Lupa's Quest: The Path to Ascension

by Ringtael

First published

Lupa sets off on her quest so she can take her Birth Right and join Max's side, taking some friends along with her from Fluttershy's cabin.

Lupa parts ways with Max so that she can Ascend and join him. Her friends accompany her on the arduous journey across Equestria and into the stars, but what lies on the path ahead?

(Starts during Chapter Twenty-Six and ends in Chapter Thirty-Four of A Thief's Tale)

The Journey Begins

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Lupa’s Quest: The Journey Begins

I set forth from my master’s house, his den, and went to go find the Broodmother. She would be where she usually was most days; in her room with the gift Max had given her. Perhaps I exaggerate, but not by much. The bitch did love her creature comforts, and she did love Max, so I considered her faults negligible, for the most part. I did have to tell her to spend more time with her animals from time to time, but she was usually able to keep herself in check.

The Moon was full. A good omen for my journey. I could feel my ancestors pelts brush against mine as I walked, preparing me for what was to come. I’d filled my stomach at master’s den on his stores, so I would not need to bother the Broodmother for a meal. I suppose that random things cross one’s mind when they know they face their demise.

I felt bad for lying to Max about how long I would live with him. I had few enough years left, if I remained outside of the Everfree, but if I stayed there, I could not serve my master when he requires my assistance, so I would confront my ancestors and assume my birth right. I had put off becoming the next Wolfmother for as long as I could, but Max’s life was simply too long for me to do anything else. I could have dealt with passing when he reached his sixtieth spring, but to know that he would go far beyond that left me with a yearning to be by his side during that time. My master was no fool: He knew the risk I was taking, but I’d given his warnings no attention, as he’d known that I would do.

I left my thoughts behind and reached the Broodmother’s domain. I allowed myself entry since no one was going to stop me and padded up the stairs to the Broodmother’s room. I allowed myself entry here because I could, and no one had told me not to. I caught the Broodmother doing something she probably hadn’t expected to be caught doing and walked into the room.

“Greetings, Broodmother.”

“Lupa! Can you please knock!?” The Broodmother covered herself.

“I’ll disregard that request every time you make it. Find a mate to satisfy your urges.”

I felt her anger swell. “Well not everypony can just come by whenever I want them to!”

“Then seek them out. This isn’t the reason that I’ve come for. I am leaving.”

The Broodmother sobered. “What? Already? I thought you said you had years to prepare?”

“I do, but I can’t waste my relative youth while I have it. The journey is hard on the paws and pelt. I must complete it while I’m still free of the aches of old age.”

“...Be safe, Lupa. I know you said that it’s dangerous, but don’t take any unnecessary risks, okay?”

“When I return, I will ask you to call me Nashoba”

The Broodmother felt confused. “Why are you changing your name?”

“It has always been Nashoba. When I return, I will no longer be a servant to master, Broodmother. I will be his equal, if not his superior, though I doubt that would stand for such a thing.”

“...I know you won’t answer any questions, but can you at least tell me where you’re going?”

“Into the Everfree, as all journeys must begin for the Zgon. I will ask a few of our friends if they wish to accompany me.”

“If they want to, I won’t stop them, but please tell them what they’re getting into.” The Broodmother requested.

I flicked my ear to let her know that I would and closed the door behind me on the way out. The Kendani swarmed around me, asking me to open the door for them. I refused, stating that I had only interrupted the Broodmother because of the nature of the Path of Ascension, but they are simple creatures. They understand little of the world besides emotion and food, so I could hardly blame them for understanding. Dealing with Kendani for extended periods of time always made my muzzle itch.

Maybe I’m allergic to stupid?

I set the thought aside and asked Angel to gather the Zgon together for a meeting. He hopped off quickly since he knew better than to waste my time again, so I waited underneath the Gathering Tree and surveyed those that had come. Foxy would be a good choice if he decided to come along with me. His quick witted solutions were often apt fixes for most problems. I waited around for Bearett, or as he is called in our tongue, Krel, but he did not show. Molly the Border Collie would be another fine choice since her physical ability rivals mine, though she is far weaker. She and Foxy had the same issue with being weak, which is why I’d wanted Bearett to come. When he didn’t, I sent one of the hares to find him.

Krel finally made an appearance, so I began once he joined the circle. “Zgon, my friends. Three gatherings ago, I told you of the The Path of Ascension. Today, I am leaving to follow The Path. I ask those of you that are willing follow me to speak now, though I must warn you; the journey will not be easy. Prey may be scarce, and plants may be tough, but it is nothing that we have not faced before while becoming adults in the Everfree.”

Foxy, a badger named Honey, and Krel offered their assistance. All others in attendance wished us well on our journey before dispersing. With nothing else left to do, I set the pace and lead our pack into the Everfree. We were left alone by the Kendani of the Forest since Krel and I had reputations for being ruthless when the need arose, but Foxy and Honey would find trouble if they were alone as they often did in the Everfree. It was of little consequence at the moment, but if they needed to return without us, a part of me worried for their safety. There was no guarantee that any of us would return.
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We trotted through the Everfree as quickly as we could, but Honey slowed us down since her legs were even shorter than Foxy’s. Krel eventually tired of her speed, or rather, the lack thereof, so he picked her up in his maw and I allowed him to place Honey on my back as if she were a wounded pup. I did not mind too terribly, but that did mean that Foxy was now tiring more quickly trying to keep our pace, so he ended up on Krel’s back and we made much faster progress.

After passing the Hydra’s swamp, we passed through the evil flowers known to Two-Legs as Poison Joke. Thankfully, as residents of the forest, the flowers were happy to save their poison for another set of victims, so we were able to walk through them without an issue, but it was unfortunate that we had to pass through the large patch of track covering flowers anyway. I myself had strode through Poison Joke to lose extra tails before, but now was the time where I secretly wished that someone would follow us, to escort us back to safety. Now was not the time for doubts, however, so we pressed on through the Everfree.

Dawn was coming by the time we came to the Heart of the Everfree, which meant that we had but a few moments to wait for the Watcher. Krel and I laid down on the bare earth that surrounds the Heart and waited for an hour before the Thunderbird came and landed. Watcher took his sweet time in addressing us.

“LUPA.” He cried, hurting my ears.

“Watcher.” I replied.

He flapped his wings, blowing any Kendani with wandering ears further into the forest. Honey and Foxy held on for dear life. “Your quest begins now. Do you understand what must be done?”

I rose from the ground. “I do, Watcher. It will be done.”

The Watcher let loose another cry. “Then so be it! Travel across the Wolf Mountain, through the Arid Desert, over the Grand Lake, and to the Place-Where-Moon-Touches-Equus. The Lulamoon will be your guiding star.”

“I understand. What is the Lulamoon?” I asked.

“The Lulamoon is a Pony. You will seek her out on the Wolf Mountain, practicing her parlour tricks and so she shall guide you to the Place-Where-Moon-Touches-Equus. Ask not where she will take you, but that you may consume her magic when you arrive. She is critical to your mission.”

I nodded my head and let loose a howl to end all others. My ancestors gathered to join their voices with mine and Krel offered his own roar to aid the cacophony, signalling the true beginning of the quest. With nothing left to say, the Watcher took flight, beating Krel and I down back into the ground as he rose. Watcher always made it a point to show off whenever he could, despite being told by many of the Gathering's members that he often lost plumage by taking off so hard. He ignored every warning most days, and rarely listened to those that were not Guiding Spirits.

Damned birds.

With the Watcher gone and my ancestor’s spirits fading, we began anew, this time, heading toward the Wolf Mountain. It would be a simple task to avoid it in its entirety, but it was a part of the quest, and it was the easiest leg of the journey, so we set off without another word. Krel lumbered alongside me as we travelled through the undergrowth of the Everfree, but once we found a fruit tree, we stopped to hunt before continuing any further. Food would be scarce from this point on, so it was pertinent for us to eat when we could. We waited for a Kendani jungle deer to pass by, and after a few hours, a few did. I had Krel take a far loop around them so I could chase our prey into his claws, and once he was in position, I sprang, clearing enough distance to put me but a few feet away from them.

The deer were startled, and made easy prey once I made my second leap. Tearing my target’s throat out was the quickest and easiest way to make my kill, and from a distance, I could hear that Krell had been successful in making one of his own. Honey was with me, so we ate as much of my kill as we could, and I was quite surprised to find that the small Zgon had such a voracious appetite. Upon finishing with my meal, I learned that Foxy had taken his fill in Krel’s kill in much the same way, so Krel and I traded riders since badgers ate more like bears than wolves and foxes more like wolves than bears.

With Foxy on my back, we continued to the main river of the forest and stopped to fill our stomachs with as much water as we could carry before finding a safe place in a nest of brambles to rest. Manticores hated the smell of bramble and Orthus’ hated the feeling of them on their pathetically soft paws, so we were safe for the morning until we decided to move again. The sun was high when we came through the Everfree, and the Wolf Mountain lay much further ahead of us.

