The End: Life’s Journey Comes to an End. “Matt’s Final Choice!”

Life’s Journey: Death and Rebirth

Prologue

Time passes with the changing of the seasons.  Matt has been quietly sleeping for about 20 season or so.  The young cubs that he helped save have now grown. They have trained in the ways of a Guardian. They have learned from Matts mistakes.  Now, as they have made the transition to Guardian and discovered Matt’s journals, and new adventure begins. The fate of many, hang in the balance.  Lives will change and the balance of power will shift or be destroyed.

In a distant, yet very near place, three Bears are resting lazily next to a remote lake.  The noontime sun has peeked over the high trees, and the warm sunlight has driven the morning shadows from the ground; bathing the area in light, warmth, and life.  The Breeze has shifted and comes from the North, crisp clean air falls from the glaciers and into the valley, a welcomed change in the passage of time.

“So cub, a shilling for your thoughts?” asked a Large Polar Bear, his curiosity growing.

“The past, the future….” His voice returned the question, but leaving more than it answered.

“You have been in a funk for a long time, I think it’s time to spill it, tell us what’s got you so deflated, that you would mope around for 20 years.”

Demanded a Tawny Grizzly, who was concerned for everyone.

“Things are moving, The twins will start to search for their Pashma soon, I don’t know if I like that.”  Answered the Black Bear as he sat up on his rump, lifting his nose to the sky, inhaling the scent of the northern breeze as it washed over them.

“Is it really your place to like it our not like it?” They asked in unison.

“It’s my right to make a choice, my heart and my mind are in conflict.  All I want is for Matt is to be safe, happy, and enjoy his life. I don’t see anyway for him to do that, if these others keep pursuing him.” Growled the Black Bear.

“ Cub look at us,” they asked.  The black bear spun around on his rump and looked at them both.  They were laying behind him, left and right paws holding onto one another.  Different colors, two parts of the same whole. They spoke—“If you’re wrestling with your love for the Guardian, then we suggest that you act on it.  He has been sleeping for a number of years and you have mopped around since that day. Do you love him?” asked his Papa Bears

“Lots of people love him, but can they really be his equal in life, can they give as much back to him as he gives to others,” he answered, as his voice lowered in depth, showing his emotions coming to the surface.  His fur starting to bristly down his back.

“Love is not about control or protection, it’s about respect and being.  If you need to go to him, then do it. If you want him to keep resting until he wakes on his own, go protect his path.  Either way, you can no longer straddle these two paths, you must choose one. They spoke sternly to him. They loved their cub, but in life, he must choose for himself, not be guided by rules or obligations into a set path.

“I know, but I don’t see anyway to do any of that peacefully,” his head lowered, muzzle starting to quiver.

“Do you love him?” They asked.

“Yes, Yes I do.,” He answered, knowing that regardless of what he did, he would have to make a choice, pick a path and move toward it.  He was no longer able to just observe the world, dabble when he wanted, and then escape back to his Papa Bears.

“Then go, let your heart be your guide.  Enter his world and become part of it, know that we support you.  But be warned, to become a part of his world, you may be lost to this one.  It’s only for short periods that we can cross over.

“I know Papa’s….I know.”  His voice trailed off as the breeze picked up.  He laid down with his muzzle across their connected paws.  They rolled over onto each side of the Black Bear and snuggled him close.  They knew he was fighting with himself, and soon he would be leaving the cave.  Sprouting his wings, and being on his own.

Part I

When Cubs Become Bears

Two figures are making their way through a blinding snowstorm, drawn by something that neither of them could quite grasp.  They were feeling a pull, a need to go, too seek out the one being that had given up everything, so they would be safe. The one who had walked away from one life, so two could begin.  They would find their protector, their first protector. The one who answered to call to action; and then disappeared. They must find him; they must tell him that he is needed. They must show him that they love him.  One carries a Bone Totem Necklace, the other a Wooden Staff. Both of these items were their Pashma’s, they would prove who they were, when they found him.

“How much further?” barked Zackary.

In  huff william answered him “Not sure. This place isn’t on a map.  All we have is a rough idea from Pashma’s Journal.”

“You mean we have been walking for two days, and you don’t know where it is exactly?”

“Give it a freaking rest, you know just like I do that Pashma wrote in code and riddle.  Heck, even the note he left when we were cubs was in code. It’s just that the other Bears did not see it.  At least not like we do.”

“I know, but tell me again why it took so long for you to figure it out?”

“Seriously! It was years before Papa Norman even let me into the den, much less read Pashma’s journals.  When I started reading, I saw the code on the pages. He detailed just about everything from his life with Papa when they were human, all the way up to finding us. I am still over-the-top pissed at all the Papa Bears and the Elders for not telling us sooner, or at least letting us read, and decide for ourselves.”

“Me too, but what happens if they find us, before we find Pashma?”

“Well, I guess we need to hurry the fuck up, and find him.  Because I am not going back there until we do, and I am sure as hell not going back to be someone’s servant and errand Bear.  Fuck that, and Fuck them.”

“You know the Great Bear told them to save us.”

“Yeah, and……”

“Our destiny is to protect the Dens not destroy them.”

“Bull shit!  Our destiny is ours to decide, not some old Bears that want to be in control of everything.  This is fear. They fear us for what we are, not because of who we are.”

“I guess you are right.  I could tell something was happening when Uncle David left last month.  He and Papa got into a heated argument when he was telling me about Pashma.”

“Yeah, that’s when I made the choice as well.  Lets just find shelter. Bears or not, walking in this sucks.”

The two found a remote cave, just barely deep enough for the two of them.  One of the two, who was always prepared, pulled out a ground cover and fastened it over the entrance to block the wind.  The other searched the cave, and built a small fire from some of the materials he found. There they would rest until the storm passed.  They shifted into their half forms, and snuggled together for warmth. Brothers by birth, Bears by blood, individuals in action.

They would find Pashma.

Papa Bears

“Have you seen the Cubs?” Luke asked as he almost ran into the kitchen.

Norman looked up at him, with that ‘oh great, what now’ look.  “No, I thought they trekked out with the other Cubs a few days ago,” he replied, as he flipped through one of Matt’s journal books.

“No, they didn’t.  I just checked in with the Arctic Den.  The cubs did not go with them. We have to find them.  They are out by themselves. They could get hurt….They could be taken by the humans…..Norman!  We need to find them!!” Luke was in a panic. Since Matt was no longer there to keep him calm, Rusty and Norman had stepped in.  He had learned to control himself, but was still prone to the vicious cycle of panic.

“Luke, you need to calm down, and I mean now.  Those two can take on anything and anyone. You have seen them in the trials; you have seen them in action.  Luke, you could not even touch William, and Vic was dropped like a cub by Zackery. They are everything that Matt was and more.” Norman was growing tired of Luke today.  Ever since the cubs had made their second transition, Luke had been clingier with them. Never letting them go anywhere by themselves. Almost smothering them. In truth, he was worried that he would not be needed any more.  Since Matt left, he struggled to find a purpose. The Cubs gave that to him, now they were growing up.

“What if they went to search for Matt?  Could you decipher his journals?” Luke rattled.  Talking faster, about to spin out of control.

Norman looked at him and thought, go ahead and hyperventilate.  When you pass the hell out, you will be calmer after you wake up.  “I am working through it. He wrote everything in code. It’s a mathematical progression principle, which uses ‘Base-Eight’ math.  I called Mitch, but this is way over his head as well. He is going to Yale University to talk with a Bear that runs the Math department.  Whatever Matt was trying to say, he knew the Cubs would be the ones to find it, not us.”

“I am calling George and Marty.  They can track them. They are Polar Bears.  They can track them if you won’t. Guardian my ass!  You turn that shit on and off when you want to. Extra senses…whatever!”  Luke snottily replied.

“Are you serious.  Calm Down Luke, what are you afraid of….Damn!  Stop being all Mother-Bear on them.” Norman replied and slammed his coffee cup down on the counter, hard.

“They are cubs and need to be cared for, watched after…..NORMAN!”  Luke shouted, in a high octave. He was getting ready to bolt or do something…. He was spinning into chaos.

“They are Guardians! They are Bears!  They made the transition in front of YOUR face.  You need to let go. Whatever has set those two off in this direction was thought out long ago.  Whatever message Matt left for them was buried in his writing from the start. He did not go back and re-write almost 40,000 pages of text and handwritten notebooks.  Luke….. This was a thought out plan.”

“We need to find them Norman, we cannot lose them like we lost Matt,” huffed Luke.

“Correction asshole, YOU lost Matt, not anyone else.  Your attitude and selfish nature caused that to unfold the way it did.  You need to stop thinking you are snowy white in all this. Seriously, you were an asshole toward him in the end.  Many are surprised he did not kill you in the village or in New Orleans.” He probably should have just kicked the fuck out of you, at least you would have respected him, not hated him for leaving….damn! YOU fucking idiot.  You threw away the most caring Bear I have ever known…for what…yourself? Freaking selfish asshole. Gods, what does Matt see in you?   Norman thought, as he stood up and glared at Luke.

The two bears were standing toe to toe, both brimming for a fight, as bears are apt to do.  From behind them the kitchen door swung open, it was the Elder, Boris.

“I came back when I heard what was going on. Tell me, have we found them?” Boris was worried, not for himself, but for this household.  They had held together after Matt’s departure, and now that the cubs were grown, it would seem they were all struggling to find a purpose again.

“Not yet Boris, not yet, Norman said while shaking his head.

“I can see that you both are upset.  The circle is repeating itself again.  Your Matt made a choice and left rather than have further conflict.  Now the cubs have gone in search of their Pashma. This was to be expected.  Tell me, all of Matts journals and writings were in code?” What have you done Matt?  What plan have you seen in our future?  What have you set in motion, years after you departed?  What is it? Thought the elder.

“Yes, he knew that none of us would pick up on it.  As soon as Zachery read the first volume, he started to consume the entirety of it.  It was like he was possessed. From the little I can piece together. He is teaching them something.  It’s like a training manual. We are still not sure about what. What we do know it was not meant for us, it was meant for the Cubs to find,” Norman stated while tapping a Journal book from Matts Den.  He had started to see the Pattern. He had started to understand. The perception of what was hidden on the pages was just at the edge of his perception. It was like a memory that would not come forth, or a stuck lock that would not turn.  Something was blocking the knowledge from him.

“I can think of only one place that Matt would be if he did not move on.  I suggest that we go. Send word to the Arctic Den Elder….The Cubs are headed for the Hunting Grounds.  We have to stop them before they enter. If they do, they will be lost to this world. We need to hurry, hurry.” This is going to be bad.  The dens are on the edge of civil war with each other. As our numbers have grown, so has the human need for violence and territory. This will not turn out well if the cubs are gone.  The elder thought, as they went down to Matt’s den, and radioed the Arctic Den.

Uncle Bear “Big Brother”

William and Zachary stirred to rapid awareness in the morning, not being prone to the usual teenage slow to get up behaviors.  Shifting back to human form, they quickly stowed their gear, eager and ready to get back on the trail to find their Pashma.

“I sure could use a cup of Papa Rusty’s coffee about now,” William droned.  His coloration had changed starkly from Zackary. He was now Panda. In human form his hair was evenly divided between the black and white and his eyes were different colors.  One of the brightest blue, the other a deep brown.

“Yeah, and three or four of his cinnamon rolls too!” replied Zackary. He changed into a mirror image of Matt.  Long course silver fur, with a black mask. In human form, this brother was silver haired with the same eye color difference as his brother; one of blue and the other a deep brown.  Both brothers had changed into Bears of the Moon, just like their Pashma. This new form came about when they made the transition to Guardian.

As they pulled down the ground cover, which had protected the cave entrance, they were shocked to see a figure standing over a fire in front of the cave, and suddenly the smell of sausage and fresh scrambled eggs and toasting bread and coffee assailed their noses.  This was impossible – no one could have snuck up on them like this and done so much with both of them totally unaware.

The average looking man glanced at them, pushing his glasses up his nose.  Then he started to laugh. “Oh, that look is priceless!”

Standing close to guard each other’s back, the brothers shifted partially, enhancing muscles, balance, speed and senses.  Fur bristling, weapons drawn. William with a staff; Zackary with two of Matt’s custom side arms. Energy radiated from these two,  visible to the Bear that was watching.

“Relax, boys.  I’m not here to harm you, or stand in your way.  As a matter of fact, after breakfast I might even just help you along a bit.  Seems like my Little Brother overestimated how fast you’d be.”

“Little brother? How did you find us? Why didn’t we hear you?” They asked questions as if they were the same being, each asking in turn.  Shifting further, getting ready, like it was a genetic response. You are acting like Matt would. Are you both the bears that the creator foretold of?  Are you?  The bear thought.

The bear looked at them for a moment.  “You didn’t hear me because you’re young.  You have the confidence of youth, and the lack of caution. You’ll learn.  The rest that can wait ‘til later.” Are they this connected to each other; to nature, like Matt? Are they the ones to bring peace to our kind?  The bear thought as he looked at them.

The brothers knew how to sense a threat when one was near, and something inside them knew that this man was not one.  They could tell he was a Bear, and not a young one, but other than that, their connections to the forces of earth and nature where simply not honed enough to test.  Even though they didn’t sleep like most teenage boys, they ate like all the rest of them, and the sight and aroma of the fresh hot food called to them. Empty Bear tummies growled in the silence.

“Go ahead, have a seat, we can talk while you eat.” The Bear said and motioned them toward the food.

“I don’t know, I have a feeling we are being followed.  The Elders and Papas won’t want us doing this, they’ll want to drag us back home.” Zackary said, still standing with William, back to back.

The man lifted his head, and even though there was no actual shift, the brothers saw an overlay of a black bear raising his muzzle to the wind.  “You’ve got time to eat. No more than minutes though.” They will not have you. I will see to that. He thought.

With that, the brothers quickly grabbed the travel plates and utensils that had been laid out, and heaped on food from the steaming bowls.  They went after the food like they had not eaten in days. But he knew that they were far from starving, and had ample supplies in their packs.  They had learned from Matt to always be prepared, food rations were a staple.

“Yup, nothing like hot food on a cold day to keep you going” said the man/bear, as he sipped his coffee.  “Now, then, what exactly are you doing….” He questioned, but knowing the answer… He had to know if this was their choice or someone else’s.

“We need to find Pashma.”  “He’s calling us.” “He left us all the clues we needed to find him.”  “We’ve been taught and trained, but we still don’t know why or really for what.” “We won’t be messengers or errand runners,” the brothers blurted out between bites. “We need him to tell us what to do.” “He’ll understand. He can show us.”  They spoke as twins, two parts of the same whole.

The man/bear looked at the young ones.  He saw their hope and their potential. He also saw the potential for the misuse of their natural talents, either by themselves or others; similar to the trap, which had befallen Matt.   However these two had each other, and “parents” that truly and selflessly loved them. Maybe all hope wasn’t lost. Pieces to the puzzle began to shift in his mind, possibilities open.

“You’ve had a lot tossed at you, haven’t you?” Questioned the man/bear.

The brothers looked at each other. “Yeah, I guess.  But we can handle it. Really we can.” They answered in unison.

“Of course you can.  The question might be, should you have to?” He stated, looking at them, working out what he was about to do.  Knowing that these two were the warmest Bears he had come across since his Papa Bears had changed him.

“My Papa said we needed to learn because it protected us. More than he could.”

“My Papa said the same, and he’s a Guardian too.”

“Guardians already, so young for that. It can’t be easy.”

“No, but we had to.”  “All our Papas, they love us.” “We know they want what is best for us.” “But sometimes we just want to play again.” “We don’t want to hurt them.” “But we need answers.” “Pashma will have our answers.” The brothers talked interchangeably, thinking in the same pattern, speaking as one.  The Bear/Man thought: they are one…. Both parts of the same whole…

The man/bear sighed, and looked them both in the eyes. He’d probably get swatted for this much meddling, but he owed it to one he cared for deeply.  “Look, the one you seek, Pashma, despite what you’ve read, or been told, he needed to find his own answers, and put down his own demons. Sometimes, you never find them or put them down.”

The brothers looked at each other the back to the Man/Bear. “No, he lives.  We feel him now. Very slow and hidden, but he is there.” “When we changed again, we could feel him, it is there, a constant tug at us.  Then we found his journals.”

“You sense him in the Hunting Grounds?  Amazing. You’re right, he is calling you, and only you are tuned to hear him.”  The Bear/man tilted his head to the sky and closed his eyes briefly. By the Gods Matt, you laid out a beacon that only the cubs would follow.  How? After the beating I gave you, the healing we went through together, you still called to them, why. What have you seen in your dreams, what is about the happen; Bear of the Moon… What have you seen?

“Hunting Grounds? What’s that?” They asked as they both continued to shovel the food in as fast as they could swallow.

“A place outside this earth, yet part of it.  Where the ancients go to pass on. You can cross over from many places, but it leads to the same path.  The one you seek is resting there. I’m happy he chose rest instead of being done.”

The man and boys talked while the boys ate, and he made clear to them many of the things that their Papas had tried to tell them.  In their clumsy, yet loving fashion, and that indeed, everyone had choices, there was not a set path that they must follow, and that those choices should be respected.

After the last scrap of food was eaten, the brothers stood.  “Let us clean this for you, Uncle.”

“No, I think you best be going now.  Time grows short, and others draw near.” Just then, the aurora peaked through a pass in the hills.  “Follow that light. Quickly. It is the easiest path to the Hunting Grounds. Once there, you will find the way to the cave that your Pashma sleeps in.  It is lit from within, you will see the light in the darkening of the day.”

“Others? Can they catch us?” They questioned.

“They can. But they won’t. Little Brother wants you, he is ready for you, and seeing as you have made it this far, I’m not going to let anything stop you.” He said, looking at them again.  By the gods, they are Guardians. They are the ones. Matt, why did you not tell me what you suspected? Why do I feel so drawn to you, and these cubs? He thought as he watched them for a few seconds.

“Thank you Uncle,” Both brothers bowed their heads to the man/bear.  “May we ask your name?”

“Uncle sounds good to me, my young friends. It has been a long since I’ve been called that.  Now, then, get going. Oh, and here, take these.” The man/bear tossed each boy a heavy rucksack.

“What are they?”

William, you have almost a bushel of apples, Zachery; almost a bushel of oranges. When your Pashma awakens, he is going to be mighty hungry, and he will want fresh fruit.  Lots of it. Otherwise, talk about getting up on the wrong side of the bed in the morning.”

The boys laughed, then rushed over and threw their arms around the man/bear. After a short moment, momentarily not knowing what to do, when such completely good and bright spirits touched him, he wrapped his arms around them both, and hugged them close.

“Be well, boys.  Be happy. Choose wisely.”

With that, the brothers shifted to half form, and broke into a loping run away from the cave, towards the pass and towards their future.

The Chase

They say that love can put wings on your feet, and perhaps that is why Luke, Rusty, and Norman were ranging so far ahead of the rest of the bears searching for William and Zachary.  They ran straight on now, as Rusty had finally caught their traces with his spirit Bear senses, and they knew they were gaining ground. As they paused for a quick drink in a stream, long bear tongues lolling out of their mouths, Rusty informed the others that the brothers were stirring again.

“But we made a lot of ground up while they slept.  We can’t be more than an hour or two behind them now.”

“Thank you, Rusty!  We have to get them back and protect them,” huffed Luke.

Norman, who loved his cub as much as Luke did his, was quiet.  While he wished they had spoken to him about this choice, he knew they had to do it.  He had deciphered enough of Matt’s journal to know that he was calling to them, wanting to be awakened into a new life, free of the chains that bound him in the previous.  He could tell that he had gone into hibernation to wait being called on again. With his Guardian abilities, the need for resting that Luke and Rusty had didn’t impact him, he could have caught the brothers by now, but he hesitated.  It would be all of them together, or not at all.

Suddenly, Rusty reared up on his hindquarters, fully alert.  “Wait. There is something different. Someone else. I can’t tell.  It is Bear or Bears or, I don’t know, it is almost like how it felt when the Great Bear blessed us changing Matt. Someone is with the boys, something big. Or small.  Or nothing. I can’t tell.” Rusty’s voice rose an octave in panic.

“THEY’RE IN DANGER! Come on, let’s go!” roared Luke, and charged off in the direction Rusty was pointing.

Later.

The trio of bears arrived full speed at the cave just as the average looking man finished cleaning and packing his gear.  As they drew near, he whistled loud and long to catch their attention, slowing them to a halt facing them.

“I remember you,” grunted the Polar Bear.  “We’re in a hurry, get out of the way.”

“There is no rush here. I’ve got some coffee left, would you like a cup?”

“NO! I said we’re in a hurry, now move” the Polar bellowed.

“That’s him. Or it. Or whatever.  It’s what I sensed. He’s between us and the trail the boys are on,” exclaimed Rusty.

“We really should just talk…”

Luke reared up.  And despite his reservations about chasing the brothers, there was no way Norman wasn’t backing up his first cub. He edged forward, to the flank of the man.

“Seriously? Didn’t anyone ever tell you to use your words when you were growing up?” as he set his glasses down on a large rock.

Luke swiped his immense claw at the man, who easily dodged aside – right into the waiting paws of Norman, who used his lightning fast Guardian speed and strength to wrap him tight and hold him dangling in the air.

“We’re going through and you can’t stop us with your blathering this time” shouted Luke, turning towards the trail.

“In for a penny, in for a pound. So be it,” said the man.  There wasn’t even time to hear the clothing shred. Rusty fell back in a heap, dazed by the outpouring of brilliant red energy only his Spirit Bear senses could see, as the man shifted into three quarter Grizzly, bear enough for all the muscles to appear as well as claws and fangs, man enough yet for the flexibility.   The size differential and speed of shift shoved Normans’ forepaws apart, and the Grizzly jammed an elbow back up into Normans’ unprotected under jaw, then spun as he hit the ground and landed a kick into the Guardians’ midsection, lifting him off the ground and sending him flying backwards.

Following the spin kick fully around, the Grizzly used the momentum to leap towards Luke, vaulting over his hindquarters and pushing down on his shoulders, causing the Polar to be shoved face first into the ground.  The spring this vault gave him allowed him to land in the trail facing the trio, not even breathing hard.

“I know I told you how I hate to shop for clothes. You are ruining a perfectly good day.”

Luke raised his head, and then pushed up and charged with the full might of a First Tribe Polar Bear.  None would withstand this onslaught. But the Grizzly stood his ground, and instead of sidestepping as Luke had expected, took the charge right into his belly, being shoved to his back onto the ground. At which point, he brought his legs up into Luke’s midsection and with an amazing show of strength, lifted him off the ground and flipped him in mid-air, causing him to land on his back with a mighty thud.

This gave Norman, an even larger Grizzly, time to rejoin the action, and he leaped towards his downed opponent.  No longer passive, the man/bear spun up on his hands and shoved both feet squarely into Normans’ gut, totally stopping his downward motion and landing the Grizzly on his back, no air left in his lungs, insides mangled from the impact.

The Polar bear was back on his feet in the few seconds of the exchange.  The man/bear made his own shift to his Polar bear form. They were evenly matched if not exact copies of each other.  Both were First Tribe, and the predator in both was fully engaged.

Regaining his vision as his Guardian healing rate took over, Norman looked over at his mate, who was barely managing to stay up on all fours, struggling to maintain any type of consciousness.  The energy released from this being was affecting him, casting his second senses into overload and preventing him from healing himself or shielding himself from the conflict. Norman wailed and crawled to Rusty.

“Rusty.  RUSTY! Look at me.”  It was as if Rusty couldn’t hear him at all, as if he could only see something inside his own head.  He collapsed fully to the ground, his breathing becoming erratic.

“No.  NO! I can’t lose you.  Rusty, please. You have to be alright,” Norman cried out, holding the Kermode in his arms.  Rusty was transitioning backward from his full bear back into human as the life seemed to be pushed from him, held at bay, paused by the other bear. Norman focused all of his energies and concentration, the fight behind him fading from his conscious thought, as he did all he could do was hold his mate with him, tears streaming down his face as he reverted back towards his human shape. “I love you Rusty. Please stay with me.”

The two Polar Bears circled each other.  Barks, grows and roars were issued and they clashed.  Uncle Bear tossed Luke aside as if he was a cub. Again and again Luke would charge and this bear would just shut him down.  It was a beating, one that had been building for years.

“They’re no longer yours to control.  I’m done just watching and listening to how you treat the Bears I care for.”

“I love them, I will protect them, and I will find the boys and Matt.”

“You will NOT have them, you’re NOT worthy of the gifts given you by your Sire or your Mate.  Matt protected you from yourself, but you are NOT worthy of that protection. You will not tear Matt’s heart out again.”

In that instant, Luke charged the Bear and pounced with all his strength and speed.  He meant to harm, to kill whatever stood in his way. However, it was no use; the Bear stepped into his attack, shifting smoothly back to a Grizzly Bear, and locked his massive jaws around the Polar Bears exposed throat.  He clamped down and the only sounds heard were the crack of bone and gurgling of air. Time seemed to stop in that instant and the Bears eyes glowed red, the energy release even brighter, hotter. He had acted, he had attacked, and he had made a choice.  The ripple of which would be felt for years to come. The Grizzly stood there holding up Luke by his throat until the last tremors of life left the bear, and then he threw the bear aside and raised his head to the brightening morning sky. Bathed in a morning sun an aura of Red and Blue energy appeared around the bear.  A roar came then, from some other place, from many bears that were part of the same being… Long and loud it echoed through the valley. Anguish, pain, longing, caring, love, all flowed from this creature. This being that had walked the earth just as long as the Creators, who could be a creator himself. He had made a choice, and he had destroyed.

“Why do you want to stop me from finding the boys, or Matt” Luke huffed. “They’re mine, not yours.”

***

At the same time the trio of bears entered the clearing by the cave, William and Zachary paused, already miles away.  Despite being so close to their goal, they somehow sensed the danger those who had raised them faced, the shifting in the tides of the universe, and the love they felt made their choice easy.  They turned away from a task given them without their consent, even if they undertook it willingly. Dropping their packs, they raced back the way they had come as fast as there young legs could carry them.

***

Norman held Rusty close, supporting him, feeding him energy, cherishing him;  He felt a paw gently placed upon his shoulder, and then he felt no more.

***

As William and Zackary rushed back towards the clearing, they spotted the first body on the ground and stopped dead in their tracks.  It was Luke, in human form. Looking further, they spotted the human forms of Norman and Rusty, Norman cradling Rusty even as he was slumped over him.  “PAPA!” they wailed in unison.

***

The man/bear looked up as William ran to Norman and Rusty while Zackary hurried to Luke.  He finished licking the blood off his muzzle and claws, and then shifted further towards the human end of the spectrum in order to speak.

“Things would be so much easier if folks just talked.”

“What did you do to them?”  William yelled, as Norman rolled over and began to snore.

“Will they be ok?” Zackary pleaded, as Luke twitched as if deeply in a nightmare, the pinkish scars at his neck fading even before Zackary noticed them.

“They’ll be fine. They might have dreams about this, but they won’t remember much.”

“Why?  Why did you do this?”

“Maybe I shouldn’t have. It was selfish. But I wanted you to have a choice in your future. If your Pashma ever returns, I want a better future for him.”

“Can we still go to him?”

“That is up to you.  But decide soon – others are coming as well. They are close, and headed for the Hunting Grounds on an angle. Four groups of them.”

Just then, Rusty gave a cough and breathed deeply.  All three of the older bears started to rouse from their slumber.

“You made a decision to come back.  For good or ill, it was your choice. And you must deal with all that comes with it.  I’m proud of you for it. I need to go now; I need to let things truly shape themselves. But I will be watching.”

Rusty rose to his feet, restored, looking about as the man/bear quietly disappeared into the surrounding forest. Norman and Luke fully roused and wrapped their massive bear arms around their cubs.  Their family was back together and complete. Or was it?

Norman and Luke just hugged their cubs tighter, as Rusty broke out laughing.

