• Published 16th Sep 2018
  • 1,358 Views, 46 Comments

Timberwolves: Guardians of the Everfree - Keystone Gray

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

  • ...

3. Guiding Intentions, by Apex

Guiding Intentions

By Apex

Our Dream for the Forest

Fi enfei na nei kahl turb'yor la, ton sparka fi enfei in nyei.
Iy nyeli eksiy drema fror nyeli fi vel, es nyeli etern lega.
Fleyt vanna, nai cereta nyu,
a vida ret a ichnesa,
a vive ret a stahtesa,
ton by sim nyali leka: Teikyune na fi Vel.

Year 0, After Reunification.

Wandering into the Everfree alone was the best stupid decision I ever made.

It all started with a dream I had for my friends and family. My sister, Sugar Song, had a penchant for specialty herbal teas, and my friend Hopscotch was an alchemist who specialized in medicines, and both were quite vocal in their wish to trade with Canterlot. My inspiration to help them really was as simple as that. Unfortunately, the only thing that stood between them and their dreams was the Everfree Forest.

The Everfree had always presented a logistical difficulty in our region. It spans almost 13,000 square miles of territory, separating Sound Valley from the rest of Equestria. Beginning from the north border with the Crystal Empire, it spans southward across almost half of our country. Because a trade connection to the capitol of Canterlot usually precedes strong economic power, it was natural that ponies from the west would want to trade with the east.

Going around the South Everfree route led to certain financial loss if a caravan was ever delayed; the caravan's support services would naturally cost more for longer travels. The risks of a caravan outweighed the benefits in almost every regard, and so one always gambled when they sent goods along this route.

To Sound Valley, the Everfree was an immutable fact of life, its imposing wall of trees a reality that had to be accepted. I, on the other hoof, refused to accept that any problem was truly impossible to solve, least of all this, and so one day I made a decision. To help my friends and family, I would become a pathfinder: to see the unseen, and to document it all. Come Tartarus or high water – Canterlot or bust – I would find a safe path through.

Considering my affinity for the outdoors, I felt I was uniquely qualified to solve this issue. Adventure was in my heart and soul, after all. In my youth, I was a little troublemaker, often leading my father to headaches for "exploring" the backyards of our neighbors. As one might imagine, my father was not pleased, but he could see the value in what I enjoyed doing and sought to refocus my adventurous energy.

He had taken me hiking, and I fell in love with it immediately, often blazing new trails up the mountains that surrounded our valley home. There wasn't one day in several years that I hadn't seen something new after that, often peeling off on my own to see what sights nature had for me. By the time I turned nineteen, I had probably seen every bootleg trail in our region, had even made a few, and had discovered small ponds and a couple of scenic vistas that few if any ponies had ever visited before.

My father gave me other nature-based skills when I was just a foal, showing me books full of the creatures of the world and teaching me how to orient myself if I was lost. It wasn't long before I knew how to identify everything indigenous to our home, from the most noble peregrine falcon to the lowliest field mouse.

I reasoned with myself, as I stared into the Everfree, that it was just nature like any other. Driven to knowledge, a part of me wanted to see it all, to truly know it. I thought that was enough to mean I truly respected it, but true respect requires knowledge. I turned to the libraries at once, ordering every compendium I could find from catalogs of Golden Oaks and Royal Canterlot, studying relentlessly.

Apparently, "solving" the Everfree "problem" wouldn't be purely academic. Data was sparse. What little I had on hoof was outdated, or mired in myth, or outright fictional. There were wild and unconfirmed stories of timberwolves murdering entire villages, of ghost ponies haunting and killing those who entered the woods, and of ridiculous and clearly fabricated tales of cannibalistic deer. All of these tales seemed crafted to scare foals away from the forest's edge, which was all well and good, but the sacrifice for such safety was information. In short, I could not trust half my sources, and the other half didn't know enough to be of any use.

By the end of my research, all I had of value was a rather smudged reprint of a map, one pulled from a dusty Canterlot volume written eight centuries ago. Its words were written in Old Ponish, and the librarian who transcribed my copy annotated that she couldn't read a word of the legend. This left me to my own devices in determining what all the marks meant. Modern cartography conventions meant very little here, so I was lost before I had even started wandering.

