“Cantara!” Ruby shouted as she chased after her pet sprout-fox. “Not so fast! I can’t keep up with you in these woods!”
The tiny creature paused momentarily, standing on her hind legs and looking back, before quickly darting off again. Her grass-like fur camouflaged her in the heavily vegetated forest. If not for her quick movements through the stationary lawns and bushes, she would have been impossible to find. Ruby was struggling to keep up as it was.
It was common for the wily pet to run off, but something seemed to be driving her further into the woods than usual. As agitated as Ruby was, she couldn’t help but be curious about what was going on. Whatever force was pulling at her sprout-fox, she could feel it too. And so she ran, as fast as she could, in the hopes of keeping up.
The chase continued all the way to the cliff-side. Ruby slouched over, catching her breath. “Cantara,” she panted, “where are you now?” Slowly she came back up and looked around. “Then again...where am I?” Her surroundings were completely foreign to her. There was no other greenery here except for a tall, thick grass. Nearby there were the remains of what appeared to have been a bridge, slashed and charred, with only a thin and stretching rope connecting the two sides. Ruby followed the rope with her eyes to the other side, and a chill went down her back. The woods there were completely gray. “Wha...what is this?” she whispered.
As if in response, two green fox ears popped up from across the way. Ruby’s eyes widened. “Cantara! How did you get over there?” The little creature stood all the way up and let out a happy chirp. Something gray stirred beside it in response.
“Oh? Who's that?” Ruby asked cautiously. “Have you made a new friend?”
Two larger fox ears, gray and furry, peeked above the strange grass. The little sprout-fox nudged at her new friend, until finally, a young girl in drab garments rose up from her hiding spot. She looked to be about Ruby’s age, and seemed like a normal human, save for her ears.
Ruby froze for a moment, before waving and calling out, “Hello there! I didn’t realize my Cantara had made friends with a girl; I was expecting another fox like her. What’s your name?”
The strange girl stood silent for a while, before responding softly, “I am Lorna, of the Gray Lands.”
“Lorna? Hey, that means ‘fox,’ doesn’t it?” Ruby cried out, smiling. Lorna nodded. “No wonder Cantara seems to like you so much. My name is Ruby, and I’m from Undine Valley, just past these woods behind me. It’s nice to meet you!”
“You’re not...frightened...of me?” Lorna asked.
“Frightened? Well, no,” Ruby paused, “though, perhaps a bit curious. I’ve never seen the Gray Lands before, and I’ve never met anyone with ears like yours.”
“My ears are not as uncommon here as they may be there,” Lorna answered. “As for the Gray Lands: we have not had contact with the people of Undine Valley for many, many decades. Not since the bridge was destroyed.”
“What happened? Who destroyed it, and why?” Ruby asked. “I...haven’t heard about it before. I didn’t even know this was here.”
Lorna turned slightly, looking like she didn’t want to respond. Finally she said, “I do not know the specifics, but our two countries, which had long been friends, suddenly began to grow suspicious of one another after a series of mysterious mishaps befell them both. Both sides blamed the other and the bridge was burned.”
Ruby stayed silent for a time in heavy contemplation. Cantara let out another happy chirp, interrupting her thoughts, before jumping up on the lone rope and crossing back to her. She sprung onto her master’s shoulders and rubbed up against her cheek affectionately. Letting out a laugh, Ruby called back across to the other girl. “I’ve decided,” she stated firmly. “Any friend of Cantara is alright with me. I don’t know much about why this bridge was destroyed before, but maybe we can be a new bridge between our lands.”
“A new...bridge?” Lorna questioned.
“Yeah. Hey, you know, ‘Cantara’ means ‘small bridge.’ Maybe it’s a sign.” Ruby smiled wide. “We should be friends!”
Lorna started, but then smiled for the first time since their meeting. “Yes,” she agreed. “Let’s be friends.”
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