"Who goes there?"
It was the next day and Yvarra was walking up the short road to the keep on its final rise at the north end of the ridge. The gate was open, yet another huge depressing thing of wood and stone and death.
Why was she here again? She hated keeps. But then, she hated anything with only one way in or out. It was like a trap. A giant stone trap.
But, she needed answers, and, apparently, this was the only place to get them.
At least it had been easy to find—
So, now she was standing at the gates, feeling small and helpless, as a heavy-set woman in chain mail leveled a halberd at her.
"I would like to visit the library."
The woman looked at the other guard, a scarred badger in studded leather, and the badger looked back.
"Yes, the library. The vaunted library that anybody can visit by the Duke's order. Or so I'm told."
She chewed on some cud — porridge definitely needed a bit less pepper the second time around — and listened as they whispered.
"She is right—"
"But the paper work—"
"Do you want George to find out we turned somebody away—"
"I have an idea—" The last was from the badger who walked forward, full of arrogance. "You are right, Miss—"
She sighed. "Yvarra."
"But, why should we let you, an obvious warrior and—," he motioned at the Sword of Songs and it gave him the thumpthump of an angry kettledrum in response, "—and— Keep that damn thing under control!"
Yvarra grinned. She could smell that he'd voided himself. Bloody idiot guards. "I simply want I'm told is my right. Or, should I ask for— George?"
"Fine! You do have the right. Anybody does. But, you can't go into the keep wearing that thing!" He pointed at the Sword of Songs.
She snorted. "I got the damn thing peace bound!"
"Doesn't mean shit! You draw it, kill somebody, and it's too late for the wax to save anybody from hell."
The Sword of Songs made a sound like a dying ukulele.
"Kyia will take care of her if she's a threat—" mumbled the woman.
"We're still sworn to protect the keep, and the Duke, and that sword is a threat!" the badger hissed back.
"So much for the much vaunted free access."
"It is free, to those who can be trusted!"
A new voice broke in. "And since when has it been the practice to assume evil?"
The woman joined the badger in pissing herself as both turned and saluted in stiff parade style. Yvarra followed their graze and saw a curious pair: a male fox, wearing worn clothes, with a massive axe on his back. His left ear was gone, torn off by something. She could smell the odour of death around him, and couldn't help but wrinkle her nostrils. He wore a belt, and it was crowded with dried and cracked flaps of skin which were the source of the odour. Beside him was— was something. It looked like a fox, but it was huge, easily reaching to the anthro fox's waist. And— it wasn't flesh— it was some kind of metal that moved like skin. With a clank if flopped down, tongue hanging out, panting with a metal clickclickclick.
"Sir!" the badger squeaked. "She— she wants to see the library. We don't know who she is, and she has a sword—"
"I can see," said the axe-armed fox clearly. "And you object—"
"She has the sword! She could be sneaking in to assassinate the Duke!"
Yvarra snorted. As though she'd use a sword in an assassination. A thrown knife liberally coated in poison was far more effective. Not that she ever did, or ever wanted, to do anything like that. Though, with the unknown cult hanging over her, she was thinking things she'd never have touched a month ago. It was terrifying how many of her moral standards she was suddenly willing to throw away in exchange for her life—
The fox turned and regarded her. "And you are?"
"Yvarra. I'm new, and I need some information—" and I really need it. Though, not being able to read would pose a problem—
"Hmph. Well, the library certainly has that." He raised a worn arm and scratched the ear of the metal monster, his claws scraping on the metal with a sound that made Yvarra's ears try and fold back against her neck.
The metal thing whined, and stood up with a groan of metal on metal, thumped over, and flopped down in front of Yvarra. It sniffed her, and Yvarra only shuddered a little. Then it started licking her. The thing's tongue felt like a file on her flesh, and she could feel her— fur tearing out.
"Hmph. Madog likes you, and that's good enough for me, though it shouldn’t be necessary. Go, enjoy the library."