We finally broke the forest’s cover and walked onto the open ground of the plains. The Wolf Mountain loomed in the distance, and there was much ground to cover, so Krel and I set our pace moderately, making sure that we would not anger the Elder Spirits by rushing through their lands. I don’t understand why the Elder Spirits are so touchy about Zgon making haste over their lands, but in any case, being haunted would be but one more issue that facing would do us no favors, so we travelled as slowly as we had to. We still heard the Elder Spirits howling with the wind, but we were abiding by their laws, so they could not lay so much as a claw on us, lest Watcher wage war against them. Lest I wage war against them once I return.

Crossing the plain was tedious. I never did like the smell of field rabbit,s and their odor coated the plains freely and thickly, but I had no reason to stop Foxy from trying his paw at hunting for himself. I knew that he would have little luck since we last fed not long ago, but much to my surprise, he managed three rabbits in the time it took for him to catch up to us. The Elder Spirits were appeased when he left on of his kills behind, so the wind stopped howling and our journey across the plains eased considerably since we were no longer fighting against gusts.

It took us two days to clear the plains, despite being able to see the mountains. Our pace was the problem, and being able to finally speed up once we set paws to stone was a blessing that we’d desired since we started across the plains, but I reminded Krel that the pace in the plains was the pae we needed to maintain in the mountains as my ancestors had told me. Neither of us were happy about this, but the wisdom of those long passed was invaluable and we both knew it, so we accepted our fates for what they were. It didn’t stop us from going a little faster, however.
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The winding paths of Wolf Mountain were not made for any of the predators I had brought along with me, but Foxy and Honey were proving their worth in catching prey. Honey battled a cougar straight into my paws, and I finished the job while Foxy took the time to hunt more rodents for himself and Honey. Krel and I shared the cougar, but the tough cat meat proved gross. It was just gross. Cat meat is disgusting on the best of days, but Krel had always been fond of the feline fragrance while I detested it to no end. I’d almost rather eat another wolf than a cat of any kind, but when food is scarce, you make do with what you have.

Travelling up the mountain was boring, tedious, and occasionally tumultuous. Foxy was nearly blown off of the mountain by a strong gale, so it was a greed the the smaller creatures would remain in my dense fur for the remainder of our time in the mountains. IT was no issue to me, though Honey’s claws felt amazing against my pelt. She’d chosen to next in just the right spot which occasionally made my leg shake, though I tried to cover it. Krel spent far too much time being amused by it, so I nipped his tail and told him to straighten up before I went for something softer and lower.

He was less amused by that.

Still, he asked to mount me once we reached the summit of the mountain, but I told him to find a she bear to carry his seed for him. Crossbreeding never ends well, and despite how much I care for Krel, I can’t give my life for an abomination of an offspring. He was understandably put off by my denial of his mating offer, but he knew the reason behind it, so no one was surprised when I said no. Fucking horny bears, they’re just as bad as rabbits most days. At least they weren’t as bad as ducks, however.

We slept on the summit, huddling together to keep our warmth and waiting for the Lulamoon to arrive. After a day of hunting with no luck, we struggled to find enough water for the four of us. On the second day, the Lulamoon did arrive, but she was not able to commune with us. In fact, the Lulamoon was terrified, so I yipped at her a few times and turned in circles to show that we were friendly for the time being. The Lulamoon crept closer to us as the Sun set on the second day, keeping her magic at the ready all the while. When she came close enough to lunge on, I trotted toward her and put my head under her hand so that she would no longer be fearful. Krel gave her other hand a lick and our smaller companions poked their heads out of my fur to see our guide.

The Lulamoon petted my coat, but she shivered from the winds, so Krel and I pushed her toward the cave where we’d been staying and we took a moment to slumber for the night. We would wake the other up once the Lulamoon got moving, but for now, it was time to rest.

Through The Arid Desert

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Through The Arid Desert.

The Sun rose over the horizon, spilling its light into our cave and waking myself and Krel before any others. I would have preferred to stretch and get my bearings, but the Lulamoon had chosen to rest on me, stating that I just didn’t smell as bad as Krel did. I’d snorted my amusement at that multiple times, finding the fact that Ponies preferred to sleep on something that smelled better but wasn’t as warm, despite the freezing temperatures. Still, it was not my problem to face, so I spoke to Krel to pass the time.

“This is where our journey truly begins.” Krel said slowly.

“It is. We have the Lulamoon and two small predators to assist us. The omens are good for now. I hope they continue throughout the day.”

Krel harrumphed. “Your paws are already blessed, Wolfmother. There is little for you to fear.”

“Those that fear nothing are doomed to die by that which they ignore. I may fear little, but you know that I am aware of most dangers.”

“And you know that I will watch for those dangers that you do not see.” Krel assured me. “Thank you for coming to me. I would have been remiss if you had left the Broodmother’s domain without me.”

“I knew that you would come with me, though I was wondering why you didn’t show up to the Gathering Tree. Perhaps you found yourself a she bear?” I asked.

He snorted. “No Zgon she bear would take a male that has no territory. I may have a reputation, but without land in the Everfree, my chances of having offspring are slim.”

I yawned. “Even then, your offspring would think you dangerous, regardless of how the Pack raised you. Perhaps it is for the best if you wait to find a mate?”

“Waiting is all I can do.” Krel said.

I nuzzled his muzzle. “Worry not, Pack brother, we will find someone for you once we return. As Wolfmother, it will be my first promise after swearing to guard the forest.”

Krel huffed. “There is no need to guard the Forest anyways, but I appreciate your offer. When we return, I believe I may ask you to assist in my own mission.”

“My fangs and claws are yours, brother.” I offered.

“And so are mine.” Honey said, stretching on my back. “Give me a place to make a den in your territory, and I’ll help scare off anyone dumb enough to try and mark it.”

Krel chuckled. “You are fearsome, Honey. I will give you your den.”

“Alright!” Honey cheered. I suppose finding a den that you could keep on a bear’s territory is a valuable thing.

“So where are you thinking of making your mark?” Foxy asked from under one of my paws. “There aren’t many prey rich places left in the Everfree these days.”

“There aren’t many that are unclaimed. If I can broker a deal with Wolfmother’s old Pack, I could get some territory near the Broodmother’s domain.” Krel explained.

“I will advocate for you. I may not return as the leader of the Pack as I was once supposed to, but my words still hold sway with our former kin.” I said.

“With me and Lupa, you shouldn’t have too much trouble! If Lupa can’t talk her way into getting you some land, then we’ll fight the Manticores for a slice!” Honey declared.

Honey’s words were slightly foolish, but then again, the badgers are a young, violent species. “You say that now, Honey, but the only Manticore you were ever able to fight off was your age.” Foxy chuckled.

“Yeah, so? We take the small ones, Krel and Lupa take the big ones!” We all had a laugh at that.

“Accursed animals! You’re so warm, but why must you be so loud!?” The Lulamoon complained.

“Whiny bitch.”

“Moody she bear.”

“Silly kit.”

“Can we just eat her now?” Honey asked.

“Not yet.” I told him.

The Lulamoon rose and groaned, her joints popping and snapping as she did so. From her bags, she pulled out leafy pony food and the occasional ground plant that didn’t appeal to anyone other than Krel. Once she’d eaten and gotten herself ready for the day, she shivered and left the cave with all of us following close behind her. She stopped and turned around suddenly.

“Alright you animals, it’s time for me to go. Run along now.” She said, shooing us away.

I walked up to her and started pushing her along, her hooves skidding across the stone. “Whoa, whoa, whoa! Stop!” She cried.

I ceased my actions and the Lula moon wagged a finger at me. “Bad dog! Very bad dog!”

I gave her a bored look and sat down, yawing again. For some reason, dealing with the Lulamoon made me rather tired, so I waited for her to start moving again before swishing my tail, inviting Krel to join myself, Honey, and Foxy. The Lulamoon expressed some discomfort when we started following her down the other side of the Wolf Mountain, but there was precious little she could do to dissuade us. We kept a small distance away from her, stopping when she did, and speeding up when she tried to leave us behind. Much of the day was spent playing her silly games until she found a resting point halfway down the mountain. Unfortunately, that resting point was a cave that reeked of Cougars, but she didn’t notice the smell. I had the rest of my small pack wait outside while I went in after her, only to find that she’d been cornered by a mother and two of her nearly grown cubs.

I barked once and their attention went from the Lulamoon to me. These Cougars were Zgon, through and through so I tried speaking with them. “Sister, offspring. Allow this meal passage and I will find you another.”

The mother laughed at me. I don’t like being laughed at. “Foolish wolf, there are three of us and one of you. Take our prey if you dare, but do not assume to bargain with us.”

Her cubs mewled their disagreement, the instincts of the young telling them that I Was far more dangerous than their mother. “Listen to your cubs, young mother. You will not find happiness on this path.”

“But I will find a full stomach. I may despise dog meat, but I’ll deal with it when I’m waiting for you to digest!” She snarled.

The Lulamoon cowered against the cave wall as the Cougar prepared to lunge, but I was faster than she could ever hope to be. I snatched up one of her cubs by its scruff and flung it deep into the cave while pinning the other one beneath my paws. I held my teeth at its neck until the Cougar mother back away from the Lulamoon.

