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|This was going to be my submission for NaNoWriMo this year, but it finished before it got long enough, so here it is. I haven't editing it yet, but I don't know if I can be bothered.||
Tara-lyhn runs through the flower-filled meadow, laughing with delight. At each footfall a host of butterflies and fairies takes wing, and Tara-lyhn chases them delightedly, her peals of laughter echoing across the grass. She waves her arms about, her clumsy fingers grasping at the flittering creatures that manage to hover just beyond her arms' reach. She leaps to catch one, a butterfly with flecks of silver in its wings that sparkle like diamonds in the morning sunlight, and when she misses she falls flat on her face in the damp grass. The fall surprises her into silence for barely a heartbeat before Tara-lyhn erupts in giggles and rolls across the dew-damp grass with careless abandon. When she finally brings her mirth under control long enough to be able to see in front of her, she sees a dandelion right in front of her nose, swaying slightly in the breeze. She stares at it long enough for a fairy to alight on the head of the dandelion. The fairy lays delicately on the dandelion in a graceful parody of Tara-lyhn's own prone position and stares at her with huge, luminous eyes.
Tara-lyhn sucks her breath in, puffing her cheeks out. In one big huff, she blows out, sending the dandelion seeds flying away, and knocking the fairy clean off. Tara-lyhn's delighted laughter and the fairy's indignant squeaking slowly fade into the distance as the dandelion seeds drift off, floating on the gentle wind. They scatter far, some caught by the long blades of grass and pulled back to earth, some continuing to float higher and higher. They swirl and dance gracefully as they drift past the butterflies, and the fairies pluck them out of the sky and use them for parasols, and begin to greet each other with a how-do-you-do, and tell each other what fine parasols they each have. Soon the fairies are as doubled up in laughter as Tara-lyhn in the distance, and the whole meadow soon rings with the sound of it.
A single gust of wind, violent and forceful, knocks the butterflies, the fairies, and the dandelion seeds all to the ground. Tara-lyhn looks up from where she lays to see the sun blotted out by a huge pair of wings. Her face turns pale as cream and her eyes open wide, her mouth drops open in shock. She whimpers as she buries her face in the ground and wriggles as low as she can in the grass. She pushes her nose into the damp soil to try and hide, to make herself smaller so the death-beasts might not see her and might pass her by.
The second beat of the great creature's wings buffets Tara-lyhn in her hiding place in the middle of the meadow, and she lets out a small, muffled cry of panic. She cowers, shaking, not daring to look up. With a roar the death-beasts thunder across the sky, the noise of their wings drowning out everything but Tara-lyhn's rising terror, until all she can hear is a thunderous roar and her own heart beating in her ears.
The sun has drifted across the sky by the time Tara-lyhn dares to look up, tainting the sky blood-red and golden. The sky is clear; no death-beasts can be seen in any direction. She gets to her knees, slowly, then to her feet, shaking all the time. She looks around at the once-beautiful meadow, but now all the flowers have been flattened by the wingbeats of the death-beasts, their petals torn and scattered. The fragile butterflies and the delicate fairies are likewise torn and scattered, small pieces of shimmering wings tossed about the meadow like confetti.
Tara-lyhn sniffles. The meadow was so beautiful before. She looks at her feet, at the battered plants and butterflies there, and sees the drops of blood. She looks, shocked, as another drop falls at her feet. She puts a hand to her chin, where the drop fell from, and feels the sticky wetness of blood there. She follows the trail of blood using both her hands, up both sides of her face. She pulls her hands back and stares at the blood on her fingertips. She faints, crumpling to the ground amongst the broken fairies, as dark blood slowly seeps from her ears.
As Tara-lyhn lays unconscious, she dreams. The dream is the same as her dreams always are, fuzzy and indistinct. Her eyes show her nothing but blobs of light, and she can hear a sound, like bees buzzing. Straining, she can make out people talking. Lots of people, all around her. She can't make out any words, or even separate any voices; they are all a muddle in her head. In the depths of her dream, she thinks she should know this place, the people that are talking. She should be able to see them. She grows frightened. These dreams always disturb her. This place is wrong. She doesn't want to be here. She shakes her head, tries to move her arms, but her muscles don't respond. Everything is numb here.
Tara-lyhn's eyes shoot wide open, she leaps to her feet and she runs. She trips and stumbles on the small, limp bodies in the meadow as she flees her dream, a sliver of a crescent moon shadowing her path. She runs through the thistles at the edge of the meadow, uncaring of the scratches they bring. She runs as hard and as fast as she ever has, until every breath scrapes her throat with the cold night air, and still she runs. She stumbles and falls again amongst the whip-thin trees of the silver forest, gasping for each breath and gulping it down. She tries to push herself to her feet again, but her legs refuse to get under her, so instead she drags herself across the ground, clawing at the slender trunks to pull herself along, pushing ineffectively with her feet. Her gasping has rubbed her throat raw with the chill air and her arms and legs burn from the strain. She lacks even the energy to lift her head. Whimpering, she lies there, unmoving, eyes wide open, until exhaustion snatches her into a deep, dreamless sleep.
Birdsong fills the air. Hundreds of birds chorus their greeting to the morning sun, each outdoing the last with soaring crescendos and swift chirping trills. Tara-lyhn opens her sleep-encrusted eyes. Sunlight drifts through the forest, the tall trunks of the silver-ghost trees casting the light in a zebra-stripe of shadows across the forest floor. She blinks. The silver-ghost trees, their trunks no thicker than her wrist, sway in exaggerated sweeps in the gentle wind and fill the gaps in the birdsong with the soft sighing of their leaves, the fine grey-white bark shining where it catches a sunbeam.
Tara-lyhn stands. Every muscle in her body is stiff and sore, and protests at the movement. She grimaces and stretches, reaching her fingertips towards the shafts of sunlight slipping through the treetops.
She looks at her feet, and the warmth the morning sun has bestowed flees instantly, for her feet are covered in dark purple fairy blood, thick and clotting. The crushed bodies of butterfly and fairy alike cling to her skin, along with tiny pieces of torn wings. The horror of yesterday slams into her mind and drops her to her knees. The death-beasts and the destruction they wrought simply by flying past; the strange, disturbing dream that she can't remember, and isn't sure she wants to; the meadow, her beautiful meadow and all the delicate creatures that called it home, all wreck and ruin; her feet covered in fairy blood. Something is wrong. Fairies don't die. The always fly away, just before you get to them; they are too quick and too clever to be caught.
