Ashes of Fate, Season 1

by Cynus

Episode 5


There are several terms in this Episode that are from a language other than English. Although there are very few of these, I have supplied a glossary with the words and their translations at the end of the episode. I recommend that you read the Episode first and then view the translations, but it is up to you.

"Indrus said that we're likely to find Nevala near Utikuma Lake," Kurt explained to Hayden as they climbed into the aircraft with Micah, Peter, and Tristan on their heels. They were all dressed in thick winter coats with scarves and gloves, making it feel quite warm while they were still inside the complex, but it would be well worth the momentary discomfort as soon as they arrived at their intended destination.

"That's in Alberta, isn't it?" Hayden asked, and when Kurt confirmed it with a nod Hayden continued, "What is he doing in Canada?"

"Nevala crossed at the Bering Strait but was forced east by the NWA. Apparently he figured that he could avoid their detection by crossing the taiga and then south into Canada," Kurt explained as Hayden walked toward the cockpit while Kurt took a seat. Before Hayden stepped through the door Kurt added almost as an afterthought, "He can survive climateaees that others cannot."

"Shouldn't we be worried about that as well?" Peter asked as he took a seat and buckled up. Micah and Tristan quickly did the same, with Tristan sitting beside Peter and Micah surprising everyone by sitting on Tristan's other side. Ever since the incident in Seattle, Micah had stayed close to Tristan, though he had been tightlipped as to why.

"We've prepared for the cold," Hayden explained, tugging on the front of his thick coat. "Besides," he continued as he patted the inner hull of the aircraft, "We have the jet. It can handle that type of weather."

"I don't know about that," Tristan replied with a shiver despite his warm clothing. "I'm freezing right now."

"Maybe you shouldn't have ordered ice cream from the computer right before we left," Hayden remarked with a smirk before stepping into the cockpit and letting the door close behind him.

"I'm sorry…" Tristan said with a sly grin even though Hayden wouldn't be able to hear him anymore, "Ever since Peter got me hooked on it I haven't been able to stop."

"Oh, so it's my fault now?" Peter asked with a roll of his eyes while Kurt and Jacob laughed.

"If you hadn't introduced me to ice cream I would have never known it existed, so yes," Tristan replied with a grin.

"Please don't tell me I have to listen to this the entire trip…" Micah interjected with a groan.

"You have the least to complain about of everyone, Micah," Peter reminded him with a glare, all mirth gone from his eyes. He grew increasingly agitated as he continued to berate Micah. "You can grow fur to stave off the cold, you got a full night's rest, and…"

"Don't even say it, Peter," Tristan snapped, his eyes narrowing. "You don't need to keep reminding him."

"Oh, so now you're on his side?" Peter replied in shock.

"Look, he feels bad enough about what happened," Tristan began, trying to calm Peter down. Despite the fact that Micah had apologized for incapacitating Peter in order to impersonate him on their previous mission to Seattle, Peter was finding it difficult to let the matter go. There was too much deep seeded resentment for how Micah had treated Peter over the past two years, and it wouldn't be overcome quickly.

"Don't speak for me, Tristan," Micah barked with a glare, but then he turned to Peter and in a softer tone he began, "Petra… No, Peter," he corrected quickly. "I apologized. What more do you want from me?"

Peter glowered at him for a moment longer before turning away and muttering. "Let's just get on with this mission."

Tristan let the matter go with a sigh, which he heard echoed by Jacob and Kurt. The three of them shared a look and then rolled their eyes, all in agreement that getting on with the mission wasn't the problem, it was dealing with Peter and Micah's infighting that was. But as if in answer to Peter's comment the engines roared to life and they were soon leaving the hangar to begin their trek north.

Although Indrus Krane had remained near Seattle to hunt the second shape shifter, he had promised that he would help wherever he could. When it was mentioned to him that the Confederacy was looking for a tutor for Tristan to learn how to use his latent abilities, Krane had responded by telling them that he might have someone for them, a man named Nevala, though it would take some time to determine Nevala's whereabouts.

Tristan was apprehensive when word came in from Indrus a week later that Nevala had been found and contacted, and would be waiting for them at a set of coordinates that put Nevala in western Canada. Indrus had also sent along a short bio on who Nevala was, and why he would be perfect for the job. Having read the bio himself, Tristan wasn't so sure he was ready to meet the man the Hindu's called 'Mongoose'.

Nevala was famous in South Asia for having assassinated a prominent member of the Noh-Kitsune, the regional governor of India. In fact, Nevala was credited with being the primary reason why the North Wer Alliance had been unable to gain complete control over India. All reports said that Nevala was powerful, effective, and could disappear without a trace before he could ever be caught. However, his face had been seen by security footage on several occasions, and was now well known by the Alliance. He had spent the last year in hiding, with his allies in the Nine Dragons being the only others who knew where he was located. He was not a member of their order, due to his high profile status, but he had worked closely with them since the beginning of the war.

And now he was itching for something to do with his time that would make a difference. When Indrus had contacted Nevala, he had made a pitch for him training a new phoenix, and Nevala had jumped at the chance. The bio also explained Nevala's reasoning. Nevala was a phoenix as well, though much older than Tristan, and he had studied Taoist sorcery for most of his life. "If anyone should teach Tristan," Nevala had replied, "it was his responsibility."

Which is why they were now headed deep into Canada, flying over dense forests covered in frost from the late autumn weather. Tristan had been surprised at how quickly they had reached the border, but they were making great speed. It wouldn't be long before they reached their destination and made the rendezvous with Nevala. Tristan's anticipation began to grow with each passing moment, especially when Hayden's voice came over the intercom saying, "We'll be at the lake in another five minutes."

Something shook the entire aircraft briefly, and the passengers shared a look as they felt the aircraft begin to slow down. Kurt pressed a button near his seat which allowed him to access the intercom and asked, "What's happening?"

"There's something wrong with the starboard engine," Hayden replied as another shudder traveled through the hull. "I don't know what it is, but we need to land and take a look."

"Hopefully there's nothing seriously wrong," Kurt replied after sharing a worried look with the rest of the passengers. "I don't want to be stuck in the middle of nowhere."

There was a loud crack and the engines started to sputter. Before anyone had recovered from the noise it quickly became apparent that they were losing altitude as the trees beneath them were coming closer.

"Hold on, everyone!" Hayden's voice called over the aircraft's intercom, though the notion hardly needed to be passed on to the passengers. Everyone was already gripping the armrests of their chairs tightly, and even when the aircraft leveled out again just above the tree line they continued to hold on as if the aircraft were about to crash. The turbulence that shook them was hardly comforting either, and it carried over into Hayden's voice as it once drew their attention as he said, "We're going in for a landing. It's going to be rough."

Hayden's words proved to be right on the mark as they descended past the tree line. The snapping of trees losing their upper branches filled the air as they brushed through the canopy, and the whole while the ship was shaking as if some giant had scooped it out of the sky and were treating it as a toy.

The shaking finally subsided as the aircraft touched down on the ground roughly, jarring everyone inside as it slid to a stop. The engines were immediately silenced as Hayden turned them off, and everyone breathed a quick sigh of relief.

"Is everyone alright?" Peter asked as soon as he recovered.

The rest of them nodded their assent as Hayden opened the door to the cockpit and stepped out to join them, a tool box in his hand. He ignored their questioning stares and walked immediately toward the hatch, opened it and then stepped outside. The others shared a look before getting out of their seats and following him, regrouping as Hayden began his inspection of the starboard engine.

"This is odd…" Hayden muttered as he removed the outer casing to gain a better look inside. "I'm going to have to take this apart in order to fix it," he growled in frustration. "Micah," he continued, glancing up only briefly as he searched his tool box for the tools that he would need, "Why don't you and Tristan go and see if you can find us some wood in case we need to build a fire. I don't want us stuck here without one."

"Oh great, now we've been reduced to manual labor," Micah said with a roll of his eyes, but he caught Tristan's eye and inclined his head toward the woods, showing that they should do as they were told.

"I can go too," Peter offered, eager to please.

