• Published 14th Jan 2014
  • 1,124 Views, 57 Comments

Guardians of the Old Forest - ocalhoun



For centuries, timberwolves have guarded their secrets in the deepest corners of the old forest, but that may change when Roseluck stumbles in. A war is brewing under the shadows of the trees.

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Into the Darkness

branch creaked, bringing the forest's silent watchfulness to a brief halt as the slight sound echoed through the musty dark of the Everfree.

Roseluck froze, glancing around and waiting for the silence to return.

“I still haven't found any Wolfstone roses.” Daisy glanced over her shoulder. “We should go. Before it gets dark.”

Rose didn't bother answering this time. She didn't come here to argue; she came here for that rose. For Lily. As the quiet, watchful forest became still again, Rose dared to take another step.

When a few hesitant crickets began to chirp, Rose finally let out the breath she'd been holding. She crept forward, peering into the gloom for those precious white petals. Though she would never dare tell anypony, more than anything, she wanted her friendship with Lilly to become something more... much more. She couldn't let anything happen to her.

A bush rustled behind the two ponies.

Daisy glued herself to Rose's side. “What was that?”

Quiet,” Rose chided. “It's probably nothing.” Wishful thinking, probably, but she couldn't turn back now.

Something crunched against the fallen leaves behind them. The crickets fell silent again.

“Rose!” Daisy whispered, painfully loud in the abrupt quiet, “We have to get out of here!”

“You heard what Zecora said. 'Unless I get these pale flowers, your friend is in her final hours.' We have to find some! It's the only ingredient we're missing for the potion that will cure her.”

Daisy groaned. “Your friendship with that weird zebra is going to get us killed, and I didn't even want to come out here in the first place. Isn't there some safer way we can save Lily?”

“You're being too loud!” Rose whispered, whirling to face Daisy head-on. “And no, you know there's no other way. We tried all the doctors. They all said trots is incurable. Zecora's the only one who knows a remedy, so we have to find the ingredients!”

Daisy trembled where she stood. “B-b-but...”

“No buts! Lily needs us. We have to–”

Daisy pointed her hoof at something behind Rose.

Rose winced. All she could see was the wide-eyed terror in her friend's eyes. Her own bravado wavered and died like a candle in a storm. A draft of cold, damp breath washed across her neck and shoulders, making every hair of her coat stand on end. Barely able to breathe, she spun her head around.

Just inches away, the face of a timberwolf loomed. Long thorns covered its hide – it seemed to be entirely made of briars, except for a big patch of pale lichen around one eye. Its mouth opened, revealing rows of jagged teeth and releasing a guttural growl.

Rose sat transfixed by the hypnotic green eyes of the wolf. She could feel it feeding from her fear – savoring it. Its open jaws edged closer.

“Rose! Run!”

The spell of those seductive green eyes shattered. Rose bolted up and away from the wolf.

The wolf's jaws snapped shut on empty air. It snarled, launching itself toward her.

Rose scrambled away, her hooves skidding against the loose leaves of the forest floor. She ran toward Daisy, dodging tree trunks and bushes. A low-hanging branch blocked her path for a moment, and she dove beneath it, sliding over the leaves before popping back up and dashing away.

The forest cleared for a small space ahead; she could risk a glance behind her without running headlong into a tree.

The timberwolf snapped at her tail, snagging a couple stray hairs on its thorny face. If she made the slightest mistake, the slightest stumble, the wolf would have her.

She turned to look where she was going, just in time to see Daisy trip over a log and fall.

Rose turned, running away from her friend to draw off the wolf.

It didn't work. The wolf ran straight for Daisy. Its eyes gleamed as it watched its now-helpless prey.

Rose turned back toward her friend. She would never let this happen.

The wolf skidded to a stop right above Daisy. She stared up at it, still flat on her back, and just trembled. With a savage snarl, the wolf lunged for Daisy's neck.

Rose lashed out with her back hooves, smashing into the wolf's face, and the wolf's jaws crashed down onto the log instead of Daisy.

Yanking its head up, it spat out chunks of bark and moss. Its eyes flashed, and it roared at Rose.

