Concerning the Apparatus of the Serpent and Centaur Queen

Being an account of The Faun’s travels. Composed between 20 March-10 April 2016.


The Female Godform of Pan


Beside the rolling brook I sit. Its clear waters shimmer with the bright sun light. Mid day has already departed. The scent of the moss covering the forest floor soothes from core to pore. After I cross its cool waters, I settle upon a fallen tree that has some fruiting bodies springing from it. They look plump and ready to burst with spores. Pan-flute in my hands, I scan the horizon. I blow into the reeds with an emphasis on the low notes. My dryads come to me and embrace me. They are ready for me to possess them. □

I become a mist that surrounds one of my dryads. With her breath, I am pulled into her lungs. On her exhalation, I wrap myself around her waist and cup her breasts. But as I materialize into the flesh and unveil the form I inhabit, it is her hands that find their way into me, already they are under my armour, of which I wear none, between the strands of hair. I have suddenly become the object of desire, the prey in the quandary. But I can outrun any that so desire me: for I am in the forest that is the self-same as me. The begging keeps me anchored. I catch attention drift when challenged to act with generosity. Upon the rotting tree I lay as the day fades. I passed my time looking up at the sky as it underwent its changes. The moss cakes off and small pieces of it cling to my skin. When I stand up again and walk elsewhere in the forest, the moss will spread. It is I who takes care of my forest. And it is I who takes care of my ward here as well. The evening comes again. There is a lit fire in the distance. A cynosure. I make my way there and find her readily awaiting. □

“Take me, even unto the void!” she cries. The new waters anoint me, warming me down to my very core. The serpent’s kiss, the dance-on-wires electric, banishes every thought from the adytum and reverberates back outward again. Though not numb, there is no feeling suddenly. The nerves have gone quiet from the bow-shock. Our eyes open at the same moment. Gaze remains on the other before breaking. The sun has gone. So now the darkness over us blankets itself with heavy, grey clouds. As the rain begins to pour over our naked skin we seek shelter. With the last fleeting light from the fire as the rain extinguishes it, we see a cave in the distance. After a short stroll, we enter it and quickly we realize how cold it has become. Wrapping ourselves around each other again we return to the oblivion. One of us is the master, the other the lord, one the teacher, one the adept, and we are lost in the bonds and the lesson. The embrace breaks with the pain of teeth on flesh. The flesh hungers for what the dance cannot provide and then there is blood between us. □

The sun rises and the dew hides amongst the mist. And then he in turn slays the mist. The forest becomes bright again. I find myself alone in the cave. I take the verdant pathway away from the hills and find myself with the moss again. Its scent is metallic. The forest’s thirst was slaked and now it basks in it. I find the nymph sitting by the brook. Her legs dangle in the moving water. The hair on her legs flow with the passing water. My shadow creeps over her backside as I approach her. She is about to reach down into the water to splash it on her face. But she stops, startled, once my reflexion in the water appears before her. She turns around and her stare catches mine. The moment lasts time uncountable. I can see her eyes drift downward then back up again. Her body mirrors this with her breath, her frame full of air then released in a sigh that would push away even the mist around us were it not exiled by the sun’s bright light this day. Her face turns slightly crimson. Turning away from me again, she places her hands on each side of her hips, and pushes herself up and into the water. I watch her as she swims away, downstream. My thoughts remain upon her with each step she takes down the brook. I wonder when I will see her again. I wonder how I shall lure her again into the open. And as I wonder, it pains me as I wrack my mind upon what I ought to do so that she remains here. I wonder, I wonder.  □

