Far way from the safety of the herd, Argente nestled miserably in the only soft ground in the cold, dank cave. Always before when she'd prepared to foal, she merely sought a grassy glade near her kin, but this time a foreboding urgency drove her away. At the moment, looking out at the mist that was almost but not quite rain, she was regretting following her urgings and wishing for the warm, moist comfort of the other mares. Cold, lonely, and nervous, she dozed off.

Waves of pain woke her some hours later and she rolled her eyes in memory of the familiar spasms. Her later colts were easily born, but her first, Silverspun, had taken her sweet time and with much agony. This colt promised to be as hard. But before Argente could think much more on it, her hazy thoughts were borne away with the contractions.

When her head cleared later, she was startled to see not one but two colts beside her. One, a little filly, was nearly out of her birth-sac and trying to stand. The other was lying still and had the heavy sac fully encompassing his small body. Argente frantically started to scrub the colt to break the youngling free. As she broke it, shock and fear hit her at once. The cold was black—a true rarity—and he was not breathing. As she licked and nuzzled more, dread emerged fuller. The little one had a spangling of brilliant spots across his hindquarters.

Argent now understood her panic. The colt was the promised being, the leader the tribes had been promised for so long, the leader legend had foretold. And he was dying. He had not yet in this world drawn breath. And no normal nuzzling and mothering seemed to bring him back.

Frantic at having the colt born to her and now still more at having him die, Argente did the only thing she knew to do. She named the white foal Blessing, and with her eyes filled with tears and begging for forgiveness, slashed the youngster’s throat. She tenderly nuzzled the still-flailing corpse on top of her dark son and collapsed, all the while praying her daughter’s soul to peace.

With a sharp cough, her son inhaled, gasped, and breathed. For as we all know, unicorn blood cures all the ills there are, even almost-death. He had been baptized in his sister’s blood, and forever after, his name and tail blazed red gleams of ruby fire when the sun struck them.

Argente was only dimly aware when her son started to nurse. She waited until he was done eating, spoke his name as Starfire and fell asleep again, one live child at her side and the body of one dead one laying nearby.

************

The pair, mother and son, stayed only long enough for the youngling’s legs to strengthen enough for him to travel. Argente could not stand to stay by the body of her daughter any longer than they had to. Then they began the long travel back to the tribe.

In the cold but clear sunlight, she looked closely at her live child. He was handsome—finely built for a stallion colt, but strong. His coat was a dark midnight black and his spots pure and clean and perfect. One lay at the base of his tail, sending a white streak into the longer hairs. Now, it gave an odd appearance, but it promised to be striking when he was older, like a shooting star through the blackness, lending even more potency to his name. His horn and hooves, usually silver or gold in a unicorn, were the dark pewter of his sire. They looked unusual on the little scrap of a colt, but with charisma he might grow into them. His hocks were furry with what one day would be a fine, graceful feathering. He was a son any mother could be proud of, messiah or not.

Argente knew, in her deepest heart, that she was returning to leave. She bore the futile hope that with her son as he was, she could take her proper place in the herd. But under it, she knew she’d broken the Kinslaying laws, for no unicorn may take the life of another save during war. Death was her due by laws, but she tricked herself into hope for Starfire’s sake.

As she scented the herd, her pace grew quicker and the darkling had trouble keeping up. Argente yearned with all her heart to bugle and run to greet them. But she tiptoed to a glade and nickered softly. Her eldest, Silverspun, and the stallion Gray came over.

Silverspun looked like her mother and most unicorns, the graceful glowing silver of the moon on water, with a pale silver mane, tail, and feathering. Her horn and hooves were gold. Gray, true to his name, was darker than most, a deep dove gray with darker mane and tail. His hooves and horn were the same pewter as Argente’s newest. Gray had risen to lead the tribe with the rare power and charisma his unusual coloring suggested.

Both were happy to see Argente, and shocked at Starfire. But they knew something was drastically wrong. Argente’s horn had dimmed and tarnished, permanently, everywhere Blessing’s blood had touched it. Kinslaying stains never washed clean.

She told them the story, with a tearful slowness. Because they loved her, they let her live. But she could never rejoin the tribe, and they could not stop any others—their tribe or enemy herds—from avenging the Slaying. All they had the power to do was give life at that very moment, as they did. She begged them to take Starfire, at least, but Gray said he was too young to survive without nursing, and no mare would take on such a cursed child.

She sadly set off, head hanging, as her child and her mate went to tell the tale to the rest. They had to, by law, and the story must be spread between tribes as they met. It was up to each of them to choose how they would deal with her.

************

Argente and Starfire strayed into the plains and mountains far from areas frequented by any tribes. She knew her horn marked her and most would fight her to the death, on sight. Starfire, too young to understand, just knew he’d seen creatures like himself, and they were no there no longer, and he wondered why.

Word slowly spread, as word often does. The story was not always correct, but always a Kinslayer mare and the Messiah colt figured in them. Some versions told she’d slain another—but no one knew whom—in a bargain with some dark power for the right to birth the Appaloosa. Some suspected there was no colt and it was part of a rumor by her clan to keep her alive. Very few knew any form of the truth. But regardless, outrage spread like wildfire. There had not been a Kinslaying in five or six generations among any tribe, and unicorn generations are long indeed. But without the correct story, no one really understood why the mare had chosen this way.

Tribes not in disharmony began to work together, sending out scouts and seeking the pair. While a few unicorns, mainly mares, harbored sympathy and aided her if they found her alone, nearly every tribe agreed overall that the Slaying must be addressed and avenged. Each stallion wanted to bring Argente to justice, of course, but it was so grave an offense on her part that they would not interfere with each other’s hunts.

