While exploring the forest Aurum encounters a faerie and agrees to play a game that will totally be fair with an equal chance for both sides to win.
The Fair Game
Aurum was pretty far out into the woods now. The brown-haired man hadn’t seen anyone at all in the last hour. That made this as good a time as any. He slipped his backpack off and dropped it on the ground sliding it open. Then he began to take a few articles of clothing off. His cowboy hat, his shirt, his shoes, and his socks. When he was done he was just in his shorts and his underwear beneath them. Making sure his clothes were packed safely, he closed the backpack and slung it back over his shoulders.
As secluded as he was out here, he might have been safe hiking naked. And that would have even been more fun. But there was always the risk of running into someone so he wasn’t quite brave enough for that. He could play off someone meeting him in just his cargo shorts while he was out here. Just talk about the heat for a bit and quickly make an excuse to exit. Full blown nudity… That would be harder to explain without getting in trouble. Even if he didn’t have any ill intentions. It’s not like he wanted to go streaking. He just wanted to be comfortable while among nature.
Unfortunately, nature didn’t always cooperate. The woods were full of trees. And trees had branches. And a lot of branches had pointy tips. Not to mention sticklers among the grass. Trying to follow the normal trail had both Aurum’s chest and his feet scratched up pretty bad in a matter of minutes. Maybe clothing did serve some purpose. Still, the wounds were superficial, nothing that required medical attention. The worst that might happen is they might get a little itchy.
Still, it would be nice if he had a better path to tread. Looking ahead on the trail, it was mostly dirt with exposed stones and branches and branches closing in on either side. Aurum slowly scanned the area and noticed all of the soft grass on the outside edge. He could step off the trail for just a bit, get around all the pointy branches and then back off it.
A strange chill went down Aurum’s spine as soon as he stepped off the trail. And he felt the strange sensation as if someone was watching him. He reminded himself he was completely isolated as he walked through the grass. All he had to do was walk around the trees and bushes and he’d be back in the trail. It’d take two minutes tops. And so he continued to work, and once he saw there was no longer a danger of sticklers or pointy branches turned back towards the trail. Except, instead of walking into the trail he walked into a small forest grove. He had been here several times before and never found it.
This didn’t make sense. He had walked the trail enough times to know it continued straight for another mile. The trail should go right through this grove. The grove also shouldn’t exist. It was true, he hadn’t been out for a hiking since before last winter. Snow made running around the woods half naked a little less than comfortable. Still, it had been maybe six months tops? That wasn’t enough time for a forest to create a grove and completely modify the trail to go in a different direction, right?
Well, he could solve this easily. He’d just leave the grove and walk in the direction the trail was supposed to be, find it and figure out what happened.
“Awww, you’re going to leave without even playing a game?” A voice pouted.
“Huh?” Aurum spun around looking for the source of the voice. He became aware of the fact he was only wearing a pair of shorts again and had to remind himself this was easy to explain.
“You left the path. That’s against the rules.” The voice giggled from another direction. “So… I decided to bring to my place.” The voice paused as Aurum moved towards the edge of the grove. “Don’t bother looking for the trail, you’re at least ten miles from it now. You may wonder how you moved so fast, but the forest did most of moving for you.” The voice giggled.
“Ok… Seriously… Who are you?” Aurum demanded.
“How many humans ask that same question and really expect an answer?” The voice pouted. “You don’t offer anything in exchange, not even your own name. I can’t possibly give you something so valuable as my name.”
“Um… I’m Aurum?” Aurum replied. Now he was just confused.
“You don’t say…” The voice giggled. “Of course, I never agreed to barter my name for yours, so you shan’t be getting it. But… If you want to call me something, I suppose Green will do.” The source of the voice finally made itself know. A small boy, only a few inches tall with wild green hair, and translucent green wings growing from his box. He looked to be maybe eight years old, if judged by human terms. But he had pointy ears, a pair of wings, and was only a couple inches tall. He clearly wasn’t a human. He also clearly had no human modesty as the faerie didn’t wear of shred of clothing. There was a light green glow around his body and small bits of dust fell away. Perhaps that glow helped keep him warm and safe in the forest.
“Wait… You’re a faerie?” Aurum asked astounded.
“Amazing. If we were playing the ‘State the Obvious’ game you’d take him the gold trophy.” The faerie paused. “Well, we don’t really have gold trophies here. Don’t really see the point. I mean sure it’s shiny… But you can’t eat it, and it makes for terrible furnishing…”
“And I think you’ve lost me…” Aurum rubbed the back of his head. “And pretty sure that’s not a game.”
“Oh, anything can be a game!” The faerie clapped his hands excitedly. “Come Aurum.” He put extra emphasis on the name. “Why don’t we play a game?”
