The horrid sound of the cat’s paw whip, shrieking and tearing through the air before it tore through my hide, escaped my interest after forty lashes. Every part of my head, back, and buttocks is slashed and torn by the bone, rock, and metal chips woven into the whip. Now the final sixtieth stripe landed and I am left to hang by my wrists.
The smell of blood brings a murder of black birds. They skip and cry around my stock in the open coliseum. Not for the sake of filling their bellies, but for my sake. I see their tears. They don’t understand why I suffer this ignominy, why I don’t leave into the forest with them.
I can if I wish to. A simple flex of will and I am elsewhere, but not today. Today, I have come to speak to the people—they who live in this beautiful, bounteous, forest world, with pristine wilderness and wildlife. They who have taken far too much from the Earth and returned scant little. There is no love among them, like there once was for nature.
It will be good to rest, to lay quiet. I heal better if I stay still.
“It looks like your little pats have lulled it to sleep, eh Praetor?”
The huge crowd that had come to see me whipped, applauded with thunderous guffaws and hoots at their king’s wit.
“Apparently so, Most High King.”
“There is much blood and filth on it. We have forgotten what it looks like. Clean it up that We may see its true form.”
“My apologies, Sire,” he soothed. “Allow me.”
The Praetor snapped his fingers twice. I recognize the gruff voice of the guard captain I chose to bring me here. I had entered his simple earth trap and willed him to take me to the great city.
“You two! Wash it off!”
Ah, there is hope yet for these humans. A refreshing bath in cool, clean water will soothe my wounds. I hear the shuffling of sandals through the dust of the arena, then a dual grunt before a large wave of water crashes upon my oozing back.
The savage, shocking sting of saltwater on my open wounds takes my breath away. I squeeze my eyes and grind my teeth against it, almost mad with pain. I buck and squirm against my bonds trying to escape this torture. But I don’t have a voice for this. The time for speech is near, but not yet.
The countless, unfeeling crowd roars with laughter at my pain. They pound their fellow’s backs and stamp their feet in glee. Their eyes inevitably return to me.
“Speak!” someone shouts into my ear.
I jerk and he steps away, addressing the crowd. Their great king, Atlas, sits among them on his judgement seat. I cannot see him but I know the Coliseum is not used without his presence, or permission. I am today’s entertainment.
“Are you not the fabled Oryx, speaker for the animals—guardian of nature?” I recognize the Praetor’s lilting voice.
I try to lift my head, but can only make a slow rocking motion. My breath is ragged. Blood oozes from my broken horns, and spittle drains from my battered mouth. Awful pain dissuades me from further movement. I tire and almost forget why I am here.
“If you are,” he continued, “then the ancient scripts declare you to be a creature of magic. A dangerous animal that brings disaster to the world.”
Boos and vulgar execrations from the jostling populace reach my swollen ears. They throw stones and hard food at me from their seats. I am too far into the center of their Coliseum for any to reach me.
“If you are,” the Praetor bellows, quieting the crowd. “If you are the Great Oryx,” he rolls his r’s, “then you must be here to issue worthless threats of annihilation!”
More deafening angry shouts and mocking laughter sound. Their voices quiet with his lifted hand and the Praetor addresses me again.
“If you are here to threaten us, be warned! No one, and no thing, brings idle threats to the greatest kingdom on this planet without consequences. Our great King Atlas and his brothers have ruled the known world for centuries! We are the greatest people in history! We go where we want! We do what we want, and we take what we want!”
A great cacophony of shouts and chants, drums and horns begins that cause my ears to squelch and whine in my head. I cannot see. The bright sun heats my spilled blood in the sand, and there was nothing to defeat the stench. My stomach lurches to restore balance in my wracked body.
The pounding in my head is worse than when soldiers chopped my horns from me this morning. Such was the price to speak with them.
My heart sank with sorrow for these industrious people. Such knowledge they have gained. So many wondrous advancements they achieved. But they have lost, or traded away their souls for it along the way.
Praetor pulls my head back and the sun fills my eyes. My lungs rumble for breath. Tears keep his face out of focus.
“Look upon humanity, vile creature. We are your betters.” He shakes my head. “We are your masters! Your superiors!
“What inconsequential words do you have that could possibly threaten us?!”
He drops my head and more drums and horns explode from the frenzied plebeians.
A smile tinges the corner of my mouth as another horn encroaches on their jangle of noises. Deep and low, hardly noticeable if you aren’t aware. All manner of wild creatures answer. It is the call of Nature.
Soon, there is nothing but the horn that fills the air, reverberating from every surface and corner. The people are quiet. Worried. Their eyes search the hills for answers but find none.