“Wait! Do not slay my cubs!” The mother pleaded.

I looked at her and took a paw off of her cub and it remained still in hopes that I wouldn’t decide to eat it. “Why not? I’d like a meal as well. Offer me one of your cubs and your life will be spared.”

The Cougar glared at me. “You ask me to choose between my offspring? They have already lost a brother and a sister!”

“And now one of them will lose the last of their siblings. I offered you your chance, young mother. You rejected it.”

The cougar mother looked deep into the cave and saw that the cub I’d thrown was limping towards us, and the cub under my paw was breathing weakly. Much longer, and it would die of suffocation, but its brother would die since it could barely walk. The cougar mother had a clear choice, though it was one no mother should ever have to make. Such is the way of the wild.

“Since when do the Zgon eat each other?” She pleaded. “Are there not enough Kendani in your lands?”

“My journey take me far beyond my own lands. Your time grows slim, young mother. Choose.”

The limping cub yowled in pain as it ran forward. “Take me! Take me, and let my sister live!”

The cougar mother stood by as her son placed his head under mine. “You would give your life so your sister would live? How noble.”

“No. I will give my life for my children. I will be a better meal for you, sister wolf.” The cougar mother bargained.

I took my paw off of the female cub and watched her scamper over to her mother’s side. “Say your goodbyes, then. Never let it be said that the Wolfmother has no mercy.”

The cougar mother bathed her children one last time before coming to my side. “You are much larger than I thought you were.” She said softly.

“I hear that often.” I trotted over to the Lulamoon and gently took her arm in my mouth.

She squealed like a sow and tried to get away from me, so I cut her off and started pushing her toward the mouth of the cave with the Cougar mother following behind me. Once the Lulamoon realized she wasn’t being eaten, she cheered and hugged me before running out of the cave, leaving me and the Cougar mother to follow more slowly. Once we were outside of the cave, I posed a question to the cougar mother.

“Young mother, what is your name?” I asked.

“We of the mountain call ourselves by our favorite places. I am High Ledge on Summit.”

“You will be called Summit.” I abridged. “Summit, I offer you two choices.”

Krel, Honey, and Foxy looked on in mild interest as she said, “I’m listening.”

“Join me on my quest in my stomach, or join me by my side. I have use for another skilled hunter, one that can climb the trees.”

“At the end of this journey, can I return to my cubs?” She asked.

“If you so desire. They may be grown by the time you return.” I told her.

“I will take that risk. I will join you, wolf.”

“Good. For now, I am called Lupa. The Bear is Krel, the Badger is Honey, and the Fox is Foxy. The Pony we are following is called the Lulamoon.” I explained.

“I will do my best to remember these names, and I swear on my spirit that I will not betray this chance you have given me. It is your right to take my life as the Alpha whenever you so choose.” Summit pledged.

“Great, Lupa gets us another mouth to feed and it even talks like her!” Honey complained.

Summit growled at her. “I don’t even know what you are, but I’ll eat you.”

“Try me, trollop!” Honey hissed

Summit recoiled. “What?”

I whacked Summit with my tail. “Honey is tougher than all of us. I suggest you leave her be.”

Summit was visibly disturbed from being threatened by something less than an eighth of her size, but she let the matter go nonetheless. The Lulamoon had been standing by, carefully watching Summit as I introduced her into the pack. As were finishing with the conversation, Krel lumbered forward and started pushing the Lulamoon down the path so that we could hurry and get a move on and I allowed our smaller companions to board me once more.

The Lulamoon was painfully slow, but she had finally allowed us to join her on her journey to Place-Where-Moon-Touches-Equus, so she no longer spent any time trying to avoid us or lose us. Instead, she allowed Krel and I to walk on either side of her with Summit following close to me as we made our way further down, but when night fell, we’d already lost too much time, so Summit took the lead and we tried everything to get the Lulamoon to grab her tail. It took me putting her arm in my mouth and leading her over to Summit’s tail for her to get the idea.

Two-Legs are dumb.

We found another Cougar cave further down the mountain, but this one only had a single, old male in it. Summit and I took the battle away from the Lulamoon since Ponies are weak creatures, and the pack feasted on whatever we could eat, though Summit abstained for obvious reasons. The meal was not good, but it was enough to keep us going, and we had a place to rest for the night. Summit and Foxy took turns watching the cave’s entrance since they could both see through the darkness than Krel and myself, though it wasn’t as if I couldn’t have done it. Summit still preferred to take my watch, and I was happy enough to allow her to do it.
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The next morning came and Summit was exhausted. She barely had the energy to stretch, so Krel offered to carry her until we could find our next meal. Cats are notorious for being lazy, but being a mother had given Summit more hours of the day than most Cats had, and even then, it wasn’t as if Krel and I couldn’t carry her. I’d seen many Cats wake up hissing and striking at the right animal, so I was confident that having Summit around was still an overall good thing. Honey was a little annoyed by it, but she couldn’t complain since Summit had eaten less than she had so far and had been crucial in helping us find a way down the mountain that was faster than the normal path.

Unfortunately, this meant that we were about to take on the worst part of the journey: The Arid Desert. I’d been there before when I was younger, and everything about the place was simply awful. It was hot, there was little water, and the very ground hurt your paws. I was eager to get this leg of the journey over with, but when the Lulamoon strayed from the sands in a random direction while following her magic, I couldn’t help but think that things were going to get much worse.

I was proven correct hours later. We slogged through the desert, spotting the occasional desert fox that was always happy to share a watering hole with us, though the water was often far too little to sate all of our thirsts. The Lulamoon had brought enough water for herself in her bags, so we didn’t need to allow her access to the limited supply that we could find, but finding her after going to get a drink was often difficult. More than once, Summit, Foxy and I struggled to track Krel’s scent and more than once, it was Honey’s scent that lead us back to the Lulamoon. She’d been taking wide, arcing paths that lead into Krel’s scent, which was the only reason we’d been able to get back on track.

When Night fell, things were far easier. The Lulamoon set up a tent for herself and the pack stayed outside to enjoy the cool night’s breeze, though we huddled close when the Moon rose high. The temperature difference was incredible and lethal, as was the case when we saw a desert hare lose his burrow. He quickly became a meal for Foxy and Honey, though they hated eating in front of the rest of the group when they knew that another meal was unlikely to be found. The next day was one that would have to be filled with hunting.

When the morning came, we forced the Lulamoon back into her tent so we would not have to travel during the worst hours of the day. Luckily, between my Master and the Broodmother, they had taught me how to write, and I did so in the sand to explain why we were staying put during the day, hiding in the shade of the dunes.

‘Sun hot. NiGht cool. TrAvEl Night.’ I wrote out in the sand. Lower case letters were tricky sometimes.

“You- You can write!?” The Lulamoon exclaimed.

I nodded to her. “You say that as if I hadn't just done it”

Krel snorted. “Two-Legs make stupid observations. Like Honey.”

The badger in question bit his forepaw, but made no progress against his thick fur. “Shut up, you overgrown… Thing!”

“I can’t believe a dog knows how to write… I guess if you could speak, you would have done so by now. Can you tell me why you’re following me?” The Lulamoon asked.

‘MAGic’ I wrote in the sand.

Krel and Honey shut up for a moment to listen to the Lulamoon’s reply. “Magic? The Great and Powerful Trixie has plenty of magic! Is there any you want to see?”

I nodded to her and she started showing us pretty spectacles that would have been more interesting if Foxy and myself could actually see more of the colors. Krel said that some colors were strange ones that he hadn't seen before and Summit just shut up and watched in awe. It’s common knowledge that not all Zgon see the same colors the same way, but that made our observations about the Lulamoon’s magic all the more interesting. We filled the daytime snoozing and talking about her tricks while trying not to get too close to one another. Summit and Krel had no problems sleeping all day, though Krel did occasionally complain about the lack of good things to eat. Honey chose to waste energy playing with my tail, but when the Sun finally fell, things were back to business.

The Lulamoon shivered as we walked, so Krel, summit and I stayed near her in a tight huddle as we walked along. It was far better than trying to travel during the day, though it did mean that we came across a Two-Leg town when no one was awake. The Lulamoon found an inn like the one my Master and I had stayed in when we went to the Gryphon lands, so the rest of us went to go hunt some livestock that would hopefully be nearby. Foxy and Honey stayed with the Lulamoon since we’d offered to bring them back some of our kill and we went off to find something the Two-Legs call a ‘farm’.

It didn’t take us long to catch the scent of filthy sows on the breeze, so Summit and I followed Krel since he was the slowest among the three of us. Sadly, he had more endurance than Summit, so it wasn’t the fastest thing to get there, but once we did, claiming a sow as one of our own was no task at all. I jumped the enclosure keeping them all inside and crushed one’s skull while it slept so we wouldn’t wake the rest and be caught. It was a nice, fat meal, so Summit had to get her paws dirty with me so we could drag the sow over the fence. Krel took care of the heavy lifting once we got over it and we dug in, filling our stomachs with much needed flesh, though Summit complained about the unclean taste of pigs. I was quite fond of sow flesh and Krel eats everything anyway, so neither of us addressed Summit’s reluctance to eat our kill until I mentioned that I hated cat flesh but had eaten it twice in order to make it this far.

