November 29, 2012 by Lyn
Every 13th week will be a skip week, with guest stories from wonderful authors I know and love set in the same year/time/setting. This story was written together with Inventrix.
“Well, this will be interesting.”
Cynara looked around the small tent-cabin, torn between a smile and a frown. The camp director had helpfully pointed them in two directions: “Boys go over there, girls go over there. The chaperones have the cabin in the middle.”
She supposed a normal school would have chaperones who wanted to keep the male and female students apart. Of course, even in normal schools she’d been in, that never worked without locks and gates – and those only slowed the determined down.
They weren’t normal, and they weren’t going to sleep in segregated cabins, not even for a week.
She unpacked her bedding, and slid the three hard-sided cases under her bed: her clothes and supplies, Kheper’s clothes and supplies, and cooking-and-survival supplies. The place had a mess hall, but Cya believed in being prepared; only Howard’s dry suggestion that maybe the rest of them needed some room for their stuff had stopped her from bringing her entire survival pack. After all, you never knew when you might get stranded.
(She’d filled a small section of Kheper’s clothing-luggage and a larger section of her own with survival supplies. How many clothes did you need for camping, anyway?)
Now she was all set – with most of her Kept’s luggage. Now all she had to do was figure out how they were going to get the Kept in the cabins with their Keepers, without upsetting the camp director or irritating Howard too much.
“We’ll work it out.” She was, she realized, talking to herself. Zita had bounded off, probably to check out the boys’ cabin. Thinking about Kheper alone in a cabin with the rest of her crew, Cya followed suit.
The camp was nice. It was set in one of the prettier places she’d seen, and Cya had seen most of North America at one point or another. Rolling hills were cut with little streams and one wide river. As if not wanting to impose, the tent-cabins and mess hall blended into the brilliant green-and-orange foliage. As far as “getting back to nature” with all the amenities of home went, this place was doing it right.
And then there was the camp director, who was bouncing uncomfortably around the place as if he knew, down in his (expensive) hiking boots, that they weren’t your ordinary school group. And he couldn’t even see Leo’s antlers! (Or, for that matter, Cya’s tail.) This place made her want to climb trees.
Kheper could survive for a few more moments. Howard wouldn’t actually kill him anyway; he wouldn’t really do more than snarl a little bit, and stomp his feet. She grabbed a low-lying branch and hauled herself up into a big maple tree.
Fifty feet up, she stopped climbing. From here, she could see the whole camp – seven tents in this area, another two groups barely visible in the distance, each group separated by a bridged creek – and further away, the low fence that separated this from the next campground. Please don’t let it be Girl Scouts.
“Securing the perimeter”. It’d taken Leofric at least half the time so far just to decide what, exactly, he was doing, and after discarding dozens of options (including “patrolling”, “scouting”, and “surveying the area”) he’d settled on that. He was securing the perimeter.
The camp site was a good size, with a decent open area around the actual cabin and plenty of trees around the edge for things to hide in. Which was, of course, why he was checking them.
As he quietly made his way around the edge of the camp area – keeping a close eye out for any suspicious movements – he mentally reviewed his list of possible camping events.
Someone gets lost overnight. They find a secret hot spring (although that one wasn’t likely; they already had one of those at school). A wild animal attacks. A monster attacks. A monster attacks and they realize someone got lost overnight – his personal favorite. A thunderstorm disrupting their planned activities, so they pass the time with ghost stories.
…Mysterious young girls in uniform?
Normally that wouldn’t be on the list at all, but normally Leo didn’t happen across children in what looked like a Girl Scouts uniform, wandering through the trees and oblivious to his definitely-not-a-ninja-but-still-silent movement. He stopped, trying to think of a good greeting (and discarding several involving cookies), but before he came up with anything she turned and looked in his direction.
And shrieked, the way startled girls do.
“Woah, hey, it’s okay.” Leo held up his hands and smiled as non-threateningly as he could, then gestured towards the cabins. “I’m from the campground there. Are you lost?”
The girl – ten years old, maybe? – shook her head, looking equal parts nervous and embarrassed. “No, I– I was exploring.”
“By yourself?” Leofric folded his arms and tsked, still smiling. “Your, what’s it, troop leader? Didn’t tell you not to go off alone?”
“She also says don’t talk to strangers,” the girl said defensively.
