by Oren the Otter

Father Hugh stared at Oren and Vitra, his childish face unable to hide the mix of confusion and alarm he felt. "My dear friends," he said, sweeping his arms wide in a gesture which simultaneously spoke of embracing and pleading for reason. "I am very, very happy for you, naturally, but..."

"But...?" Vitra repeated.

Hugh smiled and looked down at his feet. "I don't know either of you very well." he admitted. "Most of what I know comes by way of young Charles." It seemed odd for the boy priest to be calling anyone "young". "But I do know that you loved Ana very much. Are you certain that you are emotionally prepared to enter into a new relationship?"

The look on Oren's face became very serene. "You did not see me grieve, brother, but grieve I did, and heavily."

Hugh was about to correct Oren on his title, but thought better of it. "Are you..."

"When I first learned of Ana's death, I wanted nothing but to die as well. It was Vitra who helped me to recover from the deep depression I suffered. At the end of that time, I understood that it is Vitra that I truly love. Ana was a wonderful friend, but Vitra is life to me."

The priest turned to the weasel. "And you?"

"Oren is life to me. I do love him, more than I love my own life."

Hugh clasped his hands together. "You realize that a marriage between a lutin and a human will cause a great deal of trouble for you socially. I don't wish to cause you distress, but I couldn't bear the weight of my conscience if I didn't ask you to consider this."

"We know." said Vitra.

"We are prepared." said Oren.

Hugh took a deep breath. "There is one other matter. Are the two of you of like faith?"

Oren smiled at his fiancÚ. "We are. In fact, Vitra told me that she had been searching for a long time to learn more about the man with the nail scars in his hands. She was overjoyed to learn of life in Yeshua."

The joy in Father Hugh's heart was impossible to hide when he heard this news. "This is wonderful to hear! Wonderful! My daughter, I..."

Oren held up a paw.

Hugh sighed. "Yes, yes. I forget that your people have different customs than ours. I meant no disrespect."

Oren could see that Hugh was trembling just a little. This was understandable, naturally. After the experiences that brought him here to the Keep, Hugh was a little skittish about confrontation. Oren allowed himself to shrink a little in order to look safer and calm the boy priest. "The fact is that you do have different customs," said Hough. "And there is one which I know is of special importance to your own people. Has Vitra been immersed?"

The otter and the weasel stared at each other, blankly.

"Are you sure that you don't want to come in?" asked Oren as he began removing his clothes.

"You go ahead." said Vitra. "Otters made for water. For weasels, it is for only special occasion."

"You don't know what you're missing."

Vitra neatly folded up Oren's garments after he shrank out of them. Without a splash, the otter dove into the Metamor River.

It wasn't hard at all for Oren to find what he was looking for. There was only one dolphin who lived in the Metamor River. When that dolphin saw an otter signaling for him to surface, he knew who it was.

"Hi, Son!" said the dolphin as he broke the surface. The little otter chirped before becoming human enough to speak again. "How are you doing, Dad? Is the water okay?"

"It has been so far. It's getting colder, though. I'm going to have to make my way to the sea before the winter freeze comes."

"You will?"

"Oh, now don't you worry, Son. I'll be back again as soon as spring comes."

"Dad, there's something I need to talk to you about."

Patiently, Nerr listened as Oren explained everything. When his son was done, he nodded his head and said "I see. May I suggest a few minor changes in your plans?"

It was a sunny but comfortable day in Metamor Valley. The local weather mages had seen to that. Oren and Vitra stood together at the edge of the river while the combined assemblies of the follower cathedral and the lighthouse sanctuary, as well as many who simply happened to be friends, looked on in anticipation.

Hugh held up his little hands, demanding the attention of the crowd. "Dearly beloved!" he began. "We are greatly privileged to be able to gather here today and witness not merely one, but two of the greatest moments in the lives of two of the Master's own. Vitra, the daughter of Norchk, has set aside this day to make public her profession of Yeshua the Messiah as her savior." As he said these words, he ceremoniously motioned Vitra to step toward the water, and gave the floor over to Nerr.