"Something is wrong here, child." Tara-lyhn spins around, looking for the source of the crackled voice speaking to her. "In your heart, you know what it is, too." Tara-lyhn's gaze comes to rest on an old woman, sitting cross-legged on the leaves and dirt, her rich brown and blue cloak wrapped around her. A wisp of pale grey hair escapes from under the hood of her cloak, floating in front of a pale, wrinkled face with dark, deep-set eyes.
"This has all happened before. The death-beasts came then, too. They destroyed so much of this world before they were turned back. There are some places that have never recovered from those dark days." The old woman sighs. "You were too old to remember that at the time, of course. It's a pity, because it was you who turned the death-beasts away the first time."
Tara-lyhn had gone pale. "You're wrong. I've never even seen death-beasts before! I've always been here, and everything has always been perfect! Everything was fine before you came along!"
"Was it now? Tell me, Tara-lyhn, how did you know what the death-beasts were? How did you know to hide yourself from them? You know as well as anyone that there is nothing to fear here. Why do you fear the death-beasts?
"I... I don't know. I've never seen them before." Tara-lyhn is silent a moment. "How did you know my name?"
"I told you, child, you were too old to remember it then. You have met me before, just as you have faced the death-beasts before, just as you will face them again."
"You want me to face them! How can I? They're so terrible and..." Tara-lyhn shudders.
"It is not I who wants you to face them. It is yourself."
"You don't make any sense!" Tara-lyhn screams. "It's all your fault! You were here when they came before; now they have come again and you're back again! Go away! I don't want you here!" Tara-lyhn leaps at the old woman, knocking her over. She tears furiously at the cloak that covers the crone, but no matter how many layers of clothing she tears off, the old woman isn't underneath. She beats in frustration at the limp clothing, now devoid of the old woman's presence.
Tara-lyhn stands and strides away. Her cheeks are flushed red with anger. How dare she! That woman had no right, the miserable hag. She shouldn't be here! I'm going to find that old crone, and put a stop to her. I'll make her take the death-beasts away with her and then I'll throw her off the cliff! Let the sea claim her.
She realises then that she doesn't know where the old woman went. She looks behind her, but she has walked so far already that she can't even see the old crone's cloak through the trees. Tara-lyhn shrugs to herself. She'll turn up. She is determined to torment me, so she'll find me. She always does.
Tara-lyhn continues through the forest for most of the day. At length she comes to a stream burbling its way through the trees. Kingfishers sit in the nearby trees, now and then darting into the river to snatch at the silver fish swimming past. Tara-lyhn stops at the edge of the stream and dips her feet in. The water is pleasantly cool, although it reminds her that her feet are sore from walking all day. She bends down to scrub the blood from her feet. She sets her mind firmly to the task, refusing to look at the purple swirl eddying away or at the bits of body and wing floating downstream. A kingfisher, mindless of Tara-lyhn's disapproval, swoops down and snatches a mangled fairy from the water.
Once she has finished washing her feet it reminds her how dirty the rest of her is. Her dress is muddy and grass-stained and her knees are worse still. She strips off her dress and dunks it in the river, washing it as thoroughly as she can. She sets it on the riverside to dry as she bathes herself, scrubbing at the dirt covering her arms and legs. As she washes, she notices a scar running up the inside of her forearm. An old scar, she remembers, yet she cannot remember having seen it before. She is sure it wasn't there yesterday. She leaves the river and grabs her dress, holding it behind her to dry as she runs through the forest naked, forgetting for a moment the death-beasts and the old woman. She shrieks with laughter at the birds disturbed into flight as she passes, ultimately collapsing on the ground in a fit of giggles, undoing all her washing with a new layer of dirt. She rolls on the ground laughing until the sun goes down and her ribs hurt before the chill in the air makes her think of putting her dress back on.
She skips on for a time, a playful smile on her face, until at last she grows tired and curls up beside a slender tree to sleep.
Tara-lyhn's sleep is fitful and restless. Once more she dreams of indistinct shapes and voices, all around her. She does not like this place. As hard as she tries to leave it, they keep dragging her back. She whimpers, and tries to curl up very small. Maybe they won't see her, maybe the voices will talk over her and the shadowy shapes will leave her alone. She wishes she could run, but she doesn't know where to run to. There is nothing in this place that seems real or solid enough. She curls up tighter, and wishes it would go away.
Tara-lyhn wakes with a headache. She staggers to her feet and, with little else to do, resumes walking. As she walks, the trees begin to thin out, and the ground grows muddy. Thin, reedy grass starts growing as the trees get sparser. She smiles to herself. She's nearly made it to the swamp. It's been far to long since I've been to the swamp, she thinks to herself. The swamp dragons are a sight to behold, and they'd understand about the fairies and the butterflies. Maybe they could do something about the death-beasts. They weren't all that bright, but there must be something they could do. Maybe they could chase her dreams away too.
Mud oozes through her toes now, soft and cool. Large puddles of muddy water become more common, and Tara-lyhn picks her path sometimes around them, sometimes straight through them. She tries to leap into the middle of a large one, but the mud sucks at her feet and she falls face-first into the water. She picks herself up, sopping wet and laughing at her clumsiness. Mud covers her face and the front of her dress now, but it feels to nice to wash it away, so she leaves it there. She struts between the reeds that grow ever-thicker, wearing her mud like a cloak of fine velvet. She collapses into another puddle, laughing at her foolishness. She wallows in the puddle, stirring up the muddy water, and covering herself from head to toe.
She recalls then that it was not so long ago that she had gotten herself clean, and she is in a fine state now. Laughing, she makes a show of bathing herself in the muddy water, mockingly scrubbing at her dirty dress with more mud, and giggling the whole time.
That's a fine way for a young lady to act. Tara-lyhn whirls in the middle of her farcical scrubbing to confront a great, bearded face, reminiscent of a lion, which would be fierce if not for the friendly grin splashed across its features. Tara-lyhn yells in delight and throws her arms around the neck of the swamp-dragon in a warm embrace. It's been some time since you were here last. Tara-lyhn didn't really know how the swamp-dragons talked, but she heard them clearly even though their mouths never moved.
