Marty was firing up the plane; engines were running and all the ice melt systems were on full. The plane was lit up like a Christmas tree. His mate George was in the back, ripping seats out and throwing them into the hanger tears running over his cheeks as he did so. George was in half-form; he was literally tearing the seats from the deck. He was ripping out anything that added weight to the aircraft. They knew it was likely a one-way trip for Marty. When George locked eyes with Matt he growled at him. Matt said nothing, but stowed his gear and started helping with tearing out seats and wall panels.
“We need to go, now!” Marty screamed as he finished attaching the take off rockets to the front nose of the plane.
George looked over at Matt, and started bellowing “No… No… No…” as Matt took him by the paws and led him down the ramp, off the plane and into the hanger. George collapsed in a mound of tears and fur, pounding his paws into the floor. Matt hugged his brother; the large Bear was sobbing; waves of heat and emotion were coming of him.
“We are leaving,” Marty yelled over the sounds of prop wash. Matt turned gave him the thumbs-up while hugging George. Marty turned in the pilot’s seat and pushed the throttles to maximum. The plane lurched and started to move out of the hanger into the blizzard that had descended on them. Matt let go of the sobbing Bear and looked out into the blizzard, Luke and Vic were almost there. He could feel them coming closer.
“I love you Luke,” Matt muttered and sprinted for the plane edging its way to the open runway, now covered in snow.
Marty engaged the snow skids and the speed picked up. Reaching the plane, Matt stood on the cargo deck and tethered himself to the plane. Looking out, he saw George change into his Bear. He was Polar like Luke and Marty. Luke and Vic converged with George and chased the plane down the runway. They could not stop the events that were unfolding; they could only wait for their mates to return.
The plane reached speed and Marty engaged the rockets, the plane was jerked from the ground and into the air, the rear rockets fired next. The plane lurched from side to side and Marty fought to keep the plane in the air, gaining altitude. They were climbing through the blizzard, pushing their way through nature’s fury. Matt centered himself and gathered the wind. He did what he could to keep the downdrafts off of them and to keep them airborne. Several more jerks and sways later, the ride evened out as they kept climbing over the storm and into better air.
On the ground, George stopped and slumped to the ground sitting on his rump, bellowing at the plane as it climbed out of sight. Luke reached his side, sat and did the same. Vic caught the pair and added his voice to the fray. The howls and barks, whines and whimpers of Bears left behind were drowned out by the wind, snow, ice and rain.
George slumped down in the snow and blowing ice, wishing for death. Without Marty there was no reason for living anymore. George was an old Polar Bear, much older than Vic or even Boris for that matter. George had met Marty and had a four-year relationship with the human before they mated and Marty was changed ten years ago. He had lost his first mate and wandered the tundra for a few hundred years before he returned to the world of humans. He looked around at his brothers to each side and continued to sob, long deep sobs. Luke did the same. Vic wrapped them both in the paws of a brother.
In the sky, Matt stood for a time looking out into the night sky. The ride had improved and the plane was climbing above the storm and headed north. He stayed on the edge of the ramp until he could no longer feel the Bears on the ground. Turning, he closed the rear hatch and went forward to the cockpit.
“ETA?” he asked.
“About 2 hours. We had to go east and get over the storm. We’ll be heading back west and north in about 30 minutes. I…” Marty trailed off.
“Marty, I know what you’ve done; I know you won’t have enough fuel to make it back. With the storm, you’ll have to go west and hope you can ditch over Open Ocean or climb south and glide as far back as you can. Either way, it’s likely a one way trip,” Matt said in a plain, detached voice. Inside he was crying. A small piece of him was dying as he sat next to the young Bear. He could feel the energy cresting through him. He could see his aura change to deep colors; Marty was in a dark place.
“You’ll be fine. Do you remember the lessons we taught you about this plane? How to belly-glide it?” Matt asked.
“Yes, I know what this old-bird can do. I’m more concerned at what you’re going into. Those passengers were carrying a few backpacks but nothing more. They didn’t seem to be armed. They were large Bears, like Vic. What happened at the Lodge?”
“I was the target; they wanted me out of the way. It’s no secret among our kind that I protect the Spirit Bear. Nineteen Bears were killed today; one was an Elder of the Southern Den. There were two groups, the first was a test and the second was an extermination squad. They didn’t have accurate information on the Lodge, or me, which worked in our favor. I have everyone at my place,” Matt let the last words fade as the two sat in silence for a while. The time passed quickly.
“Go check your gear and get ready, I’m about to climb over another storm formation. Make sure you’re wearing your mask, the air is thin up here, even for a Bear,” Marty said, looking over at Matt, his hands trembling. He reached up and touched a small picture of he and George above the controls. Looking over, he had about ¼ of a tank of fuel. He just might make it back.
Matt nodded and went to the rear and started to suit up. Unzipping the bag, he took out the wing suit and slid into it. Over the top of that, three chutes were clipped and snapped into place. He then secured weapons and made sure everything was tied down. The ride started to get bumpy again and he was thrown around in the back of the plane like a pebble in a can. After gaining his footing, he slung the gear bag from his lower back and stood, waiting for the signal.
From the cockpit, Marty yelled, “2 minutes—2 minutes.”
Matt reached over and opened the rear door of the cargo plane. The inside washed with sub zero air, a layer of ice started to form on the inside of the bay. They were at maximum altitude for this aircraft. Matt could hear the engines starting to sputter, Marty was running them lean to compensate for the thin air, but it wasn’t enough to get over the storm. They were flying right into it. Matt knew Marty would not return from this; the storm would rip the plane apart.
Over the wind noise, Marty bellowed: “Save Rusty and Norman, tell them I love them. Go… Go… Go…”
Matt nodded and stepped off the edge of the aircraft and started his free-fall into a frozen hell. He could feel the darkness coming for him. He would not be able to walk the path in-between the light and the dark any longer. This would be his test; he would have to choose to save life or take it.
In the cockpit, Marty closed the cargo door and banked the plane hard to port. He nosed the plane down and tried to ride with the wind currents. He was getting thrown all over, but making a straight line for what he thought was open water. Warning bells started to ring and lights flash as an engine died. He reached up and tapped the fuel gauge; it dropped from ¼ to below E.
“Sorry Bear, I wish I could have kissed you one last time,” Marty said as he reached up, snatched the picture from the control panel and stuffed it in his shirt. He returned to the controls, shutting down two of the engines hoping to get just a little more. All he had to do was clear the mountains and he could belly land on the tundra and ice.
Matt’s free-fall was brutal. He shifted to his half-Bear form to keep from freezing. Punching down through the rough air, he became a bullet reaching terminal velocity quickly. He could not feel Rusty or Norman, his stomach was tight, and dread was creeping in. The altitude monitor in his helmet chimed as he fell into the eye-of the storm. It was quiet, clear and let him get his bearing. Deploying the first chute, Matt slowed his descent. The jolt took the air from his lungs and snapped one of the carry straps on his gear bag. He spied the mountain beacon, a soft red light blinking against the raging storm. To his right and left he could see the storm circling; it was about to take him again. Matt detached from the chute and started his second free fall, this time he stretched out his arms and legs in the wing suit and started a controlled free flight. He could see the valley range leading to the Arctic Den. He had to be in that valley to be safe. As he glided closer, his senses picked up Rusty and Norman. He focused on them and shifted directions slightly. As he closed on the valley, he could see he was about to hit the blizzard again. Matt held his breath as he punched into the frozen downdraft and was flung toward the ground. Struggling, against the wind and to keep a direction, the ground came up fast. Matt pulled both chutes and exhaled. The chutes slowed his descent, but he still hit the snow and ground hard. As he lifted his head, he had made it in the valley and the storm was raging around him. Ice and snow became daggers that dug into him. He put his head down and let his body heal.
