• Published 16th Sep 2018
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Timberwolves: Guardians of the Everfree - Keystone Gray

A research paper on the timberwolves, exploring their creation, purpose, and their connection to the Everfree Forest.

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1. A Most Desperate Genesis, by Princess Luna

A Most Desperate Genesis

By Princess Luna

A thousand years ago, in the summer of 1012 B.R., the Everfree Forest entered a state of war.

A vast army of spectral warriors, 45,000 strong, moved with wanton rage through these magical woods, devouring everything in their path and leaving a barren and desolate wasteland in their wake. These specters appeared as dark ponies, each a black void silhouette with a savage, hateful green-red glow in their eyes. All creatures caught in their path perished, both large and small, and the folk of the wood fled in panic.

At the head of this destructive force stood King Sombra, an umbrum warrior given form as a pony and corrupted by the hateful magic of his ancient race. Unlike the specters of his army, Sombra was typically corporeal, though he could shift into a cloud of darkness at will. Those precious few witnesses who survived encounters with Sombra each describe him with utter horror, for his form was always distorted by the mind magics he used to torment his enemies. As one who has faced Sombra personally, I know him to have a permanently vicious disposition, taking the form of a dark unicorn clad in plate armor with a red cape, a wild black mane, and a glowing red horn.

Sombra had freed the umbrum army from the crust of the earth, from beneath the Crystal Empire. They were but a remnant of a war much more ancient than even I, from a time where darkness was not the exception, but the norm. But alas, after such a long repose, his soldiers were not whole. They were wild and broken, mere literal shadows of their former selves, driven insane by their imprisonment in the crystals they were drawn from. In desperation to repair his ancient kin, Sombra struck out south to feed his evil army, his dark forces gorging themselves on the magic of the Everfree Forest.

Then as today, the Everfree was flush with life unlike any other place on Equus; it was home to vast numbers of magical creatures: the undying phoenixes, reptiles made of living stone, and ferocious chimeras that will not survive beyond the borders of the wood’s magic. Then as today, countless beings relied on the power of this forest for their life and sustenance. This is especially so for the two nations who inhabited it, each rising together to resist this new threat.

In the south-east, our recently reunited pony tribes of Equestria held their capitol in the Castle of the Two Sisters. Princess Celestia and I, Rulers of the Day and Night, stood in defense of our home. Our subjects consisted solely of ponyfolk. Even then, our race held great power over reality through our magics.

Our fledgling nation of earth, pegasi, and unicorn banded together, moving first in defiance of Sombra’s horde. Yet despite our power, we failed in combating this ethereal foe. When our front line fell, our outskirt settlements were swallowed whole before we could sound the alarm to evacuate them. Ponies fled southward, moving deeper into the forest and to our grand castle, where all who were old enough to serve were subsequently recruited and trained for war.

We were quick to realize, however, that this would not be a conventional war.

To the north-west, much closer to the chaos that encroached from all sides, was the deer nation of Dierkahl. Their ruler, King Alpine, Heart of the Forest, likewise unified his nation's citizens in their grand tree city of Thicket. There, he trained a fierce militia, deploying their powerful army of rangers to the field. Unlike ponies, the deer had no innate casting magic. However, as the land's original natives, their unique sense for the alchemical arts and animal husbandry gave their race mythical command over natural magics far and beyond what any pony magic was capable of at the time. Each deer, soldierly or not, was also a consummate pathfinder, and so they retreated most effectively from the dark hordes. To Equestria's relief, deer scouts heroically rescued many ponies as they scouted the land for the enemy, leading them to safety.

What was once an uneasy neutrality between our nations became a strong alliance through our shared adversity, and we strove together to solve the crisis that threatened our home. Pony and deer scientists convened in Thicket, the stronghold most directly in danger of spectral onslaught, for their city was more northward than ours. In pooling our knowledge, we developed a clearer picture of the enemy.

