Part 1 - Dawn

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The questions to be answered are two: first, why had the priest to slay his predecessor? And second, why, before he slew him, had he to pluck the Golden Bough? The rest of this book will be an attempt to answer these questions.

Frazer, the Golden Bough


Day One:

The dawn woke in a smoky haze, rubbed her red eyes, coughed her lungs out, and punched a fusion-powered fist through the heart of the gloom. The dawn was normally a morning person, but today she extended a crimson middle finger to the world, promising wreck to the seaman, tempest to the field, sorrow to shepherds, and woe unto the birds. It wasn't like her to be this angry. Someone had burned a lot of trees.

Rayleigh Lumley - he went by Ray - could not discern the face of the sky. He scattered colored pencils on the forest floor and tested a few on his sketchpad. Sitting amidst the greenery with the wind tousling his hair, Ray might have been mistaken for a young sailor or herdsman from a bygone age. To him, the red morning sky signified only that his color palette needed adjustment.

The deer, it seemed, could discern the face of Ray Lumley. The majestic creature stood only inches away, wearing a somber expression that made Ray feel as though he were being evaluated. The deer's antlers barely peeked out and were encased in fuzzy velvet. It lowered its head to the forest floor, but did not browse, and soon returned to staring into Ray's eyes.

Ray stood.

The deer did not move.

Ray reached out with a trembling hand.

The deer did not flinch.

Ray placed his hand on the deer's head.

The deer did not protest.

Ray met the deer's gaze and felt an unspeakable bond with the creature. Surely they could communicate, he thought.

"Would you mind?" Ray shoved the deer's head aside.

The deer shoved back.

"I'm sure you're very handsome, for a deer, but you're in the way. See?" Ray held up his sketchpad.

The deer silently judged him.

Ray set his shoulder against the deer's flank and heaved with all his might, accomplishing nothing.

The deer snorted.

Ray sat back down. "Alright. You want that spot, go ahead." He scooted a few feet away and tilted his head ninety degrees.

The deer followed, blocking his view once more.

"Too late, it's up here now." Ray tapped his temple. "I only need one good look. When you look at things straight on, your brain turns what you see into ideas. Worst case, your brain turns it into words. That's a 'tree,' or a 'leaf,' or a 'branch.' You can't draw that."

The deer snorted again.

"Well, you can't draw anyway. You don't have thumbs. The point is, if you look at things differently, you can see them as they are." Ray tilted his head to demonstrate.

The deer imitated him.

Ray saw his own image reflected in the deer's mournful eyes. Startled, he stood up straight.

The deer shuffled in front of him.

"I could finish the sketch with my eyes closed now. Accept that you've been outsmarted and move on."

The deer ate Ray's pencil.


The deer ran away.

Ray pursued, leaving behind a fringetree in full bloom. Its creamy-white, long-petaled flowers were incarnadined by the wrathful dawn.

A minute later, Ray returned to his art minus one colored pencil. When he had finished, he tore the page from the sketchpad and held it up to the white fringetree. "I don't think I'm good enough to capture your beauty, but I'll keep trying."

The wind picked up, tousling Ray's hair again. He put the loose sketch beneath a stone and started anew. Before long, no part of the sun hid beneath the horizon, and the smoky haze began to clear. He packed up his pencils.

"See you tomorrow." He took a deep breath and smelled no trace of the fires, only honeysuckle and fringetree. The sketch slipped from beneath the stone and onto a gust of wind. Ray pursued; he found littering morally repugnant. But the sketch was lost to the deep forest.

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