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Discovery  by Ellynn

This is a four-chapter story, and it will be updated every Friday.

Thanks to Erulisse (one L) for beta-reading. *hugs*

-x-x-x-

Last week he turned thirteen; he became a teenager. In most things, he was just like all other teenagers: computers, games, social networks, cell phone – he had fun with all that, and spent a lot of time with them all.

Still, unlike many teenagers, he liked nature a lot. Life on the outskirts of a town in the Alps gave him many opportunities to dwell in it: all it took was a few minutes by bike, and he'd find himself on the slopes of the mountains, away from civilization. Then he'd leave his bike next to the road and enjoy walking in the forest.

His father died when he was only three, so in the past, it was his mother who took him on trips to the forest. During many trips with her, and also later – when he started going on his own, about a year ago – he sometimes saw forest animals: a rabbit, a fox, or a deer. He knew the rules for avoiding dangerous animals – his mother made sure he learned them well. "Do not stray from defined paths. Be loud. And always have a pepper-spray at hand, in case you do see a dangerous animal." He had heard those warnings many times.

He stuck to those rules... mostly. However, sometimes he just couldn't resist, and on those occasions, he'd leave the path and wander into the woods, enjoying the true wilderness; he simply felt that he had to do that. He'd close his eyes, breathe forest's scents, listen to its sounds – and in those moments it seemed to him that right there he was happier than anywhere else.

It was a nice Saturday in spring. Homework was already done. Evening and night were already reserved for gaming and internet. He just had to spend this afternoon outside. It was one of those days when the call of the forest was stronger than everything else. He took his bike right after lunch and headed towards the forest. His mother's greeting and warning words to be careful remained in the air behind him, and he didn't hear her. He was already pedalling, smiling and seeing nothing but his objective – the woods.

Five minutes later, the road was behind him, and he was surrounded by trees, bushes and forest creatures. He first walked for a while on the path he crossed many times, but then he left it and started exploring a new direction. After about a quarter of an hour, he found a small glade. Its central part was somewhat elevated – it looked like a small hill – so he couldn't see its rear part. He looked around, and on the branches of a tree on the edge of the glade, he saw an interesting bird – a species that was new to him. He decided to take a photo, so that he could later search and find out which one it was.

In order not to scare the bird away, he took off his backpack very slowly. Taking his cell phone, he carefully started walking towards it. Click! He took the first photo from afar, and despite using the zoom, the photo was not so good; of course, he wanted the better one. Trying to walk as quiet as possible, he came a little closer. Click! The bird observed him from the safety of its branch, obviously still not scared by the big creature that approached her. Silently he made three more steps. Click!

He checked the photo-gallery on his cell phone; he saw the last one was perfect, and it would be easy to make a research.

Then he heard the sounds from behind him.

He quickly turned around, facing the edge of the glade, where the sounds were coming from. Behind it, centimetre by centimetre, a bear's head appeared.

"Even dangerous animals like wolves or bears most often avoid contact with humans. All you have to do is to be noisy and let them know that you are near," he heard his mother's voice in his head. Despite knowing better, now he acted completely the opposite: because of his wish not to frighten the bird, he remained in position and completely silent.

His heart started pounding. Alert!!!, screamed the adrenalin in him.

But everything could still go fine, his reason replied, trying to suppress panic – knowing that nothing good would come out of fear. Maybe it will simply continue on its way.

The bear continued to lumber towards him, and soon, the whole figure of the animal came into his sight; and what he saw next paralyzed him. Behind her – because it became obvious it was a she – there were two cubs.

In an instant, he was overwhelmed with fear – much stronger than when he had first seen her. The probability that this animal would simply continue on its way suddenly shrank to zero. His quiet sneaking had surprised a mother with cubs, and he knew that she saw him as a threat. A threat that had to be eliminated.

The bear made her first step towards him. He cast a quick glance towards his backpack, left abandoned on the edge of the glade. The backpack where he kept his pepper-spray.

She made the second step. He estimated the distance to the backpack. What were his chances to reach it before she grabbed him?

She had moved closer, apparently in no hurry; but despite her easy gait, he realized his chances were minimal. Already she was closer than his backpack. Even if he tried to run, she'd catch up with him in an instant.

