Oh look. ANOTHER STORY. But I have an excuse. My buddy made me write this as an ongoing (slow going) present of sorts and since I just finished the tenth chap without any sign of actually reaching the end anytime soon ... I figured I might as well share the insanity! Whoo! So, basic thing to know right off the bat is I essentially ... OC-inserted Bast? Like- I wanted to use a known canon HZD character for Reasons that had more screen time than two lines of dialogue, so I chose Bast. But in the process I've ... rewritten his personality, big time. For good Reasons! You'll see, but yeah, that's just your heads up.
Chapter One: Mad Boy
The first time Aloy met Bast, he threw a rock at her head and scarred her forehead for life. True, she got even by knocking the next rock out of his hand just before he could throw it and it was that encounter which spurred her on to train to win the Proving, but she never forgot that terrible first meeting.
Their second meeting couldn't have been more different.
It was four years after Aloy had begun training to win the Proving, and she had gone exploring —snuck off— without Rost because he had left early that morning with a vague non-excuse of important business and told her to stay in the cabin. She had attempted to follow his instruction at first —she didn't mean to stress Rost out, not intentionally anyway— but even her Focus could only provide so much entertainment and boredom —coupled with overconfidence in the skills she'd been honing for four years— saw her slipping out of the cabin and exploring the nearby hillsides.
She had intended to stay close to the cabin even as she entertained herself by examining a rabbit trail through the purple tint of her Focus. But the steep hillsides and sheer cliffs around Rost's home were treacherous even to one who had lived there all her life. All it took was one moment where she wasn't paying enough attention. One loose stone underfoot that she hadn't prepared for to send her pitching to the side and over the edge of the towering cliffside outlook.
Aloy screamed in terror, fingers scrambling for purchase and hands throbbing in pain as she managed to stop herself just in time with a harsh jerk. She hung there desperately, feet trying and failing to find purchase while her hands stung from the strain of supporting all her weight. The ledge her fingers were clenching was too narrow and her grip too shaky to haul herself up, and no footholds could be found to stabilize her position on the rock face. Terror sung through her and, despite knowing that Rost was away on some unknown task and couldn't possibly help, Aloy couldn't stop the panicked cry that escaped her, "Rost! Rost! Help me! Rost!"
One hand slipped free and fear choked her at her lungs, clawing at her throat like a rabid beast. Her hand flailed desperately in an attempt to reclaim its hold on the cliff, nearly dislodging her one remaining limb and provoking another scream-. Then two hands only a bit bigger than her own suddenly clamped tight around her wrist and Aloy's scream was cut short with a gasp as she looked up. Blue-grey eyes in an oddly unreadable face —like the sky when it was thinking of rain— met hers and for a long moment, the world felt like it had stilled.
Then memory prodded her and Aloy felt another jolt of fear as she realized that the boy who had scarred her forehead four years ago was the one currently holding onto her wrist. If he wanted to, all he would have to do was pull her hand off of the ledge and let go and she would fall to her death.
The hands on her wrist tightened, "Tekubi o tsukamu." the sounds —were they words?— coming from the boy's mouth were flat and calm, spoken with the same tone as Rost predicting good hunting weather, and Aloy gawped in blank confusion at the sounds. There was a flash of something like dark impatience in his eyes and a hissed, "Isoge!" That sent chills up her spine. The sound —word?— was clearly a command of some kind, but Aloy had no idea what it was or what he wanted and her hand was getting so tired from holding her up-.
"Aloy!" Rost. The sound of Rost's voice and the unmistakable scramble of a bigger body climbing the path from which she had fallen sent a wave of relief through her so strong it almost made her cry.
Instead she shouted, "Rost! Help!"
Rost appeared a moment later, sliding to a halt on his stomach on the other side of the boy, who glanced at him briefly before refocusing on Aloy. Rost reached out a hand and Aloy immediately grabbed at it with her free one, which heralded a low, unintelligible mutter of, "Tch, aitsu wa tekubi o tsukamudarōga, ma watashi wa mono ja nai."
Rost didn't seem to hear the mutter as he recaptured Aloy's attention with a curt, "Brace your feet against the rocks, Aloy."
"There are no holds!"
"Doesn't matter. Just brace your feet flat against the rock and push up when I tell you to. Ready? One, two, push!" Aloy pushed as hard as she could the same moment Rost and the boy pulled hard on her arms. The next moment, she was back on the path, winded, hands scraped and her midriff throbbing from her impact with the rocks … but alive and safe once more.
The boy scooted backward wordlessly as Rost pulled her to her feet and loomed over her, checking her over with brisk movements and hands that were shaking only slightly before he straightened and growled, "Aloy…"
Aloy ducked her head, the terror from her near fall wiping away her usual defiance, "I'm sorry…"
Rost's eyes remained hard and Aloy just knew she was in for a hiding when they got home, "I told you to stay in the cabin until my return."
"I got bored. I didn't mean to go so far-."
Rost cut off her excuse with a curt hand gesture, "You shouldn't have been out here in the first place! If we hadn't been on the trail and heard you scream-." His jaw tightened, then forcibly unclenched, "You could have died, Aloy. These hills are dangerous, especially alone. When I give an order, I expect it-." His eyes flicked off to the side for a moment before he sighed harshly through his nose, "We will discuss this once we are home. Follow."
