A loud, powerful howl caught her attention. She raised her head up and sniffed at the air. She could smell him, he wasn’t far away from her. Swishing her tail, she set off in a sprint towards the sound of his howling, her own howl signalled the others around her to follow. There was something about running that felt freeing, a sensation like no other. The only thing that beat the feeling of running was the hunt. She could sense them all around her – her pack. Hear their calls, seem them moving in the shadows with the same silent grace. The thought of hunting brought her mind back to the feeling of hunger in her stomach. They should hunt soon.
Coming to the clearing, she saw him. The large male wolf with his silver and white pelt, sitting there tall, proud, and with that familiar smug look in his frosty blue eyes. He’d found good shelter before her and was proud of it. She had come across an abandoned clocktower before, but pony dens are no place for a wolf to live.
Before her mate was a large cave. It wasn’t deep, but it would house all of them nicely. Slowly she padded over to him, lightly leaning up to nuzzle into the crook of his neck. Taking in the earthy scent of his coat combined with his natural scent she relaxed against his side. He was her mate, and she could not help but be proud of him, even though he would not let her forget this loss easily. Her heart leapt as he started lavishing her in small licks.
She sat up taller, prouder. Even though he was larger than her, even though he could probably beat her in raw strength, it was she who was the alpha female, the one in charge of the pack with him as the alpha male. She playfully reminded him of that fact with a bite to his throat. With a somewhat annoyed grumble, he lowered himself until she released. Then she showered him in affectionate licks.
Ten more adult wolves had gathered around them. Watching two of the females corralling all the pups and ushering them into the cave made her smile. Slowly she took a step forward, goading her mate along with a tug to his ear. The cave wasn’t in any way special – save for the fact that it had a small body of water on the inside. It had formed a natural pool and trickled in from the far wall. Padding over to inspect the pond she looked down at her own reflection. Soft golden eyes looked back at her, her blue-tinged arctic coat was covered in a mixture of mud and leaves. She leaned in to lap at the water, enjoying the cooling sensation of it running down her throat. This close to the water, the mark around her left eye was clearly visible, the black crescent moon shape with the phases of the moon displayed in circles. The mark of Goddess Moon.
Having slaked her thirst, she turned around and looked at two of the larger males. She growled at them and gave a series of barks motioning to the cave entrance – with a shelter secured it was time for the hunt. She padded out as the two started rounding up the other males. Looking up at the sky as she left the cave, she howled in greeting the just-risen full moon.
“It’s too early for this,” Cheerilee thought to herself as she sat on the steps of the Ponyville schoolhouse, even though it was almost noon. Not like her current situation was very demanding, she just had to watch over the foals as they played outside. It was the usual affair where there were groups of colts and fillies doing there own thing. It wasn't hard, just boring. “I should remember to never let you both drag me out on a Sunday, Berry,” she murmured to herself thinking of both Berry Punch and Strawberry Cream. The two mares who always seemed to talk her into going out for drinks.
Looking into the distance, she couldn’t help but roll her eyes as she saw the three self-proclaimed Cutie Mark Crusaders. They were very close to the edge of the school grounds, not that them isolating themselves was something out of the ordinary but she still did not like it. It wasn’t far from the Everfree. Sure, there was a stretch of clearing between it and the small bushes and trees on the school grounds, but that simply made it harder to spot anything that could be a problem. She sighed heavily and stood up once more to go over to talk to the three fillies for the third time this today.
As she stood up, her eyes focused on something grey in between the leaves. The Crusaders were looking at something in rapt fascination. It took her a moment for the pieces to fall into place, the wagging of a tail, the perking of ears. The mare could feel her blood run cold as she saw the creatures lying within the shade of the tree line. Step by step she stalked closer to the fillies without saying a word. The closer she got, the more she knew that what she had seen hadn’t been a trick of the light. She had hoped it was just a couple of ponies laying there, but instead it was two large – she guessed average mare size - wolves.
