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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23. Chapter 23

    Ash's hooves were killing him. His back and sides were burning from where his pack was rubbing spots in it raw. When they started out that morning, he had felt like he could run the entire way there, but now he found his hooves dragging wearily with each step. Dark kept glancing down at him with an amused look until he finally asked him if he wanted to ride on his back.

With a stubborn shake of his head, Ash refused Dark's offer and quickened his steps for a time, but eventually he slowed back down and started dragging his hooves again. It had been a long day. They had made their way through the west woods until they came to a long stretch of grass covered hills that seemed to run on all the way to the horizon, and crossing over it had eaten up most of the rest of the day. As the day began to fade and the sun dropped close to the horizon behind them, they came to a wooded area that had a creek running along its edge.

"Let's stop here for the night," Dark said, coming to a stop next to the creek to look around. "Mustard, Morning. I want you two to scout around the area and see if you can spot any tracks or signs of anything we should be worried about. I'll expect to two to be back before the sun sets with a report of your findings."

Ash let out a relieved breath as he dropped his pack off and sat his rump down to the soft grass near the creek. All around, ponies were taking off their travel packs and refilling their water gourds in the clear water while Dark arranged for a watch scheduled during the night.

In a little while, the sun would be set and it would grow rather dark and hard to see. Ash glanced down at his pack and remembered the sparker stone that Soft Step had given him and an idea came to him.

Climbing back up onto his tired hooves, Ash started to look around for what he would need. Scratching around the dirt bank next to the creek, Ash managed to find a sizable chunk of flint. Cracking it against a large stone flaked off a piece with a good edge. Searching around the trees he failed to find any tree fungi to use to catch any sparks.

Soft Step said that she had tried many things besides tree fungi and a few seemed to work. Finding a cedar tree, Ash pulled off some of its bark and brought it back to his pack, next he went to the stream and gathered some stocks of cattails he saw growing there and some stones from its bank and formed a ring just as Soft Step had shown him and Brightstar to do.

"What are you doing, making a tiny wall?" Sky asked curiously, as she and Dusty Stride walked over to look at what he was doing.

Ash knew that what he was doing must look rather strange. "In a way, I am," Ash answered with a grin and a shrug of his shoulder. Taking his spear, he used its sharp edge to cut the cedar bark into tiny chips and set them out on a flat stone.

Sky and Dusty glanced at each other as they watched Ash work, their curiosity growing. "Do you want any help with whatever you're working on?" Dusty offered with Sky nodding with him.

Ash thought about his offer, if what he was doing was going to work, he would need a few more things. "Yes. Please gather some branches for me, and break them small enough to fit inside the stone circle," he accepted with an appreciative nod.

Dusty and Sky both went off to gathered what he needed. Finding an old fallen tree a little ways down the creek with plenty of dead branches they could easily snap off. They quickly had a rather sizable pile of branches sitting next to where Ash was working. Other ponies were pausing in their conversations to watch what they were doing.

Taking one of the cattails, Ash pulled its bulbous end apart to gather the white, fluffy material it was made of. Back home, Dove had started to use cattail fluff to pack over cuts and gashes when she discovered how well it worked to halt bleeding. Soft Step had told him that she tried using cattail fluff early on in her trials to make fire but found it burned too well, usually burning itself out before it had a chance of catching anything else and growing.

Ash hoped that the fluff would work if he packed enough of it on top of the cedar chips. Next he swept up the area of dead leaves and piled it into his stone circle, then he took some of the branches that Sky and Dusty had gathered and set some right on top of the leaves. Once he finished, Ash sat back and looked around to make sure it was all ready.

Taking a breath, Ash bent down and took up his piece of flint and set it down on another stone he had placed next to the flat one that held the cedar chips and cattail fluff in a small pile. Placing his hoof onto the piece of flint to hold it in place, Ash took the sparker in his mouth and carefully struck it across the flint edge.

Tiny sparks shot out, but to his disappointment it failed to make it to the pile of fluff. Trying again, Ash struck it harder and more sparks shot out with a few falling among the cattail fluff. After a moment, smoke started to waft up but when Ash tried to blow on it much like he had see Soft Step do he ended up blowing the fluff all off.

Grumbling at himself for his stupidness, Ash took the fluff off another cattail and set it back out on the cedar chips. He tried several more times, nicking his lip once, until he got a spark to land onto the fluff and start to smolder. Being careful this time, Ash lightly blew until it suddenly erupted into a tiny flame that quickly grew as it consumed the pile of fluff. When it all burned up, Ash checked the cedar chips and saw that one was just barely burning on its edge.

