CHAPTER 11: Shelter (First draft. Final version in the works)
The sun continued to rise slowly in the morning chill and the frigid draft of the wind blew through the apple trees of the Apple family. The rumble of thunder echoed in the distance while it whistled around Radiance, making her want to curl into a tight ball. She couldn't hear anything, open her eyes, or move more than a little, but she could feel the bitterness of the breeze down to her bones. Her body shivered and her mind could not think of anything but the cold, as if ice had frozen her in place. Slowly, her senses began to return, and only when the crackle of a small fire could be heard and felt did she relax. Her heavy eyes opened narrowly, watching the blurred movements of the amber sparks in front of her. Their dim glowing air patterns danced before her before rising up into the air and disappearing in the small plume of grey smoke. A figure poked at the smoldering wood, keeping it alive and preventing the wind from extinguishing it. The glow of the yellow flames reflected brightly in his emerald green eyes and illuminated his dark-orange coat.
"Bismarck?" she half-whispered, trying to lift her head.
Another pony pushed her back down gently and shushed her quietly.
"Take it easy," a familiar voice consoled her, "Everything is okay. Go back to sleep."
Radiance's eyes glanced up heavily, locking onto pink hair hanging in front of her. It was Cherry Pie's mane. With a deep breath, she closed them again and fell back into a deep sleep. Not long after she returned to dreamland, a battered Berry Pie arrived with more sticks and dry leaves for the fire. After throwing his findings in the flames, he placed a clump of leaves onto a cut he had sustained from the time jump and winced.
"Aaahhhh...." he said aloud in a raspy voice. "That stings!"
Looking down at his makeshift bandages, he could see their green color grow darker from the blood while white puffs of mist formed from his mouth and nostrils in the cold morning air.
"Celestia, I hate mornings." he muttered, half-joking, half-serious.
Bismarck raised his eyebrow with a look of sarcastic empathy.
"Must be real hard wakin' before the crack of noon, eh Berry?" he joked with a grin as he poked the burning wood with a stick.
"It really is!" Cherry pipped in with a giggle while trying not to wake Radiance. "I've never seen anypony so hard to drag out of bed in my life. Maybe your mom should give him a job harvesting apples at the farm."
"Wakin' up at dawn," Bismarck teased Berry, "eatin' a hearty breakfast, walkin' out into the Apple orchards and kickin' kickin' kickin' until the day's work is done. Whatcha think of that? We'd have a good ol' time!"
Berry's face crinkled at the thought.
"No thanks. I remember the last time you tricked me into helping with your chores back when we were colts. My back was sore for a week!" he said, evoking a small chuckle among the three friends before a silence fell upon them.
The camp grew quiet for a while, save for the crackle of the fire. All three of them stared into it as if caught into a trance. All they could remember was waking up bruised and bloody in an apple orchard.
"What do you think happened?" Berry asked as he finished dabbing his wound. "Do you guys not remember anything either?"
Bismarck shook his head. The events were all a blur in his mind and it hurt too much to think about it.
"Ah don't even remember what ah was doin' before ah woke up." he said grimly. "All ah know is that whatever it was, it had to be magic."
"Do you think Orion had something to do with it?" Cherry wondered.
"Probably. Knowin' him and mah brother, I'll betcha they got in too far over their heads."
Radiance rustled a bit, grabbing the attention of the three before she returned to her rest and remained still once more. Cherry continued to lay by her friend, watching her and making sure she was okay. From the moment the Pie twins had found her and Bismarck after they woke up, Cherry hadn't left her side even once. She continued to lay her Radiance's head on her lap while she kept her close.
"What about Radiance? Do you think she will be okay?" Cherry asked, brushing the mare's sky blue hair out of her face. The white unicorn was no longer trembling, but her ears and closed eyes twitched occasionally, possibly caught in a dream. Bismarck looked down at his sleeping friend. While scratched up a bit, there was not much exterior damage. Her leg was now in a splint of wood and leaves and resting on a small log.
"Ah don't know." Bismarck replied with a tinge of worry. "She doesn't realize it now, but ah think she broke her leg. Ah ain't no doctor, but I've broken several bones and ah think it's an incomplete fracture."
"Is that bad?" Cherry asked.
"It ain't good, but it ain't the worst kind of break she could have gotten. Ah bandaged it up and made a splint the best ah could while she was unconscious, but she needs medical help."
"So what do we do?" Berry asked. "We can't just leave her here."
