Chapter 15: Saviors and Secrets (First draft. Final version in the works)
Bismarck took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. His eyes wandered around the large interior of the barn and, for the first time, remembered. Despite the horrors of the storm, the situation of the unexpected time travel, the injuries, and the mounting tension between him and his best friend, he was home. Somehow, deep inside, this place calmed him. Sweet Apple Acres was his sanctuary and no other place in the world could replace it. Even as a foal, he loved Ponyville in a way few others did. Looking across the barn, he could see things had probably not changed much in the past twenty or so years. It was nearly exact same as it was in the future. Reality returned to his focus once more and weighed on him in the form of a heavy sigh when his gaze met Radiance's. The white unicorn now lay on the ground, back turned to him. Bismarck got up.
'Ah wish this situation was just a bad dream,' he thought, 'but it isn't. We're going to have to figure out how we can make things right again.'
Before he could say something to her, the sound of rattling and bumping in the distance interrupted the deafening silence of the illuminated barn. It was incredibly faint, inaudible to Radiance, but Bismarck's body straightened up quickly at the quiet din. His ears twitched slightly and listening at the familiar sound while his eyes grew wide.
"What is that?" he said to himself as he made his way to the crack in the front door.
Peering through, he could see two ponies approaching the barn with a wooden cart. It was a red stallion and an orange mare. Bismarck's chestnut hair stood on the back of his neck in panic.
"We have to hide!" he half-whispered as he ran towards Radiance.
Not knowing what was going on, Radiance shoved him back when he tried to pick her up.
"What are you doing?" she cried out. "Let me go!"
"Shhhhh!" Bismarck hissed. "Mah mom and uncle are back early! We need to get out of sight!"
With a powerful scoop, the orange stallion threw her on his back and began to look around for somewhere to keep out of sight. The barn was very wide-open with few places to hide, save for a single hay pile and the pens. They would have to do. Gently, he placed Radiance in the pile, trying to avoid hurting her leg. Once she was settled in, Bismarck's heart sank in sudden realization; there was not enough hay to hide the both of them. The pens were a poor substitute but he had no choice. They were his only option.
"Be very still," he told her softly, spinning his head behind him to make sure they weren't being watched. "Ah can't hide in there with you, so ah'll be in the pens."
Radiance nodded. A look of worry had now replaced her anger as well as his. The two stared at each other for another moment before the sound of Applejack made Bismarck jump towards his hiding spot. Radiance held her breath as his tail barely made its way behind the wooden pens when the noise from the carts stopped outside of the barn door. The two uninvited guests hid as low as possible while the Apples spoke.
"How in Equestria could you have forgotten yer horsecollar?" Applejack asked loudly. "You never ferget yer horsecollar. Heck, sometimes ah feel half of Ponyville hasn't seen you without it in years!"
"Probably," the stallion-of-few-words Big Macintosh replied as he began to open the doors.
Light from the real world beamed inside the barn and immediately brightened the room, filling the cool interior with warmth and vibrance. Underneath the hay, Radiance hoped her protection would shield her from the sun's spotlight once Applejack and Big Macintosh entered the room to search for the horsecollar. Fear and excitement combined inside Bismarck as they made their way inside. Part of him desperately wanted to take a look at his younger mom and uncle, but could not risk it and remained unseen. He would have to listen instead.
Meanwhile, high above Ponyville, Tempest rocketed towards the barn with great velocity. Though stealth was supposed to be the plan, something inside him felt very wrong. For some reason unknown to him, it was as if a sixth sense was pushing him to arrive as soon as possible. It took him only a few seconds to reach Sweet Apple Acres and from the clouds, everything seemed peaceful. His gut felt otherwise.
"I'm coming guys," he said aloud as he dove towards the side of the barn.
Once Big Macintosh and Applejack had fully entered the barn, he approached silently overhead. Landing softly, he placed his ear on the wooden walls and listened. The earth pony siblings continued to speak and search for the horsecollar, unaware of their guests from the future.
