a/n- nobody got it, no fun. lol. i guess i do things the hard way....my brain works in strange ways. hint for future pronounciations: i often use Tolkien's Elvish pronounciations in my language. Sealan's name is pronounced 'Shay-lan'. ^_^

five e-cooky's to Raven, who guessed the most.

big thanks to all who tried. lol, and raven, you only had to submit once. ^_^ got my review count up a lot, though, which i can't complain about! ~_^

* * *

As the small colts and fillies followed Theanal through the dense forest, Mistique hurriedly explained what happened. Breathless and frightened, Shasta barely understood a word she said.

"So our shadows attacked us?" he asked, confusion etched in his face.

"No, the Shadows! The Demon horses!" Mistique said, irritation showing clearly in her winded voice.

"Oh."

Mistique rolled her eyes, then continued. "One of them hit you in the head and dragged you off. Then that Shadow up there found you. I guess she isn't one of them any more."

She paused to try to catch her breath. The young horses and unicorns were running as quickly as they could to keep up with the swift older horse. Their nostrils were wide with effort, they ran full out, as fast as they could. Finally, one had enough.

"Hey! Slow down! We can't keep up!" Aray yelled angrily.

The red eyed mare turned to look at the black filly behind her, then slowed. They reached a high cliff, rising fifty feet above them. It seemed that nothing save a pair of wings could get them up the smooth rock wall. Theanal, however, knew otherwise.

She walked to the left of the high wall, to a large, nearly impenetrable bush. She struggled through, appearing at the foot of a narrow, rocky path. She walked out onto a small ledge, beckoning to the young ones to follow her. She watched tensely, awaiting any disturbance in the now calm forest. It had appeared that they had left their pursuers long ago in the forest. Theanal believed otherwise; if it was the Shadows that they heard so close earlier, then they were now hiding quietly, waiting for them to let their gaurd down.

The smaller fillies and colts maneuvered easier through the bush, appearing next to her quickly and quietly.

"Quickly...follow the path to the cave. Don't go far in...keep the opening in sight. I'll be there soon." she whispered to Cailib, who was nearest.

They quickly picked their way up the path, then huddled against the wall of the cave. They were about thirty feet off the ground; the height gave them a good view of the valley below. Bright white dots mingled among many other colors showed that the Herd was standing in the middle of the meadow. The distance was too great for them to see individual horses and unicorns, even for the eagle eyesight of Garin.

As the young ones looked out across what they had thought was a safe haven, fear built up within them. If the Valley was one of the safest places in the land, how had the Shadows gotten in so easily? If it was so easy for them to get in there, how safe would they be outside the valley? Shasta's face grew determined. If he trained as an Imperial, nothing could stop him. He would make the valley safe for his mother and the other horses and unicorns. He conveyed these thoughts to the others.

"If the Imperial Trainer's couldn't tell they were coming, what makes you think they can teach you to?" asked Cailin.

"I'll find a way." he said.

The return of Theanal ended the discussion. She approached quickly, glancing behind her. As she walked past them, Garin noticed something abnormal about her.

"What's that on your shoulder?" he asked.

It- whatever it was- turned to look at them. Glowing, reddish eyes with narrow, cat-like pupils flashed at them through the lingering darkness preceding the dawn.

"This is TamurĂ­l, a black jaguar. She will help guide us through the darkness." Theanal said shortly.

"You never told us your name." said Garin.

"Theanal." The older horse sounded slightly irritated.

The black creature leapt lightly from Theanal's back, almost seeming to glide as she walked over toward the mouth of the cave. She was small, only a little larger than a fox. She had a lean, well muscled body, her shoulders protruding sharply over her spine. She swished her abnormally long tail back and forth as she walked in a slightly annoyed way. She stopped at the mouth of the cave, glancing around the valley.

"We should leave. They will find us quickly." The jaguar's voice was cold as ice and just as harsh. "Where are you trying to go, anyway?"

"The third section."

"Why? There is nothing there but-"

"I know."

"And you are taking them there anyway?" The shadowy creature turned and looked sharply into Theanal's eyes.

"Yes."

"With the knowledge that you will all most likely perish?" She gave an expression similar to a human raising an eyebrow.

"Yes."

"You are a fool."

* * *

As the silvery, predawn light turned to gold as the sun rose, still low in the morning sky, a lone eagle was seen floating gracefully over the wide valley. His sharp eyes glanced around him as he flew; alert and aware of everything that happened below him. He banked right, heading north along the eastern border of the valley, which was cut off from the rest of the world by formidable mountains, dark blue and hazy purple in the early morning light. He glanced downward at the lush, green valley floor.

A herd of horses slept below, but all seemed alert, wary, afraid. The watchers of the Herds, the centaurs, slept alertly, wary of every movement, every sound, that reached their sharp senses. A black centaur awoke quickly, nearly breaking into a run at the sound of the eagle overhead. As he saw that it was only an eagle, he shifted his weight, then relaxed slightly. Jarnsmid was worried at this. The occupants of the valley should not be so alert so early; something was wrong.

He turned twice more right, heading back the way he had come. He flew into the mountains along the southern border. He turned gracefully to avoid the tall forested summits. He flew low, searching through the dense forested area. He descended as a cave came into sight. He landed in a low, bare branch of a pine tree outside the mouth of the cave, then began preening his feathers.

"What news, my friend?" asked a familiar voice.

The eagle turned his head, glancing behind him with sharp, but kind, blue eyes.

"It doesn't look good, my lord." he replied.

"What's happened?" Shalimar glanced up at his long time companion worriedly.

"I don't know, but the Herd is extremely wary. I nearly caused a panic among the centaurs when I flew by. I'd wager my life that it was the Shadows."

Shalimar nodded. "We should go to them soon."

"There is one other thing, Sire, that you should know. The young ones....I saw none of them among them."

Shalimar, who had begun walking toward the Valley, turned and looked at the young eagle, his eyes wide. No fear of the like had shown on the exiled King's face in a long time. When he was a colt no older than Shasta and his mother and father murdered, he had known such fear. When the Shadows found him alone in the forest hours after the battle, he had known this fear. When he was cornered by evil shadow wolves a couple years later, he had known this fear.

He turned and galloped off toward the valley. Jarnsmid swiftly took to the skies and followed him.

* * *

Misty glanced around the Herd. She was safe, with the Imperial Trainers and all the others around to help protect her from any attack. But she still felt empty and afraid. Something was missing, and she knew exactly what it was. Her son was missing, and she was worried. If he and the other children had gone into the forest, they should have been back by now. She stood near the mothers of the horse colts and fillies that were missing. Their faces showed identical expressions of fear.

Dawn approached and the sun rose. The ones that were able to fall asleep after the departure of the Shadows awoke. They spread out, grazing, keeping a tight circle. The centaurs kept a close watch, eating nothing.

A large disturbance in the forest caught their attention. The centaurs and Imperial soldiers galloped toward it. The Herd dashed together and formed a tight circle, shoulder to shoulder, facing outward. They prepared for the worst.

* * *

ok, at least one good cliffy. e-cooky opportunity! two, actually. one- guess how you think TamurĂ­l's name is pronounced. two- guess who/what is in the forest. i think its easy, but you never know.

Five e-cooky's to who ever guesses the most, and everyone gets one for reviewing! ^_^ i'm the lucky owner of a lifetime supply of e-cooky's! yay!!! ^_^

tootles for now, and one more thing......

REVIEW!!!