Wobbling to his feet, he shed the wing suit and other gear. He reached back and found his gear bag, holding on by the last threads of the strapping. Matt slung the bag, checked his weapons and proceeded on through the valley. The blizzard was making it hard to move, but he pushed through. Walking through the center of the valley, he centered himself and let his other senses be his guide.
Matt closed his eyes and the world lit up in colored shapes and soft light. He was in the valley, skirting the ridgeline and making his way to the Arctic Den. As he made his way, he felt the darkness around him circling him, beckoning him to accept it. He shoved it away and focused on the den, he was closing on it. The den itself was constructed of makeshift shelters, cave systems, and Inuit winter huts. He passed the first, not feeling anyone inside. Entering, he found a young Bear, decapitated lying on the ground. Matt’s anger grew. Leaving the shelter, he made his way toward Rusty and Norman.
No games, no stealth, he would approach without caution. He would meet this threat head on. He would deal death to whoever was in the way. Rusty and Norman were up ahead in the main meeting area. It was a cave that had an entrance built onto it. This stopped the air and made the inside very warm. The cave was large with a long entrance that opened to a wide central area with a fire pit in the center. Smoke exited from the top through a natural cave flue.
Reaching the entrance, Matt paused; there was a group of Bears in the shelter to his left. He shifted direction and waded through the snow toward the shelter. As he reached the shelter a Bear came from seemly thin air. It pounced at Matt in Half form, with large blades in each hand; its speed was unbelievable and it handled itself skillfully. Matt traded cuts and blows with the Bear and ended the Bear with a muffled burst from his weapon and a slice across its throat, taking its head. Matt was letting the darkness take him. The unwritten rules of Bear Combat were no longer in play. Matt would kill by whatever means necessary. Opening the door to the shelter he saw the den members were inside, waiting. At a closer look, they were all Cubs, young ones.
“Where are the others?” Matt asked them.
“In the cave, Rusty and Norman are with the last three. Norman is hurt. They move faster than bullets, we tried to defend them, but we could not stop them. They knew you would come,” one of the Cubs said as he started to sob.
“Where are the older Bears?” Matt questioned.
“They’re all dead, the two big ones killed them and burned them in the fire pit of the cave,” the Cub sputtered, sobbing.
Matt dropped to his knees, he was sick to the pit of his stomach. The Cubs came to him, hugging him. Matt was filled with rage. He could feel it building within him. He could feel the tug to let go itching at his mind, scratching at his gut. So much death surrounded him. So many brothers had been killed without cause. The rage was building within, cresting on his skin, and charging the air with static.
“Take this, it’s loaded. Point and shoot anything that comes through the door that’s not me. Do you understand?” Matt said looking at the Cub that he had been talking to. He handed his side arms to a few other Cubs along with the extra ammunition.
“At first light, move south to Papa-David’s Cabin; don’t stop until you get there. Travel as Bears and stick together. Understand?” he spoke to all of them as he stood. They nodded. All the Cubs knew the cabin; it was a favorite spot to stop on a trek south.
“No matter what happens, you move at first light. Don’t wait; don’t hesitate. Any Bear that follows after me is an enemy. Do you understand?”
Matt rose, removing his gear slowly; he stripped out of his jacket and took off his weapons rig. From his bag he pulled his sword, a custom cut weapon made of the hardest, thinnest metal available. He secured it across his back and slid more blades into his thigh pockets. He was leaving when a Cub reached out to stop him.
“Stay in the light, the darkness has no place for you,” whispered the young one.
“I have no place left to go,” he smiled sadly at the Cub and walked out leaving the Cubs behind him.
Outside, Matt took several steps toward the cave. He gathered his energy and the energy around him. He could feel the darkness pull at him; this time he didn’t shove it away, he didn’t push back his anger, and he didn’t stop himself. As a Guardian, he always kept himself in control. He kept the animal at bay, hidden just under the surface. Now there would be no hiding, he would kill anything in his path without remorse.
With each step Matt took he could feel his power vibrate through him. He approached the door of the cave and reached out with his senses, he could feel Rusty and Norman accompanied by a faint unfamiliar energy. The Werebears inside were skilled, like him. ‘This will be fun.’ He opened the door, grunting as the frozen metal creaked loudly. As he closed the door behind him a strong smell assaulted his nose; burnt Werebear flesh had a scent all its own. He took a few steps and stopped, there were three others here with Rusty and Norman. Matt walked through the hallway into an open area.
“Stop right there Guardian.” A large Bear stood, wielding a long blade just on the edge of the soft firelight. Matt could see Rusty chained against a post, a collar pressing tightly against his throat and Norman suspended by his neck, standing only on his tiptoes.
Matt stopped and waited; he could not get a bearing on the others in the room. The smell of burning Bear flesh was overpowering and it seemed the others were just as skilled as he was, if not more so. He could tell that these Bears were not Guardians; all Guardians carried an energy signature that was unique only to them. Matt would have to wait until they showed themselves or until he was attacked.
“I’m glad you could join us, little Guardian. Did the welcoming party give you a good warm up; did you have a good workout? I hear you killed them all, not to bad for someone so young,” the Bear smirked, swirling his blades. “I digress though; now that you’re here I can attend to some unfinished business … I can kill this nuisance.” He barked with laughter as he reared back, plunging the blade through Norman’s chest, splitting his heart. The Bear ripped the blade sideways, almost tearing his body in two. Norman’s eyes flickered weakly as his energy faded from the room. He slumped over held up only by the collar around his neck.
“Noooooooo!” Rusty wailed, shifting to his Bear form; his steel collar and chains held him back from rushing to Normans’s aid.
Matt froze as two Bears advanced toward him; they each sunk a blade into his unprotected sides. He made no effort to evade them or to counter their attack and instead waited as they slid to a halt burying their blades deep within him. He pressed a paw to each of their chests and looked up at the large Bear in front of him
“Bear, I will end your existence. You will not be reborn into the next life. You will end, and you will meet your end here,” growled the Guardian. In his mind, he called the darkness and let it take him over. The darkness reached for him and wrapped Matt in its cold embrace.
The Bears to Matt’s sides started to twitch and shake, letting go of their blades. Under Matt’s paws a soft green luminescence glowed against the Bears’ chests. His eyes glowed blue and static discharged from his body; he took a step forward and with it took the life force, energy, and the souls of the two Bears. Their lifeless shells fell to his sides as Rusty and the large Bear watched. He turned to stare at the large Bear and smiled. Closing his hands the energy of the Bears vanished, and with it a gust of air swept through the cave toward the large Bear who still stood over Norman’s dead body.
Matt took a few steps forward towards the Bear, drawing his sword as his blood continued oozing from the blades buried in his sides. In a flash he moved forward and sunk the blade into the chest of the large Bear and placed his left paw over its heart; like the others, the Bear started to twitch. With a roar, Matt stepped back pulling his blade and the soul out of the Bear. He would not be reborn; Matt had ended its existence. He gave their life force to the darkness; he paid the penance for his actions. Matt leaned his head back and howled, bellowing at the sky. He turned to Rusty and began walking towards him.
Matt’s eyes glowed as he approached; the darkness had consumed him, enveloping him in its embrace. Guardians walked the line between giving and taking life. They used the energy around them to heal, to protect, to guard, and to shelter those around them. Matt had made a decision; he had given himself to the dark. Now all he wanted was to kill; to kill everything around him. Rusty could feel the change in Matt. He had become something bad, something evil. The gentle water that had always been Matt had vanished and been replaced with violent heat and anger.