The ghost-like specters proved immune to physical attack and resistant to our magical spells. Each pony tribe brought their unique strengths to bear, and yet, each testimony confirmed that the horde could not be fought through any conventional methods. We attempted all possible improvisation. Pegasi valiantly attempted to slow the advance of the army through inclement weather, inciting lightning storms over the enemy to blacken the trees. This seemed to slow their feeding. Unicorns set warding and shielding traps along the army’s route and hurled volley after volley of magical artillery at our foes from afar. We tried every spell we knew, and even some new ones, each pioneered in our desperation.

We also tried our hooves at the alchemical science of the deer, hoping to bring our own fresh perspective by mixing it with our magic. This is where our most notable developments occurred, with earth ponies using their cultivating prowess to form new crossbreeds of flora that might aid our cause. Our first breakthroughs came soon thereafter, for our cooperative developments of alchemy created the first enchanted woods that were more resistant to the umbrum specters than standard trees.

We persisted, emboldened by our discoveries, and the deer also used their own master crafts to good effect. Our soldiers were issued potions that were tailored to mute or slow specter absorption of "the forest's soul," as the deer called it, and these potions could be applied to trees to harden them from assault. This proved very effective as a stopgap. But more time was needed, and these measures were merely delaying the inevitable.

Desperate to stave off the end, deer scouts commanded valiant battalions of the most dangerous creatures of the Everfree. Hydras joined the fight, and so too did the sapient and spiteful chimeras and cockatrices, who twisted vines and created trenches that would slow the enemy. Cragodiles drained their sulfur bogs and used the bubbling liquid to fill the rivers, turning them toxic, which seemed to delay our foe. Creatures who could dig beneath the ground did so, lying in wait beneath the mud to ambush the corporeal Sombra as he passed, hoping to assassinate him directly. But the specters still proved resistant to all of these physical delaying measures, ethereal and intangible as they were, and they could almost sense life out even if it burrowed underground or fled to the sky.

The shadows pursued all with a vicious hunger, turning from formlessness to vague pony shapes when necessary, and no stratagem appeared to be effective for long; Sombra adapted continuously, learning from our methods. One by one, our soldiers and their creature battalions were murdered, drained of life. The enemy held no sympathy. They showed no mercy. They brokered no quarter, accepted no surrender. All creatures were equally edible. Resistance or submission, it made no difference; each creature was devoured. We and the deer mourned the losses greatly.

Of these creature battalions, the dire wolf species unique to the Everfree Forest survived the longest. Cunning and adaptive, these natural hunters of the forest were the most resistant to the spectral horror. They were already renowned in both of our cultures for their ferocity and intelligence, and survived far beyond the term of any other creature battalion. Under the command of deer, the dire wolves proved excellent guerilla soldiers: diverting the enemy through harassment, spreading the enemy army thin with their speed, and drawing the spectral forces in all wayward directions, causing great agitation for even Sombra himself. These forces were led by brave deer rangers who had each raised these wolves from birth. These noble beings, one and all, dutifully defended their home to the last.

For their efforts, these dire wolves suffered total extinction.

Information from every engagement was collected and painstakingly analyzed, the results studied vigorously, so hungry we were for knowledge of our foe. But it wasn’t enough. As the spectral army drew ever closer to the core of the Everfree, where our great castles and civil centers stood, hope began to wane.

The answer, most ironically, came from the specters themselves.

Several months before the army was predicted to arrive at Thicket, a mixed deer-and-pony scout platoon observed Sombra in his war camp. There, Sombra surrounded himself with strange, glowing red crystals, ones he had excavated from the caverns beneath the Crystal Empire. From these, Sombra tirelessly withdrew more specters, casting dark curses upon them until they were drained. The crystals faded as they were taxed, the formations flickering dark and crumbling, their magic expended.

The commander of this recon platoon determined that if these crystals were being used to create more specters, that they should be captured or destroyed at any cost. Despite the near clairvoyance of the specters, our soldiers had learned how to divert the enemy well by this time, dividing the spectral sentries with ultimately sacrificial feint attacks. Only ten of this platoon survived to reach the crystal trove. Of those, a mere three escaped, forced to watch over their shoulders as their comrades were descended upon by vulturous monsters, their souls devoured. The survivors split up their captured shards between them to increase their chance of success, baiting the enemy through the most lush territories to delay the ever-hungry pursuit. For days, the survivors each struck out through the thickest jungles. Only two of these scouts returned days later – one deer and one pegasus – both providing what would soon become our salvation.