She made one more step towards him. She was now quite close. Should he play dead? Maybe try to hit her sensitive nose? He had no idea what to do; he had forgotten all the instructions he had ever heard. His heart beat like a drum – hard and very fast. He held his breath, clenched his fists and teeth, and looked her in the eyes.

Two meters. One meter. Half a meter.

All the time while approaching, she was returning the gaze.

Her eyes were dark brown. She looked at him, and while he stared into her deep, intelligent eyes – and while he thought, scared to death, that these were his last moments – suddenly everything calmed. She stopped and sat down. She was still watching him, and astonished, he realized that there wasn't even a slightest trace of aggression in her posture. She came very close, but she didn't growl, didn't bare her teeth, didn't make a single move that would hurt him.

What is happening?!

She continued to observe him – neither of them turned their gaze even for a moment – and it seemed to him that the whole world ceased to exist. The forest faded out, and there were only two of them here.

Then she moved again, but very slowly – as if she didn't want to scare him. She made a small step and crossed that final short distance that separated them, and her big shaggy head was next to his chest. She lifted her head, and very gently, her muzzle touched his chin and she licked his face.

She then sat again, close to him, and his eyes were wide open in shock.

What's happening?!, he asked the same question one more time. Why did this bear behave so unusual? So... non-bearlike? Some people sometimes said that animals could feel if a person meant them harm or good. But something in his subconscious knew it was not the right answer. Maybe that statement could apply to pets, who were living with humans from the moment they were born; but this was a wild animal, and moreover, it was a mother protecting her young. She was supposed to kill him immediately.

He looked into her eyes, searching for the answers to his questions. He didn't find them, but...

...but suddenly he had a feeling that he was looking at a relative. It was as if he looked into the eyes of a friend – of someone he knew for a long time.

Whatever was happening, it was very strange. Very very strange. He stared and stared, not understanding. His heart was still pounding – now not in fear any more, but of amazement. With every next moment, he had more questions.

Could I...? He didn't even formulate his thought properly; it was too crazy. But still... He slowly raised his somewhat shaky hand towards her – only for a few centimetres. Then a few more. And more. His movements were slow, as he wanted to give her time to realize his intentions. Finally, he lifted his hand to her nose, and he gently toucher her fur.

It was coarse, but also warm. His hand moved a little bit more, and he started caressing this shaggy head in front of hm. Her response was lifting her head. While a storm of different emotions mixed in him – excitement, surprise, and disbelief – he lowered his head and leaned his forehead next to hers. As he was standing like that, he became aware of a new feeling emerging in him. A feeling of serenity. It was incredible, because a very short time ago he was completely distraught, thinking he would die. But now he felt completely different – now he was calm.

She licked his face again, very gently, and he giggled. Looking into her eyes, he could swear that he saw mirth in them too.

Impossible, he thought. Bears couldn't have emotions like humans.

Nevertheless, he was sure of what he saw.

The cubs didn't show any interest in the high thin figure standing next to their mother. Much more fun was their wrestling, and the two furry balls joined into one and rolled around the glade. He turned his attention to them and observed their playing for a few moments; watching them, he wished he could be careless just like them, not having to worry about school and grades. I'd like to be like them.

Just how many times did important things happen because of a mere chance? No one could say that. And this was one of such moments. Right words, said just in the right time and in the right way, in circumstances that were just as they should be.

I want to be like them, he thought again. In that moment, he didn't think of anything else, but only about that.

Right circumstances – just as they should be.

Seemingly, a very simple thought. Merry and relaxed. I want to be like them. He closed his eyes, and all other thoughts vanished. I want to be like them. Suddenly, this was the only thing he was aware of. To be like them. He shivered and blinked. His eyes opened, but he didn't see anything around him.

I want to be like them.

The sentence echoed in his head one more time, and he shivered again, this time stronger. It seemed that the sentence repeated without the influence of his will. But it did repeat – louder and louder.

I want to be like them.

To be. Like. Them.

His head was filled with those words, echoing in his mind again and again. The glade and trees disappeared, and his whole sight was a figure of a bear – that was the only thing that he saw. His body started to vibrate, and it felt like electric power was going all through his skin. He couldn't stop shaking.

