Chapter 44: What Have I Become?
Dinner had come and gone. Soon enough, Twilight and her friends had left, leaving only the Apple family and their guests left to go to bed. Meanwhile, the time travelers remained awake to discuss the serious matters at hand.
“Bismarck did not try to kill Tempest!” Radiance repeated for a third time. “He would never do that, even if they weren’t best friends!”
“That’s not the point, Radiance,” Andromeda replied, rubbing her eyes. “What matters here is the fact that Bismarck has blood on his face and hooves… blood that he won’t tell us where it came from! I’m not sure if you’re aware of this or not, but there’s nopony else on this farm! It’s just us and our moms, and Bismarck was the only other pony out there with him.”
“What are you, a lawyer? How can you possibly accuse him without asking him what happened?”
“We did ask him,” Flora added softly. “He’s not telling us anything.”
“Maybe because you shouldn’t have interrogated him the moment he walked in the door!” Radiance fumed. “From what I can guess, Tempest probably got himself into this mess! He’s always picking fights with others and this time he chose the wrong battle!”
“And you don’t find his whole ‘you’re safe now’ thing to be totally ominous and a bit… serial killer-y?” Cherry asked. “I know he’s our friend and your… husband, but…”
“That has nothing to do with this! Husband or not, Bismarck is a good stallion who at least deserves the benefit of the doubt. All I’m asking is that we give him time to explain himself. When Tempest recovers enough to tell his side, we’ll ask him too. THEN we’ll make a decision on who’s to blame. Agreed?”
Andromeda, Flora, and Cherry looked at each other nervously. An angry Radiance was not something to be taken lightly and it was subconsciously agreed between them to not continue adding any more fuel to her fire.
“Alright,” Andromeda nodded. “We’ll get both accounts before we discuss this any further.”
“Thank you,” Radiance replied, settling down to a cool Rarity-like relaxation. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to bed. I think we all just need some rest. We’ll argue the semantics of Bismarck’s motives tomorrow. Good night.”
“Good night, Radiance.”
Radiance returned to the barn to get some sleep, but where she expected Bismarck to be slumbering, she found only his hat. Seeing Berry snoozing in a nearby hay pile, she gave him a gentle kick to wake him up.
“Berry,” she said in a loud whisper.
Berry shuffled but did not open his eyes. Radiance poked him again.
“Berry, I need to talk to you.”
The pink stallion let out a mild groan and squinted his eyes tight. Either he was still asleep or he was trying to ignore her. Radiance didn’t care for either possibility.
“Wake up!” she shouted, flipping her shocked friend out of bed.
“Ahhhguhhh, um up, I’m up!” he exclaimed incoherently. “Jeez, Radiance, what’d you do that for?”
“I said… where’s Bismarck? The last time I saw him, he was right here.”
“I don’t know!” Berry said, sitting up and rubbing his eyes. “He said something about visiting… something something memories. I didn’t really catch it since I was busy trying to get some decent sleep.”
“Visiting memories?” Radiance repeated. “What does that mean?”
“Don’t ask me. I wasn’t paying attention.”
“You don’t think he’s going to town, do you?”
“Why? What’s in town that he’d want to see? He’s an Apple! The farm takes up 90% of his nostalgia. What else is there?”
Radiance’s face intensified with focus.
‘Think, Radiance,’ she imagined. ‘Where would Bismarck go for nostalgia’s sake that’s not in town?’
‘He wouldn’t leave town and he certainly wouldn’t go to Canterlot,’ Radiance thought to herself. But what else is there? All that’s left is Everfree Forest, Zecora’s house, the CMC treehouse…”
“The treehouse!” she said aloud. “He could be in the treehouse!”
“That makes sense. He was a Crusader and he pretty much grew up there. That’s probably your best place to look, but are you really going to search for him? The sun set a long time ago and the forest is creepy at night.”
Radiance raised an eyebrow.
“Umm, magic,” she reminded him, lighting up her horn.
“Yeah.., but I don’t think you should be going out there alone.”
“I’m a big girl, Berry,” Radiance turned. “I think I’ll be okay.”
Before she could reach the barn door, Berry had stepped in front of her to block her exit.
