• 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.

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A Knife in the Dark

ose's eyes sprung open as a timberwolf burst into the den. She scrambled behind Bark when she saw the lichen-splotched face of Briar Thorn.

The prickly wolf ignored Bark Hide and spoke directly to her. “You have to go. Now!”

“You're not getting rid of me that easily!” Rose shot back. She was confident, now, that Bark would protect her.

Bark held a paw up against her chest, blocking her back. “Don't jump to conclusions.” He turned to Briar Thorn. “Why? What's the matter?”

Briar Thorn glanced back through the door as if he expected something to come rushing through at any moment. “The matter is that Moon Howl has killed Fang Horn.”

Rose's jaw dropped. Bark Hide wobbled for a moment, then crashed down onto the floor. Neither of them could find words.

“He's going to blame it on the pony, and use that as an excuse to start a war. You have to get her out of here! He's probably already gathering the pack to come kill her.” Briar Thorn glanced at the door again. “You two go. I'll stay behind and see if I can delay them a little. Now go!” He jumped back out through the door, not waiting for any response.

Rose was the first to recover. “But I didn't kill anyone!”

“I know that. Bark knows that. But the other wolves will believe Moon Howl when he says you killed him.” Briar glared at her.

Seeing no other option, she ran to the door. “Come on! Let's go!”

Bark didn't move. He just laid there on the floor, whispering, “Dad?”


He roused up when Rose yelled his name, jumping to his feet, alert and tense. “Follow me!” he whispered, slinking through the door.

Rose followed him out through the sleeping village as quietly as she could, wishing again that she had the timberwolf's stealth.

As soon as they left the village behind, Bark broke into a long lope, rushing unseen through the forest like a nighttime breeze.

Rose struggled to keep up, staying as close as she could to avoid getting lost in the pitch black forest. She kept imagining she would trip on a log or smash into an unseen tree trunk at any moment, but Bark led her through the forest masterfully.

After running for a while, Rose began to wonder if Briar Thorn had even been telling the truth. What if all of this had just been some kind of a prank, or just a way to get rid of her? She looked behind her and felt a shiver through her back. What if this had just been a trick – a way to get the two of them alone out here so Briar Thorn could take matters into his own paws?

A howl echoed through the trees behind them. Bark froze in place. Another howl answered the first, even closer.

Bark winced. “They've caught our scent! Run!” He took off at full speed.

Rose struggled to keep pace. She knew she was no match for the wolves in speed, and the howls didn't sound far behind. A cold dread pierced her chest. She realize she was probably going to die tonight, out alone in the forest. Nopony at home would ever know.

The ground beneath her feet changed from leaves to pine needles, and Rose knew where Bark was taking them. She could only hope he had some kind of plan.

Another howl broke out, right behind her. She glanced back, and her heart froze. She could see a pair of green-glowing eyes gaining on her.

She put on more speed, as well as she could with panic squeezing the breath out of her.

Another pair of eyes appeared on the left, then two more on the right. Rose began to lose hope as more and more appeared, all around them.

“Bark!” she called out.

“I see them.” He didn't even look back at her. “Just a little further.”

The sound of the river came from up ahead. They were close now. She hoped Bark Hide had a good plan ready.

She risked a glance back. No less than five wolves hounded her trail, and the closest could only be a few lengths behind.

Bark stopped her with his paw just before she crashed into the water. “Get on!” he shouted, turning to hold the other wolves at bay.

Rose wasted no time in climbing onto his back. She scrambled up his rough skin of bark and again took hold of the sticks coming out of his back.

He backed away from the half-circle of glowing eyes closing in around them, back toward the roaring falls. With a lurch, he hopped backward onto the first stone, then the second, and another two.

Rose let out a sigh, and a weight lifted from her when she saw the glowing eyes stop at the edge of the river and go no further. When she turned to look at the other shore, though, all her dread came rushing back to her. Glowing eyes lined the far shore as well.

“Bark!” she screamed, hoping he could hear her over the roar of the falls.

He didn't seem to hear; he just jumped back again, nearly dislodging her.

“Bark, stop!” She kicked him as hard as she could along his sides.

He swiveled his head around to glare back at her. The accusatory surprise in his eyes faded to dread. He must have seen the eyes on the far shore.

Rose gulped. Well, this was the end. She would have plenty of regrets, but it had been a pretty good life. She just had never imagined it ending like–

“Hold on!” Bark's voice roared above the falls. He turned sideways, facing downstream, over the brink.

No... he couldn't possibly be thinking of–

His back tensed up for a leap.

Oh no... He was! She rushed to follow his instruction, latching herself on as tightly as she could.

He jumped.

Rose watched the water fall out from beneath them as she felt an awful lurch. For one terrible, wonderful moment, she was looking down the falls, suspended in time far above the crashing foam below.

The moment didn't last. The sickening feeling of weightlessness grew, along with the wind tearing at her mane. She looked back with terrified awe at the seemingly stationary wall of water keeping pace behind her.

The roar of the falls rapidly grew louder. Rose never even felt the impact.

Princess Luna looked up from her book with a start. Visitors to her night court were rare, to say the least.

One of Celestia's guards rushed up to her throne. He made only the most perfunctory of bows. “Your Highness.”

One of Luna's eyebrows rose. “Yes, what is the matter?”

The stallion looked directly up at her. “We've been getting reports of timberwolves massing at the edge of the Everfree Forest.”

“This is not unusual. The wolves have prowled the forest for a very long time, even before I was...” She shook her head. “It is not anything to be frightened about. The wolves have always been there, and they always shall be.”

