Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Wednesday Briefs: Unicorn Quests Chapter 26

The sun was setting when I got my answer. Tinn and Wenn refused to say, their already large eyes getting wider. They kept their ears swiveling as we entered the trees and didn’t stop as we traveled between the blackened trunks.

It wasn’t as if they’d been burned. There was no scent of smoke in the air. None of the strong smells like that emitted from my forge as I fed it hardwood to make coal beds to craft metal into artistic marvels. No. These were… sick? Dead? There was a scent of something about them, not right.

They had silvery leaves though, with a fine fuzz coating the backs, that shivered in the breeze that came with the falling sun. Or maybe it was the feet jumping from branches because no one had been before us on the path and then suddenly there they were.


Infected humans. They had black streaks radiating down their chests from spikes of wood, clearly parts of the trees of the forest, that pierced their shoulders and threaded through their collarbones. Decoration? Defense? Desecration?

“Pay toll.” The female wildling bared her teeth as she spoke, exposing sharp, broken teeth. She brandished a club made from one of the trees, a dark knob on the end.

I stepped in front of my family more firmly.

“Don’t let them touch you!” Tinn said urgently.

“What’s the toll?” I asked without taking my eyes off either of the wildlings in front of me. Their bare bodies were covered in sap, leaves, and bark, but they were hardly decent. They spoke, though.

The male’s eyes roved over the group.

“No,” I barked, widening my stance. I put my hand on my hip, closer to a blade. He might have been looking to see what we carried, but I had the feeling he was seeing who’d be the tastiest or who we might be willing to part with. “What is the toll?” I asked again, stressing each word.

“Meat,” he hissed.

Great. We didn’t have much of that. Londe and the foals didn’t eat it, and I’d never picked up much of a taste for it.

Wenn chittered. Londe shifted, which I sensed, but I couldn’t take my eyes off the pair blocking the path. They had what looked like sticks in their hands but when the female leaned forward and sniffed, I’d caught the hollow end.

Blow tubes. Great weapons for them, shitty for us. It was hard to defend against those. They were quick to use, easy to reload, and depending on the user, accurate. They were close enough they didn’t have to be very good.

Explained the gap in the wildlings’ teeth.

A bag sailed over my shoulder. I flinched, then cursed.

“Sorry,” Tinn said.

The wildlings fell on the bag, tugging on it, fighting over the ties. When they got it open, there were cries of delight to rival any young who’d been surprised with a treat. They each dipped in a hand and pulled out hunks of a dried meat, stuffing their mouths.

“We go around them,” Tinn said.

“That’s it?” They wouldn’t try to grab one of us? Follow us?

“As long as we don’t see any more. They won’t leave until the food is gone. They don’t ever stop eating when they have access to meat. So we go now, and we go fast, and we hope we come out of the forest before we pass into the territory of another pair. Luckily, they usually have a wide range since there isn’t much food in this forest. So yes, we need to go. Now. Unless you have other bags of meat hidden away?” He led the way around the gnawing wildlings who were squatted in the middle of the trail.

“Nope,” Londe said. “And I’m somewhat offended you had that packed away on me.”

“You’re the one who offered to carry things, Pater,” Marces said.

“How long will it take them to eat that?” I asked.

“A while.” Wenn glanced over his shoulder. “We bring jerky because of their teeth.”

I took up the rear, letting Tinn take over the front. I slid my blade out; my skin was crawling and I wanted it free. “What happened to them?”

“These trees were once dyad homes. Humans who lived in the town went on a rampage, killing the spirits of the Beings who depended on the trees, and these are the remnants of those murderers. The magic rebounded on them, and they can no longer leave the trees either. They’ve gone mad. Wild.”


Wenn nodded. “They try to become part of the trees, but they can never be dyads.”

“And the town…?”

“That is the place the souls of those who didn’t survive the battle roam. Or return to.”

I shuddered.

