Something Wicked This Way Comes

Friday, February 13, 2015

FREE FICTION FRIDAYS #14 THE FOREST LORD

Welcome to the 14th installment of my fantasy The Forest Lord. I hope you enjoy it!

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The Forest Lord #14; by Tucker McCallahan:

The first shadow unicorns were the product of an unholy union between a unicorn and the infernal nightmare who corrupted him.

According to the legends, a nightmare who had grown weary of her entrapment in hell sought out the perfect creature to despoil. She found a proud unicorn who had as his requirement for retaining purity the task of guarding a small wood. Since she wasn’t able to leave her hellish imprisonment, the nightmare visited the unicorn in his dreams, masquerading as a black unicorn. She flattered the unicorn, appealing to his sense of vanity and his tremendous ego. When he was smitten by the beautiful ebony-haired unicorn, she told him of a vast, unclaimed forest, desperately in need of a guardian.

Night after night, the nightmare appeared to the unicorn, preying on his sense of self-importance. She assured the unicorn that the denizens of the forest would not only be obedient and respectful should he come to serve as their Forest Lord, they would be thankful as well. After all, any inhabitant of the grand forest would be lucky to have such a magnificent creature as their lord. The nightmare took advantage of the unicorn’s loneliness, a secret which the proud beast had kept hidden from the world. She promised him both her gratitude and her heart if the unicorn would leave his wood and take charge of the forest she offered.

Wooed by the nightmare’s promises and blind to her deception, the unicorn forsook his sacred duty. He abandoned his wood to journey to the vast forest he had seen so many times in his dreams. As he removed the final protective glyph from his borders, a wrenching sensation shook him right down to his hooves. No longer pure, his aura now bore a tarnish.

Though deep down he knew what had happened, the unicorn shook it off. He was convinced of the rightness of his choice and continued to justify it as he journeyed. His wood would survive just fine without him. The forest he traveled to needed his protection. More importantly, he went to join his female. She occupied his every waking thought and his dreams as well. He would gladly suffer a smudge on his soul if it meant he might finally have a mate, foals, and a family.

When he reached the forest, though, all was not as his beloved portrayed. The forest was indeed vast; it was far too large for one unicorn to guard. Its need for protection was far more desperate than had been portrayed. Factions of various monsters had divided the land up into territories. Their violent wars left huge swaths of the forest destroyed. Parts of the forest were nothing more than bloody, churned up, smoking ruins. The forest inhabitants who hadn’t been killed were conscripted into serving in whoever’s army was in their backyard.

Worst of all, the ebony-haired unicorn was nowhere in sight.

The unicorn fell into fitful sleep and thankfully, his beloved appeared in his dreams. The Goblyn King had discovered her call for help, she claimed, and his fear of the unicorn was so great that he captured her and even now held her in the center of the forest in his dark and evil lair.

The unicorn despaired. Alone, he couldn’t possibly reach his beloved and set her free.

For days he stalked the edges of the great forest, despondent, until in mad desperation, he hit upon a solution.

He would forge an alliance with the giant spiders. They were the sworn enemies of the goblyns, and for a small amount of territory they would aid him. A small voice inside his mind rebelled at this notion, screaming at him. We make no alliances with monsters! They are your sworn enemies! But the dream vision of his beloved in the clutches of filthy goblyns was more than he could bear, and the unicorn ignored that voice, ruthlessly shoving it to the furthest reaches of his mind.

Worried that one alliance wouldn’t be sufficient to defeat the goblyns, the unicorn and the Queen of the giant spiders agreed they would need another. To ensure he could free his beloved, the unicorn sought out and secured the gnarigs. Giant two-legged rodents covered in long peppery red hair, the gnarigs had human intelligence, were as physically dexterous as woodland elves, and had the hearty constitutions of dwarves. Their weaknesses lay in their need to move and work as a pack, their extreme sensitivity to light, and their tendency to become easily distracted. Nonetheless, the giant spiders and gnarigs had been allies before and firmly believed in the tried and true saying, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

As the pact for the dual alliance became final, the unicorn was once again assailed by horrific, wrenching spasms that wracked his entire body. The tarnish that began as a smudge on his soul spread to encompass more than half of its surface area.

The unicorn could not run from the effect its actions had upon it.

Despite that, the unicorn remained determined to rescue his beloved. With an army of giant spiders and gnarigs flowing behind him, the unicorn plunged into the forest and set off for the Goblyn King’s Lair.  When at last the war broke out and the unicorn dealt death with its long, sharp, spiral horn for the very first time in thousands of years, the tarnishing became total.

The nightmare claimed the unicorn’s soul for all eternity, just as she’d planned.

The nightmare trapped the unicorn in bondage, and used him to escape from the infernal pits. Their mating was not the blessing the unicorn had hoped for but a devastating tragedy, an unholy union between two creatures who were never meant to produce offspring.

According to the legend, from that very first mating, the first shadow unicorn twins were born. They destroyed their infernal mother, devouring her as they were born. Once they consumed her flesh, their link to the infernal plane was secured and their reign of gloom and terror began.