“Good point. My name’s Leo.” He held out a hand.
She looked at his hand for a moment before slowly reaching out and shaking it. “I’m Melissa.”
“There, now we’re not strangers.” Leo grinned.
Melissa frowned, looking skeptical as she pulled her hand back. “That’s not how it works.”
“Oh?” Leofric raises his eyebrows. “How’s it work?”
“You can’t only introduce yourself,” she said primly. “I don’t know anything about you.”
“Another good point! I’m starting to think you have more points than I do.” Leofric grinned, then coughed as she looked at him blankly.
Antler jokes, he remembered, don’t really work with normal people.
“Okay so some stuff about me.” Leofric crouched down to talk to the girl more comfortably. “Me and my friends are here on a sort of field trip; we won a competition at school.”
“You’re in school? But you’re so old!” Melissa immediately looked like she regretted saying anything.
Leo laughed. “Twenty is pretty old, but not old enough to get out of school. I was taking a look around our campground to secure the perimeter.” He said the phrase with a dramatic flair. “How about you? What’re you exploring for?”
She seemed to consider whether or not she should actually be having a conversation before shrugging. “I wanted to see the animals.”
“Animals, huh? Like deer?” Leo’s smile twitched into a grin as the girl nodded. “Deer are pretty awesome. Maybe I can help you find one.”
Her face lit up. “Really?”
“Yep.” His grin widened and he leaned forward conspiratorially. “You see, I–”
“There you are!” An older woman came tromping through the trees, frowning sternly at the girl and glancing at Leofric. “You know you shouldn’t wander off by yourself, Melissa. And who’s this?”
With the last question, she turned her full attention to the young man.
He stood up, brushing off his jeans with a friendly (well, mostly friendly) smile. “My name’s Leo. Melissa and I were just talking about deer.”
“We were going to go look for one!” Melissa added.
The woman looked as though she couldn’t decide whether to be friendly and apologetic, or suspicious. “We’ll go look for one later, okay? You shouldn’t be bothering the other campers.”
“But it was his idea.”
“Oh, I see.” She put a hand on Melissa’s shoulder, gently steering her back towards their camp. “That’s very nice of him, but we shouldn’t be bothering th–”
“She’s not bothering me.” His smile, still directed towards the older woman, had turned significantly less friendly. “She’s welcome to come through our campground whenever she wants.”
Melissa looked between the two of them in growing bewilderment, obviously not understanding Leo’s reaction.
The woman frowned and glared, understanding his reaction about as well as Melissa. She settled on a protective suspicion, channeling her own nervousness into it. “I’m sure she is. Come on, sweetie.”
Leofric watched in silence as she practically dragged the still-confused Melissa back to the neighboring camp and out of his territory.
As they disappeared from sight and he continued his surveying, he added another item to the list of possible events: helping a young girl escape from her tyrannical camp monitor. That could be almost as fun as a monster attack.
Everyone had wandered off.
Kheper was somehow not surprised by this at all. He thought he’d seen Cya disappear up a tree; he was pretty sure he’d seen Leo bound off somewhere (and, soon afterwards, Zita bound after him), and he knew he’d seen Howard snort off – the last because his shoulders had finally released a knot, once the big bull was out of his sight.
He wasn’t sure about their chaperones, but, at the moment, he didn’t care, either. At the moment, he was alone with absolutely no orders constraining where he could go or when he had to be back.
(And, just as importantly, out in the middle of the wilderness was arguably a lot safer than the middle of Addergoole, so Cya wouldn’t even have a reason to complain).
Howard had gone down the road they’d come in. Cya had gone straight up. Leo and Zita had gone probably-North. Kheper turned around a few times, dug the compass Cya had given him out of his pocket, and decided probably-South, up the steepest hill face, looked like a wonderful idea.
His training, back at school, didn’t usually involve climbing hills, but it was intensive enough that the almost-a-cliff didn’t really present much of a challenge. He wondered about the camp director, with his very clean uniform and the uncomfortable way he moved around the boys in the crew. Kheper wondered if this guy was used to students who were smaller, or weaker, or just less sure of themselves. He wondered if he’d ever climbed this hill.
He’d almost felt bad for the guy, except for that I’m-watching-you look he’d given Kheper. Yeah. I go to a school for monsters, I shoot fire with my mind, and you’re worried about me humping my girlfriend. My owner. Dude. My problems aren’t even on the same scale you’re using. The world was so much bigger than him.
