Tooth and Claw

Bron found himself in the woods, deep in unfamiliar woods. He had no memory of how he had gotten there. He remembered being on watch with that Druid. She at least could make good food. Orc cooking was crude and utilitarian so Bron had grown to like Elven cooking even if he rolled his eyes at all the religion the elf girl and others insisted on. He also really liked alcohol but it would have to wait until the next town. Regardless, he must have slipped past everybody at the changing of the guard which made them all a bit more useless. Or it made Bron that much better than them. However, he wished he could spot the camp fire not that he needed them.

“You are growing more powerful,” A voice said from somewhere. Bron looked in that direction and watched as the Witch stepped from behind a tree. Bron let go of his axe, letting it hang back in the sling on his back. He could always grab it if she said something stupid.

“Witch,” Bron said and spat. “It was you who brought me here.”

“It was either fate or free will. Which do you believe in?” The Witch asked.

Bron thought for but a few seconds. “I do what I want,” He said gruffly.

“Fair enough,” the Witch said. “Do you want more power, Bron? To battle new challenges?”

“My power is enough,” Bron said with a frown. “No deals. No tricks.”

“No deals and no tricks. I promise,” she said. “This power is not coming from me. Nature itself is recognizing your strength. It has a gift for you. A tribute of sorts.”

“A tribute?” Bron asked. Tributes were only for powerful and important people.

“Turn around.”

Bron turned and saw a large bear standing almost directly behind him. As he reached for his ax, the bear moved to a pose on all fours. It was almost like it was genuflecting, bowing to him. Clearly an offering.

“Kill it,” The Witch said. “Take its power.”

Bron looked at the peaceful bear and shook his head. He threw down his ax. The witch looked outraged like she was going to start yelling at Bron.

“No challenge,” Bron muttered. Bron pulled back his hand and slapped the bear across the snout. The bear suddenly forgot its sense of decorum and reared up angrily. Bron had to dodge its first furious swipes. The battle was on. The two brutish competitors lunged at each other, wrestling with one another as one tried to kill the other. They both got their shots in, inflicting horrible damage. In the end, Bron rolled over to his great ax and brought the fight to its end. What was left of the bear lay still.

Bron stood, breathing hard and covered in blood and wounds but smiling. The Witch’s eyes were wide as they shone from under her hood. Her identity was still hidden but her surprise and fear were laid bare. She held out a necklace made from the bear’s claws.

“Take it,” She said. She held out the necklace firmly. To her credit, she did not shake. She seemed to have re-composed herself. Bron snatched the necklace from her and she did not flinch.

Bron instantly felt the bear again and the hair stood up on the back of his neck. It was there but Bron could not see it or hear it. Then he realized that he felt the bear’s presence within. Its menace, size, and ferocity were there and Bron felt stronger. He felt his flesh knit together once again, leaving just the usual blood stains on his skin. He felt nature around him come alive. He was acutely aware of every creature within miles, including the tiniest insect. There was challenge out there.

His vision blurred and when it cleared, he was running on all fours. His fur rustled in the wind. There was a deer that he was chasing so tantalizingly close in front of him. The deer stumbled on a tree root and he felled it with a mighty swipe of his paw. He bit the thing’s neck and dove into its guts, ripping and tearing. For a brief moment, the thing was Urka and Bron smiled.

“You are one of us,” a voice said. “Go and show them your power.”

“I will,” Bron said. “I am half orc, half human and half bear. And I am more than all of them.”

Then Bron awoke, still clutching the necklace. The fire was low and the Druid was making breakfast and everybody was starting the morning routine. He still felt the challenge ahead.

“Let it come. I am ready.”

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