Herd Life

Celestia is a growing filly within the herd, as she and many ponies struggle to just survive in their primitive times. Upheaval is soon to come, as new ideas clash with the old, when Celestia's parents join together in their struggle to move ponies into a new and unknown future, amid the dawning of the pony nation.
Contains: Stallion on Mare mating and impregnation. With lovemaking and experimentation later.
Online reading by: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w9RpH3CFcO8&feature=youtu.be
I do not claim ownership of the cover art. It is publicly posted art. Artist for Celestia: alasou

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20. Chapter 20

    Ash rushed forward and forced Soft Step back from the tiny flame. "What are you doing playing with something like this!? It’s dangerous!"

Soft Step moved back a pace and leveled a harsh glare at Ash. "But it's not dangerous! I learned how to trap it!"

"What do you mean you trapped it!?" Ash asked confused. "I was taught that it destroys everything, and it can’t be stopped!"

Soft Step shook her head. "I've been studying it and I've learned that that's not true." She then stepped closer and pointed her hoof at the tiny flame. "Just look. It can’t pass the stones I put around it." Reaching down, she lifted a gourd up. "And look," she then tipped the gourd and water flowed out onto the fire, dousing it and putting it out with a hiss. “Water can kill it!” she said plunging the room into darkness.

Ash stood, looking down at the smouldering remains of the flame, lost in thought. Did she do it? Did she really just harness another aspect of nature? Fire. He remembered being told about how fire would rage completely wild through entire forests, burning everything in its path, including entire herds that were unlucky enough to be caught in its path. But here she had a tiny piece of one, completely trapped and in her control. Like the wolves, can fire be tamed? Can it be harnessed to help ponies?

"How?" Ash asked, turning to look back at Soft Step. "How were you able to make it?"

Stepping over to the side of the small room, Soft picked up a small grey stone. "I used this. Papa found it and thought it felt strange. It was heavy for its size. He examined it for a time, but couldn't discover what it was so he gave it to me one day for me to study. I struck it against a rock to try to break it open and see what was inside and much to my amazement, little sparkles of light flew off, like little fireflies."

"Sparkles of light?" Ash asked, confused by her description. How did little grey rocks have fire in them?

"Here, watch," Picking up a piece of flint, she held it clamped between her hooves. Taking the grey stone in her teeth, she struck the flint's sharp edge with it and a shower of tiny sparkling lights were flung out, vanishing within moments. "I spent a whole moon trying to catch them and see what they were. No matter how many times I tried nothing seemed to work, but then one day, it finally happened! A spark fell onto some wood chips and it began to smoke! I did it! I caught a sparkle on the wood chip! I soon discovered that my breath somehow made the spark glow brighter, so I continued to blow onto it until it suddenly, and much to my amazement, burst into flame!"

Her excitement was so palpable she was practically hopping in place as she told her story.

"It was tiny, and its sudden appearance scared me and I jumped back, but after only a few moments it went out with no harm having been done. Since then, I have created it many times, and each time I learn something new." She held her hoof up and showed Ash the inside of her foreleg. A patch of her fur was missing and her skin there was red and slightly swollen.

"See! It's dangerous!" Bumblebee exclaimed. "Sister, you need to stop before you hurt yourself or other ponies!"

"It was only a little accident! And I’ve learned so much since then. My discovery can be really important!" Soft Step shouted back at her sister.

Moving closer, Ash gently touched Soft Step's shoulder. "She's right. You need to stop before you hurt somepony. Most especially, yourself."

Soft Step blinked at him with hurt in her eyes. "But..."

"Don't argue with me on this." Ash said as sternly as he could while meeting her eyes. She gaped at him for a moment, then lowered her eyes with a pout. Softening his voice, Ash smiled at her, "Don't feel bad. You're also right."

Her eyes snapped up to his in sudden surprise. "I... I am...?"

"Yes. What you have discovered is as amazing as it is incredibly dangerous," Ash explained. "I think you should show this to your papa. This is something he should see."

"But I wanted to learn it all on my own without any help," Soft Step protested, "to prove to him what I could do!"

"And you've done it!" Ash answered back. "Just look at what you've done! He gave you a simple grey stone and you found the fire within it! Come on. Prepare your things and I'll go fetch Brightstar, so you can show him what you have done."

Soft Step considered him for a moment before she finally nodded and went to gather what she needed together. Ash felt a sense of relief wash over him. He couldn't help but wonder at how strange this day has been. Not only did he lead in the capture of a group of mares in distress, he now helped to rectify a situation that could have been very dangerous.

