In the distant, unrecorded past
It wasn't fun being the gatekeeper to hell. The only thing worse was being evil's bitch, and Makah'Alay Omawaya had been that, too.
A tic beat in his sculpted jaw as the harsh winds whipped his long black hair, flogging him while he stood on top of a high precipice, his muscled body and sheathed weapons silhouetted by the Hunter's Moon. Soul-sick and weary, he surveyed the red canyon that was awash with moonlight and dancing shadows that reminded him of his past.
How could one man ruin so many lives?
No, not ruin.
He no longer had a right to live. Not after all the blood he'd greedily spilled with his knife and arrows. Not after all the atrocities he'd committed. Yet here he stood. Alone.
A twice-designated guardian to a world he'd done his damnedest to annihilate. Yeah, it didn't make sense to him either. The spirits were ever a mystery. He couldn't even begin to fathom their reasoning in allowing him to return here.
But then the one lesson he'd learned through all of this was the truth in the old saying-man has responsibility, not power. After all these years, he finally understood what that meant.
I will not fail them.
I am resolute....
He lived his current life by conscious decision, not random chance. The spirits hadn't chosen him for this task. He'd volunteered. With no more excuses to blind and impede him, he would make changes for the better.
This time, he would be motivated to excellence and not manipulated by evil. He would be useful and not used. Excel rather than compete. From this moment forward, he would trust his own inner wisdom and ignore the counsel and opinions of others. His worthless self-pity finally spent, he would endeavor to learn self-esteem.
To live the life of honor he should have had all along.
His gaze skimmed the deep cavern below where he'd once battled a powerful immortal for a year and a day. He still didn't know how or where he'd found the strength for the fight. But then his adrenaline and years of a humiliating past that still stuck in the craw of his throat had kept him from feeling any pain. It had kept him from feeling any fatigue or injury. That unleashing of decades of caged fury had succored him better than mother's milk.
If only he had that solace now. But with the fight done and the blood on his hands, he felt tired and sick. Disgusted. He wanted to blame someone else. Anyone else. Yet in the end, he couldn't run from the one simple truth.
He, alone, had done this to himself. He'd made the decision and allowed his thoughts to be controlled by another.
Now it was time to make amends.
You're not free, Makah'Alay. You will never be free of my service. And now I have you for all eternity.
"No, you don't," he shot back in his mind loud enough for it to carry from this realm into the West Land where the Grizzly Spirit was imprisoned.
Hopefully for all time.
The Grizzly Spirit had owned Makah'Alay Omawaya.
"Makah'Alay Omawaya is dead." Killed by his own brother's trickery. And that, too, had been justified.
Now he was reborn as Ren Waya-the treacherous wolf-and his soul was in the hands of an immortal from a faraway land.
Art-uh-miss. She had spun the magic that had brought him back into this realm. And he'd sworn himself to protect this world from her brother's creatures, who preyed on the souls of mankind. The symmetry and irony of that wasn't lost on him.
But then his people had always believed in cycles and circles-
Be kind to all, for you will meet each other again. It was why his clan didn't believe in ever saying good-bye. People were ever the same, but circumstances did change.
And Artemis owning his soul after all he'd done seemed right. Not to mention, it allowed him to watch over his own brother to make sure that Coyote didn't scar the land even more than Ren had when he'd been its overseer.
Even so, he couldn't deny that while the Grizzly Spirit was trapped in the West Land, that bastard still possessed a part of him that was forever corrupted.
A part he hoped was sealed as tight as the gate that held the Grizzly Spirit.
Yet deep inside with the powers Ren had cursed since the hour of his birth, he saw what was to come. Those gates would be weakened. And while he was strong, a man, even an undead one, only had so much strength within. Grandfather Time was ever marching forward and as he spiraled across the lands, he forever changed them.
His strong hands molded and shaped this earth.
Like Ren, he scarred it.
One day, Grandfather Time would come for him and demand an accounting for all he'd done.
For all he hadn't done.
May the good spirits of the earth help them all when that day came. Change was never without dread and sacrifice. And while he knew his strengths, he also knew his weaknesses.
So did the Grizzly Spirit and his handmaiden Windseer. They had already claimed him once as their own.
When next they battled, Ren would fight with everything he had. But he knew it wouldn't be enough.
They would have him again, and then ...
Ren winced at his visions of the future and what awaited this hapless world that had no idea about the things men like him kept at bay.
It didn't matter and it changed nothing. He would fight for good even harder than he'd fought for evil. If he won, all would be well. And if he lost ...
Death wasn't without its benefits.
December 10, 2012
Las Vegas, Nevada