brain as he explained to the knight why he and Ursa had rushed the barricade, for the seventh or eighth time. The lights were bright and directed straight into the pegasus’s face. It was all just part of their tactics, he assumed. As were the many variations of the same questions that the blue stallion fired at Downpour in rapid succession. They were very good at interrogations in the Crystal Empire, but unfortunately, they weren’t that good on accepting the truth when they heard it. Every aspect of the dingy little cell was probably meticulously designed to break a criminal’s spirit and encourage confessions, but he didn’t waver in his responses.

“Why don’t you tell me again about your emerald colored friend in the next cell over? How do you know him?” the knight asked in a voice that assured Downpour that he was never getting out, until he confessed to being a spy. “Do you think that his story is going to match up with yours?” Downpour was doing his best not to scream out in frustration and lunge across the table. Part of him thought that it might be easier to shake the truth into the thick headed guard, but he took a slow, deep breath and answered again.

“Read my lips very carefully,” Downpour said slowly, “I. Am. Not. A. Spy.” The knight stared blankly at him as he talked and the pegasus couldn’t be sure that his words were actually getting through to the crystal pony. “Ursa is my brother’s stallionfriend and he has been helping us get to the city, so that we can speak with the duke. Princess Celestia and Princess Luna are trying to avoid a pointless war between our countries.” Uncomfortable silence filled the space between Downpour’s words and the knight’s reply. The drone of the fairy’s wings coming from its glass prison had become a constant reminder of the pegasus’s own inability to fly freely.

“And the princesses would corroborate your story, along with your friend in the next cell over?” the knight questioned.

“Yes! How many times do I have to say it?” Downpour’s temper flared as he reiterated to the stallion his story. “Have one of your colleges go to Canterlot and ask them yourselves. Nopony wants a war between our countries, them especially. That’s the entire reason for my brother and me coming here.”

The knights hazel eyes stared emotionlessly back at Downpour as he responded, “Your brother being the wounded pegasus in the hospital?”

“Argh!” Downpour groaned. He was on the verge of flipping out, because he didn’t know how to make himself any clearer. “Yes, he’s my brother and the only reason Ursa and I ran past those soldiers, is because he would have died if we waited around for clearance.” The guard sat in quiet contemplation for a few moments before turning and walking through the door to the cell, leaving Downpour to stew on his rage in the cool, damp prison.

They had come so close to completing their mission and now they were being stonewalled by inept knights that couldn’t accept the fact that they wanted nothing more than to help. It was beyond infuriating and the bead of sweat that trailed down the pegasus’s bluish face was a testament to that fact. Downpour began pacing around the small room in an attempt to burn off his well placed anger, the clacking of his hooves on the dirty stone floor complimenting the buzz of the lights in an especially aggravating way. He only hoped that Ursa, being a resident of the Crystal Empire, was having more luck than he was in getting through to these ponies.

Downpour’s thoughts were pulled toward his brother as he waited for the guard to return to question him further. They had gotten to the hospital in time to save Draft’s life, but the wounded stallion had been unconscious the last time he had seen him. The doctors seemed to know what they were doing, but Downpour was still very worried about his younger brother. The gash in Draft’s chest had been severe, worsened by the long travel, and he had lost a frightening amount of blood.

The knights had led Downpour and Ursa away in chains soon after Draft was carried off into one of the medical rooms. They had reacted in the way that the tattooed pegasus expected, treating them like hostile enemies, despite the fact that he was explaining the reason for their misconduct. The guards had refused to speak with him until he was secured in a cell below the palace floors. The pegasus had expected hostility, but never thought that it would be so difficult to reason with the knights. If they did send somepony all the way to Equestria, then there was a good chance that he would be locked up for days. The thought didn’t sit well with him.

Eventually Downpour heard the sound of hooves on stone, as ponies approached his cell. It sounded as if there were a few, but he couldn’t be sure how many. The curious pegasus didn’t have long to wonder, as two guards walked up and an unarmored stallion followed them into the room. This newcomer was a unicorn and judging by his fancy clothing, the stallion was also very wealthy. He stood rigid and carried himself with the manner of a pony used to having his way. Downpour figured out the stranger’s identity before he had the chance to introduce himself.

