Kindle found herself standing - somewhat unsteadily still - at the mouth of a large cave. The past few days had been spent recovering and tracking down this mysterious “bear” that had been terrorizing the people of RavenBriar.
*I don’t like this* Cirrus, her fairy-sized elven sword said in her head.
Between Cirrus and Deltia, Kindle was beginning to feel a bit crowded in her own thoughts.
*I smell something* Deltia, the spirit of the Dragon who had bonded to Kindle when she had placed the armlet on her wrist, said.
“Of course you do” Kindle answered. “It smells like the back alley of a butcher shop.” Her nostrils flared in disgust.
*No, no, something else* Deltia said.
Kindle wasn’t sure how a spirit could smell, especially one that was supposed to be bound to Kindle’s senses.
*You smell it too, little Fairy, but you aren’t as attuned to things like evil magic like I am * Deltia chided.
“Was” Kindle muttered, then winced as she felt Deltia withdraw in hurt.
“I’m sorry. It’s just so hard to tell where I end and you begin.” Her conversation was interrupted by a loud huffing sound from within the cave.
*That can’t be good* Cirrus cautioned.
“For a magic sword, you sure are discouraging” she whispered.
*Just being practical, Kindle. This is a fool’s errand. We should be going back to the Council and taking Findar to the Archknight.*
*Stop distracting Kindle, you toothpick* Deltia snapped.
“Both of you, shut up!”
Kindle brought up the mental barriers Findar had been training her to use to deal with her - special - situation. She looked around the entrance of the cave. It was littered with bones, broken pots, and other debris. The smell was enough to throttle a centaur. Kindle steeled herself, lifted off the grass and slowly entered the cave, her newly grown wings buzzing angrily.
Kindle cautiously made her way deeper into the cave. It grew darker as she left the entrance further behind her, and the tunnel slowly turned downward.
The buzzing of her wings echoed slightly on the stony walls and Kindle found that her hearing had improved to the point where she could almost detect the walls around her. The ceiling began to drop lower and she drifted to the ground. She made her way around rocks, and - increasingly - small stalagmites. The huffing sound grew louder, punctuated now by popping and cracking sounds.
*I don’t like the sound of that* murmured Cirrus.
“Want me to leave you here?” she scolded her sword. Hearing nothing, she continued on. The cave tunnel dropped abruptly and made a sharp turn to the right. She could see strangely enough that the tunnel was growing lighter.
*I recognize that smell* Deltia whispered.
“Care to enlighten me?” Kindle said.
Tentatively, she looked around the curve of the tunnel. Before her yawned a large open cavern. There was an opening in the roof that appeared to be a portion of the cave ceiling that had collapsed, letting in light from above. Her cat-like eyes widened. Sitting in the middle of the cavern was an enormous ... bear. But not a bear like anything Kindle had ever seen. It was jet black, with fur that was spiky and oily like a boar.
It glistened as the faint light from above fell upon the creature. Even sitting, it was taller than two humans standing one atop the other. It was holding the back end of a deer and taking huge bites out of the carcass. Cold fear washed over Kindle, and her hands began to tingle.
“They want me to fight THAT?! What was I thinking?”
*You know what you were thinking, Kindle. The Code*
Kindle swallowed hard.
*You can do this, Kindle* whispered Deltia in her head.
*I recognise that creature now. It’s a War Bear. We fought many of those in the battles of my time. They should have died out a very long time ago*
“Perhaps you should remind this one of that!” Kindle whispered urgently.
The War Bear suddenly stopped its meal and huffed the air. A low growl emanated from the oily creature.
*Now you did it* Cirrus said.
The War Bear transformed from a motionless heap of fur and claws to a raging ball of energy charging directly towards Kindle in less than the time it took her to gasp in fear. Bones and rocks flew in the air as the War Bear tore its way directly to Kindle.
“Ahhh!” she cried and lept into the air, moving away from the bear into the cavern proper.
The ceiling was high enough that she could fly fairly high above the creature. As she crossed over its shoulder it swiped upward with vicious claws. Kindle felt the fetid air from the force of the missed blow.
“What am I going to do?” she shook in fear as she began to circle the cavern.
The War Bear roared in anger at missing its target and quickly turned toward her.
*How can this be?* Deltia said, oddly calm in the face of a giant rampaging creature.
“How can you be so calm?” Kindle cried. She dodged another powerful swipe from the bears wicked black claws.
*Look there Kindle!* Deltia cried.
On the ground,was the broken skeleton of a man, but the rib cage was all wrong. Instead of the bone that fused the ribs together in the front, was an odd clamshell shaped object.
“I don’t have time for this!” Kindle cried as she darted away from yet another attack.