"No, I need you to help Kurt prepare lunch," Hayden replied before Peter had even finished the thought. "I think we might be stuck here for a while. I don't trust either Micah or Tristan's cooking, but I know you have some degree of skill in that regard."

"Alright," Tristan replied with a roll of his eyes. "We'll go look for wood."

Snow was beginning to fall as they left the small, snow-covered clearing they had landed in, and Tristan was already wondering if they'd be able to follow their tracks back if they were gone too long. As long as he stayed with Micah he knew that he would probably be alright, considering that the other youth was an expert tracker. That meant keeping up with him, and Micah had already made it up the slope that fed into the woods forcing Tristan to hustle in order to catch up.

Micah kept to his quick pace, seemingly undeterred by the snow, and it took some time for Tristan to manage to fall in step beside him. When Tristan finally did he was nearly out of breath and unable to speak to ask Micah to slow down, but Micah hardly noticed his presence anyway. He appeared lost in thought, and was angry about something which Tristan didn't have a prayer of figuring out.

They proceeded like that for several minutes until Micah stopped, throwing his fist into a nearby tree. The action shook a great deal of snow from the upper branches which coated Micah completely, but he barely seemed to notice. Tristan watched the entire scene with confusion until Micah shook the snow off of him and muttered, "It annoys me…"

"What?" Tristan asked.

"Nothing." Micah stated with a brief glance at Tristan. He started walking briskly, forcing Tristan to hustle after him again.

"Come on, Micah," Tristan said after a few more minutes. The snow falling around them was much thicker now than it had been when they left the aircraft, and Tristan started to become terrified of losing Micah in the storm. He kept on talking in an attempt to slow Micah down. "You can talk to me, really."

"Can I? Can I really?" Micah said as he turned around briefly. He was pulsing with anger, though Tristan knew it wasn't directed at him. "No…" Micah answered his own question. "I don't think I can." He turned back around and stormed into the woods again, but this time Tristan wasn't going to let him get away so easily.

After taking a deep breath he dashed through the snow until he managed to cut Micah off. "Why not?" Tristan asked as calmly as he could manage while catching his breath. "I honestly thought we were going to become friends once you realized we weren't enemies."

"Well you thought wrong!" Micah said as he pushed past Tristan, causing Tristan to fall into a deep patch of snow. He turned back angrily as he began, "I don't need…" he trailed off as he saw Tristan trying to get himself out of the snow and then shouted, "Shit!"

"What's wrong?" Tristan asked as Micah pulled him to his feet. Micah looked ashamed for what he had just done, but there was definitely still anger in his eyes, and a deeper conflict that went beyond what he was showing on the surface. He met Tristan's eyes as if trying to determine if he should say more, and Tristan did his best to make his own expression supportive.

Eventually Tristan was rewarded by Micah taking a deep breath to calm himself before saying cautiously, "I don't know how to be friends, Tristan. To be honest, the idea of trusting someone enough to call them 'friend' scares the shit out of me."

"What about Kurt and Jacob?" Tristan offered carefully. "Aren't they your friends?"

"They're more like family," Micah said with a smirk. "They found me when I was trying to survive and took care of me when I was injured. They're both super old…" He chuckled mirthlessly at the thought. "I don't really think of them in that way," he continued with a shrug. "They're more like my gay uncles."

"But you trust them, right?" Tristan replied encouragingly.

"I guess…" Micah answered with another shrug. "Look, I'm sorry for how I treated you when you first arrived," he said with a forced smile, though the anger in his eyes was still present. "You seem like a pretty cool guy. At least you're easier to put up with than Hayden."

"Who isn't?" Tristan replied without hesitation, and was rewarded by a snort from Micah whose eye's brightened for a brief moment at the comment. "What's his deal, anyway? I've never asked anyone before."

"I'm not quite sure, but I think it has something to do with his mom dying," Micah explained. "Happened years ago, but he's been a prick for as long as I've known him."

"How long is that?" Tristan asked as he gestured for Micah to start walking again. They were there to gather wood after all, and they might as well get to it, especially before the snowfall buried any wood they might find even further down.

"Three years," Micah answered immediately. "I was twelve when Kurt and Jacob found me, and I had been living on my own since I was nine."

"That's a really young age to be trying to survive on your own," Tristan replied with respect as he pulled at a large branch sticking out of the snow. Upon receiving the information he immediately connected his older brother Corban with Micah. Corban had taken over responsibility for both Tristan and Zach at ten years old, so Tristan knew firsthand how difficult it would have been for Micah.

"It's not as bad for me as it is for a human," Micah conceded, though the fact did little to lessen Tristan's respect. "Shape shifters have more primal instincts than others, and where my knowledge was lacking my nature took over."

Tristan allowed the silence to linger for a moment as he thought about what Micah had just told him. Micah had never been that open with anyone for as long as Tristan had observed, and the implications of that realization awed him. "Do you realize that you just trusted me with all of that information?" Tristan asked with a tone of wonder.

"I guess I did…" Micah replied thoughtfully. He then turned a suspicious eye on Tristan as he asked, "Did you ask me all that just to make a point?"

"No. I really wanted to know, I just realized that they were connected," Tristan replied honestly. "Micah," he continued with a grin, "Of all the people in the Confederacy, I think you and I have the most in common."

"You think that, huh?" Micah asked with a raised eyebrow. "What makes you say so?"

Tristan started counting off the points on his finger as he said, "Losing our parents and being forced to survive. We both have issues with authority. We're both young and attractive males…" Micah started laughing at that one and Tristan stopped his list with his grin widening.

"What makes you think I'm male?" Micah asked while wiggling his eyebrows.

"You generally take a male form," Tristan replied with a shrug.

"Fair enough, though I can be either," Micah said with a grin.

"Can I ask you another question?" Tristan asked carefully, though he kept the grin on his face in the hopes of encouraging a positive response. "It's related."

"Sure," Micah answered calmly. "Why not?"

"Why do you hate Peter so much?" Tristan asked as his grin faltered. Micah stared at him hard as the question sunk in, but he didn't look put off by the question. Instead he looked pensive, and a bit confused.

"I don't," Micah replied after a moment, surprising Tristan by the sincerity behind the words. "Not really, anyway," he continued with a shrug. "I guess you can say that he reminds me of who I could have become. I mean, I used to hate him just because Indrus Krane was the one who had brought him to the Confederacy, but now that I know the Nine Dragons didn't kill my parents…" He trailed off as if he was unsure of where his feelings lay on the matter at present.

"What do you mean he reminds you of who you could have become?" Tristan asked. Of all the points in Micah's explanation, that was the only one which confused him.

Micah's expression clouded over as he explained, "He plays the victim card a lot. He's always looking for pity, and that's one thing I refuse to give him." He stared off into the woods for a moment, back toward where the aircraft was waiting for them. "I guess you could say that I hate to see anyone have such a low opinion of who they are."

"So why do you reinforce that low opinion he has?" Tristan asked in disbelief.

"What do you mean?" Micah asked, and he seemed to Tristan to be genuinely confused.

"You're always tearing him down," Tristan explained as his disbelief deepened. "Reminding him of his predicament."

"I think he should be happy with what he has," Micah replied with conviction. "People should embrace who they are, and he's running from it."

Tristan shook his head as he argued, "He believes that who he is differs from his physical body."

"Look," Micah replied with an annoyed eye roll. "I've started calling him Peter instead of Petra, and I don't refer to him as 'she' anymore. What else do you want?"

"I don't know…" Tristan replied sarcastically, "Stop treating him as inferior to you?"

"I don't think of him that way…" Micah countered with an offended look, "In fact I think he's better than he gives himself credit."

"Then why…" Tristan began, but he was cut off when Micah suddenly whipped his head around and stared in the direction from which they had come.

"Shhh!" Micah said as he crouched low against the snow and motioned for Tristan to do the same. "There's something out there."

~ ~ ~ ~

"You should really let it go," Kurt said when Peter joined him at the camping stove the older man had set up. Kurt was situating a large pot on the stove, full of freshly fallen snow that would soon melt and provide them with water to boil their potatoes.