Before the trickling brook I make myself comfortable. My hands dip into the waters she had parted. Into my palm I cup as much of it as I can. There are particles of dirt and the water bears the sick-sweet aroma of her salt. I drink from it and taste her memory. Then I splash the rest of the water upon my face, a frantic unction in the same fashion which I observed the nymph. Only in cleanliness do I become aware of the dirt upon my face. As the water calms again, I begin to see clearly the outline of my face, the twigs stuck in my hair, and my two horns. I put my hands upon them to check that they are still there. That the sudden awareness of them is not an illusion. Of course they are still there. But they no longer feel the same. Though I ought to, I feel neither cold nor naked. The sun has begun its decline for the day, yet enough light remains for my shadow to inform me of my semblance. The heat grows behind me in every direction. The sliver glow of the moon takes over as the sun crosses the horizon but the warmth remains. When the stream can no longer draw in enough light to show me my reflection, when it is only Luna bearing down upon the waters and me, I finally turn to go back into the forest. But the forest is gone now. The heat I felt upon my back all day suddenly makes sense. The proud oaks have all become whimpering embers. And the water that stole my attention all of this day was here, the only thing that saved me. On a single knee, behind the blurred vision of teary eyes, I look up to Luna. Time indefinite passes as I beg her to guide me where next to travel. Upon setting my vision back down through the charred remains of my once glorious verdant abode, at the other end of my sight stands a cloaked figure. I cannot tell if it is human or infernal, regal or animal, male nor female, or even whether its gaze is upon me or if I see only its backside. □

The black robe billows, fighting the still air, as the figure raises one arm. My presence required, I must follow, I can read from the gesture. We walk, maintaining moderate distance between us. The winding path tells me about our destination for this forest belongs to me, a part of me made external. I know the map because I am the map. We make a few winding turns and arrive further down the rolling brook. There the water crashes into the rocks. A water fall empties here down into the fathoms of a dark pool. I can see her! There she is! She lies ice-like and lifeless below the water and lifeless as my heart now becomes. My nymph and I, reunited! Even unto death, I swore we would be. But her own -even unto- came untimely. The hooded visitor in my forest stands awaiting. The rocks below would tear me apart, and I contemplate it long enough. I can feel the splendors of the next deep within my bones suddenly. My nymph and I again, in the company of the elements and the light eternal. Chalices of fine wine that never dry. A life again and again, on and on. I would not mind the next life — but the serpent coiled around my leg has another idea in mind. Its fangs sink into me and I only feel them as I kick it away, exile it from my deathly daydream. But it is too late. And the serpent’s kiss takes ahold of me. I look to the hooded visitor, who only looks on at me, face obscured and umbral. My legs turn to stone, and my vision grey. And then black. And I pull the hood back and see my former body, freshly dead. The robe smells retched, and I toss it over the body. The serpent has stayed around and I step on its head with my hoof. The metallic scent of its blood assaults me. At the edge of the waterfall, I leap down. For what is once more, a death again, if I hit the rocks? I can not lose a thing when I have nothing. The water catches me. And then it becomes vicious and chokes me. But the bubbles expelled from my lungs tell me which direction to swim. I grab ahold of the body of the nymph to save her from the wet tomb fate threw her into. I follow the final exhalation I take as my vision turns to static, and I escape. By the time morning comes again, I have dragged both bodies up to the hill, and lay them in a fallen tree for the carrion birds to find. I descend from the mountain and set my eyes on the rolling plains. All in one day, I lost my nymph, my forest, and even my self. □

Unfolding the black robe that I clutched in my hand as I exited my now-scorched forest, I take a look again at the last remnants of my nymph. The circular crown she wore, gilded flowers that the dryads gathered and left around her in reverence. Behind me still glow embers. They mark the outer circle where the forest would have begun. That old life, of which I have only this talisman, bears upon me. I look to the stars and beg them to strike me down. Send lightning. Send thunder. Send ferocity. Be merciful and take the rest of what you came for, I beseech the skies. But I get no answer. Beneath the ebony blindfold which is the night sky, I begin to see my nymph. She is diamond and eternal now. The nymph that was before the life and on ever on, which I have been after since I first heard her breath. I lay the crown in the field between myself and the sky. With it, I can no longer tell if it is she, the goddess, who is blinded or if it is me. I leave it there as an offering and an acceptance that I am alone now. There is nobody here, not even me. I wait as the sun dispels the binding of night innumerable times over. In the center of the field a crowd of centaurs have gathered. Their leader is opposite me, across the field, and waits. A new flower has sprouted, the first of the season, in the crown. I pluck it from the ground and get up again. Its scent helps me forget the weakness in my bones, it does not satiate. It helps me forget the hunger. I go on and meet the centaurs’ Queen. She has thick armour, made of chitin that must have come from a great beetle she herself slain. The customs of these people are not familiar to me but the look she gives me is universal. I bow before her and offer the flower up as a sign. She takes it from me and turns away. Her tail mesmerizes me for it seems to have its own will as it sways and cracks the air. □

