• 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 Battlefield Without a Soul

shout broke the tune Rose had been humming. “Ma'am! Look out behind you! Run!”

Rose looked up to see a white pegasus in royal guard's armor rushing toward her, spear held at the ready.

She froze. What in the world was that guard going on about?

He charged in closer. “Ma'am, there's a timberwolf stalking right behind you! Run! I'll hold it off!”

Oh. Of course. Still, what was a royal guard doing way out here? She moved in front of him, blocking his path to Bark Hide.

The guard sidestepped, and Rose matched him. After another failed attempt, his face scrunched up. “Step aside, ma'am. There's a wolf right behind you. I need to get to it, for your own safety.”

“His name is Bark Hide, and you'll do no such thing. He's under my protection.”

That stopped him cold. His spear drooped, and he sat back on his haunches. “Ma'am, I–”

“And my name is Roseluck.”

He shook his head. “Miss Roseluck, I need you to surrender your prisoner to me, to be taken to command for study. You should evacuate the area. Timberwolf activity is at an–”

Rose took a sudden step toward him. His slight flinch gratified her and told her all she needed to know. “No, he's under my protection. I'm not leaving him.” She heard a sigh from behind her. Looking back, she could see some of the tension melt away from Bark's shoulders.

“I must bring this wolf to command. They have to know about this.”

She rolled her eyes. “Fine. But I'm going with him, everywhere he goes.”

The pegasus glared at her out of the corner of his eye, but what choice had she given him? “Very well. I will escort both of you to central command. Move along.” He circled wide, attempting to get behind Bark.

Bark, of course, kept Rose in between him and the guard at all times, which meant he would end up leading the way for the rest of their trek. He glanced back at Rose, lowering his head down, and whispered, “Should I sniff him?”

“Huh?” Her face scrunched up as she stared back at him, until she remembered her first meeting with the timberwolf pack. “Oh! No, no. Ponies don't do that.” She laughed. “That's just a wolf thing.”

Royal guards lined both sides of the path as Rose followed Bark Hide toward a huge white and gold tent. She glared at them, silently daring them to make a move. She had promised Bark he would be safe, and she would keep that promise, whatever it took.

The guards glared back, the tips of their spears tracking Bark along as he passed through. All around them, ponies watched, murmuring to each other. Dozens of pegasus ponies swirled overhead.

Rose glanced over to Bark Hide. He trembled as he walked, glancing rapidly at all the ponies around him. His leafy ears were pinned flat against his head.

Two more guards blocked the entrance to the tent. Rose couldn't tell them apart at all.

“Halt,” one said.

“Who goes there?” the other finished.

The guard who first found them stepped up into the view of the others. “This pony, by the name of Roseluck, has captured a timberwolf and taken it prisoner. I'm bringing her in for questioning.”

“Hey!” Rose whirled around toward their escort. “Bark Hide is not a prisoner!”

The guard said nothing. He just glared at her.

Rose turned back to Bark. He trembled where he stood, glancing back and forth at all the guards around him. She put a hoof on his leg, hoping to calm him, but he jumped at the contact, making every guard in view twitch.

One of the guards slipped inside, while the other remained, blocking the entrance and staring them down.

The sun shone down through a few thin clouds, and in the distance, bird calls echoed in the forest. The pleasant day was completely at odds with the tense restlessness of the pony camp.

Finally, the royal guard returned from inside the ornate tent, or was it a different guard? Rose couldn't tell. He took his place beside the door. “The princesses will see you now. Proceed.”

The princesses? Rose's jaw dropped. She had never met royalty before; she was just a humble gardener.

The two guards stepped aside, allowing them into the tent.

Rose just stood there, still too stunned to move.

Bark looked over at her and made a tiny whine.

She shook her head. She couldn't be nervous now; she had to keep a brave face for Bark Hide. Taking a deep breath, she plunged ahead through the tent flap with her head held high.

Rose bowed low as soon as she entered the tent, hoping Bark would follow her lead. She glanced to the side.

Of course he didn't bow. He still had a lot to learn about pony customs.

When she looked up, she was amazed to see not only Celestia and Luna, but Twilight Sparkle, too, as well as several other ponies. A fourth, empty, throne stood next to the others; Rose could only assume Princess Cadance was off on some errand.