Yvarra wanted to itch her leg, damn metal thing. She hoped she still had skin left. Swallowing, she forced her fear down. This fox obviously knew his way around, and he was as good a one to ask as any. "Umm— sir— where is the library?"
The fox looked at her, and blinked. "Where is—?" Then he laughed, a coarse harsh sound that seemed dragged out and over steel spikes. He motioned back at the keep. "Just go, Kyia will lead you to it, or she won't."
That was a big help. But— She looked, and was suddenly glad that the fox wasn't out to kill her. One step at a time. Get in first, and then find somebody to ask where the damn library was, and then find somebody to help her read the damn scrolls. "Thank you." Boots thumping on the cobblestones, she hurried past.
"Now, as for you two —" the fox roared behind her.
Metamor Keep was a strange place. She'd have said silly, but nothing so big and made of stone and so full of nasty people with sharp weapons could be considered silly. Though, she did have to admit that very few keeps that were surrounded by manicured gardens. They looked quite nice, and, she had to admit, the late-blooming flowers tasted quite good. Almost as good as they'd smelled. She wasn't sure how she'd managed to keep her nibbling only to isolated bits to try and keep people from noticing.
Too soon she had to leave the warm sunlight and go into one of the unguarded open doorways to the main keep. Odd the lack of guards. Though, as there was only one way in, one would presume that anybody here was allowed here. The thick oak door was hanging open, and she made her way in, her booted hooves thudding on the swept stone. The hall was straight, lit by slitted windows high in the wall. Dust specs danced in the streamers of brightness. It was odd though — the air smelled— old, abandoned. Like nobody had been here for a long long time.
Which was impossible.
The corridor ended at an arched door carved of some fine white wood. Great, a dead end. Well, she obviously needed help. Raising a hand, she knocked on the door, the sound loud and lonely, echoing down the corridor.
In response the door creaked open.
Unable to resist, she poked her muzzle in and took a look.
It was a large room, a bedroom of some kind. In addition to the large four-poster bed, there was a desk, some— books? Who would leave books unattended like that?
She stepped in. "Hello?"
The room— the chamber— it felt— nice. Welcoming. She felt like she belonged there. The air was sweet, smelling of lilacs and rose. The bedclothes were clean. There was a dresser and an actual mirror. On the dresser were some brushes, large and heavy. More like horse brushes than those a woman would use. A finely carved wooden rack for a long sword was on the wall. At one end was a carved target, and a trio of throwing knives were sticking in the bullseye.
What in the Nine Hells? It was like— it was like—
It was like a room for her.
She looked around, feeling more and more at home. Even the Sword of Songs was playing a happy restful tune on some stringed instrument. Not that the damn sword had any kind of stringed instrument. She sniffed, and saw another door partway open. She could scent water behind there. Hot steaming bath water—
What was going on?
Stopping at the desk, she opened one of the books. The printing was large. A single character. Beside it was a small painted picture of an Apple. Below that was another symbol, and this time the picture beside it was a Bell.
Eli— She could recognize a few of the symbols. Letters. She turned the page and saw a shape she thought was D. Beside it was a dagger.
It was like a children's book, but not. It was like—
Like a book for her.
She slammed it shut and looked around frantically.
It was like she was home but she couldn't be. Who at the keep could be expecting her?
On impulse she opened one of the drawers and saw a set of what she recognized as hoof cleaning and trimming tools.
Her voice echoed around the room. Around what seemed to be her room.
"No! I don't know what kind of sick joke this is, I don't know how it was set up, but this isn't me! It isn't!"
Turning, she fled, running down the long hall. Running away from the gift she didn't want, hadn't asked for, her thudding hooves echoing off the walls, seeking the peace of the garden. The passage turned sharply to the left—
But the passage had been straight.
She stopped, almost skidding, and stared.
She knew the hall way had been straight.
And, she knew now that the hallway curved.
What was this place?
Unable to do anything else, she resumed walking down the passage. She had no idea where it led, but she also refused to go back to that room. Yvarra didn't take gifts, didn't take handouts. She made her own way!