Bismarck said nothing and instead stood up and inspected some of the nearby trees. His eyes remained fixed on them. Cherry looked up from their small camp to see him circling several others with keen intrigue until he stopped and stared at the largest one for a long time. She motioned to her brother to keep a close eye on Radiance while she stood up and made her way to the country stallion.
"What's wrong, Bismarck?" she asked.
He shook his head.
"Do you see what ah see, Cherry?
Cherry brought her attention to the large apple tree. It was distinguished, with a weathered look and a thick trunk and many apples, but otherwise it looked like any other tree.
"I don't think so." she said. "What am I looking for?"
"Writing on the trees." he said, pointing to an empty spot on the tree. "Small marks of paint or notches on corner trees in our orchard's sections. All apple trees are dated fer when they're planted and when they flower. Some sections were grown later than others, so my mom came up with a marking system to tell which ones were grown when. With it, we can tell when they are perfect for picking without even having waste large amounts of time to test them fer firmness."
"So is this supposed to be a marked tree?" Cherry asked.
"Yeah. When ah was a colt, ah chiseled my name in this tree."
"Are you positive this is the same one." she said with a confused look.
Bismarck's eyes glinted. It was a look that Cherry knew meant absolute certainty. It was the same look Applejack and Big Macintosh had too.
"Positive." he said in a confident voice. "Look on the other side."
Cherry walked around the tree and inspected it. Her baby blue eyes searched for a short while before coming across more initials. "AJ"
"AJ." she repeated. "Applejack! Your mom wrote on this tree too. So what, are you saying we traveled in time?"
Bismarck didn't know what to say. It was all speculation, but how else would they have ended up in one of the furthermost corners of the Sweet Apple Acres orchard? Why would the tree he had carved in, the same one as his mother, not have his name ten years after he etched it in?
"Let's go back to camp." he said, still thinking things through. "We should wait for Radiance to wake up."
Making their way back, Cherry laid down in a small pile of leaves she had collected. The warm fire was inviting and its ambient crackles and pops lulled her into a deep relaxation. Within moments, she had fallen asleep. Bismarck and Berry stayed awake and watched the two mares, keeping an eye open for anything beyond their little circle. With time to pass, it was a good time for conversation. Berry, of course, knew where to get Bismarck started.
"You're really something, Show Biz." Berry said, using Bismarck's childhood nickname. Ever since Bismarck had gotten his cutie mark for rodeo performing, the term stuck.
"What's that?" Bismarck asked, tipping his hat upwards while he laid his back against a tree.
"You and Radiance." Berry said with a grin. "You two always get on each other's case so much, there has to be more to it. If she bothers you so much, why do you still hang out with her?"
Bismarck knew where this was going. Applejack gave him the same spiel many times when he was growing up and he had grown accustomed to her asking him this. Berry, on the other hand, was oblivious to any discontent within the friends. He knew that if Pinkie Pie's own son had finally realized the tension between the two, everypony else had.
"She's mah friend and she's yer friend. She's Flora's, Tempest's, and Andromeda's friend. You guys are my friends. We're all just one big happy family!" he said in an exaggerated manner.
"Careful there, stallion!" Berry joked. "Keep going in circles like that and you'll drill your way to the other side of the planet!"
"Oh har-de-har-har." Bismarck replied sarcastically. "But seriously, I don't know why we get on each other's nerves. She just chooses to get all high-and-mighty with me. And so what if I like the attention? I've trained for years to do what I'm doing now."
He sighed and tipped his hat over his eyes.
"The day she gets off my case over my ego is the day I start modeling for fashion magazines like her."
Berry grinned and tried not to wake the mares.
"You'd look good in a dress, Biz! Some of Rarity's designs are very slimming."
Bismarck shook his head. He should have figured talking with the funny guy would end up like this.
"Not surprised ya know that, Berry." He said with a smile. "And don't ya get too excited there, pink guy. I know I'm a stud and all, but you've got to contain yerself!"
The two earth stallions laughed. Such was their friendship. Berry's constant joking was no-doubt a product of having Pinkie Pie as a mother, but Bismarck knew how to counteract his jokes back onto him. They often loved to mock each other for fun's sakes as well as pull practical jokes on each other and together. They had been friends for as long as they could remember and it was their thing. Bismarck chuckled to himself. He didn't know why, but his mind was drifting to some of the past events and trouble the two had gotten into when they were colts.
