• 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.29 Corrupted

~Chapter 29: Corrupted~

“I wonder where Ursa and my brother are,” Backdraft said aloud as he peered about the dull, white room he was stuck in. He was sure that they would drop in to visit him the first chance that they got, but the bedridden pegasus had yet to see neither hide nor hair of either of the other stallions that morning. There was always a chance that the two of them were preoccupied by more pressing matters, but something about Duke Doré Langue had made him uneasy. It was more than just slyness that Draft had detected in the unicorn’s voice when they spoke briefly the day before, there was also a faint hint of malicious intent that he had felt from the duke. Of course the Equestrian had no way of substantiating his fears, but that did not make him worry any less. Something was amiss and, as the minutes ticked by, he became more certain that the duke had done something with his brother. Sitting up was easy enough, but as soon as Draft tried to get off the small hospital bed, pain wracked his body. His insides felt like they were being prodded with a hot brand whenever his body twisted too far.

“Where’s Spark with a big sack of herbs when I need him?” Draft asked himself as he forced his shaking legs over the side of the hospital bed. One hoof after the other, the pegasus slowly stood up on weak limbs. Even that small motion was enough for the stallion to begin sweating, but he had something important to attend to and no amount of pain was going to stop him. Draft made it a few steps from the door when the nurse from the day before opened it up, at the same time he was reaching for the brass knob. Her magenta eyes widened in surprise as she jumped back in shock.

“Aagghh!” the mare screamed before registering who was in front of her. “What are you doing out of bed? You’re going to hurt yourself walking around like that.” The pink pony placed a hoof on his shoulder and attempted to steer the pegasus back to his bed, but he quickly pulled away from her.

“I know, but I have somewhere important to be,” he replied.

“Important enough for you to risk permanently injuring yourself?” she asked him.

Draft didn’t even hesitate before responding, “Absolutely.” The nurse seemed stunned for a moment, but she relented with a small sigh.

“Fine, you’ll have to sign out, but I would strongly recommend that you reconsider this. If you push your body while it’s still in the process of healing, then something very bad could happen to you,” the mare explained.

“I know, but I need to speak with my brother immediately,” Draft replied to the short nurse.

“He left here with Duke Doré Langue, so I’m sure that there’s nothing to worry about,” the earth pony assured him. She seemed genuinely unconcerned that anything could be wrong, but Draft decided to get her opinion of the duke anyway. Even rumors could have some basis in truth after all.

“What do you think of the duke?” Draft asked.

“What do you mean?” she questioned, blowing a few strands of violet hair out of her eyes absentmindedly as she stared back at the pegasus.

“Well, since he’s taken the position as steward of the throne, how has he done? Is he a worthy leader?” Draft elaborated. The grey stallion waited for the nurse to answer, his eyes fixed on her face, looking for any telltale signs of deception or fear. If the duke was actually as menacing as the subtle aura he projected, then the nurse would never speak an ill word about him.

“I’m not sure that I-,” the mare paused for a moment, as if considering how best to word her response to his question. “Well, he has done as good of a job as any pony could expect to in times such as these. Why do you ask?”

“No reason. I was just curious about the stallion that we traveled all of this way to speak with,” Draft replied. “Now, what do I have to do to get out of this place and be on my merry way?”

“Oh, right. Let me just go grab the papers to sign and you can leave after that,” she assured him as she turned tail and walked out of the small room. Draft tried to be patient as he waited for the nurse to return, but he was anxious to speak with Ursa and Downpour. His hoof tapped out the seconds as he stood, leaning against the bed for support. His side ached a little bit, but it was nothing that he couldn’t live with.

“Calm down, Draft, there’s probably nothing to worry about,” the pegasus tried to assure himself. Even speaking the words out loud did not make them feel any more comforting however.

Downpour’s head was reeling as he lifted his lids and tried to focus his gaze on the small point of fuzzy light ahead of him. He had always heard stories about ponies seeing a bright light at the end of a dark tunnel when they were dying, but nothing about this felt like the pegasus ha always imagined it would. The light flickered in and out as his vision adjusted. Downpour tried to move his body, but he was chained upright, standing on his hind legs with his forelegs raised above his head. It was extremely uncomfortable and didn’t leave him very mobile. Somehow he had managed to get himself tossed in some sort of dungeon again.

“Hello,” Downpour called into the darkness. A slight flickering of a torch against the far wall was the only reply he received. “Hel-,” Downpour tried calling out again, but broke down into a coughing fit instead. His throat was dry and his lips were chapped and bleeding. A combination of dehydration and cold, he figured. His head felt heavy and his thoughts crept through his mind at a tortoise pace, but the pegasus was more worried about not being able to feel anything in his forelegs. They had been suspended above him long enough for the blood to have drained out and that gave the cold air a chance to freeze them more quickly. His back legs still had some feeling in them, but they were beginning to go numb as well. The pegasus could tell that he had been chained there for a couple of hours at least.