The world was bigger than Kheper, too, but he wasn’t going to acknowledge that unless he had to. Right now, the cliff he was climbing was definitely not bigger than he was
He reached the top of the ridge, one hand a bit scraped but otherwise just fine, and took the opportunity to survey his domain.
Down there, he could barely see the roofs of the tents and the little mess-hall cabin. They blended in well with the trees. Like someone was trying to pretend they hadn’t made roads into the forests and put up electric lines and water pipes. Kheper chuckled, and kept looking around.
There, over there was where they’d come in, and then a little ridge line. This camp wasn’t all that big – he could see the zip line, the “wilderness activities,” the small “white water” river area. But the woods itself went on a lot further. And there, over the ridge line – he thought he saw a flash of blonde hair that way, could be either Leo or Howard – bright green tents.
Girl scouts. Kheper stifled a laugh. They’d gotten put right up against a camp of Girl Scouts. Oh, wouldn’t that be fun! He wondered if they had cookies. And if they were the small-and-annoying sort, or the girls-still-really-into-it-in-high-school sort. The latter could be kind of fun.
Later. They had days here, and, if he was lucky, Cya wouldn’t think to put a thousand restrictions on him. If he was really lucky, she’d just let this be a vacation, and he could relax. Maybe steal some cookies, maybe see how far off the camp he could get before anyone noticed.
The voice – from almost directly behind him – made him jump, which made his feet slip, which nearly sent him down the hill. He landed on his ass, remembering at the last moment not to throw a Working at the intruder, and turned around, glaring.
Back at a pretty girl in jeans and a T-shirt that read Camp On-Na-Hai. That was not, as far as Kheper could remember, the name of the camp they were in. “Oi?” he asked cautiously.
“What are you doing, staring down at the girl scouts?”
“I’m not.” He gestured at the valley where the Addergoole camp group was located. “I’m from a private school – we’re right down there.”
“Oh.” That seemed to mollify her. “I’m Amber. I’m with-”
“Camp Oh-Na-Hai?” he guessed.
“Yeah. Over that way. I was just exploring…”
“Me, too,” he admitted. A pretty girl, a pretty normal girl, talking to him. He wasn’t sure whether to run away before Cya found him, or run off with her. “Find anything interesting?”
Cya liked being up in trees, but there was only so long you could hop between the branches before you wanted something on the ground. Notably, in her case, she found herself wanting a bathroom, and not really wanting to pee hanging off a branch.
She should have come up with something for this. She was startled to find there was something she hadn’t prepared for, although, to be fair, “up-a-tree-and-need-to-pee” was not your common emergency situation.
She shimmied down the tree. Note to self, find something to use for this contingency. Find something good to use. Or get Zita to learn enough Tlacatl to give us all iron bladders. Also: better tree-climbing equipment. And better gloves.
Where had the rest of the crew gone? Normally, she didn’t get this much time to herself before someone found her, either Kheper or Crew. Of course, they had a lot of space to explore, and there were only five of them. As long as they didn’t wander into the girl scout camp she’d seen to one side, or the other camp – the one with very high fences – on the other side, they’d be fine.
I’d unravel any riddle
For any individ’le
In trouble or in pain
If I only had a brain.
She sang quietly to herself as she slunk down the tree.
I’d plan for all the futures
And save up all the… no, no
I’d plan for all the timelines
Pack up swords and guylines
I’d save for all days rainy
If I only had a brainy…
And when the world went splody
And … “Shit.”
She stopped one branch from the bottom, looking down into the eyes of a very large, very displeased-looking bear. Brown bear? She thought so, although zoology was not her strongest subject. Either way, it was a large bear and she was not that big of a mink.
She scrambled back up the tree, wishing she could remember something, anything about bears. Bears. Omnivores, like raccoons, liked human food. The bigger ones couldn’t climb well, which was a point in her favor. On the other hand, if they wanted something, they could be quite bright, couldn’t they?
Panida, panida. Someone had to have Panida. She could make a hole under it, if she had to, but that would be a bit hard to explain. Easier to have someone coax the thing away, or put it to sleep.
