Ampelus wiggled her rump in excitement and cantered straight up to Flash Fire. The once-violated mare's horn and even her mane was starting to catch fire, so great was her anger. Ampelus looked her over once, then reached out with a vine to brush under the unicorn's chin. "I never did get to finish with you, did I?" she asked her in a soft, flirting voice.
That did it. Flash Fire would take no more. She let out a scream of rage as her horn shot out a stream of fire at the nymph. Ampelus deftly dodged the deadly spray, which hit one of the crew members. His whole front on fire, he let out a panicked and pained scream as he ran around the deck, blinded by the fire. Meanwhile, the deck where the fire landed was beginning to melt.
"Get that stallion in the water!" shouted one of the remaining crew. The pegasus of the group grabbed the one that had caught fire and dragged him over the side, then flew down after him so he wouldn't be lost in the dark night.
Spark barely had time to react as he ducked and rolled out of the way of another stream of fire, another fire to put out. He looked out across the deck to see Ampelus deftly dodging the fire attacks, but if this didn't stop now, the whole ship would do down in flames! He took a running start, then jumped just as Flash Fire threw another fire spell. He connected with the unicorn hard, a foreleg hooking around her waist. He spread his wings, and the two of sailed over the side of the ship and into the water.
Spark sputtered to the surface of the dark ocean, and immediately felt a hoof connect with his nose. "You idiot! You ass!" She paused, shivering in the ice cold water. "You brought that thing on the ship, knowing what it did to me! You are-"
"No! You listen to me!" Spark shouted, rubbing his sore nose where the unicorn hit him. "Do you have any idea what kind of damage you just caused? Did you see the crewman that you set on fire? You hit his face, Flash Fire! You burned him, you set the ship on fire. I didn't know-" Spark paused as he felt a thin rope around his waist. He looked up to see Ampelus at the stern of the ship, her vines reaching out for him. A shriek from Flash Fire told him Ampelus managed to grab her, too. "-I didn't know Ampelus followed us on the ship. I was just as surprised as you were. But that, that up there?" he pointed to the deck as Ampelus dragged them up on the deck where they collapsed on the hard floor. "Inexcusable! You could've killed somepony, maybe you did!"
Flash Fire hurriedly removed Ampelus' helping vines from her waist and stood angrily, soaking wet, the fire still burning brightly in her eyes but no longer in her mane or horn. "You know I have a temper, Spark Storm, you seriously can't put this on my...head..." she trailed off, staring beyond Ampelus as two crew members slowly brought the burned crew member closer, who was mumbling and sobbing quietly. Flash Fire brought a hoof to her mouth to keep herself from breaking into audible sobs.
The stallions' face had been badly burned. He would have scarring for life, and his sight was probably gone. "You see this?" the captain said. He and all the other crew and passengers had gathered outside to see the commotion. "I trusted you, Flash Fire. You seemed like the level-headed one, yet you made him," he pointed at Spark Storm, "to be the trouble-maker here."
Flash Fire was quiet for a moment, then glanced at Ampelus. The nymph remained silent, but sent an inquisitive glance at the captain. He returned that look, then resumed his quiet glare at Flash Fire. "My men tell me that she surprised them, maybe was even a threat. Spark Storm quieted that situation, but then you came out and started setting everything on fire! I don't care what this creature is, you're the one that acted like a monster! Rolling Waves will be lucky if he can ever see again!"
By now, Flash Fire couldn't stop the tears from falling. She sat down on her haunches, a hoof covering her face. "I'm sorry...I'm so sorry..." she whispered.
The captain scowled furiously down at the younger unicorn, but he said nothing further. He nodded to the other crew. The others helped the incapacitated Rolling Waves down into the cabins quarters to help dress his wounds, leaving Spark and his company left up top, minus one harpy.
Rolling Waves moaned as he felt himself being carried. The wonderful outside air, the only thing granting him any reprieve from his burns, disappeared as he was taken inside. He heard the echos of his fellows' voices now that they were inside. It seemed that beside his screaming sense of touch, hearing was all he could muster. His eyes...he wasn't even sure what had happened to his eyes, the skin around them was blistered and swollen.
He could feel his burns all down the front of his body. His forehead, his face, and his chest had gotten the worst of it. He wasn't sure, as the top half of his burns kept his attention, but he felt that his forelegs had been damaged as well. Concentrating on being able to feel his legs was all he could do to keep from screaming.