Downpour needed to find out how he had gotten himself locked in another cell. He thought back to the previous night, when he and Ursa had been in the duke’s mansion eating dinner. They had talked about what could be done to prevent the war and then… Downpour’s memories were scarce after that. He wasn’t even sure if he had made it to bed or not. The pegasus closed his blue eyes and took a few slow breaths as he attempted to recall the events that had taken place after dinner. The duke’s servant had been showing them to their rooms and he had gone to bed… after taking a bath, he remembered. The only explanation that made any sense, was that he had been drugged.

“That cock sucking duke drugged me!” Downpour shouted out, which sent a painful burning up his parched throat.

“As a matter of fact, I did not,” a familiar voice interjected from the darkness. “I had my servant do that for me. What good is a servant if I always have to get my own hooves dirty, after all?” Duke Doré Langue was walking down the long, dimly lit corridor to Downpour’s cell. Shadows pooled where the duke’s light orange eyes should have been and it gave the unicorn an unholy countenance as he laughed at Downpour’s pain. “I must say how ecstatic I am that you decided to hang around Doré Manor. I couldn’t have planned this any better if I had tried.” Downpour attempted to lunge at the crimson coated fiend, but his chains held fast and he nearly broke his foreleg in the attempt. “Tsk, tsk. You have quite the temper, my young pegasus prisoner. If you’re not careful, you might just hurt yourself.” The duke jabbed his hoof into Downpour’s exposed stomach as he spoke, nearly causing the hanging stallion to vomit. The pegasus almost wished that he had gotten sick, right on the duke’s smug face.

“You’d better kill me right now, because if I get out of this, then you’re a dead stallion,” Downpour promised. Doré Langue just smiled at his feeble threat.

“Be careful what you wish for, Downpour,” the duke replied. “I will kill you, but only when the time is right.”

“Yeah? Why don’t you unlock these shackles and we can settle this right here and now, stallion to stallion?” Downpour questioned as he glared down at the aristocrat. The duke smirked at him, his slender horn begining to glow with golden light as he cast some sort of magic. “What are yo-,” Downpour hadn’t finished asking his question before he felt a sharp pain in his chest. His heart felt like it was going to burst out of his chest and it drowned out his words in a terror filled scream.

“Do you still think that you have even the slightest chance of killing me? I could end your life before you ever get close enough to try,” Doré Langue explained calmly. “Now be a good little pony and enjoy the little bit of time you have left to breath.” The glow faded from the aristocrat’s horn and the gripping pain left the pegasus’s chest.

“What the hay do you want with me?” Downpour gasped as he tried to suck air into his rasping lungs. His heart ached with every beat and he felt dizzy still.

“Hmm, I thought you might be a little more intelligent than you look, but I suppose that there’s no harm in giving you a little taste of my plans before I end your life,” Doré Langue smirked. The duke paced back in forth in front of Downpour as he began to explain his vile intentions. “You told me that somepony hired the griffons to capture the empress, but what you didn’t realize, is that I was the one who planned the crime. I am the pony who paid them.” Downpour’s mouth hung agape as he tried to process the news. He really wasn’t very bright. He had walked right into the home of the pony that was trying to start the war he had been sent to stop.

“But why?” Downpour asked in disbelief.

“I was elected to rule in place of the emperor and empress should anything happen to either of them, not that it mattered,” Doré Langue spat. “Even if I had known how to kill an immortal, I would have died long before I ever had the opportunity to rule. My only choice was to speed up the process.” The duke’s pacing increased and his smile grew as he stroked his own inflated ego. “First, I began by poisoning the emperor with the strongest toxins that I could find, but it has been a very slow process and we are not very patient stallions.”

“Who?” Downpour asked, confused by the mention of another player in this game of death and betrayal.

“Somepony far more wicked than I, but he’s none of your concern. I plan to deal with him after he has served his purpose.” The duke lost a little of his maniacal joy and stopped pacing as he spoke about this mysterious stallion. “We decided that it would best serve our purposes to get rid of the empress in a quicker fashion and then kill her at our leisure.”

“You’re a monster!” Downpour screamed. The duke just went on smiling up at him, as if the title was something to be worn proudly.

“Well, even if I am, it is only because I was driven to these extremes.” Doré Langue continued pacing across the cold stone floor as his words became more heated. “Do you have any idea what it is like to have all of that power dangled in front of you, only to know that the day will never come when you will receive it? To serve the same stallion year after year, decade after decade, all the while seeing total control just out of reach of your open hooves?” the duke asked. “It’s enough to drive anypony to madness.”

“Millions of ponies have served the same rulers for their entire lives,” Downpour retorted. “Why change a system that has worked perfectly for so long? It’s insane.”

“Worked perfectly? The system hasn’t worked since Discord’s War,” Doré Langue laughed. “The ancient treaties are broken, entire cities are in ruin and harmony has gone from these lands!”

“That’s all on Discord. You need to give the Crystal Empire and Equestria time to rebuild, time to rehash our ties with the other countries,” Downpour pleaded. The duke’s glare was intense and the pegasus could sense a writhing anger just behind his orange eyes.

“Time? I have given my life to my home!” Doré Langue hissed up at his prisoner. “Thirty years I have begged and pleaded with Adagio and Serenade to listen to my plans for a peaceful world. They never listened, the emperor and empress that I have served so faithfully believed that their rule was absolute and perfect!” Mad didn’t even begin to describe the stallion standing before Downpour. The duke was practically shaking with rage as he recounted every perceived slight against him.