"Yes. Too long," Tara-lyhn says, her voice suddenly serious. Then she laughs and grabs a handful of mud, rubbing it into the dragon's lustrous, mother-of-pearl fur. The dragon roars as it gives chase, sinuously flowing across the swampy ground, its snake-like body well-suited to the task.
It catches Tara-lyhn swiftly and wraps her up like a constrictor, but ever so gently. Tara-lyhn hugs the creature again, fiercely, and tears spring from her eyes.
"They killed the fairies, Dragon. The fairies and the butterflies in my meadow. They're all dead. Even the flowers." The swamp dragon rumbles comfortingly. "The death-beasts have come again. They flew over and killed them all, just like that. They're going to kill everything, Dragon. They're going to take it all away from me."
We can hide. Death-beasts can come to search for us, but we will cover ourselves in mud, and be lumps in the swamp.
Tara-lyhn sniffs. "But they'll kill everything else, Dragon. All the things I love in the world, and they will kill them all. They already killed the fairies. I had the blood all over my feet, dragon! Little bits of their wings, too! Oh Dragon, it was awful!" Tara-lyhn begins to cry, and the dragon holds her closer in its coils. She cries for a long time, her tears shining brightly on the coat of the swamp-dragon as they roll down.
"There is another thing, Dragon. The dreams are back again. The dreams of the bad place, and I can't get away." She shivers. "They scare me so, those dreams. Remember how you used to chase the dreams away, Dragon?" Tara-lyhn looks pleadingly into the huge, friendly face. "We used to chase the dreams through the skies, and you and the other Dragons would nip them until they fled into the dawn sun, and were eaten there. Do you remember, Dragon?"
"Lets us go hunting the dreams again, Dragon. They frighten me terribly, and I'm not sure I wish to sleep again if they will come."
We shall chase them tonight, flower of the dawn. We shall hunt them by starlight and send them were all bad dreams belong, which is far from here.
"Thank you, Dragon. Thank you." Tara-lyhn is soon fast asleep in the furry coils of the dragon.
The dreams come again, as they always do. Tara-lyhn thinks they are getting clearer. She can almost make out shapes, almost comprehend the words that are being said. She tries to open her mouth to speak, but no words come out. Panic rises in her, and a strangling, suffocating feeling, as though the air is too heavy to breathe. She finally manages to gasp a breath in.
"Dragon!" She yells, surprising herself with the force of her scream. She still cannot understand the voices, but it seems to her that they take on a worried tone. They are afraid of the dragon. Hope blossoms in her, and she sucks her breath in deeply this time. "Dragon!" She yells again. Through the fog, in the distance, she can see turquoise and purple shapes flying towards her. She smiles, all fear forgotten. They have come. All the dragons have come. She whoops in triumph as they float through the indistinct shapes, and catches the shaggy mane of a dragon as it floats past her. She flies up, away from the bad place, surrounded by dozens of dragons all flying for her. They climb into the darkness until she can see the stars peeking through the fog, and then they turn back. Far below, the dream is a small globe, drifting in the darkness.
Tara-lyhn shouts victoriously, and the dragons fly as one back towards the dream, their roars mixing with her shout. They fly faster and faster, but the dream grows smaller and smaller, until it pops and disappears. Tara-lyhn grins like a maniac, relieved beyond belief to have been saved from the dream. She huddles against the dragon, and sleeps.
When she wakes the next day she feels better than when she went to sleep, for the first time since the death-beasts came. The swamp-dragon uncurls from her, and together they walk through the swamp as they talk. Tara-lyhn occasionally catches glimpses of mother-of-pearl fur gliding past as they go deeper into the swamp, more dragons going about their business. The dragon pauses in its conversation long enough to snatch a swamp-lily and place it in Tara-lyhn's hair. They spend the whole day this way, and when the sun sets the other dragons approach. They glide silently towards her, pushing a floating mattress made of reeds. Tara-lyhn lies down on the mattress and drifts into sleep fearlessly.
The dream comes again. The voices sound urgent, insistent. The fear that now seems so familiar begins to claw at her, but she finds her voice and shouts for the dragons. They come swiftly, cutting through the dream as easily as if it were not real at all. Again she rides the dragons as they chase the dream away, and again they bubble pops, leaving her sleeping soundly. She has barely begun sleeping peacefully, however, before the dream is back again. The voices seem angry to Tara-lyhn, but she has no difficulty calling the dragons again to chase them away. When the dream once again dwindles out of existence, Tara-lyhn is finally able to sleep the rest of the night in peace.
She wakes in the morning to the concerned face of a dragon.
We must talk.
"Of course. What is wrong?"
Your dreams. They keep coming back. You should know that dreams aren't supposed to come back.
"But we can keep chasing them away. We don't need to worry about it."
No, flower of the dawn. They will keep coming back longer than we can keep chasing them. You need to sleep sometime.
"No, Dragon," Tara-lyhn says quietly, sulkily. "I can stay here. We can chase them away forever, every night, until they don't come anymore. Please, Dragon." She looks down at the murky swamp-water.
You know this as I do. You must stop these dreams, flower of the dawn. You must find where they come from and chase them down there. You must stop them from ever coming again.
"No, Dragon!" Tara-lyhn cries. "We will! You and I, together! We will hunt them together, Dragon!"
I'm sorry, flower of the dawn. We cannot follow where you must go.
Tara-lyhn buries her head in the soft, thick fur of the swamp dragon and weeps.
Be strong, flower of the dawn. We will always be here for you, but you must go now. Tara-lyhn half nods, half shakes her head. She stands, knee-deep in swamp water, sniffles and wipes at the tears on her face. Be careful, flower of the dawn. We love you too. Tara-lyhn begins the slow walk out of the swamp, muddy water rippling in the wake of her reluctant footsteps.
Tara-lyhn walks disconsolately through the mud at the edge of the swamp. The ground begins to get firmer and the reeds fewer, making way for the familiar silver-ghost trees. She hears the gentle patter of raindrops of the leaves above, and soon the trees begin to shed the water collecting in their leaves onto her below. The rain grows heavier, and starts to leave clean spots on Tara-lyhn's dirty cheecks. She walks on regardless, her head hanging. When night falls, she doesn't bother to stop, but continues her walk through the forest. The trees and the clouds block out the slim moonlight there was, and very quickly the forest is so black Tara-lyhn cannot tell the difference when her eyes are open or closed. Stubbornly she walks on, arms outstretched in front of her. She is not going to sleep tonight. Twigs scratch her face and poke at her eyes until she slumps on the ground and begins to slowly crawl her way through the trees.
