| Anastasia dreamed well that night, the terrors of the past melted away in a blissful mist of light and moisture. She stood at the edge of a waterfall overlooking a lush valley, the rushing water splashing about her knees as it toppled over and down to the scene below. From this high vantage point, the world seemed bigger than ever, and her own life just a small niblet of the whole.
Silver-haired maidens swam in the pool below her, their torsos ringed with silver and green scales, and a fishes tail at the end. Beyond that, a creature not unlike a cat sat on the bank, cleaning it’s silky white fur with it’s tongue. A great bird flew overhead, and when she looked, she saw shimmering color, like a phoenix in flight. Everywhere she looked, light bathed her vision- every sparkle and nuance clear as crystal. Even the sky was shiny, like staring through a balloon at the stars behind it. Yes, the stars even shone through the blue sky, like glitter in the heavens.
Ana turned her attention to the valley again, and saw clearly her Champion bending down to take a draught from the stream below. Her scent must have been in the water, for her Champion sniffed once, then perked it’s ears and turned it’s head upwards to stare back at her. Without a word spoken, Ana leapt from her perch and felt the rush of wind caress her. It bore her weight, and she flew like a feather in a gentle breeze towards the creature she loved so dearly and loved her unconditionally.
Her bare feet touched soil just beyond the noble creature, and when she turned, it was already bowing low to the ground, honoring her. She smiled and lifted a hand, and the creature rose in time with it. In what seemed like no steps at all, she touched it’s head, and she felt it lean into her hand as she did. She fell upon it’s neck in a full hug, closing her joy-filled eyes as she embraced this long-lost love. She felt strong arms wrap around her, and she opened her eyes, a bit shocked. The unicorn still stood as it was, her arms still entwined about it, her face buried in it’s fine mane.
“Thou still questions the magic, even here?” the creature seemed to ask in her mind.
She sighed and closed her eyes again, her imagination seeing her Champion before her as a man of flesh.
“No. I trust it with all my heart.”
“Then milady, you must listen to me. This is vital. You must not go on your trip to Puerto Rico.”
Her immediate, reflex reaction was to ask why, but she swallowed it down. She would not question the magic again.
He took her hand in his, and led her up the gentle slope to a secluded place. Here roses grew tall, entwined about themselves into a fine canopy of color and fragrance. With eyes closed, she followed him, and when he turned and his lips met hers, she was taken again by surprise.
She wanted very much to open her eyes, to truly see what she was feeling, but her heart kept them closed. Her Champion, her confidante, her lover before her; she was swept up with emotion, her passions emerging furious and from the heart. It was not long before her sheer gown lay on the ground beneath them, her lover prepared to take her, her body aching to be taken.
“Anastasia, know that what I am to take cannot ever be given back, not even here...” he spoke in a soft whisper
“Take what you will- I offer myself without question or despair.” she replied, smiling at his imagined face. She spread her waiting legs, prepared to take him, and felt his weight pressing down upon her. A hand touched her now, opening her folds gently, and she felt his manhood touch...
And she awoke with a start.
Her body choked back the emotions she was denied, her heart pounding in her chest, ready to burst. Her fingernails dug so deep into her mattress as to make holes, her sweat-soaked frame writhing about on it.
She had wondered before if there was ever a more terrible way to awaken than from a horrific nightmare. Now she knew that there was indeed something far worse than terror- need.
She glanced at her clock, and saw it blink to 12:00. She lay back on her bed, her mind trying to comprehend her most recent vision, when a stray thought buzzed in her ear. Why is it so warm at 12 am? She sat up in her bed, then stood and walked to the window. In a dramatic motion, she pulled open the shades.
Sunlight flooded her room as it had done before, and as before, she basked in the light and heat. Another thought buzzed. Why was the clock blinking?
She turned so fast that she was knocked off balance. Stumbling about, she caught a full glimpse of her clock. It was indeed flashing 12:00. Her mind reeling at the sight, and she fumbled about until she found her watch. She picked it up and held it to her nose to see through her blurry half-sleep. It said 3:47pm.
“I’m late?” she asked, confused.
“You’re late?” the headmaster asked, confused.
