Lupa's Quest: The Path to Ascension

by Ringtael

Through The Arid Desert

Through The Arid Desert.

The Sun rose over the horizon, spilling its light into our cave and waking myself and Krel before any others. I would have preferred to stretch and get my bearings, but the Lulamoon had chosen to rest on me, stating that I just didn’t smell as bad as Krel did. I’d snorted my amusement at that multiple times, finding the fact that Ponies preferred to sleep on something that smelled better but wasn’t as warm, despite the freezing temperatures. Still, it was not my problem to face, so I spoke to Krel to pass the time.

“This is where our journey truly begins.” Krel said slowly.

“It is. We have the Lulamoon and two small predators to assist us. The omens are good for now. I hope they continue throughout the day.”

Krel harrumphed. “Your paws are already blessed, Wolfmother. There is little for you to fear.”

“Those that fear nothing are doomed to die by that which they ignore. I may fear little, but you know that I am aware of most dangers.”

“And you know that I will watch for those dangers that you do not see.” Krel assured me. “Thank you for coming to me. I would have been remiss if you had left the Broodmother’s domain without me.”

“I knew that you would come with me, though I was wondering why you didn’t show up to the Gathering Tree. Perhaps you found yourself a she bear?” I asked.

He snorted. “No Zgon she bear would take a male that has no territory. I may have a reputation, but without land in the Everfree, my chances of having offspring are slim.”

I yawned. “Even then, your offspring would think you dangerous, regardless of how the Pack raised you. Perhaps it is for the best if you wait to find a mate?”

“Waiting is all I can do.” Krel said.

I nuzzled his muzzle. “Worry not, Pack brother, we will find someone for you once we return. As Wolfmother, it will be my first promise after swearing to guard the forest.”

Krel huffed. “There is no need to guard the Forest anyways, but I appreciate your offer. When we return, I believe I may ask you to assist in my own mission.”

“My fangs and claws are yours, brother.” I offered.

“And so are mine.” Honey said, stretching on my back. “Give me a place to make a den in your territory, and I’ll help scare off anyone dumb enough to try and mark it.”

Krel chuckled. “You are fearsome, Honey. I will give you your den.”

“Alright!” Honey cheered. I suppose finding a den that you could keep on a bear’s territory is a valuable thing.

“So where are you thinking of making your mark?” Foxy asked from under one of my paws. “There aren’t many prey rich places left in the Everfree these days.”

“There aren’t many that are unclaimed. If I can broker a deal with Wolfmother’s old Pack, I could get some territory near the Broodmother’s domain.” Krel explained.

“I will advocate for you. I may not return as the leader of the Pack as I was once supposed to, but my words still hold sway with our former kin.” I said.

“With me and Lupa, you shouldn’t have too much trouble! If Lupa can’t talk her way into getting you some land, then we’ll fight the Manticores for a slice!” Honey declared.

Honey’s words were slightly foolish, but then again, the badgers are a young, violent species. “You say that now, Honey, but the only Manticore you were ever able to fight off was your age.” Foxy chuckled.

“Yeah, so? We take the small ones, Krel and Lupa take the big ones!” We all had a laugh at that.

“Accursed animals! You’re so warm, but why must you be so loud!?” The Lulamoon complained.

“Whiny bitch.”

“Moody she bear.”

“Silly kit.”

“Can we just eat her now?” Honey asked.

“Not yet.” I told him.

The Lulamoon rose and groaned, her joints popping and snapping as she did so. From her bags, she pulled out leafy pony food and the occasional ground plant that didn’t appeal to anyone other than Krel. Once she’d eaten and gotten herself ready for the day, she shivered and left the cave with all of us following close behind her. She stopped and turned around suddenly.

“Alright you animals, it’s time for me to go. Run along now.” She said, shooing us away.

I walked up to her and started pushing her along, her hooves skidding across the stone. “Whoa, whoa, whoa! Stop!” She cried.

I ceased my actions and the Lula moon wagged a finger at me. “Bad dog! Very bad dog!”

