Purple Unicorn by Ramón Terrell

Dax propped himself up on his elbows and let his head fall back as he stared up at the blue sky. Sprites. It seemed like that was all his younger sister wanted to talk about these days. Dax had humored her; listened to her stories of how she'd once encountered these magical little creatures one day when she was out exploring the woods.
"Are you even listening to me?" Ailan asked.
"Of course I am," Dax lied. "The sprites only show themselves to those who have a pure heart filled with love and wonder." He'd heard the story so many times he had it memorized. "If we went into the woods farther out, they would be all around us.
"Oh really?" Ailan replied. "So you missed the part about you never being able to see them?"
"Huh?" Dax said.
Ailan lay back in the grass. The sky was beautiful, with the random puffy white clouds lazing their way across the sky. "I said, you would probably never get to see them," she replied.
"Why not?" Dax asked.
Ailan grinned. She loved getting back at him when he was ignoring her. "Well," she continued, "sprites only show themselves to people who believe in them, and those who have an indigo heart."
"Indigo heart?" Dax said. "A heart of love and magic? Sure, Ailan. I don't know about that, but maybe I can believe in fairies.
"Sure you can," Ailan said. "That's why you never asked to go see them." Her grin became a mischievous smirk. "And if you don't believe in them, you'll never ever get to see the unicorn."
"The what?" Dax asked. She'd never mentioned a unicorn before. "You really believe there are unicorns in the world?"
"Mmhm," Ailan replied. "They're as real as the sprites, and even harder to find."
"Yeah sure," Dax said, lying flat on his back. "Sprites, and now unicorns? Sure, Ailan."
She knew she had him. Ailan had never actually seen a unicorn, but she had seen a sprite before, and it had told her about the magical animal that lived beyond the distant woods, many miles to the north. She'd begged the sprite to show her, but it had refused.
"Maybe I can get her to show us," she said offhandedly.
"Get who to show us?" Dax asked.
"The sprite, silly."
"Sprites are girls?" he asked.
Ailan looked at him as though he were simple. "What do you think they are? Made of mud? Of course they're girls. And boys."
"Oh," Dax said. "I guess I didn't really think about-"
"Dax! Ailan!"
They turned in the direction of the house.
"That's Papa!" Ailan said.
They ran back to the house to see Mama lying on the bed, Papa kneeling beside her. He held her head up and poured a tiny bit of white liquid in her mouth.
"Papa!" Ailan said. "What's happened? What's wrong with Mama?"
"She was bitten by a shroud," Papa said.
Dax felt himself go cold. "A shroud spider?" he whispered.
"I need you two to get to town and get me some milk of sapperwood," Papa said. "It's the only thing that will heal her, but you must hurry."
"A shroud spider bite?" Dax repeated, his voice shaking. A bite from the deadly spider would kill in less than half a day.
"Look at me, boy!" Papa said, and Dax snapped out of his stupor. "I need you and Ailan to get to town and get me that milk of sapperwood. There's five coppers and a silver in my pouch." He pointed to the closet on the other side of the room, and Ailan ran through the door.
"Be back by sunset," Papa said. "I'm counting on you!"
Ailan grabbed Dax's wrist and pulled him out of the house.
They had no horses, only a mule that was too old to do anything but eat, so Ailan and her brother raced up the dirt road leading to midway pass, where they would have to wait to catch a carriage into town.
"I don't know if we can make it there and back in time," Dax huffed.
"We have to!" Ailan said.

Ailan stumbled to a stop and Dax dropped to his hands and knees, panting. By the time they reached midway pass, the sun was angling west.
"Where is it?" Ailan asked.
"One comes only every hour," Dax said.
Ailan stood and looked around, frustrated. "Blast! That's too long?"
"Calm down, Ailan," Dax said. "That won't make him come any faster."
"If your heart is true, I can help you."
Ailan and Dax looked at each other.
"That came from the woods," Dax said.
"I know!" Ailan said, her eyes going wide. "It was a sprite!"
"Not now, Ailan," Dax said.
"No, I'm telling you!" Ailan started, but Dax waved a hand.
"Mama is dying. I don't want to hear stories about-"
"Sprites and unicorns? Fairies and magic? Life without magic is oh so tragic!"
