• Published 21st Sep 2018
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meanwhile...: Tales of the Berylverse - Shinzakura



Part of the Berylverse. There are hundreds of stories out there. Not all of them are Sunset's.

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Of Frogs and Phoenixes

It always started the same way.

No matter how her dreams were, whether she was a forest nymph, a bird, or an elf (one time she even dreamed she was a flying dolphin with a pink flamingo following her, strangely enough!), the dream always had the same feeling of primeval beauty and peace, the concrete and neon canyons of Las Vegas blending into and becoming a beautiful verdant forest that drew a stark contrast from the desert in the opposite direction.

And as always she would be drawn to the forest to laugh and jump and play, to leap and vault. Her name was Raspberry Beryl, but her family had always called her Ribby, both because of her initials – RB – and because of her love of frogs, particularly tree frogs. She’d somehow picked up their habits, her mother had said, and in time she’d become quite the athlete, going for pole vaulting, long jumps and similar pursuits. It had been her mother that said she would grow up to be a herpetologist or an Olympic athlete, and somewhere along the way, RB got merged with “ribbit” (the onomatopoeic, but wrong, croak of a toad, as tree frogs chirped) and eventually she became known to her family as Ribby.

But here in the dream, where the deserts of Las Vegas became lush, verdant freedom, she didn’t need a name. She didn’t need anything but the eternal expanse of bountiful green and the endless carpet of blue sky above. She was happy.


And then, as it always did, it ended the same way.

Whether it was by fire, decay or some other sinister means, the beautiful world would give way to dross and pain. There would be screams and grunts, blood and horror. She would lose her ability to jump, her ability to be free – her legs would melt into ash and poison. And all she could do would be to stare into sulfuric eyes of madness and the eternal stench of ethanol. Then she would feel herself being ripped apart.

“Froggie’s got no legs no more…” a sinister – and familiar – voice would say.

And she would wake up screaming.

Raspberry flopped and floundered, the bed soaked in sweat and other things. She could vaguely hear a voice, begging for her to stop, to calm down, to relax. Eventually the world regained its sanity and clarity, and Raspberry broke down crying, with a strong pair of arms holding her close, assuring her everything would be okay, that she was safe and loved and there was nothing to fear anymore.

Raspberry knew that to be a lie – there would always be something to fear. At the same time, however, she instinctively responded to the warm, sororal voice that spoke to her. Her older cousin, Phoenix Temple. Though they were six years apart in age, Phoenix was the closest thing Raspberry had to an older sister, and now served as her de facto legal guardian. They lived in the penthouse of the hotel owned by their grandparents – Raspberry’s actual guardians – but given how busy they often were, Phoenix had stepped in to serve as Raspberry’s caretaker and day-to-day lone family member.

The two sat there in the embrace for the longest time as the older girl let the younger girl’s pain and anguish play out. Finally, Phoenix looked at her and asked gently, “Are you feeling better?”

Raspberry, saying nothing, merely shook her head.

Phoenix wiped her cousin’s eyes and told her, “It’s okay, Ribby. You’re safe, you know that.”

“But everyone doesn’t want me around!” she wailed.

“That’s not true. I wanted you to come live with me, remember?”

“But I’m a bother, and I’m ruining your life, and—”

“No, you’re not.” Phoenix kissed the girl gently on the forehead. “You’re as close to a little sister as I get, so you’re not a bother. And none of this was your fault. None at all.” She sighed and said, “Okay, go ahead and take a shower, then change into some new pajamas and we can sleep together on my bed.”

“You sure?”

“We both need our sleep. You have both your appointments today, right?” Phoenix then grinned impishly. “Plus, you’re getting to skip school because of it.”

“But won’t they get mad? It’s my third day at school, and I don’t—”

“The school already knows. And I asked Twily to get your homework from your teachers. You’ll be fine, I promise. And if you’re worried about your friends, we can have dinner at the Sugarcube Corner Café and invite Coco and Crackle.”

