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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Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Wednesday Briefs: Unicorn Quests Chapter 13

I leapt over the boulder, throwing my body at my terrified foal and the evil Being that rode her as if she was a common mare. The sight of her blood, knowing she was in pain, only fueled my rage. Closing in before the Being could react and sting her, I swiped my blade at the bloated abdomen that hovered so close to Colete’s vulnerable body.

The filthy Being was more maneuverable than its bulk indicated. It retracted part of its lower body, avoiding the blade by the barest margin. It screeched, clicking mouth wide, fangs exposed as the black maw and four shining, malevolent eyes fixated on me. “You!”

Not pausing, I sprang from the ground and vaulted over, keeping the sword the focus of those eyes, then swiped out with the claws I’d kept hidden until the last moment. The flesh on the Being wasn’t soft but covered in a hard, dull shell. My claws skidded off the rough surface and my heart stopped, but then they caught in a chink in the armor in the middle of the Being’s back. The momentum of my flip yanked it up, tearing its claws from Colete’s back as I flung it as far from my foal as possible.

Colete screamed in pain, and my heart broke that I had to hurt her. I landed on my feet in front of her. My back was to my baby girl, and I couldn’t turn to check on her. The fucking Being had wings that popped out from under that hard exterior, so it didn’t even hit the ground. Why the fuck was it riding my foal when it had wings?

“So, the useless one appears. Do you know what you cost me?” Its sibilant voice hissed like a snake, the translucent wings flapping so fast they were nearly invisible, but it looked like a giant fucking bug.

What the hell was it?

“What you cost my master?” It gnashed those wicked looking serrated jaws. “You will pay!”

“The trolls? They’re dying or dead,” I scoffed.

“Those oafs were not my master,” it hissed. It whipped its head side to side, but I tracked the movements with my blade, keeping my body between the Being and my family.

“Well you can take a message back to your master. Anyone who was part of hurting my family will die, human or Being. I will end you.” My magic swirled inside me, desperate to be let out, but there was no release, not in this form.

Not the way I needed. All I had were these hands, these blades, and the drive to make the suffering last long and dear to anyone who’d touched my foals. I was a battle unicorn, trained in the art of war and death.

I would end this for their peace of mind, wiping the land clean of the evil taint of those who’d prey on the young, defenseless, and innocent.

“Flee, now, or taste more than the sting of my claws and blade. I will find another way to warn your master death will come on silent feet.” At least this form had stealth going for it.

The Being’s tail end flexed several times, the stinger exposed, as it feinted closer.

“Papa!” Colete screamed.  I leapt, not willing to risk it getting past me. Not for the price of a message. It owed her its death.

From a thousand cuts. That would be for me. For Londe. For the pain in our souls, for the guilt.

I swiped at a wing, trying to incapacitate it. Get it down on the ground. Remove that stinger. Cut off the other wing so it would never be able to get away from me. Stab one eye, then another. Cut off a leg. Slice open that bulging belly with those filthy eggs or whatever it held that it had threatened to put inside my baby.

Icy white layered the edge of my vision, and my breath froze inside my chest from one breath to the next. My body was in perfect form, the lunge and strike aimed true… but that nasty bitch screeched and flapped backward frantically, flying away.

“Ahh,” I screamed, enraged. My muscles quivered under the strain of stopping the attack, of not following through with the mental battle I’d already won in my head. “Coward!”

“Papa,” twin cries brought me back. Marces and Colete both rushed me, and I immediately sheathed my knives. They pressed their bodies against me, nuzzling their foreheads against me. Marces leaned against my side, and Colete butted my chest.

“Oh baby.” She was bleeding, and I ripped my tunic off. I wrapped it around her neck, as tight as I dared. Marces was trembling.

“I’m sorry, Papa. I couldn’t stop it. I wasn’t brave like you,” he said.

“You were. You were so brave. You left me signs, you didn’t panic, and when you knew I was close, you used your brilliant, amazing mind to keep yourself and Pater safe so I could focus on getting Colete free.”

“Listen to your papa, Marces.” Londe nuzzled Marces, then Colete. “You both did so good.”

I let him soothe them as I kept an eye on the skies. Colete was hurt, and they were all exhausted. Hell, I was exhausted, but we had to go. “This place isn’t safe,” I said.

‘What do we do? They can barely stand,’ Londe said in my head.

‘I know, but they are strong. They made it this far. Just until I find a safe place.’

‘We should go now, before it gets any later or colder. Where is your cloak?’