“Talk about sensory overload.  I think I’ll stick to the sexual kind from now on.” The ice was broken.  The brothers apologized for leaving without saying anything, and their Papas told them that they knew they were seeking Matt.  But that they couldn’t, as if they entered the Hunting Grounds, they would never return.

“No, Uncle Bear said that a Guardian could pass the boundary, if the time is right. That is why they were always the ones to give companionship to Ancients who wanted to pass, because they could cross the threshold both ways.”

“Uncle Bear?  I remember something …” said Rusty, but Luke was focused on the activity at hand, the boys quest to find Matt.

“Well, then, if you think he is still there, Norman can go.  Either alone or with you if you must.”

“No.  Let the boys choose.  This is their task, one given them by Matt” Stated Norman.

“Look, Matt ditched us.  We raised them, it isn’t up to him, and it’s up to us.”

Norman shook his massive head.  “Stop being so angry with Matt, Luke. William and Zachary should make this choice.  I will go with them if they want, whatever the risk. But I am willing to trust them.”

Luke looked down, feeling abandoned; until both cubs, then his Sire, and finally Rusty wrapped arms around him. “We love you,” they said in unison, and the bear’s heart opened once more.  He cleared his throat, roughly, and spoke. “I, uh, love you too. I don’t say it often enough, but I really mean it. I guess you’re alright. And we better move then, before the Elders get here.”

The brothers again hugged their Papas, amazed that by talking it out, things had worked for the best.  The group left quickly then, and before they knew it, arrived at the threshold of the Hunting Grounds.

Another round of hugs followed, quick ones, and the boys stepped through.  Rusty knew immediately, as their distinctive life signatures simply vanished, even as he looked directly where they had been.  A tear rolled down his face. “Be safe, small ones, come back to us.”

Luke leaned against the barrier between our world and the Hunting Grounds.  In half form he looked up and then put his forehead on the barrier, feeling it cold, hard and invisible against his skin.  His paws came to his sides in a slow, sliding, and defeated motion. Then his tears fell freely too. As they walked into the snowy grounds, the brothers heard his soft words clearly.  “I love you. Be careful. Find him. Find the one I love; the one that I have always loved. Bring him back to us; bring yourselves back. I am so proud of you. So very proud.”

Luke, Rusty and Norman turned then, as the snow began to fall, finding themselves alone.  They wandered slowly away, knowing that only time would tell who would return to them.

Choices

Not far away, the man watched and did nothing.  He felt an arm wrap around him, and leaned his head on his Papa’s shoulder.

“I was wondering how far you’d go.  It’s been a while since you lost that much control.”

“I know. I almost totally destroyed the continuity of this realm. I’ll need to be more careful. It did feel good to be badass for a change though.”

From his other side, a gruff voice said “Get that bad ass back to the den, and I’ll make good use of it” just as another arm wrapped around him.

“If you must interfere, you need to let part of yourself go and be part of the continuity, not disrupt it.”

“Well, Luke will remember deep inside himself what happened. I hope that the Bear that Matt loved will wake up, grow up and be the Bear that Matt always believed he would be. Then I will be satisfied.”

The wind whistled through the air, strong enough to cover the tracks of the bears that had stood there, erase their scents, make their presence a mere fading memory.

As the bear faded, he flashed back to a different time, a time when Matt had gone dark, broken contact, and evaded all attempts at tracing and finding him…….Even he did not know what had happened.  He had listened to the rumors, the voices on the wind. However, he was just not willing to accept the things he heard. Now in this instant, all those things flashed back to him, washed over him like a tidal wave.  Where they true?

Part I I

Vengeance Be Mine!

19 Years Earlier

North Central Den

Situation Report

D: 21538 /RGB/1614

“I’ve become that which I despise, with gun and blade, with wire and rope, I’ve become that with I despise.  I must end this, then myself.”

The message above was found, carved on the wall of Matt’s den just after all the visitors stopped coming, at the time of his moving on.    We don’t know how long it had been there. Matt’s den was his private quarters and no one came in unless invited, and very few saw the inner armory where this was found.

What we do know is that it had been there for some time.  Testing was completed to determine the approximate date the message.  Results dated the markings to 40 years ago, with fragments of Ursine claw found in the markings.  This points to the markings being made by Matt’s own claws.

Interviews were completed, but no one readily recalled what had occurred during this time, but after some digging, we determined it was the time that Matt disappeared for about 4 months.  Matt being gone for extended periods was really nothing abnormal to anyone close to him.

We really don’t know where Matt ended up during the 4 months he was gone.  What we do know is that Luke, his partner and mate was sure he was still alive, due to the two Bears being linked to each other.  Luke would suddenly feel emotions and get random glimpses through Matt’s eyes. It was unnerving to watch the big Polar Bear reduced to a quivering mass of tears and snot when it happened.  After the first of these episodes, Luke was never left alone. Someone was there to record and document what he described. The weirdest part of it was the dreamlike state Luke would slip into, a nightmare really.  Soon after Luke came to his senses, the images would fade from his memory. Until recently those incidents were logged and filed. Later, when a report came of a complete killing, a genocide of a group of Great Grey Wolves on the West coast, the pieces started to fit together.

RGG/ End of Report.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Matt has moved on some time ago.  After his departure/disappearance, reports started surfacing of acts of civil terrorism among the Therianthrope Community.  These reports were not of small clashes between rival groups. These reports were of complete killings of several dens of Grey Wolves across the USA, Canada, and Central America.  All of this seemingly committed by Matt. What struck us all was that it was completely alien to his demeanor. Even the descriptions of his physical appearance was something different. The eye witness accounts that came in, were so divergent from how we knew Matt that it was discounted as a ruse or trick. Similar to the one that had led the Kermode to be taken captive, a native village slaughtered, and Matt to kill several Elders, in defense of the Kermode and his mate.

To his friends, killing, was not core to Matt’s being.  Upon further investigation, it seemed that Matt just snapped, went off the deep end, then got ahold of himself and kept on with life, as if nothing had happened.  After the reports started to be verified, a small group started searching for the answer to why Matt did this. However, in searching they connected the pieces to a very wide reaching, intricate, and totally cruel plan. One that they were not ready to discover, one that would put them all on a kill list.  They were now marked for death, in one way or another.

Heat rose from the ground in waves, as the sun  shone unhindered through clear skies of crystal blue.  The temperature was well over 100 when the group of four bears stepped from the comfort of the air conditioned car, into the dusty hell.  It was well after noon, but the heat was unrelenting as long as the sun was up. They made their way through a series of small, shack style homes in the California High Desert. They were here to seek the counsel of an Elder.  One of the original 12, coming from the Clan of the Wolf. He was here, aging as a human, unable to make a shift into full Wolf form, therefore his biological clock was ticking, just as a humans would.

They walked in silence.  Even the conversations in the car ride had been forcefully polite.  None of them wanted to be here, or even admit to themselves that someone they loved and respected could have done something this bad.  They found the small shack, and knocked at the door. Several knocks later, a grumbly “What the fuck do you want” was yelled as the door was flung open.  A large figure filled the meager entrance, glaring at the visitors. After brief introductions, they were invited in. The small home was thick in Wolf musk, sweat, stale whiskey, and fermenting meat.  They all settled into the living room/kitchen of the small home to have a conversation. The Wolf sitting with his back to the wall, a small oblong table between them and the other three. Two sat facing him, one leaned against the kitchen cabinets, just behind.

“Mark, can you tell me what happened, from the start of that day.  I know it’s going to be hard, I know that your life was turned upside down, but you need to tell us what happened.” Robert spoke in an almost hushed tone. Hoping that reverence and humility would defuse some of the hostility that was oozing from every fiber of the Wolf’s being.  

Sitting across from them, was an immense, and ruggedly handsome figure of an aging man.  He was tall, chubby, with hair of white and grey. His face creased with lines and angles from age; well tanned, but with the dry skin of a very old person.  His hands were massive as they reached up and touched the silver collar around his neck, turning it as he did so. The fur worn down and laying in the direction the band alway took; always to the right. Everyday without fail, without counter, never ceasing in its silent but deafening opera of the Wolf’s submission and Matt’s revenge. Gone were the markings, worn down by years of touching, turning, pulling, and choking.  120 turns a day, each click equals one, 120 clicks to live, any less and you die.”  Matt’s words burned into his memory, etched into his ears.  

“I had arrived home.  He was there, in my house.  He got in past all the security systems.” Spoke the wolf, through clenched teeth, with his eyes closed tight. As if he was trying to delete the images  from his mind. Make the mental tape stop, so he would not have to remember anymore. But with every deafening click of the collar, the memories were brought back in his mind.  Like a movie playing in fast forward, then reverse, then pausing. The images were a jumble of time and space, rambling though his mind, never giving peace or solace. Forever tormented by his memories. Until the day he died.

“He killed everyone… my cubs, my family, he killed them.  Slaughtered them like cattle.” Spoke the wolf more clearly.  His eyes snapped open as he glared at them. Yelling this time, “That savior of yours is a killer.  You place too much faith in his good side, trust me he has a dark one.” His emotions were very hard to control at this point.  As he would have an emotional outburst, he would start to shift forms, his neck would stretch and the collar become tight, choking him.  Then a soft chirp as the collar started its detonation sequence. Detonation eminent, return to human form.  Was repeated as the wolf forced himself under control. The Great Wolf had to work to remain calm, keep his emotions at bay.  For if he were ever to lose control, the collar would detonate, taking his head, and ending his life. Either way, he would die.  Either quickly in a flash of light and heat, or quietly, alone, with no one to remember his passing. The bears that watched, collectively paused in confoundment at the situation, then their own emotions ran in fast forward.  All though this was cruel, one of the cruelest things then had seen. There was more to come.

Another spoke, “Great Wolf, we are trying to find out what provoked this.   Please help us understand. What history did you and Matt have? This bear paused, hoping that this would not turn out badly.  He had respected Matt for all the good he did in life. This investigation was akin to an Internal Affairs Investigation by a police office.  They were tasked with asking the tough questions. Finding the truth, no matter how hard it was or who it was going to hurt.

The Old Grey Wolf tipped the bottle of whiskey back and took a long draw on the bottle, placed it gently on the table, then slid it across the table toward the Bears in the room.  All could tell he was trying hard to be carefully gentle. “I was wondering when that would come up, still, that was a long time ago.” Whispered the Wolf. His breathing coming back normal, he fur retreating  from his face and hands.

Robert leaned forward in his seat.  He knew that this may be painful for the Wolf to remember, but it had to be done.  They had to know and understand. “You need to be totally honest here. Matt has departed, left our den, dropped out of contact with everyone and everything.  Even the Elders and Trackers can’t find him. He has left the badlands open, without a Guardian, our Elder without a champion. Tell us Great Wolf, what does all this mean?”

Snickering and snorting as if tickled,  “You won’t find him unless he wants to be found.  Stupid bears, he was trained by the Western Pack.” Laughing as he finished.  Then it struck him. These comrades of Matts’ had no clue. They didn’t even understand what he was.  He quickly noticed they were grasping at straws and trying to make sense of an event that defied logic, and reasoning.  It was so bad, so different from the Matt they knew, acceptance was not coming easy for them.

“What do you mean” Robert questioned, falling further into a deep pit of despair;  He really liked Matt, and after his departure, realized that he was a total jackass toward him in the end.  

Chuckling slightly as he continued, “I was with Thomas when we brought him in for training.  Plucked this little two stripe Airman out of his comfy world and dropped his ass in the middle of a bunch of natural born killers.  We expected him to fail, we wanted him to lose, to prove a point to our Elder; but that little shit did more than surprise us. He was more than a human back then.  He was linked into himself and had started tapping into his animal essence as a matter of daily work. He was starting to live in it. You don’t get it do you. HE WAS ‘WERE’  ALL THE DAMN TIME! He would have made the shift on his own given enough time. All your Kermode did was speed up the process, ahead of his natural perception. Stupid fucking Bears…. all of you.” The bear finished as he turned the bottle up again and took another draw of straight Whiskey.   

“What do you mean, we aren’t following you.”

“As a human stupid.  We brought him in for training with the 82 Airborne, G-company, the GHOSTS. They partially changed him into a Wolf you fucking retards.  Or more specifically, he changed himself into a Wolf. Somehow, he was showing all the signs of a change by the second week of training.”

“Wait… what….Matt is bear?”

“Now he is..  Fuck this is all a jumble….  He was out of place from the start, but he just absorbed everything.  He went from novice to expert in days, not months. Do you have any idea of the hackles that raised within the ranks…in the Pack.  It was like he just blended into nature and used it like he wanted. The pack accepted him as their own…..Stupid bears, he was HUMAN and WOLF when someone changed him.  Did none of you see the signs. Did no one within your ranks see the abomination that he was to become. Stupid Bears… and I heard your Great One changed him. Well, I guess y’all will get what you deserve.”

“We’re still not following you.” Robert answered again, still not quite grasping the riddle that the Great Wolf was spinning.  Inside, he could feel the pit of his stomach start to ache. Something bad was about to be said or happen. It was like that moment before you are told bad news.  You know that it’s going to be bad, but you hold out all hope that it’s not as bad as you think.

“Damn It!”  The Wolf slammed his partially formed paw into the top of the substantial table, hard enough to produce a crack the length of its surface.  “You created a Pariah, a freak of nature. He’s not just one animal, he is all of them. Gods be damned, can you not understand. He’s a natural, bloodborne Therianthrope, you fucking idiots.  You did nothing but lock him into a few of the forms he could change into. Stupid Bears, Bears were always slow and lumbering, not the fastest witted of the earthly advisors. Brutes; Big Teeth, Sharp Claws, no brain.  Idiots!!!” Mark finished and took another long drag on the bottle, turning the collar as he did. Click, click, click the sound seemingly echoing in the air. Slamming the now empty bottle down on the table, making the crack a little larger.  His hands showing signs of fur, his claws starting to take form at the tips of each finger, canine teeth starting to form.

“Are you telling us he would have been able to shift on his own?” Questioned Robert.  He was just starting to grasp it. Beginning to put all the disassociated pieces together in his mind.   His perception was sharpening. All the oddities of Matt becoming a bear. All the little quirks and things that were not normal for an Ursine Werecreature, started to click through his brain.  He never thought that Matt could be more than one species, but a bloodborne…

The Wolf sighed, “Yes, idiots! When his human body died he would have been reborn into a new life, but you would have had to let him die.”   Snickering loudly, “I bet you panicked and brought him back, just as the life was slipping from his body, the light dimming from his aura… you panicked…”   Now laughing out loud as he kept speaking, “Looks like that Great One of yours made a mistake… but in retrospect, I don’t think so. It was probably a calculated risk.  Change him into a Bear to lock him in, make sure that he could be controllable… but from the looks of your faces, and from the little you have just told me, sounds like the little cub has spread his wings and got some outside help and distance….good for him.  Fucking Bears, you deserve what you get.” Each sentence the Wolf spoke his pitch and camber would change. Like a rambling person who had gone insane. He thoughts were jumbled. All that could see watched as emotions washed over him. He would smile, grimace, and almost cry in the span of a few seconds. The Bears knew he was at the end of this rope, the ends had frayed and could no longer me mended…

“Great Wolf, that aside, we need to find out what triggered this in Matt, we have to understand.  Because, until this incident, he has always been a positive, kind, supportive influence on everyone around him.  He has stopped civil wars between dens, and brought peace where no one thought it could be. He was our Guardian.  We have to find out why he did this. Why would he kill your entire line? Why would he end every member of your Pack… Tell us Great Wolf, why did Matt do all this.  To you, of all members of the Council, why you?” Robert all but pleaded.

Spinning further into a crazed mood, “To create a Professional Soldier, the forge must be of death, blood, guile and avarice.  You have to temper the steel in the deepest pits of hell, to allow the inner metal of the creature to be molded, shaped, and sharpened.  Everything external to that metal must be stripped away, torn from his being, incinerated in the forge, all weakness must be eliminated. Many thought we would not succeed, but it would seem that the grand experiment worked.  That little shit turned out to be a natural at just about anything involving singular, stealth combat. One on one, in his element, he was frightening. He was cold, calculating, totally devoid of emotions, vicious and unrelenting in completing his missions.”  The wolf finished the diatribe, and then set out a long sigh. He seemed to deflate slightly, like he had been holding his breath the entire time.

“I am still not following you.” Robert blurted, as he looked around him.  The other Bears with him had an astonished look. The look that you have when listening to someone who is much for intelligent that you.  That look that you have hit your ceiling of understanding, but there is still more above you, something that you just can’t grasp.

“Let me break this down for you.  Some Guardians are naturally born, and then they choose a path at rebirth.  When they become self aware of what they are, they have a choice of letting their body die and being reborn, or aging as a human and dying.  It’s all a choice. You did nothing but shunt that growth, took away his ability to choose on his own. All of the Guardian traits would have been painful to him, it would have certainly driven him mad.  I’m still not sure how he survived his transition into a Guardian.” Exhaled the Wolf, as he leaned back in his chair and put his hands behind his head. The chair raising back on its legs, creaking in the process.  After a long pause of silence, the Wolf, put the chair slowly back on the ground, took his hands from behind his head and clasped them in front of him on the table. “A sum of years ago, I talked with your, ‘Victor’, he mentioned that y’all were unsure of what Matt was.  At some point, after Matt returned from a mission, he was changed. He had to have died and would have been brought back by someone or something; since you already short changed his natural regeneration abilities with making him a Werebear in the first place.”

“What do you mean,” Pleaded Robert, knowing this was getting worse by each sentence the Great Wolf was uttering.  Matt may not have even known what he was when he originally searched for the Werebears all those years ago. Through all this, he still believed Matt to be a bright person, a humble being.  Alas, his experience with other creatures taught him that bad things happen to good people. Also, when bad things are done, to people that did not deserve it, eventually Karma catches up. It would seem that Matt had taken Karma into his own hands and acted.  Still, this whole story was rubbing him the wrong way.

The Wolf stood up slowly, locking his eyes with Robert.  Then leaned forward toward them. His massive frame seeming to fill the room, blocking out the light from the single overhead bulb.  Leaning forward on his fingers, his claws fully extended from his hands, and clicked on the hardwood of the table. Then he whispered, “Stupid bears you still don’t get it.  Matt was always a Therianthrope, he was blood-borne you assholes.” Then he slammed the palms of his hands onto the table and leaned further toward them, growling. “All you did was complicate what he already was.  You took away his own ability to choose. Did anyone check out his parents, did any of you even think of digging a little deeper into his past. No, you didn’t. Did you! Huh? Answer Me!” Yelled the Wolf, as he glared at them accusingly.

After looking at them all for a few moments, no reply was given, he continued in a raspy half human, half animal voice, “ Now that I’m saying this out-loud, I’m sure this is why Matt chose to end my line, make me suffer, ensure that I was driven mad, and die like his father.”

Silence descended on the small home like heavy frigid air that falls over a mountain and into a valley.  The deafening gap of quiet expanded as each of them processed what was said. All the little dissociated pieces of Matt’s life started to sift through their minds and fall into place.  The Wolf could almost hear their minds work, as it all started to connect. Almost like listening to train cars being hitched together. There is a low rumble, then a quick loud crash, then nothing again.   

“Matt was blood-borne?” Muttered Robert, in more of a statement, than a question.  

Silent up to now, another Bear spoke up. “Can’t be; Matt was human, I was there when he fought Norman, Rusty and I.  He was human, he had no special abilities? He was not showing any of the traits of a blood borne. I don’t believe you.”  His anger was welling up inside of him. He also believed the report to be a fabrication. After what had happened at the Lodge years ago, the attack on Boris, then the rescue of the Kermode, he could just not bring himself to believe what he was hearing.  Yes, some of the pieces fit, but not everything. There was still something missing.

“Quite correct, but you are all assuming that both his parents were Bear. You’re gauging that on your already enhanced physical abilities.  Stupid bears, think…..Did you injure him? Did he keep going? Was he abnormally agile? Was he spatially aware of what was around him? Did he smell or sense you before you could be seen?  Stupid bears. I want you to think…..and let that sink in.” Snarled the Wolf, while sitting down. He was about to unload on them, the pit was going to get deeper. He wondered, did he set the stage?  Where all the set pieces in alignment? Was the curtain hung with care and ready to be drawn open. Had the lighting been focused on the right spots, for the eye to be drawn….or had he concealed what he wanted?  Used a clever smoke and mirror trick to deceive them. Would he little ruse work?

Silence gripped the shack, as it sunk it with them all.  Matt’s’ parents were blood-borne, but not of the same species.  They would have been able to produce a child in human form, but that child would have a mix of both parents and would have to choose his path at some point.  Being of different races, he would have traits of both, and would be a hybrid in whatever form he chose to be in. Not only would he experience things as a Bear, he would also sense things as a Wolf.  

Chuckling like a hunter who had just snagged its prey in a trap.  “I see you now understand. You created a demon, a monster. Bear he may be, but he is not just bear, he is Wolf as well.”  Pausing for a moment and putting his head down. His hand were flat on the table as he slowly made fists with his hands. With loud, long sounds of claw on wood, the Wolf closed his fists. Looking up at them, just over a whisper, “…of my line.”  

Roberts eyes grew wide, as another piece of the puzzle snapped into place. The other Bear that was seated pushed away from the table in a defiant gesture.  One that echoed their silent refusal to believe the Wolf. The Wolf Continued, just over a whisper, a bright light in his eyes. He smiled wide and slow, like a predator that had his prey just were they wanted,  ”…you see his father, was my brother, that’s why he spared me, I’m his Uncle.” He watched them, waited to gauge the reactions of his guests. He had them, the pieces were falling into place. They were starting to believe, or at least come to a place where they could accept what they were hearing.

Then, as if an energy had entered the room, the Wolf seemed to glow, then started to tremble as he closed his eyes tight.  Canine teeth edging out of his mouth, he half growled, half spoke, “…that’s why he tied this collar around my neck, locked me into being a human, unable to change, unable to heal myself, unable to reset my clock….He left me to age as a human, grow old, and die. Just like his father chose to do.  Alone, without a pack, without the gentle caress of my mates fur…..I WANT HIM DEAD….I WANT TO SEE MATT DEAD, DO YOU HEAR ME….DEAD!” Spittle and heat escaping his mouth as he struggled to maintain control of himself. His body moored and flexed, clothing started to tear as parts of the Wolf’s body transformed.

Leaning against the cabinet, furthest away from the Wolf, the Bear spoke, “Bullshit Old Wolf, none of that connects.  Even if his parents were Kin of different races, and his father died on his own terms, none of that shit connects. Spill it, why did Matt commit Genocide on your line?  Why would he kill without cause? Cubs, old ones, females…this is just not like him. He destroyed everything and everyone connected to you, he cut a path of destruction and death across three continents.  Bullshit Old Wolf, I refuse to believe you.”

Chuckling again, like a villain who’s trap had sprung, “Ah, the scraggly old one speaks.  Was wondering why they brought you. You must be the tracker or a fellow Guardian. A comrade perhaps?  Hmmmm, let me think, an aid to the Elder, a Tracker perhaps? Or, I would guess you’re the Guardian of the East, or even Europe.  The one that’s a Ghost; the one who comes and goes, has no home, nor den, no place to call his own.”

Sitting up and clearing his throat, as his demeanor changed, and he smiled wide, giggling slightly.  “Looks like it’s time to let all the bones out of the closet, put all the cards on the table, spin the chamber and let fate decide what to do.  Hmmm…I wonder if you three can handle it? I’m curious if you will shoot me dead with the weapons you carry, use the gas you have to subdue me, or do you have another plan…still, why wait any longer to let the truth out of the bag.”

The Bears sitting around him looked a little surprised.  They had watched the wolf go into partial transformations, though the entire encounter.  Now it would seem his demeanor was starting to crack. In the back of his head, the Guardian knew this was the intent of the Collar.   It did not prevent the partial shifting, but did not allow a full shift, so the Biological clock could be reset. It kept the wolf just on the cusp of attaining what he wanted, but never allowing him to achieve it.   

Grinning wide, “Silly Bear, a wolf’s nose is much better that a bears’.  But hell……let’s all take this journey together. You, stupid bear, reach in that cabinet behind you, grab me another bottle.  I want to be so drunk when I finish this, I will either be an easy kill for you, or just pass out and you all can leave. I don’t care which.”  The Wolf pointed at the cabinet as it hung askew from the frame and made small grunting noises until the bottle was slid in front of him. He was egging them on, bringing them into the conflict.  He wanted the pain to end, by whatever means he could muster. This opportunity seemed like fate….or was it.

The bottle was taken out of the cabinet and slid across the table.  The Wolf opening it, “Thanks you stupid bear. Hmmm…. Where to begin, you see Thomas was the one that killed his brother and sisters, and later his son and step daughter…”  Silence gripped the room as he tipped the bottle back and swallowed several gulps of the amber liquid.

The Guardian Spoke, “But Matt told me he killed Thomas, and later we found it in his journals and verified it with the Bear that was the loadmaster on the aircraft.  I still call bullshit Old Wolf.”

The Wolf smiled wide, he had them, “Yep, The loadmaster on that plane was a pal of mine, told me what went down.  How they jumped him. They underestimated him, didn’t notice that he had made his second shift already. They played right into his carefully crafted guise, that veil of cub, an inexperienced whelp.  They fell for the bait. Matt was always that way. He was small compared to everyone else. He used that to his advantage. DAMN HIM, never attacking first, always holding back a little for the last strike, the coup-de-gras that would end his foes.  Little shit…..I should have ended him when I had the chance, before he connected himself to nature, before he became the demon that you made him. Stupid Fucking Bears…..I curse you all.” The Wolf finished and tipped the bottle back again. Taking more of the amber  colored alcohol into his body. Finally he was starting to feel drunk and the pain of partially shifting body parts was melting away. He would be able to shift most of his body soon, without shifting his head and neck. He would be able to fight, or at least hold his own.

Robert chimed in, trying to keep everyone from killing each other.  “Why would they jump him on the plane? He was already on a mission to help another elder move on and at that time he had only been a Bear for about 40 years, and not really on any missions.  I sent him on that mission. He had only completed a few escort missions before….I don’t understand”

Smiling wide, “There was a kill order out for him.”

“What?” Several of the Bears said in chorus.

Chuckling like a school child who has gotten a treat that on one else did, “Bears are stupid.  Your Elder was carving out new territory. Playing chess with all the nations of North America.  Stacking the deck in his favor. All those little missions the Elders kept sending him on were just pieces on the chessboard.  You need to widen your scope, It’s too small and narrow. Even as bears you should see that we’re all expanding and as we age, we take more and more human traits.  The bloodlines are being watered down, those that really should be killed to keep the lines strong are saved, they produce offspring and it keeps going. Falling further in to the human gene pool.”

“So you are saying that Thomas killed Matts human family?” Asked the Guardian.  His anger growing. Knowing the worst pain a Were-creature can bear is the loss of family.  It would seem that this small group had decided to be the judge, jury, and executioner for Matt’s family.  That would have driven him to do the same thing……but why. Why Matt?

“Yes.” The Wolf responded coldly. Like a bully wanting your lunch money.  Expecting the outcome to be in his favor. Knowing that he was in control.

“Is that the only reason.”

“Nope.”

“Go ahead.”  

Sighing like an old man, that was trying to get his words to come out correctly. “Okay, when Matt Killed Thomas there was a scuffle.  In the exchange, a piece of Jewelry was lost on the aircraft. The loadmaster found it after dropping Matt off and mailed it to him some months later.”  

“What was it?”

The Wolf took on a daemonic persona of a teacher that had lost patience with the class.  Sighing loudly, “A charm from a necklace that Matt gave to all his children. A black onyx orb, held in a crown of thorns, supported by a bear’s paw.  They were custom, one of a kind, unique. The package took months to get to him, since the loadmaster did not have his contact information, so he sent it to the Bjorn Air Freight with a note as to whom it belonged to.  They gave it to him. After, I came to understand that he tracked Thomas to his den in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. There he found some documents, that tracked him back to me. He tracked my family like common animals. Along the way, he had no remorse, only hatred and guile for all whom he encountered.  The more Matt dug, the deeper he descended into hate, anger, avarice and revenge….”