“Okay,” Raspberry said softly.

“Okay, now get going, okay? I need to change too.”

“Sorry.”

“It’s okay. You’ve been through a lot, Ribby, and I’m here for you.” The younger girl nodded, grabbed some clothes from the drawer, and went off to the shower.

Left in the room, Phoenix sighed, looking at her cousin’s soiled bed. It was the third time this month and unfathomable in a normal girl her age. But then again, normal teenage girls weren’t traumatized to the point Raspberry had been. Normal girls didn’t get put through the hell that she’d been through.

And they didn’t get put through that hell by their own fathers.

“I’m glad you’re dead, Uncle Split,” Phoenix hissed to the empty air. “For what you did to Aunt Di and Ribby? I hope you rot in hell, you bastard.” She then looked at the bed and made a mental note to call housecleaning services in the morning; fortunately, the maids assigned to clean the penthouse were thankfully both sympathetic to Raspberry’s plight and discreet to the situation as a whole.

Still, I’m going to have to tell Dr. Wellmind about this, Phoenix sighed.

Dr. Wellmind looked at her patient. Having read the reports, it was amazing that the girl hadn’t been institutionalized, given everything she’d been through. She hated thinking that; she was of the opinion that every mental wound was like a physical one; in time, they could be healed. But what Raspberry’s father had done to the girl, physically, mentally and emotionally? If Wellmind was a lesser-skilled practitioner of her art, she would have had the family check her into the Mental Health Institution at Horseshoe Bay, especially after everything she’d been through.

Still, it would be a long, painful climb for the young girl. Especially when she had a physical reminder every day of her life.

“Ribby?” she asked the girl as she lay on the psychiatrist’s couch, “do you want to talk about it?”

“I had the dream again, Doctor,” she said softly. “I was walking through Las Vegas Forest – that’s the name of the forest that the buildings and casinos turn into in my dream – and I can hear the sounds of nature. I even have Burp on my shoulder.”

Wellmind ruffled through her notes. “Burp is your….”

“Red-eyed tree frog,” Raspberry told the woman. “Pheo got him for me after….” The girl trailed off, then winced, blocking out bad memories.

Wellmind made a note to ask about previous pets; given what she’d been told, the memory Raspberry was having was an understandably bad one. “It’s okay, Ribby. Go ahead and continue.”

“Anyway, Burp and I are walking through the forest, and I see a beautiful castle on the mountain in the distance. It’s…it’s like it’s hanging off the side of the mountain but still attached, like in a fantasy novel. But then the sky turns black and I have the same end to the dream as before.”

Wellmind sighed; she hated to do this part, but it was her job. “Go ahead and tell me, Ribby.”

“I don’t….”

“I know you don’t, dear. But sometimes getting better means facing your fears.”

“The eyes are staring at me, melting my legs. I can feel the blood between my legs flow and there’s pain and screams and moans and laughter and—” Wine-colored eyes turned to pinpricks of fear. “No…. I can hear him say the words, that I can’t run anymore, that ‘Froggie’s got no legs no more….’ And I want to run and scream and protect myself, but I can’t!”

Wellmind decided that was enough; she wasn’t going to put this girl through this again. “Okay, you can stop now.”

But she wasn’t stopping. “Daddy, no! Please, no! Daddy, it hurts! No, Daddy, no!” Raspberry began to hyperventilate, as her body shook.

Wellmind ignored protocol and took the girl in a tender hug. “You’re safe, Ribby,” she told her. “You’re safe.”

“No, I’m not safe,” she cried. “I’m damned.”

“It was not your fault. You had to protect yourself.”

“No, I—”

Wellmind’s lilac eyes looked into Raspberry’s own. “No. Your father was a troubled man, dear. What he did to you and your mother? None of that is your fault. None of it is.”

“Yes it is!” Raspberry cried. “I should have died, not Daddy. I should have died!


