Veilreach: Chapter Twenty-Two

[ And the story continues as we check in with Jen’Rar and the Mage’s College… ]
The auditorium was filled with students chattering and bickering with each other while they waited impatiently in the tiered seats surrounding a fancy ornate stage. Most seemed bored and restless. Some appeared to be taking bets. And perhaps a few were doing some other questionable behaviours.

Very few mandatory assemblies were ever called, especially out of the blue with no apparent reason. Each seat seemed filled, and a few restless souls were even standing in the aisles. Even the large spread out form of Professor Jeramiah took up a small row of seats to himself as he crammed into the hall.

On the stage sat four simple chairs rather then the usual huge mage council seating that normally looked out onto the crowd. Among the four chairs sat Cleo and Jen’Rar. It was Jen’Rar who cleared her throat and stood.

“Hush now!” She waited as the chattering petered out and eventually quieted down. “I am sure you are all rather curious why I have called this meeting so… abruptly. As some of you will know, Prime Dean Marthis has been called away on rather important business. As such, I have been placed as Acting Prime Dean.”

Among the crowd there were plenty of whisperings and chattering which struck up once again. She gave them time to get the gossiping out of their system before she cleared her throat once more and eyed the thousands of beady looks.

“Since I am now in charge, there will be some… administrative changes that will be taking place. Some that will have a great impact on the college as a whole. In fact, within the coming days I will be meeting with each teacher and we will be going over student progress. Those who have not showed progress or interest in study will be asked to leave. Immediately.”

The bored curious interest now shifted to very uncomfortable concern. There were audible grunts and worried sharp inhales. Followed by the sudden rise in voices arguing with each other in disgust.

“Well that went an’ stirred dem up good!” Cleo chuckled under her breath.

Jen’Rar raised her arms and with it her voice. “Enough!”

After a strong and stern glare out into the audience the silence fell again.

“I will say this only once. As long as you have proven to want to be here, and to be capable of being here – you have absolutely nothing to worry about. Those of you who may be given.. a less then stellar report from your professors will still have a chance to prove your case. But I will be very clear. This school will no longer sully itself with those merely wishing to pay for the prestige of a magic degree. There will be no student who graduates these halls by coasting through or purchasing their way to success. That ends today. If you have any complaints? You may speak with our Diplomatic Relations representative, Cleo Denwater.”

The Koonem woman nearly choked as Jen’Rar motioned to her and winked away from the unruly crowd. She was certain Cleo had mouthed something rather inappropriate but luckily couldn’t hear it over the gathering dishevel of the room.

From the fourth chair which was closest to the edge of the stage a large male stood. He pounded his right foot on the stages floorboards which caused a deep thud to resonate in the room and he boomed out in a huge voice, “Silence!”

The room practically stood to attention with an electric jolt.

Seated with his cloak around him, the huge man had seemed rather normal and easy to overlook. But standing at his full height he was certainly a sight to behold. His skin was dark and deep, and his eyes were a strange and piercing grey. He was human, and seemed to be in his late fifties, but was chiseled and war-torn. His face was accented in white inked spell-work that seemed to extend from around his eyes into his bushy salt and pepper hair.

“Ah, yes… thank you Duke.” Jen’Rar patted her chest, clearly rattled in one way or another. Her cheeks were slightly more flushed then she intended them to be. “I doubt most of you remember Professor Duke, he was… retired quite a while ago. Luckily it seems he has graciously accepted a position back with the College! I hope you all can welcome him back with some applause?”

Very nervous clapping started as the man sat down and pulled his cloak around himself again. It was a pathetic amount of applause, but at least it was something.

“Alright, I believe that is enough excitement for one day. You are dismissed.”

“What twas that about me bein’ some diplomatic nonsense?!” Cleo hissed at her while eyeing the various unhappy students who were quickly getting out of the room to complain in safer quarters.

“Look, you have the best natural talent of being hard to find. Let them bore themselves with trying to track you down – we have bigger fish to fry. So to speak.”

Looking over to Duke, Jen’Rar couldn’t help but notice the quiet third chair was already vacant.

“That was quick.” The large man grunted.

“Vesper isn’t one for small talk. I’m sure he’s had other things on his mind.”

“I dun trust that one much.” Cleo scratched her cheek and peered suspiciously at the empty chair. “Sneaky elf he be.”