You took the Sword of Songs, a voice whispered in her mind.
It's a tool. A tool loaned for a job.
Something grabbed her, grabbed her alicorn, and then it let go. She almost fell, but then stopped and looked up. And she'd gotten so used to looking down at everybody. In front of her, so close that her nostrils were almost in his chest fur, was the most massive white tiger she'd ever seen. The most massive, muscled, armed and armoured, white tiger she'd ever seen. He seemed to be looking at his one hand to make sure it was all right.
He shook his head, cleared his throat, and asked: "You look lost. Where are you trying to go?"
She swallowed. She didn't understand this place, but she needed information. She needed information so that she could complete the job she was hired for. "I'm looking for the library and seem to have gotten— lost."
"Odd. The library is just down that way. End of the hall." He pointed. "Or, usually it is, anyway."
She looked down the corridor that branched off and hadn't been there before. She blinked. And usually it is?
"It takes getting used to. The keep is always moving things around."
Yvarra cocked her head and starred at him.
"Usually it'll take you where you need to go, eventually. Good luck."
"Err— thanks." Turning, she fled down the hallway he'd pointed towards.
Like a drunken snake, the hallway curved and twisted. Once she looked out a window and would have sworn that it looked into another hallway where a rabbit was hopping on the ceiling and all the pictures were hung upside down. She'd have sworn that another time the hallway slowly rotated, twisting around so that it was shaped like a corkscrew, even though she was always walking on the level floor.
Finally, she reached a pair of double doors, one of which was open. Almost afraid, she peeked in.
And saw— books. Books and books and books and more books. More books then she could have ever conceived of existing. More books than she could comprehend. She just stared at the inconceivable insanity of it.
The room was brightly lit, the walls lined high near the top with stained glass windows of various animals tinting the light that poured through a kaleidoscope of colours that fell amongst the books. She sniffed, and could smell nothing but books and dust and age and love. Odd, how love smelled. One would think you couldn't identify it, but these books were loved and it was obvious to her nose.
She took a step in and looked around. Looked around feeling small and helpless and useless. All those books, all those answers, and none of it was of any use to her—
With a loud sigh she walked the rest of the way in, pushing the door open a bit with a creak. Damn hinges need oiling — she'd take care of it if she was robbing the place—
Bloody stupid town had all the knowledge, but not a single damn sage. It was one frustration after another!
"Do you need some help?" Yvarra jerked and looked down. It was a mouse, small, brown, standing on two legs and dressed in a red shirt and poofy blue pants. His long tail wiggled out behind, its tip slowly quivering. His ears twisted and focused on her.
She unswallowed, some cud picking a most inopportune time, and she nibbled on the half digested daisy petals. Too quickly to enjoy it, she swallowed. "Actually yes— I need some information."
"You've come to the right place."
Yvarra rolled her eyes. "I'd agree, if I could read."
The mouse cocked his head and his tail went still, as he looked at her. "You can't?"
Yvarra sighed and slowly shook her head.
"Well! Seems like you do need help then." The mouse giggled.
"So, what do you need help with?" The mouse's tail was wagging again.
She clenched her hands and then forced them to relax. "A few things. I guess— let's start with the simple ones. I'm kind of new here. What, exactly, is the curse?"
"The Metamor Curse!" She motioned around and then pointed to herself. "The one that did this to me!"
"Oh! That curse—!"
"Yes, that curse!"
"It's actually quite simple you know. I don't even need to look it up." The mouse turned and walked off between the stacks and Yvarra hurried after. "It came because of the Battle of the Three Gates. The evil mage, Nasoj, — you've heard of him? — had his servants cast three spells, one at each gate. They were supposed to be fairly local, and devastating. One would transform its victims into babies, one into mindless animals, and one into wildly over endowed brainless sex machines of the opposite gender. Of course, we weren't idle, and our mages managed to largely mitigate the curses, but they became permanently absorbed by the keep and the lands nearby. Victims were made children, not infants, half animals but still sentient, or just normal members of the opposite gender."