Her hand extends out and I reciprocate with mine. The notion of choice a mere formality in this circumstance for her legion surrounds me. We walk some distance, side by side. The crown I left behind in the field shall eventually turn to rust and rejoin the soil, long after it fades from my thoughts. Each time the nymph comes to mind again, the Centaur Queen stops and grabs ahold of me. The urgency of this force strikes me twice as hard as her hands do. Following the morning star which is the evening star, we eventually reach the Vale of Thorns. In my own lifetime and travels I have scarcely journeyed here though I know of it. The Centaur Queen leads me through the thicket. The thorns tear at me easily though for the Queen they seem to do nothing. She stands high above the brambles and tramples them down. Each thorn amongst many finds its own way into my flesh and slowly cut and bite. Eventually, we reach a clearing. There is a maimed goat here, lying in wait, braying and bahing in agony. The Queen looks to me and says nothing. Two of her most trusted guards who have followed us now appear at our side. One carries a pike and the other carries a shovel. They set about digging a hole. The Queen hands me a small brown satchel and a slender box. I bow my head and thank her for the gifts. The satchel contains seeds. And the box, a knife. The guards have finished digging the hole and return to me, taking the gifts out of my hand. They take me by the wrists and lead me to the hole. Still alive, the goat sits and squirms at its bottom. One of the guards cleanly glides the knife across my wrist. And then I am made to anoint the beast with my fluids. The other guard casts all of the seeds into the pit. I can only stand there watching as they bury it again. The sun and moon have danced several times as all of this has taken place. In time, rain comes and it softens the Vale of Thorns. As I am led out again, I can see over my shoulder that a tree has begun to grow, and the thorns have begun to bear flowers. The scent of the flowers bids me farewell as we climb out of the Vale. □


The entire encampment has packed up and awaited our return from the Vale of Thorns. Onward, North we must go! In due time, the plains give way to mountains and the terrain becomes too much for my two legs to maneuver. The Centaur Queen allows me to ride upon her back. I clutch onto her hair. I cannot determine if it is a mane or a maiden’s locks. In the plains, the days lasted so much longer than the nights. But now, the days grow shorter. Which is another way of saying the nights become longer. Luna takes over from Sol. Nowhere behind us in the horizon as I scour the fading scene, can I find the forest in which I once dwelled. The ride is wholly unremarkable save for two cougars playing with the carcass of a vulture they came across. The peak of the mountain marks the next stop on the centaurs’ procession. It is here, and only here, that a day lasts the same as a night. And with this knowledge I anticipate that once we descend the mountain, the nights shall last longer. If we continue North indefinitely, all shall eventually become night. Off in the direction we travel, I see the skies violently light up. A sight I have never beheld in my entire life. The lights look as if a giant chewed on the most brilliant crystals the Earth can offer, swallowed a mouthful of harsh liquor, and spat it all out over a fire. I ask the Queen if she means to take me there with her and she nods. It becomes clear to me now at this point whatever faculty of choice I once possessed, I abandoned long ago in the forest. At last, we reach the summit. The centaurs build their camp again, and in the royal tent I am the Queen’s guest again. She threatens to keep me warm if this winter never ends. On our first night together, under still air and the battery of the falling snow, she takes off her armour. Each of her arms bears faded, intricate tattoos. Both betray the signs of ink that slowly turns to blueish blur against the tides of time and the elements. Even her art has had to battle the sun. One arm depicts a battle and the other arm depicts a prophecy. Each design covers a shoulder, and culminate together over her heart. As the candle is snuffed out for the night, the designs fade, and her weight obliterates them from my memory. □