Very quickly, it became apparent that the only option left available to me was to simply go into the Everfree and find out its secrets for myself. Despite deciding to go alone (no one would agree to go with me), I wasn't completely foolish. For my own safety, I brought a homemade white oak self bow and a quiver of well made douglas fir arrows fletched with raptor vanes. I paid a druid in Heartwood to treat my arrows with a vine potion, a partially magical creation designed to sprout creeps from their point of impact and snare anything that moved nearby. I felt this defensive measure would be enough to keep me safe from the monsters that lurked in the dark as I learned the grips of Everfree life.

My supplies? A pouch of food and water, my transcribed map, a quiver full of enchanted arrows, and a prayer. With these, I entered the forest, going further than anypony else in Sound Valley might have dared.

I quickly discovered that much of my outdoors knowledge from Equestria was useless in the Everfree Forest. I could not see the sun half of the time, for the canopy was often too thick. I could not see the contours of the land, for the ground was too overgrown. Even the "paths" were just patches of shortened grass, ones I would later discover were often tread by predators as they traveled their hunting routes.

I knew the deer were out there somewhere, too. At the time, they had some elusive, almost frightening mystique. We valley ponies have often heard stories of "The Heart of the Forest," the King of Deer who supposedly detested and hunted ponies, though I tried my best to tell myself that it was an unfounded rumor. After all, if anypony had truly met him, I'd have found some formal documentation to corroborate the meeting. Still, fear took me in those early hours, and so I made a conscious decision to avoid deer settlements... though I doubt I'd have recognized these settlements at the time even if I had seen one, hidden as they are among the trees.

There is limitless beauty in the Everfree, and I was taken by it immediately. Many plants possessed the rainbow assortment of colors that one might expect from a traditional jungle, and the scent of the forest was, for the most part, pleasantly fragrant. Streams were common, and the sound of running water was comforting, but I did my best to remember that predators often roamed near water-rich places to pick off foragers at their most vulnerable.

The fauna was relentless indeed. I tried to be quiet, tried to stay hidden, but they always seemed to find me, whether by scent or magic or whatever other senses they possessed.

To the curious herbivores or omnivores, I was a strange spectacle, an odd outsider. On one occasion, I bore witness to a phoenix coddling her young in a nest, and I was taken at first by the sight of fire in a tree. When I saw a pair of eyes lock onto me from it, I was perhaps just as in awe as the phoenix mother was, who crooned and puffed up her wings to make herself look larger. On another occasion, I was pelted with fruit by some kind of bio-luminescent baboon. It probably meant this to entertain itself or to make a defensive territorial display, but for me this was such a terrifying experience that I nearly got lost as I fled.

In the worst of cases, I would be approached by several aggressive small carnivores, many I could not yet identify, most smaller than half my size but eager to test me for edibility. Often, a quick swing of my bow would deter them; for those who would not, they received a vine snare arrow, or I would flee. I learned that they were quick to pursue if I didn't make an aggressive display of my own. As such, I started to bull rush these various creatures on sight, hoping that they would think I was the predator.

This proved effective for all of about six miles into the deep forest. That's when creatures started getting bigger.

I edited my map as I explored. It began as small notes on the margins of the Canterlot map, as it was so dated that it was practically useless. Old rivers were gone, old hoofpaths were erased by time, and old clearings were now forests. In short order, perhaps within the first two days, I had added so many corrections to the map just along the path I took that I may as well have started with a blank page.

By the third day, I slowly lost the ability to make corrections to my maps, for the forest became darker and more wild. Until Celestia's sun was fully risen in the mornings, I could not see a thing, and even then it was difficult to navigate in the dark beneath the canopy. More frustrating than this, the creatures I now encountered were larger and more ferocious. I no longer had the time nor safety to spare any vigilance for notes.

The effect of each snaring arrow lasted for approximately an hour. This protected me very well at first. However, my inexperience with the Everfree caused no end of mistakes that gave my position away to hungry creatures, and I left tracks that were easy for the more intelligent beasts to follow. Through my bumbling, I ran low on arrows, and I did not have the time nor the resources to replenish them. At midday, a run-in with one silver-tongued, multi-headed chimera was nearly the end of me, trying to draw me in with lies that they were ponies that had gotten lost and mutated by magic. Had I not used my one final arrow, I surely would have perished in their jaws.