I gave her a bored look and sat down, yawing again. For some reason, dealing with the Lulamoon made me rather tired, so I waited for her to start moving again before swishing my tail, inviting Krel to join myself, Honey, and Foxy. The Lulamoon expressed some discomfort when we started following her down the other side of the Wolf Mountain, but there was precious little she could do to dissuade us. We kept a small distance away from her, stopping when she did, and speeding up when she tried to leave us behind. Much of the day was spent playing her silly games until she found a resting point halfway down the mountain. Unfortunately, that resting point was a cave that reeked of Cougars, but she didn’t notice the smell. I had the rest of my small pack wait outside while I went in after her, only to find that she’d been cornered by a mother and two of her nearly grown cubs.

I barked once and their attention went from the Lulamoon to me. These Cougars were Zgon, through and through so I tried speaking with them. “Sister, offspring. Allow this meal passage and I will find you another.”

The mother laughed at me. I don’t like being laughed at. “Foolish wolf, there are three of us and one of you. Take our prey if you dare, but do not assume to bargain with us.”

Her cubs mewled their disagreement, the instincts of the young telling them that I Was far more dangerous than their mother. “Listen to your cubs, young mother. You will not find happiness on this path.”

“But I will find a full stomach. I may despise dog meat, but I’ll deal with it when I’m waiting for you to digest!” She snarled.

The Lulamoon cowered against the cave wall as the Cougar prepared to lunge, but I was faster than she could ever hope to be. I snatched up one of her cubs by its scruff and flung it deep into the cave while pinning the other one beneath my paws. I held my teeth at its neck until the Cougar mother back away from the Lulamoon.

“Wait! Do not slay my cubs!” The mother pleaded.

I looked at her and took a paw off of her cub and it remained still in hopes that I wouldn’t decide to eat it. “Why not? I’d like a meal as well. Offer me one of your cubs and your life will be spared.”

The Cougar glared at me. “You ask me to choose between my offspring? They have already lost a brother and a sister!”

“And now one of them will lose the last of their siblings. I offered you your chance, young mother. You rejected it.”

The cougar mother looked deep into the cave and saw that the cub I’d thrown was limping towards us, and the cub under my paw was breathing weakly. Much longer, and it would die of suffocation, but its brother would die since it could barely walk. The cougar mother had a clear choice, though it was one no mother should ever have to make. Such is the way of the wild.

“Since when do the Zgon eat each other?” She pleaded. “Are there not enough Kendani in your lands?”

“My journey take me far beyond my own lands. Your time grows slim, young mother. Choose.”

The limping cub yowled in pain as it ran forward. “Take me! Take me, and let my sister live!”

The cougar mother stood by as her son placed his head under mine. “You would give your life so your sister would live? How noble.”

“No. I will give my life for my children. I will be a better meal for you, sister wolf.” The cougar mother bargained.

I took my paw off of the female cub and watched her scamper over to her mother’s side. “Say your goodbyes, then. Never let it be said that the Wolfmother has no mercy.”

The cougar mother bathed her children one last time before coming to my side. “You are much larger than I thought you were.” She said softly.

“I hear that often.” I trotted over to the Lulamoon and gently took her arm in my mouth.

She squealed like a sow and tried to get away from me, so I cut her off and started pushing her toward the mouth of the cave with the Cougar mother following behind me. Once the Lulamoon realized she wasn’t being eaten, she cheered and hugged me before running out of the cave, leaving me and the Cougar mother to follow more slowly. Once we were outside of the cave, I posed a question to the cougar mother.

“Young mother, what is your name?” I asked.

“We of the mountain call ourselves by our favorite places. I am High Ledge on Summit.”

“You will be called Summit.” I abridged. “Summit, I offer you two choices.”

Krel, Honey, and Foxy looked on in mild interest as she said, “I’m listening.”

“Join me on my quest in my stomach, or join me by my side. I have use for another skilled hunter, one that can climb the trees.”

“At the end of this journey, can I return to my cubs?” She asked.

“If you so desire. They may be grown by the time you return.” I told her.

“I will take that risk. I will join you, wolf.”