She tried to keep her best, most presentable smile on her face, but she wasn't sure it was working, especially as the moment of silence stretched on. Was she expected to speak first? “Um, I–”

“Greetings, Roseluck of Ponyville. We see you have brought us a most interesting guest.”

Rose winced at being interrupted by Princess Luna, but she was relieved to hear her call Bark a guest, not a prisoner. “Yes, your majesty. His name is–”

“My name is Bark Hide.”

The eyes of all three princesses widened.

Princess Twilight gasped. “It can talk?”

“So... the rumors are true,” Princess Celestia murmured.

“Well met, Bark Hide,” Princess Luna said. “Why have you come before us?”

Bark looked to Rose with a question in his eyes. She nodded, telling him to go on. He took a bold step forward, stamping his foot into the middle of the tent. “I've come to warn you of an upcoming war with the timberwolves.”

Princess Celestia shook her head. “Then I'm afraid you've come too late. War is already upon us. We received reports days ago of increased wolf activity, and we have been preparing for the worst.”

“You can still help, though.” A big white unicorn with a blue mane stepped out from behind the thrones. His armor was very different than the guards'. “What can you tell us about them?”

Bark glanced over at Rose again before answering. “Well, I know they're being led by a wolf named Moon Howl.” He glanced away for a moment before continuing. “They'll probably wait for nightfall before attacking, and they fear fire.”

The princesses all looked back and forth between each other, sitting on their thrones. Rose wondered if they were sharing some kind of telepathy.

“So, we have until nightfall to build enough fires...” The unicorn tapped a hoof to his chin.

“No!” Bark shouted, “You can't!”

For a moment, all eyes converged on Bark Hide. He cringed down, hiding behind Rose... or at least trying to.

Rose broke the silence. “There doesn't have to be a war. We can talk to them. All they want is for us to leave the forest alone.”

“Hm, perhaps,” Princess Celestia said.

“Princess!” The unicorn butted in again.

“Yes, Shining Armor?”

So that was who he was. Rose glanced back at him again. She'd heard a lot about the new prince, but she'd always thought he'd be smaller.

“We can't be sure these wolves are trustworthy. It's too risky to–”

“If there is any chance for peace, we must try.” Celestia's tone invited no argument. “Arrange for a small security detail to escort my sister and me to the edge of the forest, and have somepony find an olive branch.”

Shining Armor bowed and headed for the door, saying nothing. Princess Twilight winced.

“Um, Princess?” Rose gulped as all the room's attention focused back to her. She knew how the wolves would react to seeing the ponies approaching with a dead tree branch, though. “They don't like it when plants get hurt. Maybe a white flag instead?”

Princess Celestia nodded. “Shining Armor, a flag instead of the olive branch, please.” She looked back down at Rose. “Now, what to do with you two?”

Bark cringed away from the pony princesses. “Please don't do anything to–”

“Take us with you!” Rose jumped in front of Bark Hide.

The princesses just stared at her, occasionally glancing at each other.

She stepped even further forward. “Nopony knows the timberwolves like we do. We can help.”

Princess Luna glanced over at Celestia, then back down at Rose. “Very well. The two of you will come along to assist with the negotiations.”

“Shouldn't I come, too?” Princess Twilight asked from the far left.

Celestia shook her head. “No. If the worst happens, and my sister and I are captured, we will need someone to lead our forces... and we will need the elements of harmony intact.”

Rose winced at the idea of being captured. The wolves still thought she killed Fang Horn. She wouldn't be kept alive this time.

“WILL THE LEADER OF THE TIMBERWOLVES PLEASE COME FORTH. WE WISH TO SPEAK WITH YOU.”

Again, Celestia's voice echoed out through the forest, scattering a flock of birds this time. Rose had experienced the royal Canterlot voice before, on Nightmare Night, but she had never imagined it coming from the usually serene Princess Celestia.

The words faded to silence with no response, as they had the last four times. This time, though, a pair of green eyes glowed from the darkness under the branches.

A low voice growled from the murk. “What does a pack of tree-killers have to say to the timberwolves?”

More glowing eyes appeared behind the treeline.

Princess Celestia stepped forward. “There doesn't have to be any violence here. Tell us what it is you want, and we can negotiate a peace between our peoples.”