“What makes you think that you could have done any better in those thirty years?” Downpour asked. He needed to keep the duke talking. If he did manage to escape, then every detail of the crimson stallion’s plan would need to be reported back to the princesses.

“Already I have gotten the griffons on my side, along with a few other groups and as soon as I conquer Equestria, I will unite the other countries,” the duke explained, stopping just long enough in his pacing to adjust the large hat he wore. Downpour couldn’t believe the unicorn’s madness or the fact that he seemed to really believe his own words. “Think of it; ponies, griffons, minotaurs, zebras, diamond dogs and every other race all helping each other, standing together under one rule.”

“Your rule of course,” Downpour said as he glanced around the room, looking for some method of escape while he egged the duke on.

“Of course,” Doré Langue simply replied. “Who better to lead the world than the one pony with the vision to enact this plan?” Downpour couldn’t see any way of getting himself out of the situation he was in. He needed to warn the princesses and his brother. Draft needed to know who the duke really was, before the younger pegasus was taken prisoner as well.

“Do you really think that you can just take control that easily?” Downpour questioned. “You’re asking for a battle as horrible as Discord’s War.” Duke Doré Langue stopped mid step and grinned up at Downpour.

“War drove us into this disharmony and now war is the only way to fix it,” he informed the pegasus. “There will be casualties, but in the end, everypony will accept my rule.” The crimson stallion walked towards Downpour, until they were mere centimeters away. “I will lead us all into a new age of harmony and they will sing of my great deeds for generations to come.” The pegasus replied by spitting in the duke’s face.

“The princesses will use the Elements of Harmony to stop you, before you ever get the chance,” Downpour argued. The duke chuckled and wiped the spit from his muzzle before slamming a hoof into his prisoner’s ribs.

“It’s too bad that you’ll never get to see the new world.” With those final words, Doré Langue turned tail and walked out of the chamber, leaving Downpour to hang there in the cold, damp depths of the dungeon. The pegasus’s breath was ragged and his entire body ached as he dangled helplessly. He only hoped that his brother would figure out something was wrong in time to prevent the war and save his life.

“Excuse me, I was wondering if you could direct me to the home of Duke Doré Langue,” Draft asked the first pony he saw upon leaving the hospital. The brown stallion directed him west, down the main road and informed him that the duke’s manor was down a dirt path just a little distance from the city limits. Draft thanked the crystal pony for his help and set off to find his older brother, wincing with each stride.

Aside from the large number of guards patrolling the city, it almost seemed as if the Crystal Empire wasn’t in the midst of starting a war. Ponies bustled about the streets, attending to their everyday business and none of them seemed to pay any attention to the foreign pegasus, even with his chest being bandaged. The guards kept an eye on Draft, but no more than he would have expected considering the way his brother and Ursa had gotten him into the city. Word of their behavior had no doubt spread quickly through the knights’ ranks.

It was strange for Draft, knowing what was occurring in the government and seeing all of the citizens acting as if nothing was amiss. Everywhere he looked, the city was serene and beautiful. Frost had collected along the shimmering crystal buildings after the snow had fallen and sunlight sparkled along the rooftops. If he closed his eyes, the pegasus could almost convince himself that everything would be alright in the world and that the shiver down his spine was nothing more than the cool caress of the winter wind, but he knew better. A dark storm was gathering and he wasn’t sure that it could be stopped.

It didn’t take long for Draft to reach his destination. The ornate roof of the duke’s crystallic abode peeked up from behind the barren trees around it. His hoofsteps made the only sound around him as he followed the path up to the gates of the building, each crunching step sounding more ominous the closer he drew to the massive home. The manor cast a large shadow over the trail, blocking what little warmth Celestia’s sun had been providing. The pegasus approached the well crafted doors and knocked twice, the thump of his hoof echoing through the valley around him.

Draft sucked in a deep breath, readying his nerves for whatever was going to happen next. If his instincts were correct, then there was a good possibility that he would not be walking back out through this entrance. He was preparing to knock again when the door finally swung open, revealing an older stallion, shorter than Draft, with a graying mane and tired eyes.

“Can I help you sir?” the earth pony asked him in a gentle voice. Draft released the breath that he had been holding in, eyeing the open room behind the stallion as he did.

“Yes. I am Backdraft. I believe that my older brother, Downpour, and my friend, Ursa, came here with Duke Doré Langue,” Draft explained. “I was just wondering if they were still here. I need to speak with them about something important.”

“I am very sorry, sir, but the master of the house is away on business right now. I will be sure to inform him that you stopped by,” the servant replied, hastily shutting the door in the pegasus’s face. Whatever was going on, Draft was certain that the servant knew about it, but he highly doubted that he would receive any help from the old stallion.

“Damn, I guess that I’ll just have to go track down the duke myself,” Downpour spoke into the air, as he turned away from the looming gates of Doré Manor and followed the well worn path back to town. Once again his hoofsteps were the only sound that could be heard coming from the worn trail as a light snow began to fall.