Yvarra nodded. "I must have gotten two of them then—"
The mouse stopped and squeaked. "Two? Two's almost unheard off. The only cases I know had an outside influence corrupting the curses."
The Sword of Songs chose that moment to play the sorrowful note of an oboe.
"I just bet you're sorry—" Yvarra mumbled.
"What was that?"
"Oh, I think I have an idea of what mucked me up. Oh well, not much I can do now."
"There are some groups who could help you adapt—"
The mouse shrugged and resumed walking. "You said you had other questions?"
She sighed. "Yes. What am I?"
"A unicorn. That's obvious. Though, a bit unusual—"
"I know I'm a unicorn! I'm not an idiot. But, what does being a unicorn mean? What do the legends say?"
The mouse stopped and stroked his chin. "We can look it up. There's a standard reference we have—"
"And what do you mean about unusual?"
The mouse turned to face her looking her up and down. "Well, the tail is right, and the hooves, but the head— The classical appearance is like that of a horse with the horn, cloven hooves, and lion tail. Your head is a deer, completely."
Yvarra responded through gritted teeth. "I know."
"Well, let's take a look and see. It might be that females are different. It's not unknown— Ah! Should be here!" The mouse stopped at a table where a huge, heavy book was sitting open.
Yvarra sniffed, and a cascade of faint scents poured into her, all kinds of scents. Lions, tigers, bears— oh my — and many many other animals.
The mouse started leafing through the pages, mumbling "U— u— unicorn— Ah hah!"
The mouse moved out of the way and Yvarra looked at the painted illustration. It was a unicorn, though the alicorn looked a bit short, and the head was definitely like that of a horse. It had a goat-like beard, and cloven hooves and lion tail. The hooves were darker than her own, and almost finer, but the tail was nearly identical. All around the picture and below it were scribbles and meaningless marks, though she did see a u and some other recognizable letters here and there. "What else does it say?"
"What else— oh right." He ran a finger down a page. "The unicorn has a number of powers, though it is unsure how common they are, or even if all of them are truly possessed. Their horn, the alicorn, is reputed to have healing properties. It can be ground up—"
Yvarra touched her alicorn possessively.
"—and the powder will purify anything poisonous; a cup made of an alicorn will similarly purify liquids poured into it. Alicorns are said to be great tools for manipulating magic, being extremely effective as a material for wands and staves. It is also said to be able to heal, or, more accurately can be used as by a unicorn to heal those who are worthy. It is said that if a unicorn touches you with its alicorn, all wounds will be healed, all poisons destroyed. There are legends of the recently dead being raised by the touch of a unicorn.
"Legend says that unicorns are attracted to virgins, or that a virgin, in her innocence and purity, is a symbol of what a unicorn is. A symbol that a unicorn must respect, possibly even worship at. Virgins have been used as bait for hunters who would capture or kill a unicorn."
Yvarra scratched her chin. "Is that all?"
"Pretty well. Not much else seems to be known — nothing on diet, habits, or such things. Unusual, but then unicorns are rare." He tapped the book. "You seem to have lucked out in the curse department if half of this is true."
"Not as much as you might think—" The poison part certainly was, and she cursed it again. There had to be a way she could selectively turn it off!
"You don't have much to worry around here, but down in Euper, and outside the keep, I can see visitors trying to kill you for that horn. I hope you know how to use that sword."
She didn't, but she wasn't too worried. She knew how to take care of herself.
"Anything else I can help you with?"
"One more thing." She reached into a pouch and pulled out the cut scrap of cloth. Unfolding it, she slapped it down on the open book, the faint symbol facing out. "What is this?"
The mouse picked it up. "Trivially? A piece of black cloth, wool I think, with a sewn design. No clue what that dye is from."
"I take it you're more interested in the symbol?"
He scratched the base of an ear, took a few steps forward, then stopped. "I don't have a clue where to start. Let me take you to Mael-Murie." The mouse shivered and swallowed. "She'll have a far better idea. Come along."
