Arthen dropped his axe.
The head of an enormous bear came forth first from the darkness, gnarled, ferocious and haunting as the stark shadows retreated from the crevices and divots that formed the face. Following the head came the incredible girth of its shoulders and forearms. Its front paws were not like the paws of the usual mountain or prairie bears, Arthen noticed. They were hands–hands with unusual long palms and short sharp nails. It stepped forth on its front knuckles with the rear legs following behind. But the thing that frightened Arthen the most was the size of the beast’s forearms–thick and massive avalanches of fur. As he stared at the size of the beast emerging into the sunlight, Arthen was reminded of an illustration from one of his old study books of a man standing next to an animal his mother had called an elefant. It was an animal Arthen had never seen or thought to have existed.
“Well, that’s new,” Booker said.
“How curious,” Arthen heard Frayne mutter.
Around the bear’s neck was an iron collar with great heavy chains locked to the sides that ran down and back into the darkness. Two Stahlg guards came with hooks on long poles to unhinge the collar’s latch and the chains fell to the ground in a loud clang.
“It’s mine!” roared Oakley.
The giant man ran toward the beast in full force. But the bear let out a clamorous roar, a force that made Oakley stop in his tracks, surely to Arthen, not from fright but from the shear wave of energy it emitted. Arthen could hear the faint tinkle of Oakley’s armor buckling in stress from the force of the sound. Then the bear charged right past Oakley, knocking him down to the ground as it made its way directly toward the two old men. With little reaction time, the two of them dropped their weapons and sprinted in opposite directions. But the bear stopped and slammed its fists into the ground creating a tremor in the earth. All the combatants still standing in the arena toppled over from the quake. With its prey subdued, the bear attacked. It swiped one of its giant clawed hands at one of the old men and batted him across the arena, slamming his body into the wall and killing him instantly. And in the same fluid movement, the twirl of the bear’s arm came for the other old man hitting him with the back of its other hand. The arm movement made up high in the air carrying the man with it, and with a devastating blow, it came down toward the ground again slamming him into the ground with claws into his body.
And all through the carnage, the audience above the fence remained silent.
No, no, no, Arthen thought. I can’t do this. Folams, wolves and now this?
This was indeed worse than any of those. This was a hard swift death slammed into the ground, faster than he could ever react.
I can’t do this.
The bear came around and swiped for Booker and Frayne. It missed, but the two were flown off their feet. Oakley had pulled himself back up, his helmet thrown aside, and hurled one of the old men’s axes. The back end hit the bear in the shoulder.
“Over here, beauty!” he yelled.
The bear turned toward him again and roared. It pounded its fists on the ground and made toward him. Oakley stood his ground right up until the bear was ten feet from him and jumped out of the way while slashing his sword downward at it, making a visible gash in its arm.
“Should learn some new moves, your highness,” Oakley said, giving the bear an insulting bow.
The beast roared and pounded its fists on the ground in agitation. In a swift charge it barreled down toward Oakley again. The giant man stood his ground until the beast came, dodged out of the way and slashed with his sword. But the bear had evidently learned and stopped when Oakley dodged and with its giant hand it swiped him away like a fly. Oakley was flown back and crumpled to the ground.
The black beady eyes of the bear darted around the arena and spotted Arthen, who gave a weak yell of surprise. But the bear seemed to be out of breath having charged so many times so quickly. It didn’t barrel down at Arthen but snarled as it took a mighty step in his direction. Then it let out a angry cry of pain. Arthen tilted his head to see that Booker and Frayne had dislodged one of the many giant wooden spikes from the stone fencing around the arena and had speared the great bear in its armpit. It tried to grab the duo as they let go of their wooden spike and backed away.
“Over here!” Booker cried out to it. He then turned to Arthen. “Run!”
But just as Booker let out his command, the bear swiped at him and Frayne horizontally and threw them several feet. The mountain of moving fur slowly walked toward the nearest on the ground–Booker. The ground quaked as one hand moved the beast and the other hand was raised up to strike a killing blow.
Booker had told him to run. But Arthen didn’t move. He felt the scene before him slow down considerably. The bear’s fist taking a lot longer to raise into the air as before. The sand falling slower to the ground. Booker had told him to run, to save himself. “I will protect you with my life.” But this bear–this bear was going to take his life.
For the first time in the fight, Arthen didn’t feel afraid. In fact, he felt bubbling anger suddenly rising. He felt anger at the bear trying to kill them. He felt anger at the Stahlgs for capturing them. He felt anger that they put them in this arena clearly to die with no fight. He felt anger for them remaining silent as they watched them die.
“No,” Arthen said.
Arthen picked up his axe from the ground and shouted. “Stop!”
And the bear froze.
It turned its head toward Arthen and stared at him for a moment with confused expression. Then suddenly it dropped its fist back to the ground and charged straight at Arthen in a rage, roaring. Arthen dropped his axe again and raised his hands in front of his face.
The bear halted again. He stood there in front of Arthen clearly in a rage, panting violently with a restrained snarl on its mouth.
The crowd still remained silent, but now all eyes were on Arthen.
With his hands still up, he peered through his fingers at the beast. Its eyes now slits of blackness in furrowed anger. After a moment he slowly put down his arms shakily. And just when his face became completely visible, the beast growled and started its charge again.
But Arthen felt annoyed. His anger boiled out his chest and erupted through his throat.
“Stop! You beast!”
A roar emitted from Arthen’s mouth unlike anything he had ever uttered before–a ghastly cry from his throat shook the bear itself.
The bear stopped again, but this time, its eyes now wide with fear. Its fear gave Arthen more confidence to the point where Arthen felt almost annoyed that the bear had seemed to give up so easily. Arthen could see his reflection in the wide blackness of the beast’s eyes and he felt its weakness. But this was not like an animal he was used to talking to. This one could not be talked to. It had to be scolded. It had to be put in its place.
Arthen still felt a fire burning through his chest that seemed to radiate through his gaze at the beast. This control fueled him to continue.
“Return to where you came from.”
The bear’s eyes showed that it understood. But as it took its first step in obedience, it emitted a pathetic yelp. Oakley had come around and stabbed the beast from underneath. The bear turned its whole body upward and to the side. It landed as it swiped Oakley with the back of its hand again.
The bear seemed to be disorientated. It swayed its head back and forth letting out pathetic moans. Was Arthen’s voice confusing it?
“Return to where you came from.”
The bear let out a ravenous roar which ended with a feeble cry that did not sound like it could come from such an animal. Its pupils grew wide and turned to charge at Arthen. For the first split second, Arthen thought it was running to attack him, but Arthen did not realize from the rapid turning battle that he was now standing in front the iron gate the bear had originally came through. Without having time to dodge it, Arthen was flown ten feet from the bear’s stampede. There was a sudden thud in his mind and a drop into darkness once more as the back of his head cracked on a rock underneath the sand.