Blood ran down in crimson lines, streaking Downpour’s forelegs as he repeatedly tried to wrench his hooves through the metal shackles that bound him in place. The captured pegasus bit his lip hard enough to draw even more blood as he attempted to stifle his pained screams. No matter how hard he yanked and twisted, the shackled stallion was unable to free himself, but he wouldn’t stop trying. He had no idea when Doré Langue would return to kill him, but he did not plan on being around when the time came.

“Augh! Just! Let! Go!” Downpour screamed, each word accompanied by a hard tug on the chains. It felt like he had been hanging for days, although it was most likely just a couple of hours, and his already waning strength was nearly depleted. His attempts had done nothing to help, the shackles held just as firmly as when the pegasus had first tried pulling against them and blood loss was beginning to make him very woozy. The only thing that kept him going was the knowledge that his brother would be in the same situation if they failed to stop the duke.

A few more tries proved to be just as fruitless as the rest had and Downpour sagged in defeat, with nothing to show for his efforts except more bloodshed. Tears fell from his eyes and splashed against the dirt marred floors as his chin dropped to his chest. For all his strength and determination, the stocky stallion was still helpless to save anyone. First his best friend had gone blind, then he had let Ursa get captured and now he was being held prisoner while his younger brother, the pony he cared for more than any other, was hospitalized, unaware of the looming danger. He was a failure.

There were no windows, so Downpour had no clue as to how long he hung there; moping about his inability to change his own fate. Eventually, he lifted his blue eyes again. The pegasus glanced about the chamber, desperate for anything he could use to escape. The room was dark, but his eyes had adjusted long before and he could see every rough stone in the wall and every bit of dirt that coated the cracked floor, but there was nothing in there for him to utilize. His only hope would be to free his aching hooves from the iron shackles, by any means necessary.

A crazed smile crept across Downpour’s ragged face as he decided on his next actions. He began to chuckle madly, a psychotic sound that melded with enraged screams as he yanked and twisted his hooves with a renewed vigor. He swung his forelegs back and forth, smashing them against the stone wall with what remaining strength he had. The clang of metal against stone was nothing compared to the sound of bones snapping as he crushed his wrists into fragments. His screams grew in volume with each strike, until his legs went numb and he began to laugh wildly.

“I’m coming for you, Doré Langue! Do you here me?” Downpour screamed into the empty cell as he wrenched down on his mangled hooves. Between the broken bones and the blood that had lubricated the metal, the pegasus was able to finally slip his forelegs free. He dropped to the ground, his fractured limbs unable to halt his fall as he dropped free from his chains and collapsed onto the cold, damp ground. The stallion fought to stay conscious, but his vision grew black and the room began to spin, until he passed out in a bloody heap with his back legs still bound to the prison floor.

The light snowfall that had started during his brief visit to Doré Manor had worsened as Draft walked along the roads of the Crystal Empire. Judging from the immensity of the dark clouds overhead, it looked to him as if it would reach a violent crescendo soon. Wandering around the town during a snowstorm would have been a bad idea even if he was in perfect health. If he tried it in his current condition, the pegasus was going to have serious problems. To add to his ever growing pile of setbacks, the skinny stallion’s stomach rumbled loudly, reminding him that he hadn’t eaten anything since leaving the hospital. He would be hard pressed to find a meal, considering his brother hadn’t given him any money before he and Ursa left, not that there would have been much to give after paying off his medical expenses.

A gust of freezing wind sent a shivering spasm through Draft’s body, causing a shooting pain through his chest where he had been stabbed. He pulled his cloak more tightly around his body and continued on undeterred. The servant at the duke’s mansion had informed him that Doré Langue was away on business, so the pegasus assumed the aristocrat must be at the palace, considering he was leading the Crystal Empire while the empress was missing. Draft could see the pointed spire of the Crystal Palace reaching up into the sky, even through the falling snow. It was really a beautiful sight, shimmering in the dim light of the winter sun, but not one that he had time to stop and admire.

“I’ll ask for food when I get to the palace,” Draft replied to his empty stomach after it growled at him once again. Even if the duke wasn’t in the palace, it would still be a place to get warm and hopefully stay, at least until the storm blew over. The injured pegasus just had to hope that they didn’t turn him away because of how he looked. His cloak was filthy and the harsh wind had tangled his normally well kempt mane into a long series of grey and white knots. The bandages and dirt on his body probably wouldn’t help matters either. “Sweet Celestia, I could really use a nice hot bath right about now.”

Knight’s heads turned to follow Draft’s motion as he walked slowly up to the entrance of the palace. Their faces were mostly expressionless, but he caught sight of dirty looks coming from a couple of the guards as he passed. As long as he was allowed into the palace, the Equestrian couldn’t care any less what they thought about him, but he was eventually stopped at the gate. Two stallions, donning armor that appeared to be of a higher quality than the other guards’ armor, stood rigid on either side of the doorway, blocking his path with pointed spears.

“Halt! State your name and your reason for entering the palace,” the knight on his left said in a booming voice. It seemed unnecessary considering he was only a few feet away, but Draft decided it would be best not to cause any trouble.

“My name is Backdraft and I am here to speak with Duke Doré Langue,” Draft replied with as little annoyance in his voice as he could manage.