“What, what’s the connection Great Wolf?  Why would you want to kill the human children, Matt and Luke had already moved on, faked their deaths and re-settled.  What could have made you kill humans, with no connection to any were-community.” Yelled the Guardian. Knowing he was being drawn in.  Made to react the way he was. His own emotions were being used against him.

“Ah…..you see, he left clues so he could be found.  On that damn wall of life he always puts up. His son figured it out about 4 years after they moved on.  He called Thomas, because his son thought they were still friends and could help him quickly find his dad’s.   Also in what his son found were volumes of coded text that Matt left, in a locked box, under the basement of their home.  Inside was pandora’s box. Pictures, evidence, names, dates, DNA samples, Maps. You see Bears, Matt had left an escape plan when they moved on.  In case things did go bad, someone could find him, and every other Were-creature den across the world. Matt left everything….just in case… Now for the bit of nasty, Thomas, knowing what was at stake, made it look like an accident, and Matt was none the wiser…..until this…”  The wolf let the last part trail off as he got a grip on himself. He knew that as bad as this was, each of them has been put in this exact position in the past. Do you walk away and let the cards fall? Or, do you take action and protect your race? It has always been a no-win scenario, but one that has been played out countless times since creation.

The Bears were left speechless.  The Wolf watched carefully, judging by their body language, the truth of the situation, coupled with the information about Matt had left them right on the fence.  Teetering on the decision, was Matt a good or bad being.

“BULLSHIT. What about his brothers and sisters, he had 4 siblings when he moved on.” The Guardian half growled, half yelled.  He was bringing himself closer to his shift. He knew that if it went bad, he would be the only one capable of taking down the Wolf.   

Snickering, like a bully that was about to get a payday, “They were ALL Kin jackass.”  Then shifting in he seat, turning and crossing his legs, sitting up straight. This gave rise to his lineage of one of the Original 12, he was royalty of a sort.  There was a time, when they were revered that way. Now, the Elders were just commoners. “Although he was the only one that was self-aware enough to understand what was happening. He could have changed his entire family, started a Den of his own……but Thomas and I fixed that.  We made sure that the Demon that you created could not spawn any more like him. We ended his line, in the hopes of ending the danger that you created. Stupid Bears!”

“What do you mean?”

“Idiot, my paws have just as much blood on them as yours.  Don’t be stupid. We killed his family, made it all look like accidents.  I’m sure that Matt suspected something, but in his infancy as a Bear, he was clouded by all that comes along with it.  Not to mention you three thought he was special and needed to be cared for, watched after, and coddled. He was a damn killer before you changed him, what the fuck did you expect would happen.  That the change into a bear would leave him humble, complacent, or docile. Fools. Damn fools all of you. All that change did was connect him to his animal nature. What was always just out of his reach, was now a constant.  It would have driven anyone else mad, But not Matt…no, not him. He always finds a way to survive, come back, a little stronger, a little better. You damn fools, he evolves as a matter of habit and nature. He is in a constant state of forceful evolution.  I really doubt anyone but another Guardians could bring him down, and even then not one of you could take him in a one-on one contest. Stupid fucking bears, all of you are just stupid.” The wolf trailed off as he tipped the bottle of cheap whisky back and took several swallows before slamming the bottle down.  The pain of partially shifting was now washed away. This was going to turn into a fight, he could smell it in the air. But he was not going down without a fight.

.

The Guardian jerked himself forward, and leaned over the table with his hands on it.  In an angry, growling, raspy tone. “You mean to tell us that you, a Great Dire Wolf, brother to the father of Matt, killed his entire family….. Committed Genocide on his line. What were you possibly trying to create, what were you trying build, what chess piece were you trying to move”   His rage becoming physical as the air become hot and his eyes glowed red. This was a scraggly bear by even the lowest standards, lean, furry, tall. Taught muscle stretched over pronounced bones, tattered clothing. Dirty, smelly….not caring about how he appeared to others. Not giving two-fucks about what anyone thought.  As he finished, he drew a blade in each hand from seemingly thin air, shifting smoothly into a hybrid form, just like Matt. Not quite Bear, not quite human, not quite Wolf…..something in between. He was done, this was going to get bloody, and in all truth, he wanted this Wolf’s head. His den had been responsible for his first mates death, and now it was time for Karma to be paid

“Ahhhh….your emotions are finally showing cousin.  Nice to know that at least one of you knows the depth of what that does to someone.  Yes, you are who I think you are, one of the original Guardians, brother to Dante. The one that had his entire family killed, each and every time he tried to settle down.” Stated the Wolf in a plain, detached tone.  Then, giving a dismissing gesture, he continued to draw out the Guardian. “Did you walk away, trying to distance yourself from the killer that you are? Tell me old one, do you want to take my head, cut the beating heart from my chest to ease your own pain….Take my energy and give it to the world as penance for my actions.  Fuck you Bear…..If you want my head, you had better bring more than the three of you…Stupid fucking bears.”

Robert chimed in, “Relax old one, we are not here to fight with you, no matter how you try to draw us out.  Your destiny is yours to make, not for us to alter. So tell us, why did you do all this? How did your entire den fall to Matt.  He is just one Bear…..We have all seen Matt in combat at one time or another, we just don’t think he could have done all that, and not been killed or injured in the process.”  Robert pleaded this last statement He had to understand what Matt was, he had to find out. He had to check his emotions in all this, and see clearly. In truth, he despised Matt.  Matt was always on top of everything. If a question needed an answer, Matt knew where to look. If a problem had to be solved, Matt could solve it quickly, without needing anyone else.  Matt was well read, worked well with others, and always seemed to be better than he, but never bucked the system of leadership. Matt was accepting of his role, although he could have easily assume a larger leadership role in the Den, but he never did.  

The Wolf laughed, a great Guffaw of sound and guttural growls. “One Bears…  Let the gods damn you all for underestimating him… All you seem to do is underestimate him.  Stupid, the only one of your ilk that has an inkling of what he can do is Victor, and even then I really doubt he knows his full potential.  Matt is a nuclear bomb, with no failsafe. Stupid fucking bears, open your eyes, widen your scope, let all the dissociated pieces come into a loose focus.  Let them sift through your minds, stop looking for connections you must prove, look at the ones that are the most absurd, the most crazy, the ones that you would not even start to test.  Those are the ones that will show you the path, that path to Matt. It will be the key to his undoing, his justice…”

The bears just looked at him in a glazed amazement.  The fragmented pieces of Matt’s past, all the information they had gathered, fell into place……..  The Great wolf picked up and threw the bottle at the Bears. Then a scuffle started… Some did not survive…

What The Fuck Would You Do?

Hey Reader, Yeah You!  

You have got to realize by now, that Matt has been through lots of shit in his life.  He has been put into these totally fucked up situations willingly, sometimes not. Sometimes he walked right into them, knowing all the bad that was going to come with it.  All that shit has a take a toll on the soul. It tears at the fabric of a person, eats at the fiber of what it means to have a conscience, a kind heart, and warm soul. Those things were ripped from Matt, taken from him by the Elders that put him into those situations, took away is ability to choose.  Yes, Matt turned out to be a pawn in some grand game. A match that would take centuries to see a true winner.

Let me ask you a big damn questions, then I will be gone for the rest of the book.  I told him not to put the parts above in here, but he did anyway. Here we go, What would you do if someone murdered your whole family… Took away your loved ones, Human or Werecreature?……Think about it. I’m not defending his actions, far from it. But just for a minute, take a moment, clear you little head and think, put yourself in Matt’s shoes……what would you have done?  Now remember that you have all the skills to have your revenge, take out your anger, and exercise the avarice that fills your soul. Again, What The Fuck Would You Do?”

Never mind, Don’t answer that.

– David

PART I I I

Back to the present

Bad Blood

The sun hung in a misty sky, set against dark clouds of swirling snow and bitter cold.  Whatever was happening or about to happen, nature was echoing the silent scream of someone. As Rusty, Normal, and Luke walked slowly away from the entrance of the Hunting Grounds, after leaving their cubs to enter the alien landscape to search for Matt. It was then, the first group of pursuing Werebears made it to them.  The tension high, moments anxious, speech tense, emotions cold. After a few minutes, the general greeting conversation turned hostile and pointed.

“What do you mean, you let them pass?” asked the Elder from the western den, Jeremiah.

“It was their choice, they will return, I know they will,” Luke said as the last part trailed off.  Not knowing what was going to happen, but something deep inside told him Matt was alive, he was close, and was starting to wake up.

“Damn it, you clumsy oaf of a Polar Bear, you were the reason our last Guardian vanished.  Now you have let the last two, the last of the line go by the way of the Hunting Grounds. You should be dealt with for this insolence and stupidity,” spat the bear as he walked toward Luke.

The large Kodiak walked up to Luke.  Before Luke realized what was happening, Norman scooted in between them and shoved the Kodiak away and Luke backward just as a massive paw hissed past Luke’s face.  “Stand down or I will defend the members of this Den,” Norman stated and shifted to half form. His long Guardian claws glistened in the sunlight. All the Bears stood still, not knowing what to do.  Behind him, Rusty and Luke made the shift as well, and took up positions on either side of Norman. If a fight these bears wanted, then they would have it. These three were done taking orders from anyone, or backing down from anything.  They had let their cubs go, drove loved ones away, and absolutely nothing held much value anymore, and in all truth, a fight would feel pretty good right now. The natural release of stress for a Bear.

“Brothers, brethren, this is not the right course of action,” Boris yelled as he made his way to the clearing, shifting smoothly from Bear form to human.

“If they went though, they had to have a good reason for doing it,” Boris said again, as he turned around to face the crowd of growling Bears.  Attempting logic and calm with them, knowing that all of these Bears were afraid. They desperately wanted to know that they would be safe from the changing world.  The Guardians were the only ones that could walk in both worlds, be the peacemakers and protectors.

Murmurs were heard, the tension rose, the air became still.  From all around them, rustling, and the breaking of trees assaulted their ursine ears.  The sounds were from all directions. All the bears turned and looked into the wilderness that surrounded the clearing.  They came then; running animals, all kinds, all shapes, came darting out of the tree line. They all slowed and approached the Kermode, Guardian and the Polar Bear.  In the lead was a massive Elk, with an enormous rack of antlers, it snorted and bowed to Rusty and Luke. Flanked on each side were Moose, Boar, Wolf, Fox, and many smaller animals.  From the sky descended an Eagle of epic wingspan. It pulled up, buffeted its wings and then dropped to the ground, shifting faster than the eye could behold into human form. Standing at the side of the Guardian, looking out into the sea of angry Bears looking for fight.  He spoke.

“Bear cousins, we have answered the call of the small one.  Tell us, has he awoken from slumber? Why is there so much anger toward these three? Where can we find the new Guardians?”  Utter silence descended on the clearing. As all the other animals made shifts to human and half human form. All were standing with Rusty, Norman, and Luke.  They were surrounding them, guarding them. They had answered Matt’s call. Even in his slumber, the proximity to Luke or the transition of the cubs to Guardians had awakened some part of him.  Something within Matt knew his loved ones were in danger.

From beside Luke, a Grey wolf, matching the size of the Kodiak, stepped up and nuzzled the Polar Bear.  Then leaned its head back and let out a long, long, howl. As he did so, he shifted into human form. Standing nose to nose with Luke, this man leaned over and kissed him lightly on the cheek and then turned toward the crowd of Bears.

“If any of you, Bears, are itching for a fight, I suggest you walk away.  I, Eden, Alpha of the pack, will let nothing harm these three. The small one called us here; a debt is owed him.  I don’t know why there is so much hate directed toward these three, but know that the Arctic Pack stands ready to defend them.”  As he finished his statement, Wolves came silently from all directions, surrounding the Bears. The Bears, found themselves in an uneasy situation, they were easily outnumbered four to one.  The Bears faced with upside-down odds and a situation that was not planned for, ambled backward toward each other, facing out, with their rumps to one another.

Boris looked back at them in shock.  He knew of other Were-creatures, but the different species always kept their distance from each other.  In his mind, several pieces fell into place. A long time ago, Luke went missing while Matt was gone on a mission.  No one could locate or track him. Now it made sense; the Wolves were guarding him. He never made the connection to the Wolf tracks on lodge grounds and around Matt and Luke’s home.  Now, it made perfect, logical, meaningful sense. Matt was a natural energy source, a beacon to all animals. It was just a matter of time before all knew the path to the Guardians home.  It had become a safe haven. With the security and monitoring systems that Matt put into place, they would have ample warning if vehicles or anyone else approached. So, it was a shelter home for all creatures.  Again, he was left speechless at how giving Matt was, how much he cared for everyone, and in the end, how little those that he loved cared about him.

“No dog will stop me from teaching that Bear a lesson,” chuffed the Kodiak as he started to lumber forward.

“Stand down Jeremiah, or have you forgotten who gave you that scar down your face,” said the wolf, as he moved to half form and took a step in front of Luke.

Boris stepped in-between them.  “Cooler heads need to prevail. Let us all go to the Arctic Den, sit and talk about this.”  Boris was cool, and collected, but he could see that the Wolf meant business. Even though the Bears were larger, the Wolves were wild by nature, and savage pack hunters.  Top of the Food Chain or not, this would not turn out well.

Jeremiah would not be denied, and in a rash move, he charged the wolf.  The wolves and other Were-animals that came would protect the three and honor the debt owed to Matt, threw into the fray.  

This fight would change the course of many lives and leave hurt and guile in its wake.   Animal against Animal in an all out civil war…..

Sound familiar?

@@@

River of Ghosts

The brothers walked into the Hunting grounds and away from their Papa Bears and family.  They instantly realized they were cut off from the human world. Their fledgling ability to sense nature was cut off and they found the feeling uneasy and disturbing.  The colors here were different, the cold more intense, smells somehow different. As they walked ghosts appeared around them, looking at them. All forms of animals were here, all watching the pair, all curious, all knowing what they searched for.

“Do you think they know what we are?”

“Yeah I do.”

“I can feel them.  So cold here… So distant from me… I am so sad.  Let’s find Pashma and get out of here.”

“Yeah I know, but you know what Uncle Bear said, his resting place is lit from within, we are going to have to wait till nightfall.”

“Lets keep walking, I have a feeling we will find him.”

Just then two Bears came lumbering toward them, stopping in front of the Boys.  Both Bears reared up in front of them and issued a silent roar…. It was silent to the boys, but they could feel something reverberate through them.  One a Polar Bear, the other a soft brown longhaired Kodiak.

“I know them…..” spoke William.

“Is it Dante’ and Jürgen?” asked Zackary.

“Yes, I think so.  They match the description from Pashma’s journal.”

“What do they want?”

“I don’t know?”

“Why Can’t we hear them?”

“Wait, I know.” Zackery said excitedly.  He shucked off the two packs and dug out a journal book of his own.  He had made notes when reading Matt’s original journals.

“Pashma said, ‘Too hear those that have departed, you must give up a part of yourself first.  Then you will hear the River of Ghosts and the voices of the dead.” That’s what his journal said.

“Give of yourself?  Why does he always write in riddle….why?”

“What does that mean?”

“I don’t know, but…  Let me try something.  With that William stepped toward to the Bears.  He focused his life force and brought a piece of himself into his hands.  Then he presented it to the two Bears. A soft, small ball of soft blue light hovered just above his hands.  The two larger Bears, looked at the boys and then gently touched their muzzles to the small ball of energy. At the instant the Bears touched the ball, William screamed as all the sounds of the hunting grounds suddenly roared into his ears.  He connected immediately to the Hunting grounds and everything around him. The place was alive in ways the human world could never be. The deafening cacophony of sounds and the energy flow around him dropped the new Guardian to his knees. The other brother grabbed his sibling and was connected to the same sounds and experiences.  Both lay there for some time, letting the sounds subside and watching everything around them. Gradually they regained composure and stood. The two guards stood watch over them, hovering close, tending them.

“That was freaky, I am starting to understand how this place moves.  Can you stand?”

“Yeah, let’s get moving, it’s almost night time.  I want to find Pashma and get the hell out of here.”

“Same here…same here.”

The two brothers, picked each other up and gathered the packs.  The two that were standing guard over them, turned and lumbered off, beckoning the twins to follow.  In a few hundred meters, both of the bears stopped at a small hill, covered with bramble, ground cover, and lichen.  Looking around both of the brothers dropped there packs and started to look around and search for the entrance.

“Found it, yelled Zackery.  As the two started to frantically pull and cut the ground cover away.  More frantic with the passing of each second, they both sensed something that they could not quite comprehend.  Pashma was in danger, they had to help. Suddenly, William stopped.

“Wait…wait….do you hear that?” asked william..  A low rumbling growl filled there bodies, minds, and souls.  All around them a dark coldness started to erupt and ooze out onto the ground.  The twins jumped back and away from the cold. Whatever it was, it was in between them and Pashma.  They had to reach him, they had to wake him. They needed him to heal the world, to put the family back together.  Desperate, they took a few steps forward and were blocked by Dante and Jurgen.

They watched in shock as the black ooze seemed to recede and the low growl stopped.  

“What Now?”

We Camp.  Go get wood, let’s make a fire and rest here.

Later after camp was made, a fire started the two were sitting quietly, looking over at the cave, watching the spirits as they circled them, staying away, but still close.  Wondering what was going to happen.

“I think I found something in Pasham’s journal about this“

“What do you mean?

“Let me read it aloud.”  William dug around in his pack, and pulled out a small journal book.

“Wait was that one of the books from the den?”

“Yes, sure was”….

Thumbing the pages to find his spot, “Here it is, it’s a handwritten page that was added, after the page was written, it was taped in place.  Let me read it aloud……

I am the bone of my sword.

Steel is my body, and fire is my blood.

I have created over a thousand blades.

Unknown to death, nor known to life.

Have withstood pain to create many weapons.

Yet, those hands will never hold anything.

Despair is my desire, death my domain.

I am the bone of my sword.

“What the fuck does that mean?”

“If I had to guess, it’s a sonnet of his life.  A quick synopsis of his inner self. What I can’t get straight is if this is really how he felt in life, why did he do all those things the Papa Bears keep telling us about.”

“Yeah, it’s really a different way to look at him.  It’s like he was two people in one body. It’s scary to think of it, but Papa David did tell us that Pashma was always deeply trouble by what the military had him do.  He always struggled with duty vs reality and the harm it does.”

“It still doesn’t change how I feel.  I will trust and love Pashma no matter what.  He saved us, and for whatever reason walked away.  I need to find out why. More important that the why is the how.  As good as he was, he still could not have avoided everyone. It just does not make sense.”

“Yeah, I talked to Uncle David a few months back, he was wrecked when Matt left…..and rightfully so. That Bear loved Matt, but Matt was not going to leave Papa Luke, and that was also something Pashma wrested with all along.”

“All things considered, I would think that Pashma was totally justified in leaving.  I mean, if half the shit is true about how your Papa Luke treated him, then he should have kicked the fuck out of him before he left.”

“I can’t argue that, nor will I, but he is my Papa Bear.  Still, I have seen him frazzled a few times, but Papa Norman always stepped in and got him back on the rails.”

“Enough of this worry.  Let’s try to get some sleep, at first light, I want take another crack at getting into that cave. I think that no matter what, we need to reach in and grab him, pull him out of that ooze.  Maybe then he will be free of it. It would seem he is swimming in the blackness.”

“The dark can show you the light.”

“Huh, you been talking to that Fuzzy Otter Friend of yours haven’t you?”

“Yeah, so?”

“Nothing, I think you like him, and besides, he is like half your size.  You could cuddle him. That had to be kinda neat.”

“It was.  You know in that few days he taught me a great deal. As I think on it, it may be the key to getting Pashma out of this mess.”

“It’s not a mess, it’s a situation he created. Remember, we are trespassing here, not him.”

“Okay enough, I am going to sleep.  Peace!”

The Void of Dreams

In the void of dream are reality, up is down, right is left, all things are reversed and not.  The void listens to your thoughts and answers any questions asked of it. Here in the void, in the dark, in the cold of the Guff, the middle ground between life, and death, Matt drifted.  Silent, quiet, still, cold, resting. Here is spirit walked, it trained, it learned, in more than a physical sense. He asked the darkness what he was, and it answered. He demanded to know why he had to kill so many and the darkness answered.  

Through this endless introspection.  Matt came to realize that he was part of the darkness that had hunted him.  The darkness was the other side of his personality. It was the animal that Matt kept buried.  Although scared of it, Matt realized that he could draw great power from it. This both terrified and excited him. The darkness had always been with him, tugging at him, egging him to give into his animal nature. It had also protected him, nudged him gently through his enhanced senses as a werecreature.  

Painfully, Matt accepted just how much he had been used by those around him.  He had chosen early to protect people first, and place his own needs second. Take up the fight for those who could not defend themselves.  Even his military time had been mainly focused on that goal, and Ideal. This ideal of living a peaceful life, full of purposeful idleness, but when called, protect any and all who needed it.  Matt also realized that he had searched for this Ideal his whole life.

As the never-ending ticker tape played his his mind, with his anger welling up inside of him, feeding the darkness making it stronger.  One scene kept playing through his mind, the events of a single night had changed the course of his life. Over and over it replayed…..

———

Matt has just returned from closing his loose ends and after meeting the elders he settled into getting reacquainted with Luke and the others who are attending the annual gathering at the Bear Lodge in Canada.  This year, a special celestial event was occurring. The moon would be full and the closest to the Earth like no other time. On this night, a line would be drawn in the sand, two close friends, would no longer be close.

The night had worn on in ursine fashion. Matt and Luke worked their way through most of the new cubs at the lake and Matt had made it known that he was not in a sexually submissive or cub mood. Luke had been the only one to mount him and even then it didn’t last very long. They were affectionate with each other, but all who knew them could see that Matt was not as passive or understanding as he had once been. Not only had he changed physically but something changed within him.  It was not a verbal shift, it was presence, manner, and body language. Physically Matt was very taut, another layer of muscle added to his already impossibly compact frame. His eyes were an even brighter blue, almost glowing white. He body was marked from his neck to his toes; tattoos, tribal markings, and runes. He was almost hairless except for the long, steel gray hair on his head.

Matt had slipped away from Luke and the others as they slept in a pile at the side of the lake. A cool breeze blew across the area as Vic looked up to find Matt resting on the edge of the rock face looking out at the moon. The moon hung low in the sky, shining with a radiance and glow that he had never seen before. It seemed to be lending its light to Matt as he lazily lounged across the rock, his legs hanging over the edge. Vic rose stepping lightly to remove himself from the bear pile that had formed; padding closer he notice an Elk or a Moose making its way back into the forest. Chuckling, he cleared his throat to get Matt’s attention.

“I didn’t want company.”

“Well … I …”

“It’s okay, I knew you would come eventually. Actually, I’ve been watching you for a while, just fucking and drinking … drinking and fucking. It’s a wonder you even know their names. Did you know their names? Wait … is it just a fuck for you, or are you planting yourself in all of them so you can access their dreams easier? Spread your network of knowing … is that it Dreamwalker? Boogie man? Or is it Deacon of the Great Bear?”

“Wait just a fucking minute, who are you talking to!?”

Matt chuckled, amused as he watched the anger crest off the bear. He could tell Vic was tensing and getting ready to shift, holding himself just on the human side of the change. “What were you expecting something more tame, more docile, more … cub like?”

“I was actually expecting something kind, and heartwarming … welcoming even. Not a toss off.”

“You were the one who disturbed me, not the other way around, or did you forget that?  Hold on, I know, it’s your age. You think you can take more leave with the young ones. Garner some sort of respect and adoration because you are the biggest of the Bears.”

“I am, none can take me down and-”

Matt chuckled again, “That’s pretty bold and hardly holds any weight anymore. But, if they believe it I guess that’s okay.”

“What the fuck has got into you?” Vic Barked.

“Let’s ask the same of you. So how many did you plant seed in? Ten? Fifteen?  Hmm, if your network multiplies exponentially since your change, and the gatherings are your main avenue for doing all this, and then there is an average population density of bears per year … let me put that in. So, this brings your network somewhere in the mid 700K range for the number of Bears you can see through.”

“What …?” Vic’s head was spinning. What had gotten into Matt.

“Don’t be tripe ancient one, did you think I wouldn’t figure that out?”

“What are you talking about? This isn’t why I came up here, to have a argument with you … damn Matt what has got into you?”  Vic’s anger was getting the best of him.

“Oh, me? I’m right as rain, fresh as a sunflower on a summer’s day. I was just sitting up here looking at the moon, feeling its pull, listening to the voices of nature on the wind, and keeping watch over the Flock when you wanted to come have a chat.”

“Flock? … what are you saying?”

Matt chuckled and some other part of him rose to the surface, lighting a spark in his eye. He sat up and turned away from Vic, dangling his feet over the edge. “They are just cattle,” he turned his head slightly to the side as he spoke again, his voice deep and gravely as if he were possessed by a demon. “Bears they may be in blood, but at heart … they are just cattle; easy to lead, easy to guide, easy to … manipulate? Wouldn’t you agree?” He sneered, his new ursine teeth barely visible.

Vic took a step to the side and then plopped himself down on the rock beside Matt. “Yes, yes they are but that’s not what’s happening at the gathering. It’s a party, a time for Bears to be Bears, stretch their legs. Most don’t get a chance to be in full Bear form very often. “

Matt sighed and Vic watched as he shrugged to himself, looked up at the sky and then down to his hands. It seemed as though Matt was inspecting his claws as if they were new, or covered in something. Then, in a heartbeat Matt shifted into an unusual half bear form.. He was a mix of human, bear and something different. Stuttering slightly he spoke Vic asked, “Can you share what happened while you were gone?”

Matt smirked, “Conversational distraction, a common method of information gathering.  Sure, I’ll play your game. Where would you like me to start?” He leaned back on his elbows and gazed up at the moon. His paws wiggled over the edge of the rocks like he was playing in the water of the lake.

“Well-” Vic was cut short.

“Stop!” Matt shouted and twirled around onto his hands and knees, looking right at Vic. He had an excited, puppy dog energy beaming out of him like he was excited and wanted to play. Then, as quickly as it came it left replaced with something cold. Matt’s eyes softened and then tightened. He slowly went back to sitting on the rocks with his legs over the edge. “Vic, let’s have this conversation without any guise of control. No lies, no half truths, let me look into your soul and see clear water, not the storm clouds of Ragnarok. I promise that my answers will be as honest as yours. “Shall we start?” Matt finished and again leaned back on his elbows, looking up at the moon.  

“What happened to you?”

“Can you be any more vague?”  replied Matt.

“You’re just being a asshole, what changed?”

“Asshole, I am not. Direct and honest, I am. People need to get used to a bit of honesty in action and word because I am done with silly guises and half steps to save everyone’s feelings.”  Matt shook his head from side to side and sighed. Then looked down at the sleeping flock of bears. “My turn. Tell me Victor, Dream Snatcher, why didn’t you tell me what I was to become? Why didn’t you tell me about the weight that was going to be placed on my shoulders?”

“We weren’t sure what you were. You didn’t exhibit all the signs of being a Guardian, at least not like anyone in the past. You got smaller. Matt, do you know how unique you are in our world?”

“Unique, thats a good one. Freak of Nature is better. Again, don’t be snide. You weren’t sure? So you didn’t say anything? You let me wallow … no … you let me suffer through life thinking I was going rampant, that I was a freak, that the things I was seeing and hearing were wrong. You and whoever was helping you are just assholes. I don’t think I will ever forgive you.”  Matt spoke in rapid spurts, his voice lowering in both active and depth as he went on. As he spoke the fur bristled down his back and the glow in his eyes grew brighter.

Vic watching this, took a gamble. He wanted to see what would happen if this little cub was to lose his temper. “It is what it is. So, what happened to you?”

Matt paused for a second deciding to hold back a little, because Vic was. “I tied the loose ends that I needed to.”

“That’s not what I meant … and you know it.”

Matt tilted his head to the side, and rolled his tongue across his teeth looking over at Vic in a crazy way, almost like a predator would salivate before killing prey.  “I died and was reborn into a different body, life, and mind. Satisfied? Or shall I bore you with the details?”