It seemed like the farther east we went, the more Beings we encountered. Worse, the more Beings whose magic had been twisted, damaged, or taken. It was like there was a spreading taint that caused the already wide rift between Beings and humans to grow even wider.

What was fueling this?

Luckily, Tinn’s supposition that we would clear the trees before we left the wildling pair’s territory came true, and we were not accosted by any other naked, ensorcelled humans demanding meat tolls. My hand ached as I sheathed my blade, flexing my hand to ease the ache.

Light was fading as we made distance between us and the trees. There would be no fire tonight, but that was fine. The last thing I wanted to do was touch any wood. I pulled out the map and my stomach dropped.

The three dots had separated. And one was close. Very close.

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Jim Dunaway

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Wednesday Briefs: Unicorn Quests Chapter 25

“We will go with you.”

“No. I won’t take you away from your family, especially since you were just reunited with your son.” I crossed my arms over my chest, expecting Tinn’s ears to roll like Tinn’il’s always did when he curled into himself and hid away.

The locus was not nearly as meek as his son. Clearly that had been a feature of Tinn’il being young, not a trait the Beings possessed as a matter of course. “He was brought home safe because of you. You have young who are not yet safe. I would return the favor and protect yours as you have protected mine.”

I sighed, running my hand through my hair. I wanted to stamp my foot and shake my mane. If I had a mane. “We didn’t rescue him for a favor.”

“No. I do not go for a favor. I go because you are now part of Tinn’il’s circle.”

Londe tilted his head, flicking his ears. “His circle?”

“All locus have a family unit, and a circle outside of that who are protectors, guiders, friends and family despite not sharing blood. The bond is locked in when the young locus is still, well, young. You were there when he needed those in his life, and he has chosen you as his circle. I would help protect you to ensure his circle remains unbroken, and two members of my circle shall come with me to ensure the same. We are fair fighters, despite our desire to hide away rather than defend ourselves.”

That explained the other two locus standing with Tinn. They stared silently, not arguing, but they didn’t seem anything less than determined either.

“It’s not that.” They would expect us to go a certain way. Easy paths, and a direction of travel that quickly would lead us away and them back home. But that was not the direction that we would seek; we had another route, a dangerous one, that would take us and our foals into the heart of danger.

But perhaps would also be our freedom.

“What?” Tinn asked.

‘Do you think we can trust him?’ I asked Londe.

‘Better question, do you think we have a choice? He is not backing down. I think they might follow us.’

‘Truth. At least the witch left.’ She’d gone without even saying anything to us. Marces had seen her leave through the mist. I wasn’t sad to see the last of her. Damn witches were almost always trouble.

“We must head east.”

Tinn’s ears quivered. So that was unexpected. “Why?”

“I have some evidence that is the direction where we will find safety.” I couldn’t quite bring myself to just outright bear my secrets. There were too many unknowns.

The locus chittered among themselves for a moment. “East is dangerous. There are Beings there. Dark Beings,” one of the older two said.

That wasn’t a surprise. I nodded once. “I think one of them is responsible for what was done to my foals. And to your Tinn’il.”

“So you seek out danger, not safety.” All three stared at us.

“Sometimes the safest course is to charge forward into battle rather than retreat. Safety is only truly safe when you are not hiding from those who seek to nip at your heels.”

“Yes. Though we are not fighters, we would still seek to offer you our aid,” Tinn said. “You will have need of us.”

I really wanted to say no, but how could I? “We leave soon.”

“Yes. But first, we will break out fast.” The silent until that moment locus emitted a whistle, and the hillside began to swarm with the small, furry Beings. They brought out numerous types of food, hot and cold, cooked and raw, all of it natural products of the land.

We devoured the proffered dishes, enjoying the hot meal. Who knew when we’d get the chance to have another?

Colete whimpered when we entered the mist, and I moved to walk just in front of her so her nose could nudge my back. She kept her head buried along my spine, her steps unhurried yet with a sense of rushed need to stay with me. I stroked her whenever the path opened up to let us walk more abreast.