“I am Duke Doré Langue, current steward of the king’s throne and I have been informed that you wish to speak with me,” the unicorn greeted him.

“That’s correct,” Downpour replied as he sized up the pony before him. The duke was taller than he was, with a crimson body and golden mane, which he hid under a tall hat. The stallion seemed more suited to swindling money than ruling over an entire empire and the way he spoke made Downpour uneasy, for some reason that the pegasus couldn’t be sure of. “I was sent here by Princess Celestia and Princess Luna to negotiate peace between our countries. We have reason to believe that it was a tribe of griffons who kidnapped your queen.”

“Interesting,” was the duke’s reply. The unicorn turned and whispered something to the guards before looking back to Downpour. “I don’t see any reason for you to be imprisoned any longer then. Why don’t you join me at my home and we can discuss the situation further.” The crimson coated stallion turned and left, without waiting for Downpour’s reply. The pegasus waited for the guards to remove his chains and then followed after the aristocrat. “We’ll take your friend with us to the hospital, where the two of you can speak with your wounded companion, before we venture to my manor.”

They stopped in front of the next dingy cell and Downpour waited while the knights released Ursa. The green stallion looked more shaken up than he was, as if the knight’s questioning had taken a heavy toll on the earth pony, but it also could have been worries about Draft’s health. Either possibility seemed just as likely to Downpour. Still, now that Ursa was released and they were going to the hospital, both stallions could breath easier. It really helped when they were given back their saddlebags, which had been confiscated while they were chained up.

The duke introduced himself to Ursa and, after taking care of the usual greetings, the three ponies left the dungeon together and headed towards the hospital. Once there, Downpour would be able to speak with his brother and let him know the situation. The pegasus was eager to check his younger sibling’s condition. Being so close to completing their task put a bounce in his step, despite the fact that he hadn’t slept in over thirty hours. Being free to stretch his wings did wonders to improve his mood as well and the fresh air felt wonderful against his sweat coated face. Things were finally looking up for them.

The hospital was silent as Draft waited for somepony to speak with him. The restless pegasus wasn’t even sure how long he had slept, but it couldn’t have been more than a couple hours, because the sun was still shining brightly through the frost covered window in his room. He had tossed and turned the entire time, going from hot to cold as he fidgeted in the blankets. It didn’t help that his leg itched where the chain was fastened to him. By the time somepony opened the door to his room, Draft was ready to tear out his own hair from boredom. As the plain white door swung open, it revealed a disheveled black and blue mane, belonging to his exhausted older brother. Judging from the dark bags under his blue eyes, Downpour hadn’t gotten any sleep yet. At the rate he was working himself; Draft was worried that his sibling would wind up in the hospital with him.

“Draft!” Downpour shouted happily as he entered the white room. The beautiful, dark green eyes of the stallion he was infatuated with, drew Draft’s focus to them as Ursa trailed in behind the bluish pegasus.

“Downpour! Ursa! It’s good to see some familiar faces,” Draft replied with a smile, as his companions crowded into the small area around his bed. Thankfully somepony had already cleaned up his vomit while he was sleeping, so there was no risk of somepony stepping in it. It took a few moments for Draft to realize that a third stallion had also entered the room with them. It was a unicorn that the pegasus had never seen before, but based on the way he carried himself, Draft didn’t doubt that he was somepony important in the city. “And you are?” he asked the newcomer.

“Forgive me. I am Duke Doré Langue, the current steward of the king’s throne and manager of wartime affairs for the Crystal Empire,” the crimson unicorn replied, his words emotionless and precise. He struck Draft as being just as uppity as any other aristocrat, but the young pegasus held his tongue out of respect.

“It’s very nice to finally meet you, sir,” Draft quietly replied.

“Likewise, young Draft,” the duke responded in a tone that Draft couldn’t read very well. Something was off about the golden maned stallion, but the pegasus couldn’t put his hoof on what it was.

