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The onyx mare moved more slowly these days due to pregnancy. Micha had had to request the help of another mare of the herd to help her see to her lead mare duties, as it was getting harder for her to get around quickly because of being near full term.
“I will be happy to see you, little one, when you finally grace this world with your presence,” she spoke to her belly in a tired, affectionate voice. “Hopefully soon.”
The bronze stallion swung up alongside her, checking on her again as he did many times a day. They touched noses, and then Micha touched her belly. She slowly laid down, groaning softly as the effort took its toll. Micha moved off to talk to Galen about the nighttime watch, leaving his mate in the middle of the scattered herd. Sahara the emerald-spotted, sapphire mare sidled up to Ashir.
“Rest well, Matron. The herd is in good hooves. I will keep watch for you so you can rest.”
“Thank you, Sahara. This little one grows heavier every day.”
“Oh, but he or she will be such a joy once born.”
Water splashed on the grass around midnight. Sahara rushed over as she had been close enough to hear it while making her rounds.
“Please, get Micha.” Ashir was already panting as contractions ripples across her belly. Her legs buckled as she tried to move into a more comfortable position, rolling her on her side. Micha arrived to find her grunting as she pushed through the contractions. He carefully stepped around to her rear end.
“Halfway there!” The head, front feet, and shoulders lay on the grass. She kept pushing until the sack-encased foal lay on the grass behind her. She lumbered to her feet, swinging around to start licking the sack off her foal. Micha joined her in uncovering their baby, proud of his mate’s work.
“A fine foal.”
“It’s a boy.” Ashir’s eyes met his.
“Nemir. You approve?”
“A fine name.”
The onyx bay colt gambolled around his mom, hiding under her tail periodically and peeking out like he was shy. She chuckled.
“Silly. Why don’t you go play with the other foals? I know you’ve been eyeing a certain filly...”
“She batted an eyelash at me.”
“Well then, you need to confront her, son.” Micha had his head lowered so his muzzle pointed at his son.
“She flirted with you. It’s up to you to return the favour.” The bronze winked at his son.
“Well, go on.” Ashir gently nudged him in the bum and he scampered off.
“Imagine that, he’s already found his mate.” Micha teased.
“He’s too young for that yet. But they can still play.”
The foals grew like weeds as the last of spring transitioned into summer. One month later, the coolness of spring gave way to the heat of summer, scorchlingly hot. The moss crackled under hoof as the herd moved upon it, grazing. The filly in question who had flirted with Nemir, a silver bay with onyx muzzle, tail, and lower legs, seemed to most often gravitate to playing with—and chasing—Nemir, who gleefully chased her back, round and round in circles; until, that is, the very moss under their feet erupted in flames, scattering the herd in all directions. They quickly regrouped, fleeing the spreading flames.
“To the water!” Micha shouted, wheeling the herd toward the shores of the island. The crackling flames added urgency to their flight, but for some of the younger foals it was still too much as the fire spread and nipped at their heels. Nemir stumbled and crashed to the ground, and quick as he could he scrambled back up and kept going, even as his mother circled back around to help him. Finally, the herd splashed into the water. Micha circled, assessing their condition. His son had patches of singed hair, as did a lot of the other younger foals—he was shaken by the sight, but glad that none of them were any worse.
The fire burned through the night, wiping the island clean. The foals huddled as near to the shore as they could without getting even more singed than the youngest ones already were. The adults treaded water farther out, one of them periodically launching into the air on a fly about of the island. Upon return, each one reported no life, not even a tuft of fuzz. Instead, there was black char where the moss and trees had been.
When morning came, the mares and foals were released back on the island as the fire had died. Micha split the stallions into teams of two, sending them out to check the other islands. One after another they came back, reporting nothing left but charred blackness on the back of each turtle island.
Shortly after the herd re-inhabited the island, Micha happened to notice a tuft of the fuzzy moss floating near the island as he was circling to land coming back from a flyby of the next nearest island. Though he thought it was mildly interesting, that’s as far as his thoughts went. Apparently the moss floating on the water didn’t suffer the same fate as the moss on land. He did mention it in passing to Ashir and Galen, and they thought it was mildly interesting as well, but only mildly. The herd bedded down for the night on the scorched ground, trying to get comfortable by shifting around in the cinders on the ground.
Ashir woke the next morning to a persistent tickle at her belly—come to think of it, all over her body where it met the ground. She opened her eyes to realize she was surrounded by turquoise moss. Micha?
I see it. Looks like it grew back overnight. The bronze stallion landed a few feet away as Ashir lurched to her feet.
“Playing with the other foals nearby. Sahara is keeping watch.”
“We need to find a better refuge for the foals. Something tells me this might happen again.”
“I agree. Considering how fast this moss went up in flames...”
“I think Galen is the best choice for that don’t you think?”
“I was thinking along the same lines. I’ll tell him when we discuss watch rotation.”
“I would like to ask a favour, Galen. Both Ashir and I feel that the moss might go up in flames again, and we would like to have a better place for the foals to stay than the water should this happen again. Besides Ashir, you I trust the most, so may I give you the job of finding such a place?”
“Of course. I will do the best I can.”
Galen began his search for a safe haven the next morning. He took off for distant mountains, hoping he could find a cave big enough. He approached the mountains from the ground first, climbing up the tree line until any vegetation was no more, making sure that a fire could not trap the foals. He found many caves, but none big enough to house even one foal, let alone many. As the sun started going down, he bedded down in front of the last cave he’d investigated.
Next day, he took off flying, being blocked by paths too steep for him to travel on hoof. Many diving pit stops, many caves, but still none big enough to house the herds youngest members. He stamped his hoof in frustration. This might take awhile. He thought. He kept circling, checking out each outcropping in hopes of finding the perfect cave.
The blue sun rose, casting an azure tinge on the onyx pointed golden bay horse circling the mountains. He had checked many mountains, stuffed his head and even almost his whole body into many caves... none big enough to hold more than one or two foals. This, the last mountain, he hoped would hold the refuge for them, the third sized and up versions of him and all his friends and family of the herd. “Mighty Maker, may I find refuge for our little ones here.” He circled the peak, diving towards the first outcropping he saw. The cave he found could barely fit his head, let alone his body. He took off again, methodically circling lower and lower, checking each outcropping he found.