"What?" Peter asked as he set down the bundle of utensils that he was carrying. He knew the look on Kurt's face. That smug, grandfatherly grin that Kurt used when he was about to give a lecture to someone.

"Micah," Kurt replied simply. He picked up one of the wooden spoons and started to stir the pot. "He's trying to make it up to you."

"And I'm supposed to just forgive him?" Peter replied, crossing his arms over his chest and shaking his head. "I'm sorry Kurt, but that just isn't something I do. He's been harassing me for two years."

"And now he's trying to be nice to you and hopefully you'll forgive him," Kurt replied calmly. "That way you'll have two years of being friends ahead of you to wipe away the others."

"I'm an adult," Peter replied firmly. "I can handle my own problems."

"You're still young where I'm concerned, Peter," Kurt countered with a grin, but he saw that Peter's posture remained firm and he was not amused. Kurt chuckled dryly and conceded the point, "Alright, I'll stop talking about it. Let's get this food ready, alright?"

"Good," Peter said with a firm nod. "Now where did we put those potatoes…" he went on as he began to look around for the large sack. He found it leaning up against the aircraft behind him. He picked it up and slung it over his shoulder, turning around. The potatoes dropped to the ground an instant later as Peter saw the large form dashing through the snow toward Kurt. "Kurt, watch out!"

"Wha…" Kurt's sentence was cut short by a loud roar of a white bear that launched itself out of a nearby snow drift and bore Kurt to the ground. It latched onto Kurt's left arm with its teeth and immediately started to drag him away while the old man fumbled for the knife on his belt. Upon retrieving it, Kurt moved to strike at the bear's neck. The bear noticed the action and put a stop to his reaching immediately by stomping on Kurt's right arm hard enough that Peter could hear the bone snap and causing him to drop the knife. Kurt screamed in pain and stopped struggling long enough for him to be dragged out of sight.

Peter started after Kurt but soon had his own problems to worry about, as two more bears jumped over the drifts to face him. With a primal growl that rarely escaped his lips, Peter tapped into the blood of the tiger flowing through his veins and shifted his form to that of the bipedal weretiger. He assumed a defensive posture and bared his teeth at them, promising them in animalistic language that if they were going to try and take him on they were in for a fight. It was purely bravado, as Peter had little of the fighting ability his companions possessed, but it did the trick and the bears backed off quickly.

He considered again pursuing the bear that had Kurt, but knowing that he stood little chance if the bear decided to fight back he decided the proper course of action was to warn Hayden. As he turned to move away he caught the whiff of something in the air that he hadn't expected, and he knew suddenly that Kurt stood a greater chance of survival than he had first thought. Despite the bear skins they wore, there was a definite stench of human attached to them. They weren't just bears, they were werebears.

Jacob flickered into sight before Peter made it to the hatch, and Hayden stepped out a moment later. Concern was evident in both of their features as they looked to Peter for an explanation. Before he could answer their questioning stares growling alerted the three of them to look to the top of the snow ridge where five white bears where standing and watching them. Hayden drew his pistol and shouted, "Come on, get inside!"

He turned and ran back through the hatch, waving for Peter and Jacob to follow him. Once all three of them were inside Hayden closed it most of the way quickly, leaving only a crack for them to peer out and watch the bears. The action earned him a worried glance from Jacob. "What about Kurt?" Jacob asked as he stared through the crack at the bears that appeared to be doing nothing more than watching them cautiously. "Or Tristan and Micah?" Jacob added with concern.

"We can figure out a way to rescue them. We have weapons in here that we can use…" Hayden began, but Jacob was already shaking his head.

"We can't beat them, and they'll just kill us if we fight back," Jacob said helplessly. "Only the two of you can actually fight them at all; I can only be useful as a distraction."

"Jacob," Hayden replied, feeling every bit as helpless, "I don't think we have any other choice."

"No. Jacob's right," Peter interjected grimly. He gazed out the crack to where Kurt's blood trailed across the snow, remembering the scent he had noticed when the bear had first appeared. "These are werebears, I recognize their scent. We don't stand a chance."

"Are they Alliance?" Hayden asked with a touch of fear in his voice.

"No way to tell as of yet, but they've got Kurt," Peter replied while pointedly avoiding Jacob's look of alarm. "They only backed off from me because I shifted, but I'm sure that is only going to delay them for a moment. I suggest we surrender."

Hayden looked between Jacob and Peter as the reality of their situation sunk in. The bears were still watching them from the outside, and he doubted that they would be leaving any time soon. With a sigh he conceded the point. "Very well..." he began, but was cut by a bellowing voice from outside.


The three turned as one to see that one of the werebears was now in human form, though he hardly looked any different from before. He was wearing a large bearskin which covered most of his body, though a small bit of his long, black hair poked out from beneath the skin. His skin was a copper tone, and he appeared to be a healthy middle age.

"What the hell was that?" Hayden asked as he turned to the others.

"Certainly wasn't English…" Jacob observed in awe.

"I've never heard that before," Peter added with a shake of his head.

Another of the werebears, dressed in the same manner as the first, appeared by the first one's side, dragging Kurt along with him. Kurt's right arm hung awkwardly at his side, and his face was contorted in pain, though he tried to hide it behind his usual dignity. "Ittuq Qimmirivaa!" The first man shouted, though once again they could not understand his words. The werebear took out a knife and gestured at Kurt threateningly.

"I'm going out there…" Jacob said before stepping through the hull of the aircraft. Peter and Hayden watched as Jacob stepped toward the werebears with his hands raised high, while the werebears recoiled in fear at seeing him pass through the solid side of the aircraft. "We mean you no harm!" Jacob called out as he proceeded across the snow, leaving no footprints. "We surrender!"

"Ijurujuq!" The one holding Kurt shouted, gesturing at Jacob wildly. "Qitjiutivaa!" Another werebear shifted into human form and drew a torch from his belt. He started to light it as he moved toward Jacob menacingly. Jacob's eyes widened in shock before he flickered out of sight and reappeared inside of the aircraft.

"Shit! I don't think that went over well…" Jacob said, shaking his head nervously. He smiled in a manner that was anything but reassuring as he added, "I'm going to try a different tactic. I'll go find Micah and Tristan."

"Good idea," Hayden agreed with a nod. "Good luck, Jacob." Jacob flickered out of view and Peter and Hayden turned back toward the crack where the first man was starting to speak again.

"Engiulish…" the man said with a thick accent. "Engiulish supeakiing?"

"Was that to us?" Hayden asked.

"I think so," Peter replied with a nod.

"Yes. English speaking! We would like to surrender!" Hayden called out before turning to Peter and asking with a mirthless grin, "Do you think that did it?"

"We havaa gurandufiather," the man called back, pointing his knife at Kurt again. "Yiu come out!"

"Let's go," Peter said with more conviction than he felt. "I don't think they'll kill us."

Hayden nodded and opened the hatch. Peter stepped out first and Hayden followed immediately after him. They walked forward several paces before noticing movement to the side. Within seconds they were surrounded by four large bears, growling and snarling at them.

"You were saying?" Hayden said with a smirk before the bears bore them to the ground.

~ ~ ~ ~

They watched, unseen by the bears that took their companions hostage. They stayed low against the snow, and whenever Tristan had been about to pop his head into view Micah ensured that it was pushed back down again. Now that Hayden and Peter had been taken captive, Micah led Tristan away from the small clearing until he was sure they were out of earshot.

"What the hell are we going to do?" Tristan asked as soon as Micah indicated it was okay to do so.

"Would you stop freaking out, Tristan?" Micah snapped. "Normally you keep a very level head," he added, shaking his head. "We have to come up with a plan, obviously."

"I'm sorry, this is just crazy…" Tristan replied with a shake of his head. "I don't even know where to begin."

"Fine then. I'll lead, if that will make you feel better," Micah replied calmly. "We have to find out what they're plans are first. It looks like they don't plan on killing them… yet."

"Alright. So we wait?" Tristan asked incredulously. "That's your plan? Waiting?"

"Unfortunately, yes," Micah confirmed. "They haven't settled down yet. They're still wary," he explained when Tristan looked as if he were about to protest that plan of action. "Thankfully we are downwind from them so they won't smell us."