“Vesper is the least of our concerns. We run this school now, and between us three we have a -lot- of work to do. There are going to be a lot of them who do not take our authority lightly. I can see a lot of the rich snobs already writing angry letters to their rich snivelling parents. It’s going to be quite the political uproar I’m afraid.”

“You sure dis will be worth it?” Cleo sipped on a flask that she had somehow slipped from some hidden recess of her shawl. “Gonna be lotsa trouble for us, ‘specially in pretty fly boy comes back.”

“It’s necessary. I grow very tired of seeing good students with excellent potential being turned away because they can’t afford schooling. Or seeing students doing well only because they’ve helped fill the Dean’s personal coffers. That isn’t what Magic is about.

As for Marthis? Don’t you worry about him. I’m sure he has his hands quite full.”

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Journal: My project…

 

So as I’ve posted recently, I’ve been working on a secret project. I’ve finally decided to let you all in on what exactly this secret project is and some of the things I’ve learned along the way.

I’m teaching myself some traditional style animation.

Really it doesn’t seem like much, and it’s not this huge earth-shattering thing – but it’s been something that I can invest some personal energy into that isn’t for anyone else but -me-.

It’s been wicked hard in some aspects. Traditional animation is a hand-cramping, frustrating, exercise in both your patience and sanity. It is a lot to learn and a heck of a lot of work for mere seconds of actual film time.

But it’s been good for me.

See I’ve been dealing with some health issues lately. This isn’t something new for me really, I’ve had health issues pretty much all my life. But lately it’s been taking quite a toll on me mentally. This new endeavour has been good for me. It breathes a little life into my artwork and creative projects.

Being a crafter and artist during my work day life, it means I end up putting a lot of time and effort into projects for everyone else. Once you get stuck in the same cycles of only creating projects that you need to do for other people – you start forgetting about why you love the art form as a whole. You start to forget what drives you to love creating things for the mere point of creating.

So this is why I decided to take up learning a whole new set of skills. It won’t being me notoriety, fame, or money – but that isn’t why I’m doing it! I’m doing it for the creative outlet that is art at it’s basic core.

This is also an excellent way of merging the fantastic release that the world of writing has been for me, into my other love – artwork. Weaving storytelling with visual ideas is going to open up some exciting ideas for me. Some of the past story work I’ve done may translate to animation or graphic styles better then others. Who knows?

It’s all an experiment. It may end up that the joy of it doesn’t take and I decide to let it go and just continue to write and draw the way I always have. But if nothing else happens with it – I’m proud that I set up to learn something, and managed to at least accomplish what I set out to.

So here is the rough animation work. My first animation.

I know it’s rough, imperfect, and certainly needs a lot of polishing (heh, I could almost be describing myself…) but I’m still proud of it.

-Crowskin

The Cluster: So it begins.

She sat staring at the screen as it crackled. White noise, then blackness.. white noise, then blackness. It seemed to be struggling to kick into life but couldn’t quite manage it. For a long time she simply watched as it struggled. Over and over again.

How long had she been sitting there? She couldn’t quite remember if it had been just a few moments or if it had been hours. In fact Shelly had a hard time remembering exactly what she had been doing before this moment.

It was an unnerving sensation.

She slowly struggled to gather her thoughts just as the monitor struggled to stay lit.

The room was dark, save for the bright flashing in front of her every time the light would click on. It must have been sometime in the middle of the night. The usual red glow from the snake tank in her room was off, which was strange but not impossible. Power outs knocked it out occasionally and the specialized heat bulbs were beyond delicate to blowing out.

Is that what happened? A power out. Had to be.

In the distance she could hear the occasional popping and crackling of fireworks. Perhaps there was also the hooting and hollering of people celebrating. In the further distance – the howls of unhappy dogs having to listen to the ruckus.

She breathed deep as if waking from a dream, rubbed her sore dry eyes and shifted her head to the side until a joint popped and relieved it’s pressure.

If only all pressure could be relieved that way. A little pop, snap, and crack to end all the build up pressure.

She ran her fingers back and forth against the laptop sensitivity pad waiting for her little white arrow to appear. She couldn’t really afford to get this fixed right now, not on top of all the other expenses plaguing her.

Another deep breath as the screen finally kicked to life. Whatever had seemed to cause it to glitch out had seemingly fixed itself.

With a more constant light she glanced around her cluttered cave of a bedroom. The slither of her snakes in the cage beside her laptop desk (which was really just one of those plastic drawer storage bins) reminded her that she’d have to grab another bulb at some point. She could vaguely see their shadows digging around in the substrate unhappily.