The biggest animal she’d ever encountered in the wild before this – alive – had been a mountain lion, and her father had been armed. Luke took a dim view of students showing up to school with rifles, sadly, nor had he given it back for the field trip.
Lions and tigers and bears, oh my.
“Howard? Leo, Zita? Help?”
Lions and tigers and bears, oh my
“Howard! Leo! Zita! Heeelp!”
Lions and tigers and bears, oh my
“Doug? Professor Pelletier? Someone? Bear!”
Beasties. Professor Fridmar, teaching them Panida her first year here. Beasties respond poorly to loud noises.
Teaching… them… Cya stared down at the bear, who was looking up at her. “If you don’t tell anyone I forgot I had Panida, I won’t, either.”
Leofric froze, his head snapping up as Cynara’s voice carried through the trees. Cya did not yell. The only reason he could possibly think of why she might–
The word hadn’t even finished before he was off like a shot. He raced towards the sound of her voice, zig-zagging nimbly between the trees.
If he was lucky, it would be something simple to deal with, like a sprained ankle or a broken leg. If he was “lucky”, some stray Nedetakaei teen had wandered by and decided he wanted to take Cynara home. And if he was unlucky, someone had already dealt with the problem and he wouldn’t get to do anything.
He could hear her continuing to call out people’s names as he got closer until, still out of sight of… wherever she was, the cries lapsed into an ominous silence. (On the bright side, that meant no one was screaming.)
Maybe she’d just gotten tired of yelling. Maybe she’d given up on anyone coming (already). Maybe–
Leofric skidded to an abrupt stop as he came across what was obviously the problem: a large, brown, and inarguably bear-like animal. It was standing with a forepaw resting against the trunk of a tree and had just turned to look at the new arrival to the scene. Leofric glanced up into the tree and, spotting Cya tucked away in the branches, he reached down to his hip for the hilt of his sword.
His hand met empty air.
After an initial moment of confusion, he remembered: he’d had to leave his weapons at home. School.
At school. The trip was going to be around “normal people”, they said. He’d stand out too much, they said. He wouldn’t need any weapons anyway, they said.
So a bear tries to eat his crew, of course.
Keeping an eye on the animal, he circled around to (hopefully) maneuver behind it. As the bear slowly dropped down to all fours, grunting suspiciously, Leo quickly ran through any Workings he was decent at. Not that he expected any to be useful; he was pretty lousy at Panda. He could knock a tree on top of it – but Cya was in the tree.
“All right, bear.” Leofric grinned at the animal as it dropped back to all fours, grunting and eyeing him with suspicion. “Looks like we’re doing this the old fashioned way.”
Before it could decide how to respond, he darted forward and landed a solid punch to its snout.
The bear roared in angry surprise, rearing up and swatting at him with an alarmingly large paw as Leofric quickly scrambled back out of reach.
“Leo…” Cya’s voice came down from the tree above him, barely audible and exasperated.
“Hey, it worked, right?” He grinned but didn’t take his eyes off the bear; even he wasn’t that stupid. The thing was easily several times his size and could probably take him out just by sitting on him. If he got caught, at least.
The bear charged at him, but not quite fast or aggressively enough to keep Leofric from dodging out of the way. The trees were all pretty closely packed, which he counted as an advantage in his favor.
The bear was obviously not as adept at changing directions quickly, so Leo could theoretically keep away from it indefinitely by doubling back and through the trees.
The bear was readying for a third charge when it abruptly calmed down, seeming to lose interest in the whole affair. Shaking its head with a grunt, it turned and wandered off.
“Oi! Bear!” Leofric yelled after the animal, but it didn’t seem to notice him at all. He frowned after it in disappointment. Of course, as soon as he started having fun it had to go and just… wander off.
What kind of bear attack was that, anyway? No one got mauled; not even a little. Unless Cya had gotten hurt before getting herself treed, but that was unlikely. Then again, it couldn’t hurt to check.
“Hey Cya, you okay?” He headed back over to the tree as she made her way back down to the ground.
“I’m fine. Embarrassed, but fine.”
“You had me worried, with all that yelling.” He smiled at his red-haired crew mate, then turned to look after the vanished bear. “Oh well. Maybe it’ll come back.”
Amber, from Oh-Na-Hai, was cute.
