f/f dark fantasy
Chapter 2: Blood Oath
Agonizing pain ripped through her and she yanked her hand away as the blood between them burned like a thousand wild fires, licking through her veins, changing her, reducing her to something less than what she was. She cried out as her forehead blazed and she saw the mage catch her horn as it fell from her body; she reached up to feel a hollow in her forehead where the beautiful horn had once been. But she had no time to mourn, because fire was eating away at her limbs and they felt almost like hooves they were so numb and inflexible.
Then her heart seized and she collapsed on the ground. Her lungs screamed for air but she couldn’t inhale. She heard shouting and then a mouth pressed against hers, pushing air into her body. It didn’t help. She felt hands press against her ribcage several times, and then the mouth rested on hers again. This time the air made it into her lungs but she still couldn’t breath. Her heart was stuttering and not working properly. Again the hands pressing against her ribcage, and her heart evened out. She waved her hands wildly to push the person away while she gasped air on her own.
She rolled over onto her side and inhaled deeply several times, coughing loudly and thumping her chest to rid herself of the shaky feeling in her heart. She felt empty, scraped out. Tears ran down her cheeks and not just from the pain. She was no longer a unicorn. She reached up to her forehead and felt the hollow there. There was no blood, no scab, just a slight indentation where her identity had been. She opened her eyes and looked at the mage.
The mage was holding her horn tenderly. It was still in one piece. Somehow, Kirin knew that if anything happened to that horn, she would die. If they tried to ground it down into powder for its medicinal properties, she would fade away into nothingness. She stretched out her hand towards the horn.
“Please,” she whispered.
“This horn is mine now,” the mage said. “The oath you swore was not only to the Emperor but to me. I am Cinthe Tarin, and I intend on taking very good care of you and your horn.”
Kirin’s heart stopped for the second time. The mage had tricked her. Now she owed loyalty to the woman whose mind reeked of sexual exploitation, and Kirin would be unable to stop her. She thought back to the oath she had sworn and shivered. She had thought she was swearing loyalty to a single person, but instead she had sworn loyalty to a person and to a position, the Imperial Crown. Did that mean she would be a slave for as long as there was an Imperial Crown? Another tear fell down her cheek as she realized the position she had put herself in. This might not be a few decades while the Emperor lived; it could be centuries while the Empire thrived. She would be a slave until the next government took over.
She took a deep breath and reminded herself that the creatures from the ninth circle were leaving the realm, so things would fall apart and the Empire would be torn down far more quickly than most human institutions. But it didn’t help the stinging in her heart at the thought that she had been tricked by a mere human.
Cinthe, the mage, was handling the horn gently and she stroked it with a glow on her face.
“A horn linked to a living unicorn. This will have all the healing properties of a live horn, but I won’t have to deal with it being attached to a unicorn. Don’t worry, Kirin, I will take very good care of it. I won’t let any harm befall it.”
Cinthe’s eyes slid to Kirin. “Just like I won’t let any harm befall you.”
She gestured for the guards to help Kirin stand. The guards did so gingerly, clearly unsure how to treat a unicorn. Only she wasn’t a unicorn anymore, she thought. They had no reason to touch her so reverently. One of them actually bowed to her after helping her to his feet and she felt the hollow in her forehead to make sure that she wasn’t still a unicorn.
She looked around at the forest. It was the end of winter outside the forest and already the flowers that had blossomed when she entered the forest were starting to fade. Her heart caught in her throat at the sight of dying flowers. She had never seen them before, because her presence was always surrounding by flourishing plants. She had heard of dying plants before, of course, but never witnessed them firsthand. This was the first sign that she was no longer a unicorn.
One of the soldiers wrapped a cloak around her shoulders and she hugged it close against her body, grateful for the protection. It wasn’t protection from the cold, not yet, but protection from Cinthe’s eyes that she needed. Then Cinthe began leading them out of the forest and with every step, the air became colder and Kirin clutched her cloak tighter. She noticed footwear on the soldiers and wondered if someday she would wear it. It seemed strange to want to cover one’s feet, but as the cold increased she realized it would be an ideal way to stay warm.
Soon they arrived at a caravan where even more soldiers waited. The soldiers went silent when they saw the unicorn horn that Cinthe held, and then their eyes swung towards Kirin. She ducked her head, for the first time uncomfortable with being the center of attention. Normally she loved attention, as did most of her kind, but she was no longer a unicorn and she knew they no longer saw her glory but her defeat when they looked at her. Still, they treated her with reverence as they made a place for her by the fire and one of them went to find clothes for her.
Cinthe stashed the horn somewhere and then returned, watching Kirin with a little smile that made Kirin squirm. As uncomfortable as it was seeing into the woman’s mind, it was worse not knowing what she was thinking. When the soldier returned with clothes for Kirin, Cinthe finally approached.