"Let's get him in here," he heard the captain say. Rolling Waves felt himself being lowered, his back meeting a familiar feeling, one of the cots, a random room. It wasn't his, he could tell; there was no smell of the strawberry candles that his wife made him take on his voyages.
"Get some bandages."
"He needs some salve!"
"Oh, Celestia, I...I can't."
Rolling Waves heard so much and saw nothing. He heard one of the crew leave, he couldn't tell who it was. His body was screaming in the most awful pain he'd ever felt. He felt like he was dying.
"Excuse me?" a soft feminine voice called. All the noise in the room went quiet. "I'd...like to help, if I could."
"Oh, not more monsters! Get out! Haven't your kind done enough?!"
"Easy," Rolling heard the captain say. "She was with the Spark lad. Who are you? What can you do for my man?"
"My name is Amacia...I'm a medic. Please, I can help him."
The word 'medic' was whispered around the room. Rolling could hear the anger disappearing from the voices of the others. "Rolling? Rolling, did you hear that? She's a...I don't know, a big bird...thing. What do you think?"
Rolling Waves, despite his burns and the intense pain he was in, managed to nod. "Ok. We've got...uh..." Rolling heard the sound of the emergency first aid kit they had open. "Ah, crap, I don't know what -"
The voice and the sounds stopped. A soft, steady clicking noise came to Rolling's ears, getting closer until they stopped right next to his cot, and suddenly the girl's voice was much closer. "I know what to do. You should all leave."
"You're-you're gonna need some help. None of our unicorns know medical magic, but you're still going to need-"
"I know medical magic." The silence in the room was palpable. "It's my specialty. Go on, shut the door," she said. Her voice was gentle, but her directions had a firmness to it that made Rolling slightly worried.
There was silence for a moment. The only sounds were his own soft cries of pain. When the female spoke again, he almost jumped. She'd been so quiet that he thought she'd left. "What's your name, sir? Can you still speak?"
It vexed him to have to speak. He wasn't sure if he still could. "Roll-" he started, his trembling form making it difficult to form coherent syllables. "Rolling...Waves."
"I'm going to help you, Rolling Waves. I know you're in pain, and I know you're scared. Please just try to trust me." Rolling Waves felt a burst of emotion burble from deep inside him, rushing up his throat and escape his mouth in a trembling whimper. "Sshhh. Try to stay still."
Rolling Waves kept as still as he could, though he shivered and trembled as his body attempted to deal with the horrible pain. He felt an outside warmth, and felt her move closer, close enough to feel her warm breath on his face. What was she doing? The warmth of her being so close was making it worse.
The sound of her voice changed when she suddenly spoke. Her voice was tinny and hollow, and the words were unfamiliar. "Frigus...stragulum," then she began to blow air upon his body. It wasn't her warm breath, but a sudden cold. It was the most intense relief that Rolling Waves had ever felt. It was like a soothing blanket that she blew upon his body. It wasn't just cold; it tingled his burned skin, and while he still felt that intense pain, it felt somewhat muted, like the pain was being put somewhere in the back of his mind.
The earth pony let out a long, slow sigh. If his eyes hadn't been burned shut, he would've been crying. Not from the pain, but from the kindness and the magical abilities that came from the female's voice and breath. "Th-thank you...I can...actually think now. Thank you..." he whispered.
"You won't be thanking me when I begin disinfecting your wounds and bandaging them, Rolling Waves," she responded with just a touch of bitter mirth in her voice.
Rolling Waves took a moment to think that over. "...Oh, horse feathers..."
Flash Fire stood at the bow of the ship. She stood on her hind legs, her forelegs draped over the railing. She stared out over the sea, tears trailing down her cheeks. She barely noticed when Spark Storm came to stand beside her. Ever since Spark's departure of the team over Celestia's decision, she'd been furious with him, so furious that even being in his presence was a task. But now, now that she'd hurt somepony terribly, and damaged the ship, she was starting to realize that Spark wasn't the only one with issues. She'd always been aware of her temper, but tonight she saw what kind of terrible damage she could do.
She'd burned Laser Reflex' house down on the day she met Ampelus, and again the nymph had provoked her into attacking once more. Only this time, she'd managed to horribly burn an innocent bystander. He was possibly crippled for life. He certainly wouldn't be be sailing again anytime soon after he'd gotten proper medical treatment.