“Huh…” Aurum considered he. He had never met a faerie before, let alone played a game with one. There was no way he was going to turn this down. “Sure… But what kind of game?”
“King of the Mountain!” The faerie flew down to the forest floor and landed atop a pile of leaves. “You have ten minutes to knock me down off this pile of leaves and take the spot of king for yourself. Do so and you win.” The faerie paused rubbed his chin. “But what kind of prize… Hmmmm.” He looked Aurum up and down, smiling mischievously. It was almost as if he could see Aurum’s thoughts. In fact, it had felt like that since Aurum gave his name. “Alright.” Green grinned. “If you win, you can use my grove as your private camping ground to get away in nature as often as you want. And I can promise you, no one will disturb you or find you here. So… Any desires society might look down on you could live out freely while camping here.”
“Really?” Aurum tugged at his shorts. He could have his own private camping spot where he didn’t have to wear clothes? And he could come anytime he wanted? It sounded too good to be true. “And all I have to do is knock you off that pile of leaves?”
“Within a time limit of ten minutes.” Green replied. “A second longer and no magically protected campground for you. And… Ready… Go!” Green posed with his hands on his hips, standing atop a pile of leaves that were as green as his hair.
“This will be easy.” Aurum grinned. He was sure the faerie had some kind of magic or something. But the sheer size difference meant he would win easily. All he had to do was talk up and nudge the faerie off with his foot. He took his first step forward.
“Now, make sure you play fair Aurum.” Green added extra emphasis on the name again, and suddenly Aurum felt a bit strange. His backpack was suddenly getting a lot easier. He quickly dropped it form his shoulders before it could hurt him. A moment later his shorts and boxers fell down around his ankles. They were so big!
So was the grove! Twice as big as it used to be! And getting bigger! Before Aurum’s eyes, the tiny pile of leaves grew into an actual mount, and Green standing at the top soon looked like a normal ten year old kid in sized. Aurum had shrunk.
“What, how?” Aurum demanded.
“I’d worry less about the how and more about the time limit.” Green grinned. “But… You were about to cheat. Wouldn’t be a very fair game of King of the Mountain if you were taller than the entire mountain. So, I just made sure you’d have to play on a fair playing field.”
“You can do that!?” Aurum asked in disbelief.
“I’m a faerie.” Green stated in a deadpan voice. “I can do a lot of things.”
“Well…” Aurum had to think now. Climbing the leaves would actually take a bit of work, but as they did give plenty of handholds. He was pretty sure he could get up there. Knocking the kid off might be harder than he thought though especially since… “Hey!” Aurum pointed up at Green. “You complained about me not playing fair, but you have wings! Anytime I climb up there you could fly straight up out of my range!”
“Hmmmm, I suppose that is true.” Green flexed his wings. “Very well, I promise not to use my wings to fly. If I do, I forfeit the game and you win automatically.”
“Sounds fair to me.” Aurum started to climb the mountain of leaves. There was no telling what other surprises the faerie had. But he was bigger and stronger still. He’d need to be on his guard, but he had at least 9 minutes left to do this. The shrinking had caught him off guard, but now he was expecting shenanigans and made the faerie swear off flying before he could use that. Aurum climbed the mountain of leaves as fast as he can, approaching the child. He was within three feet of him. Well, not feet, but it felt like feet. A direct bull rush felt bound to fail given the mischievous nature of his opponent. He needed to do something unexpected, catch him off guard. Maybe if he charged and missed on purpose, then grabbed the kid’s arm.
“Hey! We don’t got all day you going to do something!” Green shouted interrupting his thoughts.
“You bet I am!” Aurum ran straight for Green, as if he intended to push him off. But before he got close he sloweed down and spun around him, grabbing the kid by the arm this was it!
And… There was suddenly a lot of dust coming of off the kid.
“What the?” Aurum sneezed.
“Oh, sorry Aurum.” There was that extra emphasis again. But I realized that the game still wasn’t quite fair. I mean a big grown adult, beating up a little child, how’s that fair?”
“Doesn’t matter I’ve already won!” Aurum pulled on Green’s arms, but to his surprise Green was just as strong as him, held onto his place, and Aurum lost his group on the faerie’s arm and went tumbling all the way down the pile.
“Gah!” Aurum shouted. His voice sounded higher pitched for some reason. “You’re… Really strong for a kid.”
“No stronger than the average kid. You just haven’t realized yet.” Green stuck his tongue out.
“What do you…” Aurum paused. The forest was even bigger. Had he shrunk again? No that wasn’t right. He was smaller… But as he looked down at his body, his proportions were different too. He was a little kid too now! Eight years old just like the faerie.
“Now, I think we’re on even footing.” Green smiled. “Oh but be careful, not sure where all that dust landed… If you touch any by accident you’ll get even younger.”
