Hyroc – Chapter 22


Sentinel Flame Book One

By Adam Freestone

Alaskan Writer of Imaginative Creativity


When Hyroc opened his eyes, he saw light filtering through the needle covered branches of a spruce tree he was lying beneath. A bitter, acrid taste hung in the back of his throat, and he felt weak. It seemed strange he had decided to sleep outside when he had a cabin. He sat bolt upright when the terrifying memory of the spider attack poured into his mind. A sharp pain shot through his shoulder and he felt the painful cracking and popping of a scab. Sweeping his eyes around, he saw to his right lay the bottom of the incline that led to what used to be Huntress’ cave. He even saw his partially disassembled trap on it. This wasn’t where he had lost consciousness. The only logical explanation was someone had moved him. He was grateful no matter how out of place it seemed. He just didn’t think anyone who saw him would think of treating him in such a considerate manner.

Lowering his gaze, he was confused to see a blanket of soft green moss laid across him. Why would somebody use a mat of moss to cover me with instead of a regular blanket or a coat? Pulling his other arm out from under the blanket, he reached up to feel the spot on his shoulder where the pain had emanated. He felt a thin layer of what he thought was yarrow coating the rough surface of an enormous scab. Turning his gaze skyward, he saw only a few elongated dirty white clouds dotting the sky. It seemed unusual such a heavy rainstorm would have dissipated within the day.

A cawing noise drew his attention to a tree at the bottom of the incline. Perched on a branch, he saw a raven with silvery markings on either side of its neck, watching him. It had to be the same bird he had seen when he first arrived at the cabin. Having seen its markings three times, the chances they were caused by the sun seemed extremely unlikely. Was it scavenging the guts from the animals he killed? That seemed a reasonable explanation, but something about the silvery markings on the bird’s neck gave him the feeling this might not be an ordinary bird.

He heard the sound of something moving through the foliage to his right. Snapping his head toward the sound, he was horrified to see the white bear that had killed the three witch hunters emerging from the undergrowth with a plant in its mouth.

Hyroc flew out from under the moss blanket to his feet. Just as he reached for his sword, everything around him began to spin, causing him to lose his balance. He caught himself with an outstretched arm in time to prevent his face from plowing into the ground. Sudden fatigue engulfed his body, followed by an overwhelming nauseous causing him to start dry retching. The two symptoms were so debilitating it prevented him from making any kind of meaningful movements toward obeying the overpowering urge to run.

The bear dropped the plant on the ground next to him. He saw the mangled remains of the three men’s bodies flash through his mind’s eye. No matter how hard he willed his body to move, he remained doubled over on the ground. He was going to die!

“You should not have tried standing yet,” the bear said in what sounded like a woman’s voice. “You’re still suffering the aftereffects of the spider venom.”

Between a heave, Hyroc stared at the bear flabbergasted; it was speaking! He then noticed a silver necklace chain around the bear’s neck with a translucent twisted ruby spike attached to it. Wrapped around each ankle, the bear had a band of silver decorated with wavy etchings. On its shoulders and hips, it had dark blue swirly markings.

The bear sat on the ground beside him, using its large paw to slide the plant it had dropped closer to him. “When the sickness passes, eat this; it will help.”

Hyroc continued to stare at the bear; not only was it talking, but it was also offering him medicine. He heaved two more times before the nausea subsided. Falling into a sitting position, he wiped his mouth on his sleeve, continuing to stare at the bear in astonishment. This has to be a dream. He pushed one of his claws into the side of his snout.

“No, you’re not dreaming,” the bear said, sounding slightly amused.

“You – you can talk?” Hyroc stammered.

The bear regarded him curiously. “Yes.”

You’re a witch.”

The bear narrowed her eyes. “I’m affronted you would even consider calling me that,” she said coolly. “The Ministry ignorantly uses such terms to describe every kind of magic as evil regardless of its purpose. Very few kinds of magic can be considered evil; it is the caster who determines what purpose their magic will be used for. They understood this at their beginning, but they are now far too busy convicting the bakers of apple dumplings of witchcraft to see the true dangers of this world. You, for one, would be in a far worse condition if I had not healed you; can you call that evil hmm?”

Hyroc stared at the bear in bewilderment for a long moment trying to make sense of its words before speaking again. “You – you healed me?”

“That is what I just said, is it not? I do not make a habit of telling falsehoods.”

