Unicorn

By, Kim Hoppy

[~.~.~]

A unicorn lived in a lilac wood, and she lived all alone. She was very old, though she did not know it, and she was no longer the careless color of sea foam, but rather the color of snow falling on a moonlit night. But her eyes were still clear and unwearied, and she still moved like a shadow on the sea. (pg.1)

[~.~.~]

It was perhaps one of the few preserves that still survived in the modern world, one of the few places were the trees were real and had taken root without the intervention of humans over fifty years ago—none could claim centuries to their accomplishments, and most likely none would ever be able to. Even here the air was thick with human's ability to change their world for the better or, as was the case here, for the worse. Yes, they would be able to grow to be centuries, but it would not be natural. Whenever one would show the signs of death or illness, tree doctors would rush in with their nanos and serums. In effect, the tree would die as science took the front. It wasn't natural, but then again, nothing was anymore. The tree would survive, but it would not live.

Very few animals lived in the area, wild animals. The last of the true squirrels, the ones not overtaken or over-run by the scientific cum evolutionary by-product, scampered in the trees. There were almost tame, fearless of their human visitors, and it lessened their chance of survival. Little children had not changed too much over the years. Rumor had it that there were deer, but it was unlikely. Perhaps a deer, maybe two, but no more than that, if the rumor was even true. Few birds also called this place home, but they were drab and missing the colors people wanted to see on the minstrels. Yet what they made up for in color, their voices by-passed a hundred-fold.

They flew at the sight of any audience, and the forest was always silent when humans walked.

This was not a large reserve, not popular or funded by government actions, but a private individual from the last century. It was only of late that the inhabitants were taking an interest, realizing the beauty of what they were graced with. It was for the public, no fees had ever been required, but that was before, before all of the interest and understanding and science. Couples and families had used to come for rendezvous and other such frivolity; the funder—whomever the person was—didn't care that people trespassed, only if they damaged. Lately, damaging any tree declared a hefty fine, perhaps even imprisonment, depending on the action.

It was fall, the leaves dimly changing and falling to make a colorful blanket on the floor. It was the only downfall. The citizens wished winter never arrived, for their forest died. They feared it would never awake when the spring came. They didn't fear that for the forest's sake, but what the death would mean, what they would have lost. They were only human, and the forest was only trees.

[~.~.~]

"I mislike the feel of this forest," the elder of the two hunters grumbled. "Creatures that live in a unicorn's wood learn a little magic of their one in time, mainly concerned with disappearing. We'll find no game here."

"Unicorns are long gone," the second man said. "If, indeed, they ever were. This is a forest like any other." (pg. 2)

[~.~.~]

Humans were in the forest. It was obvious by the silence, the apparent anger expressed by the trespass. It was only a group hoping for one last glimpse before the death of winter set in.

They walked loudly, although they tried to be quiet, they truly did. They sounded as elephants do, though, on the dying leaves. It was a group made up of a mother and her two daughters, one young and clinging to mother's hand, the other desperately trying to not be included with the kin, trying to mingle more with the fringes of the Low Collents, though she herself wasn't going to be a Collent of any rank for another two years.

"Mummy, looks. There's someone!" the young girl exclaimed loudly and pointed ahead of them in the clearing. It was where almost everyone stopped and turned back. If you had not seen what you wanted to see by then, the rest of the wood gave you no hope.

Most everyone glared at the child for her terrible loudness, and the person she had pointed to turned and looked at their arrival.

"Glancya!" on the Low Collents giggled. "Look at his clothes."

"Of the last Mills," her partner agreed, and the rest nodded, eyeing their own newest trends. The girl also looked with distaste at the wardrobe, although secretly ashamed that she thought it was okay and wished she had a coat like it.

The mother scowled at them privately and nodded at the gentleman once she believed they reached hearing distance. "Hello."

He smiled briefly. "Hello. Nice day for a walk, isn't it?" He sounded soft and sad, turning around to look backup into the trees for something. There had been a squirrel.

The female Low Collants quieted their jeering remarks once they saw the man's features, their minds as of one thought. Their partners, on the other hand, merely glared at the man.

"Mummy, it's him!" the tiny girl hissed excitedly, yanking her mum's arm.

The mother frowned. "Who, Lee?"

"Him." This was said with such importance that everyone stared at the man, trying to figure out if they had seen his face before. None could place it, and the man agreed unconcerned with their interest.

