Spark Storm stared at the huge building before him. Huge?
he thought. Huge doesn't even begin to cover it...this thing is so big I doubt I'd see the whole thing from the air!
"Ampelus...what did you call this thing? A bio dome? What does your father do here?"
The nymph shrugged with a lightly soured frown. "I don't really know. He grows things in there. So far as I can tell, he's, uh..."cultimated" different places of the world and keeps them inside this building somehow. There are different places inside, like mountains, deserts, tropical forests...some places with temperatures I've never even felt before." Her tone had gone from frustrated and disgusted to awed in a single sentence, something that Spark tried not to notice, for her sake. Ampelus was trying not to be impressed, and she was failing.
Spark glanced at his friend. Wait, friend? Had the two of them really come this far? Time and again this question came up in the pegasi's head, and even though he still had to think about it now and then, he always came to the same conclusion: Ampelus was his friend, and his friend looked like she needed support. "Ampelus, are you ok? Do you need more time before we go in?"
The nymph, broken from her thoughts, stared at the doors as a new one entered her mind. Time? Time for what? Her gaze fell on Spark Storm, the look in her eyes clearly indicating that she had no idea what he was asking. Spark sighed. It was frustrating communicating with a creature that didn't think the same as a pony. Emotional concepts were lost on a nymph. Were they lost on dryads? Come to think of it...why was Ampelus taking him to see her father?
As if reading his thoughts, Ampelus sighed and sat down. This one might take a little while to explain. "...My dad wants to meet you, Spark Storm."
"Me? Why me?"
Ampelus frowned and glared at the pegasus. He wasn't going to make her say the whole thing, was he? She was starting to feel embarrassed again. If only she could curl up and hide...if only. "Look, it's...complicated to explain. Can't you just go in and find out for yourself? Go on in and find my father, he'll tell you everything."
Spark turned to face his friend. She wished he wouldn't, it was getting more and more difficult to avoid his gaze. "Well, you're coming in with me, aren't you? You didn't drag me ten miles through the forest just to drop me off." It was more a command then a question at this point, and Ampelus was running out of excuses here.
The nymph growled quietly, the vines littered around her body beginning to quiver and rattle with anger. This time, it was for real. Spark was pushing her, and she didn't like being pushed when it was serious like this. "Back off, Spark Storm. You're making me angry, just go inside!" Spark wasn't listening now. Ampelus shivered - not from anger, not from frustration, but from fear. If Spark didn't leave her alone, then she would undoubtedly attack him, and she didn't want that. Wait...she didn't? The nymph stared at Spark Storm with a mix of fear and realization: she didn't want to hurt Spark Storm. It was quite the opposite.
Ampelus closed her eyes tight. She knew. From the time that she wandered into Ponyville to exact her revenge against Spark, she knew that he was going to play a significant role in her life, and now she knew what that role was, and it scared her. To think that she was going to show him that...
Spark Storm was being quiet. He was being patient, he was being considerate, and she hated when he did that. It almost felt like pity, but over the last few months Spark had made it clear he understood the difference between pity and genuinely caring. Ampelus slowly came back to her senses, an odd look in her eyes as she returned to her hooves. "All right. Sorry about that...let's just go inside together, ok?" Spark made to say something. He wanted to know what had been going through her head, but he quickly closed his mouth. Whatever it was could wait; he'd pressed too hard already.
The room smelled odd to Spark Storm. It was a familiar smell, and it reminded him of something that he couldn't quite put his hoof on. And there was also an unusual sound, a constant, soft hiss. If Ampelus could sense these things, she didn't seem to take notice. She seemed too preoccupied by other things. The room they'd just entered was dark, carpeted, and cold, almost like a walk-in freezer. The Cakes had one, though it was very small, nothing like this large room. The room was very sparse, no furniture, no wall decorations, just another set of doors at the far end. Ampelus bade him follow as she stepped towards the doors.
As they approached, a small light lit above the doors, and a voice spoke through a round speaker just below it. "Hey there!" Ampelus jumped with some alarm. It wasn't the light or even the fact that a disembodied voice was speaking to them. It was a voice she'd never heard before, and having assumed that her father was the only one here, it surprised her. "Welcome to the bio dome of one Mimosa Palm," the young male voice said. "If you'll just stay in that room for a further minute, we'll gladly welcome you both to visit and explore. The gases in that room are currently sterilizing you and making you safe to enter."
"What nonsense is this? Mimosa didn't "sterilize" me when I came in the first time!"