He gave the bear a blank look. Witches who altered their bodies to look like an animal were not known for their stable demeanor or logical lines of reasoning, let alone something so kind as healing others. She obviously wasn’t the type of witch he was familiar with, but that didn’t mean much since many classes of witches shared similar traits. Just because a witch seemed reasonable in one regard didn’t mean they were in others. They might only know how to trick people into believing their intentions were good. And many times, once someone did, they would regret it very quickly. The only question was, why was this witch bothering to trick him? She had a clear advantage over him, with her being a powerful bear and him severely weakened by spider venom. Why not just do whatever she planned and be done with it? There wasn’t a whole lot he could do about it. Maybe he was missing something. If he could figure out what that something was, he might be able to play it to his advantage. And get out of this alive.

“Not to sound ungrateful,” Hyroc probed, trying to sound as polite as possible. “I really am grateful, but why did you do that for me?”

“Because you are my charge, and I am your protector.”

“Protector?” Hyroc thought back to when the bear had attacked those men. If she was protecting him, killing those men seemed a reasonable explanation for her actions. But why? What was she getting out of keeping him safe? “Wait, so you killed those three men to protect me?”

“Of course,” she said as if nothing could be plainer.

It seemed a little risky, but challenging her claim might be the fastest way for him to learn something of her plan. So long as she didn’t rip his head off. “If you’re truly my protector, then why was that the first time I had ever seen you? There were plenty of instances where I needed protecting when I was in Forna.”

“You only became my charge after the man who adopted you passed. But to answer your question, I’m only supposed to make my presence known if the life of my charge is threatened, as it was with those three men and the spiders, or until it’s favorable to do so.”

Hyroc gave her a confused look. That wasn’t remotely close to what he was expecting her to say. That couldn’t have been the truth. This was about something else. As far as he knew – beyond maybe the Hallowed Knights – there weren’t protectors roaming the world and intervening whenever someone’s life was in danger. “What about the night the prefect and his toadies hung me –” Hyroc paused, remembering the eyes he saw watching him in the dark. “That was you I saw that night wasn’t it?”

“It was.”

Hyroc flung his hand through the air, accidentally letting some of his dredged-up emotions free. “I nearly froze to death that night! Why didn’t you help me then if I’m under your protection?”

“I saw no need to intervene, and if I recall correctly, you got yourself out of that situation without any help. Overcoming difficulties makes one stronger.”

Hyroc gave her a questioning look. Her words almost sounded like something Marcus might have said. “Maybe, but I’ve had plenty of difficulties to overcome. I don’t think helping me with one would have done any harm.” Though he suspected that might have done a lot of harm.

The bear snorted in annoyance. “You lived; that’s all that matters.” She indicated the plant in front of Hyroc with her paw. “Unless you require further proof of the validity of my good intentions, eat some of the leaves. You’ll feel better.”

Hyroc studied the bear thoughtfully. This whole situation still didn’t make any sense, but he had run out of things to question, and she didn’t seem like she wanted to hurt him. And he didn’t think a psychotic witch could even pretend to sound so reassuring. Maybe she meant every word she said.

Without taking his eyes off her, he tentatively grabbed the plant. After making sure the leafy parts didn’t have thorns, he stuck one in his mouth. A cooling sensation spread through his mouth as he chewed, and when he swallowed, it helped settle his churning stomach.

The bear shook her head indignantly. “You’ll need to take more than just one leaf, or it’s not going to do you much good.”

Deciding the plant wasn’t poisonous, he put a handful of the leaves into his mouth. A much stronger cooling sensation spread through his mouth, and his stomach started to feel much better.

“Feel better?” Hyroc nodded, hoping he wasn’t about to turn into a toad or something else slimy. “See, I’m not going to hurt you.”

“I’m still not entirely convinced. For all I know, you like your prey healthy before you kill it.”

The bear snorted. “That’s ridiculous. Sick prey is easier to catch. If I wanted to harm you, don’t you think I would have by now?”

Hyroc gave her a perplexed look. That same thought had been playing around in the back of his mind. He couldn’t really think of another reason for her to hold back. “How did you know I needed you? Did someone send you?”

She turned her head to look at the raven still perched on the branch. “See that bird up there? His name is Shimmer.” The raven fluttered its wings at Hyroc in what oddly seemed a greeting. “He helps me keep an eye on you from a distance. Whenever he sees something that could be dangerous to you, he comes and tells me of it. Then I decide how to deal with it.”

“That’s why I’ve only ever seen him when something bad happened.”

“Precisely. I can sense when you’re in danger but not specifically what’s threatening you. Shimmer just gives me a better idea of what’s going on.”

Her story was steadily making more sense. Maybe there truly wasn’t anything else going on with her. “Okay, so, you’re my protector, and you’re obviously not a witch, so what are you then?”

“I am a Guardian.”

“What do you guard?”

“Right now, I’m guarding you, but along with that, we keep things in balance and fight darkness wherever it appears.”

“So, you’re not some enchanted animal.”

“Of course not,” she said in an amused tone.