"Please come out and help us if you can," Ailan pleaded. "Our mother is sick from a shroud spider bite."
"Death comes from a shroud spider bite, but shroud venom can be killed by light."
"We know that," Dax said, growing impatient. "That's why we're waiting for the carriage. We need to get back home with medicine while it's still light."
"I offer you help, so do not miss it. Your mum can be healed, if you wish it."
"Can you get us into town faster?" Ailan asked.
"To town and back you will come, but by that time, the sun will be gone."
"Can you help us or not?" Dax asked.
"Here comes the carriage!" Ailan said, pointing down the road.
A two horse team pulling a carriage appeared in the distance. Dax ran to the middle of the road and started jumping up and down, waving his hands in the air.
"Hurry!" he shouted. "Please hurry!"
"To town and back, the horses can run, but on your return, you will lose the sun." The singsong voice actually sounded regretful. "Come with me or go with him. There is still hope, but it grows thin."
"You can heal her?" Ailan asked.
"Healed, yes, your mum can be. But only if you first trust me."
"You won't even show yourself," Dax said, still waving at the wagon. It looked like it was picking up speed. "Why should we trust you?"
"Boy is keen. Boy is smart. To see me, look in your heart."
"The carriage is almost here, Ailan!" Dax said. He looked from his sister to the approaching wagon. "Mama will die if we don't get to town and back with the medicine."
Ailan gazed up at the sun, racing to the west. "We can't make it in time, Dax."
"We have to try!" he replied. "What else can we do?"
Ailan looked to the woods again. She was sure the sprite waited for her to make a decision. Where the stories true? Did mischievous fairies lead humans astray, tricking them to wander lost in the forests for days? Was that what this sprite was trying to do?
As if reading her mind, the sprite spoke again. "In the hearts of man, there is strife and plunder. In the hearts of children, there is mostly wonder. The love in her heart, your mum gives. Trust in me, and she will live."
Something struck Ailan's heart, and her doubt melted away. She turned to Dax. "We've got to trust her."
"You're crazy, Ailan! We don't even know who that is? Why won't she show herself to us? Why won't she tell us what she can do?"
"I can't say it, Dax, but I can feel it."
"That's not enough. Mama is going to die, Ailan!"
"This is our only chance, Dax. Look in your heart. See what's there."
Dax looked over his shoulder at her. She was so sincere. Tears were streaming down her cheeks. "Ailan you can't be serious..."
"Feel it, Dax," Ailan pleaded. "Listen to what's in your heart and feel what's there!"
They heard the clip clop of galloping horses coming up the road.
"Please, Dax!"
"I don't..."
"Trust me!"
Dax didn't know if it was a flicker of truth that resonated in his heart, or Ailan's conviction, but he stepped off the road.
"Blast it all, Ailan! C'mon!"
They ran hard, until they could run no more.
"Stop," Dax huffed.
"We need to catch our breath," Ailan agreed.
An impatient voice came from above. "Human children run and play. Should be able to run all day."
Dax looked over at his sister, who was similarly doubled over with her hands on her knees, panting. "I pray you're right," he said.
"I am," Ailan assured him. "I can feel it, Dax. Listen to your heart and you can too."
"I don't feel anything."
"You're afraid."
"And you're not?" Dax straightened and glared at her. "You're not afraid of Mama dying?"
"Of course I'm afraid." Ailan started walking and after a few steps, Dax fell in step beside her. "I'm terrified, but this is the only chance we have."
"We could have gone to the city..."
"Did you see the look on Papa's face?" Ailan replied. "There wasn't much hope in his eyes, only desperation."
"You can't know that!" Dax argued. He felt a lump rising in his throat. "He wouldn't have sent us away if he didn't think there was a chance."
"Children argue of what might be. Instead, make haste and follow me."
"And how can we do that if we can't see you?" Dax asked, looking up at the green canopy.
"Won't you show yourself to us?" Ailan asked.
"Boy does not believe what he cannot see, so his eyes and ears deceive."
Dax and Ailan turned as the voice traveled around and above them, swirling in the wind.
"We don't have time to play around," Dax said. "Please stop playing with us and help us."
"Children blinded by fear and doubt. Believe from within, to see without."
