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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32. Chapter 32

It started raining that night. Sky and Flutter Fly tried to break it up, but the storm had built up too much force for them to stop and they were forced to return back to the safety of the rocks.

Ponies had quickly sealed up the cracks and seams in the stones above as best as they could to keep some of the larger sleeping areas dry. Fires had been carefully set around to help warm and dry out ponies coming in from the harsh weather.

Mustard felt miserable. Her joints ached and her body couldn't decide if it was hot or cold from one moment to the next. Her thoughts kept dwelling on things that she wanted Morning to do to her, while a certain body part of her’s incessantly twitched and throbbed with carnal need. She kept imagining what it would feel like to have his weight settle onto her back and to feel his strong hooves gripping her sides as he firmly invaded her very being right to her core.

Being in heat was annoying! How could mares stand it!?

Laying on her grass-mat, Mustard listened to the rain as she dozed in one of the smaller chambers used by mares. A funny tugging feeling followed by a strange smacking sound roused her from her light slumber. The tugging feeling quickly grew into a sharp stinging and Mustard lifted her head to look back at what was pulling at her udder. There, tucked under her hind leg, was the rear half of a very familiar light-tan colt's rump.

"What the!" Mustard exclaimed as she slid her leg back to reveal the rest of the colt. He was attached to one of her teats and was very enthusiastically trying to nurse from her! "Acorn Shell! How did you!?..."

A sniggering laugh suddenly caught Mustard's attention. Shooting a look over, she saw Sky holding a hoof over her mouth as she attempted to hold back her laughter.

"You!" Mustard exclaimed accusingly at her. "This is your doing isn't it!?" she said, gesturing down at the colt. She could feel his little tongue pressing up into her teat rhythmically every time he suckled, followed by a strange, intense tingle that would shoot through her body . It was kind of pleasant in a strange sort of way.

Sky couldn't hold it in and she laughed out loud as she clutched at her gut. Reaching back, Mustard attempted to pull the colt from her, but Acorn Shell had her teat firmly clamped into his mouth.

"Sky, I can't believe you did this! Help me get him off!" Mustard pleaded with the laughing mare.

Sky shook her head, still laughing, "I didn't do it! He wandered over on his own."

"And you just let him?" Mustard snapped back. She tried shifting the colt to the side and working him off that way, but he seemed absolutely determined to get milk from her and would not release her teat no matter what. More giggles caught her attention and Mustard looked up to see the group of mothers all giggling to each other as they watched her struggle with the colt.

Letting out a sigh, Mustard stopped trying to remove the colt and let him keep her teat. He wasn't hurting anything, and he'd grow bored eventually. Settle herself back down, Mustard glared at Sky who was wiping tears from her eyes. "It's not that funny."

"Oh, if only you saw the way that little colt stalked you!" Suddenly, Sky threw her stance wide as he lowered her head down close to the ground to gaze right at Mustard. "First, he located his prey." With her rump sticking high up into the air, Sky slowly began sneaking closer. "With the stealth of a mountain lion, he approached his quarry."

The nearby mares watched in amusement as Sky slowly began to stalk Mustard.

"Any moment, his presence may be noticed, so he moves in carefully, trying to not draw attention to himself." With a funny prancing like shuffle, Sky wobbled nearer.

Mustard couldn't help herself and she giggled at the funny sight Sky was making. She wondered if the colt really did stalk her like that.

Stopping, Sky lowered her front half close to the ground with her rump still sticking high up in the air. "Now that he is in striking range, the colt readies himself for the kill." Licking her lips, Sky wiggled her rump back and forth as she prepared to pounce, her sight set on Mustard's second teat.

Mustard suddenly grew alarmed as she noticed how focused Sky looked as she gazed at her. She wouldn't! Would she!? "Ah... Sky? You're not really going to...?"