"Where did you put it?" AJ asked her brother. "Ah don't see it hangin' up."
Big Macintosh shrugged quietly, frustrating her further.
"Ya know," she said with mild aggravation, "one of these days yer going to have to say more than a dozen words a day."
"Alright, sis. Ya really wanna hear me talk?"
"Yes," Applejack replied with a light-hearted imitation of his voice, "ah really wanna hear you talk! You've had yer head in the clouds ever since the field day events yesterday. What's goin' on?"
Big Macintosh paused a moment.
"Ah met a young colt named Bucky."
He stopped and continued to look around. Radiance peered through the hay to see Applejack stop in her tracks to wait for the rest. It was as if she had to goad her big brother to finish a thought.
"That's about it."
"Big Macintosh," she continued, rubbing her eyes in frustration of his condensed summaries, "ah love ya, but you have got to be more descriptive. You have nothin' else to say about him? What made this colt so unique?"
Radiance covered her mouth and tried not to giggle. Even as a young mare, Applejack hadn't changed a bit and Bismarck took after his mother like nopony else. Both were so calm and so smooth by nature, but annoy them enough and it was like a bottle of pent-up aggravation just poured out. It was not blunt like RD, but it was still to the point.
"He had a country accent," Big Macintosh answered matter-of-factly, "with a yellow coat, green eyes, and orange hair."
'It is Bucky!' Bismarck thought to himself as he listened intently to every word. 'He's here! He's okay!'
"What's so unusual about that?" AJ continued to question. "A lot of ponies talk like us and most of Appleloosa alone has Apple colors. We're not the only county family in Equestria, you know."
"Sure, but he had Apple family freckles too."
As the two discussed the identity of Ponyville's unusual visitor, Tempest snuck close to a window and peeked inside. His magenta eyes darted around the interior of the barn before spotting an orange stallion hiding in the stalls. It was Bismarck.
'I knew it! He's here! Now I just need to find a way to get his attention.'
Big Macintosh was growing closer to where his nephew was hiding and Bismarck could hear it with each approaching hoofstep. Beads of sweat began to appear on his brow in fear of discovery.
'I've got to do something!' Tempest thought, taking a quick scan of his surroundings.
"Ah've never heard of any Bucky in our family," Applejack said "You and ah both know a large chunk of our family by name, so if we don't know him, either he is a very distant relative or not related to us at all."
Tempest needed something that would distract the two Apple siblings long enough for him to get Bismarck out of there. Looking up, his eyes spotted the large apple weathervane that stood tall at the top of the barn. Seeing an opportunity, he crouched low and jumped hard to gain as much momentum as possible and landed next to it. It was large, but nothing he couldn't handle.
"Alright, Applejack," he said to himself as he turned his flank towards the vane, "let's see if your apple bucking tips paid off after all."
With a deep breath, he reared back and kicked it as hard as he could, sending the metal apple sheet flying off of its perch and spinning towards the cornfield like a buzz saw, shattering a fence, and ripping up the ground and all produce it its wake. The loud racket echoed throughout the barn, grabbing the attention of Big Macintosh and Applejack.
"What the blazes is goin' on?" Applejack shouted as they ran out to see what the commotion was.
Tempest watched from atop the barn to see the two frantically make their way to assess the damage. It was the perfect distraction.
'Nothing like vandalism to grab somepony's attention,' he thought to himself while he made his way to his friends. 'Sorry, AJ.'
"Bismarck!" he whispered loudly after he had snuck in, trying not to be heard, "Radiance! It's me, Tempest!"
Bismarck popped out of his hiding spot with a look of shock.
"Tempest! How did ya find us?"
Tempest looked back at Big Macintosh and Applejack with nervous caution.
"No time. Let's talk about that later. We have to go! Now!"
"Ah can leave on mah own, but you need to get Radiance out of here first," Bismarck replied. "She's been hurt badly."