"What-" Dax started to reply, but the words caught in his mouth.
A glowing figured descended from the treetops and hovered before them on fluttering wings the color of a dawn sky. The figure was feminine, with long hair that matched her wings and seemed to float upon the air. Her rapidly beating wings brought her closer, but when Dax reached out, the tiny figure darted away.
"Humans see the world through blind eyes, and only believe what their hands can touch. The world is filed with magic and grace. But to human eyes, it is too much."
Ailan felt her heart hammering in her chest. "I told you, Dax! I told you they're real!"
"Wow," he breathed. "I can't believe it."
The sprite turned a regretful look on him. "Boy is too young, not to believe."
"We don't have much time," Ailan pleaded.
"Time is brief and time is never. In the world of magic, time is forever." The tiny glowing female did a pirouette in the air and fluttered away.
"Wait," Dax called after her. "You're too fast."
"My name is Ailan and this is Dax," Ailan said as they jogged after the sprite. "What's you're name?"
Whether the sprite heard the question or chose to ignore it, she silently led the siblings through the forest. Soon they were climbing, and after what seemed hours, they crested the hill and looked down into a carpet of darkness.
"We have to go into that?" Dax asked, peering down at the ominous woods.
"Through night and day and day and night, confront the dark with a heart of light."
"Are you able to talk normal?" Dax asked. "What are you saying?"
"She's saying we have to be brave and confront our fears," Ailan answered. She looked up at the sky. The sun was fast descending toward the western horizon. "C'mon. We need to keep moving."
Despite her words, Ailan was just as terrified as her brother. But she believed the sprite would not lead them astray. She had to believe it. Despite the tales of mischievous sprites, Ailan believed in her heart this magical creature meant them good will. When she looked down at the forest of darkness, she couldn't ignore a flicker of doubt.

A thick, wet heat settled over the siblings as they trudged through the woods.
"What is this place?" Ailan asked.
"The darkland forest is where you walk. Must be careful, the morgin stalks."
"What's a morgin?" Dax asked.
"In the darkland forest, the morgin roams free. A six legged beast, boy doesn't want to see."
Despite the oppressive heat and humidity, Dax felt a chill run down his spine. "Then let's hurry."
The fluttering sprite led the siblings through the hazy forest, urging them on while the dark energy of the place threatened to drain them.
When Ailan felt she had finally adjusted to the horrible moist air, the mosquitos began their assault, followed by an onslaught of biting gnats.
"Blast this place!" Dax grumbled. He slapped his hands out in front of his face, killing several insects at once.
"Boy must hush!" The sprite glanced about. "Things watch from the brush."
"This is making me crazy," Dax said.
"There's nothing for it," Ailan replied. "They're driving me crazy, too, but complaining about it won't help."
"I don't need you telling me what to do, Ailan," Dax snapped. "I'm older than you are."
"Then act like it," Ailan shot back.
"Children argue while mum is frail. Now the morgin finds our trail!"
Ailan and Dax froze. There was nothing around excerpt the three of them.
"What are you talking about?" Dax asked. "There's nothing here. Not even the toads are croaking. It's completely..."
"Silent," Ailan finished for him, looking all around and at the treetops above. "There were all kinds of sounds before. Now there's nothing."
Dax felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end. "I don't like this."
"This way!" the sprite said. "Follow me. Morgin comes, we must flee!"
The tiny female darted away, and the siblings ran after her. Ailan heard no sounds and when she looked over her shoulder, she saw no signs of pursuit. But something was following them, she could feel it getting closer. "Dax," she warned.
"I feel it too," her brother said. "Keep running."
"Morgin is near, children must hurry."
Dax took the lack of a singsong rhyme as an ominous sign.
Everything was deathly still, and it was as if the air itself was dead. Dax opened his mouth, but no sound came out. Suddenly their movements slowed. Each running stride took more than a second to land.
Mid stride, Dax turned and looked over his shoulder to see a creeping monstrosity that looked like a spider, except that it had six legs, and a body that was elongated and slender. It's gray head was round and covered by smooth leathery skin, and it looked down on them with two pairs of malevolent orange eyes.