With a quick lunge, Sky pounced forward and shoved her muzzle into the soft part of Mustard's belly and blew loudly. Gasping in sudden shock, Mustard let out a squeal of surprised laughter. Her body shook so much with her mirth, the colt nearly popped loose of her teat, but he managed to stubbornly hold tight throughout it.

After she had finished attacking Mustard, Sky suggested that they play a game. Gathers some sticks and some colored stones. She set the sticks into two pairs of parallel lines that crossed over each other, Sky explained that the rules to her game was that they each of them were to take turns placing their stones, and the one who goes first is to try and get three of their stones to sit in a row while the other tries to block it.

Mustard went first and lost. The next game she played, she went second and still lost. Mustard steadily grew better as they played and even began to win a few. The colt had fallen asleep with her teat still clamped in his mouth. Mustard thought the colt's tenacity was adorable. Occasionally, she’d feel him start suckling again in his sleep.

Morning appeared at the entrance to their chamber and looked in. "Sky! Dark needs to see you..." Morning suddenly started making a funny gurgling sound as his eyes stared down at the colt that was still snuggled up against Mustard's side. "Mustard! What are you...!?"

"What?” Mustard asked evenly. “Do you see something that bothers you?"

"What does Dark need to see me about?" Sky asked, standing up.

Dragging his eyes from the slumbering foal at Mustard's udder, he looked over to Sky. "Flutter Fly just reported that the rain is quickly filling the valley behind the rockslide." Morning answered "The stallions don't have very much time left. Dark's getting everyone together to try and get them out"

Letting out a gasp, Sky rushed out.

"Wait! I'm coming too!" Mustard shouted. Reaching back, she grabbed the colt's crest and with a tug, pulled him free of her teat with a pop. Hurrying over, she gave him back over to his mother before rushing out after Sky.

Morning remained a few moments gazing down at the colt as his mother settled him down to sleep. His expression was unreadable as he turned and left.

🌺🌸🌷🌼

Starless was annoyed. Water was coming in through gaps in the slabs above, and she was forced to sit close to the two low bloods to stay dry. Letting out an irritated breath, Starless tried to find a comfortable position on her grass mat.

Outside, she could hear excited voices and the rush of hooves as ponies hurried by. What was with these dirt ponies? She wondered. Didn't they ever sleep?

This strange race of ponies was always doing things. It was like they were never happy unless they were toiling at some task or other. These were not the savage, grass-eating dirt ponies she had been taught about. Instead she found that they were resourceful and creative creatures, and she couldn’t get over how so many of them even had destiny marks!

Starless wondered what had changed the dirt ponies. Did they find some kind of new magic? Could they be the ones who possess the magic that she was warned to look out for? How else could they have stopped that hydra? Surely, what she remembered of the colt had to have been a dream after she’d fainted.

More loud voices shouted out as hooves splashed through a puddle outside her chamber. Curious, Starless got up and crossed over to look through a joint where two stones came together. She could see anxious looking ponies hurrying by as they rushed off to somewhere she couldn't see. Something was happening out there.

Moving over to the opening to the chamber, Starless stuck her head out. "Hay you!" she addressed the large stallion standing outside. "What's going on? Why does everypony look like they have hornets stuck in their tails?"

The stallion jumped in surprise at her sudden appearance and whirled around to face her. "Dark is calling an emergency meeting to work out a plan to save the four stallions. Apparently, the rain is flooding the valley they are in, and they don't have a lot of time."

"I see," Starless mused thoughtfully. "Are these stallions somehow important? Why would everypony be so worried about saving them?"

The stallion blinked at her with a bemused expression. "We... we want to save them because they need our help. They'll die if we don't do anything."

Starless shook her head. "You ponies are very strange. You all work as hard as you can just to save a few stallions who couldn't save themselves from their own stupid mistakes."

The stallion scowled at her in anger. "I seem to remember you needing some saving not that long ago, yourself!" he said, jabbing his hoof to her chest. "Where would you be if we hadn't come to your rescue!? Huh?"

