Why Do You Fight?
A story written for Big Brother
By E. John Evans
(All rights reserved. Please do not redistribute in any form without express permission.)
Matt was riding along a bumpy dusty road heading out into the high desert of New Mexico. He had come here in his off time to train. His Sire, Elder, as well as a few others had kept him busy with training and learning new skills as he grew from a cub into a Bear. This trip was to learn tracking from a Pueblo Elder and a style of combat that was simple, yet brutal from the Apache Elder. This trip was deeply troubling to Matt. Something in the back of his mind was screaming at him to run away. Something was pulling at him to Not Be Here. Something in the world was off, but he could just not place it, could not decider the code that was running through his head like a never ending ticker tape. Stuffing that in the back of his mind, be sat and thumbed through one of his journal books. This particular journal had been written before Matt departed the military. Contained on the pages were some of his times abroad, with all the gory, ugly details. He flashed back to a few of the moments, but the way it was written was not quite how he was remembering it. Matt thought the difference was due to his more acute perception since becoming a Werecreature. His cell phone buzzed in his pocket. Taking it out, he noticed there was no reception. This was a bit odd since he carried a Global SAT Phone. Then it hit him, he had passed over some type of barrier. The air was cleaner, the sky suddenly clear, and the sounds different. He was in the different land. This was a place similar to the Hunting Grounds, however this was where you faced your fears and were either crippled by them, or made whole by them. In either case, he turned off the phone, took off his watch, and removed his phone ear piece. It was time to release all attachment and see what the Elders were going to teach him.
The truck lumbered to a halt as the sun dipped below the horizon and the night started to take over the land. Standing Matt took stock of where he was. Miles from anywhere, in the company of brothers, he was safe. The first thing he noticed was many were in full or partial forms, another benefit of being among kindred souls. Jumping out he was welcomed heartily and ushered into a small meeting space where a meager meal had been prepared. Entering, he paid his respects to the Elder and ate until he was about to pop. Many drinks and laughs later, he was shown to his very primitive hut. It was just what Matt liked. In short order he had laid out his bed roll, stripped out of all his cloths, weapons and gear. Laying down and shifting into his full bear form, for added warmth against the cooling desert night, and drifted into the void peacefully.
In the void, Matt was embraced by something cold. It tingled his fingers and crept over his whole body. The cold was not painful anymore, it was a comfortable, and familiar embrace. The feeling of a well worn shirt, an old pair of sneakers, the familiar grip of his weapon. Matt floated in the void, somewhere between the darkness of dreams and light of the day. Slowly the dark faded and light surround him, waking him gently.
As time progressed he fell right into a simple routine of training, helping the women and old ones prepare meals, hunting, and generally being Matt. He always helps were he can, tries to look out for anyone around him. The older females that would prepare the meals started calling him ‘Paayoo a Hoonaw’, or Bear of Three. Matt was still wondering why the ‘three’, but he just passed it off and hugged them every time he was able. In this village he learned tracking and spirit walking with the other animal spirits. It reminded him greatly of working with his mother and in some ways it felt right and perfect in his mind. As Matt often does he picked up the skills in no time and was rewarded with a new tattoo, given to him in the old way. A ceremony was prepared, drink passed around and foods shared. There was dancing and chanting, most of which Matt was struggling to understand. He had a basic understanding of Native American Languages, but it was childlike at best. Later that night the branding began. With barb, ink, and pain, a message to all was etched into Matt's flesh and bone. Many hours of laying bound by his hands and feet, stretched to make the skin of his back supper tight it was done. Matt now had wings that centered on a staff of truth, that spanned his shoulders and descended to the top of his furry nub of a tail. More drink was passed and Matt soon found himself in a dreamlike stupor, being led out of the village, not really able to resist, not overly caring what was happening. A few steps later his vision faded to blackness and the sounds of footsteps faded into the beating of his own heart, then nothing but blackness.
— Waking up some time later, the sun high in the sky, with only his backpack and blades.—
Matt sat up and reached for his pack, most of the contents were still there, all that is expect his weapons, electronics, water, food, and his journal book. Inside Matt panicked. Not that he could not survive without the items, but the journal book was irreplaceable. Looking around, nothing was recognizable. How long had he been asleep? Where was he? Why was he left with no food or water? Was this part of the training? After sitting in that spot for a few minutes, collecting himself he started to look around him and process his environment. From the looks of things, he had been dropped here; literally from the air. No doubt someone at the last camp was Avian. Matt chuckled to himself as he made the connection.
To the West, there was only one trail leading away from this area, so the little Bear started walking. After a while he found some water and nibbled on some other seed plants he found along the way. His mood lifting as he walked. His guard was down, he was learning to be in the moment. To just Be, instead of always processing what was about to happen. Staying on the trail it eventually led to a rock face at the base of a bluff. From the approach he thought he could have made out some huts or pueblo type structures toward the middle and top of the bluff. With no better option, Matt started climbing.
