The Dead Forest and The Grand Lake
We stayed with the Naga far longer than necessary due to the Lulamoon’s popularity among the offspring of the Naga. So far away from most Ponies and other races, it was a rare sight for them to see magic up close and it wasn’t as though the Naga are social creatures anyway. My Pack was pampered during the small amount of time we spent in the Naga settlement, but being treated as a pet, even as a venerated pet, was an insult to my lineage and the wild heart that beat within me. Krel felt much the same way and Summit had never even met Naga before, so they were content to join me in the forests, hunting and spending our days tracking more difficult meals. We often shared deer that I caught, though Summit was lucky enough to ambush a few during our stay. Krel had little luck, though he did manage to sweep many of the berries from deeper into the forest. I’m sure many of them were poisonous, but he’d always had a strong constitution.
The Lulamoon had gained a few gifts from the Naga in the form of a knife and some talking berries, so my Pack often spent our time with her, explaining life in the wild as opposed to the soft life of pets. The Lulamoon did not find our answers to her liking, but she was a Pony that knew of other ways of life, so she was not completely opposed to allowing the wild to stay that way. She did, however, say that she would happily take any or all of us along with her while she was travelling Equestria. No one was interested, but she was not put down by our reluctance to join her past her current destination. The Lulamoon often asked why we were following her in the first place, but my Pack referred her to me each time she asked and the only answer I would give was simply ‘Magic.’.
When we finally left the Naga, we were rested and prepared to travel the next leg of our journey. Summit and I had spent our time sparring with each other, Krel foraged, Foxy solved riddles to keep his wit sharp, and Honey started fights with anything dumb enough to try and make a meal of her. The Grand Lake was supposed to be the easiest leg of the journey by far since Krel was an expert in catching fish and the lake would provide plenty of water, so there was little holding us back from crossing it.
The first day of our journey was through forest, and though we’d been in the woods for most of our stay with the Naga, the trees quickly changed from somewhat short trees to tall ones that made my neck hurt when I tried to look at them. Krel said that he wanted to try climbing one whenever we had some free time, but his jest was quickly forgotten when one of the massive trees fell and crashed through the silence of the forest. Unfortunately, the tree fell directly onto the trail we’d been following and the trunk was too large for the Lulamoon to scale, so I asked Summit to see if she could spot the cause of the tree’s falling from atop its trunk. She scaled it easily and performed a quick scan around the area that resulted in nothing happening, so I went to inspect the tree’s roots at the base.
I took my time in checking to see the damage, but all I could see was that the roots had rotted away. Summit cantered toward me and called out from above. “Sister wolf! Why has the tree fallen?
I snorted. “The roots were diseased. This does not bode well for our journey.”
Krel joined my side along with the Lulamoon. “Why would we receive bad omens now? Our journey was been littered with supposed blessings”
The Lulamoon looked at the roots herself, so I waited to see if she would speak. “Hmm… Trixie sees that the roots were worried away by magic. Lupa, do you know why this tree fell, just as we were coming along?”
“If it has chosen now to fall, it is either a terrible coincidence or a bad omen. We’ve spent too much time here as it is. Worrying over it will do us no favors.” I clawed my way up the trunk and Krel did the same with Foxy and Honey on his back.
The Lulamoon was the only one left on the ground at this point, so we were waiting for her to get her Pony hindquarters up and moving, but she couldn’t climb the tree, no matter how she approached it. She could have simply walked around, but Two-Legs are dumber than Kendani at some points. The Lulamoon teleported onto the tree and when we all hopped down, she let out a noise of derision before trying to mimic our natural grace. She failed, of course.
I trotted over and nudged the Lulamoon until she rose from the ground. “Lulamoon, we must continue. Your face does not belong with dirt.”
The Lulamoon pushed herself off of the ground. “Blasted hooves. Blasted trees. Blasted ground. Blasted Forest. Blasted wol. Blasted animals following Trixie around. Blasted-”
“Yes, we get it. Things must be blasted, but you lack the attack magic.” I said tersely. “Complaining is unbecoming of the great and powerful.”
“You forgot to add ‘Trixie’ to the end of that.” She pouted.
I sat in front of her. “I did not. If you are great and powerful, you will prove it in time.”
The Lulamoon grumbled and allowed herself to shut up once she got to her hooves. Ponies really do spend too much time complaining. Still, once you could get them moving, they weren’t all that bad, even if they did tend to smell like delicious food. The Lulamoon smelled like a berry of some kind, but since I have not licked her, I have not found out what exactly it is. Krel told me that she tastes of blue raspberries and Summit says she tastes terrible, but I surmised that my taste would follow Krel’s.