Rusty roared and gnashed his teeth at Matt as he approached; the steel collar and chains were preventing him from moving and escaping. This wasn’t Matt, it was the darkness. Rusty transformed back to his human form, pleading for Matt to stop, to snap out of it. Matt raised his sword to kill the Kermode, to take the life of the one he had sworn to protect.
From behind them the soft murmur of bells echoed from the shadows. They came softly at first, escalating in volume as they came closer. ‘Bells!’ From the entrance came the Cubs, carrying the calling bells; the bells used to call the Great Bear. They circled the two bears continuously ringing the bells around them. One of the Cubs approached Matt fearlessly, ringing a set of bells tied to a staff. He stopped and looked up into the glowing eyes and snarling maul of the Guardian.
“Come back to the light Guardian, come back to us. We need you,” said the small Cub.
Matt looked down at the Cub and then over at Rusty, who had dissolved into sobs, tears streaming down his face. He looked from Rusty to Norman’s lifeless body, hanging over a pool of blood. Matt’s eyes glowed brightly and his growling faded away. The wind in the cave seemed to pick up dramatically as he looked back to Rusty and cut away the chains that bound him. Rusty dropped to his knees and quickly scrambled past Matt to Norman, sobbing louder.
Looking around, Matt looked over at the couple and then at the Cubs. “Send three of the best runners to the cabin, and radio for help. I’ll save Norman, but everyone will need protection. Do it now,” Matt ordered looking back to Norman. Behind them, three cubs handed off their bells and darted for the door, shifting to half form as they moved.
Matt walked over to them and put a hand on Rusty’s shoulder, he was clawing at the collar trying to get Norman down. “Step back and out of the way,” Matt spoke in a tone that was deep and detached, nothing like his own voice. Rusty quickly complied.
In one smooth motion, Matt cut Norman down and cradled the lifeless Bear to the ground. He sniffed at Norman and smiled, “You will not be eating at the God’s dinner table tonight by friend.”
Matt looked up and nodded at Rusty, who scrambled back to them.
“Will he be ok?” Rusty asked in a soft, quivering whisper.
“I’ll save him.”
‘Take this sword; he will need it when he wakes. When he does, the world will be different to him. Be patient, he will be your protector now. Step back Spirit Bear, you must not touch my blood,” Matt said as he pushed the hilt of the blade against Rusty’s chest and pushed him back out of the blood, out of the way.
Rusty complied, but danced on his toes nervously behind them. The Cubs surrounding them continued to ring their bells, keeping Matt in the light and the darkness at bay. Matt looked down at Norman’s body and smiled. The air in the cave began circling them, whipping and churning around the two. The Cubs moved closer, ringing their bells and forcing Rusty to step closer to Matt and Norman. Matt gently placed a hand over Norman’s forehead and the other over his own belly. A glow was visible from beneath his hands as he pulled his own life force from his body, whimpering softly. He looked up at Rusty and smiled.
Rusty figured out what Matt was going to do, but before he could move the Cubs blocked his path. “Let him stay in the light, and after darkness will take him. This is his final act as your Guardian,” one of the Cubs whispered respectfully to the Kermode.
Matt took his paw off of Norman’s forehead and grabbed the blade still buried in his side. He twisted it and jerked it from his own body. Guardian blood spewed from the gaping hole all over Norman. Matt’s blood sizzled and smoked in the cold air. As the Guardian blood covered Norman, working its way into and through his body, the massive wounds began to close. His heart mended and his body repaired itself. Matt wobbled on his knees above his body. Taking his left hand, still aglow with his own life force, he upturned it and slammed it into Norman, shocking the Bear back to life. Norman’s body jerked and his chest expanded, inhaling deeply. Matt’s eyes flickered and closed as he slumped over Norman. In the cave a roar came on the wind. The vortex picked up furiously and gusted out in all directions. The gust blew out the torches in the cave, shoved the Cubs back and blew Rusty to the ground.
As the dust settled a cold chill remained. Rusty scrambled over and tugged at Norman’s side. Matt had slumped over Norman’s legs and blood was everywhere. Norman started to cough and wake up. Rusty pulled him away from the blood, away from the death, closer to the fire. They slid Matt’s limp body off and scrambled backwards. Rusty was pawing Norman, half babbling.
“Are you okay… are you okay?” Rusty kept repeating as Norman stumbled up. He was wobbling, falling over; unable to get his balance, or bearing. He flopped around as if he didn’t know where his limbs were going to go. After several minutes he resigned himself to sit on the floor.
“What happened? I can’t see right. Everything is off, distorted, and colored. It’s so loud in here. The wind is howling, fire is crackling and it’s hurting my ears. I can hear your heartbeat. Why is it so loud?” Norman growled putting his paws to his head and transforming as he did, growling and barking. Norman was going through a second change, just as Matt had many years before.
“Matt said it would be different when you woke up. He healed you. He brought you back to life,” Rusty replied, watching the Bear he loved, his mate, his everything.
Norman covered his ears with his paws in a vain attempt to shut out his new Guardian senses. What had taken Matt almost a hundred years to develop, Norman was now experiencing all at once. When he finally did find his footing, Rusty noticed right away that he was taller, stronger, and more muscular than before. His fur was thicker and denser; with a layer of course top hair down his back. His ears were slightly larger, and twitched as they focused on sounds. His claws were longer, sharper, and a darker color. His paws were narrower, digits longer. On his chest where he had been cut and healed, his fur was lighter, and in the shape of a lightning bolt across his chest.
All at once the Cubs started ringing their bells again; chanting an ancient mantra that all the Bears knew. One they learned when visiting the Arctic Den. The Cubs were Arctic Bears, bears of the first tribe. They had walked with the Great Bear and now they would call the great one here, to them. They would save their Guardian, no matter the cost. Matt had walked in the dark to protect the light. He had given his life so that others would live. He had sacrificed everything to make sure the next generation of Bears was safe and the Kermode was given a new protector.
Norman covered his ears, howling and whimpering for the deafening new sounds around him. Rusty pulled him tightly against his chest, hugging him the best he could while the big bear continued to howl in pain as the ringing continued.
The Cubs encircled Matt and kept chanting, calling the Great Bear to this place. The great one had chosen Matt to be a Bear. Now the great one would decide if he was worthy to be given life again; worthy to live, to love, and to die when his time came.
After a few moments the fire became ablaze and the wind picked up once again in the cave. A scent carried on the wind; one that both Rusty and Norman knew. It was the same scent that had smelled when Matt was changed; when the Great Bear came to them and gave them permission to change Matt to a Werebear. The wind began to circle around the group, forming a vortex from which the Great Bear stepped out of and into the light of the fire. It looked around at the circle of Bears and then to the lifeless body of the Guardian at its feet. The Great One bowed its head and sniffed Matt’s body, inhaling his essence. It raised its majestic head and chuffed. The Cubs, still ringing their bells, stepped forward along with Norman. Rusty moved to follow, but Norman held out a hand to stop him.
“No Spirit Bear, you must not follow. Please, stay here. We will save our brother,” Norman said, wobbling over towards the Great Bear. As the Cubs and Norman stepped forward they transformed and each laid a paw on Matt’s body; a green glow slowly appeared around them. The Great Bear leaned its head in with its muzzle inches from Matt’s nose; a soft green wisp of air entered the lifeless body of the Guardian.
The Great Bear rose and stood on his hind feet, releasing a low roar, slowly building to a deafening sound. The glow around them had intensified and the Cubs, who were giving themselves to bring back a brother, all leaned their heads back and added their own roar to the fray. On the floor, Matt’s chest rose and fell, just slightly at first and then more. His eyes snapped open as he screamed in pain. The blade that was still in him was pushed out and the wounds began to close. He screamed again as the Great Bear lunged down and slammed both its paws into his chest. The Great Bear looking into Matt’s eyes and saw the soul of a Guardian; a selfless creature that would give of himself to save the ones he loved. The Great Bear put its muzzle to Matt’s ear and whispered something only he could hear. Then it lifted its head and faded from their presence as if it were smoke on the wind. The air settled in the cave, the fire returned to its slow rumble and all the bells were quiet. The Cubs scrambled to Matt’s side, holding onto him. They pulled him over to the fire, where he mumbled something and passed out.
