The bear charged through the Elysian Gate, answering the Traveler's call.
Alin's voice hung in the air, demanding and rich with power. Where his summons had previously sounded no more insistent than a polite request, now it rang with all the authority of a king. The call promised everything the bear wanted: strong prey, a challenge, and a chance to ride into battle beside his brothers. He was all but powerless to resist.
Even though this summons hardly sounded like it came from Alin at all.
The bear knew that something had happened to his Traveler, and he wondered if it could possibly be a good thing. Dimly he remembered his grandfather's tales of the old days, of the last Elysian Incarnations, and how their calls had demanded obedience instead of asking for loyalty. This voice sounded similar to what the ancient bear had described: as though Elysia itself was calling them to battle.
The bear knew he should be disgusted at the thought of following the will of a mad Incarnation, but in all honesty he didn't care. He was riding to glorious battle, and that was all that mattered to him. Finally, a real chance to show his valor.
The Gate emerged onto a city choked with flames and ash. The bear shook the falling ash from its white fur, its golden armor rattling. With all this fire and destruction around, surely there must be some...
Yes, there. A creature shaped like a yellow-striped lizard the size of a lion, but with a curving scorpion's tail. It hissed and clacked its mandibles at the bear, shuffling forward with its venomous tail poised to strike.
The bear ran forward to meet this monster, his heart singing with the challenge, but a gold-skinned Elysian warrior got there first. Whirling his staff over his head, the warrior shouted a battle-cry before he plunged his staff down, shattering the lizard-thing's carapace and splattering its insides all over the ground.
More Elysian soldiers, more residents of the Gold District, poured forth from the golden Gate, flowing around the bear like a tide. He allowed himself a moment of despair.
At this rate, there would be no Naraka creatures left for him to fight!
The bear ambled forward again, moving deeper and deeper into the burning village of Myria. He passed battle after battle: Gold soldiers locked in battle with hooded lizard-men, tentacled creatures of the Blue draining life from enormous flaming serpents. He had almost lost all hope when he rounded the ruins of a shattered house and found a challenge at last.
A heavily muscled titan of a lizard stood there. It was somewhat like a human, standing on two legs, but its hands and feet were clawed, and it was covered in pebbly red skin. A lizard's tail swished back and forth through piles of ash.
It moved its squat alligator face toward the bear and roared a challenge, the inside of its throat glowing like embers. The Narakan monster must weigh at least twice what the bear himself did.
Joy rose in the bear's heart and he roared in response, charging toward the enemy.
At last, a challenge.
The bear went up on his hind legs to attack, though he still wasn't as tall as the reptile. He brought both paws and the full weight of his body down on the enemy, slamming into its chest, intending to bring it down to the ground.
The monster's knees bent, but it resisted with sheer strength, its eyes blazing. It caught the bear's paws, one in each hand, and shoved him backwards.
He barely caught himself before he landed on his back, twisting to end up on all fours. If he had landed on his armor, he wouldn't have been able to right himself, kicking at the air like a helpless turtle.
The lizard would have immediately gutted him.
Even worse, the fight would have been over.
The bear charged his enemy again, slamming his shoulder into the creature's waist. It staggered backwards, but no more than that. It weighed far too much, and--as all bears knew--weight was one of the most important factors in a fight.
It was not the most important, though.
The bear roared, and his younger brothers answered.
They had followed him, waiting nearby to see if he would allow them to participate in this fight. This prey was large enough for all three of them, so he had generously decided to accept their help.
This monster of Naraka was stronger than a full-grown bear, but how about three?
The youngest brother nipped at the back of the lizard's legs like a wolf. The creature spun, roaring, sparks flying from behind its teeth.
The bear looked at his other brother, and they both nodded.
Then they charged.
Both bears slammed into the lizard-creature's chest, sending it stumbling backwards. It wasn't enough, though; the lizard caught itself against the roof of a nearby house, its tail braced against the ground. The bear and his brother raked at its pebbly skin with their claws, drawing lines of red-hot blood on its chest. They still, however, couldn't bring it to the ground.
Finally, the youngest brother wheeled around and charged. When he neared the wounded lizard, he leaped.
The oldest bear would have to talk with his brother about this later. Bears had to maintain some kind of dignity, not go hopping around like rabbits. A bear on the ground was a majestic force of nature, but in the air he was no more impressive than a flopping fish. They had their pride to think of, after all.
Powered by the strength of Elysia, the youngest brother practically flew, his armor shining unnaturally gold.
He landed on the lizard's bleeding chest with all four paws and his full weight, slamming the monster to the ground. The lizard's claws gouged a handful of tiles out of the nearby house as it fell.
Once their enemy was on the ground, the three brothers made short work of it, but they didn't stop to eat. Narakan creatures tasted notoriously foul, like char and black oil. They did roar their triumph together, their shouts cutting through the sounds of battle.
Nothing brought Elysian bears closer as a family than a good, clean fight.
The youngest brother barked his satisfaction, cleaning his muzzle off with a paw. The other two brothers growled in response. He shouldn't get too full of himself, flying through the air like a ridiculous bird. Their mother would have words with him about this.
The youngest brother rolled his blue eyes and ran off into the chaos in search of new prey.
Well, he had a point. There was still a battle here, after all.
The other two bears followed their brother, looking for a new opponent. They were no cowards, and they would fight and fight until their Traveler told them it was time to go home.
No matter what had become of Alin, he was still one of their own.
Of the Cradle series
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