The two sat in silence until Flash Fire finally noticed Spark standing there. His eyes were also cast out to the ocean, the moon's reflecting in the water making it look like a rippling black canvas with silver light peeping trough holes in it. "Spark, I..." she started, then paused and looked down at the water again. "I'm sorry..."
Spark was silent for a moment. He wanted to yell more at Flash Fire, but he could tell she was already shaken up and punishing herself with guilt. Yelling at her now wouldn't help her, or this situation. "We all make mistakes," he told her, turning to face her.
"I'm...not particularly talking about tonight. I am sorry for tonight, but," she turned to him. Her face looked heavy, like she was having trouble holding herself up. "I mean...I'm sorry. I'm sorry for being so hard on you. If I'd just gotten over my anger and let myself deal instead of letting it build up, I might've prevented this, probably would've saved Laser's house, too. But now, I...I could've killed that poor guy, Spark..." she trailed off, her voice hitching. She trembled, the guilt of her actions over the last few months finally revealing their consequences to her.
Spark turned to her, but she wasn't finished. "I mean, I'm the newest member of the team, but I'm the first to judge, like it's my Celestia-given right to always be right, and -"
"Hey." Flash Fire looked up at Spark. "Don't beat yourself up over this. It was a big mistake, yeah, but if you let this get to you, well...you remember what happened to me."
"How could I forget," Flash Fire told him more than asked, a slightly sour tone in her voice. She sighed and lowered her head again, then turned to look out over the ocean, then up into the sky. Her ears perked with interest, she turned back to Spark. "We're still going in the same direction. I'd have figured we'd go back to the mainland and get that pony some medical attention."
"I had a talk with the captain a moment ago. He tells me that at this point, the Sun Ferry islands are closer than the mainland. Besides, Amacia's one hell of a medic. I'm sure she'll treat his wounds enough so that he won't be in terrible danger."
Spark and Flash Fire both frowned at the pegasi's wording. Before either of them could say anything or get any more uncomfortable, they were joined at the railing by a tall green figure. "So! I'd say it's getting warmer, wouldn't you?"
Flash Fire turned sharply to face the nymph, her horn blazing, a furious look in her eyes. "You! You've caused me enough trauma to last me a lifetime!" Ampelus stared down at Flash Fire, unimpressed and somewhat amused. Flash Fire finally turned to Spark, her horn still blazing. "I still don't understand. Why is she here?!"
"Take it easy, Flash Fire. Ampelus," Spark said, his eyes shooting the nymph a warning glare. "-just come over here, on my other side." Ampelus did as instructed with a roll of her eyes. When Flash Fire continued to stare at Spark expectantly, he sighed. "Ampelus...this is Flash Fire. She's one of my team members. I shouldn't have to tell you not to target her, but don't target her. Flash Fire, this is Ampelus. Fluttershy and myself both owe our lives to her. If she hadn't decided to try and sacrifice herself in the changeling caves, I might not be here right now, and I trust her with my life...in most situations," he added.
Ampelus stared at Spark in surprise, but when Flash Fire caught that look, the nymph looked away with a decided 'I don't care' look. "Really?" Flash Fire said, looking at Spark again, unconvinced. "This bitch nearly rapes me, and suddenly she's your best pal?"
Spark sighed and held a hoof to his forehead. He glanced at Ampelus, half-expecting her to jump in and make things worse, but the nymph was being strangely quiet. The look in her eyes told him that she was leaving this up to him and staying out of his way...she trusted him to defend her and calm this situation. Thinking back to earlier, she had flirted with Flash Fire before she went beserk, but she didn't attack the unicorn. The nymph really had changed since the changeling caves. "...Something like that."
Ampelus and Flash Fire both looked at Spark like he'd said something crazy, and both thought that he had. Spark blushed with a bit of embarrassment as he avoided the gaze of the two mares. "You're...you're joking, right?" Flash Fire asked. "Spark, she's a nymph! She's a monster, they're not capable of l-well, affection, not like ponies do, she's got you under some kind of spell!"
Spark rounded on Flash Fire, an angry look in his eyes. "No, she doesn't! You're the one under a spell, Flash Fire, by whoever taught you to be so narrow-minded that you can't believe somepony can change! Ampelus might be a nymph, but she's not a monster. She's not the same pony-"
"Not a pony," Ampelus confirmed for him.
