A Lift Home
Yes, he had certainly taken a wrong turn at that last boulder. Or the one before that. Or that dip in the ground beside the gnarled tree...
Sighing at poor luck and worse navigational skills, Base kicked a twig with one of his clawed feet. The woods of Meridell weren’t unpleasant really; the old trees had a life to them that simply couldn’t be found elsewhere. All in all there were many worse places for a Bori to get lost. The desert’s endless dunes of sand, perhaps, or one of the suspended clouds of Faerieland. A wrong step there could lead to a scenic view of the atmosphere on a nice long plummet. He would much rather be on solid ground where a fall only meant a meter’s drop and a bruised behind, thank you very much.
Still, with night firmly set in and only the moonlight filtering through the branches to guide him, Basin was having a difficult time looking at the bright side. Settling his hands deeper in his hoodie pocket, he picked his way around another patch of bushes and hoped he wasn’t going in a circle. They did look familiar, but then again so did everything else in darkness this thick.
It was when he stopped to stumble and flail on a root for the seventh time that he heard it. Carefully, he lowered his foot to the ground and stood still, ears swiveling to pick up the noise. Faint, stilted breathing drifted across the air to his left. On automatic the Bori felt his tail bush up and the fur at his neck rise. Certainly the forest was dark, but there was too much faerie magic surrounding it to be dangerous. It probably wasn’t much of anything. No, nothing at all.
The breathing increased in volume, and Base no longer felt comforted by his hasty logic. As quietly as he could manage, he inched a little ways away and pulled out his hands to prepare a spell. Just a simple burst of air would do. After all, it was probably nothing. He had just gotten to forming the beginning motions when the unknown voice sniffled, then let out a soft sob. Startled, Base dropped his hands and stepped backwards, snapping a twig. The voice squeaked, then went entirely silent.
After waiting a few seconds Basin began to worry that whoever it was wasn’t planning on breathing anytime soon, and so cleared his throat. “Hello?” No response. “I can’t see you, but I know you’re there.”
That time he got a soft whimper and a rustle of leaves and fabric, followed by another sniffle. Wincing, he crouched down low and tried to come off as less threatening. “It’s uh... It’s okay, don’t cry. I just wanted to help, but I can leave if you want.” He fumbled through the words; charisma was never his strong point. That was Reiise’s department.
Finally, a small voice replied from the darkened brush. “A-are you a ghost?”
Base blinked. “...No, I’m a Bori. A live one.”
Something in the trees shifted. “You sound like a grown-up.”
If he wasn’t certain he was speaking to a child before, that clinched it. Inwardly, Base shook his head. He had no idea how to behave around kids, but he at least had to try. “Yeah? Maybe I am. How old is a grown-up?”
“Uh...” The disembodied voice gave a hearty sniff but continued with a bit more confidence. “Like older than twelve. That’s the oldest I know.”
Base resisted the urge to chuckle. “Well, I’m twenty.”
There was a long pause. “Whoa. You’re old.” There was a tone of soft wonderment, before it faded in a sharp gasp. “Wait, if you’re not a ghost you’re a stranger! I’m not supposed to talk to you, go away!”
Startled by the shout, Base jerked back and narrowly missed smacking his head into a tree. “Well...” The kid had made a good point, talking to strange adults at night in a forest was generally a large no-no. Although Base had never thought he would qualify for the strange adult title. “Whoever told you that was right, yeah. But grown-ups have rules too, and I can’t leave you alone until I know you’re okay.”
Silence. From his spot crouched on the ground, Base could now just make out a little shadowy lump that didn’t match the rest of the foliage. Slowly, he scooted away a few more steps before trying again. “I’ll stay over here, okay? But you have to tell me what’s up. Are you lost?”
The reply was sulky. “I know where I am.”
This could take a while. Sighing, Base sat down and crossed his legs, letting his tail rest in his lap. “Okay then. Why are you out here instead of going home?”
There was more shifting, before a mumble. “Fell down.”
“Fell down walking? Did you trip over a root?”