The two days of rest had done her good, but she was still skittish. Marces was jumping about, asking questions of the locus who did their best to answer his questions even as their ears began to roll. But my quiet foal, the serious child, she was contained and skittish. Stayed close to us.

Watched everything.

I hated taking her into danger. I worried about the risk to her already fragile sense of self. I worried that Marces would charge into whatever situation was wrought and get hurt—or worse, dead.

And after two days, we were getting much, much closer to those dots. The beautiful setting around the lake had dried up. We were in a ghost town.


“There are bad human spirits here,” Tinn said. “We should go around.”

“That will take us into the forest.” I didn’t like the look of the blackened trees.

“Better the wood and the wildlings than the geists infecting your soul.” Wenn, the quiet locus, fought to keep his ears up as they rolled on the edges.

Oh good, more threats to my nonexistent soul. “The woods it is.” If I dropped dead, Londe would kill me.

My mate gave me a look. ‘What?’ I said through our bond.

‘Find the location on the map, figure out what it means or who we have to help, hurt, or kill to get your power back, make the foals safe, and then go home. No detours. No wildlings.’

What was a wildling?  

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Wednesday Briefs: Unicorn Quests Chapter 24

“Is that why he was stolen?” Londe asked.

“It was my fault,” Serai said. Her ears started to curl, and she rubbed her face against Tinn’il’s head. “My baby was taken from me.”

Squeaks broke out through the group, and the adults all looked up, fear writ across their furry features. Several darted back into their holes. I frowned, but the squeaks came again, this time from some of the young who were dancing around Marces’ hooves.

“It’s fine. We’re safe,” Tinn called.

“What you fear, it comes from the sky?” The mist… from the outside, I couldn’t see above it. But here, the sun was shining. The sky was bare above us. Something must have gotten in.

Something that could fly.

That Being. The one who hurt Colete.

“It shouldn’t have been possible,” Tera said. She’d sat on the ground and one of the older young was sitting in her lap. She was stroking its fur. “Many of my sisters had worked for decades to protect this place.”

“Why?” I had to know. This felt important, like the most important thing. But why would witches doing something like that?

Tinn spoke over Tinn’il’s head. “We are like… sponges. We can absorb magics, and once we have, it can be… spread to whoever wishes it.”

Absorb? Spread? Tinn’s large eyes were even larger, the rim completely surrounding the colored part exposed in a wide circle. He was spooked, speaking in a hushed voice. His ears were no longer erect, though they hadn’t curled. Serai was even worse. Her ears were completely folded, and she was trembling in his embrace as she whispered to Tinn’il.

Londe, ever blunt, cocked his head. “I take it you don’t survive the process?”

“No.” Tinn’s breath came short. “Someone was going to do that to my son.” Wicked claws flashed from the hand that wasn’t holding the young. “You saved him from that fate.”

“I am glad we could help him. I understand what it is like to have your magic stolen.” Magic. Soul. For me, it was one and the same, but I didn’t dare say that. I’d spent many nights staring up at the dark sky wondering if the pieces of myself I’d gifted them when they came into my life were what kept me alive. There was a hole inside me, a huge gaping hole, but those little tethers kept me here.

For them.

Londe stepped back, pushing his shoulder against me. I stood firm, pushing back. “But I never would have done anything to harm Tinn’il. I want my magic back, desperately, but the purity of my spirit would be sullied if I harmed an innocent to get it.”

I kept it to myself just how honest that statement was.

“What can we possibly offer you as thanks?” Serai asked.

“We did what any parent would do. Just protect him.” Londe gestured with his horn toward Colete and Marces. “As we protect them as they recover from the trauma they lived through.” They were playing with the locus young who had ventured back out. “Let them grow to be happy and healthy. He will too, if given the chance.”

Draping my arm over Londe’s withers, I squeezed him.

“You could stay,” Tinn offered.

