Barakiel moved to the poacher’s right, downwind of the tiger as it circled back. The weak sun cast the faintest of shadows from the trees as crosses on the snow. The poacher trudged on, oblivious to the danger stalking from behind.
This man must be inexperienced. Young.
When the tiger was close enough to charge, Rainer threw a chunk of ice in her vicinity, stopping her in her tracks. The poacher heard it too, and whirled, his gun to his shoulder, ready to fire. Barakiel charged under a cloak of diverted light as his mentor Pellus had taught him, visible only as a slight rippling on the surface of ordinary perception. In scant seconds he was on the poacher, swatting the gun from his grip and sending out his rumbling voice, which would seem to the poacher as if it came from the forest itself.
“You must not harm the tigers.”
The man grew so terrified he ran off in the direction opposite the tiger, leaving his gun lying in the snow. The tiger was long gone, no doubt having decided that something was amiss as soon as Barakiel threw the ice. Barakiel chortled and picked up the gun.
He hoped the loss of his gun would put the poacher out of business for some time. Over the past two years he had done this to about a dozen in the region. As far as he could tell, none of them had been telling stories of being magically disarmed, or of the disembodied voice that told them not to harm the tigers. He assumed they did not want people to think they were crazy. He hoped none of them would ever poach again, a dim hope. He knew his efforts made little difference to the ultimate fate of the tigers as a species, but it made him feel good. And today, perhaps he had saved that magnificent beast from being shot.
The poacher was still running. Barakiel could hear the crunch of his receding footfalls. He took a lungful of cold fresh air, a reminder of how the Earth was supposed to be, before humans befouled the air and water. When the people here worshipped the big cats rather than killed them for a cord of firewood and a case of vodka. When he had first arrived, all those centuries ago, Nature had glowed with the perfection of Balance, a cycle that spoke to the deepest part of him.
The woman he had met in Philadelphia was calling him back. While he had waited in the forest for the poacher to return to his traps, he had thought of nothing but her. He envisioned caressing her skin, kissing her breasts, plunging into her and giving her all he had. He envisioned waking with her, laughing in bed, drinking coffee together in the morning. He chuckled to think how distraught Pellus would be if he knew his thoughts.
I have never been so taken with a woman. I see Nature in her eyes.