These crystal shards were studied with newfound intensity, for this was our first true victory of the war. Our unicorn scientists further analyzed the composition of the crystals to determine their unique makeup and inert binding spells. Celestia and I participated in this research stage with our alicorn magics, focusing on two slivers of shards which still glowed. What we found frightened us. We sensed life within, in the same way we might detect a pony standing before us. But these beings, these crystals, harbored a directionless, fractured hate, one void of reason. They were completely and utterly insane.

Talks began among our researchers at this revelation. It was suggested that we fight fire with fire, that we create a spectral creature from these crystals, one capable of weaponizing the forest's energy. It was indeed quite an assumption that such a creation might even be possible, or that we could even control such a force. At first, this plan was met with stiff opposition by others of our best minds. Detractors speculated that success in creating these counter creatures might mean trading one great and unconquerable foe for another. Replicating the work of our enemy in our very home might mean our end.

However, no alternative solutions arose. Our options had been whittled down to two: attempt every available defensive measure, or lose everything using measures we knew were ineffective. In the end, we decided to gamble on a flicker of survival over none at all. Celestia, Alpine and I gave our reluctant blessing to go forth with a final, desperate effort.

Rather than use the crystals stolen from Sombra, the deer alchemists replicated these crystals very precisely with their alchemy, and their binding spells were replicated by unicorn magic. The resultant crystals were inert and soulless in their basic form. We would not use these crystals upon sentient beings, and so alternatives were sought. In experimentation, we pressed the very first crystals to a shrub in Thicket's central courtyard, hoping to somehow absorb its energy as our foes did. To our astonishment, it reacted. The shrub withered, its life force drawn into the crystal. Most strangely, the crystal began to glow a pleasant, radiant green, and not the dark red of its cousins. Its living soul was that of the forest; the vicious, hateful emotions which had plagued the red crystals were entirely absent. We had reverse engineered the enemy's weapons, but not the enemy's intent.

To say the least, our deer benefactors were not pleased with the loss of life required to charge the crystals. But even King Alpine himself recognized that sacrifice was the nature of war. Much had occurred throughout the recent months, and all would be lost if we did not make this last sacrifice now. We thus continued to feed the crystals with floral life.

But where to go from there? And how much were we willing to sacrifice to save our forest? Would we surrender the very forest itself to survive?

Certainly, we were highly aware that these crystals were vulnerable to our enemies in their current state, for they were a mere consolidation of the very food they craved. More than this, we knew not any of the spells Sombra used to draw the energy out into a spectral form, nor whether our specters would be capable of action, nor whether they would be immune to an assault by a highly experienced enemy specter, however deranged it might be. We combined our previous discoveries to find an answer. Earth ponies applied their resistant wood, and the deer treated them with their protective potions. Our unicorns then channeled their magic, attuning the crystals and binding them together with their new shells. By the end, we held several protective spheres of wood, a green soul crystal hidden inside each.

We weren't quite sure what we were doing, but such is the nature of desperation. Would we wear the crystal-wood hybrids into battle like armor? Would we line our city with the creations? Would they even prove effective at all, or would they simply become efficiently packaged food for the coming onslaught?

Little did we know how fortune would smile upon us. Though we could not fathom it, the forest could hear our desperate plea. So as with many other great inventions throughout history, our answer found us, manifesting through sheer, unexpected accident.

Weeks after the first crystal was created, a deer ranger returned home, having spent the day charging her assigned crystal. It had begun to glow a magnificent emerald green, an unprecedented event indeed, but this brokered no further result. Discomforted at the death of several trees to achieve this charge, the scout discarded the shell on her workbench and retired to her quarters, frustrated.