“The duke never told us he was expecting a dirty vagrant. I’m afraid that I will have to ask you to leave,” the guard on his right responded with a glare. Draft was sore, tired, dirty, cold and his normally considerable patience had run out, but he took a slow, deep breath and tried his best to reason with the guard ponies.

“Listen, I’m sure that you take your job very seriously and that is a very good thing, but look at me. I’m dead tired, I haven’t eaten and I have bandages wrapped around me because I was stabbed through the chest not long ago,” Draft explained flatly. That caused the guards to glance at one another in surprise. “I really need to speak with the duke about a matter most urgent. If one of you gentlecolts would escort me to him, I am sure he will explain to you who I am.” Draft smiled tightly and waited for a response, but he didn’t get the one he was hoping for. The guards glanced at each other and the stallion on the left nodded slightly.

“Now you listen. You have about thirty seconds to turn your mangy flank around and trot away from this gate, before I take this spear tip and ram it straight up yo-”

“You will do no such thing!” Doré Langue shouted to the stallion in a stern voice, the voice a father might use when lecturing a misbehaving child. Draft couldn’t help but to smirk at the guards as they snapped to attention with cheeks burning red from embarrassment. “And if I ever hear you talking like that to a helpless pony again, I will have you cleaning the palace floors faster than I can crack a whip.” Draft hadn’t expected the duke to come to his aid, but it still didn’t change his opinion that something wasn’t quite right with the gold maned pony.

“Thank you, Duke Doré Langue,” Draft said as he stepped past the knights, snapping his long, knotted tail in their faces as he passed.

“Of course, Backdraft, I apologize for the uncivilized behavior of my stallions. The emperor was always rather lax with his subjects and so it seems to have spoiled his soldiers a bit,” the duke replied.

“No worries,” Draft assured the unicorn. “I’m just glad to be out of the snow.” The pegasus’s stomach chose that moment to let his hunger be known, rumbling more loudly than it had all day. The duke’s orange eyes widened in surprise and he chuckled softly.

“You sound like you could use a bite to eat.”

“Yeah, I haven’t really eaten anything in awhile,” Draft replied.

“Well, follow me to the dining room and I will see if I can get something brought to us, while we discuss whatever business was important enough for you to leave your hospital bed and come to me for,” the duke told him as they walked along the halls, hoofsteps echoing throughout the crystalline structure.

“That sounds wonderful,” Draft replied as he gazed about the palace. The pegasus’s plan was to fill his stomach and then see if the duke would take him to Ursa and his brother, wherever they were. If his suspicions proved false, then no harm done, but if the duke really was up to something, the young stallion would need an escape route, so he made sure to memorize the path they took to the dining room. Like Spark had told him, “better safe than sorry.”

Darkness. Darkness and pain washed over Downpour as he lay, broken, on the floor of the dungeon. Time meant nothing to the bleeding pegasus as he fought his way from unconsciousness. It was a losing battle. Then he heard a voice calling his name from the depths of his mind.

“Downpour.” He felt as if he should recognize the voice, it seemed oddly familiar, but he was having enough trouble dealing with the pain and wanted nothing to do with the sound in his head. “Downpour, where are you,” the voice called out again. “We have to get out of here.” The voice wasn’t in his head after all. It sounded like… Ursa. Downpour forced his eyes open, but all that he could see was the stone floor his face was pressed against. He tried to call out, but his voice was little more than a raspy whisper.

“Help,” he choked.

“Downpour, are you in there?” Ursa called out from just beyond the entrance of the cell. Tears filled the pegasus’s eyes as he heard the approaching steps of his friend. “Downpour, what the hay did he do to you!?” A whimper was the only response Downpour could manage. “Don’t worry, I-I-I’ll get you out of those chains. Just, uh, just hold on for a little longer.” Downpour trusted Ursa, as much as he could ever trust a pony he had only known for a week, and the sound of him leaving gripped the bloodied stallion’s heart with dread. Downpour didn’t know how long would it take for Ursa to return or if he would come back before Doré Langue returned to finish off the pathetic excuse for a pegasus that was bleeding out onto the floor of his dungeon. The sound of somepony approaching came a few minutes later however, and Downpour closed his eyes, sure that he was about to die.

“Sorry it took me so long. I had to find something to break the chains with,” Ursa told the pegasus as he let out a breath of relief. “I’ll have you out in just a second.” Bang! Bang! Bang! The sound of metal hammering against metal seemed deafeningly loud in the silence of the stone room. If anypony was around, they were sure to have heard the noise. Soon after Ursa’s last strike, Downpour felt himself being lifted up from the ground.

“My forelegs are broken and I don’t think I have enough strength to fly out of here,” Downpour managed to choke out before Ursa could let him go.

“Alright. I’ll just carry you out of here then,” Ursa replied as he hoisted the pegasus’s dead weight over his back. “Don’t worry, because your brother would kill me if I left you behind.”

“Thank you,” Downpour whispered. The earth pony simply nodded.

