Ridley stands, walks to edge of fiery lake. Dips hands, splashes face. Hisses as it burns, takes deep breath. Dives head, holds there. One second, two hours, three decades, four millennia, five eons. Pulls up moment short of eternity, sucks in poisonous air. Is renewed. Deja vu a billion times over, dull and repetitive and endless and totally without significance. Pitiable. Foolish. Dreadful state.

He looks above, but she is not there. He sighs and drops his head. Back into the lake he stares, searching for his reflection somewhere in the corrosive fires. 'What manner of creature would the reflection shew?' he asks, 'if light there was that could reflect?'

He knows what the answer is and what it is not. He is not Human, and to think of a Human marriage with the Woman is madness. His mind creates her image before him out of the nothing, then shapes it into one more appealing. The Woman grows in size, her helmet becomes a toothy maw and her armor becomes scales and a tail. She faces away, hands flat on the ground, and raises her hind quarters to him, tail aside in a position of deference. To mount this and spread his seed would be a natural thing, the normal size of her suits him. But no—the Dragon-Woman returns to the nothing—to imagine her to be like him does no good. Were she anyone else, she would not be herself and he would not love her as he does now. Yet his love manifests itself only through desire, a desire for her flesh and nothing more. She would never accept such a marriage, even if he could find the opportunity to propose to her.

'To eat you would be such a little thing,' he says, preparing his speech for when she will surely arrive. 'One day you will die, and certainly no one will condemn you for being mortal, nor laugh at the means of your demise. You will die and the universe will go on with its business as it did before you were born. Is it so wrong to ask that you die unto me? For through me, your death will become new life. My mouth will be our chapel, and down my throat we will run to escape our guests. Then finally in my stomach will consumate, be truly joined. In my stomach will you find our wedding bed. The two will become one; I will purify your body and use it to fuel my own. We will be given an existence that is new and better than either of us might have on our own. To deny me this is to deny yourself, to kill me is to kill yourself, to kill ourself; three sins in killing three.'

Yes, that is what he will say when she arrives. And having heard it, she will step out of her suit gracefully and march into his open, waiting mouth. He will close it around her and then ecstasy. Rapture. Heaven could promise nothing better than this. Angels would trade their wings for this. Hell made endurable, if only for this.

He looks above him. She is there. On the ledge above him at his door, she is there—he must tell her his feelings. She has come for him—he must propose his marriage before it's too late—come for him in his most holy of sanctuaries, and her presence is a sacrilege to it—no! There is still time. He must expel her uncleanliness—he must talk with her—or she must destroy his sanctity. There is no other option, he realizes at last. They will do what they must.

She jumps down next to him, but does not see him. Not at first. But as he swipes at her, she curls into a ball and lays an egg, a fitting action for a Ledaean form to take. Her daughter Helen is born again as a ball of light, and his holy darkness is another Troy, destroyed. He is not bitter. She is what she is, and Ridley knows she could do no different. Still, the light is too much, and Ridley is blind. He roars and swings a claw at the Woman, but misses, he doesn't know by how much. She rains down pain on his body, and he spreads his fires everywhere, but he does not know whether he hits her or no. He sweeps the ground with his tail and feels her. She is knocked off of her feet and he pounces, takes hold. He flies up into the air, breathing fire, now biting as her beams burn him. He bites, the beams do not stop. Ridley has absorbed more than he thought he could bear, but he cannot harm her. Still, Ridley is resolute and will not release her. She is his and will be his forever. They will stay in this place forever and ever. Amen.

He stops beating his leathery wings and drops, straight into the lake of fire. Let it end here. Let them both go to their final rest like this. Hidden away from God Himself, and given opportunity to grow closer out of need, if not preference. 'Is romantic,' Ridley monologues internally, 'Is romantic.'

For a moment, they are together and in this way perfect. The moment does not last. She is free of his grasp and he knows not where she has gone. Has she been devoured by hungry the fire? Or escaped from it? Ridley frantically swims up to the surface and opens his eyes, sight returning but blurry. He sees her standing there, pointing an arm at him, and he quickly pulls himself up onto the land, charges toward her. He has lost. He has lost her.

Thunder in his shoulder, he groans. Lightning in his ribs, he stumbles. The jaw, he falls. Temple, crashes. Pain of unidentifiable sources everywhere, terrible and complete. He tries to rise from the ground, but can feel nothing. Life is leaving him and will soon be gone. How unfair that the Woman should be destroyed so many times and yet return, while he needs only be destroyed once? Ah well, such is the nature of his reality and he cannot change it. Not now.

The Woman walks past his corpse, pays him no mind. This should be the climax of both of their existences, but it is not. His journey is over, but hers continues. He is not the center of her universe. The life that remains in the corpse watches with bitter satisfaction as she walks into the inner room and finds the broken glass, finds her beloved child missing still. Enraged, she leaves him. The darkness returns, the heat has always been. Everything is as it was before. Everything will be again. The gyre will come near again. They will meet again. Ridley smiles, the expression stays fixed on his face.

He closes his eyes, relaxes, sleeps

A Memorable Fancy