Dax tried to cry out, but his voice was lost in the silence. His foot touched the ground and his other leg came forward. Seconds passed before his other foot touched down and he took his next running step. More seconds passed. The morgin was closing on them.
Dax heard the sprite's voice in his mind. Morgin slows your space, as you flee. Will it in your heart, and you will be free!
Dax could only take it to mean that he must will time itself to speed up again. But how?
With legs many times longer than a fully grown man, the morgin navigated the trees, with speed that would have caught them even if they hadn't been slowed. It lifted one of its forelegs, and Dax saw that the ends of each leg were equipped with long finger-like appendages that looked like daggers.
It pressed the fingers together to form one sharp tip, and pointed it like a spear at Ailan's back.
Dax's eyes widened in desperation, and he leapt toward his sister. In the seconds that passed, he saw Ailan look at him in surprise as he flew toward her.
The spear was a mere few feet away from his sister's back when Dax let out a silent scream as he stretched his arms toward her. He squinted his eyes shut, unable to witness Ailan being impaled.
He suddenly felt himself jolted forward, and he crashed into Ailan. He heard her grunt from the impact, and they hit the ground in a tangle of limbs. Dax regained his feet, and time slowed again. He grabbed Ailan's hand and pulled her after him.
Ailan didn't know how it happened, but time had sped up and Dax had slammed into her. She saw a giant limb pierce the ground where she'd been, only a second before, and now time was slow again.
In the seconds that passed between their running strides, she looked over her shoulder and saw the monster that chased them. A stream of cold fear raced down her spine, and she saw the spear-like appendage lifting and aiming at Dax's back.

Their feet touched the ground. Seconds passed. They took the next stride. Seconds passed. Their feet touched the ground.
Ailan cried out and launched herself at her brother's back. She might die, but he wouldn't.
Time sped up again and she slammed into his back. She felt the whoosh of air as the giant spear appendage struck the ground right behind her.
"Morgin slows your personal space, will yourselves to win this race!"
They climbed to their feet and time slowed. Ailan thought she understood what the sprite was trying to tell them. The morgin was manipulating their personal speed somehow. They would have to be clever.
The spear came for her brother's back again. As soon as his foot touched the ground, he planted his foot and shifted his weight. At the last moment, while she was still mid stride, Dax dove aside with startling speed to the slow-moving girl.
The spear struck the ground where he'd been, and as Ailan's foot touched the ground, the appendage pulled free and swung toward her. She fought against the effects of the morgin's power, and willed herself to move quickly again. Time returned to normal and she threw herself backward, sliding on her side and underneath the swinging appendage.
Time slowed for Dax again, and he saw the morgin's other front appendage coming for him. He fought the monster's control on his speed, and dove forward. As the spear crashed into the ground, time slowed again. The impact sent dirt and rock passing him by in his slowed state.
The monster was using both its front appendages as spears now, and one of them was coming straight for Ailan. She willed her speed back, and was barely able to dive aside. This time, as the spear crashed through the ground, she fought to hold on to normal time as she ran.
The spear came rushing for her back, and a dozen feet from impact, Ailan let go and fell back into the morgin's power, her time slowing to a crawl. The appendage shot past her head and crashed into the ground.
Their cunning kept them alive, as the rapid changes in speed made them difficult targets to pace.
For a while, the monster was off balance, but the attacks became less frequent, and struck closer and closer to the mark. It was waiting, trying to predict their movements.
A spear came for Ailan's back and just as she was about to will her time to normal, it was released. Unprepared for the sudden shift, she pitched forward and fell hard to the ground. On instinct, she rolled sideways and narrowly avoided the spear that struck the ground just beside her.
She came to her feet, and her time slowed. Before she could think, it went normal again, and she stumbled, and time slowed as she tripped sideways.
Dax tackled her, and they fell. The spear crashed into the ground where they'd been, then time slowed and sped so quickly, they weren't able to keep up. They were up and running again, hoping their luck would hold.
One of the spear appendages swept sideways just as time slowed again, and it knocked Dax into Ailan. The two were sent into a slow mid air tumble. Both willed their space to normal speed and pushed off each other just as the spear came for them.
It missed Dax completely, but tore a gash in Ailan's left arm. She screamed, but the sound was cut short as time slowed again.