"It's not for you, miss Ampelus, I do apologize. It's for your friend. I'm sure a nymph wouldn't have to worry about being sterilized, they don't carry diseases. But your friend might, and we just want to make sure that he didn't bring in anything from outside that could complicate our work here."
"Like a hospital," Spark muttered. He'd finally remembered where he knew that smell. It was like getting a cut sterilized to protect it from infections.
"Yes, like a hospital! I'm happy that you understand, sir." Spark made a face at the title. He wasn't even old enough to be called that, and even the sound of it being said sounded too informal.
Spark Storm shrugged it off, then sat down. He immediately wished he hadn't, as the floor was cold. Very, very cold. He sat up with a gasp, a little bit louder than he'd intended. "Are you ok, sweetie?" The sweet, syrupy sarcasm in Ampelus' voice made the pegasus blush as he glared at her, but the longer he glared the more his chest threatened to squeeze out a laugh. It'd actually been a long time since the nymph had made any attempt at humor or made a jab at every little thing he did. "Did you want mommy to - stop looking at me like that, you idiot!"
Unable to keep it in, Spark let out a barking laugh, and it was Ampelus' turn to glare. She let out a growl and turned her head back to the doors. What was taking so long? "Heh, you two seem to turn the tables on each other quickly. You must be very close." The comment from the intercom made Ampelus that much more furious. Her insides churned and seethed. It was fine if it was just Spark Storm; no one else needed to know about their chemistry!
Ampelus groaned and practically bounced where she stood. She was quite impatient to get through this awkward moment of waiting. It was taking forever! Luckily enough, Spark didn't seem too keen on getting into the conversation, which was just fine with the nymph. It was bad enough that this voice coming from somewhere thought that she and Spark were 'close', she didn't need him getting that idea, either. Even if it was true. Finally, the constant hissing noise and the vapors from the floor receded, and the doors opened. "Sterilization complete! Please proceed to the tram and ride to the center of the bio dome to meet with Mimosa Palm."
"Tram?" Spark's eyes opened wide as he stepped through the doors and laid eyes on the sleekest, most technologically advanced train he'd ever laid eyes on. The station itself was all dark metal, and the train itself looked the same, sleek and shaped like one of Gunslinger's bullets. A tunnel veered off to the right, disappearing into darkness, save for the soft blue lights that were illumined just enough for the train to be seen by. "Holy...What kind of technology is this?"
Ampelus rolled her eyes, having already seen this. "Come on, just get on the thing so we can get this joyride over with." Spark was still standing where he was by the time Ampelus had gotten onto the train and took a seat. "Would you hurry up already?" After a moment, the pegasus crept forward and inside. It was immaculately clean, brightly lit, and was equipped with two very long seats on either side. Soon after, the doors hissed closed, and the train began to move, the soft lights on the tunnel walls drifting past overhead.
The two rode in silence for a good five minutes, Ampelus impatient and grumpy while Spark Storm sat at the window, catching sight of every light as it drifted past. "Do you get enjoyment from watching those lights? They're all the same," Ampelus said, breaking the silence only to alleviate her boredom.
"It's just...I've never seen any kind of train like this." Spark turned and smiled like a child in a toy factory. "I dunno, it's just awesome!"
"Yay, we're moving!" Ampelus mocked, waving her hooves in the air. Spark turned to give her a sour look, but said nothing. He'd had a mind to ask her again why she was so grumpy, but he'd already gotten that answer. He sighed in resignation; he'd just deal and let her be. This line of thinking was, of course, getting on the nymph's nerves. She hated having someone be so patient with her. Finally, the train came to a stop. The ride was so smooth, Spark could barely tell the difference between movement and the lack thereof.
Ampelus and Spark both slipped out of the butterfly-opening doors and stepped out into a warm, sunny temperate area full of tall trees, areas with varying lengths of grass, large boulders, and...pine needles. Pine needles everywhere. There was also a lingering scent of pollen, which started to tickle Spark's nose. "Ugh, spring...I thought it was summer here?" The pegasus felt his face burning with embarrassment as Ampelus gave him the most annoyed, sarcastic look she'd ever given him. "R-right...bio dome, controlled environments..."
From somewhere in the woods came the sound of something that made Spark cringe: feminine giggling. A glance to the side told him that Ampelus found it just as annoying. Having no idea what else to follow, Ampelus and Spark Storm headed in the direction of merry giggling until they came to a clearing. It was a beautiful place, a small, grassy area with a humble little waterfall that dribbled into a small pool that disappeared under the ground. Surrounding the water were three creatures of such natural beauty that it almost made Ampelus sick. In Spark's case, situations like this usually meant trouble.
