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Ponies & Dragons - Episode 1: A Tail of Two Cities

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Approximately 100 years after the wendigos were banished from Equestria and peace between the tribes was established, The tribes broke off to find their own homes within the greater of the Equestrian lands. The three towns established were Canterlot, Cloudsdale, and Ponyville. They were the home of the Unicorns, the Pegasi, and the Earth Ponies.

Among the other towns established, were ones where the inhabitants decided to stick together instead of segregating themselves. Those towns are Manehattan, Appleloosa, Fillydelphia, and Hoofington. There have also been reports of a group of aquatic ponies living in the fresh-water Nimbusgait lakes.

A tentative alliance has been established between the Griffons and the Pegasi, exchanging resources and establishing weather control for the Griffons, while providing pegasi with various goods and sundries native to their own lands.

The main method of transportaion for those who don't have wings to fly to their location is the train. The train is pulled by the strongest Earth Ponies Appleloosa and Ponyville could muster, and typically runs between the two towns at least once a day, with special runs to the other towns about once a week.

Your current location is Garden Gait, a town off the border of Canterlot, about 27 miles away from the Unicorn city. Due to the level of crime between Ponyville and Canterlot, a Call to Arms has been established. Any able pony is able to volunteer for pay in Celestian gold pieces, the primary unicorn currency. The issue at hand is that a band of bandits have been ambushing caravans coming from ponyville to Canterlot and making off with the food meant for the Unicorns. The Unicorns trading magic items to the Earth Ponies while receiving Food and other items in return.

The primary meeting location for mercenaries defending the caravans is The Combusting Colt, A drinking establishment owned by Filt Firehorn. His drinks are famous for causing gastrointestinal stress. Some of them are even served on fire, and more than once the establishment has had to be rebuilt due to a spilled drink or a miscast fire spell. The countertop of the bar is even covered in burn marks and some of the glasses show signs of warping from heat. The establishment is surprisingly empty despite the call to arms. The reputation of Filt Firehorn and his flaming brews are enough to keep most ponies away.

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Bramble Rose walked through the town, a calmness on his face that wasn't felt in his heart. He'd lately finished a good contract with a master alchemist of his awareness, and his purse hung heavy. Well. His purse hung light, but his bank account hung heavy. Normally, Bramble would have liked to spend his money going travelling, but lately, he'd found himself with enough bits that he was thinking that it was about time to buy up some land, build a greenhouse, start actually growing all the plants he enjoyed so much. Of course, then he'd need to hire an assistant, so they wouldn't die when he went travelling, and that would cost yet more bits ...

It was such simple dreams as these which brought the slight little unicorn to answer the call for mercenaries. No fighter, he - not yet. He was still working on that. None of the other mercenaries would ever mistake him for a warrior - but he had use as a scout, he was sure. Far better to know in advance where the brigands would strike than to just be an extra body when ambushed, right? And if Bramble couldn't ferret out the brigand ambush points, he was sure Blossom could, though she'd stayed out in the forest. It made ponies nervous when the massive wolf walked into town alongside him. She was close, though - he could almost *feel* her prowling uneasily around the edges of town. She always wanted to avoid cities. She wanted *him* to avoid cities, too. She didn't see what was there that he could possibly want ... except his own kind, which even Blossom had to reluctantly admit, was important.

And so Bramble came quietly in through the door. His armor was a cloak, at the moment, hodded low over his face and long over his flanks. It was a bit frayed - not so ragged as to look like a vagabond, but not nice enough to mark him as a target for hoofpads. The magic that camoflaged his armor couldn't fake the dirt he'd acquired quite honestly, ground in with mile after mile on the road, stained with green streaks from the forest. As always, his heart was in his throat as he came into one of these places. So often, he'd had to prove himself - because of his size, because of his build. And all too often, that proving went quite poorly for Bramble. Best to put on a confident air and just bluff his way through. It seemed to work better than anything else. His mother had always said that a pony's perceptions were more important than the truth, for most things. She'd been talking about an entirely different class of ponies, at the time, but Bramble had found it applying quite well to all classes.

He strode up to the bar, tapped his hoof on the counter, and when his hoof lifted there were a couple bits there. "One salt lick," he said, "One mug of water, one quarter-barrel of the house brew to go, and who do I talk to about a job?"