With a slight rustle, Radiance popped her head out of the hay pile.
"Hey Tempest," she said with a pleasant-looking wince, "would you mind helping a girl out? I've got a bad case of fractured femur over here."
Tempest and Bismarck made their way towards the white unicorn and took hold of her. Slowly, they pulled her onto Tempest's back. Her body was limp and the pain in her leg felt unbearable, but she had enough strength to hold on. Once she was set, Bismarck peaked around the corner of the barn entrance and looked for his family. Two country ponies could be seen in the distance but they were far enough for it to be safe to leave.
"The coast is clear," he reported. "We're goin' to have to go now, Tempest."
With a grunt, Tempest made his way to the entrance. Spreading his powder blue wings, he prepared for liftoff. Bismarck's saw the damage and stepped in the way.
"Tempest, your wing," he said, pointing to where his feathers had been burnt off and were now slowly growing back. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine. It's already been healed. They're long enough for me to still fly again."
Bismarck said nothing and reluctantly nodded before stepping aside. Tempest spun his head to check up on Radiance.
"Ready?" he asked her with a wink.
"You know it. And please, no flips this time."
"Ah, you're no fun," Tempest laughed before turning his attention to Bismarck. "Okay, Andromeda and the rest are at Zecora's, so meet me there."
Bismarck placed his hoof on his friend's shoulder. Tempest expected a joke or a smile, but the country stallion's facial expression was more serious than he was accustomed to. His emerald eyes now looked jaded and weary.
"Take care of her," he said with genuine concern.
"I will. I promise."
Bismarck nodded and peaked around the corner one last time to double-check on his mother and uncle. Still gathering the pieces of the shattered fence, it looked like they would still be busy for some time.
"Let's go!" he said with sudden command, motioning for them to move.
Taking the moment as an opportune time, he bolted around the barn and ran into the forest while Tempest took off as quickly as the added weight and frailty would allow him. Thanks to his now-shorter feathers, he would have to take off faster, much to Radiance's dismay. She held on tightly in fear throughout the entire liftoff until they finally made it to the lower cloud layer.
"Slow down, Tempest!" she yelled, feeling airsick. "You know I hate flying!"
Tempest looked back at her and pointed towards his ears, pretending he couldn't hear her over the sound of the wind before she smacked him in the back of the head, slowing him down immediately. Tempest always flew too fast for her liking and just because he said he'd take care of her didn't mean he'd go slowly. Once her stomach had stopped doing somersaults, Radiance looked down at the tiny scenery beneath her. Far below, the large red barn began to shrink to the size of a marble until it was no longer in sight.
'That barn has held so many good memories,' she thought to herself.
She could see Bismarck in the distance and suddenly her heart felt heavier than the butterflies that flying was giving her. As he disappeared under the green foliage of the forest, she sighed.
'And now some bad ones too.'
While making their way to Everfree Forest, Radiance began to feel odd. Tempest had not spoken a word since after they had taken off. Though not quite as talkative as the Pie twins, he always found some way of making conversation. Any time he held back was a sign of pensive reasons, just like his mother. Even though Rainbow Dash was always an act-before-you-think mare, she was smarter than even she admitted. That was Tempest to a tee.
"You know, don't you?" Radiance said quietly enough for the wind to drown out her voice. "You have that instinct that tells you when something's up. I know you do."
The two remained silent for the rest of the short trip until Tempest finally found the hut. Once they landed near Zecora's, he stopped and looked back at Radiance.
"So what was that all about, Radiance? I've never seen Bismarck that…"
"What?" Radiance said, cutting off a question she knew he would ask. "Serious?"
"Yes. Serious," Tempest replied, his fixed magenta eyes glancing back at her, "and hurt. I haven't seen him look this torn up in a long time."
"He didn't say anything."
"Come on, Radiance, he didn't need to. I've known Bismarck all my life, nearly as long as you have. Something is going on with him. He barely said a word to me outside of telling me to get you out of there. Whatever happened before I arrived, it's bothering him and it shows."