“A rest where it is safer than the road would be nice, at least for a night. But we must get home.” Londe shifted at my words. ‘Don’t mention the map. They seem nice, but I don’t know that we can trust them. They lost a young so new he can barely speak.’

‘They love him. He was taken, they didn’t lose him,’ Londe objected. I felt his anger and a hint of guilt through our link.

‘Truth,’ I acknowledged. He was internalizing again, thinking I blamed him for the loss of our foals. But I didn’t. That was on me. ‘But I definitely don’t trust the witch.’


We were welcomed by a locus elders and given a meal. Eventually, the young all collapsed in a heap. The older locus either were on watch, keeping an eye on the sky, or disappeared back in their warren. Londe and I found a shaded space under some trees that bordered the hill. Subtly, I pulled out the map.

Maize had said east and then south, which was a decoy for the humans listening in on our transaction. The dots moving in tiny motions on the map were still east of my symbol. She’d given me this map for a reason. ‘I think we need to go track down the others on this map.’

‘Are you sure that’s a good idea?’

‘I don’t know. But we can’t go east anyway from here. These mountains are too steep. Maize gave them our southern direction. We can’t take the foals home yet safely in case we’ve gotten behind the humans who were trailing me. They could lay traps.’

‘So we go east. Toward the symbols on the map. I don’t like taking the young into more danger.’

I sighed and leaned back against Londe’s body. I folded the map, then rested my hands in my lap. There was nothing I could do. ‘Are they truly safe at home?’

His head sank down on the grass. ‘No,’ he said so softly, after such a long pause I almost missed it. ‘We’re safer together.’

‘Agreed.’ Which meant using this map that Maize gave me for some reason to help me. It was rare magic, valuable. It must be important.

“We’ll leave in the morning.”

“All right. Let’s rest now, while we can.”

“You have all the best ideas.” I curled sideways, resting my head against his sides, letting the rhythmic lift and fall of his breath take me away.

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Julie Lynn Hayes

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Wednesday Briefs: Unicorn Quests Chapter 23

Tinn’il took one look at the mist and withdrew inside my cloak. I glanced over my shoulder. “Londe?” His horn was glimmering, but he was calm.

“I don’t sense anything.”

Anything evil, he meant.

“Are we going in there, Papa?” Colete asked. She was leaning on Londe. He hung his head over her healing withers, gently nosing her cheek.

“We have to, Tera says. This is the way to Tinn’il’s family.” I didn’t want to take my family through the mist, but I couldn’t leave them behind unprotected either.

“I keep telling you I’m not your enemy,” Tera said. She pushed her hair out of her face, frowning at us.

“So you say.” Londe eyed her. “A person who was friendly might have tried speaking with me before they stole a Being under my care.”

“I didn’t steal him!” She shoved her fists on top of her hips and faced Londe. “I was rescuing him.”

“From the Beings who had already rescued him from the ones who actually kidnapped and might have hurt him. He hasn’t been able to tell us, but no young that age should be away from their family, so we were trying to find them. Because we care. Because we don’t harm other Beings. Did you really think we were doing something evil to him?”

“I couldn’t take the risk.” She glanced at me.

“Enough.” I slashed my hand through the air. “I’m tired of going over this. We’re taking Tinn’il home.” Through a mysterious mist, apparently. “Let’s go.” I raised my eyebrow at Tera. “After you, of course.”

She sighed, letting her arms drop to her sides. Exasperation that I wouldn’t let her continue to try and defend her actions? That I kept Tinn’il away from her? That I forced her to go ahead of me? That she couldn’t use her magic on us unaware?

Nope. Didn’t care what her frustration was for, as long as she did what I said.

Mist should be cold.

This was warm. It curled in tendrils around my legs and arms as soon as I stepped onto the trail by the lake.

‘Wasn’t the mist on the end of the trail?’ Londe asked me, sending the question mentally.

‘Yes, and it shouldn’t be warm.’