We dance, disarmed and naked. This lasted for what could have been seasons, but the mountain dwells far above the domain of seasons. I walk outside one night, the beacon fires boldly blazing, and see that a commotion has arisen. None of the centaurs trust me, they resent that their Queen keeps me safe, wet, and warm. I have become her prized possession but her subjects see it instead as if I have possessed her. They are at any moment one empty stomach away from rioting. She seems unconcerned by the unrest. A rumor begins to spread that the supplies shall not last longer. The Queen summons their chief Seer to her tent. Again, they draw my blood and in my spilled vitality he sees something dreadful indeed. He spends little time explaining as there is no time to wait. Outside the royal tent, to the North, sits the moon, bright and silver. To the South shines the sun. They fight over the cycle and neither backs down. It has been this way for ages, on this summit, a stellar stalemate. And it will remain that way. And so shall we. For the snow has fallen and precluded progress in any direction. The entire tribe knows it shall slowly die, and in their submission the Queen has indulged herself. When the circumstance fully sinks in, I begin planning my escape. But nature has other plans in store. For the sacred Lord Initiator-Interdictor soon arrives on the scene of the first death. The friends of the sickly one bury him in the snow, hoping it will quell the spread of decay. Whether scourged by hunger or disease none shall know. It does not take much longer for a handful more to fail to awaken. And soon it seems as though only the Queen and I remain. All others have fallen or fled. Death has sent a messenger of his own. For a great beetle arrives, whose hull glows in green and purple, and red eyes that seek to feast upon both the living and the dead right down to the bone. He has little companions, an entire swarm of beetles with elaborate head-dresses and staghorns. The Queen will not stand for this and commences her last stand. Her armour offends the creature, and her strength fails to do anything. But in her fight I search for and eventually find the largest shield I can find in the encampment. And with no time to look back at who emerged from the battle of Queen and Carrion, I rode atop the shield, sledding out of the encampment and down the mountain. Thus, my descent into Night, the abode of the stars, began. □

The shield serves as a fine sled for a time. The way up to the summit — the gallows where upon my innocence was slain by the slick desires of the Centaur Queen — was steep. The way down, to the North, is a sheer cliff. With no warning, I fall into the dark, rolling waters. Above me, the stars shine. On the surface of the frothing sea I can see only nothing below. The shield quickly sinks below. Yet another gift for the void. For some time, I tread water. As my limbs become too heavy to maintain this, I slowly discover that I can stay afloat. The water tastes of salt. In no direction but above can I discern any destination. There is no land I can close in on. The stars seem closer in reach than anything on the horizon. I wonder if I shall die, then I embrace the thought. My thoughts become brighter than any lodestar. They burn with the phantasms of what shall come next. After the air in my lungs gives way to the blackwater brine, I shall wake up in a chamber with exotic scents and transparent tapestries. How far away from my forest will I have gone. How many deaths I have weathered. The chamber will feel soft and aromatic. The dryness appeals to me the most. I close my eyes and the vision becomes brighter. The chamber has a door. And past that door is a room full of delights I can not even fathom. Lost at sea, thick in fantasy, I continue to drift afloat and directionless. □

For what may have been ages, I float on my back. Eventually I drift near a whirlpool and it pulls me into its reaches. Before I can even see it, I feel it. Its force drags me beneath the surface. My lungs take in the salty water. There is no air I can gasp for. My arms swing and my legs struggle, but I cannot swim. The whirling presence demands me and rips me in twain. I see my hoofed legs twirl around and separate from me, tethered only by the crimson trail. My arms make a final attempt to reach the surface. Up above is the path of mercy, fresh air. It calls to me, the star’s song. If I could only hear again! Fighting the depths, the path of cruelty, I reach and kick and tread. But in my plight my thoughts lapse and pick up again. Perhaps the way down will bring mercy, and each lungful only prolongs my quandary, former ruler of the forest now lost at sea. Shaking this perilous image from my head I reach my fingers above me once more. But this time my fingers only graze the water. I see the stars one last time as my vision fades. Everything — my sight and all of my other sensations — turns amber and then crystalline, I heard myself attempt to scream for comfort, for the forest and its nymphs, one last time, but I can make no sound. Its saline sting burns my lungs from the inside and then the latticework that my senses became is turned to salt. I have been dissolved by the uncaring sea. Each grain goes another direction, my corporeal form as attenuated as my consciousness. This goes on with no regard for time, direction, duration or any other circumstance. On the distant shore of an island, the grains of salt begin to accumulate again, one by one, and eventually my body is reconstructed. It lies there, blanketed by the changing tides and watched over by the night sky. A voice calls for me, tells me to wake up again, that I have one last chance to make right, the right to change. I look up and see her floating above me, holding a sword in one hand, a wand in the other. She is the only light on this island, in the sky, or anywhere I have seen since I parted ways with the sun. I break eye contact with her and look down at my body. It looks the same as it has always. I can not tell if I drowned or merely lost consciousness and was spat out here by the current. Looking at her again, floating above me, I ask for clarity. With her sword she blesses me and vanishes. My hooves make it difficult to walk upon the sand. Or is it my new legs? Stumbling a few times, getting a taste of the ground, I make my way into the tree-line ahead of me to see what I can find. □