She took off again, jumping over the log and galloping deeper into the forest, the wolf nipping at her heels.

Daisy called out for her, but she couldn't turn back now, not with the wolf right behind her. Every step made her cringe as thorns from the wolf's face drove into the soft center of her back hooves.

She plunged into a tight thicket of dead rhododendrons, hoping to slow the wolf down.

It did slow as it crashed through the brush, but not enough. It gained on Rose as the two struggled through the thick branches.

Rose's heart was exploding. She could hardly breathe, but the snapping jaws of the wolf behind her kept her moving. She kept wriggling her way through the clinging branches, desperate to get further away. Her mane snagged, and jagged sticks scraped her through her coat, but she didn't dare stop.

Finally, she burst out of the thicket, in the clear again and able to get a little distance from the wolf. She ran as fast as she could, ignoring the pain in her feet; this was her chance.

The wolf still struggled, thrashing at the branches holding it back. As Rose ran even further away, it howled, a long, lonely sound.

Rose's blood ran cold at the sound of the timberwolf's howl. It froze when she heard an answering call from her left. Two more howls wailed from her right.

She redoubled her efforts, running even faster. The forest around her grew darker, and it wasn't just because of the approaching night. The trees around her were thicker, mossier, and they loomed over her like vultures. Nearly all the underbrush was gone now, leaving her with only the huge, gnarled tree trunks all around.

A new timberwolf shot from the trees on the right. Rose dodged to the side, barely avoiding its claws. She veered off to the left only to come face to face with another.

Rose felt a sharp sting of panic run through her legs. She had never been a very athletic pony; already her longs burned and her legs felt weak. Now she had two new wolves on her tail. She cringed and kept running, hoping for a miracle.

The two new wolves trailed just behind her on either side. They would have her if she turned.

Rose ran on. It was her only option. The thorns in her back feet hurt all the time now, not just when stepped on, but she had to ignore it, or things would only get worse. She glanced a the wolf on her left. It licked its teeth with a leafy tongue. Much worse.

Something white in the gloom ahead caught her eye.

Impossibly, there it was. The little rosebush ahead was unmistakably the Wolfstone rose she needed – a pure-white Polyanthus, with clusters of three tiny blooms all over.

She veered toward it. Wolves or now wolves, she wasn't about to let that slip by. If by some chance she made it back from this, she wasn't coming back without the medicine to save Lily.

Another wolf jumped out from behind a tree, blocking her path to the rosebush.

Rose skidded to a slop, tracing long trails across the forest floor with her hooves.

Behind her, the two that had been chasing her slowed to a calm stop and fell into place, blocking her escape.

Her heart racing, she turned in a circle, looking for something, anything that could get her out of what was about to happen. Instead, she spotted the first wolf again. It had two hoofprints in the lichen patch around its eye now. It stalked toward her, staring her down the whole way, and she knew it would have its revenge.

An uncontrollable chill ran through Rose as the injured wolf stalked up to her. She couldn't take her eyes off it.

The wolf towered over her as she cringed away. She could smell rotting meat in its breath. The branches in its leg tensed for a pounce.

She clenched her eyes shut, squeezing out a tear. She never thought it would end like this. Leaves rustled and crunched; the wolf made its move.

“Stop!”

For a brief moment, nothing happened – a glorious, impossible nothing.

Rose dared to open her eyes. She wished she hadn't. The thorny wolf's jaws were open, just inches away from her face.

The jaws receded with visible reluctance. The wolf sat back on its haunches and glared at her with its injured eye.

“Who is this pony before me?” the deep, gravelly voice spoke again, coming somewhere from the left.

Rose looked, but the only thing there was an enormous, particularly gnarled tree trunk.

Moments passed and no one answered. The timberwolves around her glared at her, naked hunger in their eyes.

Rose decided she should answer before the wolves did anything. “I'm Roseluck. I, uh, run a flower stand in Ponyville.” Rose gave the best smile she could under the circumstances. Whatever this was, it was the only thing between her and being literally thrown to the wolves.

Leaves rustled and branches creaked. The giant tree trunk moved, and the face of a colossal timberwolf lowered down. Thick layers of moss and ferns grew on it, but the glowing green eyes were unmistakable, even if the color was a deeper, darker green than the other wolves.