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Filt Firehorn was in the back room of the tavern, preparing the afternoon meal. It consisted of a very thick chowder, with potatoes, carrots, and a bit of spices for flavoring. Filt turned the heat down with a heat reduction spell and stepped out into view. Filt is certainly not the type of pony you'd expect to be running an establishment like this. His appearance catches most people off guard. His robes are flowing red, with animated flames rising from the bottom of the robes to the top of them, burning like a log in the hearth of a roaring fireplace. His beard is long and white, dipping down below his chest when he's standing on all fours. Over his left eye is a red eyepatch, decorated with a large, well-polished ruby.

He siezes a small saucer with magic originating from his horn and brings it to rest in front of Bramble, a single salt lick lying on the plate. Pulling a long stick from the confines of his robe he taps a glass, filling it with cool spring water, which he places beside the salt lick. The last request brings a smile to his face, and he beckons forth a tirade of roaring laughter upon hearing it. His weary eyes droop for a moment, smile still present on his face. He reaches for the smallest glass you've ever seen, fills it from a small barrel, and places it in front of Bramble.

The glass itself is well-maintained, its surface kept free from any scratches or dents. However, the liquid inside is much different. The liquid, when it reaches the surface, effervesces into large amounts of bubbles. At the top of the bubbles is the first thing you notice. The liquid is on fire. The color of the liquid is a red as clear as the ruby on Filt's eyepatch. The fire, If brought close to oneself the fire does not give off heat, but it licks at non-living objects like a real flame, charring them to ash. Filt opens his weary eyes and smiles again. "You'll notice that it would be very hard to contain such a liquid in anything but a special container, It would be most wise to "Try before you buy" in this case.. However, I'd warn those attempting my Firebrew for the first time.. as it's brewed with fire-elementals and dragonfire.." he says, jokingly.

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Bramble blinked in surprise at the laughter, and his eyes widen at the tiny almost-shotglass of liquid laid out before him.

"You expect me to drink it? Are you INSANE?!" Bramble asked in playful horror. "Alchemists across Equestria know that this is a prime reagent for developing high-class Alchemist's Fire or preparing a proper Fire-Beetle Paste of the highest quality!"

It was something of a grand exaggeration, but a little grandiose praise never hurt anypony. Bramble leaned down to eye the dangerous brew with a gleaming eye. "It is *gorgeous*, though..." he breathed softly. "I'm almost tempted to burn out my stomach on this stuff, just once."

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Filt chuckles. "Just once is enough to keep most ponies from ever coming here again. But you do see a fair bit of ponies coming in just to try it and vomit uncontrollably when the fire hits their bellies. But that's why we have the chowder.." He says, reaching for a polished wooden bowl, spooning a thick, chunky liquid into it. "As for the "job" as you say, ye're to wait until we get a certain amount of ponies here.. Can't go assaulting brigands or protecting caravans when ye're outnumbered.. unless ye want to end up in an early grave.. Ye're also a wee bit smaller than I'd have thought would take this job.. But I suppose yeh have yer reasons."

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Curtain Call looked over his shoulder for the seventeenth time during today's most recent absconding. It was not the best haul these week, but bits are bits. The extra weight in his saddlebag felt nice. Besides, this old stallion deserved it. He was stuffy, he wore a monocle that he polished for a good five minutes, and he harrumphed at some little foals who splashed mud on him during an innocent ball game. Never a more deserving mark than this fogy. After glance number eighteen, he decided to quit escaping so hard. Oh, what the hay. Nineteen to be absolutely certain, and Curtain Call was absolutely sure he had sufficiently sprinted and darted and scampered to safety. Time to kick back, relax and...

"I've been robbed!"

"Nuts"

There was no hesitation and, at the same time, no common sense. Just Curtain Call and the door closest to him. Duck. Inside. Check windows. The coast was now officially clear, that old codger he robbed going right past... where was Curtain Call? A tavern. Okay, no problem. He let go of that huge breath that nearly choked him a moment ago, and put on a nice big smile like nothing unpleasant had happened.

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The old bespectacled pony raised an eyebrow and readjusted his spectacles. After retrieving another polished wooden bowl he fills it with chowder and sits down opposite Bramble. "Looks like another volunteer has arrived." he says, spooning some of the chunky chowder into his mouth, rolling the potatoes over his teeth to chew them gently.

