Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Wednesday Briefs: Unicorn Quests Chapter 17

I couldn’t change genders; I didn’t have the right clothing, and I needed to be able to trade and travel without drawing suspicion like a woman or Being alone would. So I thinned out my body, growing a handspan taller than my own height. I focused on my hair, making it a truly unfortunate shade of red, and covered my skin in blotches.

My looks would make me stand out even more than being a stranger, but no one would connect me to the bills with my true face. My clothes were nondescript enough to belong to any traveler, the blue linen shirt long since faded to gray and my leather trousers nothing remarkable. My boots were in a state, strapped in one place on the right one, and my cloak was also coated more in dust than true color.

“Who’s in there?” Loud bangs on the door of the privy startled me. I knocked my elbow on the wall and cursed.

“Just a moment. I grabbed my pack and slung it over my shoulder, then opened the door. “Sorry.”

“This here ain’t no public toilet, Mister. Who do you think you are just barging in?” The man was holding a small polished club and had a gleam to his eye that I didn’t like.

“Again, sorry. It was an emergency, and I spied the outbuilding through the alley.” I made a show of fumbling with my belt and the small coin purse I’d left hanging on it. The small copper bit wouldn’t hurt to lose. “For the owner, sir. Or you?”

“Well, see as I might have had to fine you for public disturbance creating a ruckus using someone else’s privy and upsetting Missus Phillers, I suppose I can accept this instead.” The man snatched the copper from my fingertips and it disappeared so fast I knew for sure he was a human lawman.

Only them and magicians could make that trick happen before your very eyes.

“Thank you,” I said, bitter gall burning my stomach. “Can you point me to the purchasing establishment? I need to replenish some supplies.”

“Hoity toity talk you got there. You wanna get some victuals or some herbals, you gotta see the store keep on High street.”

“All right then. Thank you.” Being as the place only had one real street, with a few alleys the size of two men at their widest, perhaps, it wasn’t hard to figure out what I wanted. I hadn’t needed to ask, but it was always best to ingratiate yourself with the law whenever possible.

“Don’t be sticking around too long, hear? We don’t need no strangers.”

“I won’t.” I hitched my bag up on my shoulder again and took off back up the alley toward the wider road that they’d apparently felt they needed to name High Street. Well, I suppose one side did have wooden sidewalks put it in front of the store, and even stairs. My worn boots shushed across the boards quietly instead of clopping.

“I hear a woman or a man in need of boots,” came a voice from behind row after row of shelves. “If I miss my guess, and I never miss my guess, you’ll be needing these.” A Being came out from behind the shelves.

Not that I wouldn’t have guessed he was a being if I didn’t have magic myself. He looked human enough. No ears, no scales or fur or feathers. No fangs protruded from his mouth. His eyes sparkled a pale violet, but a rare human might claim that gaze.

It was his aura. I could manipulate mine to adjust my form; it was part of how my magic now worked. The other side of the magic meant I could recognize others’ auras as well. Good, evil, human, Being, in-between… This one was definitely some form of Being.

What are you? The question hung on the tip of my tongue, but I bit it, holding the words back. “How much?”

“With the goods I think you will need, two silvers, five coppers.”

“How do you know what I need?” I asked suspiciously.

“Just a knack.” He shrugged. “You look like a traveler. I know what travelers usually buy. Food, medical supplies, more food. Boots after traveling over the mountain.”

Haggling would just take longer, bring unwanted attention to me, and delay my departure. I had the coin; I also had several bags of gems and other tradeable items. Those would be best spent in a larger town or city to avoid speculation or possible robbery.

“I have a list.” I fished it out.

“We can handle that.”

Huh? “We?” I handed over the list and took the boots. They were made of thick leather, but it was warm and supple in my grasp.

“My helper.” Another Being came through the doorway and this one I recognized.

“Maize.” I hadn’t changed my voice, but she’d seen my body change before.

She gasped, dropping the list. “You’re supposed to be dead.”

“Rumors of my demise were greatly exaggerated,” I said calmly. “I bet I could guess who told you that I died though.” Sodding bastard.

“To hell with who. You’re alive.” She slipped under the counter and rushed into my arms. Her hold on me was tight enough to make my ribs creak, for all she appeared as a willowy, fragile human woman. I dropped the boots.

Tree Dryads…. No one really knew all the different kinds or why they chose to leave their kith and kin and walk among humans, but that was what these two were. How strange.

“Your tree okay?” I’d kept some humans from cutting it down.

“Yes, thank you again! She is lovely, the harm barely even noticeable.” Maize beamed. “But life has not been easy for you.”

“No. No it hasn’t.”