“Why have you come to our peaceful forest, Roseluck of Ponyville?”

Rose couldn't believe what she was seeing; she couldn't believe what she was hearing. “I... I came to get a Wolfstone rose.” She backed away a little, glancing from side to side. “I need it to make medicine for my sick friend.”

The giant wolf growled. She could feel the sound of it in her bones. “As it ever was, so shall it ever be. Ponies have always come to our forest, always harvesting, always rending, always breaking, always burning.” The huge green eyes narrowed. “I know not of this 'Wolfstone' rose you seek, but

“It's right there.” Rose pointed at the bush below the giant's feet.

The giant eyes narrowed further, and the huge mouth bent into a frown. “You are no different from the rest of your cursed race, as eager to destroy as you are ignorant.” Its eyes trailed down to the rosebush. “This sacred rose is called 'The Soul of the Forest'. It was planted in this place by my grandfather, the very first timberwolf. It is the only one of its kind left in the forest. All roses are sacred to the pack – this one more than most. That you should dare to defile it shows you to be the worst of our pony enemies.”

Rose sank down and glanced back and forth at the other wolves creeping toward her.

“And yet, you bear the mark of the rose. Perhaps you can be redeemed.” The giant face lowered down to her level again. “I am called Fang Horn. The task of reforming and educating you, I give to my three sons.”

“Um...” Rose tried to keep as far from the wolves around her as she could. “I'm not sure what's going on here, but can I go home now?” Her words fell on deaf ears.

A dark colored timberwolf jumped out from behind Fang Horn.

“This is my youngest son, Bark Hide, and this is Moon Howl, my eldest.” The face nodded toward one of the wolves surrounding her.

A short, stocky timberwolf nodded back.

“And I believe you have already met Briar Thorn.”

The wolf she kicked earlier snarled at her and gave her a glance that could have shattered stone.

“Go with them, and learn well. The future of the forest depends on you.”

The one he called Bark Hide ran up to Rose and nudged her to the right.

She cringed at the contact from the patch of cold, damp moss on the wolf's nose. Moved more by instinct than anything else, she edged away from him.

She crept along in the direction indicated, keenly aware of the eyes of all the wolves watching her. A well-worn path revealed itself, even in the dimness, and she followed it.

“I can't believe this nonsense,” a new voice behind her said.

She glanced back. Bark Hide followed her, with Moon Howl at his side.

Moon Howl spoke again, “Are we seriously taking a pony to our village?” He glanced at her, furling his bushy eyebrows.

Rose turned back to the path ahead. She didn't want to cause trouble.

The little dirt path wove its way around the ancient tree trunks around her, leading her through a dark maze. Occasionally, she could catch glimpses of the eye-patched wolf, Briar Thorn, stalking her between the trees.

“And now we have to take care of one? This is madness. We should be tearing her to shreds right now!”

Rose winced at Moon Howl's words. It was true, she knew. That was exactly what she had expected from the wolves. Rose dared to glance back again.

“Fang Horn thinks it's for the best.” Bark Hide looked up at her before turning back to his brother.

“You can't possibly be on its side.”

Bark Hide shook his head, waving the moss on his face. “No, of course not! But you know how it is. Every year, we lose ground to the ponies. Fang Horn thinks we need to negotiate with them and set up a truce.”

“Then you're just as much of a fool as he is.”

Bark Hide snarled. “If you're going to be like that, then maybe she can sleep in your den.”

Moon Howl jumped aside as if burned, the big cedar burls on his shoulders flexing as he landed. “No!” He fell back into place behind Rose, still glaring at the other wolf. “Are you crazy? Have you smelled that thing? I'm not letting it anywhere near my den.”

“Then behave yourself, or I'll make her sleep with you.”

Moon Howl hissed. “You can't do that.”

“Briar would back me up.”

Both wolves glanced ahead and to the left, where Briar Thorn still slank between the tree trunks. The wiry, thorn-covered wolf just kept glaring at Rose with his injured eye.

Moon Howl flicked his tail. Rose could hear the swish of pine needles. “Whatever. But for now, it's staying with you, since you like it so much.”