Like them... like them...

He fell to his knees. He wasn't capable of thinking any more – his whole body was pulsating, and waves of pain spread all the way to his fingertips. Suddenly it seemed his skin was too tight and that it would explode.

Like them... to be... like... to be... them.

That was the only sentence, the only thought that remained in his head and filled his whole being.

To be... them...

The image of the bear.

To be... the... bear.

He fell on the ground. His body was still shaking uncontrollably, his head was pounding, and his skin was pierced by thousands of needles all at once.

The bear.

The image grew and grew, and finally filled the entire world. He heard and saw nothing else, and he didn't have any sense of time. He shivered, it hurt, and all he could focus on was the next breath.

And then the pain finally started to fade a little, while at the same time new strength started to fill him.

To be. The Bear.

The pain stopped, and everything was still.

He was laying prone on the ground for a few more moments, and then opened his eyes.

He didn't know what had happened. The last seconds – minutes – were blurred. However, one thing he did know. The world was completely different than he remembered.

He slowly rose and lowered his gaze towards his hands. But they were not hands any more. His hands were now massive paws and he was standing on four feet, not two. Moreover, he was covered with thick brown fur.

The colours were clearer than ever, and small details that should've been invisible to his eyes became crystal clear. He saw every leaf, even on the very distant trees; every little rock on distant slopes; a rabbit running on the slope.

Hundreds of scents filled his nostrils – scents that he had never smelled before, nor had been able to smell until now. But he recognized them, one by one. Berries in the nearby bushes. Different kinds of berries – and he could discern each.

A little further away, a rotten tree. This smell was less pleasant than the previous.

He couldn't see the tuft of deer's fur on a branch; that particular tree was hidden from his sight. But as he lifted his head in that direction, he had no problem detecting its scent. A male, in his prime. He didn't know how he knew that; but he did know.

As he moved his head, he smelled a wolf's urine, on the spot where he marked the tree. A mole's corpse below the ground... and many other scents.

He closed his eyes and tried to think. What happened to him?!

He didn't know, and he didn't understand.

Who am I?

The strongest smell was also the closest one, and he turned his head to it. Here, just a meter away, was one of his kind. Actually, not just one; except for her, two cubs were here too. They were a little further away and observed him somewhat insecurely. But she was calm and returned his gaze.

He had already seen these eyes. And while watching them, everything came back to his mind: going towards the forest, walking around, taking photos of the bird, the arrival of this bear. He remembered the moment when he first saw her. It was... he considered... a few minutes ago.

And at the same time, a whole lifetime ago.

So many questions ran through his mind. His heart started to race again, because he couldn't understand what was going on. All the information that came to his mind – things he saw, smelled and heard – pointed that he had transformed into a bear.

But that is impossible!!! This must be a dream!!!

The bear rose and lifted her head towards him. Their muzzles touched, and through that touch thoughts and images that weren't his own formed in his mind. Greetings – hers, and of dozens of bears before her – her ancestors... his relatives. They were one. They were kin.

How?! How could that be?!

A welcome. Weird, but it seemed to him that it was just the right word to describe the look she gave him. And while their heads still touched each other, more images filled his mind: forests, so big and dense and dark, such that he couldn't even imagine... full of creatures he didn’t even know existed... and near the edge of one forest, there was a house and in front of it a huge man. Something about him looked familiar, just as if he was watching his own reflection... but the image disappeared too fast for him to ponder it better. It was replaced by another – by a big bear entering that same forest.

What happened? Who am I? WHAT am I?!

Only questions and not a single answer. He got scared.

The female – welcome, my brother –

rubbed her head – we are one –

next to his – I am glad –

one more time – that you came –

leaving her scent – and come back again –

on him – farewell.

Then she turned and slowly left, her cubs hopping behind her. Of course, not a single word was uttered aloud; but he was absolutely sure about the meaning of the thoughts that his mind received. She called him a brother, and told him to come again.

He stared after them, trying to understand. In the first moments after his transformation, at first he was too confused; after that he was preoccupied by the communication with the bear and things he discovered through their silent talk. But now that he remained alone, all that he could do was think, and while analysing things, his fear grew.

