Outer Flower, 27

Oren Transformed

“I don’t know how to say this. I don’t know if I’ll say this well. As a corpse is altered in appearance when the spirit leaves, so High Bottom Clearing was altered for me. I was in a familiar place that I didn’t recognize. The mouth of the cave gaped open with a terrible blackness, a blackness that hid everything inside. No dimness or shadows, just the black of the cave and the white of the snow; both extremes blinded my eyes.

And I smelled death, not rotting flesh but a goatish smell — the cold sweat of excitement that comes with the anticipation of a kill. I’d often possessed it myself. Now, it was directed toward me.” He allowed himself a moment, wetting his lips “I’m ashamed to say I trembled.”

“Fear. We are born to it.” William’s voice was pensive. “Blessed are you, Oren Hunter, if you can remember your first taste of it.”

Oren grimaced. “I found it most unpleasant. Humiliating as well. Yet I had little time to dwell on feelings before the wind began. Slight, then stern, suddenly a whip that spun me around until I fell face first, burying my face in the earth and snow. The wind continued to roar over me. My knife was lost; arrows scattered. I felt my fur pelt rip as if cut down the middle and fly off my back.

The wind took everything. Nearly naked, I buried myself in the ground.

I found a root and held on. I don’t know where the root was from because there were no trees outside the cave, but it was a strong and kept me from crashing down the trail. The wind was roaring judgment now, and there was no way to cover my ears. My knife was lost, arrows scattered. I was no longer Oren the Protectra, just a man who must give account for every drop of blood spilled. I had no answers.

The roar of judgment was a terrible sound, echoing down the mountains and floating up again. I hunkered deeper into the earth, then, as the roaring wind articulated my sins, I wept until the snow was discolored with my blubbering. I was a coward. I was guilty. I’d exulted over every needless kill, and now Judgement stood over me with death in it’s hand.

Would I live?

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