• Published 19th Feb 2017
  • 9,339 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.

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6 - Species

Andrew’s first reaction to the massive titan of a spider was not one of fear, but one of sheer disbelief.

“That thing is huge!” The black spider let out a hiss, silencing the sounds of the night creatures all around the area. The ducks nearby awoke, quacking and flapping in retreat from the suddenly hostile glade. Locking eyes with Andrew, the earth pony slid to a stop in the earth, eyes flicking between the teenager and the creature that held it trapped in place.

Mint whinnied from behind him, slipping out from underneath his arm to run to the pony. The featureless equine turned, eyes wide with fear as Mint grabbed its tail. As Mint struggled to pull the pony back towards Andrew, the spider came closer and closer, it's eight, hairy legs, barely visible in the night’s shadow. Seeing the plan that Mint had enacted without recourse, Andrew shot forward.

“Hold on!” He scooped the two ponies up under separate arms, ignoring the wiggling of the two as they attempted to immediately slip free. The skitter of legs right before him sent him reeling back as the spider hurled itself toward him, fangs bared.

Naturally, Andrew threw his leg at the spider in a feeble attempt at a kick.

With a resounding crack, the night flared up into a cacophony of screams and spraying neurotoxins. Andrew backed away, staring with horror at the writhing creature, screeching its heart out. The deadly monster’s tooth lay discarded on the ground nearby, cracks apparent at the point where it had broken. Before Andrew could take in the scene further, the sound of thundering movements from the grove drew his attention. From the trees came a sea of massive spiders, all detailed in the exact proportions and colors as the spider crying before him.

Without any further hesitation, Andrew took off running.

The spiders were fast no doubt, as the ponies’ desperate squeals told Andrew. From the little time that he had spent alongside Mint, he knew that she was jittery, but she was a fighter; he could tell. Picking up the pace a little bit, Andrew stole a glance back. Instant regret flooded him as he felt himself tripping over a rock.

“Oh—brace!” He brought the two ponies in towards his chest, feeling himself go tumbling. A rock hit the top of his spine as he made a full revolution on the way down the sudden cliff, freezing his body stiff. Despite the multiple rocks he felt grazing him, Andrew remained stalwart in his pose, letting the natural world around him do its worst. By the end of it, Andrew nearly splattered against the dirt of the earth. Landing on his back had knocked the wind out of him, forcing him to drop the ponies. Huffing and puffing, Andrew squeezed an eye open, watching the two ponies situate themselves, their eyes spinning in a clear sign of dizziness. Groaning, he forced open the other eye, staring up the huge drop that had come at the end of the steep hill.

“I—” he coughed hard “—I should be dead.” Sent into a sudden coughing fit, Mint came to his side, pressing a hoof gently to the side of his head. Andrew stared up at the unicorn, whose ears came splayed back. Out of the corner of his vision, he saw the red glow of the spiders’ eyes up on the cliff above. They retreated after a moment, and Andrew grunted, dropping his head back down to the ground.

That’s when the adrenaline wore off.

Andrew bit his lip hard, feeling the shock course through his muscles. He felt something wrong with his shoulder, and in the tears that had taken up his view, he saw Mint’s lips move. He couldn’t hear what she had said over the pounding in his ears, but he knew that they were of comfort. Smiling as best he could through the pain, Andrew shut his eyes.

The pain did not stop for the next agonizing minutes, but when it was all said and done, Andrew had fallen into another dreamless sleep.

Andrew’s next few memories were hazy. He awoke several times in the period after passing out, remembering glimpses of Mint walking beside him, eyeing him with tears. There was a touch beneath him as he lay on his stomach, carried by something. It was not one of the ponies that Andrew had been accompanied by, he knew from the fact that the strange earth pony was ahead of him, watching with a frown.

His memories continued like that for a while, until he recalled seeing a pool of crystal blue water. It was a very dark room, lit by nothing but small, green and blue orbs. He remembered a hoof dipping his hand into the water, soothing the pain of the cuts and bruises all around over his arm as it sank deep into the water. There was no fear in Andrew as something pushed him slowly in the water, presumably watching as he sank into the crimson stained depths.

It was strange; he felt as if there was no ground beneath him, a somehow calming factor in the world of stars that he wandered. There was nothing for miles save for the blue of the sky and the white stars that littered the area. It felt like a dream, but Andrew felt that it had been real. He knew that it had been real. The crimson that had stained the water pooled around him, a wave of color in the now disturbed landscape. Perturbed by this, Andrew reached out to stop it, surprised to see the crimson soar straight into his hand. Andrew watched as his pale skin grew brighter. From the corner of his vision, Andrew saw it. Smiling as it sat beside him, a large, blurry, white form brushed an appendage over his back, creating gentle, circular motions.

And then Andrew awoke.

Gasping for air, Andrew struggled to his feet. Ache filled his limbs, but he could feel no remnants of the bruises or cuts besides that. After patting himself down to confirm this, he spun around, observing the surroundings.

The pool from his second most recent awakening sat nearby, noticeably brighter than before. It appeared that he was in a cavern, slate stalactites dripping down from the ceiling above him, dripping water down in miniscule amounts. There was a hole to one side, small enough to crawl through, but there was also a large opening in the side of the cave. The orbs of light from before turned out to be mushrooms, but Andrew spotted a much bigger sea of light, emitted from the cave’s large opening, Andrew limped over, arm held over his sore stomach.