The trees turn out to be emerald, elegantly carved to resemble oak and cedar. That they deceived me, the Living and Sempiternal Embodiment of the the Forest, speaks of their craftsmanship. As I examine one of the thin leaves, it cracks off and a shard nicks my finger. My blood suddenly runs out, thinner than I have ever seen before. This tree differs from all others, as it has a serpent coiled around its trunk. I feel faint momentarily but I choose to press onward and go deeper into the island. I throw the blood-stained verdant piece onto the ground. Many more trees await me as I stroll through them. A loud clacking sound takes me by surprise. The ground has transitioned from sand to marble as I entered the emerald forest. Several bees circle my hand, clinging to the blood, sipping from it. They clean the wound and leave again. On one of the trees nearby, I find a golden apple dangling at eye level. I defer against touching it lest it does something else to harm me. I continue on into a clearing where a brilliant, crimson temple sits. It is carved out of one solid piece of ruby, and a nude human — a woman — sits on a pearl bench. She sips from a chalice. As I walk deeper into the clearing, I avoid eye contact with her and focus instead on her violent-blue hair. She motions for me to sit next to her. As I sit down beside her, she offers me the chalice. It is empty of drink. With a snap of her fingers, a swarm of bees return and land around its rim. They regurgitate a sweet red melange of blood, honey and wine into the cup. I can smell the iron over the alcohol and sugar. I taste it and it is foul. The look the woman gives me intoxicates me more than this concoction could ever. This emboldens me. She smiles, and uses her finger to clean up a drop of wine that clung to the corner of my lower lip. Then she gets up and takes me by the hand. We descend the stairs at the back of the temple, into the distal side of the forest. A winding path leads us up and down a few hills, when at last we arrive upon a monument sitting on a black and white platform. Two columnar, carved statues of resting eagles stand on each side of an ornate brass chest. One appears caked in black ash. The other shines bright blue — it was carved from sapphire. She stands between the these two columns and takes a seat upon the chest. This is the first time I notice that she wears a key, strung around her neck, concealed by her breasts. She stares at me and I stare at her. Her body language tells me her offer: remain hers here forever, or lose everything. “But how can someone with nothing lose anything?,” I wonder. I turn my head to view the trees again. And here I see through the trappings — grey umbral outlines of her entourage, carrying beehives upon their shoulders. The droning sound tells me that none of this treasure belongs to me. As I turn my gaze back to the woman, she has bent over, reaching into the box. She takes out a large preying mantis with jet black eyes and a thirsty grin. It leaps out of her hand unaided and directly towards me. My reflexes contradict — I recoil as it lands in my outstretched arms. It bites me just above my heart and then prances away. My blood starts to trickle out. A single bee lands on my fresh wound. With my cut hand I destroy it and the keepers and the woman all gasp. I run — loudly but as quickly as my hooves take me — and get lost in the forest. The blood trickles down all the way down my legs, my pulse working against me. It is here again, lost in the thick, that I find another apple and grasp it. My vision blurs and I sink down. The floor is cold as I sit upon it. My recovery takes only a few breaths before I feel fine again. It is the antidote. The bees fly over my head and ignore me. I hide here for some time as I gather my wits. □