"Hey," he said with a grin, "remember when we tried to bake that pie? The one that nearly burned down Sugarcube Corner?"
Berry's face brightened at the thought as his eyes drifted upwards towards the sky in a nostalgic look.
"The quadruple fudge bomb surprise. How could I forget?"
"Same way we forgot to turn off the oven. Ah still don't think ah've ever seen a pie explode like that."
"I never thought chocolate could catch fire like that!"
"Probably the biggest beatings we ever got."
"Until the noodle incident, of course."
The two enjoyed another good chuckle once more before Bismarck grew more serious. The wind was whistling a little louder now and the sky was beginning to grow more grey. Looking out to the tree he and Cherry were inspecting, he pointed to it and brought Berry's attention to it.
"Berry," he said in a shocking difference of tone from their nostalgic reminiscing earlier, "ah don't think the spell just teleported us here."
"What do you mean?" the pink stallion asked inquisitively.
Bismarck scratched his head.
"Ah think we're in the past."
Berry said nothing for a short while and thought back at the flashes of light and the sudden change in locations for a bit. After more silence, he finally sighed.
"Seems legit. What do we do?"
Bismarck was shocked at his friend's seemingly calm reaction. Berry's acceptance to even the most farfetched theories still startled Bismarck, even to this day. The country stallion shook his head and pondered the plan.
"Ah don't know." he said. "Ah need to think about it."
Berry walked up to him and placed his hoof on his friend's shoulder with a smile.
"Well for now, you should take a nap. You look exhausted, Biz."
"Ah'm fine." Bismarck said with a weary grunt. "Ah've got to keep mah eyes on the girls."
"Biz, you look so tired I think those eyes will cross at any moment. You need rest. I'll stay up and tell you when Radiance wakes up."
"Positive. Get some sleep."
Bismarck hesitated for a while. He was too tired to do much more and his bagging eyes were growing heavier and heavier. Perhaps a nap would be okay after all. Reluctant to leave his friend alone to play watchman, he mumbled one last thing.
"If there's anything ya need, wake me."
"G'night, hayseed." Berry said in a soft mock-country voice like Applejack's.
Bismarck smirked a bit and laid his head back against a tree. Sleep fell upon him quickly and soon he was deep in dreamland. As he rested, he couldn't believe just how tired he really was. His body seemed to sink into the ground, only semi-aware of his physical surroundings. In his slumber, images of his friends popped in his mind. The world of dreams began to unfold before him and soon he found himself in Ponyville with his friends. They looked normal at first, but something was off. Their eyes were black and their motions were stuttering. Whispers spoke in the background of their words, screeching and bellowing in high and low pitches simultaneously. Their forms grew shadowy and began to split in two before his eyes. They began to scream and their voices bled into one giant screech of pure fear and horror. Bismarck tried to run from them, but they were faster. Their hooves shattered the ground like thin glass and their breath became fiery inside their mouths. Sweat trickled down Bismarck's face and just before they attacked, the voice of Berry threw him back into reality.
"Wake up!" he said, making both Bismarck and Cherry out of their sleep in a panic. "She's awake!"
While the Pie twins sat down next to their recovering friend with eager patience, Bismarck took the moment to collect himself. Swat condensed on his forehead while he breathed heavily. It was just a dream, but he had never had one so intense and horrifying as that one.
'It's not real.' he thought to himself. 'It's not real.'
With great effort, he shook the images from his head and walked over to where Radiance was lying. He was just in time to see her begin to wake up. Her sapphire-blue eyes began to flutter, slowly opening as she began to come to. They focused on her icy mist her mouth breathed out and then to her companions. Little by little, their colorful blurs shaped into sharper images of her friends. Control returned to her body, allowing her to get up slowly. Cherry rushed to her and helped her up until Radiance attempted to put move her hind leg.
"Aahhh!" she cried as Berry caught her just in time.
Her face spun to her bandaged appendage and winced.
"What's," she began with heavy breathing, "what's wrong with my leg?"
Bismarck motioned for Berry to keep her down.
"I think you broke it, Radiance. Stay still or you'll just make it worse." he said calmly, trying not to scare her. He'd have to change the subject. "Somehow we've ended up in the outskirts of my family's apple orchard and we need to get back home."
"Apple orchard?" she said, still trying to adapt to her world. "What are you talking about? I thought we were at some kind of party. Wait, I don't remember there being any cider."
