All Apini Bee could ever hear anymore were the voices. All of them. All of the voices of those she had murdered in the name of her Queen. The ones whom she slayed without pity or remorse. The ones she murdered in cold blood. And all their horrid, accursed wailing centered into her ears without pause. Without stop. Ceaseless. Endless.
Apini could hardly stand it anymore.
All she could ever see in any passing pony, in the presence of her children, and now her husband, were their glares. And they all glared at her incessantly. They knew what she had done to save herself and her budding family, and they hated her for it. She knew it. She knew it, for it was all she ever saw in their eyes. She felt like she had an albatross wrung around her stiff neck for all to see, and they could see it well.
But their observing eyes were not the worst to witness her like this. It was the eyes belonging to him. The last pony she had ever murdered, however indirectly it was, would always be there at the fore of the voices' incursion. And all he ever did was stare at her in silence. Silence as baleful as the loudest crackle of thunder in the middle of a storming night. Damnable silence that scraped across everything about her like rusted nails, tore through her mind with razors and talons, gnarled very soul and drove her mad.
She was going insane. Apini knew this fact well. She was going irrevocably insane. And there was nothing she could do to stop it. Nothing she could hope to do to rid herself of the ever-stalking, tormenting Furies that were the apparitions of her victims; him always lurking at its front. And hope was not there with her to give her even a single, minuscule ribbon of comfort. And because of it, she had nothing to turn to. Nothing to stop the unbridled agony of that one pony's piecing gaze.
Apini wanted him to go away. She wanted him to leave. She wanted to throw him out, to hurt him again, to plead for his exit from her memory when all else failed... anything to stop the accursed staring. Tears would fall from her eyes. Wet snot would leak from her nostrils. Drool would drip in thick, muddy droplets to the floor below at times, and still he would sit there with his bland face aimed at her like the tip of a sword positioned over her heart.
Apini would sometimes threaten him with the violence she showed him in life, but he still failed to depart, much less flinch. And neither would the voices that followed him like a persistent choir. They called out to her with all the soothing melody of a flogging whip lashing at her chitinous flesh, or a knife scratching over a chalkboard. They wanted her to join them in wherever it was they laid now, worms gnawing at what little was left of their dust-bound bones. They wanted her blood. And they deserved this of her she thought, but would never admit.
Blood for blood they called out in unison whenever she cared to listen to their calls. Blood for blood. Blood for blood. Blood for blood.
It was like a chant that served only to drive Apini that much more over the slippery slope that her psyche had devolved into. All she had ever done to earn this was for the hope of finally being accepted for what she was by her hive, beyond this accursed red eye that got her cast out to begin with. Only too late did she discover that these unspeakable deeds were all performed in vain. All for nothing. And the consequences of these forsaking actions were something she had to live with for the rest of eternity.
For the rest of eternity... That statement alone was a worse nightmare than any dream she experienced, and what made it more wretched was the fact that it was the reality she lived in. Than the reality she had to live in now, but would never- could never accept. She woul-
In that one brief instant a new voice spoke her name, coming forth with unparalleled vividness through the other ones. The other voices stopped in its wake and faded away. The image of the stallion who stared vanished. Everything went still, and Apini was returned to reality. She sucked in a deep breath and took a second to recognize the voice before putting her hooves to her wheelchair's wheels and making it spin about, she turned to meet her visitor.
It was Bombini. The door creaking as he pushed it open fully, he slowly walked up to his wife from it in a slow stride.
"Hey, Apini," he spoke in a happy tone. "I'm going to take you for that walk now I talked about earlier, okay?"
She didn't respond. Instead, after doing nothing for a few seconds, she sighed and turned her head away from his. Bombini stepped closer to her as she did this, and his mirthful visage began to shrink at the sight of it.
"Apini... you know why I'm doing this," he went on, now more serious in his pitch. "Honey told me you haven't been outside for a while. I'm just going to... take you for a stroll around town. It'll be a pleasant walk through the city. Are you alright with me doing that?"
Of course, Apini still chose silence as opposed to answering him, instead casting nothing but a sarcastic glare his way. Bombini let out a hum that did well to vocalize his small displeasure with her attempts to ignore him. Circling around the wheelchair, he grabbed onto the handles sitting behind it and he started to wheel her out of the room.