“Please, bore me …” Vic hissed, his growing annoyance evident in his voice. All he had wanted was to talk, but now Matt was just being obnoxious and contrary. He had never seen him act this way. For a moment Vic thought Matt was going rampant; that he had lost it and was unable to be a Bear. Inside Vic prepared himself for a fight, bringing himself closer to his change.  

“Naaah, I don’t think that’s wise. I would have to wreck your ‘Baddest Bear Around’ status. Besides, it’s all good. I’m not going anywhere … but, I certainly won’t be dealing with you or the Elder’s bullshit anymore. Either you two can be honest with me, about everything, or I’m gone. And, I’ll be taking Luke with me.”

“What …?”

“Stop the angst. You lied to me. You watched me suffer through a life that you could have helped with. You creeped into my mind, stole my thoughts, and used them for your own gain. Victor, you and I need to keep our distance because I’m still not overly sure I won’t kill you in the morning.”  

Vic stopped and stared at Matt. There was a glow about him, like a battery that was being overcharged. Like the aura of static … then it struck him; it was the moon. Vic let his sight shift and he saw a glimpse of it. The energy of the world was circling Matt, charging him. He was connected to the limitless energy flow that swirled around them. Most bears, including Vic, could only glimpse or touch the flow momentarily at the crossing point between Bear and Human, at the edge of the change before the body morphs. Matt was living in the energy, feeding on it. Every fiber of the Moon Bear’s being seemed to glow, as though it was out of his control as he basked. Tension rose in the air as more energy flowed through him.

“Kill me? Doubtful. You don’t have what it takes. Besides, you don’t kill on a whim. You weren’t made that way. Matt, you are the kindest Bear I know. You’re firm, but also fair. You give everyone every chance to do what’s right before you act. I don’t know what’s got into you but whatever happens I’m not pleased with the outcome. I-”

A guffaw of laughter, whines and spirited growls erupted from Matt as he rolled over onto his belly a few feet away, interrupting Vic mid sentence. “Oh that’s classic. You’re not pleased? … Oooooo I’m so scared of making you mad. Shit, let the Gods be damned and the Great Bear can kiss my hairless ass if I will EVER care if I make you mad again. Just go away Vic … I’m tired of this conversation. You’re an old, insulting ass worthy of my contempt and guile but nothing more,” he paused, watching Vic swell in anger as he made his shift to half form and reached for Matt, his eyes overflowing with fury. Matt smiled, this is what he had been waiting for. He had calculated Vic’s reactions and he was right. Smiling, he reached within himself and let loose the flood of energy that was coursing through him. The world exploded as lightning struck between the two of them. Vic was blown backward and tumbled into the side of the stone barbeque pit.  

The lightning held the ground for what seemed to be an eternity. The deafening clap and instant swirl of cold wind woke all the Bears sleeping below them. In a panic, many of the Bears shifted form to shield themselves from the onslaught of the weather that had enveloped the pond and gathering. Vic’s vision slowly cleared enough for him to see Matt lying on his back, basking in the glow of the lightning as it arced through him to hold contact with the ground. As he writhed around on the ground in orgasmic delight he made eye contact with Vic. When he seemed to reach climax the lightning faded and the wind slowly subsided. He was left squirming on the ground like a cubling that had just finished a meal. Vic got to his feet and stood for a few moments staring down at him, not really processing what was happening in front of him, not wanting to believe what had happened, and not accepting that the Matt he had known had been lost and turned evil.  

The world seemed to pause and the sound around them began to fade as the moonlight lit the gathering area almost as if it was daylight. In its illumination stood Matt, watching, waiting. After surveying the approaching Bears, holding his upturned paws up and tilting his head back he looked up at the moon. Then as if being spoken to, he smiled, mouthed a few words that Vic could not hear, and then turned to face Vic and the other Bears that had arrived, shifting back to his human form as he stood there. To Vic utter amazement, just his claws and teeth remained.  

Matt looked around and then down to the group of bears below him, some were making their way back down the path toward the lodge while others were coming up the side of the bluff to the landing where him and Vic stood. “Looks like the party’s over; time for me to leave. Toodles Vic,” he waved his hand, turning his back on Vic as if dismissing a servant or waiter. Vic’s anger boiled; it had been years since he had been talked to or treated this way by anyone human or were-creature.  

“NO! FACE ME CUB!” Vic bellowed as he charged Matt intent on stopping him. He was stuck in the mindset of a disrespected parent; moving toward an eventuality that would scar both of them.

Matt smiled and then moved, shifting into the shadows disappearing and reappearing in front of Vic. The large Grizzly stopped dead in his tracks as if he had run full speed into a cement wall and crumpled to the ground. From the ground where he landed the Bear looked up at Matt, who stood staring passively down at him, before he got up and shook his head. In his daze, Vic heard the other Bears charge at Matt. Matted seemed to just slide in and out of the shadows, incapacitating them as they came to aid Vic; as he touched them, they would drop to the ground as if they had been hit by an electric charge. Soon, only Matt and Vic stood above the group of passed out Bears. They stood apart, like in an old western movie, waiting for the other to make their first move. The wind blew around them, crickets chirped and they stood statuesque  staring each other down.

“I told you once old Bear; to control a thing, you must master it. You don’t have what it takes to master me. Not anymore that is,” Matt spoke with the detached frankness of a child telling the brutal truth.

Vic growled low before he got ahold of himself. He knew this would take some finesse. “So Cub, you really want to fight me? You really want to see if you have what it takes to bring me down? Okay Cub, get ready here I come,” he shifted and moved with a speed that was abnormal for a Bear. Matt closed his eyes and easily moved out of the way. After missing with the first strike Vic turned and kept attempting to attack Matt. But, he could not lay a paw on him. Punches, swipes, kicks, nothing would land true. Vic was left panting and out of breath, quickly losing his drive to kill the Cub he had loved from afar for so long. He took a knee, looking up at Matt who remained emotionless through the encounter.

They just stared at each other. The Bears that Matt dropped earlier were waking up and keeping their distance.

“Victor, I think it’s best that we just end this. I see no need to kill you, but you’re right. I don’t kill on a whim. I’m settling into my new life and my new body. I’m not rampant or evil. Victor thank you for finally trying to kill me; it took you awhile, but I’m glad you got it out of your system. Now, we need to talk … as equals. Now, you know that you really can’t stop me if I wanted to kill you, or anyone else for that matter.  Let’s sit for a spell and chat again….

The two chatted a bit, but a wedge was forever between them.  A itch in the back of each of their minds. They were destined to kill each other, in this lifetime or the next.  Both knew it!

Light in the Dark

A spark in the distance….

A flash of light….

Matt could feel the darkness pulling him away from the light, trying to keep him from moving toward it, chilling his mind and his will to wake.

“Why can’t I wake up?”

“I need to wake up?”

“Damit it, why can’t I wake up?

Matt struggled and struggled against the blackness then he asked the question. “Why won’t you let me go?”  The blackness answered with a string of visions. All the people that Matt had killed in his life. Each one, dancing toward him and the memory of the moment when he took their life played like old technicolor-cinema in 360 degree panorama.  

The images danced, torturing Matt, making him latch onto his hate of humans, his disgust of the Bears that had used him.  Everyone that had ever hurt him, including Luke. Consumed by his hate and guile, Matt floated. The ideal of a life lived to serve others played before his mind.  He saw that his ideal had left nothing but regret in his heart. He had taken care of others for so long, neglected his own needs, that he has become a being devoid of pride, hurt, and damaged.

“What do you want?” Matt asked.  The answer was more images, this time of the twins, in the brief few days that he was with them.  The darkness wanted the twins.

“I will protect you” Matt screamed in his sleep.  He was forcing himself to wake up. He was struggling back from the abyss of blackness.  Matt started pulling energy from anything he could. Reaching deep within himself. He would drag himself toward the brief flashes of light.  

He could sense the twins.  They were close, but why could he not just wake up?  What was preventing him? Matt trashed and screamed in the silent void of nothingness as he floated.  Unable to move forward, unable gain traction, a foothold that would propel him toward the light. He was stuck. There Matt floated thrashing, unable to move forward, or backward, slowly descending into the every consuming embrace of unrelenting panic.

As Matt thrashed in the void, unable to go forward, unable to go back, a voice whispered in his ear.  “Emotions are tangible things….anger and hate are like stone….joy and happiness as the wind….each has a place….learn to use each.”  The voice faded… It was his father’s voice. Focus, he had to focus on something positive. He had to shake himself from the somber darkness. He had to find his light….

All for One, One for All

A few kilometers away from where the twins entered the Hunting Grounds, a battle was coming to an end.  The Bears that started it had retreated from the field of battle, pursued by the remaining Wolves, led by Eden.  Many were injured but many more had perished in the battle. As the remaining Were-creatures, were healing and coming around.  Two sat back to back at the epicenter of the battle, looking at the trio of bears that were at the center of the conflict. The moon hung low in the sky and the wind had started its chilly churning as the day turned into night.  The sky seemed to be divided into two distinct halves. The light and the darkness. It was as if nature was bending to the struggle that Matt was enduring, and seemly everyone else connected to him.

Trees were down, small fires were smoldering in scattered places.  The dead lay where they had fallen. The native animals were distant, watching, mindful, not sure how to react.  Even insects left this place. There were only a few fighters left alive in the area. The animals that could walk, retreated back into the woods, and made there way back whence they came.

“That was quite a fight I walked into. I haven’t had that much fun in a few hundred years.” Sighed a Giant River Otter, in half form, with an Hungarian accent so thick, it was hard to gauge.  His swords, hung loosely in his hands, the blood running from the tang of the blades, dripping into a pool on the ground. Some of the blood was his, but most of it was the others that had started the fight that day.

“Don’t get to comfortable there.  You know that little war party of Bears that Jeremiah  had with him was just the start. Two other groups were searching for the Twins.  This battle took place just off the western entrance to the Hunting Grounds…others will soon follow.” Grunted the Elk in half form, his own body showing signs of a protracted battle.  Laying this tomahawk and knife at his sides, he slid over on his side onto the cold flat rocks. The deep cold of the rock, pulling the heat from his body, along with it the pain of healing.  Looking up at the moon. Thinking to himself… Bear of the moon, why is all this happening?  What are you calling the twins for? Why did you choose to sleep here of all places?  Why the fuck should I care anymore?

Rusty sat down against the ragged based of an upturned tree. He sat quietly, trying to process what had just happened.  Fighting was not something the Spirit Bear was ready for, but he had survived and held his own in the commotion. He had locked onto a part of his ability that he never knew existed.  He could use the energy of nature as a weapon, and he did that. It made his paws of stone, his claws like swords. Shaking inside, he had never had to hurt anyone. Never in his life, never even as a bear, never had he been in a fight.  This was something he was not ready for. Lost in thought, Norman, and Luke were close by. Norman was panting heavily, forcing his body to heal, pulling energy from nature. He stood on the trunk of the tree, trying to gain a higher vantage on the surrounding area.  He knew that others would come, and as he looked around him, the full extent of the battle started to hit him. The dead lay strewn about like someone scattering seeds in a pasture. The smaller animals that came fared the worst, but even a few of the larger ones had fallen.  He spotted the mighty boar has she slumped down and breathed her last breath. He saw the soft wisps of life-force leave her body and join the world. Looking over at Luke as he kind of half leaned and half slumped on the tree, sliding down to his knees, then onto his back, rolling over.  Normans eyes grew large as he saw that Luke had gashes across his chest, neck, face, paws, and belly. He noticed right away that a soft blue light had started to form around his body, he was healing himself. Even if he had no idea what he was doing. Luke had been torn up in the exchange, but he was nonetheless alive.  Norman thought quietly to himself… I knew this was going to happen.  I knew that others would die. Fuck Matt, this is all your fault.  Why the fuck are you involving all of us in this. I wish you would have just stayed gone, or just stay dead for all I care.  This destruction was not needed, or wanted.. Fuck you Matt.

Norman picked up a faint outline of plane flying overhead.  Looking up, squinting to bring the speck into focus, he noticed 4 dots appear out the rear of the aircraft.  “We have company!” he half yelled, have growled. The others in the area turned attention to Norman as he pointed skyward.  The Were-creatures that were within ear-shot, stood. Readying themselves for another fight, making a loose circle around the Kermode and Luke.

“Well, that little rest period was too short.  What say we give them one hell of a fight this time.  Let the Gods see our conviction. Let us stain the ground in blood.  Let a forest of epic proportion grow in our wake. Ahh hell, this is fun.  Finally a little excitement in my life..,” Yelled the Otter. Shifting into a hybrid half form.  He was a Guardian as well. His swords at a ready, his claws sharp, teeth ready. Whatever was about to happen, he would meet it head on.  He would repay his debt to Matt. He would pay that debt in his own blood if needed. He smirked as the dots came closer.

Standing as well was the Elk.  Remaining silent, he too followed the dots as they came closer.  “You know, you always liked to fight. How many drunken saloons and stoops have I drug you out of?” He asked the Otter.

“Many old friend.  But I feel great. It has been a long time since I have felt this alive.  My senses are on fire, my mind ablaze. I am alive again. Not just watching the years pass, growing this magnificent beard.  Let us show these young whelps how we do things. Although it’s not hard to see who survived that last battle and who did not.  However, let’s give them a good fight. I have some fight left in me.”

“You dear Otter are the most ferocious of your kind.  It was an honor to have known you, and fought by your side…” The Elk trailed off as the specks in the sky were becoming larger.  

“You can stop the goodbye speeches.  I know they are tradition among your people, but not in my den.  Family is the bond, we fight as a team. You know, it’s kind of like it was in the old days.  You know, All for one, One for all…” smirked the Otter.

Chuckling a little, his mood lightening and the dots came closer, “ It would seem I have misplaced my Rapier and Cloak over the years, please forgive me brother.  

****** 47,000 Feet overhead, a few minutes earlier. ******

Earlier in the day, a small group of Guardians from around the world received a message from Eden, Alpha of the Aric Den.  “Matt is waking up, Twins in danger, War eminent!” along with a set of coordinates. They matched the western pass to the Hunting Grounds.  These Guardians made there way to Bjorn Airfreight and were quickly ushered onto the waiting aircraft. In short order Marty and George had the visitors seated and in the air.  They pushed the lumbering aircraft to its absolute limit racing overhead. They knew no landing was possible, the visitors would have to jump into the area. No communication could be made with anyone.  It was was if there was a Black Zone with a 300 mile radius covering the area. Nature was churning. Storm systems were being pulled to the area, everything low level was rocked with lightning and wind that would have made even a veteran pilot think twice.  But theses were not human pilots, they were Bears. Each person had a connection to the ones on the ground. All knew that a war was coming…they all hoped to avoid it.

“Two minutes to drop,  two minutes to drop” Yelled Marty over the headset.  Behind him, 4 figures stood, one turning to give Marty a thumbs up and closed the hatch of the cockpit.  Were-creature or not, when the rear aircraft door opened, it would wash the inside of the craft in sub tropospheric air, turning any moisture to ice and making movement hard.  

Here the four stood in silence.  The four were Matts closest comrades in arms.  His Team. They would have arrived earlier, however the message from Eden, the leader of the Arctic Wolf Pack had been delayed.  They all hopped that they were not too late.

Each carried their weapons of choice, a complement of first aid gear and other supplies that would be needed in any battle.  First is Zelka. Female Gray Wolf, Cousin to Eden. Her specialty is close quarters and hand to hand combat. She is also the smallest of the team and de facto leader in Matts absence.  Next we have Mizukia. He is Panda bear, a Master Archer and Swordsman. Specializing in surveillance and information gathering. Next on the trip was Christina. She is Cougar. Swift and fast.  Her specialty is communications and long range target elimination. She speaks most were-creature languages as well as 6 human ones. Lastly was Jeff. He is bear, of Russian lineage. His specialty is heavy weapons and explosives, fire team support and logistics.  

Zelka reached up and pulled the release for the rear cargo door.  The inside of the craft washed in freezing air as the group stepped from the ramp and into an open frozen hell.  Getting a bearing, they made a bullet descent to meet up with the Wolves. They all hoped it was not too late.

As the ground came closer, Christina chimed over the radio.  “I am seeing fires, and bodies in the area. I see 8 or 10 figures up and in a loose circle.  That would seem to be Luke and Rusty. — Over”

‘Copy that. Everyone break off, vary your landing vector.  Keep it frosty, we have no idea what we are jumping into, or who won this battle, be ready for anything.” Zelka stated.  All that was spoken was “Roger” from each of the team members. Silence and the sound of their own heartbeats and breath filled their ears.

**** On the Ground ****

The warriors that were left formed a loose circle around the Kermode and Luke.  They watched as the dots split from a loose circle formation and went in different directions.

“They are going to open low and hit hard.  If I had to guess they are ‘were’ of some sort.  Be ready everyone..” Growled the Otter. He brought himself fully into the battle at that point.  He knew he was exhausted. As good as he was, his body was beat up, he stores of energy depleted. He was sure the others were in the same shape.  This would either be a blessing of help, or his demise. Either way he was ready, his life long, his happiness overflowing. Now, in this moment, he was alive.  

They watched as the three of the chutes opened, but one kept going.  The figure was coming right for Rusty and Luke. At an impossibly low altitude, the diver, opened two chutes, slowed the descent then cut them loose, landing in a roll, ending on its feet, weapons drawn.

Zelka’s hair flowed out from under her jump helmet and goggles.  “Don is that you?” She yelled, dropping her weapon and holding her hands up in a gesture of non-hostility.  Inside her heart jumped, he was cut all over, covered in dirt, blood and guile. He was torn up.

“Puppy-Girl, You have no idea how glad I am to see you.” He said as he holstered his weapons and took the 10 or so steps toward her.  They met in a kiss, a short, urgent, desperate kiss. Pulling free, she keyed her throat mic. “Secure the area, these are Allies. Report on any hostiles entering the area.  Render aid where you can.” “Roger” was all that was said, as the other members of the group landed, and started there chores. Working quietly and quickly to survey the fallen and secure the area.

Everyone exhaled, the tension broken and all felt relieved they had help, medical care, and a few more hands in this fight.  Over the next few hours, they moved to a higher location where they could observe the mountain pass, relocated the wounded with them, and buried the dead the best they could.  

A fire was started and water drawn.  A herbal tea was prepared by Mizukia.  An ancient recipe, that would heal the body, calm the mind, and ease anxiety.  Not much was said as they looked at each other around the fire. Luke was distant from everyone, Rusty was still asleep where he collapsed when they arrived, Norman was by his side.  The River Otter and Elk, still in half form, sat by the fire, speaking to Matt’s Team. It was time to make a plan and move, they were sure to be another battle coming.

Your Ideal is Flawed

Floating, in the void Matt thrashed.  The quiet, internal, forceful introspection had driven him to face his life as a whole.  A life lived to serve others. One that he was proud to have lived, but at the end, was left hollow and empty.  Seemingly everyone around him had used him. Taken from him the very joy he brought to others. All Matt ever wanted was to make people happy, to keep them safe.  Rolling back the memories, he examined his life from the very start, to find the beginning of this. To find his light.

The dream of serving others started very early in his human life.  On the coast of a Barrier Island, Matt sat beside his father, overlooking the fishing boats as they came in from the day.  Matt would count them, he memorized the Hull Numbers, and the crews by name. He would stand on the pier and wave at the captains and crew, he would scream, “welcome back” and other things of encouragement.  All truly good things, good messages of positive energy. Later in the day, when his father visited the Pub, he would always tag along. These men became his family. It would seem that in his youth, this was all that Matt was;  a little super charged battery of joy, happiness, and positive energy. He remembered very clearly that his father would quiz him on the hull numbers, and how many crew had left that morning, and how many crew came home.

It was here, on this pier, that Matt would learn about life and death.  On the eave of the King Tide, when one boat did not come home.  He had refused to leave the pier, watching the ocean, for a vessel that would not return.  He had fallen asleep on the Pier, waiting that night During his exhausted slumber, many of the Captains and Crew had come to the pier, keeping silent vigil with Matt.  In the morning, when he awoke, he was wrapped in a jacket, several sweet breads and a bottle of milk were beside him. He was alone. There Matt sat, until his father collected him, and took him to the Pub.  There, the crews had gathered, waiting on news over the radio from the Coast Guard. There was debris spotted and a search was started… However, the 7 man crew of the Jupiter Rising, were never to return to port.  

Floating in this void, Matt relived his gut wrenching pain that followed as he wrestled with the concepts, and then accepted things he could not change.  Life and Death, what could he have done, was this somehow his fault, should he have seen anything when the Jupiter left that morning. Round and round Matt’s thoughts spun.   It was here, at this Pub, on this day, that the dream was formed. A small spark that would later ignite into the passion of his life. He sat on the bar stool, barely able to see his reflection in the mirror on the back of the bar.  There was noise all around him. The normal hustle and bustle of a Cafe / Pub. Many of the men that came that day noticed Matt sitting there. All were given a warning to leave him alone. That was Master Owen’s son, and he was morning the death of friends.  All gave him distance. Matt just sat, starring at himself, and in his very young words, told himself that he would do whatever he had to, so the people he held dear, would not die. A time later, the word came over the radio, that they had recovered several bodies, but not everyone.  The vessel was classified as Lost At Sea, and the case closed due to the King Tide making searches dangerous.    

…Time Moves Forward…

As Matt grew into a young man, and attended secondary school, the dream re-kindled itself, as his first brother passed away unexpectedly while in Europe.  Matt had always thought that it was odd and strange, but lacked the voice to raise concern. So, Matt was thrown into the turmoil of his extended family, a world that he was not prepared for erupted into his young life.  You see, Matt was the last of 7 children. Each of this older siblings, absolutely detested Matt. In their mind, he got more than they did, got away with things that they did not growing up, and in general was a spoiled, only child.  Matt’s parents had intentionally kept Matt away from them. Shielded him from the negative onslaught. As both of his parents flew to Europe to accompany his brothers remains home, his siblings stayed at the estate. They were suppose to watch over Matt, but it turned into a party, in memory of their departed brother.  At the time, Matt did not connect all the pieces. Later in life, he would find out that his siblings had parted with his mother and father over inheritance, and control of the estates and business that his parents owned. He was not prepared for the unyielding negativity or pettiness of them all. They would harass him where he slept, intentionally drop him off late for school in the morning and forget to pick him up in the afternoon. This all happening at the time, when most young men are going through puberty, Matt’s body seemed to be stuck, and paused.  He was barely 5 foot tall, 74 lbs, and bone thin. His small size made him an easy target for his remaining bother, and the host of cousins and friends that came to the party. In the five weeks that his parents were overseas, his siblings trashed the estate, moved matt to the carriage barn to allow more guests to sleep in comfort. All the while telling his parents all was fine…. In the few days before his parents arrived home, the maids came to clean, and found Matt high in the carriage barn. He had secluded himself, and there he had stayed. Matt had missed school, was dehydrated, and hungry.  As matt lay huddled among the canvas and other car parts, the first glimmer of hate and avarice entered his being. Here in the cold and dark, he welcomed the darkness into his life, for that was all he had left to cling too.

… Time Never Stops…

“You need to control your anger.” Matt’s father said as they sparred.  With wooden short swords they would spar. Thrust and parry. Dodge and slice.  Matt would hover between being in control, and blinding rage. “I am in control, the rage gives me strength, that I would not have otherwise,” Matt growled at this father.  The sparring would continue, as Matt would fall deeper and deeper into this rage state. A compulsive fighting posture that was not normal to Matts makeup. In truth, Matt was stronger than his father, but Matt was unskilled.  He had started to develop innate skills, that would come out on there own when he would spar. Spacial awareness, agility, speed; all seemed to be better when Matt would fall into the abyss of anger and hatred, and the other part of himself took control.   It was as if he were two people or someone or something were fighting for him. Later he would calm down, and it would be a visible shift between the two states. His father observed the difference in gate, manner, and action. Matt would slip in and out of this protective posture, anytime he sensed a threat.   

His father was at a loss to its origin until a day early in the summer of Matts’ 16th year.  Matt had been instructed to work out on his own this day. In the workout area, that was below the veranda at the south end of the kitchen,  Matt had completed his calisthenics and stretching, and was working through his fighting drills on the wooden dummy. Lost in the movement, impact, and exercise, Matt was unaware that his brother had come to speak with his father.  At some point, his brother, Richard, had made his way onto the veranda, overlooking the workout area to observe. He had poured himself a drink from the bar table, and lit a cigar from the humidor.

“So Father, teaching the little shit everything huh?” Richard spoke to there father with disdain in his voice, loud enough to catch his younger brothers attention. This was intentional, and intended to goad the younger.  As Matt turned, anger filled his heart. “Now leave Matt alone Richard, he is doing just fine on his own. “No, No, I would like a little match with him. Since you keep him so well secluded from the real world. Come, Matt, lets see what you can do.”  Richard said as he downed his drink and stepped toward the steps that would lead down and into the courtyard. “No Richard,” his father grabbed him firmly by the shoulder. “You are no match for him, please don’t do this.”

Richard glared at his father, pulled free, and walked defiantly down the steps.  Swaggering like a peacock trying to find a mate, he picked up a practice longsword from the rack, and stepped toward Matt. The older brother started to twirl the practice weapon around his hands, and body.  Making a show to intimidate his younger sibling. Mr. Owens sat back. He knew that this fight had been written in fates tapestry a few years ago and that the threads would soon be dripping in blood. Mr. Owens also knew that he would have to step in, if things got to out of control.  Looking out, he could see that Matt had an eerie calm about him, he had slipped into the other being inside himself. Pulling his vision back, Matt was aglow with the energy that circled the estate, and it seemed to be pulled toward him. Looking back at his sons, he knew that Matt was going to win, but he had to let this play out, otherwise the demons that tortured both of them would never be put to rest.  

“Going to pick up anything to fight me with?” Spat Richard.

“Sure,”  Matt hissed.  His voice had deepened, this tone elongated and crisp.  His eyes were almost glowing. “I have wanted this little match for some time.  Lets see brother, are you really the man you think you are? Lets see if I can put all this glamor and bravado that you hold so dear in its place,”  Matt replied calmly, as he walked over to the rack of very sharp, very real, very deadly bladed weapons. Here he found his favorites. Twin short swords.  The hand grips a bit longer, the blades wider. Not what you would commonly see in American or European styles of combat. They were more akin to Hungarian or Northern Asia, mongrel weapons. “Come dear brother, let me see the conviction in your sword.  I want to look into your eyes as I crush every ounce of pride you have. I will drink your blood as I would morning Tea. Ready yourself dear older brother, it’s time you got back some of the pain you’ve dealt me.”

“You can’t be serious,” Richard retorted.

“Oh I am.  I am willing to put my skill to the test, and my life on the line, are you?  Seriously, the time for petty shows, and parlor tricks is over. You are 19 years my senior.  Some will say that you should win, because you have better skills. Others would say, that I should bow to you, as the eldest of the family. I THINK NOT.  I BOW TO NO ONE ANYMORE. Ready yourself brother. I am going to take my time and enjoy this.” replied Matt, as he walked over to the far side of the square sand filled ring, and knelt down, resting on his knees.  The blades were laid at this sides and he clasped his hands on his lap.

“Well, you little fucking shit.  If you want to play it that way. Sure, let’s do it for real.  I am going to enjoy putting some scars on you, and making sure you stay in your place.  This is my house you are resting in. Everything that father has will be MINE. I will take everything from you.  I hate that father treats you special and I’m going to wipe that smirk off your face.” Richard said as he walked up are grabbed a broadsword from the rack.  

“You misunderstand Richard.  I am not just going to beat you.  I am going to kill you. Slowly. Painfully. Completely.”  Matt said coldly, as he rose to his feet, taking the blades and moving toward the center.

“Oh little brother, you are so full of shit.  You are so delicate and small. Almost like a woman.  You could not kill a fly, let along your own flesh and blood.” Richard said as he lunged toward Matt.  