As dawn breaks the gradual light allows Tara-lyhn to see again. The rain has stopped, but the sky is still overcast with pale grey clouds. The forest has changed over the distance Tara-lyhn crawled during the night. Gone are the slender, pale grey silver-ghost trees, replaced instead with the thick, rough boles of towering giants of trees. The huge roots the trees thrusts into the ground are so wide that Tara-lyhn would not be able to encircle them with her arms if she tried. Vines curl around the trees, almost as ancient as those they cling to. Huge, silver ferns thrive in the shade of the great trees, as do vibrant patches of colourful mushrooms and toadstools.
Tara-lyhn lays a hand almost reverentially on the protruding root of one of the giant trees. The bark is coarse and as solid as if made of stone, and through it she can almost feel a deep thrumming of the tree's existance, a heart of wood and sap beating to the world's own rythm. It must have been an eternity since she has been here, but it was an eternity before she left the last time. Eternities seem the only sensible way to measure time in the old forest. She wraps herself in the wonder of the place as she treads deeper into the old forest, brushing her fingers against the ferns as she passes. With the peaceful stillness of the great trees, so tough that the wind barely moves them, Tara-lyhn is now much less afraid of what she must do. Let the death-beasts beat against that mighty trunk, and see how many eternities it takes them to so much as scratch it.
The shade under the trees grows to a deeper green the further Tara-lyhn goes, occasionally speckled with the rare beams of sunlight that slip past the canopy. The silence of the great trees is so overpowering that it drowns out the other sounds of the forest. She walks on, entranced, losing all track of time. She becomes aware, slowly, of a sound close by; a happy bubbling, a trickle of water. She passes beneath a fern and brushes its fronds aside.
Before her is a small pond of perfect, clear water. The trickle of a stream that feeds it falls over a cascade of mossy rocks before splashing into the pond, but the ripples quickly lose their exuberance and leave the pond still. Tara-lyhn kneels at the edge of the pond and drinks as tiny scarlet and gold fish dart away from her cupped hands.
She feels a warm breath of air against the back of her neck, and hears a gently snort. She turns slowly, and gasps in amazement. Even she has rarely seen the snowy-white unicorn that now stands before her, regarding her with deep blue eyes. It shines as the moon does, even in the shade of the trees, and its horn glows with a brilliant lustre. Eyes wide, Tara-lyhn steps up to the unicorn and places a hand upon its nose.
She realises then that in her entranced state, night has crept upon her without her awareness, and she suddenly finds herself tired. She curls up beside the unicorn's hooves and drifts into a mercifully dreamless sleep as the unicorn watches over her, shining in the dark as though reflecting a light unseen.
Tara-lyhn awakes with a smile to the gentle nudging of the unicorn's nose. She stretches and rises to her feet. The unicorn nudges her again.
"What, Unicorn? Must we be off so soon?" The unicon snorts and nods its head. Tara-lyhn sighs.
"You are right, I suppose. The death-beasts will not wait on my convenience, will they? But... I didn't dream last night. I didn't dream! We must have chased it away after all! Come, Unicorn, we can stay after all. The dreams have gone!" The unicorn snorts again, and shakes its head, never taking its deep blue gaze from Tara-lyhn.
"It was you who kept the dreams away?" The unicorn nods its assent.
"But can't you keep them away? That's why I came here, to keep the dreams away." The unicorn shakes its head again. It nudges her, insistently. Tara-lyhn is crestfallen, her eyes downcast. Hope had blossomed so brightly, and left too quickly.
"But where do I go now? I don't know where the dreams come from." The unicorn turns, and trots a short distance. It looks back over its shoulder at Tara-lyhn, waiting. She walks up to it, hesitantly.
"I know, Unicorn. I have to do it. I just wish I could stay here, in peace, and never have bad dreams or death-beasts bother me at all. They won't even let me have that, will they?" The unicorn shakes its head, relentless in its honesty. Tara-lyhn places her hand on the unicorn's back and they walk away from the pond, back into the forest.
The day passes peacefully, with Tara-lyhn letting the unicorn lead her through the forest. The unicorn picks a path for them both that somehow evades the underbrush, so that Tara-lyhn never has to do more than brush a fern frond aside or step around an errant bush. Her mood lightens as they travel, the memory of bad dreams and death-beasts fading in the silent strength of the huge trees surrounding them, in the irrepressible twittering of birds high above among the leaves. Sometimes Tara-lyhn skips ahead to pick a wild flower growing in the shade of the trees, adding a bright blue or orange blossom to her growing bunch. Humming tunelessly to herself, she threads the flowers together, casually tossing the completed garland over the unicorn's pearly horn.
The unicorn turns its head to look at her, and snorts its disapproval, but the garland of flowers hanging lopsidedly on its horn, over one ear, is too comical for Tara-lyhn to take seriously. She collapses in giggles, hammering her feet on the ground in her mirth. Despite the exasperated nudging of the unicorn, it is some time before Tara-lyhn recovers her composure enough to get to her feet again and continue.
The unicorn glances suspiciously at Tara-lyhn as she resumes her flower-gathering activities, a mischievous smile twitching the corners of her mouth, and is duly rewarded with garland after garland of flowers thrown over its horn, hung off its ears, and simply tossed on the back of the forbearing creature. Each new garland is a different combination of colours from the last, and soon the pure, white unicorn is a riot of blues, violets, reds, oranges and yellows.
Tara-lyhn calms down enough to make another garland of white daisies, decorated liberally with tiny, dark purple flowers. "It would go so well with your eyes, unicorn," she teases, but sets it on her own head instead. The amused smile never leaves her lips as she strides beside the unicorn, wearing her flowers like a crown in her honey-brown hair, a little princess in a muddy dress.
Dusk settles around the girl and the unicorn, wrapping the pair in the beginnings of darkness. The leaves high above still sparkle green in the dying light, unwilling to give in to the night, long after the forest floor has been plunged into deep, murky grey-green. Tara-lyhn's feet drag, her previous excuberance having sapped all her energy. She almost falls to the ground, gratefully, when the unicorn decides to stop for the night, and she is soon asleep.