As he turned to go, Bumblebee blocked his way and wrapped her hooves around his neck in a hug. "Thank you. I knew you could help." She then, much to his surprise, kissed his cheek. Flushing with embarrassment, Ash hurried off to find Brightstar.

After asking around, Ash found him helping Juniper Rose with her drying racks. It only took a few moments to convince him to come back home to see what Soft Step wanted to show him. When they arrived they found Soft Step and Bumblebee waiting for them in Brightstar's work area.

"What's wrong? Ash told me you needed to see me." Brightstar asked.

Soft Step shifted nervously as she prepared herself. "Papa... there's something I need to show you."

"Couldn't this have waited until later?" Brightstar asked, "I was helping Juniper Rose with her drying racks. It's important that they’re done early enough or we won't have any fruit for the winter."

"Please. You need to watch what she has to show you," Ash said, looking up at Brightstar. "It's important."

Brightstar glanced down at Ash, noticing the strange seriousness in his tone. "Well, okay. What is it you want to show me?"

The middle of the dirt floor had been swept clear, and Soft Step had set a ring of stones with a small pile of sticks set inside down. Next to that, she had a large sheet of bark with wood chips piled on top with what looked like a piece of tree fungus.

Picking up the grey stone Soft Step held it up. "Papa, do you remember this stone you gave me?"

"I do." Brightstar answered, his voice sounding curious.

"I've been studying it like you wanted me to and I've discovered something... surprising." Bending down, Soft Step set the grey stone down and used a sharp piece of flint to start scraping at the tree fungus until she had a pile of shavings gathered together in its center. Setting the piece of flint down next to her small pile of shreddings and bracing it with her hoof. Picking up the grey stone in her teeth, Soft Step began to strike it against the edge of the flint, shooting off a shower of sparkling lights onto her pile of tree fungus shavings.

Brightstar leaned forward with sudden interest as he watched his daughter. After a series of tries, Soft Step suddenly stopped and set her grey stone down. Bending down over the tree fungus, she began to gently blow on it. From where he was standing, Ash was able to make out that there was a tiny glowing spark inside the fungus shavings, and each time Soft Step blew into it, it glowed brighter.

Smoke started to waft up from the fungus she was working on, and Brightstar's eyes widened in amazement. Suddenly a tiny flame appeared and Soft Step quickly began setting the wood shavings into it. Soon the flame began to grow larger.

Brightstar took a sudden intake of breath as a look of alarm came over his face. Ash was ready and he quickly placed himself before Brightstar and held his hoof to his chest to hold him back from doing anything. "Wait! Please, trust your daughter and watch."

Brightstar looked like he was about to brush Ash aside so he could rush forward, but something seemed to forestall him from doing so. He watched in awed wonder as his daughter lifted the sheet of bark and moved it over the the ring of stones. With a careful hoof, Soft Step deposited the burning wood chips within the pile of sticks. A few moments later the fire grew as it started to burn the sticks.

It was now that Brightstar rushed over to Soft Step. Taking her hooves, he checked them for any burns. Next, he began to check the rest of her body.

Letting out a giggle, Soft Step batted Brightstar's hooves away. "I'm fine. It didn't hurt me."

"Are you sure? Perhaps you just don't feel it yet,” he said, trying to examine her again.

Fending her papa off, Soft Step moved over to the fire to check on it. Seeing that it was burning evenly and within the confines of her stone ring, she looked up at her papa. "I did it, Papa. I made fire."

"I see that, Sweetie," Brightstar said. Walking closer to the fire, he bent down and admired it. "You have done something quite wondrous, and you have no idea how proud I am of you for it."

Soft Step beamed up at Brightstar, ecstatic that he had praised her.

His smile faded into a frown. "But I am also very disappointed in you for handling something so dangerous without coming to me the moment you discovered it," Brightstar said with a stern voice. "That was very unsafe, and I expected better of you."

Soft Step suddenly looked down, abashed at his abrupt criticism of her. "I'm sorry, Papa."

Wrapping a hoof around her, Brightstar drew her in for a hug. "You're still an amazing little filly and I love you all the same."

Ash felt a warmth in his chest as he watched the tender scene, though, it might have been the fire he was feeling. Next to him, Bumblebee sniffled and wiped at her nose before rushing over to join in the family hugging.

Releasing the two fillies, Brightstar looked back at the fire. "So, how about you teach me how you did that."