There was no more complaining.

We stayed in the fruit orchards around the farm so that we wouldn’t be caught by the locals and I made a scent trail back to the inn so the Lulamoon could find us once she was ready to leave. Summit followed with a trail of her own, and once she returned, Krel did the same. We slept with full stomachs that night, and we actually urinated for the first time since coming off of the mountain, so that was nice.

What wasn’t nice was the fact that the Lulamoon stayed in the Two-Leg town for two weeks. Krel, Summit and I had to cull our consumption of the livestock around the town to the occasional Kendani every few days, but it wasn’t a terrible thing. We were used to only eating every so often from our time in the wild, and though Krel and I had lived a comfortable life among Two-Legs for some time, we never allowed each other to become too comfortable unless we wanted to lose our rights to enter the Everfree Forest. Such a valuable place was not so easily given up, so we took our breaks to rejoin the wildness of the Forest as often as needed, and that had hardened us plenty for the journey.

Either Foxy or Honey stayed with the Lulamoon so that would not lose her, but our fears were groundless. She often came to visit us in the orchards at night, bringing us sweet things to eat and the occasional pet snack. They tasted terrible, but refusing a gift is rude; something taught to me by my Master. We ate them despite their taste, though it was nice that the Lulamoon cared for us. It would be a shame if we had to eat her.
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When the third week began, we set off further into the Arid desert, but now, I lead the way instead of the Lulamoon. She corrected our path with magic from time to time, but I knew where to lead us now, and I would happily do it if it meant that we would arrive at our destination sooner. I kept a good pace for our Two-Leg, Honey, and Foxy, so we didn’t have to rest terribly often, though it still took us five more days to cross the desert. On the third day, we’d found a dead Two-Leg that I didn’t recognize and made use of his corpse as sustenance, though we made sure that the Lulamoon was far away when we did, just in case she found fault with the ways of the wild.

On the fourth day, the sand ended and the soil began, bringing trees along with it. Prey was still an issue, but there were more scents to follow in the forest, so I had Foxy come with me so I could find my way back to where we broke off from the group. I cannot track my own scent, so I needed Foxy to provided some musk for me so that we could hunt as we pleased. I ended up stalking a deer from sunfall until moonrise, but I managed to get it in the end and dragged it back to where the rest of the pack were sleeping. We ate well that night, and I even got to eat the heart of the deer after some well done claw work from Summit’s skill set.

On the fifth day, we came across another settlement, but this time, it was not one of the Two-Leg’s places. Instead, we’d come across the Naga, the snakes that helped bridge the gap between the Zgon and Two-Legs from long ago. The Lulamoon was welcomed into their society as a guest, but I and the pack were halted from entering.

A tall Naga female barred us from coming near her den. We were only a few days travel from the Grand Lake at this point. “Wolf. Bear. Cat. Fox. Badger. Why do you seek entry into the Naga lands?”

I stepped forward from our group. “Naga. I seek the Path of Ascension, as is my birthright.”

The Naga leaned away from me. “You? You are Nashoba? Sister of Fenrir?”

I snorted. “Do not utter my brother’s name lest he come. I am Lupa as of now, though I seek to reclaim my name.”

The Naga bowed low, her snout coming close to the soil beneath her tail. “My apologies for waylaying you, honored Wolfmother. Please, call yourself Nashoba and my kin will hunt for you and your friends as often as you need.”

“There is no need. Tell us where to hunt and we will gather our own food. It would not do for the Wolfmother to keep company that cannot feed itself.”

The Naga held her hands up in a gesture of peace. “I meant no offense, Wolfmother. I will show you myself where prey is plentiful.”

“If you have the time, it would be appreciated.” I replied. “We do need to keep an eye on the Pony Two-Leg we brought with us, however. She is my guide on the path.”

The Naga seemed confused. “Her? Really? But she is just a petty magician with cheap tricks!”

I nodded. “The Watcher of the Everfree told us to seek her out, and so we did. She is not terrible, though she does not know her own importance. I trust you will keep this information close to yourself.”

The Naga bowed again. “Of course, Wolfmother. Is there anything else you may need.”

“Oh, oh! Don’t forget water!” Honey cried from underneath me.

I looked up to the Naga. “The Arid Desert is dry. Water would be nice, but food is nicer.”

“It shall be provided since the nearest source is so far away. Come, I will show you our hunting grounds”

And so she did. The hunting grounds were not far from the edge of the Naga settlement, and scents of all sorts of delicious Kendani laced the air in mouth watering lattices. I heard my pack draw a collective breath and release it, all of us prepared for a meal of our own choosing. Honey immediately started rooting around for grubs and various other insects while Foxy climbed trees and stole eggs. Krel snacked on berries and foliage because he’s weird like that, and I took Summit around to teach her how to hunt deer and other four legged prey. We even came across a wild boar on the way that I was happy to tear apart.

Pigs are delicious. Boars are a little lean for my tastes, but it was still a good meal, even if it was more tenacious than I would have liked. Summit was far happier with the boar than the sows we’d feasted on in the Appaloosa Two-Leg place since it wasn’t as fatty. Once we’d all had our fill of our chosen meals, we came back to the Naga settlement, located the Lulamoon, and settled in for another few weeks while she performed her tricks for the Speaking Serpents.

The Dead Forest and The Grand Lake

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The Dead Forest and The Grand Lake

We stayed with the Naga far longer than necessary due to the Lulamoon’s popularity among the offspring of the Naga. So far away from most Ponies and other races, it was a rare sight for them to see magic up close and it wasn’t as though the Naga are social creatures anyway. My Pack was pampered during the small amount of time we spent in the Naga settlement, but being treated as a pet, even as a venerated pet, was an insult to my lineage and the wild heart that beat within me. Krel felt much the same way and Summit had never even met Naga before, so they were content to join me in the forests, hunting and spending our days tracking more difficult meals. We often shared deer that I caught, though Summit was lucky enough to ambush a few during our stay. Krel had little luck, though he did manage to sweep many of the berries from deeper into the forest. I’m sure many of them were poisonous, but he’d always had a strong constitution.

The Lulamoon had gained a few gifts from the Naga in the form of a knife and some talking berries, so my Pack often spent our time with her, explaining life in the wild as opposed to the soft life of pets. The Lulamoon did not find our answers to her liking, but she was a Pony that knew of other ways of life, so she was not completely opposed to allowing the wild to stay that way. She did, however, say that she would happily take any or all of us along with her while she was travelling Equestria. No one was interested, but she was not put down by our reluctance to join her past her current destination. The Lulamoon often asked why we were following her in the first place, but my Pack referred her to me each time she asked and the only answer I would give was simply ‘Magic.’.

When we finally left the Naga, we were rested and prepared to travel the next leg of our journey. Summit and I had spent our time sparring with each other, Krel foraged, Foxy solved riddles to keep his wit sharp, and Honey started fights with anything dumb enough to try and make a meal of her. The Grand Lake was supposed to be the easiest leg of the journey by far since Krel was an expert in catching fish and the lake would provide plenty of water, so there was little holding us back from crossing it.

The first day of our journey was through forest, and though we’d been in the woods for most of our stay with the Naga, the trees quickly changed from somewhat short trees to tall ones that made my neck hurt when I tried to look at them. Krel said that he wanted to try climbing one whenever we had some free time, but his jest was quickly forgotten when one of the massive trees fell and crashed through the silence of the forest. Unfortunately, the tree fell directly onto the trail we’d been following and the trunk was too large for the Lulamoon to scale, so I asked Summit to see if she could spot the cause of the tree’s falling from atop its trunk. She scaled it easily and performed a quick scan around the area that resulted in nothing happening, so I went to inspect the tree’s roots at the base.

I took my time in checking to see the damage, but all I could see was that the roots had rotted away. Summit cantered toward me and called out from above. “Sister wolf! Why has the tree fallen?

I snorted. “The roots were diseased. This does not bode well for our journey.”

Krel joined my side along with the Lulamoon. “Why would we receive bad omens now? Our journey was been littered with supposed blessings”

The Lulamoon looked at the roots herself, so I waited to see if she would speak. “Hmm… Trixie sees that the roots were worried away by magic. Lupa, do you know why this tree fell, just as we were coming along?”

“If it has chosen now to fall, it is either a terrible coincidence or a bad omen. We’ve spent too much time here as it is. Worrying over it will do us no favors.” I clawed my way up the trunk and Krel did the same with Foxy and Honey on his back.

The Lulamoon was the only one left on the ground at this point, so we were waiting for her to get her Pony hindquarters up and moving, but she couldn’t climb the tree, no matter how she approached it. She could have simply walked around, but Two-Legs are dumber than Kendani at some points. The Lulamoon teleported onto the tree and when we all hopped down, she let out a noise of derision before trying to mimic our natural grace. She failed, of course.

I trotted over and nudged the Lulamoon until she rose from the ground. “Lulamoon, we must continue. Your face does not belong with dirt.”