Several days later, the first of the Bears arrived at the Arctic Den to lend support, rebuild what had been destroyed, and help the young ones. Matt had been asleep since the Great Bear healed him, not moving from a warm bedroll by the fire. His dreams were peaceful, quiet, and deeply needed. He had fought the darkness for so long he knew nothing else. The peace he was now given was a turning point, a new lease on life and a new chapter in his journey. As he moved from dreams to consciousness and back again, he reflected on what the Great One had said to him. “Be ready young one, another chapter must be written. The darkness will come again,” echoed through Matt’s dreams.
As Matt slept there was a successive line of aircraft, snow vehicles, and walkers arriving from all over, converging at the den. Bears from every part of the world came to lend a paw. A meeting of den Elders took place and old feuds were resolved and friendships formed. The events that brought the Great Bear to the den were told and retold as more and more visitors arrived. The Cubs who Matt had saved spoke of his attributes, while some Elders spoke of his faults. Soon the Arctic den had well over 200 Bears and Cubs meandering about. They came to visit with the Kermode, to hear the origin of the Guardian, and to tell of the horrible events that brought them all together.
Luke, Vic, Boris, Rick and George had arrived for the meeting of the Elders and stayed with Matt, Norman and Rusty. Luke stayed with Matt, not eating, not moving, and only laying next to his mate. Norman was adjusting to his new senses, but without Matt to guide him, it was a struggle. He was stronger, faster and more in touch with his surroundings. George wandered the den grounds searching for his mate. He had trekked to the ocean and back looking for Marty, but found nothing. Vic stayed close to Boris and assisted with the duties of peacemaker & Elder, and helped everyone make the best from this horrible situation.
Matt woke up after about ten days of sleep. He rose silently, moving past Luke and the other Bears as they slept. He made his way out of the hut and to the edge of den territory without being noticed. George was there, sitting, looking out on the Tundra toward the ocean, waiting for a love that had not returned. He had stayed transformed since the day Marty and Matt took off. He was there with his nose to the wind, waiting.
“Can you feel him Guardian? Can you feel Marty out there?” asked the huge Polar Bear.
“I’ve tried, but no, I can’t locate him. My senses are off, dulled. I’m not sure …” replied Matt.
“WHY?!” barked the Polar Bear, turning full of rage and leaning into Matt’s face.
“There was no other way,” Matt spoke gently to the Bear.
“You could have flown the plane yourself, you taught him how to fly, you Bastard! You called him to his death, you knew he was going to die!” roared George, inches from Matt’s face.
Matt fell to his knees, “Great Polar Bear, I know how old you are. I know what Marty meant to you. If you wish to take my life for his, then do it. I can feel your pain, please spare me the horror of living with this regret and end me here on the tundra.” He put his head down to the ground with his hands outstretched in front of the large Bear. He had subjugated himself to the Bear that he had hurt; it was all Matt had left to give to make up for his actions.
George reared up on his hind feet and roared as loud as he could. Few Bears could generate such a cacophony of rage and loss alone. This would be the second time in his long life that George had done so. The sound reverberated through the valley and woke everyone. Luke was the first up, and scrambled out of the hut toward the pair. He was followed closely by Rusty and Norman. All the Bears were at a dead run, sprinting for the pair perched on the hill at the edge of the den territory.
George looked down at the small Bear kneeling before him. He saw the crisscross of scars on his bare skin and naked body. He saw the history of battles won and lesson learned. Looking further he saw a lamb that would lay itself to any slaughter to save the ones he loved, to protect the Bears in his keep. George roared again, lunging forward intent of killing the small Guardian. Through blinding rage and loss, George landed on his four paws over Matt, not touching him.
“I know you’re sad. Let us go to the tundra, let us search, let us be Bears and find what cannot be found. If we are unsuccessful, may we be each other’s anchor to bring us back here, to the world that holds nothing for us anymore,” Matt said to George as he huffed and panted over him. George stepped back from over top of the smaller Bear and lowered his head to Matt’s. Matt looked up into his eyes.
“Help me find him. Even if he’s dead, I need to know for sure,” George whispered, looking at Matt. Matt nodded and stood up, transforming into his half Bear form.
“Wait, where are you going? What are you doing?” barked Luke, reaching the pair.
“Bear, I must go with George to find Marty. Stay here, we’ll return.”
“Wait, no. You just woke up. You’re not ready for this, or anything for that matter. You… You..,” Luke stammered.
Matt smiled big and stepped toward him, “I’m fine, better than I’ve been in years. Please wait here, we’ll be back. I must do this. I must find the Cub that has been lost; the Cub that brought me here, the one that sacrificed without hesitation to save the life of the Kermode.” Matt walked over and grabbed a hold of Luke.
About the same time, Rusty and Norman made it to the top of the hill. Matt smiled at them, turned, and walked back to George. They both turned and started to jog off in the direction of the ocean; leaving behind everything, they were both locked into a singular mindset. On the run, Matt opened himself to the world, and reached out his senses. If there were even a trace, they would find it. The Bears ran without pause. They surveyed every hilltop, every valley. They left no cave unchecked.
Days passed. The two ate on the run and slept very little. On the fourth day, they crested a mountain and found the wreckage of a plane. It was a landing skid. Both Bears looked into the valley below and could see smoke coming from wreckage, a campfire. George roared into the valley. Seconds passed, and then the roar was returned. Both Bears leapt from the summit and charged down the mountain. Reaching the bottom, the crumbled remains of the aircraft could be seen through the snow and the fuselage of the aircraft was broken in half but on its side, the cockpit had been sheared in half as well. Marty hobbled out to meet the two.
George barreled toward the Cub, almost knocking him over from his excitement as they met. He was on top of him, licking him all over when Matt reached them. Marty had been badly hurt in the crash. His left rear paw was missing and his right arm was severed at the elbow. Matt stayed back, out of the way. George would realize his injuries soon, and was sure to be upset. Matt hung back, on guard, just out of reach, worried at how George would react.
“You’ve been hurt,” George chuffed.
“Yes, but I’m alive. Are Rusty and Norman safe?” he asked.
“Yes they are. Everyone’s at the Arctic Den with many others. Many have come to give witness to the Kermode and the Guardian,” George chuffed, while transforming into his half Bear.
“Witness?” questioned Marty sitting up, looking over at Matt. Matt had stepped away from both of them and was dancing on his toes. Marty could tell he was on edge.
“The guardian saved the Kermode from death. He saved the Cubs from a brutal end and made sure that help would follow. He saved the one you call Norman, and killed all the Bears that opposed him. He sacrificed his life so that Norman could be healed. After, the Great Bear came and gave life back to the Guardian, beckoning him to a different calling. He was asleep until five days ago, when we came looking for you. My love, I’m glad you are alive, but saddened at your condition. Have you tried to change and let yourself heal?” George spoke like an old Bear trying to translate in his head as he spoke, trying to make the right words come out.
“I haven’t shifted forms yet; I was waiting until the rest of my body healed. I’m glad you are here, I’m glad you found me, but how? The direction I took wasn’t a path to the ocean. I was off course and crash landing in the blizzard.”
“The guardian led us here. He said that the world told him where you were. He showed us the path, the path was paved in light is what he said,” George chuffed, looking back at Matt who was backing away.
“Matt come here,” Marty said.
