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He burned her chapel. The oldest of her cult could not escape the flames, and amid the ruin one of the younger ones forgot the courtesies she was owed. These losses were disappointing, but every birth must give rise to a death, and the best of her followers were those who would cling and claw to life. Once they had accepted that their only hope was to cleave to her, their struggles turned to fervor, their screams to prayer. She would make Luke into a fitting repayment for his debts. In her hands, he would become more than a simple worshipper.

She waited for him under the harsh light of his nightmare, and chased him through the trees and shelves. Fluorescent lights and fire glowed in the darkness, bringing together the shine of damp bark and glass bottles in a great wash of power. Now was the proper moment, when his past and present united in a cry of terror, poised in the balance between living and dying.

She caught him up and held his flimsy weight to her eyes, the red from the cuts on his face wet and beautiful in the light of the fire he had set. He smelled like blood and sweat and fear, and the delicious desire to live. Yes, she had chosen well. She was right to keep him. 

She set him down on the soft soil of her forest, and pushed him—gently, for her—to his hands and knees. She rose up on her hind legs, forelegs curled neatly as if to bound up, into the spark-filled air. She spread her hind arms wide and open, blessing the sacred night. He stared up at her, something she did not allow her mere worshippers to do, and she put the palms of her front hands together above her head, showing him what to do. Instead, he dragged himself to his pale, bare feet below her. With a snort, she came crashing down on her forelegs and held his head against the dirt. The ground was hers, the trees were hers, and he was hers. What became of him was no longer his choice.

He reached for a weapon on the ground, but the ground was hers and nothing on it could stop her. She set one heavy hoof down on the blade, trapping it. He panted faster, and she put her other forehand on his back, so she could feel his heart beating through the muscle and bone of his body. She was a god, ancient and strong, and he was her chosen sacrifice. She rubbed a bony jaw on his hair, touching him with her power, and she could feel it take hold of him. He went still, glazed over as he had been when she pulled him out of the house and into the clearing to put her mark upon him. 

She slid her hands under his armpits and lifted him again, giving him a swing so she could catch his ankles in her rear hands and carry him slung underneath her. He was warm against her belly, where her shaggy coat thinned into shorter, finer hair. She flicked her tail in satisfaction. Even though it was not yet time for the rut, the joy of the hunt and the thought of the ancient ritual ahead of her had stirred a desire in her.

She took him to one of her hallowed places, amid the standing stones erected in her honor. All places she roamed were holy, just as all trees held the promise of the divine in their boughs and every night was eternal, but she had been praised among the stones for generations, and that brought its own magic.

She laid him on the flat-topped boulder in the middle of the stones, his head toward the stem-stone. He lay limp as she pulled his clothing off him, aware but kept passive by the dream-like state she had put him in. She ran her hands over him, feeling the precarious life inside. The night was crisp and clear, and the boulder would be cold on his thin, naked skin. It would remind him that he lived through the warmth of her grace.

She straightened his lolling neck, so he looked up into the sky, and stretched his arms out over his head. She crossed his wrists, although she had no need to bind him. Such things were only necessary for her worshippers, who prepared their offerings to her as best they might, but the form of it was pleasing to her. The wounds on his chest stood out dark and raw, reminding her of the taste of his blood on her tentacle-tongues when she had licked her fingertips clean. It had satisfied her then, but now she required more than a few drops of blood.

She could hear his heart pounding and almost taste his fear on the air as she touched his genitals. It proved troublesome to get his body to respond, but she had no intention of showing him the face of some human lover, the way she had done with Dom. Luke would only see her in her full, true glory. She gripped him more firmly, and as with all things within the bounds of her forest, she could not be denied.

There was a rightness to it, she thought, as his penis thickened in her hands. The loss of her worshipper was a sorrow, but it was as it should be, that this moment felt so similar to taking her eyes: warm, delicate skin, as fine as a spring birch leaf, lying over the hard bone of eye sockets and the pooled blood of a stiff penis. Locks of her follower’s hair had fallen forward onto her fingers while she punished her, just as Luke’s coarser, curlier hair brushed against her hands with every stroke as she readied him to serve her. The beauty of those two moments flowing from one to another made her pant with delight.

She released him so she could climb half onto the boulder, her forefeet planted to either side of his head and her hind legs straddling the stone above him. His sides were shivering as she pressed her rear hands against them. She shifted until the head of his penis touched her vulva, and rubbed against it to savor the anticipation. He had refused to bow to her, but she had forced him to submit, and he would understand her power over him. He would learn to obey. She had selected her favored men and women since the time the forest grew up in the wake of the melting ice, and none of them had escaped her grasp.

She sank down with a growl of pleasure. The pulse of human blood—contained so delicately by fragile skin and claimed as a living sacrifice inside of her—sang through her flesh. She rocked harder, her breath coming out in a plume of vapor. He would see it drifting among the tines of her antlers, a wreath of divinity surrounding her as she stood over him, as she showed him his place beneath her. She felt Luke shudder, close to orgasming, and she let the daze she had put him into fade away. He started to struggle, but she held him down with her hind arms as she rode him harder. She cast her head back, stretching out her antlers and spreading her front arms wide, bellowing into the night. The pines and the spruce were her witnesses, as between the solid strength of the earth and the open depths of the sky she took him as her consort. From fingertips to hooves, along her tentacles and each knob of her spine down to her tail, the hot rush of climax came like a lightning strike. It reverberated through her muscles and bones, clenching her vagina tight in holy rapture.

Luke moaned and she snarled in approval as, despite his resistance, he orgasmed. It wasn’t necessary for the ceremony to be complete, of course, but she enjoyed the display of her mastery over him. She kept him pinned, as he flailed uselessly against her forelegs, until he faltered from cold and exhaustion.

She reached down with her front hands to turn his face towards her again. He would see her now, too, while he had the use of his limbs and could fight and cry against her. He would see that still she stood above him, triumphant, and he was helpless below her.

He stared up at her, with the stunned look her offerings so often had when she hung them in the trees. She fondled Luke’s tawny hair idly. It made her think of the dry grass on the hillsides around her forest, golden-brown and dead, waiting for new life to spring forth.

Several of her worshippers had told her of a young forest to the south, that had been felled but was now growing deep and wild again. Perhaps soon it would be old enough for a god to live in, and she could perform the greatest of the autumn equinox celebrations. She would do it among the stones, with five bonfires arrayed in the sacred sign of her touch, and the altar stone at the heart of it. There would be a day of supplication and preparations, followed by a night of offerings and welcome. Between the two, in the light of the setting sun, she would conceive a new god. A daughter, not elk-dark like her, but the light russet of a red deer.