"No cider." Berry said. "Magic. We think Orion and his friends got into a magical spell that teleported us here."
"Not just teleported," Bismarck added, "time-traveled."
Radiance said nothing for a while as the gears in her head could be seen spinning.
"So," she said, breaking the long silence, "are you sure no cider was involved?"
"She's making jokes!" Cherry smiled. "Good to have you back, Radiance."
"Thanks, Cherry." Radiance smiled weakly.
Looking down at her leg, she closed her eyes and focused her energy into the magical center of her white horn. It glowed a dim blue and hissed with a light melodic sound while she aimed it at her leg. The crude field dressing of leaves and sticks began to float in midair within the force fields of her beam, leaving a scratched up leg from where she had landed. Cherry covered her mouth in empathy and hid her face behind her twin brother.
"Radiance," Berry said with worry, "is that a good idea?"
"I don't know," she said, "but it can't hurt to try."
Taking a deep breath, Radiance fixated her magic towards her leg. Slowly, her leg seemed healthier looking and with a gasp of relief, Radiance smiled.
"It worked!" she said in disbelief as she rubbed it lightly.
"What worked?" Bismarck asked.
"My leg! I was able to mend it!"
"Then are you better now?" Cherry asked with an encouraged look.
Radiance put pressure on her leg with her hoof and cried out in pain once more. Her smile faded, replaced by a grimace.
"No." she said sadly. "I still can't use it. I guess all I could do is put it back together. It's still going to take time to heal."
Bismarck looked up into the sky. Thunder was becoming more noticeable and the wind was beginning to pick up in both speed and bitterness, making Cherry's bright teeth chatter behind her numbing lips. Bismarck clutched onto his hat to keep it from blowing off of his head. Something did not feel right.
"Ah don't like this wind, guys." he said, looking down at Cherry who was now hiding behind him to keep out of the biting wind. "Ah think we better get to shelter quick. This storm is moving way too fast and if we get caught in it, we could be in big trouble."
Without another word, he pulled Radiance to her feet gently. The white unicorn softly kept her leg lifted and prevented putting any additional stress onto it. Bismarck arched his head in front of her chest and motioned her to get on. She did and slowly, he lifted her off of the ground with his back. The pain returned for a short moment and she gasped in pain again.
"Are you okay, Radiance?" Berry asked.
"I'm okay." Radiance said quickly, trying not to be a drama queen like her mother Rarity. She had a reputation for being tough for her upbringing. "Let's go."
No sooner had they left did a large cloud of intimidating darkness envelope the sky above them. The chill of the wind grew cold once more while Radiance held on tightly with her front legs onto Bismarck, who slowly made his way through the orchard with her on his back. His thick legs were strong from years of apple bucking and his stamina was high from a life outdoors. It was no wonder why he had decided to become a rodeo stallion. Bismarck led the way with Berry and Cherry not far behind. Far above them, a deafening boom sounded in the valley, followed by a downpour of cold and soaking rain that forced the group to pick up the pace. Heavy winds began to shatter the ambient silence and began to pick up speed. The grass and trees began to sway in the direction of the wind while walking became more difficult. Leaves and debris on the ground blew in their faces, forcing them to squint as they pushed forward. Bismarck was growing concerned. They had been walking for a long time now and not only was the storm much stronger than he had anticipated, but the heavy wind was making the orchard hard to map out.
'We're too far out!' Bismarck thought to himself, looking back at the struggling Pie twins behind him. 'We're not going to make it!'
Even though he could barely hear his own thoughts, the voice of Berry's yelling could be slightly picked up, mostly through the movements of the pink stallion's lips.
"How much farther do we have?"
Bismarck shook his head. He had no idea.
"Can you guys keep up?" he yelled back.
Cherry was particularly having a difficult time staying upright. Berry marched closely behind her to make sure she was not blown onto her back. Berry held onto her while they stopped and did his best not to fall over himself. He nodded in response with a "yes," but Bismarck could see in his squinted blue eyes that he wasn't entirely sure if he believed his own answer. Bismarck looked at Radiance. Her long blue hair was now soaked through and sticking to his neck and sides, but she didn't seem to care. Her grip remained tight and the light shivering of her body on his back reminded him of how important it was that they got back. The rain was cold and bitter and each step sunk deeper into the now softening earth below them. Bismarck trudged on, hoping to find shelter soon. A few minutes later, lightning began to strike much closer than it had before. Radiance's grip tightened significantly as the boom of thunder shook them all. Visibility became more and more difficult with each passing minute and the rain was now falling nearly sideways. Finally, after seemingly days of trudging through bitter rain, high winds, and thick mud, Bismarck could barely see the silhouette Sweet Apple Acres barn.
