Chapter 13: Apple Pie Werebear

“Over here!”

The shattered remains of Twenty-six's giant head are scattered far and wide, granite shards littering a half-dead forest in the shadow of a broken mountain.

Sam gestures frantically and shouts again, “Over here, fellas! It could be just a bear that got knocked out, but I'm pretty sure it's him. Help me with these boulders.”

The Forties scramble over the detritus and help Sam clear the rocks away from the brown heap of fur. “This isn't looking too good,” says Forty-three.

They get the rocks cleared away, but the bear won't wake up. His fur is matted with blood. His limbs are bent unnaturally.

“I don't think my songs of healing are gonna help this time,” says Forty-two.

“He's still in bear form, which means he's still with us,” says Sam. “If only just.” He rummages in his bindle until he finds a triangular item the size of an open hand, wrapped in plastic. He peels back the plastic a little and holds it under the bear's nose.

With a couple of bear-strength sniffs and a growl of hunger, the bear's eyes pop open. “Pie,” he grumbles. His fur recedes. His body shrinks and smooths until he's back in human form. “Apple pie.” Sam feeds him a small bite. “I can heal better as a bear, says Twenty-six, “but I don't have the strength to stay that way. I'm done for, men. You'll have to go on without me.” He takes another chomp of pie.

“Don't say that,” says Sam. “We'll get you to the Oneida. They'll patch you up good as new.”

Twenty-six tries to shake his head, but winces. “The Constitution. It's safe.” With great effort, he raises his arm and points. “The back teeth, over there. There's one that's a little loose. I hid it in there.”

“Good man,” says Forty-three. “We'll use its eldritch powers to heal you.”

“No!” Twenty-six grimaces at the effort of shouting. “It's not for me. It's for everybody.” He coughs. “You have to take it back. Back where it belongs.”

“You mean-” says Forty-two.

“The Swamp,” says Twenty-six. “Once it's back in its rightful place, The Swamp will drain. The balance of power will be restored. I'm sure it will. It has to- It has to work.” He coughs again.

“But what about you?” says Sam. A shadow appears overhead.

“I'm cold,” says Twenty-six. “I don't have much time left.”

Sam looks up. “That's just Cam's dirigible. Also, you're nude.”

“No. This is it for me. You men go on. Just do me one favor.”

“Anything.”

“Put the pie in my mouth. And don't look back.”