An hour later, Wellmind spoke to three adults in the room. Phoenix, of course, was there, attentive and taking notes. But it was the presence of the two older adults that underscored the importance of this meeting: Ascot and Cashmere, Raspberry and Phoenix’s grandparents. A former airline pilot and a costume designer, respectively, the two had parlayed their youthful luck in the stock market into a vast financial and real estate empire, with ownership of the Retreat Inn in its many incarnations, from the Marriot Renaissance Retreat Inn in downtown Canterlot to the Golden Retreat Inn and Casino in Las Vegas and so many other locations around the world.

Wellmind looked at the two adults, seeing their vitality still at their age. Neither Ascot’s burgundy hair and goatee had gone gray, and his dark blue eyes shone through with a cunning intellect. In fact, as she understood it, the only acknowledgement to his age was his walking cane, the result of injuries sustained during a plane crash where he’d saved everyone aboard. As for Cashmere, with her curly cream-and-white hair and golden eyes, she still had the youthful step in her gait and the business acumen – and schedule – of someone a fraction her age.

Ascot adjusted his glasses, disturbed at the latest report. “Doctor, what can we do? I’ve already lost my precious daughter to that monster; I will not let my granddaughter fall to that bastard’s memories.”

“I don’t mean to pry, but what else can you tell me about Raspberry’s father?”

“Split Decision,” Cashmere began, “well, he was a successful divorce lawyer in Vegas, as best as you can get there, as I understand it. He didn’t have any family; he was an orphan and well, we tried to be the family for him he didn’t have. But I guess he had demons, you could say, and they overtook him.”

“What kind of demons?”

“Based on what Diamond Worth – our daughter; she ran our properties in Vegas – said, he’d become an alcoholic and was falling apart for some reason. Maybe the toll of being the best divorce lawyer in town became too much for him.” Cashmere looked sad. “I wish we could have gotten him some help before he—”

“Before he committed the atrocities he did on his own wife and daughter,” Ascot said in a cold tone. “I won’t forgive him for what he did. Never.

“Can you tell me more? I know this is painful for you both,” Wellmind asked.

Ascot looked at Phoenix. “Pheo, dear, will you leave us?”

“Grandpa, if this is about Ribby, I need to know,” Phoenix told him. “I don’t even know the full story, and if I’m going to watch over her, I have to know.”

“We would rather you didn’t, dear,” Cashmere told her. “We know you loved your uncle and aunt—”

“Not after what he did to them,” Phoenix shot back. “Not after what this has done to Ribby.” She looked at her grandparents. “I’m going to be a teacher, which means that I’m going to see a lot of nasty things as the years go by,” she reminded them. “Hiding things like this from me isn’t going to do anyone any good, especially if I can be in a position to help her.”

Cashmere laid her hand on her husband’s arm. “She’s right, dear,” she told him.

Ascot deflated with a sigh. “I wish I could just protect you both,” he told Phoenix. “But I’m no good as a grandfather if I can’t.” He was silent for the longest time, and then began. “When the police showed up to their house, per the report, it…it was madness. Split had lost his mind and he….” He buried his face in his hand, feeling hot tears burn his face as the reminder to protect his loved ones came up front and center once more. “He left a note that said that he knew Di was going to divorce him and take Ribby with her, and he snapped. He….” He couldn’t say anything more, unable to vocalize the words.

“He raped and murdered Di in front of Ribby,” Cashmere said in a flat tone. “He then set fire to Ribby’s pet collection of tree frogs, right in front of her. When she tried to run away, he blamed his dead wife for trying to teach her how to be a frog and he….” She was silent for a time, but continued: “He stabbed his own daughter in the legs with a kitchen knife. The doctors got to it in time, and thankfully she’ll be able to walk without a cane in time, but the injuries to her muscles…it ruined any chance for her to go into professional athletics. But it gets worse than that.” Tears streamed down the matron’s face as she forced herself to continue. “He…he raped Ribby, according to the police report. Went on her like some sort of out of control animal.”