"We made it!" he said loudly over the roar of the storm as he turned around to the twins who had fallen behind. Come on! Just a little bit farther!"
The darkness and noise of the storm had now completely hidden the two pink earth ponies from Bismarck's sight and it began to worry him. After waiting a few moments, he realized they were nowhere to be seen.
"Berry?" he cried. "Cherry? Are you out there? Hello?!?"
Only the rustling of the blowing leaves and whistling wind could be heard underneath the torrential downpour of rain. He turned to look for them, but after walking for Celestia-knows how long, his legs were now burning and his back ached from carrying Radiance for so long. Each step felt heavier as the thick mud seemingly grabbed hold of his hooves like brown glue on the soft ground. For several minutes he searched for them, but they were nowhere to be found.
Cue the dramatic music
"They've disappeared!" he said to himself, unheard by Radiance.
He continued to look to no avail until his mind began to speak for him.
'We have to keep going!' it screamed, trying to motivate his exhausted body into moving on.
"I don't see them!" Radiance yelled over the storm. "We need to go find them!"
Bismarck said nothing and waited to catch his breath. He didn't know where they would, but at this point of his own fatigue, he realized that looking for them would only put Radiance and himself in danger. She needed shelter and medical help badly and he no longer had the strength to go much further, let alone search for his friends in a storm with next to no visibility. His emerald eyes scoured the orchard for a few more moments before he slowly turned around and dragged his legs on step at a time towards the barn. As he made his way to the shelter, Radiance fidgeted on top of him.
"What are you doing?" she yelled. "We need to look for our friends."
Bismarck's breath became thinner with each passing moment.
'I've got to make it!" he told himself in his mind.
For a moment, the world had grown quiet. The drizzle of falling raindrops and rolling thunder became muffled in the background, overshadowed by the forceful noise of his breathing. Only when the screams of Radiance pierced the near-silence did everything return to normal.
"Bismarck!" she cried, pulling on his neck. "We're not leaving them! Turn around!"
He continued to ignore her and focused on willing each leg to move while endless streams of water poured down the front of his hat like a shimmering waterfall. Their sparkling orbs fell in slow motion before his eyes before falling to the muddy ground that tugged on him so mightily. As he made his way up the hill, his legs began to lose their solidity and wobbled lightly every time he put weight on them. Radiance continued to shout.
"We can't leave them!" she yelled. "We're not leaving them! If you don't turn around, I'll never forgive you!"
Bismarck knew there was no possible way he could find them. Not in either of their conditions. Their only hope was shelter and the hope the twins found shelter of their own. His feet now dragged on the ground and his lungs burned with pain in each breath. He turned his head slightly to look at his passenger in the eyes. Sweat mixed with rain in pouring droplets on his face and his eyes bagged with exhaustion. With a clench of his teeth and deep breath, he yelled over the rain for her to hear.
"So be it!"
And with his reply, a fire inside of him burned with adrenaline and pressed him forward at a faster pace. Little by little, he made his way towards the barn. Radiance leaned closer to his ear and said something to him. Though it was as loud as a whisper in the storm, it echoed in his mind.
"Please." she begged. "Go back."
With one final push, he made it to the top of the hill and stumbled his way towards the barn. Rain and mud blinded his vision, but he continued to push forward. Just as he opened the two wooden doors, his legs collapsed from under him, nearly throwing Radiance onto the cold floor. His lungs coughed violently and his very saliva scorched the inside of his mouth. His head spun at a hundred miles an hour and every sound screeched with higher intensity. There he lay, unable to move and barely able to inhale the cold air he needed so desperately. As he attempted to breathe, the barn began to grow dark as his eyes stared at the ceiling and glazed into translucency.
'We made it.' he thought to himself with a weak smile. 'We're home.'
Soon, a distraught Radiance covered his view of the ceiling and looked down on him with tears. He couldn't tell if her bright blue eyes were wide with sorrow or anger, but their dark pupils stared into his soul regardless. Drops of water descended down her long blue hair and onto his neck and face, but he didn't care. She was safe. The room continued to get dark and just before he slipped into comatose, he coughed again and tried to speak to her, but his words only left his lips in a quiet whisper.