Nobody knows what happened to the unicorn. He might’ve perished from the nightmare’s betrayal and subsequent grief over the loss of his purity. More likely he is still wandering the vast forest, hopelessly seeking some way to redeem his progeny as the ghost of his beloved wails on the forest winds and stabs her fiery horn through his cold, cold heart.

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The group arrived at the Orespen Bridge, with the Professor’s story still fresh in their minds. A massive structural marvel of both engineering and magic, the Orespen Bridge allowed the Great Eastern Road to pass from the western Adintana Forest to the eastern Adintana Forest while spanning the Mazu River. None of them spoke as they set up camp. Each was lost in thought, images of the Professor’s words swirling through their minds. This foe was unlike any other they had ever faced.

According to the Professor, because Orespen Bridge marked the precise center of the plane it was a convergence point for all sorts of magical, spiritual, and mystical energies. The shadow unicorn wouldn’t be able to use its teleportation ability to ambush them here for the same reason that their group hadn’t been able to teleport directly to the Bridge from the Professor’s Mountain. They wouldn’t be caught unaware.

As night fell and a thick mist rolled up off the Mazu River obscuring sight in every direction, every member of the group including T’Riss wondered just how much of the Professor’s legend was true… and whether being ready for an attack would be enough to keep them all alive.

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Thanks so much for reading! Comments are, as always, craved and appreciated. 




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Be Well ~ Tux



Friday, February 6, 2015

FREE FICTION FRIDAYS #13 THE FOREST LORD


Welcome to the 13th installment of The Forest Lord. 

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The attack never came.

Instead, the shadow unicorn played with them. It taunted the group using rushing hoof-beats and a sense of impending doom. Even the smaller forest animals seemed to be in league with the dark beast, disappearing entirely when those ghostly galloping sounds echoed off the trees. Several of the weaker human guards – already half-mad from the first attack – became completely unhinged from the atmosphere of foreboding in the Adintana as those eerie noises bore down upon them only to vanish without a trace.

The more time passed, the more likely it became that their true identities would be exposed unless they abandoned the crippled human caravan. T’Riss steadied himself and reached out for Zak with a small bit of messaging magic.

“My mate. Do not return. Meet me at The Professor’s.”


T’Riss didn’t wait for a reply. He motioned for the group to gather around him. Iym had just finished wrapping Kala’s body in a thick blanket and had tied it to the back of her mechanical mount. She led the machine over with Jhulryna at her other side. Smoke had just changed his leathers, and jogged over with his trousers and his boots unlaced, one set of guns slung over his shoulder.

“I was talking to Clem, that big-”

“We’re leaving,” T’Riss said, interrupting Smoke.

No sooner did T’Riss make the announcement than the dreaded sound of the shadow unicorn’s hooves pounding the road return. Terror once again seized the humans as they prepared for attack, but T’Riss motioned his group closer.

“It’s toying with us. Playing with us the way a cat makes sport with a mouse before devouring it.” T’Riss straightened up and tugged his bandoliers down. “We will not make so easy a meal.”

“What about the rest of the guards and the women?” Smoke’s chin came up a fraction of an inch. He slipped his arms through his custom fit leather harness holster and buckled it onto his trousers, eyes glued to T’Riss as his hands moved by memory.

“You must make a choice, gunslinger.” T’Riss kept his voice low enough so that no one else could hear him. “Either you stay and be the hero who saved the caravan from the black unicorn, or you travel with us.”

“How can he stay with us?” Iym gazed at T’Riss, her brows furrowed over her ruby-colored eyes. “We must return Kala’s body to Chasz’Chalolvir.”

“We travel to a scholar.” T’Riss never took his eyes from the human gunslinger. “Are you with us?”

Smoke jerked his chin down once. His eyes shifted from T’Riss to Jhulryna. She looked everywhere but at him. With a soft chuckle Smoke turned and dashed for his great black mechan stallion.

*

“Who is this Professor?”

Smoke’s lips brushed against Jhulryna’s ear as he whispered his question. Iym and her mount separated them from T’Riss and Zak. The two male drow led the group up a treacherous and winding mountain passage towards a cave at the peak. They’d almost reached it.

Jhulryna shrugged. Settling her staff comfortably in the saddle sling, she leaned back against Smoke and turned her head so he could more easily hear her.

“From what I understand, he is some banished member of your race.” She frowned as she met Smoke’s eyes. “Do humans have Unmentionables?”

“Lots of things we don’t mention.”

Jhulryna’s frown persisted. Smoke reached up and rubbed at the furrowed flesh between her eyes. “Female, cease these faces. You’ll get wrinkles.”

The small group moved from the passage onto the plateau and head for the cave mouth. Smoke drew one of his oddly-shaped guns. He guided his big mechan with the reins held loosely in one hand and his knees pressed firmly to the machine’s sides. Jhul gazed around the plateau, hyper-vigilant and on her guard for any sort of attack. When none came she leaned back against Smoke.

“I shall wear the marks of age with pride.”

Smoke snickered. Jhul sat up straight, making sure to elbow him as she moved.

“What do you find humorous?”

“Marks of age. You’ll live for centuries. I’ll be dust before you show any marks of age.”