“I don’t care what you think,” he said. “I can’t in good conscience let you go out into the dark to meet a crazy and ridiculously strong Bismarck. He’s really losing it right now and being far away where nopony can help or save you is on top of my ‘stupid things to do right now’ list. Oh, and did I mention that he is really freaking strong? And can squish your head like a tomato? I don’t know about you, but that’s kind of a deal-breaker for me when it comes to romantic evenings on a moon-lit night!”
“I’ll be fine, Berry. He’s not going to hurt me,” Radiance replied. “Now if you don’t mind, please get out of my way before I force you.”
Berry remained where he was.
“Make me!” he challenged.
Just then, Berry’s body became enveloped by a blue aura of magic. The shining anomaly took control of his muscles and froze him in place before shoving him slightly to the side while Radiance opened the barn door and left. The magic disappeared soon after she was out of sight and Berry wasted no time in running to the door.
Berry stood there and saw the light of her horn slowly started to grow further away. On one hoof, he really didn’t want to get involve with somepony else’s problems. He had enough cuts and bruises as a result of that. On the other hoof, however, he couldn’t let his best friend go out alone to meet Bismarck. With a loud groan, he took off after her.
“Wait up!” he called out.
Radiance stopped in her tracks and looked back.
“You’re not going to stop me,” she said. “Bismarck is hurting right now and I’m going to go talk to him. If you don’t like it, you can stay here.”
“You’re right. I don’t like it…. but I’m sticking with you whether you like it or not.”
“I don’t need your help or your protection.”
“Don’t care. I’m coming anyway.”
Radiance rolled her eyes.
“Fine. Just keep up.”
The trip was a quiet one. Berry tried starting a conversation every once in a while, but Radiance was not in the mood. Her mind was preoccupied and by the time they had arrived at the forest clearing by the treehouse, they could see a light emanating from the windows of the wooden structure. Somepony had lit the lanterns. Bismarck had to be inside.
“Now look,” Radiance whispered to Berry, “I know you want to make sure I’m alright, but I need to go in by myself. If he sees you, he might panic or try to protect me. You need to stay here in case anything happens. Understand?”
“Yeah. I get it,” Berry grimaced, “but I don’t like it. If he does anything suspicious, anything at all, don’t hesitate in getting the hay out of there. I’ll be there as soon as there’s trouble.”
Radiance nodded reluctantly and made her way towards the treehouse ramp. Her heart raced with every step until it felt like it had stopped entirely when she knocked on the door.
“Bismarck?” she announced, trying hard to hide the anxiousness in her voice. “Bismarck, are you in there? It’s me, Radiance.”
She waited a few seconds, but there was no answer. As she reached for the door, a voice pierced the dark.
“What do you want, Radiance?”
Radiance didn’t know what to say.
“Can… can I come in?”
Another agonizing silence followed. Radiance was growing nervous.
“The door’s not locked,” he finally said.
With a slow and gentle motion, Radiance pushed open the door and entered into the yellow glow of the room. Across the way, Bismarck stood, looking at the pictures on the wall. When she drew closer, she could see him inspecting Apple Bloom’s picture.
“Are you okay?” she asked worryingly.
Bismarck slowly turned and showed it to her.
“Remember when… mah Aunt Apple Bloom would… take us to the summer carnival when we were little?” he asked.
Radiance stood by him and smiled.
“And we’d eat carmel apples and popcorn until we were sick to our stomachs? Yes, I remember. I always loved going with you and Apple Bloom. She was always so fun to be with, since dad usually worked on those days and my mom usually didn’t go to the carnivals.”
“Ya know, it’s funny,” Bismarck began to chuckle. “Despite all her years in Ponyville, yer mom never cared fer them, did she?”
“Festivals and celebrations were fine by her, but carnivals always came off as too noisy and dirty for her tastes.”
“But that never stopped you from comin’, did it Radiance?”
Radiance tilted her head with a flirty smirk.
“Are you kidding? I loved carnivals! They were so exciting! They had snacks, games, and prizes! The carnival was a filly’s dream come true.”
Bismarck let out a happy sigh.
“That’s what ah love about you, Radiance,” he replied. “You were always yer own pony. You had and still have that independent spirit that makes you who you are and ah always liked that about you. It was one of the reasons ah married you.”
