(For Part I, click here.)
It was hard to say how much time had elapsed between her capture and the moment the guards came back. There were no windows to denote sunrise and sunset; not even a sliver of light through the cracks. Before she even opened her eyes, the chains had been unhooked from those filthy walls. A great portion of her body was covered in filth, and streaks of silver remnant ran from eyes to jawline. Those miserable light blue eyes looked to the guards, and one could almost see the dull ache of her soul.
“Do not delay. His highness waits to see you.” It was the same pair she originally saw from yesterday. Same look. Same uniform. Same crest.
There was no reason to reason to delay or fight them. Not anymore. Diana released an involuntary groan as she pushed herself to the human feet she had grown accustomed to. Her body was in pain from the rough sleep on a dungeon floor. That, however, paled in comparison to the emotional and spiritual agony that threatened to wash back over her like a beach at high tide.
Neither guard looked her over, nor made eye contact with her. They simply turned with her chains in their hands and back towards the stairs.
Diana fell ascending the stairs a few times. Her hunger had been ebbed by the misery, but that did not make her body any less exhausted. Immortal or not, Diana still needed sustenance. Her body was ageless, not self-sustaining. This, however, did not stop the guard’s ascension. She asked for pause, but none was given as they started pulling at the chains that held her which eventually lifted her up by the arms and neck.
When she reached the top of the stairs, the unicorn was a ragged mess, as were her clothes. Her knees were bruised and bloody, the ends of the cuffs had cut her wrists, and she was certain her neck was developing a dark bruise of its own. No condition to be meeting royalty, she thought bitterly.
By chance, she caught a glimpse out a window. It was dark outside. Had a full day already passed? Had she truly been down in that awful place for so long? How long had her beloved been down there, pondering the same thing? Had he thought of her at all? Wondered where she was? These thoughts were not given time to bloom as she was led into a more elaborate room that seemed central to the castle. An ornately carved door had separated the main hall from this place, and a long, velvety red carpet led up to a golden throne. Upon that throne sat a well-groomed gentleman with a thin moustache, curled perfectly at each end and completely symmetrical to the eye. He sat, cross legged, hands steepled together lazily with elbows resting on either arm of the chair.
Diana was led to the middle of the room, a guard at each side, where she was kept at distance.
“What manner of creature are you?” The man spoke up as the three paused in front of him, his voice carrying through the large room. His tone was clean and concise. He looked at her, yet… She was not sure he actually saw. Like the guards, there was a pin of the unicorn crest on his lapel.
“I um-” Her voice was hoarse from her wailing the day prior. “I am a unicorn, sir.” She pointed upwards towards her horn, though her hands did not lift. She dare not jostle the wrist cuffs more than need be.
He was silent for a few uncomfortable moments. No expressions she usually expected crossed his features. He was devoid of any emotion. She couldn’t even sense anything from him. “What magical prowess do you possess?” He finally continued with the strange interrogation.
“Magical prowess?” Diana repeated, her brow furrowing. It was getting harder to stand stand like this. “I suppose I have some influence on the things in close proximity to me, but if you are hoping for someone who will make you richer-”
“Can you heal?” The highly regarded man cut her off impatiently.
Diana stood there agape for only a few seconds. “P-perhaps small wounds but I am no cleric.” She tried to think of the last time she had ever been called on for such a thing, though there had been one in their group who specialized in healing injuries. She had never considered what she might specialize in herself, as it was not something that was ever required of her.
The man sneered and gave a noncommittal wave. “Place them back in the dungeon.” Whatever she had said, it had not been the correct thing.
Diana felt the finality of the moment begin to crush her. Panic and despair filled her until there was room for little else.
“What did you do with the other unicorn?!” She shouted as the guards started to pull her chains.
The man’s eyes widened briefly at the sudden shout. He held up his hand for the guards to cease, which they did almost immediately.
“What did you do to him?” She asked, her throat catching on a fresh sob. More tears formed in her eye wells. They stung. Gods, did they sting. “He was precious to me and you did such terrible things to him! I’ve searched so long to find him, only to discover he spent his last days in this miserable place. Why would you do that? Why would you do such a terrible thing?!” Diana half screeched as her demanding question came to an end, new little river paths of silver staining her cheeks.
