Trixie sighed. A sigh of bliss, of happiness. If someone had told her two weeks ago that she'd be living it up on the tropical islands of Sunanwaves, feeling happier than she'd had in years and full of good food and dancing with a gorgeous stallion, she would have laughed. And then probably cried simply because the proposed situation would've made her sad and lonely. And yet, here she was. Steel drums and the strumming of a lively guitar led her and her dancing partner to a brisk beat, and it was the most amazing feeling in the world! She could stay here forever. Why would she ever leave this place to try her luck as an illusionist again?
Sunny Waves danced closer to Trixie, not a single bead of sweat accenting his fur as he swayed and dipped. It might've occurred to the mare that he danced with mares often, but she was much too entranced by his moves and his close proximity to care. She herself had never danced with a stallion like this, and it was exhilarating! Even though she found herself slightly short of breath and her passions high, her partner seemed none the weary. A brief thought of Spark Storm and his friends crossed her mind. If it hadn't been for them, she'd still be in Vanhoover, earning enough money to eat twice a week, three if she worked all day. Yet here she was, in a place where the weather was warm, even if it was raining! A place where friendly faces were aplenty, the food was better, and much more readily available simply because you were new to the area.
A cursory glance towards the stallions across the open dance floor gave told Trixie that the others had gathered at a table, and were watching, mostly. The mare that had decided to group with them looked anxious. Seaweed, as she'd introduced herself as, seemed to have stolen Laser Reflex's heart. That, or one of those two main functions that mares said stallions only had room enough for. As the pegasus talked her ear off about everything and nothing, Seaweed kept glancing about. Was she looking for a way to get out of this situation? Or was it that she was waiting for someone else, someone that should've been here long before? In fact, this was the case. Lusus had gone down below to check on things with the sirens, but even that shouldn't have taken this long. He should've been here by now, and it was beginning to bore her having to listen to this bonehead prattle on.
Feeling more bored than she ever felt, the mare sighed and glanced sideways at the other stallions she was accompanying. The unicorn stallion looked about as bored as she felt. He sat at a square table alone, simply watching the dancing. Beside him sat the big blue pegasus, and adjacent him sat the female unicorn. She appeared uncomfortable and impatient, like she was wrestling with some inner thoughts. Meanwhile, the pegasus called Laser still hadn't let up. What was he talking about, anyway? Seaweed returned her attention to him, only to remember why her attention had bottomed out before: he was still talking about change...something or others. With a roll of her eyes she turned her gaze back towards Spark Storm, only to notice something odd. She saw a vine reach out from the bushes behind him and poke his shoulder. When he turned, the vine whipped out, grabbed him low around his neck, and pulled him into the shrubbery. Her curiosity peaked, she politely excused herself and made to follow.
"Ampelus! What the freakin'-" Spark's mouth was pulled shut tightly as he glared up at her from his position on the ground. The nymph glared down at him with an unusual amount of urgent panic, a hoof pressed to her lips.
"Shut up, shut up right now!" Spark did as he was told, and simply stared up at Ampelus as if she'd lost her mind. She was quiet a moment longer, her gaze going from him to the bushes. Spark was the only one, pony or monster or otherwise, that she trusted with what she was about to tell him. She didn't need the others getting into her personal business. Finally, Ampelus released her hold on Spark's mouth. "I uh...need you to come with me."
Spark stared blankly up at the sky for a moment as Ampelus left him lying there. Her actions had been so sudden, and strangely non-violent. "Ampelus? What's-"
"Less talk, more walk."
Spark Storm frowned as he got to his hooves and stared after the nymph as she continued to make her way back into the woods, away from the village. Something had happened while she was away, something big enough to change her usually crabby/grabby mood, and it had started back while they were still on the boat. Ampelus had mentioned she'd felt something familiar about this place, hadn't she? Well, it wasn't like he was missing a lot back with the others, and he'd gotten his fill of food. He could spare the time, but he wanted answers.
Spark Storm made to catch up with his friend. His inquiring stare was ignored for a moment or two, but it was apparent that he wasn't taking silence for an answer. The nymph finally sighed in defeat and returned Spark's stare with reluctance. "My father is here."
Spark couldn't hide the shock on his face even if he had a bag over his head. "Wh...what? Your father? Orea's grandfather? I-I mean, older Orea, not...whatever."
Ampelus made a face at Spark. "I am still upset that you named her after my sister. It's confusing in conversation."
"You're the one that doesn't even want to know her," Spark reminded her.
"Didn't...want to know her. Now I am not so sure."
This new information made the pegasus smile, but it quickly gave way to thoughtfulness. Ampelus' father? So many questions were running through his head right now. and there probably wasn't enough time to ask them all before they reached their destination. Speaking of which... "Uh, so...where is he? What's he been doing here on this island? Why did he come here, and when?"