“How can we help?”

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Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Wednesday Briefs: Unicorn Quests Chapter 16

Walking over the mountain wasn’t the best idea with two foals—one wounded—but it was better than going backward toward the cave and trolls. I wanted to stay as far away from the road near where the cave had been as possible. Who knew if the beasts had other partners who would come for the kidnapped Beings?

There had to have been a reason they’d taken so many. Humans caught Beings, especially young ones, in order to kill them in their attempts to purify the planet. They killed them.

They didn’t do whatever the boss, or master, or whoever-the-hell it was pulling the strings had been doing with the Beings kept in cages.

So over the mountain was their best course. He did his best to forage for food for himself and his little side warmer. The others did the same for their needs; Londe found the most succulent treats for the young, encouraging them to eat.

It was slow going, and I was exhausted. Sleep came fitfully. I expected an attack at any moment, and the tension got to the foals even when Londe and I tried to keep it light. Colete was skittish and Marces wanted to be fierce.

“I will help you protect us, just like you used to do, Papa.”

Bile churned in my stomach. At least it overpowered the hunger.

Used to.

Back when I was a unicorn, a white battle unicorn with a short mane and thick muscles. When I had my magic. My horn. I’d lost all that in an attack on the herd, when insane humans used a Being against another Being all in the name of their purity. The curse stole my form, my magic, and my home. I couldn’t live with the other unicorns; they shunned me for the taint draining me.

It’d taken months of journeying, learning, and some sheer dumb luck to find another witch who had been able to seal breach slowly seeping away my magic and killing me and my mate. The spell she used changed me and my magic into this. I could change shape, but never to the form I craved with all my soul.

Without that, I was nameless. Herdless. The foals knew me as Papa. Not even Londe would say my name. I hid my hurt from him, deep inside, but I’d become faceless to the herd.

Leaving my mate and foals had been hard but leaving them orphaned because I’d killed their pater would have been worse. Londe was supposed to stay with the herd, stay with them, and they were supposed to be safe.

But they hadn’t been.

Once again, Beings had done what the humans failed—they took away that which was most precious to me. Just like the witch who took my soul, I would find out who was behind their kidnapping.

Or they’d find me.

I’d take advantage of that as well. Each night I sharpened my blades, polishing the edges. I stretched, flexed, limbered my sore body.

Kept watch behind us and on the sky.

We approached a small hamlet that boasted a tavern and a small market. I peered down from the edge of cover, the pass almost behind us. The forest bordered the short fields and a brook went along one side. With the sun shining down, grass waving, and people passing in bright clothes, it looked peaceful.


Where was the rot in this peasant soup?

“Can we go into the town?” Marces asked.

“I don’t want to.” Colete’s voice shook as she quickly contradicted him.

“No, you are not going into the town,” Londe said. “We need to avoid humans.”

Marces tucked his chin to his chest and tried to bat his lashes. Those big, brown eyes did not tempt me to give him permission at all. “No.”

“Daddy come?” My little sidekick, the locus, repeated that any time I brought him out of the cloak. His ears perked up, unrolling some to expose his eyes. That and yes or no was all about we could get him to say, at least that was understandable. Sometimes he sort of vibrated and made a humming call.

“No, buddy.” I handed him over to Londe, tucking a blanket around him as I nestled him in the center of his withers.

He collapsed into a small ball, his ears covering his eyes again. I sighed. Yet another problem I couldn’t solve. I pulled out the small pouch of money from the pack Londe carried.

“Food. Clothes. Medicine. I’ll be back as soon as possible.” I also desperately needed new boots; I’d almost worn the leather off mine.

Unlikely to find a tanner or cobbler in a town this size, though. Or readymade boots in my size.

I entered the town cautiously, my cloak covering most of my travel-worn clothing. I kept my hood up until the curious gazes turned suspicious. Then I had to put it down. People who were up to no good hid who they were.

The tavern was in sight, the store just beyond it, when I saw it. The post bills with my picture. Murderer. Thief. Well, the poster was right, but the image was too damn good to be anything but a simulacrum by a damn spellcaster. Damnation to all witchery—it always did me wrong.

And I’d been justified in everything I did. But if I went near that poster, or someone who’d scrutinized it a few times came near me… It’d be over. I rushed through an alley into an outhouse.

The stench was incredible. Time to shift, yet again. Time to lose more of the magic and more of my soul. It was the only way I’d be able to buy the supplies we desperately needed.

Of course, I’d never told Londe what shifting did to me.

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Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Wednesday Briefs: Unicorn Quests Chapter 15

Its big ears covered its face, and the little body really did feel like a hairy ball. Soft, with a fair amount of give, the Being didn’t immediately respond.