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"Volunteer? Oh! Yes! Of course, volunteer, that's me."

Curtains cleared his throat before any awkward laughs could escape, then did a quick once-over of his appearance. Was his mane straight? His hooves clean and mud-free? His manor of dress, was it professional and not advertising to the world 'look at me, I swindle'? Check marks on all accounts. One thing he liked very much to do was make an excellent first impression. He put on his eager face, trotted over to the bar and took a seat next to the purple unicorn. He also tried to ignore the glass of what smelled like liquid death in front of him. Yikes.

"Err, forgive me, what was I volunteering for again? Exactly?"

Who knows, he thought, maybe this is a good thing, stumbling upon mystery work. At the very least, it would provide an alibi. Speaking of covering his flank, he made a quick mental note of the exits.

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Filt threw a suspicious glance Curtain's way. A sort of all-knowing omnipotent glance that bored into the pony, even when he was looking away.

"Caravan protection.. from Bandits in the area." he said.

After bringing a spoon of the chunky liquid up to his mouth he pauses, and after tasting it and closing his eyes for a moment he asked, "Can I get you anything?"

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Bramble swelled up, straightening and lifting his head, reaching for every extra quarter-inch he could manage. "I'm not that small!" he protested, "And you'd be surprised how much one pony can do when properly outfitted. Which is why I was looking for some more of this liquor, actually."

Bramble blinked as another pony sat down next to him. "Welcome, welcome!" he said happily. "Glad to have some more help, though, cause teamwork's the best gear one can have."

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Filt smiles, patting Bramble on the head. "Settle down now young one. You have no need to be agitated. You'll get the chance to prove yourself soon enough."

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Completely without authorization, one of those awkward laughs managed to escape. Rats. Curtains quickly made a mental note of this gentlecolt. He's one of those who can smell a fib from a mile away, definitely one to keep an eye on. But that's for later. Keep smiling, Curtains, he told himself, until the 'Bandits' comment. The smile was wiped clean off his face, then. He could feel a bit of fire rising in his belly.

"Bandits? That's terrible! How bad? I mean, anypony seriously hurt? How many are out there actually fixing this problem?"

But what's this? A warm welcome? That's new, for him anyway. Time for more first impressions. He shrugged and smiled warmly.

"I'll have to take your word on that one. I've been a solo act for a while now."

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The door slams open as Ironmane clomps heavily in from the back. Tall and powefully built, her reddish-brown coat and short platinum mane both gleam, as does her freshly polished ornate silver armor. She surveys the interior of the tavern with deep purple eyes, her expression serious.

Her gaze settles on Curtain Call, and her eyes narrow momentarily. But then she sees Bramble Rose and her demeanor softens visibly: a smile comes to her face and she relaxes, lowering her head a little. She heads toward the bar, intending to greet him, but bumps into a table, nearly tipping it over before frantically righting it with her forehooves, denting the surface in the process.

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The old pony chuckles a little, not worried as much about a dent in the table as a possible fire. Now if the Firebrew had spilled... that would be another story. Filt welcomes the new mare wearily as she enters.

"Welcome welcome, you're the third one in the group here. Can I.. get you anything? A glass of Firebrew? A bowl of freshly cooked chowder? If you'd like something else I can scrounge around.. If you're a bit hungrier I can charge a little more and add a wedge of cheese and some Fireale to the prior offer."

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At the sudden noise, Bramble spun around, his horn already glowing. To the casual observer, it might look like Bramble was instantly on the ready for battle, prepared to defend himself, nerves honed to a razor's edge. In reality, Bramble was ready with his unicorn magic to catch whatever he'd knocked over this time. As he spun, his flank slammed hard into the bar, jostling the small shot glass of the house brew. Good thing the bar, though, was a bit harder to knock over!

To Bramble's surprise, it wasn't him who'd knocked something over, this time! He blinked, then smiled in recognition, and hurried across the short distance to greet the newcome mare. He looked even smaller and more delicate than usual as he pressed his cheek into the shoulder of the much larger, much stronger mare. "Oh my goodness! I haven't seen you in a long time!"