Using the edge of his hoof, Ash moved other cedar chips closer, allowing the tiny flame to spread to them. Soon, he had a nice little flame going and he carefully lifted the flat stone and moved it to the leaves he had inside the stone circle. Sky and Dusty watched with a kind of alarm and wonder on their faces as the flame began to take to the leaves and grow bigger.

"Ash! What are you doing!? Get away from that!" Dark roared in alarm as he rushed toward him and his newly created fire.

"Papa, no!" Ash cried out, worried that Dark would attack the fire. Rushing over to stop him, Ash shoved both his hooves into Dark's chest in a valiant attempt to stop the charging stallion from destroying what he had just worked so hard to create. "Stop, Papa, please!" His hind hooves slid in the dirt as Dark continued to try and get at the fire. In desperation, Ash shoved as hard as he could, feeling a strange surge run through his body as he did so. Dark gave a deep grunt as he came to a sudden and surprised halt.

"What the!?" Dark looked down at Ash. "What are you doing?"

"Please, just stop a moment and listen to me!" Ash pleaded, still holding Dark back. "Everything is fine! I started the fire. Soft Step showed me how!"

"You!? You made this!?" Dark asked, still confused. Around them, ponies were rushing over to watch what was happening.

"Yes, and everything is fine, I promise," Ash answered quickly. "It's under control. Nopony will get hurt by it. Look" Ash relaxed his restraining hooves to gesture back at the fire, which had now grown to the edge of the stone ring, but had gone no further.

"Soft Step showed you how to make this?" Dark asked, looking from the colt to the fire.

"Yes. She worked on it for a while, learning what she could of its secrets, and just yesterday she showed it to me and her papa, Brightstar." Ash explained quickly.

"Brightstar knew about this!?" Dark snapped out angrily. "Why didn't he tell me!?"

Ash wasn't sure if the question was directed at him or not but he decided to answer it anyways. "He didn't have time! With what happened with Dove last night, and with all the commotion and hurry to get ready, he had no chance to see you before we left."    

This seemed to give Dark pause, as he suddenly blinked in thought. Relaxing back, Dark looked down at his foster colt as he rubbed at his chest where the colt had held him back. "You've gotten pretty strong. It feels like you might have bruised one of my ribs."

Dark's remark surprised Ash. He never meant to hurt him. In fact, he didn't even know that he could hurt him. "I'm sorry, Papa. I didn't mean to." Ash apologized hurriedly, feeling horrible for what he had done.

Shaking his head, Dark grinned down at the distressed colt as he reached out and ruffled his mane. "Don't worry about it. I'll live," he assured him. Looking back up to the happily burning fire, Dark moved around Ash to step closer to it. "So tell me. Is this going to go wild and kill us all?"

Ash moved over next to Dark and shook his head. "No, Papa. Soft Step taught both me and Brightstar all about how to keep it trapped and under control," he assured him. Taking a branch, Ash tossed it into the fire. "As long as no pony tries to touch it or moves the stones that surrounds it, it will stay safely where it's at and nopony will get hurt."

Ponies were starting to gather in closer to look at the entrapped fire in their midst. Some of them appeared a little frightened of it, but the rest all gazed at it with wonder on their faces. Dark watched as ponies moved in from the dark to stand in the fires warm light. The sun was set and the darkness was closing in all around them, everywhere except where the fire cast its light.

Dark blinked around himself as ponies began to settle themselves down around the fire, to either talk among themselves or just quietly  gaze into the flames. As he watched all this, his sister stepped in close to his side.

"What's the matter? You look like you accidentally swallowed a frog," Mirage said, looking over at him.

"Look at them," Dark said, gesturing to the ponies sitting all about them happily chatting with each other. "The night in closing all about, and we're far from the herd in a land with unknown dangers," Dark shared with a perplexed look, "and here they sit together, happily talking with one another completely unafraid of what may be out in the darkness around them."

"I know what you mean," Mirage added. "I feel it myself. There is something about being in the firelight that makes me feel... safe and secure."

Dark continued looking about before he nodded his head in agreement. Focusing his attention down to Ash, he said, "Ash. From now on, I want you to make one of these... camp-fires, whenever we stop for the night. Alright?"

Ash smiled happily and nodded his head. "Yes, Papa. I will."

Dark settled himself to the ground with Ash and Mirage laying alongside him. "Well then..." Dark said to any pony listening. "Who wants to sing some songs?"