“Is this your magic?” I asked Tera.

“No. This is not mine. My magic is fire.” Her hair was curling about her face and she looked distinctly uncomfortable, her arms folded inside her cloak. Maybe her discomfit was more about the mist and her magic than us. The tendrils curled around her legs and then up her body, obscuring her just a few steps ahead of me.

Then she disappeared.


She didn’t reply.

The mist had grown into a solid wall. I spun, looking for my family. They were gone too. “Marces? Colete! Londe?” I sent out the call mentally as well, but there was no answer. What was this? My breath sped, and my hands shook. I wanted to draw a weapon, but what could I use against mist?

This was magic. It had taken my family.

I touched my side, but Tinn’il was still huddled inside my cloak. Damn it. All I wanted to do was take the poor young home, but I’d put my family at risk yet again. My stomach roiled.

“You may pass, protector.”

“Who said that?” I spun again, looking for the source of the voice that chimed around me. It seemed to come from all directions at once, the fog distorting the sound and masking the speaker.

I took a step, and the warm moisture clinging to me and obscuring my vision abruptly disappeared. There was Tera, standing beside the lake with both hands up facing my mate who had both our young behind him. Londe was pawing the ground, his horn glowing and lowered to point straight at her chest.

“Where is he?” Londe thundered.

He could be so forceful. Love and regret washed over me. “I’m here.”

Londe whipped his head toward me. “What happened to you? Where did you go?”

“Nowhere. The mist just got really thick. You disappeared.”

“No we didn’t. You did.”

“It was the magic. It was verifying your intentions. Judging your—”

“Soul?” I interrupted. I scoffed, turning away. “Whatever. Another thing you didn’t tell us, obviously. Let’s go.” I wanted to be done with this and away from this devious witch.

I stroked Marces and Colete’s mane’s, and Tinn’il came out to touch noses with them. They would miss the little guy.

Just beyond the lake was a flower covered mound. Furry Beings popped out of the ground. They were both like and unlike Tinn’il. Two rushed me who had his face, but their bodies were much larger. They stood upright and reached my chest where the locus was vibrating in excitement.


“My son!”

“Daddy!” Tinn’il squeaked when his father grabbed him. He nuzzled the female. “Mama.”

The chittering and squeaks were incomprehensible, to me at least. I back to my family, leaning against Londe’s shoulder. Marces and Colete both close, and I stroked them, remembering that moment when we’d been reunited. The relief had been indescribable.

I gazed around us. There were some little ones scampering around the adults looking on. None were as small as Tinn’il, though.

Just how young was he?

Tinn was holding Tinn’il. His little ears were sticking right up, and his father never stopped crooning. Serai finally looked away, though her hand stayed on Tinn’il’s back, stroking him. “Thank you for rescuing our son.”

“I’m just glad I could help.”

“The mist passed you, so your intentions were truly to only help him, and us. Do you know how rare that is?” Serai asked.

I shrugged. “He’s a young. Young should be protected at all costs.”

“Even if his magic could restore yours?” Tera asked. “I can sense it’s broken. You’re supposed to be a unicorn.”

“I would never steal magic from a child,” I refuted, aghast.

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Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Wednesday Briefs: Unicorn Quests Chapter 22

“Oh, thank the spirits. You found him, Tera!”

“Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!” The locus poked his head out of my cloak, and his eyes couldn’t be any bigger. Those ears were unrolled and standing up straight, quivering.

“Who are you? What have you done with our son? If you harm him, nothing will save you from a torturous existence before a gruesome death,” a female hissed.

Their faces were larger versions of the little Being’s in my arms, the female’s features leaner with a sharp chin. I couldn’t tell their coloring, since they were appearing in the flames. But the young in my arms knew them.

“Mama!” The locus nearly squirmed out of my arms.

The witch’s story must be true. I lowered my knife, sheathing it so I could hold the excited locus safely. “I have not harmed your son. I rescued him from trolls who were holding him captive along with many other Beings, including my own foals.”