Some time ago – very short time ago, in fact – he had come to this glade, and everything was normal. The world was as it should be. Then he met the bear who didn't attack him even though she had cubs... and then he turned into a bear. Because he couldn't deny what had happened. He didn't conceit this: it wasn't a dream, and it wasn't a mistake. He really was in a bear's body – covered in fur, standing on four paws, and his senses gathered information that his weak human senses never could.

Humans didn't turn into bears. More precisely, humans didn't turn into any other being. Something like this never could or should happen. This was not possible.

Except that it did happen. Was he crazy? Was he a monster?

Obviously, the answer was – yes.

He was sitting on the ground and looking around. Confused. Lost. Paralysed. Scared. Bewildered. How could this happen at all?

He didn't move. He didn't know where to go anyway, or what to do. He just sat and stared – frightened like never before. Because he didn't understand what had happened. Because nothing that had ever happened to him prepared or warned him for this. Because he thought he was a monster.

As the time was passing, one more question started to preoccupy him; and because he didn't know that particular answer either, his fear grew even more.

How to transform into a human again? What if he remained like this forever – trapped in a bear's body? The thought terrified him. Now he desperately wanted to turn back time. He wished he had remained home this afternoon, regretting that he went on this trip. He just wanted his life back, and he'd give everything for things to be as they had been before.

Except that he knew they could never be as before. Even if he could somehow transform back, he wouldn't be able to deny what happened... nor forget. He'd always know he was some sort of freak. He'd never be able to talk about this with anyone, and he'd never be able to relieve his heart.

Questions. Only questions, without answers. His thoughts raced – more and more scared.

In addition, even if he did somehow turn back into a human... what if this happened again? In some other place? In front of people? In front of his friends? In school? What if he was closed in some laboratory then – as a subject of countless experiments? He would never see freedom and daylight again.

The sun sunk behind the mountain, and just as the sky became darker, so did his thoughts.

Then his new sensitive nose and ears told him that another being like him was coming towards him; another bear was approaching the glade. Fear awakened again – although this time of another kind. What was that other bear? Some alfa-male, a master of this territory? Was he to fight for his life? He saw a fair share of documentary movies, and he knew that males fought over territory.

As the other bear came closer, its scent became more intense. Just like earlier, when some instinct in him told him it was a buck and not a doe, now he realized that this was a female approaching. With that knowledge, he was a little relieved, because he hoped that at least he wouldn't have to fight.

She entered this clearing and came into his sight. The sun was below the horizon, but it wasn't very dark yet and his bear eyes saw better than his human eyes anyway, so he was able to see her very well. She was small – smaller than the female he met earlier, and she walked slowly. In her brown matted fur there were some grey hairs. Suddenly he knew she was old.

And then he looked into her eyes... and realized that this day held even more shocking discoveries for him.

These eyes now looked a little bit different than he remembered them, but at the same time they were the same, and he recognized them. Those were the eyes he had seen many times. The eyes that brought comfort.

Grandma?!?!

Yes, it's me, her thoughts reached him. Don't worry any more. For the beginning, you'll transform into your usual shape, so we'll talk easier. I'll help you, and you'll find out everything.

The feeling of relief brought by these words was even stronger than the feeling of shock when he had recognized her. For a few moments he didn't think of anything else, but that he'd be saved. He wouldn't remain in a body of a bear forever, he'd transform into human shape again. He wouldn't be alone, he'd be able to talk about everything, and he'd find out what's going on.

First tell me how you transformed into a bear, he heard her voice in his head again, so he turned his attention to her. This silent communication by thoughts was something completely new to him and it felt a little clumsy in the beginning, but he managed to describe his afternoon. Having finished, he looked at her with hope and a little bit of despair.

I just want to be me again. I just want everything to be as it once was.

Her eyes gave him the answer even before she sent him the thought.

No, nothing will ever be as it once was.

Somewhere deep inside, he too was aware of that; but somehow, he hoped that she'd have a magical solution even for that.

But we'll be in it together, she continued encouragingly, and then started to explain. Just like you transformed into a bear when you wanted to be a bear – although then you didn't know it would really happen – now you have to want to turn into a human, the instruction came. Of course, you have to focus only on that and wipe out all other thoughts – just like you did before.