Kheper had begun to think he was inured to cute. Addergoole was full of pretty people, after all, lovely fae with lovely Changes. But they were pretty, beautiful, and full of sharp edges. Amber was just cute.
And full of surprises, as she dropped down in front of him, hanging upside-down by her knees from a tree branch. “Isn’t this cool?”
She’d brought him halfway around the ridge, circling the small camp where his crew – Cya’s crew – was encamped. There, the ridge came to a knife-edge, and a few determined trees hung on to the sides of the hill.
“Awesome.” Kheper clambered up beside her. From her perch on the branch, you could see out over the nearby town. “So, you here with school?”
“School?” It could have been the hanging-upside down, but he thought her cheeks colored. “Nah. Not quite, at least. You?”
“Field trip. My…” Group? Clique? “Team won the challenge, so we get to go camping.” Yay. Kheper would have bet that the school had sent Boom out here to cut down on the explosions in the school for a while… except that even the Addergoole staff wouldn’t be cruel enough to intentionally inflict his Keeper’s crew on an unsuspecting normal world, would they?
“That’s pretty awesome. How long’re you here?”
“Four days. I dunno, we might be doing some sort of nature crafts thing or something educational.” He’d heard something about an itinerary designed to keep them busy, but that had been about two minutes before Cynara hared off.
“Yeah. And trust exercises, usually.” She swung herself back upright, and grinned at him. “Catch-me-when-I-fall, that sort of thing.”
She’d telegraphed her moves, so he had time to catch her when she leaned into him. “Ha. They’ll be good at that.”
“Mmm? They who?”
“The… my team. They don’t trust anyone but each other, but they trust each other with everything.”
“Well, they’ll have fun, then. What about you?”
It really covered it all. He was new, and… “And I’m here.” Holding a cute girl while sitting on a branch overlooking… well, overlooking an overlook.
“You are. Having fun so far?”
He smiled down at the top of her red-gold hair. “Quite a bit, actually.”
“Funny, so am I. Your school do this often?”
“I dunno, like I said…”
“You’re new, yeah.” She rested her head on Kheper’s collarbone, her wavy hair covering his shoulder and neck. She smelled nice, like the outdoors. He’d have to make sure Howard didn’t meet her. “And nice. We don’t get nice people here often.”
“You spend a lot of time at the camp?”
“Yeah, my folks own it.” She smiled at the look on his face. “I told you I wasn’t here with school.”
“Yeah, but…” He fell quiet as he heard, faintly and then more loudly, some sort of call echoing through the valley.
“Howard! Leo! Zita! Heeelp!”
Yeah, that was Cya. “Shit.”
“Let me guess. You’re Howard. Or Leo.”
“What? No, I’m Kheper.”
“She ain’t screaming your name, then, is she?”
“She’s… no.” He smiled into Amber’s golden hair, and tried not to worry why Cya wasn’t calling his name.
He was glad Shira was here.
“…and after the Girl Scout Director had her say, then I saw a bear running away! A bear! Running away!” The camp director was very upset, in a way that involved hand gestures and body language and even a bit of a stink. Doug probably would have punched the guy by now, which might, possibly, not be the best response.
Shira was icing him.
Shira Pelletier icing him might be part of the reason the director was flinging his hands around. Even humans could smell a predator, and Shira gave off quite a bit of bear when her charges were threatened, or, in this case maligned.
“Whatever the Girl Scout Director had to say about Leo or Howard, they were wrong, unless they said they were friendly, polite young men. Neither of them are interested in little girls.” All the director-to-director communique had revealed was tall blonde young man, inappropriately friendly. Since Doug couldn’t very well ask bull or deer? they had to guess.
Doug’s money was on Leo.
“Frederick.” Shira’s voice booked no objection, and she was going for the throat with the first-name-basis thing. “Frederick, you know the deal. It hasn’t changed in the ten years we’ve been coming here. Once or twice a year – ”
“It was three times in two thousand!”
“ – a couple times a year, we bring you a group of students, and we all pretend they can get a feel for being normal, here. And in return, in return,” her voice rose as he began to sputter another protest, “this camp, the Girl Scouts, and Camp On-Na-Hai have the best safety ratings in the country for summer camps, and we make damn sure it stays that way.”
“There’s nothing in the deal about not frightening bears. Now, Frederick, let’s go round up our children, and you and I can show them that ropes exercise you like so much, shall we?”