Get Your Bearings
"You don't do much hiking, do you?" Ensei asked Shuuei's tight-lipped friend.
Kouyu glared up at the fit young man effortlessly making his way up the mountain, navigating the forest floor with it's multitude of roots and rocks as if it were second nature to him. "No, I find more useful things to do with my free time than to crawl around in the mud and stumble through shrubs."
"Don't mind him," Shuuei said with a laugh, slinging his arm over the grouchy man's shoulder. "Kouyu is still mad that I talked him out of bringing his laptop. Like any devout computer engineering student, he lives and breaths codes and scripts."
They came to a stop in a small clearing with roughly a six meter radius surrounded by trees.
"Let's make camp." Ensei suggested, taking off the duffel bag and backpack that he had been carrying. Shuuei followed suit with his camping gear, while Seiran dropped his onto the ground with a thunk.
"What the hell did you put into mine? It's felt like a ton of bricks."
Ensei smiled, "Close, it's firewood."
"Firewood? We're in a forest!" Seiran snapped waving an arm at the surrounding trees.
"Yeah, and like all good campers we're not gonna be destroying the habitat that we've come to see."
Ignoring both of them, Kouyu slumped down next to a tree, gasping for breath with his duffel bag at his feet, forgotten.
"Shuuei, go find us some kindling for the fire," Said Ensei as he pulled out a small spade shovel and set to digging a shallow hole for the fire pit.
Shuuei nodded and with a mocking salute he walked off and disappeared into the thick shrubbery.
"Didn't you just say you were going to preserve the forest?" Seiran pointed out sarcastically.
"Kindling are small bits of bark, twigs, things that burn easily and quickly in order to start a fire. He's just going to pick up what's lying loosely on the forest floor."
With a non-committal "huh" Seiran looked around their campground, "So what should I do?"
"How about you set up the tent." Ensei said, tossing his backpack to Seiran, grinning as he nearly clocked his friend.
Five meters away Kouyu swore as he unzipped his backpack.
"Something wrong?" Ensei asked the now agitated computer geek as he scanned the ground frantically.
"My water canteen is missing!" Kouyu declared angrily.
"You can use one of ours," Ensei said with a shrug and began pulling the pine logs out of Seiran's backpack.
"It was a gift..." Kouyu muttered before adding in a louder voice, "I need to go look for it." So saying, he turned around and made as if to head back.
"Kouyu wait," Noting Kouyu's determined expression as he turned back to face him, Ensei sighed in defeat. "Will you be ok on your own?"
"What, you think I can't retrace my own steps?"
"No, it's just that forests can be harder to navigate than what you're used to." Ensei explained, reaching into his pants pocket as he approached a defiant looking Kouyu.
"Take this just in case," Ensei said, handing Kouyu a compass.
He watched the other man inspect it, turning it this way and that.
"Kouyu, you do know how to use a compass, right?" Ensei asked raising an eyebrow.
Kouyu shot him a sharp glare. "Of course I do, I'm not an idiot!" He replied scathingly and stomped off in the direction they had come.
"You have a couple hours before sunset, make sure you're back before then," Ensei called after him.
Not even five minutes had passed before Shuuei returned with pockets full of kindling.
"He went back to find his missing canteen, he was insistant on tracking it down." Ensei replied.
"And you let him go by himself?"
"Shuuei, he's not a child. He didn't want me tagging along just to retrace his steps, and besides, I gave him a compass."
"Ensei, this is Kouyu we're talking about. He got lost in Sears and couldn't find the exit for three hours."
"Who hasn't gotten lost in a store as a kid? Maybe that's the reason I don't like shopping..."
"This was last week." Shuuei deadpanned.
"Oh." For once Ensei seemed at a loss for words.
"I'm going after him, maybe I can bring him back before nightfall."
"How will you find him?"
"Have you forgotten? My father's a hunter, he had me tracking since I was five." With that Shuuei glanced it the direction Kouyu had gone, noting the broken twigs and trampled dirt. Dumping the kindling he had gathered next to the half finished fire pit, Shuuei set off after Kouyu and was shortly swallowed up by the forest.
Ensei turned back to the fire pit, arranging the pine logs into a tepee with the kindling at its centre. Pulling out a long campfire match he struck it and set the kindling blazing. Ensei smiled with satisfaction as the bark on the pine caught fire. Soon the logs would catch and they would be able to have some dinner.
Strange sounds were coming from the direction of the tent. Ensei looked up just in time to see Seiran leaning too far forward while trying to pull up on the tent poles where they crossed in the middle of the tent frame, trying to raise them up. He lost his balance and fell in, toppling the semi erect tent back into two-dimensionality. He stood up angrily, jammed the two tent poles across from him into the ground and then stalked over to the opposite end of one and started bending it, leaning on the pole to apply more pressure. The pole looked like it was about to snap.
Ensei took a step towards him, "Seiran d-" *snap* went the pole, the tent material slid down one side until it caught on the broken tent pole and just sagged there. With a cry of rage Seiran grabbed an unused pole, the one meant for the tent covering, and started beating the tent with it.
"What are you doing?" Ensei demanded, staring at the scene unfolding before him, looking perplexed.
Seiran angrily glanced over at Ensei and held out the remaining tent poles gripped in his fist. From between between clenched teeth he growled, "Planning your demise, if you don't get your ass over here and fix this... this...
"Tent?" Ensei asked helpfully.
"I know what it's called! I'm trying to think of a more fitting name that doesn't end in a four letter word."
