by Seven Ink
Contest entry for The Whatever Contest. Why did the unicorns and merfolk go to war?
|The Unicorns and Mermaids are on the verge of war or war has already broken out. Spin tales of what happened to bring this about, how the war is going, or who wins and why/how. This is inspired by, the mermaid lover, the unicorn lover, and, the one smart enough to remain neutral.
Written for "The Whatever Contest." "The Whatever Contest"
Word Count: 4,359 words
(Authors note for ease of reading: Kyrin is nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns.)
"Are we truly doing this?" Adaernas asked, anxiously digging an armor-clad hoof into the lush forest floor.
"What choice do we have?" Lazuli shook his head, "How many more of our own have to die before they'll let us access the eternal spring?"
"I know, but still." Adaernas sighed, as his ears drooped a bit. "Is this the only spring like this in the world? Surely there's another."
"Are you prepared to fight? If you aren't you should return to guard the foals with the others." Eshrond, the eldest of the unit cautioned.
"I am!" Adaernas insisted, then added in a less aggressive tone, "I just can't believe we're at war. It's been two thousand years of peace up until a hundred years ago. I had thought we left this savagery behind us."
"The spark of war is always waiting to be fanned. We've been fortunate it took this long." Eshrond lifted his head a bit, looking out through the trees in the direction of the shore. It was just out of view, but the scent of magic-tinged water was strong.
"We should rest, dawn will come soon," Sileno suggested, nudging Eshrond with her muzzle.
"Of course, sister." Eshrond nodded, beginning to bed down on the verdant forest floor. "I advise you all do the same."
Lazuli and the other members of the unit who chose not to engage in conversation followed their unit leader's course of action, settling in to attempt a few hours of sleep. Adaernas was the last to settle, looking off toward the spring.
"Are the stories true?" Adaernas asked softly, more to himself than his companions.
"Perhaps you should seek out Kyrin and Faleren instead of pestering us. They could answer your questions better than any of us." Lazuli said tersely, turning his head to bite at a moth that had settled on his azure pelt.
"Sure, sorry to keep you up." Adaernas apologized and rose to his hooves, gently picking his way out of the small circle formed by his unit. Adaernas used the small colored balls of magic that glowed dimly amid the units gathered among the trees to guide his path. He honed in on the sphere of violet magic that pulsed in the distance, following that to its source and the unicorns gathered there.
"Kyrin? Falaren?" Adaernas called out, a touch hesitantly.
Kyrin's ears perked at the sound of their name, their scales catching the light as they turned to regard the younger warrior.
"What have we here?" Faleren asked warmly, taking a step forward to nuzzle the younger unicorn in greeting.
"Sorry to disturb you. I couldn't sleep, and I had some questions. Lazuli said you would be the best to ask." Adaernas explained.
"Questions, hm? We'll certainly do our best to answer them. Come, join us." Kyrin motioned their head to join them.
"I'm just... You were there when this all started, right? What started this war we're about to fight I mean." Adaernas looked at the older two.
"Yes, we were there." Faleren nodded, looking to her mate.
"Some say someone began to spread the idea that only they had rights to the eternal spring. Some say it was a curse of greed. Either way with propaganda like that, it was only a matter of time until someone acted." Kyrin explained.
"But which version the true reason this started? If it's a curse can't it be broken somehow?" Adaernas interjected.
"I'm not certain the absolute truth would benefit you," Kyrin said hesitantly, their nerves manifested in an anxious swish of their tail.
"How am I supposed to go out there and fight if I don't even know what happened?" Adaernas protested, shaking his black mane in frustration. "Please, tell me."
"Very well," Kyrin sighed, "Not here though. Come." They turned away, beginning to move off away from the illuminated units of unicorns.
"O-okay." Adaernas stammered, a bit taken aback by Kyrin's hesitance to explain their experience. Faleren brought up the rear, occasionally glancing behind them to be sure they weren't followed.
Kyrin's pace was even and determined as they moved deeper into the forest, gazing ahead as they led the way. Adaernas followed obediently, looking around for any sign of what Kyrin was leading him to, but there was nothing but forest as far as he could see. Finally, after leading them through a curtain of vines Kyrin came to stop atop a cliff and began to paw the dirt with a hoof.
"This is.. above the spring," Adaernas said softly, stepping to the edge and peering down into the massive spring below. Through the clear waters, he could make out the dark shapes of the amassed soldiers below the surface.
"Come here," Kyrin commanded tersely, having unearthed a stone. As he came near, Adaernas saw the surface was marked with a spell.