The laptop rebooted with it’s typical boring Windows login screen.

“What am I doing with my life?” she muttered to herself as she stared at the random screen shot of some night mountain scene displayed on the background. “I could be there, doing something important with my life.”

It wasn’t really a crushing self-deflating blow… it was more like a slow crumpling of her self-worth.

She’d been feeling it for a while. It built it stages but over the past few years the stress and pressure had made it seem to grow monumentally faster.

She’d be 35 this year. Now she understood why most people seemed to hate their birthday after about the age of 30.

Shelly typed in her login name and password with well worn cellular memory. Her fingers just knew the general pattern by now. She barely had to think about it. After all, most of her life seemed to be on this personal black box of hers.

Up popped her workspace. The background picture was relatively boring, she hadn’t changed it for about a year now. It showed the night sky with an artistic depiction of the TARDIS on the right side of the screen. Neatly stacked up on the left were her icons.

It was weird, but she held some sort of pride in how neatly they were arranged. It made her obsessive compulsive disorder happy to see them all neatly in line… which is why the new icon stood out so strongly to her.

Among her familiar little icons like Krita, Skyrim, Chrome, and LibreOffice was another one. It looked simple enough, a black triangle with a blue circle in the centre. There was no label text with it. No little name to go by. Just a weird little icon sitting out of place of the neat tidy rows. It was slightly smaller then the other icons, and if it wasn’t for the weird space it took up in the line she may have almost brushed over it. OCD to the rescue it seemed.

But what was it? Shelly had no recollection of downloading anything lately. Certainly not installing anything new anyway. Was it a virus? Certainly could be. There seemed to be a massive amount of data-mining, new viruses, and weird hacking programs to contend with online lately so she could only imagine what new brand of virus her older laptop might have caught. She wished doctor visits for computer systems were covered.

She dragged her cursor over to it, hovered it and the right clicked. She browsed down the list of options until she reached ‘Scan with windows defender’. She had been tempted to just hit open – but she wasn’t a complete idiot. She had no desire to willingly help out whatever hack this thing led to.

She waited.

Normally a teal bluish ‘Windows defender’ program would have opened by now. It usually opened, checked the file, and she could figure out what to do with it then… but nothing.

She right clicked again on the weird icon. The options opened up but this the option of scanning it was gone. Was that normal? She couldn’t remember. When was the last time she had to scan anything this suspicious?

She looked over the other options while biting her lower lip as she thought. Open was less tempting now. But Properties was at least safe. She clicked it and waited.

Now she got a brief anxious shiver up her spine and wiggled her cursor pathetically around the screen. It must have been a virus because her laptop just wasn’t wanting to work with her. Had it froze? A quick double-click on Crome brought up Google. That was working just fine. What was going on?

She closed the window then right clicked on the Chrome icon. Up came the list which also included the option to scan with Windows defender. She moved back to the weird triangle and tried again.

Now in the option list there was no tab for scanning, and no tab for Properties. In fact there was only one option. Open. It repeated itself down the list multiple times. Taking up the spaces for any other option.

Shelly didn’t like to curse. It was something she didn’t do very often, even though growing up it wasn’t exactly forbidden. Her brothers used to swear like sailors and her mother and grandmother could throw down some interesting F-bombs when they were partial to. Still, she didn’t like to. She did come close to it now however.

Instead the noise that escaped her was more reminiscent of a hissing kettle.

She moved her cursor desperately to the task bar she should could manually open her virus software and deal with the problem directly only to feel sick to her stomach as the options came up.

Everyone of the normal icons that would be displayed on the left hand side of the task bar was the eerie black triangle with the blue circle in the centre. Every option going down the list was simply titled “open the file”.

Her laptop was obviously infected bad. She reached out to the far left corner of her keypad, pressed and held the off button. She’d have to restart and hope like hell she could manage to fix this problem when the laptop rebooted. If this was one of those viruses that got worse when you restarted she’d be completely screwed.

The laptop went black. She waited a few seconds as a shaky finger hovered over the button. She counted out in her head the ten seconds that she normally waited before turning it back on after a hard restart. She only got to four before the laptop turned back on of it’s own accord.

This time the ceiling light and fan above her head flickered to life for a moment as well. It scared her to her feet causing her to this time utter a quick “Fuck!” before she could even think to hold it in. She stared at the flickering bulbs as the slight breeze from the slowly spinning fan blades subsided.