Matt hesitated and then walked over, “I don’t have words…”
“It’s ok; just get me back where I can eat. The penguin I shot last week has long worn off,” Marty chuckled. They all laughed as they loaded Marty on George and headed back to the Arctic Den.
The trio arrived a few days later to loving fanfare and more questions from the Elders. Matt was asked to meet with them as soon as he arrived; during this meeting the Elders grilled Matt on what happened and why he did what he did. At the end of it, Matt was left a bit hollow by the questioning. Boris and Vic did speak in his defense, but others found his utter destruction of the Bears distasteful and deeply troubling. He had defended the Den, protected the Elder, the Kermode, and the Cubs. Why did it feel like he was being told he was wrong? That night, Rusty, Norman, Matt and Luke left the Arctic Den and trekked south. They made the journey as Bears, together. Matt walked away from everything; he was at a turning point. Luke was following closely, but not at his side. Matt seemed different to everyone. The four would journey all the way south to their home. It was time for reflection and decisions for all.
Many seasons later, four Bears lumbered through the thick Canadian forest not at any fast pace. There was no schedule they had to keep, nowhere that they needed to be. They were just being Bears, foraging for food, walking, sniffing, sleeping and eating. Matt was in the front, leading the way. Luke, Rusty and Norman were somewhere behind him. If anyone had seen them, it would have been an odd combination of Bears; a massive Polar Bear, an equal sized Grizzly and two smaller Bears, silver and white. In the past four weeks or so, they had covered a long distance and were making their way back home. After the events at the Arctic Den, they had all settled at Matt and Luke’s home. The space and the area suited everyone nicely, with ample room for guests.
Matt crested a small hill and saw the campsite. The Guardian had created Bear campsites all over their land and some in untamed areas. They were caves, hidey-holes, and spots that a Bear could go without being disturbed. This one was adjacent to the Trans Canadian Highway. Vehicle traffic could be heard, but not seen. There was a logging road below them and a clearing that state loggers and road maintenance workers used for equipment. However, that clearing was now vacant and the area was quiet.
Matt made it to the campsite and sniffed around; all was in order and quiet. He chuffed loudly behind him and waited. A soft chuff was returned and Luke crested the hill a few moments later followed by Rusty and Norman. Entering the stone circle they lapped water from a large trough that Matt had fashioned from stone. It was Bear sized and held gallons of rainwater. The site itself was on a ledge, overlooking a sheer rock face about forty feet above the clearing below. Matt had dug out the ledge to make it Bear sized, with a cave in the back. As with anything he built, there were a few supplies and some emergency gear concealed and stowed in the cave. After drinking their fill, they all settled down in a rough circle and fell asleep.
Matt’s dreams were awash with red hues, black shapes, dark places. He was walking as his Bear, out of the blackness and into the light; the darkness was pursuing him again, beckoning him back to the abyss. He heard the jingle of bells and it was growing louder as he walked. He heard young men crying, and speaking of Inuit. As he walked he saw the Great Bear before him. Standing on each side was a small human, not a child, but somehow not large. Matt knew they were adult, but they were small, like him. Each young human was ringing a bell. The Great Bear reared up in its hind paws and hugged the children close. As he was about to ask the Great Bear a question, sounds ripped Matt from his dreams and slammed him back to reality. He thought he might have jumped with the sounds.
The sounds of motorcycles and vehicles coming to a screeching halt in the clearing below jerked all the Bears from their slumber. They had slept away the afternoon and the sun was setting low on the horizon. Long shadows were being cast and the sun was at their backs. All the Bears looked at each other, Luke was first to speak.
“Dreams?” chuffed the Polar Bear.
“Young ones,” the Grizzly added.
“The Great Bear,” the Kermode concurred.
They all looked at each other and silently nodded. They were being called, spurred to action. The Bears in the clearing knew to answer the call, to act without question. Below, the hoots and hollers of drunken humans reached their ursine ears. They rose and peered over the ledge at the humans below. Down on the landing, several vehicles had pulled up and parked, surrounded by motorcycles and a larger moving type van. The humans were mulling around and starting to beat on the walls of the moving van, like they were picking at an animal in a cage. Several more humans arrived and went to the back of the vehicle, opening the door. It looked from the Bear’s vantage like the human was trying to get someone or something out of the vehicle. The human seemed to get mad and entered the van.
A muffled scream came from the van and the Bears watched as two small men were tossed from the van. All the Bears tensed up, and stood. Neither of the small men had a shred of clothing on. They were filthy, grimy and marks could be seen over their bodies. They looked to be children, but somehow the Bears knew they were fully-grown. Both men looked as if they were albino, with the whitest skin, blue eyes, and no body hair. They were backing away, scrambling from the human walking toward them. Forming a loose circle around them, the other humans reached out and grabbed them, hauling them over to the open bed of a truck that had pulled in.
“Let’s see if the $5,000 we paid for you is worth it,” the grubby man said as he grabbed a hold of one of them.
The smaller man tried to fight but was no match. A backhand across the face drew blood and knocked the smaller man to the ground. The jingle of a bell was heard, a single bell tumbled from the small man’s hand.
All the Bears stood up on their hind paws, something was happening. The man was unzipping his pants and walking toward the small man he had slapped to the ground. “Time to earn your keep,” he said as he walked forward aggressively. The other Albino scrambled to his side and grabbed the bell and started ringing it.
Yelling at the top of his lungs; “Pah-tat-gah-miet teht-ah Kakorotak Nane-Tak.” He yelled this while ringing his bell. Both white Bears looked at each other and leapt over the landing, without hesitation, and without cause for safety, they reacted. Luke and Rusty both hit the ground at a dead run, roaring loudly. Norman and Matt looked at each other, and peeled off in opposite directions to cover the flanks. None of these humans would escape. None of them would survive. The protectors of the young ones had been called, they had answered, and the fate of the human captors was now forfeit.
The young man was yelling, “White Bears Help Us.” and ringing the bell. The Bears knew what they had to do. The Great Bear wants these man-children saved, so they would be; these four Bears would see to that.
Luke was the first to their side. In a vicious lunge, he crushed the human that was about to violate the young man. Rusty was next, he pounced on another human as it drew a gun on Luke. He closed his powerful maul on the man’s neck, almost biting his head off. The two white Bears circled the two young ones, growling and snapping at the gang. They put themselves in between the young men and danger. A few of the humans started to open fire at the Bears, who had encircled the boys and were lying on top of them, protecting them from harm and gunfire. The humans didn’t even see the two half Bears coming at them at a dead run from either side.
Matt and Norman finished the fight, shifting to half-form as they moved. Norman had become quite the fighter and protector of his mate since Matt had healed him. They made quick work of the gang members, leaving just one scrambling backward toward a vehicle. Matt approached, his eyes glowing blue, his talons flexing, teeth showing. It was time for answers.
He pounced on the human and dug his talons into his shoulder. The human screamed as Matt half lifted him from the ground.
“Why?” Matt growled.
“We bought them in Montana. We bought them. They are wild; speak a different language. A farmer sold them to us,” the human blathered as he looked around at Norman dragging another dead gang member by its head, his talons still dug into the human’s skull.
“Where?” Matt growled again, dropping the human to the ground.
“Bozeman … Bozeman, Montana,” the human cried as he defecated on himself.
Rusty and Luke had started to cuddle the young men and lick them all over. The healing saliva of the Werebears was settling them, closing the cuts, washing away the bruises and erasing the past from their skin. The Bears lay on their sides, like mother Bears nursing Cubs. The little humans were snuggling on their soft fur, and talking to one another.
“Children,” Matt growled, while stooping down to meet the human’s eyes.
“Papers … we got their papers in the car. They’re 18,” sputtered the human.