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Rats. Does everypony know what I do for a living, Curtains cursed himself, feeling that icy glare of suspicion yet again. He can distinctly remember shivering less from harsh winter storms. He gave a quick glance behind him to see who was who and what was what, then gulped, facing forward again and quick.

"I think I will have... Firebrew was it?"

Goodness gracious, that's a tall drink o' water that just sat down. He ignored the shaking table. He ignored the fact that as clear as day she was part of some holy order that most definitely would roast a backstabbing cutpurse like him on a spit. He couldn't ignore her face, though. It was purdy.

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Filt Firehorn steadies the small flaming glass before it falls over, and scoots it in front of Curtain call. "Here you are. I don't think that one is going to have a drink today." he says, nodding his head sideways towards Bramble. "Enjoy... Oh.. And The Combusting Colt is not liable for any injuries or sicknesses as a result of drinking any of The Combusting Colt's beverages. For questions, comments, or concerns, speak to my flank, because its the only thing that gives a toot. Heh heh."

The old cold chuckles a little while longer and fills a larger glass with ice water. Placing it beside the much smaller glass of Firebrew.

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Ironmane gives Bramble a quick peck on the cheek, in the Canterlot fashion. "Bramble Rose," she says, in a sweet, gentle voice. "It is good to see you again." The bartender had said she was the third in the group today, so... "The gods have brought us together to serve Equestria once more! Glorious day."

She orders a simple chowder and small fireale, briefly asking how many more are expected.

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"I think we'll only be waiting about an hour more.. " he says, removing the ladle from the chowder and spooning it into the wooden bowl. He places it in front of the new pony along with a glass of water and a small glass full of the potent Firebrew. The top of the surface of the liquid is on fire. The fire produces heat, but when tested it doesn't burn hair nor hoof. "That'll be eight bits." the old one says.

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Bramble smiled brightly, pushing his hood back and giving Ironmane a soft kiss back upon her cheek. "Indeed they have!" he said merrily. "Don't know how many more - I'm just waiting to find that out, myself. How have you been? Did you ever hunt down that pony who was bouncing from town to town?"

He led Ironmane back to the bar, pulling out one of the low cushions politely, ready to wait for whomever else they were waiting for.

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Ironmane shakes her head. "No, but the common ponies he preyed upon are now alert to his presence and to his methods." She blows out the fireale with a quick puff, then sips before the liquid can re-ignite. The unicorn smiles as a pleasant heat spreads from her stomach. "Ahh...and you? I have heard that you were quite busy in Whitetail Wood last month."

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Bramble nods, giving a sigh that she hadn't caught him, but at least he wasn't as much of a threat. He took several licks of his salt block, then sipped at his water.

"Oh, yes, that was *quite* a pernicious infestation of permamoss. Froze about thirty acres worth of the Whitetail Wood and not a few unfortunate creatures. Took me all month to get that cleaned up. Plus, of course, finding the source of the infestation. Turns out it had originally been some spongemoss that somepony had tried to freeze with a poorly cast ice spell, and that had changed it. Thawed out that poor pony, the doctors say she should be all right."

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Ironmane feels an unsettling in her stomach as the fireale passes into her mouth. Acids begin to coalesce in her stomach, causing a strong reaction. The fireale isn't given the name because its a softie drink, no sir. Fireale is brewed with hot peppers and dragons breath. Ironmane's mouth fires up with eye-watering heat.

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Ironmane keeps it under control, for a moment, but her eyes are visible tearing. As soon as Bramble is done with his story, she turns her head to the side, demurely shielding her muzzle with one hood, and lets our a loud belch accompanied by a small burst of actual flame. "Oh, that's good!" She pipes, eyes still watering. "If that happens again, maybe you should bring along some of Master Firehorn's brew. I am glad to hear you handled the situation as adroitly as ever, Bramble. And how is Thorn Blossom?"

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Curtain Call sets payment on the counter to be collected, cringing a little as he sees the mare's reaction to drinking what he could only describe as a glass full of distilled hatred. Only a maniac with no self preservation would voluntarily put that down his gullet. But is he going to be shown up by a girl? No, sir! Against all common sense, and mainly to show off, he knocked it all back in one. And then he instantly regretted it.

"...bathroom..."

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