Wellmind fought to keep control of her emotions. In the corner of her eye she could see Phoenix’s hands go to her mouth in shock and horror.

“He told Ribby that since she was a worthless whore like her mother, he was going to treat her like one. And then he was going to kill her like her…her mother. But in his insanity, he dropped the butcher knife and she grabbed it. To protect herself…Ribby had to kill her own father in self-defense, stabbing him repeatedly until the knife reportedly snapped off in his spine.”

“My God,” Wellmind whispered, horrified.

Ascot, broken, finally found his voice. “The neighbors, who were apparently used to hearing Di and Split argue, didn’t do anything, didn’t call the police or anything of that sort. It wasn’t until the morning, when the landscaper came by and found that Di’s pet poodle had been eviscerated on the front lawn that the police were called. And by then, Ribby had been with her dead parents, violated, for God knows how many hours.”

“I…I may have to call a colleague in on this one,” Wellmind told them. “Not that I wish to refer her somewhere else; no, she needs stability. But I am not trained to handle that sort of trauma. I have a colleague and friend on the other side of town, a Dr. Chrysoberyl…she’s more familiar with childhood traumas of these sorts. With your permission, I would like to bring her in on the case.”

“Whatever it takes to ensure she’s fine,” Ascot insisted, a look of heartbreak in his eyes. Cashmere leaned against him and cried.

Phoenix, still taking it in, looked down at the ground, floored. What could she say? What was there to say? Though she’d been born in another country and traveled far more extensively than others her age, she wasn’t worldly by any means. She had never known what monsters were…and now she did. And worse, she’d been related to one.

“I’m going to protect her,” the words came from her mouth, unbidden. The older adults looked at her, but she wasn’t talking to them. “I’m going to protect her and make sure she gets her happiness back. Whatever it takes.”

“Pheo, dear….” Cashmere began.

“No, Grandma. Ribby needs me. I am not going to let her down. I won’t!”

Ascot gave his older granddaughter a smile. “I know you won’t, Pheo. But I fear this may be too much for you.”

“Maybe,” she admitted, “but Ribby needs me. That’s more than enough reason not to give up.”

The drive to Sugarcube Corner Café was uncomfortable silence. Phoenix wasn’t sure of what to say to her little cousin. What could she say? Raspberry had been through an ordeal that defied comprehension. How could anyone do that to anyone? How could a father do that to his only child? The most her father had ever done to her was to raise his voice. How could Split Decision do that to his wife and child?

“Is everything okay?” Raspberry asked her.

“Everything’s fine, Ribby,” Phoenix told her absently, the anger creeping into her voice. None of it was intended towards Raspberry in any way, shape or form.

“You hate me, don’t you?” Raspberry said in a nearly-inaudible voice. “You hate me because I’m damned, because of what Daddy did to me.”

Phoenix slammed on the brakes on instinct, glad a split-second later that no one had been behind them. “Don’t ever say that,” she said in a choked voice as she quickly pulled the car over. “We’re family, Ribby. I love you dearly and I’m going to be there for you always.”

Raspberry just looked at her, tears in her eyes. “But I’m worthless,” she told the older girl. “I’m—”

“No. Don’t ever say that, Ribby.” Phoenix looked at her cousin, her green eyes piercing in their severity. “You are not to blame for what happened to you. Your mother isn’t to blame for what happened to her or you. Your father…he was sick, and….” Phoenix couldn’t say anything anymore as she simply reached over and hugged her cousin, not letting her go, the minutes ticking by as the two sat there.

“And that’s how things are going right now, Light,” Phoenix said as she took a drink from her beer. Her old friend had come over for the night after Phoenix had taken her cousin to dinner at the Sugarcube Corner Café. Sure enough, her friends were there, and thanks to housekeeping having gone the extra mile, a new bed had been placed in Raspberry’s room, which she was currently using for a sleepover with Coco and Sweetie.

