A wendigo howls outside the igloo, its relentless fury wearing on the young, pregnant widow whose husband died in my arms just before the long dark began. A full turning of the moon will occur before we see the sun again, and the beast outside will prowl for days, before its fury sates. In the dim light of an oil dish, I measure the food which the elders left for us.
"Bear-Slayer," she invokes my name. "What will we do?"
"Joyous Seal, stay here." I tuck my namesake's skin, a thick white fur, snug about her. "I will hunt for more food."
The bear spirit flows in my veins. I can swim in the ocean and feel no cold. I tuck my fang, won during my spirit quest and wrested from the land of the Gods, into the hide sheath. Now, with the dark blade hidden from sight, I put it under my belt. Then three harpoons, mine from before I stumbled on this tribe's hunters, one in my right hand and the others for the quiver at my back. As an outsider, if they disappear while I am gone, none will know what became of them. And someone will take them.
I crawl into the entry room, closing the curtain behind me. In the chill dark, I open the outer barrier, and enter the wendigo's realm. Its many claws tear at me, nipping at my skin in scores of tiny cuts. Mother moon should be visible, but the beast's dark body hides her. Even as it tears at me, it screams its harsh, voiceless cry, to rend my spirit. I unleash my bear, the totem spirit rising in me, filling my limbs with might and my eyes with rage.
"Raaahr!" my challenge meets the wendigo's voice, and its claws slack a bit. It does not care to face defeat, for, though terrible beasts, this form of manitou is born of cowardice, of weakness. I scream at the skies it roams. "Come monster. Match your mettle against mine. Your kind cannot defeat me. I have slain your ilk before. Test me if you dare."
With each word, the claws retreat until finally the shadow-creature departs and the moon goddess shines her pleasure down at me. Yet the wendigo's breath remains, thick, billowing, impenetrable layers of white, like smoke from a bonfire as it renders blubber to oil. To find my way through the glowing mass, I close my eyes and use the nose of the bear to find a trail. Nothing at the moment, but I can wait. I trot away, waiting for fresh spoor.
The breath abandons its caress of my exposed skin before I catch any scent. The moon still hangs in the sky, its light reflected by the white lands about me- endless broken plains interspersed with jagged upthrust crystalline spars where summer's freedom ground two floating islands together. Of all tasks, only hunting relaxes me. I imagine myself young, among my tribe, and free of the curse.
Movement in the distance catches my eye. A caribou, a big male, but moving slowly as if it is either injured or old. My breath catches. I have run long enough I might have caught him- if I started with a chase instead of casting for prey. I need to close on him, and throw well, or the moon will set and permit his escape.
I drop low, crawling through the loose powder on the ground. One limb, then the next. The starts shift overhead and the moon begins to sink toward the horizon. Too far to throw, but the light will fail soon. Long moments going slowly, then I am close enough for a charge.
I leap up and run, a harpoon in my right hand, ready to throw. I release it just as my target lifts his head. The heavy stone head sinks in behind his shoulder blade. Blood spurts, a crimson mist which settles as carmine droplets on the white blanket which coats the ground. Three steps and he falls, though his legs continue to thrash. I approach carefully.
"Manitou of this noble caribou, hear my thanks. Your life means life for three- I accept your life as the great manitou will one day claim mine." He stills at my words and I finish him cleanly with my fang, its odd gray blade, ever-sharp, cutting the stag's throat so its blood flows and peace takes it. I gut the carcass, remove the intestines, but place the liver and heart inside my jacket, then lift the body onto my shoulders. The power of the bear grants me strength beyond normal men.
Following my tracks back is easy enough- for a while. But then the moon sinks and plunges the land into darkness lightened only by the stars. Cold distant eyes of lesser manitou, many of them evil, stare down, watching, hoping for some ill to befall mortals. The tracks become less distinct as I trudge along, the burden preventing me running, but ensuring Joyous Seal and her unborn child will have ample food for the remainder of winter.
The breath of the wendigo returns just as I recognize a pair of jagged spires from the trip out. Then, its body hides the stars, blotting them from the sky. I continue, expecting the claws to begin tugging at me, but they do not. This is a cunning enemy. It will not assail me direct where I might fight back. It keeps distant, hoping to confuse me, to lead me in circles until I die.
Then, not ten paces from me, I spot its ally. A great white bear with a pair of half grown cubs. I have no choice. The mother will charge for my food. I toss the heart to it, which the cubs pounce upon, gnawing at the soft meat, still warm from contact with my body. The mother steps forward, but I lower the caribou carcass and place it between us. "I need only part of this meat. You may have the remainder. I too must feed hungry cubs."
Placated by my obeisance, she waits. I carve off a haunch, sling it over my left shoulder, then slowly step back several paces. The bear watches, eyes on the fang I hold in my right hand, as if she senses the manitou power in it. The cubs finish the heart and, along with their mother, move on to the main body of the dead buck. I circle wide, then catch a scent of burning oil. I run back to the village, only to find the igloo I shared with Joyous Seal collapsed. I dig her out, but she is dead and cold, the bear-hide absent.
Rage. My eyes burn with red mist. This is my curse, to be lonely forever. But I will have back my item of power, a hide of the white bear, my namesake totem. The elder certainly has it, luxuriating in its warmth. I know his igloo, it is fronted by another, which has a trio of strong warriors. Men who will try to stop me from retrieving that which is mine. I decide to show as little mercy as was shown. I leap at the side of the main igloo, striking with my full force. Smaller men might take several blows to accomplish as much- Joyous Seal likely died terrified as her home slowly crumbled around her- but I manage with a single impact. The elder wails as I grab the bear-hide, puling it from him while he cowers.
I will not stain my fang with needless blood. Instead, I run to the open lands, to the dark, to the waiting malice of the wendigo. Because, for all its evil, I prefer the honest assault of ripping claws and roaring hate to the quiet treachery of men.