Chapter 17: Dejection and Darkness (First draft. Final version in the works)
Deep inside the Everfree Forest, far away from all civilization, the thundering echoes of magic roared over the ambient chirps of the hidden wildlife surrounding Andromeda and silenced their calls. Sweat poured down her forehead in icy streams as she breathed heavily. Her eyes were bloodshot and her legs felt weak underneath her exhausted body. Every ounce of her might was being channeled into her spell, but it continued to defeat her again and again until the resolve to use magic began to shatter inside of her.
“No, no, no!” she said aloud, shaking her head. “It has to work! It just has to!”
Dirt and moss covered her hooves as she shifted them into a braced position. Slowly, her horn began to glow from a bright yellow to a blinding white. A massive gust of wind blew everything around her like a small hurricane while sparks of blue electricity shot from her horn as usual. Everything seemed normal, but something still felt wrong. The wind was becoming far too powerful, making her strain to keep hold. Even worse, the electricity began to grow larger and hotter until finally, with a sudden zap of energy, it set a nearby bush ablaze. Andromeda immediately stopped the spell to put out the fire. Using a shielding spell to isolate the burning leaves and branches from the rest, she used it to deprive the fire of oxygen until it died out. As soon as it was extinguished, her fatigued legs collapsed from under her from using the last of her magical energy. There she lay, out of breath and exhausted, but above all else, horrified and angry.
“I can’t do it. I can’t do it! I can’t cast the spell.”
Her sunset eyes darted all around, desperately trying to come up with something, but no ideas came to her normally brilliant mind. Her very soul felt like it had been torn into a million pieces. The crowning achievement of her entire scientific career now lay in shambles before her, a merciless condemner to a life of failure. Despair weighed upon her with every thought of why she could not succeed in recasting the time-travel spell and was made worse by the fact that her best friends and little brother would forever be stuck in the past because of her.
“I tried, mom,” she whispered to herself, as if speaking to Twilight personally. “I tried to do something great….something that would make you proud….and….finally pull myself out of your shadow….but I failed”
Tears flowed down her cheeks like streams of suppressed self-loathing as her sobs lightly nodded her head back and forth on the ground. The feelings of inferiority weighed on her night and day and the last thing she wanted was for the others to see her like this. Gradually, sorrow began to subside and was replaced by anger. Hate and frustration filled her like a great wind of sudden regeneration and gave her the strength to slowly stand back up. She took a deep breath and with all her might, she screamed at the gangly trees that mocked her with their faceless gaze. The anguish of her voice seemingly shook the leaves themselves as it echoed through the dark forest, scaring a nearby flock of birds out of their camouflaged shelter. There were no words; only a long and powerful yell. Her throat began to feel scratchy from the outburst, but she wasn’t finished yet.
“I was never good enough!” she shouted again with shimmering tears blinding her sight. “I was never good enough for anypony! Every professor, every scientist, every big-money snob from Canterlot has constantly reminded me of your achievements and compared me to you! All I am is the daughter of Twilight Sparkle, the Equestrian hero, and nothing else!”
With a stagger, her legs caved in from under her once more, reuniting her body with the damp ground. Her body wanted to just remain motionless, but she was too angry to listen. She sniffed lightly and wiped her face from the mixture of tears and moss that clung to her and shook her head. She felt so much turmoil right now, but she knew that none of this was Twilight’s fault.
“I’m sorry, mom,” she muttered aloud. “I’m sorry that your daughter is a failure.”
“No,” a voice replied from behind her, “you’re not.”
Andromeda spun her head to see Berry leaving his hiding spot from behind a nearby tree. Andromeda hastily wiped the tears from her eyes.
“You’re worrying me, A,” Berry said. “Are you okay?”
“How long have you been standing there?”
Berry’s baby blue eyes stared at her, brows arched with deep concern.
“For a while now. I followed you when I saw you sneak away while Zecora was taking care of Radiance.”
“Then you heard…”
Andromeda didn’t know what to say. Her heart sunk even lower when she saw the pain in his face and spotted where he had sustained the cut from the time jump. While it was now mostly healed thanks to Zecora’s help, the wound was a deep one and the remains of it still showed on his pink coat. Andromeda tried to open her mouth to say something but couldn’t as Berry walked towards her. When he stood right beside her, he outstretched his hoof.
“Come on,” he said. “We’ll figure something out when we join up with the others.”