“I see… This was how it was always going to go from the start huh?” Aurum crossed his arms. He felt like a kid back on a playground. A playground that was really a giant forest that made him feel like a mouse, but the feeling was there none the same. He had been reduced in size and age to match the kid. On the bright side there wasn’t anything the kid to do to make the game ‘more fair’ to harm Aurum at this point. About the only thing he could do to even the odds further would be to give Aurum faerie magic. And he figured that wasn’t going to happen.
So, the game was a lot more even than he expected. But, the faerie couldn’t pull any more tricks without cheating. From here on out it really was an even fight. Luck still favorited Aurum. He didn’t have to claim the mountain for himself long, just knock Green down one time. But charging in overconfidently was going to get him played again someway. He needed to be clever.
“Hey! I’m waiting!” Green shouted. “You really need to get out of your head more. You’ve already lost half your time.”
“What? It’s been five minutes already!?” Aurum couldn’t believe that. But then again, between the shrinking, first attempt at climbing, and sudden regression in age and him taking his time taking all that in… It actually made sense more time had passed than he expected. That meant he couldn’t waste any more time. He’d have to figure out a plan as he climbed.
Aurum leaped up onto the leaf pile and began to climb again. Once nice thing about being so small climbing was easy, even with kid muscles instead of adult. He was so small he barely weighed anything so it was easy for his arms to support his weight as he moved up. He made a lot of progress until he pulled one leave too hard and it fell from the pile. Aurum lost his group and tumbled down, but managed to grab a stem of another leave and so was still at the halfway point of the mountain.
“That was close…” Aurum muttered. As he did, something rolled off the leave he was holding and hit him on the head. He reached up to grab it, but it was gone. However, he suddenly felt strange as everything grew slightly bigger again. “What?” His voice was even higher pitched.
“What an unlucky accident.” Green was grinning ear to ear. “I did warn you about the extra faerie dust around, and that you’d get younger if you touched it. At least you only lost two years. It could have been a lot worse.”
“Hey… That’s no fair!” Aurum shouted. “Now you’re bigger than me!”
“Yeah but that’s your fault.” Green crossed his arms. “I made you the same age as me. I warned you about the dangers of the dust. Not my fault you were clumsy and made yourself younger.”
“Uh huh… Cheating butthead.” Aurum muttered. So, now the leaves weren’t just a mountain. They were a minefield. There was no way he was going to be able to overpower the kid now. He’d really have to hope he got the momentum to slam into him and knock him off. Of course, if he managed to hit another piece of dust, he might wind up too small to where the best he could do was grab at Green’s legs and hope he tripped and fell down.
Aurum resumed his climb, but he was going slower now. He was tugging each leaf to make sure it was stable. He was getting a good look at each hand grab to make sure there was no dust before going up. This turned out to be for the best. He narrowly avoided grabbing leaves that had faerie dust lodged int hem several times. Had he just gone up full speed he’d be an infant by now. The only problem was his time was limited. Going so slow like this he had to use up at least two more precious minutes before he reached the top of the leaf pile.
“Here we go again.” Green grinned and braced himself. “Give me everything you got.”
“You asked for it!” Aurum ran as fast as he could at Green and prayed that physics would help him here. He ran straight into Green, who was ready and braced for the slam. The faerie himself was more than strong enough to fend off Aurum’s attack without being pushed back.
But the leaves they were standing on were a bit more slippery. One came right out from beneath the feet of Green and he fell down on his back.
“Gah!” Green’s eyes widened in shock, as for the first time since the game began he saw the potential to lose.
“Yes!” Aurum wasn’t going to waste this chance. The faerie was down, couldn’t defend himself properly. He just had to push him off the edge and…
Suddenly, a gust of wind pushed Aurum back slightly away from the faerie. He got his balance fast, but it had certainly been unexpected.
“Heh heh, always keep one last trick for the final act.” Green smiled as he flapped his wings while laying down sending a small gust at Aurum.
“H-hey! That’s cheating you said you wouldn’t use your wings!” Aurum complained.
“No, I said I wouldn’t use them fly.” Green giggled. “But don’t worry, I doubt I could make a strong enough breeze to blow you off. But… I think I’ve already won.”
“What do you-“ Aurum froze. The breeze from the faerie’s wings wasn’t enough to push him off the edge. But it was enough to stir up a lot of small objects along the mountain. The leftover faerie dust from the age spell. It flew up in the air and all over the place. Aurum tried to move left and right to avoid it. One piece of dust landed on him, and suddenly he was down to a four-year-old. Green stood up and towered over him.
“Boo!” Green shouted, causing Aurum to fall back and slide backwards down the mountain of leaves. More of the faerie dust continues to rain down, and several bits hit Aurum before he hit the ground, only for a few more pieces to land on him before vanishing.