Shelly wasn’t sure why she was so jittery. What did she expect the whole bloody light to come down on top of her? What was she going to do if it did? Still her flight-or-fight reflexes were now making her feel like she’d somehow swallowed her own heart and was now choking on it.

The laptop screen was blue. Blue screen of death it was… or not.

She sat back down carefully and stared at the blue screen. The script on it was not the traditional blue screen of death script. There was no Windows error script. There was no uniform basic text block. As strange as this was it also had a deep feeling of familiarity to it. Had this happened before? Why did it feel… so familiar?

There were words written in white in some sort of handwritten grunge font set.

We tire of waiting in the shadows.

You had your time.

We are the Cluster.

We are in control now.

Everything went dark. It all came crashing down.

Veilreach: Chapter Twenty-One

Roden stood uncomfortably, holding his hands cupped around his privates as he stood nude as the day he was born in the makeshift circle painted with chalks and herbs on the floor around him. Actually, he was probably far more nude then when he was born because he had no caul or coatings of blood and ick to hide his battle scars and naked flesh.

At least his physique was in top form? He tried to take some sort of positives out of this dismal situation.

He was blushing. Both sets of his rosy cheeks were quickly turning a mottled deep pink.

Would you mind explaining things to me, one more time?”

Ugh, I’ve already went over it once, that should be enough.” The Dean was currently setting aside bottle and elixirs and adjusting his robes while getting the others in place. He was also trying hard not to glance over Roden too long – he didn’t want to make the rather attractive man any more uncomfortable. Although he was still a handsome specimen…

As I stated, the horses need rest. Not to mention I am sick and tired of trodding around everywhere on this damned hunt when we are Mages! Magics is our forte! So we are going to gather our resources, make official plans, and of course rest… while you do some hunting for us.”

Uh huh… I got that part. It’s the whole transmorphif-”

Transmorgrify actually.” Maude corrected him, although she did so while staring intently at the ceiling. Her own cheeks seemed a little pink. “And just so it’s said… I don’t think it’s a good idea.”

Hush, it’s perfectly safe! Especially since -I- will be conducting it! I’ll pop you into a quick Teak Stag, you’ll go running —”

No!” Maude snapped quickly. “I mean, Dean? If I may? We will be sending him back up the main road… which is often used as a hunting route. Not only will he be in danger of just being picked off before he gets anywhere but a Teak Stag is a large animal. Transmorgrifying works best when mass is maintained or reduced… adding mass is more complicated and takes a longer recovery time… er… right?”

Everyone blinked at her for a moment, save for Tanis. “Well… she is right. I mean it says it right here in the Physical Magicks book you brought with you. See? It even has a diagram…”

Enough!” Dean hushed them both and rubbed the bridge of his nose. “To make you both feel better I’ll skip the deer. How about… hmmm.” He took a moment to take an exceptionally thoughtful look over the uncomfortable ex-soldier. “How about an outland hunting dog? They would be slightly smaller in size, and common to see them track quite a distance from their handlers… they are also employed by regional bounty hunters. No one would dare attempt to cull one of those for fear of backlash.”

They also look pretty wicked.” Tanis nodded approvingly. “I’ve seen them fight, it’s pretty gnarly…”

That’s barbaric!” Maude chimed in.

Only for the losing dog. I’m kidding! I’ve seen them fight wild Ox. While hunting… not against each other.” Tanis rolled his eyes.

That is still barbaric.” she muttered.

Will you two knock it off? I swear, it’s like babysitting children!”

There was a pause, a shrug, and then the Dean continued.

Alright it’s settled. Now keep in your places, remember your lessons in spell co-opting!”

For the record, I still think this is a bad idea.” Roden swallowed hard and closed his eyes tight as the Dean silenced him with a finger while he started to intone his well over-acted chanting, and over-embellished display of sigil setting.

In truth, this was the part of Magic that the Dean loved. It wasn’t all the nitty gritty “precision” work. It wasn’t even the amount of actual power over the very energy that made up the universe… it was the stage presence. It was the very show of it.

And in all honesty, his ego aide, it was that part that he was actually good at.

Past all the actual energy and the crackling of an authentic spell… he did it all for show. And he loved every second of it.

However Roden didn’t. In fact something may have gone slightly askew in the “precision” aspect of the actual Transmorgrification as he screamed. A scream wasn’t exactly expected, as it didn’t normally happen during this part of a ritual. And where in the world was the smoke coming from? This didn’t seem right at all.

