The brighter the light, the darker the shadow. A tale of a unicorn gone bad.
More death and decay, could nothing stop it?
Turning, Kyrine looked up the steep, wooded mountains behind her, until they vanished into the misty horizon. Beyond was her village. They had a day, maybe two, before the darkness claimed it. And, while they could flee as others had, the land over which to do so was running short. Soon there would be no where left to run, the realisation spiking her soul with horror. Tightening her grip around the small vial clutched in her hand, she turned warily towards her companion.
“Time is short and your mountains are closer than my village. Will you help me?”
The dragon stretched its giant, scaly wings, their hue glimmering purple in the midday sun. Tossing its head back, it let out a careless humph.
“My kind can fly. We need no land to escape over.”
Anger clawed Kyrine’s chest at his response. Why bother responding to her summons, if this was his attitude?
“And what of your young? Would they survive the flight across the great sea? Do you even know what lies beyond?”
The enormous dragon shifted in discomfort, his clawed foot crushing a trapped boulder raising a cloud of dust which momentarily obscured his leg. Then, rising from his indifferent slouch, he released a growl-like snort of irritation. But on turning his beastlike eyes to mountains his expression grew distanced with thought.
“The plan is simple. We can end this now,” Kyrine pressed, hoping to nudge his indecision in her favour.
Growling, he tossed his head.
“I don’t like the plan. I trust their kind even less than yours,” he snarled in response, his giant features curled in mistrust. “They give nothing without a price.”
Beating his wings once, in agitation, the down draft nearly swept Kyrine from her perch, but still, she released a smile at the glimmer of hope daring to emerge.
“The price is the unicorn once the job is done. The source of our trouble for the cure, can anyone deny that’s a fair price?”
“Too fair,” the dragon snorted in mistrust, his nostrils sprouting twin streaks of flame, but still the giant creature looked thoughtful.
“Very well Kyrine of Hymesglen. Gyrrous of the Erynch Peaks grants you your aid. Pray this plan works, or there will be nothing left of you to flee.”
She felt no fear at the threat. If the plan didn’t work, she was dead, anyway, along with her village and the rest of the human race. The mermaids might be a conniving race, but they had much to gain from the plan’s success. The magic of a unicorn was as powerful pure as it was when corrupt, its effects just dynamically opposed. She almost envied them their prize, although, it didn’t seem very enviable at the moment.
“Let’s be done with this.” Gyrrous lowered his body against the ground, his gnarled face creasing under the pressure of his wounded pride. “I have young to feed.”
Approaching him, Kyrine felt a thrill of nerves at the sight of the creature she had secured as a temporary mount. His back bristled with sharp bony spikes. After taking only two careful steps, the creature jerked sharply under her feet, fire shooting from his nostrils as the dragon fought to suppress the instinct to toss the intruder from his back. Lurching fearfully close to impalement against the heaving spikes, she caught her balance at the last moment, drawing back with a gasp of relief.
Carefully picking her way up his back, she stopped several times to loose parts of her black leather armour which snagged on the dragon’s long spikes. Finally, with a sigh of relief, she settled at the apex of his back. Slipping the precious vial into a pouch on her belt, she then shifted the quiver dangling against her back, containing her hunting bow and arrows.
“Let’s do it!” She took hold of two of the dragon’s spikes for stability, and, with a barely suppressed snarl, Gyrrous launched them into the air.
As they rose sharply, Kyrine’s long dark hair whipped back, fanning out and undulating against the fingers of the howling wind. Her soul shimmered with exaltation as they soared higher and higher over ground. It was a feeling she’d never felt the like of before and probably never would again. But, the pleasure vanished at the sight of the dark, twisted remains of an overcome village.
“Please, take us a little lower.” She felt a sorrowful lurch. “Let’s at least see if there are survivors.”
The derisive snort she received in reply, clearly communicated the chances of that, leaving a bitter lump in her
throat as they pitched downwards.
Tearing through the village at high speed even her hopes that all had evacuated in time were dashed. On the main street, a whole family were slumped dead over a broken wagon, their skin stained black and their eyes clouded and glazed.
A swell of sickness and agony struck her at the sight, but she knew she needed to see it. This is what would happen to Hymesglen and its people, if she failed. Her parents and brothers, grandparents and cousins, would all be dead. Even, the sour faced merchant down the street didn’t deserve this fate, and, tightening her resolve, she looked away.
Ahead, a speck of even darker black emerged into view. That was it, the source of all the death and destruction around them. The creature that had killed tens of thousands, cruelly taking back the gift of life, it had before granted.
What could cause such a pure, loving, creature, to wreak such evil? She wondered, remembering her only glimpse of it long ago.