The mouse scurried off, and Yvarra hurried after, first closing the book that the mouse had been reading from. It didn't take long for Yvarra to sense movement and look up, to see a great horned owl silently wing its way between the shelves, and then kaflump onto the floor, skidding a bit, and then almost falling over onto its — her — face. She was wearing a vest that left her arms, her wings, whatever you wanted to call them, free, along with a pair of shorts that were cinched with a rope of red silk.
"So, Pyat, this is the individual you can't help?"
The mouse squeaked, and she had to resist the urge to oil him. "Yes ma'am."
She looked at Yvarra, leaned sideways a bit, and looked again. "Hmph! So, what kind of problem does she have?"
The mouse held up the scrap of paper; Yvarra could scent his nervousness. "She wants to know about this."
Mael-Murie somehow grabbed it with her wing, though Yvarra couldn't see how. The owl's huge eyes focused on it as she slowly turned it around. "I think— yes— Such stupid questions. I've seen it before. Pyat, you get back to your copying. You, come with me." With that, she put the cloth in her beak and took wing, silently flapping her way between the shelves as Yvarra hurried after. The owl twisted round and round, but flapped hard and landed on a— perch behind a table piled with old books. Putting the scrap of cloth down, the librarian reached a wing into a metal mesh cage, grabbed a squeaking mouse and tossed it into her beak. For an instant only the tail was visible, and then it vanished.
"Much better!" she said.
Yvarra just swallowed, and wondered how that— how Pyat could work around here.
"You're lucky, Miss," the owl continued. "What's your name, anyway? I was cataloguing these old volumes — you wouldn't believe the mess Cutter left the place in — and had just ran across that symbol. Coincidence, though there's never any of that where Kyia's involved."
"You can all me Yvarra."
"Fine, fine— now—" She peered down at a thick old tome that stunk of age, and she flipped it open. The pages crackled, almost resisting being touched, as she quickly leafed through with her right wing. "Now— where was it— ah hah!" She let the cover thump onto the table and spun the book around so that Yvarra could see it.
The picture showed the same symbol as was sewn onto the robe, but it was drawn in ink. It didn't exactly match the sewn symbol, looking— normal. Yvarra glanced at the cloth, and it was like her eyesight rolled off the symbol, sliding away from it, trying to avoid it. The copy in the book didn't have that.
"Definitely matches. As you can read—" She blinked at Yvarra's headshake. "Another one who can't read— what is the world coming to? Fine—" Turning the book back around, she read: "The King in Yellow. An ancient symbol reputed to be associated with an alien divinity of irresistible power and strength such that the Gods themselves would be destroyed. The creature is known under various names including Og-Sotot, Sasthoogua, Aphom-Cthuagas, Salestra, various others. Supposedly it is considered sacred to cults that prepare for the second coming of this entity, through the use of corrupt rites, sacrifices, and unholy blasphemies. Those who bear the symbol exist to sell their souls, sell their world, and offer all solely to open the way to bring back their master."
"Oh great—" Yvarra muttered. "An end of the world cult."
"I wouldn't worry." She slammed the book shut. "The whole thing is just a story. Utterly false. Even if a cult does exist, there's no way they could bring such a being, if it even existed, back. It's simply impossible."
Yvarra grabbed the symbol. "And how can you be sure? If this— oog-sootoot— is that powerful, how can you take the risk?"
"Because there is no risk. If there were, the Duke would know, Raven would know, Kyia would know, and correct and proper action would be taken. I take it you took this from somebody?"
"Yes— A boy who tried to—"
"Some agent of Nasoj no doubt. Or some homeless urchin down in Euper who found this in an old book and grabbed it for his or her gang. Nothing more—"
On Yvarra's back, the Sword of Songs let out a loud, long, moan of an oboe.
"So," Yvarra said, "just some kid."