Tara-lyhn awakens to a sparkling light dancing in front of her eyes. It shifts in colour, never staying the same for more than a few moments, pulsing and flickering. As she reaches a hand towards it, it flits away, and Tara-lyhn sees that it is not alone. The whole forest, as far as she can see, is full of the will-o-wisps, dancing in and among the trees and shifting colour as fast as she can blink.
"Unicorn! Wake up! Come see this!" Tara-lyhn jostles the unicorn excitedly until it lifts its head to regard her. Somewhat reluctantly, it rises to its feet and snorts softly. "Oh, lighten up, Unicorn! Aren't they beautiful?" Tara-lyhn exclaims. She then leaps at a will-o-wisp as it floats, unwisely, too close to her. It circles away from her outstretched hands with ease, and Tara-lyhn collapses into the unicorn in her attempts to catch it. She playfully taps its horn as she darts past, running after the will-o-wisps. The unicorn gives a soft snort, almost a sigh, then abandons itself to the infectious exuberance of Tara-lyhns playfulness.
They both run through the night, the unicorn catching will-o-wisps on its horn and flinging them back, dazed, at Tara-lyhn, who still fails to catch them with her clumsy hands. The unicorn prances and capers and Tara-lyhn laughs and giggles as they chase the soft glowing lights, until the will-o-wisps tire of being harassed so, and flee under the roots of the trees. Tara-lyhn and the unicorn are both exhausted, and when the last will-o-wisp flees from sight they collapse on the ground where they are, Tara-lyhn resting her head on the unicorn's belly, and fall straight to sleep.
The morning is almost over by the time Tara-lyhn awakens. She and the unicorn pick their way through the forest, passing around the trees in their way. They start to find that they have to detour less and less for the gigantic trees, and soon they are following a small trail winding through the forest. They carry on along the trail for the rest of the morning as the trees grow further and further apart, until finally the path opens out to a large clearing. Flat, even stones begin paving the path a short distance away as it leads between high stone walls, still standing without a break despite the profusion of ivy covering them.
Tara-lyhn slows, allowing the unicorn to walk ahead through the opening in the wall. She sees the flowers growing in the garden beyond the wall, a wild yet elegant display of rose bushes. She stops. The garden hammers at her mind, tearing at the walls she has so carefully placed there. A tear rolls down her cheek, dashed to the ground as Tara-lyhn turns and runs from the garden as fast as she is able.
She has barely gotten more than a few paces when she stops dead in her tracks, frustration ripping a scream out of her. Before her sits an old woman, wrapped in a brown and blue cloak, staring at her with dark eyes.
"No!" Tara-lyhn screams. "Not you!"
"You cannot hide forever, child." Something in Tara-lyhn breaks then, and her head and shoulders slump as she looks at the ground.
"Why me?" She asks in a small voice. "I never wanted any of this."
"I know, child."
"I'm the only one who can stop them, aren't I?"
"Yes, child." Tara-lyhn turns back towards the garden, reluctantly, her head hanging in defeat.
She steps carefully through the ivy-covered stone arch, each foot placed only with the greatest effort of will. The unicorn stands before her, in the midst of a garden full only of roses. It has long since gone wild, with the roses growing haphazardly and the long grass in sore need of mowing, but the graceful beauty that existed before its neglect is still present. Tara-lyhn walks slowly through the garden along a path near-overgrown with roses, the unicorn following a few steps behind her. She holds her hand out to trail against the roses as she passes, across blossoms and thorns alike, disregarding the scratches that result. Soon she finds herself at the heart of the garden, standing in front of a bush blooming with lush, blood-red roses.
She had built this place herself. She had placed every stone in the wall, planted every rose bush. It had taken a long time, but she had time, back then. When she was finished, it was her retreat for a long time, a place she knew she would be safe, a place of peace. It was shortly after she finished that the death-beast came. It had soared over the garden, back and forth, knowing that she was there. Tara-lyhn had stayed small and quiet, though; blind as it was, it could not find her. When it left, she had run away from the garden and never came back, not to a place where the death-beast might know to find her.
She knew she should not have stayed so long in one place, but the fairy meadow seemed so far away from all the bad things. She thought she could be safe there, and happy.
"I should not have stayed there so long." She picks one of the roses, uncaring of the thorn piercing her finger. The blood that oozes from the prick is the same midnight red as the flower itself. "I have forgotten too much. It was all I wanted to do, and now that I have succeeded, they make me remember again." She turns to the unicorn, waiting patiently behind her. "I know what I have to do now, unicorn. I have to stop the dreams." She discards the rose and walks out of the garden, the unicorn following close behind.
Tara-lyhn and the unicorn plunge back into the old forest. The trees soon start thinning out, and before night falls they have reached the edge of the forest. The trees simply end without warning, and in their stead a sea of grass flows towards the sunset. In the lee of the great trees still, the grass around Tara-lyhn reachs her thighs and sways gently in the breeze, but further away from the forest the grass is whipped back and forth by the wind soaring unhampered across the gently undulating plains. They walk towards the setting sun, and Tara-lyhn drinks in the burning horizon with her eyes; the crimson sky, fading to pink as it climbs; the clouds throwing the dying light back as golden wisps; the lengthening shadows claiming the hollows and dips of the plains.
By the time the sun sets and the last scrap of light has faded from the sky, Tara-lyhn and the unicorn have moved far from the forest, although the tall trees can still be seen behind them. When the unicorn stops, Tara-lyhn yawns tiredly and curls up in the grass, the tall blades protecting her from the ever-present wind, and falls asleep.
Light is only just beginning to flood the plains from the sun rising above the forest when Tara-lyhn is awakened by the insistent nudging of the unicorn, accompanied by a nervous whinnying. She sits up slowly and rubs her eyes.
"What is it, unicorn?" She sees the answer to her question when she gets her head above the grass, and looks where the unicorn has its attention fixed. On the horizon a group of large, dark shapes are coming towards them. Even at this distance Tara-lyhn can see the enormous wings beating. She freezes in a half-crouch midway through standing. The unicorn whinnies at her again, and she looks at it with eyes wide in fear.
"death-beasts!" She hisses. "What are we going to do?"