“Man, that sucks,” Light said, absently. In the years since her graduation, she’d traded in her long braid for a short ponytail and her fashion sense had also been retired, given her personal choice of career as a biologist for the California Department of Fish and Game. Phoenix at first had a hard time reconciling her fashionable friend with the girl now sitting on the couch wearing jeans and a flannel shirt, but somehow Light managed to pull it off.

Taking another drink from her beer, she said, “So I guess I should cancel the date, then? I mean, it took me a while to find a guy willing to go out with you – no offense, but your social life has gone to hell since you became a mom.”

Phoenix rolled her eyes. “I did not become a mother, Light.”

“Bullshit you didn’t, Pheo. You got promoted to parent. Sure, if you ask Ribby, she thinks of you as her cousin and big sister-type, but if you were to hug her while she was asleep, she’d probably call you ‘mommy’ or something.”

Phoenix’s eyes narrowed. “Look, I didn’t ask you over so you could give me grief about raising Ribby—”

“And I’m not, Pheo. Personally, I’m impressed that you’re doing that. I’m also not surprised, given you just said the R word without batting an eye.” She leaned forward. “I just want you to realize what you’re potentially giving up here. You’re my bestie and I want what’s best for you.”

“That’s not important, Light,” Phoenix told her as she took a drink from her own beer. “What’s important is making sure that Ribby is healthy and recovers from this. She’s fourteen and heavily traumatized to the point that she regresses at times. I can’t let her do that to the point that she’s completely dysfunctional when she reaches our age. If that means I’m out of the dating pool until my thirties, then that’s what it means.”

“That’s giving up a lot, girl. Even Umi would tell you that.”

Phoenix gave her friend a sardonic look. “And speaking of which, where is that troublemaker?”

Light laughed. “Studying, would you believe? She’s actually taking her citizenship test so she can stay here with Ruby Bedazzle. I never thought she’d ever get serious, but I guess Ruby managed to put a ring on it.”

“Probably won’t last,” Phoenix grunted. “I love Umi like a sister, but she’s got a roving eye and how many ‘true love’ relationships has she ruined because she ends up cheating on her girlfriend?”

Light drained her beer, then got up to get another from the fridge. “And see, that’s what you get for not paying attention. Umi and Ruby have been together for three years now – you know that’s a lifetime as far as Umi is concerned.”

Phoenix blinked. “Seriously? You and I can’t get boyfriends to stick around long term and our friend the lesbian who cheats on all her girlfriends finds the true love of her life?” She facepalmed. “Oh, it is so not a fair world!”

“Well, at least you’re doing better than me in the long run,” Light told her.

“Oh? How so?”

She grinned as she brought two beers over, one for herself and one for Phoenix. “Once they grow up a little, guys like girls who can be responsible parents. It just takes them longer to figure out than we ladies do.”

Coco woke up to find Raspberry standing outside on the balcony, looking down at the city below. This high up, the midnight lights of Canterlot were a string of pearls against the late summer sky, the clear night showing the moon gleaming down as just one more accompaniment in the festival of lights that was Canterlot at night. Across from where they stood, Coco could see the hotel her own parents owned, the Four Seasons hotel being a rival to the Renaissance Retreat Inn. But that was just business, her father had told her; it didn’t affect her friendship with Raspberry in the slightest nor should it.

“Ribby?” Raspberry stood out there, transfixed, looking at the lights, unmoving, as if she were hypnotized. Coco climbed out of bed to join her in the warm air. “It’s midnight. We have to go to school tomorrow, so we should get some sleep.”

“It’s warm,” was all that Raspberry said as a soft, warm breeze caressed her, blowing past them and ruffling the tan-skinned girl’s hair and nightgown. “It’s like home.”