A snarl answered her. “You expect us to negotiate after you sent a spy to assassinate our beloved leader? No! You will pay for what has been done.”

A chorus of howls followed his words, and even more glowing eyes appeared in the shadows. Rose felt a twinge of fear. The wolves under the trees were beginning to badly outnumber her escort.

“We sent no spy,” Princess Celestia insisted.

The voice hissed. “She walks among you as you speak!” His tone dropped to a sultry purr. “You want to negotiate? This is my offer – give us the assassin, and I will delay our attack by one full day.”

Princess Celestia's eyes shot over to Roseluck, with a piercing stare like none she'd ever experienced before. She froze in place, unable to respond to the question in the alicorn's eyes.

“She didn't kill Fang Horn.”

Rose could finally breathe again, as Princess Celestia's gaze swept over to Bark Hide.

The timberwolf stalked forward, almost into the trees. “Do you hear that, my fellow wolves? Roseluck did not kill Fang Horn! She never left my sight. But the real killer is here, isn't he?”

“You are a traitor to our people, and you speak lies!”

“No, Moon Howl, you are the traitor, the killer, and the liar.” A cacophony of howls and snarls followed Bark Hide's words.

“You have no voice here, traitor,” the wolf in the shadows said, “This is our deal – you give us the assassin, and we will delay our attack by one day.”

Princess Celestia again stepped forward. “There is no need for war, delayed or not. We can negotiate a peace.”

“I didn't come here to negotiate.” Moon Howl's voice dropped, and the glowing eyes narrowed. “Fang Horn's death will be avenged.”

“This is not–”

“His death will be avenged.” Everypony turned to look at Bark Hide when he interrupted Princess Luna. “And there will be no war. Moon Howl, I challenge you to a Lupus Mal.”

Rose had expected another roar from the hidden wolves, but the silence that followed was even more unsettling.

“You're mad!” Moon Howl said with a snarl, “You know you can never defeat me.”

“But I'm challenging you anyway, on the issue of who killed Fang Horn, and for leadership of the pack.”

“Foolish pup, no one has ever defeated me.” The corners of the glowing eyes turned upward, and Rose could imagine the predatory grin on Moon Howl's face. “I accept. I relish the opportunity to end you myself. We will meet here, at sunset.”

Moon Howl's eyes vanished into the darkness, and all the other sets of eyes soon followed, except for one lingering pair.

Rose turned to Bark Hide. “Is it true what he said, that you can't beat him?”

Bark turned away. “I have to try.”

Behind Rose, the pony bonfires burned high, casting a russet glow to rival the deepening sunset. All the color seemed gone from the world; only orange and black remained.

Bark Hide took a heavy breath. She could feel him trembling as he watched the treeline. No other wolves had shown up yet. “You don't have to do this, you know.”

Finally, silhouettes appeared against the darkness of the forest, glowing dark red in the light of the setting sun. Their eyes glowed like green gems in the dim light.

Bark stood up. “Yes, I do have to.” He began to walk forward, but stopped for a moment, turning back to face Rose. His eyes gleamed in the dull, contrasting light. “Remember, no matter what happens, you can't interfere. If anyone helps me, I forfeit the dispute, and Moon Howl will have his war.”

Rose nodded. “Be careful.”

“I just wish I had my tail. I'd hate to die looking so ridiculous.” Bark walked away toward the line of trees.

Rose returned to her place next to Princess Celestia. Normally she would have been awed by her proximity to royalty, but right now, she could only worry about Bark. She didn't like the idea of him all alone out there, not after all they'd been through.

The two wolves met just outside the forest. Timberwolves lined one side, and ponies lined the other. For a long, still moment, nothing moved except the slight breeze through the treetops. Complete silence fell across the battlefield, broken only by the distant crackling of the bonfires.

Moon Howl circled around Bark, while Bark turned round and round to keep facing his opponent. He glanced over at the ponies and shuddered, his ears pinning themselves back. Still, neither wolf broke the silence.

For a moment, Moon Howl stood still, facing off. There was a barely perceptible tightening of his burled leg joints.

He pounced.

Bark dodged to the side, just in time. He even managed to get a quick bite at Moon Howl's flank as he passed.

Moon Howl whirled back around and snarled.

Bark grinned, spitting a few wood chips out of his mouth. He made a dash at Moon, catching a bit of shoulder as the bigger wolf shied away.