She saw a blinding flash of light from the corner of her eye, and a screech rent the air and sent vibrations of fear down her spine.
"Hurry!" the sprite said into their minds. "Morgin is blinded but will not last. Reach the border where it cannot pass!"
Dax reached Ailan and grabbed her hand. "Keep going!"
"It hurts," she growled. "It hurts a lot!"
"Ignore it!" Dax yelled. "If it hurts, you're still alive. Use it, Ailan!"
His sister groaned, but kept up. The screeching stopped, and they heard the monster coming again.
The terrain suddenly turned into a steep downhill slide. The abrupt change sent the two siblings half sliding half stumbling downhill, the morgin right behind them. Through a bit of fortune, the steep terrain gave the morgin even more difficulty to navigate.
They fought not to slam into giant trees or get tangle in large shrubs, earning nicks and scrapes along the way. Behind them, Ailan thought she heard a sound that was a mix between a growl and a bark. It was an angry sound.
She saw Dax stumble beside her, and the brief instant her attention was on him, she caught her foot on an exposed root and pitched forward. She gritted her teeth as she slammed chest first into the leafy forest floor and started to slide.
Ailan spat dirt from her mouth and scrabbled onto her side, reaching for something to grab hold of. She heard Dax cry out, and looked into his eyes as he dove head first toward her, sliding on his belly.
Ailan hadn't seen the cliff ahead. Dax kept his eyes locked with his sister's, even as he heard the morgin's labored pursuit. He reached out his hand to his sister. "Dig your feet in, Ailan. Reach!"
"Behind you!" Ailan cried.
Dax didn't look back. If he did, he wouldn't be able to grab her hand.
Their fingers touched, and Dax used his other hand to push off and pick up speed. He grabbed her hand, then reached out with his other hand and dug his fingers into the dirt, doing his best to ignore the pain of sharp twigs and rocks digging under his fingernails. He looked up the hill to see the morgin still shuffling its way down.
Suddenly, they slowed. The morgin must have regained enough concentration to focus on them again. This time they couldn't dodge. There was no foothold; no way for them to maneuver.
There was another blinding flash of light, followed by a screech, and time reverted to normal. The jarring effect almost caused Dax to lose his grip, but he held on to his sister. When he looked down, he saw her kicking her feet to stop, and the cliff rushing toward them.
Dax just managed to grab hold of an exposed root that grew from a tree out the bottom of the cliff. His hand slid down the root as Ailan went over the edge.
He gritted his teeth against the sudden weight of his sister, suspended in the air with only his grip to keep her from falling.
His hand slid further down the root, and he clamped his eyes shut, digging for every ounce of strength he had to hold on. He didn't know how he was going to get her back up. And what about the Morgin?
As if that thought had brought the monster, the six legged beast appeared at the edge of the cliff and made another angry sound, scuttling this way and that as it tried to figure a way to get to them. It was hopeless, for they were too far over the side and down. It was also hopeless that they could climb back up. Caught between the jaws of irony.
Dax looked at the lake far below. Could they survive such a fall?
Ailan looked down, then looked up at him, tears glistening in her eyes. "Just let go," she said. "You can climb back up if you let me go!"
"No way!" Dax yelled. "You think I'm letting you go? You hold on!"
"You can't climb up with me, Dax, and Mama and Papa are depending on us. On you."
"We do this together, Ailan."
"You can do it without me."
Dax felt his arm stretching from the strain. His grip on the root was beginning to slip. "Shut up! I'm not letting you go."
"If we both die, so will Mama," Ailan said.
"I'm not going to watch you die, Ailan. We survive together or die together!"
He clamped his eyes shut again and pulled with every bit of strength he had, slowly lifting his sister up. His muscles started to burn, but he kept pulling. His arm was halfway up when the muscles gave out. He couldn't hold on much longer. He looked down at Ailan.
"Let go," she said. Her voice was so calm as she stared into his eyes. "I love you, Dax. Let go."
His eyes filled with tears. "I'm sorry," he said. He let go.

It seemed they fell forever, screaming and waving their arms and legs. Dax had let go of the root, and now hand in hand, they fell the great distance to the crystalline lake that waited to swallow them.