“I’m sooo sorry, sir. I don’t know what happened, somehow my clock got unplugged, I’m sorry sir I won’t let this happen ever again please forgive me...”
He laughed, “Anastasia, this is wonderful! It proves to me, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that you really are human!”
Ana smiled weakly, turning her head to the clock on the library wall. It was 3:51. Tucking a loose strand of hair around her ear, she walked, panting slightly, to the archives.
She walked with a purpose, straight to the bookshelves where she had experienced her waking nightmare the day before. A book title was burned into her memory, and she searched the shelves for it relentlessly- 'Ars Magicka: the Unicorn and Other Tales'. After twenty minutes of fruitless search, she gave up and headed for her desk.
The book was waiting for her, already open to the proper page. She was so relieved to even find it, however, that she did not find it odd at all. She tore into the story on the open page.
“According to one French tale, the Unicorn is a magical beast with the body of a horse, the feet of a goat and the tail of a lion, and with a single magical horn growing from the center of it’s head. A fey creature, the unicorn can only be touched by the hands of a virgin of pure heart...”
Anastasia smiled slightly at the thought, then skimmed ahead a little bit, looking for something more useful.
“In Norway, there is a tale in which the unicorn was a noble creature that lived in the garden of Eden, and served as the mount of Eve. When mankind was cast away from Eden, the unicorn carried Eve to the gate, but could not follow her through it, despite her pleading. It was forced to live alone in Paradise, for it had no choice but to do so.
“In contrast, one Welsh tale claims that all creatures were cast from the Garden. The unicorn became angry, saying, ‘Why am I punished for the choice of man?’ to which the Lord replied, ‘For not protecting man’s innocence.’ For the centuries that followed, the unicorn would spirit away young female children, causing sorrow for their parents, and sometimes return them later heavy with child, a sidhe(shee) or elf.
“Another tale claims that when the time of the Great Flood arrived, and Moses was ordered to take two of every animal, the unicorn refused to follow him, claiming that the Lord would never destroy so lovely a creature. So when the waters started to pour, and the stubborn unicorn realized his error, it was too late. In this manner, the unicorn became extinct.”
“The unicorn is not limited to European tales, however, for in Chinese myth, there exists a noble creature known as a Ki-rin, whose scale-covered body glimmered with the light of the Celestial Temple. Unlike European unicorns, the ki-rin’s horn sat atop it’s head, and was usually depicted as jutting backwards instead of forwards. Interestingly, it’s leg joints were similarly backwards, making it appear to move in subservience. The ki-rin served as a messenger within the Celestial Temple, following the will of the gods without question. Rarely it would travel to Earth to tell a noble of a powerful event.”
Ana pondered what she had just read for a minute, then nonchalantly checked her watch. It was almost 8:00! Her mind had been so full of visions and dreams that she had not accomplished a single thing at all that day. When she realized she had been ‘mending’ one book for nearly four hours and had never once turned the page, she did another thing quite unlike her normal self- she left the archives to talk to Molly.
Halfway there, she ran into Tim- literally- when he rounded the corner she was nearest with conviction. In essence, he bowled her over completely. He immediately apologized, picking her up and helping to dust her off. When she started to walk away, he stepped in front of her.
“Ana... how are you feeling?” he stammered.
“A little bruised, but I’ll survive.” she smiled in return.
He, a little flustered, “That’s good. Not good- I mean it’s good that you’re okay, not that you’re bruised...” as she tried to step past him, he stepped into her way once again.
“Tim, I want to get by.” she glared at him a little.
“No you don’t.” he replied flatly, then quickly covered, “Did you see that 19th century dissertation on leeches I brought in? Fascinating stuff...”
By this time, Anastasia was starting to anger a bit. “Tim,” she asked softly.
“Er, yes, Ana?”
“MOVE.” she said in a voice that surprised even herself. Tim quickly, instinctively obeyed. When had she learned to be so assertive?
As she walked past him, he hesitantly called out, “Alright ANASTASIA. You know, I sure envy you ANA, what with your vacation COMING. Between Molly and I and the new one ON THE WAY, I doubt if we’ll have TIME for vacations anymore.”
When Anastasia turned the corner, she already knew what she would see.