*Listen, Kindle, you don’t have time not to do this. You must learn your foe. Only then will you know how to strike! That body was one of a Rath worshipper. This is very bad. You must fight!*
*C’mon Kindle, this Bear is getting the best of you. Let’s do this* Cirrus said.
Kindle shook herself and came around again. This time she dove in tentatively for an attack - raising her sword. She was faster than the War Bear, but not by much. Seeing an opening, after yet another swipe, she dove in and slashed with her sword. The blade struck its spiky fur and sliced through it easily, but only scratched it’s hide slightly. Fearfully, she pulled back as the War Bear roared. The force of the sound shook the cavern and a few rocks fell from the ceiling.
“I can’t do this! Look at this thing!” The War Bear had a maw like a lion, with glowing red eyes and black teeth to match its claws.
“What is a Rath worshipper? And why do I care right now?” she cried.
The bear paused suddenly and had a funny look in its eyes.
*Rath is the Evil One. He was a foul, twisted Dragon that has sought to destroy this world for decades. The battle I fought long ago in your past was with his armies. Rath would take scales from his skin and ... infect humans and other creatures. This bear must have killed a Rath worshpper somehow. That is how War Bears were created in my time*
The War Bear was not waiting around for Kindle to listen to her Bonded. It scooped up a handful of rocks and debris and hurled it at Kindle in one quick motion. Caught off guard, A jagged rock nicked Kindle in the shoulder and she fell.
*Watch out!* yelled Cirrus.
Fear began to eat away at Kindle’s resolve.
“There’s no way I can do this!” she yelled in frustration and fear.
The War Bear made another throwing motion and Kindle darted to the left to avoid it, but the War Bear had anticipated that and struck out with its left claw, connecting with Kindle in mid-air with a whump. The force of the blow sent her flying across the cavern where she struck the wall with great force and fell to the ground. Cirrus went flying across the cave in the impact. Kindle blacked out. Seconds later she awoke to the ground shaking all around her. Amazingly, she was largely unhurt, only stunned by the impact with the wall, and bleeding from a few scratches.
*GET UP! GET UP* Deltia roared.
As Kindle looked up the War Bear leaped into the air above her - it’s arms outstretched with claws cutting the air so fast they whistled.
Kindle screamed and leapt like a cat into the air. Fear had completely taken her. All she wanted to do was RUN! ESCAPE! She flew headlong down another side tunnel, not even thinking about what she was doing. The War Bear roared again and turned in pursuit - rocks and bones flying in the air as it tore after her.
*Kindle! Kindle! KINDLE!* Deltia yelled in her mind.
Kindle didn’t listen. Fear was the only thing she could heed right now. GET AWAY! RUN!
*Kindle! You are acting on your Fairy instincts. They may have served you well up to now, but you cannot run away from this! The War Bear never gives up on its prey when it has the scent!*
Kindle pretended not to listen and continued her headlong flight down the cave tunnel. She bashed into a stalagmite and stopped short.
*Kindle listen! I was hoping to wait to tell you this. There is a secret known only to Fairy Knights and their Dragons! Listen to me! You aren’t a Fairy with Dragon abilities*
That brought Kindle up cold. “What!?”
*Your transformation was more than what you know. You are not a Fairy with Dragon traits. You are a DRAGON in FAIRY FORM! You are more than you know! Listen! Don’t you remember your home village?*
Deltia was snarling in anger by now. Kindle could almost feel the Dragon thrashing it’s tail in her mind.
*Remember your family. Those creatures were sent by Rath. He did this to you! *
Kindle’s thoughts raced faster than her pulsing heart. She panted with effort. Memories flooded her mind. Her family. The little girl grabbed by the Goblins in the village. The Centaur filled with arrows, dying. Then she remembered Flick, flying headlong toward them in the forest, consumed by fear.
*Listen to me Kindle! You are not just a Fairy, you are a DRAGON!*
Something snapped inside Kindle.
Fear drained out of her like steam before a roaring bonfire. She turned and looked over her shoulder at the rampaging War Bear and her eyes narrowed. With a throaty cry, Kindle turned and arced toward the War Bear. Her wings burned the air as she became a hawk, darting to its prey. She connected with the War Bear’s head with a sickening crunch.
She was a beast, a whirlwind of teeth and claws, a devil with wings. Flesh, bone, hide, fell away easily before her onslaught. The War Bear arched its back and fell to the ground. The place where its head had been was a bloody mass.
Kindle fell to the ground hard. Then - panting for breath - came up on her knees. Her bloodlust fell away abruptly and she stared in horror at her arms. In the faint light she could see she was covered in blood and ichor.
Shuddering, she cried “What have I become?” and fell to the floor, weeping, her face in her hands.