Hyroc grabbed hold of the silver disc of his necklace and held it away from his neck toward the bear. “Do you know what these symbols mean?”

“Ah, I was wondering when you’d get around to asking me that. Give it here,” she said, holding out her paw.

Hyroc slipped his necklace off, hanging it on the end of her paw. She lifted the necklace up to her eyes. She studied each side, showing more interest with something on the back, then she returned it. “You obviously know the name on the front is your first name, and the one on the back is your last or family name. But tell me what you know about the symbols?”

“I assume the fox means intelligence, I think the badger means bravery, but I have no idea about the claw symbol, and the bear doesn’t make any sense.”

The bear gave him a puzzled look. “Why doesn’t the bear symbol make sense?”

Hyroc scratched the back of his head. “Because bears represent strength, and I wasn’t exactly the toughest kid in the school.”

“Wrong kind of strength.” She slammed her paw into the ground, startling Hyroc with the force of the impact. “That is physical strength, and yes, bears mostly represent that, but they also represent strength here,” she lightly touched the side of her head with her paw. “And here,” she said before touching her chest where her heart was. “Body, mind, and heart. What else does a bear represent?”

“Isn’t that about it?”

The bear exhaled in what sounded like a sigh. “What do mother bears do?”

Hyroc thought a moment before saying, “Protect their cubs?”


“But that’s what female bears do. From what I’ve heard, the males usually eat cubs instead of protecting them? So wouldn’t that mean I’d have to be a girl for that quality to apply to me?”

“No, male bears fight other males to protect a female they want to mate with. It’s not quite the same thing when it comes to people – most of the time – so don’t take it too literally, but you understand my meaning. Strength, resilience, and protection are the three main things a bear represents.”

“Okay, I think the bear makes more sense now, but I don’t understand the badger.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Because I don’t exactly see myself as a brave person. I know I’m definitely not a coward, but I’m far from brave. Back at the boarding school, I spent most of my time running or hiding in trees from bullies rather than facing them.”

“That doesn’t make you a coward. You may have run and hid, but in the end, you refused to let them beat you down, and you decided to fight back.

“Only when they cornered me.”

“That’s not what matters. They pushed you down; you got right back up and pushed back. Have you ever seen the way a badger defends a carcass? I’ve seen them chase off black bears, wolves, and mountain lions, who are three or even four times their size. That’s not so dissimilar to what you did.” Hyroc nodded in thankful acceptance. At least she had said something good about him.

She paused. “The fox symbol; well, I wouldn’t necessarily say it means intelligence, but yes, they are clever creatures. Most people consider them cunning and sly, but that really doesn’t describe you. Instead of barreling headlong into a chicken coop, the way a wolf or a bear might, they often hang back and watch, looking for an opening.” Hyroc smiled a little; that seemed to be what he often did.

“The claw symbol,” she continued. “The Mark of the Dragon Hunter.”

Hyroc perked up. That sounded promising. “Dragon hunter, what does that mean?”

“It’s the symbol of a great hunter. In every culture – if you don’t already know – the killing of a dragon is the greatest achievement anyone may accomplish because they are one of the hardest creatures to fell. It’s unsurprising the man who adopted you or any of his colleagues was unable to identify the symbol; it is very old and very rare. You should be honored to have it.” Awe washed over Hyroc, and he gained a sudden feeling of worth.

“Now, explain to me what possessed you to get close to a cave when you knew full well a dangerous predator resided inside?”

Hyroc gave her a surprised look, caught off guard by the sudden change in subject. “I was hunting.”

The bear shook her head. “The fact you were putting yourself in direct competition with a predator, especially one with cubs, by hunting a tiny meat bird just outside the cave is a kind of idiocy I have not heard the likes of for a long time. If those spiders hadn’t shown up and killed her, she would have severely injured you instead. But fortunately for you, you’re still breathing despite your stupidity. And that spider bite will serve you as a reminder to think twice before you do anything like that again. You can’t expect to crack open a beehive and not get stung.”

“Don’t get mad at me for that!” Hyroc snapped. “I needed food, and you haven’t exactly been much of a help.”

“You almost died because of that mistake,” she growled. “Do not shift the blame onto me when you were the one solely responsible for a poor decision.”

“Alright, fine.” It seemed somewhat perilous to continue disagreeing with a large bear. “It was stupid I went up there, and I’ll make sure I don’t do it again.”

“That would be wise.”

There was a long pause. “Where did those things come from anyway? I’ve never heard of spiders that big?” Or talking bears that weren’t witches.

“They normally stick to thickly forested areas where there’s plenty of shade and places with caves; they don’t have much love for sunlight. And normally, they hunt in groups of three or four. Since you only ran into two of them, I would assume those two were just a rogue pair.”