Andromeda stared at him for a moment and then at his hoof. She had now doomed him and the time continuum in one horrible mistake. Orion may have been the one to send them back in time, but it was her formula and her responsibility as its creator and as Orion’s older sister to make sure such a thing would never happen. And yet, Berry stood before her with an outstretched arm of forgiveness. Taking his hoof, she pulled herself back onto her shaking legs. As she stood up on her own, he gave her a hug, and without a second of hesitation, she squeezed him back.
“I’m sorry, Berry!”
“Don’t be. We’ll be okay,” he said as he held her. “I promise.”
After he let her go, Andromeda wiped her eye and nodded. Taking her arm around his neck, he supported her weight as they walked and made sure she didn’t fall while her strength slowly returned. It was a long ways to Zecora’s and Andromeda had a lot to think about. As they finally approached the hut, she finally spoke.
“Berry, can I ask you something?”
“When I left the hut to make sure I could still cast the time-traveling spell, how did you…”
“Know something was wrong?” Berry said, finishing her thought.
“Well,” he said, thinking about it, “I guess it’s because we’ve all been thrown into this situation without warning and every one of us has been hurting in one way or another since we got here. Everypony except you, that is.”
“Am I that obvious?” Andromeda asked, both jokingly and not.
“Maybe a little. I usually don’t catch little things like this but there’s something about you that reminds me of your mom. You both spend so much time being the leader that sometimes you forget that leaders can’t lead alone.”
Andromeda thought about it for a moment. Sometimes she forgot that she was often looked at as the leader of their group. She didn’t really understood why. Bismarck was far more confident than she was and seemed to be destined to be in control, and yet, he listened to her and acted as her number two instead.
“But what am I going to do?” she asked. “How am I going to tell the others that I can’t take us home?”
“I honestly don’t know,” Berry shrugged, “but I’ll help.”
Andromeda smiled. What would she do without him?
“Thank you, Berry, for everything. It’s always good to know that even when things seem bleak, you’re there to make things a little brighter.”
Berry nodded happily and opened the door for her. Before she entered, Andromeda took a deep breath. Whether she liked it or not, she really was the leader and she could not let herself get carried away with her own internal anxiety. She may not have felt like she was meant for it, but she did her best to deserve it. Once she had calmed down, the two walked in and saw Tempest leaned against the wall, watching the bedroom door where Radiance lay. Inside, Bismarck and Zecora remained by her side and took care of her.
“Oh my gosh!” Tempest exclaimed when he saw Andromeda and Berry walk in. “Are you two alright? You both look like your pets just died.”
“How is she doing, Tempest?” Andromeda asked, ignoring his comment.
Tempest backed off.
“Zecora said that there has been a lot of stress on her leg. If Radiance hadn’t used her magic to mend some of the extreme damage, it would have been a lot worse.”
Andromeda and Berry exhaled a sigh of relief.
“Also, there’s something I’ve noticed while you two have been gone. Bismarck hasn’t left her side since Zecora started treating her wounds.”
“Really?” Berry asked in shock. “What’d I miss when we got separated?”
The three ponies inched closer towards the door and saw Zecora putting on the final ointments onto Radiance’s leg. The white unicorn’s eyes were shut tight in reaction to the immense pain.
“Okay, that really stings,” she groaned. “I thought the pain was supposed to go away after a while.”
“The pain will soon subside, be sure,” Zecora explained. “For now, my child, you must endure. In order for your leg to heal, you must believe the pain’s not real.”
“Really?” Bismarck asked. “That works? Ah should have done that when ah broke mah leg. And mah arm. And mah other arm.”
“And Tempest’s arm!” Berry chimed in.
Tempest elbowed Berry in the ribs, nearly knocking the wind out of the surprised earth pony and forcing a happy laugh out of Radiance.
“Ouch,” she winced with a big grin. “Ah, it hurts to laugh.”
“How are you feeling, Radiance?” Andromeda asked. “Are you going to be okay?”
“Better, now that you’re all here. Can’t tell you how much I missed you guys.”
“We missed you too. Once Flora finds the kids, we can all be together again.”
“The sooner the better,” Radiance sighed when she saw Zecora start to prepare her cast.
“Get some rest. The rest of us are going to discuss the plan. For right now, just get better, okay?”
“Ugh, you sound like my mother.”
“Better than our mother,” Cherry piped in. “If we broke our leg, she’d tell us to smile it off!”
“Or make a game out of it,” Berry laughed. “Five points for every different story you tell when people ask how you broke your arm!”
“My record is 65 points in one day!”
Radiance laughed again until the pain stopped her.
“Darn it guys! Get out of here,” she smiled, “before I break another bone from laughter!”