Bark Hide growled, low and ominous. “Watch that tongue of yours, brother. It's going to get you in trouble some day.”

“And you watch that pony.” Moon Howl stopped walking. “I'm going hunting.” He looked directly at Rose. “I've got a sudden craving for meat.”

Bark Hide watched his brother trot away. He kept up behind Rose without breaking his pace.

Rose turned her attention back to the path and limped onward. It was broader and better trampled now, but wove around even more to avoid the massive oaks. She could still catch Briar Thorn's gleaming eyes staring at her whenever there was a small break in the trees.

Bark Hide stepped up next to Rose. She jumped to the side, her heart racing. She hadn't heard him coming at all.

“Stand straight, and do exactly what I say,” he whispered. “We're coming up to the village now.”

Rose strained her eyes in the dark. She couldn't see anything ahead but more pathway.

On her left, a new wolf popped out from a hole under a huge tree root. Its green eyes glowed at her. Another emerged from a pile of brush on her right.

“Stop,” Bark Hide snarled at her. “Stand right there. Don't move.”

Rose froze in place. She didn't dare disobey.

Bark Hide let out a long, undulating howl.

Timberwolves poured out of the darkness, circling around Rose and Bark Hide. In just moments, an ever-moving ring of green glowing eyes encircled them.

“My fellow wolves of the River Pack,” Bark Hide called out, “Fang Horn has given me and my brothers this pony. She is to be taught our ways and taught to respect the forest. She is not to be harmed without the permission of Fang Horn.”

The circle of wolves drew closer.

“She will be living in my den until further notice. Treat her well, and teach her to respect us.”

Wolves crowded around her now. The stench of their breath gagged her. She fell to the ground as the first one sniffed her, and she laid there, trembling and clenching her eyes shut as more and more came up to her for a sniff.

Rose struggled to keep control of herself as wolf after wolf sniffed at her. Their foul breath washed across her face and whiffed through her mane and tail. Twigs, branches, and leaves of all kinds brushed up against her fur. Just yesterday, she had been tending her flower stall and nursing her sick friend – living a perfectly normal pony life. Now, here she was, surrounded by timberwolves and separated from everything she had ever known. With a start, she realized she didn't even know which way was home. She'd gotten so turned around during the chase, she had no idea which way Ponyville was anymore. Even if she could escape, where would she go?

A rough wooden paw poked her in the side. “Get up. You're an embarrassment.”

Rose opened her eyes to see the ring of curious wolves was gone. Only she and Bark Hide remained. Still shaking, she managed to stand up.

“Some first impression you made.” Bark Hide snorted. “You didn't even sniff any of them back. If you're going to last around here, you'd best learn some manners.” He sauntered off. “Come on, let's go.”

Rose hurried to follow him. It felt strange, depending on a timberwolf for safety, but somehow she felt she was safer with him than with the others.

He stopped in front of a big pile of brush. “Get in.”

She stared at it. It just looked like a big pile of branches and leaves. “Um, I don't really know

He snorted at her, blowing her mane back.

“Oh, um, okay.” She stepped up to the pile, still unable to see any kind of entrance. She poked at it with her hoof, at a loss.

Bark Hide gave a guttural grunt and pulled on a protruding branch with his teeth. The branch pulled back a whole section of the pile, revealing a doorway.

“Oh.” Rose flashed a strained smile, sidestepping over to the door.

As soon as she stepped inside, she cringed, expecting an awful stench. Instead, it just smelled like fresh herbs and damp pine needles. A small dome of branches and leaves spanned overhead, and the floor was packed dirt, except for one big patch of soft-looking live ferns. A few green-glowing mushrooms bloomed from out of the roof.

Bark Hide slipped in behind her. Before the door fell closed, she caught a glimpse of Briar Thorn watching her from the darkness.

With a creak, the door flopped closed. With both Rose and the big wolf inside, the small room closed in on Rose. She pressed herself against the wall, struggling for what little distance away from the wolf she could get.