“How are you feeling, little bro?” Downpour asked him as he approached the bed, breaking his thoughts about the duke. “You lost so much blood back there and then it took us so long to make it here, I- I thought you weren’t going to make it.” Draft pretended not to notice as his normally brutish sibling wiped away a lone tear that had managed to spill from his tattooed eye. “Thank Celestia that you’re alive.”

“No, thank you two. I would have been pretty bucked if you hadn’t gotten me here when you did,” Draft explained as he reached out his hooves for a hug. “The nurse said that if it had taken five minutes longer, I probably would have woken up brain damaged.” Downpour leaned down to his brother and they wrapped each other in a quick hug, before breaking apart awkwardly. “I owe you guys my life.”

“Actually, Ursa did all of the work carrying you and whatnot. I was having a hard enough time just getting myself here,” Downpour chuckled as he glanced at the emerald stallion, with the nicest look that Draft had seen him give in days. Ursa leaned over Draft’s body and embraced his smaller form in two powerful forelegs. Draft melted into the contact, the feeling of warmth and care flooding his body with emotions that were best kept private.

“Don’t ever do that again, Draft,” Ursa choked out quietly.

“I wouldn’t dream of it, but even if I do, I know that you’ll be there for me,” Draft whispered back, “To catch me when I fall and carry me when I’m weak.” His words were accompanied by tears, just a few, but enough to wet Ursa’s shoulder as he stood there holding the grey stallion that he loved.

“That was really gay,” Ursa snickered as he broke the embrace. Draft let out a short chuckle of agreement. The pegasus wasn’t usually so emotional, but nearly dying had a way of rattling him apparently.

“Shut up,” Draft laughed.

“Ahem, as touching as all of this is, and as much as I’m sure you would all like to converse with one another for a longer duration, I must insist that Downpour and Ursa accompany me to my home,” Doré Langue interjected. “There, we will be able to take care of this war business, which I am sure we are all eager to do, no?” Both stallions nodded their heads in agreement and Draft wished that he was well enough to go with them. Coming so close to preventing a war, only to be left behind near the end, didn’t seem fair. It felt like some sort of cosmic joke on him; Draft, the stallion that was too weak to complete his mission, too weak to help his brother and almost too weak to survive.

“Are you going to be alright here? If you want me to stay then I will,” Ursa assured him, but Draft couldn’t do that. He wasn’t so selfish that he would ask the earth pony to stay with him; there were far more important things to be done, even if he didn’t want to be alone. Even if the pegasus wanted nothing more than to fall asleep in the crystal pony’s embrace.

“Ursa, I’ll be fine. Now go and make sure that we never have to see war come to our homes,” Draft replied softly as he waved his companions out the door. “I don’t want to see the two of you again until this whole thing is over.” His older brother nodded in agreement, the exhausted pegasus looking as if he might collapse at any moment. The duke followed him out with a slight nod of his head. Ursa stopped long enough to mouth three little words that made Draft’s heart beat faster. I love you. He still couldn’t respond in kind though. Even after all that had happened, Draft wasn’t sure if he really loved Ursa and it made him feel awful to admit.

“Welcome to Doré Manor,” Duke Doré Langue announced, with a practiced flair that only somepony accustomed to showing of their wealth and power could manage. The duke’s forelegs were raised in an over exaggerated gesture, the large, ornate, crystal mansion behind him in the early evening light had a creepy quality to it, the kind of ominous presence that houses with long histories tended to exude. “It has been in my family for many generations. It was built before Discord’s War, although it was much less extravagant back then. Over the years, my family has built upon the foundation of our ancestors, to create the illustrious work of art that you see before you.”

Downpour rolled his eyes at the needless theatrics of their host. Rich ponies flaunting their immense wealth was not something that the stocky pegasus cared for and compounded with the fact that he was dead tired, it put the Equestrian on edge. His mission was to negotiate peace with this stallion however, so he would mind his manners and put up with the duke’s eccentricities if he had to.

“It is quite a sight, sir,” Ursa replied, in evident awe of the looming architectural marvel. There were four spiraling towers that led up into the purple and orange sky. Snow drifted down around it, frosting the peaks wherever it settled. They were adorned with detailed patterns that would have taken a lifetime to carve by hoof. Downpour hoped that magic was the method of construction, as the thought of poorer ponies working their lives away to erect this needlessly boisterous home aggravated him.

