I wrote this story a couple years ago, then revisited it recently. As often happens, it was better than I remembered it, and I didn’t have a lot of editing to do. Editing is my weakness. I accept the story as it is and have a hard time recognizing that it needs changing in order to make it better. Oh well. Someday I’ll learn.
So here’s the beginning of Glow.
A unicorn is never without a friend, yet as Soali stood in the market square, she was a unicorn without any friends. It had been this way for a decade and would continue to be so for decades to come, as long as the planet’s movement in space caused gravity and time. Gravity that pulled her head down, and time that didn’t solve the conundrum of the cursed collar. Made of no metal known to man, not to be broken by any blacksmith or split by any sword, the collar had been cast by an unknown caster in unknown code. It could not be unwoven by any witch, parted by any priest, or manipulated by any magician. Despite the distance she had run, the countries she had crossed, the seas she’d swam and the seers she’d sought, she could neither leave the curse of the collar behind nor find a way to relieve herself of it.
As a unicorn, Saoli possessed what was called ‘Glow’. An irresistible force to any living being, Glow guarantees companionship, like a warm pool draws those who are cold, like a candle in a dark cave draws those with sight, like freshly baked bread draws those who are hungry. Other creatures who do not hold Glow naturally often seek to hold it artificially, through baubles and spells and trinkets and pets.
Some number of creatures hold Glow, but none are so beautiful as the unicorn; with strength and grace that lets them gallop over plains or prance atop mountains; with intelligence and agility that make them witty conversationalists and challenging competitors; with colors that vary as each progressive shade of a rainbow, accented with vines of silver or gold that grow from their magic hooves. When she was young, Saoli’s fur was wheat yellow, her hooves a bright silver and her vines adding a twinkle to her fetlock and cannon.
When she was young, Saoli’s Glow was bright.
When she was young, Saoli had friends.
And then… the collar.
Saoli dragged her feet a few more steps until she stood by the Maypole, the center of the happiest market in the merriest city in the most colorful country of the world. Even here, the crowds parted to give her wide berth, eyes lingering on her but moving quickly away. One small boy stared unabashedly as his mother walked him past so swiftly her hair caught air behind her.
Saoli closed her eyes and rubbed her neck against the Maypole, scratching around the collar. It turned the white marble a darkening gray. Someone would have to scrub it off. Once she would have cared about that, a different once it would have given her a bitter pleasure to see others suffer, but now she didn’t think much of it at all. The stain from the collar spread back from her neck, across her flank, streaking into her hindquarters, making her fur the color of dirty straw. Or urine, as one poet had so helpfully put it. In the other direction, the stain from the collar had turned her entire head black, marking her as cursed, turning her eyes into shadows instead of black-eyed susans. The vines of silver, that should be tickling her underbelly at this age, had been stunted, as had her growth, making her appear as a child.
A child with a cursed collar.
A cursed child.
In the beginning, the strength of her Glow had competed with the sapping of the collar, and other creatures would still come to her and smile at her and sup with her. As the weight of the collar grew, as her head sank down and her steps slowed and her depression deepened, even her Glow could not compete, and now flickered as a dull throb, a tickle of light in the eclipsing doom.
“Magnificent! Original! Inspired!”
Saoli slowly moved her head to the side so she could see the one who cried out these words with such passion. Passion she had no patience for, probably of a poet. No, worse than that, an artist.
“Pray pose there but a while longer, and I will paint a portrait with symbols of your pungent pain, and pregnant possibility of redemption.”
“An artist and a poet, I see,” said Saoli. Even her voice came out heavy and slow.
The caricature of drama nearly swooned. “Even your voice speaks to the heart!”
Saoli closed her eyes and let her head drift back to neutral, ignoring his goings on as he ranted and raved and rolled out a studio from his shoe. Pretty soon she forgot the elf was there, and she took a little nap, wary from her latest journey which had brought her across the widest ocean to this point farthest from where the collar had originated. She’d been here before, although last time she came around the world the other way, not that it made a difference which direction she took. The collar came from the earth and to the earth it was bound.