Starless paused. The dopey looking stallion had a point. If he and Dark hadn't risked themselves by bravely attacking that hydra, she very likely wouldn't be alive right now. In all truth of fact, she owed them.

Stepping boldly out of her chamber, Starless looked around. "Where is this meeting? I want to go to it."

Ground Pound rushed around and blocked her way. "Whoa! You're not going anywhere! You and the other two are staying right here until Dark says otherwise," he said firmly.

Starless pursed her lips as she considered the stallion. He was big for a dirt pony. Even bigger than Dark was. His destiny mark was a pair of hoof-prints in dirt, and he looked like he could buck her across the valley if he so desired. A fine example of a Earth Pony stallion.

"I don't have time to argue with you over this," she said in irritation. Summoning her magic, Starless wrapped it around the alarmed stallion and lifted him boldly up into the air.

"What the!?" he cried out as his hooves kicked faultily in the air. "Put me down!"

With a flick of her magic she snatched his spear away and tossed it to the ground before he could think of doing anything dangerous with it. "I'll put you down when I'm done! Now where is this meeting happening?"

"I'm not tell'n," Ground Pound angrily refused with a shake of his head. "Now put me down!"

That was another thing about these dirt ponies she noticed. They could be as stubborn as old stumps! Flipping the young stallion over, Starless began to twirl him upside down.

Ground Pound howled in fright as he kicked his legs in a panic. "please stop! I'm begging you. I'm afraid of heights!" He cried out as he stared up at the ground below him.

"Then tell me where the meeting is happening!" Starless pressed him.

Shaking his head in mute refusal, Ground Pound face scrunched up as he clamped his mouth shut tight.

Letting out a sigh, Starless wondered what else she could do. She knew that if she attempted to navigate the maze of pathways that ran through the boulder field without aid, she would become hopelessly lost.

A pair of mares suddenly appeared as they walked by. "Excuse me!" Starless called out to them, clamping Ground Pound's mouth shut with her magic so he wouldn't interrupt. "I wish to go to this assembly that your Herd Father is gathering. How might I find it?"

The two mares paused to look back at her and blinked in bewildered surprise when they noticed Ground Pound floating upside down just beside her. Lifting a hoof, one of the mares pointed ahead. "Just follow the blue stones that way and when you come to a cross junction with white stones, follow them to the left and that will lead you right there."

Starless smiled at the pair gratefully. "Thank you very much." She trotted off to follow the stones. "Come along. I don't want to be late," she said to the stallion, floated him along with her as she followed the stones out.

The rain was still coming down hard, and ponies had gathered themselves under every ledge and tree to listen to Dark. Unobserved, Starless arrived to the back of the crowd to listen in, nopony noticing the large stallion she still held in the air behind her.

"This is the plan we have so far," Dark began. "Using logs she has tied together, Mosswood has come up with a way to float the stallions across the lake. With Sky and Flutter Fly unable to fly much in the heavy rain, we'll need to come up with a way to safely scale up and back down the rock slide if we are to successfully rescue the stallions. At the moment, our options are very limited, and any ideas any of you might have would be very welcome."

"How about we try throwing a rope up and we can climb up," a green stallion shouted out.

"How would we throw a rope up there? It much too high!" a mare countered from her place under a scrubby tree.

"There are stone ledges that jut out in several places. What if we tie a rope to Sky and she could fly up to each one until she reaches the top and she could tie it off to something up there," another mare offered.

"Even if Sky could fly up to those ledges in this downpour, they are slick with rain," a stallion argued. "She's pregnant! If she accidentally slips off, her sodden wings wouldn't stop her from falling all the way back down! I won't allow my mate to risk herself and our unborn foal on something that dangerous!"

"What about Flutter Fly?" a second mare cut in. "She could do it."

"Flutter Fly is a kind and gentle pony,” Dark said. "She has aided us enormously over the last few days, and we are extremely grateful for her generous help, but I won't allow her to recklessly endanger herself for us either."