“SURPRISE!” came the unison shout from her co-workers. There was cake, and smiling faces, and red balloons tied to the legs of the table. She shook her head, realizing where that red balloon had come from yesterday. So the rest of her night, had it been a hallucination? Was this whole thing just in her mind?
“Wow, someone get her some cake! She looks like she’s gonna drool all over the place!” Molly laughed, taking Ana by the hand. She had mistakenly thought Anastasia was looking at the cake. She was wrong.
She was staring at the balloons and beginning to salivate. Closing her mouth quickly, a pained look fell across her face as she thought, What am I thinking? Normal people do NOT drool over balloons!
Molly read her face differently, “You look hungry. Did you forget to eat today? Come on, lets sit down.” In a daze, Ana did as suggested, and had a plate of cake forced into her hands. At this point, she began to doubt her sanity.
Her boss appeared, holding a suitcase with a bow tied around it. “Last night I realized, ‘You know, Ana doesn’t really ever goes on trips. I bet she doesn’t even have any luggage!’, and, well... here. I hope you enjoy your trip.” he said as he placed the suitcase at her feet. In a surreal stupor, Ana smiled blankly at the gesture.
“How can I leave, the unicorn told me not to go...” she mumbled, not realizing she was talking aloud. She was staring at the light reflecting off of one of the rose-colored balloons.
There was an awkward silence, one that Ana didn’t even seem to notice.
“And are you going to listen to a mythical monster, or the mother of your godchild?” Molly responded with a cautious smile, putting Ana’s hand on her tummy. She waited for her words to sink in, which didn’t seem to happen.
“Anastasia? Did you hear me?” she asked, hope in her voice.
“The unicorn...” Ana mumbled again, the light on the balloon seeming to change shape into that white, pristine shape she knew to be her Champion protector.
A little unnerved, “Oh Ana! There’s no such thing as unicorns!”
As if on cue, the balloon Anastasia was staring at burst, surprising everyone in the room, most of all Ana herself. For her, it was a profound message, for in that instant the glossy, filmy, rose-colored image she saw before her vanished. Her mind snapped into reality with such fury that her head actually jerked backwards.
“You want me to be your baby’s godmother?” Ana asked, her heart emptying itself of unicorns and flights of fancy. “Really? Me?” A tear was forming in her eye.
“If you’re interested, of course,” Tim interjected, coming behind Molly and hugging her.
“Oh, you two!” she cried, her tears streaming now, “Of course I would!”
For Molly and Tim, this was an unusual sight. They had expected her to be emotional, sure, but Anastasia looked genuinely overjoyed. It was contagious, and soon all three were crying with happiness. Molly leaned over and hugged her friend tightly.
“You seemed a little down lately, you know? I thought this might cheer you up a little.” she whispered to her.
“You have no idea,” came Ana’s choked reply.
“I hate to cut this fine night short, but the library closes in two minutes,” their boss stated, suddenly flat, “and someone needs to clean up.”
“Eh, we’re on it, sir,” Tim said.
“I’ll help.” Ana smiled, standing up and fixing her skirt.
“No!” cried out Molly, “I mean, it’s your party, you shouldn’t have to...”
“I want to.”
“...do it.” Molly sighed. She stood up, a task that was still easy for her, but not for much longer.
And so the other workers left, leaving Molly, Tim, and Anastasia alone in the building. Tim grabbed the cake and headed out to his car, while the other two walked back to Ana’s desk to tidy up. As the front door closed, there was a slight breeze and the sound of papers rustling.
When the two arrived at Ana’s desk, Molly picked up the open book on it and read a few lines. She laughed.
“This is why you were talking about unicorns, right? Found a book and started daydreaming?”
“Molly, that and worse! I’ve had the oddest last few days. And horrible nightm-“
“SHHH!” Molly hushed, her brow furrowing, “Did you hear that?”
Ana quieted, and then felt her face drain pale when she heard the sound of paper moving, then tearing. CRAZY! her mind accused, You’re going nuts!
“It’s nothing.” she said calmly, “Tim probably left the front door open.”
Molly wasn’t convinced. She careened her neck out, trying to see through the bookshelves, “No, I swear I heard something from over there...”