As Andrew slipped down the halls, somehow dry boots dragging across the floor, he found his attention drifting to the strange walls of the slate hallway. Markings of colors dotted the walls, appearing to him as murals. They were of no particular arrangement, but as he drew closer and closer to the light at the end of the tunnel, he found the colors swirling around each other in ribbons. Lifting a hand to shield his eyes, Andrew pushed out back into the light of day.

'This is not the forest,' was the most prevalent thought amongst Andrew’s suddenly active mind.

Around him was a beautiful green pasture, populated by multiple groups of animals. To his sides were towering mountains, reaching high up into the sky, their snowy peaks visible below the clouds they barely grazed. With a start, Andrew realized that this must have been the mountain valley he had seen earlier. A couple of canaries, robins, and sparrows flapped cheerfully above him, their birdsong mixing with the sounds of the other wildlife on the earth. Turning to the animals, Andrew stepped forward, mouth open in awe.

Bison, chickens, cows, pigs, sheep, ponies, and even what appeared to be African buffalo grazed. Andrew rubbed his eyes with a hand, disbelieving of the peace that each species held with each other. Andrew noticed a unicorn approach him from the unicorn portion of the herd of pegasus and earth pony, and realized it was Mint.

“Mint?” he croaked, voice hoarse.

“Mint!” The mare leaped forward, hooves wrapping around his midsection. She plunged her face into the soft cloth of his hoodie, tail swaying happily from side to side. Grunting, Andrew ignored the twinge of pain and smiled down at the pony.

“Glad to see you, too.” As he ran a hand through her mane, he returned to staring at unbelievable sight. “Where the heck have you brought me?” Much to his disappointment, Mint pulled away and nickered.

"Come on!" She turned before he could get another word in, beginning to trot back over to her herd.

As Andrew approached the groups of animals, he saw them all freeze in their activity, staring him down. Suddenly uncomfortable, Andrew made a little wave and kept his head down. He paused beside Mint, who looked to the earth pony herd and whinnied. Andrew kept quiet as a large, orange stallion, came forward, his short red mane bouncing with each crashing step. As he stopped before Andrew, the teenager couldn’t help but smile at the pony that reached up to the top of his stomach.

The stallion nickered.

“Hello,” Andrew greeted, understanding the gesture. The stallion did not move, forcing Andrew to look at Mint in confusion. She snorted, nudging the stallion with a hoof.

Growling at her for a moment, the stallion turned back to Andrew and let out a neigh. "You are heavy."

Andrew took a step back. “Wow…” Laughing, he began to clap, slowly shaking his head. “Unbelievable… a pony just called me fat.”

“Woah!” Mint raised a hoof menacingly to Andrew. He pulled back, arms raised in surrender.

“Alright! Just playin!” After letting his chuckles die off, Andrew turned back to the stallion and grinned. “Thanks for carrying me.” Understanding, the stallion nodded and returned to his herd. The rest of the critters in the area seemed a little hesitant, but gradually returned to their meals. Andrew raised an eyebrow in Mint’s direction.

“So what happened Mint? Why am I suddenly alright?”

“Mint.” The mare cocked her head to the side. Inspecting him momentarily, Mint straightened her posture and let out a nicker. "Are you ready, Bushkeeper?"

Andrew did a double take. “Bushkeeper?” Mint cocked her head.

“Bushkeeper?” she hummed thoughtfully to herself, thinking over the word. “Bushkeeper,” she nodded. Seeing Andrew’s confusion, she snorted. "Home?"

“Oh, yeah!” he nodded vigorously. In a flash of brilliance, Andrew decided to attempt a snort like Mint. Yes! Every creature in the area seemed baffled at the sound. Andrew watched as an earth pony brought a foal towards itself, covering its ears with hooves. He got the idea. “Woah, I did not mean to say—” Mint kicked him hard in the knee before he could finish. Gritting his teeth, Andrew stopped himself from buckling.

“Ow?” He rubbed his knee as Mint turned to whinny. The three herds were on him in a second, their numbers a little over three dozen. Blinking, Andrew surveyed the crowd. “Wait, are you all coming?”

Multiple sounds answered that, and with a sigh, Andrew finally realized what he was getting into. Patting Mint on the back, he motioned for the crowd to follow, and slowly began to walk back to the plains. One of the earth ponies seemed to notice his limp as it ran up to him, a tall, smooth branch in its mouth. Laughing at the comically large branch for the pony, Andrew took it and smiled gratefully.

As the bushkeeper led the three herds back to the plains, he found himself filled with questions about the whole situation. He looked to Mint, watching her unnaturally humanlike smile pass over him and the ponies.

It was time for answers, and Andrew felt that teaching Mint to speak was a step towards understanding what was happening.

Author's Note:

A lot of stuff happened this chapter, and a lot of it is unexplained, but I'm hoping to use this to set up a line for the rest of the story. Got a couple of neato ideas in the works for the overarching storyline, and every detail you've seen so far will be important, all of them incorporated in some way.

But for now, get ready for some talkin' horsies ponies.