The closest to the waterfall was an earth pony. She was a light, festive green color, and her mane was a striking white. It was a fanciful fluffy style, and her natural red highlights only strengthened the festive colors. What really sealed the look was her red eyes. They were very deep and rich, striking pools of bright blood-red. The pony next to her was a pegasus, and everything about her just seemed to scream "summer". She was a rich tan color, with a flowing blonde mane. She made Spark think of the ocean, the way she moved, like the ocean itself...hypnotic and sensual. Ampelus recognized her from before, having nearly died meeting her.
The third figure seemed to both the pegasus and the nymph to be the most feminine of them all, and by that logic, the most annoying. She was a griffin, but not just a griffin - she was a stunningly beautiful griffin. While her body was a tawny tan, her head, shoulders and wings were a brilliant sapphire, her hair tied back with a scarlet ribbon. Much to his chagrin, Spark couldn't stop staring at her. Why couldn't he stop? Something about her was very, very familiar...
A sudden smack to the back of his head brought him out of his thoughts, and he sent a glare at the perpetrator. "Ow! What'd you hit me for?"
"What do you think
it was for?" Ampelus retorted. She looked more jealous than he'd ever seen, and he didn't know how he felt about that. Luckily, the pegasi's name being squeaked pulled his attention to the griffin.
"Spark Storm!" she squeaked in an all too adorable high-pitched voice. Both Spark and Ampelus turned to face her as she approached the pegasus, standing just two inches taller and slightly longer. "Do you remember me?"
Spark had to think back. He knew she was familiar...had he met her somewhere, sometime earlier in the year? No...no, this was back, much much further back, before his mother had died. He'd met her the same time that his cousin had tried to introduce him to Gilda. There had been two griffins there, and one of them was..."Callie!" Spark exclaimed. Behind his back, Ampelus glanced at the female pegasus. They shared a brief look of mutual disgust before returning their collective focus on the two old acquaintances.
Pegasus and griffin met, legs and arms enfolding as if they'd known each other their whole lives, wings beating the air with excitement.
"Like wow! Look at you, you're so big now!"
"You look beautiful, Callie!"
"You look beautiful too! I knew you'd grow up to be gorgeous."
Ampelus watched with morbid curiosity as the griffin's comments did little more than make Spark Storm happy. There was no blushing, there was no awkwardness. Was this what it was like to be part of his past?
Spark Storm smiled and stepped back, a more calm look in his eyes stating he was ready to move on. "Wow! So...what are you doing here? And who are your friends? Uh, answer the second one first." Callie opened her mouth to speak, but a curt sound from behind the pegasus drew his attention behind him, and he realized with some slight horror that he'd forgotten Ampelus entirely. "Uh, annnd...this is Ampelus. She is my friend and uh...yeah," he offered, feeling more nervous than he thought he'd ever been. Why? Why was she making this so weird?
Callie stepped in, diplomatically dipping her head in reverence. "It's an honor to meet you, Ampelus."
Spark and Ampelus exchanged glances. Did Callie know of Ampelus' lineage? It probably shouldn't have been such a surprise, considering the location, but..."You know what I am?"
"Well sure!" Callie announced with a broad grin, and turned to the others, gesturing grandly. "Lookie over there. That's Breezy Plume. She don't look it right now, but she's a bonafide siren. She's got a alternate form, you know, like a transformation. Oh, you should see it - she's so gorgeous." Callie only grinned more when the siren rolled her eyes. "Oh ok ok, now, this is Bombyx, and she
"-Is very happy to meet you both," Bombyx interjected quickly. She stood and bowed her head to the two newcomers. Ampelus frowned at her; something just seemed off about that one. Something both familiar, and very vexing. Where Breezy Plume was stand-offish and quiet and Callie was talkative, Bombyx seemed to be inbetween. She hadn't said much, but she'd been very attentive and curious, her body language open and friendly. "I've studied here with your father," she said, continuing very slowly and carefully, as if one misspoken word could cause a fight. "...extensively. I've learned a lot about his research. And his family..."
Ampelus made a face. She definitely did not like this Bombyx character, not one bit, especially with the way she spoke about Mimosa. "Ok. That's nice," she retorted, in one of those I-hate-you-so-much-I-won't-even-hide-it kind of ways.