"Yup. Nothing to worry about. The watch will take them out when they get around it. Now, if that's all, I am very busy— things to catalogue, books to organize— Important things to do. If you think you can handle it, there are literacy classes—"
Yvarra snorted, and the rattattat of a metal drum on her back agreed with her. "Miss— I am quite capable of taking care of myself. And, if I saw a need to read, I would not need your charity to learn how. In fact—"
But the owl had already closed the book and launched herself back into the air.
Yvarra sighed. A cult. Given who she figured had hired her, given her double curse, given the Sword of Songs, she really doubted it was just some kids who'd found a cute symbol. Hmph! Well, it seemed that she was going to have to take care of the problem herself. After all, it was only the world that was at stake. Nothing important like killing lutins.
Shoving the cloth back into a pouch, she spun on her hoof and walked out.
She'd had enough of Metamor and its oddness. Half of her just wanted to let them rot and let this Ooog Soototh, or whatever, anihilate them.
As Yvarra left the library, she realized that the hallway looked— different. Different from what she'd come in through. But— She didn't have much of an option as there was just the one way to go. It seemed like she walked for hours, the only sound her footsteps, the only scent her own, and the stinking tar of the torches. A part of her wondered who replaced them as she could detect no sign of anybody else having been here. That made no sense, but then nothing around here did.
She was really beginning to hate this keep.
The torches stopped, and the corridor became lit by small window slits high in the wall. Stopping, she looked. She didn't like this trapped feeling she was getting— Yea, it was possible she'd fit through. Before climbing would have been easy. Now—
Well, one thing at a time.
The corridor ended at an arched door of carved white wood hanging open.
Almost involuntarily she licked her nostrils and sniffed. Her ears tensed, she felt her tail pull between her. She could sniff herself, her own fear.
"Nine Hells no!"
She stepped forward and looked into the room that felt so much like her. The room that felt like a gladly offered gift.
"No! Do you hear me, no! I won't take this!"
Screaming, she ran in, threw the books off the table, ripped the drawers out of the dresser, tore the bedclothes off the bed, grabbed and dragged and tipped and knocked and did everything she could to destroy the damn place. The place she didn't want.
She stood there, panting, looking around at the ruin. The ruin that looked sorrowfully back at her. Picking up her fedora and shoving it on, she snorted, spun around, raised her muzzle in pride, and walked out. "I don't want it, and I won't take it. You hear me? No!"
Yvarra slammed the door so hard that she'd have sworn the wood cracked. Her limbs quivering, she leaned against the wall, tension shivering its way amongst her muscles. What was this place? Why can't it understand no?
When she was in control again, she looked up. Looked up at a dead end. She was in a corridor that went no where, other than back to the room she'd wrecked. There were no torches, but a bright shaft of light coming from a window high in the wall.
Enough! Enough, Klepnos damn it!
Leaning against the wall, she unlaced her boots and pulled off first one, and then the other. Folding the soft leather up, she put them both into her pack. She was going to get out of here, and she was never coming back. The Eli-damned place can be destroyed with the rest of the world for all she cared! With long practiced ease she felt small cracks in the tight fitting stones of the wall, and pulled herself up. For a moment her hooves scrabbled, but then one found a grip, somehow tightly fitting on a hair-thin ledge.
Yvarra didn't understand it, but she wasn't complaining.
Inch by inch she crawled up the wall, shoving away her fear that whatever was here would remove the window just as she reached it. Rushing caused mistakes, and mistakes caused accidents. The window wasn't that high, maybe ten feet from the floor, but there was no sense taking chances.
She reached it without incident. And, the damn thing was narrow. Almost too narrow. Fine!
"I'm not staying!"
Releasing one hand she worked her pack off the one shoulder. Then she grabbed with that hand and did the same with the other, and was soon holding it. She pushed it out the window and heard it rustle through some leaves and then thud to the ground. Then she began wiggling through the window. She'd have to jump, but that she was used to. And, if they were brambles, well, the pain would be worth escaping this cursed place. Soon she was through, and she looked down to a bed of roses. Well, not as bad as brambles, but still— If the window hadn't been so narrow, and so short, she'd have tried lowering herself, but there just wasn't room. Fine! Wiggling through, she leapt, plummeting hooves first and smashing into the roses, rolling to absorb the impact.