After the first tree, three more fell to block our path, but we did not climb over anymore of them due to the Lulamoon’s request. It took time to walk around the giant logs, but it was better on my claws anyway, so I did not complain, and losing minutes out of the day was little more than a nuisance. We still had plenty of daylight to burn when the trees stopped falling, so I couldn’t be upset about losing time.
Krel foraged as we went, bringing back some of his finds for the Lulamoon to keep her entertained and fed so we wouldn’t have to stop as often. They did their job, but some of them caused the Lulamoon to be ill for an extended period of time, though she did not vomit. It was unfortunate since she lost a lot of water while under Krel’s watch, but he was the only one who would be bothered with the smell, though I was sure that it was because of his guilt for bringing the berries that made her ill in the first place.
Once the Lulamoon was up and walking again, albeit with an odd step or two every now and again, we made more progress until night fell. There was plenty of deadfall for a fire, so the Lulamoon treated herself to one while Summit and I went out to hunt. Foxy and Honey busied themselves with inspecting rotten logs for grubs and snakes, and Krel stayed behind to watch over the Lulamoon since he’d had his fill throughout the day. The Pony went to sleep rather quickly, and Summit helped me drag back an odd kill that I’d never seen before so Krel could have a real meal on his stomach. Foxy had little luck in finding any snakes, so he treated himself to what appeared to be the liver of the kill. I took the heart because I was growing fond of them and Summit ate its genitals, while I found to be disturbing, despite not being a male. Krel tore off a haunch after she’d done that and had his meal elsewhere, though I could not blame him for being squeamish. I may have threatened to do something similar to him, but that doesn’t mean that it would be my first choice of targets.
All too soon, the forest became far less hospitable. The berry rich bushes turned into withered shrubs, the grass became sharp and unpleasant, and the trees were so obviously dead that there was little in the way of prey that could live here. The winds whistled through the trees, singing melancholy songs of former glory that seemed to resonate through the heavy atmosphere. It was unsettling to say the least, but other than the trees, we could here little in the way of life. No, the only things living in this part of the forest were abominations that had no place on Equus.
The first creature we came across on the trail was a Bear, but it was unlike any I’d ever seen before. Its forelegs were too long for it to walk on all of its legs at once and it was taller than Krell, but the main thing that stuck out about it was its reek. We could barely see the creature in the distance, but we could smell it from where we were, and it was undoubtedly corrupted in some way. The beast was dark in ways the Everfree would have been proud of, but it was not from our home. No, the Hungry Forest was evil in places, but it had never warped creatures in such a way, and I was willing to bet that we would not find a meal within its flesh.
Honey and Foxy stayed back with the Lulamoon to guard her while Summit and I took a wide berth around Krel, intending on having him be our main combatant since he was similar to the creature. It faced us as we approached it and spoke, but its words made no sense, mere gibberish in the winds. Once we came within ten tail lengths, the creature let out a roar that sounded unlike any I’d ever heard. It was deeper than a Manticores, but louder than Krel’s by far and that made me eager to kill it. Our opponent seemed quite worthy, and in normal circumstances I would have fought it by myself, but only a fool does not use their Pack to their advantage when they have it.
Krel ran forth and took the lead, gaining the creatures attention and making it approach in turn. I found no reason to sit and watch, so when it raised a claw to strike at Krel, I rushed forth and leaped, taking its arm in my maw and doing my best to rip it from its host. I heard a sickening snap when jerked my head, and the creature’s arm fell limp before Krel took it down and pinned it. Summit held the other arm in her jaw and we had the creature under control until we heard rustling in the forest around us. From the dead trees, more of the creatures came down to the ground, so Krel quickly finished off the one we were handling at the moment and I did a quick count. Three more had come down from the trees, so Krel, Summit, and I picked a target and moved as a Pack since the creatures were slow enough to warrant taking them down one at a time.
Krel picked up his pace since Summit and I were faster in a sprint than he was, and once we came up to our first target, we attacked it in the same way we had done the other one, but this time, Summit and I tore one of its arms off by working together, though its blood was even fouler than the reek hanging on its fur. Krel dispatched it and grumbled about being the only one to get a mouth full of the thick, oily substance. He was ignored since he was our main attacker, and while he was still complaining, we closed in on one of the two final corrupted Bears. The other was about twenty tail lengths away, so we had plenty of time to tear our new target apart as well.