“Damnation!” The tiny Being. I patted Marces, stroked the hair away from Colete’s eyes. I was loathe to let them go, or leave their sides for a moment, but I wouldn’t be long or far. “Wait here.”

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Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Wednesday Briefs: Unicorn Quests Chapter 12

Twilight rose around me, chilling the air. It was a welcome relief as sweat dripped down my spine. My legs burned, my lungs ached, and I was running out of water I’d filled my skin with before I left the stream. If I was this worn out and miserable, what must the foals be feeling?

They’d been cramped in that tiny pen. I had no idea if they’d been let out to move around or get food, or if they’d been locked up the whole time. As young, newborn unicorns, they’d spent days upon days roaming the meadows of our homeland. Their magic was young, fresh, and they sparkled like the morning dew.

Others had tried to mar their purity, their innocence. I’d murder the Being who kidnapped them if I had the chance. When I had the chance.

One thing held true—those who tried to profit by evil would continue to try. One day the foals would be ready to tell me more. Once I found them, damn it.

My legs were leaden stumps that went up and down without fail, direction from my brain unnecessary. My feet burned like coals on the end of the stumps, but every so often on the edge of the wind, I’d hear the clip of a hoof. I was close, getting closer. I refused to stop, not when I was this close.

They’d slowed in the night, probably due to the lack of light. I’d shifted my eyes to gain better night vision and kept going. Over hills, through another bare arm of the forest littered with thin saplings breaking out from the trunks of the older, established birch trees. Gradually the trees had thinned, the trail rising from the vegetation into the low mountains above the hills. Rocks littered the ground, stabbing at my tender soles.

I longed to climb on Londe’s back, to hug my mate, to let him carry me as we made our way home with the foals. My water drained, thirst began to plague me. This was torture, for me and them.

No way would my mate allow our young to suffer this way. Not if he could stop it. Finally, finally I began to hear whole words, sentences, and I suppressed a growl.

There was a Being with them. Something with a thin, cruel voice. It drove them, goading them, threats of violence and death issued with evil hisses.

What was it?

I had to let my family know I was close without alerting it. Marces. He had a bird call he repeated, chasing the long-necked, white-feathered friends through the meadows at home until he sent the entire flock to the sky to whistle down at him in admonition.

Then he’d laugh and laugh.

So I whistled once, waited a few seconds, then whistled again. Moving to a silent glide, I stayed as low as possible, using rocks and boulders as cover.

“Get him up!” the scathing voice hissed.

“I’m trying.”

That was Londe’s voice. He sounded frantic. “Marces, get up. Get up please. I know you’re exhausted. You have to try. Please.”

The sound of him begging enraged me. Blood suffused my face, flooding my muscles, readying for the fight.

I was close to Londe and Marces, from the sounds. I risked a peek around the boulder. Yes. There they were, my mate, my son. I focused on Londe. ‘I am here. Don’t look!’ He’d started, jerking his head up from where he’d been nudging Marces.

Marces remained in a heap on the ground, his head flat, his eyes closed, his flanks quivering as his ribs heaved up and down. The skin rippled over his ribs, which I could see shadows between in the growing light.

‘Thank the spirits above and below. Colete is in danger!’

‘I see it. Just stay back, keep Marces safe.’

There was a bloated Being on Colete’s back, claws sunk into her neck. Fresh blood dripped in slow droplet from each claw, and much more had dried in dark streaks on her silvery mane, clumping the hairs. It balanced on back legs, and a bulbous rear was poised just above Colete’s vulnerable withers.

“Get it up, or this one will become a host for my next clutch. I will not be delayed. Move!”

“You cannot make them keep going like this. I told you that. I will take you. Just let them go,” Londe said in a desperate voice.

‘Good. Keep it distracted.’ I moved around the boulders, maneuvering into a better position.

‘I’m trying. Be careful!’ Londe sounded at the end of his tether.

Steeling myself, knowing what I was about to do would hurt my daughter, I pulled a short blade from my belt. I bumped a soft lump in my tunic, and only then did I remember the small Being I’d been carrying since I left the water. It’d settled, not moving, but its body was still warm.

I peered inside my shirt. Resheating my blade, I quickly slid my hand inside the open neckline and pulled it out. Soft, fuzzy, the flappy ears covered most of its face, but it immediately started to shake. Fear or cold?

“Shh,” I said as quietly as possible. I slid off my cloak, wrapping the little thing up. I saw one ear shift and a small gleam that might be an eye. I held a finger to my lips, nodding, hoping whatever it was would remain silent.

Thankfully, it wasn’t making any noise I could hear. I pulled out my blade again, focusing on what I had to do. My breath quickened, my pulse pattering in my ears. I focused on my hand, lengthening the nails until they resembled harpy claws.