After a time, he made it to the first landing. Delightfully surprised; he found the start to a very remote tribe of were-creatures. Eclectic for sure, but non the less living simply and honestly off the land and with no connection to the outside world. In a way Matt envied them greatly. Wandering through he was greeted and shown to a hut where me met the Elder and several others that were training. Two he remembered from the previous camp, two he didn’t. This meeting was starkly different from the last. The Elder regarded each of them with disgust and guile. In the best he could make out if the broken English - Apache, was that they were to each be tested tomorrow and the training would be tailored from there. He picked Matt to be first in the morning. Then he walked away, leaving them to themselves, to prepare.
In the morning, Matt woke confident and at peace. He was sure he would do well today and that this would be just as easy as the rest of the places and skills he had learned. Picking up his blades and getting dressed he returned to the same meeting spot as last night. The stones were removed, and now the area looked like a ring, with stone walls, roughly 20 meters long and about 15 meters wide. The elder stood and looked at Matt, then motioned him to the center of the area when he held a short spear in one hand and a knife in the other.
The Elder was the first to move. Like lighting! Before the little Bear could even register the movement, Matt was struck through his shoulder by the small arrow head tipped spear. Reacting Matt turned and sliced empty air as the Elder had already moved out of range. Growling and looking at him, trying to process what was happening. Why had this gotten so physical so fast? Did Matt provoke this, or was this part of the training? How was the elder moving like that? Readying himself, he watch the Elder pull out a long blade and Tomahawk from his waist strap. Growling a little louder, Matt reached up and snapped off the small spear still in his shoulder, and took a defensive stance. I have to learn how this is happening, wait..don't attack just yet. Thought Matt as took a half step backward, and reversed the blade in his right hand. Matt was fighting with his favorite weapons, twin short swords. His own design. The handles were a bit wider and longer than most and fit Matt natural fighting style. The blades could also be joined in the middle and extended to made a double bladed short staff.
A flash of movement as the elder buried his blade into Matt gut, ripped it sideways and clubbed Matt across the face with the blunt side of the Tomahawk. Dazed and spinning as he landed on the ground with a dull wet thud. Looking up helpless as the elder spoke. In a broken English/Apache “Who do you Love?” Trying to process the question, his vision faded to black as the void took him, as an ever widening pool of blood formed around him.
Floating in the void, the question filtered through his mind, until he woke slowly. Waking up back on his rock slab, in his sleeping cave, bandaged around his middle and across his shoulder. Sitting up and putting his feet on the floor he realized his boots were gone, along with his shirt and jacket. “What the Fuck” Matt screamed and growled. Then looking up he noticed a small piece of paper stuck under a rock. It was a torn page from his journal that he had brought with him. On the page was a confession of his love for Luke and recounting a time where Matt had considered suicide. Thoughts of ending it all were really nothing out of the ordinary for military members, doing what Matt did. You can’t see and do that much bad without it being damaging on some level. There were times that Matt did question why he survived when others didn’t? Why a group attacked them or why he was protecting a certain few when so many were being killed in collateral damage. It was maddening at times. Crumbling the paper into a ball, crushing it tightly into his hand, the memories of that moment washed over him, with great sadness and guttural force.
Matt was on the porch of their home in Texas. Sitting in the porch swing that hung from the porch rafters, rocking slowly, looking out over the vast acreage that was Luke’s family ranch. The wind was blowing steadily and easily from the East as the sun dipped down behind the very large three story home, casting a long shadow on the ground. Sitting there, on the swing watching the shadows move, he remembered the last 9 days. Sounds and images came in frightening clarity as he listened in his mind to the radio traffic, the sounding of the alarms, then the firefight that had erupted, and the teams escape. This trip Matt was part of a larger security detail. Things had gone horribly wrong. The intel not adequate. A perfect storm of bad events. In short order the team was cut off from each other. Then Matt had snapped, something inside of him rose to the surface and took over. It was like a cold fluid had been poured into his body, taking away all fear, anxiety, compassion, or remorse. The world seemed to slow down slightly, like he was moving faster than everything else around him. He protected his team and the visitors he was tasked with. He did bad things, evil things, he turned into a monster that day. All had escaped with there lives intact, some with minor injuries, but alive. Through the encounter had Matt enjoyed it. He actually enjoyed the destruction he was delivering. It empowered him. He had sent the team ahead, while he covered their escape and joined them soon after. Pushing the team forward, doubling back to cover the retreat. The process repeated with frightening precision. When he ran out of ammunition he used weapons from the dead. When those ran out he used his blades, when those broke he used his hands. Like a drug it tainted his being, raped his soul of all goodness, honor, and compassion. He fought without regard for his own safety, and in so, returned scared, both inside and out. Alive; but broken.
