• Published 19th Sep 2015
  • 9,139 Views, 906 Comments

Lupine Tree - wille179



Pinocchio wasn't the only wooden puppet to become a real person.

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Gated Community

Along the highway leading out of the otherworldly city of Las Vegas, there are solar power plants. To picture them, imagine a lighthouse on a tiny island in a still sea. Imagine now that the water is now mirrors, and that the lighthouse was so bright that its beacon was, to the naked eye, indistinguishable from the sun. Now, imagine the warmth of the sun, that incredibly unique warmth, coming from two different directions at once.

That was what standing near this fence felt like. And although it was nowhere near as bright as the sun and the heat was nowhere near as strong, the only light it could possibly be radiating, judging by the color and warmth, was sunlight.

And yet, it was clear that unlike those otherworldly power plants, this four meter tall fence was not merely reflecting the sun, but actively imbued with its power. There was no logical way that such a radiant glow could pierce the veil of the tremendously thick canopy above, and so the only possible conclusion was that the fence itself was emitting the light.

"Sweet Celestia!" I didn't bother turning around to face Compass Rose, whom I had just led in using my other puppets. "What is this place?"

"The outside edge of the exclusion zone, if I had to guess," I replied, still in awe.

"I got that," Rose snarked, "but what's inside?"

"Dunno." I shrugged. "How about we look to see if there's a gate. Fences are meant to regulate movement, not completely restrict it. You could map the perimeter while we're at it, now that we can easily circumnavigate the zone."

A flurry of paper, writing utensils, and surveying equipment erupted behind me. Hurriedly, Compass Rose started noting down whatever was going through her head at the time. "Hes ho houh," she mumbled, a pencil between her teeth.

"What?"

Compass rolled her eyes. Spitting out the pencil, she repeated, "Let's go south — counterclockwise."

I nodded and walked in the direction she indicated. Two of my wolves took the lead, one walked with her, and the last surreptitiously fell behind. Stopping it, I made it look at the fence in more detail while the rest continued ahead.

The fence was old and worn, despite the glowing power it radiated. Vines twisted around each four meter tall iron beam, feeding on the delicious solar light that shone forth. At the ground, the soil showed signs of having been burrowed through by rodents of an unusual size.

The three puppets near Compass redoubled their guard upon this observation. They couldn't see anything yet, but that wasn't reason to be lax about safety. Being assaulted by a giant rodent would be significantly less funny in real life that it would be in the movies.

Still, in regards to the fence, I could easily say that it looked downright ancient, and yet, for it to be radiating so much energy, whatever was powering it must have been immeasurably strong.

For a moment, I contemplated squeezing through the bars, one piece at a time, but I decided to remain on this side, if only for a single nagging question: was this fence made to keep ponies out, or something else in?

That moment of stillness and indecision was broken by a flicker of movement from the other side of the fence. Instinct flared within me, and before I knew it, my puppets were sprinting away.


Only after we had halfway circumnavigated the exclusion zone did we discover a subtle but serious danger: the light of the fence really was sunlight. Compass Rose had been walking oddly, and it wasn’t until she swayed into me and hissed in pain did the both of us realize that she was developing a severe sunburn on the left side of her body, even through her fur.

Turning away from the fence, I quickly carried her into the shade of the forest. I made a point of searching for the coolest, darkest point, and, finding it in the shade of a large oak, I deposited her on the ground. Fishing out her blanket, I draped it over some nearby branches so that it would provide some extra shade.

Then, I took one of her canteens and emptied the water over her burned side to help relieve the heat. I knew that she would be in no condition to move anytime soon — in fact, I could already see the blisters forming. How long had she been in pain, to get burned that badly? Regardless, my next priority was getting her more water. Her current supply, minus what I had used on her hide, wouldn’t last her more than a day or two at the rate she needed to be drinking it.

“You should have said something!” I scolded.

“Heh, sorry, Jack.”

“Idiot,” I replied. “Listen, my other puppets are already going for help. Zecora might have something for those burns.”

She nodded. “Thanks.”


Literally at that same moment, Lycan was sprinting through the forest towards Zecora’s hut. It wasn’t too far off from where it was currently, but it would still take me time to get it there.

Eventually, though, I did make it to her homestead. Pounding on the door, I shouted, “Zecora, it’s Lumber Jack! Are you in there?”