He paused a moment, trying to ask her what he was thinking delicately.
"What were you guys doing before I found you?"
Radiance couldn't respond.
'What could I say?' she thought to herself. 'Bismarck and I are arguing again? Our friendship is in danger?'
"I don't want to talk about it," she finally decided to say.
Tempest stared at her with a look of pure irritation and disbelief. Radiance could tell he wasn't buying her shallow vow of secrecy for a minute.
'She's usually an open book, but now she's tight-lipped? This situation stinks worse than Sweetie Belle's cooking.'
Tempest squinted at her with intense focus, making her fidget before his eyes shifted back to their destination.
"Alright, then. Have it your way," he replied caustically, continuing to carry her to the hut. "Why tell me, right? I mean, I'm only your best friend, after all."
"Please don't do that to me, Tempest."
Tempest grunted and opened the door.
"We're back!" he called out, expecting somepony to be there to meet them.
Stepping inside, he set Radiance down beside the large cauldron and looked around.
"Anypony here?" he yelled again.
Once again there was no response. Radiance felt uneasy from the quiet.
"Are you sure they're here?" she asked.
"Absolutely. I was here this morning. Andromeda and the twins should be here with Zecora and Flora might still be looking for the kids. Somepony would have left a note somewhere saying they were leaving."
The blue Pegasus continued to search the small hut. He quickly found a passed-out Berry on the floor, drooling in his sleep while Cherry slept in the bed beside him. Tempest breathed a sigh of relief and returned to his friend.
"Found the twins," he reported happily. "They're asleep in the bedroom. They must have been exhausted. I heard it was pretty rough in the storm."
"Yeah, it was," Radiance said, trying to forget. "It wasn't just the storm that was rough. We nearly lost Berry and Cherry in it. I…."
She stopped. Tempest knew that she was notoriously strong-willed for being the daughter of Rarity, but today was proving to show a side of her he did not often see. He saw the expression on her face and felt sorry, but his curiosity was too great. He needed answers. A few seconds of silence felt like an eternity before he impatiently spoke up again.
"I'm sorry for bringing this up again," he said, getting back to what they were speaking of earlier, "but I just don't get it. You and Bismarck have been friends for years! We all grew up together. We played games and went to each other's birthday parties as foals. You, me, and Bismarck did everything together. Heck, he was the reason I got my cutie mark! What changed?"
"You wouldn't understand, Tempest. Things are a lot more complicated than you realize."
"I understand that you guys have changed, that's for sure. You guys still laugh and joke around like you always did, but something's different now. I miss the old Radiance and Bismarck. Don't you?"
Radiance heard his words but felt like she had not listened. The concept seemed to take its time within her mind before her lips responded without her thinking.
"Yes, Tempest," she said suddenly, "Yes, I do miss those days."
As she spoke, memory returned to her and brightened her face with the small flicker of a smile, leaving an intrigued Tempest trying to guess what it was.
"What?" he asked, trying not to smile back from her contagious grin. "What are you thinking about?"
"Nothing," Radiance replied with an obviously bad poker face.
"Wow, I haven't seen somepony do so horrible of a job hiding something since Applejack ate half of the fritters at the last family reunion!"
"You're such a smart-aleck, you know that, Tempest?"
"It's what I do," he said proudly. "Now you going to keep giving me a bad bluff again or am I just going to have to keep asking until your leg gets better. It's not like you can run away, now is it?"
"Fine, fine, you win. I'll talk!"
Tapping her hoof on the floor next to where she sat, she motioned him to sit next to her. With a triumphant trot, he made his way to her and rested on the floor beside her.
"If I tell you, will that get you off my back? My leg already hurts and I don't need a headache on top of that."
"I'll be quiet as a mouse," Tempest teased, shutting his lips tightly.
"Okay, I'll tell you. Did I ever tell you the time Bismarck and I got in a hoof-fight?"