Aloy shuffled into place behind Rost as he set off back toward the cabin, chastised, frightened, and tired now that the adrenaline was wearing off. The combination of those things kept her in a compliant, unobservant daze for the rest of the trip home. The daze ended when they got to the cabin and Rost turned around. Aloy braced for the usual pre-hiding lecture, but instead he focused on something just past her shoulder and barked, "Boy. Here." He gestured firmly to a spot near his feet, and Aloy startled when the boy who had both scarred her and then helped her ghosted obediently over to where Rost had gestured, his moccasin-clad feet even quieter than a fox's paws.
Trepidation was pushed aside by curiosity and wary irritation as she blurted, "What is he doing here?"
Thankfully, Rost answered her question rather than tell her to be quiet and contemplate her recent disobedience, "His name is Bast, and he has just been outcast from the tribe. The High Matriarchs ordered me to look after him until he is old enough to survive on his own." At the sound of his name, the boy glanced from Rost to Aloy with the same inscrutable expression on his face as before.
Aloy mentally flailed at that revelation, "Why? He isn't motherless! And why would the Matriarchs tell you to do anything? I thought they couldn't talk to outcasts!"
Rost huffed through his nose, "The High Matriarchs are exempt from that law should the need arise and they were gracious enough to show mercy to the boy where many others would dare not. I'm sure some people would have rather the boy die in the wilderness with no shelter or food."
"But why?" Because yeah, she kind of hated the boy for scarring her head and calling her No-Mother, but she didn't think he deserved to be thrown out and left to die somewhere. What could he —or his mother, because that's why Aloy was outcast— have done that the tribe thought he deserved that?
Rost glanced between her and the boy before he gestured from the boy to the door of the cabin, "Inside. Go." The boy glanced from Rost's hand to the door before he hesitantly padded —just as silently as before— onto the porch. He paused when he actually reached the door and look over his shoulder, a silent question in too-serious raincloud eyes. Rost repeated his gesture with a firm, "Go. Wait inside. Understand? Wait inside."
There was a flash of something —anger? Indignation?— before the boy opened the cabin door and disappeared inside, shutting it behind him. Once he was out of sight, Rost turned to Aloy, an oddly weary look on his face, "A little over a week ago, Bast went missing from one of the children's berry gatherings. He was only found two days ago, wandering the forest just outside Mother's Heart. No one knows where he went or what exactly happened to him … but the boy has been struck mad."
Aloy felt a chill go up her spine and the echoes of the boy's strange nonsense words flashed through her mind, "Mad?"
"Yes. He no longer understands human language, instead speaking nothing but meaningless nonsense. He is violent when touched and he recognizes no one of the tribe … not even his own parents." Rost looked very sad over that last part, his gaze going briefly distant and far away.
Then his gaze sharpened and he crouched down to better look Aloy in the eyes, "Listen well, Aloy. If it were not for Matriarch Teersa's intervention, that boy would have been put to death immediately to prevent his madness from spreading. Instead, he has been outcast until such a time as his mind returns to him … or All-Mother claims his life. He will be staying with us until either of those events occur or he proves too dangerous to be around. You are never to be alone with him, understand? Treat him well, but do not be in his presence unless I am there to watch over you."
Aloy hesitated, "But … he helped me." He hadn't had to grab her wrist and keep her from falling until Rost got there, but he had. No matter how much she disliked him, that had to count for something … didn't it?
Rost tilted his head to concede her point, "He did, and I am grateful for it, but those driven mad are as unpredictable as the wind, Aloy. You cannot be assured that compassion shown today will not turn to cruelty tomorrow. A hand in aid extended by a madman can plunge a knife into your back the next moment without any reason that the sane can comprehend. While Bast will stay with us unless he proves irredeemable, do not think that such actions equal trust. I will be watching him closely, and so should you. Do you understand, Aloy?"
Aloy nodded solemnly, trying to hide the splinters of fear pushing into her heart at the thought of someone so unpredictable being anywhere near her and vowing to keep constant vigil, "I understand, Rost."
He stood to his feet, "Good. Now, on to the matter of your punishment." Aloy began to whine a protest, but Rost would hear nothing of it, insisting that, mad guest or no, her disobedience would receive the same severity of discipline it always had. Especially since it had risked her life.
Rost's blows upon her rump were hard and firm, but —as she would only admit years later— not overly so and not cruel. The punishment was short and to the point, and his hands gentle afterward as he stroked her hair with a worried touch and led the way inside.
Aloy's stinging backside and threatening tears were swallowed immediately at the sight of Bast curled up in the far corner of the cabin nearest the fireplace, watching them with blank, inscrutable eyes. There was nothing in his hands to threaten her with, and he didn't move from his corner even as Rost inspected the cabin for signs of mischief. Just sat and watched and looked as dangerous to Aloy as any machine or predator ever had. All her curiosity about him, her hesitant defense of him for trying to help her, retreated into the corners of her mind in an instant. Because there was something dangerous beyond words about the way he sat there, back to the wall, legs curled underneath him like a Watcher ready to spring up in an instant. Something about the way he studied his surroundings —and her and Rost— with eyes that seemed too dark and emotionless to be blue.
Aloy didn't protest when Rost tied the boy's hands to separate posts after supper with a long cord to keep him from sneaking up on their bedrolls in the night. But despite the safety measure and her faith in Rost, Aloy barely slept at all. She was too hyper-aware of the figure half-curled in the far corner amid the nest of furs Rost had sacrificed from his own bed, silent and watching, to get any meaningful rest.
Tekubi o tsukamu = grab my wrist
Isoge! = Hurry!
Tch, aitsu wa tekubi o tsukamudarōga, ma watashi wa mono ja nai = Tch, she'll grab his wrist, but not mine.