“Yes, yes, you lupine tree.” She opened the door. “Whatever could your troubles be?”

“Is there anything that grows in this forest that’s good for burns?” I asked. My nerves were clearly affecting my voice, and from her reaction, I guess Zecora in turn picked up on my frantic state.

“Yes. I might have some samples for you to see,” she answered as she turned towards her shelves. “Tell me, how did this problem come to be?”

“We found the exclusion zone. Turns out, there’s illusions that keep people away, but if you get past them, there’s a giant, glowing fence that gives sunburns. We were stupid and stayed too close to it for too long, and now Rose has a nasty, blistering sunburn on the side of her body.”

Zecora hummed in acknowledgement, as her attention was primarily affixed to the shelf. “Ah! While I know of nothing here that will heal burns specifically, I know of a plant that helps heal general wounds magically. While there is poison in all but the leaf, sunset blossom will provide relief.”

Pulling out a jar, she showed me some of the leaves and gave me a description of the plant as whole, as well as how to administer it. I then quickly committed it to memory. Immediately, I sent one of the wolves back with Compass to search for some.

“Thank you, Zecora.”

“You are most welcome, Lumber Jack. But please don’t knock so hard — you almost gave me a heart-attack.

“Sorry.”

My ear twigs twitched just then. There was a faint sound on the wind, carried into Zecora's hut through the open window. It wasn't distinct enough for me to identify just yet, but it was enough to catch my attention anyway.

I listened. "...but Twilight, what if ... to eat me? I mean, it is a ... you know. You said it yourself."

"It sounds like you have guests," I announced to Zecora, who hadn't reacted as if she had heard them approaching — not even with an ear flick. "If you don't mind, I'll take my leave."

“Now, now, don’t leave so soon; hearing them out may be a boon, although I didn’t expect them until late afternoon,” Zecora replied.

The approaching pair finally arrived at the door, announcing their presence with a simple three-beat knock.

It wasn’t Princess Twilight Sparkle who surprised me when Zecora opened the door; rather, it was her companion. I vaguely recognized him as the lizard boy that I’d chased once before Applejack smashed my puppet. There was a glint of fear in his eyes, and he stepped closer to the princess.

I bowed my head respectfully. “Princess Twilight Sparkle, how wonderful to see you again.” I plucked one of my flowers that I had taken to carrying with me, and gave it to her. “I don’t believe we’ve been properly introduced, lizard boy.”

Said boy scowled. “My name is Spike, and I’m a dragon, not a lizard.” A puff of magical flame — horrifyingly familiar — escaped his lips. “See?”

A DRAGON?! A fire-breathing, living weapon of mass destruction against a forest? Terror crashed down upon me like a tsunami from my own, internal fears, memories I'd long repressed, and from the sudden screams of terror from the local plant life.

Fuck no!

Snarling, I lunged, grabbed the tiny dragon, flung it to the ground, and then landed on top of it. Using my weight, I forced its face into the dirt floor. I opened my jaw wide to bite its neck. Against my will, my puppet suddenly ceased moving. Bound by a magenta aura, I was helpless as my puppet was lifted off the damn firebreather.

“What the buck are you doing?!” Twilight yelled. “That’s my SON you’re trying to kill!”

The aura around my head faded, allowing me to speak. Yet I did not. Instead, I cut the magic flowing to every other puppet I had, save for the one tending to Compass, and pushed it all into Lycan. With that surge of power, I telekinetically hurled my lower jaw at the dragon as fast as physically possible. It struck with the force of a cannon blast, throwing the beast against the wall.

The magic around me vanished in an instant as Twilight teleported to her assistant, and then teleported the both of them away. In the last instant before she vanished, I saw her make a strange expression, a mixture of rage and worry. I was left to collapse in a heap while I reigned in my magic enough to control my puppet again.

As soon as I could move, I stood and called back the shattered remains of my lower jaw. There were some teeth missing, and I could only assume that they were now buried in the dragon’s body. Hopefully, he’d die — if not by the blood loss, then by the septic effects of my rotten bite.

Mind, this whole exchange could be measured in seconds — probably no more than fifteen. Thus, only now did Zecora react as her mind apparently caught up to the situation. She shouted something in another language that definitely sounded angry and insulting, even if I had no idea what it meant.

