• Published 19th Feb 2017
  • 9,337 Views, 612 Comments

Bushkeeper - Odd_Shot

A hiker strays a little too far from the trail. Consequently, he's just discovered the hike of a lifetime.

  • ...

1 - Surroundings

For what it was worth, Andrew decided that having his hand brushing through the soft mane of an azure unicorn was much more easier to handle than a ten story hydra chasing him through a muddy swamp.

“I’ve never seen anything like you before.” The mare’s ears perked up at his voice. She delicately picked out another blueberry from Andrew’s removed hood. Andrew couldn’t help but grin at the sight of the unicorn holding a blueberry in her teeth. “But you’re adorable, I’ll give you that.” In reply, she chomped down on the blueberry. As the mare returned her attention to the makeshift bag, Andrew settled down into a more comfortable position, sitting cross-legged before the standing mare. Andrew blinked at the profound height difference as he found himself down at eye level with the unicorn. “And small.”

Andrew wasn’t one to go hiking in the middle of the woods, but he also wasn’t one to leave his friends hanging. He had only been traveling for less than a week when he’d begun to lose track of his surroundings and his friends a lot more often. Despite his usually eagle-eyed nature, the teenager had become the butt of many of his friends’ jokes; the name Clueless had stuck with them most.

The azure unicorn’s head shot upwards as a branch snapped somewhere nearby. Andrew followed her gaze to a bush on the opposite side of the small stream they sat by, just in time to watch a small squirrel appear. Whinnying, the pony returned to feasting on the berries from Andrew’s hood.

“Hey, hey!” Andrew laughed as he pulled the hood away, the unicorn seemingly have forgotten whatever manners it held as it made a bright red mess over the forest floor. A little brighter than usual, Andrew observed. The azure mare looked up at him, eyes lacking intelligence and mouth covered in red mush. Andrew snickered and went to wipe the mess away with the back of his sleeve. The unicorn pulled back a little as he approached, but moved no further as it crossed its eyes, quietly watching the human clean her muzzle.

“And apparently messy as well!”

The mare snorted, stamping her hoof. "More berries!" she seemed to chant as she moved forward to her meal.

Andrew shook his head, eyes bright with mirth as he eyed the small clearing.

Checking his watch, Andrew noted that it had been about four hours since he had last seen his friends at camp, even shorter than that since he had last seen them while trekking. The squirrel from earlier splashed about in the stream, now joined by two other squirrels. Chortling at their natural bath, Andrew looked around for a stray acorn he had seen earlier and tossed it to them. Much to Andrew's surprise, one of the brown critters caught the acorn midair. With an identifiable thumbs up, the squirrel threw the acorn into its mouth and continued its bath.

Andrew blinked.

“I’ll just…” He scratched his head. “Huh.” A nudge of his knee and a snort returned Andrew from the strange sight, alerting him to the unicorn’s desire for more berries.

"Yeesh.” He picked up the now empty hood, messy from the massacre of berries. He looked at the unicorn, brows furrowed. “You’re a hungry one, aren’t ya?” He got another nudge to his knee via muzzle in reply. Andrew smiled at the incredibly calm creature and went over to the stream to wash what he could from the hood. The squirrels all seemed to be content with the tall, strange creature washing right across from them.

'What a strange place,' Andrew thought. He sighed, remembering the lack of weight on his back. 'And dangerous, too.'

“C’mon, you,” Andrew said as he walked past the unicorn. “I’ll show you the hidden thicket.”

Brushing aside another vine, which Andrew took a moment to curse the large amount of, Andrew pushed his way into the second clearing that he knew of; a clearing full of blueberry bushes. He glanced back at the unicorn following him, chuckling as the creature seemed to go wide eyed at the amount of berries. Walking over to the closest part of the thicket, he began picking berries and throwing them into his hood. Andrew turned around, ready to submit his meager offering to the unicorn. He resisted the urge to let out a large laugh in fear of scaring off the magnificent beast.

Magnificent, a little strong of a term to use.

“I turn around for one second,” he chuckled, stepping over the unicorn as she attempted to pull her head free of the branches of a blueberry bush. She popped out, shaking her head roughly and whinnying. He crouched down before the mare and grabbed a handful of berries from his hood. The mare did not hesitate, instantly snatching a berry from Andrew's offered hand, munching in bliss.

“Man, do you ever stop eating?” Andrew let the berries roll from his hand and settled down himself, knees ahead of him. He sighed in content as he popped a berry into his mouth.

“Yeah, I don’t think I would be able to stop eating these if it weren’t for the snack I had before that hydra.”

The unicorn idly flicked an ear in his direction. "Mmm," it hummed. "These are great."

“Aren’t they though?” Andrew paused, hand frozen midair. He tossed the berry back into the hood and placed his elbows on his knees, watching the unicorn carefully. “Can… can you talk?” The azure unicorn brought her head up and stared at him, unmoving. It quickly became awkward as far, faint birdsong, filled in the otherwise silent clearing.

“Uh…” He fumbled around by his side for the berries, and held one in front of him with his hand. “One berry per word?” Naturally, his weak attempt at negotiation was ignored, and with equally unnatural intelligence, the unicorn brought his hand over the hood with her muzzle and forced him to drop the berry with a nibble.

“Yowch!” He pulled back suddenly, but was immediately brought forward again as the unicorn grabbed onto the sleeve of his hoodie and dragged him forward. “Woah!” He scrambled for the makeshift sack, picking it up just in time to be pulled to his feet. “Wow, you’re surprisingly strongaaaaa!”