“Girls, I want you to get the others into the school house, no running.” Cheerilee said in barely a whisper. She motioned a hoof and shot the three a stern glare before they could even protest the command. Looking in the small clearing under the tree, she saw the two creatures, one of them sleeping peacefully while the other was gnawing at an apple of all things. For a moment, that gave her a soft mental chuckle.
“Wolves?” Blueblood asked, cocking an eyebrow at the mare that sat behind her desk.
“Yes, Wolves. That is what miss Cheerilee told me two days ago.” The Mayor sighed heavily. “At the school of all places. So close to three of the foals.” Standing up from her chair, she walked over to the window that was facing toward the Everfree Forest. “Where there are two wolves, there are more, Prince Blueblood. Unlike the other creatures out there in the forest, they seem to hold no reservations about getting close to ponies.” She placed her hoof gently on the windowsill.
Blueblood couldn’t believe this. The Mayor had the local guards drag him all the way to Ponyville because of a couple of wolves? That was an issue for the guards, it wasn’t like he could do much about it. Internally he rolled his eyes at the notion, but then the thought hit him that this might be a very quick and easy way to better his reputation with the locals. Heroically saving foals of a small town that doesn’t even have a big royal guard presence near such a savage place as the Everfree. The thought did appeal to him – or at least the headlines that would be in the newspapers that he was imagining appealed to him greatly. “Well… that can be a bit of a challenge, but I do think my associates and I are up for the task.”
The two griffons that stood at Blueblood’s side nodded slowly in unison. They weren’t even twins, but they had that creepy twin vibe going on either way. “Sure, lots of wolves in the empire.” One of them commented in a rough voice as he adjusted his eye-patch and patted the crossbow at his hip.
“Yep.” The other one agreed, shifting the longbow on his back into a more comfortable position. “’S actually the thing we hunt the most up there.” He added with a small frown. “Them’s bad for… well we share a food source.” He decided to be a bit vague, even though it was no secret that griffons were carnivorous.
“Well, you certainly look like a competent group.” Mayor Mare said, approaching her desk once more to reach into one of her drawers, presenting the Prince with an official document. “I would prefer them to be simply chased off, but… the citizen council has decided that a… bounty would be better. Ten bits per front right paw.” She said a little hesitantly. “The paws will be… examined before payment so don’t even try to cheat.”
Smiling at the mayor, Blueblood nodded taking the document and rolling it up after giving it a once over. “Of course we won’t mayor, I am a stallion of my word.” He said in that smooth voice of his. “We will handle this situation quickly. Come on lads, the servants should be done setting up our little camp.” He turned and walked out of the office, tucking the scroll into the pocket of his blazer.
“Are you sure this is going to work?” Blueblood asked with a cocked eyebrow at one of his associates.
“Yes, their den is right there and there is no way they could resist a meal like this. Now shut up and stay down. You’re revealing our position.” The griffon – Reggae, Reggie, something like tha, Blueblood had to remind himself – said with a low grumble. “We put hang the meat there over the net, they walk into it, and then it's just a matter of cleaning up while they hang there helpless.” Reggie said and slowly raised his crossbow up into comfortable position.
“I see… but it’s so simple.” Blueblood commented with a cocked eyebrow.
“They are wild animals, Prince.” Gwendolyn said with a smirk. “They aren’t as smart as us.”
Blueblood considered the female griffon’s words for a moment and smiled, pleased with this plan. This would mean that he could get back to Canterlot all the quicker. “Good. This place is giving me the creeps. It feels like we’re being watched.”
“Yeah, I know what you mean.” Reggie said, a little more nervously than Blueblood would have liked the master huntsman to be.
Her paw softly hit the hard soil of the ground. She silently motioned with her head to the left and right, signaling to the two wolves flanking her. Her eyes settled on the three hunters, a small grin playing on her maw as she stalked forward silently. Slowly licking her maw, the wolf sat quietly behind her three targets. Her ears perked up and her eyes bored into the back of the center stallion.