In answer, the unicorn dips its head and kneels before her. Tara-lyhn needs no more prompting than that, and scrambles onto the unicorn's back. She grips a fistful of the magnificent creature's silken mane as it leaps to a gallop, away from the death-beasts. She buries her face in the unicorn's mane and holds on for dear life as the graceful unicorn runs with surprising speed across the grass. The wind whips the unicorn's mane and Tara-lyhn's own hair back into her face until she can't see anything ahead of her. She turns to look behind, and sees with growing horror that despite the unicorn's frantic pace, the death-beasts are gaining on them.
"Hurry, unicorn!" She shouts, her words torn away by the rushing air. "they're catching up!"
Tara-lyhn cannot help from looking back as the death-beasts grow closer. Soon she can hear the thunderous beating of their wings over the wind rushing past her, and hear their terrible screams. The huge, twisted wings stretched tight with rust-coloured, flaky skin flap slowly, but despite their ponderous appearance the death-beasts still gain ground. She looks in horrified fascination as they draw closer still. The blunt heads of the death-beasts are covered in lumps and gouges, but show no recognisable features other than their horribly wide, gaping mouths. Black flames flicker from those great maws, leaving thick black smoke trailing in their wake.
Tara-lyhn yelps in surprise and almost falls off the unicorn when a giant tree passes over their heads. The unicorn slows to thread its way around the trees, but only a little, and soon the old forest has hidden the pursuing death-beasts from view. Screams of rage echo through the trees as the death-beasts circle above, and black fire begin to engulf the great trees. The trees do not burn easily, but the smoky flames slowly grind the trees down to ash. The unicorn picks its way carefully, never going in a straight line, and it becomes clear that the death-beasts are no longer burning any trees near them, and that the violent screams have faded into the distance. Relief floods through Tara-lyhn, and she slumps down to bury her head in the mane of the unicorn, drifting off into a restless slumber.
The sound of the ocean breaking against rocks wakes her. She is still astride the unicorn, and didn't release her grip on the creature's mane even in her sleep. Tara-lyhn quickly scans the skies when she realises they have left the safety of the forest again, but she does not see any dark shapes there. Unlike the great plains they left the day before, the grass here is short and stunted, and bare rock frequently shows through. She can still see the trees of the forest in the distance, but right beside the unicorn the land drops off in a sheer cliff, plunging into the churning water far below.
Tara-lyhn stares over the side, into the ocean, as the unicorn walks along the cliff-edge. Gradually, she notices that the sea below is changing, darkening. Soon it is simply black, barely rippling despite the rest of the ocean raging still, and has lost the shininess of water for a dull sheen. The ground dips slightly, making the cliff look like a pouring spout, and the unicorn stops there. Tara-lyhn dismounts, woblling slightly on her feet.
"Is that where the dreams come from, Unicorn?" The unicorn nudges her closer.
"I have to go in?" Tara-lyhn's voice rises as a note of panic creeps into her. "I'm so scared, Unicorn." She looks at the magnificent animal pleadingly, but there is no comfort there. She knows it would protect her to the end of the world, lay down its life for her even, but it will not allow her any respite from what she must confront. It snorts, and paws the ground impatiently.
"You're not coming, are you? That's always the way, it seems. First the dragons, now you. You're all determined to see me away and alone." Tara-lyhn looks into the eyes of the unicorn, and senses the rebuke there.
Tara-lyhn steps towards the edge, her belly doing flip-flops. It is all she can do to stop her hands from shaking. As she reaches the cliff, she casts one last, pleading glance towards the unicorn. It stands and looks at her, radiant.
"I wish I had such faith as you, Unicorn." She swan-dives off the cliff and plunges into the darkness, and it swallows her.
Everything swirls around her in a chaotic tumble. Words, images, feelings and thoughts all float past. Memories.
Tara-lyhn trots behind her mother as she busies herself in the garden. She looks as her mother pulls the weeds from around the prized rose bushes. Tara-lyhn tries to copy her, yanking at the stubborn weeds, her mother smiling indulgently all the while. Tara-lyhn sits abruptly and smiles back, gurgling happily.
"Come, little one. It's past time for your dinner."
Tara-lyhn opens her eyes sleepily as her bedroom door opens, and warm light spills in from the hallway. She smiles as her father sits on the side of the bed and strokes her hair.
"How was school today, Tara?"
"Good then. Goodnight darling, sweet dreams." He leans over, and kisses her on the forehead. Tara-lyhn is asleep again by the time he closes the door behind him.
Tara-lyhn shivers. She stares, fascinated and frightened by the warm, bright blood squirting from her wrists. She hears a banging at her door. "Tara-lyhn!" Her father knocks the door open, choking out a strangled shout as he sees the blood all over the bed, the knife shining under it all.
Tara-lyhn sits on the edge of the hospital bed as the doctor checks the bandages around her wrists. He is talking to her about somthing, but she stares off into the distance. They had told her the bad news only minutes earlier. It was all over quickly, they said. She was never going to see them again.
Everything is fuzzy, with no shape, just light and dark. There are sounds, but they are muffled, distant. This is the dream again. Tara-lyhn struggles, and is surprised to find she can move. She rubs her eyes. She can make out shapes now. They look like people. She can hear voices, talking to her. She sits up. She is in a bed, with stark white sheets. She looks around. Almost everything in the room is white.
"Tara-lyhn? Can you hear me?" She looks at the person-shape that spoke. She can't see him clearly, her eyes aren't focusing properly. "Can you hear me?" Tara-lyhn nods absently. Who are these people? She hears an excited murmer. This isn't how the dream normally goes. "Do you know where you are?" Tara-lyhn looks around again.
The room is the same. It hasn't changed since she first came here. They had put her in here, then poked and prodded at her, trying to get her to talk. How long ago was that?
"How long have I been here?" The people look at each other. Her eyes are beginning to focus now.
"You've been here for nearly two years, now." He said something else, but Tara-lyhn ignors him, and looks around instead.
"Who are you?" She interrupts him mid-sentance. He falters, but regains his composure immediately.
"I'm Doctor Henrikson, and this..." Tara-lyhn looks straight at him, and holds his gaze ruthlessly.
"Leave me alone."
"But, miss Farrel, we are just beginning..." Tara-lyhn glares at him.
"Don't bring me back here again. I hate this place."