"What is that?" he asked, looking from the stone to the scaled unicorn.
"Some things are easier seen than explained," Kyrin said grimly, lowering their head and touching their branch-like horn to the stone. It began to glow, and as Kyrin raised their head the light rose with their horn. "Touch your horn to mine."
Adaernas took a deep breath and inclined his horn to meet Kyrin's, and as their spiral horn made contact the world twisted. Adaernas staggered as he was dropped onto the shore of the spring. For a moment he gave a whinny of fear as his eyes were locked on a mermaid that sat upon the shore, seeming to stare straight at him. Before he could charge or flee, the figure of a stallion passed through him, approaching the mermaid at a casual pace.
"Wh-What is this?" Adaernas said, though neither the stallion nor the mermaid seemed to notice his presence.
"This is the truth. Watch." Kyrin's voice filtered into his mind. Doing as he was told, Adaernas gave his full attention to the pair before him.
"How are you this beautiful afternoon?" the mermaid asked, as she combed her fingers through her vivid orange hair.
"Lovely now that I'm here with you. Come for a walk with me?" the emerald pelted stallion asked. As he came to stand beside her, Adaernas could see magic gathering at the stallion's horn. It gathered and then moved, encircling and changing the stallion's body to something more humanoid and fur to robes, though he retained the ears, horn, and tail of his equine form.
"Nothing I would love more, Gestalt." the mermaid smiled, extending a hand to her extravagantly-colored tail. As she passed her webbed hand over the scales they shifted, turning to smooth skin as her tail split and formed legs.
Gestalt offered a hand to her, helping her to her feet and drawing her into an embrace. "Come Aria, I have a beautiful meadow to show you. The flowers there are as brights as your hair."
Adaernas followed as the pair walked along the shore and into the forest, the walk to the meadow short.
"It's beautiful." Aria beamed, looking out over the small clearing. The sun illuminated the bright orange, pink, and violet hues of the flowers.
"I knew you would like it." the corners of Gestalt's eyes crinkled with joy.
"I have a surprise for you as well," Aria said, gently taking Gestalt's hand and guiding it to her stomach.
"You-You're- Oh my gods, truly?" he asked, eyes wide with surprise.
"I am." she gazed at him, though she didn't have to wait long for a reaction as he scooped her up and spun her around before setting her gently on her feet.
"I didn't think it was possible. We'll have a family of our own." Gestalt said, halfway between laughter and happy tears.
"We will. Oh Gestalt, I couldn't be happier." Aria hugged him tightly, her eyes rimmed with tears of joy as well. "We'll have to think of names."
"There's the real challenge." Gestalt chuckled, hugging her back. "Let's enjoy the sun and brainstorm a bit, shall we?"
"Always, with you," she said.
Adaernas watched them as they spent the afternoon discussing names, settling himself among the flowers. He'd almost drifted off when he heard Aria say she should head back to the water. Rousing himself he moved to follow the pair as they leisurely strolled back to the spring.
"Thank you for the wonderful afternoon, my love." Aria leaned up to kiss Gestalt.
"The pleasure is mine," Gestalt said warmly as he parted and rested his cheek against hers. They lingered that way for a moment before stepping back and reverting to their innate forms. A flicker of movement drew Adaernas' eyes from the pair to a willow tree on a rocky outcropping that overhung the spring. He could make out two sets of eyes, one peering from among the branches of the willow, the other amongst the reeds in the water below.
"Look out!" Adaernas shrieked, forgetting that he could not be seen or heard. A serpent of dark magic sprung forth from the hidden pair across the water, snaking its way rapidly toward Aria and Gestalt.
"Visit me soon," Aria said, leaning in to nuzzle Gestalt as he bent his head down to her. As he did the serpent rose from the water behind Aria, the magic burrowing into her back as it sprung. Her fingers fisted in Gestalt's mane, and before the unicorn could ask what she was doing she pulled herself up and sank her sharp teeth into the underside of his throat.
Gestalt shrieked in shock and fear, as he tried to rear back his flesh tore away. The white sand and Aria's scales rapidly covered in a splattering of blood. Gestalt fell back onto the sand, gasping for air, and then Aria was on him once more.
Adaernas started to look away when Kyrin's sharp voice jolted him, "Don't turn away!"
With reluctance, Adaernas turned back to the scene once more, a heavy sensation twisting his stomach. As Gestalt's body stilled, Aria feasted. Just when Adaernas thought he could take no more she sat up suddenly.