 

 

✹✹✹✹

 

 

Strongbuck let out a sigh of relief when Dove finally settled her hooves onto the firm soil on the opposite shore. Gripped in her mouth was the basket that held little Aurora, who had been quietly sleeping through much of the trip home. It was amazing how deeply the filly slept once she had a full belly.

Crossing back over the river had been a trying experience for Strongbuck, especially now that they had a little foal to keep safe. One little slip and Dove and Aurora would have fallen into the river. Dove had assured him that she would be extra careful crossing the log and if she did end up falling in, she was a very good swimmer, so there was nothing for him to be worried about.

Once Dove and Aurora was safely on the other side, the rest of them followed. The wolf pups easily scampered across, while Bell took her time, placing each hoof firmly in place before stepping forward again. Once it was Strongbuck's turn, he hurried across at such a pace he nearly fell when he misplaced one of his steps. Catching himself just in time, he continued on at a more reasonable pace.

They had returned just in time. The sun had just set and it was growing rather dark. Spending the night in the North Woods was not something Strongbuck wanted to experience. Stepping down from the log, he rejoined his two loving mates.

The vibrant red feather Dove had tied in her mane, just behind her ear, stood out in the dim light of the night. She had found it when it had drifted down and settled down onto her head when they were about to leave the glen. Dove felt that it was a parting gift from Bountiful Wellspring, and tied the gift into her mane. Strongbuck thought it was just a feather from a passing bird that had just happened to fall on to her but decided to keep his thoughts about it to himself and let her have her gift. Besides, he thought it looked good in her mane.

Walking into the settlement, they made their way to Meadowlark’s hut first. They needed to tell her what had happened to them in the North Woods as well as about little Aurora. When they arrived, they found her hut empty.  Figuring that she and her daughters must be at the longhouse, they decided to head there to look, stopping at their hut just long enough to lock the pups away in their pen, they made their way there.

 

The hamlet was unusually quiet as they made their way through it. Approached the longhouse, they noticed a strange flickering glow coming from inside as well as excited talking. Stepping through the doorway, they paused in astonishing.

The long room was filled with ponies! And sitting in the center of the room was the source of the strange light. A merry looking fire was burning in tall stone-walled ring set in the center of the floor. Brightstar moved around the fire, with his daughter Soft Step standing nearby in embarrassment as he loudly praised her to all the nearby ponies about her creation and what his daughter had learned of it.

Strongbuck very much wanted to go over and look closer at the fire, but he knew it would have to wait. The room was rather crowded and it was hard to make their way through. Staying close to the outer wall, they found a clear pathway that allowed them to approach the raised dais that sat on the far end of the longhouse.  

Meadowlark sat there with her two daughters as she appeared to be speaking anxiously with Hoof Strike. She kept frowning and waving her hoof around as she spoke with him.

"What do you mean you had to call off the search!?" Meadowlark shouted out to the imposing stallion. "They’re still out there somewhere!"

"Please be reasonable, Meadowlark," Birch Bark interjected, stepping up next to Hoof Strike. "Hoof Strike has been out with the search teams all day looking for those three. They have been scouring the entire area, and it's grown too dark to continue. Let them rest so they can resume fresh in the morning."

Strongbuck paused when he heard what was being said. They had been searching for them!?

"What about the sighting that Dove was seen heading north toward the river? Did you send any searchers into the North Woods?" Meadowlark asked.

It was then that Celestia noticed them standing off to the side. "Mama, look! They came back!" she shouted out, pointing her hoof towards them.

Dove passed the basket with Aurora in it, over to Strongbuck before hurrying forward to meet with Meadowlark.

"Oh! I am so happy to see that you are all alright!" Meadowlark exclaimed as she rushed forward to hug Dove in relief. "I was starting to think that something horrible had happened to you all!" Meadowlark released Dove to hug Bell. "Where did you all go!? We've been searching all over for you!" She said, turning back to look at Dove.

Dove shuffled back as she awkwardly glanced around. She had been preparing for this moment since they left the glen but now that they were here, she suddenly looked like she wanted to run away. "I... I'm sorry." Dove finally said looking around from Meadowlark to Hoof Strike. "I didn't mean to cause so much trouble, I'm sorry."

"We're sorry too," Bell jumped in. "When we found that Dove was gone, we were in such a hurry to find her we didn't even think of telling anypony before we left."

"What happened? Why did you leave and where did you go?" Meadowlark asked, looking at Dove.

Swallowing, Dove looked between Bell and Strongbuck as she thought about how to answer her question. They had been through a lot, and some of what they went through would be hard to explain. They still didn’t know who Bountiful Wellspring and Eternal Age were. Strongbuck had a strong suspicion that those two weren't normal deer.

