"See, I told you I could catch a seal!"
Kallik dropped the dead carcass of the new kill at Tolko's paws with a huff of triumph. After all the complaining and grumbling the shaggy brown bear had done, Kallik finally had proved him wrong. She had caught her first seal without interference or help from any other bear, and she had done it all in just a few short moments. Unfortunately, Toklo did not share her ecstasy. The brown bear cub simply huffed and dug his teeth into the rich fat of the seal carcass.
"A thank you would be nice...once in a while..." Kallik muttered under her breath before bending her head to take a bite of the seal fat, too. They were soon joined by their remaining friends, Lusa and Ujurak. It was their first real meal out on the ice, and Kallik's first catch as official leader.
"Nice catch," Ujurak complimented before digging into the seal. Lusa prodded her share tentatively. The way she looked at it, the seal seemed to be more of some form of goo than a rich-tasting, fishy seal. Swallowing a big chunk that she had been chewing, Kallik shot Lusa a disappointed glance.
"You don't like it?" she inquired.
"No!" Lusa answered a bit too quickly," I mean...I'm not all that hungry." She bumped Kallik's side reassuringly.
"Don't lie to yourself, Lusa, you hate it," came the rude remark from the infamous Tolko, who had been chewing on a piece of seal blubber—quite contentedly himself, mind you—and he looked up from his share of the seal.
"Oh sure, it's only good when you catch it, almighty hunting bear," Kallik scoffed.
"Yeah, actually, it is!" Tolko began to stand from where he was previously eating the supposedly disgusting seal.
"Then you go catch one," Kallik stated bluntly.
That silenced Toklo enough. Kallik figured he must have remembered the last time he had volunteered to catch a seal. It had ended disastrously with Toklo having been trapped beneath the ice and he had depended on Ujurak to turn into a whale to rescue him. With a small smirk, Kallik lowered her head to the seal carcass again.
"Oh wipe that smirk off your face!" Toklo roared, rearing up on his hind legs, "It's not like you've won anything! Not that there's anything worth getting in this barren wasteland you call home. You can't even feed Lusa properly! Look at her!"
Ignoring all but the final part of his speech, Kallik spared a glance at Lusa. She was looking at Kallik herself with a saddened gaze, as she knew that Toklo was right. Lusa's black fur clung to her sides. Every single one of her ribs was visible, and even as she looked at Lusa, Lusa's eyes were drooping with the pull of the longsleep creeping up on her eyelids.
Kallik had nothing more to say. She sat back down and glared daggers at Toklo. The brown bear was taking the handing over of leadership hard.
Suddenly, a small draft of cold air hit Kallik's nose. She picked up the scent of another white bear a bit too close by. She opened her mouth to warn the others, but instead, a large growl from just behind Ujurak's head beat her to it.
"This is my kill now!" came the gruff growl of a fully grown male white bear. Ujurak—without looking back—scrambled over the dead seal and to Kallik's side, with Lusa following on his flank. Toklo stayed where he was, now aiming his poisonous glare at the large intruder.
"Very well..." Kallik sighed and bowed her head, slowly backing away from the terrifyingly big white bear.
"Stop," Toklo stood up," This is my first proper meal out here, and you're going to steal it from me?"
Kallik could see that Toklo and the stranger bear were sizing each other up. Though Toklo's chest was broad, the white bear's paws were so huge, they seemed to be the size of little Lusa's head. And, his terrifyingly long claws looked as if they could slice Toklo with a well aimed blow.
"Toklo, stop—"Kallik began, taking a step forward to her brown companion, but the white bear cut her off.
"Your kill? All food is free territory out here!" the stranger bear growled," If you ask me, I have as much right to it as you do, maybe more. Your fur is so similar to the colour of dirt, that even the stupidest seagull could see you from miles away!"
Toklo snapped. He flung himself at the white beat, claws extended. As Kallik expected, Tolko was flung off his feel easily by the huge bear and sent flying into a small rock, bearlengths from where they were standing. Ujurak's claws scraped at the snow, wanting desperately to help Toklo—Kallik could hear him scraping the ground painfully—and Lusa squeaked fearfully as Toklo's body hit the rock with a bone-jarring thud.
The white bear came up to Toklo's limp body, and reared up onto his massive back legs. But, just before he could bear down on the brown bear cub, Kallik intervened. She was too late to land any blows on the white bear, but she could at least help Toklo. The white bears' paws hit Kallik's side with immense force. Kallik coughed at the impact, bringing crimson fluid up with it. Kallik heard something crunch, but she had no idea what it was, for the pain had overtaken her awareness. She collapsed to the ground in a bleeding heap, hacking out more blood. Once the white bear saw what he had done, he took off-apparently forgetting the seal-and scampered into the white nothingness. Kallik watched the bulk of the bear go as far as she could, before shrieks of agony came piercing into her senses.
"Kallik! Kallik!" a shrill voice...it sound so familiar, but Kallik couldn't put her nose on quite who it was. A deeper, but still quite shrill invaded her consciousness once again, and a wad of brown and black things came trampling toward her. She felt a gentle but firm paw pressed to her side, and she let out a small, gurgling whimper as the pain came flooding into her body once again.
"Tell me you can do something, Ujurak!" the shrill voice came again, but Kallik had given up on identifying the voices ages ago.
"There are no herbs out here..." the deeper voice spoke," Her injuries are too severe...she's beyond my..." he didn't have to finish. Kallik could feel two cold noses pressed into her fur and cries of immense sorrow emitted from the two brown and black lumps. Suddenly, movement at her side told Kallik of the presence of another.
"Kallik? What..." the slightly disoriented voice spoke. Kallik completely let go at the sound, closing her eyes and giving into darkness.
"Kallik," Toklo provoked the white bear, prodding her side.
"She's dead, Toklo," Ujurak stated bluntly," She died saving you from the white bear."
Toklo dropped to his belly. Kallik was dead? That was impossible! There was no way a bear as strong as Kallik could have died so easily. The words from earlier emitted in Toklo's head. Their constant fights...Toklo's insults...his ingratitude toward the white bear...all of it rushed back to him in a wave of emotion that was too powerful to leave him standing.
He had killed Kallik.
Toklo buried his nose into Kallik's still warm fur. The matter of how they were to survive without her didn't come to his senses as he grieved for his lost friend. He pressed in closer to Kallik's pelt, as if keeping her warm would keep her spirit with them longer, but it had already left.
Don't fear for me. I am well.
I'm with Nisa now! She's teaching me everything she didn't when we were cubs!
It' so cosy here. The warmth is amazing.
Don't worry about the quest. I'm still with you, in a way.
Nisa said that she would help me guide you to whatever you're looking for, Ujurak.
Lusa, your mother and father and friends at the Bear Bowl are well, they still miss you, especially that Yogi, but they know you're okay.
Toklo. Oka and Tobi are watching all the time. They want you to know they love you and that you're never alone. They follow you in all water, including this one. And they said they're waiting for you at the end, along with me.
I'm sorry, but I have to go.
I wish you all well and I hope you know that I'll never forget all you amazing bears that helped me find the Endless Ice.