"Gestalt?!" She screamed as she came to her senses. Her hands shook as she surveyed her surroundings, taking in the hot blood on her hands and face, then began screaming hysterically as she clutched what was left of her beloved.
"Kyrin! I don't want to see anymore!" Adaernas cried out in desperation. He couldn't bear to hear her grief.
"There is more you must witness," Kyrin said, though their voice was empathetic.
The scene before Adaernas changed, now underwater in a cavern somewhere in the aquifer that fed the eternal spring, he saw Aria holding what appeared to be Kyrin as a foal. Small gills moved at Kyrin's neck, circulating the oxygen-rich water.
"I'm ready..." Aria said though she didn't sound like she was. A creature, which Adaernas recognized to be a kelpie, joined Aria in the cavern.
"Are you sure you want to do this? It's no algae off my pelt if you get yourself killed, but know that's what you're facing if you follow through with this." the kelpie cautioned.
"I know, Helna. Please, keep Kyrin safe. Once I'm gone, take them to Farherd. I know they're not involved in this." Aria requested, smoothing a hand over the tiny foal's scales.
"You think they'll take it with that weird horn? And can it even breathe air?" Helna nodded her head at the infant's horn which resembled a branch or piece of driftwood more than a unicorn's horn.
"They will. Their code says they can't leave an orphaned foal to die." Aria confirmed. "Kyrin can breathe air and water. They'll be fine."
"Alright, if you're certain. I won't let anything happen to her." the kelpie agreed. "I'd say I'll see you around but well..."
"It's alright. I owe you everything. You know where I keep my treasures. They're yours once you return." Aria said, bowing her head to Helna.
"Thanks, I'm going to miss you." Helna nuzzled against Aria's cheek, "I won't make this any more drawn out than it has to be."
"I love you Kyrin. Be good. Stay with Helya." Aria said. She gently nudged the foal to rest beside Helna who settled on the cavern floor before swimming out of the cavern.
The scenery twisted and Adaernas found himself on the shore once more. This time a single mare was drinking from the spring. As he watched he could see Aria, swimming toward the mare at a rapid pace. He knew better than to attempt to call out, instead he winced as Aria launched herself from the water, sinking her sharp teeth into the mare's throat.
The struggle was brief, and before long the mare had stilled, her body lying half in and out of the water as life ran out. Adaernas watched Aria dive back into the spring and retreat to a patch of reeds. It wasn't long until another unicorn stumbled on the mare's body and then ran off with a shriek of terror to alert others. Then the scene faded and Adaernas found himself standing horn to horn with Kyrin once more.
"Was... Was that you in the vision?" Adaernas asked hesitantly as he regarded Kyrin.
"It was. That was how I came to be a member of this herd. More than that though, that is how the war began. When the unicorns found the mare my mother had killed, they figured out it was one of the merfolk that killed her." Kyrin explained grimly, "My mother began to kill unicorns and merfolk alike indiscriminately. Using her magic to take whatever shape she needed to make it look as though unicorns were killing the merfolk and vice versa. Eventually, she was killed in one of the scuffles."
"Gods... Does Phalanx know about this?" Adaernas asked, his eyes wide as he tried to process all he'd seen and been told.
"She does." Kyrin lowered their gaze.
"Wh-but why haven't the others been made aware of this? Why show me? If it was a set up why are we fighting?" Adaernas asked.
"Who would believe it? After a hundred years of skirmishes would it make a difference? Phalanx didn't think so." Kyrin lowered her head.
"We tried to speak to Phalanx about it, but she said it would likely only cause division. Most would believe it to be a trick or some kind of trap set by the merfolk." Faleren said, resting her head on Kyrin's withers in an attempt to comfort her mate.
"This is why we haven't been able to access the eternal spring for a hundred years!?! A lie brought on by an act of revenge?!" Adaernas reared up and slammed his armored hooves on the ground. "Why did you show me this?! How am I supposed to fight knowing it's all a lie?!
"I told you the truth might not be beneficial to you." Kyrin said apologetically, "I wish I had a better answer, but when the sun comes you must fight or die. The choice is yours."
"How did you know about this?" Adaernas asked quietly.
"Helna, the kelpie you saw. She showed me this." Kyrin replied.
"Could she do something about this? Somehow get through to everyone?" Adaernas asked, his voice edged with desperation.
"No... She tried to speak with the merfolk but they imprisoned her. They believed her to be a spy for the unicorns." Faleren shook her head.