"And who's that?" the sister demanded.

"The man they talks about!" the girl exclaimed loudly again. "He saves people. He was on the H-News! I saws him!" she added indignantly when she could tell that their interest was dying.

"Don't be silly, dear. That man is made up, like Batman and Superman."

"He is not!"

"Actually, Batman and Superman are, or more correctly, were, quite real," the man corrected dutifully not turning to face them. "Of course, they have died. Superman only a few decades ago. You cannot actually believe neither never existed."

There were polite titters, some trying to be smothered, but heard nonetheless.

The man sighed quietly. "But perhaps you can," he said to himself, shaking his head.

"Mummy, it is him!" Lee wailed at the disbelief everyone was expressing.

The mother cast an amused smile at her youngest. "I don't think so, Lee. What would he be doing here?"

"It is," she muttered.

"Excuse my daughter. She has an active imagination."

The man turned, letting the wind blow his dark hair. "Most children do. As do most adults. Isn't that why you are here?"

There was an embarrassed silences as the meaning sunk in. The Low Collents scowled at the man, even the girls. The mother regained her voice first, as she could always pleaded she believed none of the nonsense and as merely doing this for the children. "I'm Mary. What's your name?"

He turned again and comprehended the question and group. "Zee. My name's Zee," he said after a while.

[~.~.~]

The unicorn was weary of human beings. Watching her companions as they slept, seeing the shadows of their dreams scurry over their faces, she would feel herself bending under the heaviness of knowing their names. Then she would run until morning to ease the ache; swifter than rain, swift as loss, racing to catch up with the time when she had known nothing at all but the sweetness of being herself. Often then, between the rush of one breath and the reach of another, it came to her that Schmendrick and Molly were long dead, and King Haggard as well, and the Red Bull met and mastered -- so long ago that the grandchildren of the stars that had seen it all happen were withering now, turning to coal -- and that she was still the only unicorn left in the world. (pg. 76)

[~.~.~]

"Hello, Zee," Mary smiled. "This is Lee, and this is my other daughter Esme."

Zee nodded at both of them. "It's nice to meet you. And you." They reminded him of memories he wished to erase, but there was no way he would ever do it. It was the memories that made him what he was, that made him thinking and caring, if not sentient. To wipe the memories was a chance to return to the old way of programming. Zee would never risk that.

The two sides stared at each other. The Low Collents he spent a few moments processing. These days, what was once called college was looked on as high school. High Collents were the optional students in the more extreme areas of the field, very difficult Zee had heard. He had tried a four years course, graduated in six months, and was left blankly holding what was once considered the hardest doctorate to receive. Ironically, it was in robotics, and Zee thought it was like a human holding a document that said they were an expert in being human. He still had the official in a small safe box. He didn't actually know what to do with it, to tell the truth.

2157 was a year no different than any other, Zee thought. The years had passed him by, caught him unaware, as it were. Humans changed so quickly. Fashion still eluded him, but it was no bother. In fifty years, the fashion wheel would return, and in any case, Zee didn't care if he dressed—or holographed—wrong. Human society was now merely humans to him, interesting in their little ways. These days he tended to avoid human contact, dealing with them as little as possible. No longer did he attempt to blend in or understand. The desire faded long ago he could almost not remember. He still had the interest, but it was empty and without ambition. Now he learned their little habits and fancies because he had to in order to survive. Ancient dreams of times and reasons past were long since buried. If he were human, he may have felt distressed at the loss of his way, but he wasn't, so Zee didn't dwell on it.

He dwelled on enough as it was.

It had been years since he had been given chase by any government official. Bennet was long since dead, ashes spread to the wind, as was custom at the time. The custom still held to today as well. Zee had attended the funeral, for he truly believed them to be friends. Friends that fought, friendly fire, on the same side but always against each other. It didn't matter to him that Agent Bennet had wanted to rewire him, not when the man had died. Bennet had been a threat, a dangerous one, but that did not mean you didn't respect the fallen. The agent had only been doing his job, as Zee had done before his epiphany.

The memory of Agent Bennet though was never one visited often in the banks, like many others. Zee had closed the door on them, for it hurt to remember their faces. He . . . missed them, missed them all. All were gone, and he was alone. It was how he was supposed to be anyway.