Her child, an innocent fawn named Beri, found the shell. Beri was very young, and though she knew her mother was a soldier, she knew not her mother's duties. Perhaps she might have known that something was wrong in her home city, and perhaps she knew how stressed every deer was. In those days, soldiers were very busy, and so she helped around the home for her mother when and where she could. At the age of two, she always cleaned up her messes, put away her toys, and dusted her room. On this day, Beri found her mother's crystal shell. Believing the discarded shell to be firewood, this fawn collected it and dutifully returned it to the pile of twigs beside their fireplace.

When Beri placed it down upon the pile, something incredible happened. The charged crystal emitted green glowing pulses again, each stretching out in all different directions. It reached for the twigs and sticks, grasping them with telekinetic power and pulling them close. One by one, they assembled, forming a small, quadrupedal golem made of wood. It was a specter, holding a vague shape with its wooden body as best it could.

Beri, not knowing any better, began to play with it in her amusement. The golem, not knowing any better, began to mimic the fawn's jumping, rolling, and bounding. Beri's mother returned to investigate the commotion, finding her daughter playfully wrestling with the golem. At first, the mother was alarmed, telling Beri to flee from the creature. Both the fawn and golem obediently fled, the golem scampering into a nearby store room. When Beri's mother commanded her daughter to return, so too did the golem, timid and slow.

It understood her words. More than this, it obeyed her. Beyond the mother's commands, it showed autonomy and curiosity as it watched Beri, trying to mimic her new friend's every move. It craved guidance and knowledge.

This discovery changed everything, and speculation ran rampant in Thicket. How did it understand? Why did it obey? Did the golem take an imprint of the soul of its creators, or was it telepathic? Were we expending our own life energy to charge them? Further, the creature began to express its own initiative, exploring its home independently of its creator's instructions. Now, there were ethical concerns. These creatures were inquisitive, sentient, and alive. We had sent so many adult creatures to die, but could we truly send mere infants to war on our behalf?

We did not have much time to debate these matters, however, for the enemy approached with great speed, fully unencumbered, for our final delaying measures had fallen.

Left with little other choice as we huddled in our final bastions, we moved forward with this lead. The deer began to experiment further, fashioning golems of larger size and complexity. It was quickly discovered that only a fully charged crystal would take hold of nearby wood, and the crystal’s size and charge dictated just how much mass it could support. In the final weeks of the war, when the enemy army approached to mere tens of miles from our walls and had devoured our densest forests, we threw ourselves into carpentry, eager to finish our desperate final option. All of those who held a sword dispensed with them, replacing their weapons with knives, saws, and whet stones. Even those without experience in woodwork were given blades and were told to improvise. As we forged the golems, our chemists mass produced crystal shells as quickly as we could, and our rangers sought out the few trees we still had left around the city.

It was King Alpine's suggestion that we give the golems forms akin to the Everfree dire wolves, to honor them for their ultimate sacrifice. So we did, immortalizing each new being – each new life – into the image of their bravest predecessors.

At last, I stood upon the final hill outside Thicket's walls and overlooked the clear-cut stretch of land, the result of our desperate craft. Princess Celestia and King Alpine were at my side. Together, we surveyed the approaching enemy army far to our northwest. Our trepidation was almost palpable, still unsure as we were of our final plan. We locked eyes with our enemies, their dark mass trampling the forest at the distance until they met the far treeline.

Behind us stood our army, our new youthful golems standing shoulder-to-shoulder with our soldiers. The deer and ponies of our forces were armed with shields imbued with magics known to resist spectral absorption, and with potions that would disperse a specter for a time - a delaying measure at best. I could feel the fear in us all. Thousands were assembled, and yet not one soldier spoke a word while we waited for what might be our end.

Mind, I have lived a long life. Few sensations are ever as unnatural or harrowing as to be assembled in a crowd as large as ours, but to hear nothing except deafening silence. Yes, we were fearful. But behind us laid Thicket, and within lived the vulnerable lives of our kin. Further beyond still, the Castle of the Two Sisters was nigh defenseless, and would be at the utter mercy of our enemies should we fall. Failure was not an option for us. To fail was to die and to lose everything, and so we stood our ground, wordless and determined, steeling our resolve and tempering it in silence.