Smiling, Soft Step started to gather her things back together as she explained what each one did. As she did, a flicker of light momentarily shimmered on her flanks as a pair of flames appeared there.

 

 

 

 

* ** *

 

 

 

 

    Dove shifted herself and rubbed at her belly as she worked to clean and treat their guests’ wounds. Most of their injuries were just minor scrapes that just needed to be cleaned and treated with mashed plantain leaves. Only one of the mares, Dainty Mane, had anything more serious. She had a gash that ran along her ribs that looked swollen, with a slight scent of rot. Dove cleaned and treated it like usual, but she feared that she would have to cut away some of the diseased tissue later and retreat it.

Flinching, Dove paused to rub at her belly again as she let out a breath. Her cramps had started a little while ago and they felt like they were getting worse. It would still be a few more moons before her pregnancy would start to show, but already her udders were starting to feel sore.

Laying on a mat near her brother, Mirage Shimmer told of what happened to her and the other mares as she ate hungrily from a wooden bowl. She had already devoured several helpings of radishes, and it appeared that she was not going to stop anytime soon.

"We were moving through the mountain range on our way to the high meadows where we like to summer, when we stopped to rest for a few days in a tiny hidden valley we found by chance," Mirage explained. "The valley was very small with shear walls on all sides. In the back, there was a tiny spring that fed into a tiny pond. We stayed there for several days to let the foals and their mothers rest before we attempted the arduous trek up to the high pastures. When our herd stallion, old Gravel Biter, decided that it was time to go, he sent the six of us out first to make sure it was safe." Mirage's tone became somber as her eyes became distant. "We were out for only a short while when, suddenly, there was a horrible, cracking boom that shook the earth under our hooves. A section of the mountainside had sheared off, and, as we watched with horror, came crashing down right onto the narrow pass into the valley, blocking it up completely. We tried everything we could to find a way back in, but we failed. The valley was sealed tight.

"There was nothing else we could do. We didn't know how far back into the valley the slide had gone, or as to whether the herd was even still alive in there. In the end, we did the hardest thing we ever had to do." Her voice broke, and it took her a few moments to continue. "We left them behind."

Dove felt her heart ache with sympathy for the mares. She couldn't imagine leaving loved ones behind like that. Not knowing if they were dead or alive. Without thinking about it, Dove rubbed her belly.

"This all happened three days ago." Mirage said, before looking over at her brother. "And, Darkie, Mama was in there."

Dark looked like somepony had bucked him in the gut. With a troubled look, he stood and walked off to the other side of the room to stare out one of the openings at the setting sun.

"That's terrible," Dove said, looking after Dark. "He must be absolutely devastated."

Mirage shook her head. "His feelings towards her is a bit more complicated than that. You see, he's never forgiven her for abandoning him when she was pregnant with me," she explained, looking over at Dark with sorrow. "Mama tried to reconcile with him later, but that only drove him further away." Mirage continued gazing after her brother. "One day, he decided to leave. I tried to talk him out of it but he had his mind set. I was the only one he said goodbye to when he left." Mirage dropped her gaze. "Until today, that was the last time I saw him."

"Mirage," Meadowlark said, calling her attention back to her. "Do you think you would be able to find your way back?"

"Back? You mean back to the valley?" Mirage asked, scratching at her head. "I think so. Why?"

Meadowlark didn't answer as they turned to look over to Strongbuck. "Strongbuck, please tell Brightstar, Hoof Strike, and Sky, if you can chase her down, to come see me."

Strongbuck gave a quick nod before hurrying off. Melodious looked over at Meadowlark thoughtfully. "You're thinking of trying to rescue them, aren't you?"

Meadowlark nodded. "Brightstar has some of the most unique and inventive minds working along with him. If they can't think of a way to get them out, I will be very surprised."

"But we don't know if they’re even alive in there," Mirage said.

"I guess that’s where Sky comes in," Melodious surmised out loud.

Birch Bark smiled as he suddenly got it. "Oh! She could just fly over and check on them!"

"Right," Meadowlark said as she tapped her hoof to her chin. "We'll need to act fast. We don't know what state they'll be in. They may be injured." Turning, she looked to Dove. "Dove, would you be willing to go?"

Dove smiled and nodded. "Oh course I would. I'll gladly do anything I can to help."

"Good," Meadowlark said, giving Dove a appreciative smile. "Now, we need somepony to lead the rescue. I think Hoof Strike would do nicely with that."