"Miss Farrel, we..." Tara-lyhn doesn't hear the rest. She doesn't need to. She remembers now, and she knows where the dreams were coming from. Her eyes glaze over, and the dream becomes distant, foggy and insubstantial, the way it used to.
"Dragon!" Tara-lyhn calls into the mist. "Dragon!" Soon she sees a serpent-like shape curling towards her. She grabs a hold of it as it flies past, and as more dragons arrive, they chase the dream away again.
Tara-lyhn wakes up at the bottom of the cliff. She is clinging to a rock, wet and cold, the waves battering against her. She wonders how she was ever able to fall sleep like this. She looks up, and sees the sun sparkling off the long, luminescent horn of the unicorn, standing on the clifftop high above her. She grins, despite her discomfort.
"I'm coming, Unicorn!" She looks around her, but there are no handholds anywhere. "I'm going 'round, Unicorn! I'll meet you up there!" The unicorn's head bobs in agreement, and vanishes past the edge of the cliff.
Tara-lyhn struggles along the base of the cliff, still battered by the waves. She steps from rock to rock, constantly looking for a way up the sheer cliff face, but there is none she can see. It is only when the sun has fallen low on the horizon that she comes around an outcrop and sees a beach ahead. Above the beach the ground climbs steeply, but not impossibly. She reaches the beach and begins climbing up the grassy bank, grabbing tufts of grass to help haul herself up. Just as the sun dips below the ocean, Tara-lyhn scrambles up the last steep part of the bank, and is level with the cliff top again.
She looks around, and notices that she has climbed up near the silver forest. She can still see the giant trees of the old forest, but they are off in the distance. The unicorn is nowhere in sight.
"Unicorn!" She shouts. "Unicorn!" She hears nothing beyond the pounding of the surf below and the incessant chirping of the birds in the forest close by. Then she hears another sound, a roaring scream. She turns and looks behind her, horrified.
The death-beast cruises towards her over the ocean, terribly slow on its ponderous, twisted wings. Tara-lyhn stands entranced, horrified and unable to move. The death-beast's jaws distend until the great maw is wider than the body of the huge creature. Greasy black flames curl languidly between its teeth as it approaches. Tara-lyhn tries to scream as hot, smoky death pours over her, but she has no voice. A tooth as long as her forearm stabs deep into her side as the death-beast picks her up and tosses her into the air. Tara-lyhn screams and screams as she flies through the air, but no sound comes out. They have taken even my voice from me, she thinks as she plummets back to earth. The wind rips at her charred flesh and the pain drives her away.
Her body hits the earth. I was beautiful once. Limbs flop limply at the impact. I had soft, brown hair, hanging past my shoulders. A blackened, blistered head lolls on a body barely recognisable as human anymore. Hair like honey, eyes like chocolate. Someone had said that once. Eyes running like jelly in their sockets stare blankly at the sky. My mother always told me I was beautiful. A clawed hand twitches its twisted fingers. My body wasn't that great, but my face was good enough. Someone had said that too. Clear plasma oozes from burnt skin. There were other things people said. A leg twists at an unnatural angle, broken at the shin. Not pretty enough. Her chest barely rises in a shallow breath. They said I was weird, abnormal. Skin and clothing pull away from the flesh as she lets the breath out. That I was a liar. Pain wracks a body no longer willing or able to feel it. I was beautiful once.
She lies where the death-beast tossed her the whole night. She only knows it is morning by a barely noticable lightening. Her eyes are good for nothing else. She tries to move, but the slightest twitch pulls her burnt skin, cracking it in a dozen new places. She is sure she can hear a whinny, in the distance. She tries to call out, but only manages a croak. She hears the whinny again. She forces herself to crawl towards the sound, despite the pain it brings. It seems to take an eternity, but eventually she feels faint, warm breath on her skin. She reaches out, and feels the soft hair of the unicorn.
There is a faint, sad whinny, and then a shock of cold hits Tara-lyhn in the chest, and spreads throughout her body. She gasps, and gulps in air. She looks around her. She can see again! She looks down at her body. Her clothes are nothing more than a blackened scrap, but the burns on her body are healed. They have left scars across her whole body, but she can move again, without too much pain. It is then she sees the unicorn's horn, touching her breast.
"Oh, thank you, Unicorn!" She moves to hug the unicorn, perhaps slower thn she would have before, but no less enthusiastically. The unicorn's head flops limply in her arms. Its eyes remain closed. She looks at the body of the unicorn, stretched on the ground beside her, just inside the shade of the silver-ghost trees, and notices what she did not before. The unicorn's belly hangs open, its ribs bared to the sky. Pearly white blood covers the ground all around it. Tara-lyhn holds her hand by the once-graceful creature's nose, but she can't detect even the faintest trace of breath. She hold her hand against its neck, but no blood flows there. The unicorn is dead.
Shock grips her. She stays there for some time, cradling the unicorn's head in her lap, unable to move. She begins to weep. The unicorn wasn't supposed to die. Around her the birdsong falls quiet, and even the ghostly rustling of the trees stops. Everything stands still as she mourns the loss of the last pure thing in her world, silence spreading out from her in a wave until the only sound that is heard is that of Tara-lyhn's gentle, heartbroken sobs.
Tara-lyhn opens her eyes, red and sore as they are from crying.
Tara-lyhn walks up to the open door, the linoleum floor cold on her bare feet. She wriggles her toes, wishing there was grass there instead. She pokes her head out the door to see the man half-running down the corridor, then turn a corner. She slips out of her room, and creeps off in the other direction.
Tara-lyhn freezes as she passes a mirror in the hallway. She turns and looks at herself in the grimy pane. She moves her head. The reflection moves. She blinks. Her reflection does too.
"That is not me," she whispers. "I couldn't look like that." Her hair is lank and greasy. Her face is thin and hollow, the bones protruding clearly. Her eyes are dull and sunken in their sockets. Tara-lyhn smashes her fist into the mirror, sending fragments of glass flying. She ignores the bleeding of her hand as she walks away, splinters of glass crunching under her feet.
"That was not me. This is not my world. They keep taking my away from myself, into that... thing in the mirror. That is not who I am."
She hears the soft tapping of shoes on the hard floor. She ducks into a dark room as a uniformed man walks down the corridor. He walks past Tara-lyhn's hiding place, muttering under his breath when he sees the glass littering the floor. Tara-lyhn looks hastily around the room she is hiding in, and grabs a nearby rubbish tin.