"What about when night falls?" Tristan asked with concern. "How are we going to survive out here?"

"It's still midday. We have plenty of time to figure that out," Micah replied, giving Tristan a dumb look. "You're dressed warmly enough for the daytime, so stop worrying about it."

Tristan looked at Micah long and hard before finally sighing and dropping his eyes. "… Fine. We'll wait."

"I'm glad the two of you are still okay." Jacob's voice said from a few feet away, startling them as they turned toward him.

"Jacob!" Tristan said; glad to see a familiar face.

"Good, at least that's one more person to help out," Micah said directly. "You've seen them up close, what do you think their goal is?"

"I'm positive that they aren't alliance," Jacob replied immediately. "More likely than not this is a native group; they were speaking a language I've never heard before," he explained as Micah nodded slowly. "We watched one of them shift, and he was wearing bear skins."

"Interesting…" Micah muttered before looking up and meeting Jacob's eyes. "So they aren't true lycanthropes then." Even though it wasn't phrased as a question Jacob nodded his confirmation of Micah's assessment.

However, the observation was simply confusing to Tristan. "What do you mean?" He asked before they could go on.

"They shift by channeling the latent power of the polar bear skins they wear," Micah explained, "The spirits of dead predators. It's no wonder they could sense my true nature. These are shamans, or at least shaman trained."

"Magic users…" Jacob added with a smirk. "Rare in this day and age, but no less dangerous than they ever were."

"Magic?" Tristan asked in disbelief.

"You didn't think magic was a myth too after everything else you've seen?" Micah asked with a raised eyebrow.

"Well, everything else has been someone's ability, hasn't it?" Tristan replied. You're telling me that normal people can learn to do the crazy things the rest of you do? These people can use magic to shape shift like Micah can?"

"No one can shift as well as Micah can except for another shape shifter, and he is a prodigy in that regard," Jacob replied while Micah snorted at the thought. "But yes, magic has a way of allowing normal humans to learn to do extraordinary things."

"So how do we beat them?" Tristan asked a tad hopelessly.

"Well, if they can sense my true nature then they might be able to sense Micah's as well, though I'm sure his will be harder to determine," Jacob answered thoughtfully. "Maybe we can figure out a way for him to get a closer look."

"I'm already on it," Micah replied. He was beginning to take off his clothing so that it would not interfere with his shifting and had already removed all of his upper clothing. He sat down in the snow and started to remove his boots while Jacob and Tristan looked away to give him some privacy. A moment later he called their attention back to him as he said, "I'll be back soon" before shifting into the form of a large eagle and flying away toward the aircraft.

As soon as Micah was out of sight, Tristan turned to Jacob and said warmly, "I'm glad you're here, Jacob."

"I see that you're still not up to trusting Micah, despite rising to his defense when Peter wouldn't let it go," Jacob said with a smile, despite the worry Tristan could see in his eyes.

"That's not it…" Tristan began, but he didn't know where to take the thought.

"Isn't it?" Jacob asked when Tristan looked up at him in confusion. "Tristan, I've been around awhile. I know the look when I see it."

"The look?" Tristan replied with a blank stare.

"When someone you care for has hurt you, and you really want to let them back into your life but you're not sure you can," Jacob explained with a knowing smile.

"What?" Tristan started at the observation. "What makes you think I care for Micah?"

"Someone had to," Jacob replied with a chuckle. "You give me the impression that you're always one to side with the underdog. Don't tell me that you aren't that way in Micah's case as well."

"Alright you perceptive little spirit…" Tristan began but stopped when Jacob shot him a glare.

"Don't you go making fun of my size," Jacob challenged.

"Sorry…" Tristan replied, raising his hands in surrender. "You're right," he continued with a sigh, "I'm being too hard on him."

"I didn't say that," Jacob replied.

"But I thought…" Tristan trailed off, his confusion back.

"Tristan, I think you might be the best thing that ever happened to Micah," Jacob said as if the fact was difficult to believe even for him. "You refuse to give up on him but you still draw a line as to what's appropriate. Now that he feels he owes you something because of what happened in Seattle, he'll continue to push himself to excellence in order to prove himself to you."

"So you're saying I should keep being hard on him?" Tristan asked, no less confused.

"I didn't say that either," Jacob answered with a grin. "What I'm saying is to keep trusting your instincts with him. They've led you right so far, and I think they'll continue to do so. I think you'll know when he's sufficiently learned his lesson, and that will be the time to let him off the hook. You don't strike me as the type to abuse power either, so I think he's in good hands."

"Jacob… I don't even trust myself," Tristan replied with a shake of his head. "What's with all the responsibility?"

"We all have our gifts of discernment, Tristan," Jacob said cryptically. "I know you'll be alright."

"But will we be alright?" Tristan asked, returning the topic to their current situation. "How are we going to get out of this one?"

"Let's just take it one step at a time, alright?" Jacob said soothingly. "We'll see what information Micah has for us when he returns."

~ ~ ~ ~

Peter and Hayden were restrained by strong leather cords before they were finally permitted to rise from the snow. As they stood the last two bears shifted into their human forms. Peter noted with interest that they seemed fatigued by the sudden shift in form, and filed that information away for later use.

A grunt of pain drew his attention toward Kurt, who was being led toward them in the hands of the man who had been holding him captive before. Once Kurt had rejoined his comrades, the three of them were forced to march into the woods to the East of the clearing.

"Are you alright?" Peter whispered to Kurt, but received a blow to his head from one of their captors for speaking. He turned and glared at them before looking back at Kurt who mouthed that his arm was broken. Peter nodded subtly and turned his attention forward and forced himself to remain silent.

A few minutes later they reached another small clearing where a small fire was burning in the center and a grizzled old man sat on an overturned log, warming his hands before the flames. The old shaman did not look up, but he spoke as they entered the clearing, "Ah, you are the ones from the southland. My son tells me that you speak only English. I regret that I have not spoken your tongue in many years, and so I may stumble as I speak. Please forgive me."

Movement out of the corner of his eye drew Peter to glance up into a nearby tree, where an eagle and perched and appeared to be watching them carefully. Its eyes centered on Peter for a moment, allowing Peter to see that they were an icy blue. Micah.

"No offense meant," Hayden said in response, taking the lead, "But why have you taken us prisoner?"

"My people need to survive. Survival means trade with the power in the land. You come in large contraption made of metal and thunder. We will trade this contraption and have enough food for many seasons," The old shaman explained simply, while keeping his gaze centered on the flames.

"How will we get home? You can't possibly expect us to walk there…" Hayden replied. "Or are you going to kill us too?"

"We are not murderers," The old shaman replied, this time looking up and meeting Hayden's eyes. "We will take you south and set you free, but you are prisoners until then."

"Is there nothing we can offer you in exchange for our freedom and our 'contraption'?" Hayden asked, eager to find some way out of this mess.

"What do you have to offer us?" The old shaman replied, intrigued by the question.

"You're saying that you require food for the upcoming seasons," Hayden answered smoothly, though his next words surprised Peter. "We could take you to a place that can provide food for you at no cost. There is room for you on our aircraft."

"That sounds like a trick…" The old shaman replied with a wry chuckle. "Why would we leave our home? We have everything we need here."

"Except food," Hayden pointed out quickly.

"For that we have your contraption," The old shaman replied as if the matter was already solved.

"Perhaps we could perform a service for you?" Peter offered, when it seemed as if Hayden were at a loss for words. "I have medical knowledge, and perhaps we could give you medicine and teach you how to use it?"

"We have knowledge of the sicknesses that are common here, and the things that the natural world offers to defeat such things," the old shaman replied while shaking his head. "We have no need for your medicine."

"My friend is injured. Will you at least allow me to look over his wounds?" Peter pleaded when he saw that his tactic had failed. "I would require the medical kit from the aircraft."

"Very well. We will retrieve it for you," The old shaman conceded with a nod. One of the werebears shifted into his bear form again before taking off at a run toward the aircraft. Peter tried to speak again but the old shaman raised his hand to silence him before any words left his mouth. "I said that I would allow this, do not try my patience."