Grif would be proud.

That fucking thing was about to get its head ripped off its bloated body. 

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Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Wednesday Briefs: Unicorn Quests Ch. 11

How many escaped? I could only hope everyone did. Beings weren’t meant to be trapped in cages, especially by other Beings. The very idea enraged me, and I wished I could transform and trample the damn trolls. They’d disappeared, leaving only the stench of burned, oily flesh and singed hair behind.

I was tempted to hunt them, but I’d learned my lesson. The foals and Londe were more important than revenge. They’d be too stupid to track us once we left the area.

Jogging, keeping my senses open for any threats, I headed for the hill. It was difficult with a sword in one hand, but I wasn’t going to let it go. Not until we were all leagues from here, as far as our legs could take us in one day.

Crashing through the underbrush, less worried about stealth than speed, I raced for my family. I’d missed my mate and foals but thought my family had been safe, which made it okay to be away from them, until I learned otherwise. Losing them while I was off looking for a way to repair my magic shattered me. I wasn’t even there for them when they were taken, and I should have. I should have been there.

Gaining the spot where Londe should have been, my heart sank to find him missing. Him and the foals. No! Nothing could have happened to them already. That wasn’t possible. I wasn’t that cursed…

Searching the ground, I found what I’d missed in my rush and panic. Tracks. They couldn’t get rid of their hoof prints. I tracked them to the stream. Would Londe have traveled upstream or down?

It depended on why they ran instead of waiting for me. I wasn’t far behind them, and the foals had to know that. Why did Londe rush away with them? I didn’t see tracks on top of theirs, indicating another Being was chasing them.

Going upstream actually looked easier than down, at least if they forded the stream and walked in the shallows on the far side. They’d be moving away from the road, but that wasn’t a bad thing for a while. I sheathed my sword and shifted it to lie across my upper back and shoulders.

I splashed across the water, shivering and cursing as the icy water soaked my boots, then my pants, and then oh so gently caressed my nether region even as my parts pulled up as high as they could go to avoid the ball-numbing cold. I held one arm under the tiny furry Being I’d rescued to keep it dry. It was still in a ball, still inside my shirt and not moving.

If only I had my other form! The water wouldn’t be nearly as high, and I would be able to trot a lot faster along the bank. I almost wanted to go back in the water when the wind gusted against my face, my chest, and my drenched clothes, plastering them to my aching legs.

My feet burned, but I kept moving because I’d spotted a track in the muck on the side of the stream, half-buried under a bush that was covering part of the bank.


Or a mark left on purpose?

Londe had to know I’d follow as quickly as I could. My brain raced faster than my feet, but I still didn’t know why they’d left me. Nothing made sense.

Running at least warmed me. I wished for a cloak or something to wrap around my torso, but I used the need to keep moving to spur me on to a faster pace. At the same time, I stretched the senses the body I had possessed, listening for some sound of them, some sight of one of their shining tails or spiraled horns.

I felt the cold breeze stinging against my cheeks, the tight wetness of my pants twisting around my knees, my boots drying around my aching feet, the fuzzy fur and warm ears of the Being in my tunic against my belly. The water burbled over rocks, the bushes and trees swayed…

A shaft of light broke through the clouds right as I saw a mishmash of tracks leave the stream completely.

A shining strand of hair was trailing off one bush and dimpling the water, marring the surface of the small eddy by the bank.

Finally! I’d found where they left the water. Reaching out, I pulled the strand off the twig. Short, just the length of my arm—it was one of the foal’s tail hairs then. Still, it was something they’d have had to tangle and get pulled out; unicorns didn’t just shed their hairs like a common horse. No, all of their form was the purest of magics, and this hair could be used.

Used against one of my foals, my young one? No. I did loop it around and around my finger and then hold the end over my palm, blocking the wind with my body. Using a few words of power, I waited. The hair swayed gently at first, then went completely still to hang straight down over my palm.

It quivered, vibrating with invisible tension back to its maker, the magic tethering it to my foal. Slowly, the hair lifted, pointing the way.

“Good lad. Such a good lad.” I could sense it was one of Marces’ hairs. He always paid attention to the magic I’d learned to develop after losing my horn, and he alone of the foals knew of my scrying ability.

Coiling the hair in my pouch for safekeeping, I took off at a trot. It was a pace I could keep up for some time without getting too tired. I pulled travel rations out of my pouch when evening started to fall and I still hadn’t caught up, though at least we were traveling in the direction of home.

What could possibly be driving them so hard?

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