The Lulamoon pushed herself off of the ground. “Blasted hooves. Blasted trees. Blasted ground. Blasted Forest. Blasted wol. Blasted animals following Trixie around. Blasted-”

“Yes, we get it. Things must be blasted, but you lack the attack magic.” I said tersely. “Complaining is unbecoming of the great and powerful.”

“You forgot to add ‘Trixie’ to the end of that.” She pouted.

I sat in front of her. “I did not. If you are great and powerful, you will prove it in time.”

The Lulamoon grumbled and allowed herself to shut up once she got to her hooves. Ponies really do spend too much time complaining. Still, once you could get them moving, they weren’t all that bad, even if they did tend to smell like delicious food. The Lulamoon smelled like a berry of some kind, but since I have not licked her, I have not found out what exactly it is. Krel told me that she tastes of blue raspberries and Summit says she tastes terrible, but I surmised that my taste would follow Krel’s.

After the first tree, three more fell to block our path, but we did not climb over anymore of them due to the Lulamoon’s request. It took time to walk around the giant logs, but it was better on my claws anyway, so I did not complain, and losing minutes out of the day was little more than a nuisance. We still had plenty of daylight to burn when the trees stopped falling, so I couldn’t be upset about losing time.

Krel foraged as we went, bringing back some of his finds for the Lulamoon to keep her entertained and fed so we wouldn’t have to stop as often. They did their job, but some of them caused the Lulamoon to be ill for an extended period of time, though she did not vomit. It was unfortunate since she lost a lot of water while under Krel’s watch, but he was the only one who would be bothered with the smell, though I was sure that it was because of his guilt for bringing the berries that made her ill in the first place.

Once the Lulamoon was up and walking again, albeit with an odd step or two every now and again, we made more progress until night fell. There was plenty of deadfall for a fire, so the Lulamoon treated herself to one while Summit and I went out to hunt. Foxy and Honey busied themselves with inspecting rotten logs for grubs and snakes, and Krel stayed behind to watch over the Lulamoon since he’d had his fill throughout the day. The Pony went to sleep rather quickly, and Summit helped me drag back an odd kill that I’d never seen before so Krel could have a real meal on his stomach. Foxy had little luck in finding any snakes, so he treated himself to what appeared to be the liver of the kill. I took the heart because I was growing fond of them and Summit ate its genitals, while I found to be disturbing, despite not being a male. Krel tore off a haunch after she’d done that and had his meal elsewhere, though I could not blame him for being squeamish. I may have threatened to do something similar to him, but that doesn’t mean that it would be my first choice of targets.
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All too soon, the forest became far less hospitable. The berry rich bushes turned into withered shrubs, the grass became sharp and unpleasant, and the trees were so obviously dead that there was little in the way of prey that could live here. The winds whistled through the trees, singing melancholy songs of former glory that seemed to resonate through the heavy atmosphere. It was unsettling to say the least, but other than the trees, we could here little in the way of life. No, the only things living in this part of the forest were abominations that had no place on Equus.

The first creature we came across on the trail was a Bear, but it was unlike any I’d ever seen before. Its forelegs were too long for it to walk on all of its legs at once and it was taller than Krell, but the main thing that stuck out about it was its reek. We could barely see the creature in the distance, but we could smell it from where we were, and it was undoubtedly corrupted in some way. The beast was dark in ways the Everfree would have been proud of, but it was not from our home. No, the Hungry Forest was evil in places, but it had never warped creatures in such a way, and I was willing to bet that we would not find a meal within its flesh.

Honey and Foxy stayed back with the Lulamoon to guard her while Summit and I took a wide berth around Krel, intending on having him be our main combatant since he was similar to the creature. It faced us as we approached it and spoke, but its words made no sense, mere gibberish in the winds. Once we came within ten tail lengths, the creature let out a roar that sounded unlike any I’d ever heard. It was deeper than a Manticores, but louder than Krel’s by far and that made me eager to kill it. Our opponent seemed quite worthy, and in normal circumstances I would have fought it by myself, but only a fool does not use their Pack to their advantage when they have it.

Krel ran forth and took the lead, gaining the creatures attention and making it approach in turn. I found no reason to sit and watch, so when it raised a claw to strike at Krel, I rushed forth and leaped, taking its arm in my maw and doing my best to rip it from its host. I heard a sickening snap when jerked my head, and the creature’s arm fell limp before Krel took it down and pinned it. Summit held the other arm in her jaw and we had the creature under control until we heard rustling in the forest around us. From the dead trees, more of the creatures came down to the ground, so Krel quickly finished off the one we were handling at the moment and I did a quick count. Three more had come down from the trees, so Krel, Summit, and I picked a target and moved as a Pack since the creatures were slow enough to warrant taking them down one at a time.

Krel picked up his pace since Summit and I were faster in a sprint than he was, and once we came up to our first target, we attacked it in the same way we had done the other one, but this time, Summit and I tore one of its arms off by working together, though its blood was even fouler than the reek hanging on its fur. Krel dispatched it and grumbled about being the only one to get a mouth full of the thick, oily substance. He was ignored since he was our main attacker, and while he was still complaining, we closed in on one of the two final corrupted Bears. The other was about twenty tail lengths away, so we had plenty of time to tear our new target apart as well.

The last one stopped approaching us to try and escape up the tree it had come down from, but Summit wanted to go after it. I warned her against it, but Cats can be just as bad as Two-Legs when it comes to doing foolish things. Summit chased the corrupted Bear up the tree and swiped at its hind legs as she rose. Ultimately, she realized that climbing too high would break legs when she came down, so she did that weird Cat thing and ran down the tree.

We returned to the Lulamoon to find that she was sitting around talking to Foxy and Honey like nothing had happened. I was tempted to chew on her mane for a little bit, but I settled for giving her a brief synopsis of what had happened. The Lulamoon was a little sickened that we’d killed three living creatures, but she accepted that such was the way of the wild and that we weren’t going to be tamed any time soon.

The Dropping Bears persisted through the forest and we occasionally had to take out a small pack of them from time to time, but eventually, Summit, Krel, and I learned how to dispatch them quickly enough on our own. Honey was eager to assist, but there was little she could do, though Foxy’s advice and observations were invaluable. The Lulamoon was only ill once or twice while we were dealing with the Dropping Bears, and I commended her for her constitution after she watched us take a foursome down. She still turned green at the sight of what we left behind, but she no longer vomited after some time.

We spent four days traversing through the worst of the forest, and it was only by the Lulamoon’s stores that we made it through it. Once we cleared the dead trees and the Dropping Bears, we found ourselves on the bank of the Grand Lake. My Pack and the Lulamoon rushed towards the water’s edge to get our first drink in two days, taking our fill of the clear water. The Lulamoon overindulged and took herself away from the bank to void her stomach along with Honey, but Summit, Foxy, and Krel were wise enough to sate their thirst in bursts. We held no pity for our ailing companions since I’d warned them mere seconds before reaching the banks, but they were fine once they had a moment to rest.

Once the Lulamoon was okay, I approached her. “Lulamoon. Where does our path take us from here?”

She rifled through her bags until she pulled out a map. She took a moment to find our location with magic and hummed. “It would seem like we have to go around. The lake is too wide to swim across, and we don’t exactly have a boat.”

I nodded. “Then so we shall. Summit will be happy to hear the news. We can take the day to rest if you require time to get your bearings.”

The Lulamoon shook her head. “There’s no food for you in the dead part of the forest. We still have a few hours of sunlight left, so we need to see if we can fill your stomachs.”

“A wise decision. Perhaps you are not as foolish as I thought.”

Krel snorted from behind me. “Foolishness is relative.”

I gave him a baleful glare. “And I believe you possess much of it. Perhaps you could spend some time fishing in the shallows?”

Krel looked to the Lulamoon. “The Lulamoon is correct; we must keep moving.”

“Then so be it. We’ll waste no more time.” I declared.

We took a little time for the Lulamoon to refill her stores of water so that we could have it in reserve, just in case. When that was finished, I allowed her to lead the way around the lake, but kept a close eye on the forest and the scents within to see whether or not I could smell prey nearby. It took hours of careful attention, but I was successful in catching a scent on the breeze. It smelled like nothing I’d ever had the displeasure of smelling before, but something told me that it was edible, so I took Summit along with me and we tracked the scent. My nose was the best out of our group for tracking down live prey, so it took but a few more hours to get us to our mark. Summit wanted to have her chance at it, so I allowed her to do so since the setting sun played off of her coat in a way that made her hard to see.

We circled the antlered thing until we were in position: I was in front of it and Summit snuck from behind. She got rather close before the creature caught her scent and bolted, but I was already on it, my long strides eating up the distance between us in seconds. I had Summit help me drag our kill back to camp, and once we arrived, we were met with excitement from the rest of the Pack. The Lulamoon ate her pony food in silence as we tore into our meal, and once I had the chance to clean my muzzle, I came and sat next to her.

I waited for her to speak since it was obvious that she had something to say. “...It’s always hard to watch when you do that.”

“Feed?” I asked.

She nodded slowly. “Yes.”

“We have offered to do our business away from you in the past.”

