Chapter 52: Approaching Shadow
Scorching flames engulfed the surrounding forest, their yellow inferno licking and snapping and popping everything it touched. Birds cawed and screamed above while creatures below them scrambled to escape the approaching blaze. Smoke bellowed through the upper trees, blocking the warmth and light of the sun. Only a hellish nightmare remained of this section of the Everfree forest.
Andromeda watched the destruction with fury. Her pupils were blacker than ash. Her sunset eyes burned brighter than the very flames they gazed upon. Her white teeth were clenched before she let out a blood-curdling scream. Her anger continued to fuel the fire, turning the nearest tree into a white flash.
“Andi! What are you doing?” a familiar voice called from behind her.
It was not Tempest, like before. This time it was her mother, Twilight. The purple mare stood fast, her face with a look of concern, but her body braced for resistance.
“GET AWAY FROM ME!!!! THIS IS ALL YOUR FAULT!” Andromeda screamed. Her voice cracked and shook with fearsome force, as though her magic had affected her very speech.
“I can’t do that, Andi,” Twilight shouted back. “You’re out of control! You must stop!”
“AND WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO THAT YOU HAVEN’T DONE TO ME ALREADY?!?”
Twilight took a deep breath and stepped towards her future daughter with dauntless courage.
“I’m going to stop you.”
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
Rarity stopped in her tracks to see the front door of Applejack’s home open. Tempest entered slowly, his wing draped delicately around Andromeda. The purple mare stared only at the ground, her body moving almost involuntarily. The shock of the loss of her brother had overwhelmed her.
“Take her to the kitchen. Give her a bite to eat,” Rarity said with a hushed tone. “and don’t let her see the kids.”
Before Tempest could take another step, Berry and Cherry had rushed to their side in perfect unison.
“I’ve got Andi,” Berry said, shifting her weight onto his own shoulder. “You’re bleeding pretty badly, Tempest.”
“Let’s sit down in the living room,” Cherry continued as she nudged her pegasus friend along. “We need to get you patched up.”
“I should stay with Andi,” Tempest frowned, his eyes following her.
“Berry’s going to take care of her. Trust me, he’s the best at it.”
Tempest inhaled to object, but stopped himself. He knew she was right, even though it didn’t feel right to him. With a heavy exhale, he nodded in agreement and followed her to the living room. He collapsed onto the couch with a thump.
“That was a thoughtful thing you did, you know,” Cherry said as she dug in her first aid kit. “Taking off after an enraged Andromeda isn’t something to take lightly. She may not be as magically gifted as Twilight, but she’s still just as scary when she loses it.”
Tempest let out a deep exhale and groaned.
“Yeah, well, I couldn’t just let her go on a rampage.”
Cherry turned around with a cotton wipe and dabbed his wounds with alcohol. Tempest didn’t expect it to sting as much as it did.
“How did you manage to talk her down enough to come back?” Cherry asked, dabbing as she spoke.
“To be honest, I don’t have a clue,” Tempest grumbled. “She never listened to me before. Not sure why now is different.”
Cherry continued treating the cut with a somber hush. Her eyes were still red from crying earlier. Though it had only been an hour ago, the death of the children felt like both and eternity ago and seconds ago. Tempest did not speak up, but he could tell that Cherry’s chit-chat was not simple bedside manner. She was distracting herself with work, finding something to do to preoccupy her time. He could tell, since she had been spending a lot of time cleaning and dressing his simple cut. When she finished, she smiled awkwardly at him.
“All done,” she said.
She looked tired.
“Yeah. All done,” he replied. “Thanks, Cherry.”
She probably hadn’t been able to sleep or rest these past 24 hours.
“Don’t mention it. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to help Berry in the kitchen.”
So long as she keeps busy, she’ll be okay.
“Okay. Let me know if you need anything,” Tempest nodded, leaning forward in his seat.
What she needs is rest, he told himself while he waited.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
That night, rain showered Ponyville heavily; its soothing and constant shush surrounding the farm. Windows pattered with droplets. Roofs turned into small waterfalls, pouring glassy pillars onto the ground below. Thunder rolled quietly in distant reverberation. To a sleepless Twilight Sparkle looking out her window in the direction of Sweet Apple Acres, the very sky itself seemed to mourn the loss of the three innocent lives she had only just met. Though she could not sleep, the entire day itself felt like a horrible dream. Memories replaced the pattering of the raindrops with hooves clattering left and right across the wooden floors.
She, Applejack, and Fluttershy had remained by their children’s sides until the paramedics arrived. Hospital protocol followed. The time-traveling kids had spent so many days hidden from the ‘outside world,’ only to be blinded when they were forced to step into the light. Twilight did all the talking. From what could be assumed, strings were pulled in order to keep the three newest deaths hidden from public eye, and when it was said and done, their sleeping bodies found their way to the local morgue. To anypony involved, they were orphans.
The very thought made Twilight sick to her stomach as she sat back in her bed and rested on her side. Her blood-shot eyes were weary and she knew that she no longer had the luxury of mourning. She would need her rest if she was going to save the seven remaining time travelers, and though her mind burned with Orion’s still face, her exhausted body slowly pulled her into the sleep she so desperately needed.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
Across town, inside Applejack’s barn, Radiance awoke, crying aloud, her body jerked upwards. The sudden rustle shook Bismarck out of his sleep. Her breathing was loud and panicked and he could see sweat beading on her forehead in the moonlight that poured in.
Radiance continued to hyperventilate, trying to get the words out. All she could do was breathe heavily while she clutched her stomach.
