Ellen felt the weight of years in her bones. The winter wind howled through the trees around her, chilling her to her ancient bones. She’d come to this forest on the day of her birth 740 years ago. For 740 years, she’d drank the blood of the innocent. It kept her fresh; it kept her young. No matter where she was in life, Ellen had always made it back here.
Gretchen, the witch she’d trained under when she was younger, had told her in order to keep her youth she must drink yearly from the time she wished to be frozen in age until the time she wished to die. Ellen made a point of coming back here, to the forest of her youth where she’d first tasted the unicorn’s blood. She knew the beasts roamed here, and she wouldn’t take the risk that she could find others in random places through her travels.
It must be fresh was another warning Gretchen had given her. It would be simpler to bottle it, but it simply wouldn’t work unless it was fresh. The act of killing was part of the magic of everlasting youth.
And so she came to this forest where she knew she could find them.
Follow the fairy trail, Ellen told herself. It was a sign of the unicorn that she’d been taught. Unicorns left magic in their droppings; that magic sprouted toadstools that could be used by fairies to come and go from this world to the next. All it took was a simple shift of her mind to see the magic glowing in myriad of colors from the mushrooms. It wasn’t a glow that others could see . . . not without magic.
She followed the trail deeper into the darkness of the forest. Normal human eyes wouldn’t have been able to find their way in the snow-covered, inky blackness of the underbrush. A witch with the power to see auras of magic could. Power surrounded everything, and by using the sight, she was able to navigate the forest as if it were daylight.
Even given her dark machinations, she always stood in awe when she first glimpsed the unicorns. Where most animals or plants had one color of energy, the unicorns had multiple. The three unicorns before her shown with rainbow light, their energy filling her with happiness like she stood in the embrace of a lover. The memory of her first love filled her—the quiet summer night, the heat of the day ebbing away to a night pregnant with possibilities. She sighed, and the beasts must have heard her, because just then they turned in her direction.
And like mist they vanished. Ellen cursed herself for getting so wrapped up in their power that she didn’t strike when she had the chance.
And then he came like a thunderstorm of magic energy. His power filled Ellen to the brim. She staggered back, leaning against a powerful oak for support. She couldn’t hold the power he brought with him. He was magnificent and terrible. His electric blue energy filled the forest like a blinding sun and Ellen had to switch perspectives out of fear that her magical sight would be burned out of her if she used it to look at him much longer.
He was a magnificent beast. His height was easily twice that of the normal unicorn. His coat was black and shined blue in the darkness of the forest. His sapphire eyes blazed with power. Every inch of him rippled with muscle.
She was drawn to him like she’d never been drawn to a unicorn before. She felt her feet slipping through the snow before she realized that she was moving. Ellen stepped into the clearing and the dark unicorn stared at her. He didn’t vanish. In fact, she felt from his power that he knew precisely what she was and why she was there in the clearing with him.
Ellen tentatively reached out a hand to him, and the dark unicorn stepped closer. His horn spiraled from his head like ebony. It seemed to shine with an inner, dark fire. He let her fingertips touch his coat, and when she came in contact with the beast she saw.
Unicorns surrounded a fallen youth, his throat slit. Fear and sadness rippled through the gathering. Ellen could feel it, she felt the energy, felt the emotion and it felt to her like she’d lost her own child. Every unicorn in the clearing felt the pain as if this one youth had been their very own child.
Again, the following year another youth lay out before them, and it became clear to her that the only unicorns daft enough to get trapped by the power of a witch were those too young to know the dangers that lurked on the earth; those who’d not experienced the evil the world held in store for them.
Witch, the thought was clear in the air. They knew what beast had done this. They’d seen her slipping through their forest once every year, and the next year they would be prepared.
An impact through her chest drove her from the vision. She gasped. Pain shivered through her, and a sense of not understanding what was happening, only that something was seriously wrong. She felt coldness spread through her chest, ripple through her limbs and extend well past her physical form and into her spectral form.
The weight of her years crashed in on her and as it did, her vision cleared. She tried to step away from the black beasts, but she couldn’t. A power held her fast. She looked down where a presence tugged at her chest. There, rooted deep within her was the ebony horn of the unicorn.
And it fed. Rivulets of blood cascaded down the horn and to the unicorn’s coat. But it wasn’t just her blood she felt the beast feeding off, it was her magic, her energy . . . her soul. Just as surely as she’d fed off the innocent unicorns, this one fed off her.
Ellen was being unmade, she was being consumed—body, mind, and spirit.
Darkness encroached on her vision, swimming in and blinding out her sight, and she felt the darkness pull her down, tugging her deeper into the horn until she resided within the beast, resided in the hell that had conjured the dark unicorn. It was a being made of pain and fear—the pain and fear she had created in the unicorns over the last several hundred years. It was a creature she’d made just as surely as the unicorns had.
It was her doom; it was her hell.
It was her everlasting life.