“Slow down!” Andrew shouted as the unicorn pulled him by the sleeve through the woods. “Yipe!” He narrowly dodged a branch from smacking him in the face. “Yo unicorn, this isn’t cool anymore!” His legs quickly began to speed up as he was forced to keep up with the unicorn’s gallop. Despite his new situation, Andrew remembered to keep track of the fast-moving surroundings before he lost the berry thicket.

The unicorn’s speed turned out to not be that fast as Andrew recovered from his epinephrine surge. In fact, it was quite a brisk walk for a constant jogger like Andrew. He took the time to enjoy the breeze on his face as the pony galloped, leading him onward towards an unknown destination. Five minutes later, the unicorn had begun to slow down to a trot and let go of Andrew’s sleeve. He wiped a bead of sweat from his brow and checked his sleeve for damage.

“You’re lucky you didn’t ruin my—oof!” A surprised whinny erupted from the mare as the two tumbled over, a result of Andrew’s carelessness. Andrew recovered quickly from the fall and stood, dusting himself off. Before he could get one word out, he realized that there was something strange about the clearing they had emerged into.

Or rather, the lack of a small 'clearing.'

“Wow…” Andrew muttered, clutching his hood close to his chest as he took a step forward. “This is… beautiful.”

Ahead of him for what was obviously miles was a great green plain of daisies, poppies, and lilacs. No trees stood in sight, save for the forest behind him. A river splashed quietly off to the right, stretching out into the distance ahead. Dotting the horizon were various snow capped mountains with one very close by; a fifteen minute walk by Andrew’s estimate. There were even the telltale beginnings of a mountain blocked valley very far away, almost entirely out of Andrew's sight. Birds soared freely in the partially cloudy, bright afternoon sky.

“Dangerous, strange, and now beautiful. What is this place?” Andrew was brought out of his moment of reverie by the mint mare nickering from his side.

"Hello!" it called.

“Huh?” He looked to the unicorn, only to watch her disappear as she galloped off to a herd of more unicorns further ahead.

More unicorns, all of varying shades and sizes.

They greeted the azure unicorn with happy nickering and nuzzles. After a moment, however, the mare turned to him, whinnying, and the herd soon followed her gaze and stared at Andrew. Suddenly, Andrew felt very much like he was under a spotlight. The mare began to walk towards him again, and after a moment, the herd of twelve began to follow her. As the mare finally came up to him, she nickered once more and nudged his hood with her snout.

“I… I don’t think I have enough blueberries for all of you,” Andrew laughed awkwardly, rubbing the back of his neck. Andrew watched the azure mare blink, suddenly feeling a thought come to his mind. A smile grew on his face. “But I do know a place where I can get more for all of you.”

Andrew certainly wasn’t the next great survivalist of the wilderness, but he did know a thing or two about surviving off of the land.

“I’ve got the flint!” Andrew cheered as he entered the clearing. Blueberry mash lay strewn everywhere, with equally assorted placements of resting unicorns. “Took me a while, but I finally found some.”

A white unicorn foal, age clear from the small size of the creature, struggled to its hooves and grabbed with its mouth a stick from the firewood pile that Andrew had collected. Andrew smiled as he leant down, accepting the stick from the foal. “Thanks, little guy.” A snort from an equally white mare brought the foal rushing back to her side. Andrew chuckled and walked over to a pit of rocks he had erected.

After setting up a teepee of the dry sticks and setting aside some grass for tinder, Andrew snatched up the rock designated as the base of the firestarter and went to work with the flint. In just a few tries, he had sparked a flame in the grass and carefully placed it into the pile. Smiling with pride, Andrew settled down before the fire, just in time for the moon to peak into the sky above the green canopy.

It had been clear for a while that Andrew was completely separated from his friends. Oddly enough, he did not feel frightened in the least. He attributed it to the new friends he had made, as he was not as lonely as he would’ve been. He had set about establishing a base camp, starting with a shelter. It was easily accomplished, consisting of a relatively smooth, split log from near the stream and a large pile of leaves to serve as a bed, all slid under an overhang of stone. The next part of the camp Andrew wasn’t sure was as necessary. The forest that his friends had been hiking through had been known to be clear of carnivores but full of herbivores, and even a few omnivorous bears, but the encounter with a hydra earlier, which had claimed his hiking pack, had made Andrew think twice about not putting up a barricade against the unknown species around. The barricade itself was simple, consisting of a stack of short logs that Andrew assumed a beaver had chewed through, but complex in structure, built in alternating layers as if it was a brick wall. Only one side of the clearing was covered by the wall, but the rest could wait for later.

The campfire’s sudden burst into glory brought the attention of all the unicorns in the clearing. Many of them were startled, but a few simply stared, seemingly in awe. The azure unicorn seemed the most calm, even approaching the fire to poke a hoof at one of the outer stones.

A howl sounded through the night, and Andrew stopped watching the unicorns’ reactions to the fire to listen. It was gritty, an unwavering monotone that sounded into the night, quite unlike any wolf howl that Andrew had ever heard before. The unicorns all seemed to tense up to this, and he picked up on this quickly, standing up to comfort them all.

“It’s alright,” he said softly, making a motion with his hands. Andrew was pleasantly surprised as most of the unicorns seemed to calm down, though they remained a little antsy. Rubbing his eyes with a hand, Andrew paused to witness the white foal who had given him the first stick stretch out and yawn, before settling deep into his mother’s furry side.

Depositing the rest of the firewood into the pit, Andrew placed his hood beside his log bed and settled in for the night on his leaves, uncomfortable, but comforted by the presence of the ponies as they all settled down to sleep the dark night away.

And as strange as it seemed, Andrew felt as if he had joined the herd.

Author's Note:

Just a cute little thing I wanted to do. Makes me feel all... fuzzy.