She nodded again. “Trixie knows. It’s just that… Over the past few months, Trixie has come to think of you and your pack as friends, but it’s hard to think that friends would do such a brutal thing to another living creature. Trixie understands that it’s just the natural order of things, but that doesn't make it any easier.”

“If it bothers you so much, we will feed away from you.” I said simply.

The Lulamoon stared off into the distance, but she didn’t look at anything in particular. “Don’t worry about it. Trixie accepts you for what you are, even the parts that she does not like.”

I butted her with my head a couple of times and she scratched my ears. “Thank you, Lulamoon. Perhaps not all Ponies are soft creatures.”

She scoffed. “The Great- No, Trixie thinks that most ponies would have given up by now. Without your Pack, Trixie thinks she would have given up.”

I rose and whacked her with my tail. “You are made of tougher stuff than most Ponies. I believe that you would have made it this far at least, though you did seem quite happy with the Naga.”

The Lulamoon chuckled. “They were entertained by my tricks, but being with them has taught Trixie that she is not as great and powerful as she once thought. Maybe Trixie will return to the mainland and make new friends.”

I yawned. “We may only hope.

After our conversation, the Lulamoon set up her tent and retired for the night, but she did not stay inside very long. She took the time to collapse her tent and asked if she could join my Pack in sleeping under the stars. There was no reason to deny her, so the Lulamoon brought her blanket with her and we slept.
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Once we left the dead forest far behind us, our journey was easier. Water was bountiful, travelling through the forest was easy, and prey wasn’t that hard to find with five experienced hunters checking for scents at all times. The Grand Lake itself only took two days to walk around, and once we did, the Lulamoon’s magic steered us north.

I don’t understand why it didn’t just give us a straight line to follow, but magic is stupid and those who use it barely even understand how stupid it is. The Lulamoon couldn’t tell us why it hadn't just taken us in the direction we were meant to go since it had always done so in the past for her, but we muddled through. I kept my dark mutterings about the nonsense of magic to myself so that I wouldn’t demoralize the Lulamoon, but it bothered me to no end. Why have something that doesn’t work?

As we headed north, the weather became rainier and colder, so it was pertinent to keep the Lulamoon warm at night and dry during the day. Summit and Foxy were miserable through the rain, but Krel, Honey and myself were perfectly fine, occasionally shaking the rain from our coats. Summit grew weary after two days of the incessant rain, but she still padded through he drained energy, so I kept by her side and tried to encourage her through the worst of it. With our second best hunter and our greatest mind under the weather, things weren’t looking good.

A week passed with morale dipping lower than it had in the desert. The Lulamoon grew taciturn, so Honey kept her company and Krel offered Foxy a ride on his back whenever the fox lagged behind. Things were tough, but I had expected there to be more challenges along the way, so I was just grateful that no one died. At least, I was grateful until Foxy got sick. He became lethargic and silent for days on end, so we camped out in the driest place we could find while Foxy recovered.

He never did.

I dug a hole for him and the Lulamoon placed him inside so that he would give his body back to the elements, but not rot on the open ground. Morale took a heavy hit with Foxy’s passing, and I dreaded telling the Broodmother that I had cost her one of her own, but Foxy had known the risks in coming along. Still, even though we had expected there to be death on our path, we mourned our Pack brother for the rest of the day and I sat vigil to honor his memory. Krel and Honey focused on keeping Summit and the Lulamoon alive so that they would not fall to the same sickness that took Foxy, but it was a hard time on all of us.

We named the forest Foxy had died in the Mourning Forest since it held little more than depressing overtones. It now held the body of one of our friends as well, but I knew that we would not bother coming back. It is not the way of the Zgon to dwell on the passing of friends, regardless of how close we may be to them, so Krel, Honey, and I made our focus getting Summit and the Lulamoon away from the Mourning Forest.

We cleared the obstacle two days after Foxy’s passing and the rain let up. It was too little too late, but letting that fact weigh on our minds was doing us no favors. The Lulamoon required more help than any of the remaining Pack could provide, but she muddled through her own sadness and kept things moving. I was proud of her for keeping her chin held high, and she set a great example for Summit to follow. Until we’d gotten out of the forest, I’d worried that she was going to be the next to fall, but when we entered the empty plains, my worries proved to be for nothing.

The Lulamoon requested that we take some time to rest once we set paws on the plain, and I had no reason to deny her such a comfort. She and Summit needed the break, and Honey, though stoic, desired it just as much as they did. Krel and I took the time to hunt and talk among ourselves, though neither of us required comfort. We’d seen Foxy’s death from across the horizon and had been prepared for the worst when it came anyway. In any case, once our day of rest was up, we only had one more piece of the journey to go through. Months had brought us to the last leg of our journey, and though I wished that my friend could have seen it through to the end, I was hopeful that there would be little else in our way.

Finally, we could head to the Place-Where-Moon-Touches-Equus.

Moon-Touches-Equus

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Moon-Touches-Equus

It had been a long journey across Equestria, but we still had one more plain yet to cross. I hoped that we would not lose another member of our Pack, but everyone seemed to be holding strong. Krel and Honey were bonding now more than ever and I was becoming closer to Summit as we walked along. The Lulamoon was still the focus of our attention and we made sure that she knew it. Summit and Honey had gotten over Foxy’s passing after our day of rest, but it was obvious to all that it stayed on the Lulamoon’s mind as we trekked on through the plains. It was unfortunate, but Ponies have always been tender when it comes to the passing of friends.

The plains held little to eat for us, but on occasion, there were wild plains deer that Summit and I teamed up to hunt so we could keep our stomachs full. The Lulamoon was no longer bothered by the sight of us consuming the flesh of another, though her own rations were running short. She’d been keeping us fed through the Dead Forest and hadn't really had a good chance to resupply. Sadly, Foxy was the one who was knowledgeable about flora and whatnot, though my nose and Krel’s natural ability to sniff out certain foods were key in keeping the Lulamoon fed. Honey found a few tubers that could be eaten after being roasted, so that was what she took along with her.

The plains as a whole were boring, but after travelling across them for four days, we eventually came to our destination. The Fire-Spitting-Mountain was within sight and we didn’t have much longer to go. I tried to do as my master would and tell jokes to keep everyone's spirits up, but it just was beyond my abilities to do more than poke fun at others. I made fun of Summit for her bobbed tail, Krell for his bad smell, and Honey for her random spikes of energy, but I couldn’t bring myself to find fault in the Lulamoon lest she crack the facade she’d put up. It was a little stressful walking on eggshells around her, but she was still healing and I knew that fact all too well.

We eventually came to the Fire-Spitting-Mountain and from there, we climbed it. My place would be at the top, but no one could follow me beyond there. The Lulamoon would get her magic and I would receive it in some way so that we could continue with our lives. I held off mentioning this to her just in case I actually had to eat her, but I thought that it felt wrong to do so, both morally and spiritually. I spoke my worries into the empty air and my ancestors pelts brushed along mine, guiding me to her side rather than to her tail. I was grateful for the symbology and now that I knew that she would not die, I felt better about the mission.

The Fire-Spitting-Mountain was tall, though the path was easy to traverse. Honey ended up on Krel’s back since her short little legs couldn’t keep up and I agreed to carry the Lulamoon when she twisted her hoof on a rock, though I was quick to let her know that this was a one time thing. I do not like being ridden, and for anyone barring Max, I would not allow someone on my back more than once. Foxy had been there a few times, but Foxy’s weight was barely noticeable.

“How much longer do we have to walk? The Lulamoon complained.

“You are not walking.” I pointed out.

“Still, we’ve been climbing this volcano for half a day now! Can we stop for a rest?”

Krel snorted. “Lulamoon, this is the final obstacle. Prolonging our journey more than you already have would make Nashoba take one of you limbs.”

“I would do it myself.” Summit added.

“...Let’s keep going.” she said quietly.

I yawned. “I would not take a limb from you. A small bite perhaps, but not a full limb. That is, unless Krel, Summit, and Honey would like a taste of you too.”

“It scares Trixie when animals larger than her say they want to nibble on her.” She said.

“Do not give us a reason to and we will not.” Krel stated simply.

“Which is why I’m still riding Nashoba.” The Lulamoon replied.

I shook myself and the Lulamoon nearly fell off, giving my Pack a chance for laughter. She herself eventually had a chuckle when she realized we weren’t laughing at her, but rather, her reaction. The Lulamoon would have been upset about such an occurrence a month ago.

We trekked onward and upward until we reached the summit. Not the Cat, the top of the mountain. It was quite warm up there, so I had the Lulamoon stop adding her heat to my back and we sat down and waited. This was the place we were supposed to be. My paws hurt from the long journey and I wanted nothing more than to lie down and rest like the others, but I had to wait for night to fall before I could allow myself such a luxury.

My vigil was sat in silence while the others spoke among themselves and eventually fell asleep, though the Lulamoon had taken a seat next to me. “So, Nashoba…” She trailed off.

“Yes, Lulamoon?”

“Why are we here? I know why I’m here, but why have you lead the Pack here? What’s so important.”

“This is the place where I earn my name. This is where I will journey into the stars and become the Wolfmother I was meant to be from birth.”

