Chapter 14: Things Get Complicated (First draft. Final version in the works)
Radiance's sapphire eyes bagged from lack of sleep as the sun's orange rays shone through the windows and cracks of the Apple family barn. Rest had eluded her all night thanks to the mix of pain from her broken leg and the vivid activity in her spinning mind. As she watched Bismarck's orange chest rise and sink slightly with quiet breaths, she continued to wonder to herself if this was all just a bad dream. So much had been happening to her that she felt like she couldn't even begin to cope. Within a day, she had gone back in time, broken her leg, gotten caught in a violent storm, possibly lost two of her best friends to that storm, and now the one who wouldn't turn back to find them was sleeping across from her. Pure anger burned inside her at the thought of Bismarck leaving Berry and Cherry to die. Everything in her wished she could stop him.
"How could you?" she asked aloud, knowing he couldn't hear her. "How could you just leave them like that? They were our friends!"
She stopped, almost expecting a response, but was met with nothing but the muffled chirps of birds outside. When no reply came from the unconscious country stallion, she hobbled her way towards him lightly until she was sitting right beside him. Though he was asleep, his ears still twitched involuntarily in reaction to the sounds of his environment. Seeing this, Radiance drew her face close to them and spoke.
"If anything happens to them," she began, trying to find the words to say through her visible grief and anger, "I….."
She stopped. Her lips trembled so much, she couldn't speak. With a huff she limped back to her corner of the barn and laid down in the hay pile. Part of her knew that she was angry at him for much more than what was going on and it was about time they had a talk. Bismarck continued to remain silent.
'I'll wait for him to wake up,' she thought to herself. 'Then I'll confront him.'
Brushing her light blue hair out of her face, she sat and waited for him to awaken. Minutes passed and eventually drained into hours, yet the orange stallion remained out-cold. Exhausted and broken physically and mentally, Radiance began to drift into a deep sleep. Little by little, the once-brightening barn began to grow dark until the shadow of the dream overcame her. After sleeping for a while, the dream world became pitch black, leaving her unable to move.
Whispers spoke to her.
Clawing, biting, gnawing at her mind, they taunted her.
"No," she mumbled as her body shuffled in her sleep. "No!"
The atmosphere lit up as if a flare of white light had illuminated the darkness around her while images of her past played before her like a slide-reel. On all sides, the flickering and shadowy forms of her friends stood, staring at her with dead eyes. The air grew cold and the sky became grey while crystals of ice formed over them, encasing them in spiny icicles. Terror struck Radiance, making her spin around to run away until her friends blocked her path. They continued to stand where they were until the icy figure of Bismarck stepped closer.
"Don't take another step," Radiance yelled at him, trying to hide her fear, "or I'll hurt you!"
Pseudo-Bismarck grinned maliciously with a glint in his dark eyes.
"Take your best shot," he replied, daring her with a raspy yet deep voice.
Radiance trembled slightly. She couldn't hurt her friend, but she knew she had no other choice.
"Come on!" the figure taunted. "I'm sure you'd love to take a swing at me. What are you waiting for? I'm right here!"
Radiance's eyebrows dug low into her eyes while her legs anchored into the ground. She was not going to back down to anypony.
"I said," she repeated with stronger confidence in her voice, "don't take another step!"
The icy Bismarck drew closer, unthreatened by her warnings. As her horn began to glow a bright blue, the shadow's speed grew until he was running at her in a full gallop. Radiance shielded herself with a bubble of magic but as soon as the creature touched it, the barrier shattered in front of her while it jumped at her with gnashing teeth. The glowing light above her faltered and extinguished, leaving a terrified Radiance alone with her attacker. She screamed.
"Shhh!!!" an unidentified voice hissed, covering her mouth. "They'll hear ya!"
Radiance thrashed around and struggled to break free of the mysterious grip, but it held on tight. She tried to scream again but whatever held her down was keeping her from making a sound. A voice tried to calm her while she fought and held her close.
"It's okay," the familiar voice reassured, "it's okay, Radiance. Yer safe."
The dizzy world of reality faded in and replaced the dark horrors of dreams with light. Disoriented and unsure where she was, Radiance spun her head to see who was holding her still. The yellow shine of the now-morning sun shooting from a far-away window gleamed against the dark orange coat of Bismarck and surrounded him with an almost angelic aura. With the icy cold world of nightmares finally over, Radiance hugged him tightly.
"Thank Luna it was just a dream!" she cried, squeezing him.
Bismarck looked down at her in surprise. It had been a while since she had hugged him like this. Everything in him wanted so say something sarcastic about it, but it did not feel right. Instead, he returned it and continued to comfort her.