Ampelus glared at Spark Storm and his questions. "Must you ask so much? I only just now discovered his presence here! I didn't even know he was alive..." The nymph sighed and turned her attention to the forest around her. Spark's gaze was embarrassing. "He has made his home here. It's a "bio dome", apparently. He created what he calls an "artificial environment" and put different parts of the world inside of it. As for why he came here to do this," she continued, an angry sneer on her face, "I imagine he was too busy abandoning me to really think about why. And...it was a long time ago. My sister hadn't even been born."
Spark made a face. If older Orea hadn't been born when the father had left, then how...? Ampelus must have heard the wheels turning in Spark's head. She rolled her eyes and said, "He left a supply of his seed for my mother...in case she ever wanted to breed again."
Spark's face turned a little green. "Oh...that was nice of him. Also, I probably would've been just fine not having an answer for that thought." The two walked in silence for a moment, but something else was bugging the pegasus. "Uh...aside from coming to get me to come back with you, you don't really seem all that thrilled to have found your dad again."
Ampelus' vines began to vibrate violently. Usually when this happened, it meant an attack was coming, so Spark was surprised when his friend simply continued to walk in silence. The sour look on her face spoke volumes, though. After a moment, she relented and cast a sideways look at Spark. "My father is...difficult to understand. He has always been different. He is compassionate...curious. Far too friendly with our food. He has always questioned his place in the world. He questions everything!" Ampelus had stopped now. She was too angry to keep moving. "And...I have always been frustrated with his way of thinking. I have sought out his favor in the past, I-" Ampelus stopped. She realized now that she was exposing herself to Spark Storm, her food, her rival. This was embarrassing!
She turned to glare at him, sure that she would see him smirking, reveling in her pain, laughing...but the look in his eyes was worse. He was pitying her. She'd gone too far and revealed too much of herself. The rage building up inside of her at this insult was reaching dangerous levels. And then...it petered out. She visibly deflated a little. Wasn't this the kind of thing that her father looked down on? So it was true...she was still seeking her father's approval. Mimosa had told her time and time again to find a pony to befriend, to learn from them, grow and mature from, and never once had she listened. That was starting to change. Spark was still standing there with that patient look when she resumed.
"I just...I just wanted my father to l...to love...me," she whispered, practically choking with emotion. She'd never spoken of this to anyone, not even her mother. She sat down on the bare ground and covered her face. She couldn't bear to look at Spark, lest she see him with that face, that pitying face. Despite this humiliation, she pressed on, each word more difficult to express than the last. "Nothing I did was good enough for him! He was always looking down on me, on the things that I did. We are nymphs! We are predators of your kind, we're not supposed to be friends!"
Ampelus let out a warning hiss as she felt a hoof on her shoulder. With a jolt her head shot forward and butted against Spark's, putting them face to face. The two stared at each other, neither moving a muscle. To Ampelus' surprise, the pitying look in the pegasi's eyes had left, and in it's place was a simple smile. "You're really tall, Ampelus," he noted disarmingly.
"And you are very stupid...and short," she shot back.
This seemed to be what Ampelus needed. Her own comment threatened to make her laugh. She avoided this by holding her mouth shut very tightly. Next came her eyes, and finally, she snorted a light chuckle. She sighed, and pulled her head away, but not before nudging Spark's forehead in a gesture that he could've mistaken for a nuzzle. The nymph turned and continued towards Mimosa's bio dome, feeling fresher than she had in hours.
Lusus burst from the bushes along the treeline and headed for the ocean. The beach was deserted, as it should be. Ponies just knew to stay away from the south-east corner, it being the most shark-infested side of the island. There were no predators in this area now, though. They all knew better than to swim here when Lusus was upset. And he was very, very upset. Just moments ago he'd failed at killing both a siren, and that damned Mimosa Palm. The siren had betrayed him. Her kind was supposed to aid him in killing the entire royal family down before the coronation tonight, but as things were going now, his plans would be foiled, and...and...
The shark pony stared in horror down at the water's reflection. There was a bright, shiny point there, and it was not the sun. Oh, no...no no no no! he thought as he backed up. The shiny point quickly became a solid, dull color as that point turned to ice. Despite wanting to turn tail and run away and never look back, he knew that if he did his life would be forfeit. He shuddered in terror as the familiar ghost-like creatures that served his master swam in the image that slowly raised up, positioned not unlike a full body vertical mirror.
"My...my lord," Lusus said with a respectful bow as his master finally appeared before him in the mirror. "Everything is going according to plan..."
"That's not what your pulse is telling me, Lusus." The voice was deep and powerful, the tone polite. "Why don't you elaborate for me, please?"
