Frost awoke in the dead of night to the sound of snapping twigs and—was that gnawing?

Molly and Frolick's snoring reverberated in the backdrop. The two seemed to be perfectly in sync, somehow, like a symphony of guttural breaths. It seemed, somehow, that Frolick's being an Animal Speaker extended deep in the subconscious world of dreams. Not a place Frost wanted to visit any time soon.

Frostilicus lifted his head and peered around their camp. Not that it was much of a camp. Just a bed of leaves under a spruce tree with a burnt-out campfire and—leftover fish.

Sitting over the site of their leftover game was an enormous twelve-foot-tall bear. The creature had to be at least a half-ton in size with thick brown hair and clawed hands that were greedily shoving the fish remains into its mouth.

"Ummm, Frolick," Frost said. He grabbed his brother and shoved.

"I don't want to go to school today," Frolick said in his sleep, briefly opening his eyes. Then he closed them and continued to snore loudly.

Frost would have thought that at least Molly would wake up. She was a wild animal, wasn't she? Perhaps Frolick's influence had overly domesticated. He'd have to have a talk with his brother after this was over about treating her like a queen, perhaps a little too much.

The bear jerked its head. The next thing Frost knew, it had grabbed onto him with one of its claws and was dragging him out for examination.

Not good.

What was it he was supposed to do again, play dead? With one eye open, Frost's heartbeat quickened. Why was Frolick still sleeping? He had the ability to befriend animals. Was he just going to stay deep asleep while Frost was eaten by this thing?

Frost clenched his teeth.

The bear licked Frost's leg as if it were sizing him up to eat. Then its eyes glowed red.

That startled Frostilicus, causing him to wince. "A dire bear," he whispered to himself.

Then he did the only thing he could think to do. He kicked it in the snout. Enough was enough.

The bear roared, stumbling back in surprise, clasping at its bruised nose.

Probably kicking the red-eyed monstrosity was not one of Frost's greatest ideas.

"What's going on?" Frolick said, snapping awake. The roar got his attention. "Oh dear, that doesn't look good."

"Could use your powers right about now," Frost said, eyes locked tightly onto the creature. "To calm the beast."

The bear charged.

Instead, Frolick tossed him a bucket of water.

What in the Five Causes? Frost thought. He reacted the only way he could, pulling on the water and snapping it into a frost form. The water coalesced quickly around his body, solidifying into armor. The bucket didn't contain very much water, so Frost's armor was thinner than usual. He also didn't have enough liquid to create any practical weaponry.

As the water hardened into ice, giving off its usual white mist, Frost's eyes glowed blue. He felt a surge of energy course through his veins, driving him onward even as the gigantic bear slammed into him, lifting him up and biting into his right shoulder while clawing at his plate.

Frost instinctively pushed back on the creature. He wasn't strong relative to the bear, but the use of frost magic had the interesting side effect of doubling his strength and speed while increasing his dexterity. It was the reason he had so effectively driven back the Flintlock yesterday. And yet, in comparison to a brown bear, Frost was rather weak and helpless.

But the bear snapped back anyway. More out of surprise than anything. Right, the cold. Frost armor was unusually cold. The bear wouldn't be too happy about that.

It growled.

"What did you do to piss it off, Frost?" Frolick said. He turned to the bear with open palms in a peacemaking gesture. No use. Molly had stood up too, though she seemed to be a little discombobulated. The tussle had finally gotten her attention.

"It attacked me," Frost said, punching the bear again in the snout. It shuddered and thrust a claw at him, knocking him to the ground. "Use your powers to calm that thing down, will you?"

"Did you attack it first, Frost?" Frolick said.

"Maybe," Frost snapped.

The bear charged Frost's fallen figure. He tried to roll out of the way, but it was far too fast. Even a doubly fast human was no match for a dire bear.

"Here, girl," Frolick said, holding out the second leftover salmon. "Goood girl. We're not here to hurt you."

The dire bear turned its head, briefly shifting its focus to the food. Its red eyes pulsed, softening for a moment, before turning bright red. Then it jerked its head and charged Frost again.

"Better run," Frolick said.

Frost took his advice, dodging behind a large pine tree. It was like a child's game. Running around a tree to avoid being tagged or, in this case, eaten. Fortunately for Frost, he was supernaturally quick. But unfortunately for him, the bear was even faster.

"Being an Animal Speaker doesn't automatically mean I can befriend any animal," Frolick said. "It's hard to build a friendship after hostilities have been announced."

Right, Frost thought to himself. He made a mental note to learn more about Frolick's powers. He wasn't as familiar with the nuances as he should be given that his own brother had the ability.

"But then again, it also doesn't always work on dire animals," Frolick said.

If only he could get to the river, Frost thought. He turned his head. He might make it. The water was only 30 feet away. His pull could extend 10 feet, so he only technically had to make 20 feet to be within range. But that bear was fast.

Frost made a break for it. He ran at a full sprint from behind the tree toward the water. He could hear the bear directly behind him, ready to snatch him up and beat him to a pulp.

Breathing rapidly, Frost lifted one leg after another and then tripped. He stumbled face-first into the dirt and rolled. He wasn't having a good day.

The bear closed in, its sharp claws extended. Frost's armor wouldn't be able to take much more of a beating.

In an instant, Molly slammed the forefront of her tusks and trunk directly into the beast and sent it sprawling to the ground. She let out a loud trumpet sound and lowered her head again, preparing to charge.

The bear looked up hesitantly, recovering from the fall as if deciding whether or not to fight.

Molly decided to go for it. She charged again.

"Go Molly," Frolick said, grinning widely. "Just like I trained her. She's a wonder, isn't she?"

Frostilicus picked himself up and watched the brawl. The bear roared as it was slammed into a second and third time by Molly's tusks, one of them piercing its side. A small stream of blood ran out.

The bear was big, nearly as tall as she was, but Molly had far more mass. She was a big girl.

Rather than fight on, the dire bear turned and put distance between itself and the woolly mammoth. She let out a whimper and moaned.

Frolick walked over to Molly and patted her on the back. She lifted her trunk aggressively toward the retreating brown bear.

"Umm, Frost," Frolick said, unsteady.

"Well, that'll show it," Frost said. "You've done a good, Molly. Bear is on retreat."

Molly didn't budge. She seemed to ignore Frostilicus.

"Frost, I don't think she's signaling retreat exactly," Frolick said. "That's not what she's saying."

"What do you mean?" Frost said, annoyed. "Of course she's retreating."

"No," Frolick said, with wide eyes. "She's calling for backup."

In that moment, a second red-eyed bear leaped out and attacked from behind. This one was much larger.


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