Chapter 22: Judgment

As I stand before the impossible, I am judged more harshly by a gaze that sees more than mortal man.

Tears Across the Rocks (Act 3, Scene 7)

Heavy footsteps broke him of his sorrow. He looked up in hopes that it was Kiramíro or another warrior but there was no golden flames to mark the approach of a warrior. Only darkness around him. He gulped at his dry throat and tried to stir his thoughts from his brush with death.

The ground shook as something drew closer. He could almost feel the steady beat of something large coming toward him.

Working his dry lips, he looked around for a weapon but there was nothing. Everything had been destroyed when he insulted the desert. Only three pillars of rock that he couldn’t move and himself. He swept his sight across the darkness, peering through the dim moonlight to spy the intruder. realize Stars shifted in front of him. He almost missed it but then saw it again. Inhaling sharply, he scrambled back as the heavy head of a massive ox stepped into view.

It was the same from the chasm, with glowing lichen covering its fur and one eye sealed shut. Blood splattered to ground and painted the sands in black. Every footstep, the creature bore closer.

He could feel it’s attention. It was intense, as if he was already pinned by its horns. Its one good eye focused on him, a single point of blue fire. The creature’s body swayed to the side before it took another step closer. The glowing plants on its fur seemed to brighten into a halo of greens and blues, the light shimmering on the Wind’s Teeth as it passed.

Desòchu crawled back. On the ground, the ox looked massive. It would only take the creature a moment to gore him and he was afraid. His fingers clawed at the sand as he scrambled back.

A stone pillar slammed into his back.

His head smacked into it and he saw stars. He shook his head to clear it. When he looked up, the ox was only yards away from him.

Desòchu gasped and pressed himself against the stone. His muscles protested as he pushed himself up. The sharp edges of the pillar dug into his back and scraped his skin. By the time he got to his feet, the ox was only a foot away.

The creature exhaled hard, blowing cool air against his scraped body. The stench of plants and foul breath rose around him, choking him.

He shook as he stared down at the creature. It was too large, too powerful. He almost feel the muscles that were poised to crush him against the rock.

His vision blurred.

Desòchu frowned as the world brightened with his blurred vision. He wasn’t sure if it was the glowing ox in front of him or something else, but he could feel a euphoria rising up in his stomach.

At the first realization that he was feeling magic again, he let out a gasp of relief. He didn’t realize he craved it. But the joy froze at the different sensation. It was cooler, like a breeze, and not a fire as before.

He started to look around for the source of light but his eyes caught on the ox’s. They drew him into the pools of light.

Then he was in two bodies: his own and the ox’s. Strength, mass, and weight surrounded him. It was a comforting blanket that pushed down but gave also a sense of stability. There was no anger, no frustration, only a steady calm.

He inhaled and both bodies drew in a breath.

The light continued to blossom around him, greens and blues spreading out across the desert. It painted the desert in swirls of power and energy. He felt more than saw the world around him being traced out in the back of his mind. The pillar behind him was an anchor, a heaviness that refused to budge even as the winds howled past it.

It was terrifying and exhilarating at the same time.

Sharing senses with the ox was nothing like he had imagined before. It was peaceful and calm. His thoughts started to drift away like he was about to sleep but he could still feel his senses. He could almost imagine himself stepping on the edge of a cliff. He was, in a way, poised to lunge into a darkness that he knew would comfort him. All he had to do was let go.

Desòchu’s fingers relaxed from the stone pillar.

All he had to do was step into the dark.

Step away from the sun.

Let go of his anger.

He froze.

His senses snapped out of the ox and slammed back into his body. He felt lighter. A breeze tickled against him as he stared at the creature only a foot away. It could crush his body in an instant but he knew it wouldn’t. Despite his previous attack, he knew beyond a doubt that the ox would never attack him.

It was spirit, but one of the moon. He remembered the Fijimòsu and their heavy oxes. This was the same beast.

He started to reach out. His dark fingers got close to the glowing ox’s muzzle and his senses began to split again. He drew back with a hiss.

No, this wasn’t the same beast. This was Fijimòsu, the spirt of the clan itself. He was less than a foot from an actual clan spirit.

The ox’s head lifted and he stared at it.

This was a creature of the night, who’s power came from Chobìre.

His stomach tightened is discomfort.

The ox swayed to the side.

Desòchu thought about all the horror stories that he heard around the fires. The night clans were intent on destroying the desert. He had heard it so many times. There was no way Fijimòsu could be promising him relief from anger or even a sense of peace. It had to be a trick, that was the only way.

The ox sighed.

Desòchu concentrated on his hand. He reached out, past the cool energies that flooded through him and sought for the fire that he had felt before. There was a chance, he just needed to draw it out. His lips slowly tightened as his heart began to beat faster.

He needed to lash out. He knew how, the attack with the vultures had shown him a way. All he had to do was stretch out his hand and imagine it was a knife.

Slowly, he did and the cool euphoria became a hot rush of power. Energy sparkled along his senses as the flames came back. He almost sobbed with relief as he stared at the ox.

Fijimòsu stepped back, shaking his large head. Then he turned.

The world grew darker, the bright paintings across the dunes faded as the inky void collapsed around him. His world grew more focused, just two creatures in a pool of light.

For a moment, Desòchu considered lashing out. He could do it, it would be so easy to strike the bull spirit and drink his blood. His stomach growled as he thought about shoving his hands into wet organs.

Then he realized what his train of thought. Guilt and shame flooded through him. With a choked sob, he dropped to knees before he vomited across the sand. The very idea of feasting on organs sickened him and he couldn’t stop as he threw up the contents of stomach and then heaved painfully as he tried to erase the memory of his own desires.

When he finally could look up again, tingling of his knife hand was gone and so was Fijimòsu.