Ana watched as an inky black gnarled hand emerged from the book Molly was holding, it’s razor talons poised to snatch Molly around her exposed neck. Insane! she heard in her head, and she reached out and slammed the book shut, grabbing it out of Molly’s hands.
“It can get creepy back here sometimes. You get used to it.” she yelped, putting the book back onto the table, where it began to open again. “Maybe we should just go.”
“Yeah, good idea,” Molly said, shivering, “I don’t know how you can stand it back here.” They started heading toward the bookshelves when Ana saw a shadow emerge from the now reopened book. It stared at her with inky eyes, baring it’s midnight colored teeth.
“Relax,” she muttered, “it’s not real. It was just a dream.”
“What?” asked Molly, looking around nervously.
“I- I was just saying,” Ana said, taking Molly by the hand as the shadow crouched, ready for a pounce, “that it’s all in your head.”
As the shadow pounced, Ana pulled Molly forward, causing the shadow to slam into the bookshelves behind her. Ana could see through to the other side of the shelves now, and saw dozens of inky eyes moving around and staring at her.
“RUN!” Ana shouted, causing Molly to scream, frightened. As they turned to run, they toppled over one of the enormous bookshelves, which in turn toppled another, then another, and so on.
They ran until they reached Periodicals, where the balloons were still tied to the table. Here Molly stopped them both.
“Girl, what’s going on? Why did you scare me like that?” she asked angrily, throwing Ana’s hand out of hers.
Anastasia held her head in shame. “I guess I got spooked,” she finally said, looking up at her friend. Molly wasn’t listening. She was staring over Ana’s shoulder, her face pale, her mouth dropped. Ana looked at the reflection in Molly’s eyes.
The bookshelves were all falling down, and thousands of shadows were bounding over them. They seemed to be amassing in the walkway, a growing lump of blackness.
“Oh, god...” Ana whispered.
Molly then confused her. “Look what we did! Holy... we’re gonna get into a lot of trouble!”
“What?” Ana asked, turning around.
The shadows were merging into a mass of blackness, which unfurled itself into the form of a massive dragon before her. As the shadows continued to dive into the form, it grew, it’s features becoming more and more clear. “A dragon...” Ana said aloud.
Molly, infuriated, pushed past her. She stepped right in front of the dragon, turned to Ana, and said, “WHAT?! Are you nuts? You’re gonna blame this on a... a dragon?” She placed her fists on her hips. “Who’s gonna believe that? Geez, a dragon?”
Anastasia watched her friend stand so close to the beast, and then realized what was going on. Molly couldn’t see any of this! All Molly saw was the toppled bookshelves, and all Molly knew was that they were the only ones there. For Molly, there was no magic.
“I don’t believe it! Dragons! That might work for you, hun, but I don’t believe in dragons!” she said.
In response, the beast unfurled it’s wings to the fullest, raised it’s head in a roar, then picked up Molly like she was a feather. It held her less than a foot from its jaws.
“That’s too bad,” it whispered to her with a voice that hung like tar in the air, “we believe in you.”
Just as Anastasia had been shocked into reality, Molly became suddenly aware of the beast that held her. The shock was too much to bear, and her eyes rolled into her head. She went limp in the dragon’s claws. Disgusted, it tossed her aside like a ragdoll, where she fell amongst the broken shelves and scattered books.
“Molly!” cried Anastasia, running a step towards her, when a heavy shadowed tail fell between them. Ana could still see the eyes of a thousand thousand shadows in the dragon, forming blinking scales of blackness across it’s skin. In terror, she looked up at the beast.
“Now Anastasia, we have come for what is rightfully ours. We’ve come for YOU.” it said, it’s dark eyes narrowing into slits.
Now, of all times, Anastasia needed her Champion unicorn. But it was nowhere to be seen. “Why hast thou forsaken me?” she asked, in a fashion it might have. She felt powerless beneath the might of this monster before her. She lowered her head in shame, her body losing it’s resistance.
Her eyes fell on the broken balloon, deflated and with string still attached. She choked back a sob, and knelt before the dragon.
“Yes, kneel before us! We have won!” the beast shook the walls in it’s roar, and reached for her.