He blinked in disbelief.

It is that simple?!

Her face remained the same, of course – bear's mouth couldn't laugh – but he could swear that a spritely giggle reached his ears.

Yes, it is that simple.

Then, all that he had to do was to make it happen.

I want to be me again. I want to be a human again.

Nothing happened.

He repeated the same words one more time. With the same result.

You are too tense, he heard grandma's voice. Relax. Don't think about anything else. And don't worry about the outcome. I am with you, and it will be fine.

He nodded and closed his eyes, then took a deep breath. Relax. Don't think about anything else, he repeated to himself. He calmed and started to shut out all the surroundings. It wasn't easy, but he made it. Then he visualized his own human shape; finally, it remained the only image that remained, and grew in his mind.

I am a human.

A quiver. And another. Then, waves of vibrations through the whole body.

Just like before, when the echoing thought started the first change, the same thing happened this time too: he fell to the ground and started to shake, and it hurt again. It lasted for some time, and after a while, little by little, he calmed.

When he opened his eyes, he saw it was quite dark – a lot darker than it seemed only a short time ago. No, his transformation didn't last long, but his human eyes couldn't process much light. All the scents suddenly vanished from the world and he breathed the familiar regular air again, almost scentless one. A boring air, a passing thought crossed his mind. Everything was so quiet – the sounds of the forest were beyond his hearing again. He thought that the world was much more interesting and vivid while he was in bear's incarnation.

His grandma stood next to him, she too in her human shape now. Overcome by his own transformation, he didn't notice that she had also transformed. He slowly rose – it was almost unusual to stand on two feet again – and turned to her.

"What happened? How did it happen?" What am I? What are we? How did you know...?" He stopped. He had dozens of questions and wanted to ask them all at once.

"I'll tell you on the way back," grandma replied and took her cell phone. "But right now I have to text your mother. It's almost dark and she'll start to worry, while you and I have a very long talk ahead of us. I'll tell her that you ran into me on your way back from your trip and that I took you to my place for supper, so that she doesn't worry."

If grandma hadn't pointed out his backpack, still lying on the edge of the clearing, he would've forgotten it – he was still so overwhelmed by what happened. Then they headed back, using their flashlights to see the forest path.

"I felt your transformation. All of us can feel when it happens to members of our closest family. I knew the exact moment," she started. "I thought it wouldn't happen for several more years, and that I had enough time to prepare you for what's to come. The first transformation usually happens in the late teens." She stopped and looked at him thoughtfully. "It's possible that yours is the earliest change in our whole line. I wonder what it means... perhaps you'll be the mightiest of all."

What?! These words brought more incredible facts... and more questions.

"What...? I don't understand... All of us...? What line...?" He stared at her, forgetting to close his mouth after the last word. If his head hadn't burst by now, this could be the very moment in which it could finally happen.

Grandma smiled.

"As you can see, our family is not like the others... and the trait I'm talking about is hereditary." She didn't say more, letting him draw the conclusion by himself.

He thought for a short while, and then he realized. Here, next to him, stood his father's mother, and not his mother's.

"So, my father..."

He hadn't really had the chance to know him. Being only three when his father died, he had only one blurry memory.

"Exactly," grandma confirmed. "He was like me, you are like us, and all of us are like our ancestors. Of course, I couldn't say anything to your mother – because anyone outside our family would proclaim us crazy. And even if an outsider saw the transformation with their own eyes, they'd probably consider us some dangerous mutant."

With those words, she stopped, and when he regarded her face under the flashlight, it seemed to him she was thinking.

"Maybe it is exactly that," finally she said. "A mutation of some gene, back in the ancient past. Scientists could probably find it out if they analysed my or your blood. But that doesn't matter now."

She smiled and her eyes shone; that face with wrinkles and framed by grey hair suddenly looked much younger. In those deep wise eyes, both human and bear's eyes at the same time, lay hidden a whole world – the world he would now discover.

Grandma started to walk again, and they carried on towards the road and the place where he had left his bike.

"A long, long time ago, the world looked completely different," she began to tell her story. "It was filled with creatures different than today, and magic still didn't vanish from it. It was a time in which lived a man named Beorn..."