Starless figured she had listened to enough and stepped out into view. Walking toward Dark, she passed by Pebble who was standing next to the young stallion who had refused to let his pregnant mate, sky-blue pegasus standing closely beside him, risk herself. A dirt pony and a winged pest mating together!? Who would have thought that that was possible?

Giving Pebble a smile and a friendly nod, Starless continued past. She liked Pebble. She was always bringing her food and looking out for her and the others. "I believe I can assist you with getting what you need over the rock slide," Starless offered.

If Dark was surprised that she was here, he didn't show it as he turned to look at her. "Oh? " Turning his attention past her, Dark lifted a eyebrow as he noticed the large stallion floating just behind her in her magic. Grinning in embarassment, Ground Pound gave a tiny wave to Dark. "So I can see."

"I can easily lift whatever you need right to the top, without a problem," Starless assured him with confidence, lifting the hapless stallion higher up into the air to prove her point.

Dark didn't look impressed. "And how am I to trust that you will bring them back down again? You could try to use them and their precarious position to try and gain your freedom."

Starless didn't really want to leave. There was something strange happening with these dirt ponies and she wanted to discover what it was. If they really had come across a new and unknown magic, she would be rewarded for discovering it!

She needed to gain his trust. Lowing the stallion back down, she set him back onto his hooves and released him. Stepping closer to Dark, she dropped down to her knee and bowed her head low. "I swear until the day you release me from this, I will not attempt to flee or harm any pony of your tribe and I will serve you and obey all your orders. Should I break my oath, my life will be forfeited."

Dark gazed down at her in mute contemplation. Finally he lifted a hoof and touched her shoulder. "I accept your oath. Until I release you of it, your life is now mine."

Starless felt a little strange giving this oath to a stallion, but it was the easiest way she could think of to start gaining his trust. Once she discovers all their secrets, she can just make her escape and return back for her reward. Perhaps they will make her a Senior Caster for this!

It didn't take them long after that to work out a plan and set off.

Arriving at the rock slide, Starless was completely soaked through from the heavy downpour. She gazed up at it in surprise, it was much taller than she was expecting! The canyon she had been led to, had narrowed to a point where about ten ponies standing nose to tail could touch both sides. The rock slide was more of a massive chunk of the upper cliff that had sheared off to crash down into the gap. The height of it would test her to her very limits.

Dark stepped up to her and nodded. It had been agreed that he would be the first to be lifted up by her magic. Summoning her magic, she wrapped it around him and lifted him up. Dark didn't cry out or kick his legs as he sailed upwards toward the top of the slide. Starless had to grit her teeth tight with the strain. She struggled to lift Dark the last few lengths it took to clear him over the top. Letting out a breath of relief, she set him safely down on a broad slab of rock at the top.

The splashing of hooves announced the arrival of her next charge. Ground Pound stopped before her and looked up. "If you drop me. I'll be sure to aim for you when I fall back down," he warned her.

Starless couldn't help but let out an amused snort. She had been surprised that he had volunteered for this. By the way he stood stiffly before her as he waited, it was obvious that he was terrified, but he said nothing as she wrapped her magic around him and lifted him up.

Sky and Flutter Fly took off and flew up, their wings glittering with the spell she had cast onto them to help keep them dry. It had taken a while to coax Flutter Fly to allow Starless to cast the spell on her. She had been terrified of her and kept hiding herself behind Dark. It was only because of the stallions that desperately needed her help that she finally relented enough for her to cast the spell.

🌧🌧🌩🌧

Dark stood gazing out into the storm-churned lake. This was the first time he got to see it, and he was alarmed at how high it was. Their plan needed to work, otherwise the four stallions would surely drown before the morning's sun broke the horizon.