Though he was not greatly able to alter his form, Nerr stood in the river, balanced on the end of his tail, his flippers having lengthened to reach out and help Vitra down into the water.

The zorilla was a beautiful sight. She wore no finery, no cosmetics, no perfume or jewelry. This moment did not call for such things. Instead, she was simply herself, clad only in a simple white gown for the sake of modesty. Yet for the sheer simplicity of her appearance, the woman shone with an inner light that no one could mistake. Gingerly, Vitra lowered her paw into the water. It was a little chilly, but not at all cold. She noticed in an offhandedly bemused manner that the water caused the hairs of her fur to float and sway, revealing little bits of green skin underneath.

Oren found that he was holding his breath. He forced himself to relax as he watched his fiancÚ lower herself into the water until it reached her solar plexis.

Once he was sure she was situated, Nerr turned to the crowd. "It is not the belief of the immersers that this ordinance which we are about to observe has any redeeming power in and of itself. Rather, we adhere to the belief that it is only the acceptance of Yeshua that saves, and that the ordinance of Immersion is the first step of obedience a new believer takes, publicly professing their acceptance of Yeshua Messiah as Lord and savior."

Oren cast a sideways glance at Charles Matthias, who glanced back and made it very clear that though they were not united on minor points of doctrine, this was not the time for an argument. In this, Oren agreed fully. This was a sacred moment.

"Vitra, daughter of Norchk," said Nerr. "Do you believe that Yeshua is the son of Yaweh, and that he died for your redemption?"

"I do." said Vitra, a smile breaking across her musteline face.

"And have you accepted this redemption as your own, and Yeshua as your savior?"

"I do."

"Then by the power vested in me, I immerse you in the name of Yaweh, Yeshua, and the Comforter."

In that moment, Vitra the lutin died. As her head sank back under the cool water of the Metamor river, something within her heart ceased to be. It was as if the old Vitra had been buried beneath the current. What came up was not what went down, for as she rose, something new stirred to life within her.

"As Yeshua died, was buried, and rose to life again," said Nerr. "So too are we buried and raised to life immortal with him."

Lifting her face to heaven and spreading her arms, Vitra rejoiced. Love like she had never known showered down upon her, filling her spirit as the spring rains fill the fertile ground. She wished she could stay here in this moment forever, but of course, she couldn't. After all, there was still much left to do.

Emerging from the river, Vitra was whisked away to where a dozen ladies were waiting. Oren, likewise, made his way to a private chamber within the lighthouse.

While Oren and Vitra made ready, Father Hugh took a few moments to explain certain Hipocci traditions to the churches. Only once did one of the refugees have to correct him. When Hugh had finished, the crowd began to relax and speak among themselves, some enjoying a picnic lunch, others just chatting. No one knew when Oren would emerge from the lighthouse. It was vital that they didn't.

Afternoon wore on into evening, with the bright sun slowly mellowing as it tends to do in late hours. When everyone least expected it, Oren stepped from the tower. He stood proudly, clad in his full Hipocci soldier's uniform, complete with the long, red cape which swirled in the evening breeze. "It is time!" he announced. He needed say nothing more. There was a great deal of cheering and singing as they followed Oren to where Vitra waited.

No place in the Keep was quiet that night. The entire fortress was filled with the sounds of celebration as the procession moved along.

Accompanied by her new friends with whom she had been waiting, the weasel appeared at her door. She was dressed in an elegant dress of springtime green (having insisted that wearing white would not have honored the memory of her late husband.) With oil-lit lamps, she and her helpers joined the party as they returned to the riverside.

This time, it was Desuka who had the honor of performing the ceremony. He had been practicing carefully, ever since he had been asked to do this, and the panda spoke the common language flawlessly.

"Dearly beloved, it is indeed a privilege for me to stand before you tonight, and to have the honor of joining together this man and this woman in the sight of Earth and Heaven."

