CHAPTER TWO: A BLOOD-RED FEATHER:
Slowly slowly, dancing and twirling, it twinkled and shone blindly in the sun. Idly idly, twisting and riveting, it threw bursts of impossibly bright colour at the pegasui bellow. Terrifyingly terrifyingly, it’s glimmering aura of bloodlust was flung at the petrified pegasi standing stock still, mouths, just before peacefully grazing, hanging stupidly open with sickening shock at the horrific event that was about to unfold.
Quickly quickly, the trembling Leaf Herd pegasi backed away. Too slow, too slow. Too slow, too slow. Their fates were already doomed. For the twirling, prancing, shining blood-red feather, such a tiny weightless object to inspire so much horrified awe between the quaking steeds, was performing a deadly dance.
Faster, faster the rainbow of preened feathers and splotchy patched and spotted pelts moved back and away from the blood-red feather. They were silent, except for the scraping and gentle thudding of panicked hooves colliding as they backed up clumsily. Vivid, unusually hued eyes were glazed with fear and rimmed in white, which was rapidly taking over, their pupils contracting.
Gemflight’s bright emerald eyes darkened like the mood of the Leaf Herd pegasi. It all starts with a blood-red feather, she thought. That’s what Cloud Herd said. It all starts with a blood-red feather. Her glossy, solid black tail swished, and her beautiful feathers, also emerald, a shade so similar that they almost matched her eyes, rattled involuntarily. A sure sign of true, utmost terror. All of Leaf Herd were in that same state. The lush ground was thickly littered with those bright, intricately coloured feathers. Their distinctive skewbald or appaloosa coats and explosive rainbow abundance of plumage made Leaf Herd a very easy herd to spot, as most of the other nine herds had duller coat patterns and feathers not so bright.
Gemflight had heard the stories of Cloud Herds massacre. The ground soaked with blood, the land parched with internal flames, the blue, white and grey feathers of Cloud Herd littered, bloodied, on the grass. And it all started with a blood-red feather. Floating down, slowly, fluttering and shining, and then, BAM, he flew down, set the lands ablaze, blood flowing from terrible wounds on steeds of all ages…
It sounded… inexplicably awful. The numbers of Cloud Herd steeds that had lived through the attack of the Red Pegasus were small that a foal born hours ago could count them. And it all started with a blood-red feather. After that… a steed whose coat was the slick colour of blood, whose wingbeats set afire the lands into a blazing inferno, but no normal flames were they. A single touch gave an instant burn, and that burn would spread over the pegasus’s whole body, melting away their pelt, sending blood gushing out of gashes that the burns caused, spreading through their flesh, to their bones, melting them away so that they were no more than a puddle of blood…
No, no! That could not be the fate of Leaf Herd! Not the fate of Gemflight’s beloved mother Hazelsun, one of the fiercest and most skilled fighter mares, who was sure to be lead mare if only her foalhood hadn’t been so rough, and so loyal that in a split second would give her life to Leaf Herd. Her father Riverwake, one of their lead stallions closest friends, who was also loyal and committed to Leaf Herd. And Gemflight’s best friend, Honeyblaze. She was joking and teasing, but incredibly protective of her twin brother Windwisp. Well, no one else was.
The point being that all these brave, fierce and loyal pegasi, the three most close to Gemflight, would all be a puddle of blood in several painful seconds if the Red Pegasus was to come to Leaf Herd. Which he was. Because it all starts with a blood-red feather…
It was happening. She had to accept that. That in a few minutes most of Leaf Herd would be on fire, and then burning up, flesh melting off bones, bones melting to liquid blood, and the puddles on the flood, slowly soaking into the flaming earth of their territory, all gone in several horrifying seconds… but if… if only Gemflight could do something to stop it. Stop the unfolding massacre.
Come on, think! Gemflight told herself. She whipped her tail against her flank in frustration. The stinging pain must have switched something on inside her. Her mother. She needed to get to her mother, now!
Leaf Herd knew and respected her mother. Hazelsun had gotten them out of tough situations before. They would listen to her, not a panicked weanling.
“Mother!” she whinnied panickedly, shattering the silence. “Mother where are you?” There was no deep, comforting nicker in reply. Hazelsun was not to be found.
What would she do? Well, there was nothing she could do. Leaf Herd would perish under the cruel wingbeats of the Red Pegasus. Any second now. Any second the shimmering blood-red coat and feathers would appear, nose-diving out of the sky directly at the ground soon to smoulder, and then the Red Pegasus’s wings would catch him, beating once or twice, and setting the first fires alight.
It was a little chestnut skewbald filly that set her off. She had not yet heard of the Red Pegasus. Well, any foal under the ranking of weanling was not allowed to hear such horrifying tales. But her mother was trembling, paralyzed, eyes wide and glazed over with utter terror, and so the filly was both confused, scared since everyone else was, and, of course, about to die. Gemflight just found this so unfair. She couldn’t be a week old, must not even have had a taste of life.
A few of the fillies deep yellow tipped violet feathers fell, and were soon crumpled by the slowly stampeding hooves. And then another feather fell amidst the fillies ones. A blood-red feather. Their last hour of living was up, and now it was their time to die.
The filly looked up at Gemflight, with hope in her eyes. Hope? At a time like this? Yes, hope. Hope that maybe Gemflight, the only one who was not shaking like a leaf, could save them. She would have to save them. She was their only hope. She would save them all for the sake of this one filly.
But what to do? How could she save these terrified, doomed steeds? What had her mother told her before? Her advice, on leadership, how to save a herd… what had it been? Trust yourself. That was it. Just trust yourself. And Gemflight would do just that.
“Steeds of Leaf Herd!” her words came out breathless and rushed, but all 200 of them heard her, and that was what was important. “Our time is up! We have to act, fast! Now! Everyone, to the sky, fly north to Cloud Herd’s territory, they will help us! Go go go!”
Not a sound. No wingbeats. No whickers of agreement, or even protest. Even the frantic hooves and tails stopped. She should have known that there was no hope, that they were all going to perish. That a weanling filly like herself would make no impact, could not convince them to run for safety.
And then a golden palomino blur shot up beside her. Honeyblaze!
“Listen Leaf Herd! Listen to this filly! She is Gemflight, filly of Hazelsun and Riverwake, who have saved this herd many times! Stay here and you’ll all die.” Honeyblaze turned north and began to soar forwards. “Sorry, but it’s the truth. And you can’t hide from it no longer.”
With her supporting words spoken, Honeyblaze waited for Gemflight to catch up. But before the two young pegasi could flee to Cloud Herd’s lands, another pegasus joined them in the sky. Two, other steeds.
One’s coat was a deep, fiery chestnut, dotted lightly with white, with a soft golden flaxen mane and tail. Her feathers were a dark turquoise, tipped with a strangely deep shade of sky blue. Hazelsun! She had come to support Gemflight!
“Leaf Herd, come to your senses! Fly north, now! It is already too late! The Red Pegasus is here.”