It was the next day, and the Jungle Herd army was training again. Summerleaf tried to smack her partner, Smokeray, but she clumsily missed, instead hitting a smokey-brown stallion with brown feathers.
“Watch it!” the tough stallion exclaimed, shoving her with his hip making her almost fall to the ground.
“Sorry,” she murmured, though no one heard her. She steadied herself, still distracted. All she could think about were the foals who were guarded at the moment by Lavawing’s best captains and forced to fight with warriors twice their size. She still had Darkwood’s terrified eyes engraved in her mind.
Summerleaf fell to the ground, dazed by Smokeray’s hard blow. “Oof!”
“You have to pay attention, Summerleaf,” the gold-and-gray feathered stallion said. “You need to be prepared if we were to be attacked.”
Summerleaf held her head in her wing, wincing. “How can I focus when there are foals over there, training IN THE ARMY?”
Smokeray sighed. “Look. I don’t like it either. But Lavawing has made his decision and there is nothing you or I can do about it. Now, are we going to practice the move or not?”
Summerleaf glared at the tall warrior. How could he be okay with doing nothing? She then moved her gaze toward where the Jungle Herd over-stallion stood, watching over the pegasi as they practiced battle moves. He looked like he really couldn’t care less about the precious lives he was endangering. Or maybe he didn’t understand the danger the foals were in?
Making up her mind, Summerleaf pushed herself to her hooves. She couldn’t live out her days living with the guilt of knowing she could do something and not have tried. She was going to talk to him again.
“Where are you going?” Smokeray asked as Summerleaf started toward the other end of the clearing.
Summerleaf didn’t even turn her head. “To stand up for the foals. Just because you’re too afraid of Lavawing, doesn’t mean I should be.”
“What? No, wait! You’re going to get yourself killed!”
Summerleaf pinned her ears and clenched her jaw. “It’s worth the risk if it means I get to save Darkwood and the foals.”
Smokeray said something else, but she didn’t hear him. She took off and landed face to face with Lavawing.
The over-stallion looked surprised to see her, but quickly hid it. “What do you want?” he demanded.
Summerleaf immediately regretted everything as soon as Lavawing’s intimidating glare settled on her. She wanted to back out and say “nothing”, but she remembered the foals. She thought about Darkwood’s scared expression. She wouldn’t back out now. She couldn’t.
Instead of cowering in Lavawing’s shadow, Summerleaf lifted her head, and stood at her full height. “I want the foals you have forced into training to be with their mothers,” she said, surprised by the confidence in her voice.
She expected Lavawing to get angry like last time, but instead, he nodded. “I see. And why do you say this?”
Stunned, Summerleaf faltered. “I… uh, because, well, because they are too small for fighting,” she stammered. “They could get hurt or even killed, just from the training exercises alone.”
Lavawing nodded again, like he agreed with her. At first, Summerleaf felt relieved. She was finally getting through with him! But then, she looked closer. He expression looked fake, like he was holding back an amused nicker, and Summerleaf realized what she must look like. A young, runted mare, who was barely half Lavawing’s size, trying to stop the plans of the large, powerful over-stallion of Jungle Herd.
“Yes, yes. All you said makes sense,” Lavawing said, and Summerleaf realized he was humoring her. “Let’s continue this conversation with some of my captains, shall we?” He lifted one of his red-and-gold wings and motioned for two captains to come to him.
Uh oh. Why, oh why didn’t she listen to Smokeray? Summerleaf wished she could fly away and hide inside Firemouth’s lava tubes, but she knew she'd get caught before she was even three winglengths away.
When his captains were by his side, Lavawing’s expression changed. He lifted his large head from his lazy stance and towered over Summerleaf easily. In an authoritative tone, he said, “Summerleaf, filly of Spottedflame and Crystaltree, I hereby banish you from Jungle Herd, effective immediately If you return to the jungle at any time, I give permission to all pegasi to kill you on sight.” He then turned to his captains, and apathetically said, “escort this traitor to the vein. You know what to do.” With that, he went back to lazily supervising the training field as if nothing happened.
Summerleaf’s blood ran cold with dread at his words. Banished? But she didn’t do anything wrong! She was too shocked to speak or even struggle as the captains forced her to walk to the border.
Halfway to the vein, Summerleaf’s shock finally wore off, replacing itself with tears. Once they came, they wouldn’t stop. Her escorting captains, a sorrel with pale-olive feathers, and a bay pinto with dark orange feathers, ignored her sobbing. Summerleaf allowed her tears to flow until she finally felt drained.
Finally, she decided to speak. “Why are you supporting Lavawing? Don’t you care about the foals? About their safety?”
The pinto to her right opened his mouth to answer, but the sorrel snapped at him before he could speak. “Don’t talk to her.”
“Why not?” The pinto asked. “It’s not like she’ll be able to tell anyone.”
The sorrel pinned his ears but didn’t say anything. Before Summerleaf could decipher what the pinto meant, he answered her earlier question.
“Lavawing is doing this for all the pegasi of Anok. Soon, the training will intensify and all the strongest warriors will survive. When only the strongest are left, Lavawing will attack the other herds, killing their weakest steeds, and the over-stallions and recruit the survivors. All the strongest pegasi of Anok will be one herd, and with Lavawing in charge, nothing can get in our way.”
“But this is insanity!” Summerleaf couldn’t hide her reaction. It only disgusted her more to see the excitement in the young pintos eyes as he spoke. He truly believed what he was saying. “You can’t just kill half of the pegasi of Anok just because they aren’t as strong as the other half.”
“We can if it means our salvation,” the pinto put in.
“Salvation? Killing foals is the opposite of salvation. Killing foals will be killing the future of pegasi. You’re planning the destruction of Anok, not its salvation.” She couldn’t believe how ridiculous this was.
She shook her mane in frustration. “Can’t you see that Lavawing is only doing all of this for power?”
“That’s enough!” The sorrel snapped. His ears were pinned and he looked angry. “Land here. We’ll walk the rest of the way.”
The three pegasi circled to the jungle floor and landed between the trees.
At the border, Summerleaf turned to face the two captains. “It’s not too late to stop this,” she said, trying to convince the stallions to have a change of heart. “Following Lavawing will only lead to death.”
“That’s a risk we’ll have to take,” the sorrel said.
Summerleaf looked at the pinto, hoping he would change his mind, but he just shrugged his orange wings and stared, almost guiltily back. “Sorry, but I believe in Lavawing.”
Summerleaf sighed, disappointed, and started to walk away. “I guess I was stupid to think one of you would come with me.”
The sorrel nickered. “Oh, but you’re not going anywhere.”
Confused, Summerleaf turned to ask what he meant, but when she looked back, she was met with a pair of large, round hooves, kicking her head. She fell to the ground as a bright, white flash of pain flooded in her eyes, and she was aware of a sharp pain in her skull as her vision faded into blackness.
(If you haven't read the beginning, check out chapter one, written by me, and chapter two, written by @Embermoon .) (Sorry this took so long to come out, Ember!)