As soon as Ursa adjusted Downpour’s weight, he set off at a quick trot out of the cell and down a dimly lit hallway. Downpour’s head was hanging down, so the only thing he saw as they moved was the floor passing by. He could hear Ursa’s labored breath as they darted down hallways, seemingly at random. It seemed that the earth pony was just as clueless as he was about where they were being kept. It seemed likely that a psychopath would have had a dungeon built under his own mansion, which meant that even if they made it out of the musty tunnels, they would still have to sneak out of Doré Manor without being spotted by any servants or Doré Langue himself.

“I think I see a staircase up ahead,” Ursa said in a gasping breath as he rounded a corner. Downpour’s head jerked around painfully as the larger stallion picked up his speed and hurdled up the stairs, but it was far better than staying down in the dungeon. They stopped suddenly and Downpour forced his head up to see what was wrong. “Damn! The door is locked,” Ursa said in a panicked whisper as he turned his flank to the solid piece of oak that blocked their passage. Downpour was about to ask what their next move should be when the crystal pony’s hind leg shot out in a hard kick. There was a glint of metal as his hoof flew back and the door splintered on contact, causing a cacophony of sound as the wood fell into a useless pile of scraps.

“What was that?” Downpour questioned, his own pain momentarily forgotten during the spectacle he had just witnessed.

“That’s how I freed you from those chains. I found some horseshoes, which are enchanted, if I’m not mistaken. They were in a small room with other devices that the duke probably uses to torture his victims. There was blood staining the table they were sitting on. That stallion is seriously bucked in the head,” Ursa explained as he tore through the ornate halls of Doré Manor. Downpour was already aware of the duke’s insanity though. Waking up chained in the old stallion’s dungeon was enough to tell the pegasus that much.

“What the-” the servant’s words were cut off before Downpour had even known he was there as Ursa plowed straight through the older pony. Normally the pegasus tried to respect his elders, but this stallion had known what his master was up to all along and had no doubt helped the twisted aristocrat with his misdeeds, so Downpour managed a smile when he glanced back and saw the crystal pony lying motionless on the floor.

“There’s the front door!” Ursa yelled, not bothering to keep quite since they were so close to freedom. Downpour was nearly flung from the green pony’s back as Ursa skidded on his hooves, whipping his rear end around and kicking a gaping hole in the double doors with a fluid motion that seemed to the pegasus as if it shouldn’t have been possible. Once again, Ursa’s great size proved to be no hindrance to his acrobatic abilities. Downpour was thankful for that fact.

“Let’s get the buck out of here, so I can find that narcissistic bastard and teach him some Celestia damned etiquette,” Downpour said, knowing full well that he was in no condition to swat a fly, let alone fight with a unicorn. Ursa nodded his head and took off at a slow gallop through the swirling snow. It should have been freezing, especially with how much blood Downpour had lost, but the only thing the pegasus felt was his burning rage.

The smell of hot food was making Draft’s mouth water in anticipation as he sat across from Duke Doré Langue and longingly watched a servant placing steaming dishes before them. After pouring them each a glass of crystal nectar, the servant left the room so that the two stallions could converse in peace. The duke seemed content to let Draft fill himself with the delicious food before they got to business and, although Draft was in a hurry to find his brother, it would do no good if he collapsed from hunger, so the hungry pegasus immediately began gorging himself on the cuisine with as much civility as he could muster under the circumstances. It was wonderful.

“You should try the crystal nectar. It is some of my own vintage, made using ingredients from my own personal orchard,” Doré Langue told him with a cocky smile. Draft tipped the gem encrusted glass back and took a long swig of the beverage. It wasn’t as sweet as he had imagined it would be, but it was still quite good.

“Wow, you say that you made that yourself? It’s very tasty,” Draft told the duke before taking another sip from his glass.

“Not me personally, but the ponies who work for me at my manor did and I taste each batch before hoof, just to make sure that it is up to my high standards,” the crimson stallion explained.

“My compliments to your workers then,” Draft said. He wiped his mouth off on a silk napkin and cleared his throat, ready to talk now that he had some food in his stomach. “In speaking of your home, I went there looking for you and my companions.” Draft thought he saw Doré Langue’s eyes widen in surprise for a split second, but then the duke’s expression returned to normal.

“Oh? I’m sorry you had to travel all that way for nothing,” the duke responded.

“As am I,” Draft replied. “Your servant directed me to here and said that I could find my brother and Ursa with you, so I came to the palace right away.” Draft watched the duke’s face as he spoke, hoping for another break in the older pony’s calm façade, but the crimson stallion’s expression remained flat.

“He did, did he? Well, they are actually right up stairs. They wanted to speak with the emperor, so I told them I would see what I could do,” Doré Langue said. “Unfortunately, the emperor is very sick, so I cannot allow a series of visitors to go parading in and out of his room all night, but I’m sure that they’ll return shortly.”

Draft was certain that the duke was lying, so he decided to call the aristocrat’s bluff. He would wait patiently near the duke’s side in order to keep a close eye on him and if anything was amiss, he would be there to put the duke in his place. If his brother did happen to come back from meeting with the emperor, then there was no harm done, but if the grey pegasus didn’t see signs of either of them in an hour or so, he would know that Doré Langue was corrupt.

“I suppose I will just have to wait here for them. You don’t mind, right?” Draft asked as he picked over the last scraps of his meal. He glanced slyly at the duke out of the corner of his eye.