"Damn it all.." Adaernas stared down at the stone, wishing he'd never been so curious.
"I'm sorry," Kyrin said solemnly.
"Don't be... You didn't choose this. You were just a foal." Adaernas tried to reassure, though he couldn't quite chase the heaviness from his voice.
"Still... It's likely whoever enchanted my mother to kill my father did this because of me." Kyrin's ears wilted.
"Don't." Faleren said firmly, "Whoever did that to your mother is to blame. Not you."
"And you've no idea who it was hiding that day that cast a spell on her?" Adaernas asked.
"We suspect it was one of the merfolk and unicorns working together, but there's no way to be sure." Kyrin shook their head.
"There's no good way out of this, is there?" Adaernas murmured.
"Not at present, no," Kyrin replied. "I'm sorry, to have brought you such grief and uncertainty on the eve of battle."
"It's alright, I insisted on knowing. Do you think you both would mind walking back with me?" Adaernas asked.
"I don't see why not." Faleren agreed, "Are you ready to go back?"
"Yes." Kyrin nodded, "Let's return. Even if we don't sleep we can at least rest."
Adaernas fell into step with the pair, the walk back to the encampment made in silence. When they reached the camp he bid Kyrin and Faleren farewell and then carefully picked his way through the sleeping unicorns back to his unit. He laid down and shut his eyes, though sleep never came, his mind filled with the things Kyrin had shown him. It didn't feel like long until he was roused by the movements of his unit waking up.
"Everyone awake and alert?" Eshrond looked over his unit.
"Mostly, Adernas there looks like pondwater but that's what happens when you're up half the night asking questions." Lazuli jabbed at Adaernas' expense, though the target of his jeer showed no sign of noticing, or if he did he didn't care.
"You with us Adaernas, last chance to go back." Eshrond leveled a serious stare at him.
"No, I'm fine. Just had a restless night. What do you expect when we're about to have a war?" Adaernas shook out his mane, mildly offended at being asked again.
"Good, then assume formation. We march at first light." Eshrond commanded, taking point as the other unicorns fell into an arrow formation. As the first rays of sunlight penetrated the darkness, the unicorns began their charge to the water.
The merfolk awaited them just beyond the shore, spears in hand. Their razor-sharp teeth bared as they slapped the water with their spears, giving a war cry of high-pitched screeches and clicks. The unicorns reared up, slamming their hooves into the dirt as they likewise gave their battle cry to rally their numbers.
Adaernas watched as, almost in slow motion, one of the merfolk launched a spear. It flew through the air in an arc, landing soundly in the shoulder of a stallion in another unit. Then all at once, time sped up as the attack spurred on the charge, the unicorns rushing forward into the spring.
Adaernas rushed forward with his unit into the shallows, his heart thundering in his chest as he bent his head to avoid the slash of a merman's spear, slamming horn first into his attacker and whipping his head back to throw the impaled merman onto the land.
The clear spring water quickly turned to pink foam from the stampede of hooves and the flow of blood from both sides. Adaernas saw a merman swimming up beneath Lazuli and twisted, slamming his hooved down into the attacker.
"Nice save! Thanks!" Lazuli called out as he kicked another in the temple.
"If one falls the unit falls, right?" Adaernas called back as he turned his attention to another attacker. As he lunged to drive his horn into another to his left he missed the mermaid charging from the right. She surged forward, gathering magic in her spear, and slammed it into his chest.
The impact sent him flying and he landed on the shore with a brutal thud, skidding across the sand. His ears were ringing and everything hurt, he dimly realized the warm feeling running down his chest was his blood, and one of his legs was broken. His head swam as he tried to get his bearings, looking out at the battle. In the midst, he could see Kyrin fighting, their scales wet and their mane stained with blood.
He looked around for Faleren, then saw her locked in battle with a merman, sparks flying as spear and horn collided. As Faleren reared up to strike again, Adaernas could see that while her horn would connect, so would the merman's spear.
"Faleren! Look out!" He screamed. Before spear and horn could make contact, Kyrin had thrown themself in between, taking both blows. Kyrin gave a bleat of agony as her mate's horn and enemy's spear bored into their sides. Adaernas cried with despair, the sound lost over the din of battle, as he pinched his eyes shut.
Behind his closed eyelids he could see a sudden burst of light, so bright it would've been blinding had his eyes been open. The sound of battle cut off abruptly. Carefully he squinted, trying to make out what was happening through the glare.
