• Published 14th Jan 2014
  • 1,125 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.

  • ...

Dawn's Invisible Light

long, low howl jolted Rose awake. It sounded like it was coming from just outside the wall.

Bark Hide raised his head as another, more distant, howl pierced the quiet of the nighttime forest. He rose to his feet, hopping over her to land on the dirt floor of the den.

Rose sat up. “What's going on?” she whispered, “Did something

Bark Hide drowned out her voice with a deafening howl of his own. He turned towards Rose and flashed a toothy grin. “The zap apples!” He howled again.

Rose covered her ears. That was far too much sound for inside this little den. All around her now, even with her ears plugged, she could hear a cacophony of howling timberwolves. She glanced back and forth. “What's going on?” she shouted, hoping Bark could hear her over all the howling.

Bark Hide pranced around the tiny room, jumping around and never staying still for even a moment. “Can't you smell it?” His grin grew even wider. “The zap apples are coming!” He jumped into the air again, landing with his tail wagging. “The zap apples are coming!”

“Oh.” She knew timberwolves howled when a zap apple harvest was coming, but she had no idea they got this excited about it.

After a few more moments of howling along with his pack, Bark settled down.

As the last few howls died down, Rose yawned. It gave her the eerie impression that one of the howls had been her own, but she knew it was only because this was the middle of the night, and she hadn't been sleeping well so far. She glanced over at Bark Hide. “Why do you wolves care so much, anyway? Why is it such a big deal?”

“Are you kidding?” Bark Hide laughed. It sounded like tree limbs rubbing together. “Have you never had one? They're delicious! They're the Great Mother's gift to all who share her forest!”

Rose yawned again. “But they won't be ready until five days from now, right?”

“Yeah. How'd you know?”

Rose curled back into the bed of ferns. “Lucky guess.”

Bark laughed again, softer this time. “They call you Roseluck for a reason, huh?”

Rose didn't answer. Now that all the commotion was over, the bed seemed to be calling her name, and she could already feel herself drifting off to sleep.

Roseluck heard the sound of birdsong echoing through the trees. She peeled her eyes open.

For some reason, she was staring at an odd tree branch. It had just a few pine needles sticking out of it, and a broken-off part on the tip facing her was covered in damp moss. With the two holes in it, it almost looked like a nose... and the pine needles could be its whiskers... She let her eyes trail upwards, where they met another pair of eyes, glowing green.

The memories of last night came flooding back to her.

She jumped up to her feet and scrambled to the far wall, putting as much distance as she could between herself and the wolf.

He just sat up straight and tilted his head to one side. “Do ponies always wake up like this?”

It was only Bark Hide. If there was any timberwolf she could trust, it was him. She allowed herself to relax. Her back feet still stung a little, but it was nothing she couldn't handle. She shook her head, trying to clear it. “No... not usually.”

“I got you breakfast.” Smiling, Bark nudged something toward her with his paw.

Rose gagged. The carcass of a light brown bunny sat there on the dirt floor and stared up at her with glassy eyes.

She turned around, trying to keep her breathing steady. “Ugh. Ponies don't eat that kind of” A vicious snarl from outside the den cut her off. She froze and looked up at Bark Hide. “What was that?”

“It sounded like my brother.” Bark stepped over to the door. “Come on, let's see what's going on.”

“I'm not sure that's

Bark pushed the door open. A growl came from outside, then a sound like something heavy hitting a tree.

Rose's legs trembled, but she craned her neck out and crept toward the door anyway.

Bark Hide stood at the door, staring outside and filling most of the small doorway. “It's Moon Howl and Birch Fur. They're fighting a Lupus Mal!”

Pushing up close to him, Rose peeked out into the darkness. The short, squat wolf, Moon Howl, had his teeth clamped onto the back leg of another wolf she didn't recognize.

“They're fighting a what?”

The other wolf hit Moon Howl with a brutal series of kicks, but Moon Howl kept his grip, despite the bits of wood splintering from his face.

“They're fighting a Lupus Mal,” Bark said, “It’s how we settle disputes. Don't ponies do it the same way?”

Moon Howl dragged the other wolf backward now, scrambling for traction on the loose forest floor.

“Well, it's usually not quite so...”

A loud snap echoed through the forest, and Moon Howl broke free, holding the other wolf's broken leg in his mouth.

“... violent.” Rose winced.

Moon Howl spat out the severed limb, and it flopped to the ground. The other wolf backed away slowly, the short fir needles covering his back all standing up straight.

Moon Howl lunged, and with a leg missing, the other wolf couldn't dodge in time. Moon Howl blasted into the wolf's chest, shattering the injured wolf's body entirely.