Grinning, she hovered her paw over a twig for a moment. There was something satisfying about sneaking up on a pony with such audacity, such insolence. Not only was he in her domain, he had set a trap right by her den. That was something he was going to pay for, and he would pay for it by amusing her. Casting a glance to her left and right, she was happy to see her two hunting partners ready. She stepped on the twig.
Blueblood froze in place. His eyes focused on the meat in the trap. There was something very interesting about it and the dirt around it, something that needed his full attention focused on it. He didn’t want to look behind himself. There was something there, and he could feel it breathing down his neck. He hoped, he prayed that it was his own imagination, but some part of his mind told him that was a foolish thing to hope for.
“R-Reggie…” he started, his voice quivering with fear, “the… wolves are behind us, aren’t they?” he asked. He didn’t dare to look, but every logical part in his mind was screaming that they had been snuck up on.
“I… think so. Unless it was Gwen who stepped on a twig.” Reggie offered, hopefully.
The only response from the female griffon was a low whimper of terror. She had turned around and now they watched as she backed away towards the trap. Both Reggie and Blueblood looked back over their shoulders, only to come face-to-face with a large, female wolf baring her sharp-looking teeth at them.
The creature let out a loud, barking growl.
“RUN!” Blueblood screamed and bolted forwards. He had aimed to avoid the trap, but two more wolves appeared from the left and right and he found himself herded onto the net with both his hunting partners.
A loud snap was followed by the sensation of being lifted up off his hooves, and then being crushed against the rough netting by two adult griffons. Their weapons clattering to the ground below. Breathing became difficult and he could feel their claws poking into his sides. “Get off me!” he protested.
Any further protests turned to mere whimpers as the large wolf sat in front of him with an amused expression shimmering in her eyes. “W-what do you want!?” He cried out in panic as he watched the other two wolves start to gnaw at the rope that kept the net up in the air.
“Please! Anything! Just don't eat me!” He cried in terror. “Anything! I’m a prince! I can give you gold! Land maybe!?” He looked at her and to his surprise the offer of land seemed to interest the animal. “Land? You want land!? I can make it so you own this part of it! Officially it would be yours and ponies would need to respect that.”
The wolf nodded and started making scribbles in the sand. She wanted it in writing.
“Y-you want it in writing? S-sure! Let me get to my tent and I can write it down for you!” Blueblood said. “No funny business, promise!”
The wolf looked at him with narrowed eyes. She showed her fangs and growled a little while making herself look even bigger.
“I promise! You have my word, I swear!” Blueblood screamed in a panic. “W-we will leave when you have your paper!” He was relieved that this seemed to placate the female, her eyes regarding him with a startling gentleness to them. She made a rough motion with her head and the three were dropped to the ground just as roughly.
They had been joined by six more of her pack who circled around the three captives. She was feeling proud of her pack, but she was especially proud of the two hunting partners that had been with her at the time. The griffons had tried to flee the moment they were out of the net and now walked with bound wings, a large black wolf pulling each of their bindings like a leash.
“Sure it’ll work.” Blueblood said in a mocking imitation of Reggie’s voice. “They’re stupid animals!”
“Hey!” Reggie and Gwen cried out at the same time.
“What!? Have you ever seen animals TIE KNOTS!?” The Prince shouted angrily.
Any further talk was silenced by a growl from the wolf female leading Blueblood. She held the rope tied around his neck in a noose and tugged each time he spoke to remind him that she could, in fact, choke him if it pleased her. Not a thing she liked, but it did stop the near-continuous whining that she had to endure after getting him out of the net.
As they came to the clearing, her eyes fell on the structure that had been set up. It was a large tent set on a wooden platform. The entire pack was there under the leadership of her mate. She could already see the pups exploring underneath it. The other ponies had been driven away already and the clearing was theirs once more. She could see inside, and frowned a little at the furs that were strewn over the floor along with large, comfortable-looking pillows. At the centre was a brazier with a warm fire. There was pony furniture inside as well, but she did not really care about that or the shiny items. The tent was made of a thick material that looked like it would do well to keep the pack dry. She looked at the pony with his blond hair, then at the tent.