He glanced left and right and checked behind him, and then, he changed. His face lit up with a huge grin, and his eyes glowed brighter. “Bless my bark! I've got a real, live pony right in front of me! I never even dreamed that” He shot down, putting his face right into hers. “Ooh! What do pony hunting parties look like? Where do you do your ritual dances? Can you show me one? What are your holidays? How does it feel to fly? Does your pack have a

What?” Rose stared at him, wide-eyed, and fell to her haunches. “Bark Hide, what are you

“Just call me Bark. All my friends do.”

“And I'm your friend?” Rose raised an eyebrow.

“Of course!” Bark spun around in a tight circle, forcing Rose to hug even tighter against the wall. He ended up facing her again. “I've always been curious about ponies. I used to sit at the edge of the forest and watch them when I was a pup.” He sat down on his haunches, but still twitched with energy. “It is so amazing to finally have one right here, right here in my den!”

Rose coughed from the smell of his breath. Of all the places to find a new friend, this was the last she would have expected. “So... you want to be my friend?”

Bark nodded vigorously.

“And you want to learn about ponies?”

He nodded again.

Rose shook her head. “Okay, ask away.”

The manic grin on his face grew even bigger. “What kind of leaves do ponies like to sleep on? Where do they plant their foals? Why doesn't

“Woah, hold on.” Rose held a hoof up. “One at a time.” She sighed. “Ponies don't sleep on leaves. They sleep on beds. And what do you even mean, 'planting foals'?”

Bark cocked his head to the side. “You know, where you put your younglings in the ground to grow.”

“We, ah, we don't do that.”

“Really?” He moved in even closer. “What about the flying? What's it like to fly?”

Rose shook her head. “Only pegasus ponies can fly.” Seeing his confusion, she continued, “The ones with wings.” She edged along the wall a little, trying to get a bit more room in the tiny hut. The thorns stabbing into her back feet made her cringe.

Bark's mossy eyebrows furrowed. “What's wrong?”

“Besides being a captive in the middle of a timberwolf village?” She gave a dark chuckle. “When I was running away, I kicked Briar Thorn in the face to save my friend. Now I have thorns in my hooves.”

“And that's bad, right?”

Rose looked at him as if he'd just eaten glue.

“Hey, honest question. I kind of like having thorns in my feet, actually.”

Rose jumped back again when he moved toward her.

He sat back and sighed. “You're safe now. No one's going to hurt you. So relax, and let me take a look at those feet.”

Rose glanced back and forth. Slowly, she limped her way over to the bed of ferns and laid down, leaving her back feet hanging off the edge.

Obviously straining to look as non-threatening as a timberwolf could, Bark stepped over to the ferns. He knelt down and examined Rose's feet.

“Now, I guess there are some things you should know if you're going to live here,” Bark said, still squinting at Rose's hooves.

Live here? I can't live here! I have to get back home. My friends are going to miss me! Lily could die!”

Bark Hide pressed a rough paw against her back legs, preventing her from getting up. “You're stuck here for now, and there are some things you have to know.”

“Fine.” Rose growled and flopped back down onto the ferns. She glared at him out of the corner of her eye.

“First of all, you're an inferior here, so don't ever look anyone in the eye for too long. They might take it as a challenge.” He brought his paws together right next to her hooves.

Inferior? That is just so Ouch!” Rose flinched her hoof away as Bark Hide made contact.

He held up a thorn with his paw. “You can't expect them to greet you as an equal, now can you? How would ponies treat a captured timberwolf, hm?”

Rose looked away and slid her feet back toward Bark Hide.

He twirled the thorn around in his claws for a moment, staring at it. It must have been at least an inch long, and a red stain covered most of it.

“Secondly”he tossed the thorn aside “you can't attack anyone. Fang Horn ordered everyone to leave you unharmed, but if you start a fight, all bets are off.” He moved in to pluck another thorn.

Rose fought the urge to cringe away. Her hooves hurt enough already, without a wolf picking at them, but she knew the thorns would have to come out if it was ever going to feel better, and she couldn't do it herself.

Bark plucked another thorn. “And for the love of everything growing, when someone sniffs you, sniff back. It's rude to snub everyone like that.”

Rose buried her face in her hooves. “I had no idea what was going on, okay?”

