Crucius stood tall against the sapphire sky, his rippling strength evident to all who gazed upon him & his infinite victories.
Something less than a god, but greater than any champion of his land, his was an envious life.
His lover Maritia, while fair in her own right, was not the object of attention the way Crucius was. No, Maritia was scorned for partaking in dark ways, then rejected, and in the end, killed.
Crucius wept, swearing to stay by his betrothed's side for eternity.
- - - - -
Ancient & erect, the oak tree stood poised underneath the ebony firmament, a permanent fixture in the sands bordering the moonlit lake.
Revered for its knotted girth & branches of wooden divinity, this Herculean burr was a spectacle unmatched by any other arboreal wonder.
One night, beyond the weeping willows that bowed to their oaken king, a slender figure meandered near the water with delicate femininity.
The great tree looked down upon this sprite of a woman, adoring her beauty. He foresaw the lady's fate. The monarch of the oasis wept.
"My dear, draw near", he beckoned.
A marriage of fear & wonder was being consummated in her eyes, as the beautiful figure approached.
"Climb, and rise with me now", the tree's voice boomed stoically.
Following a momentary hesitation, she climbed. Her hands & feet possessed with abandon, the woman elevated to the oak's tallest branches.
As she conquered the pinnacle, the young woman surveyed the land beyond her small world.
Though the heavens were a blanket of coarse blackness, the lake below reflected the moon's gaze just enough to view the expansive desert that lay beyond.
The forest that the girl called home was little more than a herd of withering trees & shrubs, paying silent homage to the lake that fed them and the great oak that ruled them.
"Do you long to see more beauty? Even greater wonder, sweet child?" asked her bizarre watchtower.
"I do", she whispered.
In an instant she was falling headlong, or rather being carried ferociously downward. The oak tree was arched in a bow, dangling the girl directly over the lake.
"Rise, and feed again, my queen" echoed the regal voice.
Amidst the aphotic smog of the churning lakewater, a throbbing entity swam up from the trenches, rapidly approaching the impotent lure that hung from the curved bough.
The leviathan had a form like a humongous leech, but rotted-white all over, with scales of leprosy.
It emerged from the lake and dragged her under the surface, its hellish mandibles delivering quick & crushing death.
The oak-demigod heaved a sigh of despair, as the water-hag devoured her meal.
Her beauty long since shriveled-up from ages of sorcery, a shimmer of her forgotten soul still lay hidden in the cursed corpse that now haunted these waters.
He longed to be rid of the sacrifices, but he knew the truth: as long as his water-starved roots drank from Maritia's lake, their dark affair must continue.
Crucius knew this, and wept.