“Anyone else coming?” Matt spoke in human voice, locking eyes with the human.
“Yes, please don’t….” the human said, but was cut short as Matt grabbed him by the throat.
Norman had made it to the car and retrieved the papers. He chuffed at them. “They are twins, both 19 years old; William and Zachery Meyers. The birth certificates are from Bozeman, Montana. Nothing else is here.”
Matt looked up in the sky at the clouds that were circling them, he felt the energy around them, and looked at the two young men sitting safely with the Bears. He knew what the dream was telling him. The next generation of Guardians was coming; the worlds of Bears and Humans would collide in the future, and these two would be the gatekeepers, the protectors, and the peacemakers.
“Leave the papers here. These two are no longer part of the human world; they will be Cubs. Leave no tracks, leave no trace,” Matt chuffed as he looked into the human’s eyes and smiled. The soft crack of the human’s neck was the only sound heard and the human fell away from Matt’s hand.
In the distance, the sound of motorcycles could be heard coming their way; the Bears looked at each other. Matt walked over to the two men, who stood up and hugged him. They had no fear of them. He bent down and started to speak to them in Inuit; he told them they would be safe, that no harm would come to them. He asked if they were ok and they nodded at him. He asked if they could hold onto the Bears fur and ride. They smiled, turned and all but ran at the two Bears that had risen to their feet.
As they turned around to climb onto Luke and Rusty, Matt caught them talking to one another. They were arguing over who was to be their father or Pash-ma-tah. Matt stood and spoke to his furry family.
“Bears, we run. We must take these two to the Western Native Village where they will be safe; they must arrive before the first snow. We must make this Journey as Bears and they must stay in our care. Others are seeking them, so we must hurry. We can leave no tracks; we can leave no trace. These two are destined for great things, and we have been tasked to protect them,” Matt chuffed at them in Bear speak. His family nodded and started to move off and climb back to the landing. Matt paused and looked around, Norman had moved fast. He had been decisive and deadly. Guardian blood had changed him eight years ago, when Matt saved his life. Norman would always be able to protect his mate and they would soon have a Cub.
At the landing, the Bears huddled down and listened to the humans arrive at the carnage. There were obscenities shouted and words of disbelief. The Bears had lay down out of sight and huddled around the shivering young men. Going to the back of the cave, Matt and Norman unearthed a few concealed parcels. They gave the young men some of the emergency food, which they hurriedly ate and drank fresh water. Matt took a blanket, cut it in two and cut holes for their heads. Then he tucked the blanket over each of them and secured it around their waists. He took a pair of socks, cut each in half, tied one end and placed some warmth on their feet. Through all this Rusty and Luke were close, watching as Matt cared for them. When he was done he looked up at them.
“In the dreams, these were not children, but men. Standing here I know them. I knew them before I saw them. I knew them before they called your names. They are kin; they are Bears. Luke, Rusty, these are your Cubs; you both are to sire the next generation of Guardians. Now, we must move and fast, I can feel the humans starting to spread out into the woods and search. I’ll secure the site and meet you along the way.
He watched the young men as they climbed onto the backs of the white Bears and moved off through the woods. He heard Luke as he started to run; the slow gate of a Polar Bear trotting was rhythmic and soft. Matt turned back to the campsite; he secured the buried supplies and cleaned the site. He paused briefly and spied over the edge, where the gang was surveying their dead and scavenging money and gear. ‘Typical humans.’ He turned, changed into his full Bear and made his way through the woods, tracking his family, reflecting on the changes to come.
Dusk became night. The Bears made good time in the moonlight. While running Matt gathered the wind and kept the cold air off of the young men the best he could. Since he had healed Norman, his abilities had proven difficult to muster and less acute. The thin blanket he wrapped around each young man would provide some warmth, but at the speed they were traveling, it was still cold. The native animals seemed to know what was happening, acting as if they knew that the Bears were carrying precious cargo. Wolves, Deer, native Bears, and all manner of beast and fowl lined their path, clearing the way. Matt could see the energy flow as it moved through the world to guide them. Several hours into the run, Rusty tumbled loudly to a stop. His Cub, William, had lost his grip and Rusty reacted, grabbing him and taking the impact for his Cub. The sound brought all the Bears to a stop, and they circled back. Luke came back to Rusty, who was on his back with the young man curled close to his chest.
“Pash-ma-tah, Pash-ma-tah, Pash-ma-tah …” The young William repeated, clinging tight to Rusty his eyes filled with tears. The young man was shivering heavily. Rusty curled his legs around the man, while lying on his side. He licked his head, and face washing the tears away. He snuffled to the Cub and hugged him close.
Looking over, Zachery had slid off of Luke and much the same thing was happening. He was repeating the same words as William, both in tears and shivering. Luke sat on his rump with a plop and snuggled the Cub close to him. Soon the soft sounds of sleep were heard from the Cubs and the Bears looked to each other, and then to Matt.
“Norman, pile up with Rusty. I’ll lay with Luke. Keep these two warm and at first light we’ll find some berries and water for them. We made good time; we should be at the western village in a few days,” chuffed Matt. Soon, the Bears were snuggled in. Matt could tell Norman had fallen right to sleep with William between them. For some reason Matt was on edge. As Luke and Zachery slept he reached out his senses, scanning the area as far as he could. The energy of nature was circling them; the animals were distant, yet close. It was as if they were standing watch over them, guarding the ones in charge of the young men.
Drifting off to sleep, Matt’s dreams were once again awash in dark places, screams, gunfire, and blood. He was still walking as his Bear, walking toward the sound of bells and the light. As he reached the light, the darkness returned, consumed him, drug him back down into the pit he was walking from. He woke with a jump and an audible snort. Zachery was looking at him; his eyes were bright blue, just like Matt’s.
The small young man reached up and grabbed Matt’s muzzle. He spoke in the softest of whispers, “Pah-mah-tah Cude-me-kur Kode.” It roughly meant, father stay in the light. Matt leaned in and licked the young man; Zachery leaned back into Luke, rolled on his side and pulled Luke’s huge paw and arm around him. Matt laid his paw across the young man as he fell back asleep.
The morning came too fast. The Bears woke to the sounds of the young ones wrestling with each other. They had unwrapped themselves from the Bears and were tugging and pulling at the bell, trying to get it from one another. After a few seconds, Luke chuffed and whined at them. They stopped and ran back over, proceeding to hug and love on all the Bears. Tummy scratches and muzzle rubs were given and everyone giggled for a few minutes.
Rising the young ones hopped on top of the white Bears and away they went. They paused at berry patches and a small stream to drink. The two seemed to be stronger today, more alive. Whenever the Bears would stop, the young ones would hug all the Bears. Matt kept his distance, scouting ahead and coming back for them. This kept on for the majority of the day. He watched as Luke cared for Zachery, he was nimble, not clumsy. He was caring and loving; this was a good thing.
It was getting dark; Matt had scouted ahead and found a suitable spot on a flat mesa overlooking the beginning of tundra and the entrance to the Western Tribal lands. He used his large talons to dig out a bowl impression that the Bears could lay in with the young ones. This would keep some of the wind off of them as they rested. Looking around, he noticed some small tree debris and a few other materials. He quickly constructed a lean-to structure and placed it as a windbreak. A quick glance over his shoulder confirmed that the Bears were almost here. He was placing rocks to secure the shelter down when they arrived. Luke and Rusty dropped to their knees and onto their bellies, panting as they did. The young ones slid off and ran over to the Guardian, hugging him in his half Bear form. They were still shivering, but would settle down soon. Norman came into camp a few minutes later with his arms full of wild berries. It looked like he had pulled up the entire bush by its roots. He had found a container along the way, and had filled it with water. The young ones waited patiently as Norman sat the foods down and then let them at it; while they were eating the Bears just looked at each other.
