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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21. Chapter 21

Astral, sovereign of the Heavens, Matriarch of the greatest and most powerful Unicorn tribe in the world, leaned back against the warm rocks and let out a contented sigh. There was nothing she enjoyed more than a good soaking in a hot spring at the end of a day. Deep down, toward the heart of an old, extinct volcano, water pooled in vast, heated chambers that the Unicorns found to be a perfect place to relax and soak in the mineral rich waters. In other, much larger chambers, Unicorn mares were already gathering in the heated pools to exchange the latest gossip and pass on pleasantries with each other.

The sour feeling she felt in her stomach was slowly ebbing away as she soaked in the warm water. The food the gatherers had brought back today had been most unacceptable. Two half-rotten apples and some dry grass. She would have to have some of them punished again. They were getting lazy and not searching out far enough for some proper food. Or worse yet, they were probably keeping the choice bits for themselves.

Insufferable lowers. Always complaining and griping about the dangers that are out there. It had grown so bad she had been forced to send Casters out with them to insure they brought back food.

Cracking her eyes open, Astral looked over to Glittering Crystal who stood silently by the cave wall. “Glittering, go and find what is taking my dear daughter Brilliant so long in returning. Her incessant tardiness has grown most vexing.”

Glittering Crystal nodded her head before she quickly trotted off down the old lava tube to follow her order.The cave system they lived in was quite extensive. Old lava tubes and open chambers honeycombed the entire mountain, making it a wonderful home for a tribe of such immense size and power. For centuries, they used their magic to carve out new passages and chambers to expand into.

Closing her eyes again, Astral let her mind wander as she let the warmth soak into her. All of her careful plans were coming along just as well as she had hoped. Soon, her oldest and most talented daughter, Brilliant Dawn, will birth the next powerful member of her family. Of all the high bloods, her family will be the most powerful to ever exist! All Unicorns will bow their heads down and worship her!

The sound of clopping of hooves approached her pool. Flicking an ear back, Astral frowned. It was about time Brilliant Dawn arrived. Cracking an eye open, she glanced to the side and was unpleasantly surprised to see Glittering Crystal approaching her pool with an anxious expression.

"What is it, Glittering Crystal? Why is my errant daughter not with you?" Astral asked the mare with a hard edge to her voice.

"My... my apologies, Matriarch," Glitter Dust said, her tone sounding oddly tense, "but something dreadful has happened."

 

 

****

 

 

    Higher above, in the old volcano, within the expanded warren of corridors and chambers, Radiant Sunset sat in her family quarters holding Brilliant Dawn’s light-lavender foal, with her two younger sisters, Dazzling Evening and Vivid Midnight, fawning over her.

The two low blood mares that had found Brilliant Dawn and her foal sat nervously near the entrance to their quarters with two hard eyed Casters watching over them. They had been found descending the Pillar of the Heavens with Brilliant Dawn’s newborn foal, and the pair had been quickly brought in so the Matriarch could see and question them.

The older mare, Grand Vista was silvery-blue with a deep purple mane and the younger mare, Tranquil Charm had a russet coat with a golden-orange mane. They stared about in nervous amazement at all the magically charged light crystals that sat about the chamber. To them, any more than two or three was a luxury that was unknown to lowers like them.

Summoning her magic, Radiant Sunset fed power into a nearby light crystal, making it glow brighter so she could make out the foal better. At the moment, she was asleep and her eyes were closed, but Radiant had already seen what was under them. Foals with such deformities were often time abandoned in the wilderness by their mothers or cast down from a clifftop as soon as they were born. Radiant worried for the filly, for what their mother would do to her.

"What's going to happen to her? Are we going to keep her?" her younger sister, Dazzling Evening asked.

Little Vivid Midnight, her youngest sister sniffled her nose as she nodded. "Yeah, can we keep her?" Her eyes were red from crying.