The match that ensued, was one sided from the start.  Richard would charge, and Matt would step into the advance, parry the blade, and slice Richard on an exposed body part.  Richard very quickly realized the gap in their skill. As Richard had gone off to party and live his life. Matt had devoted every moment to improving his skill.  Nothing had gotten in the way of that goal. Matt had trained for hours and days. He had sparred with as many fighters as his father could find. He absorbed everything he was taught.  Fear crept into Richards mind, as he was cut over and over. He found himself locked into a fight that he had no exit from. Matt had positioned himself at the exit from the courtyard. Richard would either have to climb the densely grown hedge, or fight through Matt.  But either way he was not leaving until Matt decided it.

None of the cuts were deadly, but he was bleeding, and the blood was making it hard to move. Richards hands were covered, his chest, back, legs, and now face, showed the intent of Matts devotion to his skill.    Looking on from the Veranda, Mr. Owens, looked very concerned. Matt was toying with Richard, as a barn cat would play with a field mouse, Matt was doing the same. He was intentionally causing damage to his opponent, drawing out the fight. Inflicting pain.   This was not a part of Matt that he liked or really knew existed. He had always pondered that a part of him could be evil, but even he was not prepared for the sinister nature that had taken over Matt. The fight was ramping up. Matt had stopped cutting his brother, but was now beating him with knees and elbow strikes from impossible angles.  Even Mr. Owens was in awe at the skills Matt was displaying. He seemed to be able to float in the air. The wind had picked up around the house and every time Matt would strike his brother, it did not appear to have much force, but the visible impact was immense. Matt had calmed down even further, and was actually smiling. He was not even breathing or sweating hard.   

After Richard was suitably winded and beat to his knees, Matt started to verbally taunt his brother.  Laughing at the older siblings almost non-existent skills, in comparison to his. Making note of everything that Richard held dear, and mocking him for it.  Matt was tearing him down, just like Richard did to him. Matt dropped his blades and egged Richard back into the fight, “Come on brother, lets see what you can do If I am unarmed?” Richard attacked then, with everything he had left.  Matt quickly disarmed him, and took the fight to bare hands. Here is where Matts totally destroyed his older sibling. He repeatedly slapped him across the face, and swept his feet out from under him. Over and over Matt threw his older brother to the ground. One by one, Matt broke Ribs, Fingers and other bones.  His brother was left on his knees, unable to move his arms, looking up at his younger brother.

Leaning down, so he was at eye level, Matt whispered, “I know what you want to do with Fathers’ wealth, and Mothers’ Estate, I WILL NOT let you piss it all away for your stupid dreams of parties and women. Know this brother, I forgive you now for the harm you game me, but if you EVER cross me again, I will KILL you.  Understand?” All his brother could do was nod. Matt reached up, and shoved him backwards and onto his back, in the sand. The young victor left his brother crying, screaming to the sky unable to move, cursing everything around him. Matt left him alone, just like he had left him years ago.

Turning Matt left him there not wanting to be near his brother any longer.  Walking up to his father, he bowed, then walked past to go to his room. “I am proud of you Matt, I really am.  You could have killed him easily.” His father spoke in passing.

Looking back over his shoulder, Matt replied. “I did kill him.  His spirit is broken, his universe is now destroyed. I have taken away everything that makes him a man in this world.  He will either learn to live again, or die on his own. Either way, Karma was repaid today. Thank you Father, for allowing me to train, and guiding me on my path.  I know that I am almost to much for you to handle. I have watched you bandage your hands after we spar. For that I am truly sorry. Please forgive me.”

“Son, you were forgiven before you even did it.  Now, go shower and clean up. I think you have earned a seat at the Pub tonight.  I am sure that the boys will love to hear about this fight.” Mr. Owens smiled. He knew that Matt had held back.  He knew that Matt could indeed be evil, but had chosen another path. Relieved Mr. Owens, called one of the butlers to attend to Richard, and went inside as well.  

…Seven or More Decades Later…

“Sir Otter you fight like a beast possessed by a demon.”  Matt spoke as he was being backed into the corner by a Giant Otter in half form, wielding a Rapier and Dagger.  A master at the ballet of European Fencing and Dual Wielding combat.

“Ah, Sir Bear, you are indeed a rather good opponent for one of your ilk.  I have sparred with many bears, but you are by far the most entertaining,” Spoke the Otter has be parried and dodged Matts short swords.  Matt and the Otter were moving so fast that the spectators were having a hard time keeping up.

The two kept on like this for hours.  Neither one of them giving or taking the advantage.  They were both lost in the movement and patterns of combat.  The unyielding steel bent to both of their wills. Blades, fists, feet, all blended into a deadly ballet.  Sweat poured from them, using up all reserve energy within them. And still they kept up the dance. What had started as a quick sparring session had changed into therapy for the both of them.  Therapy in motion, combat as a means of emotional release. Not many could hold their own with Matt, and now, in this place of peaceful worship, deep in the Swiss Alps, two creatures had found each other, itching for a fight, but yet cautious as to what that would mean.  The Giant River Otter was skilled, and a Guardian like Matt. It was by invitation that they were both at this place. A not-so chance meeting, but one with very positive consequences. After many hours, of sparring, the two stopped. Took a step back away from each other, dropped there blades and then embraced as brothers.  

“May the Gods be praised, for sending you here today.  I’m glad that we have come to meet. Please, lets talk at length.  That is, after we both have cleaned ourselves. What do you say?” Asked the Otter.

“I would like that very much. Thank you for the match, it has been many years since I enjoyed sparring this much.  You have my humble thanks. Say I don’t recall even getting your name?” Bowed Matt as he finished in a gesture of genuine respect.  

“Stand young one, please.  I’m know as Simara Sagrav these days.  But most just call me Sim. I am overjoyed to have met you.  I hope that we can see much of each other this weekend. Both in and out of ring,” Winked the Otter.

“Oh yes, I would like that,” Blushed Matt as he took stock of the Otter.  He was just a bit shorter and thinner than Matt. From the looks of it, had a substantial package to back up the high sex drive of the Otter family.  

“Okay Sir Bear, I will see that we have a table in the meeting hall.  Let’s meet there in a few hours, and yes. I have ample equipment. Your eyes have not left my crotch,” teased the Otter, as he patted Matt on the shoulder.

Matt smiled shyly and was even more embarrassed than before.  They shook hands, the touch lingering, then departed. Matt made his way to his room, and then to the communal bath of the Monastery at Sol Du Grand St. Bernard.  At dinner, Matt and Simara talked about each of their pasts and how they came to be Guardians. It had been some time since Matt had opened up to anyone or talked in  detail. It was both refreshing and deeply moving. The weights that had held Matt down, seemed to lift, if only for a moment. The two did enjoy each other many times that weekend.  They both attended the meeting of the Elders along with other duties, but they always made time to talk at night over dinner.

“So at the the core of your being is the dream of making the world a safer place?” asked Simara.

“Yes, at the core.  I would like to live in a world where there was no needless death due to war or aggression.  A world were we cherished each other and moved forward toward a better future,” answered Matt.

“Your dream and Ideal are flawed.  They cannot exist in the same space.  Dear boy, I have killed for the sake of saving the many.  It’s a vicious cycle that can be justified however you wish, but the outcome is the same.” said the Otter, a little annoyed, and the hair on the back of his neck was standing up, like a sign of impending danger.

“I disagree, committing yourself to a goal or dream is a way of focusing effort and action.  Its internal and does not have to make sense to anyone else, just the person.” Matt replied, his tone lower.  Like a child trying to justify something to his parents.

The Otter raised the knife he was using to cut his dinner, and pointed it at Matt, “Look young one, you will end up hollow, alone, and totally used up.  Take a different path, look for other ways. Besides, I still don’t agree with you being so subservient to your Elder. Boris was it?”

Matt leaned back a little in the chair getting annoyed.  “Look, I didn’t ask for you to agree with me, but you asked the question and I answered it. Whatever course I take in life, let it be mine.  I believe in a better tomorrow and I will do what I can to make that dream come true. I give of myself, because I don’t know any other way to be.  Is that wrong?”

“Its dreadfully hypocritical of you to even elevate yourself like that.  You don’t get to decide who lives and dies. You are just a lap dog for your Elder.  Tell me, does he share your dream, or was it just an easy way to get what you wanted.  Remember young Bear, I have sparred with you. I have felt the messages conveyed through the crossing of blades.  The intent of the heart is written on each strike as it lands. You are conflicted, and at war with yourself. Either decide what you want to fight for, or more importantly, decide what you want to live for.  Either way you are stuck!” Finished the Otter, as he stood and made a gesture that he was leaving the dinner table.

“You know I realize that it’s flawed a long time ago.  But just because you are correct, it does not make your right.  Its my dream, and core to who I am. I have always known that it was an impossible dream, but thats what makes it beautiful and special.  Because I cannot possibly see it come to fruition in my own life, It’s alway fresh, always new. Every day is a new day and one that I am excited to live.”  Matt finished and just looked at the Otter.

The Otter stared at him intently, then bowed to him.  “Sir Bear, I am even more impressed by you. Even more enthralled with every little part of you I come to know.  Please, stand, let us join the others for drinks. After all, this monastery is named after Saint Bernard, I hear that he drank his weight in beer and whisky each day,” laughed the Otter as he all but yanked Matt from his seat.   The two did drink much that night. Even in a drunken haze, the two were caught outside on the veranda, making out as the snow fell on them. Who knew that an Otter and Bear, could get along do nicely.

…Floating in the Void…

Matt became still.  As he looked at the mental picture of his life.  He found it, his Light. The dream was his light, it was all that was needed to start his movement back to the land of the living.  He could feel his conciseness move toward the light and one by one his senses came back to him. Smell, hearing, and feeling were first. He laid there for a time smelling a campfire that must be close.  Listening to the twins as they talked, he smiled. He was waking up….

Ghosts of the Past

Matts team kept a watchful eye on the surrounding area as the Bears, Elk and Otter sat and let there bodies heal.  All seemed to be a little more that on edge after the day.

Luke was distant, almost in a catatonic state.  Rusty was sleeping in a huddle, close the fire, curled up facing away from everyone.  It was almost like he was ashamed of what happened, even though he had won this fight, and lived another day.

“Others will come and it will get bloody.” snickered the Otter.  Feeling himself oddly recharged after the tea, and a little tipsy, but not really caring.  

“Let’s hope we can avoid that, I really don’t think this battle was called for.” Retorted Norman.

“Yeah, I know.  Hey, Polar Bear.  Mind telling us what the hell this fight was about.  I think we know that we were all called here, or more importantly, pulled here. However, the bloodshed was a little extreme, even for Werecreature battles.” Barked the Elk.

Norman spoke up, holding a paw up to Luke and Rusty as they turned to look in the direction of the questions, telling them to be silent.  “This battle was not warranted, and Matt caused all of it.” Norman half growled. His emotions coming to the surface. Sighing and collecting himself a bit, “All of this was Matt’s doing.  He orchestrated everything. He left coded messages in his journals. Secret coordinates, gear, everything. He left everything so the Twins would find it.”

“What are you saying?” Asked the Elk.

“You are not getting it.  Matt set all this up ahead of time.  He left things laid out in his journals.  He knew that the twins would be able to decipher his journals and find everything, not us.  I don’t know how, but he knew all this was going to happen. Like he saw it in his dreams or something.”

“Explain Please.” asked the Otter, his own interest piqued.  He had only spent a few days with Matt, but that was decades ago.  More recently, he had had the wonderful opportunity to spend one-on-one time with the twins.  His crotch expanded slightly from the remembrance of that week.

Sighing again, Norman sat down on his rump, with a look of defeat coming over him.  “Way back when Matt left, he planned it. It started in our home. He removed himself from the Wall of Life, totally erased his existence.  All his accounts had been closed, cell phones turned off, identities destroyed, all photographs had been destroyed from both the hard copy photo albums, and all electronic media.  He went so far as to wipe all his fingerprints from every inch of the house as well as every piece of gear he left behind. I don’t think you grasp the scope of what that did to us.  We had a bond, he saved my life. Shit, I don’t care that he left. Fuck, Luke treated him like shit toward the end. But he could have done it differently.”

Everyone just stopped and looked at each other, Luke had turned away from everyone and curled himself into a ball, nose to the ground, tears rolling silently down his face.  Rusty was just looking at Norman and the others were just looking at each other.

”Sounds like him,” Zelka spoke up.  Startling everyone around the fire. None had sensed, smelled, or heard her come to the circle.  She moved like Matt.

“Fair lady, with steel gray hair, would you mind taking a few moments and elaborating on this.  I am dreadful at mysteries, and I think we are all a little tired of the little games of cat and mouse.” mused the Otter.  Knowing that his tone, although jovial and theatrical, covered a growing anger. Not at anything or anyone in particular, but just a negative energy that was growing in and around him, like something bad was about to happen.

“He’s just like that.  If he says he’s going to drop out for a while, that is exactly what he does.  You can’t track him, he will leave no trace to follow. Matt always has a Plan B, and more often than not, a C, D, and E.  Its just how he is. There is good reason why he is not dead yet. Oh, and sleeping like this. In the hunting grounds, thats classic Matt.  Taking all this in, he must have been planning this for some time, or it may have been one of the many plans he laid out for himself.” She stopped and looked out on the small group of creatures.  She knew that Matt would seem like a traitor, or a turncoat. “Before you judge, remember it’s just how he is. He looks at situations from 4-6 angles before he acts. It’s like he has a spacial radar that allows him to just view everything from several angles at once.”

Huffing loudly, “Bullshit.  I don’t care how bad things had gotten.  We were his family, he was my Guardian-Sire.  Damn it, I loved him. He could have talked it out.  We could have worked it out. He Didn’t just have to leave.”  Norman almost screamed at them all.

Zelka stood up and looked at him.  She knew that he was hurt and all this had been kept bottled up for years.  This was not the time for her usual Suck It Up Speech.  “Look I know it hurt when he left.  One thing I know from working with him for almost a century, is that he does nothing without a reason. Every step is measured.  Every word he speaks is planned out. Whatever reason he had for leaving, it may not be evident to you, but widen your scope. Matt was always a big picture kind of guy, and that’s just how he looked at the wold.  The small things mattered greatly to him, but he weighed everything on the larger mission.”

Norman was about to speak when Zelka held up a paw to him, and shifted into a hybrid half form. Pressing one hand to the small speaker in her right ear.  Keying her mic, “Copy, monitor direction only, DO NOT ENGAGE, I REPEAT DO NOT ENGAGE. We have company, it’s time to move. Let’s go.” All started to stir.  All on high alert for the next wave of adversaries that would descent on them…

A few miles away in the hunting grounds

When a were-creature hibernates, the mind, soul, and body are all disconnected.  The mind and soul walk with the stars as the body rests. Also, every hibernation is a bit different.  Some are short rest periods, others are long and needed. This is where Matt was. He had slept for over 20 human years. Now he would start to wake up.

Matt woke slowly as his body came out of its deep, long hibernation.  Slowly feeling came back to his hands and feet. He would feet the chill of the cave on his muzzle.  The scent of his own fur hung in his nostrils as his breathing deepened and expanded, as his body temperature started to return to normal.   Very slowly, he started to attempt to move his paws. Ever so slightly, they responded. Inhaling deeply he noted the smell of a fire in the distance, the cold darkness of his cave, damp earth and dried vegetation.  No doubt it had grown inward during his slumber. His eyes opening, adjusting slowly to not seeing in so long, the crusty sleep debris cracking and pulling away from his skin. He could make out dim light coming from the entrance, and the smell of a campfire.  

Slowly Matt pushed himself to return to his human form.  Agonizingly slow as it was, his thick, thick fur receded, and his body morphed back into human form. He was left sitting on his rump, with his knees in his chest, rocking slowly back and forth.  In the distance, he could hear voices, as it the twins. His heart jumped. They had come. But just as quickly as his heart jumped it fell. His mind started to process the details, re engaging all the processes that he had shut down. Anger came then.  His slumber had been disturbed. He was awake because someone was close to him. There should be none living here, why had they come.

Matt could feel a burning energy start to move though him.  It tickled his fingers and toes, and made its way into his core.  Rising to his feet, he felt very light on his feet. Actually it was like he was floating.  Unsure of what was going on, he decided to more extra slow. It seemed like he just moved through things. He would raise his hand to move the brush, and before he could register the movement, he was outside, stumbling slightly from the speed of the movement

Matt looked in front of him.  The twins were looking at him, in shock, with a tinge of terror.   As he started to process what was happening, since they were backing away from him, in fear.  Standing in amazement, they both seemed to move in slow motion, as they scrambled for there weapons, shifting into half form as they moved.  Stopping a few meters away, they were at the ready, trying to process things as well.

In truth, Matt resembled the walking dead more than anything that was alive.  His skin taught and white, flesh sunken in, hair long and disheveled, eyes glowing. The twins knew something was not right with Matt. He had a misty smoke around him, it hovered and moved as if it we’re alive.

“Pashma?” mumbled Zackary.

“Pashma?” asked William after his brother.

“I don’t believe I know of whom you are asking for.  But, why are you fearful of me?” Matt responded with a sinister smile, as his talons extended from his hands, as the darkness came to the surface, seemingly taking control and propelling him as me moved forward toward the startled cubs.

Outside the hunting grounds

“AHHHHHRUHFHFHFHFH”  Luke screamed as he dropped to his knees then rolled on the ground, as all at once he re-connected to Matt.  Images flooded his mind, pain racked his body, as he saw through Matts eyes. Matt had both cubs by the throat, and was choking them.  They struck at him, with fists, and fired rounds into him, but it was like he was just immune. “Nooooooo” Luke screamed again.

Zelka reacted and punched Luke in the jaw hard enough to break it, and knock him cold.  It was the only way keep him quiet. Looking over, Rusty was white as a ghost. He seemed to be frozen in place.  He was mumbling something as he collapsed into Normans arms. “Matt, he’s awake…somethings wrong.”

Over the headset, Zelka received the word, 12 bears and a slew of other animals were descending on their location from all direction.  “Engage All Targets” she screamed into her mic and she raised her rifle and opened fire.

Everyone threw into the fight as the small group quickly found themselves overwhelmed, and surrounded.  The Otter and Elk were holding their own, but they were not coming out of this unscathed. Firearms, blades, and a host of other weapons came at them.  There was a saving grace, Matts team lived up to their reputation. Raven Team 8, the Ghosts.  The ones that fight as if they are of one mind.  Inner battle coordination came without speech or hand signals, it was as if they were all linked to a central brain. They knew what each was going to do, and coordinated everything .  Like a seamless ballet of Death, the team worked toward the two downed bears, and then formed a perimeter. Holding the line. They would hold the line, they didn’t know failure. On each of them was a small tattoo; Never Falter, Never Fail.  In short order, ammunition was expended, and the battle turned to blade and claw.  They would keep the two bears safe. They had sworn a promise to Matt, and they knew that Guardians don’t ask or expect a promise, unless it’s a matter of life and death.  

On the ground Luke was healing and coming around, still yelling and holding his head.  Pawing the ground, he drug himself over to Rusty. The spirit bear was not doing any better.  When both Bears touched, they connected to the same vision. It was as if both were wired into Matts Eyes and Mind.  They heard his thoughts in their ears. They heard the darkness telling Matt to kill the cubs. To drink their Life Force.  The rid the world of them. KILL. KILL. KILL. KILL. The word repeated over and over in a mantra of pure evil.

Both bears screamed in unison. “MAAATTTTTT  STOP”. Hoping above all hope that the connection was two-way.  That Matt would hear them. That some part of Matt would wake up. The good part of him, the kind spirit, the cool water that they loved.  The others were to far into the fury of battle to distinguish Luke and Rusty screaming from the other sounds of the Battle.

Back in the Hunting Grounds

“Let me go”  Zackary kicked Matt as he pushed himself further into his hybrid form. His young Guardian eyes glowed bright, his mind and body resettled.  With one hand he drew a blade and shoved it squarely into Matts exposed throat, blood instantly spewing from the wound. Matt stumbled backward, releasing the twins.  Both twins landed and took a few steps back, weapons at ready. Matt stood there for a moments and then his body healed itself. Faster than the cubs thought possible for a werecreature.  Matt stood looking at them.

“Oh dear, lovely Cubs. My have you grown.” Hissed Matt.  The swirling mist that was around him started to intensify.  “It seems that you are just brimming with life. Energy abounds in you both.  Tsk. Tsk….I must apologize for that minor interference. It would seem that this other part of myself is struggling to come out. “

Both cubs exhaled slightly, and made themselves ready.  Looking inward, they saw the energy that was swirling around Matt. It was a deep darkness that clung to his body and swirled around him, creeping across the ground as it edged toward them.  “Pashma. Matt. We have come to wake you. We followed your writings” they stumbled with words. Both thought, that was a minor interference, what would a major one be?

Both Cubs held their breath, and the darkness exploded around Matt and drug him to the ground.  They took a step forward to help. “NO, STAY THERE. THIS IS MY FIGHT.” Matt stood and centered himself.  In his mind he heard Rusty and Luke, they were the voices he needed to hear. The swirling vortex of darkness wrapped around him, whipping his hair, and chilling his naked body.   Slowly the vortex calmed and the Cubs watched as the darkness retreated back inside Matt and the warm light that they remembered came back to the surface.

“Cubs, please accept my most humble apologies, I was not quite awake.” Matt said as tears started to fall from his face.  The color had returned to his skin, and his body was returning to normal. His eyes were less sunken, and his body was filling back out.  The healing factor of a were creature were taking affect. Both cubs took a step forward, and held out Totems they brought with them.

A bone necklace, and a staff.  “These were mine?” He asked.

“Yes, this necklace was given to you by the Northern Village Elder, and this Staff was made by your father.  It was in your armory. We took them to prove who we were.” both cubs talked in turn.

“Sorry, my memory is still a bit fuzzy.  By the way, do you have anything to eat? It would seem that my tummy has stopped growling, and has started to bite?”  Matt smiled and they all laughed. In short order, the backpack full of fruit was produced and Matt sat quietly eating and listening to the Cubs.  They would catch him up on everything that happened since he had departed.

Back to the Battle outside the Hunting Grounds.

The battle that started had come a protracted end.  Matts team as well as the Otter and Elk had held their own.  The adversaries that remained were retreating away from the fight.  The ferocity and teamwork of Matt’s team had won the day. Rusty and Luke had regained their composure toward the end of the fight, but were no help in the Ballet of Death that was occurring all around them.  

“SITREP,” Zelka spoke into her mic.  Panting, out of breath, covered in blood, and muck from the battle.

“Zelka, get over hear.  The Otter is down.” Chris muttered as she pressed a trauma dressing into the chest of the Otter.  He had already lost so much blood. She looked around, his blades were shattered, and the last foe to come against him, he had crushed its skull with a rock, lay 20 or so feet away.  His small paws were ripped open, flesh hanging off him, from all the exposed skin. “Ferocious to the end.” she smiled as she looked at him.

“It would seem that my life has come to an end.” Coughed the Otter, as his eyes fluttered closed and his breathing slowed, then ceased.

“Not today.” Barked Luke as he pushed past the other members of team.  Chris was thrown over as if something had grabbed and thrown her, but Luke was still  a few paces behind. Luke lumbered over and knelt down.

“I knew that you and Matt were close, I remember you from the visions.  Matt respected and admired you. For that, I will heal you, stay still.”  Luke spoke in a regal manner. Inside, something had fallen into place within the lummox of a Polar Bear.  Luke was first tribe and this was his inner strength. His power. To heal is to love.  You have to love others to heal others.  This simple lesson, Matt had tried to teach him so many times over the years, but at each, his own selfish nature prevented the lesson from sinking in.  Now, with his life stripped from him, he had nothing left but to love everyone around him, since he had driven away his reason for living.

Luke closed his eyes, as he reached deep within his mind.  There he held an image of Matt when they first met. On the dance floor…the music playing., his soft blond hair brushing against his cheek.  Luke held that image and let the love he felt for Matt flow from him. At first there was a soft light under his paws. Then at all at once, a bright flash as the light of Luke’s being blasted forth.  The same light that Rusty had used to change Matt. Slowly the Otters wounds began to close, and his breathing started again. The light intensified as all stood back and watched, then another blast of light as the bubble of healing extended to all of them.  Luke’s inner energy was so intense that they had to shield their eyes. After a few minutes of this, the light faded as Luke collapsed to the ground, unconscious. All just stood and looked at each other. The Otter woke up and looked at his paws and then around to everyone else.  

“Could someone please tell me what has just transpired?  For I am not entirely clear if I am alive or walking in the afterlife.” asked the Otter as he looked around at everyone.  Each had the same blank expression of disbelief mixed with awe.

After everyone got ahold of themselves, they noticed that they had been healed.  The smaller cuts that they had received during the fight were gone, they all felt renewed.  The group talked at length, as the remains of Edens pack can back to them. All decided that it was time to go home.  They would start out in the morning in different directions. One group would head toward the lodge. Zelka and Muzukia would accompany the twins to meet boris, Norman, Rusy, and Luke would go to David cabin the badlands to get intel, and then meet at the lodge.  Matts other team members would accompany the Elk and Otter to a location that Matt had given them as part of the communications. The location was high in a mountain range, that boarded the formers United States and New Canadian union.

A Few Days Later in the Hunting Grounds

Matt sat alone, looking at the twins as they were frolicking in the pond, just a few hundred meters from his cave.  They had awoken him, but it was just hard for him to engage, to be happy, with all the news they brought with them. Honestly, it was hard to feel anything except anger and hatred toward the elders, Vic and anyone else connected with Bear Leadership. From the little bits of information he got from the twins, it would seem that many wanted to stop the twins from finding Matt, for fear that they could not control the new guardians.

It was like a part of him was somehow not there.  Happiness, Joy, Caring, Love, all strong emotions, seemed to be cut off.  As if the emotions were paused, or somehow blocked. He sat there and tried to get his mind around it.  The cubs were grown, that was what he wanted, The cubs had followed the clues, and awoken him when they made the transition to Guardian, through all this Big brothers words rang through his ears, “…..what do you want to live for.”

The Cartel

Half a world away in just south of the equator, a servant-bear was finishing placing the coffee service on a tray.  He paused and looked down at his work. The exquisite coffee pot was highly polished, local raw sugar cubes places neatly on the side of each cup, delicate spoons and fresh cream was laid in the bottom of each cup, just as his elders liked.  This Bear, had served this den for over 300 years. He had seen leaders come and go. Fighters live, grow old, and die. This old bear had witnessed strife and turmoil in the Bear community, but nothing like was happened now. From the conversations among the other servants and guards, a war had started in the far North, and all were ready for it to come south. A small group of Bears has opposed the Elders decree, and were now being hunted for that wrongdoing. At least that’s what the rumors said.  

The servant exited the kitchen area, holding his tray, and made his way down the narrow entrance hall, and into a wide foyer, with a grand staircase in the center.  Keeping a straight line across the space, he entered another smaller hallway, making his way to the study of his Master and Elder. He notices raised voices as he paused for a moment at the door, before a single knock was administered.

“Enter” a voice came from the interior.  the servant reached down deftly and opened the door quietly, stepping inside and closing the door as quietly as possible.  He noticed quickly that tensions were high in the room. His elder sat in his chair by the fireplace, speaking with two others.  They were not Bear. As he neared the gathering, he placed the tray gently on the table and stood up, waiting for further orders.  

“That will be all”, his elder spoke and waved him away.  His demeanor gruff, his voice pointed. As he exited, he paused to gather some refuse, and then exited.  On the other side of the door he sniffed the paper cup, and rolled up paper napkin. “Wolf and Boar.” he whispered to himself.  What here they doing here? He made his way back to the kitchen, stopping in the foyer to dust the entrance table, when he noticed several more vehicles arrive.  It looked like a large gathering. The guards had already met the drivers and the passengers were exiting the vehicles. Right away he noticed none of them were Bear, but all of them Female.  Chuckling to himself, he turned to make his way back to the kitchen. “It’s a Breeding party.”

Later, the servant was serving light snacks to guests and was within earshot of the other elders that were in attendance.  They were discussing going after ‘twins’ and that they would have to get rid of some obstacles. Something about a bear and a wolf that have been giving them problems.  