After this encounter, I decided – admittedly late – that I would cut my losses and return to the safety of the nearest pony village. I was dangerously low on all supplies, including morale. Little did I know, however, that I had already crossed a line of natural law in the Everfree.

I had become a target for a timberwolf. Drawn by my chaotic wake, and angered by the roars and growls of the creatures I had snared, the timberwolf perceived me as an invasive threat to the stability of the forest.

I never saw him coming; his ambush was quick and mostly quiet. As I walked westward back toward pony territory, the only warning I received was a rapid rattling of wood from behind, the creature's claws clacking as it sprinted toward me. Then, it pounced. Adrenaline shot through me at the sound. I bolted, diving aside, tripping, slipping through mud and scampering to my hooves, narrowly avoiding its razor sharp teeth through sheer dumb luck. I sprinted off my path and into the woods, knowing full well that getting lost from my path would likely mean my end.

The Guardian chased, hot on my heels, and I felt a moral terror which made me wish I had found another chimera instead. This was a new creature to me, larger and stronger and faster than any I had ever seen. I knew that if I didn't find some refuge from it soon, I wouldn't be returning home in one piece.

A voice cut sharply through the forest from behind me. "Kahruvel! Soh marr'it!"

I looked back over my shoulder as I ran, expecting to see the timberwolf snapping at me from behind. Instead, I saw it suddenly standing its ground a dozen paces back, its head low like an angry canine as it emitted a threatening growl. Beside him stood a tall brown-and-white deer, one clad in an ornate royal guard armor made of enchanted redwood. He raised his hoof in greeting, panting slightly, but his gaze was stern. "Stop, pony," Blackthorn shouted firmly, in Ponish. "Or he will continue, and I may not be able to stop him again."

I halted, sliding another pace before my hooves dug into the wet mud. I half-turned and held my position, fearful, not sure if I should comply. Blackthorn approached slowly, holding one of my arrows in his hoof, the growling timberwolf keeping pace beside him. He demanded that I explain my intention in crossing the lands of the Dierkahl. I did explain, the words sounding a little ridiculous as they left my lips. I wanted to learn the woods, I said, so that I could keep others safe who traveled there.

He found it quaint too, going so far as to laugh and say, "And yet, you cannot even protect yourself."

Admittedly, I deserved that. To enter the woods alone, knowing how dangerous it was? It wasn't very smart. Even my brother Blue Sky, a rambunctious twelve year old at the time and still one of the bravest ponies I've ever known, considered this trip a fool's errand. At the time though, I bristled toward Blackthorn, becoming defensive. "Well, I have to learn somehow! No one else in Equestria knows anything about this place! Not anymore!"

"Anymore?" he asked, now interested beyond simple amusement. I explained to Blackthorn that I had studied every written word I could scrape up before entering, and knew as much of its history as anypony had ever cared to preserve. He then demanded several explanations of me, and my answers came quickly: I wasn't there to steal, to damage, or to hunt the creatures within. I only wished to learn. Knowing him as well as I do now, Blackthorn must have thought the truth of me: I was just a stubborn young mare dreaming of heroics, more likely to harm myself than any other creature.

He explained to Kahruvel in Cerfish that I was not a threat, then explained to me that Kahruvel would sense the truth from my soul. The timberwolf's eyes met mine then as he slowly stalked closer.

I felt a chill run down my spine, stepping back once, but I remembered Blackthorn's warning to not flee and held my ground. The timberwolf drew closer until its nose bumped against mine. It was frightening, but letting Kahruvel do this made him relax somewhat, his body language turning more languid and calm. He gave a strange sound, one of apparent satisfaction, then returned to scouting the area around us, nose scanning the ground.

Blackthorn and I made camp together. He shared his food with me, and to say I ate ravenously would be an understatement, though it was more from nervousness than outright hunger.

Over the next several hours, he educated me on the basics of Everfree survival as is known to the deer, providing several truths about the Everfree that I now know by heart: things like how to properly conceal oneself, effective noise discipline, remaining light-footed and relaxed, scanning vigilantly, watching one's step for deadly plants, staying several paces away from any colorful or unknown flora, and several other really simple survival tips that had no conceivable analog beyond the borders of the Dierkahl.