“Good. For now, I am called Lupa. The Bear is Krel, the Badger is Honey, and the Fox is Foxy. The Pony we are following is called the Lulamoon.” I explained.

“I will do my best to remember these names, and I swear on my spirit that I will not betray this chance you have given me. It is your right to take my life as the Alpha whenever you so choose.” Summit pledged.

“Great, Lupa gets us another mouth to feed and it even talks like her!” Honey complained.

Summit growled at her. “I don’t even know what you are, but I’ll eat you.”

“Try me, trollop!” Honey hissed

Summit recoiled. “What?”

I whacked Summit with my tail. “Honey is tougher than all of us. I suggest you leave her be.”

Summit was visibly disturbed from being threatened by something less than an eighth of her size, but she let the matter go nonetheless. The Lulamoon had been standing by, carefully watching Summit as I introduced her into the pack. As were finishing with the conversation, Krel lumbered forward and started pushing the Lulamoon down the path so that we could hurry and get a move on and I allowed our smaller companions to board me once more.

The Lulamoon was painfully slow, but she had finally allowed us to join her on her journey to Place-Where-Moon-Touches-Equus, so she no longer spent any time trying to avoid us or lose us. Instead, she allowed Krel and I to walk on either side of her with Summit following close to me as we made our way further down, but when night fell, we’d already lost too much time, so Summit took the lead and we tried everything to get the Lulamoon to grab her tail. It took me putting her arm in my mouth and leading her over to Summit’s tail for her to get the idea.

Two-Legs are dumb.

We found another Cougar cave further down the mountain, but this one only had a single, old male in it. Summit and I took the battle away from the Lulamoon since Ponies are weak creatures, and the pack feasted on whatever we could eat, though Summit abstained for obvious reasons. The meal was not good, but it was enough to keep us going, and we had a place to rest for the night. Summit and Foxy took turns watching the cave’s entrance since they could both see through the darkness than Krel and myself, though it wasn’t as if I couldn’t have done it. Summit still preferred to take my watch, and I was happy enough to allow her to do it.

The next morning came and Summit was exhausted. She barely had the energy to stretch, so Krel offered to carry her until we could find our next meal. Cats are notorious for being lazy, but being a mother had given Summit more hours of the day than most Cats had, and even then, it wasn’t as if Krel and I couldn’t carry her. I’d seen many Cats wake up hissing and striking at the right animal, so I was confident that having Summit around was still an overall good thing. Honey was a little annoyed by it, but she couldn’t complain since Summit had eaten less than she had so far and had been crucial in helping us find a way down the mountain that was faster than the normal path.

Unfortunately, this meant that we were about to take on the worst part of the journey: The Arid Desert. I’d been there before when I was younger, and everything about the place was simply awful. It was hot, there was little water, and the very ground hurt your paws. I was eager to get this leg of the journey over with, but when the Lulamoon strayed from the sands in a random direction while following her magic, I couldn’t help but think that things were going to get much worse.

I was proven correct hours later. We slogged through the desert, spotting the occasional desert fox that was always happy to share a watering hole with us, though the water was often far too little to sate all of our thirsts. The Lulamoon had brought enough water for herself in her bags, so we didn’t need to allow her access to the limited supply that we could find, but finding her after going to get a drink was often difficult. More than once, Summit, Foxy and I struggled to track Krel’s scent and more than once, it was Honey’s scent that lead us back to the Lulamoon. She’d been taking wide, arcing paths that lead into Krel’s scent, which was the only reason we’d been able to get back on track.

When Night fell, things were far easier. The Lulamoon set up a tent for herself and the pack stayed outside to enjoy the cool night’s breeze, though we huddled close when the Moon rose high. The temperature difference was incredible and lethal, as was the case when we saw a desert hare lose his burrow. He quickly became a meal for Foxy and Honey, though they hated eating in front of the rest of the group when they knew that another meal was unlikely to be found. The next day was one that would have to be filled with hunting.

When the morning came, we forced the Lulamoon back into her tent so we would not have to travel during the worst hours of the day. Luckily, between my Master and the Broodmother, they had taught me how to write, and I did so in the sand to explain why we were staying put during the day, hiding in the shade of the dunes.