So there Matt sat, with his service weapon on his lap, a single round in the chamber, clicking the safety on and off. Click, thunk. Thunk, click. Click, thunk. The motion and sound repeated without regard to time or space. At some point in Matt sitting there, Luke arrived home from work and found him. Knowing enough to approach gently, he slid the sliding glass door open, stepping out and closing it gently behind him. Seeing what Matt had on lap, he did not question it, and sat gently beside his mate, lover, and friend. After a few minutes of quiet swinging, watching the day become night, Matt was the first to speak.
“Luke, am I a bad person?”
“No, Matt, you aren’t.”
“Well, after this trip I feel like a monster.”
“You're not a monster. You do what you have to, but you're not a monster.”
“Well, what if I told you innocents died so the team could come back?”
“I would say you must not have had a choice.”
They sat in silence. Quietly swinging, just being with one another. It was Luke that would break the silence this time.
“Honey, why do you have your weapon on your lap?”
“It's there for when I make a decision.”
“If the decision is to kill yourself because you think you’re a monster, then so be it. I have never really been able to stop you; but know this. You are the reason I go to work each day. Working to make us a better future. You do the same thing. You fly off to god knows where to make the world a better place. I could not work on a global scale unless you did what you are doing, so if you kill yourself, you are killing the future for me, the children, and their children. Above all else know that I love you, No matter what shape our are in, No matter what you have to do. You come back. Understand that I love you, regardless of anything. I love you with eyes wide open.”
More sitting quietly in the swing as time passed. The day became dusk and then night. A cool breeze had started to blow in and storm clouds were off in the distance coming closer. Matt spoke first.
“I have to leave again in the morning.”
“Then you better bring our ass back alive and in once piece. When you get back I will keep the nightmares at bay. I will make sure we live in a place where you will not be threatened, with space to call your own. I will make those dreams come true. I need you to come back alive. Do You Hear me?”
“I hear you. Thank you. You know my love for you is why I keep doing this?”
“I know… just come back. I will put the pieces back together.”
Lost in thought. Matt did not notice that someone was at the entrance to his cave. Turning with a jump he noticed it was one of the other fighters that was training with this Elder. The young Elk motioned for Matt to follow. Leaving the cave, he followed the very young Elk in half form to the meeting circle. There were several rocks sitting around a central open pit fire. Food were being prepared by two female Bison. Matt found a rock and sat down. When Matt was settled and foods passed to him, the elder stood and spoke to them. He asked each of the warriors various questions and explained to them why he had asked it. Matt noticed right away that none of the warriors were without some kind of bandage or injury. The last to be asked, Matt was a little startled when the Elder all but yelled at Matt to answer him. Fumbling with his words he spoke.
“I love Luke, my Mate.”
“He doesn't judge me for committing the greatest sin of humans or were creatures. “
“What sin is that?”
“Killing another and enjoying it even though the killing may be justified.”
“He does not judge you for anything then?”
“Judgment is NOT accountability. I mess up stuff all the time. The love we have doesn’t excuse the mistakes, it lets us understand them and move forward, because leaving each other is not an option. I love him the same way. Is there a problem with my answer?” Matt glared at the Elder, his own emotions getting the best of him.
The Elder just looked at Matt with those piercing green/blue eyes, then dismissed everyone with a warning. The warning was to rest and contemplate the training that would follow in the coming days, because this first day had only been a small test of skills.
In the coming weeks, the passing of time was marked by pain. Matt was tested and trained in various forms of combat. He learned but it was slow. His normal ability to learn seemed to be cut off or stopped. Painfully, Matt did learn control, timing, patience, and cunning. Each day was a different test, some were puzzles that he needed to solve to get food and water. Others were combat tests were he would have to best another fighter to proceed on. The small Moon Bear did learn, and in time all his trials were completed and he stood before the Elder again.
This time the questions were rapid fire. The Elder would ask and attack. Once Matt had defended against the attack or dealt a blow to the elder another question was asked. The barrage continued for an eternity. Slowly, Matt was letting go of himself. He was beginning to understand that emotions were not the path to his inner strength. He just needed to find his trigger, his way of accessing the endless flow of energy that coursed through every fiber of his being. Matt had been beat down his entire life, used, abused, and then abandoned. Luke had been the first to save Matt from himself, now that bond seemed to be a HUGE topic of contention with this Elder. Through all the questions, Matt kept asking why. Why was Luke so important to this Elder? Did the Elder know something? What was it?
The Sky darkened and the wind picked up as the questions came in a more direct painful manner. The elder would sink his blade into Matt then ask his questions, not letting Matt free until he was satisfied with the answer. “How can you Kill without remorse?” Screamed the Elder with the blade plunged through Matt shoulder from the rear. The Bear was held on his tiptoes as the blade was twisting slowly. Gasping in pain, screaming his reply, “There is always pain, I carry the scars of every person I have had to kill. I never forget” Yanking the blade free of Matt, the elder kicked him to the ground, sliding him a few feet away, and egged him back into he fight.