"Close your eyes!" he shouted as the water rushed up to meet them.
Ailan shut her eyes, and then a warm feeling permeated her body, and she felt as light as a leaf floating upon a breeze. She heard the sprite's voice in her mind."Love is in the heart. There is power in love."
Hand in hand they splashed into the lake. They felt the sting of the impact, but it was a sensation of life. A life that had not ended.
Dax released her hand and together they swam to the surface. Ailan broke through and took a deep breath of sweet air. She turned about until she found Dax treading not far away. With a silent nod from her brother, they swam for the shore.
They dragged themselves out of the water and lay on their backs, chests heaving as they regained their breath.
"I...can't believe...we survived," Dax huffed.
Ailan wanted to scold her older brother for letting go of the root. They could have both died and Mama would have been lost. How could she, though? If she were in the same situation, would she have been able to let go of him? Would she have had the heart to watch her brother fall to his death, or would she have died with him, side by side?
Perhaps she was selfish. Perhaps they both were, but in her heart, Ailan knew she wouldn't have let him go either.
Dax was already on his feet, and he offered a hand to Ailan. She took it and he pulled her to her feet, and they had a look around.
The tallest trees they'd ever seen, stood straight and proud in reverence to the warming sun. It was as if she could hear the trees singing to them. Between the towering trees were bushes dotted with flowers from green to blue to purple and yellow. Their colors shown so brightly, they were almost glowing.
Tiny pinpricks of light danced above the water, then as if noticing the boy and girl, they danced toward Ailan and Dax.
The tiny spheres of light danced around the siblings, darting this way and that. Ailan giggled and reached out, and one of the balls of light settled on her hand. Dax tried the same, but the lights shied away. He frowned and took a step toward them, but still they avoided him.
Hand outstretched, Dax kept chased the little balls of light and caught his foot on a large rock, pitching face first in the water.
"Dax!" Ailan cried, and rushed to her brother.
Dax came up sputtering and spitting water. It seemed every living thing in the area froze. The balls of light were still upon the air, and even Ailan felt her breath catch, though she didn't know why.
Dax ran a hand over his face, then laughed. It was a heartfelt and playful laugh, and he splashed water at the ball of light. "You did that on purpose!" he accused the glowing ball, splashing more water. The sphere easily avoided the water, and danced about the air.
The glowing spheres danced around Dax, then slowed and settled on his shoulders and his head. Dax went stiff at first, then reached out. The sphere he'd chased danced around for a few heartbeats, then settled on his hand. Then, abruptly, the spheres all rose into the air and streamed away and through the trees.
Ailan and Dax watched them go.
"What was that about?" he asked, and Ailan shrugged.
They looked around the crystalline lake and saw a deer emerge from the trees to the side. Its golden shimmering coat was unlike anything they had ever seen. It walked to the water, looked over at them, then drank.
Ailan's heart leapt, and when she looked at Dax, the sense of wonder on his face was no less.
The deer half turned to face them, then to Dax and Ailan's surprise, it approached. Once it was several paces away, it stopped and watched them.
"A golden doe," Dax said. "Its coat is the brightest and most beautiful of all deer, and only the females have it."
"How do you know?" Ailan breathed, still entranced by the majestic animal.
"Papa and his hunter friends always talk about them. They're the most elusive animals in the world. I can't believe one is standing in front of us."
The doe seemed to be watching Dax as he spoke, and Ailan got the chilling impression it understood them. "It's beautiful," she whispered.
Beside her, Dax nodded.
"Shining pelt of the golden doe," the sprite's melodic voice echoed around the lake. "Brings such wealth, you cannot know."
The words made Ailan's heart sink. She couldn't think of such a thing. But what about Dax? She glanced sidelong at her older brother, and saw wonder his eyes, but something else as well. Longing. But longing for what? She was afraid to know the answer.
"Riches and wealth beyond your dreams," the voice went on. "Pelt brings coins in golden streams."
"I would give anything," Dax said, reaching a hand toward the doe.
No, Dax, Ailan thought. No.
"I would give anything," Dax repeated, "to touch her but once. Only once."
Though relief flooded her heart upon hearing her brother's innocent wish, she was still hesitant. She looked up to the sky, and saw that the sun was well into its western descent. Time was nearly out.