[~.~.~]

Unicorns are immortal. It is their nature to live alone . . . (pg. 1)

[~.~.~]

It had been decades since he had traveled with anybody. Zee avoided it at all costs. It would bring too many memories to front, memories that would only pain to remember. People . . . humans died, died so quickly. They aged, subtly changing from day to day, grew weak. Zee aged as well, but he did not let himself grow weak. His hardware was undoubtedly ancient and out-dated, but he tried his best and did not seek out help. He was a synthoid, a breach in protocol. The second he was found out and captured, there would be no rewiring, but dismantling.

Or, in his case, being turned off and placed into a museum or some sort.

He didn't take the risk, and he paid the price for his carefulness. No longer was he smooth and untarnished under the hologram, but dull and cracked and warped in some locations. His wiring was slowly degrading faster than he could repair or replace it. One day, yes, one day he would cease to function, but it was a day long in waiting and coming. He almost longed for it, would have if he was human.

"Mummy, I know it's him," Lee repeated insolently.

Zee smiled at her. He still found children interesting, understood them better than adults. "And who am I, Lee?"

Everyone was ready to listen to her response, while Lee looked upset at his game. "You're the man who rescues everybody! I sees you on the news. No one knows who you are."

The revelation was disappointing, and several of the Low Collents chuckled. "Parshal! No way is this dulai that person," a boy nudged his partner in a whisper Zee heard all to well. "I mean, what a lulman! My father dresses better!"

"My grandpapa dresses better!"

Zee ignored them. He ignored a lot of foolish human prattle. Instead, he knelt down and tilted his head at the little girl. "Am I?"

"Yes."

This time the mother laughed. "He's her hero, Zee. She has all the accounts on disks and plays them constantly."

"She thought my principal was this guy," Esme put in with a smirk.

"Dinna!" Lee exclaimed. "I says he had the same hair! But Zee is him! I knows it!"

"And are you?" a Low Collent snarked, and Zee looked up at the group.

"What do you think?" he asked simply, unfolding to stand up. Their answers didn't really matter or interest him, but he asked. Their expressions, except Lee's, spoke volumes. "There's your answer."

"But we haven't spoken a trellan thing!"

The mother gasped and scowled at them, and the Collent looked suitably admonished for using such language in front of Lee. He looked to his date. "Are you done? This is fooflah."

She pouted. "But I wanted to see."

"It's a duthas myth and everybody knows it," laughed his colleague.

"And what is that?" Zee asked, looking away from Lee's accusing glare.

The Collents stared at him for a moment, shocked, then chuckled. "A terrible monster. Eats you alive. Killed several of the last tourists that traveled alone after dark."

"That's not true!" Esme exclaimed, then quivered under the elders' gazes. Her mother, of all people, came to the rescue.

"It's just a silly story grandmother's tell their grandchildren in this area. These woods are special."

"Most forests are," Zee said deadpan, although he knew the local myth as well as anybody. And he knew something even worse than that.

The Collents laughed and jollied themselves to leave, although the girls cast hopeful eyes over their shoulders, much to the amusement of the men. "You won't see a trellan thing!" was a departing call.

The mother shook her head after them, disgusted. "I used to come here often when I was younger. I never saw anything either. But it is a beautiful wood in the fall. Of course, since that myth got started, Esme's wanted to come and see if it's true."

"Have not!"

"Of course," Zee answered vaguely, looking back up into the trees. "Deer and squirrels in this wood, natural trees." He shook his head sadly. "It's all different," he whispered.

"Pardon?"

Zee smiled sadly at her. "Nothing, nothing important. Just remembering things I have no time for." He gave an imitation of a sigh and looked back up into the trees.

[~.~.~]

The unicorn said, "That's king's daughter would never have run away to see my shadow. If I had shown myself, and she had known me, she would have been more frightened than if she had seen a dragon, for no one makes promises to a dragon. I remember that once it never mattered to me whether or not princesses meant what they sang. . . . But I have no time for them now, princesses or kitchenmaids. I have no time."

Molly said something strange them, for a woman who never slept a night through without waking many times to see if the unicorn was still there, and whose dreams were all of golden bridles and gentle young thieves. "It's the princesses who have no time," she said. "The sky spins and drags everything along with it, princesses and magicians and poor Cully and all, but you stand still. You never see anything just once. I wish you could be a princess for a little while, or a flower, or a duck. Something that can't wait." (pg. 74)

[~.~.~]

Lee was still glaring up at him, knowing what she knew. "You are him!" she repeated lowly.

Zee looked down at her. "Yes, I suppose I am."