“I won’t hurt you. Are you hurt?” I pulled my knees up and made a small rest, putting it in my lap so I wasn’t hold it. Maybe that felt like I was squeezing it or holding it captive. I had basically been holding it close to my body or inside my clothes for the last day.

Rummaging around in the pack I’d pulled from Londe, I found my waterskin. I was desperately thirsty and hungry, and it had to be too. Maybe I could tame it with food and water.

Taking a drink from the narrow nozzle, I swallowed several times. I had to restrain myself from guzzling it all down greedily. It might take some time to find more water the next day. “Want some?” I offered it the bag.

The ears moved. I didn’t, almost holding my breath. Its body stayed still, but slowly, those ears curled up until they were like flower petals wrapped against the night, little rolls against the top of its head. Now I could see its face.

Wide, smooth brown eyes with diamond pupils stared at me. A pink nose twitched, the little nostrils flaring. The being’s mouth was on the end of a short muzzle, barely an inch off its face. Surely it couldn’t have teeth of any danger in a mouth that size.

So tightly had it been wound, I hadn’t even been able to tell where the Being’s arms pressed against its round torso. It wasn’t just a ball; it did have limbs. Arms, at least, with small paws or hands with opposable digits. Claws hung over the tip of each one.

Small, but pointy. I was glad he hadn’t scratched me. Yes… I had the sense it was a he. No real idea why, but it was just a feeling. Those small hands brought the spout of the water skin to his mouth and then it mimicked my movement, squeezing the bag. He had to use both hands to do it, though. Little sucks broke the quiet of the night, then a growl.

“Not too much,” I warned before he could get sick and waste the water. I tried not to snag the bag as I pulled it back. “Was that your stomach?”

Well, he was almost all stomach. Looked like it as least. I pulled out a packet of dried meat, hoping it wasn’t anything too closely related to the Being, as well as some nuts, and a bit of hard cheese that had smelled better. Probably should chuck that.

Giving him first pick, I held out the meat and nuts. “Try one,” I urged.

It whined, mewling and going for the arm with the cheese.

“Seriously? You want this? It might make you sick.” I was warning it even as I handed over the hard, crumbly cheese. Not my favorite. I liked the soft, smoked cheeses that spread easily across bread. “Take it easy.”

Little chitters escaped the Being as he practically inhaled the cheese, stuffing it in his mouth with both hands. He kept his eyes on me the whole time, staring.

“I’m not going to take it away.” My heart broke. How long had he been hungry?

“Do you want more water?” I held up the waterskin again, getting an idea of how little the Being had been given in captivity.

“Yes, yes.”

I stopped dead, staring in shock. He spoke! “You can talk? Understand me?”

“Water?” Those little arms reached, and I moved the waterskin closer on autopilot. He squeezed it, taking a drink.

When it finished, I closed the skin and put it down. I stared at the small Being. “You understand me? Did those trolls hurt you anywhere?” That’s what I was going to check next, but it would be easier to just ask.

“Daddy come?” His large, limpid eyes trained on my face.

“Oh hellfire.” I slapped a hand over face. This Being was young. Really young. That’s why he was so small, so scared, and was just depending on me to care for him. He might not be able to care for himself. Some Beings were born self-sufficient and others stayed with their family.

I didn’t even know what he was, but he needed help. I had no way to know how old he was, what his needs were… nothing.

Or if his daddy was even alive.


“Daddy come?” His ears started to unfurl. His chitters came back, but when I didn’t reply, they rose in a nearly painful cry.

“Shh! It’s okay.” I pulled the Being in close and patted it. He covered his face with his ears again.

“Papa, what’s going on?” Marces asked.

“Nothing. Just trying to find out something more about our little friend here.”

“That bug thing brought him in. Dropped him in a cage, just a little before you came. She said he’d grow up to be a gold mine. Called him a locus.”

“A locus?” I’d never heard of it. Or them. Were they Beings?

I sighed and leaned my head against the rocks behind me. “You’re going to be fine,” I told him. The locus. Whatever. “We all are.” I reached out with a free hand and stroked along Marces’ back.

There were so many problems still to solve. I had to get my family somewhere safe. Somewhere along the way, hopefully, we’d find out more about this locus business. At least I knew something he liked—smelly cheese—so I could feed him. He spoke. No one appeared to be severely injured.

After some rest, we’d get moving again. Just a little rest.