The earth mare froze for an instant, a brief look of sadness in her eyes before she smiled patiently and turned her gaze to Callie. "Perhaps you should continue. I'm sure they'd like to hear it from you
The griffin nodded enthusiastically and stepped forward, hoping to diffuse some of this tension. "Spark Storm...you remember that day we met, right? Me and Gilda, comin' by to meet you and your cousin. But...I bet you remember what happened later that afternoon even better." Ampelus sighed and lowered herself to the ground. This was sure to take a while, but she refused to let this story escape her concentration, so she paid rapt attention as Callie spoke of Spark Storm's past.
Five years ago
Callie sat in the darkness of a cold, wet cave. The heavy rainfall outside paralleled the disillusionment that the griffin felt, and hung heavy both over the griffin, and in the air. Just earlier that morning, she and her tribe sister Gilda had gone - without permission
- to meet with Gilda's friend. She'd had fun of course, and meeting new friends had been an exhilarating experience. She'd never made friends with ponies before, and having always wanted to meet one, she'd spent that morning feeling fulfilled and happy.
That all changed, of course, when she'd been found out. While Gilda had slipped away to play with Rainbow Dash, Callie had been left alone with Spark Storm. The two had simply been talking together when two older griffins came out of nowhere. The female grabbed Callie, while the bigger male rushed Spark and threw him to the side. Callie was much too panicked to see what happened, but she was sure she could see him getting back up and calling for her as she was whisked away.
The next thing she knew, she was being deposited on an outcropping of rocks at a mountain base. The two griffins, Freja and Siljo, were perhaps the worst griffins for Callie to face. They were both hardcore griffins, a part of the tribe that believed ponies had no place in griffin society - not as friends, not as political partners, not anything. But food? Sure. Hunting near pony civilization was prohibited, of course. No one wanted to start a war.
"Callie, Callie," Freja chastised her. The griffin's canary-like crest bobbed up and down with agitation as she paced before Callie. The younger griffin had always been prettier than Freja, but beauty was in the eye of the beholder among griffins. Freja herself was considered attractive, in a dangerous-to-the-touch kind of way. She was dark, had the body of a sleek panther, which contrasted nicely with her head and tail, which was white and yellow. The ability to hunt and kill was, in the inner circles, more valued than looks. "You know better than to give yourself that kind of false hope. Ponies will only get you into trouble."
"See, what you don't understand is-" Siljo began, but the big red male was cut off with a quick swipe to his face as Freja knocked him over. The bigger male probably could have fought back, but he'd already been 'claimed' by the smaller Freja.
"You keep your beak shut, no one asked your opinion!" she screeched, and bit down on his neck, her claws digging into his chest and wing where she pinned him down.
Siljo bit back the pain as he tensed, his blue eyes filled with panic and fear. "Right...I'm sorry..."
Callie watched in horrified silence. She knew better than to butt in, but not even Siljo deserved this kind of cruelty. He had asked for it, though, when he'd lost his bid for dominance over Freja in their pre-courting ritual. In griffin society, there weren't many paths to take in life, at least in the harder circles. You had one chance to stake your place in the tribe, and if you messed that up, then your place was set in stone for life. Siljo was big and strong, but he was not clever like Freja. She had bested him in battle and secured her right to dominate him in any way she wished. And they were mated, at least for now...while he still amused her.
Freja grinned down at Siljo with a mouth full of her lover's flesh, satisfied with the level of obedience and fear she had instilled in him. He wasn't much use, really, save for satisfying those particular itches that popped up now and then. He was a good scratcher...and a good scratching post. She rolled her eyes as she pulled herself back to the situation at hand, and released him. Her lover rolled quietly away as the smaller female approached the sinner. "Now then...I'm sure you know how this works, little girl." Callie nodded quietly, not even bothering to remind herself that Freja was only five years older. "Your parents are highly respected in the tribe. They're part of the inner circle, which means there's no room for dreamers like you."
The younger griffin scowled and closed her eyes. Why did Freja have to bring up her parents? They were within the inner circle, yes, but her parents had always taught her to think outside the box. They wanted her to have friends, they wanted her to be happy, but most of all they wanted a different life for their daughter. And so they taught her to be different, to think different. They'd made plans for her to move to a better place, but right now things were tense. There was a war brewing between the ancient harpy tribes from the west and the griffins, and this made it difficult to do anything other than perform the tasks given.
"...What's the harm?" Freja's ears craned towards Callie, the question had been that soft. "Wh-what's the harm in it? One
griffin makes a friend with one
pony. How could one friendship bring down the whole thing?"
Freja kept an intense gaze on Callie, eyes wild and hungry. Her beak, tense and angry, slowly formed an odd 'oh'. "Two,
Callie. Two griffins. You came here with Gilda because she's already got that little rainbow brat. That makes...two. And if you can't work that out already, it means that the "thing" is already damaged. It's in danger of becoming corrupt. You're poisoning our way of life."