"No." Dark's voice cut in as he turned back from the opening. "I will lead the rescue."

Meadowlark looked over at him, her expression filled with concern. "Are you sure you want to do that? Hoof Strike can do it."

"I will lead it." His tone made it clear that his decision was final.

She considered him for a time. "Very well," Meadowlark submitted. "When will you want to leave?"

"Tomorrow morning. Just before sunrise," Dark answered.

"Well then, that means I need to get my stuff ready," Dove said, standing. Suddenly, a sharp cramping pain shot through her gut that doubled her over with an agonized groan.

"Dove!" Meadowlark exclaimed, rushing over to her.

Gasping for breath, Dove fought to bare through the pain. What was happening!? Her mind whirled around in frightened concern for her foal. A new wave of pain sent her collapsing to the ground.

"Dove! What's wrong!?" Meadowlark asked, her voice sounding frightened as she tried to help her. Suddenly, Dove heard Meadowlark gasp in horror. "Oh no. Dove. You're bleeding!"

Through her fog of pain, Dove could feel it: a wetness running down her hind legs.

"Dark!" Melodious shouted turning to him.. "Go get Strongbuck! Now!"

 

 

 

 

****

 

 

 

 

Brilliant Dawn labored up the steps of the Pillar of the Heavens. Her breath came in heaving grunts as she struggled to haul her great bulk up the steep earthen and stone ziggurat steps. It had taken the unicorns nearly a century to complete the ziggurat, with many lives being lost to its construction.

Occasionally, the foal in her womb would shift and kick her in her bladder, or poke her lung with its stubby little horn. Just ahead of her, Brilliant Dawn could see the top of the ziggurat drawing close. She'd climbed to the top many times in her life, but, now that she was heavy with foal, it was a massive ordeal that strained her to total exhaustion. Her hooves ached and her back felt like it was about to crack in half. All in all, she felt absolutely miserable.

Having a foal wasn't something she wanted to do yet; even though she had been through her first few heats, she felt that she was still too young, but her mother, Astral, demanded that it was her duty to produce powerful offspring as soon as she could, to insure their supremacy over the rest of the lower unicorns. When her next heat came, her mother brought her a young virile stallion she had carefully chosen for the task of siring a foal with her. With her blood raging in carnal lust, Brilliant Dawn was unable to resist the stallion’s advances. With her mother watching to insure that it was done, Brilliant Dawn allowed the stallion to breed her.

Climbing up the last few steps to the top of the ziggurat, Brilliant Dawn let out a relieved breath as she looked around. Unicorns were already lined up along the two sides of the large, flat-topped ziggurat. In the center, she could barely make out her mother's near-black coat standing within a series of very large standing stones that was arranged in concentric rings around her in very precise astrological alignments to the heavens. The sun sat low to the horizon in the west, its light shining through a very narrow gap right onto a mark in the very center of the ring. Marking the time of the summer solstice.

It was almost time. It had taken her longer to reach the top than she had expected. Hurrying forward, Brilliant Dawn took her place just outside the stone ring in the center.

"I'm please to see that you've finally arrived." Her mother said, turning to look back at her.

"My apologies, mother." Brilliant Dawn said apologetically. "It's getting very difficult for me to climb the stairs now."

Astral pursed her lips as she considered her daughter, her expression unreadable.  "Please endure your condition a little better from now on, dear daughter. I will not stand for any of the lowers seeing weakness from any of my progeny. Understood?"

"Yes, mother. I understand," Brilliant Dawn answered with a bow of her head. "I will do better from now on."

"See that you do," Astral replied evenly, before she turned her attention away. "It is time. Let us begin."

Brilliant Dawn summoned her magic and her horn glowed with a light emerald color. All around, the Patrons horns began to glow as they also drew on their magic. Reaching out, Brilliant Dawn began to link their magic together. One by one, she drew the Patrons magic to her until all one hundred were linked to her. She struggled under the strain of the power she was drawing in. Most unicorns’ horns would shatter under such strain, but Brilliant Dawn carefully modulated the stress and held it carefully in balance. She couldn't describe how good it felt. The amount of power she now held made her feel like she could do anything. At that moment she was sure she could crack the very world under her, if she so desired.

What she was doing was very dangerous. Many mares had died or been terribly crippled doing this task over the centuries. Her mother, Astral, had been very proud that her eldest daughter had been skilled and powerful enough to take on such an important, and prestigious duty as the Focus. There were less than a dozen mares capable of filling the role, and none of them could do it as efficiently or as consistently as Brilliant Dawn did.