“Why don’t I show Kirin where she’ll be staying and we can give her some privacy while she changes?” she said.
A warning went off in Kirin’s mind, but she was in no position to refuse. Instead, she stood and wrapped the cloak around herself tightly, wishing she were already in the clothes that seemed to form a shield around the men. Cinthe led her behind the first wagon towards one that was set slightly apart from the others. There were two guards on patrol and Cinthe waved them away as she approached. They bowed, either to Cinthe or to Kirin, it was hard to tell, and then vanished.
“You’ll be staying with me,” Cinthe said, watching Kirin for her reaction. Kirin nearly stumbled. “It’s the safest wagon in our little procession. It will take about two weeks to return to the capital.”
“That’s not necessary,” Kirin managed.
“I insist,” Cinthe said with a little smile. Kirin would have bet that her mind was filled with horrible images of the two of them twined together. But she had to admit, the images were not entirely horrifying. In fact, she was a little curious about what it would be like to lie with a human. Cinthe had never imagined hurting her, after all, so perhaps it would not be as bad as she feared.
Cinthe opened the door to the wagon and gestured for Kirin to enter. She did, not having any choice in the matter. She had sworn to obey Cinthe, after all, and her blood sang with the need to obey even as her curiosity peaked.
The wagon was comfortable inside, not what Kirin would have expected. There was a wide bed that took up half the wagon, covered in a quilt that no doubt had some story about it. The rest of the wagon was taken up with a desk scattered with maps with red markings on it. Kirin examined the marks and realized they were unicorn sightings – sightings of her. Cinthe had been tracking her across the realm, it looked like, from far before she wandered into the Emperor’s forest. She wondered at Cinthe’s special interest, because she knew other unicorns had been closer at certain points in the past year, but she was the only unicorn being tracked as far as she could tell from the maps.
“I’ve been hunting you a while,” Cinthe said. “Today is a day for celebration.”
“You were the only unicorn we had sightings of,” Cinthe said, but Kirin knew that had to be a lie. Why had Cinthe focused on her?
But before she could press the point, her eyes fell on a trunk at the back of the wagon and she knew without question that her horn was inside. She walked over to it, entranced, her fingers itching to open it.
“I wondered if you’d be able to sense it,” Cinthe said. “But you won’t get it back, not as long as your Blood Oath is in effect.”
“What happens if I do get it back?”
“If your Blood Oath is still functioning, you’ll die,” Cinthe said simply. “You’re a creature of the eighth circle now.”
Kirin flinched. She had never looked down on humans or creatures of lesser circles like some of her kind did, but there was a built-in condescension that all unicorns felt that couldn’t be avoided. The lower the circle, the lower the creature’s worth. It was unconscious and even though Kirin thought of herself as better than thinking like that, she was discovering just how much she did believe in that mindset. She had lowered himself to the eighth circle. She was less in the eyes of the world.
Cinthe’s hand on her shoulder brought her back to reality abruptly as Cinthe removed the cloak from her shoulders. Her clothes lay in a stack on the desk and when Kirin reached for them, Cinthe swatted her hand.
“Not yet,” Cinthe said. “I think you know what’s going to happen now.”
Kirin’s eyes widened and she turned to face Cinthe. Cinthe’s eyes were blown wide with only a rim of hazel visible, and her mouth was open in a sneering grin as she examined Kirin from head to toe. Kirin tried to back up, but there was no room in the wagon.
“I don’t do this,” Kirin said, remembering the visions she had seen in Cinthe’s mind and trembling like a colt standing for the first time. Cinthe reached out to caress her cheek and she pulled away.
“You will,” Cinthe said. “You have to obey me.”
Kirin paled. Unicorns were hardly the chaste creatures many people believed them to be. Although they only approached virgins, they themselves were not. Unicorns frequently coupled with each other as horses or as humans, seeking the pleasure of union from fellow creatures of the ninth circle. It was a magical experience and while these couplings were sacred and important in a unicorn’s development, they were not lasting relationships the way human relationships were.
Unicorns coupled nearly every time they encountered another unicorn in the world unless that unicorn were kin. Of course, unicorns were extremely solitary creatures the rest of the time, so it was rare that coupling occurred. Kirin had only had one encounter with a fine stallion many centuries older than her; she had never seen another unicorn in her travels other than that since she left her mother’s care decades ago.
She was frightened at the prospect of sex with Cinthe, but her damnable curiosity was peaking as well and she wondered if sex with a human would be dramatically different than sex with a stallion. She suspected it would be, and even though she had reservations about Cinthe, she found herself somewhat eager. Cinthe pointed to the bed and the blood in her veins sang her obedience. She hadn’t expected the Blood Oath to be so strong and she guessed it was because she had actually shared blood with Cinthe. Perhaps in time it would grow less. But right now, there was nothing to do but obey, and she climbed into bed praying that her curiosity had not betrayed her once again.