Disguising themselves as ponies when they left, if only for Apini's sake alone, the walk carried on for almost an hour. As both of their children were away at school, it left just the two of them to enjoy it. 'Enjoy' being a more operative term that Bombini at least tried to experience, if even that. Apini was in no mood to revel in the journey around the city, even as she felt the delightfully warm rays of the sun shine down on her body and fresh air enter her lungs. The female changeling's forelegs were folded and her head was held low, her face twisted into a childish pout.
They strolled around the city and eventually went through the park. Bombini pushed his wife's wheelchair on and on, not stopping for a second unless an interesting sight came up, and one such instance was when they went across a small bridge overlooking a little round pond. Swimming in the waters below were some ducks.
The three mallard ducks that could be seen - two brown-tinted females and a single drake with a grayish body and a glossy bottle-green head - swam around in circles below, as though waiting for something. They were each quacking merrily as their webbed feet pushed their buoyant forms around from under the water, nearly as though they were motors pushing miniature boats. When they eventually took notice of their newest visitors' shadows looming above, they all looked up expectantly to their equine shapes in a fairly inquisitive way. Their calls stopped for a second, only to start again moments later.
Reaching into one of the green saddlebags he wore for the journey, Bombini pulled out a transparent, ziplocked bag filled with the crumbs of bread heels he picked up from a bag of bread in the kitchen back at the house, and put a small pile of the stuff into one of his hooves. He had never really fed animals before - the closest thing to it was feeding love energy to freshly-hatched changeling grubs when it was his shift in the nursery back at the hive under the domain of Queen Chrysalis. If anything, he felt as new to the experience as a pony foal. He dealt with the matter maturely though, and so turned to his wife first before doing anything else. "Apini, care to feed them with me?" he asked her kindly and with a smile, extending his filled hoof her way. "I hear it's fun to feed ducks in a manner like this."
"Mmf," she mumbled dryly, accepting the torn-up pieces of bread. With a seemingly heavy hoof she tossed some of the breadcrumbs she now held to the water below, and they landed in it in a way that scattered a few ripples over its clear surface. All quacking quite rapidly in mutual happiness, the three ducks paddled their webbed feet over to the stuff in speedy fashion and began to devour them with beaks that seemingly vibrated in the drink as they grabbed at and swallowed the bits. The two changelings watched them in silence.
"Cute, aren't they?" Bombini soon broke the silence with a question. He sighed after a few seconds as it became apparent that his wife wasn't intending on responding to him properly. She held her gaze onto the birds with a dull visage, conveying nothing but boredom and disinterest. "Apini, please say something."
She still said nothing. Her eyes closed and she lowered her head while the ducks below finished their meal and went back to swimming about, making more quacking noises. Walking behind the wheelchair again, Bombini placed his hooves upon either of her shoulders and thought of what to say next, one exceptionally large thing coming to his mind.
"Apini... dear... I'm sorry." His words were filled with only sorrow. "I'm sorry that I wasn't able to stay and help you raise our children. I'm sorry that I wasn't able to be there with you when you had your accident. And I'm sorry - more than I can ever say to you - that you had to deal with all of this by yourself. But please... please, say something to me. Anything."
Apini's eyes opened again and she decided to look over her shoulder to her husband and the worried face he wore. Bombini's expression looked as sincere as could possibly be. But Apini knew, somehow, it wasn't. He was lying to her. He wasn't sorry. No... no he was downright glad she was this way. He wasn't here now just because they had a new, more lenient king. He was only here because he knew what he was coming back to. A crippled wife with a will that had long been dissolved. Children that had a new figure to look up to with this so-called 'love sharing' he knew.
With these horrid thoughts swelling up within her head Apini snapped her head away from Bombini in a disgusted manner and shook his hooves from her shoulders. She closed her eyes again and kept them that way, intent on not speaking a single word to him. Bombini, sighing, knew what she wanted him to do. "Let's go home," he spoke, his tone downtrodden.