Tempest angrily stood back up again, his spiked blue hair straighter than usual.
"He did what?" he nearly yelled. "You and Bismarck fought each other? Why would he do such a thing?"
Radiance laughed and pulled him back down again.
"No, no, no, not with each other! We fought together!"
"I have never heard that before! When was this?"
"A little over a year ago," Radiance explained. "Bismarck had a big rodeo going on in Manehatten and I just so happened to be in town doing a modeling job, so when I got finished, I went to see him perform. None of you guys were able to come, so I was the only one from Ponyville there. Bismarck's parents didn't make it either because Bucky came down with a bad illness and was in the hospital."
"I remember that," Tempest said. "The griffon flu, right? I heard it can get really serious."
"It can," Radiance continued, "and it was. Bucky needed a lot of care and Bismarck was a mess that night. I could tell he didn't want to be there but he knew his family needed the money. And you know what?"
A twinkle shone in her sapphire eyes.
"Never in my life had I seen him do so well. Event after event, Bismarck destroyed the competition. He ended up winning by a huge margin that night, so I decided to go congratulate him after the show. When I found him, he was surrounded by four other angry rodeo stallions. Bismarck had made them look like fools and they wanted payback!"
"Bismarck never said anything about that," Tempest said with tinge of doubt in his voice. "Why would he keep it a secret?"
Radiance grinned with a look of pride
"Maybe it's because he was saved by a mare," she said.
"So you saved Bismarck? I'm shocked he's lived it down."
"Well, maybe not entirely. He put up a good fight and was able to knock two of them out quickly, but four is a lot for one stallion to hold off, so I jumped in and lent a hoof."
"Then what happened?" Tempest asked, ignoring the opening front door.
"Not much else," an entering Bismarck said calmly. "Ah took Radiance to the doctor and then went home to visit mah brother in the hospital."
"Bismarck!" a voice yelled from out of nowhere. "I missed you!"
Before Radiance or Tempest could even turn around to see what was going on, Cherry had already sprinted towards Bismarck and given him a bear hug.
"Easy, easy!" Bismarck laughed. "Ah missed you too! Are you and yer brother okay? Ah'm really sorry ah couldn't make it back to look fer you. You have no idea how scared ah was."
"It's okay!" she said "We're fine! We thought you guys were done for too!"
"Sheesh," Tempest chuckled, "we've got to all get back together at once so we can stop all these reunions."
Radiance punched him in the arm playfully.
"Shut up, Tempest. Just admit you missed me."
"Well," Tempest said, pretending to think about it, "maybe a little."
The two laughed and continued to laugh when Berry walked around the corner with serious bed-hair. The group was almost together now. The eldest children of Rainbow Dash, Pinkie Pie, Rarity, and Applejack now stood in the room and soon Fluttershy and Twilight's daughters would return and the group would finally be together once more. Radiance watched all around her as friends spoke to each other as if separated for years. Something about these events, this time jump, changed them, but now it was over and laughter filled the small hut.
"So," Tempest said as he made his way to Bismarck, "it took you long enough to catch up. I was afraid you'd broken your own leg on the way here."
Bismarck smiled lightly with a small chuckle, but seemed out of it, as if his mind was somewhere else. Perhaps his short alone had gotten him thinking. For the first time, Tempest felt uneasy from how his friends were acting. They seemed cheerful and such, but he could tell there was more going on. Taking a step back, he decided to watch his friend's interactions. Cherry wasted no time in immediately talking Bismarck's ears off, but it was plain to see that the country stallion was distracted. Tempest's mind and gaze returned to Radiance, who was still sitting down, now by Berry, and watched her own tendencies and reactions. She smiled and did more talking than Bismarck, but her grin seemed forced.
'What are you two hiding?' Tempest thought to himself.
