Part 3

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At this point, it was nearing sundown, and Angel knew he'd have to make camp for the night. He didn't relish the idea of venturing into that cave again, but that was the sensible thing to do, after all. He tried to convince himself that the bundles of bear meat had fallen off his sled as he walked and he simply hadn't noticed. It was a strange thing that the blood was gone, but it could have been washed away by kicked-up snow landing on the sled and then melting away in the sun. These things were possible. Other things were not.

Angel chose not to examine the spot where he'd butchered that great white bear earlier in the day. He might have found the bear's head at least. He could have brought it back to town and proven he hadn't somehow killed a man by mistake. It had been a bear all along! But for reasons beyond his ken, Angel pushed thoughts of that sort out of his head. He wanted to forget the morning's hunt for good and all.

One thing he couldn't put out of his mind was the grumbling in his belly. He hadn't eaten a bite all day. If he'd have killed an elk or a bison, then he would have made a meal of the liver before heading back to town, but not a bear. No, he just drank the blood from the heart, said a prayer, and moved on.

By the way, that's sound advice you ought to take to heart, boy: Don't go eating the liver of a predator. Every animal you consume leaves just a bit of its spirit lingering in your liver. And if you eat a liver that's already loaded up with spirits—well, that's just too much to handle. Seriously, it can kill you.

Just as Angel was starting to think about the most likely place to scare up a squirrel or a rabbit for supper, a fat snowshoe hare went bounding across his path. You can bet that caught his attention! With a smooth, even motion, trying to avoid seeming overeager, which of course he was, the hunter reached into his pack and pulled out a small blow gun, already loaded with a dart.

The hare twitched an ear and hopped off toward the cave. Angel followed casually behind, taking care not to pursue the animal directly but at an angle, as if his mind were elsewhere and the shrinking distance between them was of no importance at all. If you're trying to go unnoticed by an animal—or a person, for that matter—it helps to keep your conscious attention off of them.

Attention is a physical thing, you know? You can feel it. But we haven't built the machinery to detect that sort of thing artificially yet, so if you ask one of these know-it-all scientists, they'll tell you I'm dead wrong—that the mind is nothing more than tiny little lightning bolts flying around inside the brain. That's all they can see with their machines, so they assume that's all there is. Arrogant dregs. Anyhow...

The hunter kept following that snowshoe hare, patient as anything, and it led him right back into the cave. Daylight was fading fast at this point, and Angel didn't think he'd be able to see well enough in there to sink a blow dart into his prey, so he decided to scare it back out again. He hung to one side of the cave and shuffled around noisily, keeping his eyes open wide all the while, blow gun ready just in case the opportunity presented itself.

Now, a funny thing happened to Angel inside this cave. He was an experienced hunter, well acquainted with both darkness and silence, but the cave had such an oversupply of both that he found his heart racing uncontrollably. He felt like a scared little boy. True, he was only about your age, but kids didn't stay kids for long back in those days. He hadn't actually thought of himself as a child for years, and this sudden panic was embarrassing as all get-out. Of course, no one was around to see, so there was no call for embarrassment, right? But then again, I'm telling you about it right now, so someone must have seen. Just goes to show, your gut knows things your brain'll never understand.

In the darkness of that cave, Angel began to feel like he was deep down underwater, so deep he couldn't tell if it was day or night, storm or still. He began to notice consciousness slipping from his body, mixing into oceanic ether. As the hunter made his way to the floor of the cave, the world seemed to shift and distort around him, as if it were a living thing restlessly trying to find a comfortable position so that it might sleep alongside its master.

Now in a dream, Angel saw that his surroundings had completely transformed. His clothes and his body were different, too. Everything had a delicate, sterile feel to it, even his own skin. The hunter's thoughts on this metamorphosis never had time to solidify into anything memorable though. In a few moments, he had forgotten he was dreaming.

His conscious mind retained no memory of a small town dug into the frozen earth, an unreasonable elder convinced of the impossible, an enormous white bear, or the cave it had inhabited, which now sheltered a dormant young man who shared his name. All of these things quietly transformed into memories more suited to the environment inside his dream. Even the language he spoke was now different.

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