Turning her attention to her waiting mother, Brilliant Dawn lowered her head and pointed her horn at her, sending all the power she had gathered to her in a stream of magic. Astral's face began to smile in euphoric bliss as her horn glowed ever brighter with power. It quickly grew so bright, it would hurt the eyes of any who looked upon it. Lifting her head, Astral cast her spell and the sun began to drop to the horizon.

As she worked to feed the accumulated magic to her mother, Brilliant Dawn felt a sudden gripping pain in her stomach. Gritting her teeth, she managed to bare through the cramping pain that rippled through her body. It wasn't the first time she had experienced cramps. Recently, they had been growing worse as her pregnancy grew more advanced. Sometimes they kept her up for half the night, leaving her exhausted in the morning, when she had to help with the raising of the morning sun.

The sun slowly settled under the horizon and the sky dimmed to a rosy twilight. Another cramp suddenly shot through her as her mother started to raise the half-filled moon. Letting out a grunt of surprise at the intensity of the cramping, Brilliant Dawn redoubled her focus on feeding the vast surge of magic to her mother smoothly and evenly. It was a struggle. She balanced on the very edge of losing total control as her focus wavered.

Quickly, the cramps passed and Brilliant Dawn steadied herself. It was almost done. A few more moments, the moon rose up clear of the horizon and she released the magic she was drawing from the Patrons with a relieved gasp. The top of the ziggurat plunged into darkness as the magic faded. With a crackling pop, Astral vanished as she transported herself away. Brilliant Dawn wished she could do that as well, but it was too dangerous with her pregnancy.

As ponies began to file off the top, another cramp rippled through her body, forcing Brilliant Dawn to pause to lean against one of the standing stones to wait for it to pass. With the last unicorn disappearing down the stairs, Brilliant Dawn began to worry that she may need some help. The cramping pain wasn't fading like usual. In fact, it was growing much worse.

Letting out a groan, Brilliant Dawn slowly collapsed to the ground and huddled around her large belly as the pain grew to agonizing levels. Suddenly, she felt a popping sensation followed by a gush of warm fluid run out of her, down her hind legs.

Panic shot through her as she realized what was happening. It was time! She was having the foal! When the pain subsided a bit, Brilliant Dawn attempted to stand. She needed to try to get down the ziggurat. A moment later, she cried out as she collapsed back down onto the cold, hard, stone ground. Never before had she ever felt such pain.

Her body contorted with each cramping pain as she writhed on the ground. It was happening so fast! She started to feel pressure as something began to push out of her. Gasping for breath, Brilliant Dawn gritted her teeth as she bore down and pushed. The pressure she felt only increased and she screamed in agony.

Time and again, Brilliant Dawn pushed with each of her tortuous contractions, and, slowly, she felt something start to come out. With another hard push, she suddenly felt a searing pain. She felt like something was tearing and she screamed out in pain. Glancing back as best she could, Brilliant Dawn noticed blood start to puddle out from her across the stone ground.

Letting out a cry of agonized fear, Brilliant Dawn desperately bore down as hard as she could and pushed. For a moment the pressure and pain was beyond anything she had ever felt before. Then suddenly something shifted and the pressure abruptly vanished as she felt something push all the way out of her.

Letting out a cry of relief and joy that her foal was finally out, Brilliant Dawn turned herself and saw a small, light-lavender filly lying partly in her torn birthing bag on the ground. Her little head moved about, as she started to cry. Brilliant Dawn never heard anything so beautiful in her life. As carefully as she could, she gathered her newborn daughter up in her magic  and tucked her against her side so she could nuzzle and clean her.

As she licked and rubbed her foal in loving attention, Brilliant Dawn couldn't help but admire how beautiful she was. Her coat was a light-lavender color, and her mane and tail were a dark, plum purple. Licking the foal along her little cheeks, Brilliant Dawn saw the her foal’s eyes come open. Looking into her eyes, Brilliant Dawn gasped in sudden horror when she saw that they were milky white! Her newborn daughter was completely blind!

Letting out a whimpering cry of despair, she clutched her daughter to herself. She needed to hide her somewhere safe! There was no way her mother would allow a foal with such a defect to live! Gathering her hooves, Brilliant Dawn attempted to stand, but her legs were too weak and she fell back. What was wrong!? Why did she feel so weak?