As the afternoon drew into night, the meeting had continued.  This was the time the local street leaders came to meet the heads of the Cartel, so that reports could be given in person.  The servant knew that there was to be some discussion of a war or something. He just kept about his work.

You Can’t be serious Charles.  That would be civil war.” shouted one of the elders, as he sat around an oblong table, smoking a cuban cigar.  

“War is inevitable with the humans.  We need to find a scapegoat, and I think I know just the right bear to take that role.” Charles sneered, as the older Elder at the table.  This elder was old, one of the original 12. No one was entirely sure what race he was, or even if he could still transform. He was South American, but more european/spanish in appearance.  His hair was gray and white. Skin was well tanned. Facial hair of a neat length and density. This elder cultivated the appearance, demeanor and attitude of an older grandfather, complete with dinner jacket and always wearing a white button down shirt.

The last of the three, Diego, spoke up, “Whoever this person is will surely be killed, either by another den, or the humans.  Who are you going to ge to do it?”

‘It’s already in motion.  Josiah and his little den of purists have engaged in the hunt for the twins.  It would seem that the Guardian Matt will resurface soon. All is in motion. We will let Josiah and his den be the aggressors in the fight.  We will support them, but in the end, his clan will take the fall for it.” Charles almost taunted them as he lit his cigar, letting the smoke trail up around his nose.  

Sitting for a few moments, Diego spoke, “so, we are going to let Josiah, and his den wage war on the Guardian.  We will need to capture the twins, and eliminate the Sires. If i’m correct, one sire is a half-guardian, changed with Matts own blood, and the other is a First Tribe Polar bear.  Do you really think that his den is a match for them?”

“The elder spoke.  In large numbers, even a guardian can be taken down.  It’s the one-on-one contests were they excel. Also guardians are solitary, they seldom work closely together.  So we will just let josiah pour his entire den into the fight.

The three continues to line out the plans as the night drew on.  They each met with smaller groups of leaders under each of them. The plans to wage war were complete, a larger plan of infiltration into governments, law enforcement, and other agencies were complete.  This Cartel of were-creatures had been working toward this goal for over 200 years, slowly and methodically carving out territory and influence. All was ready for war.

A World away

“Pasham, where are we going” the cubs asked in unison.  They were walking out of the hunting grounds to the far east.  Furthest away from all the battle and the way the cubs had entered.

“We are headed east and south to pay a very dear friend a visit.  I need information, and she is the best one to give it. Remember some of us are better at hearing that others.” chidded Matt as he walked. Since he had been awoken, only parts of his abilities had shown themselves.  His ‘radar’ was not working as it did in the past, his balance was off, and he was uncoordinated. Matt was just clumsy, to the amusement of the two newly minted Guardians….

“What?” asked the twins.

“Oh young ones, it takes more than ears to listen.  But, if you need information, the Hairs will know. They are quiet, listen first, and don’t judge the information they gather.  It’s like having Wikipedia, but for were creature business.”

“Do you mean it’s like the CIA or FBI?”

“Kinda, but much more user friendly, with much less bravado and angst.  They only allow a few to venture into the gallery.”

“Whats the gallery?”

Oh that’s right, you two have yet to read the rest of the journals.  The gallery is a room where you go and sit in the center. You can’t see who’s around you, but you ask your questions, and they get answered.  You can keep asking until you are satisfied.”

“Is this for Guardians?”

“Yes, but also Alpha Level Elders and a few Humans that are familiar to us?”

“oh….” they both said and kept walking in silence.

Matt spoke up after a few minutes of quiet, “Cubs its okay.  It’s not that I don’t trust you both, or the information you gave, but I need to ask some nasty, nasty questions and they will have the answers.  Besides, Maddie, makes the best Welsh Rarebit and Scotch Eggs, that I have ever had.”

“Oh…So…You are hungry again?”

“Again, NO.  Still, YES. Remember I have slept for 20 or more years, it’s going to take more than some fruit to sate my appetite.  Besides, Maddie has a son, that’s part Flemish Giant and part Bear, I think you two will like him. He’s more your age.”  Matt grinned wide as he looked over at them.

Smirking, “It’s not always about the sex Pashma!”

“I Call Bullshit! With you two, it’s always about the sex.  Let’s stop the innocent cub guise, shall we.” Giggled Matt.  Then they laughed a hearty laugh and the twins started to recount, red-faced of course, the were creatures and humans they had a chance to spend time with.  The list was extensive and Matt chuckled to himself. They are just like their Sires, horny all the time and ready for more.

The trio kept walking for a few more hours, just chatting and catching up.  The cubs kept showering matt with kissed and hugs along the way. Since they readied themselves for the walk back, Matt had stored several sets of clothing for himself, along with a backpack, stocked with all of his essentials, money, weapons, foods, first air, assorted gear.  He was always prepared. He wore black utility pants, boots, a black skin tight under layer, with a high neck sweater. For an outer layer, he wore a tactical jacket, baseball cap, fingerless gloves, and his Oakley Sunglasses.

Matt paused at the exit of the hunting grounds, the cubs turned to look at him. “Pashma?” They asked.  

“Once I walk through that barrier, I will be back in the world of the living.  Those that can sense me will come for me. I have tried the best I can to mask myself and pull back my energy signature, but even that will not be enough. Cubs, when we exit, it’s better that you two go back home.  I will head east to speak with Mattie. You….” They cut Matt short.

“No, we are coming with you.  We are NOT going anywhere till you get your answers, and we get ours.  Stop thinking that we are still cubs. We are guardians like you. Pashma, it’s time for us to enter the world and be part of it, not hide from it/”  They spoke in unison, each taking the next word.

“Cubs.  Sweet Cubs.  Make me ONE promise.  Can you do that?” He asked as he took a knee to look up into their eyes, so they could look down into his.  The gesture conveys a physical semblance of begging, pleading mixed with deep desire.

“Yes, Pashma. Anything”  They reached down and took his paws into theirs.  

“You must not KILL anyone.  You can fight, incapacitate them, but DO NOT KILL. Do you understand?”  Matt pleaded.

“Sure, ” that’s easy, they both looked down and hugged him close.  He hugged them tightly, and knew in his heart, that a war was coming.  These cubs would be at the center of it. Getting to his feet, he led the cubs through the barrier, as they passed from the land of the dead, to the world of the living.  

On the other side, Matt smelled the air and continued to walk.  The sun was bright, the sky was clear, with wind calm. They had another full day of walking ahead of them, unless…..Just maybe they could hitch a ride with the Reindeer.  They were migrating this time of year, so it just might work.

After more than a half day of walking and chatting.

Matt perked up.  The distant sound of running hooves.  “Hey we’re in luck, it’s a herd of reindeer heading East.” shouted Matt.  Jumping on top of a rock, Matt partially transformed and gave a long bellow and a series of short barks.  The twins looked up at him with amazement. They had read in Matts journals that he could speak other animal languages, but it was still awesome to see and hear it.  

After a few moments the sound of hooves started to come right for them.  Cresting the hilltop, a massive herd of reindeer, elk, and moose came down this hill toward them.  The sound deafening. The twins quickly jumped atop the rock with Matt, as the herd closed around them, slowed and stopped.  A sea of panting, hot animals was almost erotic in the moment, if it would not have been so impressive.

The herd parted as the three Alphas came forward.  A Reindeer, a female, in full Antler. An Elk of slender frame with blue eyes, an a Moose of incredible size, grey muzzled and long of coat.  Matt whispered for the twins to stay up on the rock as he jumped down. And walked a few steps toward the trio.

The reindeer spoke first, in a broken english.  Oh Reader, sorry let me explain:  Were creatures that have horns, or antlers that grow seasonally.  Like deer, moose, bovine etc… They either have to stay in full form while they grow and fall off.  Have them cut off before they go back to human form, or just not transform during certain parts of the year.  It’s not as easy for some were-creatures to swap back and forth. Some, over time, can go to a half form while they are with antler, but not back to human. Okay, I hope that clears up some things..Back to it… “It’s that the Guardian that I love to hate, Matt. and the new twin Guardians?”

“Veronica?” Matt said as he took a knee in honor of the three.  More to ensure that he was indeed begging for help and not demanding it for any reason.

“Yes it is I.  We had a feeling that you had awoken.  You couldn’t have hidden in the hunting grounds forever.”  she barked and spoke.

“Yes, these two woke me up, and pulled me back from the abyss I was hovering over.  Great ones, I beg you. Can you assist with our passage east.” Matt said as lowered himself lower, almost praying to them.

The Moose barked next. “Matt, Guardian of the Guff.  I have seen this meeting in my dreams. Are you heading East to the Warren of Knowledge”

“Yes, we are.  I must ask questions and they will have the answers.  However, traveling alone, we will be easily tracked. I beg for your assistance.”  Matt answered, never picking his head up.

‘I too, felt your presence when you left the Hunting Ground cousin.  You are not able to hide yourself yet. It would be safer for you to travel with us,” grunted the Elk.  He was a half guardian like Norman, and knew instantly who Matt and the Twins were.

“Then it’s decided,  Stow your packs on the larger of the herd, and then climb on, we will carry you as far as the lake that surrounds the Warren.  You will need to find your own passage across, even we cannot swim that distance in the freezing water.” barked Veronica.

In short order, packs were adjusted and secured on the backs of several of the herd, and they hopped on.  Zackery rode with Veronica, William on the Elk, and Matt with the Great moose. Then they were off. Along the way, veronica filled Zackary in on her long time crush she had on Matt, and that his Sire, had gotten way drunk at one point, and the two had hooked up.   Zachary was a bit taken aback, but nonetheless, NOT SURPRISED. He knew that his sire had lived a long life, and was a holy-terror at some point.

The Warren

The day had faded into night, a moonless dark night.  The trio was being carried by a herd of migrating werecreatures.  During this time, Matt had a wonderful conversation with the great moose.  If times had been different. He would have enjoyed some time with this creature, but that was not the time they were in.  An all out war was being crafted but a group of bears. In the back of Matt’s mind, some of the pieces just did not fit. This whole situation seemed forced, molded, coerced by something.  

Cresting the mountain range, the herd dove down the slope leading to the great lake.  There, on a hidden island, the Rabbit Warren had resided for as long as were creatures were recording there history.  The herd slowed and started to mill around and graze at the banks. This would be were they rested for the evening. Now it was up to Matt to get them across the frigid, icy water.  All could see chunks of ice floating past, and ice sheets washing ashore.

Zachary had hefted his pack and approached Matt. “Pashma, how are we going to cross?”

“I have no idea.  Lets sleep on it” Matt smirked as he answered the young guardian, then turned to walk toward farthest bank away from everyone.  Matt knew that he would have to ask for help, but he had nothing left to offer anyone for passage.

After a bit of mulling around, the twins settled down, and started a fire, joined by the elders of the herd.  Matt remained away from them. He would have to make a call so to speak and hope that someone or anyone was listening. Matt let his body shift into his half form, and he steadied himself on the rock. Taking in a deep breath, the moon bear, leaded his head back and let out a long, howl. It was so deep, so long, and reverberating that many in the herd were spooked. As the sound echoed out over the lake, he waited.  Gathering himself again, the call was repeated.

Looking back toward the campfire, twins, and the elders, he knew there would have to be some explanation.  What he had just done, was not really possible for a Bear. But then again, he had never told anyone that he was also a Wolf, and bloodborne.  This was about to be a very intricate conversation.

Everyone at the fire was quiet as Matt approached.  He did have to explain what just happened. The twins has already put the pieces together, but the other Elders were shocked, but accepting.  About an hour or so later, there was a Chirping sound coming from the water. They turned as a troupe of Giant River Otters padded up onto shore, coming toward the fire.  They were towing a small raft with them. Stepping from the raft onto the shore was a White Rabbit, in Half Form.

The rabbit spoke first, “you are not welcome here Bear of the Moon. A war is coming and the Warren wants no part of it.  We suggest that you go now, go back to your home. To the best of our information, the ones that are tracking you, are headed there.  You have until daybreak, then we will defend ourselves.” Turning and getting back on the raft, the Otters turned around and left the area.

After a few tense moments, Matt spoke.  “I figured that would happen, and it confirms it.  We must head North again, to the Lodge. I fear that this war has already started and we need to get back and prepare.”  As the rest of the them started to speak all at once, Matt held up a paw. “I’ll not put anyone else in danger, Zack, give me the pack you carried, I need to make a call.”  The pack was given, and the Moon Bear opened a hidden pocket, and pulled out a Satellite Phone, making a call.

“ Hello old Friend.  I’m back, it’s an Aurora Event.  Lodge. 2 days. You Copy That? Goodbye.”  The call ended as fast as it started and Matt tucked the phone back into the pocket, stood and spoke to the twins and the Elders.  “Elders, I beg for one last bit of assistance. There is a war coming and it would seem that it will culminate at the Northern Lodge, and my Home.  I beg for your herd to shield us again as we head north. Otherwise those that pursue will be able to track us. I have nothing left to give you, I have no asset that is worth anything to you, all I have is to beg you for help.”  Finishing, Matt kneeled down, and put his forehead to the ground. Waiting for an answer.

There was a tension, as the Great Moose rose to his feet, and bellowed.  The sound resembling a horn through the mountains. “Guardian, we will shield you.  We will see to your safe passage. After the herd has rested, we will make the journey.  The Twins must be safe and you must end this war. I have seen it in my dreams, you will be the center of it, but the outcome does not reveal itself to me.  Rest all, we leave at first light.”

No words were said around the fire, All just settled down.  The Great Moose and Matt took a quiet walk around the lake and chatted, while the others rested.  There was more than a little trepidation in the group.

On the Other End of the Satellite Phone

Another Guardian had answered the phone call that Matt made.  He had felt Matt emerge from the hunting grounds days ago, and the whispers on windy nights had been confirmed.  War was Coming.  The Twins in Danger.  He rose quietly from this seat, and dialed another number. Waiting as it connected and then started to ring.

The line picked up, “Bjorn Air Freight, George speaking, how may I help you?”

The old scraggly Guardian spoke in a detached, direct tone, “Its Alexi, It’s an Aurora Event.  Lodge. Twins in danger. Make ready for Extraction. I will be there in 2 days.”

A brief pause by George, “Understood.”  The line went dead.

In both locations wheels started to move, cogs long forgotten, rattled from there slumber as plans were placed into motion.  The Guardian grabbed his gear and departed. He had a long journey from the Mountains of Nepal to the Frozen Canadian North. Back at Bjorn Air Freight, George went out to the hanger and grabbed Marty.  They both went directly to the office, unlocked the safe and went to the bottom, underneath all the other clutter, as a sealed file folder. Opening it was a single piece of paper, a set of keys, and coordinates.  

The end to this tale was now in motion.  In whatever fashion, this war would be over soon.

The next morning, the Herd split into two.  One part continued on the path East to the coast.  The other, led by the Great Moose headed north to the lodge.  Everyone woke tense. They knew something was going to happen.  The trip north was fairly uneventful as the herd made its way through valley and over hill.  

More than a days travel later, the herd crested the last mountain range that looked down into the long valley and lake that had been Matts home for over a hundred years.  The herd stopped at the crest, of the hill, as Matt and the Twins said there goodbyes to the members of the herd. Thanks were exchanged and the Great Moose spoke: “Matt Owens, Guardian of the Guff, Bear of the Moon-I wish you well.  May your blade cut cleanly and the fire of your spirit burn bright.”

Bowing, Matt and twins did not speak as the herd departed down the side of the mountain away from the lodge and the three of them, started to make there way toward the lodge.

Catch up: Matt and the twins arrived to a lodge that had been taken over. Matt had managed to escape, but the twins and Boris were taken hostage. In the brief few hours, Matt found himself in the arena, addressing who he thought was the cause of all this.

Picking a Fight!

“You will not have them.  You will not control them. They will make their own choices in this life,”

“No, little bear, they will do as the Elders wish, or they have no use in this lifetime.”

“None of you will live another day.  I will kill until your blood stains the earth and the funeral fires blot out the sun.  Prepare Elders… Prepare to meet the creator again. I will bring the wrath of the Gods upon you.”

“Kill Him!”

With that statement, Bears descended on the small Guardian from every direction.  Matt reached deep within himself and grabbed ahold of the darkness that was still there, locked away.  What many never noticed was that Big Brother did heal him all those years ago. He Helped Matt get past many things in his life.  He helped Matt forgive himself. But, when he healed Matt, he gave him a great gift. He gave him the ability to truly use the darkness and the light at the same time.  Now within Matt the true Nature of the Guardians would be known. Matt could walk in both worlds to do what was right; he could flip the coin at will. His free choice and consciousness would guide him.  

Matt shifted into a hybrid half form.  Not quite bear, not quite human, he was a mix of all the best aspects of each.  He drew blades and firearms with each paw and engaged the onslaught that had come after him.  He moved with liquid grace dispatching the foes that came against him. He spilled the blood of his brothers and in return his blood was spilled. Cut for cut, shot for shot they fell.  As fast as Matt would be injured his body would heal. From around him, a glow formed. Matt was pulling energy from everything around him. The clouds darkened, and lighting began to build in them.  The wind became chilly and the air crisp with static. Matt was bringing himself fully into this fight. He would make sure his loved ones were safe; finally safe, his life had always been forfeit for them.  He would make sure they were away from all the guile of this old generation of Bear Elders and their horrible outlook on humanity and Beardom. Safe from those that would misuse them. Safe from dealing death; the Twin Bears would go forward without blood on their paws.  Matt carried enough for all of them, and his fur would again be stained crimson, it would drip from his fur and he would once again drink the life of his brothers. None would escape this encounter; he was going to kill them all. Matt was fighting without regard for his own safety; he was wild, berserk, edging on the line between control and complete madness.  Like the ilk of legend he was a berserker, a force that could not be stopped, would not be tamed, an animal with singular purpose.

On the Veranda overlooking the battle stood the Elder, Josiah.  He had been the one that orchestrated all this. He had been the one to manipulate Boris and the others.  He had been the one that pulled Matt stings all those years ago. A loose end that Matt thought tied, was just a part of the plan to bring Matt back, to kill him, once and for all, and to ensure control of all Guardians.  He wanted the Twin-brothers under his total control.

“The Tide is shifting, we need to end him and this fight.  Matt is killing our brothers.” said a rather odd looking bear as he hovered around the Elder.

“Yes, it is time.  Prime the charges ringing the arena, blow him back to the gods.”

“That will kill all of our brothers in the area.”

“I know, but it’s the only way to be sure.  That Bear will not stop until we are dead or he is….can you not see what he has become.  He is mad. Crazed, he is drinking the blood of our brothers and their life-essence as well.  He has given into the darkness, he is a demon and not worthy of life.”

“Yes Elder, as you….”  was the last sound it muttered as the bear was ripped in half.  Blood splattering everywhere, the Elder looked over and around in shock.  What just happened? Where…. The elder did not think again as a second round tore this bear apart as well.  A few seconds later the sound of the bullets reached the remains.

Over a mile away, perched atop Matt and Luke’s home sat a rather old, scraggly and unkempt bear, nestled behind a modified Barrett 50-caliber rifle, this bear was tossing rounds downrange as fast as he could.  The Bears and Elder Matt was fighting had forgotten something. Matt was never alone in battle, he was a Guardian, and Guardians have a code among them. When one calls, all answer.

“None of you will touch my little cousin, None of You!”  Bellowed the Bear as he fired and reloaded as fast as he could.  He knew what Matt was doing. He knew the task that he had placed in their care.  “Protect my Family, Let the Twins go forward without Hate, with eyes unclouded with Jealousy and Guile.  Let them see the world for the good that it contains, not the darkness that we have all held at bay. Let them cleanse themselves as a spring rain-washes the upturned Earth.  Protect them.” Matt had spoken to them as he readied himself for this encounter. This older Bear, a cousin to Janus knew what he had to do, and what Matt was going to do. He was going to wipe the slate clean.  He was paying for the twin’s Karmic debt and giving himself in their place.

“Zelka, do we have company coming yet?” the bear asked over a headset.

“Negative, Eagle-One-Zero is clear, they have not realized what is happening yet or where the rounds are coming from.  We have a little more time..over..” said the female Dire Wolf. As she was perched in half form in the tallest tree, waiting for anything that would come.  She was eager for a fight. She wanted her paws stained with Ursine blood, she gripped her rifle tightly and pressed the blade on her side. Her brother had fallen at the hands of this Elder and his followers, and she wanted payback.

“Marty, George… Status on the transport?” Asked the Bear as he reloaded, put his eyes back to the scope and continued to rain hell downrange.

“Almost fueled, the batteries were shot, we are replacing them now and checking the systems….Maybe 40 to 50 min tops.. Over”  Marty spoke through gasps and grunts as both he and his mate were towing the Helo from its hiding place by hand. Matt had seen to everything, even a hidden escape plan from the area, what he did not plan was the solar panel would fail, leaving the helicopter to degrade.

“Mizukia…you there” asked the Bear behind the Rifle.

“Go ahead, I am here…” responded a large Panda Bear.  He was watching the battle below unfold. Matt had forbidden anyone from entering the arena except him and for good reason.  He was not just killing his foes, he was drinking their life-force, giving soul after soul, bear after bear over to the darkness.  Even at the distance he was watching, he could feel the tug at him. A gentle pull and tiredness was itching at him. It was Matt.

“What’s it like from your vantage?” asked the Bear on over watch.

“He has given himself to the darkness, he is consuming them, feeding from them.  The foes are thinning; some are retreating and running away. No signs of the Twins or Boris.” Mizukia responded and pondered this as he watched.  His cousin had made the choice, he was going to sacrifice himself to save them, whatever the personal cost; he would ensure his family was safe. As he pondered, he flashed back to the time he met the small Guardian.  It had been well over 100 years ago, at a small fruit/sweets stand on the outskirts of Thailand. He was walking through the market and the sweetest scent touched his nose, he followed it right to Matt.  He was sitting without a shirt, no shoes, shredded pants, a knife on his side, covered in blood; eating. He was eating the fruits and sweet cakes as fast as the older female could make them.  Approaching, he did not sense a foe, but a friend. Sitting down beside Matt. He started to talk, when Matt spoke first. “I am not here to fight you. All I want is food and safe passage. My task here is complete.  Let me pass without incident.” Matt rattled in between bites. “I have no quarrel with you, I am just shocked to find a brother this far removed from the city,” Mizukia spoke as he looked over at Matt and their eyes met.  “Like I said, my task is done, I will trouble your path no longer, fellow Guardian. Your territory is at peace and I am saddened that I could not make your acquaintance in a more hospitable fashion.” Matt said as he stood quickly, leaving several $100 bills on the small counter.  He left more money than these people make in a month. Getting up, Matt walked quickly away and disappeared into the sea of people wandering the market.

“I am going to engage the Bears that are trailing around to the West, Zelka, can you take the East?” Mizukia asked as he raised his bow and readied himself.  Mizukia was sired in the time of the Samurai and a master Archer and Swordsman.

“Yes…. I can.  Suggest that the Old Bear on the house watches his back while we clean up the mess,” she said and smiled eagerly.  Clicking off the safety, she raised her rifle and opened fire. Zelka had fought as a mercenary on every continent before she was sired by the Wolves, she was Wolf from the start, just like Matt was Bear.  They were, mirror images of each other, one male, one female. Standing side by side it would be hard to not believe they were not twins.

The Wolf and Bear were making short work of the Bears that were trailing off when the Scraggly Bear spotted the twins and Boris being led from the rear of the lodge in chains.  “ALCON—Primary Target Acquired, East by 100 Meters traveling by foot… Over.”

“Target Acquired, engaging hostiles.”  Zelka Spoke as she leapt from her perch.  She landed and was at a full run when she broke through and engaged the trailing Bears guarding the trio.  She fired and took down the two trailing guards with rounds to the head. Turning she faced them.

“A little dog comes to play with the Bears.  Come here pretty, lets see what you ga….” The remaining guard was cut short by a series of arrows as they struck him in the chest, neck, and head.

Zelka dropped the spent magazine and reloaded with precise efficiency, scanned the area and turned to face the trio.  When she approached, Mizukia burst through the tree line and met them.

“We need to move and now. Others are approaching from the west,” Mizukia stated, drew an arrow, and turned to scan the area.

“Roger that.  Old bear, you have cover on us?  Over.” She said and waited on static.

“Old Bear, respond,” She said again.  Looking up and around. The rounds had ceased and the radio was static.  She turned and drew her blade, cutting the chains that bound the Twins and Boris

Turning around, Mizukia tried, “Old Bear, Friend, Guardian of the North, respond,” he called into the headset.  Again, no response.

“We need to move.  Go-north east, to the pond.  Marty… Status?” she barked as she moved closer to the Trio.  Again…Static.

“Mizukia, I need your eyes in the sky, take to the trees again, cover our ass.  We will make a run for it,” she held up a paw to silence the Twins and Boris, and winked at Mizukia.  She did not trust Boris as far as she could throw him, but trusted Matt, and he said to protect them.  Mizukia winked back and departed. Before he left he signed silently to her, that he would be watching, concealed and hidden.  Turning to them, she knelt to the twins. They were small like her Little Cousin; she was well over 6 foot tall, lean and covered in battle armor.  Very similar to what Mat had worn.

“Small ones, Elder, we need to go, and now.  We need to move and fast. We are headed to the pond.  I need you to transform and keep up with me. Can all of you do that?” She asked, but knowing they could.  They all nodded and shifted partially. She was taken aback at how close one of the brother resembled Matt, and how the other almost resembled her color pattern.

“I am going to have to fight us out of this.  Twins, Matt left instructions that no matter what, you were not to draw the blood of any creature today.  Do you understand?” She asked. She could tell they were still trying to process all this.

‘Pashma, we have to help him.  He is going into a dark place….please…” they both asked in unison, as one mind.

“Sweet cubs, your Pashma left us the task of seeing to your safety, please we must go and now.  Others are coming. We must hurry.” As she was standing three bears burst through the trees. She raised her rifle and fired taking the first two down with headshots; the third tackled her and took her to the ground.  She brought up her rifle and the massive black bear bit it in half. Metal pieces shattering, she drew two smaller blades and cut the Bear as it tumbled over her. Rising to her feet. She screamed. “RUNNNNNNN!” The Twins and Boris jumped and started to move off toward the pond.    Zelka, moved off after them. Robbing the dead of weapons and ammunition along the way. This would be her final test. As she knelt down to snatch the last magazine, she found herself surrounded by lumbering Bears.

“Hello Boys, you all come to party?” She asked as the fight started.  The twins and Boris escaping in the direction of the Lake, shifting to half forms as they moved.  The twins knew that as good as Boris was, there would be so way for him to keep up. One twin under each arm, hoisted the elder, and carried him.  They moved like Guardians, pushing themselves faster than anyone could have imagined. The traits of a Guardian had been lost over the millennia were renewed in these two.

Zelka, sunk her blade through the eye socket of the last Bear that had challenged her.  Her hair was stained crimson, her claws dripping, she was smiling. Looking up at the sky, she howled, long and loud.  The sound reverberating through the area. This was the signal. Then, knowing what was coming next, she ran for the lake.  With every fiber of muscle, every ounce of strength she had left, she ran. Matt was going to kill them all. He was going to use his nuclear-option. Everything was going to die in the span of 20 minutes.

Everyone that could hear, turned and made an escape. Marty and George had just gotten the helicopter started and checked when the twins and boris arrived.  Bursting into the clearing, they dropped Boris. He gathered his footing and ran. Mizukia was next to arrive. Keying his mic, “there are hostiles coming this way, prepare to defend this area until the rest of the team arrives.  Making it to the transport, the twins went right for the rear compartments and pulled out two long crates. Matt had prepared weapons for each of them, he always planned for everything.

Zackary and William locked themselves in fight mode, but Zelka’s words still echoed, “Don’t kill…Don’t kill.”  Looking over at his brother William spoke while loading a automatic rifle, “no one said anything about wounding them….now did they.”  Smirking, Zackary gave him a thumbs up, picked up the twin short swords and walked around to take a side of the transport. William took the other, and Mizukia the rear.  They would hold the line and wait for Zelka, Luke, Rusty, and Norman.