"We're safe," he repeated. "It's over now."
As they held each other, a stabbing pain shot through Radiance's body like lightning. It was her broken leg and every bit of movement stung like knives, making her clench her teeth. As she leaned forward to move it, Bismarck pushed her back down.
"Relax," he said calmly, "you shouldn't be movin' around with that broken leg."
Radiance groaned from the pain.
"What, you're a doctor too?"
Apparently she had no problem with sarcasm.
"Comes with bein' an Apple," he replied with a smile as he double-checked the splint. "Just 'cause mah talent is rodeo performin' doesn't mean ah can't be incredible at everythin' else."
Radiance rolled her eyes.
"You also didn't pick up modesty from the family, that's for sure."
"Well shoot," Bismarck replied with a smirk, "it looks like we've got us a comedian here. You should abandon the whole modelin' career and just go fer stand-up comedy."
Radiance smiled back for the first time in what seemed like an eternity. It was hard to believe that just the other day they had ended up here. The grin eventually faded, however, and soon enough she began to remember why she was upset with him. After a while, she said nothing while he made sure she was bandaged up. As he worked on the injury, Bismarck could feel the tension in her face. He knew something was bothering her.
"Radiance," he said with concern, "what's going on?"
Radiance said nothing.
"Come on, now, don't do that. Say somethin'."
"I have nothing to say," she replied coldly.
Bismarck's face contorted, surprised by her bluntness. This was not the friend he had grown up with. Not at this moment. Bismarck knew her, though. He could read her like a book as he had spent too many days at Rarity's house as a colt to not notice when her daughter was upset.
"Ah know this is about more than the twins," he said, standing up. "Ah think that deep down, you know they are okay, just like ah know. Ya trust 'em and believe in 'em too."
Radiance's silence continued to grate on his patience like a scratching chalkboard. Bismarck shook his head.
"No," he continued, getting a bit more fired up, "this is more than that. Ya want to be angry at me. Yer usin' this to get at me for all yer frustrations, as if ah did all this! As if ah destroyed our friendship!"
Radiance tried to stand as well but was only stopped by her leg. Her cool-blue mane and white coat seemingly began to glow a light red as her face grew angrier.
"You did destroy our friendship!" she yelled back with fury to a surprised Bismarck. "You've gotten so caught up in your own ego that you completely forgot about everypony else! What about your brother? He thinks the world of you and you're always somewhere doing your stupid rodeos! Do you know how little you've been there for him? For me?"
Hot mist hissed out of Bismarck's nostrils in defense, a rare instance of uncharacteristic anger. A true Apple, nothing else got on his bad side than bringing his family into arguments.
"Don'tcha get on my case about family! If you spent half as much time with yer own family as you do with those namby-pamby stuck-ups at Canterlot, you'd be daughter of the year!"
"You're one to talk about stuck-ups, mister country 'heart-throb!'" Radiance shot back. "You act like a real bigshot with everypony you know and you're so full of yourself to the point that you've had more mares hanging on you than Hugh Heifer! You may think I do nothing but go to fashion shows and formal banquets, but at least I care about other ponies! Remember when Andromeda moved to Canterlot that summer to be Princess Celestia's pupil? Where were you? Oh, now I remember! You had a big show and didn't make it to say goodbye, because that's what you do! You are so obsessed with being in the spotlight that you ignore everything but yourself! I'm actually there for other ponies to help them out when they need me! You, on the other hoof, are the most egotistical, compulsive, ignorant narcissist I've ever met!"
"Well at least ah don't hide mah own insecurities behind a bunch of fancy words and too much makeup!" Bismarck retorted. "Ah'd rather be called a narcissist than 'pretentious' like you! You pretend like yer this humble mare who just so happens to be the most gorgeous thing around and you act all self-righteous around everypony else, but deep down yer just a spoiled brat! And don't get on me about the spotlight! You've spent yer whole career looking pretty and bathing in self-glory while ah've had to fight mah way to the top and work my flank off day after day to remain competitive. So ah like mah job, ah admit it, but at least ah'm not some fancy version of a hooker who thinks she's some profound charity worker and philanthropist! You were an only child to the most pompous mare in Ponyville who gave you everything you ever wanted and yer just just as bad as her. No wait! Yer worse! At least Rarity is honest about her vanity! Yer so fake that sometimes ah wonder how Horsebro hasn't made a plastic toy collection about you! So there you go! You've finally vented all yer pent-up frustrations against me and shown me the errors of mah ways! You happy?"
