In the roar of the Overstallion and Leadmare party, nobody noticed Brackentail's sudden vanishment.
He galloped ferociously into the woods, his sharpened hooves kicking up mounds of dirt as he went. The moonlight slithered over him, illuminating the fire in his eyes. He jumped over fallen tree branches and twigs, doing anything to get to Shadowmoon. He wasn't even panting by the time he reached the cave.
He slowed to a walk and cautiously waited outside the cave. "Shadowmoon?" He called. "It's time."
The cave was wide and dark and deep, but something rumbled within. Shadowmoon stepped out of the cave, his all black coat just barely visible in the cold night. "Remember our deal," he growled.
"Yes sir," Brackentail dipped his head and folded his fiery orange wings. "You kill Star, I get Morningleaf, you become Overstallion of River Herd. It can't fail."
"What about his herd? You've been watching them. They remain loyal to him." Shadowmoon questioned the traitor, eyeing the trees to make sure they were alone.
"Not when faced with starfire that can so easily kill. They're cowards when it comes down to it." Brackentail growled, his voice brittle.
Shadowmoon spat onto the ground. "You are right. They claim that they'll always be there for him, but they won't. They're all liars." He saw Brackentail's concerned face, and snorted while throwing his head violently.
"Trust me. I know."
<~ ⚜️ ~>
"Star?" Morningleaf asked her mate while they made their way back to their sleeping cave.
"Yes?" He answered. Though they had become Overstallion and Leadmare, they decided to keep their names ("It reminds me too much of my parents," Morningleaf had nickered sadly to Star).
It was a starless night, with only the quarter moon in the distance. Somewhere in the distance, a wolf howled. A long, eerie wail. The moon shone it's light down onto Star and Morningleaf, as they walked and talked. Star could see the amber glow in Morningleaf's eyes, and she could see his star glowing in the moonlight. To each other's eyes, one was just as beautiful as the other.
"Something doesn't feel right," the new Leadmare continued.
"You're my mate. As long as that single thing stays the same, I don't really care what else happens."
"But - Brackentail -"
"He could summon Petalcloud and Nightwing back from the dead for all I care. I would die all over again as long as you're safe."
Morningleaf opened her mouth, then closed it.
"I appreciate that, but I am telling you this as a herdmate to their Overstallion," she told him, calmly but firmly.
"Is everything all right?" Star asked, stopping short of a fallen tree branch and turning to face her, wings flared.
"I - don't think so," she whispered, stopping and facing him too.
Star folded his wings. "What is it?" He asked.
"Brackentail -" Morningleaf stopped short, and Star noticed her amber eyes were wide and fixated on something behind him.
"What?" Star asked. He turned around to see the fallen tree branch he had stopped in front of.
"What about it?"
"Look. My mother was Leadmare. She taught me about this. Examine the tree branch carefully."
Star did, looking at the branch. It looked nicely brown in this light, with a couple moss parts here and there. He could see all the lines the bark made, and all the indents. Finally, he stepped back, looking up at his mate. "And?" He tilted his head, still not getting it.
"Does it look to be damaged?" She asked.
"No, but -"
"Exactly! It looks too healthy to have fallen off by itself. Which means someone broke it off. And not too long ago."
"It could have been a River Herd steed, Morningleaf."
"No, they no not to trifle with trees in case there's a fire. Especially in summer."
"So, that means that someone else snapped it? That someone else trifled with it."
"We are a united Herd now!" He told her. "There isn't anyone NOT in River Herd that could have done this."
Morningleaf paused, and Star knew something was wrong.
"Except for someone who never really wanted to be in River Herd in the first place," she said quietly.
"Like me." Said a strange, cold voice from above them. He had orange wings the colour of flame, black mane and tail, and a brown coat. He had dark eyes, but you could see the visible fire burning in them. Brackentail dove toward Morningleaf while kicking his back leg, which made contact with Star's muzzle. Star snorted and leaped at Brackentail, who had failed to intimidate Morningleaf, who, instead, had kicked him. Star grabbed Brackentail around the waist with his wings, and they both dove toward the ground, wrestling. Morningleaf heard a whirring sound. She looked around.
Fast as lightning, Brackentail siezed Morningleaf and rolled her to the ground. "Now!" He screamed to the darkness. A shadow that took form of a pegasus swooped down and swallowed Star in darkness. "Morningleaf!" His distant voice cried.
"Star!" She yelled after him.