“No, that’s dumb! Who trips over roots?” Base snorted softly, but retained his comment. Luckily the child continued without noticing. “I climb trees sometimes- I’m really good! But it was slippery or something and... and now my leg really hurts.” The words were getting louder and progressively more hysterical. “And maybe I broke it and they’ll have to cut it off or it’ll never work again and I can’t walk on it and I wanna go home!” At the finish, the speaker dissolved again into muffled sobs.
Base mentally flailed. He couldn’t get any closer without spooking the kid or going back on his word, but tears was not the response he was looking for at all. Finally, his mouth decided to take over for his brain. “My name’s Basein, but I like to be called Base. I’m still not a ghost, and I have an older brother named Reiise. He’s an idiot.” He fished around for more to say. “I get lost when I don’t have a map, and I’ve never seen an ocean before.” Listening carefully, Base could hear the child trying to contain their crying. “Is there anything else I can tell you to make me not a stranger?”
“...Are you sure you’re not a ghost?”
That wasn’t what Base was expecting, but he nodded into the dark anyway. “I’m positive. Why are you so hung up on me being a ghost?”
In response the foliage rustled, the voice getting slowly closer. “You look like one. Floaty white stuff.”
“Oh.” Base again held in his laughter. “That’s my hair. You can’t see the rest of me because my fur is black, but I’m here.” As an afterthought, the Bori looked down at himself. Yes, even his sweatshirt was black today, and his pants a shade of dark grey. No wonder the kid was so convinced.
“I’m Naren.” The voice and its shadowy figure were much closer now, but Base forced himself to hold still. A little paw touched his arm hesitantly, then felt blindly across his shirt. “Oh, you are here. Um... Hang on.”
Uncertain on what exactly that meant, Base opened his mouth to ask but shut in quickly in surprise when tiny lights began to glow in front of him. He watched in awe as they winked to life one by one, illuminated against a deep blue background of fur. When they finished Base could finally see the little Ogrin sitting before him, covered in specks of light like the night sky. Dumbfounded, he said the first thing that came to his head. “I didn’t know Starry Ogrins could do that.”
Naren rubbed his nose with one paw, looking askance. “I’m not s’posed to unless it’s an emergency because it keeps the others awake.” The Ogrin tilted his head, peering at Base through the dim light. “How come your hair’s white when the rest of you isn’t? Did you get real scared?”
Despite himself, Base smiled. “Nah. I was just born like this. Can I see the hurt part of your leg?”
As if just remembering he was in pain, Naren’s eyes filled up with watery tears again. The little Ogrin nonetheless nodded, gingerly peeling up his baggy pants to his knee and holding his leg up for Base’s inspection. Base at least had the sense of mind to not touch, instead leaning in and examining the glowing appendage. The fur looked like it could use a good washing, but from what he gathered it was neither swollen or bleeding. Naren waited for a moment before speaking hesitantly. “I-is it broken?”
Base shook his head. “Nope, not broken. So nobody will cut your leg off anytime soon.” He rubbed the back of his neck with one clawed hand, trying to remember first aid. “But you should wash it when you get home, and maybe put a little ice on it if it feels like it’s swelling.”
Naren blew out an enormous sigh, relaxing and wiggling the paw of his foot. “What’s swelling feel like?”
“Uh,” Standing, Base brushed off his pants. “Sort of like wearing a sock that’s too tight, but without socks. It’s pretty distinctive, so you’ll know.” He looked down at the star-covered child at his feet. “Come on, if you know the way out then I’ll be your taxi home. Sound fair?” He reached down in an invitation, but waited.
After a long, considering stare Naren nodded and extended his arms up. “I didn’t know grown-ups could get lost.”
Base chuckled, swinging the little Ogrin around to his back. He waited for Naren to settle, feeling a chin rest on his shoulder. “Well, I guess I’m just special. So which way?”
“Turn, turn, stop. Go back a little. Okay, walk that way. And don’t step on the big roots. So how old is your brother?”
“Whoa. He’s really old! I’m almost eight.”
“Well, then, if you put you and me together we’d be older than Reiise, wouldn’t we?”
Perhaps bad directional sense wasn’t a terrible thing after all.