Ensei laughed at that and walked over to his friend, surveying the damage and trying to come up with a substitute for the broken pole. Together they finished setting up the tent, and then cooked and ate half the sausages that had been set aside for dinner. Every so often one of them would glance at the surrounding forest, wondering when Kouyu and Shuuei were going to come back. As afternoon slowly changed to evening, the sun shimmered through the leaves as it set. By the time night rolled around, Kouyu and Shuuei still hadn't returned.
Ensei was fast asleep after having eaten more sausages than Seiran could count, and now the big man was snoring loud enough to wake the dead. Glaring up at the ceiling of the slightly lopsided tent, Seiran wondered how much longer he could hold out before giving into the urge of smothering the man with his pillow.
Screw it. Throwing the pillow at Ensei's head, Seiran struggled out of his sleeping bag and stalked out of the tent, or at least he would have but for the tent flap he needed to unzip. Four meters away was the fire pit they had been using, except that now it was covered by a bucketful of dirt. With a sigh Seiran sat down next to it, and to his surprise found the dirt to still be warm. Picking up a thick stick that lay next to him, Seiran poked around with it until some of the larger embers were pushed to the surface. Who would have thought that the fire pit would still be hot after an hour of being buried. Covering the hot embers with dry dirt again, Seiran slipped off his sandals and warmed his bare feet on the heated dirt. He hoped that Shuuei and Kouyu would make it back all right, there was enough moonlight tonight to guide them through the forest. With the sound of a gentle breeze whispering through the leaves, and with the heat from below warming his feet, Seiran closed his eyes and fell asleep.
Something startled him awake. A strange sound was coming from the tent and it wasn't Ensei's snoring. In fact, Ensei was now completely silent, while a strange snuffling and groaning sounded from his direction. It was darker now than when he fell asleep, and Seiran could only make out a large shape moving near the tent flap. Grabbing the hefty stick that lay next to him, Seiran scrambling to his feet and slowly approached the creature, straining to see what it was.
The shifting clouds unveiled the glowing moon, and revealed the massive furry body and the long snout of a persistent bear as it nudged the front of the tent with its head.
"Stop that!" Seiran yelled, making the bear turn its huge head to glance at him before walking around to the other side of the tent, keeping the tent safely between them. Before Seiran could even respond, the bear stood up on it's hind legs, it's full height just a little shy of Seiran's, and slammed its massive paw into the tent, causing it to fold in upon itself and collapse onto the unsuspecting form of it's sole inhabitant.
"Wh-what the hell?" A groggy voice sounded from within the folds of the fabric. A second later a human sized lump began to move around within the confines of the material. This moving lump drew the bear's complete attention, and before it's paw could reach out to prod it, Seiran started wordlessly yelling at it, trying to draw the bear's attention to himself.
"Ensei, stop moving around! You're exciting the bear." He got out right before said bear turned and stalked toward him.
"What bear?" Ensei's slightly panicked voice could clearly be heard in the still air. Too busy to answer, Seiran dove out of the way of a an oncoming paw and came up swinging with the large stick he held. Much to his surprise, and the bear's, he managed to clock it on the nose, sending it reeling back in pain. With a few more intimidating yells and swings from Seiran, the bear apparently decided that this insane creature was far more trouble than it was worth, and with a last longing glance at the tent's remains, the bear ambled off without a backward glance.
"Ensei, are you ok?" Seiran asked dropping to his knees and searching for the zipper to the tent.
Standing up, Ensei lifted the front of the tent with his upper body and stumbled out of the opening that Seiran unzipped.
"What the hell happened?" Ensei demanded, his eyes wide with shock.
"A bear tried to get into your tent, and I fought him off." Taking his speechlessness for disbelief, Seiran added, "I swear I'm not making it up!" He insisted, running shaking hands through his long pale hair.
Ensei blinked. "Why would it want to do that?" Then his eyes narrowed in suspicion as he looked over at Seiran. "You didn't by any chance leave food lying around in the tent? Not after I specifically told you to hang everything in a bag from a tree?"
"No, of course not... unless you count a blueberry bagel." Seeing Ensei raise his eyebrow pointedly Seiran's face filled with disbelief. "Don't even try to tell me that they eat bagels".
"Seiran, black bears will eat anything. And just for the record, blueberries happen to be one of their favourites."
Just before dawn the next morning Kouyu and Shuuei came upon a very strange sight. There sat Ensei and Seiran, leaning back to back while they slept. A few meters behind them lay pieces of a tent strewn about the ground.
"I thought you said he was skilled at camping." Kouyu said looking over at the mess.
"And I thought you knew better than to go off on your own?" Shuuei countered.
"I had that compass that he gave me - damn thing doesn't even work. Every time I followed that red arrow I found myself even more lost."
"The one that moves while you walk."
"Kouyu, a compass isn't a GPS. It simply shows you where north is, not where to go." Shuuei explained, sounding both amused and exasperated. "I guess this just goes to show that book smarts and an insanely high IQ can't compete with years of training and ingrained instincts." Shuuei teased, watching as Kouyu turned red from embarrassment.
With a laugh Shuuei slung his arm over Kouyu's shoulder and ruffled his hair. "Keep that in mind next time I ask you for help with quantum physics."
Looking up at Shuuei's smiling face Kouyu realized that regardless of the ridiculous situations he got himself into, Shuuei would always like and respect him. He could see the pride in his friend's eyes.