From the far side of the lake three Bears burst through the tree line, running at a full gallop. It was the twins sires and Norman.  Flanking them was the last of Edens pack. From the opposite sides, it appeared like a wall of Animals from every species just poured out of the tree line.  A mass of anger, hatred, fang and claw fell upon the group. All three of the Guardians threw into the fray. William downed the targets with rounds to legs, shoulders and Gut.  Zackary chose to mix it in closer, and cut them as they came toward him, taking off limbs, ears, blinding others. Mizukia, with his quiver finally empty, unsheathed his Katana…..the sounds of blades in air, the cutting of skin, and bullets impacting targets rang through the area.  Then they heard Zelka’s Howl.

All knew.  

They had to leave….but where was Zelka.  The three galloping bears made it to the helicopter and climbed in.  The wolves that came with them, jumped into the fight.

An unholy bloodbath was quickly forming.  The ones that the twins wounded, were put down by the wolves. The blood-frenzy was starting.  Norman yelled, “Guardians, HOLD THE LINE.” All knew, they were in this fight, until they were dead or the others were.  Norman reached up and grabbed a rifle that was stowed and opened fire on into the onslaught.

Luke was the first to speak, looking out both sides of the helicopter: “by the gods is this war?  Is this the world that my Matt has lived in? Is this what he has been shielding me from?” The battle that was happening around them, was bloody, it was not like the fights before.  Those fights were more 2 on one…this was group warfare.

The crackle of the radio…static…a Mic was being keyed. It overrode all the frequencies in the area.  All of the Guardians, listened as they fought..it was Matt. The sound came…growling, grunting, yips, and huffs…raspy forced words “…g-g-et away… Can’t hold it…run…. P p p lease” then a whining of a cub in pain…then nothing.

//Panic welling up inside the Guardians as they felled the onslaught, and worked there way backward to the helicopter.//

Norman Screamed. “There she is!”

Through all the comotion, Zelka broke the tree line and was running toward the aircraft, taking off her gear as she went.  They needed to be in the air…they had to be about 100 feet in the air. That was about as high as Matt could reach, and everyone in the area was about to be dead anyway.  Turning around, Marty grabbed the controls, and throttled up the helicopter. Everyone else made there way backward, killing and firing as they went. Norman firing to cover the twins, and George opening fire from the other side, letting the others work backward toward the aircraft.

Zelka, finally out of her gear, transformed into full form, her steel gray coat, shimmering in the dimming light of day, her paws stained red, at a full run, she jumped for the helicopter as it lifted from the ground, and transformed back to human form in mid air.  Reached out her hands, Mizukia grabbed her….as the helo lifted itself into the sky….away from the death and remaining were creatures below them. Like a churning boiling pitt of anger, the animals cursed and barked, for they could no longer reach their prey. The Few of Edens pack, made there escape to the North as fast as their paws could carry them.

As they lifted into the air, Norman, Zelka, quickly took stock of the situation. And secured the Twins, Boris, Luke, and Rusty into the seats and strapped them in. Norman yelled:  “By the gods, what is that”…as he pointed. All craned there heads to see Matts Nuclear option.

Just in the distance, they saw the first of two explosions.  First the Lodge was engulfed in the white hot flash of phosphorus, heat and destruction.  The place that they had called home for over 100 years would be gone in an instant. The second explosion, a heartbeat later, would eclipse the first.  The home that Matt and Luke had build would be reduced to a pit of molten metals and crushed dreams.

Two heartbeats later, the first of the shock waves from the explosions rocked the helicopter. Both Bear pilots struggled to keep the helicopter in the air. Alarms sounded, as the pilots struggled, as they were bounced around the sky.

After the shock wave…a bubble of blackness, started to form on the area, sucking in the fire from the explosions, it was Matt.  In this instant, he would open the Gates of the Guff, he would take everything, and everyone into the void. It would be the only way to be sure.

Zelka screamed: “GET US OUT OF HERE! GO GO GO GO GO….”  As the she-wolf screamed, more shock waves rocked the helicopter.  Shoving it sideways. Marty and George struggled to keep the aircraft airborne.   You see reader, The only way to ensure that everyone connected to the movement to capture the twins was stopped, was to kill everyone. Friend, foe, lover, cub, comrade, guardian….everyone, everything was about to get it’s lifeforce ripped away.  Animal, insect, plant…..there was no way to discriminate from the destruction. It was Matt’s Last resort option.

As they pulled out of the area, the bubble of blackness expanded and expanded, in time with a heartbeat. the clouds turned circles, the fire form the explosions twisted and writhed within the vortex.  Then it happened. Lightning lit the ground in the center of the bubble, from high in the sky a massive bolt of lighting held the ground. As the very life force of nature was sucked into the void. It was as if a black hole had opened on the earth, and by its gravity, was pulling everything toward it.  In the center was Matt. He had been ripped apart during the fight. His body was bloody, clothing shredded, weapons expended or destroyed. There he stood, as the arc of lighting was running through him, and expanding across the ground and through anyone and anything within the bubble of death.

In the air, Rusty screamed in pain “By the gods, he is going to take them all….Gods no…Matt no…..” Tear filled his being.  He was linked to Matt in a way and the feeling of the lifeforce being ripped from everything shook him to his core. Was this really the only way?   Would this end the struggle they had all been going through? The Spirit Bear was questioning everything in that moment. Why had the Great Bear changed Matt if this was going to be the outcome?  His belief in himself was shaken as his trust in everyone.  

Luke was not faring any better.  Unbuckling himself, he collapsed into the deck of the aircraft, on his hands and knees.  “Matt,…..Please don’t do this….Not even you can shoulder this burden…Please stop” he begged.  Knowing that mixed in with all the rage that he felt was a deep warmth that was Matt. Luke knew, that there must not have been any other way to solve this.  Then he saw it through Matts eyes. Luke glimpsed the Guff and the Void. His mind struggled to comprehend what he was seeing. The bright light and warmth of the Guff was circled by the Blackness of the void.  Like concentric infinity rings, they orbited each other. Matt was in the center of both, linked by both and bound by both. Once he started this course, there was no safety, no way to stop it until all had been consumed.  

A few moments later….the bubble closed in on itself and the clouds and lightning ceased.  The gravitational tug of the event dissipated and the air became still. The helicopter now steady in the air….climbed slowly as it peaked over the horizon, safe from harm.  The creatures on board, were silent. None of them knowing what to say or what to do, or where to go. Marty was the first to speak over the loudspeaker of the craft.

“There is a location marked and loaded in the navigation system.  Shall we go there?” he asked, Knowing that they really did not have any other choice in the matter.   

“Just get us out of here” Norman barked.  He was done, and wanting to be away. They did proceed, to the last place Matt had prepared for them.  Matt had seen to everything..even a new den for them…

Back at the center of the death.

The lighting has ceased.  The small Moon bear stood, looking out on a battlefield.  He was so tired of all this. Once again Matt looked down at his hands stained with the blood of his brothers.  He had acted in protection of his loved ones, his family, and the innocent involved. He looked up as the last sight of the helicopter as it slipped over the horizon.  As he paused and looked around at the wake of the battle, he was struck with a vein of sadness that had no equal. He fell to his knees as he processed what had happened.   His home was obliterated, the grounds and lodge had been completely destroyed, nothing living would come close to this area for a very long time. Everything living thing was dead.  There were no sounds, nothing living, animal, insect or plant. Matt had taken away life to protect a few, how could this be a choice given to him, the smallest of bears, he was not worthy of this responsibility?

“Why does my whole life end in conflict?  Why? Why? Why?” the small bear bellowed and cursed, beating his clenched paws into the ground.

“Why did you tell Rusty to change me?  Why would you make me choose life or death?  WHHHHYYYYYYYY?” The smallest bear screamed as he sat alone, in the center of a living void, he was the only creature left alive.  Death would have been gracious compared to this.

As Matt sat in the void, he felt something pull at him…  Something/someone was pulling at him from afar. “What was this?  Who was this?” The small bear rose to his feet, still in his half form, but was unable to make the shift back to a human.  As hard as he tried, the human part of Matt seemed to be dead as well. Matt was stuck with a feeling similar to a heart attack.  He clutched his chest as the tightness expanded through his body. The feeling of this connection to nature seemed to be leaving him, the energy flow was ebbing as was his life.  

“Now what?” The bear thought as his vision blurred and he just fell face first to the ground, as the void of blackness took him.

A World Apart, Big Brother Makes up his Mind

In a secluded den, three bears hugged each other and spoke.  “I’m going now,” said the average looking Bear of a Man.

“Janus, We know, it’s your time.” They said, each saying a word and then the other would say the next.

“Thank you Papa’s, I will be back eventually.” He hoped he could come back, but knew that once the choice was made to be part of Matt’s world, he was lost to this one.

“No Janus, we will fade as the Ghosts on the wind.  This is a choice you must make. Be part of this time, be part of this history.  We will be waiting when your time is up,” they said.

“Thank you Papa’s.  I love you both,” the Bear snuffled as he rose to his feet and threw his satchel over his shoulder.

“We love you too. Go now.  Go to Matt. Heal him again and let time and history unfold.  We have taught you well, now it is time you took your place among them.  You must bring peace to this realm, to this time, to these Bears.” They spoke in unison, as if they were the same being.  He understood at that moment, that they were. They were both parts of the same whole.

“I will, goodbye.”  The average looking Bear of man said, as he took off his glasses, and laid them on the rock next to them; a token to remind them of him. He turned and walked out into the brightening day and into the world.  He felt himself shift from the den and into the realm that Matt was part of. Looking back, the den faded from sight and he could no longer feel his Papa Bears. He had made the choice.

“Well Little Brother, here I come.”  He spoke, as he pulled his hood over his head and walked down the path; toward Matt and toward the future.  He chuckled. That was the first time the Papa bears had used his real name in over six hundred years.

Catch Up for the Reader

Ten Years have Passed.  The world has changed…..Janus and Matt have retreated from the lands of Bears and Men.  They have chosen to live as far away as possible. The Fur Family that Matt was part of, never really accepted him back after the events of the day of death.  They were uneasy around him. Luke, finally understood what Matt was, and it scared him. They were all polite with each other, but the closeness they once felt was not there.  The Twins however, had not judged Matt for what he did, they has simply accepted it, pressed forward and lived there own lives.

In the absence of Leadership, the Cartel from the South rose to take control of the dens and factions.  Also, the tenuous balance between humans and were-creature was broken by the cartel. What came after was a civil war and a worldwide awakening to creatures that were once thought myth.  