Desuka swallowed. "On the island of Khumar, where I have spent the majority of my lifetime, I lived in the temple of the Creator, surrounded by life and love on an island where strife and hostility seemed to be a way of life for many peoples. It pleased me greatly to learn that the Os-Var-Khai was not the only place in the world like this, for as I see all of you gathered together, Follower, Immerser and Returner, and others who have joined us out of friendship, gathered for no other purpose than to welcome one whom they once called an enemy into their very family, there can be no doubt that love lives in this place.

And it is one, very special love which has made this all possible. The love of Oren and Vitra for one another, which we celebrate today."

Desuka turned to one side as Gornul brought to him a bowl filled with rice wine. "This wine," explained the panda. "Is a symbol of life. To share this wine is to promise the sharing of one's own life. Oren, son of Nerr of Hipocc, do you pledge your life to this woman, to love her always and to keep her until death?"

"I do." Oren declared. He took the bowl and drank deeply.

"Vitra, daughter of Norchk of the Bloodborne, do you pledge your life to this man, to love him and keep him until death?"

Vitra took the bowl from Oren, and suddenly froze. There was a sudden realization that this was for good. The words she spoke next would change the rest of her life. He stood for just a moment, staring into the bowl. Oren began to look troubled.

Vitra felt a hand upon the fur of her arm. She looked up to see who had touched her, but there was no one there. And yet... she imagined she could see Ushka there, smiling in approval. She looked into Oren's eyes, and all doubt was gone. "I do." she said. Putting her lips to the bowl, she drank the last of the wine.

Desuka sighed in visible relief. "Then by the power vested in me by Yaweh and by Duke Thomas, I hereby declare you husband and wife. You may kiss the bride."

The whole world seemed to dissolve as Oren and Vitra joined their lips in a kiss so pure and passionate, nothing else mattered.


Gornul had promised to spend the next seven days in the lighthouse, so that the newlywed couple would be free to celebrate their marriage. Oren, however, sat on the edge of his tub with a look of worry on his face. He had not been truly male since the curse had settled on him. He had little hope of doing his husbandly duty. As he looked up, his eyes wandered to a little vial on the shelf. It was the potion he had received on his way back from Hipocc. He was told that it would turn him into a man if used under certain conditions. The time-candle at his desk told him that midnight was fast approaching, and he knew the moon to be full. Seeing no reason not to try, Oren doused himself with the potion and slid into the water.

Vitra understood about Oren's particular version of the curse. She had been preparing to sleep, and was just about to slip into a nightgown when she heard footsteps behind her. Turning, she saw a human man approach, complete and unadorned.

"Oren?" she asked, her eyes wide.

"It worked." said Oren, himself astonished. "The potion beat the curse. It turned me back into a man. Perhaps..."

"I know what you are going to say, and no. I do not wish to become anything but what I am now."

Oren allowed his eyes to drink in the beauty of his wife's naked form. "And what you are is the most beautiful woman I have ever known."

What happened next can be guessed. It need not be told.

Far away, an otter stood, surrounded by lutins, including Kayrok, who looked particularly smug.

"Sir?" asked one of the younger lutins. "Forgive me my curiosity, but I do not understand what just happened."

Any other lutin officer would have put the young one in his place, but not Kayrok. "We knew that the otter would be using the potion we gave him on his this, wedding night. Sytet has been watching him carefully. The moment he saw Oren use the potion, he signaled us by flying in front of the lighthouse beacon. Then we knew to wet down Norebo."

The young one still looked confused.

"Norebo was wearing a spell which made him appear human. That vial was full of a seemings exchange potion. It transfers disguises when activated. Clothing, hairstyle, even appearance-altering spells."

"Even the curse of Metamor?"

"It doesn't matter how strong the spell is. We didn't reverse it, we only moved it. Oren received Norebo's disguise. It will have worn off by morning, and his outside will become lutrine to match his inside. In the meantime, he'll have a night of lovemaking that he'll never forget. Norebo, on the other hand, now has the ability to assume a wide array of disguises in any number of species, ages and genders. He gets to be a man, we get the ultimate infiltrator. Everyone wins."