Still, once magic like this was started – stopping is far more dangerous then continuing. That was a lesson that all students were taught in the first week! And luckily it seemed all three of them happened to remember it. They managed to maintain the circle and the scream turned into more of a broken howl.

When the spell was done there was quite a bit of coughing and the opening of windows as to not alert too much suspicion from the other patrons of the Inn.

Is he dead?!” Tanis called out with a bit more eagerness then should have been there.

No…” Maude said shakily.

As the smoke cleared it was obvious why Maude was so upset. Instead of the man shaped Roden, or the practical hunting dog, or even the majestic stag… there was an all together different animal staring at them from the middle of the circle.

A disoriented, and somewhat diabolic looking Frost Drake. The same type of frost drake that had the unfortunate luck to dismembered by the Dean himself. But how?

And then it sunk in the pit of his stomach. The last retrieval spell he did must have imbed the animals feel into his most recent memory. Magic after all involved a lot of mental work. You had to think and WILL things into existence.

It must have been far easier for the energy to recall the form of the Frost Drake because it still haunted his dreams at night. The way those piercing bugged out eyes were glaring at him, even in it’s death throws. The way it’s blood soaked into the floor… it was all far more fresh in his mind. When was the last time he’d even seen a Stag or Hunting dog up close?

That precision part of magic meant he would have had to put some actual thought and work into being more careful about the choice of animal that he wanted, rather then just expected the spell to do what it was damned well supposed to…

The Frost drake opened it’s mouth and let out a disoriented hiss as it wobbled.

Fuck.” Marthis hissed back.

Short Story: Three times the charm.

She was sure she locked the door. In fact she wiggled the knob no less then three times. Rattle, rattle, rattle. It was her routine, the joys of her obsessive compulsive disorder.

Three rattles. She would count them out in her head as she did it.

So why did she swear she heard the door open?

She groaned and pulled herself out of her comfortable bed and stumbled half-asleep out of her bedroom into the hallway. The benefits of her apartment not being very large was it only took a few more steps from her bedroom door, through the narrow hallway and to the front door.

She shuffled carefully in the dim light and felt the front door. It was closed, of course. One, two, three. She rattled it just to be sure and let out an exhausted sigh as she turned around and headed back towards her bedroom.

This wasn’t entirely out of the normal for her. Once the thought got in her head that she may have forgotten something – no matter how minor it was – her mind just wouldn’t let her sleep until she checked it.

She just shrugged it off and noticed the time as she passed by her galley style kitchen. The digital clock blared a blue 3:03am at her. Shelly cursed to herself. She’d only been asleep maybe an hour. She’d once again spent a long night working furiously on finishing a few more illustrations then she should have and now she was getting even less sleep over a stupid door.

She paused as she glanced at the door to her bedroom. It’s smooth white needed a repaint, that was certain. But what was also certain was the fact she was sure she had left it open. Somehow from the small walk down her equally small hallway, the door had shut itself.

Wind? Doubtful. Although she knew she had left the window open a few inches, it’s never been enough to shut the door before.

Maybe in her sleep rattled mind she had closed it without thinking?

Possible. It still made those tiny little hairs at the back of her neck stand in attention. Her skin shivered to life with little goosebumps as she took in a breath.

“Don’t be an idiot.” she muttered at herself. “It was probably just the cat.”

She opened the door carefully just in case the little fuzzball happened to be patiently waiting just inside the doorway. Nothing. He must have snuggled back into bed or hid somewhere in the recesses of her closet. Likely getting himself into trouble.

Shelly stretched, cracked her back, and was about to return to the warmth of her bed when she noticed her room was far brighter then normal. In fact there was a soft bluish light illuminating from her workspace.

Her laptop was half-closed, but it’s power button was on. The soft light was emerging from the screen.

Now those fine hairs which rustled in her goosebumps was followed by a cold chill which made her shudder. It felt as if the bottom of her stomach had dropped out and landed at her feet.

There was one thing she was certain on, and that was her patterns. It’s the sad benefit to having OCD. And every night her pattern was to turn off her laptop, close it, unplug the cord from the wall socket and leave it folded up on the closed laptop. It was her nightly ritual. It ran like clockwork.

But there it was, half haphazardly open, turned on, and definitely plugged in.