“Matt, what did you mean these were our Cubs?” asked Luke.
“It was the dream with the Great Bear. You will each have a Cub, they will be Guardians,” Matt spoke to them and looking at each of them.
“What do you mean? You say it like you are not part of it,” Luke said, a little sniffy and angry.
“That’s not what I meant, you two are their sires. Norman and I aren’t,” Matt plainly chuffed.
“Why the western village?” Norman asked, sitting down and giving Rusty a hug.
“The dreams; I saw the Western Village tribal sign and heard the bells of the Elders,” Matt said sitting down across from Luke. He had been distant over the last few months, even more so now. It was like he had detached himself from Luke. A chuff came from Luke and Matt looked up at him. Luke was about to cry, Matt scooted over and held the big Bear’s head.
The young ones finished up and walked over to the Bears, “Pah-mah-tah Cude-me-kur Kode,” they both said and looked at Matt, grabbing a hold of him and squeezing tight.
“What did they say?” Norman asked.
“It translates into father stay in the light,” Matt said looking at them.
“Um… What?” Rusty and Norman asked.
“I don’t know, but I’m sure the meaning will present itself soon,” sighed Matt, but knowing exactly what he was going to do and exactly what has going to happen. The light and dark are two sides of a coin. They represent a choice. For the second time, Matt would have to make a choice and this time it would be to leave or to stay with them. He had been feeling out of place, out of sorts, not comfortable with the world of humans. This world held little that he desired nothing that he needed, and more conflict than joy. If it had not been for his love of Luke, and the closeness he felt toward Rusty and Norman, Matt would have faded away long ago, away from everything and everyone.
“Let’s get these two to sleep and catch some rest. Tomorrow we will be at the Village and these two will be safe,” Matt spoke and hugged Luke close. The Bears and Cubs curled up in the pit that Matt had dug. The windbreak/shelter that he built worked as intended; the breeze was calm in the pit, everyone slept soundly and kept very warm.
In the morning, the Bears woke and looked at each other. The young ones were soundly sleeping where they had come to rest the night before. Wrapped in fur, surrounded by love, and submerged in the warmth that is family.
“We need to wake them,” Norman chuffed quietly.
“I know, but he’s so warm and safe,” whined Luke.
“Yes, wake them. We need to get moving, I fear that the snow is almost on us,” Matt chuffed, standing and stretching while looking over at the sky.
Luke and Rusty licked their Cubs awake; they woke to giggles and protest. Like mother Bears cleaning their young, the two cleaned the young ones from head to toe. After, they climbed on and departed. Matt had already gone ahead to speak with the village Elder. He had awoken on edge; he knew this was going to be a turning point.
In the Inuit village, the Elder was also a Bear. He had lived in this place for his entire life. Matt had met him during a long trek, they met on the magical tundra to the north; a place that Matt would come to know as the hunting grounds. It was a place that old-Bears eventually came to; they were either told of the place or were drawn to it. When Bears tire of the world of humans or have lost the will to move forward, they come here. They come to hunt, to live, and to die. They forget the human world and everything that goes along with it.
Matt came to the clearing at the edge of the Village and waited to be seen. He sat down and waited. A few tribes-men alerted the Elder, who walked out to meet him. The Elder stopped and bowed before Matt and he returned the gesture.
“I have been expecting you, silver one.” spoke the Elder.
“Two Young ones have been entrusted to us, we bring them here for safety and to learn the ways, the ways of life,” Matt chuffed.
“I have seen them in dreams, the Great One told me of your arrival. We have made preparations. Silver one, the darkness is coming for you, you must meet it. You will have to choose. You can no longer walk in both worlds.” The Elder said, getting to his feet.
The Elder took a long bone necklace from his satchel and hung it around Matt’s neck. The necklace was a totem, a warning to the darkness that this Bear was needed, he was wanted, and he was deserving of life. Matt rose to his feet, and placed a paw on the Elders shoulder. Turning the Elder beckoned Matt into the camp and to a large fire that was burning. The villagers brought large bowls of water and fermented meats. He drank deep and ate politely. After, he sat back and chuffed a thank you at the villages for their generosity.
About the same time, the others emerged from the tree line and walked cautiously toward the village. The young ones had sat up, riding the Bears as if they were horses. There was much conversation among the villagers. Two white Bears, carrying two white haired, blue-eyed young men was a site for anyone. Walking into camp, Luke was weary; he had not been to this place before. The villagers came to the Bears, touching them as they moved. They stopped at the fire by Matt’s side, panting, and waiting.
The Elder spoke to them, “White ones, you can leave the young ones with us. We will protect and teach them for a season. When you return they will be ready for you, ready to be as you are, ready to be with you.”
Luke reared up, backing away. “No, I’ll not leave him,” he bellowed, turning to run. Matt moved to block his path.
“Luke, this is the way. They must stay here; we have to ensure their safety. We have much to do while they learn and grown,” Matt spoke softly to his Bear.
Luke growled and roared in Matt’s face. He reared back and swatted Matt across the muzzle, knocking him to his knees. Everyone at the clearing jumped. Luke roared again at the smaller Bear, who was now on his knees before the massive Polar Bear. The other Bears and villagers backed away. This was a personal matter between two Bears; a mated pair. Everyone knew Matt was holding back and that he could easily kill if needed, but that was not an option.
Matt got up and chuffed at his Bear. “Luke, this is the way…” Luke swatted him again. This time the impact took Matt over to his side and slid him a few feet on the ground.
Luke roared and gnashed his teeth, snapping at everyone around him. Zachery was still on his back, holding on tightly. Matt got back to his feet; the last swat had ripped Matt’s face from ear to muzzle in three long lines of blood.
Matt stepped back up to Luke. “Bear, this is the way. You must leave him. We must prepare and make their home safe. Please…” Matt chuffed as blood flowed from his face and dripped to the ground. It steamed as it touched the semi frozen soil.
Luke roared again and reared back. This time intervention came from an unlikely place. William had gotten off Rusty and scooted in front of Matt, holding out his hands.
“Pash-ma-tah Me-ut!” William yelled at Luke, ringing the bell he held.
The great Polar Bear looked at the young man, standing naked, cold, on frozen soil, with his hands outstretched to stop him. The young one had no fear. He had acted without hesitation, selfless; just like Matt would have done. Luke whined loudly, looking over at Matt, who was still bleeding; the wounds were healing but very slowly. He whined again, and knelt to let Zachery slide off. As the Elder came to take the young ones, Matt limped off out of the camp, leaving them. He heard the Elder talking to them, but his part in this was over. He had fulfilled his part of the dream. He had delivered the young ones; he was done. Done with everything, it was time to move on.
He stopped at a small stream not too far from the village and dunked his muzzle and face in the water. Shaking his head under the water, he washed away the blood and cleaned his wounds. When he stopped and caught his reflection in the calming water, he saw a different being; dark, evil and angry. Three new scars had been added to his body, yet another reminder of what he was. He noticed that the totem the Elder had given him had been torn away in the exchange. He walked a bit more and then just lay down on the frozen, cold ground, under the clearing star filled sky. The northern lights danced on the horizon as he faded from this world. He was tired, so tired; the will to move had left his body. The need to be with brothers and kin slipped from his being; he was again broken. As he lay on the frozen ground, dreams took him again.
The cold of the tundra faded away. Matt was sitting still, the darkness was circling him. Flashes of light were pushing the darkness away, but the darkness was winning. It swirled around him, wrapping itself around him, covering his fur, pulling him down to the ground. Matt was letting go; he wasn’t fighting anymore. He just didn’t have the will to live anymore; his reason for living had struck him. Luke had given into blind rage and struck him. This was the one thing that Matt could no longer forgive.