Radiant didn't know how to answer them. The truth just seemed too cruel. Looking up at her sisters, she shook her head. "I'm not sure. Mother will know when she gets here." She answered as best she could. Turning her head, she nodded toward the sleeping chamber. "It's late, I want you two to go to sleep now."

"Aww, but I want to be here when mother meets the new foal," Dazzling whined with a pout.

Radiant knew that it would be a horrible mistake to let them stay. "No. You can see them tomorrow morning." She didn't like lying to them, but she didn’t want them there when their mother arrived. Now that Brilliant was gone, it was up to her look after them. "I'm the elder sister now, so do what I tell you and go to sleep," she ordered with the best authoritative tone she could manage.

Thankfully her sisters relented and went off to their sleeping quarters. Letting out a relieved breath, Radiant rocked the filly who was now letting out little whimpering complaints at having been roused from her quiet slumber. Summoning her magic, Radiant cast a spell that was her own little invention on the passageway to her sisters sleeping quarters. With a glow around the walls, her spell was set and the passageway was warded to prevent sound from passing through. She may not have the raw power or the fine control that Brilliant Dawn had, but Radiant had other skills that were just as useful.

After an abortive attempt to talk to the two terrified mares, Radiant sat quietly and listened to the filly's slow drawn breaths as she slept. Gazing down at her, Radiant couldn't help it. Her heart went out to the filly. She was so tiny and just starting out in life. She didn't deserve this fate.

A familiar light appeared at the corridor outside. Radiant's heart started to race as her mother stepped into the chamber with her horn glowing with power, while Glittering Crystal followed behind her. Her mother's eyes quickly settled onto Radiant and the foal she was holding. Radiant cringed back from her mother's gaze and she was glad she had sent her sisters to bed before they saw their mother like this.

Ignoring the two mares. Astral marched over to Radiant. "Let me see!" she growled out. "I want to see that creature's eyes now!"

Radiant protectively tightened her hold on the filly as her mother approached, afraid that her mother would harm the foal. Instead, Astral used her magic to flip open the sleeping foal's lids so she could look at her colorless eyes. Letting out an enraged howl, half of the light crystals suddenly exploded around the chamber as her magic surged out uncontrolled.

The two mares cowered back in fear as the two Casters gazed at Astral with sudden worry, looking like they wanted to be somewhere else. The foal startled awake at the ruckus and started bawling in fright.

As her mother turned away with a snarl, Radiant knew that this was her only chance to try and save the foal. "Mother! She didn’t do anything wrong! She’s still family! Brilliant would want her to live!”

"Brilliant is dead," Astral roared out as she spun about and pointed a hoof, "and that deformed thing killed her!"

"No she didn't!" Radiant shouted back over the waling foal. "You did!" She couldn't believe what she had just said to her mother. Despite her shock, she knew that what she had said was true. "You were the one who forced this on her! You just couldn't wait, could you? You just needed to show them all how superior we are to them! Your reckless desire to be worshiped is what killed Brilliant! Not this little foal!"

Her mother’s eyes grew very wide with fury and her horn crackled with power. Radiant swallowed fearfully as she clutched the foal to herself.

"How dare you!" Astral screamed in outrage. "I am your mother, and I will not be spoken to like this from you!"

"Or what, Mother!?" Radiant challenged back. "You'll drag down to the breeding stables to be mounted by all the stallions until I beg you for forgiveness or die in foalbirth like sister did?"

Magic suddenly shot out of Astral's horn, striking Radiant. Agonizing pain racked her body as she collapsed to the ground, the foal almost falling from her grasp. Magic snapped around her body for a few more moments until it suddenly faded, leaving her gasping for breath on the ground. This was the first time her mother had ever used a shock spell on her. She had no idea it would hurt so much! The foal in her hooves was shrieking now, her little voice cracking with the strain of her howls. Suddenly she was ripped out of her grasp by her mother's magic.

"Don't test me, you disobedient whelp!" she snapped at her daughter as she floated the foal over to herself.