Peter swallowed his words and nodded. Kurt's health depended on whether or not Peter would be allowed to fix his arm, and he would accomplish nothing by irritating the old shaman. A few minutes later the werebear returned in human form, though in addition to the medical kit he was carrying numerous other items wrapped in a blanket. Peter was momentarily distracted by a loud screech which drew his gaze back to Micah, who launched himself from the branch and flew away. When he looked back he saw that the bundle had been laid before the old shaman and was being undone. Inside were all of their weapons, including Kurt's knife which they had retrieved from the snow.

While the werebear handed the knife to the old shaman he said grimly, "Ijurujuq Savik." The old shaman nodded and took the knife, looking it over while Kurt glared at him. The medical kit was handed to Peter while his bindings were undone. He directed that Kurt's coat be removed so that he could look at the broken arm, and it was done so, though not without a grunt of pain from Kurt.

The old shaman began muttering to himself in his native tongue as Peter inspected Kurt's arm. It wasn't the worst break that Peter had ever seen, and if they had been back at headquarters Peter would have been able to get Kurt up and running in a matter of days with the restorative technologies at his disposal. Up here it would take months to heal for a man of Kurt's age.

Peter sighed as he prepared a splint from what was available in the kit before turning to the old shaman and saying, "I need to speak to him in order to properly assess his condition. May I do so?"

The old shaman stopped his muttering for a moment and glanced up at Peter as if he were surprised that Peter had spoken again, but then when the words registered on his mind he nodded slowly and resumed his muttering. The words were beginning to take on the resonance of a chant, and Peter had an eerie feeling about the way the old shaman was handling the knife in his hands.

"Are you doing alright?" Peter asked quietly.

"I don't like how that man is touching Jacob's knife," Kurt replied in a dangerous tone.

"I don't either, but I was asking about your health," Peter clarified with a nod. "Are you okay?"

"No. To be honest I'm surprised I'm conscious," Kurt answered sullenly. "They slammed my head against a tree when I kept struggling, and that hurts almost as much as my arm."

"Speaking of your arm, I'm prepared to set the break, and then I'll apply the splint. Whenever you're ready," Peter replied as he laid his hands softly against Kurt's arm.

"I'm ready. Do it now, but don't blame me if I pass out," Kurt said with a forced smile. Peter took a deep breath and set the bone, working quickly and effectively. Kurt grunted as the bone fell back into place, and winced against the pain. When Peter was done Kurt turned back and nodded his appreciation. "Thank you. And you're going to splint it now?"

"Yes, so hold still," Peter ordered, taking the arm splints out of the medical kit and set to work again. He was glad that Hayden had put him in charge of making sure the medical supplies were kept up in the aircraft. When he had joined the crew it had been Luke's responsibility, and though Luke had tried his best he hadn't known a gauze pad from and alcohol wipe. Peter had made sure that he could handle almost any injury, and the adjustable splints were something he had insisted upon. He hadn't used them until today, but that had never lessened his insistence that they be included.

He finished the splint and began to pack up his supplies when he saw a small scalpel among the tools in the kit. Checking to make sure that no one was watching, he removed the scalpel and slid it slyly up the sleeve of his coat, making a small incision in the inner lining where he could store the tool. He did what he could to ensure that the movements were incorporated into how he packed up the kit, and when he glanced up briefly he noted that no one had seemed to notice. Instead, each one of them had their eyes on the old shaman sitting beside the fire.

Peter had just begun a second check of the splint when the chanting of the old shaman suddenly increased in volume, and he heard Kurt gasp and tense up under his hands. Peter glanced over at the old shaman and saw that the knife in his hands was beginning to glow with an eerie green light. Kurt suddenly lunged away from Peter, making a grab for the knife with his good hand, but he was immediately stopped by one of the other captors by a swift kick to his face which sent him sprawling into the snow.

Hayden made a dive for the knife next, only to be similarly stopped and summarily restrained. Before Peter could think about making a lunge for the knife himself, the old shaman threw the knife into the fire, which immediately took on a hue that matched the light emanating from the blade. Kurt struggled against the bears that held him, screaming in rage and terror as the knife crackled in the fire, while Hayden and Peter could only watch numbly. It was too late.

~ ~ ~ ~

"It isn't looking good," Micah reported as soon as he shifted back into his human form. He shivered slightly as he began to put his winter clothing back on again. It was the first time that Tristan had seen him affected by the cold at all, which made him realize that Micah's protection from the elements was dependent upon what form he was in. The fact that he had resumed human form in order to facilitate ease of communication said that Micah valued their cooperation more than his own comfort.

"What's going on?" Jacob asked with concern.

"They're speaking to an elderly shaman who has been speaking to them in English," Micah explained as he pulled on his pants. "He's telling them that they plan on selling the aircraft for scrap."

"Anything else?" Jacob pressed for more information, his tone showing that he was less than pleased with the news. There was a sense of urgency in his voice, and to Tristan's surprise Jacob appeared to begin perspiring.

"The shamans were going through everyone's personal items when I left," Micah replied as he pulled his shirt over his head. When the shirt had cleared his face he looked back at Jacob with complete shock as he asked, "What the hell is happening to you?"

"They must have thrown my knife in fire…" Jacob replied as he started to wipe his brow. "Very few things can destroy a ghost, but fire is one of them," he added with a grimace of pain.

"Shit!" Tristan exclaimed in sudden panic. "What do we do?"

"I'll fly back and get the knife out of the fire," Micah said as he started to shift again, only to be stopped by a shout from Jacob.

"Oh no you won't!" Jacob said with a snarl. "You know that you can't handle fire any better than I can," he admonished Micah. "I should be okay. I doubt this fire is strong enough to kill me at my age but… Gah!" Jacob's skin began to redden and blister, and Tristan was sure he could hear the crackling of flames.

"Jacob!" Micah shouted, fear prominent in his voice.

"Rescue the others!" Jacob replied as he collapsed to his knees. "I'm putting their lives in your hands." He started to cough, as if smoke were filling his lungs. "They… are... counting… on…" Jacob screamed violently as his skin began to blacken and peel away, leaving a faint trail of ash that disappeared only inches away from his body. Within a few seconds his body had completely dissipated, leaving only a puddle of black liquid where he had been standing.

"Jacob!" Micah and Tristan shouted in unison, but their friend was already gone.

"What the hell just happened!?" Tristan cried as he collapsed to his knees beside the spot where Jacob had disappeared. This was too much to handle, too much thrown at him in one day, and he felt as if he were about to lose his mind.

"Tristan, snap out of it!" Micah snapped as he shook Tristan's shoulder roughly. "Come on. We have to think, we can't lose it now."

Tristan turned and looked at Micah's face and saw the determination there. Micah was right. They needed to keep a clear head if they were going to pull through this. Tristan nodded slowly as he climbed to his feet on shaky legs. He nearly fell over but Micah caught him and steadied him.

"We need a plan," Micah said calmly.

"Agreed," Tristan replied after taking a deep breath. "What resources do we have available?"

"Resources?" Micah echoed in disbelief. "We have you and me, and a whole lot of snow. We didn't even think of grabbing weapons when we left."

"So we have nothing…" Tristan replied in despair. "What can we do against so many of them?"

Micah shook his head at the question, not having an answer, but then a moment later his eyes lit up as he came upon an idea. "Perhaps instead of focusing on fighting them, we should focus on freeing the others," He said with conviction. "If we can rescue them and then regain control of the ship, we could stay safe inside."

"That could work," Tristan agreed with sudden hope, "But what can we do to draw them back to the ship?"

They spoke for hours, running through various scenarios but continuing to come up short. As time went on, their shadows lengthened, and before they had come up with a solid idea as to how to proceed the sun had set and left them with their problems. Micah suggested that the situation was unlikely to change before the morning, and that it would be best to sleep on the matter and attack it with a fresh mind.

And so Micah had settled down beneath a large fir tree, while Tristan did the same a short distance away. The sun had taken with it its warmth, and Tristan could feel the chill beginning to soak through his clothing and into his skin and bones. He knew that despite Micah's urging that he stay awake, it would be better that he not fall asleep while he was so cold, or he might never wake up. The night would only grow colder, and without a fire he'd have little chance of surviving, though Micah seem to have that concern.