“I agree, it is certainly,” Downpour tried to play down his distaste as he finished, “quite the amazing sight.” Duke Doré Langue appeared pleased with their mutual admiration and a smile graced his thin lips as they walked up the sprawling, cobbled stone path to the great wooden doors of Doré Manor. The path was lined with trees, which were all nearly barren and only added to the foreboding quality of the snow covered property. Their hoofsteps echoing off of the inlayed stones was the only sound that could be heard during the stallions’ approach, until the large doors slowly creaked open.

“Good evening gentlecolts and Master Doré Langue. I have taken the liberty of having dinner made while you were out,” a soft spoken earth pony informed them from his place beside the open door.

“Good. Please escort our guests to the dining room. I will be joining them shortly,” the duke replied.

“As you wish, master,” the servant said as he turned, motioning for Downpour and Ursa to follow him and walked through the main hall, past hanging portraits and a large fireplace, before stopping at the doors to the dinning room. “Have a seat wherever you would like. My master will return shortly and I will have tonight’s meal brought out then.” The duke’s servant bowed low before leaving them alone in the ridiculously large dinning hall.

Downpour’s mouth hung open in amazement as he surveyed the room around him. The table was large enough to accommodate at least thirty ponies comfortably and was stained a rich, dark color. Above it hung a chandelier that looked to be made of crystal, which didn’t surprise the pegasus in the slightest, and was glowing with a magical light. There were a few large windows at one end of the room and doors leading off to different parts of the manor along the other three walls. Everything was white and gold, aside from dark brown trim that adorned the very detailed trim that ran throughout the crystallic building.

“Holy shit… have you ever seen a house this big?” Downpour asked his larger friend as they both absorbed the luxurious sights that surrounded them.

“No, I can’t say that I have. The amount of wealth that was put into this place, well, it rivals the Crystal Palace in quality,” Ursa replied.

“Yeah, it’s nearly as nice as Canterlot Castle,” Downpour told him. Though the castle was still larger, because there were a number of ponies that constantly moved in and out of it, this mansion seemed to be occupied by the duke alone, aside from the few servants that he must have needed to take care of the place. “I don’t see how anypony could live in this place without going crazy from loneliness.”

“Yes, it did take some getting used to when I first inherited it.” Downpour jumped at the sound of their host’s voice. He hadn’t even heard the duke’s hoofsteps, which seemed odd considering that every floor was done up in crystal tiles. Apparently the master of the house was quite practiced in traveling silently through his home. He moved like an apparition when he wanted to, so Downpour made a mental note to hold his tongue unless he could be sure he was alone, from then on.

“I’m sorry. I meant no offense by my words, it just seems so empty in here,” Downpour quickly replied. The last thing that he wanted to do was offend the one stallion that they needed to speak with about delaying the call to war.

“Worry not, young Downpour. It is true that life alone in this house has been quite lonely, but for a stallion in my position, it is for the best,” the duke told him. “Now please, have a seat. I believe dinner will be brought out momentarily and we can attend to business while we eat. The two of you look as if you might enjoy a hot meal.”

“Thank you, sir, and yes, we are quite famished after the day’s events,” Ursa’s cordial response came, as the green stallion took a seat in one of the plush chairs that lined the long table.

“Yes, I would like to apologize again for the uncouth behavior of my knights,” Doré Langue continued. “One cannot be too careful in times such as these you know.”

“That is quite alright, Duke Doré Langue. I’m sure that they were only acting with the best intentions for their country. I have no doubt that the Equestrian Royal Guards would have responded in kind,” Downpour replied. He would maintain a respectful façade as long as the situation called for it. Despite what his friends might believe, the pegasus could act very respectful when the need arose.

“I am quite certain that you are right. Thank you for your understanding of the gravity of the situation,” the duke answered.

“How could we not be? I can’t imagine how terrifying it must be for your country since the disappearance of your empress,” Ursa chimed in.

“Mhmm, things have been quite hectic for the past month. What with all of the preparations for war going on and the investigation into the empress’s capture, I have scarcely had any time to attend to matters at home,” Doré Langue acknowledged.