Rose's jaw dropped. “Did he just...? What was this dispute about – what was so important that they had to kill each other?”

Bark Hide laughed. “Oh, it was just some little hunting rights thing. They've been arguing about it for days – I'm surprised it took them this long.”

As Moon Howl stalked away from the scene of the fight, he glanced toward the hut, and Rose could swear he glared right into her eyes.

“But it's just so violent and–”

“And no one died. Look” he pointed out towards the shattered bits of the other wolf “see that green-glowing gem in the middle? That's Birch Fur's core, and it's fine.”


“It's his core. Hm, how do I put it? It's like his heart. A timberwolf's core is where all his energy is kept. As long as that's okay, he'll pull himself back together. See? He's starting already.”

Rose watched as the pile of wood scraps began to glow and move back together. Piece by piece, the wolf's body reassembled itself. Even the broken leg limped its way over. Before long, the fir-needle-covered timberwolf shook his head, scratched behind his ear, and walked off.

Bark Hide backed up into his den, letting the door fall closed again. “So, ready for breakfast?”

“Well, yes” Rose's stomach growled –“But I don't–”

“Good, good.” He tossed the dead bunny toward her. “Enjoy. I caught it just this morning before you woke up, so it's nice and fresh. Just a little something to make you feel welcome.”

“Bark Hide, I don't–”

“Just call me Bark.”

“Okay, Bark, but ponies don't eat things like that.”

“Huh?” Bark tilted his head to the side. “You don't like rabbits? Well, I guess I might be able to find a squirrel or something... maybe a raccoon, but that would take a while. Maybe–”

“No!” Rose shrank down after her outburst, a bit ashamed to have yelled at him. “We don't eat meat at all.” She shuddered at the thought.

“What?” Bark slumped. “Then what do you eat?”

“Well, mostly plants.”

Bark recoiled away from her, holding one paw up to his chest. “You eat plants?” His face contorted and he glanced away. It looked like he was going to be sick. “You mean like, fruit?” He looked back up at her with a faint hope in his eyes.

“Well, yeah. Sometimes fruit, and sometimes eggs or dairy products... but mostly plants, like grass and oats.”

Bark shuddered. “That's... that's disgusting!”

Rose shrugged.

“Well... just don't eat any plants while you're here, okay?”

“Hm, okay.” Rose shrugged again. “As long as we can find enough other stuff. A pony's gotta eat.”

That seemed to stun Bark for a moment. “Wait... you have to eat?”

“Well, yeah. Of course.”

Bark just sat there for another moment. His brows furrowed. “What happens if you don't?”

“We starve.” Rose looked at him from the corner of her eye.

“And what's that?”

She sighed and covered her face with a hoof. “Running out of energy for so long and so badly that you die.”

“Woah.” Bark stared blankly ahead for a moment. “Being a pony is hard. Taking care of you is going to be harder than I thought.” His eyes focused on her again. “Well, only eat plants if you really have to, okay? The timberwolves are going to be really offended if they see you doing that.”

“Okay, fine.”

“So... if you're not going to eat it, do you mind if I...” He eyed the bunny hungrily.

Rose rolled her eyes. “Go ahead.”

She hid her eyes behind her hooves as soon as the timberwolf pounced toward the dead bunny, but she couldn't block out the sounds of the little thing being crunched and swallowed. She gagged again.

“So,” Bark said as soon as he finished, “should we go find some food for you?”

Her stomach lurched again. “No thanks. I'm not... hungry anymore.”

“Okay, suit yourself.” He shrugged.

After a few moments of not thinking about it, Rose managed to quiet her gagging down. “Why do timberwolves eat, then, if you don't even know what starving is?”

“Well, we don't have to eat, and nothing bad happens if we don't.” He licked his lips. “But we do really enjoy it. It's very tasty.”

Rose shuddered. She did not want to think about what the wolf had just tasted.

“So, pony, what do you do, back at home?”

At least Bark Hide was gentlecoltly enough to know when a change of subject was needed. Rose took a deep breath. “Well, mostly I do gardening, I guess.”

“Gardening?” His leafy ears perked up. “What's that?”

How to explain that? “Well, um, I plant flower seeds, and I make sure they have all the water, sun, and fertilizer they need to grow.”

“Really?” His ears perked up even more. “That's what you do?”

Rose smiled. Finally, something she could be proud of among these wolves! “Yep, that's what I do.”

“That's so amazing! I wish I could help plants grow like that!” He pawed at the ground. “I try to, sometimes, but I'm not very good at it.”

“Wait...” Rose's own ears perked up. “You have a garden?”

He looked down and away from her. “I wouldn't really call it...” He glanced up, just for a moment. “Would you like to see it?”

Rose let her smile grow. “I'd like that.”

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