• Published 19th Feb 2017
  • 9,359 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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8 - Apparitions

Andrew stood in the blackness, stick in hand. The fatigue that had plagued him had miraculously disappeared, replaced with a cold, numbing sensation in his feet. A cursory glance about told him that the pony and him were the only entities within the void. Rolling his shoulders, Andrew walked towards the pony. Halting a comfortable distance away, he settled down onto one knee to reach eye level with the being.

“Hello,” he greeted with warmth. “I don’t suppose you can speak, can you?” The hornless creature snorted, but its language went right over Andrew’s head. Seeing Andrew’s lack of understanding, the pony turned and started trotting off into the black. Grunting, Andrew heaved himself upwards and followed, gripping his stick tightly.

“Where are you going?” The pony turned, eyes devoid of emotion. Andrew felt a shudder pass through his body; the orbs were unnerving. “Er, we.” The pony returned to its previous speed. The duo continued like that for a time, Andrew’s eyes flicking about the emptiness whilst the pony ahead continued a calm pace. The silence was just beginning to get to Andrew when he heard a hoof clack hard against something. The ability to hear something besides his own breathing broke Andrew away from his lackluster sightseeing.

Somehow, the reemergence of the cave walls and floors had gone unnoticed by him. He recognized the place as the entrance of the cave where he had blacked out. The pony did not slow down to inspect the surroundings, unlike the distracted Andrew. The incessant tapping of a hoof rang in Andrew’s ears.

“Sorry!” He held his left hand up to his ear, grumbling. “Jeez.” Suddenly, Andrew jumped forwards at the black color overriding the stone beneath him. He ran forward, ignoring the pain in his leg, in order to catch up with the pony. Wheezing in pain, Andrew looked back. Taking notice of the light emitting from the ethereal pony, Andrew realized that where the light touched, the world around him shone.

“I better keep up with you then, huh?” The pony simply stared at him again. “Okay, that’s really creepy.” Thankfully, the pony was quick to look away. As the two continued their journey, Andrew found himself taking notice of more and more features along the walls. Eventually, the colored lines from the cave he had awoken in the previous afternoon showed themselves again.

“What?” He blinked owlishly. New colors appeared in the patterns, the ribbons of red, orange, and blue, now joined by pink, magenta, and a deep purple. His feet began moving on his own as he traced the lines with his eyes, squinting hard in an effort to uncover their secrets. Alas, nothing came to him but a strain in his eyes. Blinking, Andrew returned to the pony, keeping up with the steady pace of hooves easily enough.

Eventually, the colors ended, and soon after, the sounds of hooves on stone dimmed away. As a new area was lit by the strange emission, the stone gave way to grass and dirt. The walls disappeared, replaced once more by blackness. By his estimation, they had been walking for the better part of five minutes, but Andrew knew there was something wrong with his circadian clock, prompting a swift and easy dismissal of the estimate. There was simply something strange about being able to walk from one end of a cave at the bottom of a gorge and out into a meadow in such a short period; it just didn't add up.

The light grew brighter, showing more grass and flowers around them. Butterflies appeared, drifting in the non-existent gale that blew, and Andrew saw the tidbits of a blue bird's wing cutting down through the darkness above. A tortoise stopped to allow the pony to pass, and Andrew, assuming that said tortoise would wait for him, continued forward. Naturally, the tortoise nipped at his ankle as Andrew tripped over the slow critter. Biting the inside of his cheek to withhold his outburst, Andrew continued, ignoring the tortoise that disappeared into the mist of black behind him.

Finally, the pony stopped walking. Birds could be heard singing quietly in the void, and the butterflies still fluttered around, but an exclusion zone seemed to have arisen ahead of the pony and teenager, devoid of any animals. The pony shone brighter, and in a flash, disappeared.

Lowering the arm that he had raised to shield his eyes, Andrew gawked at the sight before him. The blackness around him had given way to a clean, lightly clouded sky, and the grass around him had visibly brightened. Nearby, a skunk and rabbit were sharing a small blackberry bush between themselves, and further away, a grizzly tactically pawed occasionally at a river, clearly looking for easy pickings. Andrew, however, was occupied with another thing entirely; a giant, burly oak.

The tree towered over him, its great roots snaking along the ground beneath its thick branches. The animals seemed to steer clear of the tree, but Andrew approached, curious of a pair of imprints pressed into the wood. They were barely visible from afar, but as Andrew came close enough to stand on one of the roots if he so wished, he saw the figures of a sun and crescent moon. The tree rumbled as he brushed a hand against the figure, causing him to pull back. The branches shuddered, and with the increasing glow as a sign of something yet to come, Andrew ran back to where the pony had disappeared.

Watching with no little amount of awe, the leaves at the edges of the tree’s top began to turn silver. The green leaves transformed to silver as if a wave was crashing over them. He expected the transformation to stop once the leaves had reached the trunk of the tree, but instead, the trunk began to turn into the white of a birch. The marks of the sun and moon glowed brightly, accentuated by a yellow and turquoise hue that clashed with the white of the tree. As the final roots of the tree shifted to white, Andrew saw something begin to sprout from the ground ahead of him.