“Not like this.” The guard glanced over his shoulder. “There are hundreds of them, and more are gathering every hour.”

Luna's eyes widened. This was unprecedented. She focused back on the guard. “Very well – I will need you to deliver some messages. Sound the call to arms, and send word to deploy the border patrol squadrons.”

“Is that all, Princess?”

“No.” She rose from the throne and flared her wings. “Rouse my sister.”

Rose groaned and pried her eyes open, blinking in the bright sunlight. She laid, cold and soggy, in a pile of water plants. The grasses and reeds were soft, but her back legs and tail still drifted in the lazy current. She coughed – her lungs burned with every breath – and a little water came out.

She rolled to her feet and staggered out of the water. Not far away, she found Bark Hide, or what was left of him. His back legs – everything below his chest – were gone. He had been soaked through, and only now were parts of him starting to dry out in the sun. He was laying peacefully in the grassy field that stretched out all around them.

She glanced around. The river was slow and meandering here on the plain. She recognized the spot; she'd been here before once, hunting for lilacs. It wasn't far from Ponyville.

She looked back at Bark, and her heart fell. She winced. Rose hadn't known him very long, but she still felt close, and despite him being a timberwolf, she had counted him as a friend, her only friend for the last couple days. To see him lying there, torn to pieces, quashed any enthusiasm she would have felt after escaping the–

Bark opened his eyes. “Oh, good. You're awake.” He stretched his front paws out. “You had me worried for a while.”

Rose's jaw dropped. A tiny gasp was the only sound she could manage.

“Um, could I ask you favor?”

Speech still eluded her. She nodded, her mouth still wide open.

“Would you mind looking up and down the river a little, to try and find my back legs? Hopefully, they're around here somewhere.”

“Wha– how... how did you survive that?” Rose's voice finally came back to her. She fell back onto her haunches.

Bark smiled. “It's just a flesh wound. My core is fine, so I'm fine.” He raised his head and looked around. “It is kind of hard to walk around like this, though, so if you could help me find my legs, I'd really appreciate it.”

“Uh, yeah.” Rose glanced back down at the missing half of Bark's body. “Sure.” She couldn't decide between leaping for joy or throwing up. She brushed her damp forelock out of her face.

Bark's eyes darted to the side, then back to her. One mossy eyebrow rose.

She shook her head and started walking upstream through the thick grass. She would just have to find his legs, like she said she would.

Well, there they were. Bark's legs and lower body bobbed in the current, stuck on a clump of marsh grass a quarter of the way across the river. She was going to have to get wet again... and get covered in stagnant pond scum... and float back downstream on Bark's back legs. She sighed. This wasn't going to be glamorous.

He did save her from the other wolves though. She owed him at least this much.

Rose took her first step into the chilly water and shivered. She had only just dried out... and now she was going back in. She waded along the flat, squishy bottom of the river until she made it out to the legs. They dislodged easily enough with a hard shove, and she hopped onto them as she pushed them back into the main current.

Rose kicked furiously, struggling to push her ungainly raft to the shore before the current drifted her past it.

As soon as she made it out of the main channel, she made some real progress. Before long, she pushed the water logged legs through the shallows and up to the grassy shore. They were far too heavy for her to move on land; she'd have to hope this was close enough.

Bark's face popped up over the grass.

Rose looked at herself. She still stood hock-deep in river muck, lodged between the wolf's back legs. Her white fur was smudged green and brown, and her mane drooped down, dripping on her face.

She could see the corners of Bark's eyes pinching. He had to be suppressing a smile.

“Not a word,” she said, glaring at him, “or I push this back into the current and send it downstream.”

A greater look of innocence had never been feigned. Bark looked positively angelic... for a timberwolf.

“Right.” Rose rolled her eyes. “Now help me drag this thing out so we can put you back together.”

“Actually, it's probably close enough now... ah, yes. There it goes.”

A green glow surrounded the broken legs, and they floated toward Bark Hide.

Rose scrambled off the floating body part, landing in the grass with a soft thud.

By the time she looked up again, Bark was back together and standing on all fours. He shivered. “You know that weird feeling when half of you is warm and dry and half of you is cold and wet?”

She glowered at him from where she sat, and squeezed some of the muddy water out of her tail. “No.”

He chuckled and glanced at his back. “I just wish I knew where my tail was.”

Rose looked. His tail was indeed missing. She hadn't seen it before because that half had been underwater. She gave a little chuckle of her own and shook the water out of her fur as well as she could. “It's probably far downstream by now. Come on, let's get back to Ponyville.”

Every trace of mirth vanished from his eyes. “P-p-ponyville? Ah, but I...”

“What's wrong?”

“I... I can't go to Ponyville! They'll kill me on sight!”

“Well, you can't go back home, not after rescuing me.”

“But I–”

Rose walked up to him and laid a hoof on his foreleg. “You protected me when we were in your village.” She stepped away and winked. “Now it's my turn.”

He raised the leg she had touched. “You can't be serious. They'll tear me to shreds... and burn the shreds!”

“I'll protect you.” She held eye contact with him for a moment before walking away. “If we head north from here, we should hit Everfree Road right about where it meets the forest. From there, we can follow it to Ponyville.”

She looked back. Bark still sat right where she'd left him.

“Are you coming?” she shouted back at him, “I promise you'll be safe!”

He rose, a little wobbly at first, but he caught up to her quickly. “But... how am I going to make a good first impression without... without my–”

“Without your tail?”

He winced, glancing backward.

“I'm sure everypony will understand. You'll be fine. Now, come on.” She walked off again, and when she looked back this time, she was pleased to find Bark trailing along behind her.

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