"Just once," he said, then let his hand and his head drop. "No," he said, then looked back at the staring doe.
Dax looked into those deep pools of innocence. He could feel those intelligent eyes were weighing him. "No," he said. "You would be sullied by my touch. I cannot. I will not. I...I wish I could, but I know I shouldn't."
The magnificent animal looked into his eyes and searched his soul. And then it happened.
One tiny strand of fur shimmered, then changed color; darkened. Then another, and another.
They watched as first one strand at a time, the golden doe's pelt began to darken, then the color swam across its body like a ripple across a pond.
Tiny dots of light spiraled up from its head as its pelt rippled from golden to this new, dark color.
The spiraling lights elongated and bent toward each other, touching and absorbing one another until they became a solid spear of light, drawing power from the heavens.
Dax and Ailan retreated a step. All they could do was watch in silence, for what would they say in the presence of such magnificence?
Before them, stood a black unicorn, as tall as the tallest clydesdale. Though it was leaner than the giant breed, the power emanating from it was that of a hundred clydesdales. A thousand. Ten thousand.
The black unicorn looked directly at them, and time itself seemed to stop. Then it looked up to the sky, -its magnificent horn seeming to harness the power of the sun itself- and gave its body a shake. It shook itself as a horse would, but as it shook, its beautiful shimmering black coat rippled again. The ripple went quickly from the top of its head to its rear hooves, and the black shifted to a brilliant, shimmering purple that eclipsed the brightest rose or the most fluorescent blossom.
"The purple unicorn," Ailan breathed. She fell to her knees, tears streaming down her face as the grace filled her heart and burst from her body, and sent her spirit soaring. She looked upon love and magic personified. The innocence and love and grace of all of nature came together in the form of the splendor before them.
She didn't look at Dax. She knew he was just as entranced by the magnificent animal as she was. No. They were the animals, standing in the presence of a deity; a God upon the earth.
"Not a God," an infinitely powerful voice said inside her head. Beside Ailan, Dax stiffened. He'd heard it too. "I am nature. I am life. I am of the first of the Gods' creations."
It was too much. Just looking at the unicorn filled them with such energy they had to turn away. They were filled with it; overflowing with it. It was too strong and too much to contain in a single body or a million.
Dax's mind was suddenly engulfed in a flash of light. He heard Ailan's yelp beside him. Was she having the same experience?
Every detail of their adventure passed before them. Papa calling for them, the wait on the side of the road, talking with the sprite.
They saw a broken carriage wheel, halfway to town, their flight from the morgin. Then winced more than once when a spear had nearly skewered them. It had missed every time, because both had fought against it with the intention of aiding the other.
They hung from the root of the tree. The morgin waited, positioning itself to the side, and leaning over the edge.
They saw what they had not seen before. They saw the morgin lining up one of its spear appendages at Dax, aiming for a killing stroke.
Ailan pled with Dax to let her go. Dax let go, not of Ailan, but of the tree root. The morgin's spear pierced the side of the cliff where Dax's chest had been, barely an instant before.
Pinpricks of light dancing around them, Dax reaching for the light spheres and tripping into the water. The appearance of the golden doe.
The images faded.
Dax felt a tingle in his hand, and inspected it. The lines in his palm were glowing!
"Through work and ambition, humans conquer strife, but love and magic are the secrets of life."
The sprite's voice drifted on the wind. "From your hearts, pure love pours. Upon the winds of magic, your spirits soar."
Dax and Ailan understood. Everything that had happened had been real possibilities that dependent upon their decisions. The wagon had come, and had they gone that path, they would still be upon the road. The morgin had chased them, and only their love and devotion to each other had saved them.
Their love of life, and the wonders of the world had caused the unicorn to appear in the form of the golden doe. It had known of their coming since their first footstep into the forest, the forest that was made to look ominous to their eyes.
Their adventure in the forest had been real, but as real as it had been, it was only one reality in a stream of many. Ailan and Dax had passed through the darkest of the stream to stand before the purple unicorn.