Something was very wrong and her story seemed like a cover up for something much bigger than she was letting on. Even more so, Bismarck was unnaturally distant all of a sudden. Saying nothing, Tempest continued to stand there, waiting, until the door opened once more to reveal Zecora and Andromeda. As soon as the newest wave of reunions were out of the way, he could no longer keep his thoughts a secret and approached the one pony he trusted more than any other.
"I need to talk to you," he said to Andromeda without looking at her.
"Talk to me?" the purple unicorn said with a puzzled look. "About what?"
Tempest turned to see Radiance talking with Zecora and then back to Andromeda.
"Not here. Outside."
Andromeda followed her friend outside far enough to be unheard by Zecora's new guests and stopped when he did. Tempest shook his head and paced in front of her, worrying her.
"What's going on?" she asked.
Tempest paced for a bit longer. Andromeda could see the gears in his head were turning, trying to get answers, resolution, anything.
'Uh oh,' she thought to herself, 'Tempest wouldn't just pull me aside for insignificant things. He's too stubborn for that. Something else is…'
"You trust me, right?" he asked quickly, interrupting her thought process.
"What?" she said, surprised by the unusual question. "Of course I do! You're my best friend."
"And you know I'm good at reading ponies."
"Yes, I know. What are you trying to tell me, Tempest? Just let it out."
Tempest marched up to her and stared with a powerful gaze, pointing towards the hut. Some of their friends could be seen talking inside through the small window.
"Something is wrong, Andromeda. I don't know why or how, but I feel it in my gut, and my gut is usually right."
"What's wrong? Why are you so worked up?"
"I've been watching Bismarck and Radiance," he said tensely, "and they've been acting strange. They're not themselves."
"What do you mean?"
"When I found them, I saw that Bismarck and Radiance look miserable together!" Tempest said with ardent inflection. "It was unlike anything I've ever seen, as if there's a war going on between the two!"
Andromeda scoffed lightly. Perhaps Zecora's potion was making him edgy.
"I saw them smiling and laughing when I walked in. They looked fine to me."
"Don't be fooled, Andi. There's a lot of tension between them out of nowhere."
Andromeda gave him a look that he knew too well. It was the surely-there-is-a-logical-explanation look.
"Bismarck and Radiance have always been two different ponies. They've been tense with each other for a while now. It's no different than the time Rarity and Applejack had a fallout at my mom's first sleepover party. They're complete opposites just like them!"
"Not like this," Tempest replied bluntly. "They're not just opposites; they're acting different, Bismarck especially. There's no humor or playfulness in him. When I met up with him at Sweet Apple Acres, he was as grim as old-man Cranky on a rainy day."
"I'm sorry to seem indifferent, Tempest, but so? We all have bitter moments from time to time."
"Sure we do," Tempest said, "but you were a Cutie Mark Crusader with him, Andromeda! You know that's not him. This is Bismarck we're talking about! Wise-cracking Bismarck who now looks like he was hit by a train emotionally. Then there's Radiance. She's hiding something behind her wit and model's smile. They may be talking and laughing like nothing is going on, but there is. I don't care how mad they've gotten with each other…there's something going on."
Andromeda didn't know what to say. Tempest was not the kind of stallion to gossip or even release his inner-thoughts like this. Whatever he was seeing, it was bothering him to the point of telling her. For know, however, he had no real evidence.
"I'm sorry, Tempest," she said, "but whatever is going on isn't our business. If there are issues between them, we shouldn't interfere. They've been through a lot right now. We all have. The past few days have been painful for all of us, physically and even emotionally. Maybe you're overreacting and it's just regular stress."
With a smile, she turned and began to walk back to Zecora's.
"Now come on," she said, "the rest of them are probably wondering why you rushed me out of the hut. As soon as we find the kids, we can go home."
Tempest stood there, thinking for another moment, shivering slightly in the suddenly cold afternoon air. Andromeda was his closest confidant and with her doubt, the Everfree Forest suddenly felt a lot more isolated. Premonition blanketed him like a heavy fog.
"I really hope you're right."