"Tristan, are you alright?" Micah's voice penetrating the darkness caught Tristan off guard. He had grown accustomed to the silence of the night, and at first he didn't realize that it was the sound of a friend. Not that he could have done anything if it were an enemy. He was far too cold to defend himself.

"I'm c-cold…" Tristan replied, his teeth chattering as he shivered. "I n-need fire."

"We can't build a fire," Micah reminded him with a sigh. "Those men will catch us for sure if we do.

"Mic-cah… I k-know," Tristan replied, managing to put tone of exasperation in his voice. "But I'm f-freezing."

He heard a loud sigh followed by the sound of someone walking through the snow, and whoever it was they were practically radiating heat. For a moment Tristan could swear he could see the heat radiating off of their body but he disregarded the thought as a result of his cold-addled mind. "Mic-cah?" Tristan asked in worry as the heat source moved toward him.

"When in Canada…" Micah replied, his voice coming from much closer than before. Finally in the dim light of the moonless night Tristan was able to make out the form of a thick-furred feline. The blue tint to the fur told Tristan everything he needed to know. It was Micah.

Without warning Tristan, Micah climbed atop him and curled his body around Tristan. Almost immediately Tristan began to warm up as he leeched off of Micah's body heat, and his shivering subsided quickly. He had never felt so warm in his entire life, or at least it felt that way. It could have been the extreme change in temperature, but his shivering had now turned to sweating. Despite the extra moisture on his skin, he was quite comfortable, and was no longer worried about falling asleep.

"Micah," Tristan whispered a minute later.

"Yes, Tristan?" Micah replied sleepily.

"Thank you…" Tristan said with a contented smile, "You're not as bad as you pretend to be."

"Go to sleep." Micah ordered gruffly, though Tristan swore he heard a smile in Micah's voice.

"Yes…" Tristan replied as his smile broadened. "Leader."

Micah uttered a low growl and Tristan took the hint. He closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the tree, seeking the rest his body desperately needed. He found himself absently stroking Micah's fur, and then stopped for a moment when he realized that Micah was purring. Tristan resumed the action with a smile, taking the sound as a sign that Micah was finally letting him get close.

He tried for sleep again, but thoughts of the day before started to creep in unbidden to his thoughts. Memories of the landing that turned into his argument with Micah quickly led him to recalling how Kurt, Hayden, and Peter were taken prisoner. And then there was Jacob. He had been repressing the thought of what had happened to Jacob ever since night fell. Jacob had been practically devoured by fire in front of their eyes, and he had been in obvious pain. Tristan hadn't thought Jacob could still feel pain.

"What's wrong?" Micah asked suddenly, interrupting Tristan's thoughts. "You're tensing up and it's making it hard to sleep."

Tristan wrestled with himself for a moment before deciding if he could broach such a serious subject with Micah. But then again, Micah had asked. He went for it. "Do you think Jacob is alright?"

"I hope so… I can't imagine what it will do to Kurt if Jacob isn't." Micah replied with obvious concern. He turned his face toward Tristan's and met his eyes. Tristan realized then that Micah showed everything he was feeling in those icy blue eyes: the worry, the fear. However above it all was the determination to make it through their current ordeal. There was none of the arrogance that he usually displayed, though there was power; like the majesty of a glacial mountain, insurmountable and imposing. Micah would not be broken, no matter what came his way.

Tristan was suddenly filled with hope, though Micah had been the last place he had expected to get it from. If Micah would not be beaten, then Tristan would not be either as long as they stuck together. Not only that, but they'd be able to rescue the others as well, or Micah would die trying. "You care for them as much as they care for you," Tristan observed with a grin.

"Go to sleep," Micah growled in annoyance, but Tristan caught the embarrassment in Micah's eyes before he looked away.

"I'm sorry…" Tristan replied, stifling a laugh.

"For what?" Micah asked, swinging his head back around with a defiant stare.

"For making you uncomfortable," Tristan replied sincerely.

"Then why do you keep talking?" Micah asked in exasperation.

This time Tristan was unable to stifle his laughter as he began giggling. After a few seconds he managed to squeak out, "Alright. I'll stop."

"What am I going to do with you?" Micah growled with a shake of his head. Tristan didn't find a need to respond to the question, as he knew if he opened his mouth again he would resume his giggling. Instead he slowly stroked Micah's fur, and within a few minutes they were both asleep, with Micah purring softly in Tristan's arms.

~ ~ ~ ~

Tristan woke as Micah shifted abruptly in his arms. He sat up and yawned as Micah left his side, the large feline sniffing the air as he glanced toward the east. Tristan followed Micah's gaze but found his vision filled with the rays of the morning sun to which he quickly covered his eyes. "What's wrong?" Tristan asked, as he let his eyes recover.

"Something is coming toward us," Micah replied in deadpan, "but I can't tell what it is."

"Not the shamans?" Tristan asked with a spike of fear.

"No… Something more powerful," Micah clarified with another sniff. "I'm going to go check it out." With a powerful push of his hind legs, Micah started trotting to the east, easily clearing the drifts of snow.

"Wait!" Tristan called after him when he had already covered a great deal of ground.

"What is it?" Micah turned back, his voice filled with concern.

"Be careful," Tristan said simply, his cheeks flushed with embarrassment.

Micah hesitated for a moment, as if biting back a snarky return, but instead he met Tristan's eyes with a look of determination as he answered, "I will."

A moment later he was gone, leaving Tristan alone in the small clearing. He stood up, wanting to be able to run if he had to. Without Micah he felt entirely vulnerable, and he quickly searched around for something that would serve as a weapon if he crossed paths with one of their enemies. His gaze settled on a tree branch half buried in the snow, and he went to retrieve it. As soon as he laid his hands upon it, a youthful male voice spoke from behind him.

"Well he has an interesting aura…" The voice said with bemusement. The accent was British, though the dialect American. "Shape shifter? Yes… that would make sense."

"Wha…?" Tristan said in surprise. He grasped the tree branch and yanked on it, pulling it out of the snow as he spun around to face the speaker. It was a youth dressed in black samurai kimono with embroidered white cobras entwining up the sleeves. His hair was black as well, and was an intricate weave of braids that eventually formed a singular one that disappeared behind his shoulders. His face was smooth, and revealed his age to be of similar to Tristan's though there was wisdom in his fiery red eyes that told Tristan that the youth's physical age could easily be a lie. "Who the hell are you?" Tristan asked angrily, but then his gaze returned to the youth's eyes. They were identical to his. "Your eyes…" Tristan continued with a tone of wonder. "You're Nevala, aren't you?"

"And you must be Tristan," Nevala replied with a nod as he extended his hand for Tristan to shake. "I apologize for sending your friend on a false trail, but I had to be certain you were who I was looking for before I dealt with both of you." He smiled broadly as he added, "I'm glad to see that you are."

"Put me down! Gah!" said a squeaky voice from the east. Tristan and Nevala glanced over in unison to see Micah headed toward them with a squirming rodent in his mouth. The rodent had a long, slender body with a thick tail and was covered in short brown fur, and altogether resembled a ferret. Its red eyes blazed with anger, and more importantly intelligence.

"I see he found my false trail…" Nevala observed with a chuckle. Micah raised back on his haunches and growled around the rodent.

"It's alright, Micah," Tristan said with a weak smile. "This is Nevala, the one we were coming to meet."

"And this is Tavi," Nevala said, nodding toward the rodent. "You can feel free to drop him. You're an excellent tracker if you managed to catch Tavi," he went on with an appraising look at Micah. "I'm pleased to meet your acquaintance. Micah, was it?"

Micah simply growled in response, showing his distrust, and maintained his grip on Tavi. Tristan gave Micah a disapproving look as he chastised, "Micah! Don't be like that."

Micah spat out Tavi into a snow drift, causing a cloud of powder to erupt into the air. He smiled at Tristan weakly before turning to Nevala and dropping the smile. "Fine," he said in an annoyed tone. "Yes, I'm Micah, and I apologize if I'm in a sour mood. We have a bit of a predicament on our hands."