“So there shouldn’t be any more of them?”

“No, I wouldn’t expect so.” Hyroc nodded, feeling a little more relieved. “We’ve talked enough; I need to get you to the shelter of your wooden den to rest. Try getting to your feet.”

Using the branch of a tree as support, Hyroc slowly pulled himself to his feet. He got dizzy and stumbled, making the bear take a quick step toward him in what seemed preparation to catch him, but he remained standing.

“There’s something I’d like to take care of first,” he said, steadying himself. “Help me get up to the mountain lion’s lair at the top of that incline.”

“I already took care of that for you.”

Hyroc gave her a surprised look. “You buried her and her cub?”

The bear nodded, “Shimmer told me about the way you acted around her, and I figured that’s what you would have done if you were able.”

“You should have waited,” Hyroc said, downtrodden. She was just an animal, but they were neighbors of sorts, and burying her felt like his duty.

“Be glad I didn’t. You would not have liked what you would have seen.”

Hyroc cocked an eyebrow. “What is that supposed to mean? I hunt animals; I know what death looks like.”

“Not like this, you don’t. Spiders kill with venom, and that venom breaks down the flesh and sinew of their prey.”

Hyroc paused; a disgusting thought suddenly entered his mind. “Are you saying that – that their bodies melted?”

“Basically.” Hyroc felt nauseous again, envisioning that. “Like I said, ‘be glad I didn’t.’” Lowering her head, the bear used her jaws to pick up the plant she had made Hyroc eat and offered it to him. He stuck another handful of leaves in his mouth. He accepted the rest of the plant from her. Then she started leading him back toward his cabin.

“Why hasn’t what happened to the mountain lion happened to me?” Hyroc said as they walked.

“You have to be dead for the venom to affect you that way. A small dose weakens you; a moderate amount knocks you unconscious, and a large amount usually kills you. You got a fairly large dose, but it was still not enough to kill you outright. But over the course of that day, you would not have survived if not for my intervention.”

“What do you mean ‘that day’? How long was I out?”

“Nearly a full day.”

Hyroc gave her a startled look. “That explains why the rainstorm seemed to have vanished so quickly. Does size make a difference with the venom?”

“Yes, the bigger you are, the more resilient you are to its effects, so more is required and the opposite if you’re smaller.”

Hyroc fished around in his pocket, withdrawing the piece of sticky moss he had taken from the rabbit. “Do you know what this is?” he said, holding it out in front of her. “I found it on what I think was a spider kill?”

“It’s spider silk. They usually wrap their victims in it and drag them to a safe place to eat them.

Hyroc frowned. “That must be disturbing.”


When Hyroc laid down on his bed, he was amazed by how much the short journey to his cabin had drained his strength. The bear headed off, and he quickly dozed. He awoke to the sound of heavy, clawed feet walking on his porch. Not fully awake, in a confused flurry, he sat up, grabbing the hilt of his sword. He relaxed when he saw the white bear dropping several green stocks of a different plant inside his cabin’s door.

“You should be able to keep these down,” the bear said. “You’re lucky these are still in season.”

“What are they?”

“Cow parsnips, but you have to get them while they don’t put your tongue to sleep.” She paused. “Returning to what I was saying, only eat a little at a time, make sure you peel them first and drink plenty of water. When you wake in the morning, most of the effects you experienced today will have subsided, and your appetite will return. But be careful with that arm. It will be some time before the wound properly heals. Shimmer and I will be keeping a much closer eye on you from now on. If you need something, mark the trunk of the birch tree on the other side of the stream at the western side of the valley with animal blood. But make sure you only do it over something important, otherwise, you’ll make me grumpy and if you know anything about bears, you won’t want that.” Hyroc nodded his acknowledgment. Pulling her head from his cabin’s doorway, she turned to leave.

“Wait, what’s your name,” Hyroc called out.

The bear turned her head back toward him. “My name is Ursa.” With that, she left.

Hyroc stared at the opposite wall of the cabin, trying to make sense of his day. Today was definitely something new for him. He had found out giant horrifying spiders existed, and he had never had dinner given to him by a talking death bear. What was this place?

Adam Freestone is an Alaskan author and writer of the Sentinel Flame series. He writes fantasy stories but also has a talent for the unexpected. This doesn’t come as much of a surprise considering he has been coming up with stories his whole life. But apart from his writing skills, he isn’t quite what most people would expect. He is a near quadriplegic man afflicted with Muscular Dystrophy, confined to a wheelchair and dependent on a ventilator, but despite everything he has going against him, he never lets it stand in his way. He is a go-getter, animal and nature lover, MDA participant, and smart minded writer. Everything that goes into his stories is carefully considered, nothing he writes goes down casually. His stories are never quite what they first appear to be.