Looking out over the lake, Dark thought of Starless. She had surprised him when she had sworn herself to him. When he had looked into her eyes, he could see that she wasn't entirely being honest with him. She was hiding something behind her oath. If his plan for her was going to work, he was going to need to gain her trust. The other two unicorns wouldn't be a problem and would fit into his plan just fine, it was Starless that was going to be a challenge. He was glad that she had sworn her oath to him. It made the first and most troublesome step to his plan much easier.

A soft glow came from behind him. Turning around, he saw Starless' magical aura release Ground Pound as he was set down.

Ground's body was shaking all over from the frightful journey up, but he quickly collected himself and joined Dark. "I can't believe I volunteered to do this!" he complained.

Their wings shimmering with Starless's improvised drying-spell, Sky and Flutter Fly landed nearby. Dark and Ground helped to unload the coils of rope the two pegasi carried on their backs and tied themselves off to keep themselves safe in case they slipped off.

Looking over the back edge, they watched as the craft that Mosswood had created rise up to them. It was constructed of nearly a dozen ruough cut logs, tied tightly together in a row. As it neared the top, it began to slow and wobble as Starless struggled to lift it the last few paces. Leaping off the edge, Sky and Flutter Fly flew down and helped Starless lift it the rest of the way. Once the craft was settled, Dark and Ground heaved it across to the other side and pushed over the edge to fall down to the water below.

Looking down, Dark was relieved to see that the craft had held together and was floating on the surface just as Mosswood had promised it would. "Now, Sky. Are you sure this isn't going to over-strain you? Dusty would never forgive me if you got hurt."

"What is with you stallions!?" Sky muttered with a shake of her head. "You worry almost as much as Dusty does. I'll be fine! I'm pregnant, not crippled."

"Well... alright then," Dark wisely backed down. "But do us both a favor and don't push yourself too hard. Okay? And try to keep your wings as dry as you can. Starless said that the rain alone was taxing her spell right up to the limit."

"Don't worry. I'll be fine," she said, stretching out her legs and wings out before leaping off to fly down to the floating craft below them. Flutter Fly quickly joined her and once they were in place with their legs were braced against the logs, they both flapped their wings and pushed the craft, starting its journey across the lake

Dark and Ground watched as the two Pegasi slowly vanished into the storm to collect their first stallion.

"Ground. What do you think of Starless Night?"

Ground jumped at his question. "What do I think of her!? She's arrogant, obstinate, narrow-minded, opinionated, and bullish, with an irritatingly intelligent mind that she uses to make me feel like a toad."

"Is that all?" Dark asked with a grin.

"Well... she does have a rather cute rump I’d like to give a good smack to," Ground added with a playful stomp.

Dark let out a chuckle. Ground was a good, reliable pony, just like his father was. He would be perfect for what he needed. "Ground. I need you to do something for me."

"Sure. What do you need?"

"I would like you to stay close to Starless and try to be her friend." Dark watched as Ground's jaw dropped.

“You want me to be friends with… her!?” he asked in disbelief.

“I need her to trust us,” Dark answered him.

“And you thought that the best way to start was to take her captive?” Ground pointed out.

Dark shrugged. “It was essential to keep her from leaving and that seemed the best way to make sure that happened.”

“Well, it worked.”

Below them, Sky and Flutter Fly reappeared out of the storm pushing a lone stallion huddled atop of their floating craft. Propelling it steadily across the water, they soon positioned it below them. Tossing off a rope they had readied, Sky helped tie it around the frightened stallion. Once Sky signaled that the stallion was ready, Dark and Ground heaved together and hauled him up.

With the first stallion safely settled up top, Sky and Flutter Fly set off to retrieve the next stallion.

The deep blue stallion was shivering with his teeth chattering with the cold. He kept trying to thank Dark and Ground, but it just kept coming out as jittery mess of confused words. His nose was oddly bent and his lip was split with a cleft palate. From Mirage's description of him, this must be Steady Gait

"Don’t worry. We'll get you somewhere where you will be warm and dry soon," Dark assured the stallion, patting him on the back.