He turned the wheelchair from the bridge's edge and set it back on the path. As they began to move again, Apini, with a twinge of what she sensed was regret, thought of her husband's prior apology and whether or not her take on it was true, or just some crazed, paranoid figment of her mind. But either way, if he was truly doing all this for that reason or otherwise, Apini still felt like she deserved it. She deserved all of it, and worse.
And somewhere, somehow, that wretched pony who died all those years ago, who ceaselessly stalked her everywhere she went, was watching her once more.
Due to his classes ending a while before his younger sister's, Bumble returned home first, alone. When he walked up the steps to the door of his house, he pushed it open and was greeted by the sight of his father pacing about in the living room, reading a newspaper that floated in front of him with the aid of his magic. When he noticed his son he stopped and faced him properly.
"Hello, Bumble," he said as he folded the paper up and laid it upon a nearby counter, trying to put on as best a smile as he could make in spite of the day's events. "How was your day?"
"Good. Where's Mom?" Bumble inquired back quite bluntly, closing the door behind himself and discarding his backpack, setting it down to the side.
"In bed sleeping, I suppose," replied his father. "We went on a walk today, but she didn't seem so... enthusiastic about it. No matter where I took her, no matter what I tried to have us do together, she only wanted to... ignore me. As soon as I got us home she rolled herself to her room and hasn't come out since. To be honest, I don't know how to feel right now about it..."
He started walking into the kitchen, followed by Bumble. As he made his way to the table located there, Bombini motioned to a sandwich on a paper plate sitting on one side of its flat, wooden surface. "I made you an egg salad sandwich for lunch, for when you got back. Honey told me yesterday that they're your favorite."
Bumble looked at the food suspiciously as Bombini sat down on the chair resting on the opposite side of the table. "You put your own love into it, didn't you?" he soon questioned, staring back at his father.
"Yes," he replied. Bumble eyed the sandwich that much closer for a few seconds longer, and still continued it as he took his own seat. As though cautiously studying the meal, he poked at the bread's wheat surface with a hoof a few times before lifting it and taking a slow bite from it. He didn't seem perturbed in the slightest by what he tasted, and soon swallowed. "Back to the events of today... you and Mom didn't have much fun around Canterlot?" he asked his parent.
"Basically. Your mother was so very... ugh." The elbows of his forelegs coming up onto the table, Bombini held his face in his hooves for a few moments. "She's difficult, I'll say that. It's nearly as though she doesn't wish to make even the slightest attempt at enjoying herself."
"She's been like that a little bit for Honey and me, too," Bumble said, taking another bite of the sandwich and chewing it slowly. "Ever since she got back from the hospital after her accident. I don't think I've seen a genuine smile come onto her face in months. She's never spoken for the longest time. I just... I don't know what to do about it."
Bombini's face remained in fragile stillness as he heard this. "That accident was... really that bad, wasn't it?"
"The doctors said she would never be able to walk again. I think that might be just one of the big parts of it."
Looking down, Bumble went back to eating his egg salad sandwich as silence came about the kitchen, the sound of him chewing being the only noise to overtake anything. Bombini spent it deeply mulling over the events of the conversation. And as he started to form a plan that made his now-drooping ears lift in renewed hope, another had already rooted itself within his brain. "Bumble," he spoke again.
"What?" his son responded, just before he could finish off his sandwich.
"There's something I've been wanting to try, and I think you might be able to help me learn how to do it," continued his parent. "I'd love to start harvesting the honey from the beehives myself. It'll give you more time to do the things you want, or maybe get a job of your own that isn't so home-bound, and it'll give me a chance to... act more like real father."
One of Bumble's brows lowered at this, almost skeptical in its form, and he took a final bite of the remaining piece of his sandwich. After fully devouring it, he tossed away the paper plate in the trash. "Well, if that's what you really want to do, I can show you the ropes. But be warned: in this profession, bee stings hurt when you're not careful."
"Excellent!" Bombini cheered, his hooves clapping excitedly together. "Eh, about the part where you said you'll help me, anyway. Can we start now?"
"Um... sure," Bumble agreed, leaving his seat. Exiting the kitchen, he started to leave to get the beekeeping equipment, and Bombini accompanied him in a happy little trot, pride filling his mind.