"-that she was before. When I first met her, yeah, she tried to kill me, and...other things," he said, glancing back at Ampelus a moment. The nymph actually blushed as their eyes met before she had to look away. "...but now?" Spark turned to look back at Flash Fire. "She's different now. I'll take full responsibility for her, same as I told the princess before we left."
Flash Fire narrowed her eyes, barely able to believe her ears. She didn't want to believe that Spark was of his own mind, or that he was serious, but...after that, how could she doubt? She reminded herself again that she'd spent the last few months just as angry and intolerant as Spark had been depressed. She slowly backed off, a look of resignation in her eyes. "I guess...but...before I go, I need to hear-"
"I'm sorry for touching you," came Ampelus' voice from behind Spark. Pegasus and unicorn turned to look up at the nymph in complete shock. "...And for burning that house down, and for hurting your cousin, Storm." Ampelus sniffed once and looked away, then slowly turned her back to the two and sat in silence.
"Uh..." Flash Fire muttered. Spark tore his gaze away from Ampelus long enough to see if that was what the unicorn was waiting for. She nodded solemnly before slinking off towards the cabin quarters. By now, the others had gone to bed, leaving just Spark and Ampelus alone on the deck.
Both nymph and pegasus stood quietly, both stiff-legged and unsure of what to say to each other. Ampelus had once again been surprised and frankly shocked that her once-enemy thought so highly of her, and went to such lengths to ensure others of her loyalty. She wasn't sure she wanted to be thought of this way. Seven hundred years of isolation had made her cynical and aggressive, how in the world did three years of knowing this pegasus change her so much?
The nymph finally made to return to the cabin quarters - she was ready for this awkward moment to be over. After a moment, Spark turned and called to her. "Ampelus."
"What?" she returned, pausing but not turning.
"You wouldn't let me give up. You kept pushing me to keep moving. You never let me just sit there and feel sorry for myself. If it hadn't been for you, I probably wouldn't feel quite so...myself right now. I owe a lot of my recovery to you...thank you."
Ampelus stiffened at Spark's heartfelt thanks. Not quite ready to let a mushy moment between them be mushy, she turned and stalked back to him, her mouth curved into a disapproving frown. "You mistake my boredom for caring. You're only interesting when you're moving, and it vexed me to see you sitting so still."
"Uh huh. Sure it did," Spark dared to tell her with a small smirk on his face. Ohh, how she wanted to slap him right then and there. Maybe even make him scream. Her limbs twitched with the desire to do so, but he removed the smirk and put on a smile that made her want to do something else to him. "You know-"
Ampelus wrapped a vine around Spark's muzzle and waist, and promptly turned him around to face the sea. "We're apparently having a moment. Shut up," she told him before releasing him. Pegasus and nymph sat side by side under the moonlight, both taking some awkward comfort in each other's presence. Ampelus' eyes were drawn to the water, curiously watching as a small, dark shape sped just under the surface, heading in the same direction towards the Sun Ferry islands.
Under the water, the shape wriggled along like an eel, except there was a disproportionately major difference to this eel - there was a pony torso attached to the front of it. She was a slim and attractive creature, bondi blue, with a bright green mane of what appeared to be seaweed, her eyes a deeper strain of the color. This strange, beautiful creature swam with purpose, a certain drive in her movements that pushed her forward with great speed.
It wasn't long before she was joined by a second, larger creature. This one had all four legs of a pony, but with a long, thin shark-like tail. It's skin was smooth and green, with darker green splotches on it's hooves and flank, while it's knees were decorated with white stripes. An unmistakable masculine figure, it also sported a light blue mane and fin.
The eel creature let out a squeal of joy as she noticed her companion. She swam around him in a clockwise pattern, circling his back and stomach - she knew better than to swim in front of his mouth. "Oh! Oh! Did you see? Did you see that ship, Lusus? I want to go see it. Let's go see it," she said in an excited, childlike tone filled with wonder, and just a hint of an unnerving smile.
"No, leave it," he responded in a tone that commanded respect, and her silence. "We're on a mission, Seaweed, you know that." Seaweed Cyanide pouted at this denial. She had a feeling that that ship would be important, but sadly Lusus was usually much too serious to let her have much fun. Besides, the real fun was soon to begin.
Some distance away, a good half-day's journey by current, lay the foundations of a new kingdom, barely out of the legal process. It had taken a hundred years of debate, court dates, refusals, and incidents for the work to finally go through. In the next month, the Seabed of Undercari would become the Kingdom of Undercari. There would still be many years to go before a kingdom could be established, not to mention the building of the palace, the zoning laws to be discussed.