She tried a couple more times, but failed to make it up to her hooves. Laying back, Brilliant Dawn clutched her daughter to herself as she gazed up at the stars. A chill was creeping through her body as she felt her eyes start to fall shut with heaviness. She was just tired. She just needed to get a bit of sleep. That's all. After she rested, she’ll find a way to keep her foal safe from her mother. She just… needed… to… rest...a bit...

Tucking her head about her foal. Bright Dawn closed her eyes and drifted off to darkness.

 

 

 

 

****

 

 

 

 

    "I tell you, I heard somepony screaming up here," a young unicorn mare said, topping the ziggurat with an older mare accompanying her.

"Well, I don't see anything," the older mare said, looking around.

"No! Wait!" the younger mare exclaimed. "What's that over there?" she said, pointing her hoof.

The older mare's horn lit up with a flickering glow, and she cast its wavering light toward where the younger one was pointing.

Lying against one of the standing stones, they saw a light-emerald colored mare huddled up on herself.

"Hello?" the older mare called out. "We heard screaming. Are you alright?"

When they got no response, they both approached the mare. Soon they saw a large puddle of blood surrounding her. Letting out a gasp, the younger mare dashed forward and checked on her. The moment she touched her limp body, she knew that she was dead.

"I know her," the older mare said, looking down at the body. "She's the Matriarch's daughter. Brilliant Dawn."

"We should go before we're caught here with her. They'll think that we did this to her!" the younger mare exclaimed in fright.

Before they could turn to go, they heard a tiny, mewling cry coming from the dead mare.

Letting out a terrified cry, the younger mare hid behind the other. "What was that!?"

"I’m not sure," the older mare said, stepping closer. "It came from under her." Using her magic, she moved Brilliant Dawn's head to the side, revealing a tiny light-lavender filly huddled up under her neck.

Bending around the older mare, the younger one peeked out. "It's... it’s a filly."

 

 

 

 

* ** *

 

 

 

 

"No! This isn’t happening!" Dove's voice was wracked with panic. She clutched at Strongbuck's neck as he carried her on his back. Over and over again she whimpered and pleaded out loud. "No, please no. Not again, please."

Strongbuck felt his heart ache with worry. Blood continued to seep out of Dove, and now it was running down his flanks as it dribbled down onto him. Dove's tears soaked into his neck where she had her cheek pressed into him. Her pleading whimpers never stopping.

Around him. Dark, Meadowlark, Bell, and Mirage Shimmer hurried along with him. Worry was prevalent on all their faces. Ducking through his hut opening, Strongbuck carefully lowered Dove down onto the bed of straw. Once she was down, Dove curled around and protectively hugged her stomach.

"Please. Please. Please no. Please." Dove sobbed.

Strongbuck sat back in worry, not sure what to do as he looked around. A hoof came down on his shoulder as Dark stood over him. "Come. You shouldn't be here for... this."

"But she needs me. I want to stay with her." Strongbuck answered back.

"She needs you to love her and to be strong for her." Dark answered meeting his gaze. "You won't be able to do that if you... see what happens next. Bell is here and she'll stay with Dove. Come. Let's give them room to work." Dark lead Strongbuck out of the hut.

Sitting out in the low hanging sun. Strongbuck kept his attention focused solely on his hut and the sounds from within.

Ash dashed over and looked up at Dark. "What's the matter, Papa?"

Dark looked down and mutely shook his head to the colt. Seeing the serious look Dark was giving him, Ash kept quiet from any further questions and silently sat with Strongbuck.

A short time later, Melodious came hurrying up with Celestia by her side. When they stepped inside, Strongbuck heard Dove start whimpering louder. "No! Don't touch me! Please, no! Stay back!"

"Dove, please," Melodious said as she tried to reason with Dove. "We need to know for sure."

"No, no, no. Please, no. Don't..." Dove's plea's lost strength as her voice became weak and woeful until she fell silent. A moment later she suddenly cried out in agonized, heartbroken grief and started sobbing uncontrollably.

Celestia suddenly dashed out of the hut and ran away as fast as she could, tears streaming down her cheeks.

"Ash!" Dark called out to the colt hurriedly. "Go after her and hug her as tight as you can until she stops crying! Go now!"

Ash immediately shot after Celestia.

Strongbuck couldn't hold himself back any longer and made to rush inside, but Dark blocked his way. "Strongbuck. Just remember your feelings for her and be strong. She will need your strength and love more now than ever." With that, he let the young stallion go inside. Letting out a sad sigh, Dark looked up at the newly-risen moon and let his own tears fall.

 
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