The group said their “get-well-soon’s” and closed the door. In the living room, they gathered together.
“Okay guys,” Berry started, “Andromeda has something to say.”
Bismarck, the twins, and Tempest all turned towards Andromeda. Zecora sat in the corner and listened, but stayed out of the conversation unless called upon. All of a sudden, Andromeda didn’t know how to break the news. Her eyes snapped back at Berry, who motioned for her to continue. Clearing her coarse throat, she prayed it would be taken well.
“I just came back from the forest,” she started slowly, “where I was trying to cast the time travel spell that brought us here, and…”
All eyes were on her.
Pupils focused, bodies unmoving. Every ear was turned towards her. Andromeda took another breath.
“Something has gone wrong. I have been unable to cast the spell.”
Silence. Not a word was said. Berry looked around at the reactions of his friends. Bismarck rubbed the back of his neck. Cherry continued to stand absolutely still, possibly from shock. Tempest seemed to not believe it all and continued to lean against the wall where he was earlier without much nonverbal expression.
“Then what do we do now?” Bismarck finally asked, saying what everyone else was wondering.
“I don’t know, Bismarck. I don’t know.”
“If you can’t reuse the spell, then can you make another one?”
“Yes, I can, but it took me months just to upgrade the time travel spell that my mother had previously improved. Even then, I already had the notes that she had compiled, so I took her work and made it better. She spent several years of on-and-off research and experimentation to get as far as she did. I remember how to recreate what she did, but there’s a bigger problem now.”
“Oh no,” Cherry said. “What is it?”
Andromeda tried to think in layman’s terms. So many factors and scientific details were flying through her mind, but every formula, every statistic, and every theoretical possibility all pointed to bad news.
“When my mom tried to increase the duration of time travel,” she continued, “she spent all of her time on fixing the spell itself and wrote all of her findings in her notes. In order to overcome the limitations of the original, which only allowed the user to go back in time once, she had to change the very fabric of its core foundation.”
“How?” Bismarck asked with full attention to her every word.
“Her first breakthrough was finding out how to time jump multiple times. Her second was when she found a way to extend it from less than a minute to as much as a month, theoretically. The improvements backfired, though, and soon every new jump made the spell more and more unstable until she eventually quit using it when she began to experience harmful symptoms in her later tests.”
“Symptoms?” Cherry said with worry. “What kind of symptoms?”
“Fatigue, insomnia, memory-loss, first-degree burns, nausea, disorientation, and other side-effects. These are the same ones that we have all been subjected to. When I began my own work on the spell, I realized that it couldn’t be fixed because of how unpredictable and dangerous it was, but it could be countered with another spell.”
“What kind of spell?” Berry asked. “Is that the one you were trying to cast in the forest?”
“No, I was trying to use my mother’s improved spell. The one I created was a safeguard spell that acted like a safety net and a precaution to prevent anything from going wrong with the first one. With the two combined, I was finally able to time jump without being in danger. With it, I eliminated all side-effects that came with time travel.”
Andromeda was now pacing the floor rapidly to the point that her friends thought she’d dig a trench into the ground. Bismarck placed his hoof on her hand and stopped her.
“Then how did we end up here?” he asked. “Why are we feeling these effects?”
“My brother must have forgotten to cast the protection spell. There’s no other explanation. Besides the fact that I never expected even him to be so foolish as to try it himself, I thought it was safe anyway because of the massive amount of magic it takes. No colt his age should have ever been able to even jumpstart it at all! I have no idea how he was able to come up with enough energy to do it, but whatever he did, he underestimated the consequences. By ignoring the safeguard spell, he inadvertently sabotaged the original one.”
Bismarck raised an eyebrow and continued to scan Andromeda’s face. She wasn’t telling them everything.
“That’s great and all,” Bismarck said impatiently, “but what are you really wantin’ to tell us? You look more edgy than a squirrel that drank way too much coffee. What’s the bottom line?”
Andromeda’s legs trembled and her heart raced from what she knew she had to say. She wished she would just wake up from this nightmare, but this was all real and there was not a thing she could do to change it. She had to tell them the truth. Seeing her distress, Tempest pushed off the wall he was leaning on and stood up straight. For so many years, he had grown to be used to Andromeda’s paranoia and even found it a bit charming, but this was no ordinary situation. The way she fiddled with her hooves and stared at the ground scared him. In fact, it scared him a lot.
“Andromeda,” he said slowly, “what is the bottom line?”
Andromeda took a final deep breath and exhaled.