“And I always liked the fact that you were so good at winning prizes,” Radiance said. “That and the fact that you always gave them to me.”
“Yeah, well,” Bismarck laughed, “ah didn’t have much use fer a giant teddy bear.”
As he laughed, he began to fidget with the picture frame in his hooves. Radiance had thought there was a point to this story, but now it looked like it was just chit-chat.
“So what is it you’re really thinking?” she asked quietly. “Is there something else on your mind?”
Bismarck grew quiet for a moment. He seemed to be gathering courage.
“There is,” he said solemnly. “Ah guess ah wished that you were here to talk, but ah know why yer really here.”
“What are you talking about? Why am I here?”
Bismarck shifted his weight a bit.
“Andi and the rest sent ya. Didn’t they?”
“I came alone,” Radiance answered. “They’re all in bed. It was my decision to find you.”
Bismarck became more animated.
“Oh no…. ah know what they’re schemin’. Yer gonna talk me down… get me to say ah hurt Tempest! Admit that ah’m slippin’! Is that what you want? Huh???”
“That’s not why I’m here. I just…”
Bismarck threw the picture to the ground, shattering the glass.
“DON’T LIE TO ME!!!” his voice thundered.
The massive orange stallion’s head nearly pressed against hers, but stopped just short. Radiance stood her ground and did not flinch a muscle. She used no magic to protect herself and did not alter her gaze. Her sapphire eyes stared back at him with serenity instead of fear.
“Bismarck,” she said in a soft but firm manner. “You’re not well. Something has changed you… made you like this. I’m not here to take you away, but I am here to help you.”
“Ah don’t need yer help!” Bismarck growled. “There ain’t nothin’ wrong with me! Why can’t y’all just leave me alone?!?”
Bismarck continued to breath heavily. With blood-shot eyes, he now seemed more beast-like than ever before, but Radiance was not going to give up on him. Never faltering her gaze, she slowly and gently took hold of his arm. Though he initially tensed at her touch, he soon relaxed when she held his hoof. His were massive and rough from years of hard labor while hers were soft and smooth. She rubbed his hoof with a light smile.
“Because I love you,” she answered. “I’m worried about you, you big lug! You’ve been angry and violent, and I know it’s because you’re hurting!”
She could see he was conflicted.
“No, no, ah’m fine! Ah’m okay! Ah’m fine!”
“You want to protect me!” Radiance continued, her voice starting to quaver. “I understand! You’re looking out for me and our baby! I know you mean right!”
Slowly, she lifted his hoof between them, turning it slightly. Smeared dry blood drops stained it.
“But you see that?” Radiance said, bringing it to his attention. “That’s your best friend’s blood… Bismarck. Tempest’s blood! You nearly beat him to death! The Bismarck I married would never do that! The Bismarck I grew up with would never hurt a friend!”
Bismarck eyes grew wide. Sweat began to bead on his forehead. Pulling his hoof away from her, he began to slowly back up, shaking his head.
“No… ah never…. ah… ah didn’t mean… ah was just protecting you! Tempest… he….”
Radiance pulled him back and gave him a hug, resting her head against his broad shoulders.
“He did something to upset you. I know. It’s okay. You got carried away. It’s not the end of the world. We can still fix this if you come back with me.”
Placing her hooves on the sides of his face, she gave him a kiss.
“We can still get through this,” she said. “I love you… no matter what happens.”
Bismarck’s face finally relaxed fully and even started to show signs of happiness again.
“Radiance,” he whispered. “Ah…”
Bismarck’s ears twitched. His body stiffened. Something was outside. Letting her go, he rushed to the window and looked out into the woods. At the edge of the trees stood Berry. His pose looked almost menacing in the light of the moon. Bismarck’s eyes intensified and his jaw clenched in rage.
“YOU WERE FOLLOWED!” he shouted, spinning his head towards Radiance.
“No!” Radiance cried. “No, no, no! I told Berry to come with me! I didn’t want to walk through the forest alone! He was here to protect me!”
Bismarck’s turned to look outside once more, his nose fuming hot mists against the glass.
“HE THINKS AH’M DANGEROUS! HE’S HERE TO TAKE ME AWAY FROM YOU! AH WON’T LET HIM!!!”