Radiant struggled to get her twitching hooves gathered under her as she looked up at her mother, "Mother no! Please! Don't hurt her!"

Astral's horn grew brighter as she drew on her magic. Bending her head down, she touched the foal. The air surrounding the tiny foal crackled with Astral’s intense power, and Radiant desperately crawled forward, trying to get to her mother before it was too late. With a sudden flash and crackling pop, the terrified wailing foal vanished.

Letting out a whimper, Radiant collapsed back down as tears flooded her eyes. She failed. Brilliant Dawn's little foal was gone. Sent to some far flung wilderness somewhere to die alone.

Turning from her weeping daughter, Astral approached the two frightened mares. "You two. Were you the ones who found my daughter?"

The two mares both cowered back as they clutched each other, obviously terrified. The older one managed to nod her head to the impatiently waiting Matriarch.

“Did either of you speak to any other pony about what you found?" she demanded of the pair, fixing them both with an intense gaze.

Radiant managed to get her quivering hooves under some control and was able to sit up and wipe at her eyes.

"Well did you!? Answer me!" Her mother shouted at the two mares, her horn glowing brighter.

Cringing back in terror, they both began to fervently shake their heads at her.

Astral gave a pleased nod to their answer. "Good."

Her apparent satisfied response to their answer made the two mares let out relieved breaths, but Radiant knew from her mother's tone that they should still be very afraid of her.

Sure enough, Astral's horn flashed as she cast a spell. The two mares suddenly jerked and shuddered in place as their eyes started to bug out. This only lasted a moment before both their jaws suddenly went slack and they stared forward with vacant eyes that glowed from within. This went on for a brief time until her mother seemed satisfied and released her hold over them.

The two mares suddenly crumpled to the ground. Glittering Crystal moved over and checked on them. "What did you do to them?" she asked as she worriedly looked them over.

"I removed the last day out of their minds,” she answered. Looking over to the two Casters she gestured down to the two drooling mares. "Take them down to the lower tunnels and leave them. I don’t care where. They will not be able to remember nor tell anypony what has happened this night.”

The two Casters quickly followed Astral's order and lifted their two comatose charges up in their magic and carried them out.

Astral turned away, already forgetting about what she had done to the two unfortunate mares and approached her horrified daughter. Setting her hoof onto Radiant's cheek, Astral looked into her daughter's eyes. "You must understand that everything I do is for the betterment of my family. That includes you my dear daughter." She said with a soft voice. "Sometimes I must do things that are harsh or even cruel to protect what is precious to me? Someday you will understand the sacrifices a mother has to do for her foals."

Radiant felt sick. She had just witnessed and experienced some very disturbing acts from her mother. Is this the mother that Brilliant knew? Would she, now that she was the eldest, have to face this side of her mother from now on? Would she have the strength to endure?

Blinking her eyes, Radiant looked down from her mother's gaze. "I understand, Mother. I'm sorry for the shameful way I've acted."

Her mother drew her into a hug. "Oh, my dear daughter. You were only trying to protect that poor, defective foal. I am proud of you, that is a good sign that you will be a good mother someday."

"Yes, Mother. Thank you." To protect her two sisters, she would have to endure.

 

****

 

    The sky was still dark as the rescue party gathered near the longhouse. Birch Bark had worked all night to ready the supplies they would be taking with them. When word had gone out that they were heading out on a rescue mission, there was no shortage of volunteers that Dark was able to choose from.

Ash suppressed a yawn as he made sure his pack was in place before grabbing his spear and rushing out. Celestia and Meadowlark were already out saying goodbye to Dark and his sister, Mirage Shimmer. Dashing through the settlement, Ash quickly arrived at the bustling longhouse.

Ponies busily worked to get ready. Packs were being checked and filled, and families and loved ones were saying their goodbyes. What they were about to do was something that had never even been attempted before. To go out and rescue another herd in distress. Many ponies were excited by this new chance to help others and explore new ways of doing things.