The queen-in-waiting, Princess Pearl Depth, aged twenty three, sat at her vanity in her room. Well, makeshift room, anyway. There were no actual homes, yet. Her family had taken to a nice, vacant hollow spire until such arrangements could be made for separate housing. Watertight magic seals had been placed on all the openings - most sea-folk liked to have a nice dry place to sleep, along with protection from predators while they slept.
Pearl Depth was a beauty. The sea-mare had a rare seapony body type - the look of an earth pony. Her coat was a light blue, which grew darker on her legs. Her eyes were large and blue like the water on the surface, and she had a mane as yellow as the surface sun, though the ends were a deep blue, both on her mane and tail. The single sapphire jewel in her silver tiara stood out on her forehead, and only added to her great beauty. On her flanks shone a single drop of water, unlike most denizens of the sea, who usually didn't have a cutie mark.
The young mare sighed as she paused in brushing her mane, her eyes alight with magic the color of her mane. It was unlike a unicorn's magic in that instead of a magical haze, hers was more of a bubble, with small trails of watery yellow magic wisping off from the main shape and dissipating. She set the brush down and stepped over to the clear magic separating herself and the dark waters of the ocean floor. It was always a bit unnerving to look outside and not be able to see - the lights of a localized seabed usually took care of the darkness and made her feel safer.
Pearl Depth closed her eyes, then slipped out into the darkness. Immediately her eyes lit up. Magic rushed out from every pore in her body, countering the crushing pressure of the depths. Her whole body enveloped with a shimmering yellow and blue light, illuminating the face of a monstrous creature that laid on the ocean floor, great and tall, grey-scaled and with teeth as tall as the princess herself. Pearl Depth let out a gasp as the creature opened it's eyes at the invading light and pushed itself off the ocean floor and leered closer.
"Oh, I'm sorry, Bartholomew, did I wake you up?" she cooed softly to the family guardian. She swam closer to the grumpy behemoth and scratched under his chin. The giant creature blew out a rush of water and tossed it's glance elsewhere. "Oh, come on, I'm sorry!" The princess giggled and started rubbing lower under Bartholomew's chin, closer to his neck. The monster finally relented, let out a contented groan that echoed for miles, and turned in the water until he landed on his side, creating a quiet tremor that probably woke up half the undersea valley. "There's a good boy. Go to sleep," she whispered, before leaning in to kiss his chin.
The grumpy beast soothed and complacent, the princess turned back towards the tall spire that was her temporary home and swam. Her movements were very subtle, most of her big movements coming from her long, graceful tail. As she approached the room up above that was occupied by her parents, she frowned sadly. The rooms grew larger the further down near the base of the spire, and her parents, the king and queen, had taken one of the smallest rooms and given her the largest. She'd been dead set against it, but her parents had insisted she accept their sacrifice of comfort for hers. It worried her because she had wanted the room given to her, but had not asked for it, and she was concerned that she could not be so charitable were the situation reversed.
The illuminating light the princess shone with slowly dimmed. As anxious as she was, she didn't want to put her concerns on her parents. Soon, in a few days time, in fact, Princess Pearl Depth would become Queen Pearl Depth. The coronation would be the first new coronation in the family for hundreds of years, and then Queen Pearl Depth herself would have hundreds and hundreds of years to rule, to find her mate, and continue the line. It was the most daunting thing to bestow upon one so young.
Of course she wanted this - her parents had given her everything over the years. She loved her parents dearly and they trusted her to do the right thing. But what if she couldn't make them proud of her? What if she failed in the first two hundred years? The king and queen were not young anymore - they had perhaps two or three hundred years left to go. What if she didn't succeed before their time came? What if they never saw her shine? Her greatest fear - disappointing her parents, grew with each passing day, and the darkness of the ocean, the fact that their new kingdom had yet to come to life, grew less and less helpful.
As usual, Pearl Depth was unable to slip inside her parents' room and voice her concerns. The princess swam down below to her room once more, and slipped inside. The magic bubble separating the dry room and the ocean slipped over her body, removing every last trace of ocean and salt from her body and rejecting it back into the sea. She stepped over to her humble low-set bed with blue covers and plopped onto it without a drop of water on her. She closed her eyes and waited for her fitful unrest to give way to sleep, unaware of the trials and tribulations that were speeding towards her at that very moment.