I scour the emerald forest for shelter. I race against a day whose sun shall never rise. The pursuers have long since faded away. Have I become invisible? Or have they? My heart which bears a fresh scar still pounds and my hooves still clack upon the marble. In my course I arrive upon another platform with a chest. It has neither statues guarding it nor a lock fastening it shut. Without hesitation, I open it. There is a wand crafted out of diamond, worn with heavy use. It has long lost its luster and appears matte grey. Taking it for myself, I keep moving through the forest. In time it thins out and I am on another shore. Just in time, as my back begins to hurt from the running around. I find a rock jutting out of the lagoon and sit upon it. The water seems still, no tides, no sound. In the reflection of the standing water, I can see the stars above me shine down. There are a few that sparkle brightly. My attention migrates from this island to the stellar. Their serpentine arrangement compliments the wand. Raising the wand up to the sky I let the stars wrap themselves around it. I close my eyes and in my vision I imagine the Centaur Queen holds onto the wand with me. I can see her reflected in the infinite sky. She tells me she escaped her battle and grew from it. But I know this is my own story. I try to find the horizon, where the sea of darkness and despair greets to the infinite night sky but I fail at it. Perhaps she sails just over the horizon and will join me on the emerald island. Or perhaps not. Even though the air is warm and comfortable, I feel the need to carve into the unshaped marble hills. A cave to dwell inside of, a place where I can plan my escape. My fingers trace the scar above my heart again. Its shape and the pain I bring out by picking at the wound remind me again of a place only I can dwell. A loud buzzing interrupts my contemplation. The beekeepers have returned, to scour the beach. It is not they who became invisible after all. They clearly overlook where I sit still, and eventually move on. If the Centaur Queen actually lived and seeks me out, I wonder if she will, too, look past me. Gazing out at the horizon again, this time I can feel it stare back at me. It consoles me and suddenly I realize that I can reverse all of this. But I must find safety, the right location to construct my bark, and sail away from this trap. I look up at the constellation again, one serpent in sight, and begin my plans. □

Eventually the hills and the trees give away to a cleavage. A dark corridor opens up. One or two bees fly past me as they enter and leave. There is a dim light deep inside this cavern. Its red light reminds me of a dying star and thus it draws me deeper. The trail is winding and the marble soon is covered up in a fragrant wax. Against my better judgment I place my hand on one of these walls and it appears living, it recoils at my touch. The waxen surface leaves my hand slick. A squad of bees come to dry my hand off, reclaim the nectar that brushed off on me. As I wander closer to the light I begin to wonder whether this is a hive or a living organ. The bees cling to the walls, deep in slumber, humming in a soothing baritone. The sound becomes overwhelming as I begin to feel it in my spine. I reach an archway and pass under it. In this chamber is the Mother of Bees. She lies here, in slumber and in chains. I work to quickly undo the fetters binding her. The earth trembles beneath and above me. Some rocks fall from the ceiling, coated with the wax. One lands on her back. Her eyes open at me and they betray a great deal of pain. Blood has caked up around her mouth. I pet her forehead and her buzzing heals my every scratch and scar. When I have undone the last of the chains, the cavern opens up overhead. This fissure lets in the starlight. She flies above and grabs on to me. I panic and try to hit one leg but resist it. If I dropped down now I would die. Below us, red ichor rises up from the floor and pours out of the walls. Its scent carries the violent aroma of freshly excavated iron. We are above the island now, high above it. It slowly descends into the sea under the red liquid that suddenly sprang out of the ground. All of the fortunes that were once promised shall meet their dooms, destined to be forgotten by all but me, once the crimson buries this island. As the Mother of Bees continues to fly toward the horizon, I can only look back at what could have been my future and the site of my grave. □

The Mother of Bees circles around and sweeps over the tops of the trees. Their emerald tops just barely break past the surface of the newly created marsh. All of the island has vanished into the depths save for the one hill we approach. Upon it lies another shrine: amber, carved into a lotus, with an altar in the center. Flames erupt from the top of the altar, and four small, beryl sphinxes guard each side. All of the people on the island have gathered here to escape the rising sealine. The naked woman stands unharmed in the fire, holding the chalice in one hand and yelling orders at her supplicants. The Mother of Bees draws her bodkin from her tail end and, in turn, stabs each of the beekeepers from above, before circling around and depositing them into the unforgiving maroon waters. The woman holds up the chalice as an offering, begging for her life. The Mother of Bees lets go of me. I draw the diamond wand out at the ready. But the woman laughs! Around her neck dangles a short, thin whistle similar to one a hunter uses to call the hounds. As she blows into it, the sound causes my ears to rupture and I become disoriented. Beneath my sudden deafness I can see the woman heartily laughing at me. The Mother of Bees flies away into the sky, distressed by the whistle. From every side of the lotus, a giant crab crawls out of the water. Their pincers look menacing. They make their way directly towards me. With no time to lose, I rush past the woman and use the wand to break off a branch from one of the partly-submerged emerald trees. As the first crab makes its way to me, I lift the giant shard and let it pinch that instead of my neck. It works! The crab manages to cut its own claw off. It scampers away in the agony I imagine only crabs can experience. I recover the branch but there is no true need to use it again for the other crabs soon follow the first, and disappear back into the ocean. The woman looks stunned. I take the grail from her hands and look inside of it. There is a glob of pure light sunken inside. I pour it out on the marble and the island rumbles again. Then the light extends straight up into the sky. The Mother of Bees descends again with her bodkin and impales the woman, landing directly upon her. She waits in place. This allows me to climb upon her back. We take flight again, after I point out to her the lodestar and the serpent-stars. As we fly away, I look back at the beam of light extending from where the island once sat. It goes on forever. □