The Twins, have largely been forgotten about as they have secluded themselves away from the world.  The Cartel sought to replace the Twins with stronger leaders, and did so throughout the world.

~~~~~~~~~

THE FINAL CHAPTER

Prologue:

The longer you live, the more you realize that reality is made of pain, suffering, and emptiness.  In this world there is light, but also the shadows of the past, the demons of the present, and the horror of the future that you see in your mind.  The selfish human desire of wanting to maintain peace caused wars, strife and conflict.  Hatred was born to protect love.  Like a moth to the flame, humans seek the heat of battle and crave the hunt.  Now, in this time of celebration, Matt has come to have his revenge. To set right a series of unfortunate and ill-timed events that shaped his life into one of hatred, angst and self doubt.  He had grown, trained, learned, and loved; but that was all erased by the desire for revenge. It was now at hand. The time had come, the clock was ringing its final 12 chimes of the year……….

12 Days Before the End

The wind blew gently across a frozen lake, as it picked up the dusting of snow and scattered the flakes across the lake. The light shone through them as a candle had been burning just over the frozen surface. On the bank of the lake sat two Bears.  One ancient, the other young by comparison, as if years and time really had a bearing on reality for the both of them.

“I can tell that you have come to this nasty point in your life, but still, will it really make any difference as the sands of time fall through the glass?” Janus asked as he looked out over the lake. He knew that after all the turmoil, struggle, war, and pain, that Matt was broken, seemingly beyond the possibility of repair this time.  He had supported the retreat from his Fur Family a few years ago. In the hopes that space would heal Matt. It was not because he didn’t love them, far from it, it was because that he was tired of being the protector, being obligated to protect them, and always at the ready. More importantly, they never accepted him back after that day 10 years ago.  It just seemed the challengers kept coming, coming and coming. Like a dam had been opened in the world. The social norms of a fair fight had been replaced with all out guerrilla warfare, all in search of the Twins, and to challenge Matt.

“If I find and end them, at least the head of the snakes will be removed, and the body of the beast will die slowly. Without their leaders to stir them, the masses of hateful were-creatures will dissipate over time.  Or at least I hope so.” trailed Matt. He knew that this was a wrong move, it was not right, no matter how justified it may be. He also knew that leaving again in any means was going to hurt everyone, no matter what direction Matt looked there was always pain.  

“That’s a bit of folly, don’t you think.  Hate and revenge are nothing more than human conditions, created to justify action.  We are more than human, we should not let that affect us.” spoke the older bear. Janus knew that it was a losing battle.  After the events of last 10 or so years, Matt was not able to see options anymore. He was lost in the events that were in front of him.  Matt was reacting not planning ahead.

“Folly yes, but if not now, when.  If not them, then who. There will always be tension between the races.  If I do this, at least there will be a break, a pause. Maybe, just maybe in the calm that follows, smarter heads will prevail and clear talk will enter the minds of the factions.  I have waged war before, but I had planned for that, this is about the first time in my life, were I’m really flying by the the seat of my pants. You know how that makes me panic more than anything.”

“Matt, you have always had a hard time living in the moment, letting go and just being yourself.  For whatever reason, you are always drawn back to Luke, and the Twins, no matter how much they hurt you.  Either on purpose or not, it’s like a drug your addicted to.. I’m not sure that I understand it, even if I left the Creators Den to be part of your world, and to walk by your side, as an equal, nothing more.”

“I will not argue that point, but still, can you agree that those three need to be dealt with, either by me or someone.  Again, if not now, when?”

“Let’s not get into that.  I don’t like dealing or even talking about such things.  It always leaves me cold inside. After all, i’m the happy ending sort of guy…not the action hero like you.”

“Thats funny, action hero. I’m just lucky.  Nothing special really, there are plenty of Guardians and regular fighters that are better than I.”

“Don’t be coy.  Not everyone can pull the very energy from things, at least not like you.  I’m still a bit creeped out by that part of you.”

“I get that. Not going to apologize though…You know that you can’t talk me out of this.. Right?”

“Yeah, I know.  Was just hoping to spend some quality time with you before you departed.  I hope not for the last time. But knowing that it will be. It saddens me, and bring me joy at the same time.  Boy, have I gotten twisted living in your world for these years.”

“I’ll come back, in one way or another.”

“Deal, no come over here. I really want you.  After all these years, that damn scent of yours is still intoxicating.”

10 Days before Matt Dies

Janus was snoring loudly, snuggled down in the bedroll, pillows, and soft branches of local trees. The blanket was covering  his midsection and private areas, but his upper body and feet were left exposed. He was a massive bear in full form, and still pretty large in his half form.  Still, it was like every cliche of a bear in hibernation had been made reality. A fire was burning at a gentle pace, with the wonderful smell of coffee from the pot that was at its side.  Matt had been awake for some time, just looking out over the lake, watching the world and listening to the wind and Janus snoring. Matt enjoyed his time with Janus quite a bit. It was always a calming time and space.  

After pouring himself a cup of coffee, Matt quietly started to pack his gear and tidy up the front of the cave.  It was time for Matt to leave, he had made the decision to take action, or at least to move forward. A part of the last nights conversation stuck with him.  He would leave the outcome open, or at least move toward the eventuality that he could see. Matt decided not to force it, but let the events unfold without preparation or forethought.  He was going to live in the moment. .

After a bit of quiet work, the packing was done, weapons checked, loaded, and holstered.  Weapon rigs were clipped into place, blades at the ready. Chuckling a little to himself, Matt realized this was the last set of gear he had.  All the cashe’s were gone.. All the stored items he had placed around so many years ago had been used up, taken, or destroyed. This was really the end.  Lost in the moment, Matt hadn’t noticed that the large bear that was sleeping, was now awake, and not in the best of moods it would seem.

“You know, if you had left while I was asleep, I would’ve never forgiven you” Janus growled low, while he was getting up and sauntering over to Matt.

“Gosh, you know I wouldn’t have done that, even though it would have been easier than the conversation we’re about to have.” whispered Matt, as he grabbed Janus and put his face into the furry chest of the Bear.

“Well I guess the time has come, I wish you would just stay with me a while longer.  There are a million reasons for you to do this. But I wish you would just find one that would help you change course and just let go of all the crap”

“I know, you want me to find anything to cut away all the baggage and just live.  Janus, you have never understood. Letting go is the hardest thing I have ever had to do.  My family, My children, Lovers, Luke, the Twins, David, now YOU. All I seem to do in life is LET GO of what I want to hold tightest to.”

“You don’t have to let go of anything.  There is nothing pulling on you, no on here to obligate your time or energy.  Matt, just stay here with me. Forget the world, shut yourself off from the energy flow and just be you.  We can let time pass and forget everything. The world will move on without us, things will change. After a while, we can resurface and take on a new life, in a new place..and just BE.  Gods and the creator be damned, you are worth more to me than this petty revenge.” Janus all but broke down at this point. Big Bad bear he may be, but he and Matt had connected. He had given up his life with his Papa Bears to be with Matt, now Matt was leaving.  Janus was filled with anger, and his energy started to crest his skin.

Taking Janus by both arms and pulling those big furry arms around himself, Matt grabbed him tightly around the middle.  “I will make you a promise. After this is done. I will come back here, to this very place, and this is where we will spend the remainder of eternity…or at least until we are needed again.  I will leave the outcome open, but I will not back down if aggression is given to me. I will meet it head on. If needed I will kill cleanly, I will not banter or play, I will be efficient. Also, I will not harm any innocents, either were-creature or human.  How does that sound?”

“Well I guess you have covered the bases.”

“You know you could come with me, you could be my spotter and….”

“No No, this is your story to end, you must write the last chapter.  If needed I will put you back together, but I will not engage in all this.  I know how you fight, and what you can do. This is your fight.”

“Okay…Janus…I Lo….”  Matt was just short.

“Don’t say that.  That phrase means more to me than you know, I won’t be held in the same light as Luke or anyone else for that matter.  When you get back, we will find new words, and if we can’t find words, we will hold onto each other and just feel.” The big bear was just barely holding himself together with every fiber of his being.  He wanted Matt to stay, but knew he was going to leave. “Okay, you need to get going, if I stand here any longer, i’m going to start crying and then the weather will change… You get the picture…”

“Okay, Im Off.  Wish me Luck”

8 Days Before Matt Make the Final Choice

Matt had been walking for a more than two days straight to get back to a hint of civilization. The rest of the transit wouldn’t be as easy as mixing with civilians, but not as concerning as it used to be. He was wearing battle gear, resembling a cross between a medieval knight and Goth Socialite. Most of the former United States and Canadian Union of Provinces were now Open Weapon Carry areas for firearms or bladed weapons, so that would not be so suspicious.  However, the clothing would be. The fashion trends of this milenia lended itself to muted colors and form fitting jumpsuits. Matt had made his way down from what was Manitoba into North Dakota.

After exiting the bus, Matt made his way over toward a truck stop.  On a side note, the different species of were-creature had sort of fallen into professional trades.  It was a bit odd but there were a large number of Werewolves that were long haul truck drivers or any profession that favored solitary, Alpha type personalities.  So, there Matt sat just on the edge of the large parking lot.  Snow had started to fall, and the sun was giving way to the night.  Looking around, to make sure he was as alone as possible, leaned his head back and gave a short howl, followed by a longer one.  Then he waited. More than an hour passed while the lonely and now cold bear was watching the trucks. Trying again, Matt sent the same call out on the wind.  This time there was an answer. Training his eyes in the direction, a soft blue light started to flash on top of one of the Semi trucks toward the very rear of the parking lot. Matt rose and made his way toward the truck.  

This meeting was going to be tricky….Matt was not Wolf, well at least not entirely, and meeting new wolves was tense to say the least.  

“Stop right there and put your hands on the truck,” a gruff voice said as Matt caught the scent of the wolf. Matt complied and moved very slowly and deliberately so that no thought of aggression was given.  

The wolf walked up behind matt and jammed the barrel of weapon into the Bears lower back and leaned in for a good sniff.  About a second later, the Wolf jumped back and Matt heard the distinct sound of the weapons safety being taken off. “Your the Bear…I will not go down that easy.  You vile, death dealing piece of Bear Shit,” Stammered the Wolf, taking another step backward.

“I’m not here to fight you or anyone else. All I need is a ride to the east coast.  I don’t care if its on the back of your truck or under it. I beg your assistance,” Matt said, not moving a muscle in his body.  He was not worried about getting killed by the weapon, but since the events of 10 years ago, he did not heal as fast anymore.

“You beg me Huh.  How the mighty have fallen and walk with the common folk.  What you going to offer as trade?” Scoffed the wolf.

“I have no possessions left in this life.  What you see is literally all I have. There is no money I posses or assets that I can give.  What I cary is all I have. I beg for your assistance…Elder Jack Woo-Dan.” Matt had made the connection the second the Wolfs scent had touched his nose.  Woo-Dan was once an Elder of a Pack of Mid Western Wolves that got caught up in the war. His Pack was decimated and his Mate badly injured. It was not luck that had brought these two together, but a tortured Karmic Plot…Matt would have to ask for help from a person he had hurt, although inadvertently, but that was the simple truth of it.

“I should just Kill you, before you start another war.  Little Bear, I still cannot fathom why so many had to die that year, but it would seem that the Great One has brought you here and I’m left with a choice.  Help you or kill you….Tell me, is the choice you had to make so many times? Was this the situations that drove you to madness, to leave, and then come back?  Is this your last mission? Tell me little one….Tell me that all that was worth it..TELL ME!” Spittle and heat rose from the Wolf, as he started to transform. Dropping the weapon and bearing his claws and teeth. The sound of cloths shedding punctated the crisp air, as the wind whipped around them.

Matt just stood there with his hands on the truck, willing to accept whatever was going to happen.  The little bear could hear the Wolf’s heartbeat, could feel the energy that was flowing from him. Then the Wolf moved like Matt, slamming his paws on either side of Matt’s head, denting the truck and sending the fallen snow into the air.  A hot muzzle pressed against Matts right ear as he spoke. “I will take you as far as I can. I wish no more blood on my paws. Killing you will not bring back anyone I’ve lost, nor repair the damage. All I can do it hope that you will die a meaningful death and Karma will be repaid.  Now…you can ride in the storage locker on the back of the cab. It’s not large, but it’s heated. Now just get back there, so we can leave. I want you off my truck as fast as possible. You’re still like a walking fight beacon.” The Wolf finished speaking and took his paws off the truck.  Matt moved slowly to the back of the truck, opened the locker and got in and sat down. The last thing Matt saw was a couple of claws on the edge of the door as it was slammed closed. Leaving Matt in the dark, with just his thoughts, the noise of the truck and the cold.

After a time, the truck started up, and the sounds of the wolf walking around the truck and then getting into the driver’s seat.  The sound of the air brakes releasing and then the rumble of movement. About this time…Matt drifted off to sleep. He dreamed of Janus, not of Luke.  He reached forward in time for any glimpse of what was going to happen.

7 Days Earlier

The truck had been lumbering along for a period of time.  It had stopped a few times, no doubt to get fuel or going through a town with traffic lights, but the engine had never ceased its rumble.  After a very long stretch at speed the truck lumbered to a stop, and the engine finally ceased its symphony of combustion. The small bear could make out the drivers door being opened and the crunch of snow underfoot as the storage locker door was opened from the outside.   

“Get the fuck out of my truck” Woo-Dan grumbled.  Matt compiled without a word. Gently getting up and hopping down.

“You know I thought of a million ways to kill you while I was driving.  I considered dumping the whole truck into the frozen lakes and rivers I passed.  I thought about dumping the backup fuel and igniting it under you and every form of torture that I could conjure.  In the last couple days I relived that war, in every moment of blood and death. I was there when you ended the Elders.  I was watching you from afar as you sucked the life out of every creature and living thing in a 2 mile radius. You really had no choice left, either you took everyone, or non of them, but your back was against the wall.  I don’t even want to fathom the pain that has caused you. You had to sacrifice your Friends, Comrades and the Innocent so a handful of Bears and others could move forward into the next generation. I can see now that all that did was remove the barriers so other filled the void, and the cycle has started to repeat. Don’t tell me what you are about to do.  All I want is for you to die a meaningful death, and if you take others with you, please let there be no collateral damage like last time.” The Wolf had been saying all this, through raspy breaths, like he was holding himself back from ripping Matt apart. Matt did not mind this at all, it was just something he had come to accept. Since that day, he had been labeled a demon, no longer worthy of friendship, compassion or even friendly conververtation.  He was the most hated being of were-creature community.

“I don’t have any words of comfort for you… All I have is the life I have.  Since that day, my abilities have started to decline. I’m hardly the being I was then.  Elder, before I depart, can you tell me where we are and what direction Time Square in the Republic of York would be?”  Matt almost whispered, with his head lowered, not making eye contact with the Wolf.

Snickering, “Was wondering why I decided to stop here.  Your in Jersey, just head north and follow the signs. Your not far.  It’s almost new years, so I guess I figured out your targets. Going after the last of the Cartel huh?”

“The least you know, the safer you are.  I’m sure the watchers will pick up on my energy pattern soon.  It’s going to be a fight from here on in. Let me go before I get anyone else killed.”

“Fair enough.” Sighed the Wolf.  Matt turned and started to walk away, getting a few paces.  

Matt Owens, Guardian of Guff and Protector of the Twins… I forgive you for that day.  I realize that you must carry more than any being I have know before.  A power to take life in that way would become maddening, I don’t wish it on anyone, and it’s my hope that when you die, that part of you isn’t passed on.  Safe Travels, and Good Hunting Guardian.” The Wolf spoke in an almost a saddened reverence.

Turning, Matt lifted his eyes to meet the Wolf’s for the first time. The elder was on the verge of tears.  Matt’s eyes were cold, un-moving and a deep, deep blue. They no longer shone with the fire of his spirit. “Elder, I will make sure that this gift I was given ends with me.  Thank you for the safe transit. Your Pack fought with honor that day, I remember each of them. There sacrifice is not lost on me. I must go now, before I put you in further danger.”

“Get going, travel safe, may your sword cut cleanly and your bullets find there mark.  Peace to the Fallen.” spoke the Wolf, in reverence and pride in his voice.

“Peace to the Fallen”  Replied Matt as he turned and walked toward the darkness and into the falling snow.  

6 days Left

After Matt had left the Wolf, he had walked down to the railway tracks and began to follow them toward the city.  It was not the best path to take, but the one with least likelihood of being spotted. Most of the new ‘Maglev Tubes’, we’re underground.  This would help him mask himself, but still be able to travel. However, he was sure to encounter something or someone talking this route. Entering, the sunlight quickly faded, and his second sight took over.  Since the war, Matt’s abilities had started to diminish, and even his radar like sight had started to fade. It was almost better to just turn on his torch, but he trudged on. At least it would have been less painful.  

Pondering, Matt realized that the time Matt had spent with Janus, must have been draining for the older bear.  Without question, Janus would have been feeding Matt healing energy and keeping the rapid decline of his abilities at bay.   Talking to himself, “…you just can’t let me alone, can yah? I actually never wanted any of this power I was given, and hardly want it now.  It’s hard being a normal Werebear for once, but I guess I’ll manage.”

After walking for over 4 hours without encountering any living thing, and only about 5 trains, which were easily avoided, his nose picked up the faint scent of cooking meat.  More precisely rodent, or dog. This caused Matt to stop and muster every ounce of his energy in a vain attempt to blend into the shadows again. This ‘Shadow Step’ technique Matt had was a hard one, and something he never really mastered, but it would seem that since that day, it was even harder to muster. It was passed to him by Dante’, but like so many other things he inherited from the First Guardian of the Guff, they did not come with an instruction manual.  He had the ability, but none of the training on how to use it, so his whole life was spent trying to figure things out.

Coming around the corner, he saw the gentle flicker of a cooking fire, it had been well hidden from sight of the passengers on the train, but on foot, it could be made out.  It would seem that there were a small number of beings huddled up and around the corner of the access tunnel. The tunnel seemed to go back for some distance. Matt inched his way past the tunnel, ever so slowly.  It was agonizingly painful keeping his breath under control, and move like this, wrapped in the shadows, devoid of light.

Almost without warning, the lights of a train hit Matt from the far side of the tunnel curve.  He was so focused on avoiding this group of beings, he hadn’t noticed the air pressure change in advance of the train.  He had seconds to react, with a train traveling well over 150mph. Matt had no choice, he dropped his guise, and jumped for the access tunnel, where the groups of beings were.  However, Matt wasn’t fast enough. The pressure bubble that preceded the train, slammed Matt upward and forward into the tunnel. He impacted the false wall that had been built hard enough to dent it, before he fell to the group, blood spewing from his mouth and ears.  Matt’s vision blurred and he was not able to get up, the injuries he had just received were to extensive. Then, just as the lights of the train faded from his sight, the void took Matt…..

…Time Passed…..

Matt erupted back to consciousness in a violent jolt boarding on sensory overload.  It was like he got hit with an electric shock. There was no gentle wake up, it was like all the lights in a room were suddenly on full, and yours eyes had not adjusted.  After a moment, Matts eyes adjusted. Light was dim, the space small. Someone or something was close. Panic rising. Vision still a bit blurry, fuzzy on the edges. Something approached him.

“Stay Still, your still not healed,” came a voice, just over a whisper, from behind his head, out of his sight.

“Where am I?” stammered the wounded bear. Inside Matt was quickly spinning into a panic. His radar had faded over the years, and this loss of ability seemed to be the thing that troubled him the most, making him panic quicker than ever before.

“Not far from where you landed, a bit further down the tunnel.” the voice a little louder, more pointed, the being edging closer, blocking the dim light as it came from across the space, as it approached.

“What day is it, what time is it?” Matt asked as he tried to move.  Pain shot up his back and down his left arm. Rolling over onto his hands and knees, almost retching from the pain.

“New years eve, you have been asleep for a while,”  the voice, no longer a whisper,deeper, yet light and familiar.  Female?

“I need to leave, I have something to do.  I have to go before I miss my chance….by the gods.  I’m going to miss my chance.” blurted Matt while trying to stand, his vision clearing a little more, still looking at the ground.

The being now stood in front of him.  The feet of the creature were ratlike. “I know who you are guardian.  I was there 10 years ago.”

“Oh, so Karma has once again decided to torture me with the wounded from my past.  I guess, for the end, its fitting.”

“Thank you….but I need to get going.”

“I know, we will see to your passage.  I assume you need to go to the square, thats where they will all be.”

“No secrets this time, no guise…I will face them, no matter my condition.”

“I can see that.  I have something that will dull your pain, or at least keep you upright for a few more hours.”

Matt struggled to his feet, holding himself up with his right arm, as he looked at the being standing before him.  She was Coypu, and a white one. The Kermode’ of her race. By the gods is was Rosie…..The was just torture….Matt was faced yet again with someone he had taken everything from…another person that should have killed him on site.  Another person that gave him assistance, when it was not even warranted, expected or even asked for.

“Rosie… I..”

“Matt, dont.  I really don’t want to talk to you.  I want you to go, just go. We have struggled to find any solace since that day.  We just want you gone, so we can try to survive the next war that you will undoubtedly start by your actions.”

“Understood Elder”

“I’m no longer an elder, there is barley a handful of our clan left in this world.  I’m going to get the meds for you, your clothing and weapons are over there.” she spoke with pointed words, holding her sadness and hatred in place, as she turned and walked away from Matt.  Rosie was in half form. Her scent was a wonderful mix of honeysuckle and murr. The Bear had always enjoyed his time on the east coast with her clan. But those memories were gone. Those places destroyed.  Her remaining clan was living in the tunnels of this city…no longer enjoying the light of day…This saddened him more than anything. In that moment, he wished he would have just died, it would be easier than this.

Dressing slowly, matt was bandaged all over.  His torso and left arm were wrapped from his neck all the way to his fingers, and down to his midsection.  Pulling on his shirt and jacket, there were puncture marks in his jacket and shirt, it looked like he had been skewered on the wall, before he passed out.  After a bit, Matt was dressed, his body hurt, he could barely hold his sidearm with his left hand, and his right shoulder ached as he took out his blade and tested his range of motion.  

Returning, Rosie brought with her two others.  “These two will take you as far as the square, after you’re on your own.  As soon as you leave here, they will be able to track you. Whatever you are about to do, make me a promise.”

“Anything”

“Matt, I have seen the visions of your arrival and the devastation that will come after your actions.  Take heart that whatever you are about to do, or not do, will have some very devastating consequences for everyone. The cartel has risen to fill the void left by the war.  They are a bad lott. They have done horrible things and hurt many, but they have been the force behind stemming the tide of destruction for all. The humans know of us, they have sought to subjugate and segregate our kind, and yours. The loose system of den/clan leadership was erased that day.  What came in its wake was nothing. No leadership, no moral compass to guide anyone. It was all out war for many years with the humans. You made sure that your family was safe, then disappeared again. Now you’re here. No doubt for some personal reason. However, no matter how much I wish you dead, you have my assistance as the last of the Southern Council of Elders.  Now, Matt, Guardian of the Guff, be gone, and never return, for I’m not sure that if we meet again, I will not sink my blade into your guts and take your life force myself. ”

Matt was at a loss for words, and just lowered his head, in a vain attempt to find words.  

“This is going to hurt” was the only thing Matt heard as Rosie took two steps toward Matt and jammed an auto-injector into each side of his neck, so fast that he did not even have time to react.  All at once the drugs exploded into his system. The pain he was feeling melted away and the world exploded in color, his ears ringing. Dropping to his knees and shaking for a few moments, until his vision cleared.  

“Thank you,” matt said as he got up and looked at Rosie.  Not knowing if he should say something or just leave.

“Her is another one, that will keep you up and moving for about 4 hours, but after that, your pain will return.  You’re not even close to being healed and even now I can see some of the bandages starting to seep, you’re still bleeding.”  Rosie said with marked sadness as she handed him the auto injector, and then stepped aside, allowing matt to walk past toward the two that would be his escorts.   

Matt stood here for a few seconds. Then put the meds inside his jackets, bowed to the elder and walked past her.  He knew that whatever was about to happen, he would again have to make a choice and that action would have a larger set of consequences than he would have liked.

Following his escorts out of the tunnel and up a ladder, to another smaller service tunnel.  This was much smaller, but with a mechanical sled, used to shuttle freight. He was told to lay face down on the sled, and hold on.  His escorts flanked him on the sled. Rumbling to a start, the sled was at speed quickly, rocketing matt toward the end of his story. The passing tunnel lights merged into a single stream or line as the miles rolled by quickly. The sled slowed steadily, until the trio diverted into another tunnel and then came to a stop.  

“Up that ladder, through the left hand gate, and you will emerge into the very back the old subway station, just keep going up and you will be at the square.” one said without ever looking at Matt.  Nodding to them, the bear got up, and followed the directions.

A few hours before…

Emerging through the tunnels and into the old subway station, Matt was just not prepared for what he found.  The old station had been taken over by the poorest of the poor. It resembled a shanty town. There were small vendors selling things, street foods being prepared, and all form of drug, arms and sex being sold.  What the Bear realized, was most of the beings down here were were-creatures of a variety of species. There was a small group of children running around, some in half form. He made out squirrel and possum, and what he thought was a skunk, before they darted out of sight.  

Continuing the walk, he realized that he was being followed or tracked by someone or something.  Picking up the pace, he made his way up, and up, and up. 4 flights of double stairs, before he got his first whiff of fresher air in days.  At the entrance to the surface, just on the edge of where the light shone down and the darkness took over, there was a beggar sitting, shrouded by a shall, shaking a basket.  Just as he was about to pass, the beggar spoke.

“Bear of Destiny… Have you come to bring an end to our suffering or push us further into this pit?”  shouted the beggar.

Slightly started, Matt stopped and kneeled down to speak to the beggar.  “I don’t know what the future holds. I can no longer glimpse the future as I once did and chart my course.  I’m walking into the future as a cub would enter the world. I have nothing to guide me but what I see, smell and hear.”  Matt said with a humble tone.

“You’re here because of your hate nothing more.” the beggar pointed.  The hand that emerged from the shawl or blanket was reptilian.

“That was why I started this journey, but that’s hardly the place I’m at anymore.  This journey has proven more painful than just eliminating a target. I don’t know what I will do when I find them, but I guess you already know why I’m here.”  replied Matt.

“I have seen many futures, many paths that you can take.  I have been watching this for more than a week, in my waking dreams.  The future has shifted many times over that last few days and continues to shift as we speak.” the beggar trailed off.

“Then I shall continue this journey, and let the future open to me without any notion of forcing it.” relied Matt.

“Whatever you choose Guardian of the Guff, just know that many are in peril, but many more are helped by the members of the cartel.  They may be bad people, and have done things that are inexcusable, but that was what was needed in the 10 year war. We are just emerging from the dark, and claiming an equal footing with humans in this world.  The demons of the past, were the catalyst of change in both worlds, for all species. There are some that cannot embrace the future as a combined one, but then again, you disappeared at the start of the war, what would you know.” The beggar said all this while gesturing with her hands.  The gestures were graceful, elegant and soft..

“I brought about an end to what I thought was the head of the beast.  The leaders of the movement that sought to control a few, to the betterment of only one. Now it would seem, that three have emerged from that event, fought for what they thought was right, led by one.  The last of the original 12. That is my target old one. There was always another, just out of my vision, just out of my reach, for my entire life it would seem that I have been a pawn in someone else’s game.  It’s time to either end that game or forfeit it, but I must bring this to a close.”

“There will always be someone pulling strings.  But i digress, you are still in turmoil, and must walk this path till you get to the end, only there will you be able to see clearly, without eyes clouded with hate, avarice and revenge.  Go now Guardian, continue your journey.” the beggar said as she motioned him to leave.

Rising without words, Matt turned and took the steps up the surface world.  The street level was not much different that the world he had just left. The sun shone through murky skies, bright enough to need his sunglasses.   As matt reached into his jacket to take out his glasses, he passed a mirror on one of the vendors stands. The briefest glimpse of himself. Matt had aged, Hair of dirty white, face showing the advance of time, eyes dull, not shining with any fire.

Walking further into the city and following the signs, it would seem that his batteries were running low.  It was almost time for the end of this.

Following the signs was easy, but the bear would need a higher vantage point.  Taking to a service ladder, on the side of an adjacent building, matt shimmied up past the gates and wire set to prevent intruders, and nestled himself up behind one of the many lighted panels that covered the building in the square.  Here he sat. Here he watched. Here he was lost in thought as time ticked forward.

The Merky Day becomes Night

A few stories above the growing crowd, Matt sat, just looking out at the growing crowd.  The events of the last few days were sifting through his mind. He was again left feeling like what he wanted in life, was denied him.  All he ever wanted was to be free of the expectation of action, to be free of the obligation of protection, and the weight of responsibility.  He had started this journey to end it, for once and for all, end the pain that kept nagging at him, eating at his mind, and torturing every action he took.  

It was here, in the Republic of York, on New Years Eve, some 300 years after he was first changed, that he would make the final decision of his life.  

As time ticked forward, the crowd below grew, and all the folly of New Years eve was starting.  Reflecting on the conversations he had over the last few days, the words all circled and clicked into place…..

Earlier, before Matt left Janus…“You know, all endings are also beginnings, they don’t always have to have someone dieing or otherwise ended.  A change or stopping point, can be a choice, and a movement toward a new outcome….you don’t have to die to make that happen.” Janus screamed at Matt, like you would scold a cub.  Matt just looked at him, his eyes were dull, the normal fire that would have stoked Matt into fiery debate or action, was not there.

“Okay, I can see that, but how will I ever be free of the expectations if I am still alive?  I have tried to mask myself, hide myself away…but others just keep finding me. Damn, we are almost 200 miles for anywhere and it’s only a matter of time before some punk bear, wolf or anyone else, who wants to blood themselves will come to challenge me.  How many more of these fights are you willing to watch? How many more times are you going to have to heal me, as my body breaks down, and my abilities wain even further….” Matt said plainly.

“As many as you are willing to have.  I’ve never liked them, but it’s a part of were-creature custom.  Although if you look at it, they are slowing down. I think the last one, were you took the blade through the chest and kind-a faked your death, ended it….but I can’t be sure.”  Mused the larger bear as he just sat up and rolled over toward the fire…putting a few branches on and moving around the embers.

“I can see that, but still….It’s the three that I missed 10 years ago that are pushing this.  They want to blood there fighters with me, so they carry some weight in the dens. When did I take on the role of monk and fight trainer?”  snickered Matt as he rose up, and snuggled up behind Janus, wrapping himself around him from behind, just barely able to touch his hands around his chest while Janus was in half form.

“Well, as long as we stay together, I can keep doing this.” Jansu said while holding onto matts paw.

A large crack brought the bear out of his reviere, as he glanced up at the clock across the square, 10:15p, just a few more hours and this would be over.  He still did not know what he would do, it was time for one last Spirit Walk…Maybe he could reach Dante or Jurgen….they always seemed to have some sage like advice, or a good joke.

Matt thought he should repositioned himself a little higher up, a little more out of sight and secluded.  When he moved, the pain hit him again. Remembering the auto injector, he quickly used it. After a few moments of blurry vision, the pain melted away again, and he started to climb.  When Matt walked with the spirits, he had to relinquish a large portion of his awareness of his surroundings. He would be defenseless, but there was no better place than here, no other time but now.  So, crossing his legs, and breathing deeply for a few minutes, Matt left his body and started the journey. Like a fast forwarding panoramic movie Matt started his journey to speak with the spirits, if they would have a conversation.  The journey took him through the Guff of Souls and landed him somewhere is the Hunting grounds. Walking a bit, he found Jurgen by the main steam that ran through the area, just sitting, watching the fish as they swam past.

“Hello Jurgen” Matt said as he motioned, although no actual sounds would be heard by anyone listening.  

Lifting his head, Jurgen broke into a Ursine smile and dove toward Matt.  “Ahh young one, I’ve missed you so….” The larger bear said. Returning the hug, “I have missed you too, but I wish I had come to commune and talk with you about happier things…”  Matts voice trailed off.

“I know what has been happening. A certain Bear we know paid me a visit a short time ago.  He’s worried about you.” Said the larger bear, as he shifted to look at Matt fully.

“I know he is.  He doesn’t want me to do any of this.  He just wants me to let go of it all and hide myself away.” said Matt as he lowered his eye.

“Sounds like a good plan.” snarked Jurgen.

“It is, but I can’t run far enough that I can’t be tracked.  I can no longer shield myself away, even if I go back to the hunting grounds, they would just wait until i have to come out.” chidded Matt.

“I see your problem.  But ya know we have a saying in Russia, byt’ yedinym so svoim zhivotnye dukhom, or be one with the spirit within yourself.”

“I don’t get it?” started Matt.

“Matt, you carry the power of the Guff with you.  It can also be used on yourself, but you have always been afraid of it, rather than just embracing it and accepting it.”  answered Jurgen, annoyed.

“Jurgen, it’s not like that.  I would gladly put myself down and start over, if I knew that this gift I have, to use the Guff, was not going to pass on to anyone else.”

“Silly detka.  You still don’t get it.  Be One With Your Spirit. Then you can become anything you want.  But you need to let go, to grab ahold of something else.” Jurgen said with sarcasm laced, pointed words.  Like Matt should have already known this.

“So I have to die then?” snarked Matt.

Sighing loudly  Jurgen answered. “After all the knowledge Dante gave you, you still don’t really grasp what the Guff is, or how to use it?”

“You know that nothing came with an instruction book, and every time I attempt to talk with the big bear about it, all I get is, live in the moment, let go and just be yourself.  Fuck, can someone just teach me for once, my whole life has been this fucking jigsaw puzzle of abilities and crap, with no real guide to any of them. It’s like I was suddenly the expert on everything, without the means to connect any of the dots.  I still don’t understand half of what I am…how the hell do you expect me to do any of that? You both are here in the hunting grounds. I can’t get here often or at all anymore….damn it, can either of you, or anyone just give me a straight damn answer…for once….PLEASE!”  Matt broke down, he was tired, all he needed was a straightforward answer, without riddle, paradox or clever notion. Just a honest, answer. HOW DO I DO THIS?

“You know, no one taught Dante’ either.  I know that you are worn out, and tired. However; I know you have the answer. You’ve always known the answer.  You just need to let yourself free.” remarked Jurgen.

Pissed a little more now, Matt blurted-“So that’s it.  Another You know the answer speech.”

“No young one.  This is the honest answer.  You have always had what you now seek.  But, you have clouded your sight with the barriers you have erected.  You keep stopping yourself for accepting what you are, and then using that for what you need.  You’re not evil, the darkness you carry is just the gravity of the Guff, nothing more. You are the light of the Guff, you must learn to be both.  Your will guides this, nothing more.”

“Okay, Sorry for blowing up?”

“Don’t be, it’s totally fine.  You know if i am looking forward to one day, having you again, or being reborn so I can get after you again…Either way..it’s time for you to get a move on….isn’t there a certain few people that you have to deal with?” asked the big bear.

Realizing that Time passes much faster when you are spirit walking, Matt nodded and made his quick departure.  

Soon, he was slammed back into his body with almost a physical force.  Looking up at the clock, he had been with the spirits for more than an hour and a half.  Panic entered Matt then as he tried to scan the crowd. Had he missed his prey, would they show themselves like in years past.  Would Matt go through with it.

Looking out, Matt noticed that he needed to be higher to gain a better vantage, so he climbed higher, to the top of the lighted signs he was hiding behind.  Reaching the top he was almost level with the now holographic ball that was about to drop.

Here he was perched, looking down at the crowd, scanning for his prey.  Like instinct, his left hand fluttered over his side arm, and his right over his blade.  

Then, the crowd parted, and there they were…all three of them in a nice little group.  He could easily jump, and take them out on the way down, but he would not be able to take the impact and roll with it from this height.  Matt was left with a choice- jump and shoot them, hoping to kill them. Or reap their souls on the way down and then give his up at impact.  There was still time to decide, just a few more minutes.

Atop the sign, a gust of wind washed across Matt, a scent hit him, it was Dante’.  “So young one, you actually going to do this?”

“Wow, came all this way to stop me” snarked Matt, still a little irritated at the exchange with Jurgen, and a little hostile toward Dante;  given that he was prone to not give Matt a direct answer with anything.

“No, I came this way to tell you how to move on, and not pass the keys to the Guff along to anyone else.  If that’s what you really want.” Dante said as he hovered just behind Matt, a ghost on the wind.

“I have wanted that for some time, you know that’s always what I wanted.  Trying to distract me old one…my prey is just below now. With all the commotion of the new year, they can’t track me.

“Matt, If you want to pass on, you will have to become like Janus was, before he made his way to this realm.  You will have to will yourself past the void and into the guff, then will yourself back, but when you do, you will not come back as the same being.”  Dante spoke, like a teacher would talk to a pupil.

“So I will become a ghost then?” asked the Moon Bear.

“Not a ghost, you will be more, but not human and not were creature.  You will get to choose your course, and the forms you take. But it will not be for long, you will have to return to the guff from time to time, and then you can come back.  This is what Janus did, while he was still with the Creator and Great Bear. You will have to do the same thing, if you want to end your life, but not pass on the keys to the Guff.” Dante stated.

“So it’s either change my existence, or keep doing this until the end of my life?” snarked Matt

“Yep, that about sums it up.” Dante responded pointedly.

“Damn.  Is nothing ever easy with you?” growled Matt.

“You went to find the bears remember.  You started this Life Journey, not me,” chided Dante, trying some humor on Matt.

“Okay, I guess I will have to think on it, or at least think on it for a few more minutes, before I kill them.  Gods, I just want them dead. They were the core of the damn 10 years war, they hunted the twins, they hurt Luke, Rusty and so many others.  They deserve to die for that.. Fuck it.” Said Matt as he unholsterd he side arm, and gathered the void into his right hand. He would jump, firing as he fell.  Pulling at the lifeforce of the three, and as he impacted the ground, he would give the three to the void. After he would let the void take him, and whatever happened…would happen.  Matt could no longer see any future, everything was dark, closing in on him.

Like a dark smoke, the void came forward, wrapping itself around Matt in a cold embrace.  “The void is a tool, just like the light. You are the conduit for both of these two forces.  You can will them to take you past all this, or you can will them to take others, but it has always been a choice, and the choice is yours,” spoke Dante, as he faded and disappeared.  Matt was alone again, looking up at the full moon, then down to the crowd. It was time to act. The ball was dropping and the crowd was going nuts.

Seconds passed like minutes, as time slowed down.  All sound faded from Matts ears……..

Matt Jumped from his perch.  In free fall, he wrapped himself in the darkness of the void, and aimed his weapon.  The seconds passed quickly, as the ground was impacted by nothing but Matts clothing, and gear.  The Little Moon Bear had given himself the void, without taking the lives of the three or anyone else,  Matt had moved on by his will alone.

He was finally free.  

Now, the connections Matt had formed with so many others would fade.  Those sensitive to it, would feel him leave the world….

A World Away

Luke was sitting with the twins as the comfortable feeling that was Matt floated away, leaving a cold ache in his chest. Luke stopped dead in his tracks as he tried to process what has happening.  The link that connected the two bears, seems to break, as a rush of emotions, a blur of images, sounds and scents flowed into Luke. It was the last of Matt. The big bear was dropped to his knees by a force that could not be seen, but only felt.  Tear flowed then… He knew this was the end…there would be no coming back from this.

The Twins were the next to experience the sensation, as they knew deep within themselves that Matt was really gone now.  They knew enough about Matt from reading his journals, that there first Guardian had moved on, just like many of the elders, and this time it was for real, not a clever trick to hide himself away.  They wrapped Luke in tight hugs as the massive polar bear sat down with a thud, stunned from what has happening.

Rusty and Norman were next to enter the room.  Rusty was clutching his chest, like he was having a heart attack.  The vacuum that remained was causing his sire physical pain. The way Matt was changed, came about through a transfer of essence, life force, and that connected the two, but now that connection was broken. Tears streamed down there faces.  Norman, unusually stoic; knew that this was not a killing, it was more akin to a moving on…but still, it was powerful, more so than he would have expected, he was sure that others were feeling the same thing or at least would be as they figured out what was going on.

After a few minutes, the tel-com started to ring, as others from around the world started calling, trying to contact Luke and the twins.  They were all trying to verify what they were feeling. As the conversations started, more and more were added to the call. Soon there were well over 30 people on the communications feed.  They all had the same questions: Was this really Matt leaving the world? Was this really the end for him? What had happened? Where was he? Do You think he will come back like last time? They were all trying to find information, desperate to understand.

The calls kept coming for days.  About a week later, Norman got a message from Rosie.  After the two talked, she confirmed that Matt had been in York for New Years.  That he had been badly injured, but had moved forward. That he had tracked the Cartel leaders.  Her watchers had tracked Matt, and watched him through the afternoon and evening. When he jumped from the building, intent on killing them, he was wrapped in darkness, but just before impact, a flash of light bust out like a firework and only his cloths and gear reached the ground, his body was never found.  The members of the Cartel didn’t even notice and in the commotion of the Ball Dropping, no one else much noticed either. They had gathered Matts clothing and possessions that were on the ground, and promised to get them back to Norman as soon as possible.

Thanking Rosie, he promised to come for a visit, and ended the communication.  Norman looked up and out the portal of the the shelter structure they called home.  The day had given way to night. Walking outside he looked up at the sky, the stars shone brightly, more than he would have been expecting or just that he didn’t notice before now…”Bear of the Moon, I hope you have the Peace that you brought to so many others.  May you dine at the Gods Dinner Table, and drink from the Horn of your Brothers. Goodbye Dylan Matt Owens, Bear of the Moon, Guardian of the Guff.  Peace to the Fallen…..”

Back On that frozen lake.

Janus had felt the energy that was Matt leave the world.  In that moment he had absolutely exploded. Cursing himself for not making Matt stay, not being a better guide and partner in life.  Rocks were thrown, trees were taken down. He cursed the world, and himself for not just stopping Matt. He had given up everything to be with Matt, now Matt was gone…he was lost again, and now alone.  He spent days and weeks raging, stomping around, cursing things, and just being an angry old bear….

But, time passes….

And the seasons change….

Winter became Spring…

Then the Spring turned to Summer.

And now winter was yet again upon the old bear…..

Janus struggled to light a fire.  He was never as good as Matt at it, and he cursed having to do it.  Getting the fire going, he grumbled to himself as he sat back against the rock wall of the cave, not wanting to eat, but knowing he needed too. He was lost somewhere between anger toward himself and anger toward the others whom had pushed and pursued Matt.

Looking out on the lake as it was starting to freeze hard for the winter.  Grumping to himself, while he pulled the blanket around his shoulder, and shifting into a more furred half form. He would mutter curses to himself, trying to find something to blame.  Drifting off to sleep, with his feet by the fire. Listening to the wind, as it embraced the Earth, humming through the trees, and tossing the soft snow around.

Some time later he was startled away by a voice.  “You going to put a log on that fire, or shall I do it for you,” Matt said as he kind of sauntered or floated into the cave.

“Matt is that you, or is it a dream again?” Janus said, trying to clear his eyes with his paws, unwrapping himself from the blanket that he had rolled into.  His long fur was matted, and dirty. He had not kept himself much while since Matt left.

“Yes, Janus, it’s me.  I told you I would come back in one way or another.  Well this is the other way.”  Matt chuckled as he reached down and took Janus by both paws, lifting him as they hugged.  Janus immediately felt the energy flow from Matt to himself. Like a battery charger had been switched on.  Matt was warm, and radiating the heat of the Guff, like a capacitor.

“By the Gods, I’m glad you are back,”  Cried the big bear as his emotions broke.  All the anger from the previous year flowed out of him as they hugged.    

“Well, i’m mostly me, still working out the rest, but yeah. I’m back” Matt whispered as he sat down on the bedroll with Janus. It was then that Janus really took in what he saw.  Matt was no longer tattooed. His skin was soft, white, and hairless. His hair was pulled back in a braid, and his eyes shone a deep blue, not as bright as before. He was not thin, but not as filled out as a bear would be.  He was…well..normal looking. Naked, but normal looking. Janus was puzzled, trying to work out what had happened. The energy Matt was feeding him, was healing him, reversing the clock of aging and closing the small cuts and scars on his paws and forearms.

“I don’t care.  I don’t want answers….just tell me you’re staying.” the bear took Matt close to his massive chest, starting to sob again, as he shifted into a much larger half polar bear form.  Almost engulfing Matt in warm fur.

“Yes Janus, I’m here.  I’m free of everything.  I can now live to be, not be to live.  Thank you for being patient.”

“No problem” he sniffled, trying to get ahold of himself.

“Say, do you have food.  I don’t think I have eaten in about a year….and well.  I’m hungry,” said Matt with a smile.

“I sure do,” Janus jumped up and grabbed a fish from the hanger, and uncovered two apples that he had found growing wild in the forest.  He held them out for matt to choose.

“Fish please?” smirked Matt.  Janus gave him the fish, as he looked at the apples. Then he knew.  Matt was now a different being.….The two ate by the fire, as soft words were exchanged….

The sky twinkled a little brighter, as two others bears sat in a distant den.  The Great Bear and the Creator smiled to each other knowing that the circle was now complete.  

The End…..

Reader,

This book was a journey of love, loss, pain, suffering and joy.  I am glad that you went with me. Now at the end, these characters will keep going, keep living, keep moving in the real world.  You see, this work was labeled fiction, it’s kind of fictional. I hope that one day, the masks can come off, the curtain can be pulled back, and all the players can take a bow.

Bye for Now,

E. John Evans

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