“What is the Wolfmother?”

“Me and my mother and my grandmother and my great grandmother. So on and so forth. There is one every so many years, though we rarely choose to stay on this world for more than a couple hundred years. There are tales of Wolfmothers lasting thousands of years and some that only lasted a couple of decades. It is up to the She-Wolf to decide where she falls on the spectrum.”

“Are you sure where you’ll fall on that spectrum?” The Lulamoon asked.

“I must last for thousands of years. It is my Master’s lifespan that will dictate my own.” I licked my jowls.

“So who is your Master? Do I know him?”

“You do. You have met him in Ponyville, I do believe. He upstaged you during your show.”

“Wait…” The Lulamoon thought for a moment. “Was he the Human stallion that everypony cheered for?”

“He was.”

“...I don’t like him.”

“Give him time and he will grow on you. My Master is a pup at times, but he is one worthy of following if you can get him to be serious.”

“If he acts like a foal, then why would you follow him anyway?”

“Because he is loyal and caring. My Master always fed me before he fed himself, always worried about me while I was away. He is truly a generous soul, but his ways are not the ways of the Ponies. He is too dark for life in the Pony lands, though I wish I knew if he’d chosen the Broodmother as his permanent mate yet. If I know him at all, he’s probably still ‘faffing about’, taking his choices into consideration.”

“...So what’s he like when he’s not being caring, loyal, or generous?”

“He is a prick.”

“I don’t know what that means.”

“It means he can be unpleasant. He shouts at times, but it is simply his way of venting his frustrations. If he sees no point in arguing, he will not.”

“He sounds wiser than-”

The Lulamoon froze as the true Moon rose to its Zenith. I looked to the heavens and saw that I would soon become a starwalker as the path became clearer and clearer. I rose from my spot and the Lulamoon joined me, wincing once she put weight on her hoof and falling over when she finally stood upright. I caught her with my body and she slid off onto the ground.

I guess that’s what Watcher meant when he said I was to consume her magic.

Krel and Honey came over to wish me well and Summit tried to step on the path, but her paw sank straight through, as was expected. I gave her a chuckle and and bid them farewell for now, beginning the solo part of my journey.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The path disappeared behind me as I walked up it, and the gradient of the path was rather brutal, but I traversed it steadily, maintaining a decent pace while being sure to not tire myself out. I had a long walk to the Moon and I was glad that I’d eaten before taking on this part of the journey. It was told that the Ascension would take two days if you didn’t stop moving, but then again, I was also told that a She-Wolf such as I was rarer than a bear that didn’t smell absolutely terrible or badgers that weren’t unpleasant. Honey and Krel were their own exceptions, but I was mostly hoping that I was as good as I was promised to be.

I’d only let my pace falter twice, but when I did, I nearly fell off of the narrow path. It was difficult to continue after the first day and being so high meant that the air was thin and precious. The journey would wear down a lesser being than I, but there was no room for me to be a pup about my task. I had to get to the Moon by the end of the day, no ifs, ands, or buts.

Being so high in the air was, as Max might put it, ‘sucky as fuck’. I could not look down for fear of dizziness and looking at the path just made me tired, so I kept my eyes on the moon and continued. I had plenty of time to ponder my choices and what had lead me to this point, but as a firm believer in destiny, I knew that I’d never had a choice in the matter in any case. It was fine by me since there was no reason to fight against it, although parts of me wished that I could simply live my life with Max and die with him when the time came. I would still be able to die with him, but the thought of surviving for millennia scared me a little bit. I knew that most creatures broke into insanity at one thousand years and again in another five hundred, but I was certain that we would support each other in our own way while we lived on. Max had told me about his kind’s history with wolves and I couldn’t help but feel as though we shared a similar bond. We may trade barbs from time to time… Well, most of the time actually, but still. We are close.

Thoughts of my Master pushed me forth and kept me going for much of the second day, and the knowledge that I would be by his side soon enough filled me with enough courage to go on. I hoped that he would accept me in my new form when I returned, but I assured myself that he would still hold love for me even if I didn’t come back with the same coat or eyes. I would still be the same… No… I wouldn’t be the same, but my feelings towards him, I hoped, would remain. My heart fell as I thought of Max rejecting me as Nashoba, but I was never one to focus on the bad. That, and my doubts made me slow down enough to nearly fall off of the path again. Luckily, I was nearing the end of my journey and in but a few hours, I would be able to finally speak with my ancestors.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The Moon… It was beautiful. I’d seen it for so many years, but when I finally passed through The Barrier, I got to see it in it’s true majesty. Shades and spirits of all the animals I’d ever known were there, and despite my fatigue, I found it in myself to expend a little more energy to canter to the surface. The spirits of my ancestors pushed the others aside and made a path for me to the Dark Side where we would do our business. For once, they did not allow me the comfort of brushing against them, but I wanted nothing more than to return to Equus and see my friends. The sooner I accepted my Birth Right, the sooner I could go home.

Whispers of ‘Wolfmother’ danced through the ranks of the animals behind my ancestors, but as I pushed myself to trot through them as if I hadn't just walked for two days straight, I noticed that my ancestors abruptly ended right before the second barrier. I took heart and snapped at the barrier, ripping a hole large enough to pass through and I saw why my ancestors had stopped.

There were two dozen Wolfmothers before me. I swung my head from side to side, meeting each of their stares readily as I walked. It would have been rude to continue running when I crossed the second barrier, so I’d slowed down considerably to give them each the time and respect they deserved.

I passed the first pair. “You will do well.” The chorused.

The second. “Stay strong, pup.”

The third. “Blessed be your path.”

The fourth and largest two. “Take no nonsense.”

The fifth and smallest. “You will see your companion soon.”

The sixth. “Be calm, Wolfmother.”

The seventh. “The end is in sight.”

The eighth. “May you find prey in plenty.”

The ninth. “Let your steps never falter.”

The tenth. “Let your mind never stray.”

The eleventh. “Command respect.”

The twelfth and final. “We are proud. We are few. We are strong”

The last Wolfmother, my own mother, was at the end of the path. “Welcome, my pup”

“Hello, mother. It has been years.” I said softly.

“It has. It is time to pass down the title of Wolfmother, Nashoba.” Asena replied.

“...Have you no other words for me?”

She came forth and brushed her muzzle against mine. “I have been with you since you started your journey and we will have far more time to speak when you take your title. As the Wolfmother, we will walk in your wake.”

“...Then I suppose it is shameful that I have a Master.”

“You are the only one who considers you less than his equal. His love for you is true, and we would be proud to call him a brother.”

“I am glad to return as his equal, then.”

No more needed to be said. From the beginning of the path they’d laid out from me, those before me lifted their heads and gave their voices to my future, each pair giving way to the next and combining their voices. It was more powerful than the Roar of the Gathering and far more pleasant to hear, but I knew what I was supposed to do. I added my voice to theirs and I felt my pelt cool and warm at the same time, my eyes watered and my nose burned with scents that I’d never smelled before. Before I even realized, I was floating off of the Moon’s surface and I hovered far enough away from it to be able to see it and Equus.

It was beautiful.

I’d never known that there were so many colors in the world or that it was so large. I was awestruck in the best of ways and I came to the realization that there were other beings that I’d never met, minds that I would never hear spoken, thoughts I would never be allowed to know of. Every single creature has a life of its own, and the sonder was strong within me; knowing that there were so many lives… There is no other way to describe it. My mind folded and opened, curled and uncurled as I saw the lives of each Wolfmother from start to finish, every moment of their lives unfurled right before my very eyes. All of their experiences entered my mind, all of their wisdom and thoughts, their strengths and weaknesses.

Once my mind was done spinning circles like a young pup chasing its tail, I was able to leap back down in a few strides to touch the Moon’s surface once more. My predecessors closed ranks as I walked through them, their fur feeling like hands against my own. It was a pleasant feeling and a comforting one. My mother waited for me just before the second barrier and came forth to greet me.

“Nashoba.” Her tail wagged.

My own tail did the same. “Asena.”

“We will see you on Equus.” She nuzzled me once more and I heard the rest of the Wolfmothers sit down. With my journey finally over, I decided to use some of my new power to leap from the Moon to the emptiness above and raced back down to Equus, listening to the cheers of my kin as I did.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

I bounded back down to the Fire-Spitting-Mountain, or rather, the volcano to find that my friends were no longer there. I was quite hungry, so I wasted no time in following their scents to where I hoped I would find food. I could not feel their presence nearby, though I wasn’t sure what that meant, so I had a look around and followed their scent trails. They smelled somewhat weak, but at the same time, it was as though I was standing next to them. With nothing else to do and a familiar feeling in my stomach, I followed their trails until I got bored and started using my new found powers to bounce down the path, picking up the scent wherever I could. They’d been gone since I’d left or sometime near then, so they would have made good progress without me.

I tracked their smells for the better part of the day, thankful that Krel and Honey had dropped me some little presents to find along the way. The Lulamoon had also left a scent trail and I was going to be sure to mention it to her when I saw her next to embarrass her. With a bounce to my step and more energy than I should have had, I didn't stop to rest or find food until I fell over.

