Rufus was patrolling the boundaries of the clan’s territory when he found him. There, in a spot where their territory overlapped the human territory, a small bear was lying on his side in a patch of sunlight. Rufus felt that unnatural calm that precedes a battle as he charged forward, bellowing to warn away any attackers.
He couldn’t see any attackers, and the little bear didn’t move. Rufus towered over the little cub. He nudged at him with his nose. The little guy didn’t smell right. His eyes were glassy and his fur was an odd color. When Rufus picked him up in his paws, the little bear’s legs flopped as though there were no bones. He was obviously under some sort of terrible human spell.
Rufus rushed the little guy straight to the clan elders. “I need some help,” he said, as he charged into the hidden cave. “It’s terrible. A spell has been cast on this little cub.”
The elders rushed forward, with the clan mage in the lead. “Put him on the floor here and let me examine him,” the healer said. “I can determine if there has been a spell cast or not.”
Rufus laid the little bear down on the ground. He backed up and the elders crowded closer. The healer stepped forward and listened to the cub’s chest and lifted and dropped one of his legs. He peered closely into his eyes. “Is it a spell?” Rufus asked.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” the healer said, looking closely at the cub’s ears. “Where did you find him?”
“At the edge of the human territory.” Rufus nodded back towards the cave entrance. “He was lying on the ground. I picked him up and brought him straight here.”
“Did you see anything on the ground around him?” The healer looked up at Rufus. “Was there anything unusual in the area?”
“I don’t think so,” Rufus said. “I didn’t look very closely. I was really worried about the cub.” He began to pace at the edge of the circle of elders, watching the cub.
“Of course,” the healer said. “Rightly so. Well, this is beyond my skill.” He nodded to the clan mage and stepped back.
The clan mage conjured a ball of light and let it dance over the little bear. “Hmmmm.”
“What does that mean?” Rufus stopped pacing. “Can you help him?”
“I’m not sure.” The mage raised his paw and the light paused above the cub’s forehead. “I don’t know who he was or what was done to him. All I can safely say is that he is currently not a bear.”
“What do you mean?” the clan eldest asked. “We can all see that this is definitely a bear. What else could he be?”
“He does not have the bones of a bear. He does not have the skin or hair of a bear. He does not have the insides of a bear. He only has the shape of a bear,” the mage said. He huffed and the light blinked out.
Rufus looked around the circle at the clan elders. “Can’t we help him?”
“There is an old spell,” the mage said. He paused and looked up at the ceiling of the cave.
Rufus waited. The mage continued to look up. Rufus coughed. The mage didn’t glance his way. Finally Rufus couldn’t wait any longer. “What does the spell do?” he asked.
The mage looked down again and glanced around the circle. “I cannot make something that is not-bear into a bear. However, I can give him the chance to earn the form himself.”
“What do you mean?” the clan eldest asked. “How could he earn the chance to be a bear?”
“He will awaken and have the chance to live and learn and choose. If he chooses to truly be a bear, then he will be one.” The mage picked up the little cub and held him up.
“What will he be before then?” The clan eldest looked down at the cub.
“A not-yet-bear.” The mage tapped the bear’s forehead with a claw.
“Can’t you do anything else?” Rufus asked.
“This is the best I can do,” the mage said. He laid the cub down again, head towards the cave entrance, feet towards the heart of the cave.
The clan eldest stepped back. “Then perform the spell.” The rest of the circle stepped back, leaving the mage standing by the little cub.
The mage’s voice rumbled and echoed through the cave. The little bear glowed. The bears blinked, and the light was gone. The mage looked over at the clan eldest. “It is done. It is now up to him.”
The little bear blinked and stretched. The clan eldest stepped forward. “He is waking up. I will explain this to him.”
Rufus followed the other clan elders out of the cave. “What happens now?” he asked.
The clan mage glanced back at the cave and huffed. “I don’t know.”