It had been a pure white with a shimmering golden mane and single horn at is brow that glittered crystal-like in the sun. She’d patted it, her small child sized stature, only able to reach the middle of its side. But, it had felt so smooth and silky, and at its touch, a thousand joys had enthralled her heart. Now, its coat was black as night with not a single ray of light reflected back. All hope swallowed, and all life sucked out. It was a sad sight to see, of her childhood idol.
“What now?” Gyrrous slowed to a hover over the black creature.
“You need to get me close to its mouth.” She reached for the vial in her pouch.
“What!?” the dragon roared, bucking in rage, almost unseating her. “You never told me that! It’s suicide!”
“It’s the only way.” Her fingers brushed the vial’s glass surface, but she didn’t take it out. “The mermaid’s tear must be swallowed or it will not drive the corruption back.”
“The mermaids lie!” Gyrrous hissed, spiting flecks of fire. “They seek only to kill us for their amusement!”
“They do not!” she asserted. “Their lake lies in the corruption’s path. They too will die if it reaches it. We must trust them!”
With a roar of protest, the dragon plunged down, sweeping her speedily towards the black unicorn. But, the creature’s mouth was shut. How could they open it? Then the solution struck.
Reaching for her quiver, she drew her bow and arrow. Shooting with practiced ease, her arrow arched through the air into the unicorn’s flank, causing it to rear up on its hind legs with a high pitched shriek of pain.
With its mouth open, she discarded her bow, hastily grabbing the vial in its place. Twisting sideways beneath her, Gyrrous tucked in his great wings, to avoid scraping the death scorched ground.
This was it, she thought in a determined attempt to still her nerves. But, her heart fluttered at the sight of the small target and the speed at which they approached.
You can’t miss. You mustn’t miss. Her grip on the vial tightened.
Flashing past the black unicorn, its mouth still open and contorted in pain, her toss must have been one in a million, propelling the tiny blue crystal out of the vial and into its gaping mouth.
Gyrrous righted them with a jerk and swerved away as a shower of bright light erupted behind them. Turning, Kyrine saw the unicorn pulsated with rainbow coloured hues radiating around it. As its front hooves reconnected with the ground, a pulse of light shot out, banishing the corruption and returning life and colour to the world.
Letting out a whoop, Kyrine almost lost her grip in distraction and feeling herself slip, caught a spike hastily to steady herself.
Landing on the lush green grass with a bump, she climbed carefully from the dragon’s back. The sight of the pure white unicorn, an arrow still sticking from its flank, struck her with guilt. It seemed cruel, now, but there’d been no other way.
She expected the poor creature to run, but it didn’t. Instead, it approached her like a childhood friend and nuzzled her chest, affectionately. Or perhaps she’d wanted it to run, realising what came next.
Reaching out, she pulled the arrow free. A brief whine erupted from unicorn’s mouth then its skin healed, leaving not a blemish.
Moments ago she’d hate it. Wanted it dead to protect her village, but now it seemed like a different creature. Its mane had returned to its golden hue, its horn once again sparking like a thousand crystals.
Throughout her childhood, she’d yearned for this moment; wanting nothing more than to brush her hand against the creature’s silky coat. To feel the world’s joy singing through her heart as life blossomed eternally around it. But now, she had to give it up. The deal was done and there was no going back. The realisation eating her with despair.
But not the memories, she assured herself with a sad smile. She would always have those.
With a knowing nod, the unicorn dropped to its front knees, a clear indication for her to mount. Its knowledge of its fate only deepened her guilt. She’d sold its freedom and now felt the price.
“You have earned my respect human,” Gyrrous growled, grudgingly, as she mounted the wondrous being in his place. “Perhaps we shall meet again someday.” Then his huge wings flapped carrying him into the air as the unicorn lurched forwards unbidden.
The ride was fast and smooth, filling her with a tingling bliss as they rode through the wooded mountain pass, the world shifting rather than moving past them. All too soon the journey was over. The lake’s surface glittered before them, broken only by half a dozen pale skinned mermaids, submerged to their waists.
Sliding from the creature’s back, Kyrine felt fear at what would be done with it. What could mermaids want of a land creature? Did they mean to drown it?
“You have done well mortal,” a fair-haired mermaid at the centre of the group spoke. “The price is paid and we will not harm it. You have our word.”
But even the reassurance set a shadow quivering at Kyrine’s core.
The water parted like two reversing waves, the unicorn passing through, after a final, gentle, glance. Kyrine’s eyes filled with tears as the water fell back, blocking it from view.
She would never see it again, she realised but would always feel its presence and remember its touch. Walking away into the trees, towards the village she’d saved, all elation was gone, leaving her only regret.