"I noticed that when I saw your aircraft go down. Luckily I was up on the hilltop when it did or I might not have seen you land," Nevala replied, glancing toward the south where the rest of the group was being held captive. "I'm guessing the bears by your aircraft are not the friendly type."

"No," Micah confirmed with a growl. "They've taken our companions captive."

"Then let's free them so that we can get out of here," Nevala replied, grinning confidently.

"We've been working out how to do that since they were captured," Tristan replied with a tone of disbelief. Nevala seemed far surer of their ability to rescue their comrades than Tristan thought logical.

"They seem to be experienced fighters," Micah said, glancing at Nevala as if the man was insane. "I could only handle them one at a time, and there are eight of them and three of us."

"Four!" Tavi piped up as his head finally poked through the snow drift. Tristan eyed the spot with surprise as he realized how quickly the snow was melting around the small rodent, as if he produced a tremendous amount of body heat.

"What exactly are you?" Tristan asked Tavi.

"Tavi's my familiar," Nevala replied with a grin as Tavi ran across the snow and then up the side of Nevala's hakima before finally coming to rest on Nevala's shoulder. "He is bonded to me and me to him. We share perception, and some level of ability, which is why he can speak and ignore the cold."

"I'm a mongoose," Tavi proclaimed proudly, "Named after the great hero of legend, Rikki Tikki Tavi!"

"The great hero of legend, huh?" Tristan replied as he stepped toward Nevala so that he could pet Tavi. The mongoose accepted the display of affection eagerly and pressed his head up into Tristan's hand as the youth went on, "I can see the resemblance."

"Dude, yesterday you couldn't believe that magic exists, and now you accept a talking rodent as a hero of legend?" Micah scoffed.

"Actually, I'm a herpestid, not a rodent," Tavi replied as it crossed its forelimbs over its chest.

"Micah, right now you're a talking cat," Tristan reminded him with a grin. "I can honestly say that I've gotten used to the idea of talking animals."

"Are you calling me an animal, Tristan?" Micah replied dangerously.

Tristan was immediately apologetic and he quickly answered, "No, not at all. That wasn't what I meant." Micah smirked at the explanation so Tristan went on with a sigh, "Alright, before I dig myself in even deeper, let's discuss how we're going to rescue the others."

"What have you come up with so far?" Nevala asked with a grin.

~ ~ ~ ~

The old shaman looked to the North and sniffed much as a dog would, indicating that he sensed something coming from that direction. He turned back to Kurt, Hayden, and Peter and said ominously, "Ancient death."

"What?" Hayden asked after sharing a confused look with Peter. The old shaman simply shook his head as he watched most of his tribesmen begin to shift into their bear forms. There was tension in them all, a feeling that emanated through the clearing that something dangerous was coming their way.

Peter could sense it too, and the hairs on the back of his neck began to rise even before the old shaman said, "We are all in danger. Come, we will find shelter inside while the warriors fight." The prisoners were forced to their feet and then into a quick march back to the aircraft. Once they reached the clearing the old shaman directed them to walk through the open hatch and onto the aircraft while two of the warriors accompanied them. The old shaman followed and spoke to his warriors in their language, and it didn't take any of the prisoners long to find out what had been relayed. They found themselves being bound to the seating with thick cordage, and once it was tight enough that the prisoners could barely move, the warriors left the aircraft.

"How do I close this door?" The old shaman asked Hayden. Hayden looked to Kurt for an opinion on whether or not he should answer truthfully, but finding no support he made the decision on his own. He met the old shaman's eyes and refused to answer, shaking his head slightly.

"Very well, then we will all die," the old shaman replied with a firm nod. Hayden shrugged in response, hoping that whatever the shamans had sensed it would give them the opportunity to escape. If the other warriors were fighting then Hayden was sure he could overpower the old shaman if he simply found a way out of his bindings, especially if the old shaman was distracted by watching his warriors battle.

Peter was less sure about that plan, though he was fairly certain he knew Hayden's intentions. He could see the gears working in Hayden's mind, but he also knew that there was definitely something in the woods that was coming their way which made him uneasy. It certainly wasn't Micah, Tristan, or Jacob. It was something much more powerful.

It was Peter's turn to look at Kurt, and he saw that the old shaman was just as despondent as he had been the night before. Kurt hadn't said a word since the old shaman threw Jacob's knife into the fire, thinking that his lover had been destroyed in that action. Although they had allowed Peter to patch up Kurt's broken arm, there was little Peter could do about healing Kurt's broken spirit. If they were going to get out of this, it would land squarely on Peter and Hayden's shoulders to do so.

He adjusted his sleeve behind his back, feeling for the scalpel he had hidden there. It was still where he had concealed it, and he began to nudge it with his arm, trying to dislodge it from the inner lining. If he could get it out, then he would be able to cut his bindings and free Hayden.

A loud roar drew their attention back toward the outside. It was a roar of pain and fear, not one of intimidation like they had heard when the bears had first arrived the day before. The roar was cut short abruptly and the charred corpse of a bear rolled down the snowdrift and into their view, its carcass still on fire. The bear's form shifted as it rolled, until it became the form of a man again, though the man's flesh was just as blackened as the bears had been.

Striding down the trail of melted snow that had been left in the wake of the bear's demise was a young man, a look of pure serenity on his face. The other six bear warriors charged toward him and the young man merely closed his eyes and let them come.

~ ~ ~ ~

Tristan watched Nevala work with morbid curiosity, unable to tear his eyes away even as the young man immolated the first bear that came across their path. The bear had charged him straight away, not a trace of fear in its eyes, and Nevala had simply raised his hand as primordial fire erupted from his palm to engulf the animal. Tristan had seen that fearlessness dissipate almost instantly as the bear's features contorted in pain. After the bear was burning, Nevala simply pushed the bear over and watched it roll down the slope.

Micah had glanced at him then, and Tristan noted that there was fear in the shape shifter's eyes as well. Tristan could not blame him. The sheer power that Nevala displayed was beyond anything he would have believed possible, but there was no denying what his eyes had seen. Nevala was formidable indeed.

They turned back in time to see that the other bears had noticed the fall of their comrade and were already on their way to avenge him. The group was moving in concert, and Tristan wondered if Nevala could handle them all at once, but movement out of the corner of his eye told him that he had other things to worry about. Micah was heading down the slope in a circuitous route to get to the aircraft where they had seen their friends taken. The plan had been for Tristan to follow, but he had been so wrapped up in watching Nevala that he had missed his cue. He rushed to follow but Micah was already halfway to the aircraft by the time Tristan reached the bottom of the slope.

And then he became distracted by a primal roar from the bears which surrounded Nevala. The young man standing in the center of the group was a blur of motion, dodging snapping jaws and flailing forepaws and almost impossible speeds. Nevala did it all with his eyes closed and remaining perfectly balanced. At times he would drop to the ground amidst the flurry of attacks and would bounce back up with surprising agility. Every so often he would lay his hand on one of the bears and the bear would roar in pain as it reared back with torched skin.

But that wasn't the only thing Nevala was doing, and his other actions were so confusing to Tristan that he could not help but stop and stare. Nevala was slowly undressing, taking every spare moment between his own dodging and attacking to slide further out of his kimono, revealing his flesh beneath. Despite the urgency of the situation, Tristan was drawn to the myriad of tattoos which decorated Nevala's skin. Trigrams and Chinese characters meshed beautifully with intricate oriental-styled artwork of fiery birds and landscapes across his chest. As the kimono slipped off of Nevala's left arm it revealed a cobra rearing to strike, and then when the kimono dropped to the snow beneath Nevala's feet Tristan saw Nevala's back, where an elaborate yin and yang depicted a cobra and a mongoose fighting for domination. Nevala turned as he dodged another strike, giving Tristan a view of his right arm, with a mongoose to balance out the cobra.

Nevala's eyes flashed open and time seemed to slow for the briefest of moments as his arms and torso became wreathed in brilliant flames. The bears, unable to stop their assault quickly enough, were suddenly met with a more aggressive defense as Nevala grasped their limbs, singing fur and burning flesh with exceptional heat. Two of the bears recoiled from the fight; shifting back to their human forms and nursing their charred flesh. Four remained, being much more careful in their strikes.