“Not at all, Backdraft. I would be more than happy to show you around the palace while we wait,” the duke offered. “I think that you’ll find the architecture used in the building of this crystal marvel is quite different from anything that you’ve ever seen in Equestria.” Either this gold maned stallion was a master of deception or his friend and brother really were just fine. Draft was beginning to doubt his own instincts.

“That would be lovely,” Draft told the unicorn. He nearly jumped back from the table when the duke’s horn lit up with magic, but nothing seemed to happen. The duke must have noticed a bit of confusion on his face because he smiled at Draft and readjusted his elegant hat.

“Magic is quite useful for directing the help around,” the duke explained. Draft was about to ask what he meant, but a moment later the servant returned and began cleaning up the mess. It seemed that Doré Langue was able to communicate telepathically with ponies. The thought worried Draft. “Shall we?” the crimson stallion asked as he stood up from the table. Draft nodded his head and followed his host out of the dining hall to begin the tour.

A nurse let out a startled shriek as Ursa tore through the hallway with Downpour still draped across his sweaty back. She would probably be alerting the guards, but they had no time to explain themselves. Downpour’s wings shot out to steady his body as the earth pony weaved through hallways and headed for Draft’s hospital room. The pegasus’s forelegs had finally stopped bleeding, but they were still throbbing with pain and jostling about was only making it worse. The thin scabs cracked and split as he bounced around. Ursa slammed into the door a moment later, knocking it open with a loud crash and surprising the nurse that was making up the bedding. Draft was nowhere to be seen.

“Where is the pegasus that was in this room earlier today?” Ursa yelled the question and the pink nurse winced. She was terrified and couldn’t reply, so the large stallion asked again.

“He-he left. He said he needed to speak with you two, so I think he headed off to Doré Manor,” she replied, on the verge of frightened tears. There was no time to feel sorry for the mare however, because if Draft had gone to the manor and hadn’t found them, then he would have gone looking for the duke elsewhere. Chances were that he had gone to the palace in hopes of finding them.

“The palace!” Downpour shouted to Ursa. The emerald stallion nodded his head and turned tail, taking off down the hallway that they had just ran through. Downpour was worried that the duke would harm his brother before they got the chance to tell him what the aristocrat was really up to, but he sincerely hoped he was wrong.

They made it to the front of the hospital, where two knights were already waiting for them. With no time to explain, Ursa settle for plowing right through the stunned guards, knocking the armored stallions down with his momentum as the two of them burst through the hospital doors and out into the blizzard. Downpour glanced back in time to see the knights untangling themselves and getting back to their hooves. The chase was on and it seemed that his friend had no intentions of being caught again.

“Hold on as tight as you can,” Ursa told him as the earth pony pushed his body to the extreme. Snow flew back from his metal encased hooves as they darted down the empty streets. Ponies had all headed inside when the blizzard began to worsen and now the streets were barren. That was a small blessing for the two of them, as without any witnesses, the knights would have more difficulty tracking them down. Ursa’s hoof prints were wiped away clean by the icy winds of the storm just moments after being left behind and still he ran on, never slowing.

Duke Doré Langue led Draft through the open halls of the Crystal Palace, spouting random facts about the architecture and history of the various rooms that they passed by. Draft did his best to look as if he was listening, all the while trying to keep track of their position in the immense tower. He barely acknowledged the smooth cut crystal pillars or the hoof carved etchings that ran all throughout the halls. The pegasus’s ears perked up however, at the mention of a powerful Crystal Heart.

“I’m sorry, but I missed that last part. What were you saying about a Crystal Heart?” Draft asked the duke.

“I was just telling you about the Crystal Fair that is held each year to lift the spirits of the crystal ponies. The heart is used as a centerpiece for the festival and as the citizen’s own hearts are filled with joy and love, it is absorbed by the enchantment of the Crystal Heart and reflected throughout the empire,” the duke repeated.

“That sounds amazing,” Draft admitted. “I wish that we could have arrived here during the fair.”

“It is quite a sight to behold. During the fair, you get the opportunity to see the true glory of the Crystal Empire. Ponies here are said to be the most beautiful creatures in the world, especially under the spell of the heart, although I wouldn’t want to sound like a braggart,” Doré Langue said with a chuckle. Having met Ursa, Draft was inclined to believe the duke’s words. Crystal ponies did appear very beautiful.

“That’s amazing.”

“Yes it is,” the duke agreed. “Empress Mi Amore Serenade started the fair many years ago in order to help spread harmony throughout the land. Of course, these past few years, Emperor Judicieux Adagio has been growing sick and ponies here are finding less and less to be joyful about, so I fear that without the empress returning safely, we may not hold a fair this year.” From his position behind the duke, Draft could not see the stallion’s face, but he thought he detected the slightest hint of amusement in the unicorn’s speech.

“What will become of the citizens without the fair though?” Draft questioned. “I would think that somepony in your position would be pushing for a fair more than anypony. How else are you planning to maintain the peace and harmony that your country holds so dear?” Before the duke could reply, one of the crystal knights came barreling down the hall at full speed, with a panicked expression etched across his face.