Without warning she jerked to a stop and felt her muscles tear. Pain stabbed through her, but then faded as warmth flowed down from her forehead. Blinking, she looked down the length of her alicorn and saw that it had stabbed into the ground almost its entire length.
Growling, she yanked it out, falling onto her back due to the damn thing's length. Thorns tore at her, blood streaked her white fur, as she shoved herself to her hooves. She licked a few rose petals off her lips — not bad — and chewed, as she looked around before grabbing her pack. Forcing her way through the battered and broken bushes, she staggered out onto the grass, her entire body almost burning with fever as she watched her wounds close, one by one.
"You! What are you doing in there?"
Yvarra looked up, and then stared. Slowly crawling across the grass was a giant snail, almost man sized. A monstrous shell curled up its back, and its almost human face glared at her as it slowly approached, its two hands clenching a hoe as its eyes glared at her from the end of long tentacle stalks.
"What have you done to the garden? You just wait right there until I reach you—"
Reaching into the bushes, she pulled out her fedora and shoved it on. Then she shook her head and pulled out her boots, and worked first one hoof into one, and then the other into the other. Tying them snug, she turned to leave, seeing the gate out to freedom in the distance. She wanted no part of this damn place.
"Don't you dare leave! Do you have any idea how much work you've destroyed?"
Swallowing, one of her stomach's growling, Yvarra yanked off a rose and ate it, even eating the branch it was on. There was a bud there that was quite tasty.
"What are you doing? I'll set the watch on you, I will! Just you wait!" The snails voice faded into silence as Yvarra reached the gate and walked out.
Nobody stopped her.
She sat there on the bench, the crystal water gurgling and splashing in front of her. She'd cleaned most of the blood off her muzzle and arms with the water. The red stained liquid had long since flowed away. On the far side of the fountain was a massive stone column, the same earthy gray as the wall of Metamor. It was a four sided tapering spire maybe twelve feet high, three feet square at its base
Only Metamor would have a pillar in the middle of nowhere.
What was she doing here? She was just a thief! A thief having barely escaped a keep that wanted her to stay, and that wouldn't let her go. A keep that she refused to let help her. And, she, and she alone, had to stop the summoning of a thing beyond good and evil, a hunger, something without comprehendible emotion or will or want, that would destroy the world.
One lone unicorn. A myth set to fight another myth.
She laughed, a lonely mocking sound. She grabbed a stone and threw it into the fountain, watching it skip and skip and skip before clunking into the far side and sinking out of sight. Why in the Nine Hells should she bother?
She turned around, and saw a pudgy badger clothed in — she sniffed — linen and cotton.
"It'll just be a moment. She won't be any trouble — just a quick errand."
The badger pushed forward a little human girl, and then waddled off.
"But I'm not—"
"Hi," the little girl said, waving.
Yvarra stared. A girl. A little girl. And, somehow, she knew that this wasn't a curse victim. But she wasn't a Keeper! Whatever that was—
The girl shifted her weight from foot to foot. "What's your name? I'm Ansela."
Yvarra just starred, looking from her wide blue eyes into the innocent little eyes of this little— person. And after the woman who just trusted her, a stranger, with—
She looked at the long golden hair, tied up in a braid, glowing in the afternoon sunlight.
Yvarra swallowed. "Hello—"
"Hi! I'm Ansela."
"You said that, you know." She couldn't help but smile.
What was she? Yvarra wondered. A thief. A unicorn. A myth. A sword forged to save the world. And why? Why her? Well, why not? But why should she do it?
She looked at the trusting blue eyes. Looked at the receding mother.
"Hello, Ansela. I'm Yvarra."
For Ansela, and those like her, that's why.
And, for those, she could not, she would not, fail.
"Don't worry, Ansela, I'll keep you safe until she comes back." And safe always.
"I know. You're a Keeper."
Not a Keeper, but something better.