My curiosity soon turned to Blackthorn himself. In response to my questions, he explained he was the newly promoted Captain of the Dierguard, of the Kingdom of Dierkahl. In coming here to the forest with Kahruvel, he was fulfilling a rite of passage and sacred duty, raising and feeding a Vorku. But after Kahruvel encountered a manticore I had snared, he had suddenly broken off from the hunt to chase me instead, which had led Blackthorn to me in turn.

It was much too late in the day for me to make it back to Heartwood in one piece, so Blackthorn offered to guide me instead to the nearest deer settlement, and with no other alternative, I agreed. As we traveled, I remember still being uneasy around Kahruvel. His eyes never left me as we walked, his heavy footfalls padding behind me, his wooden limbs clacking together. It felt as though he was still sensing me out, trying to learn who I was. He was still quite young then too, and Blackthorn told me that I was the first pony he had ever encountered in his life.

I took this opportunity to observe Kahruvel, too. He was a mystery to me in all ways, nothing like the depictions of timberwolves I had seen in books, or even in paintings made by those who had witnessed a timberwolf attack. The ones I knew of were built of many sticks, logs, and other various scraps of lumber that looked shoddily assembled, that loped clumsily, that barely held themselves together as though puppets on a string.

But Kahruvel was much more elegant than that. His golem was aesthetically pleasing, constructed entirely from well sanded, well polished redwood, made with carpentry techniques I would later learn were unique to deer. His core was made of several large, contiguous pieces that complimented one another, some overlapping others like shifting plates of armor. Each of his legs were laterally symmetrical to the next. Kahruvel's face and skull were not as roughly cobbled as those of wild timberwolves, but rather well featured and deliberately designed, smooth yet angular, bearing many ornate carvings similar to those in the royal guard armor worn by Blackthorn.

When I asked why Kahruvel was different than others of his kind, Blackthorn explained to me that he had built the Guardian's body himself. That they could be built was a great shock to me. I never knew such a thing could be done! As most ponies did at the time, I actually thought timberwolves simply sprung from the trees, fully formed! But in the village of Briar, I would learn the full truth in time. I was welcomed with some surprise by the village elder as Blackthorn introduced me.

After I was better socialized and had some time to rest my weary eyes, I would speak once more with Blackthorn before he would leave. I explained my goal of helping trade caravans cross the Everfree, even as it now seemed an unrealistic proposition. But my interest in his homeland had intrigued Blackthorn, and Kahruvel had apparently searched my intent thoroughly enough for Blackthorn to trust I was being genuine in my aims. He thus provided me with a list of times he would next visit Briar.

If I still had interest in any ecological sciences, he said, then I should meet him upon this same schedule. So I did.

Over the next several months, I would travel out into the forest to learn Blackthorn's knowledge, committing everything to memory and keeping detailed notes, both of his lessons and my routes. He taught me Cerfish words in the event that I encountered a wild timberwolf in my travels, words that had saved me from attack on two separate occasions in that time. My visits to Briar also led me to more than just Blackthorn's teachings, for I cultivated several friendships with the residents of Briar in time, trading stories of our homelands.

All I know of Everfree pathfinding today, I learned from the deer of Briar, who were such experts of their craft that they traveled the forest in near silence, stealth, and peace. Simple potion recipes were made available to me that changed how I interacted with the land, one of which sprouted moss leggings which completely nullified any sound from movement. My awareness grew as I learned each animal call in the forest, and from afar, I could soon hear when the most dangerous creatures were on the move. After a time, the longbow I carried almost became an afterthought, seldom needed for my defense.

Briar was a university of knowledge in its own right, and I began to record my experiences in thick leather-bound books which astounded my friends and family back home. This continued for months, and I picked up quite a lot of Cerfish in this time, even recording some of my notes in the Old Language for practice. For the carpenters in Briar, I contributed my own personal knowledge of pony carpentry, sharing my humble, sturdy craft in trade for their impressive and elegant artistry.

Months on, the lead elder of Briar suggested that I make residence in their village if I was to visit so frequently. I declined at first. I still had roots in Colt Creek, and I would need to square my affairs beyond the Everfree before settling there. Still, I learned well from my hosts.

A year on, I was a certainly a different mare, a far cry from the stumbling safety hazard I once was, now full of lessons that kept me nimble and alive. I moved as the deer did: swift and true, confident enough then to move even deeper into the forest. I still had much to learn, of course. But when I finally traveled as far as the village of Rosewood, some twelve miles east past Briar, through hydra nest thickets and across a swamp rife with crags, I was met with astonishment by the deer who lived there... some of whom who had never seen a pony before in their lives.