Bismarck shoved himself away from the window and began to storm towards the front door, but Radiance took hold of his tail with her magic and pulled with all her might. Her abilities were nowhere close to that of Twilight Sparkle, but she had enough power to hold him for the moment.
“Berry!” she screamed. “Berry, get out of here NOW!!! He’s after you!”
“Let go of me, Radiance!” Bismarck demanded, dragging her with him.
“Bismarck! Please!” she cried. “Don’t do this! You’ve got to snap out of this! He’s your friend!”
Bismarck said nothing. He was in kill-mode.
“I won’t let you hurt him!” Radiance continued. “I can’t!”
With a violent jerk, Bismarck yanked his tail out of her magic grip. Free again, he turned to continue towards the door, but in a split second, he saw Berry charge him and tackle him to the floor. The two large stallions slammed into the wood with a loud thud while Radiance backed away from the scene. Charging her horn once more, she tried to use her magic to weigh Bismarck down, but his rage and adrenaline had made him far too strong.
“Get out of here, Radiance!” Berry shouted, striking Bismarck in the face. “I’ll take care of Bismarck!”
Ripping through the magic shield, Bismarck kicked Berry off of him with tremendous force. The pink stallion hit the wall hard, dropping picture frames on both sides. Bismarck got back onto his hooves and took a swing at Berry, but the faster and lighter stallion evaded the blow and counterattacked with three shots to the ribs. Bismarck took the hits and slammed Berry against the wall once again, nearly knocking the wind out of him. Berry’s elbow smashed into Bismarck’s back, one, two, three, four, five, six times with vicious strength.
“Cut it out, you two!” Radiance shouted, trying to get close without getting caught in the crossfire.
Bismarck’s stumbled to the side. His body was already exhausted and in pain from his skirmish with Tempest, but this was different. This was worse. Tempest wanted to lose. Berry did not. Kicking his opponent further away from him, Berry charged close and unleashed a volley of punches. Bismarck soaked his fury like a sponge, but when Berry had finally missed, he took advantage by grabbing him, spinning around, and throwing him over his shoulder. Dazed and confused, Berry couldn’t tell what was happening until he felt a muscular arm wrapping around his neck. The force made breathing nearly impossible. Bismarck had put him in a chokehold and was tightening his grip. Radiance’s heart sped even faster because she knew what was happening.
“Bismarck, please stop!” she pleaded, trying her hardest to pull him off of their friend. “You’re going to kill him!”
Bismarck glanced up at her for a split second. His emerald eyes now looked clouded and darker than before. The Bismarck she loved was not present. Not now. Berry desperately thrashed from under his vice grip, attempting to free himself. He managed to hit his opponent in the face once or twice, but it would not be enough to save him. Time was running out and Radiance knew Bismarck had no intention of just choking him unconscious. Radiance tried with all her might to loosen his grasp, but to no avail. Berry’s arms eventually began to stop clutching Bismarck’s arm and slowly fell to his sides. Radiance was now inconsolable. Berry was going to die right in front of her.
“Please!” Radiance sobbed, tears now rolling off her face and onto Bismarck. “If you love me at all… let him go!”
Just then, Bismarck felt a chill shoot through him as her tears ran down his shoulders. In an instant his arms had let go of Berry’s neck, forcing the unconscious body to fall onto his back while Bismarck stepped out of the way. Radiance scrambled towards him immediately.
“Please be okay, please be okay, please be okay, please be okay, please be okay!” she cried, checking to see if he was breathing. “Berry? Can you hear me? Are you alright? Berry!”
There was no response. Leaning her head towards his mouth, Radiance listened for breathing and watched for signs of his chest moving. With an exuberant smile, she found both.
“Oh thank goodness!” she cried. “He’s alive! Berry’s still alive! Thank Luna, he’s alive!”
Fighting the urge to hug her unconscious friend, Radiance continued to take care of him until she could find him a way to bring him back to Sweet Apple Acres. While she was busy tending to Berry, Bismarck looked down at his hooves in silent terror. With these hooves, he had grown countless trees and gardens, fixed many sheds and barns, and held the hoof of the mare he loved. His hooves were rough, but they were warm and gentle.
All he could see were weapons…
Weapons used to hurt the ones he loved most.