Moon just shook it off and began stalking, slow and unstoppable, toward Bark. He couldn't catch up that way though; Bark kept circling, not letting him get close.

Rose turned away as Moon Howl made another quick lunge. She wished there was something she could do. Watching from the sidelines like this was unbearable. Bark was scoring hits, thanks to his speed, but only light ones, and they didn't seem to be affecting Moon Howl. He couldn't keep dodging the bigger wolf's attacks forever. Sooner or later, he was bound to–

A crashing sound snapped Rose's eyes back to the fight. She watched in horror as Moon Howl plowed through Bark, shattering off both legs from his left side.

Bark tumbled down, crashing onto his side and rolling onto his back. The tiny pieces of his legs rained down across the field.

Moon Howl whirled around, and his eyes flashed when he saw Bark Hide laying helpless. He sprinted across the distance separating them and leaped up, arcing high with his jaws opened wide for Bark's neck.

Rose's mouth gaped. She couldn't look away.

Bark Hide thrust his one good paw upward just as Moon came crashing down, putting both wolves' full force into one blow.

Moon Howl's jaws closed over Bark's neck, digging in, but Bark's foreleg jutted deep into Moon's chest.

The light in Moon Howl's eyes flickered.

Bark yanked his one foreleg back out, and the eyes went dark.

Clutched in Bark's paw was a green glowing gem.

Piece by piece, Moon Howl's body broke apart into simple chunks of wood. He crumbled into bits on top of Bark Hide.

Bark worked himself up and out of the pile, shrugging off the lingering pieces. He still held Moon Howl's core in his paw.

Rose rushed up to him. “Are you okay?”

“No.” He pushed himself to a wobbly sitting position. “But I'll be all right.” He winced. “Do you think you can find my legs again?”

Rose sighed, and her worry evaporated. She had seen him in worse shape, after all. She pointed to the gem in his paw. “What about that? Are you going to...”

“No. I'm leader of the pack now. They'll do what I say; Moon Howl is no longer a threat.”

Rose nodded and hurried over to where Bark lost his legs. She gathered up as many pieces as she could carry and turned back.

Two alicorns, one white and one deep blue, blocked her path. They smiled, and their horns lit up.

As rose delivered her few pieces to Bark, the rest of his legs came floating over, surrounded in yellow and blue magical auras. When they drew close, the color of the glow changed to green, and the pieces reassembled themselves onto Bark Hide.

He stood on top of the woodpile that once was Moon Howl as soon as his legs were back together. He gently set Moon's core down on the ground, and he smiled at Rose. As the last light of the sunset faded from red to blue, he shouted out to the wolves in the forest. “Moon Howl has been defeated!”

The wolves in the trees roared.

“This dispute is settled. Roseluck did not kill Fang Horn – Moon did, to incite you all to war.” Bark took a few steps closer to the forest. “And I am the new leader of the pack. As my first act, I declare this attack canceled!”

The glowing eyes watching under the trees began to vanish, and within moments, unbroken gloom returned to the forest.

“I wonder...” Bark whispered to Rose, “Did Fang Horn plan all of this? He always did seem to be in control of everything, and he always played the long game...”

Before Rose could reply, she heard ponies approaching behind her. She turned to see Princess Celestia and Princess Luna.

“So, Bark Hide, you're the leader of the timberwolves now?”

Bark nodded.

“And you would be willing to negotiate a peace treaty?”

He smiled and nodded again.

Princess Luna's horn glowed, and she closed her eyes. After a moment, the full moon crested the horizon. When she returned her attention to Bark Hide, her eyes narrowed. “How do we know we can trust these timberwolves?”

Princess Celestia glanced from Bark to Princess Luna, then to Rose.

Approaching footsteps pulled Rose's attention toward the forest. A pair of glowing eyes betrayed the approach of another wolf. In the competing lights of the newly risen moon and the lingering fires, Briar Thorn came walking up to Rose. The patch of lichen on his face reflected the bright red fires, but the rest of his thorny body glistened with the pale moonlight.

Rose's jaw dropped when she was what he carried in his mouth.

Briar Thorn carefully placed the branch of Wolfstone rose at Roseluck's feet.

“What is this?” Rose stared at him.