Bismarck stopped to catch a breath, waiting for the next wave of hurtful, sharp words. Radiance said nothing as the barn became deathly quiet. The tension could be felt in the very air that felt heavy over them. Radiance's blue eyes shimmered slightly, on the brink of tears, but she was composed enough to fight them back. Bismarck couldn't tell if they were sorrowful or enraged or both. Either way, a pit made its way to his stomach. Never before had he felt so horrid and so despicable that one of his oldest friends could look at him in disgust like she was now.
Bismarck leaned against a wooden beam and fell to the floor. Removing his hat, he laid it down and stared at it for several seconds. Ironically, Rarity gave it to him as a birthday gift many years ago. All their lives, they had grown up together. They were the son and daughter of Equestrian heroes but at this moment, nothing about either of them felt heroic.
"Ah'm sorry, Radiance," Bismarck whispered with regretful sorrow. "Ah'm sorry…fer everything."
Visions of the past played through their minds. Though this was not their first argument, it felt the most painful. After so many years, their friendship had become more and more bitter. Radiance closed her eyes tightly.
"What happened to us, Bismarck?" she asked somberly. "How could we come to...actually start to dislike each other…after all we've been through?"
Bismarck got up again and made his way to the barn door and creaked it open. Big Macintosh and Applejack must have already left to harvest the apples, much to their luck. Returning his attention to his friend, he shook his head.
"Ah don't even know anymore."
Far below them, Ponyville looked just as quiet as Tempest and Flora had always known it. Had it not been the crazy stories that their mothers had, one would never guess anything exciting ever occurred in this tiny village. As they searched high above, it wasn't long until they spotted two pink-colored ponies wandering around the edge of town. The two pegasi dove towards the ground towards them.
"Berry, Cherry!" Tempest shouted as he hit the ground next to them. "You're here!"
The twins jumped from surprise before Cherry found herself tackled by an excited Flora.
"Thank goodness you're okay!" Flora cried as she squeezed her friend. "Were you hurt? Did you get caught in the storm?"
After the moment of shock disappeared, Cherry hugged her back and giggled, pushing Flora's green hair out of the way.
"Yes, we're fine! I missed you!"
"I missed you too!" Flora squealed.
Tempest and Berry shook their heads from the sight of the two young mares squealing like excited school fillies and chuckled.
"Mares, right?" Tempest quipped before Berry gave him an unexpected hug.
"You have no idea how glad we are to see you!" the pink stallion said with a laugh. "We were afraid you guys got hurt too!"
"Hurt?" Flora asked, still on the ground with arms around Cherry. "You guys were injured too?"
Berry's smile faltered as he showed the cut he had sustained after the time-jump. The blood clot was healing but it was still dark and tender. It still looked bad.
"Radiance got the worst of it," he replied grimly. "She broke her leg when we got teleported to Sweet Apple Acres."
Flora covered her mouth in empathy. The sight of blood and injuries always made her feel uneasy and horrible.
"A broken leg?" she cried. "How? Is she alright? Where is she?"
"We don't know," Cherry said, answering the last three questions. "We got separated when the storm hit. She was with Bismack when we last saw her."
"Bismarck is here too?" Tempest asked. "And you said you were transported to Sweet Apple Acres?"
Just then, a bolt of realization shot through Tempest as he opened his wings quickly.
"I know where he is!" he said suddenly. "Flora, take Berry and Cherry back to Zecora's. They need to speak with Andromeda. I'm going to the Apple barn to look for Bismarck and Radiance. As soon as I bring them to the hut, we'll continue looking for Peach and the boys, okay?
"Got it," Flora replied. "Good luck. Please find them!"
Tempest nodded and sprinted as fast as he could for a short while before ascending and rocketing towards Sweet Apple Acres. The speed of his launch created a ripple in the sky above, catching the attention of Ponyville. As soon as Tempest had taken off, he began to notice all of the ponies below watching him. He had no idea that he was going so fast and looked back to see the swirling clouds above him ripple in his wake. So caught was he in his focus on finding his friends that he had no idea just how massive of a mistake he had committed. Little did he know that a set of magenta eyes watched his every move with keen interest and curiosity.
"Oh no," Cherry said worryingly as she began to notice several dozen ponies all staring at Tempest's flight, "we need to keep moving to we don't draw more attention!"
Flora looked up for another moment and then back to her friends.
"We need to get going fast. You two look too much like your mom to not be noticeable. Let's go!"
The three ponies walked through Ponyville at a brisk pace, trying to get to Everfree Forest quickly without raising suspicion. Fortunately for them, it didn't take long before everypony else was no longer paying any more attention to the sky and had already returned to their normal routines. As they eventually reached Zecora's home, the twins looked on in awe.
"Wow," they whispered simultaneously as they approached the much-changed hut.