Blackthorn quickly learned of this feat. He had not been idle beyond his teachings for me, either, for my interest in his homeland had sparked his interest in mine. Like I had for the Everfree, he studied what he could of Equestria in the Royal Library of Thicket. Blackthorn found very little knowledge of Equestria beyond what few border issues arose; each had been resolved by a rather curt series of letters between royalties of both nations, each quickly recompensed or otherwise justified. Beyond this, our nations had very little contact, separated by the natural border that was the dangerous nature of their home.

He knew of course that pre-exodus ponies once shared the tradition of timberwolf husbandry with the deer. In a burst of inspiration, Blackthorn saw in me an opportunity to share more than just stories and knowledge, but culture as well. As luck would have it, the Dierkahl had recently acquired a new timberwolf seed, a donation from a wild pack. Blackthorn made a tentative suggestion to me: that, with permission from their king, I might be allowed to raise one of my own.

I gave this offer serious thought. Despite my earlier fears of these creatures, I had learned so much from the deer by then. The gravity of the offer was known and understood, and seeing Blackthorn's deep bond with Kahruvel had inspired me. But even so, my time in Briar had made me aware of the significance of this, and I recognized that it was a responsibility greater than any I had ever held. This was not a decision to be made lightly, and certainly not one to be accepted without great thought. I asked for more time to choose.

In the meantime of the coming weeks, Blackthorn sought dispensation from King Aspen, explaining his aims in recruiting me for this task. By that time, Blackthorn and I had spoken at great length about my goal of protecting trade caravans that would travel through (and eventually to) the Dierkahl. I was not aware of this at the time, but the prospect of international trade and reopening relations with Equestria was regularly broached between the Kahl and his Captain; our goals aligned, and I was providing an opportunity.

To permit me this honor, to raise a Guardian, would be a step in that direction, and the first such permission to an outsider in many generations. His Majesty, who knew of me only in testimony, passed the final decision to the elders of Briar, requiring their approval and complete consensus before I would be granted the honor. Each spoke to my character. Having known me for some time now, they each signaled trust.

In time, word came back to Briar, and thus to me, that I might raise a Vorku under two conditions. Blackthorn must mentor me through the process. I must also make my home in Briar, for a timberwolf puppy requires forest magic and constant attention to survive; Colt Creek was too far from the Everfree, and thus vastly insufficient. While Heartwood was closer, it was only a border town, and thus not close enough to draw fully from the forest's power.

Likewise, Blackthorn himself received conditions for his vouch, most important of which that he must take over raising the timberwolf should I fail at any stage. This in itself was a great responsibility as well, for he was already raising his own, and two would completely tax his scant free time.

I would have to give up much for this honor. To leave my family behind for years, to focus my attention on something new and novel, was daunting. But when the choice was finally posed to me, I agreed at last, quelling my fears. If Blackthorn thought I was ready, then I must be. If the deer could do this, then so could I.

The timberwolf seed arrived in Briar one morning, an unassuming wooden shell that protected a delicate soul crystal within. The enormity of this endeavor was already known, but it struck me most heavily when I saw that the timberwolf seed was escorted by a contingent of four Dierguard, as such transfers typically were.

Blackthorn explained that I was being allowed to add my intent to the forest. My desired goal of protection, of the defense of others, was valued heavily by the deer. They knew I now held heavy respect for their land, for its dangers, for its powers, and I held a wild and fresh willingness to help outsiders coexist with it. Though it was far beyond me to fathom at the time, my raising of this timberwolf was to be the first step towards a revived bond between our nations.

I gave the seed a name and gender, my right as its mother. So began Vorku Grand, for he was a grand soul, to be raised to value life and guardianship as I do.

At the time, he was only about the size of my head, and heavier than I would have expected. His wooden form was its own unique teardrop shape. As I took this new life into my hooves, I felt the weight of the true responsibility within as I prepared to create a bond to this land that would last for an eternity. It was an immeasurable new sensation, but it filled me with hope for the future.

Such is parenthood. Somehow, I knew in that very moment that the difficult road ahead would be worth every step.

Author's Note:

[Yasuharu Takanashi - This World and its Music]

Get ready for science. Blackthorn's School of Vorku Ethology is now in session.