XXI. Alraune and the Oak

She awoke to ground rushing up to meet her. She’d been awake but asleep for longer than she could remember. She heard what sounded like the wooden wheels of the circus wagon slowly moving away. She closed her eyes as hard as she could—she could only dream that was the case. She didn’t dare to look, but she couldn’t deny that the ground here felt welcome where it usually didn’t. Where she expected wood and splinters, she instead felt wet earth.

She waited for what felt like hours and finally opened her eyes. The first thing she saw, was the light of the sun as it beat down upon her. She wasn’t used to being uprooted like this—she was exposed and afire. Reflexively she wanted to take root here, and it took all of the self control she had to not. She crawled on her elbows away from the roads for what felt like miles. Moments before she reached what felt like her absolute edge, she felt shade cover her like grace, right as her roots drank greedily into the earth.

After the first few days, the panic she felt slowly started to subside. Shade danced below her in the shape of what looked like fronds. She looked up at her savior. It was a jumbled mess of paradoxes—mighty but humble, stout but tall. It jutted strong from the earth with immesurable strength yet, with no harsh lines about it. She imagined time had sanded them all away.

She introduced herself and smiled when it did not. She wasn’t offended. Things this old were wise, and in her experience, wisdom was often kind. She felt a noble quality within it, she liked that. It reminded her of the knights in stories that members of her troupe would sneak into her tent to read to her. She had fond memories of those times, sometimes they calmed her enough to sleep.

She was often at war with herself. Her bloom was a brilliant blue and violet, a bit about her that at one time made her proud, but in captivity, it had been awed over, laughed at, and made mockery of ad-nauseum, to the extent that she felt it didn’t serve her, and she had outgrown it. She hated it.

She traced across the coarse bark of her savior with the tip of her finger, and sunk into its embrace. “Why not?” She would become an oak. She was many things before, spanned over the course of her lifetime, but that was then and this was now. She moved to intertwine her roots with its own, and laughed as she felt it jump…

The days turned into months, and before long, she felt time itself grow redundant. Alraune and the Oak watched the sun and moon dance, with the emerald green of falling stars and the planets as players. It was a front row seat to the greatest show she’d ever seen. She felt lucky that she had built the awareness within her to watch it.

The play was interrupted by laughter, and a jagged blade dragged against the bark of her knight. It’s trunk was unmoving as it always was, but she felt tension in its roots. It signaled both pain, and resignation at equal levels.

Alraune’s features grew sharp. For so long, her tendrills had hung without purpose or use by her side, but now they were healed by water, and blessed by sun. She moved upon the bearers of the voices in an instant, then embraced and drank them slowly. To her, this was not an unfamiliar act, it came as easy as breathing. They were prey—remorse did not come.

She knelt by the side of her knight, and attempted to soothe its wound. She looked up at it, and smiled a half-hearted smile. At face value this was justice, but the act also fed something darker that she could neither articulate nor sate.

Over time, as more bodies fed the earth below them, the dance began to escalate. The earth slowly became an orchestra pit that grew more and more alive with murmurs, and more and more alight with stars of it’s own.

Before long, they came in droves, and they came with fire. She knew what would come next. She did what she could with her nature, but this was her fault. She tried to rip herself from the earth, and throw herself back into the light. She would not escape, but her knight need not suffer for her actions. The Oak held her gently but firmly in response. She sank into it’s embrace. She looked up: “Why?” The Oak gestured up with its fronds as it spoke: “Look”.

Alraune looked up to a sea of stars. This was a rare sight! The sky sat in retrograde—the heavens were watching. As the feeling of time returned to her, she felt these last few moments of her life weigh equal to the aeons before. Neither better nor worse.

The embrace of the Oak had not loosened—she belonged here. She felt she had purpose, even in her death. No matter what she’d suffered, or did, or didn’t do, she took solace in the fact that her final act always belonged to her. Before long, stars began to fall among them in rods of flame and pitch. Alraune and the Oak embraced their end, roots entwined, as they bloomed and burned and cast carbon to the sky as one, like a second sun.