Aside from her sobs, everyone was quiet. Had she not been so upset, she would’ve acknowledged how eerie it was to be surrounded by people in a deathly silent room. Then, all at once, the man on the throne stood and walked towards the door at the left side, and his soldiers departed without command to the right. Her chains were dropped and left on the floor.
She was alone again. Perhaps all this was some fever dream, and she was sleeping out in the forest somewhere. She thought this, yet she knew the pain was all too real. What was all this? Why was all this?
A door opened, and the sound of the hinges creaking filled the room. Just behind the throne, an inconspicuous red wood slab with the crest carved into the center swung outward. Unexpected goosebumps covered Diana’s arms as something walked out. She knew it was not human. Immediately she felt something flash in her head. Something like golden lightning bolts. Sharp. Swift. Powerful, yet… Sick?
The figure approached her slowly in an almost casual saunter. Well dressed, sharper than ‘his lordship’ even. Gold embroidery covered his long, black coat, which was made only more elegant by the long, golden hair that draped over it in places. Tall, this creature was quite tall compared to her, and it was only made clearer with every step that was taken towards her. The features were distinctly male, but what caught her attention, more than the sharp dress or handsome features… Was the long horn atop his head. A heinous gold glow pulsed from the cracks at the tip. Some sort of symbol had been drawn around the base. A human symbol, definitely, but why?
Who, no… What was this? Slender gold-stained fingers reached for her, and as she attempted to step back from fear, the chain attached to her collar was grabbed and yanked forward. She cried out from pain.
“And what do you know of this poor creature?” His deep voice shook, towering over her as he examined her features like a hungry animal. Diana dared look up to his eyes, though she could not hide the fear in her own. He seemed to enjoy that. She could feel the tingle of pleasure as he looked at her.
“I… I know…” She stuttered as his finger touched her stained cheek and gathered some of her silvery tears on his pointed fingertip. The contrast of the colors was so stark and strange. “I know… He was to be my mate.” She squeaked as his hand retreated with its prize.
He did not react to her words. Instead, he examined the small tear. A long, golden tongue parted his lips and lapped up the silvery substance.
Diana watched in horror as the monster greedily devoured her single tear, a terror rising within her as that stoic expression shifted to something… Hungry. No, hungry wasn’t the right word. Famished. Starving. Voracious, even. He licked his lips as the centimeters between their heads disappeared and, before she could scream, that cold, wet tongue was running up the length of her tear-stained cheek. There was only once in her life where Diana could remember being this terrified, and that was the day the most precious being in her life disappeared without a trace. This was a different fear, though. A fear of self preservation; sharp and searing. Fight or flight.
“Stop!” She screeched, weakly attempting to push him away. One clawed hand grabbed her chin, the other relinquished the chain in favor of wrapping around her back to hold her tightly in place. More tears were forming from the fear and futility of the situation, and he was lapping them up like a thirsty animal. It was only by chance that her thoughts grasped the one factor of the situation that was furthest from her mind.
The subtle smell of roses.
Diana’s struggles ceased the moment she realized what that scent was and the significance of it all. It was true that the smell of a rose was not uncommon but the fact that this creature possessed a horn, the town’s crest, and his own reactions to her… There was too much. This was not mere coincidence.
“It’s you.” She whispered in contrast to her prior shouts. The fear left her face and all that remained was an overwhelming disbelief. This was him. This creature was him. “It’s… It’s you.” Her thoughts filled with him, and the experience of him. She could not broadcast it with the collar around her neck, but he froze as if he could hear it. No. Not hear. Maybe not even feel. He could taste it in her tears.
His hands, which had been nothing but brutish up until that point, delicately released her. Instead, he placed them on her shoulders. The look he gave her now was vastly different: a concoction of confusion, surprise, and sadness. “No. I have not been that for a very long time.”
This time, she felt something coming from him. It was distorted, and almost like static from the empty channels of television. An unexpected snow in spring. The taste of ocean water. Innocence. That was her. He was calling to her, though the entire experience was streaked with gold. Countless questions flooded her mind and threatened to spill from her mouth. She opened it to speak as her eyes searched his, yet no sound would come out. Something else was overwhelming her. A great despair.