I direct the Mother of Bees to the Constellation of the Serpent. Reading my every thought, she obliges. Just over the horizon, I can see the sun threaten to burn apart the crimson sea we navigate. Then we are over the same cliff I once dove off of. Upon the summit there is no sign of my lover, The Centaur Queen. We follow the mountain down, and the sunlight blinds me. The ride becomes shaky. I worry that the Mother of Bees can not handle the sudden brightness either. Her fate has come not in light but in matter. Her thorax has slowly turned to stone. And then she disintegrates, raining stone all over the plain where I first met the tribe. I fall and this knocks me unconscious. In my sudden somnolence I meet with the Centaur Queen once again, on the other side of the Starry Serpent. She takes the wand from me and tells me that I will awaken in her embrace. Her hair envelopes me, then the rest of her body wraps around me. My eyes open and I am again on the plains. The grass has grown over me. I struggle to stand up again then give up. Before me stands her grave: a statue of a goat carrying a serpent in its mouth. It stands opposite the tree I planted upon the dying goat. This was the Vale of Thorns, but the Goat Tree transformed it during the time I spent wandering in the Night, upon the Fortunate Island. A centaur pikeman points his weapon at me once he notices I have woken up. Another centaur makes him draw down, for he remembers me fondly. He helps me get upon my hooves again. Their encampment has rebuilt itself but with no leader, they have only guarded their Queen’s memory and monument, awaiting the death that will reunite them with her. The new Seer finds me that evening and hands me another satchel of seeds. This is my boon, the foundation upon which I can keep her alive forever. The Seer tells me to replant my forest with them so that she may roam as a ghost within the verdant fortress I create. □

The centaurs bid me a slow farewell. They alter the Queen’s armour to fit me. And over the heart, to protect my scar, they affix a sprig of acacia, with two topaz in it for eyes. The edge of the forest signals itself to me. Its remains smolder with a dim glow. Once I enter in the great ashen circle I see the extent of the damage. My hooves allow me to walk on the dying embers. The once-mighty trees have changed over time to solid onyx. They glisten and I can see the faintest reflexion of myself as I pass through. In time, I reach the font where the brook springs out of the unchanged rocks. The place where my travels began. I look around and find no suitable soil. I continue down the brook. The water has turned milky with all of the ash in it. In a few dozen steps, I see a glimmer under the current. I sit down the wand and bag of seeds and step into the water to reach down and retrieve it. It is a yellow diamond. The compressed and burnt apart soul of one of my dryads. I hold it in my free hand. Walking down the brook I find more of these strewn about. Evening starts to set again. I find my way to the grave of my old body and the nymph. The mound of dirt has been dug up. Into this pit I see nothing. I damn the scavengers who have come and taken from me in the season of my death. After doffing my armour, I sit in the hole and let the night bury me. After falling slowly into sleep something wakes me. I see the yellow diamonds in the sky. And find them scattered around me on the ground. A large bird of prey picks at my ribs before I hit it and it flies away. I make sure all of the diamonds are there. I leave everything here in the pit and wander off again. For days on end I scour the forest for any sign of green I can find. Even if I can only find a rotting log. I wander along. The waterfall where she drowned. The cliff where the snake bit me. The log I sat upon ages ago playing my pan-flute. I find the instrument buried in the ash, charred but being made of bone, intact. I sit down and play a sad song. □

