Cambriea crushed a sweet raspberry against the roof of her mouth as she stalked the woods, searching the ground and bushes for plants to forage. Berries were abundant, along with hazelnuts and mushrooms. What she couldn’t find was animal tracks. She needed to hunt, but the forest was still today.
When she first took up residence on Lanidar Mountain, the dense forest sat quiet like this guarding its secrets and watching. It had taken an entire spring and summer for the dense underbrush to accept her as one of its own. The wind lacked the multitude of smells it normally carried.
Cambriea stopped looking for what was missing and searched for what didn’t belong. She navigated to one of the world root trees to check her thumb sized hawk wards. The hoof print at the tree’s base stopped her.
It was unshod and equine, something much bigger than the local horse breeds, leading her to believe people from home had finally tracked her down. Her body stiffened remembering her last days at home under guard for refusing an order from the family matron.
She pushed into the underbrush to see if she could find any other traces of the creature. She emerged with deep scrapes along her brown arms, a torn shirt, and goat thorns stuck in her tight gold and platinum coils. Trying to dislodge the caltrops from her hair only fixed them more securely; she would have to wait until later.
Checking her hidden sentry, she found the little hawk carving sleeping nestled against the tree trunk. It squawked a lazy greeting but went back to sleep again. She didn’t need to check the others since the clutch of figures would all be screeching if a stranger crossed the perimeter. People from home would know not to step past the world root trees and could mask their own movements using the magic they all were born with.
In case she needed to fight or run, she tied up her golden mane of curls, stabbing her scalp with the thistles. She drew her Yune blade, the layers of white and black steel glinted in the light that filtered through the trees. The metal looked like lace, its hundred layers of white and black steel was a comfort in her hand. She gripped the long gold and pearl colored alicorn hilt and continued searching the ground.
The creek that ran down the rocky the mountainside was nearby, but outside the perimeter of her wards. It was the only water source up here and a good place to search. She wouldn’t wait for her kin to overtake her.
The thought froze in her mind and her knees locked, seeing the full set of tracks. As a Yunequine she trained as a fighter, even so alone she might not be a match for another so large.
Hot breath on the back of her neck made her skin pucker with goose bumps. She twisted and held her blade to the burnished bronze neck of what the humans called a unicorn.
She’d expected her brothers and cousins to come for her instead. Her fiancé was snorting at her. She hadn’t said goodbye to him when she’d run away, and guilt burned her chest. He’d been her first and best friend long before he’d been her fiancé.
His smell, moss and crushed quartz, filled her head with memories of them playing foal games in the meadow in with in the Yunequine Enclave.
Still, here he was standing over her, nostrils flaring. She shook the thoughts from her head.
“Have you come to drag me back?” Cambriea asked, trying to catch the scents of their brothers.
He flicked an ear, the equivalent of an eye roll.
“Damn it, Daimyn.” She lowered the sword and walked back to her cabin, reaching up and touching a ward to let him through.
He went to the bucket by the cabin door and picked up her curry brush. She brushed him until his coat looked closer to the burnished copper she remembered. His Yune, or horn, black and bronze, had grown longer. He’d lost weight, but was now nothing but muscle. Daimyn looked closer to the feral unicorns out of human lore. Touching his warm hide released the emptiness she had in her chest, and her throat felt thick. Once she finished, he rested his chin over her shoulder.
He put his head over her shoulder. Then, her tall fiancé was hugging her now in his bipedal form. His brown skin carried new scars and he looked much too thin. He hadn’t been taking very good care of himself at all.
A year apart couldn’t dissolve a lifelong friendship. Their mothers thought that relationship could be exploited in a marriage contract. And when she’d declined, they tried to lock her away until she agreed.
“Cambriea.” Daimyn whispered, arms still tight around her shoulders. “It was weeks before they told me you’d left.”
“You just didn’t notice?” Her voice was flat.
“I had to break out of my house and then I got caught searching your rooms to find out what they did with you.” He released her. “It took me a few more weeks to get away. By then your trail had cooled and it was hard to follow. But then I heard about a bunch of unicorn sightings.”
She blushed. It was sloppy on her part. It was easier to travel long distance in her equine form.
He flourished his own matte black and copper Yune blade before sheathing it over his back.
“I’m still not marrying you.” She crossed her arms.
“That’s not why I’m here.”
He shrugged. “I missed you.”
“You tracked me for almost a year because you missed me?”
He shrugged. “You’re my best friend. And you were having a grand adventure without me.”
Her face lit up, recalling the promise to share all their adventures. She dragged him by the arm to the overlook. “The sunset here is amazing.”