There was no way that her cat, no matter how intelligent that little fuzzball seemed could have suddenly grew the opposable thumbs to plug in her laptop and adjust the screen.

Someone was in the room. She slammed her hand wildly against the wall until she hit the light-switch. The forty watt bulbs in her ceiling fan flickered to life. Her hand gripped the handle of her wooden LARP sword from it’s hanging place on the wall.

Sure, it seemed pointless and ridiculous, but it was wooden. It would likely manage a few good strikes to any would be attacker. (+2 rage damage due to fear effect?)

After a few tense moments of breathing hard and scanning the room from left to right, the only sense of another person in the room was the faint mewing from Ben, her cat, as he chased a sparkly toy from the recesses of her closest, past her legs and into the hallway.

There was no one else in the room. How was that even possible? Not that she was upset by that…

Still clutching the wooden sword she carefully edged to her computer and carefully lifted the screen up.

Three bright blue words on a black screen.

“Look behind you.”

There was a click. The light-switch turned off.

 

 

Short Story: The Unicorn

[ Just a warning, this story does hint at sensitive topics like depression and suicide. Please be advised.. and if you ever feel like you are struggling with depression and mental illness… you aren’t alone. Even if it sometimes feels that way. Never feel ashamed to seek help or someone to talk to. ]

Everyone knew that unicorns were supposed to be beautiful, graceful creatures. Myth and legend spoke of incredibly fragile looking alabaster steeds with a glorious golden horn adorning their flawless carved faces. Creatures so pure and elegant that they would only show themselves to the purest of virgins.

This beast before her was fuming clouds of white smoke from large nostrils. It’s horn was wide and thick, curving down towards her in a dangerous point, and the beasts frame was far from fragile or elegant. It was thick, large, muscled and intimidating. It’s bold fierce head resembled that of some sort of primitive oxen which dwarfed her vision. It’s eyes were huge and piercing, split goat-like pupils peering down into her with an uncanny intelligence. It must have towered over her a good few feet. It’s large massive head drooped to eye her closely.

It breathed heavy. It’s large cloven hoofs cracked the earth with it’s weight.

It was far from what she expected. Then again, a unicorn that would appear to her would have to break expectations. She was far from the purest of virgins.

“I don’t understand.” the words tumbled out of her mouth weakly.

“You called for help, and I came. What is there to understand?” It’s voice was deep and rumbling. It reminded her of distant thunder that echoed deep in a storm.

She dared to look away from the massive creature to instead look at her pale palms. They seemed so tiny in comparison. Her pale skin, flushed slightly with nervousness did nothing to hide the white lines tracked back and forth in the skin along her wrists. She rubbed them instinctively, trying to cover the shame.

Had she called it here? Yes, perhaps. In the way one silently cries for help.

“I don’t understand.” She said again, only more feeble this time. “I don’t even know where I am.”

It breathed a loud huff of breath as a response. The fog curled around her and tingled against her skin.

“You are in the Dark place.”

She looked back up to the creature only to notice it hadn’t moved it’s eyes from her. Those large piercing eyes which blinked slow and deliberate. What colour were they? Black, brown… grey? It was hard to tell. Maybe it was all three. “What are you?”

“Is it not obvious?”

“You aren’t like any unicorn I’ve ever heard about.”

“Yet you know what I am. Is that not enough?”

She pondered this, as she glanced around the shadowy place she found herself in. How long had she been here, pondering her own existence? It felt like forever. It almost felt like she couldn’t remember a time she wasn’t here. Trapped in this place. Locked in her own misery.

“Are you here to punish me?”

“No.”

“Why? It makes sense now. I understand why you’d be here like that if it was to punish me. You are just mocking me, aren’t you? Making fun of my little childish dreams… Of course I wouldn’t get rescued by something pure and innocent! Of course there would be nothing pretty and perfect for me… I’m a failure! I’ve always been a failure!” The tide came to a crest and it all began to flood over. “This is all just what I deserve, I’m useless and ugly and I deserve to be locked away here! You’ve come to make me feel ever worse about myself, is that it?! That’s it, isn’t it? Isn’t it!”

There was a tremendous rumbling then which sounded as if the whole world would cave in. The unicorn had lifted itself up and slammed it’s front feet down in front of her and the crushing weight made the whole world shudder for a moment. It’s massive head breathed a plume of smoke as if it’s entire insides had been ignited coal.

It shook her into a trembled silence as it’s huge head peered down at her with it’s curved sharp horn seemed to cut through the smoked breath like a knife.