"The indigo heart beats within both of you. Now see the world through eyes anew." The sprite appeared in the air and lowered herself between the still kneeling siblings and the purple unicorn. The glow around her body faded just enough for them to make out her beautiful, angular features. A sharp eyebrow angled upward above a crystalline green eye that winked at them. Her tiny lips angled at one side into a smile. There was approval in the sprite's eyes.
"I am proud that your hearts are true. Always know that I watch over you."
"Who are you?" Dax asked, his voice filled with wonder.
Tears started to flow down Ailan's cheeks again, for she knew the answer.
"Please," Dax said. "Can we please know your name?"
The sprite looked at Ailan with a knowing smile, the looked back to Dax.
"Parents' tales of me make the hearts of children stillith. Today and always, know the love of Lilith."
"Lilith," Ailan whispered. It was a name known to all children. Stories of the fairy queen kept children awake in fear at night. Stories told by parents trying to make their children behave properly, or stories they honestly believed were true?
Looking upon the graceful Lilith now, they felt only love and adoration from the sprite.
"Return home and help your mother mend. For now your adventure is at its end."
Dax looked to the sky and felt a cold stab of fear in his chest. "The sun has set! We're too late!"
"The tides of time, to men, are a concept. In any direction, upon its waves, may you be swept."
Before they could say anything more, Lilith, the queen of the fairies, blew them a glittering kiss.
Ailan awoke to hands gently shaking her. Gently, but urgently.
"Wake up, Ailan!" It was Dax's voice.
Ailan yawned and stretched her arms and legs, then looked around. They were in a the field of wildflowers on the other side of the road from their house.
Ailan's heart gave a leap of fear, and she looked up at the sky. Despite the setting of the sun during their meeting with the purple unicorn and the fairy queen, here, the sun was just above the western horizon.
"How?" she started to ask, but Dax cut her short.
"We'll talk about it later," Dax said. "Look!"
He opened his hand and Ailan saw a tiny vial filled with what looked like pure glowing light.
"That's not milk of sapperwood," Ailan said. "Papa won't know what that is. He won't give it to her."
"What choice is there?" Dax countered. "Let's go!"
They raced to the front door of the house. Papa was where they'd left him, kneeling at the side of Mama's bed. Her skin had gone waxy pale color, as if death were breathing its cold, misty breath over her.
"Ailan! Dax! You've returned!" He sounded tired. "You have the medicine?"
They looked into his hopeful eyes. Hopeful, but fearful. Papa wasn't at all sure the remedy would work, but he was holding on to hope.
Dax opened his mouth, then closed it and hesitantly opened his fingers and looked down at the tiny vial in his hands. The vial that held the bright glowing light.
"That's not nearly enough!" their father said, reaching for the vial. "Why did they give you so little?"
Both Dax and Ailan opened and closed their mouths several times, struggling for an answer, but Papa grabbed the vial from Dax's hand and carefully opened it.
Dax glanced at Ailan, who shrugged. Did their father not see that in that vial was not milk of sapperwood, but some sort of glowing light?
Papa unstoppered the vial and lifted Mama's head. He carefully poured the glowing light into her mouth, sniffing as tears spilled down the side of his hard cheeks.
The light poured into Mama's mouth and light spilled from every pore on her body. The light flared, and Dax and Ailan squinted against it. Papa seemed not to see the light. He turned a forlorn expression on them. "I don't-"
A contented sigh escape Mama's lips, and Papa whirled and was kneeling at her bedside again, holding her hand in his. "I'm right here, my love. Right here."
Mama opened her eyes long enough to look into his. She smiled and gave his hand a weak pat, then closed her eyes again and her chest rose and fell as another contented sigh left her lips.
"What?" Papa whispered. He turned amazed eyes on the two children. "It doesn't work that fast. Especially not with so little of it. Where did you get this?" He looked down at the vial in his hand.
"There was a different doctor traveling the road," Dax lied. "A medicine woman. She insisted this would work better, and gave us a vial before she left."
Their father shook his head and looked back to their peacefully sleeping mother. "I wish I knew who she was, so that I could offer my thanks."
"She said she would know," Dax said, and he smiled at Ailan.
Ailan grinned at her brother.
Yes. She would always know.

Now that you've got a taste for the fantasy of Ramón Terrell, check out his books!

© 2019 Ramón Terrell