‘Sun hot. NiGht cool. TrAvEl Night.’ I wrote out in the sand. Lower case letters were tricky sometimes.

“You- You can write!?” The Lulamoon exclaimed.

I nodded to her. “You say that as if I hadn't just done it”

Krel snorted. “Two-Legs make stupid observations. Like Honey.”

The badger in question bit his forepaw, but made no progress against his thick fur. “Shut up, you overgrown… Thing!”

“I can’t believe a dog knows how to write… I guess if you could speak, you would have done so by now. Can you tell me why you’re following me?” The Lulamoon asked.

‘MAGic’ I wrote in the sand.

Krel and Honey shut up for a moment to listen to the Lulamoon’s reply. “Magic? The Great and Powerful Trixie has plenty of magic! Is there any you want to see?”

I nodded to her and she started showing us pretty spectacles that would have been more interesting if Foxy and myself could actually see more of the colors. Krel said that some colors were strange ones that he hadn't seen before and Summit just shut up and watched in awe. It’s common knowledge that not all Zgon see the same colors the same way, but that made our observations about the Lulamoon’s magic all the more interesting. We filled the daytime snoozing and talking about her tricks while trying not to get too close to one another. Summit and Krel had no problems sleeping all day, though Krel did occasionally complain about the lack of good things to eat. Honey chose to waste energy playing with my tail, but when the Sun finally fell, things were back to business.

The Lulamoon shivered as we walked, so Krel, summit and I stayed near her in a tight huddle as we walked along. It was far better than trying to travel during the day, though it did mean that we came across a Two-Leg town when no one was awake. The Lulamoon found an inn like the one my Master and I had stayed in when we went to the Gryphon lands, so the rest of us went to go hunt some livestock that would hopefully be nearby. Foxy and Honey stayed with the Lulamoon since we’d offered to bring them back some of our kill and we went off to find something the Two-Legs call a ‘farm’.

It didn’t take us long to catch the scent of filthy sows on the breeze, so Summit and I followed Krel since he was the slowest among the three of us. Sadly, he had more endurance than Summit, so it wasn’t the fastest thing to get there, but once we did, claiming a sow as one of our own was no task at all. I jumped the enclosure keeping them all inside and crushed one’s skull while it slept so we wouldn’t wake the rest and be caught. It was a nice, fat meal, so Summit had to get her paws dirty with me so we could drag the sow over the fence. Krel took care of the heavy lifting once we got over it and we dug in, filling our stomachs with much needed flesh, though Summit complained about the unclean taste of pigs. I was quite fond of sow flesh and Krel eats everything anyway, so neither of us addressed Summit’s reluctance to eat our kill until I mentioned that I hated cat flesh but had eaten it twice in order to make it this far.

There was no more complaining.

We stayed in the fruit orchards around the farm so that we wouldn’t be caught by the locals and I made a scent trail back to the inn so the Lulamoon could find us once she was ready to leave. Summit followed with a trail of her own, and once she returned, Krel did the same. We slept with full stomachs that night, and we actually urinated for the first time since coming off of the mountain, so that was nice.

What wasn’t nice was the fact that the Lulamoon stayed in the Two-Leg town for two weeks. Krel, Summit and I had to cull our consumption of the livestock around the town to the occasional Kendani every few days, but it wasn’t a terrible thing. We were used to only eating every so often from our time in the wild, and though Krel and I had lived a comfortable life among Two-Legs for some time, we never allowed each other to become too comfortable unless we wanted to lose our rights to enter the Everfree Forest. Such a valuable place was not so easily given up, so we took our breaks to rejoin the wildness of the Forest as often as needed, and that had hardened us plenty for the journey.

Either Foxy or Honey stayed with the Lulamoon so that would not lose her, but our fears were groundless. She often came to visit us in the orchards at night, bringing us sweet things to eat and the occasional pet snack. They tasted terrible, but refusing a gift is rude; something taught to me by my Master. We ate them despite their taste, though it was nice that the Lulamoon cared for us. It would be a shame if we had to eat her.