"I ah... It's hard to explain but I'll do the best I can," Dove answered, struggle to put her experience into coherent words. "I was at home when I... felt that I was being called."

"Called?" Meadowlark asked, with a confused bend of her head.

Dove reached up and touched her hoof to her chest, right over her heart. "I felt it in here. Something was calling to me. Pulling me to go to it."

"To go to what?" Celestia asked with sudden interest, cutting in from where she sat holding her burbling sister, Luna.

"To... go to her. The one whose heart had been crying out to mine." Turning, Dove gestured for Strongbuck to bring Aurora to her. "She was alone. Left abandoned by the rest of her family." Lifting Aurora out of her basket, Dove continued, "In her anguish and fear she called out to me, and I heard her."

Everypony gasped as Dove held the filly up for them to see. Aurora's little stubby horn was quite visible in the firelight.

With eyes wide in shock and wonder, Meadowlark stepped closer and lifted her hoof so she could lightly touch the fillies horn. "By the star's. She's... a Unicorn."

"You probably shouldn't touch..." Before Strongbuck could finish his warning, Meadowlarks hoof lightly touched Aurora's little horn.

Much to their surprise, nothing happened. Strongbuck lifted his hoof up and just as Meadowlark did, and lightly touched the filly’s horn. With a crackling pop, a shock ran through his body that left him feeling tingly all over.

Meadowlark blinked at him in surprise, then she snorted into the back of her uplifted hoof as she tried to hold back a laugh. Letting out a sigh, Strongbuck shook his head in befuddlement. "I don't get it. Nothing happened to her when she touched her horn!?"

Dove let out a giggle as she stepped closer to Strongbuck. "I think it's because she really likes you." Bending in, Dove kissed his lips. The moment her soft lips pressed against his, there was a crackle and her mane shot out and stood on end.

Meadowlark chortled into the back of her hoof until she couldn't stand the sight of them anymore and broke out laughing. Meeting Dove's eyes, Strongbuck grinned with her as they both thought of the same idea. Reaching out they both touched Meadowlark, causing her mane to suddenly spring up in end like theirs.

Celestia laughed at her mother's absurd look as she fervently tried to flatten her mane down. Pointing her hoof at their mother, Celestia called Luna's attention. "Luna, look! Mama looks silly." Luna gave a happy squeal before she started blowing spit bubbles.

Birch Bark and Hoof Strike both glanced at each other in bewilderment at the situation that was playing out before them. With a shrug, they both grinned as they began to laugh along.

 

 

☽☽☽☽

 

 

    Radiant Sunset held a series of small brightly colored stone in her magic. Standing before her, her little sister, Vivid, stood ready with her face screwed up in concentration. They were outside in the early morning sunlight practicing magic. Vivid had been bugging her to help her out for a while, and Radiant felt that a little time out in the sun tossing small stones around would be a good way to get recent tragic events out of their minds and bring a bit of fun back into their lives.

Radiant lightly tossed five stones over to Vivid and watched as her little sister's magic enveloped them, halting their flight before they hit the ground. Radiant smiled at her sister's success. This was the first time she managed to catch them all without missing one.

Vivid joyfully hopped in place as she let the stones she caught fall to the ground. "I got them, I got them all!" she cried out happily.

"Very good!" she praised Vivid. "You're getting much better."

"About time," Dazzling Evening muttered from where she practiced off to the side. She had close to a dozen stones whizzing around her in a intricate pattern as she worked on her fine control.

Radiant was about to berate Dazzling for her sour attitude towards their little sister’s improvement when she noticed Glittering Crystal approaching them. Letting out a sigh, Radiant turned to face her. Ever since the terrible night where she watched her mother send Brilliants little filly off to the wilderness to die. Radiant had been doing her best to avoid her mother as much as she could, but with Glittering Crystal's purposeful appearance, it was evident that her peaceful days away from her mother was now at an end.

"Radiant Sunset," Glittering Crystal said, as she came to a stop and stared down her long nose at her. "Come along with me. You're mother would like to see you."

Radiant thought about deifying her mother's summons but she knew that it would be pointless. There was nowhere she could go that she would be able to escape from her mother's reach.

Following Glittering Crystal, Radiant purposely kept her pace slow to show a bit of defiance to her mother. She knew it would only make her mother more irritated with her, but she felt that her little rebellion would be well worth her mother's anger.