Ash found Dark and Mirage standing by the large cracked stone with Meadowlark and Celestia. Dark was holding Luna and busily kissing the giggling filly quite thoroughly. Rushing up, Ash stopped next to Dark as he passed Luna back to her mother.

Glancing down at Ash with his pack and spear, Meadowlark frowned as she looked back to Dark. "I'm still not happy you're taking him with you."

Dark smiled at her over-concern for the colt and placed his hoof on his back. "Don't worry about him. He'll be just fine, I'll see to it."

Meadowlark narrowed her eyes at him as her lips tightened in disapproval, then her face softened as he stepped in closer and nuzzled Dark's cheek. "Make sure you do. I want to see you both returned to me."

As the two nuzzled each other, Ash suddenly caught a flash of red as he felt a pair of soft lips pressed onto the side of his muzzle near his lips. Blinking in surprise, Ash glanced over to see Strawberry Zest stepping back with an embarrassed look on her face.

"I’d like you to come back safely as well., okay?" she said with a smile before rushing off.

"Well, that was sweet of her," Mirage said, giving Ash an amused look.

Celestia scowled at the departing Strawberry with a stormy look. Ash was confused as to why she appeared to be so upset at Strawberry. Weren't they friends? Before he could ask her what was wrong, he was suddenly enveloped in a tight hug that smooshed him with Luna in Meadowlarks hooves, she began kissing him several times all over his head, cheeks and muzzle.

"I want you to stay close to Papa and listen to him at all times. Okay?" Mama said, looking him in the face.

Blinking at her, Ash nodded. "I will Mama." He said before he kissed her and turned and kissed the gurgling Luna he was mashed up against.

Once he was set down again by a weepy Meadowlark, Ash looked for Celestia, but discovered she was missing. He felt a bit disappointed that he didn't get to say goodbye to her. The night before, he had held her as she sobbed uncontrollably over the grief of Dove’s lost foal. The anguish she felt when she sensed nothing where she had once felt a bright spark of new life in Dove’s womb absolutely devastated her. Ash had no idea Celestia could cry that much.

Ash noticed that ponies were starting to join up as they all readied to go. Following along with Dark and Mirage, Ash saw Soft Step and her sister Bumblebee approaching. Pausing Ash waited for them.

"I'm glad I caught you before you left," Soft Step said as she stopped just before him. Reaching back into her pack, she took out a little grey stone and held it out to him. "I wanted to give you this. I broke it off of mine. I thought it you might find it useful."

Ash took the grey stone on the flat of his hoof and saw that it was a piece of the same grey stone Soft Step used to strike sparks from, what she started to call her sparker. He felt touched that she had given him a piece of it. "Thank you. I know how much this means to you. I'll treasure it."

Saying his goodbyes, Ash put the stone into his pack and rushed off to catch up with Dark, who was now standing in the lead of a group of nineteen ponies. Sky Twirl was with her mate, Dusty Stride, who was carrying a heavy pack filled with food and water. Many other ponies were also carrying various supplies that Birch Bark had provided for the trip.

In the back of the supply ponies was a grayish-green mare with a vibrant blue mane, who kept an attentive eye on Dusty and Sky. Pebble Stream had quickly volunteered when she had heard her son was going, and despite the dark look he had given her when he saw that she was there, he made no move to have her removed from the expedition and instead seemed to have chosen to just ignore her.

Dark looked over his twenty volunteers and saw that they were all ready. Calling out the order to go, he turned and lead them out the gate.

Ash followed along right beside Dark, his hooves feeling like they were floating above the ground. Ahead of them, he could see the sky growing brighter as the sun approached the horizon.

 

 

* ** *

 

 

Dove lay staring out blankly at the wall, her hooves wrapped around her empty womb. She had no more tears left to cry. Everything in her felt hollow and barren, a desolate wasteland of despair. Strongbuck and Bell had stayed with her all night, trying to comfort her, but in truth, all their kind loving words and tender touches only seemed her hurt her further.

