Under an old mountain is a crystal lake. Along the crystal lake is a ruined church. Outside the ruined church is brick wall. On the top of the brick wall is a tuft of dandelions. Under the dandelions stands a lightning bug.
His name is Volt.
And this is his sentencing.
Volt is staring over the edge, his back to a group of ten other lightning bugs, each holding the sharp end of a rose thorn towards him. At their center is an elder bug wearing a woven tuft of dried grass as a crown. This bug totters forward a single step, using a knobbly bit of a cherry tree twig as a cane.
"I'm sorry it's come to this, but it's out of my legs now."
Volt turns to face the speaker, but says nothing.
"When I was your age a few months ago, I made many grave mistakes, but I learned from them, and now I'm king. I've hoped for that for you, too, son, but its... and you're... don't you have anything to say for yourself, Voltaire?"
Volt wishes he could fly away, right there, right now.
Volt's curiosity had always got the best of him, even as a larva, when a tumbling accident damaged his wings, preventing Volt from ever flying and, even worse, ever using his bioluminesce.
That's right. Volt is a firefly who can't fly, a lightning bug with no lightning.
But he's always had a spark.
Volt snips a nearby dandelion stem. His sudden movement causes the half-circle of Volt's pupalmates to flare their bellies, blinding Volt in electric green. The king tries to calm his rearguard. Still holding the dandelion weed, Volt lifts his head, sniffing at the winds with his antennae.
"Everything's a choice, Father. Even this."
Volt leaps backwards off the wall. The other bugs rush to the edge as Volt reappears above them, the dandelion weed caught in the winds coming off the old mountain.
"He's getting away, Your Lowness!"
The king feels a secret surge of hope for his two-hundred-and-forty-sixth son, but it's quickly dashed as Volt and his flying weed are swept out far over the lake. With his head hanging heavy on his thorax, the king crawls back from the edge. His deputies follow him into their home deep within the mortar cracks.
Meanwhile, Volt is another "classic Volt situation." Yes, the dandelion weed airship was keeping him afloat but he had no control over speed or direction or just about anything. And, one-by-one, the little seed tufts were flickering away. They were losing altitude. He'd be fish-food fast.
Volt reaches up to the weed and strategically removes a few tufts. This change was enough to adjust his craft's ballast to a lower level of this invisible wind layers. Thankfully, luckily, he is swept back towards the shoreline.
He lets go of the dandelion as it loses its final seed tufts and Volt lands on the rocky coast.
Volt can see his home in the distance. He thinks about crawling back to the brick wall. Perhaps his father would change his mind? He's always been forgiving of Volt's misadventures - the scuffle with the potato bugs last week, the "Ant Bridge Incident" of three days ago - but Volt's most recent mistake was a step too far.
As someone unlikely to ever find a mate given his bioluminesce... issues... Volt had been delighted to find a tiny little insect egg yesterday while walking the wall. He brought this little egg into his crack in the wall and went back out to find it some food.
When he returned, his room had been torn apart. His things were everywhere, and his egg was gone. His father's guards appeared outside his entrance.
"A spider egg?" one of Volt's older brothers sneered. "You brought a spider egg into our home."
The spiders were the sworn enemies of the lightning bugs. Everyone knew it. Even Volt.
"I... I didn't know," stammered Volt. "I just thought... wait, what did you do with the egg?"
"We destroyed it," sneered another brother. "You've endangered our entire kingdom. Even father won't be able to save you this time, Volt."
"That was a child!" howled Volt as the guards grab his legs and dragged him out.
Volt shook his head and turned from the brick wall.
"Who needs them anyway?"
Volt knows he is dangerously exposed right now on the shoreline. He scrambles over the rocks and sand, scanning for somewhere to hide, somewhere he can collect his thoughts and plan out his remaining hours of life.
Soon he finds an outcropping of rocks near a tree stump that forms a small dark cave. It's almost daytime now. Volt steps inside the cave to get some rest.
Suddenly, something croaks deep within the cave.
Volt has no time to even scream. He is swallowed by an old toad.
The toad's saliva burns like acid on his exoskeleton. Volt can feel himself dying, dissolving, disintegrating. Sure, he'd thought about death before, but he never expected it to be so wet.
But, just as quickly as he was swallowed, Volt's spat out of the toad's mouth.
"Ugh! Gah! Horrible." says the toad. "I need a tongue-scrape after that. What the heck is wrong with you? Gross, gross, gross!"
Volt, covered in toad saliva, uncurls and stands up.
"What's wrong with me? You're the one who swallowed me!"
"Look, no offense. It's just we do. Toads eat bugs, ok? But, I gotta say, you've got some gnarly defense systems going, my bug. Good work. I won't be forgetting that taste for a while, maybe ever. Agh!"
"Can we stop talking about how I taste, please?" says Volt. "You're not going to kill me or eat me anyway, right?"
"Nah, I'm good now. Name's Franklin. What's yours, little bug?"
"What brings you to my cave, Volt-y?"
"Well, I'm exiled. Sorta. I brought this spider egg home, kinda by accident, yesterday, and that was dumb, but I didn't even know, and also there was this ant bridge thing a few days ago. Oh, and the potato bugs last week. And, also I..."
"Woah, slow down there, little Volt. I get it. You're a loner. An outcast. Like me. You're gonna be fine. Look at me. I haven't seen another amphibian since I was a tadpole. And I'm fine."
Volt looked skeptically at the wart-covered toad.
"I'm not like you, Franklin. I want to be part of something. I want a family. I want... to be a normal firefly."
"A-ha! You're a lightning bug. I knew it! Go on.. give me a show. Light up!"
"I can't," says Volt. "Never could. I'm damaged goods."
"I see. You're one stressed out little bug, litte Volt. Look, let me offer you a small gift. Come over here and lick my forearm."
"Lick your.. what??"
"Trust me. You're gonna like this."
Volt steps forward and scrapes his tongue on the toad's wart-covered arm and his entire world dissolves. Franklin becomes a bloated bubble that inflates and inflates until he pops into a hazy sun that burns into Volt's body, filling Volt with light and warmth and color. Volt sees his family and his hundreds of siblings all with him, smiling and laughing and crawling and flying and flickering their lightning into a giant lighting storm that flashs and burns into Volt's belly. Then his family disappears and the lights go out and Volt feels cold and dark and scared. He sees ants and potato bugs and centipedes and crickets and spiders. Spiders. Spiders. Spiders. His family. Stuck in their web. But the light returns and now it's coming from Volt. From his belly. It flashes and burns away the webs and the spiders and when Volt opens his eyes again, the toad is gone. And Volt can tell, because Volt's bioluminesce is lit.
"I'm doing it!" screams Volt, his green-lit eyes triumphant. But then the light fades. And Volt has no idea how to re-light his fire. He squeezes his abdomen until it hurts, but no light comes.
Volt runs from the cave mouth. It's nearly nighttime again. He must tell his father than he's lit his belly. Surely, he'll be allowed back into the tribe.
But before Volt gets close to the brick wall, he knows something's wrong, because there are no firefly lights dotting the way.
Volt scales the brick wall, like he's done thousands of times, and searches all the cracks of the kingdom, but everyone's vanished, like they just disappeared or ran away.
The only clue Volt finds is a cobweb, which he picks up in his legs.
"Spiders," whispers Volt. "Spiders took my family. This is all my fault."
Volt's belly lights up so bright that the spiderweb dissolves into goo.
"And I'm going to rescue them."