A Shade of my mother came to me while I was lying down. “It was foolish of you to try and go three days without eating or sleeping.”

“Perhaps, but I’m feeling whimsical. Carry me?”

She snorted. “You are going to be the silliest Wolfmother there has ever been.”

“At least I’ll have fun. Why do I feel this way?"

“Ascension affection different Wolfmothers in different ways. Geri and Freki became savage combatants, but the first Lupa was kinder and more nurturing. Different times call for different attitudes.”

“I hope I do not stay this silly.” I rolled over and pushed myself to my feet.

“Find food and then rest. Be careful not to overdo it again. I will only lend you strength so often.” She warned me before fading away.

“Thank you.”

I lifted my nose to the air and took a deep breath. There was adequate prey about three hours travel from where I was now. I could turn it into thirty minutes if I felt like it, and so I did. I bounded through the air, running on nothing until I realized that using my powers would most likely sap my strength faster, so I took to the ground and ran like the wind itself. I heard the grass rustle behind me and turned to look at it because something just felt right about the action. I saw that flowers were blooming in my wake and grass grew before falling to the side, marking my path with the blessings of nature. I noticed that there were strange uncolored markings on my pelt that seemed to swirl and match my body, though now I wanted to see what color the collar Max had gotten me was. If I could smile, I would have.

As it was, I bore my teeth to mimic the Human I liked so much while speeding along to the prey I’d sniffed out. My stomach growled and I felt the desire to slow down, so I did and sniffed around to see how far the prey was from here. It was only a few more minutes away and I was lucky that I’d stopped when I did otherwise I would have missed the opportunity to catch it. The prey turned out to be another deer of some kind, so I wanted to see if I could chase it down since they had once been faster than me.

Long story short, it wasn’t even a competition. The young buck tried to bounce away and I let it get some ground between us before I made myself pick up the pace and just take it down. I tore its head off in one bite, though I really hadn't even been trying to do so. It’s flesh came away just as easily and my fangs sheared through the meat of my kill like I’d been eating the bread Velvet Breeze had given me so long ago. It was an interesting feeling, but the best thing about it was that my kill was delicious. I’d never paid that much attention to the way things tasted before, but now everything was suddenly much clearer and I felt as though I was tasting through multiple tongues at the same time. I couldn’t enjoy it as much as Max or the Broodmother since I couldn’t chew like they could, but I could still take pleasure in it nonetheless. I tore my way into its rib cage and ate its heart, finding the salty taste of the blood from the still beating muscle to be quite nice.

I licked my muzzle clean and sniffed the air to see if I could smell my friends, but when I couldn’t find them, one of the Wolfmothers named Wepawet pointed me in the right direction, though she still told me to sleep. I had no reason to not comply, so I bedded down a little ways from my kill and had a nap.

When I woke up, there was a Two-Leg called a Buffalo standing over me. I took one look at it and said, “Go away.”

It blinked at me. “You talk?”

“I talk.”

“...You killed that deer?”

I yawned. “I did. It was tasty.”

“...I’ll leave you alone.”

“You look tasty too. Do you know what you taste like?”

“Uhh…”

“Lick yourself and check.”

The Buffalo did as I told it to. “I taste like fur.”

I stood and hopped up on its shoulders, pushing it to the ground. It was absolutely terrified of my until I licked its face. “You taste like fur. You were correct.”

I hopped off of it and looked started heading off in the direction Wepawet had shown me before I had taken the time to catch up on some sleep. I kept my nose to the ground and occasionally checked the air for the scent of my friends, and when I caught it, I started cantering along the trail, though that was still nearly a sprint with the speed I now possessed. I actually found a fresh pile of dirt made from Krel while the sun was high, so I was willing to be that they would be close by. The dirt was still wet, so I picked up my pace until the scent became just as fresh as the droppings.

I actually had to jump over them when I came across them, though I’d had enough time while in the air to see that they were all accounted for, though they all seemed a little slimmer since I’d last seen them.

“Nashoba?” The Lulamoon murmured.

I looked at each of them in turn. “Lulamoon. Krel. Summit. Honey. I see each of you needs a meal.”

They stared at me for a while until Summit said, “Your pelt has markings on it.”

“They make me run faster.” I jested.

“Do they really?”

“No. They are the markings of the Wolfmother. That was a joke. I was joking.”

The Lulamoon stared at me. “...That was something a Pony might say. I’ve never heard you joke like that, Nashoba.”

“Get used to it. The Ascension has made me somewhat silly.” I trotted over to her and butted her chest with my head. “Come now, it is a long journey home.”

There was a shift in the breeze and four Wolfmothers came. I saw them each bite the air and they started tugging like they were pulling at invisible doors until I saw them rip a hole in the empty space. I strode forward because they were being nice and turned back once I was through to see that none of my companions had made so much as a move to follow me.

“The journey home just got shorter. Hurry up before the opportunity leaves you.” I told them. The Lulamoon was the first to step through, followed by Krel and Honey.

Summit stood still for but a moment until I went back through and gently took her scruff in my fangs, dragging her through easily, despite her resistance. She yowled and swiped at me, but I ignored her blows since they felt like they were coming from one of her cubs. Once she was through, the Wolfmothers filed through and faded away into nothing again, following me from the shadows. I guess the return journey was too easy when you could cover a week’s worth of travel in but a few days, so why not make it easier on my companions?

“Nashoba, did you do that?” Krel asked in hushed tones.

“No, my predecessors did. I’m sure I will eventually be able to do something similar.” I told him.

Summit leaped at me, but when she collided with me, she practically bounced off and I just looked at her. “Now what were you hoping to accomplish with that?”

“You mangy mutt! You dragged me through that- that- thing!” She yowled.

“You could either have a week’s journey back to the Wolf Mountain or a month with no friends to help you hunt. I made the easy choice for you.”

She hissed at me, but had nothing else to say. I walked around to her side and saw that my teeth had still gone through her pelt, despite me trying to be gentle, so I licked her wounds and watched them heal. Cat blood was still pretty nasty, but now Summit had nothing to complain about.

I took the time to look around and found that we were back where our journey began: The Heart of the Gose Baio, or rather, the Everfree. “It would appear that we are as close to home as we need to be. Krel, Honey, lead the Lulamoon to Ponyville. Summit, I’m taking you to your home.”

Two of the Wolfmothers that I recognized as Medeina and Skoll stood on either side of Summit and she jolted, dropping into a crouch. “I feel something on me!”

“Don’t worry, Summit. The Wolfmothers take care of those who assist us. They will guide you home when you are ready to leave, though I was prepared to make the journey with you. I suppose I’m to return to my companion now.” I said casually.

Summit stared at me like she thought I was crazy. “Have you gone crazy?”

“You’re the one feeling their pelts. You tell me, molly.”

Krel snorted. “Never try to understand a Wolfmother. It’s said that they are rarely sane.”

I turned around and smacked his muzzle with the tip of my tail, careful not to swing too hard. “Be careful with your words Krel. I can’t really play around until I learn how to control my strength.”

He rubbed his muzzle. “That still hurt a bit.”

“I would say I’m sorry, but I’m not.”

The Lulamoon coughed to get my attention. “Trixie understands that you are different now, but can we leave this jungle? It seems like it’s not the best place to stand around in.”

I looked at her. “I can kill pretty much everything here with little trouble. We could camp right here for the next month and we would never be bothered anyway.”

“Trixie would like a warm bed and a real meal.” She said softly.

I butted her chest with my head. “Then we shall leave. Summit, may your path be clear and your prey plentiful. Should you ever need to return, call my name and I will hear you.”

She licked her paw and preened. “I may visit you sometime. Be well, Motherwolf.”

“It’s Wolfmother, you silly molly.”

Krel snorted and Summit waited for Medeina and Skoll to lead her away. I turned back to the Lulamoon when she left our sight. “I will take you to meet Max properly. I believe you'll like him if you’re the same as you are now.”

“Does he have a warm bed and a meal?”

“I believe he would be willing to give them to you for assisting me. He has the space and the supplies to allow you those comforts.”

Trixie sighed happily. “Then I’ll do whatever he asks if it means I don’t have to sleep on the ground or on a cot.”

I looked around to get my bearings, but my mother showed me the correct direction. I started heading off and looked back at my considerably smaller pack. “Come along. We have to go see the Broodmother first.”

“Why do we have to see her first? Can’t we just go see Max?” The Lulamoon complained.

“It’s polite to walk your friends home. You’ve traveled millions of tail-lengths; a few more will not kill you.” I told her.

Krel whacked me with one of his paws. “Since when do you care about being polite?”

I swatted his shoulder with my tail, making him stumble. “I don’t most of the time, but we’ve journeyed across a damned continent, so I’d at least like to see you home, safe and sound.”

Honey piped up. “I think that’s a really Broodmother thing to do!”

“Thank you, Honey. Would you like to ride me for a little bit?” I offered.

“Yes!”

I laid down and allowed her to nestle into my fur. “Is everyone else prepared?”

Krel and the Lulamoon nodded their assent, and thus we were off.