“It’s gone! It’s gone! It’s gone!” she cried between breaths.
“The baby! The baby! It’s gone! The baby’s gone!” she sobbed, thrashing around.
Bismarck sat up, trying to calm her.
“It’s GONE, Bismarck! I lost the baby! I lost it… I lost the baby!”
“It’s just a bad dream! The baby’s fine, Radiance!”
Radiance shook her head violently.
“No, no, I can’t feel it! I can’t- I can’t…”
Bismarck pulled her close and held her, just like she had held him earlier that day.
“I saw them, Bismarck! I saw Bucky and Orion and Peach! They were gone, and so was the baby! I saw them!” she sobbed.
“It was just a dream. Yer okay and so is our child.”
Slowly, as her sleep-depraved mind began to regain its grasp on the real world again, she began to realize that it was just a nightmare.
“The baby is fine, Radiance. Ah’ve gotcha. Ah’m here.”
Radiance shuddered in his arms. She held her flat tummy, desperately hoping for some kind of sign, some kind of proof that her baby was
okay. Had it not been for her occasional morning sickness, she had almost forgotten that she had been holding her own child. There were no kicks, no leaping or shifting inside her, but she had always been able to feel the aura of her son or daughter-to-be. Now, however, she somehow felt alone, with three pieces of her heart that had been filled by Bucky, Peach, and Orion all gone.
“I’m sorry,” she said weakly. “I’m sorry I scared you.”
“It’s alright. Ah wasn’t sleepin’ well either.”
“Because of Bucky?” Radiance’s mouth slipped.
Bismarck grew quiet for a few seconds before giving her a light squeeze and letting go.
“Yer lookin’ mighty pale,” he whispered, standing up. “Ah’m gonna get you some water. Are you alright on yer own?”
“Yeah,” she nodded. “I’m alright. Don’t worry about me.”
With a nod, the country stallion turned towards the house. Radiance let out a sigh. Since Bucky’s death, he had spent every second of the day running back and forth, tearing himself between helping Twilight in any way he could, picking up his mother’s chores while she cared for the children, and checking in on her to make sure ‘they’ were okay. Radiance placed a hoof on her stomach again and let out a deep sigh of relief.
“I hope you’re doing better than we are,” she sighed.
_ _ _ _ _ _
Another two days blurred by in a nightmarish haze.
The dreaded moment had arrived. A private funeral in the Everfree Forest was held for Orion, Peach Cobbler, and Bucky. Only the time travelers and their immediate families attended, as well as Zecora. There was little ceremony as the group had all decided to keep their affair protected and secret from the rest of Ponyville. There was no conversation and very little sound at all. Even the crying was muted as the children were laid to rest in the very forest they grew up playing in.
While Zecora gave a speech about the three children, Flora and Fluttershy embraced each other, their eyes tightly shut. Tempest and Rainbow Dash tried to appear stoic, but neither had dry cheeks. Bismarck placed his arm around Radiance and Applejack, who each hugged him back. The twins and Pinkie Pie sat quietly, their colors faded and hair covering their damp eyes. Twilight Sparkle stood alone.
Andromeda did not show.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
After the children were laid to rest, Twilight returned to her house to see Andromeda hard at work. Her daughter looked broken, inside and out. With a tangled mane and pale completion, the young mare looked like she had not slept in days. She did not speak or even acknowledge her mother’s presence. Twilight half-wondered if she was breathing at all. Since before sunrise, she had been hard at work at the time travel spell. Now she didn’t even come to the funeral of her brother and friends. With the death of the children, time was now of the essence, but Twilight was worried about Andromeda’s relentless work ethic.
“We missed you at the funeral,” she said softly, hoping for a response.
Andromeda continued writing. Twilight decided that another topic might be more suitable.
“You look like you haven’t eaten since yesterday morning,” she said, putting her quill away. “How about we have some lunch? I can make us some sandwiches.”
Andromeda did not reply and continued to scribble her notes. Twilight couldn’t tell if she hadn’t heard or was ignoring her.
“Andi…would you like a sandwich?” Twilight asked again.
“I’m not hungry,” Andromeda mumbled.
“You should still eat, though. How long has it been since you had some food?”
“I’m okay, mom.”
“I’m just worried that if you keep this pace up, you’re going to collapse. You need food and rest, Andi. I think you need a break to…
Without warning, Andromeda slammed her hoof on the table, her horn glowing a bright purple. Books fell off to the sides and papers scattered at the force.
“THE LAST TIME I TOOK A BREAK, ORION DIED!”
The room grew quiet again, save for Andromeda’s heavy breathing and magical horn, which now glowed its natural yellow again. Twilight stared at her, both in horror and pity. Her daughter’s sunset eyes burned with anger. Twilight didn’t know what to do.
“I know, and I’m sorry,” she said softly, approaching her daughter, “but killing yourself with work won’t save your friends… or bring Orion back.”
Andromeda pushed Twilight back.
“Just leave me alone,” she pleaded. “Just let me work. Please.”
Twilight grew still and nodded solemnly.
“Okay,” she said, broken-hearted. “Let’s get back to work.”
As she spoke, a chill went down Twilight’s spine, stopping her in her tracks.
She could feel an aura around Andromeda that she had never felt before*. Powerful magic emanated in the air, radiating like invisible waves of energy beating against those in proximity. Though she could not see it, her body could FEEL a sickly magic surrounding Andromeda. Instead of a whisper of personal will, this magic boiled with hatred and fear, cloaked in a darkness unfamiliar to Twilight.
And it terrified her.