“Okay, last one.” He moved over to her other back hoof. “And the last thing you really need to know, I guess, is to never do something that pisses off Fang Horn. He's the leader of the whole wolf pack, and the only reason you're still alive is because he said so.”

Rose winced as he pulled out the last thorn. “So, getting a piece of that rosebush would be

“Don't even think about it.” Bark growled, covering his face with a paw. “You don't know anything!”

“Why's it such a big deal? It's just a plant, and I only need a little piece. It wouldn't hurt the

Just a plant? If you keep thinking like that, you're not going to last long around here.” He spun around and sat down next to her on the plush ferns. “Back in the ancient days, the beautiful forest stretched from sea to sea, watched over by the Great Mother, and every race lived in peace with the forest. But as time went on, some of the races began abusing what the Great Mother gave them. They cut down trees for wood, plowed up fields for crops, burned the precious trees for mere warmth.” He shook his head back and forth. “The Great Mother came back to find these atrocities, and she wept. She tried to put her beloved trees back together again, and though her power was great, she could not. Her attempt to do so created the first timberwolf. Ever since then, whenever a plant of the forest is maimed, its parts will become part of a timberwolf.”

Rose took a moment to stare at Bark's side, right next to her. Big chunks of coarse bark rose and fell with his breaths, and springy green moss filled the crevices. Who had chopped down the tree that became him?

“Roses are especially sacred to the wolves, for it is said the Great Mother loved them especially.” He turned his head, glowering down at her. “We are the guardians of the forest now, and we constantly have to fight off ponies like you – ponies who take without thought, ponies who butcher plants for the most frivolous reasons, ponies who cut and break and burn and...

Bark Hide took a deep breath. He turned his head away and sat silent for a moment before continuing. “Taking a piece of that rosebush would go against everything you should be learning here.”

Rose winced, but it had to be said. “But I need it for a really important reason. Without it, my friend is going to die!”

“Weren't you listening to anything I said?” Bark rose up and whirled to face Rose, his jagged teeth bared. “Forget about it. If you harm that rosebush, Fang Horn is going to have you killed. Got it?”

Rose shrank down into the ferns. “Okay.”

Bark Hide brightened immediately. “Okay, good. Now, tell me about ponies, where do they plant their young? When do they

“We don't plant our young.” Rose glanced at him from the corner of her eye. “Why would we do that?”

“Huh... That's how we've always done it. When a father is ready, he plants the core of a new wolf into Mother Earth. Over time, it accumulates pieces of plants and grows into a pup. Isn't that how ponies do it?”

“Not exactly, no.”

“That's weird. Anyway, what about their dance-chants? Do they

Rose let out an explosive yawn. She couldn't help it.

“Oh. You're tired. I'm sorry. We'll wait until tomorrow.” Bark Hide circled around her and spun in three tight circles before settling down onto the bed of ferns. “Come and sleep with me. We can talk in the morning.”

“Sleep with you?” Rose raised an eyebrow.

“Of course. Where else would you sleep? I promise I'll keep you safe.”

“Uh, yeah, I'm sure.” Rose lifted herself to her feet and took a step away from the bed. “It just wouldn't be very appropriate to...”

Bark lifted his head up. “What? Why would it be inappropriate to share a bed?”

“Well, it's just that some might see it as something sexual.”

He cocked his head to the side, lifting his ears. “Something what-you-al?”

Rose groaned. “Never mind. I'll explain it tomorrow.” Shaking her head, she limped back to the pile of ferns and laid down next to him. “Good night, Bark.”

He shifted closer, and Rose tensed when a tough, mossy paw wrapped around her. “Good night, Rose.”

Within minutes, Bark Hide's chest began rising and falling in a slow, smooth rhythm. The wolf was asleep.

Despite the long, tiring day, though, Rose couldn't find sleep. Every detail reminded her of how foreign this place was, and of her own peril. Every little noise from outside–

Bark Hide shifted in his sleep, pulling Rose in tighter.

Rose groaned. As if trying to sleep in a timberwolf's den wasn't bad enough, here she was being used as his teddy bear or something. She couldn't imagine being able to get much sleep tonight.

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