The thorny wolf glanced side to side before locking his eyes back on her. “I've been watching you, studying you, seeing if you are trustworthy. I made my decision.”

Rose looked up at Princess Celestia. “Yes. We can trust them.”

“Thank you, Roseluck,” Princess Celestia said with one of her slight smiles. “Sister, could you please oversee sending our forces home?”

Princess Luna glanced at her sister out of the corner of her eye, but after a moment, she nodded.

“You will be able to return home now as well, Roseluck.” Princess Celestia turned back to Rose with an odd look in her eyes.

Rose glanced over at Bark Hide, then to the rose branch at her feet. She wouldn't be seeing her new friend anymore now. “Oh. Right... home.” She sighed.

“Of course,” the Princess said, her smile growing, “now that we have opened diplomatic relations with the wolves, we're going to need an ambassador... somepony who knows them and their customs, somepony whom they can trust, and if we're particularly fortunate, somepony who can count their leader as a friend.”

Rose gasped. “Really?”

Princess Celestia's smile grew even more, and she gave a miniscule nod.

“Oh thank you! That would be perfect!” Rose could have hugged the alicorn, had her instincts not stopped her from invading the royal's personal space. She glanced back down at the rose at her feet. “I just have one errand to run first.”

“Of course, Roseluck. As ambassador, you will need to travel frequently between the wolf and pony territories. Take all the time you need.”

“Thank you!” Rose grabbed the branch in her teeth, being careful of the thorns, and to the surprise of everyone, galloped straight into the forest, heading for Zecora's hut. She would finally be able to cure Lily.

Celestia's smile never faded. She turned to Bark Hide. “Now, about the treaty, what is it that you would like to...”


Epilogue

“I still can't believe you just left me out there. And how could you have all that fun without me?” Daisy held a hoof up in the air.

Rose rolled her eyes. “I didn't leave you. I saved your life.” She shook her head. “And it wasn't fun!”

“Well, I'm glad to see you back, anyway.” Daisy glanced at the door again. “I really should be going, though. The train leaves in five minutes.”

“You go ahead, Daisy, I'll catch up soon.” Rose waved goodbye as Daisy slipped out of the room.

Lily took another sip of Zecora's potion. “I can't thank you enough for all you went through to get this for me, Rose.”

“I'd do it all again.” Rose blushed. She knew she couldn't keep her secret any longer. “And, um, Lily? There's been something I've been meaning to tell you for a long time now, and I hope you'll forgive me, but I've always had kind of a crush on–”

Lily reached her hoof up out of her bed and pulled Rose down to her. She held their faces just barely apart for a moment before planting her lips on Rose's.

The End

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Comments ( 27 )

3802883
I hope it's satisfying! ^.^

3803117
:twilightsheepish:

3806281
That would be fun for a sequel! ^.^

Well... that didn't go in the direction I initially thought it would, that's for sure. Commence spoilers.

When I started reading, this appeared as though it would one of those stories where the protagonist joins a group of nature-lovers and slowly learns to appreciate and respect their ways to the point that the protagonist is willing to go against their own (former) allies if it were to come to war. Eventually, Roseluck would gain such respect that she'd be willingly given what she needed in the first place, and she might even go live with them permanently. It's an idea that's been done numerous times; a dead horse, so to speak. John Carter of Mars, The Last Samurai, James Cameron's Avatar, the list goes on. But that didn't quite happen here, much to my pleasant surprise.

Instead, we get something that sort of treads on the borders of this idea and perhaps even plays with it at times. Roseluck does gain the respect of two of the wolves, but the others still seem to think little of her. She does seem interested in maintaining contact with them, but that just seems to be because she has a friend who is one of them. Her knowledge of their ways lead to her helping her own kind a little, but it probably didn't make much of a difference in the end. She did sort of protect the timberwolves from the ponies, but only if you believe that the ponies would have won the war. This story seems to play with the tropes common to these kinds of stories, and I always find alternative usage of tropes to be interesting.

I would normally expect this sort of story to end with a big battle (because they usually do), but instead the resolution is one that solves the issue present without causing too much of a ruckus. Some might say "anticlimax," but really, why would sensible characters let it escalate further if there was a simpler way to diffuse the situation? The story trades a typical ending for one that wraps things up cleanly and in a way that makes sense, as well as providing some callbacks to timberwolf anatomy and customs. No senseless conflict or pointless idiocy muddles the situation, unless you count what went down with their leader dying (I don't), which may or may not have been a conspiracy.