Light came to the dream. Slowly, it filled his dream until it was bright, it was so warm. Two young men appeared on either side of him. They ripped and tore the darkness away from his silver fur. Pulling Matt to his feet, they gripped his sides, making him walk, making his four paws move along the ground. They pulled him, kept him up, kept him moving forward away from the darkness. The dark would not have Matt this day; he would not will himself to die just yet.
The dream faded as someone was rubbed Matt’s ears. He opened his eyes to the young ones. They were kneeling next to him, both naked to the cold. Each had an ear, rubbing gently. Matt whined at them, chuffed and lifted his head. They hugged him close and kissed his muzzle. Zachery rubbed the lines on his face. The new scars were still tender. He leaned over and kissed each one. The Bears came to Matt’s side and leaned over him. Norman and Rusty nosed Matt to get up. He only whined and lay there.
From behind them a growl was heard, Luke lumbered up and over top of Matt. He lay on top of him and put his head by Matt’s ear. Chuffing and nuzzling the small silver Bear he whispered, “I’m sorry for what I did. Please forgive me?”
“You three need to leave and head for home. I have other business to attend to,” Matt chuffed looking around him, standing as he did so. Luke was bumped off and away. Matt turned to face them, his demeanor no longer loving or caring, he had changed, something had snapped.
“Go home, prepare the house and ensure the grounds are secure. Go. Go now!” Matt said. A glow was behind his eyes; the only one that knew this look was Rusty. Rusty, seeing this took a few steps back behind Norman.
Matt leaned over and licked each of the young ones and then trotted away, in a different direction than they had come. The Bears watched him leave; they looked at each other. Luke started to snuffle and turned away back to the village. He knew what he had done. He knew that Matt had been distant for reason, and that he may have just crossed the final line in Matt’s heart. Too much pain had passed between them; too much anger had been pent up and not dealt with. This was the straw that broke him.
One Last Try
Once the cubs had been settled into the village and the bears had assured their well being, Luke paced around like a caged animal. Nothing Norman or Rusty said seemed to reach him – the new cubs were safe and outside his immediate control, as Matt had demanded, so his mind spun once again in a vicious loop, without Matt there to comfort him. He would find Matt and fix everything. He’d pick him up and carry him back to the village or home or wherever so they could talk and fight and make everything right. He needed Matt, and he wouldn’t give up.
His mind made up, he shifted to his full bear form and lifted his face to the wind, casting his senses out. Some part of him could always find Matt, and he knew what direction he had to set out in.
Despite his usual lack of grace, when he truly let the Polar Bear take over, Luke could move with the stealth and silence of a natural predator. He slipped from the village unnoticed by all with incredible ease and picked up speed. He let the human part of him slip away, letting his ursine mind focus only on finding his mate, his other half. Miles rolled away, through several twists and turns, when suddenly his sense of Matt was gone. Matt had somehow sensed his pursuit and was shielding from him or something was blocking Luke from him. Yet he would not be denied his mate. Raising himself on his hind legs, he cast his senses again, battering at the invisible shields that were now somehow all around him.
“Let me in! Let me in! You can’t hide. I will find you! I need you!” the bear bellowed into the night sky, in anguish and longing. When no reply was came, he stomped his feet against the ground of the glade he had paused in, tearing up the dirt with his claws.
“NO! I won’t have it! You need to be with me! You can’t shut me out like you always do!” the massive polar bear roared, foam and spittle flying from his mouth, before lashing out and shredding the bark on a nearby tree. His blood boiled, and he felt the shields Matt had erected bend and warp. He would break them, and he would get his way. Leaning over, he grabbed a large rock and flung it against a boulder causing it to shatter, flying shards of it cutting into his shoulder and belly.
“Damn it! I said let me in!”
“Oh, that will work. More demands, more needs. Pull it together big guy,” said a voice from in front of Luke.
Startled, Luke looked down, to see a nondescript man standing a dozen feet down the trail, leaning against a tree.
“What the hell? Who are you? Get the fuck out of my business!” Luke growled at the stranger.
“We really should talk.”
“No. He’s mine. I will have him.”
“He isn’t property, and I think you know that. Calm down.”
“He’s gone, and it’s my fault. I am getting him back!”
“Now, hold on,” the stranger said, holding out his hands in a vain human attempt to stop Luke.
“NO!” and with that, Luke let his rage flow again. Stalking up to the man, he pulled back a forepaw and took an immense swipe, without thought to the damage he could do, and not caring about consequences, as he had done to Matt earlier in the village.
But, instead of standing and taking it, the man simply ducked below the attack, shifting into quarter form faster than the eye could see. He reached up quickly as Luke overextended, grabbing his arm, and using the momentum of the large bear as well as enhanced musculature, flipped the bear over and up into the air, to land hard on his back and knock the wind out of him. The man walked over, fisted his hand and proceeded to punch Luke square in his Polar Bear nose.
The shock and pain of this pushed Luke back to his senses immediately, and a ripple of energy coruscated over his body, from nose to tail. He found himself in half form – still furry and warm in the cold, but no longer full bear.
“Will you listen now?”
Still a bit dazed, Luke could only reply with a grunt and nod of his head.
“Good. I really despise shopping for clothes and shifting any further would have ruined these. I won’t take much of your time. And I won’t stop you. But, I will give you something to think about.”
“Please, I just need to be with Matt, to fix things.”
“That’s exactly it. Some things can’t and shouldn’t be fixed. Some things need time to heal or evolve on their own. Do you trust Matt?”
“With my life.”
“Do you love him?”
“With my heart and soul.”
“Does he love you?”
“Yes, deeply. I know he does. He shows it all the time.”
“Then why did he go?” The stranger asked, locking his deep green eyes with Luke.
The large bear began to shake as the reality of the statement sunk in. He began to sob. “Because I am not worthy of his love …”
The man sighed, walked over and tossed an arm around Luke’s shoulder. “No, love isn’t about worthiness. It just is. And that maybe part of the problem. You both let each other get away with a lot. You need him too much. He needs you to need him too much and then he resents it. If any two bears need to be together, it’s you two – and if any two bears need to be separated, it’s you two.”
Luke started to calm down, “What do I do then?”
“That’s up to you. If it was me, I’d say grow up. Do what you must to raise this new cub right. Trust Matt to do what is right for Matt – because he truly can’t do what is right for anyone else until he figures that out.”
“But I want him with me!”
“Look, are you unable or unwilling to be his mate? You’re behaving like a spoiled cub; do you truly think that’s all a mate is? If you are able to be his mate, then is that what you want to be.”
Luke considered this, and realized with a start that ever since Matt had been raped, parts of both of them had shut down to each other, covered over by the emotional scars they both bore, protecting each other from the hurt they felt instead of sharing it. Finally, their relationship had turned to one of need rather than growth and nurturing.
“You’re right. I have to let him work this out himself, and support whatever he wants, even if it is to start fresh. If only I knew he still could find it in his heart to love me, after all I’ve done. I won’t follow him. But, I will hope for his return with each breath I take.”
The man kissed Luke on his forehead. “Wisely said. Now go back and help everyone pick up the pieces, including you.”
Oddly calm, Luke turned and started back to the village pondering the conversation as he shifted more fluidly than he ever had before into full Bear form. The encounter took on a dream like quality in his mind as newly fallen snow swirled around the man until he was no longer visible.
The man watched as Luke trotted away, exhaling deeply; he looked up at the clearing sky. He was sure he would be swatted for this later. “Okay Little Brother, you are safe, none will pursue you, see you soon,” he said, to the chilly air. Turning and pulling his hood over his head, and tucking his arms in his tunic, he walked down the darkened path.