“No, No! That is mine,” he protested. He was pretty smart for such a stupid stallion. Growling and baring her fangs caused her much larger mate to do the same. It amused her to see the white coated stallion turn even paler as he realised that negotiations were not an option, and he should feel lucky to be leaving with his life. Not that she intended to kill him – life was to be respected after all and they only killed what they ate. Besides she was very sure that he would make them all ill, and probably whine on the way down. “F-fine! Keep it!” The prince said with a dejected little sigh.
Marching the prince into his tent, she motioned with a low growl for him to get to it.
He obeyed under her watchful eye, pulling out a piece of parchment and a quill. Poking his side with a paw, she motioned to the tent around her with a paw and then her eyes settled on her mate, who was scent-marking the side of the tent.
“Hey Blueblood! This big one is peeing on your fancy tent!” Reggie shouted, in between uproarious laughter.
“Oh by the stars that is disgusting! Fine! Keep it! Just don’t eat me!” the stallion shouted and quickly signed away his possessions and the land with it. She watched him write his pony words. “There!” he said, placing down his quill and using his magic to place his royal seal on it. “C-can I go now?”
She stepped back and barked at the pack. The griffons were released by their handlers and they quickly flew away from the scene. Looking at the hesitating Prince, she growled and started stepping forwards. Watching him flee, she barked at her mate, giving him the go-ahead to chase him out of their domain. She followed quickly after – this was going to be fun. The stallion was slow at first, then her mate bit him in the flank and he picked up the pace very quickly. She frowned as he picked up one of the object that had been discarded earlier, a gun. She had seen one in the griffon lands before. The stallion turned and took aim at her mate.
Smirking, she took an acorn that lay on the ground and focused on it for a long moment. Running up beside the stallion she stuffed it down the barrel of his gun. A second later she watched as the crude weapon exploded, the front of it falling to the ground, leaving him running with a useless stump. That made him run all the more rapidly. There was just something satisfying to her about watching a pony stallion run while screaming like a little filly.
Fluttershy was nervous. No, she was utterly terrified. Why would the map send her into the Everfree Forest of all places, more importantly why did it send her all alone? What could possibly be there that she needed to do? Looking down at the map she was holding in her wing, Fluttershy let out a soft little sigh. She was happy that Twilight had drawn and enchanted it for her so she couldn’t get lost in the forest, but she still wasn’t comfortable going in, even though it wasn’t far.
She could hear the howls. Wolves, that was easy enough to tell. From the volume, she guessed that they were a good distance away. She had heard rumours of a large pack of wolves moving into the Everfree from her animal friends. She would have gone looking for them if they hadn’t settled so deep in the forest. Fluttershy’s thoughts were forcefully dragged back to the present by a terrible, feminine scream that made her freeze in place mid-step. The heavy beating of wings could be heard overhead. She looked up quickly enough to see two griffons in torn leather barding flying away at top speed.
A split second later her attention was brought to the bushes in front of her. She squeaked out in terror as a white stallion with a dirtied blond mane ran right at her, screaming in the most feminine way she could imagine coming from a stallion. She could see he was levitating along what remained of a crude griffon firearm. Leaping out of the way, she hid herself in the bushes. Watching him go by, she noticed that the back of his suit had been torn off and there were some scratches on his flank.
Fluttershy covered her mouth to stifle a loud giggle even as she watched a large grey wolf charge passed her barking loudly. She rolled her eyes a little. She knew enough of wolves to know that it was not even trying to attack the stallion. The wolf was simply scaring him out of their territory. Then she noticed a smaller wolf who was running after the two, throwing acorns after the stallion with her mouth. Fluttershy watched in mixture of awe and horror as they exploded, leaving small impact craters to the sides of the stallion. Never enough to hurt him, but enough to cover him in dirt and leaves.