Just as she had announced, the talk was really a long one. She talked during the way back, during supper and after it still. He got answers to all of his questions. He found out all about their family and the incredible secret hidden in them; about the world many thousands years ago in which elves, hobbits, orcs and mighty wizards walked alongside men; about how all those exotic creatures either left their world or became extinct, and all the magic disappeared.

"I am so sorry that your first transformation happened when you were alone, and that you lay there frightened for a long time," grandma concluded the story. "Now I regret not telling you earlier, because that way you would have been spared that ordeal. But I thought you would cope with it easier if you were a little older, and besides that, just as I already mentioned, I thought a lot more time would pass until your first time. But now you know."

They fell silent, sitting in the living room of her apartment. The light was dim – there was just one small lamp – and while listening, he almost expected that creatures she talked about would emerge from some dark corner of the room.

"Oh... so many things to think about," was all he said in the end.

"I know," she smiled sympathetically. "I understand that you heard so much new information at once, and that most of it must sound incredible to you. But still, you and I are a living proof that the story is true."

He slowly nodded. If he hadn't been through the transformation, if he had just heard the story, he wouldn't have believed it. He was sure that this night it would be very late before he'd be able to fall asleep; there was so much to think about.

"Err... these transformations we go through... they don't just happen unprovoked? Without notice, in inconvenient moments?" he asked, with a great sense of discomfort. Ever since it crossed his mind back there on the mountain, he couldn't escape this thought.

"No, you don't have to worry about that," she replied and smiled. "You won't change unexpectedly while you write a school test, or when you go for a walk with a girl." Her smile became mischievous for a few moments, but then she became serious again. "To go through transformation, you have to completely focus on it. And even with a lot of concentration, in the beginning you won't always make it – as you noticed while you were trying to transform back into human form."

His sigh of relief expressed how much these words comforted him. He was really very scared of a spontaneous transformation.

"I don't doubt at all that you'll practice," grandma said merrily, a smile back on her face. Thinking of those words, he realized her assumption was correct, although he hadn't consciously made that decision until this moment. But now that he knew who and what he was, of course he intended to explore his nature.

Then he remembered something.

"Are there more people like us? That man Beorn... does he have more living descendants?" he asked.

"Yes," grandma confirmed. "There aren't many of us, and we live in different parts of the world so most of us never meet, but we do know about one another and we are in contact – by letters in the past, and by e-mail nowadays. They know about you – I told them I had a grandson. After all, there's one more important reason for us to be in touch. The thing that should be avoided at all cost is that somebody from our family remains alone, and that he or she thinks they're monsters if they go through a change. Several people from our line have the instructions how to find and contact you in case I died before your sixteenth birthday, so that they could tell you about the history of our family. However, now I can inform them that their actions won't be necessary."

"I see," he replied pensively. Then, thinking about it, he realized something. "One day... if I'll ever have kids... I have to tell them what you told me – and I have to find others who can tell them if I won't be able to." He shivered, remembering how frightened and desperate he felt on that glade.

"Exactly," she nodded. "It is very important that we preserve the knowledge about us. There are no more orcs today, and none of us has to go into battles like our ancient ancestors. But the prophecy written many millennia ago says that Morgoth Bauglir will return one day, and with him, many of his evil creatures. No one knows when it will happen. It could be during your lifetime, but it may not happen for many centuries more. But when it does happen, all of us will stand together in a final battle against evil. We are stronger than ordinary people and we can give a bigger contribution, and my heart tells me that it is our family that will have a significant role in that battle," she ended gravely.

He nodded, just as serious as she was. No, nothing will be as it once was, but he was no longer scared; and he suddenly felt that this was the first day of his adult life.

"I'll remember everything you said, and I'll make sure my children learn it too," he promised.

-x-x-x-

Endnote:

Err... clothes. I thought about it much. Really. And finally decided to ignore it. Please, you ignore it too. :) You can imagine that grandma brought spare clothes with her, if you want. :) But actual describing it... I have a feeling that it would totally "kill" the situation, if you understand what I mean... so, ignore it, or imagine whatever you like. :) Thanks! :)





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