Lusus felt a chill racing down his spine. He checked behind him, just to make sure there wasn't one of those abominations actually touching him. When he found there wasn't, he felt no relief. He wasn't safe. "There were a few...minor complications, my lord..." he said, returning his stare to the mirror. This was not enough of an answer, as his master's silence proved. Lusus continued shakily. "Uh...the sirens...one of them has betrayed me, master. I don't know how much she revealed to Pearl Depth, but the siren must have told her something. They were speaking in the spire before my loyal agent got there."
"I see...and you dealt with her, I assume?"
Lusus again felt that chill. This time, it hurt. "I...I tried...she was faster than me, lord...! She made it to..." he paused. He was certain there wouldn't just be a call to settle his punishment for revealing what came next. "She made it to Mimosa's place. He prevented me from killing her. Mimosa's power is too great, master! He played me like a clownfish...and threw me out like it was nothing..."
The shark pony stared at the mirror image, waiting for his punishment to come, his mind racing with ways that his master could kill him. Instead, his master kept that same polite, gentle smile that he always wore. "Anything else I should know? Anything at all?"
Lusus frowned. What was he getting at? This was a horrifically huge issue, what else would matter?
"Where is Seaweed Cyanide?"
That was it; that's what was missing. The shark pony almost dared to smirk as he spoke. "It's fine, master. She's spending the day 'entertaining' some guests."
"Oh? Guests?" The tone in his master's voice made Lusus believe he'd made a terrible mistake in leaving out this detail. "And where did these 'guests' arrive from? The island wasn't supposed to have any unscheduled visits for quite a while."
And there it was. The question that might just be the last nail in his coffin, because Lusus did remember where that ship had come from. It was a bright, shining symbol on that ship, a shining sun. Princess Celestia's mark. "Celestia's seal...the ship was sent from Canterlot."
"Celestia...?" The master's voice was curious, the patient tone still in effect, if not a little tense. "Curious. Perhaps she's intending to break the treaty. And if that is true...then Equestria may soon know the truth of it's neighbors." The tone in which the voice spoke gave Lusus a ray of hope, forgetting for a moment that he should be terrified of his impending punishment. He was cautiously silent as he waited for a sign that he might have been forgiven. Finally, the voice spoke again, the curious tone gone. "Proceed as if nothing has changed, Lusus."
"You know what is to be done. There is little chance that the royal family will be able to stop what has been started. The coronation is not for a good while yet. If you can, kill the strangers. If not...it doesn't matter. They're likely not here to interfere with the royal family at all; I suspect they're on their way to someplace much bigger, a place where my influence will be felt. This situation will be dealt with, one way or another."
Lusus let out a quiet sigh of relief, even though his master's last words were a bit chillingly ambiguous. Still, he was past his lord's anger; that was the important part. Nothing else mattered, and he could get back to the task at hand."Understood, my lord. I will have Seaweed Cyanide assist me in exterminating these guests from Equestria before the coronation tonight. You needn't worry yourself about them." The mirror stood cold and quiet as Lusus bowed respectfully before it, and turned to make his way back to the village to find his little protégé.
On the other side of this frosty transmission, a great, vast valley of white lay. The mirror used to convey a recent message now lay dead, and reflected it's tall and slender user. He was handsome, and had an impressive build, as most male alicorns went. There was something supernatural about this one, though, and it might've had something to do with the otherworldly glow that illumined his body and the surrounding body was ice blue, save for the whiteness around his mouth. The tufts on his hooves and even his mane and tail ended in wisps that broke apart from the body like vapor.
The alicorn let out a soft sigh as he turned and looked out at the night sky that was his domain, his eyes on the stars and the moon, the only bodies in the sky that ever offered this land any comfort from the cold. "He comes, mistress of the night. He is coming. Will you be ready for him?" he whispered. He turned his gaze to the moon, his sharp blue eyes reflecting the shape of the mare in the moon. "Or will this just be one big disappointment that's cost you a thousand years of vain hope?" For a moment, he could feel the intense hatred, the impatience...the raw indignity. How dare he question her choice?!
"There, there, my dear princess. I assure you, I will not kill the boy. There is no challenge there," he said to no one in particular. "...Or honor. Not that I have any."The moon was silent as the alicorn smiled with earnest sarcasm and turned his attention to the rolling white clouds approaching him. It rumbled with a sound unlike thunder. It was the impatient roar of something alive, something that hungered. It, too, shone with a ghostly blue light as it's master. "There, there, Umbrage," he coo'd, as a mother would to an upset infant. "I knew you've been stewing for some time, but you've been very patient. Go now. Watch for the signs. Should Lusus lose to these miscreants...kill them all." The roiling cloud's light seemed to explode, releasing another roar from somewhere inside. "And should Lusus succeed...kill him anyway."
As the roiling, angry cloud drifted off into the horizon, a harsh light fell over the dark lands, as if a great, seething gaze had fallen over the tundra. The one called North Wind, his eyes on the departing Umbrage, grinned. "Don't worry, darling. I won't forget about my promise not to harm the Storm Bringer."