“Your foals!” the witch exclaimed.

“Yes. My son and daughter, who you left with my mate. You tampered with their memories. Why did you do that?” I asked.

“I… thought they were your captives, with the locus. I knew you were a Being, but I didn’t know what kind.  I know now you have pure magic, but not until you came close. I saw you through the flames and only from a distance before you left for the town. This is beside the point.” Sweat broke out on her forehead. “I can’t hold the farseeing forever. Tinn, Serai, this… Being is a unicorn.” The witch’s voice expressed her shock.

“A what? No he’s not. He’s a human.”

“I am not a human, despite this form. I have suffered much at their hands looking for my young; when I discovered yours escaped with us, we decided to try and find his home.”

The locus started chittering, making all the sounds and calls he’d made when we’d traveled. The pair in the flames were silent for a moment.

“It… seems what you say is true. Tinn’il likes you and your mate. He says your magic fizzes in his belly.”


The witch swayed and the flames flickered, the faces losing their shape around the edges. “I can’t hold this much longer,” she gasped out. “Tinn, Serai, I will bring Tinn’il to you, as I promised. He is safe.”

“Thank you, Tera,” Serai said. “The spirits watch over you and grant you safe journey back to us.”

“Be good, Tinn’il,” Tinn said. His voice was already fading away as the flames fell to knee height and then died completely, leaving just a scorched ring of earth in the vegetation around me.

The locus cried, his ears rolling. “Daddy? Momma?” He reached out, then started to curl up.

“Hey, hey, it’s okay. Tinn’il? Is that your name?” I stroked his head with two fingers.

He looked at me, his eyes shining. “Tinn’il? Tinn? Daddy?” He chittered, and tilted his head, then his expression dimmed when I didn’t respond.

Did he speak another language? Was that what he was trying to do this whole time? He didn’t speak Common, or more than a few words it seemed, but his parents had said he told them about me, about Londe and the foals.

“You’ll be okay. We’re going to go see your daddy. Soon.” I needed to get back to my young and my mate. I didn’t like being separated from them, especially after humans had followed me from the town. It only took one getting lucky to put my family in danger again.

“Tell me where his family is, witch, and I will take him to them.”

“My name is Tera, and no.”

“No?” I narrowed my eyes. Had she really been trying to steal him? She’d just said she’s return him, but now she said no?

“We will take him back to Serai and Tinn. Together. So I will guide you to his home, but I will not tell you how to get there.” She managed to look stubborn as a boulder even while her skin was deathly pale, and she wobbled on her feet.

I sensed it would take more time than I wanted to waste to try and change her mind, and I might as well try to move a boulder on my own than sway her. “Fine. First I must get my family. You can wait here and recover.”

The expected argument didn’t come, and I promptly left. I did not leave Tinn’il with her; she might know his parents, but he didn’t seem to know her, and he wanted nothing to do with her after the way she’d stolen him away from my mate and run from me. That much was evident from the way he refused to look at her and squeaked when she came too close on her way to spot she could comfortably sit and wait for me to return.

“Stay awake, witch, there are humans nearby,” I warned her.

“My name is Tera,” she snarled at me.

Turning my back, I ignored her. I knew her name, but I would not let myself forget what she was. A witch. A dangerous being who could harm me and mine. Wary was not even close to how I felt in her presence.

It took even more convincing to get Londe to take the foals with us to meet her. He kept them back, taking up the rear guard and making me stay between them and her. Few witches could be counted as good, and we wouldn’t risk harm to our young or Tinn’il.

Two nights traveling brought us to a small lake. A path wound around it, the end lost in a weird mist that hung about even in late afternoon. Londe stomped his foot nervously, and Marces nudged my back.

“There,” the witch said. “Through the mist.”

“Of course it’s through some mystical mist. Can’t just be a cave or a tree or a house, can it? No,” I complained.

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