“Silence!” It bellowed.

She waited for the inevitable attack, the crushing pain, the piercing horror of it…

“Child, you called for help and I came.” It’s thunder was stern, but softened.

She cast her eyes at it’s large cloven feet, almost the size of dinner plates. They looked large and heavy enough to crush her head with barely a thought. They seemed to be cracking and crumbling the ground around them just from their sheer gravity. She knew it was glaring at her, staring at her intently but she refused to look up into it’s judging eyes.

Nothing seemed to make sense. For years nothing in her life had made sense. Now she was facing down a giant beast that was most likely there to crush her into a pulp and she could barely wrap her mind around how she got to this point.

And then it came back to her with a sick sense of clarity. She had tried to end it all. The scars on her wrists? It wasn’t the first time. It wasn’t the last.

Or maybe it was.

Being lost here? The Dark Place? It all made sense now. She’d actually managed to do it. She’d killed herself and this must be her own type of twisted hell. No rest for the wicked? It must be true.

Just as the panic started to flood and overwhelm her she felt a strange feeling of the beasts chin very carefully resting on her back, somewhere between her shoulders. She tensed and waited but it neither tried to crush her or manoeuvred it’s large head to stab her with it’s horn.

“Yes child. Your illness overwhelmed you. It is an illness of the heart, and a sickness in the mind – but it is not a stain upon your soul. Many have fought such things as you have. Many have found themselves a patron of this Dark Place. Some choose to never leave.”

She saw those large hoofs lift as the beast moved back a step. The very earth still trembled in it’s wake.

“So there is no hope then. This is it. I’ve lost.” She raised her tear stained eyes to peer at the unicorn as it lowered it’s large nose to near inches away from her. “It’s all over?”

It chuckled softly, the breath from it’s large nostrils was once again a plume of white fog which encircled around them in a hazing mist. “Nothing ever ends. It is not over. You can still return. I am here to help you, if you choose to leave this Dark place. You wonder why I come to you, this creature you did not expect?”

She merely nodded as she carefully reached out and dared to touch it’s huge cheek with a shaky hand.

“You are a warrior. You fight a war that is unkind and unfair. You will fall and you will rise, and it will not be pleasant or pretty. You called out to the universe with the dreams of a child, but that child has grown up long ago.”

It leaned into her hand with a careful strength and it’s large eye seemed to look into her very core.

“Perhaps you expected a unicorn like your childhood fairytale? But no Child, I have not come to wash it all away. I have not come to turn back time or make you what you are not. I can not heal you like that. I can not simply will it all away. No creature can. I can help you return however. I can help you leave this place.”

“Then what? What good does any of this do if you can’t heal me? Even if I could go back there… I’d still have to fight all the time! I’d still have depression, I’d still be fighting with my own head…”

“Some healing only happens with ugly scars. Some battles must continue to be fought.”

Out of pure desperation she risked it. Against all common sense she leaned forward and wrapped her arms as far around the large beasts neck as she could and sobbed into it’s thick rough hide.

She thought she felt it rest it’s neck against her but she didn’t care. She sobbed until her body ached. She sobbed until the shame, guilt, pain, and fear leaked out of her in rambled words about how unfair it was and how much it all hurt. Her mind raced faster then her shuddering lips could keep up.

And all along the beast stood and listened as if the tangled rant made perfect sense.

Finally when her frantic release seemed to dry against him and her quickened breaths returned to some semblance of normal he spoke again.

“The Dark place feeds from your most negative emotions. It lures you into believing you are powerless and broken beyond repair. It makes you feel as if nothing you are can save you. It is the shadow in the mirror. It is your darkest reflection made real. It works so well because it fools you into thinking that it is bigger then you are.

I can’t simply take you from it. I’ve not come to heal you. I’ve come to help you heal yourself. I can’t fight your battles for you, but with you. You do not need something tiny and fragile to save you… you never have. You merely need someone to help you see that you are strong enough to save yourself. Come. Let us walk this battle together..”

All around her the dark place started to crack. The ground beneath her started to tremble. No longer was it due to the gravity of the massive presence of the unicorn in front of her – but her own gravity. It shuddered at her self realization.

“We all fight our own battles, sometimes we simply need to remind ourselves why we keep fighting. Sometimes we need a beast of war to heal our battered souls. I can’t promise you it will be easy – but I can promise you’ll never be alone.”