Things looked different for the others on the outside. The weanlings and Hedgewind had flown down to the pool at the base of the cliff. They could just make out the battered form of Blackstorm’s body among the rocks at the base of the waterfall. Once he realized what the dark shape was, Flamefrost absolutely crumbled into sobs. His twin brother was dead!
Of course, that had to be the exact moment that several Sun herd steeds flew overhead, having heard Hedgewind’s call. Leading the formation were Star and Brackentail. Behind them flew Thunderblaze, Redstorm, and Flamesong. The party had thought they might need warriors, so they brought adequate forces, but they had also thought negotiation might be necessary, hence the small numbers. Their fears of the need to fight were dispelled once they saw who was in the clearing, but Flamesong and Redstorm noticed their colt’s distress and landed next to him. The rest of the party quickly followed suit.
“What’s going on here, Hedgewind?” Brackentail asked, assuming he was the leader of their group due to his age.
Hedgewind had still been scanning the pool to try to find evidence of Wintermist’s body. Brackentail’s question caught him off guard and he jerked his head towards him.
“What? Oh, uh, this one here”-- he pointed his wing at Sunshadow-- “woke me up earlier, saying that a friend of his had walked out of the meadow into the forest. I looked over the way he pointed and immediately thought of the Freedom Tribute or here, Horsetail Falls.” He glanced meaningfully at Flamefrost, then continued. “Remember that conversation we had about where she might have gone, little bay?” When Flamefrost nodded, Hedgewind kept going. “The good news is that this is the ‘not much better’ place.”
Flamefrost reacted with surprise at that, saying, “Not much better? This Freedom Tribute must be bad then!”
Hedgewind nodded sadly. “It is,” he affirmed.
Their conversation was interrupted by Flamesong. “We woke up and realized that both of our colts were gone. Here’s one, and we thank everyone that was here that he’s safe.” She paused, and from her expression it was clear that she didn’t really want to thank Hedgewind. Then she continued, “But where’s Blackstorm, his twin brother? Did you lose track of another foal, Hedgewind?” Her stance and expression made it clear that she hadn’t forgotten about the issue with Shadepebble.
Hedgewind cringed at Flamesong’s onslaught. Star stepped in between the two of them to prevent violence. “Calm down, Flamesong,” he said. “I’m sure there is a reason for why we can’t see where Blackstorm is right now. Now, Hedgewind, perhaps you would explain?” he prompted.
Hedgewind was stalled in answering by a fresh round of crying from Flamefrost. Through his sobs, the colt managed to choke, “Dead! . . . He fell . . . down the falls . . . and it’s all his fault!” he said, pointing at Hedgewind, before his bawling became indecipherable again.
The other steeds were shocked at this. The word dead could be heard from several sources. Star quieted them by raising his wings, and confronted Hedgewind, considerably less friendly than he was before he had heard Flamefrost’s comments. “Is this true?”
Slowly, Hedgewind nodded miserably. “I’ll explain,” he said to calm the outbursts that met this. “The filly was stuck at the top of the falls, holding onto a tree branch. Blackstorm went over to the end of the branch where the bay and I were pulling on the branch to get her out. He lost his footing and fell in, scaring the filly into breaking the branch. They both fell over the edge. So remember that he died bravely, doing his best to help the filly.”
Flamesong tried to stop a tear that forged its way down her face. She didn’t quite succeed, and they could all see the sudden burst of tears that followed. Redstorm tried to comfort her, but he was biting his lower lip to stop it from trembling in sorrow as well.
Hedgewind’s words had raised other comments as well. Star had a question. “You said the black foal died trying to save a filly. I noticed that a white filly named Wintermist that usually spends time with Sunshadow was missing when we left. Is this the filly that was stuck in the falls, and if so where is she now?”
Hedgewind replied, “I was looking for her in the pool at the bottom here, but I can’t see her anywhere. That could mean two things. First, and probably most likely, she could be dead behind the black one. But second, she could be in one of the caves behind the falls.”
“Caves? There are caves behind the falls?” Brackentail asked.
Hedgewind nodded. “Once, in the drought before Star was born and when Grasswing was still Grassfire, I came here thinking that there would be water in the pool. The falls were totally dry, and I could see the caves combing the cliff. They are generally lined with sand and limestone, and digging through them is easy.”
At that moment, as if to prove him correct, a dirty gray and brown Wintermist with waterlogged, dripping wings broke through the ground in the place she had been tunneling through in the cliff.