Callie had had about enough of the same talk, over and over and over again. It was getting old, and she wasn't going to listen to this anymore. She made to stand, and suddenly found herself tackled hard onto her back. She felt sure that Freja was going to rip out her throat here and now, but she was ready to die for what she believed in. "Do it!" she coughed, her voice barely a whisper from the wind having left her chest. "If I can't be myself, then I'd rather die!"
Freja stared down at Callie, tensed, afraid, and yet she was more willing to die than to abandon her ideals. The older griffin was beginning to like her. "You're brave. You've got guts, and I can respect that. What I can't respect, though, is your thick head, so let's try something else." Callie opened her eyes, only slightly trembling now, face to face with Freja. "If you don't stay away from your little friend, I will kill him."
Every fiber of fury that laid within Callie suddenly exploded. She didn't see the sky disappear or the earth rush towards her. She barely felt their bodies collide, but now she had Freja on her back, a claw grasping the older griffin's neck. "Touch him and I'll rip your wings off!!"
Freja grinned up at Callie, a claw held up to keep Siljo away. The big griffin looked ready to rip Callie to pieces, but he knew better than to do the opposite of anything that Freja told him. "Ok, you're really making this difficult not to respect you, kid. You've got some serious fire in you, real passion. You really like this one, huh? But...he's just one pegasus, Callie. Is he worth it?"
"Of course he's worth it..." Callie growled, bearing further down on Freja. "Friendship is always worth it!"
"Friendship?" Freja chuckled, her eyes boring into Callie's. "Who's talking about friendship? I'm talking about the war that you're going to start."War?
Callie felt her grip loosen slightly. It would've been a perfect time to rest control from the younger griffin, but Freja was busy making a point. "Yes. War. Because when I kill him, here in Equestria, it's going to start a war, nevermind what you think you can do to me. There will be civil unrest. There will be inquiries, and fights, and deaths." Freja smiled quietly as her words went straight to Callie's heart. She was passionate all right. Her heart was too big.
Callie felt any control of this situation slowly unraveling, yet still she held Freja down. She wasn't ready to lose this fight. "So...is one friendship worth that, Callie? Are you ready to accept responsibility for war, and the deaths of hundreds, just so you can have one
That was the final push. Callie's body shook as she quietly sobbed, her surrender made clear. Freja, with a surprising gentleness, pushed Callie off of her. There was no more need for violence or aggression, her message had finally gotten into the younger griffin's head. With a nod, Siljo quietly took flight, followed by his lover, leaving the young Callie to wallow in her defeat. The two left and disappeared into the darkening skies. After a few moments of grieving, Callie turned and looked back at the valley. She could barely make out a dark form headed this way; Spark Storm was coming for her, and she couldn't bear the thought of having to say goodbye to him. She wasn't sure she could if they spoke again, and she could never live with herself if she got him killed. She thought no more on this, and left. She never looked back again.
"Anyway...that's why I never saw you again," Callie told him, wiping away the tears that had forced their way from her eyes. "I know I didn't know ya longer than an hour or two, but I couldn't've lived with myself if our friendship had gotten you killed. So I flew away 'n never looked back...and now you're here!" She punctuated this by placing her claws on Spark's shoulders.
The pegasus, having paid rapt attention and filled with emotion at her tale, suddenly snapped back to the present with a bewildered smile. "Yeah, but I think you're leaving out a few details, like...I dunno, five years worth?"
"Oh who cares about the past," she replied dismissively. "We're here now!" The griffin smiled and stepped back, sweeping a claw grandly at the forest behind her. "Lookit this place, Sparky. This place is wonderful. There are no rules that keep folks like us separate. It's a giant neutral zone that accommodates all walks of life. There're no wars here. There's only one in charge here, and that's Mimosa Palm. He created this bio dome to preserve rare kinds of life, and to make it a political dead-zone. It's thanks to him that I got to meet you here again, after so long!"
Spark Storm only smiled. He didn't know what to make of this news. Rare creatures? Were these three simply visiting then? They didn't seem that strange, especially Callie. Ampelus knew better, though. The griffin might've been commonplace, but she knew for a fact that the pegasus was a siren, a monster of the deep. And the earth pony? She was no earth pony. A closer look at the ribbon in the white mane wasn't fabric, it was an organic substance. An impossible organic substance. Bombyx met Ampelus' eyes, and knew she'd been found out. Ampelus knew she was a nymph.