The old shaman was watching the encounter with growing anxiety, and didn't see the form of Micah as he darted across the snow, running along the perimeter of the aircraft. However, he sensed Micah's presence in the nick of time, turning and meeting the large feline form with surprising readiness. The old shaman shifted his form, becoming a bear as Micah pounced on him, and meeting Micah's claws and fangs with his own natural weapons.

Peter took the distraction and worked more vigorously at freeing the scalpel from his sleeve. He sighed in relief as the sharp instrument finally slid into his hand, and then began to cut away at his bindings. In a matter of seconds he was free, and darted over to Hayden to begin to free him as well.

The old shaman threw Micah off of him with a tremendous push of his hind legs, and then shifted back into his human form. "I know what you are, formless one," he said with a primal growl, and then he began to chant in his language. Micah, who had already recovered from being thrown, attempted to dash back toward the old shaman but found that his legs would not listen to his commands. Weakness overcame him as he slumped to the ground, profound fatigue assaulting him to his core.

To Peter it seemed almost as if Micah were melting into the snow as if his form were destabilizing, and he knew that Micah was in great danger. With one final cut he freed Hayden and then dashed toward the old shaman, shifting into his tiger form as he ran. The shift tore and ripped his clothing, which fell to tatters in his wake, just as the flesh of the old shaman would be rent when Peter reached him. Peter pounced, and the shaman turned in time to see Peter's fangs descend upon his throat.

The chanting ceased as the blood began to drain down the old shaman's body, but Peter refused to let go. He held on until the shaman fell limp in his grasp, making sure that the man was dead, and that the only sound was that of the fighting still raging outside.

Nevala had forced another bear to retreat, though he had finally taken injury. One of the bears had slashed him across his thigh. While the bear had suffered dearly for the attack, Nevala was now limping as he faced the other three, and his hakima was burned and tattered, revealing even more tattooed flesh along his naked legs, though the left side was obscured by blood. Peter glanced at Tristan who was mesmerized in watching Nevala work, and then finally at Micah who was slowly pulling himself together.

Peter growled at Micah, unable to speak in his present form, though he knew that Micah understood a wide range of animalistic sounds. Micah responded in kind, although weakly it answered the question all the same. Micah was alright, or at least he would be. With that fact solved, Peter knew what he had to do next. He charged toward the combat, aiming toward the largest bear in the group.

Nevala saw him coming and smiled, and turned his back on the largest bear, inviting him to attack while he focused on the other two. The large bear took the bait and aimed to swipe at Nevala's exposed back but instead found his own back being raked by Peter's powerful claws. The bear collapsed to the ground under the weight of the tiger who continued to cut into his flesh with powerful swipes. The two remaining bears shared a look before turning and running toward the trees.

As soon as they disappeared Nevala collapsed to the snow panting and let the flames enshrouding him die out. He turned to Peter, who remained in his tiger form and said, "Thank you. I don't think I could have kept it up for much longer."

Peter growled in response, unwilling to shift back until he was sure that the bears would not be returning, but it seemed as if Nevala understood the sound. The two of them were soon joined by Tristan, Micah, and Hayden.

"I'm going to focus on repairing the engine as quickly as I can," Hayden announced as soon as he arrived. "You must be Nevala. I'm Hayden, but we'll cover the rest of the introductions later."

"Well met, Hayden. Can I be of any assistance?" Nevala replied with a pleasant smile.

"Not unless you know something about advanced aeronautic engineering," Hayden answered over his shoulder. Nevala shook his head even though Hayden could not see the gesture and sighed as he picked up his kimono from the snow.

"That was amazing!" Tristan remarked, staring at the rivers of melted snow and glancing occasionally at the charred corpses nearby. "Can you teach me all of that?"

"The fire yes. That shouldn't be all that difficult, considering you are a phoenix," Nevala replied smoothly, "However, if you are referring to my martial prowess… That will take a great deal more discipline. Are you disciplined, Tristan?"

Micah snorted at the comment and Tristan blushed, causing Nevala to laugh heartily. Nevala tried to stand, and stumbled as he put wait on his leg. Tristan rushed to his side and supported him while he donned his kimono.

"Peter," Tristan said as he turned toward the tiger. "Nevala is injured, would you mind shifting back so you can take care of the wound?"

Peter looked worried, and stared back defensively. His agitation only grew when Micah said, "He's not going to shift back like that. He's too embarrassed." Without any further explanation, Micah turned and sprinted toward the aircraft.

"What was that about?" Nevala asked, glancing at Peter with an appraising look, which only seemed to unsettle Peter even more.

"I don't know for certain, though I have an idea, wait, Micah's coming back," Tristan replied as Micah sprinted back in their direction, a large blanket held in his mouth.

Micah laid the blanket in front of Peter and said, "Here you go, Peter. Something to cover up with. I promise I will shut up, alright?" And then he took several steps back and did his best to appear nonthreatening.

Peter glanced between the blanket and Micah cautiously, before finally nodding with his feline head and shifting back into his human form. Tristan finally understood why Peter had been nervous as the shift neared completion, and completely revealed Peter's naked feminine body. Although Peter's body was anything but ugly, Peter quickly pulled the blanket toward him to cover himself up as if he were ashamed.

As if to say anything to take the focus off of him, Peter spoke quietly, "Someone needs to retrieve Jacob's knife from the fire pit, and someone needs to bring me my medical kit. They are both in the clearing to the east."

Micah nodded and immediately dashed in that direction, though he had only gone a few paces when a small form jumped out of the snow and hitched a ride on his back. Tavi. "Looks like the two of them have it covered," Nevala observed with a chuckle. He turned back to Peter and extended his hand in introduction, "My name is Nevala, and you have nothing to fear from me."

Peter took the offered hand and shook it weakly, before gesturing that Nevala should sit down so that Peter would have better access to the wound. While Peter began his inspection, Tristan used the opportunity to ask a question of which he had been confused about so far. "I'm sorry for bringing this up, Peter, but why did the bears' clothing shift with them while yours did not?"

"I'll answer that," Nevala said when it seemed as if Peter was at a loss for words. "Our friend here is a natural lycanthrope, and these others were shifting their forms through magical means. When they shifted, the bear skins became their actual flesh. In Peter's case, the tiger is his flesh."

Micah and Tavi returned before Tristan could make another remark on the concept. They dropped off the medical kit while Micah continued toward the aircraft with the knife so that he could deliver it to Kurt. Tristan explained what had happened to Jacob as Peter bandaged the wound. Once that task was completed, Tristan helped Nevala hobble toward the aircraft where they found Kurt engaged in despondent conversation with Micah, who was resting his head in the old man's lap.

"It's no use," Kurt muttered bitterly as he stroked the knife in his hand. "Jacob's dead and gone."

"Of course he's dead," Nevala said, drawing a sharp look from Kurt and Micah. "If what I've been told is true than he's been dead as long as you've known him. Gone? Perhaps not forever. Ghosts are banished when the item they haunt is destroyed, but that doesn't mean he can't be brought back if we can find him."

"Are you saying that you can bring him back?" Kurt asked, suddenly hopeful.

"We'll see," Nevala replied with a short nod. "But it will take some time. I know in your situation that this will be difficult, but you'll have to be patient with me. I can't work miracles, I'm not a god, and I can't do things instantaneously. This will take research, which is best done somewhere that is not the middle of nowhere."

"Then we'll head back as soon as Hayden is done with his repairs," Tristan said with a smile. "Kurt, I know that Jacob's going to be alright. He said that he didn't think the fire would be able to destroy him, and I trust him."

"I know, Tristan," Kurt said with eyes that didn't match his words. "That doesn't make the separation any easier."

Glossary of Terms

"Saasinnatuq!"(Fight for no reason)

"Ittuq Qimmirivaa!"(Old man, We have)

"Ijurujuq!" (Ghost) "Qitjiutivaa!"(Destroy it in fire)

"Ijurujuq Savik"(Ghost Knife)

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