Sighing heavily, she stepped from the bushes, coming snout-to-snout with the smaller wolf. When had she turned around? How had she snuck up on her like that? A soft squeak escaped Fluttershy as she stared into those gentle golden eyes, she felt like a deer caught trying to sneak past an apex predator. In a moment the panic disappeared as quickly as it had flashed up, the wolf meant her no harm – evidenced by the lick to her snout. “H-hi there,” she whispered softly, noticing the crescent moon shape under the wolf’s right eye. For a moment, Fluttershy could have sworn she had seen the symbol somewhere before. Thinking about, it the only place that came to mind was the Castle of the Two Sisters.
The wolf tilted her head for a moment and then started wandering off. It paused and looked back as if expecting Fluttershy to follow. She did just that.
Following the wolf, she wondered if this was the reason why the map had summoned her here. Was it the wolves that needed her help? Or maybe it was because of the stallion and those griffons? Either way she smiled a little. This was more comfortable than walking the Everfree alone – she had a wolf escort!
The wolf led her to a small clearing in the Everfree forest. A clearing dominated by a rather large pavilion.
The inside was lavishly decorated, nothing unexpected from the self-proclaimed Prince. The floor was covered in thick, exotic furs. In the centre there was a brazier that burned with magical flames. It produced heat, but not smoke, nor did it burn the fabric of the pavilion itself. There were chests to the sides, and silken sheets had been pulled off the bed and made into a nest for the pups where they lay sleeping, surrounded by three females. The female she had been following padded up to the pillow throne that had been hastily abandoned, turning it more into a large pile of pillows. She counted about eleven adult wolves in the tent. To Fluttershy’s amazement, the room still looked very organised and not like it had been ransacked by wild animals. The back wall of the tent contained a cupboard and some bottles of really expensive looking wine and champagne.
There was a bright flash of green and suddenly before Fluttershy lay a pony mare, where previously a large wolf had lain on the throne. The mare had a very coarse-looking coat that was very similar to the one her wolves had. Her mane was a white, thick, and tangled mess that showed she bathed but never used any care products. Her flank was graced with the silhouette of a howling wolf to the backdrop of a full moon. The tattoo that had been under her eye was gone. Her golden eyes stared at Fluttershy for a long moment. “Welcome to Den, Pony.” The mare said in very broken Equestrian. “I Talima, Pack Alpha.” Talima introduced herself. “What is pony name?”
“F-Fluttershy.” She whispered barely above her breath, though the Talima looked at her perked her ears and swivelled them slightly.
“Is pretty name. Friend Fluttershy is among friends.” She announced and the stares slowly vanished as the wolves seemed to congregate into smaller groups – family units? Fluttershy wondered for a moment if that was what it was. But then she realised that it was different. They lay there as if holding a conversation. She settled down on a pillow with a small smile on her muzzle. Her eyes settled back on Talima, the wolf that had turned into a pony.
“T-Thank you. It’s a nice, um, pavilion?” Fluttershy said and then squeaked softly feeling one of the females she had seen earlier lay down against her side. It was not long after that four of the smaller wolf puppies invaded her lap to make themselves comfortable there. “A-are you… a changeling?” She asked hesitantly. Slowly burrowing against the wolf.
Talima chuckled softly as she looked at Fluttershy. “Thank friend Fluttershy. P-pavi… tent is new den, bad pony leave it for pack.” She paused for a moment to roll onto her side ”Talima is pony. Live with wolf but is pony.” She said with a gentle smile, seemingly taking no offence to the question. “Talima is pony druid. Is one with nature. Allow–” She slowly moved her hoof into the air and showed the small flame that appeared above it, throwing it into the brazier. “Talima is magic,” she nodded with a smile.
Fluttershy perked up with a small grin and leaned forwards. “D-druid? Please tell me about it! I-if you don’t mind that is…”
Talima smiled radiantly at Fluttershy and nodded gently. “Will tell, friend Fluttershy.” Talima nodded and motioned to a bowl of water that was set out. “Drink. Long story will be.”