"Who did this!" The man's shout echoes down the corridors. "Come on, who..." There is a reassuringly solid thunk as Tara-lyhn brings the metal rubbish tin down on the man's head, and he crumples to the floor. She bends down, and draws a gun from the man's belt. She cradles it in her hands as she speaks to herself.
"They're not going to take away my dreams any longer."
She gets up and creeps along the corridor, ignoring the shards of glass still stuck in her feet. She turns a corner, and enters a large, open room. Double doors, paned with glass, show little more than night and rain outside. At a desk facing the doors, another uniformed man sits, bored, reading a magazine. It is then she hears sounds from the corridor behind her.
"Hey! What do you think you're doing, lying there! Hey you! Hey... oh my god! He's bleeding!" The voice picks up in intensity and volume, and she hears running footsteps coming towards her down the corridor. Tara-lyhn recognises that voice. "Security! There's someone hurt back here!" The man at the desk startles and leaps to his feet, just as Tara-lyhn runs back to the corner, colliding with another man running down the corridor.
They both fall, but Tara-lyhn is back on her feet in an instant. The other man, scrabbling up from the ground, dressed in a long white coat, is exactly who she thought he was.
"Hey! It's the Farrel girl! What are you doing out here?" It is then that the man, her doctor, notices he gun in her hand. His eyes widen. He reaches towards her, placatingly. "Now there, be a good girl and put the gun down. Everything will be fine, nobody is going to hurt you. Just..."
"You're not going to take my dreams away from me anymore." Tara-lyhn points the gun at his chest, and fires, just in time for the man in uniform to reach the corner and gape, shocked, at the collapsing form of the doctor, blood spilling from him. Tara-lyhn fires again as the man scampers back the way he came, succeeding only in making a hole in the wall. Tara-lyhn walks around the corner, gun raised, but the man is not in sight. She hears a frantic voice from behind the desk.
"Yes, it's an emergency! She got a gun, and she's already shot a man! Hurry, please! She just tried to shoot me!"
Tara-lyhn hears more footsteps coming down the corridor, along with shouts and exclamations. She turns back towards it. Upon rounding the corner, she sees two white-clad men and a woman, kneeling by the prone form of the first uniformed man. They look up at her.
"Hey, it's the Farrel girl!" One exclaims.
"She isn't supposed to be out unsupervised! What's her name again?"
"Tara-lyhn," the woman supplies.
"Hey, she's got a gun!"
One of the men stands up, and stretches an arm towards her. "Just be careful now, don't do anything you..." Tara-lyhn points the gun at him and shoots. The woman, still kneeling on the floor, her eyes fixed on Tara-lyhn, gasps in shock as the bullet hits her. Both men turn to look at the dying woman, shocked. Tara-lyhn's second shot doesn't miss, and catches the man standing in front of her in his gut. As he slumps, groaning, to the floor, the last man scrambles to his feet and runs down the corridor, away from Tara-lyhn. She is about to shoot again when a shout behind her interrupts her.
"Put the gun down!" She whirls, just in time to see a man in a deep blue uniform, pointing a submachine gun at her. She feels a sharp pain in her chest as he fires, and she staggers back. She begins shooting blindly, only stopping when the gun runs out of bullets. She can feel her heart pumping blood out through the holes in her chest. She walks towards the man in blue, and kneels beside his body. His breath comes in shallow, gurgling gasps past the hole in his throat. His eyes look at her pleadingly as she leans over him, but she ignores him. He tried to take her away. They all did. She picks up his gun.
She hears noise coming from the room ahead, shouts and people running. She steps around the corner, pulling her finger down on the trigger. The gun kicks back in her grip, out of control, spraying bullets all over the room. She feels dull thumps where bullets hit her as the men in the there fire back at her, scrambling for cover. She walks into the room, shooting at everyone that appears, until the submachine gun also runs dry of bullets, and the gun only makes a clicking sound when she pulls the trigger.
She looks down. She has been shot in several places, the bright crimson of her blood staining her white gown. The men have cautiously crept back into the open, pointing their guns at her. They say something, but she can't hear what. The only sound in her ears is a thunderous roar, like hundreds of huge winged beasts beating the air. The men keep talking, waving their arms at her.
Tara-lyhn screams, and leaps at them. They don't hesitate. The sound of hundreds of wings, the infernal roar of the death-beasts, fills her head. They fly above her, screaming in rage, their great cavernous maws spouting fire ahead of them. They pass, and the mighty roar of their wings fades as the death-beasts dwindle in the distance, finally disappearing as tiny dots on the horizon.
Tara-lyhn looks down at her scarred body. At her feet a fairy stirs, stretching its wings in the sunlight. The unicorn stands, its pearly blood fading on the grass where it had lain. It tosses its head at Tara-lyhn, and trots towards the forest. Fairies and butterflies begin to rise from the grass, stretching on the flower buds. From the silver forest a swarm of birds arises, their feathers reflecting every colour of the sun, and flies overhead.
Tara-lyhn lifts a burn-scarred, twisted hand to shield her eyes from the sun as she watches them fly past. A smile twitches her lips. From the great horde a single bird detaches, and flies towards her. The heron lands gracefully beside Tara-lyhn, its orange and gold plumage burns brightly in the sunlight as it steps beside her and wraps her in its wings.
Everything burns in a golden light as the heron engulfs them both in its blaze. Unlike the death-beasts' fire, she can feel the life flowing in her as she shares the heron's inferno. She feels herself drifting apart, becoming no more than ash on the wind, to float and dance wherever the breeze may take her. She laughs in delight as she floats away into a golden haze.
Tara-lyhn was 27 when she died at Kore Point Sanatorium. She was shot by police in a firefight in the lobby of the asylum, but not before she claimed the lives of six others.
I sometimes think I am not so different from her. The pain of the world was too much, and she wished for a new one. And for a time, she had it. No one will ever know what hurt scarred her so deeply that she forsook everything, even herself.
In the newspapers she was a demon, a homicidal maniac who ruthlessly shot six people before justice was done. I cannot help but feel sorrow, for a life that was taken before it was fully lived, for the girl that was ripped away from everything she cherished.
I will miss her.
|Mortal Magic||Annie and the Ogre|
|The Stream||Soma of the Silver Knights - Devil's Night|