“Bottom line is, if we don’t return to our own time period soon,” she said with a raspy voice, “we could all die.”
Another deafening silence hit the room. Zecora’s heart broke when her eyes scanned around to see the conflicting emotion in the faces of her guests. They were so young, so full of life, but now their bright colors of orange, purple, blue, and pink seemed faded in the grayness of the moment. Seconds passed before any of them said a word.
“What?” Cherry cried. “How?”
‘Please don’t ask me that question, I beg you!’ Andromeda’s mind replied.
“The reason the original spell could only be used once was because it literally used the life-force of the time traveler to power it,” Andromeda’s mouth answered. “It was designed to shut down entirely after a pony used it once in order to never risk killing them. When I said that my mom found a way to time jump multiple times, what I didn’t tell you was that in order to accomplish it, she had to override the shutdown. When she did that and later found a way replace the death penalty with the lesser side-effects, she hoped that she would one day cure it entirely of its danger, but she never could. I…never could.”
She waited for a reply or question but found neither in any of her friends. Every single one was still grasping the possibility of dying.
“In my mom’s last journal entry,” Andromeda continued, “she wrote how she gradually got sick in her final time jump. The experiment was meant to find out just how long she was able to go back in time, but it was short-lived. Somehow, the time shift had poisoned her and continued to do so for as long as she remained in the past, but the effects did not become noticeable enough for her to realize that something was wrong until the poison spread in the middle of her third week. She was barely able to return to our time and has barely spoken of it to anypony ever since.”
And there it was. The sentence was finally upon them, their punishment over the horizon. Each pony continued to process the shocking information; everypony but Tempest, whose blue face began to turn red.
“So what,” he finally shouted with hotheaded disbelief after what seemed like an eternity of stillness, “you just forgot to let us know that we were all dying? You just thought that we wouldn’t mind if you kept this from us!”
“I thought we had time,” Andromeda timidly answered. “I had no idea the spell wouldn’t work!”
Tempest’s magenta eyes burned as red as any of them had ever seen. Even his blue spiked hair looked like it would burst into flame at any moment.
“But you knew this spell was unstable! You knew from the very beginning that something was wrong! I don’t know about the rest of us here, but I think I would have liked to know that our time here was just a countdown to our deaths!”
“I’m sorry, Tempest!”
“You should be!”
“Stop yelling at Andromeda!” Cherry shouted back. “You’re not helping!”
Tempest didn’t hear a word. His blood rage was so heated that everything else seemed to blur around him.
“Why didn’t you plan for any of this? Because of this stupid spell, I’ve already burnt half of my wing off, Radiance has broken her leg, Berry and Cherry nearly died in a storm, and the kids are lost who-knows-where!”
“Tempest!” Bismarck yelled with a steely stare. “That’s enough!”
“No, it’s not enough! I’m ticked off!”
“Tempest, please stop,” Andromeda said.
“It makes no sense! Why would you even bother to make a safeguard for a spell that was a ticking time bomb? Did you not plan for something like this to happen just like you didn’t plan to tell us we were literally dying?”
“Stop it,” Andromeda whispered. “Please.”
“And what about Orion? When were you going to tell him? If something happens to him, how will you ever forgive yourself?”
“I SAID STOP IT!!!!" Andromeda shouted back in pure fury.
A bright light shone from her horn and rushed through the room with violent force. All around her, vials and decorations were thrown to the ground. Most were shattered on the floor from the impact and spilled their contents all over the hut. Andromeda’s breaths were quick and her teeth were bared.
“Andromeda!” Cherry yelled over the loud din. “You’re destroying Zecora’s house!”
Andromeda said nothing and continued to stand where she was while the shockwaves of light and sound caused havok inside the small hut. Unable to listen to any more of this racket, Radiance got out of the bed and limped to the door to see what was going on.
“Sweetie, you need to calm down!” she yelled. “Please, Andromeda! Before you hurt somepony!”
Several seconds passed before Andromeda finally snapped out of her enraged state and when the lights died down, her pupils returned to normal again. Slowly, the force of the spell lifted and her blowing hair fell back onto her head once more. A feeling of immense guilt swept through her when she saw the frightened look of her friends. Tempest especially looked more afraid than she had seen him in a long time. All eyes remained glued towards her, but slightly above her, and when she looked up, she saw that her horn was still glowing.
“Ohmygosh,” she cried, slowly backing away from their unblinking eyes, “I didn’t mean to….I had no idea…”
“Andromeda,” Cherry said, approaching her friend carefully, “are you okay? What just happened?”