I feel the change in me as the sound grows louder. My breath returns, deep and calm. Light within me gathers in my chest and my body becomes weightless and ethereal. My hands and feet pass through my bonds as they drop and swing free, my health returns. The horn stops.
I step forward and my new body is glowing with light. I turn to face the king.
“Destroy it! Kill it!” the Praetor shouts. Hundreds of arrows and spears are shot and flung at me.
The velocity and material energies of the barbs absorb into me. The glowing light expands and brightens. I am unharmed. My spilled blood seeps into the dust leaving a cool area around me. Grasses spring to life at my feet. My body shimmers and reshapes into a huge Oryx the size of a bull elephant—my true form.
The mesmerized onlookers recoil from me, murmuring as my gaze falls upon them. It is time to speak.
“I walked among you from the beginning,” my voice and thoughts carry to them. “I wore the same body as you so as to experience the same sorrows, the same victories. I had hands, feet, and a head like you. The only distinguishing mark, my horns.
“Yet, we are the same. We hunger and thirst. We all have desires. We crave peace and love among our fellows. We all care for our children. We are not different in the ways that matter most. All creatures are the same.
“Somewhere through the ages, Humanity lost respect for what brings them life—for Nature that provides sustenance and shelter. Your people give no thought to the dangers of destroying the world around you. Nature can not sustain humanity like this. It is why She has decided to move away from you. But, I am here to warn. To offer one last chance at redemption.
“Man! Remember the love and care your forebears had in the beginning. Return to your stewardship and all will be well. Forsake it and all will perish around you.”
Angry clamors of dismissal, and screams of dismay sprang out anew. Few shouted for forgiveness or any renewal. My heart yearned for those people. I held hope.
I looked to the king for his answer. He sat curled on his throne, cocooned in his fine wraps and clothing, puzzling on my warning. His eyes searched out his people and almost smiled, remarking on those who would repent.
But there are other shouts. Most call for violence and hatred. King Atlas sits up. I see his eyes grow hard and his shoulders pull back. Would he deny my warning?
Silvery tears spill from my shining eyes as he rises and shakes a fist.
“You threaten to come against us?!” His body shook. “You then have declared yourself an enemy to my kingdom! An enemy to humanity! There is no place you can hide that we won’t find you. Bring on your warriors and you will see the might of my hand!”
“O King of the people!” My voice rang over all other voices. “I do not threaten to come against you.” My eyes roam the stands of thousands and thousands of souls. I see the blade poised on each string of fate, yet I continue my warning.
“Nor do I come to you as a stranger. You declare every word of the prophecy from your own mouth.
“I come here to warn of your own corruption. You bring destruction upon yourselves with your carelessness. I am not your enemy.
“I come to beg you. Turn back from the precipice of death whereupon you stand. Heal the land and you heal yourselves.”
The throng roars its displeasure again. Discordant shouts and uncoordinated drumming cause more chaos and disharmony. Hope leaves me and my head droops to the grass at my hooves. My heart aches for what I must do.
“Your lies will not gain you the day, servant of demons.” The king shakes a fist as he speaks and climbs higher onto his throne. His eyes are wild, manic. “We are not young shepherds that quake at shadows and whispers! Attack us, if you dare! We will crush you!”
“You still do not understand,” I say. “Nature will not attack you. Nature will abandon you.”
The great horde takes on their king’s last words, echoing them in an endless chant. I see the guards station at all the exits and bring down the gates. There is nothing more I can say.
I lift my head to heaven and call out.
“It is decided!”
The great horn returns in full might and there is none that did not hear. All creatures that can move leave this place and all that surrounds it. The ground shakes with more and more violence shattering buildings and homes, and leaves no stone on another.
My body is born aloft and changes into a glowing ball of energy that illuminates every space that nothing may hide from me. The wind jets through the valleys and over every mountain, bringing rain, hail, and debris from miles away. Not one person can see where they go, terrified. None can catch a breath as the wind pulls it from their lungs.
A rumble of immense, unimaginable intensity overpowers all other sound as the great seas converge from all sides onto this plane. It raises tidalwaves over the mountains and sweeps everything back to the sea bottom.
In a day and a night, the great civilization of Atlantis is destroyed. Every plant and tree is torn away. Every root of every growing thing is scoured clean from the soil. Nothing but lifeless sand is left where a once lush forest stood. The once tiny Sahara is now the largest desert on the planet.
I travel south, in Human form again. I will wait and watch. Perhaps the lesson will be learned, the tale retold of the rejected warning. Perhaps their hearts will not be as hardened. Perhaps.
I am the Great Oryx, speaker for the animals—guardian of nature. I watch how humanity treats Nature. There is still hope in me.