Anastasia scooped up the broken balloon and shoved it into her mouth, swallowing hard. She felt it immediately start swelling in her throat, then into her stomach just as the dragon grabbed her.
The unthinkable happened. The dragon snatched her up, and as it did, the string, still attached to the table, pulled the swelling balloon right back through her throat. She clenched her teeth, trying to keep it in, but in a swift motion, it dislodged and fell in a wet heap on the table. Defeated, Anastasia lowered her head.
“So many years ago,” the monster spat, “the Light set us free. Now, after all this time, the choice is ours! Welcome home, Anastasia!” it said, opening it’s jaws wide to accept her in.
“STOP!” shouted a familiar voice, and a white shape lunged at the tail of the beast. The beast shouted out in pain, it’s jaws snapping inches from Anastasia’s head. Both it’s head and hers turned sharply to it’s attacker.
Standing there, panting, bigger, stronger and more proudly than ever, was her Champion. In a puddle before it was a pool of black ichor, the ‘blood’ of the beast.
“Release her!” her Champion shouted defiantly. To emphasize, it reared up and stomped on the tail of the dragon again. In response, the shadow dragon threw Ana over and next to Molly.
Unscathed by the fall, Ana checked on Molly. She looked unharmed, but still unconscious. The sounds of the battle refocused her attention.
The sight of two magical beasts in mortal combat is difficult to describe. For certain, when one lunged, the other parried just as readily, and sparks flew from their hooves, claws, and horns as they clashed against each other. Swirling pockets of magic launched from the unicorns horn, only to bounce off the dragon’s armor uselessly. In return, the dragon belched forth a stream of blackness that diffused into multitudes of shadows grabbing at the noble creature and trying to bite at it’s hide. Her Champion dodged to the side, bucking and turning it’s head, skewering one shadow, causing it to dissipate. The splinters of bookshelves flew everywhere, the dust of battle choked Ana from where she sat.
Her Champion leaped into the air, it’s horn connecting and tearing down the whole of the dragon’s wing. At the same time, the dragon’s forleg lashed out and struck the noble creature in the side. Unicorn blood flew for the first time, and Ana cried out.
The unicorn turned it’s head towards her, “Milady, you must escape! Run for your-“ it called out, but was cut short as the dragon slammed it’s tail down on the back of the beast. Ana could hear the sounds of bones breaking amidst the pained braying of her Champion as the dragon pounced on it’s prey.
“NOOOO!” she cried out, leaping forward.
“Ana... go...” she heard it cry.
“Yes Ana, go- and it dies for certain. But stay, and it may yet live.” the dragon hissed, black ooze dripping onto the champion under it’s feet. “You get to choose.”
“Then I must stay. I have no choice.” she answered softly.
“Anastasia, no!” her Champion spoke, “Ana, know that what you offer cannot ever be taken back...” he spoke in a soft whisper.
And then Anastasia knew what to do.
“You get to choose.” she said to the creature, “Take what you will- I offer myself without question or despair.”
Without another word spoken, without another thought even, the dragon’s head lashed down onto poor Anastasia. In one quick gulp, she was gone.
The dragon bellowed triumphant, kicking aside the unicorn. “We’ve won! The Light is extinguished!” it cried out, then turned to the unicorn. “The Light is gone; your charge still warm in my belly. What have you to say?”
Weakly, the unicorn lifted it’s head to speak, then lowered it, defeated. A single, fat tear formed in it’s eye. “Kill me, for mine heart is dead already.”
The dragon gleefully hopped over to the unicorn, then belched rather distastefully. “At your service,” it hissed.
Then it belched again, a rumble from deep within it’s belly. Curious, it leaned it’s head down towards it’s middle.
In response, it’s middle seemed to push upwards towards it’s head. “What’s going on?” it asked, belching again. It’s belly continued to push outward, bloating the creature like black latex. From deep within the now semi-transparent skin, an intense glow was shining. It was here that the dragon realized that it’s belly wasn’t getting larger- its body was shrinking around it!
“What kind of trickery is this?!” it cried out, it’s voice raising as it continued to shrink into it’s belly. Soon nothing remained but the head attached to a huge ball of a belly. The light began to focus, and glow brighter under it’s skin, until it seemed to be a white lance just inside of a black balloon.