Coco knew her friend could be homesick at times; from what she understood, the move from Las Vegas had been quick and unplanned. She knew that something had happened to Raspberry’s parents, but not the full details. The truth was probably that they sent her to live with Raspberry’s grandparents because of a really bad divorce – several girls that Coco knew had divorced parents, and Raspberry was probably the same.

“Do you miss it?” Coco asked.

Raspberry nodded. “But I can’t ever go back,” she said sadly. “It was Paradise – literally. And now Paradise is gone.”

Coco felt her friend’s sorrow and decided she needed to do something about it. Hugging her close, Coco chirped, “Then I guess I’ll have to just make sure that we make it so that your new life here is even better.”

“You mean that?”


“Yeah, we do.” The two girls turned to see the third of their trio, Sweetie Belle, standing there in her pajamas, rubbing her eyes. “Now can we go back to bed? We need to get some sleep or else we’re all going to be a mess for school tomorrow!” Sweetie went over and tugged on the other two girls’ arms. “Let’s just get back to bed, okay?”

“Not unless Ribby joins us!” Coco insisted, then looked at the sad girl. “Okay?”

Sweetie yawned. “As long as we can go back to sleep. I don’t know if there’s a scouting badge for sleeping, but right now? I want to earn it.”

Raspberry looked at her two friends, then at the Canterlot sky, and then giggled. For some reason, right now, things felt…manageable. Not really right, per se, but at least that she didn’t have to stand there and wonder what it would be like if she just departed the balcony.

She walked back into her bedroom before her friends worried further. She was a burden to them already – there was no reason to make it even worse.

Raspberry found herself in a field of flowers she’d never seen before. They were very beautiful and smelled pretty. She commented so to Burp, but Burp, only being a frog, probably didn’t understand. It was okay; though, because at least she wasn’t alone.

However, she also knew this was usually when she would be attacked by the monster. The creature that haunted her dreams, bringing nothing but horror and ruin. And sure enough, the eyes of madness came, boring down on her, holding her fast and separating her from Burp. She readied to scream, knowing those nightmarish, terrifying words that she heard every dream.

She closed her eyes, praying for it to end.

“Froggie’s got no legs no more…” the voice said, as a storm of knives rushed towards her, all ready to chop her to pieces.

She screamed.


“No.”

She opened her eyes, confused at the new change.

There, standing in front of her, holding a golden shield up which deflected each missile, was herself – only not so. This version of herself was older, stronger, braver, surer. On her right shoulder was Burp…but on her left shoulder was a Fujian green canary. Her cousin Phoenix had told her once that the Chinese believed that the canaries were baby phoenixes, and that they breathed fire and were always loyal to their masters.

For some reason, Raspberry could see the look on her older self’s face. It was a look of fierce determination, a visage that said no matter what, she would not give up, and she would not give in. That no matter how many times that dark face appeared, Raspberry would face it, stare it down and drop it into submission.

And just like that, the hailstorm of deadly projectiles vanished.

And just like that, she could see the satisfied look on her older self’s face.

Raspberry sat up in her bed, awoken by the strange change in the dream. What had happened?

She looked around the room, searching for a sign. In the dim light she could see Burp’s illuminated eyes, the friendly eyeshine of her beloved pet looking at her. Asleep in their sleeping bags, both Coco and Sweetie dozed, neither aware of their friend’s sudden wakefulness. She turned to look at the alarm clock, seeing it read three in the morning, a time when her mother said that magical things happened.

Was that what had happened to her? Was that not really her, but some alternate version of her, a brave, gentle strong soul, protecting her? Or was it actually all just a dream?

“Burp, do you know?” she asked her loyal frog.

Burp chirped once, an enigmatic answer. But she smiled anyway; if nothing else, she knew he was watching over her.

With that, Raspberry turned to go back to sleep. At least tomorrow would be another day, once it came, and another chance to hope that someday she could be worth something and not just a burden to kith and kin.

She dreamed of a brave older self for the rest of the night.