Overall, I liked this story. It did feel a little short, but I honestly don't know what could make it longer that wouldn't just be padding. It tells the story effectively within the length it has, so I don't really see the length as a problem. I'd say that this is a pretty good story, and it's really sad (and kinda weird) that it's gotten so little attention (as of this writing). Nice work.

3807058
Thanks! :twilightsmile: I'm glad I can bring a little originality to it! :yay:

Extremely good world-building. I liked the way you made use of a Tolkienian influence without writing a precisely Tolkienian story. Very well done! :twilightsmile:

4169772
Thanks! :twilightsmile:
And yeah, Tolkien references abound in the story, in addition to the overall influence.
My version of timberwolves is heavily influenced by Tolkien's ents.

Such a underrated gem of story but I do have two complaint. One is that you could of done without the romance since it didn't really have much to it. The other is that I could of expand this a bit like have Rose explore more of the place she is given. But other then that this is a good gem I have read.

4258258
I know, right? :ajbemused:
This is one of the stories I'm most proud of, yet one of my least popular.
Well, at least that doesn't happen to me all the time.

Anyway, yeah, I probably could have stood to build it up a bit more.

This story needs more reads than it has. (And maybe a sequel of some kind? :pinkiehappy:)

4620889
I know, right? :fluttershysad:

The romance was ... pretty whack*, but other than that the story was pretty good.

*Can't friends take grave risks for each others' lives without having some romantic subtext?

4881626
:facehoof:
I should have listened to my editors on that one.

I loved reading every sentence of this story :twilightsmile: Great work!
(Seriously, my eyes were glued to my laptop screen)

Well, this is normally where I put my complaints and/or criticisms about the story, but I honestly found nothing to complain about. It is just that good :ajsmug:

Well, seeing as I have nothing more to say... I'll end this comment here.

Cheers!

5696219
Thanks! ^.^
Yeah, even though it's not all that popular, I do think this is one of my higher-quality stories.

5705455 I don't see how it hasn't got much attention... It makes no sense...

5705461
Cover image and description not up to snuff, probably.

6026045
Wow -- with a review like that, I'm definitely eager to see what you have to say about later chapters! ^.^

and...

Also, is Fang Horn a LotR reference to Fanghorn Forest?

It very much is. ^.^ I'm impressed. You're one of the very few who picked up on that without being prompted.

6032402
I am continually impressed with your review! ^.^ (And I can only hope you'll review some of my other stories when you're done.)

6081214
No worries about the delay. ^.^
I'm really enjoying your review -- especially since it's on an older story of mine that I like to think of as quite good, but which hasn't been reviewed in depth very much yet.

6081468

Well, here's the finisher. Unfortunately, I have to end on a bit of a downer, since the final chapter wasn't quite my cup of tea.

PROs

- That first scene is brilliant. I like how assertive Rose was, and it was also funny in parts, such as when she deliberately blocks the guard. In fact, Rose is back to her quietly awesome self here, which is always good. Still not a particularly deep character, but still a pretty enjoyable one. It's just a pity she doesn't do much here after the opening and talking.

- "Should I sniff him!" That's the species-clash stuff I'm talking about! Bark Hide's not bowing at the right time was also a moment that deserves a nod and a smile. This is the sort of stuff you do well, and you should be proud of that.

- The Lupus Mal gets off to a good start and holds firm. It's nothing particularly original, but it's done well all the same. I could imagine every crunch of wood and crack of branch joints as they went at each other, and the way Bark Hide resolves it is a competent example of Chekhov's gun being pulled down and fired. Also, as much as I found this chapter a bit anticlimactic, it was kind of awesome and funny when Bark Hide announces that the attack is cancelled. I don't know why. I just smiled at the thought of the wolves moaning and complaining as they slunk away about how they never get any fun. Also, Bark Hide as the new leader will definitely be interesting.

- "Did Fang Horn plan all of this?" I don't agree he did for one minute, but Bark Hide speculating like this and regarding Fang Horn almost like a Celestia-tier chessmaster was actually pretty intriguing.

CONs

Hoo boy...