He shrunk even smaller. His limbs were too weak for him to stand. He could only crawl. He pushed himself up onto his knees and looked around. He was a mere infant now.
“Ohhhhh, that was a lot of faerie dust.” Green whistled. “You’re not going to start aging again for a long time, if at all.”
“Groo!” Aurum objected. But, he was officially out of option. Even at this small size, as an infant he lacked the strength and dexterity to climb the mountain. He could only sit up there and watch as Green tapped his foot.
“And that’s time.” Green finally spoke up. “Looks like I win. Sorry, no magical campsite for you. I’ll get my prize instead.”
“Agoo?” Aurum tilted his head. He didn’t remember the faerie ever saying what would happen if he won.
“Oh… Did we not establish my prize early on? Silly me.” Green’s grin suggested he hadn’t forgotten at all. “Well don’t worry I don’t want anything big. I think… I would just really love a pet raccoon. What do you think, Aurum?”
Again, the strong emphasis on his name, and again, Aurum felt changes coming on. Fur sprouted up over his entire body. A black mask of fur over his eyes. He fell down onto all fours, but found himself able to stand instead of crawl. Then, a gray tail with black rings sprouted from the end of his tailbone. His ears moved up the side of his head becoming pointed while his face pushed out into a muscle.
“Squeak!?” Aurum rolled onto his backside trying to see what had happened to him. He was clearly a raccoon now. A baby one at that. But… He crawled back to his paws and looked at the faerie. He was still smaller to it. Like he was the size of a normal baby raccoon in comparison to the faerie.
“Yeah, think that will do.” Green slid down the pile of leaves and scooped Aurum up into his arms. “Normal raccoons are too big to keep as pets. And even if I shrink them they’re really hard to train. Also, getting their name out of them when they can’t talk is a nightmare.”
“Squeak?” Aurum gave the faerie a questioning look when he mentioned names.
“You’ll fit in my home much easier. And, since you’re already intelligent and I’m taking you in so young you’ll be super easy to train so you know how to act when you grow up.” Green paused. “If you grow up. I’ll be honest that was a lot more faerie dust than I planned on hitting you I have no idea what will happen! But hey! Don’t feel too bad!” He grinned. “Cubs are cuter than grown animals anyway. So, I probably would have just turned you back into a cub every time you grew up anyway.
“Sueak!” Aurum objected. But then Green reached behind his head and began to scratch behind his ears. “Squeeeak.” He withdrew his objection. There were benefits to being a pet, especially one with super scratchable ears. And in a way, he was still getting the use of the faerie’s grove… Just as an actual home instead of a campground. Well, at least if he was a raccoon he didn’t have to wear pants.
“Now then…” Green fluttered into the air carrying Aurum. He was slowly heading to a visible hollow in the tree. “I should take you inside and show you around the place. I’ve had a pet bed made up for years waiting for the chance to snag myself a good pet.”
“Squeak?” Aurum gave Green a doubtful look. He didn’t look old enough to have been doing anything for years. Then again, how fast did faeries age? Was it a slower rate than humans? Did they age at all?
“And hey, if after a decade or so, a pet raccoon gets tiring we can try out all kinds of things.” Green grinned. “I mean there’s foxes, mice, rabbits, bears, martens, lynxes, all kinds of animals. I don’t even have to limit myself to the forest you know. Maybe we can try one of those domesticated animals you humans like so much. I hear cats have a lot of personality. Or go more exotic and you can spend one decade as a baby red panda.” Green hugged Aurum close. “Oh, we are going to be the best of friends. There is no bond more sacred between that of a child and his pet. And… since I’m going to be a child a long time, and you might never age ever, nothing will break that bomb ever!” He spun in the air spinning Aurum around in the process.
“Squeeeak!” Aurum cried out in alarm.
“Oh right, you’re a baby I need to be more gentle. Sorry, it’s just I’m excited.” Green let out a mirthful laugh. “Oh, oh, we gotta do squirrel sometime, that would be fun! And maybe sometime I can do a we can try our some reptiles or birds… Oh though with your current condition that does carry the risk of you turning into an egg for a few weeks. Eh… I know how to take care of an egg.” It would seem Green had all kinds of plans for Aurum.
As for Aurum, he didn’t have much choice in the matter. He had lost the faerie’s game and it had claimed his prize. In hindsight, he should have expected a faerie to be tricky. But he lost himself in the moment. This was bizarre and strange and was going to take a lot of getting used to.
But on the other hand… When he considered he was due back in work tomorrow. Being a baby animal coddled by a loving pet owner seemed like a bit of an upgrade. He was just going to let this play out and see where it went. It wasn’t as if he had a choice. But if he did, he’d have made it anyway.