“I don’t know!” Andromeda shouted before collapsing on the ground. “I…I…”
Cherry knelt next to her and placed her arms around the horrified unicorn. Andromeda squeezed her just like she had done with Berry earlier. Zecora and Radiance followed after her and helped calm her down while Tempest, Berry, and Bismarck all stood from a distance and stared, still in awe of the sudden burst of power they just witnessed. As soon as the feeling wore off, Bismarck’s face reddened in anger and with a powerful jerk, he yanked Tempest by the wing and dragged him outside. Berry chased after them while Zecora, Radiance, and Cherry consoled Andromeda. None of them followed the boys, but they could hear everything.
“What the hay was that?” Bismarck yelled with a powerful boom. “What do you think yer doin’, Tempest? What’s wrong with you?”
“Let go of my wing, Bismarck! I mean it!”
“Who do you think you are yellin’ at Andromeda like that? Yer own best friend! Do you have any idea what she’s going through? You think she isn’t aware of what’s happening here? She’s just as scared to die are you are!”
“I’m serious, Biz. Let…go….now! Last chance.”
“Come on guys,” Berry intervened, “knock it off! There’s been enough arguing!”
Bismarck snorted through his nostrils and just ignored the smaller pink stallion.
“Ah’ve had enough of yer hotheaded attitude, Tempest! Either you apologize to Andromeda fer what you just did or ah’ll make you feel sorry you ever spoke to her like that!”
A shuffle broke out from outside and after a few seconds, the crack of a solid blow was followed by a loud thud on the ground.
“Oh my gosh!” Tempest shouted.
“Berry!” Bismarck said. “Berry, are you alright?”
Immediately, every pony rushed to where the fight took placed and saw Berry on the ground, clutching his nose while both Bismarck and Tempest sat by his side. Shoving them both out of the way, Cherry rushed to her twin brother.
“What happened?” she cried. “What did you do?”
The distorted look of pure regret on Bismarck’s face said it all.
“Tempest and ah got in a brawl and Berry tried to break us up. Ah swung at Tempest, but he dodged and ah hit Berry square in the nose. Ah’m so sorry, Berry!”
Berry said nothing but patted Bismarck on the leg lightly as if to say “no hard feelings” and groaned lightly. While the group now focused on their downed friend, Tempest panicked and flew away into the forest. Bismarck noticed and began to give chase until Berry stopped him.
“Leab hib, Biz,” he said through the damage of his nose. “Let hib go.”
Far away from them all, Tempest flew as fast as he was able to through the thick foliage of the trees until he eventually came across a massive pond in the middle of the forest. On the shore was a large boulder where he finally came to a landing. Looking down in the still pool below, Tempest’s came across his mirrored self in the water. He had escaped the fight with barely a scratch, but that was the least of his worries. Everything in him wished that he was looking at the reflection of a literal monster with fur and fangs. Monsters couldn’t change who they were and only did horrible things because it was in their very nature. Instead, all he saw was his own image shimmering below, just as horrified of his actions as he was.
And there, in the company of his watery doppelganger, he sat alone in the dark forest to dwell on the pain that he had just caused.
Back at the hut, Zecora placed a blanket around Andromeda who suddenly felt cold. Her entire body shivered for no apparent reason and her coat felt icy. After accepting Andromeda’s tenth apology for destroying her home, Zecora smiled and returned to caring for both Radiance and Berry with the help of Bismarck. As the rest were busy, Cherry continued to sit by her friend’s side and talk with her.
“He hates me,” Andromeda whimpered.
“No! He doesn’t!” Cherry replied in utter seriousness. “I know you had a hard time telling us all of this and Tempest does too. With everything that’s going on, death is the last thing he wants to think about. He’s scared, Andi. We all are.”
Cherry thought a moment of what she was saying.
“Can you fix it?” she asked. “Can you work on the spell and get us back in time?”
Andromeda shook her head.
“I don’t know. Maybe.”
Cherry looked at her friend in the eyes.
“Come on, now, stay with me. I know it’s a lot to handle right now, but I need confident Andromeda right now. Can you fix this?”
Andromeda looked at her friends in the other room. Indirectly, their pain and suffering was her fault and she knew she needed to do something about it. She needed to be genius Andromeda once again or else she would lose everything. They would all lose everything. She stood up and made her way to the basket of ingredients she had collected earlier for when she planned to go into Ponyville in disguise, picked it up, and placed it in front of Cherry.
“Yes, I can,” she said with sudden clarity, “but I’m going to need help.”