“Well, at least you have loyal servants to take care of the manor,” Downpour replied, more haughtily than he meant to. A set of doors along the back wall opened then, revealing a servant pushing a cart loaded with platters of food and jugs of liquid.

“Ah, it would seem that dinner is served,” the duke stated. The plates were placed along the table and Ursa and Downpour were served their food, along with the duke, before the earth pony left again as quickly as he had entered. “Please, eat as much as you would like. There is no shortage of fine cuisine in my abode.” Downpour may have been uncomfortable in the large mansion, but that didn’t stop the pegasus from eating his fill of fancy dishes. Ursa also ate with a renewed vigor, as neither of them had taken the time to eat while rushing his younger brother to the hospital.

The hours after his brother and Ursa had gone left Draft with nothing more to do than think. A guard had come in and unlocked his chains, at the request of the duke, Draft was told, which was a small comfort for the pegasus. A nurse would stop by every once in a while to check the bandages wrapped across his chest, but that was the only break he got from the monotony. He had been informed that it would only take a day or two of recovery before his body would be in good enough shape for him to leave, so he tried his best to wait patiently for the time to come.

It looked as if Downpour would have everything taken care of by the time Draft was released. The knowledge that his brother was acting responsibly for once was a little hard to swallow, but Draft knew that Ursa would be there to keep the short tempered pegasus on the right track.

“Hay, he might even be able to handle the situation without us having to wait around for Spark to meet us here,” Draft said aloud, needing to hear something other than the silence of his room. It would have been nice for the pegasus to have a way to communicate with his friends abroad, but Nature Spark’s need for instant communication with the princesses outweighed his own desire. Even if Downpour was able to convince the duke of Luna’s innocence, it would still be beneficial to have the hippogriffs’ aid in eradicating the threat of griffin attacks. Strata seemed to have good standing in her tribe and Spark was very convincing when he needed to be, so there was no doubt that the two of them together would be very influential. Draft figured that they had most likely finished their task and begun the journey north already.

The only one of his friends that Draft hadn’t thought of in awhile was Star. Princess Luna would keep the unicorn busy with something, Draft imagined. In fact, the talented mare was probably taking charge of a number of important jobs for the princess. She was definitely smart enough to assist in political decisions. How she was dealing with the absence of Inferno was another matter entirely however. The young mare loved the dragon as her own child, even if she had trouble admitting the fact to herself. Being apart for so long would probably tear her up inside, if she wasn’t kept busy.

Draft sighed quietly. Thinking about his friends was passing the time, but it only served to make the pegasus feel even more useless than he had before. The memory of being stabbed, of nearly dying, it sat near the front of his mind. The thought was always close by, a silent mocking reminder that if the winged stallion ever slipped up again, it might be the last time. He decided to admit his feelings for Ursa the next time he saw the crystal pony. Life was far too short to second guess feelings that were so strong.

The duke had let Downpour and Ursa finish their main course in concentrated silence, for which the pegasus was very grateful. It was over drinks and dessert that the three of them finally attended to their pressing business. The slightly bitter taste of crystal nectar filled Downpour’s parched throat as he drained his first glass quickly.

“You see, sir, we have good reason to believe that the evidence you found was left behind by griffons in order to implicate the princess of the night in a crime, which not only did she have no part in, but was also unaware of, until your government’s accusations were brought forth against her,” Downpour explained.

“I see,” Doré Langue replied. “Unfortunately, even if I believe your explanation, without any evidence I am not sure that I could change the minds of the court in their decision to go to war. Is there any way that you can prove your words to be true?” The duke didn’t appear very ardent to dealing with the problem right then. The crimson aristocrat chewed slowly, savoring each bite of his meal as time passed by.

“Well, no, sir, I do not have any evidence with me. My friends are away on business at the moment, but they can meet us here if that is what needs to happens for this problem to be sorted out,” Downpour assured the unicorn.

“I see. Ursa, as a resident of the Crystal Empire, would you say that these two are trust worthy?” the duke questioned the earth pony, before taking a drawn-out sip from his beverage.