With Ground's help, they moved the stallion to the back edge. Looking down, he saw Starless' light-grayish blue form waiting below. Waving his hoof at her, he signaled that the first one was ready to be lowered down.

Ground turned to Steady. "You might want to close your eyes for this part," he warned

Starless' magic suddenly enveloped the stallion and he gave a frightened yelp as he was suddenly lifted off the edge and he was quickly lowered down to the ground where ponies were waiting to take him back to the rocks to be dried and fed.

The next stallion, named Bentroot, was older than Steady Gait, looking about the same age as Sage Brush, and despite suffering from a cold, he was in rather good spirits. Helping him to the back edge, Starless snatched him up and whisked him down to join Steady Gait.

The third stallion was one of the oldest stallions either of them had ever met. Elderberry only had two teeth left and he weighed close to nothing. The moment he was hauled up, he complained bitterly about their rough treatment of him. Jabbing his hoof into Ground's chest a few times, the aged stallion lectured him on how to properly treat one of his elders. It was a relief to them both to finally see him lifted down by Starless.

Dark felt an excited thrill. Just one more to go! The wait for their return seemed to take much longer than it should have. What was taking them? Suddenly a dark form flew out of the rain and quickly landed next to them.

"What's wrong? Why did you come back alone?" Dark asked with worry. "Where's Gravel Biter?"

"He's refusing to come," Sky quickly answered. "He says that it's his fault that his herd was lead to near disaster and he deserves his coming fate."

"That old fool!" Dark snapped. Untying his safety rope, Dark marched over to a broken tree that had been dragged down in the slid, and with a few quick bucks of his hoof, Dark knocked a large cracked branch free.

"What are you doing!?" Ground asked.

Dragging the branch over to the edge, Dark tied a rope to it before throwing it off into the water. "I'm either going to talk some sense into that old idiot, or drag him back by his tail." Tossing the other end of the rope to Sky, Dark jumped off, plunging himself down into the storm tossed lake. Swimming to the log, he wrapped his hooves around it as Sky flew ahead to pull him behind her across the lake.

The tops of pine trees poked up out of the lake like bushes, and occasionally Dark would feel one brush up under him as he was pulled along. Close to the back of the valley, the land steeply sloped up until it ended on the side of cliff, offering the only dry place to now stand in the entire valley.

Sitting there, with Flutter Fly anxiously looking over him, was a dirt-brown stallion with old scars riddled over his impressively fit body, staring out at the rising lake. Climbing out of the water, Dark walked over to him.

"You should not have come out here," Gravel Biter growled at him. "You're wasting your time. I won't leave."

"Yes, you are," Dark countered sternly.

"Just leave me alone and go back," Gravel snapped in irritation. "You have my thanks for saving my herd, now go and leave me in peace."

"I can't do that," Dark replied. "I set out to get you all safely out of here, and that is what I mean to do."

Gravel scowled. "Well, you're not saving this old fool. I deserve the death I lead my herd into."

"Whether you deserve it or not is none of my concern," Dark snapped back. "I told my herd and my colt that we'd get you all out, and if I was to leave you here, it would make me a liar, and that is something I am not."

"I'll give you this piece of advice, stallion to stallion,” Gravel said. “Get used to disappointing others."

Dark felt a spike of anger at the despondent stallion, and he resisted the sudden urge to strike him with his hoof and haul his unconscious body all the way back. Gaining control of himself, Dark reminded himself what Gravel Biter has been through. A leader of a herd was supposed to protect his herd, Gravel Biter knew he had failed in this.

Letting out a sigh, Dark moved over and sat down next to the old stallion and stared out at the slowly rising lake.

"What are you doing?" Gravel asked, glancing over at Dark.

"If I was to leave you here, I would never be able to face my family ever again," Dark answered. "If you aren't coming back with me, then I'll just stay here with you." Dark turned to look to Sky. "Please tell Mirage to take Ash back to Meadowlark, and tell my family that I love them, and that I'm sorry. This is something I just need to do. They'll understand."