- I don't really like the scene with the Princesses, and pretty much most of how the following chapter goes. I get why it's there; because the issue with the gathering timberwolves requires a military response and negotiation from the country's leaders. Yet, it still feels like too much escalation too soon, involving highly powered characters who didn't really need to be there and who are pretty distracting. For what is essentially a local skirmish, introducing them - and doing it like this - really kills any tension as well, because even if things go downhill, I can't imagine much danger occurring.

- Also, the scene felt too formal, even with Rose and Bark Hide interrupting. The fact that it feels a bit like a roll-call of major-league characters doesn't help either. Maybe if this had been kept to a local issue, with more action to underscore the seriousness of the situation, it might have at least kept to the fic's track record. For instance, imagine how nail-biting it might have been if the Mayor and a few locals had to prepare on short notice, against wolves who feel increasingly emboldened to wander into Ponyville at night and go after stragglers.

- The scene negotiating and announcing the Lupus Mal came across as dry. I don't know what it is, because the scene doesn't seem that different from your prose while writing all the other talky scenes I liked, but I found this one kind of stilted. It might be because there's just ponies and wolves moving into position for the next scene to happen, but it didn't feel tense at all. Considering what excitement and thrills have happened so far, that's disappointing.

- The Lupus Mal itself is fine, but I'm not sure about how it's used. After a history of being unable to defeat Moon Howl, suddenly Bark Hide does so, though I will give you props that he was almost snuffed out himself when he won with such a risky move. Also, as much as it resolves the timberwolf issue, it's a bit disappointing that the timberwolf pack is swayed simply by who's boss. That was kind of anti-climactic, though the fight was still pretty awesome (if a bit short).

- Pretty much everything after that is just way too anti-climactic. As soon as the closest thing to tension is resolved in the Lupus Mal, that's pretty much it. The story feels like it's on autopilot after that; Rose is made an ambassador, Briar Thorn turns out to be a full-on good guy, the cure is delivered with little to no fanfare, and there's not a hint of the atmosphere that had permeated the fic until around halfway through the last chapter. You had a brilliant opening and some good chapters up to now. What happened?

- The epilogue - apart from Daisy moaning because she was left behind - left little to no impression on me and could just as easily have been left out. The relationship was so underdeveloped that I didn't really care. If only there had been more scenes detailing it and convincing me that there was any kind of chemistry between the two, or at least something to make me care about Lily's fate. She's just too obviously a plot device.


So overall?

This was a fic with a rousing start, a good middle, a likeable pair of main characters, some brilliant culture-clashes and world-building, and mostly fine prose, give or take odd stylistic choices like the superabundance of short paragraphs. Where it's good, it's really good. Where it's suspenseful, it's entertainingly so. It's just a shame it suffers from an underdeveloped plot device romance, a kind of narrative bait-and-switch in the last two chapters when the princesses arrive, and a weak and non-suspenseful ending that somehow both escalates things too soon and drops the ball a long way immediately afterwards. There's more to like than dislike, though, so I think if one were to suggest re-edits, then I'd probably point to the last two chapters mostly and expand on a few things, try to get that nail-biting suspense and "ticking time bomb" aspect to the fore, remove the Princesses altogether in favour of a less suspense-killing alternative, and add much more substance to the climax and the Lily subplot.

As it is, it's still a respectable offering. You get a like and a fave from me. Well done! :twilightsmile:

6084204
Thanks! I've really enjoyed your review of it... and I do think I may have gleaned a thing or two that will help me in future stories.

And I really do mean that. Usually the best feedback one can get is finding out what one did wrong... but in your review, I could also get a sense of what I did right. ^.^ That's not only fun to read (of course), but it's really valuable knowing what to do more of.

I can only hope you'll deign to review some of my other stories, and thanks again for your really impressive work!

Amazimg story!

:moustache::moustache::moustache::moustache::moustache:

5/5 moustaches!

7373215
Oh, oops. I need to fix that!

7373215
I've fixed the images now, if you wanted to see why it was that way.

I look at the picture and I think " Aww, poor Roseluck. " Then I read this, and now I'm like " Whoa. Dark. " Great story. 🙂

8801129
Thanks! ^.^ What's the best part?

8801921
The beginning paragraphs of the 4th chapter, I liked the best. 😀

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