And in a quick motion, the lance pierced the balloon, and a brilliant white unicorn stepped boldly behind it’s glowing horn, through the bubble as the hole spread, popping like a bubble in slow motion.
“A Light makes shadows run and hide, for a shadow can’t exist where the light touches. Inside you, there was no place for you to hide.” the unicorn said with a familiar voice to the head of the dragon.
“You... tricked us!” it whispered. The pristine white unicorn looked down at the dragon’s head as it turned back into a shadow. In a shimmering silence, the unicorn shook it’s frame, and the white of it’s coat fell from it like snow. Now standing before the shadow was a black unicorn, whose only white remained in a star about it’s horn.
“I gave what you desired. And the shadows that wanted it are in me now.” It lowered it’s head, pointing it’s horn at the shadow. “There’s still room, if you wish.”
Without another word spoken, the shadow turned and bound into the night. Anastasia sighed, her new body flexing. She walked silently to her Champion.
“Stand up.” she commanded. At first there was no response, but then the other raised it’s head. “Get up! Anastasia commands you!”
Suddenly empowered, the unicorn stood on shaky legs. It kept it’s head bowed low.
“Why do you not look at me?” she asked.
“I am ashamed. I could not protect you.” it responded.
“Am I not still here? Is the foe not vanquished?”
The other shook it’s head, it’s mane flashing freely. “One has escaped.”
“Ahh, well...” said Anastasia calmly, leaning into her Champion. “I let it go.”
The white unicorn looked up, “You let it go?”
“You shouldn’t question the magic, unicorn,” Ana said, nuzzling the other, “But yes, I did. You see, that shadow is Choice. Without Choice, a gift has no meaning. And life is a gift. Do you see?”
Her Champion raised it’s eyes to meet hers, “You are wise, Anastasia. Do you remember all?”
“Not all, protector. But it will come. We have to go now, don’t we?”
“Yes milady.” it said, to which Anastasia sighed. “What is wrong?”
“I wish I could have seen my godchild. I will miss Molly and Tim.”
The white unicorn laughed deep. “Milady, I assure you, your godchild is well. You are still here, are you not?” Seeing Ana puzzled, he continued, “Milady, the child she carries is you, yet unborn.”
“But how is that possible?”
As the two began to walk for the door, “In the future milady, I will come and take you that is the child where the shadows would not expect. I will take you to the past.”
This sinks in for only a moment before Ana shouts, “Oh, no! The accident! That means, Molly and Tim... they’ll be killed!”
The other is swift to say, “Think, milady! I am your protector, yes?”
Immediately she responded, “You are.”
Her Champion continued, “When I will have saved you from the wreckage of that vehicle, what will I then do?”
“You will take me to the past, where I will have be safer.”
“And where do I go after that?” it asked, pressing her to answer.
After a moment of thought, “Well, you leave me.”
Feigning shock, the other asked, “Why would I, that is sworn to protect you no matter what, leave you alone and confused?”
“To save Molly and Tim!” she shouted, suddenly gleeful. “Oh, unicorn...” she stopped moving a moment. “No, that is not right. You must choose a name for yourself.”
At this the other stops also. “You would allow me to do such a thing?”
“Yes, and be swift!” she says, gleefully.
“I have long thought of this, milady. I shall take the name ‘Melar’.”
“Melar? What does that mean?” she asked him, as they headed again for the door.
“It means ‘mate’, Anastasia.”
As the two passed through the doors, Ana said, “Oh really? Well Melar, we shall see...”
Molly slowly opened her eyes in time to see the most spectacular sight she had ever seen. Two unicorns, yes unicorns despite what her brain was trying to tell her, stood before her. One was as white and pristine as a downy feather, perhaps moreso even. The other, it’s staunch opposite- black as the innards of a chimney, or the bottom of a lake, except for a single star-shaped marking where it’s horn jutted out. In fascinated silence, amongst the fallen books and destroyed shelves, she watched them prance about the walkway. In a library, no less. One hand moved to her belly, and then she smiled softly, thinking back to years long ago, with memories of memories of so very long ago when she was young, and was visited by such a creature. A tear streaked down her cheek as she remembered those days of innocence, when she believed in unicorns.