Gradually he could make out the source of the light, Kyrin, hovering high above the water's surface. Light poured from them, shining brightest from their wounds. Golden blood flowed freely, and as the droplets hit the water's surface Adaernas watched the water turn gold as well.
"You will see the truth!" Kyrin's voice boomed over the silent battlefield. Once again the vision Kyrin had shown him played through his mind and that of all those on the battlefield.
"Am I dead?" Adaernas muttered to himself, as the memories played out.
When the memories ended and his sight returned he was gazing at Kyrin's glowing form once more. Kyrin tilted their head back gave an unearthly cry, as the light burst outward from them and enveloped the battlefield. Adaernas pinched his eyes shut once more, feeling warmth wash over him and his wounds knitting together.
When he opened his eyes once more the light had dimmed, though Kyrin's hovering form still radiated with a faint golden light. The glowing unicorn's wounds were gone, and all eyes were on them.
"You have seen part of the truth. Now see the culprits." Kyrin's horn glowed bright, and another vision pushed into Adaernas' mind.
"It's unnatural. We must end it." Phalanx's voice drew Adaernas' mind, and he found himself gazing at the mare. She perched on the rock upon which the willow grew, gazing down into the water. Below, Galeris, the leader of the merfolk was gazing up at her.
"I think I have an idea, though it may spawn other consequences." Galeris said, "If we make it look like a murder, the other unicorns are sure to kill her."
"What if instead of making it look like a murder, it was a murder." Phalanx crooned, "I have heard, deep at the bottom of the aquifer is one of the ancient merfolk. If you find them they may be able to provide us with just the spell needed, though it will likely take both our power to activate it."
"Even better, when she sees she's killed her lover she may take care of herself for us," Galeris smirked.
As the vision faded so did the light, though Kirin's scales retained a golden sheen. They stared, awaiting the judgment of the unicorns and merfolk.
"You did this.." Adaernas murmured as he stared across the battlefield at Phalanx. Muttering started among the warriors, their gaze turning toward their leaders.
"What are you looking at? Don't you see? It had to be done!" Phalanx yelled at her soldiers, though it did nothing to allay their glares.
"All of this is your fault!" Adaernas roared as he surged to his hooves, charging Phalanx. It started a chain reaction, other unicorns beginning to swarm toward her.
"Get back! I'll kill you all!" Phalanx shrieked, whipping her head about wildly, trying to stab any that dared approach. In the flurry of movement, Adaernas found a gap and rammed his horn forward, plunging it into Phalanx's ribcage. Others soon found weak spots, more horns impaling their traitorous leader. Phalanx thrashed, blood foaming at her mouth and nostrils, and then finally sagged.
Adaernas withdrew his bloodsoaked horn and stepped back, turning to look out over the spring. From the red froth that appeared to be at the center of a cluster of angry merfolk, he could only presume Galeris had met the same fate at his people's hands.
"There will be no more bloodshed, it is done." Kyrin's voice bathed the remaining warriors as they stilled. Then slowly, Kyrin floated down, landing gently on the shore.
Adaernas lingered at the sidelines as others began to work out who would lead each faction. Others of less important rank lingered at the shore. Unicorns, and merfolk speaking for the first time in a hundred years. A sense of peace washed over him as he watched the interactions and unicorns drank from the spring once more, regaining their immortality.
"Adaernas?" A voice drew him from his thoughts, and he turned to find himself gazing at Kyrin.
"O-oh Kyrin! It's you." He bowed his head slightly. He'd caught enough of the passing conversation to know that Kyrin had assumed to role of Farherd's leader.
"I wanted to thank you. What you said last night, when I was run through it came surging back to me, and I knew what I had to do." Kyrin said appreciatively.
"It was your power that allowed everyone to see the truth and reveal who caused all this." Adaernas shook his head slightly.
"True, but had you not drawn my attention to that memory I may not have known what to do." Kyrin nudged him, "You needn't be quite so humble."
"Well, I think your magic kept me from dying so let's call it even." Adaernas chuckled. "What now?"
"Now, I've decided we stay close to the spring. Our peoples have spent far too long apart, and we need to make sure that separation is never instigated again." Kyrin said, "That being said, I would like to make you a unit leader. You showed great courage, fighting despite knowing it may have been for naught. I think the newest warriors in training could benefit from having someone with such a keen mind teaching them."
"Are you certain?" Adaernas' eyes widened in surprise.
"I wouldn't offer if I wasn't." the corners of Kyrin's eyes crinkled with joy.
"Then it would be my pleasure." Adaernas smiled.