When the third week began, we set off further into the Arid desert, but now, I lead the way instead of the Lulamoon. She corrected our path with magic from time to time, but I knew where to lead us now, and I would happily do it if it meant that we would arrive at our destination sooner. I kept a good pace for our Two-Leg, Honey, and Foxy, so we didn’t have to rest terribly often, though it still took us five more days to cross the desert. On the third day, we’d found a dead Two-Leg that I didn’t recognize and made use of his corpse as sustenance, though we made sure that the Lulamoon was far away when we did, just in case she found fault with the ways of the wild.

On the fourth day, the sand ended and the soil began, bringing trees along with it. Prey was still an issue, but there were more scents to follow in the forest, so I had Foxy come with me so I could find my way back to where we broke off from the group. I cannot track my own scent, so I needed Foxy to provided some musk for me so that we could hunt as we pleased. I ended up stalking a deer from sunfall until moonrise, but I managed to get it in the end and dragged it back to where the rest of the pack were sleeping. We ate well that night, and I even got to eat the heart of the deer after some well done claw work from Summit’s skill set.

On the fifth day, we came across another settlement, but this time, it was not one of the Two-Leg’s places. Instead, we’d come across the Naga, the snakes that helped bridge the gap between the Zgon and Two-Legs from long ago. The Lulamoon was welcomed into their society as a guest, but I and the pack were halted from entering.

A tall Naga female barred us from coming near her den. We were only a few days travel from the Grand Lake at this point. “Wolf. Bear. Cat. Fox. Badger. Why do you seek entry into the Naga lands?”

I stepped forward from our group. “Naga. I seek the Path of Ascension, as is my birthright.”

The Naga leaned away from me. “You? You are Nashoba? Sister of Fenrir?”

I snorted. “Do not utter my brother’s name lest he come. I am Lupa as of now, though I seek to reclaim my name.”

The Naga bowed low, her snout coming close to the soil beneath her tail. “My apologies for waylaying you, honored Wolfmother. Please, call yourself Nashoba and my kin will hunt for you and your friends as often as you need.”

“There is no need. Tell us where to hunt and we will gather our own food. It would not do for the Wolfmother to keep company that cannot feed itself.”

The Naga held her hands up in a gesture of peace. “I meant no offense, Wolfmother. I will show you myself where prey is plentiful.”

“If you have the time, it would be appreciated.” I replied. “We do need to keep an eye on the Pony Two-Leg we brought with us, however. She is my guide on the path.”

The Naga seemed confused. “Her? Really? But she is just a petty magician with cheap tricks!”

I nodded. “The Watcher of the Everfree told us to seek her out, and so we did. She is not terrible, though she does not know her own importance. I trust you will keep this information close to yourself.”

The Naga bowed again. “Of course, Wolfmother. Is there anything else you may need.”

“Oh, oh! Don’t forget water!” Honey cried from underneath me.

I looked up to the Naga. “The Arid Desert is dry. Water would be nice, but food is nicer.”

“It shall be provided since the nearest source is so far away. Come, I will show you our hunting grounds”

And so she did. The hunting grounds were not far from the edge of the Naga settlement, and scents of all sorts of delicious Kendani laced the air in mouth watering lattices. I heard my pack draw a collective breath and release it, all of us prepared for a meal of our own choosing. Honey immediately started rooting around for grubs and various other insects while Foxy climbed trees and stole eggs. Krel snacked on berries and foliage because he’s weird like that, and I took Summit around to teach her how to hunt deer and other four legged prey. We even came across a wild boar on the way that I was happy to tear apart.

Pigs are delicious. Boars are a little lean for my tastes, but it was still a good meal, even if it was more tenacious than I would have liked. Summit was far happier with the boar than the sows we’d feasted on in the Appaloosa Two-Leg place since it wasn’t as fatty. Once we’d all had our fill of our chosen meals, we came back to the Naga settlement, located the Lulamoon, and settled in for another few weeks while she performed her tricks for the Speaking Serpents.