Sky took some uncertain steps back, looking at Dark with confusion as well a little bit of worry.

"Don't be a stupid fool!" Gravel barked at him. "I'm not worth it. Go back to your family!"

"I'm not leaving without you," Dark refused, shaking his head.

"Young filly," Gravel said to Sky. "Talk some sense into him will you?"

"Sky, Flutter Fly. The magic on your wings is starting to dim. I want you both to fly back before Starless' spell completely fades," Dark said. "I'm sorry I won't ever get to see your foal, Sky. I was really looking forward to that," he added regretfully.

Sky nervously nibbled her lip, her eyes misting up as she took a few steps back as she prepared to leave.

"Wait! Stop!" Gravel shouted desperately. "Don't do this! I beg you! Just take the fillies and go back to your herd."

"I'll only leave when you come with me," Dark answered firmly before looking back to Sky. "Sky. Stop delaying and go! The spell on your wings won't last much longer!"

Dark saw the pain that now filled Sky's eyes. He felt bad for what he was doing to her but he hoped that his desperate plan would work. If it didn't, he didn't want Sky and Flutter Fly to be stuck here with him. The raft wasn't big enough to carry them all. Gravel was proving to be quite stubborn and Dark was worried that he may have to resort to subduing the older stallion and forcing him onto the raft. It would be hard enough to paddle the craft across the lake by himself as it was.

Rushing forward, Sky surprised Dark by flinging her hooves around him and hugging him tightly. With tears in her eyes, she released him and flew up into the air.

"No! Don't go!" Gravel shouted, jumping up to his hooves. "Tell them to come back! You're not staying!"

"Does this mean you're changing your mind?" Dark asked as Sky and Flutter Fly stopped to hover in place.

"You're really going to do it, aren't you?" Gravel Biter considered Dark. "You're really going to let them leave you here to die?"

"I would really rather not, but you're giving me little choice," Dark replied evenly.

Gravel Biter glared at Dark as he was struggling with himself. "Fine, you win," he growled, as he finally gave in. "Call your fillies back, and I'll get on that rotting, floating pile of logs of yours."

Sitting closely together, Dark and Gravel managed to just fit themselves onto the raft. As they were towed across the lake, Gravel Biter stared silently forward, his expression completely unreadable.

"You're just as unreasonably stubborn as your mother," Gravel Biter suddenly said, breaking the long silence.

Dark gave a start. He had no idea that Gravel Biter knew of his relations to a certain mare in his herd. "How?..."

"It wasn't hard," Gravel Biter said, glancing over at him. "You look very much like her, especially around the eyes. I met her when my tiny herd came across her’s somewhere out in the endless hills. Over the seasons, she and her daughter, Mirage, had been moving from herd to herd apparently searching for you." Gravel paused to chuckle softly. "It's funny how it took an old fool like me nearly bringing total disaster to my herd, to bring you three back together again. I'm glad something good came from this."

"Mother doesn't know that I’m here," Dark said. "I have fought and killed wolves and charged a hydra without hesitation, but I still don't have the courage to face her."

Ahead of them, the rockslide came into view as it drew out of the storms haze. Standing atop, Ground Pound stood waiting for them.

“I don’t know what happened between you two,” Gravel said. “But I do know that whatever it was, your mother regrets it more than anything else in the world. She been sick a lot, and it's been growing worse each season. She just wants to see her son one more time and say her peace before her body fails her.”

Dark didn’t answer as he stared off ahead. His heart felt like a mountain had fallen on it. Back when he had been starving in a snow drift so many seasons ago, he had promised himself that he would never forgive her for what she had done to him. His anger at her had been with him for so long now, he didn’t know if he could ever let it go. But then, he wondered to himself, why did he feel so strongly about coming out here to save her?

 
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