Then the rant started. Zecora was pissed at me, so much so that she completely abandoned rhyming. And while I felt ashamed for having done something to offend her, the content of her ranting — and the reason behind it — were effectively lost on me. Blah blah, don’t kill, blah blah, good dragon, blah-

I cut her off by grabbing her muzzle. “Let me just stop you right there. Good dragon, bad dragon, whatever — I don’t care. Neither does the rest of the forest. That thing is the manifestation of the forest’s collective fear of fire. The one dragon we can’t get rid of is bad enough; there is no way I’m letting another one anywhere near my home. I want him gone. Dead or just elsewhere, I don’t care; either would make us happy. And as much as I would loathe to lose you as a friend, I hate dying even more.”

“Understood,” Zecora growled once I released her muzzle. “However, there were better options. Twilight Sparkle is a reasonable mare; had you explained, she would have sent Spike away. She came here with information you might have found useful, helping you out of the goodness of her heart. Instead, you assaulted her kin.”

Oh.

Oh.

Shit.

I fucked up, didn’t I? My branches drooped dangerously low. I just assaulted a beta-alpha’s pup, meaning that there was an alpha-alpha above her that could come to her aid. And if Twilight Sparkle could render my puppet useless with just a thought...

My ears splayed back on all of my puppets, and my flowers all wilted. Fucking hell. I don’t think any gift I could possibly acquire would be enough to settle this.


“I’m screwed. I’m so very, very screwed.”

Compass perked up at my muttering. She swallowed the Sunset blossom leaves that I had gotten for her, and then hummed inquisitively. “What’s up?”

“Eheheh... nothing you need to worry about.” I paused. “Wait, no, perhaps we should start heading back to Ponyville. We should really get those burns looked at.”

She looked down at her burned side. The blisters were already starting to shrink thanks to the magical effects of the leaves she’d eaten. If progress continued like this, she might be fine within a few hours. Apparently, she had come to the same conclusion. “Why? I’ll be ready to go tomorrow.”

“Well, better safe than sorry, right?”

“Yeah... but I get the feeling that that’s not why you want me to go back.”

I gave her a pleading look. “Don’t. Just... don’t ask. Everything will be fine.”

Compass didn't believe me, I could tell. She sighed and let her head fall back down onto her pack, which she was using as a pillow. Her right hoof started digging through the pack until it fished out a small, round object attached to a wooden stake. “Before we go, can you go plant this near the fence? It’s a beacon, so I can find my way back here when we come back.”

“Sure.”

“Thanks.”

I grabbed the beacon in one of my wolves mouth. It and one other wolf sprinted to the fence, taking care not to be sidetracked by the strange illusions. Breaking through the barrier, I strode up to the fence and, with a swift motion, I stabbed its stake into the ground. I would have turned back just then, but, with my puppet’s face as close to the bars of the fence as it was, and with the bars further apart here than they’d previously been, I had a nearly unobstructed view of the other side.

At the same time, the armored, deer-like creature on the other side had an equally good view of me.

We stared at each other, or at least, I think it was staring at me. I couldn’t see its face. No, I could see the front of its head just fine, but its face was mysteriously absent. The antler-like structures on its head flexed and stretched in very un-antler like ways. From its tail, longer than a deer’s tail should have been, a thick, green ooze welled up into a giant drop before hitting the ground with a splat.

“Nope.” With that one little word, I turned tail and ran.

It called out an instant later. The voice was loud and strong — a warrior’s voice. Like with Zecora’s rant, it was in a language that I did not know. Yet, it was enough to get me to stop and look back.

It now pressed itself against the fence. The bars were far enough apart that it could possibly squeeze through if it tried hard enough. But that wasn’t the most concerning thing about the situation; no, that honor went to the flesh around where the deer-creature’s face should have been. Said flesh was flowing outwards, swiftly growing into a lupine snout. In less than five seconds, its face mimicked my wolf’s, save for it being made of flesh and not wood.

I backed my puppet up a step. This was officially now the second most terrifying thing I knew of, just under fire.

It called out again. The armored being’s voice was thankfully normal-sounding. One would expect a strange voice to go with a strange being, but that wasn’t the case here.

“I... I don’t understand.”

An expression of recognition appeared on its copy of my face. Slowly, as if the words were very unfamiliar to it, it said, “Whhhaaat aaarrreee yooouuu?” The words were slow, and the accent was extremely thick, but I understood.

“I am a timberwolf,” I replied, enunciating carefully. “My name is Lumber Jack.”

