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Bequest

by Lisa Ann McLean

 

Prologue


Night descends in stifling black: black land, black sky—sunless, moonless, with only dusky, tormented clouds writhing across it.

A cold fear rushes over the surface of the land. Alive, it breathes through it—through the land, through the occupants that dwell on it. Dragons, faery, griffin—all can feel the chill cold, can feel the ice of the fear touch their souls with a deadly finality. It grips them in a cold steel hand so that every creature, rock and tree can feel the shiver of it, carrying a knowledge of wrong, of evil, of a sin so terrible that a silence of shame that such a thing would take place among them hangs thick as the cotton black that blankets the land.

The hunt... the hunt...

The rhythm, the beat, the pulse of the fear. Answering this rhythm come the whoops and cries of the hunters—shadowy figures flitting and leaping through the trees. Answering this rhythm comes the failing gallop of the prey.

He is distinctly equine in form, save for the one crystal horn that spirals a full three feet from the centre of his delicate head. Blacker than the night that surrounds him, he twists and turns through the tiniest of forest paths, his mane and tail billowing behind him like great clouds of smoke. His heart is pounding—a rapid drumbeat to which his hoofs keep time. A slick, white lather streaks his flanks, and large swatches of it are left on the leaves that whip past him as he runs.

Closer... they're coming closer...

For the third time now, the fatigue strikes him. A terrible, devastating weakness sweeps over him and through him, spreading from his heart, across his chest, down his spine...

He stumbles. A blue-black tunnel closes around the edges of his vision...

Not again... not now... oh, Lord Ylohym...

Wrapped in a cold, dead fear, he reaches deep within—tries to summon power, strength...

Nothing.

The fear plummets into a devastating despair that saps a cruelly large chunk of what precious little life remains in his failing heart. Bounding sideways, he cuts through the forest—a wild, zigzag snake through the trees. For a moment, a soft bloom of hope brightens in the black muck of despair. Maybe... maybe he has lost them...

...then a dark shadow drops from the trees ahead of him. Several dark shadows.

No! A trap... a trap...!

Momentum carries him forward as the hope dies. Bowing his head so that the smoke blue crystal horn that spirals from his forehead is levelled horizontal, he turns his flight into a charge. Bracing himself against the weakness that hammers through his head, he lengthens his strides as the musky smell of the shadow right in front of him infuses his senses—the shadow he knows is no shadow...

...the impact quakes through his neck, and he feels the muscles in his shoulders quiver as they absorb the force of it. There is slight resistance as his horn penetrates the shadowy form—which is quite solid—and the rending death-shriek roars past his left ear as the body slides down his horn and pitches forward across his face. Twisting his neck sideways, he flings the limp body aside. There is a ripping sound as the sharp point of his horn catches and tears through the black garments. He hears the dull thud behind him as he runs on...

...then a brutal fist slams into his side, through his ribs, into his heart. The force of it drives every ounce of air from his lungs and he staggers, falling hard to his knees. His own impetus drags him a full twenty strides over rocks and branches that rip through his sleek, black flesh, leaving his legs and his right side raw and bloodied. His own cry fails in his burning throat, and he feels a cold hand close around his chest.

Oh, Lord Ylohym...

Blurred now, shadows begin emerging all around him, their victorious cries echoing through the forest, through his head. He sees one shadow draw near, could almost make out a smile on the devious face that looks out from beneath a glittering, shining lion's mane of golden hair. A cruel, triumphant smile...

Ylohym...

Then, a spark ignites deep within him—a tiny firefly that flits and snaps through his veins...

Power... the power... the magic...

Finally, he feels it: his magic, his power. In a last, bright surge, it spreads through him in defiance of the hunters that now stand all around him. The crystal horn on his forehead begins to glow with purple-red light. The cruel smile on the hunter's face falters...

The light grows, expanding to a blinding brightness that washes the shadows away in a dome around them so that it looks like day—brighter than day...

Yes Ylohym... thank you... they shall fail...

The power screams deafeningly through him and his horn grows brighter... brighter... impossibly bright...

The hunters cower into balls, screaming and covering their faces. Some of the bolder of them fling rocks, fling more arrows like the one protruding from the side of the black unicorn they had brought down—the one the unicorn can no longer feel. He is growing, separating. Life is boiling in a furious tempest that is too great to be held in his dying body. Life... magic...

The horn—the magic in it—screams like a living thing as the brightness burns to white...

...then the horn explodes into sawdust...

Free... free...

A rush of energy floods him, and he feels himself rise as though released from chains. Intangible, spiritual—he lifts himself higher and higher, leaving the shell that had held him in a crumpled, black heap on the ground, surrounded by a circle of smaller bodies, equally lifeless: the hunters.

Again, he feels the rush. He moves—slowly, at first, then with mounting speed. He swells and blows across the land, ending his time on earth with a final flow across it. A soul-wind crying a voiceless herald to everything it touches:

Seven—only seven left...

It is time...


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