“You’re the one who said something about me getting wrinkles.”

“Wrinkles have nothing to do with age. My shirt gets wrinkled. S’not because it’s old.”

“Why haven’t you just killed them both? Solve all your problems.”

The voice was surprisingly deep and melodic. Smoke and Jhul both jerked in the saddled at the sound. Their heads snapped up to see a tremendously tall, broad figure in a plain brown monk’s robe appear between T’Riss and Zak. The cavernous hood of the robe was up, obscuring the figure’s face. Amazingly, Ilztafay neither bolted nor made any noises.

“Professor,” T’Riss said, bowing his head.  “Greetings.”

“T’Rissinns Riz-LiNeer. Why have you brought a raiding party to my mountain?”

“We seek knowledge.”

“You do not deny you once again walk as arisa for Alybreena Yas’kah Mel-virr.”

“I have not denied truth to you in over a century.”

The robed and hooded figure of the Professor stood still in silence for a very long while as if contemplating T’Riss’s answer. Then it seemed to reanimate. Spreading its arms wide in welcome, it turned toward the large cave-mouth.

“Enter and be welcome, mate of T’Rissinns Riz-LiNeer and team of the arisa.” Arms held open and aloft in welcome, the tall, broad figure led the group in through the cave mouth. He guided them back into a maze of twists and turns until they emerged into a magical oasis inside the mountain.

Beauty bombarded them from every side. A magical sun of some sort shone from some undefined location, bathing the entire interior in warm golden light. Trees heavy with fruit and flowers burst into bloom and bud all around the valley floor as more ripe fruit fell from vines and bushes and more flowers blossomed across the floor. Thick scrumptiously soft grass grew over every surface except the rock, which had one of two surfaces: smooth, lustrous marble or rough, glittering granite.

With a showy flick, the Professor tossed his hood back and let the robe fall to the floor. Jhulryna managed not to scream, but only because she’d been clinging to Smoke’s arm when the hood fell back in the first place. Her fingers clenched reflexively and cut off the gunslinger’s circulation as she bit back her scream.

The Professor was not only seven feet tall, he was covered in gleaming scarlet scales. In place of a mouth and nose, he had a snout. His jaw was filled with several layers of razor-sharp teeth. A heavy brow held a series of spinous processes – spikes – that ran from the top of his head all the way down his spine where they ended in a tail that whipped back and forth in restless motion.

“What are you?” Smoke asked, his voice filled with both disgust and awe.

“The Professor is the smartest creature on the plane.” T’Riss’s voice was cold. “If anyone knows something about a black unicorn, he will.”

“Black unicorn?” The Professor looked interested.

“You’ve no doubt heard about the Adintana attacks. They’re being caused by a black unicorn.”

The professor strode across his tropical paradise. An entire section of illusion melted away to become a bookshelf. The Professor removed a text and flipped through it until he came to a particular page. Approaching T’Riss and Zak excitedly, he thrust the open book under their noses. “By black, did you mean shadow? Like this one?”

Zakn’yl stared in horror at the photograph. “That’s it!

“Indeed,” T’Riss whispered. “This is our foe. Tell us how we might defeat it.”

The leather-bound book was so old it make a crackling sound as Iym leaned down and turned the page. The Professor slammed the ancient tome closed with a thud before Iym could read anything. He gazed at T’Riss, a look of bestial hunger covering his face.

“You know the coin in which I deal.” The Professor’s voice was almost a sibilant whisper.

T’Riss offered the reptilian creature his forearm. The Professor produced a small, very sharp dagger. After a short prayer, he made a series of four shallow slices up the inside of T’Riss’s arm. T’Riss bled into a series of vials which the Professor capped. The Professor held the drow’s blood as if it was more precious than gems. He took it to a bookshelf and made it disappear. T’Riss’s wounds vanished without a trace.

“How can we defeat a black unicorn?” T’Riss asked.

“It is a shadow unicorn.” The Professor strode to another shelf. His tail snaked up and selected a thick, squat book. Flipping it open, he scanned the page.

“Only enchanted weapons will damage the creature.” The Professor gestured to T’Riss’s katana. He motioned to Jhulryna and Iym. “Death magic will backfire; do not use it. This beast is a thing of darkness.”

“Light?” At the blank looks from T’Riss and the others, Zak asked his question directly to the Professor. “Would magical light damage it?”

“A romantic notion, Zakn’yl, but no.”

“What else can you tell us?” Iym asked.

“Who else is willing to render me payment?” The Professor smiled, his sharp teeth gleaming in the artificial magical sunlight.

“What are you?” Iym whispered.

“The only one with the knowledge to save you,” the Professor said. His red scales sparkled. “Are you willing to pay the price?”

The group spent the night in the Professor’s cave. In the morning they used magic to send Kala’s body back to the Azure Palace, and then returned to the Adintana Forest, all of them minus a few vials of blood.

It was time to hunt a shadow unicorn.


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Thanks so much for reading! Comments are, as always, craved and appreciated. 


Be Sure To Check Out The Other Stories:

Follow all your favorites and read the first 100 words on the group’s website: 


Be Well ~ Tux