“Nnnaaammmeee... Luuummmbeeerrr Jaaack.” Then again, faster this time, “Lumber Jack.”

“Who and what are you?” I asked back.

He — I called it a he only because its voice sounded masculine — was silent for a very short moment, as if translating what I said. Then, he replied, “Muzen. I aaammm flooowwwiiinnng stooonnne deer.”

And with that short exchange, some of my fear was already fading. I was still disturbed, mind you, but that feeling was steadily being replaced with curiosity. And with the realization that I might not have much longer to satiate my curiosity, I made a decision.


“Compass, we’re leaving right now. Can you move on your own?”

“Yeah, maybe. Why?”

“There’s an armored being on the other side of the fence. I don’t want to hang around any longer than necessary,”

“Wait, somepony’s in there?” She asked, voice tinged with surprise.

“It’s definitely not a pony.”

Compass frowned, but hoisted herself up with some effort. “Urgh. What about — *hssss* — your other puppet?”

“It’ll keep Mr. Armor otherwise occupied while we head back. Another of my wolf puppets will meet up with us on the way to Ponyville.”

“Good idea.” She took an awkward step, and hissed in pain. “Heh. That wasn’t as bad as a little while ago. Ah! Those leaves really are helping.”

Compassion got the better of me. I draped her blanket over my puppet’s back and told her to climb on. As soon as she was secure, I took off at as fast a pace as she could comfortably manage.


Without a doubt, I was feeling frazzled. I had long since stowed Taur and my other wolves away, while the two wolves escorting Compass and her mount were now practically on autopilot. With thirteen puppets worth of control now focused on just six, I was feeling a little better, but even that wasn’t enough.

Lycan came to a stop at the edge of the orchard, and the edge of my range. The addition of Tirek’s blood had expanded my territory slightly, enough that I could actually see the southeastern corner of Ponyville with my own eyes. It wasn’t enough.

Because of the teleportations and her wings, Twilight and the firebreather had a significant advantage in speed and avoidability. With their return trail cold, I followed their original walking path backwards to the town, hoping that I would run into them, but to no avail.

Increasingly frantic, I raced towards Applejack’s barn. Although I couldn’t leave my territory, she could. Hopefully, she was there and willing to convey a message for me. Hopefully, hopefully, hopefully...

“Applejack!” I called out, having spotted her in the distance. “Applejack!”

“Lumber Jack? What’s wrong?” she asked civilly once I was close enough to converse without shouting.

“I messed up. I need to apologize to Twilight Sparkle, but she’s probably outside of my territory by now. Could you go and find her. You are her friend, right? You might know where she is?”

“That depends, why do ya need to apologize so badly?” Applejack asked pointedly.

“I acted rashly and accidentally offended her. Come on, please! I need to apologize before she decides to come and uproot me!”

“Fine. I’ll go find her,” Applejack answered. “But I think you’re overreacting.”

“I don’t think so,” I said, but didn’t elaborate. What would have been the point? It wouldn’t make things better.

As Applejack departed for Ponyville, I knew that there was nothing more I could do here. A few steps to the side put Lycan in the shade of an apple tree, where I set it down and relaxed my control over it. It collapsed into a heap of wood.


The joy of dividing myself up into thirteen independent bodies was that you could have multiple opinions on things and try out multiple courses of action at the same time. While my Lycan confronted the looming threat of death-by-magical-pony-princess, my escort wolves were able to rationalize it as just another job constraint, and my wolf by the fence was able to ignore the problem completely. Not literally, in regards to that last one — there was only one me — but I could act as if there really was no problem at all.

Case in point: I wanted to see what was on Muzen’s side of the sunshine fence. Since Muzen was not immediately hostile and was clearly willing to converse, I inferred that he — now confirmed as a he by the visible presence of his, *ahem*, fruiting bodies — wasn’t currently a threat. Feeling safe enough, I slipped through the fence, one piece at a time.

Such an act seemed to amuse the “flowing stone” deer, for he smiled curiously. Or, more accurately, the copy of my puppet’s face on his head smiled in a way that should have been impossible, if it were actually made of wood.

Muzen set off at a brisk pace once my wolf was fully reassembled on the other side. I, having nothing better to do and nowhere more important to be at the moment, followed behind. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but honestly, at that moment, I didn't care.

I was probably going to die anyway if Twilight couldn't be placated.