The sun was up. She knew this but didn't care. Bell had left to hunt down food for the two wolf pups, leaving Strongbuck to be with her. She could hear him not far from her, shifting around occasionally. She felt that she didn't deserve the love Strongbuck and Bell showed for her.

Strongbuck had given her something wondrous and precious to care for and her useless body allowed it to wither and die. She hated herself, and she hated her body. She felt nothing but vile revulsion for what her body has done to Strongbuck. She didn't deserve his love. Bell was much more deserving of his love than her.

"Dove? Would you like me to get you something to eat now?" Strongbuck suddenly asked, breaking the long silence. "You haven't eaten since yesterday."

At first, she was about to refuse again but then she realized that he would probably just keep asking until she said yes. Opening her mouth, she finally answered him. "If it's not too much trouble," she said softly without turning to look at him.

"No, no. No trouble at all," Strongbuck answered back quickly with a hopeful note in his voice. This had been the first time she responded to anything. "How are you feeling?"

"I hurt," she answered back, tightening her grip around her abdomen.

She heard him move in close and he softly touch to her shoulder. After a moment he stepped away. "I'll... go get you some food. How about some strawberries?"

"That sounds fine," she replied. After a moment, she heard him step out.

Laying there in silence, Dove stared at the wall as her mind wandered. Suddenly, she heard a foal crying. It lasted only a moment and her head shot up to look around. The foal had sounded close, almost like it had been inside the hut with her. Deciding that it must have been a pony passing by with a fussy foal, Dove lowered her head back down. Suddenly the foal’s cries started up again. Sitting up quickly, Dove looked around again but found no source to the crying. A moment later it stopped again.

What was going on? Clambering up to her hooves, Dove moved to the door and stepped out. Walking around the hut, she looked around for the passing mother and foal, but found nothing. She could only see a pair of older mares sitting together before their hut, talking together over some early breakfast.

Scratching at her head, Dove turned to go back into her hut when she heard the foal’s cries again. Perking her ears up, she quickly focused her head to the north. It was coming from over there. As she listened, Dove felt a strange tugging, as if she was being pulled toward it somehow. Slowly, she began to walk, as she let it draw her forward.

 

 

* ** *

 

 

    Strongbuck ducked back into his hut with a basket of strawberries held in his mouth. "I'm back," he announced. "Birch Bark was nice and gave me a double helping when he heard it was for you..." Strongbuck froze when he saw that Dove was missing. Dropping the basket, Strongbuck rushed back out and looked around. "Dove?" he called out.

"What's wrong?" Bell asked, approaching with Sentry and Chase.

"Dove's not inside," Strongbuck answered looking around worriedly. Where would she have gone? "She left when I went to get her some food."

"You left her alone!?" Bell exclaimed, giving Strongbuck a disapproving scowl.

Strongbuck's ears wilted under Bell's hard gaze. He knew that he had messed up and Bell would make sure he would regret it later. "Where do you think she would have gone!?"

Bell spun herself about as she pursed her lips in thought. Finally, after turning herself around several times, she shook her head in defeat. Suddenly she smiled when she thought of an idea. "The pups can find her. She's been helping me teach them to track!" Turning to the two pups she called to them to get their attention. "Sentry! Chase! Go find Dove!"

Immediately the two pups started sniffing around with their tails wagging. To them it would be just another game, but Strongbuck and Bell saw this as a serious test of their ability. After sniffing around, the two started trotting off through the settlement. Strongbuck and Bell followed behind the two pups. They moved unerringly together as they seemed to follow Dove's scent north through the settlement to the river, right where the log spanned over it.

"She crossed over to the North Woods!?" Strongbuck exclaimed in worry as he looked over to the other side. “Why would she go there!?”

"Strongbuck. Hurry and get our spears," Bell said with a note of distress as she shot a look over to him. "We need to find her before..." She couldn't bring herself to finish but Strongbuck knew what her worry was.

Dangerous things lived in that forest.

 

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