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Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Wednesday Briefs: Unicorn Quests Chapter 14

I rushed around the rocks, still in a hurry, but I didn’t need to leap over them. It wouldn’t do to frighten it. The little Being was still there, wrapped in my cloak, ears still covering its face except for the gleam of one little eye. It shook and quivered, even wrapped up in the fabric. I hated to have to take its protection and warmth away, but I’d fix it.

“Poor thing,” Londe said when I came back into view holding it. I tucked it along my ribs under my left arm, my weaker side, and swung my cloak around my shoulders and folded it over my chest and belly. Whipping off my belt, I quickly tucked it around the fabric instead, making a small pouch.

Odd. It stopped shivering as soon as it touched me. Its flesh wasn’t cold, just the opposite, and its warmth was like a small ember against my bare skin. Was it scared? “It’s okay,” I said, stroking its fur.

“Did either of you hear what this Being is when….” I trailed off, not wanting to bring up memories of their captivity, but needing to ask. It was rare when I didn’t know what something was; I’d spent years defending the herd from outside threats from humans and other Beings. Ever since I’d been attacked and my magic changed, I’d spent even more time out among the world where I’d learned even more Beings existed than I knew.

“You shouldn’t—” Londe hissed, upset with me. His wide eyes were narrowed.

“It was just brought in by that thing that hurt Colete before you came. I don’t know if it was food, or something to sell, or what.”

“A lot of the Beings they brought in were young. Almost all of us,” Colete said. “They… they ate—” She broke off with a sob, pushing her body against Londe’s.

“There, that’s enough. No thinking about it. You’re safe. Papa and Pater are here,” he crooned, glaring at me.

Didn’t the know how much it hurt me to scare her? To damage her light any more than it already had? But this baby might have a family that missed it. If we could save it, bring them back together, wouldn’t he want to do that? Wouldn’t he have wanted someone to do that for our foals if they’d been rescued by someone else?

‘Of course I would. But they are exhausted. Colete is hurt. We need to get somewhere safe, rest, and then there will be time to help others.’

I sighed. He was right. The small Being had been with me for the last day and seemed okay as long as I kept it close. Hopefully it would continue to be all right.

“Let’s go. I will do my best to find somewhere safe without having to go too far.” I went first, taking the lead. Marces followed on my heels, Colete behind him, with Londe taking the rear to guard them from attack from behind. I kept one hand on a blade, my eyes peeled for danger and a safe resting spot for my babies and mate.

“Papa, can we stop now?” Colete asked, her voice reedy.

“Not yet. Soon.” I’d seen a tumble of rocks on a hill, and we were winding our way around one side now. I hoped there would be a space that we could use as shelter. They were all exhausted.

Sheer stubbornness and determination kept me pushing them forward when we came across a few places that might have worked but were less than ideal. Fortunately Londe always said the foals got that from me. Pulling myself up the last slope, I was relieved to find the dark space I’d spied was indeed a protected overhang of rock. Not deep enough to be called a cave—with the inhabitants that might shelter and I’d to roust—but deep enough to protect everyone from the weather and dangers.

The floor was mostly dirt. Not perfect, but better than nothing. “Here. We’ll rest here.”

Nothing could get us from above. Nothing from behind. I would guard the front. Colete and Marces sank to their knees, then to the ground, their legs splayed out. I went to Londe and took off the pack he was still wearing. He draped his head over my shoulder, and I took just a moment to lean against him, relishing the feeling of my mate’s closeness.

I missed brushing my body against his. Draping my head over his withers as he draped his over mine. Touching horns, the magic swirling around us with sparks and ribbons of color. I rummaged around in my pack; I had some medicine in there that would help Colete hopefully.

“Ow, Papa,” she whimpered as I pulled off the shirt. It had crusted over with blood and stuck to her in a few places.

“Sorry, baby. I need to get this off.” Using some water, I loosened the last edge and pulled it off. “This is going to feel so much better.”

The raw weals were deep in the center, shallower on the edges. I smoothed thick gobs of the unguent across them with trembling fingers, trying not to actually touch the wounds. The numbing worked on my fingertips, numbing them too.

“Oh…” Her muscles eased, the tiny trembles gentling as Colete closed her eyes. Her brother nuzzled her, brushing some mane away from her cheek.

“You two get some sleep,” Londe said. “You earned it.”

“I’m taking first watch. You sleep too.” I rewrapped my shirt around Colete’s neck, then put away my medical kit. “They need you close.”

“They need us both,” Londe rebutted.

“Yes, but I need to do this.” As exhausted as I was, I wouldn’t be able to sleep for some time. The battle adrenaline was still coursing through my veins. I settled against the mouth of the overhang, and finally pulled out my little fuzzy ball of a hitchhiker.

“So… do you talk?”

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