“Duke Doré Langue, sir. Somepony has broken into the palace! We have reason to believe that it’s the ponies who forced their way into the city the day before,” the guard shouted as he came to a grinding halt in front of his leader. Draft inhaled sharply, steely grey eyes widening in surprise as the duke’s lies came crashing down around them.

“You imbecile!” Doré Langue screamed at the guard before whipping his head around to face Draft. The aristocrat’s orange eyes flashed with rage as Draft took a few steps back from him and prepared to flee the palace. Before the pegasus had made it more than three steps, the duke’s magic had already been summoned to stop him in his tracks. A powerful golden glow had enveloped the grey pegasus’s wings and held them firmly in place. “I knew that you and your brother were nothing more than spies!”

“What are you talking about?” Draft asked, confused by the duke’s sudden accusation. “You’re the one that’s corrupt and as soon as my brother and Ursa find me, you’re going to pay for what you did with the empress.” Draft spat the words back at Doré Langue. He wasn’t sure what trickery the duke was trying to pull, because he knew without a doubt that his brother was no spy and he certainly wasn’t one either.

“Great job catching this one, sir,” the guard said with a grin. “I’ll take some knights and round up the other two infiltrators.” The armored earth pony turned and fled down the hallway, blue tail disappearing down the stairs as he called out for more knights to assist him.

“I can’t say that I am happy about this, but I must say that breaking into the palace was a sure way for them to convince my soldiers that a war with Equestria is our only option. I should have no problem convincing the rest of the council that it is our best plan as well,” the duke said as his mouth parted in a wicked grin. Draft squirmed and twisted, trying to break free of the unicorn’s magical grip, but no matter how hard he tried, the gold aura of magic held strong.

“It was you!” Draft screamed. “All along, it has been you who paid those griffons to capture the empress. You wanted to start a war with Equestria. You’re the monster.”

“It’s funny. Your brother said the same thing while I had him hanging in my dungeon,” Doré Langue cackled. “I’d rather not explain myself again and it won’t matter after I’ve dealt with the three of you anyway.” Draft felt the tug on his wings as Doré Langue pulled him closer. The pegasus tried to dig his hooves into the ground, but they skidded across the polished floor with little resistance. “You remember how I called to that servant with my magic earlier? Well, that was only one use for my little telepathy spell. I think you’ll find use number two to be quite a bit more terrifying.”

“What the hay are you doing?” Draft asked as he felt his eyelids being pinned open. The duke stared straight into the center of his grey eyes and his horn began to glow more brightly. Draft could feel something happening. It was like a pressure in his brain; slowly building in intensity until it was all that he could focus on, then came the voice.

“Backdraft, I want you to listen very carefully to my words,” the duke’s voice told him. “Your brother, Downpour, and your friend, Ursa, are both traitors to ponykind. They have come here to kill you and me and claim the throne for their own.” Draft tried to struggle against this foreign presence in his head, but he couldn’t push the voice out. “Backdraft, I am your true friend and you know that I have always had your best interest at heart. You must stop them from killing us by any means necessary.” Something was wrong. Draft was sure that his brother would never harm him, but Duke Doré Langue had always been there for him, as far as the pegasus knew. That didn’t seem true, but the younger stallion couldn’t seem to think straight. It was impossible for his mind to work out what the truth actually was.

“What are you doing to me?” Draft asked in a whisper as he stared into the face of the duke. Those orange eyes were all that the pegasus could focus on. He couldn’t feel the pain in his chest or the rapid beating of his heart. Only those orange eyes and the voice in his head seemed to matter. It was as if everything else had melted away, leaving only the two of them.

“Backdraft, you know that you must keep the Crystal Empire safe, right?” Doré Langue asked him.

“Yes, of course I will,” Draft replied slowly. He would always fight to protect the innocent ponies of the world.

“Then you must kill your brother and Ursa, before they kill you, Backdraft. You must defend the peace and harmony of The Crystal Empire and Equestria to the death,” the duke impressed upon his mind. “I am your only true friend and I am counting on you, Backdraft.” Downpour tried to struggle once more, but the duke’s words made perfect sense. It was his duty to protect the empire. “You will not let me down will you?” Draft couldn’t find even a hint of a lie in what the duke was telling him anymore. Doré Langue had always looked out for his best interests and the interest of the empire.

“Yes of course, Duke Doré Langue,” Draft replied. “I will defend the empire to the death.”

“Good,” the duke said with a satisfied smile. Draft could see the beads of sweat on the crimson stallion’s forehead and hear his labored breathing. The pegasus felt bad that the duke was so worried about Downpour and Ursa’s intrusion. He would make them pay for terrorizing his closest friend and the empire he had sworn to protect, even if it cost him his life. The magical light dissipated and the brainwashed pegasus nodded to the duke before setting off down the hall at a slow canter, looking for Downpour and Ursa. He could hear the aristocrat’s laughter as the clock struck midnight. Draft would make his closest friend, Duke Doré Langue, proud of him.

Author's Note:

I had planned on Duke Doré Langue having his creepy telepathy from the begining. It was one of the very few ideas that were set in stone. I think it works well for him as a villian, although Draft would probably disagree after this chapter, if he could disagree that is. Mwahahaha!

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