In circles I search the forest of ash for even the slightest sign of untainted soil or fresh growth. The eventuality that I ought to abandon both hope and the forest becomes palpable. I can feel the urge to give up so deep in my bones that it begins to seep out of me. But my quandary soon grows confounded by a practical matter. Failing to locate the edge of the forest again, I realize it may never end. Nor has the sun brought the day and the light with it for some time. I throw the diamonds into the sky above me and they keep rising and rising. Eventually they fall again, a great walk deeper in the unending woods. Deeper into the smoke I go until the ash becomes musty. There lies upon three carved rocks, a larger diamond. I walk up to it and place my free hand upon it. To my left and right, behind me and on the other side of the edifice, suddenly stand more hooded figures. The same as I saw before it all began. With my wand above me they supplicate themselves before me. One pulls his hood down and offers his neck and featureless face. With a rock I strike him and he falls to the ground. And then another and another fall this way. In this grove I plant the last of the seeds and look to the sky for the sun to return. But the diamond only grows brighter and brighter. The bodies slowly disintegrate, desiccated by the dry air. In desperation I take up the wand again and strike the edifice as hard as I can. It shatters under the wand and the wand reciprocally cracks in half. It erupts in bright light that washes over everything. The blinding blue light gradually fades in time. When my vision returns, the forest is gone. Below me, where I planted each seed shines a star, and above me hang each of the diamonds, burning just as brilliantly. □

Upon a throne of onyx I sit. There is no one here. The jet black surface reflects the shimmers of the passing stars. Below my court I can see the earth as it was and will be. Destroyed and one day verdant again. In time, each star comes to visit me. Each star brings me news. But nowhere in sight do I see the serpent constellation. One day, my patience wears out. I wake up the comfort of the onyx throne and dive into the abyss in search of of the constellation. I meet a star that is no longer a star. Her name is Carina. She has turned into a grail and speaks to me. If I drink from her, I will return to the all. If I do not, then she will go on without me. She tells me of her old life, a star interrupted. If only the tales of a dying star could be shared! I drink from the dust and fall again. After a long voyage, I look back at Carina, and see the new lights shining from her. They take the form of the serpent. At long last, my eyes open. I have become the grass, and the trees, and the moss, and even the algae in the rolling brook, now clear of any ash. I breathe in the songs of day that the passing air sings to me. I look up to the sun, now risen, and it sustains me. And at night when the beetles come to clean the forest of rot, I see the Centaur Queen, in the heart of a nova, staring back at me. □

The grass set to sleep at the end of the day and woke each morning. Rain sometimes fell, just enough to allow the green to return. The mornings lacked dew and so the trees could not grow. This cycle continued uninterrupted, beyond the passage of time, for measure had no place here. But one day a four-legged dryad arrived. Her hind leg bore an injury and the blood awaked the sleeping ferns and moss. After cleaning her wound in the same brook as the forest once played sad songs, she went to the shallow grave. It had grown over but its indentation remained. Then she payed a visit to the cave where blood, too, once spilled upon the ground. And in this cave she built shelter and remained here. When she emerged, the season had turned warmer again. She tightly clutched a child to her chest. And she let the child down on the grass and let it run free. Its horns and four legs made both the sky and the grass happy. One day, the child, now much older, found the mother nymph paralyzed. She had begun petrifying from old age. In her last words before she turned into a statue, her own memorial, she told the child to find the wand and the armour, lest the same happen again. This I saw, and it made me weep each morning ever after. □

The wand lies at the bottom of the pool the waterfall spilled out into. It let out a faint glimmer that caught the nymph-child’s eye in passing. The water kept it clean. But as the nymph-child ran to gain a better look into the water, another viper crept out of the thick. So here lie the second grotesque, nearly a gargoyle, forever encased. Out of the shallow grave I slept in, I clawed my way out to the surface. The two-step demise shot pain into my lungs, which gasped from the lack of air. Once I ripped myself out of slumber I sought out the armour first. Then my child of the woods. The armour fit her loosely. But it brought her back to life. And with that I could rest again. I became the mist and she never saw me again. □

And then the forest became of its own, and nothing more followed. □