A few exchanges later, Matt was on his knees, cut from his neck to his groin, the elders antler-hilted blade buried in his guts. “For Whom do you fight?” Growled the elder inches from Matt face. Gasping, panting, almost begging for death Matt muttered, “For Luke.” Grunting, the elder pulled the Blade free and kneed Matt in the face. The little Bear was losing lots of blood. He had to force his shift into his half form so his body would heal. When Matt shifted, something was different, something had changed. Static lit the ground all around Matt as his shift was slow and pronounced. Lighting built int he sky as the wind started a chilly circle around them. Nature was pulling itself to Matt as if by gravity. The static intensified into a loud crack, as several bolts of electricity arched from Matt to nearby onlookers. As Matt stirred from the spot he had been slid to. His paws stretched as his head came up, glaring at the elder. Eyes, glowing a bright blue, he stood, all paused to take notice, even the Elder took a cautious few steps backward. His coat was silver, long guard hairs covered his neck and back. Small stripes of back formed at his eyes and extended down his chest. Cloths falling away, the Bear stretched and flexed his body, inhaling and exhaling deeply.
Then Matt roared. The sound came from some other place, some other being. The roar was long, loud, not common to a Bear, but more akin to a Lion or Wolf. Then it happened. The static charges stopped and all emotion departed from Matt. Something else took its place. Matt had healed himself, but in the shift, something fell into place. His breathing was normal, he was relaxed, finally at peace. At peace with himself and his Mate. His love for Luke and the bond they shared helped him attain inner peace. The one constant in an ever changing world, was their love for each other.
The exchanges that followed were more on Matt terms, as he started to counter the Elder more and more as the fight went on. He had learned well from the pain. The pain had taught his mind and trained his body. He would counter the Elder and throw him away from him. Almost as you would taunt a cub into a fight. Matt was done with this questioning and this form of learning combat. He would not be cut again. At a deadlock of blades, the elder asked his last question, “Why is Luke the center of your World?”. Roaring again and using every ounce of his strength, he shoved the elder backward against the rock walls that surrounded them, shattering the Elders blade, and slamming the Elk hard enough to crack the wall, several of the Elders ribs, and startling many of the onlookers. Matt dropped his blades and spoke to the Elder, “He’s my world, because he saved me from the pit of despair, self doubt, and regret. He is my opposite and my equal. Although I subjugate myself to him in manner, it is my choice to do so. That choice cannot be forced or coerced. He is the center, because he is. Nothing more, nothing less. I WILL NOT continue this fight.” After standing for a few seconds, the Elder turned and walked away from Matt. The daylong lesson of pain was over. Looking down at his paws he noticed his fur was much more gray than he remembered.
Matt collapsed to his knees, then to all fours and he panted. Letting the exhalation of the end of the training wash over him. He thought of Luke. He held the image of the man in his mind, holding onto the good times, all the love they had. After he recovered, Matt reverted back to human form, slowly collected his blades and made his way out of the arena. Turning he looked back at the small space, blood was everywhere, drying in the sun. This place was were you came to find your center, your purpose. Matt had found his, now it was up to him to take these lessons and move forward in life.
Later in the day after Matt had washed himself, he returned to his cave. In the cleansing, communal bath, he washed away the dried blood, the dirt, and the shame. He cleaned his body in the warm water as his soul was cleansed in the burning kiln of combat. Inside the cave, he found all of his gear was returned. Matt reached for the journal book and opened it. The page that had been removed had been replaced, the page showing the signs of crumpling and the tape fresh. Matt hugged the book to his chest and sighed, “Thank you Luke, I love you. You are my everything and nothing. You are by equal and opposite. You are the reason I fight so hard. The reason I push to be a better person. I have to protect you, make sure you are always safe, just like you always took care of me.“ Matt laid down on his bed roll and fell fast asleep. Dreams of Luke came then, way back to when they first met and the instant attraction to the man. The way he smiled, the way he smelled, that devilish laugh. The way he kept the dreams at bay when they slept. A gentle touch that was enough to silence the demons and doubts.
Matt awoke some time later. The moon was high in the sky and most had gone to bed. Wandering through the village, he stopped at a few fires to warm his hands. A few men congratulated him on his test that day. Thanking them, Matt kept moving slowly through the camp. He found the Elder sitting by a fire pit, beside a small hut. There he sat with the Elder and the two chatted as equals and comrades. The spoke to each other with eyes unclouded. Broken Hoof was now a friend and someone Matt could depend on.
Matt would come to spend much time with Broken Hoof over the next lifetime, but that’s a topic for a different story.
—To Be Continued—