The last one stopped approaching us to try and escape up the tree it had come down from, but Summit wanted to go after it. I warned her against it, but Cats can be just as bad as Two-Legs when it comes to doing foolish things. Summit chased the corrupted Bear up the tree and swiped at its hind legs as she rose. Ultimately, she realized that climbing too high would break legs when she came down, so she did that weird Cat thing and ran down the tree.
We returned to the Lulamoon to find that she was sitting around talking to Foxy and Honey like nothing had happened. I was tempted to chew on her mane for a little bit, but I settled for giving her a brief synopsis of what had happened. The Lulamoon was a little sickened that we’d killed three living creatures, but she accepted that such was the way of the wild and that we weren’t going to be tamed any time soon.
The Dropping Bears persisted through the forest and we occasionally had to take out a small pack of them from time to time, but eventually, Summit, Krel, and I learned how to dispatch them quickly enough on our own. Honey was eager to assist, but there was little she could do, though Foxy’s advice and observations were invaluable. The Lulamoon was only ill once or twice while we were dealing with the Dropping Bears, and I commended her for her constitution after she watched us take a foursome down. She still turned green at the sight of what we left behind, but she no longer vomited after some time.
We spent four days traversing through the worst of the forest, and it was only by the Lulamoon’s stores that we made it through it. Once we cleared the dead trees and the Dropping Bears, we found ourselves on the bank of the Grand Lake. My Pack and the Lulamoon rushed towards the water’s edge to get our first drink in two days, taking our fill of the clear water. The Lulamoon overindulged and took herself away from the bank to void her stomach along with Honey, but Summit, Foxy, and Krel were wise enough to sate their thirst in bursts. We held no pity for our ailing companions since I’d warned them mere seconds before reaching the banks, but they were fine once they had a moment to rest.
Once the Lulamoon was okay, I approached her. “Lulamoon. Where does our path take us from here?”
She rifled through her bags until she pulled out a map. She took a moment to find our location with magic and hummed. “It would seem like we have to go around. The lake is too wide to swim across, and we don’t exactly have a boat.”
I nodded. “Then so we shall. Summit will be happy to hear the news. We can take the day to rest if you require time to get your bearings.”
The Lulamoon shook her head. “There’s no food for you in the dead part of the forest. We still have a few hours of sunlight left, so we need to see if we can fill your stomachs.”
“A wise decision. Perhaps you are not as foolish as I thought.”
Krel snorted from behind me. “Foolishness is relative.”
I gave him a baleful glare. “And I believe you possess much of it. Perhaps you could spend some time fishing in the shallows?”
Krel looked to the Lulamoon. “The Lulamoon is correct; we must keep moving.”
“Then so be it. We’ll waste no more time.” I declared.
We took a little time for the Lulamoon to refill her stores of water so that we could have it in reserve, just in case. When that was finished, I allowed her to lead the way around the lake, but kept a close eye on the forest and the scents within to see whether or not I could smell prey nearby. It took hours of careful attention, but I was successful in catching a scent on the breeze. It smelled like nothing I’d ever had the displeasure of smelling before, but something told me that it was edible, so I took Summit along with me and we tracked the scent. My nose was the best out of our group for tracking down live prey, so it took but a few more hours to get us to our mark. Summit wanted to have her chance at it, so I allowed her to do so since the setting sun played off of her coat in a way that made her hard to see.
We circled the antlered thing until we were in position: I was in front of it and Summit snuck from behind. She got rather close before the creature caught her scent and bolted, but I was already on it, my long strides eating up the distance between us in seconds. I had Summit help me drag our kill back to camp, and once we arrived, we were met with excitement from the rest of the Pack. The Lulamoon ate her pony food in silence as we tore into our meal, and once I had the chance to clean my muzzle, I came and sat next to her.
I waited for her to speak since it was obvious that she had something to say. “...It’s always hard to watch when you do that.”
“Feed?” I asked.
She nodded slowly. “Yes.”
“We have offered to do our business away from you in the past.”
She nodded again. “Trixie knows. It’s just that… Over the past few months, Trixie has come to think of you and your pack as friends, but it’s hard to think that friends would do such a brutal thing to another living creature. Trixie understands that it’s just the natural order of things, but that doesn't make it any easier.”
“If it bothers you so much, we will feed away from you.” I said simply.
The Lulamoon stared off into the distance, but she didn’t look at anything in particular. “Don’t worry about it. Trixie accepts you for what you are, even the parts that she does not like.”