Then, we saw him.

Sombra's form carried along above his army, wrapped in shadow and propelling himself like a cloud. But when he noticed us from the distance, he halted. Moments later, we heard Sombra's screeching howl echo through the chill air, issuing some dark command. His army accelerated in unison, wheeling suddenly in our direction through the empty, rolling hills of stumps. Sombra took solid form and landed upon a large rock, his hateful gaze upon us with equal parts recognition and fury. His army looked like a dark ocean, swirling around his perch and flowing like water. The evil horde tripped over itself in haste, pouring towards us like a wave, a sea of hateful shadows growing ever closer. The trees behind them were darkened and withered underhoof, their leaves and branches shriveling into nothing. We could hear them, too. They approached like thunder, screeching in rage, the sound of their ghastly hooves displacing the ground as it sucked the life upward, kicking up charred dust as they raced to devour us.

King Alpine raised a hoof. He drew in a deep breath. When the enemy closed within three hundred yards, his hoof fell forward, pointing at our foe, unleashing our forces with two simple words.

“Vorku! Eda!”

From behind us flew our army of wooden golems, their faces like wolven masks, each crafted of oak and hickory and fir, of redwood and greywood and pine. The clatter of wood thundered around us now, drowning out the stampeding sound of Sombra's soldiers. A battle cry sounded from the deer and pony infantry, who sallied forth in the wake of our infant timberwolves. Neither force slowed, no hesitation in their charge. We charged our spells, readied our weapons and shields, and moved like the wind. For better or worse, we knew that the end of our struggle was near.

Then, what we saw ahead astonished us... flooding us with a long forgotten hope.

Our valiant force of wooden warriors howled without fear, their battle cry rumbling the ground beneath our hooves as they collided with the enemy. They grasped onto the evil spirits, latching on with wooden claws that were charged with equal spectral force, oppressively crushing the dark army between the might of their magically charged jaws. Sombra's specters were wrest from his control, the sharpened wooden teeth puncturing through and destroying their dark integrity. Magical energy dispersed violently, exploding with a blinding white energy from the overfed dark shadows, the forest's magic fleeing back to the trees.

Though our timberwolves were outnumbered sixfold, we quickly realized that this was not a battle, but a feast. A portion of each kill drained back into our creations, green tendrils of energy seeping into their eyes, making them grow even more powerful and energetic. Every kill strengthened their drive. In the wake of our army, a roaring cloud of ghostly white creatures burst from each kill, taking form all around us. These were will-o-the-wisps, each taking the form of the forest animals slain by Sombra's forces. Wolves, rabbits, falcons, bears, boars, cragadiles, squirrels and mice, ursas, cockatrices, manticores, chimeras, phoenixes, and more. Each imprint lingered in the air for a few moments, then dissipated, evaporating, carried by the wind to return to the forest, their souls free forever more.

As our foes crumbled, we all cheered, a wave of elation and relief flowing through us all as our spirits soared. At last, blessed morale. At last, death was no longer a certainty, and we channeled that energy into our charge. We massed for a final assault on Sombra himself, and he retreated; soon he was alone, the coward's howls of rage and anger making him easy for us to pursue westward through the thick forest. Our timberwolves raced after him ahead of us, each sharing in our desire to protect our home. In the final hour, with his back to the forest's edge, Sombra was surrounded by wooden soldiers.

As we moved to strike, the power of the Everfree moved with us, its life magic converging at the point of his retreat as Sombra's grasp upon the Everfree loosened. I could feel it beneath my hooves, the sensation of overcharging magic overwhelming my senses as it coursed through us all. My horn stung and ached, and my teeth vibrated in my skull, the source of this force gathering in the distance before me. As Sombra at last released his oppressive grip, there was a great, cataclysmic explosion of light, the sky turning white, bringing an end to the Dark War. Then, Sombra teleported away... at last surrendering the forest to its new Guardians.

The rest, as they say, is history.