The forest awoke from its slumber glowing with the radiance of first morning light. Crystalline dew clung to fragile leaves as a breeze broke the stillness with its swaying whisper. The ancient woods sat in quiet majesty, shrouded in a translucent mist that brushed the ground with its softness.
The ebony ghost made his way through the hushed grove. Grass parted as each cloven hoof came down, shrubs pulling away as to not mar the silken coat. The mist swirled around his legs, climbing up about him in vain to hide the glimmering ivory horn that rose from his brow like a delicate crown.
The black unicorn continued his slow pace, the soft crunch of greenery contradicting his large powerful frame. Warm rays broke through the canopy above creating a glowing lace pattern beneath him. The mist at last gave way dissolving in the light as timid birdsong began to echo all around. Alaric raised his narrow muzzle feeling the wind brush through his long mane.
Even though the woodland was always his to lay claim if he wanted, Edinrahn was where the unicorn came from. Legend had it that it was home to pools of ancient magic, remnants of the Great War between the First Unicorn and the First Dragon. Whether the legend was true was uncertain. All Alaric knew was that the Valley pulled at his very being making it easy to feel comfort in such a place. As with all things though, a price was to be had for such a sanctuary, that truth reminding him of why he ventured so far.
A clumsy rustling snapped the creature out of his reflection, his graceful head turning. At first Alaric was ready to dismiss the noise as some groggy, blundering animal but the faint voice proved otherwise. His narrow ears perked up, pointing forward, his muscles tensing. The last thing he wanted was to come across a hunter. Unicorns may be immortal but they are not immune to a violent death. Despite the threat that heralded the sound, Alaric took a few steps forward, his base equine curiosity overtaking higher reason.
Alaric stopped, the rustling starting again, the voice louder. “This can’t be a hunter,” the he spoke to himself, taking care not to raise his voice louder than a whisper. “No hunter makes that much noise if he plans to catch anything.”
His sharp ears swiveled as they searched, studying the sounds as he took in a deep breath for clues. As the scent entered his sensitive nostrils, his eyes dilated with intrigue. It was human but not that of a rugged hunter or farmer. It was an optimistic, youthful fragrance still teeming with hope. The unicorn lost his care as he drank in more, filling with a need to discover whom the sweet smell belonged to.
“I can’t believe Gunther has me doing this again,” Desmond grumbled as he pulled away rotting tree trunks to reveal their tiny white cache. “How many mushrooms could that old man need?”
He fell to his knees with a frustrated groan, scooping up the chalky fungus with his hands. Dumping them into a waiting basket, he slapped the dirt off with a loud clap. Sighing, he reached into his blue robes, pulling out a yellowed piece of paper. The list made Desmond wrinkle his nose.
“Mushrooms, herbs, tubers. I already have to do the gardening when I get back. This list is going to keep me searching for things all morning.” He folded the crackling paper, placing it back into his pocket. “Why can’t Gunther just buy these in town instead of having me look for it every other day?” Still fussing, he reached over scooping up the last of the mushrooms, ready but unwilling to go on to the next item on the roster.
The black unicorn came closer, keeping himself hidden. He smiled at the disappointment displayed at morning chores, finding humor at how conflict could be found in the simplest of things. Alaric admired boy’s charm as well as his simple yet striking countenance. As sunlight shone on the long strands of brown hair he brushed from his face with a pale hand, the unicorn understood why the elves of the Valley were so taken by humans.
Desmond continued with his task, collecting the needed items with as much care as he could muster. With every ingredient he fought the urge to head back to the cottage where his studies awaited him along with more work. He didn’t dare try the patience of his teacher. He was frustrated enough with his curriculum without having punishments heaped on top of them. He kneeled again, begrudging the soil being ground into his favorite pants.
As he dug into the soft earth the hair on the back of his neck began to stand. A tingling almost like static ran through him, making him shudder. Desmond stopped, unnerved by the feeling. He held his breath as a large shadow started coming up beside him.
Birds took flight at the voice’s petulant sound. Startled, Desmond turned with a quick jerk, almost tipping over the basket. The brush behind him crackled.
“That’s weird.” He paused, looking around. “I could have sworn there was something behind me, something big.” Disturbed, Desmond shuddered again trying to rid himself of the sensation.
“Desmond? Can you hear me or what?” the second voice yelled. The young human looked up with a more exasperated expression than before but this time feeling comfort in knowing he wasn’t alone.
“I need you back at the house! There are other errands and the list can wait.”
“But you just sent me out to get you these things. I’m almost done!”
“Like I said, they can wait!”
Wiping off his clothes, Desmond shook his head. “I wish he would make up his mind.” He picked up the basket, giving his robes one last shake. He rubbed at the soil staining his knees but no amount of slapping made them fade. “Oh, great,” he mumbled. Just one more thing to add to his growing list of annoyances.
His skin tightened turning cold. Goose bumps broke out on every inch of his flesh. The tingling returned just not as intense as before. Desmond spied over his shoulder not seeing or hearing anything suspicious.
The gruff, disembodied voice called, “I’m not going to wait all day!” The growing agitation was becoming more obvious. Not wanting to hear his name screamed one more time but drawn into finding the source of the strange sensation, Desmond made his way back home with deep reluctance.
“Desmond,” Alaric mouthed to himself as he watched the boy disappear. “I’m sure such a modest name will be the first thing the elves will decide to change.”
The unicorn though over what he had just witnessed. “Very curious. Why didn’t the magic do what it was supposed to? Any other would have been enchanted making luring them away simple. I’ve never had the opposite happen before. ”
Alaric paused, sorting his thoughts. “This one did feel something, that I’m sure of, but not enough to be potent. The intrusion of the other didn’t help either.” He faced the direction Desmond disappeared to. “This pretty prey will require a little more effort. The elves will just have to wait.”
Letting out a satisfied snort the ebony ghost nodded as he vanished into the brush and back into the deep woods.