A bright, pink flower bulb suddenly burst forth from the earth, sending animals and dirt alike scattering. It blossomed, revealing an amethyst sphere within. Andrew stood there for a time, processing what had just occurred. When all was said and done, Andrew only had a few words to say.

“That… is a thing.”

Reaching down, Andrew cautiously took the orb from the strange flower. A quick inspection of the sphere told him that it was perfectly smooth; a fact that did not slip his mind in the slightest. It just wasn’t natural, yet the evidence was there; it had sprouted from a flower, and a tree, no less.

Looking back at the tree, Andrew saw the colors slipping away, the cycle of transformation playing in reverse. In his hand, the orb began to vibrate, and with a start, Andrew watched as the wisps of silver seemed to just slide off of the leaves, the color waving through the air and into the orb. A strange tingling sensation gripped through the fingers in his hand, akin to that of static electricity, he noted. As the process seemed to finish up, the prior colors had returned to the tree, the shapes of the sun and moon back to their simple indented forms among the brown bark and green leaves.

A warmth spread through the orb, and Andrew suddenly found himself back in the darkness. This time, he could not even see himself. Holding the orb close to his side, Andrew tightened his grip on the stick. A sickening sensation was rising in his stomach, and Andrew knew exactly why. Feeling a breeze slip past him, he called blindly out into the eerie quiet.

"Hello?” Andrew felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up on end as the pitter patter of some creature skittered across the landscape.

He wasn’t alone.

The teenager went to take a step back, but lost his footing on some sort of extrusion. He fell violently, arms flailing about. The stick was long gone, but he could feel the warmth of the orb nearby. Something sparked within him about the amethyst orb. The tree had given it to him, and though he did not fully understand why a tree had been able to give him such an unspoken communication, he knew that the artifact before him was important.

Mustering up the strength within him, Andrew felt the feelings of fatigue flood through him once more as he lunged for the orb. As he pulled it close to his chest, Andrew knew only one thing:

Pain.

Immediately, he felt the cuts and bruises that had disappeared from his fall reappear, all of their effects felt simultaneously. Something wrapped around him, uncomfortably furry limbs holding onto him tightly. The creature dug into his flesh, and with a horrifying crack, Andrew felt himself plunged into further distress.

He screamed, screamed in pain, screamed in fear, and he screamed in longing for safety.

And the void answered his calls.

The orb pulsed within his vice-like grip, the warmth intensifying. The heat burnt through his hoodie, but Andrew could not tell what was happening to him within the pain. Another crack sounded, but Andrew knew not what it was. He was still screaming, voice growing hoarse, but something was overcoming him, ordering him to fight back against the creature in his grip. Through the pain, Andrew realized that he had held his eyes shut for the entire time. With the last of his strength, Andrew forced his eyes to open.

And all of the pain was suddenly gone.

Andrew held the orb in two hands, the stick long lost in the trip. He looked down into the glowing orb, the grass of the night illuminated by its glow. His ears were pounding, but something right in front of him was screaming loud enough to be heard; the spider that he had kicked the fang from earlier.

Yet, there was something far more unnerving than that.

Andrew stared at himself as he ran off towards the forest of the berry thicket, two ponies tucked safely under his arms as the jogger used his trained stamina to its limits. Mint and the pony were terrified, but Andrew would protect them.

Andrew knew that already; it had already happened.

He stared at the spider, the orb firmly grasped between his two hands. The spider stopped its wails, and clambered back to its legs. It glared daggers at Andrew.

“You do not belong.”

“I know.” His lips twitched upwards in satisfaction. “But I’m needed.”

With a hiss, the denizen of the night retreated backwards with its kin, with nary a glance back at Andrew. The teenager dropped the amethyst, letting the glowing orb roll off to the side. He ran a hand through his sweaty hair, taking notice of the rapid thumping in his chest, and the blurs of memories he still held of the present. He walked over to where the fang of the spider lay, the pristine bone shimmering under the light of the orb. Andrew held the prize up, inspecting it carefully.

"A fine tool," a voice called out from behind him. Andrew turned, lowering the bone to watch the orb. "Tis wrought forth from chaos, and it shall balance this earth."

“What is this land?” Andrew asked. He was on autopilot, his minds and actions committed of their own accords.

"Your land, keeper." The orb brightened for a second. "Do not squander my prize."

“I won’t,” Andrew promised, scooping up the orb in his other hand.

“I know.”


Andrew awoke in a cold sweat. He remembered nothing of the night prior, save for his journey into the forest.

“Oh, what did I do last night…” he groaned, holding his stomach as he sat upwards. Mint snorted, sinking her head deeper into his lap. He peeked a single eye open to avoid the full blast of the beaming morning sun. “Right.” His eyes wandered the plains, eyeing the earth pony den and the other unicorns, much closer than he remembered. Andrew’s eyes widened as they landed on a pair of misplaced, yet familiar objects.

A fang and an amethyst orb.