“What has happened to you?” He asked the very same question that was at the tip of her tongue. His left hand slipped from her shoulder and reached into the inner pocket of his elaborate coat. Golden fingers were once again in sight with a small keyring and two slightly rusted skeleton keys.
“I…” Happened to her? What did he… ? “O-oh.” She watched him shift his hands behind her neck with the keys, the sound of mechanisms turning until the collar popped off and fell to the floor. “I met a witch who helped me learn a spell to shift my form. It’s not permanent, and I can change back if I need to-” Then the cuffs on her wrist fell to the floor. First one, then the other. Diana stopped to look down at her bloody wrists, and happened to catch sight of her extremities shaking from pain and exhaustion.
Not another word was exchanged as one fluid motion swept her off those bruised and bloodied legs. Diana gasped, an unfamiliar warmth building in her cheeks.
“The humans call me Micah.” Micah told her simply as he moved back to the door he had appeared through. “What do they call you?”
It was such an abrupt statement with everything that was going on. She was trapped in a whirlwind of her emotions right now, but this seemed like a momentary reprieve. “Diana. They call me Diana.”
He considered this for a moment, continuing. “I’m sure you have many questions. About this place. About me.” They crossed the threshold of the open door into a large, decadent room covered head to toe in golden embellishments and accents. This was a room fit for a king. “Rest assured we will discuss all in time. Do not let yourself be overwhelmed in such a state.” He attempted to quell the inner storm he could sense building inside her.
Diana all at once buttoned her lips as she thought answers might come immediately. She hoped to every forest deity that loved unicorns that all of it could easily be explained away, or at least into a pill that was somewhat easy to swallow. That, of course, was too good to be true. His mind was somewhat guarded to her now that he knew who she was, but she could still feel the apprehension rolling off of him at the mere thought of sharing. She supposed he needed time to think, and all she could do was give that to him. It took effort, but she decided to focus on the room instead. Twice as big as any of the dwellings outside of the castle, she thought. Diana had to assume it was a bedroom, as the presence of a bed suggested as much. All the furniture within matched the polished red wood door, and had her mind not been plagued with questions, she might have taken a moment to truly appreciate just how pretty it all was. Especially the bed. It was a large, luxurious canopy with red satin sheets and gold accented curtains on either side.
“You will sleep here tonight.” He told her. “I will have a room made up for you tomorrow.” Slowly, he lowered her onto the bed, Diana’s head resting on a soft feather-filled pillow.
Diana had not thought she could be tired after sleeping an entire day in a dungeon, but the moment she felt the down pillow and mattress underneath her, fatigue was quickly overwhelming her weary body. Her head turned slightly to Micah, who was hovering over her, staring at the wounds on her legs.
“Let me have just one question.” She begged. “Just one to satiate me. Please.”
His golden eyes shifted back to her face, meeting her questions with an emotionless silence. She took that as permission.
“Do you still love me?” Her question was almost a whisper, though it was accompanied with the emotion she was certain he could feel.
Silence returned and overstayed its welcome. Micah stared for what felt like an eternity before his hand, the same that had collected her tears, reached up and touched her cheek. “Of course I do.” He tried to speak gently to her with an obvious difficulty. “Rest now.” With one last gentle stroke, he pulled back and moved away, exiting the room through one of the two other identical doors.
Diana wanted to feel comforted in his words. She supposed at least part of her was happy to hear such a simplistic phrase. But, the problem was that they were just words. She felt nothing from him as he spoke them, as if he had completely closed her out.
What did it all mean? What had those feelings in the dungeon meant? What was he now? Why were the humans here so strange?
Even as her eyes closed, her thoughts continued to spin. She felt feverish as they devoured her consciousness to the point Diana was certain she would be sick.
She had to be sick. Her whole body felt so heavy and hot. Even her eyelids. She was desperate to let sleep away with her, if only to wake up and find it was all a dream. Her eyelids opened a small crack. Something was there with her. A lethargic blink. He was there. Hovering over her. Touching her leg. Bending her knee. Licking the blood from her wounds. Slow. Thoughtful. Savoring. Enjoying.
She wanted to move. She couldn’t move. Stop. Please. Don’t.