They traveled down a wide pathway that lead out from the old volcano toward the Pillar of the Heavens that lay to the south. Radiant had traveled this path many times over the years and knew it well. During special events like the solstices and eclipses, all the Unicorns would gather under the Pillar of the Heavens to watch as the day started and ended. She was once told that they used to celebrate those days with food and games, but Radiant had trouble believing that such a thing was ever true.  

Ahead of them, the Pillar of the Heavens came into view. It was a large and imposing structure that sat in a large clearing in the forest. It had once been a hill, but after a century of work, shaping the earth and stacking stones, they formed twelve tiers up its sides to represent the twelve moon cycles throughout the year. She couldn't see them but on the east and west faces of the ziggurat, stones had been carefully placed to provide steps all the way to the top where the raising and setting ceremonies were held each morning and evening.

Sitting in the shadow of the Pillar of the Heavens was something new that Radiant had never seen before. It was a large flat stone that must have taken at least a dozen Casters to lift into place with their magic. Why was that brought here? She wondered.

Radiant saw her mother standing just before the large flat stone, with a group of Casters gathered just before her. As she drew closer, Radiant noticed that there was a light yellow pegasus mare with a soft green mane, being restrained in the magical grasp of one of the Casters. Picking up her pace, Radiant hurried over to see what was happening.

Radiant's mother loomed over the pegasus, her horn glowing with power. Her eyes bore down on the hapless mare who was shivering before her in fear.

"For far too long, you Pegasi have been enjoying the rewards of our great works!" Her mother raged at the captive pegasus, "and it's time you started to return to us what we deserve."

"I don't know what you mean," the Pegasus said with a frightened squeak, her eyes kept shifting around as she desperately searched for some kind of help, and for a moment, her eyes fell on Radiant. There was nothing but sheer terror in them.

Astral turned her head and looked up at the sun. "Look up at my glorious sun. Isn't it beautiful?"

The Pegasus blinked at her in confusion, not sure what she was asking.

"Well!? Answer me!" Astral barked out when she lost her patience with the hesitant mare.

Flinching back, the yellow mare quickly nodded. "Yes! Yes, very beautiful!"

Astral nodded with a pleased smile. "Good. Now, answer me this. Wouldn't it be a shame if the sun just taken away one day?"

The Pegasus’ eyes flickered about nervously as she carefully considered her answer. "Umm... yes. I think that it would be bad." She finally answered.

Again, Astral nodded, still giving the mare an eerily pleased smile at her answers. "Yes. Indeed you are very right. For without my sun, you and all the other Pegasi will whither and die. Right?"

The Pegasus nodded mutely.

Astral's smile suddenly vanished as her gaze bore down on the frightened mare. "Then tell me! Why am I not shown the respect that is due to me for raising and setting the sun and moon each and every day and night!?" Her horn crackled viciously with a sudden spike of power.

The Pegasus squealed in terror, her hooves digging furrows in the dirt as she futilely attempted to bolt away. The Casters that surrounded her laughed at the sight of the hapless mare as she struggled against their magical restraints. Radiant felt sick at what her mother and the Casters were doing to the poor winged pony. The mare finally gave up trying to escape and huddled herself into a ball with her wings wrapped around her head in an attempt to hide herself.

Astral snatched up the mare in her magic and hauled her right up before her. "Listen to me you insignificant bug! If you and the rest of you winged pests want to continue to see my glorious sun, then you will need to appease me! From this point on, during every full moon, the pegasi will present to me a offering of food upon my altar. If you fail to present me my due offering, you and the rest of your selfish kind will forever wallow in darkness as punishment for your disobedience!"

The mare looked ready to faint. Her entire body was shivering uncontrollably in the matriarch’s magical grasp. With a startling abruptness, Astral suddenly released the mare, dropping her to the ground.

The matriarch gazed down at the shivering pony with a level gaze. “As proof of my power, tomorrow, I will withhold my sun’s glorious light from the land for the entire day!” Her mother then flicked her hoof at the mare, looking as if she was flinging mud from her hoof. “Go now. Tell the rest of the feathered vermin what I expect from them. Go on, shoo.”

Stumbling up to her shaky hooves, the mare scurried away as fast as she could with her body low to the ground. Watching her go, the Caster’s all laughed and jeered at the departing mare. Some calling out to her some rather descriptive and foul names.

It was then that Radiant’s mother noticed her presence. With a casual wave of her hoof, she dismissed the Casters from her. As they all left, one remained behind. She was a dark purple mare with silver and blue mane and tail. She stood with her mother looking down at her with a stiff expression that showed no softness to it.

“Radiant, this is Starburst,” her mother said, nodding to the mare next to her. “She will be in charge of training you in becoming a Caster from this day on.”

 
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