“I would trust these two with my life,” Ursa stated flatly. Downpour had to stop himself from choking on his crème pie. He knew how Ursa felt about Draft, but hearing the crystal pony vouch for him was unexpected, especially after everything he had done over the past few days.

“Then I see no reason that I cannot trust them as well. I will speak with the courtiers tomorrow and relay your words. I may be able to buy you some time. Have your friends meet you here and I will allow them to present their evidence,” Doré Langue explained. “If war can be avoided so easily, then I believe that I should try.” Downpour exhaled, letting out the nervous tension he had been storing. The princesses would want to hear about this as soon as possible. He would have to send them a letter tomorrow. It would take awhile without magic, but they had more time now.

“Thank you, Duke Doré Langue. I will inform Princess Celestia and Princess Luna of your decision as soon as possible. Our countries have always maintained a pleasant attitude toward each other and I know we all would like for that to continue,” Downpour replied, glad that he would soon be able to drop the flank kissing tone he had adopted in order to please their golden maned host. It made the pegasus feel like a hypocrite to pretend to be so prissy.

“Think nothing of it,” the duke said as he stood up from the table. “Please, I welcome both of you to stay in my manor tonight. It is already dark outside and, as you can plainly see, I have enough space to accommodate you. There are seven different rooms to choose from. Find one that suits you.” Downpour was about to decline the duke’s offer, but wound up yawning instead. He hadn’t slept for awhile and a comfortable bed sounded very good at the moment. He supposed it couldn’t hurt to stay the night, as they didn’t have a room to stay in anywhere else, after all.

“I suppose I can’t refuse such a kind offer,” Downpour replied.

“Thank you again, sir,” Ursa added.

“It is my pleasure,” Doré Langue told them as he headed out of the dinning room and into the main hall once more. “I will have my servant show you the rooms.” There was a small flash of light from the tip of the duke’s horn and a moment later his servant entered the room. Doré Langue appeared to have some sort of communication spell, because the servant knew what his master wanted, without the unicorn telling him.

“Please, follow me,” was all that the servant said, before leading them up one of the two staircases in the room. They had been told that there were seven rooms, but Downpour wasn’t a picky pony and took the first one that he was shown. Ursa left a few seconds later to pick out his own room, leaving his companion alone in the large bedchamber.
It didn’t take long for Downpour to unpack his belongings and then he decided to enjoy the private bath attached to his room. The hot water steamed up the large mirror that overhung the crystal topped sink as he filled up the large tub. As tired as he was, the pegasus hadn’t cleaned himself off in days and a bath sounded like a good way to relax. The tub filled quickly and Downpour shut off the flow of water before gingerly dipping a hoof into the bath. It was very warm, but felt so good on his aching muscles. He slid all of the way in with a deep sigh.

The only way Downpour could have possibly relaxed anymore, would have been with a joint or even more of the magical powder he had been using. Just the thought of using more of the substance made the exhausted stallion’s body jittery. It was very fortunate that he had run out of the stuff, anymore and he might get addicted to it. The pegasus settled for sliding down into the water until it reached his chin. The heat eased his joints and cramps, every frayed nerve soaking up the relaxing warmth. It was bliss.

After a half hour or so, Downpour decided that he should get into bed, before he wound up dosing off in the water. The grey pegasus reluctantly forced his body out of the bath, which took quite a bit of effort, and grabbed a towel that was hanging on the wall nearby. He dried himself off quickly and left the bathroom in a burst of escaping steam. The fluffy comforter looked inviting as he stumbled over to the bed. It was strange, Downpour had been tired all day, but now he felt as if his legs were going numb from exhaustion. He had barely reached the bed before collapsing haphazardly on top of the blankets. His eyelids felt so heavy that he closed them before he could even cover himself. It almost felt as if he had been drugged. Downpour groaned as the thought tried to work its way into his brain, but he was asleep before his head registered what had happened.

Author's Note:

They finally made it to the Crystal Empire, albeit not with the grace they'd expected to employ. The duke has been met and plans are starting to come together. Even Downpour and Ursa are getting along pretty well. Hope you enjoyed the chapter, I know I enjoyed writing it.

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