Before entering first, Flora turned towards them and winked.
"She knows our secret, so don't worry about hiding. She has been very hospitable."
The three stepped inside to see a familiar sight and smell. While Berry and Cherry were caught in nostalgia, Flora looked for the others.
"Andromeda, Zecora," she called out, "look who I found!"
Zecora arrived from the backroom, carrying a small vial, but as soon as she saw the Pie twins, her mouth flew open in astonishment. The glass shattered on the ground, but she did not seem to care.
"So she had twins? How can this be?" she said, still dazed from the sight of two blue-eyed pink ponies before her. "First there was one, but now there's three!"
Auntie Zecora," the twins replied happily, "it's so great to see you again!"
The zebra smiled at their enthusiasm. They were definitely Pinkie Pie's kids.
"It's so good to meet the both of you! This day has been a dream come-true. Please, take a seat for you must ache and have some food for heaven's sake."
Berry and Cherry nodded with appreciation and split up. Cherry, exhausted from a horrible night of scary dreams, found a pillow and rested. She had no idea just how tired she really was until now and just opening her eyes felt like a strain. Berry's stomach growled loudly and seemed to lead him to the food on the table that Zecora had left. He was famished and felt like eating the table itself, but held back out of courtesy. Zecora sat down next to him and began to notice his wound. Placing her hoof next to it, she studied it as he ate.
"Your wound is deep and filled with dirt..."
She turned to grab some medicine and returned as swiftly as she had left.
"…so I'm afraid that this will hurt."
Before Berry could prepare himself or protest, she slapped the lemony-salt-smelling concoction onto his cut. Berry's mouth nearly released the food he was beginning to chew and quivered lightly. The pain shot through his body, leaving him speechless. After a while the medicine began to work its magic and little-by-little the ugly wound was beginning to look minor. Berry's baby blue eyes remained fixed on the process, suddenly forgetting his hunger.
"Thank you, Zecora," he said with gratitude and surprise.
The door flung open as Andromeda arrived before the zebra could respond. She had a basket full of various herbs and flowers from the forest. Spotting the twins, she jumped for joy.
"You're safe!" she cried. "We were so worried about you guys!"
Cherry and Berry couldn't hold their joy a minute longer and hugged Andromeda tightly. Zecora watched from the side with a sense of wonder at the though of the children of her friends standing before her, young adult mares and stallions of their own. Andromeda grabbed Berry by the shoulders and looked him in the eyes with hope.
"Did you see Orion anywhere? Is he okay?"
"They're in Ponyville," he answered. "We overheard Scootaloo, Apple Bloom, and Sweetie Belle talking about three new foals in town who were wearing CMC capes."
A feeling of relief rushed through Andromeda as her grip on Berry's shoulders relaxed.
"Thank Celestia!" she said happily. "Did they say were they went?"
"We don't know where Orion is yet," Flora answered, "but we'll find him. I'll bet he's with Peach and Bucky. Tempest is looking for Bismarck and Radiance right now. Berry and Cherry got separated from them when they got here."
Andromeda remained quiet while she tried to collect all the information. After a few seconds, the leadership of Twilight began to kick in.
"Okay, we've got to get a plan together. Berry, Cherry, since you two look the most like your mother, you are going to have to lay low for a while. Plus, you act way too much like Pinkie Pie. We can't risk drawing attention to you guys."
"Does this mean we have to hide in this hut?" Berry asked.
Both twins groaned at the thought of staying inside while the rest of their friends walked around Ponyville searching for the foals.
"It's just until we find the Crusaders," Andromeda explained. "As soon as we have them, we'll be taking them back here."
"And what about you?" Flora asked. "You said you were staying here in the hut as well."
Andromeda picked up the basket with her magic and removed its contents for her friends to see. Various aromas from the herbs and flowers became noticeable as they floated in the air.
"Zecora has a potion that can allow a pony to change color. It requires magic to upkeep but I'm a unicorn, so that will not be a problem. As soon as we can make it, I'll help with the search. The sooner we find them, the sooner we can go home."
Berry reluctantly agreed. He hated staying in one place for too long and so did his sister. Moving on with her plan, Andromeda turned her attention to Flora.
"Flora, continue to look for the foals. Tempest may be returning soon with Bismarck and Radiance, so while he's doing that, you can see if you can bring them back as well. Can you do that for me?"
Flora looked back at her with a gleam in her aqua-colored eyes.
Meanwhile, another Pegasus now stood in the clouds, watching everything below. This newcomer was speedy but he was on her turf now. Soon he would see why she had become renowned throughout Equestria for her skills.
"It looks like there's a new challenger in town," she said with a grin.