The sun was swiftly descending, making its nightly voyage across the horizon, by the time Applejack finally returned with a very angry Twilight Sparkle. She stomped up to where I waited, but before she could shout, I collapsed into the deepest bow physically possible, then rolled over and opened up to expose my Lycan's transmission seed.

"Princess Twilight Sparkle, I beg of you, please forgive my insult against you. I had no idea that you cared for the firebreather so much."

I was being completely genuine. If I wasn't, I wouldn't have put my puppet at her mercy. Unfortunately, I don't think she took it the way I intended; if anything, I somehow pissed her off even more.

Oh dear.

"You're apologizing... to ME, for insulting ME? Why the buck are you not apologizing to Spike?! You almost killed him!"

I picked my next words carefully. I know tact would have been the best option, but I couldn't bring myself to lie to an alpha. Years of living as a beta taught me that lies only make things worse. "I do not regret attempting to take that thing's life. In the end, it is no longer in my forest, which is all I wanted. What I regret was that I was foolish and acted without knowing that you cared for it. I regret not knowing that you could have made it leave if I had only asked. For that, I am sorry."

The princess spluttered with rage. Magic erupted around her, creating a crushing presence. "You vile beast! Spike is a sapient being. He is not an it. You cannot hurt him!" She stopped, took a deep breath, and then, significantly more calmly, asked, "Would you have killed him if I wasn't there to stop you?"

"From the moment he announced that he was a vile firebreather, the whole forest wanted him dead. They scream and howl for his death. Even this orchard thirsts for his blood. I'm surprised that his apples haven't turned to poison in his mouth," I replied. "That dragon is the embodiment of the worst fear of the forest. We still remember the last dragon started fire. I still have the scars on my trunk from those cursed flames, and I likely wouldn't survive another dragon fire."

The farm mare, previously silent, turned towards her leader. I could see the realization dawn in her eyes. "Twi, let it go."

I didn't know a pony's head could move so fast. "Applejack?! Are you seriously agreeing with him?"

"No. But Ah'm not disagreeing with him either. What he did was very wrong, but why he did it was right."

"Why? Why? What could possibly justify cold-blooded murder?" Twilight shrieked.

"Trees can't run away." And with that one statement, Applejack summed up the entire mindset of the forest. I knew she meant it very literally, but there was a deeper meaning to that statement for me.

I could see the gears ticking in the princess’s head, and I saw the exact moment logic overwrote emotion. Her eyes went wide and her legs buckled. "Oh."

It didn’t stop there. Thoughts are funny things. One can trigger another, which triggers another, which triggers another in an ever expanding cascade of thoughts. Such an avalanche of epiphanies was happening with Twilight, I assumed, for her eyes kept getting wider and wider, and even through her coat, I could see her blanch.

“Thank you for bringing this to my attention,” she said. Her voice was oddly mechanical. “I will be sure to keep Spike out of the Everfree forest from now on.”

I sighed in relief. “Pardon me, but what about, well, me?”

The lavender alicorn took another deep breath. “You assaulted with intent to kill someone who is effectively an Equestrian Prince. There may have been mitigating circumstances, but there is also your poor judgement. As I am too emotionally invested to uphold the law myself, Princess Celestia will be the one to decide your punishment. I have already contacted her; she will be here tomorrow. Return here, or we will be forced to come to your tree.”

And with that she turned and walked away without another word.

Applejack spared me a glance — a confused one, one that didn’t seem good or bad — before she too turned and followed her friend.

I slowly pulled my Lycan together and rolled it back onto its stomach before clambering up to a standing position.

“RAAGH!”

The receding pony scream of frustration sent the tree-bound birds flying. I silently decided that having someone that angry as my judge, jury, and executioner was probably really bad, and I thanked my lucky stars that I would at least be getting a calm trial.

Oh boy...

Author's Note:

A quick thing to point out: Dragon fire is to dragons as spells are to unicorns. Dragons can control the properties and, with effort, make it burn only what they want it to. That means that the last dragon started forest fire was caused by either a malicious or criminally negligent dragon. Jack does not know this, and assume that all dragon fire is made of inextinguishable flames.

For reference, I drew Muzen as he first appeared, save for the fact that he's holding an apple.

And here's the map with the Exclusion Zone marked in orange:

To reiterate, this is not to scale. Spacial distortions can't be accurately displayed on a map.

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