The Unicorn Who Lived Backwards

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On the full moon of the thirteenth day in the tenth month of the year, every shutter, every door, every chimney and chicken coop was boarded up, nailed shut, and sealed from the outside world. The morning before the full moon was always solemnly bright.

The townsfolk huddled inside their darkened homes, no one daring to light a candle. Even small children did not cry out. This night there would be no eating, no singing, and no drinking. There was only sitting still and listening.

For this night.The thing came.

It arrived with the breath of winds from graves. The atmosphere before it crumpled into a mute stillness, as gaping as a corpse's mouth. There had only been one man who had seen this monster reportedly, but that man had glimpsed it once and died soon after from the Black Plague.

He said it was a skeleton made of six bone legs and a ribcage. Eyes, he had said, great round red eyes, glared from its chest, but only red when not looked at straight on. Otherwise the entire beast became invisible.

The rumor of the monster chased some pollen and flitted from county to county, whispered from the mouths of those who did not know any better and spoken of by those who thought they knew. What was it, a beast, a fairy-thing, some story to scare small children?

This village lay by the forest where the witness had claimed to see the monster. They knew, of course, but cut off from the rest of the world by a mountain and a slicing canyon, no one had the nerve to leave. The villagers were timid. Anyone would be after a few years living there.

Cold winds darted and swooped, clawing, cackling, rattling the windows, daring anyone to make a noise and be destroyed. The moon was silent and neutral between clouds that slinked across the sky. A dim crackle lit the silence at one end of the forest lacing the canyon.

The thing arrived. Out of the corner of an eye it lurched. It drew sinister breath, poisoning the air behind it, and withered grass by stepping near it. The red eyes blinked. But the monster did not know that this year was to be the start of something new.

The villagers seemed to have left an old stallion out-of-doors. The horse had ropes for hair and no markings as to who owned it. It waited calmly while the rumored monster made its way through the village.

One step too close, and the old stallion reared back, a vivid display of power for his age. Hooves, keen as honed battle-blades, muscles bunching under a pathetic pelt, and the horn, a crystal horn, but it was dull with age.

The grey being charged towards the monster, poised to ram with its horn. The monster held up a bone paw and the unicorn slammed into it with a sound like a hammer striking an anvil. The stallion shook his head. Bits and pieces of silver seemed to fly off the ground and cluster about his forehead.

An unholy roar rocked the ground, emanating from the spaces between the monster's ribs. Advancing slowly, the red eyes brightened in return to the stallion's flickering taunt.

The old stallion tried another charge but had to feebly gallop away. A soft gray shape in the night, fleeing a reptilian shadow. Behind them, candles lit and eyes peeked through cracks in the boards over the windows. What had all that been about?

*~*~*~*

A new rumor found its way across the land, although this one was not as fast and it spread sincere doubt wherever it went. Those who told it were quickly shut up by loud jeers. The ones who had seen the animal with their own eyes could only shake their head in disbelief at the word, "unicorn."

Even so.

The return of the unicorn one year later prompted many inhabitants of that country to make the journey across the thin ledge overlooking the canyon. Saint Seraline's innkeeper quickly became the wealthiest man in town. The bar had its sign repainted, the name changed from 'Lion's Roost' to 'The Sleepy Unicorn.' The small village suddenly found itself with a bustling tourist industry, over which the inkeeper reigned king.

Houses no longer had boards over the doors and windows. Sleepy Unicorn customers could expect a rousing feast on the thirteenth night of the tenth month. Best of all were the noises, muffled but excited. Silence was never welcome that day.

Whether or not the spirit-beasts knew they were being watched could not be discerned. They faced off at either sides of the street every year. The monster, seething with darkness, and the unicorn, a mere wisp of gray.

Over time, too subtly for anyone to notice, the monster's outline became more and more indistinct. Soon all that could denote its presence was the dying pinkish glow of its chest, and one year it vanished altogether, even when looked at from the corner of one's eye.

It still seemed to be there, as the unicorn arrived every year to fight the unseen demon off. As the monster blurred away, the unicorn sharpened his light and figure. His mane, once ragged, now swirled white with power. Gone were his plodding steps and grave nature; the unicorn had transformed from a packhorse to a dancer who could put satyrs to shame. He came capering on that one night out of every year, twinkling his splendid horn, and with dainty hooves leap at the unseeable terror that had tormented the town for so long. His radiance was so bright that no one could see him clearly, or someone would have noticed that this unicorn was and always had been one-eyed.

Not one-eyed in the sense of having lost an eye. One-eyed in the nature of the cyclops; a single ruby eye in the center of his forehead.

Tonight was the night-the last night. The unicorn arrived on schedule, facing an enemy only his enchanted eye could see. Soft noises rippled from his flanks.

The unicorn glided over the dust and dirt. His horn was like a sword that thrust in, then sliced upwards. With the horn came a bit of darkness, a rag of smoke, that sizzled and dissipated. A long, low moan shook the ground beneath the dancer's hooves.

He stood still.

There were ripples in the ground where his foe had been. He kept himself steady and calmness flew in circles. Willing breezes gladly took his light scent and carried it through the alleyways, the grime-encrusted places where travelers took refuge and gambled. One silvery strand of hair freed itself from the unicorn's forehead, only to be caught in the holder of a lantern.

So shimmery only moments before, the unicorn swayed. Had he defeated one evil only to confront one hundred more? He stepped back, the red eye sweeping from oily building to shifty tavern, from ugly house to evil shack, and from the innkeeper's workplace to the innkeeper's hideous gilded house.

And the unicorn walked.backwards.stumbling.like a colt.Out of the town he had defended. Into the dark forest where his worst enemy had appeared from, where he grew weak and lay, motes floating above him in concern. The ruby eye hazed over. He swallowed himself up; not a death, but a birth in reverse.

*~*~*~*

Saint Seraline woke up to a dismal morning, and would be treated to several decades' worth of dismal mornings after that. The town had become even more empty than before the arrival of its savior. Hardly anyone visited the Sleepy Unicorn anymore. Silence itself padded along the dusty streets. Many had left for more exciting locales, in hopes of finding a show as exciting as the spirit-beasts elsewhere.

These events would have meant bankruptcy for the town's innkeeper, Sir Edward Rookes, had the man not found a glistening ruby the size of his fist in the bottom of a clear pool within the dark forest.

How did that ruby get there? No one knows. Of course there are stories, but rumors are rumors no matter how many people believe in them.

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(A/N: Frankly, I think the ending sucks. Any tips? X_x)