I butted her with my head a couple of times and she scratched my ears. “Thank you, Lulamoon. Perhaps not all Ponies are soft creatures.”
She scoffed. “The Great- No, Trixie thinks that most ponies would have given up by now. Without your Pack, Trixie thinks she would have given up.”
I rose and whacked her with my tail. “You are made of tougher stuff than most Ponies. I believe that you would have made it this far at least, though you did seem quite happy with the Naga.”
The Lulamoon chuckled. “They were entertained by my tricks, but being with them has taught Trixie that she is not as great and powerful as she once thought. Maybe Trixie will return to the mainland and make new friends.”
I yawned. “We may only hope.
After our conversation, the Lulamoon set up her tent and retired for the night, but she did not stay inside very long. She took the time to collapse her tent and asked if she could join my Pack in sleeping under the stars. There was no reason to deny her, so the Lulamoon brought her blanket with her and we slept.
Once we left the dead forest far behind us, our journey was easier. Water was bountiful, travelling through the forest was easy, and prey wasn’t that hard to find with five experienced hunters checking for scents at all times. The Grand Lake itself only took two days to walk around, and once we did, the Lulamoon’s magic steered us north.
I don’t understand why it didn’t just give us a straight line to follow, but magic is stupid and those who use it barely even understand how stupid it is. The Lulamoon couldn’t tell us why it hadn't just taken us in the direction we were meant to go since it had always done so in the past for her, but we muddled through. I kept my dark mutterings about the nonsense of magic to myself so that I wouldn’t demoralize the Lulamoon, but it bothered me to no end. Why have something that doesn’t work?
As we headed north, the weather became rainier and colder, so it was pertinent to keep the Lulamoon warm at night and dry during the day. Summit and Foxy were miserable through the rain, but Krel, Honey and myself were perfectly fine, occasionally shaking the rain from our coats. Summit grew weary after two days of the incessant rain, but she still padded through he drained energy, so I kept by her side and tried to encourage her through the worst of it. With our second best hunter and our greatest mind under the weather, things weren’t looking good.
A week passed with morale dipping lower than it had in the desert. The Lulamoon grew taciturn, so Honey kept her company and Krel offered Foxy a ride on his back whenever the fox lagged behind. Things were tough, but I had expected there to be more challenges along the way, so I was just grateful that no one died. At least, I was grateful until Foxy got sick. He became lethargic and silent for days on end, so we camped out in the driest place we could find while Foxy recovered.
He never did.
I dug a hole for him and the Lulamoon placed him inside so that he would give his body back to the elements, but not rot on the open ground. Morale took a heavy hit with Foxy’s passing, and I dreaded telling the Broodmother that I had cost her one of her own, but Foxy had known the risks in coming along. Still, even though we had expected there to be death on our path, we mourned our Pack brother for the rest of the day and I sat vigil to honor his memory. Krel and Honey focused on keeping Summit and the Lulamoon alive so that they would not fall to the same sickness that took Foxy, but it was a hard time on all of us.
We named the forest Foxy had died in the Mourning Forest since it held little more than depressing overtones. It now held the body of one of our friends as well, but I knew that we would not bother coming back. It is not the way of the Zgon to dwell on the passing of friends, regardless of how close we may be to them, so Krel, Honey, and I made our focus getting Summit and the Lulamoon away from the Mourning Forest.
We cleared the obstacle two days after Foxy’s passing and the rain let up. It was too little too late, but letting that fact weigh on our minds was doing us no favors. The Lulamoon required more help than any of the remaining Pack could provide, but she muddled through her own sadness and kept things moving. I was proud of her for keeping her chin held high, and she set a great example for Summit to follow. Until we’d gotten out of the forest, I’d worried that she was going to be the next to fall, but when we entered the empty plains, my worries proved to be for nothing.
The Lulamoon requested that we take some time to rest once we set paws on the plain, and I had no reason to deny her such a comfort. She and Summit needed the break, and Honey, though stoic, desired it just as much as they did. Krel and I took the time to hunt and talk among ourselves, though neither of us required comfort. We’d seen Foxy’s death from across the horizon and had been prepared for the worst when it came anyway. In any case, once our day of rest was up, we only had one more piece of the journey to go through. Months had brought us to the last leg of our journey, and though I wished that my friend could have seen it through to the end, I was hopeful that there would be little else in our way.
Finally, we could head to the Place-Where-Moon-Touches-Equus.