However, Argente proved hard to find. She feared for her life and even more for her son’s. He was distinctive, but she could leave him in a dark, sun-dappled grove. A silver child would show clearly a mare nearby, but the dark one stayed hidden and kept them safer. She had always been sharper-nosed than most, and fear gave wings to her feet, so they survived.

She was often starving because the only lands no tribes ran were nearly barren. But she found enough tough, bitter grass and vines to keep her milk flowing, and Starfire grew, as quickly as any colt will. His baby fuzz shed in patches and sleek black hair grew in underneath. His mane and tail lengthened slowly and speed built in his legs. His horn—short at birth like that of all colts, for ease of the mare—lengthened to proportions with his gangly body. He grew and never understood that his mother fought for their very lives.

Argente always wondered if she chose right. She wondered if she should have instead cut her own throat on Blessing’s baby-small horn instead. But she knew all three of them would have died then, for the colts could never have lived without milk, away from their tribe. Sometimes she thought that would have been the better answer.

They moved often, never overnighting in the same place if possible. Sometimes Argente scented a scout and had to outrun him. If Starfire was with her, he ran too and thought it a fabulous game. If he was hidden, she flew away, hoping to lose the tracker but also offering herself to save her child. Scouts never stayed long—the land was too hostile. After two or three days they always left. But each time more came back.

************

The tribes were increasing angry. How could one mare outsmart and outrun their best trackers? How could Argente shame them all? None of the stallions could ever feel how a mother’s fear gives wings to her feet.

The bands finally called temporary truce between the lot of them. This crime was older and deeper than any of their quarrels. The scouts had narrowed down Argente’s range to a reasonable size from their assorted sightings and chasing. She was somewhere within about fifty miles in a desolate plane, having fled the mountains for the winter.

Each tribe lent some of its swiftest. Many head stallions went. Grey did not. His tribe would not seek her, but gave truce as to stop nothing else any others would do. However, three of his people chose to hunt anyways.

The hunters set out to surround the plain and hunt inwards so if Argent ran, she’d run into another searcher eventually. SO the hunt began.

Starfire was mostly weaned by now—partly due to time, partly because Argente’s milk had dried up. She was slowly starving and was showing it. Her coat was dull and her ribs were showing. Her son was better off, but his coat too was losing its luster and he ran less quickly than before.

As it must, the inevitable happened and Argente and the dappled colt were one day flushed from a dead thicket by a pair of mares. Argente bolted, eyes rolling in terror and sides heaving to draw breath. Still faster than most, some of her speed was lost. She ran the harder to compensate, the weanling tearing after her.

The silver mare ran to outrun her hunters as she had always before. But never had more than a few chased her. This time, as she ran, she saw more and more fall into her wake. The dread of knowing she was trapped spurred her tired body faster than she’d run in months. Pure terror took her and she ran far beyond the colt’s speed. She flew over the hostile ground until her body seized, she stumbled, fell, and lay still. Starfire ran until he collapsed by his mother.

The searchers slowly hobbled in twos and threes to where Argente lay and the colt cowered beside her. There was nothing left to avenge, the mare was gone. Perhaps her heart stopped, perhaps her lungs burst. Whatever the actual cause, she’d simply outrun her weak and tired body.

Starfire, however, was still alive, and some of the more hostile hunters wanted to avenge his mother’s crimes on him, since he was the one who had received her questionable gift. But the hunters of his mother’s own tribe laid claim to the colt, and after some argument the others relinquished him. More often than not, it was a unicorn’s own blood who had the final say in his life. Some in satisfaction, some in resentment, all tired, the tribes turned over their rights to influence Starfire’s fate and slowly, footsore, set off to return to their own.

Some hours later, the three seekers, with the gangly dark colt in tow returned to their own clan and presented Argente’s son, the unicorn messiah, to their stallion and ruler Gray. He took the youngster off to examine him and decide his fate. He was expecting a standard introduction such as those all colts go through after weaning. So it was Gray, and not Starfire, who came away from the meeting in shock and awe.

Gray left the colt long enough to tell the tribe that Argente’s last child would be allowed to join the tribe and none would hassle or hinder him. He was a free member in right standing as all the others were. Then he returned to the grove to make sure he’d seen what he had seen.

Gray knew what he’d intuited, though, was correct. Starfire was not an Appaloosa unicorn. He never had been. No one will ever know what Argente thought she saw. Perhaps it was pieces of the birth-sac still stuck to him. Perhaps it was hairless patches on his coat from his sister’s hooves in the womb—bald spots on new foals were quite common with twins. Perhaps it was her vision, in her pain and gasping, caused spots to swim before her eyes. But it was clear to Gray. He had only been born a black unicorn—rare, but not prophetic. Starfire never had spots until the moment Argent cut the throat of the innocent Blessing. The spots that now spangled the darkling’s coat were marks left from her death-struggles. Everywhere her horn, that pure and powerful essence, had grazed him, it had scarred the skin beneath it and only white hair would grow there ever after.

Wonderment took the stallion then as he realized. The tribes had met in agreement, they had called truce, they had hunted together, and after it was all over, they had left each alone with no quarrel and no fighting. The tribes had, even for a short while, been united as the prophecy told. Starfire was not the promised Messiah. He never was. But somehow, just the same, the prophecy had been fulfilled.

He left the grove again, his son tagging along behind him, capering and savoring the lush green grass as they moved to rejoin the herd.

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