There was silence, and then Esme laughed. "Sure you are."

He smiled at the girl while the mother admonished her for the rudeness. "It doesn't matter who or what I am to you. I am who I am, and whether or not you believe it is of no difference or consequence to me," he said after a while.

[~.~.~]

"There has never been a world in which I was not known."

"I know exactly how you feel," Schmendrick said eagerly. The unicorn looked at him out of dark, endless eyes, and he smiled nervously and looked at his hands. "It's a rare man who is taken for what he truly is," he said. "There is much misjudgment in the world. Now I knew you for a unicorn when I first saw you, and I know that I am your friend. Yet you take me for a clown, or a clod, or a betrayer, and so must I be if you see me so. The magic on you is only magic and will vanish as soon as you are free, but the enchantment of error that you put on me I must wear forever in your eyes. . . . We are not always what we seem, and hardly ever what we dream." (pg. 29-30)

[~.~.~]

The mother looked at him suspiciously, then at her daughters. Her youngest was still in awe and giddy that he had proclaimed himself her hero. Esme was looking with skeptical disbelief. Suddenly she had no interest to remain in these woods with this man, whomever he was. There was a strange air about him, an unnatural air. Perhaps that was why Lee had wrongfully taken him as her hero.

"Perhaps we should leave."

"But mummy! It's him!"

"No it's not dear. That man is merely teasing you."

Zee turned his head and opened his mouth, then closed it and shook his head. Humans believed what they wanted. It's how it always was.

"He is not!"

"Mother! You promised we could walk around at least to the clearing!"

"This is the clearing, Esme," Mary sighed. "And we're going. It was . . . nice meeting you, Zee."

He nodded vaguely. "You as well. Have a pleasant day."

He listened to the leave and stood quietly. Slowly the woods started to come back alive, animals twittering out of their hidey-holes and into the air. Zee watched them, then walked with inhuman stealth and speed, for he was inhuman.

The forest was one of his small hobbies. He visited every time in was in the area, and the occurrences were more frequent as of late. Zee really didn't quite know why he was in this area more often, but he really didn't care. Traveling, with all its supposed wonder, was traveling. He did most of it by walking, slept out under the smog-hidden stars. Rarely did he bother with personal land transportation. His cred card, oddly enough, still worked, but what was the point? He had time, lots of time, and there was no hurry to get anywhere anymore. The chases were done and over with, company was a bitter annoyance rather than a luxury. So he walked.

[~.~.~]

"Do you think—do you truly hope that we may find her? There was something I forgot to say."

. . . He said, "I fear it, for her sake. It would mean that she too is a wanderer now, and that is a fate for human beings, not for unicorns. But I hope, of course I hope." (pg. 209)

[~.~.~]

After Ro had left him, a void in his programming had started and Zee left the Americas for almost thirty years. It was probably this escape that closed the government file on him. They most likely thought he had been destroyed or shut down with the loss of his companion. They were almost right.

Part of him did shut down. He stopped caring about humans in general. Yes, he gave creds and saved a few lives, but there was no heart in it. He just acted, because he knew Ro would want him to. It accounted for his small fraction of fame that even little Lee knew about. Zee shook his head. Even names brought back memories.

There was no reason to want to be human anymore, or to put on the human visage. He did it out of habit, regularity. Zee never bothered to change the mask he wore, if only because his holographic emitters were slowly degrading. He was never around long enough for people to truly remember him. It didn't matter if they did, if they took him for another Batman or Superman.

Batman and Gotham City. The two used to be synonymous. Of course there was still a masked defender who would most likely go by Batman, like the predecessors, but it wasn't the Batman he had met. He knew it, after meeting the hero a few years after Ro's departure. It wasn't the same person, and Zee barely had the initiative to even say hello. Everything changed, and whatever he did, it wouldn't matter in a year's time. If he succeeded, no one would remember; if he failed, no one would care.

So he walked and helped in small ways, and sometimes visited his woods.

[~.~.~]

"I'm not poor Haggard, to lose my heart's desire in the having of it. But there are wizards and wizards; there is black magic and white magic, and the infinite shades of gray between—and I see now that it is all the same. Whether I decide to be what men call a wise and good magician . . . or whether I choose the retorts full of elixirs and essences, . . . —why, life is short, and how many can I help or harm? I have my power at last, but the world is still too heavy for me to move . . . ." And he laughed again at his dream, a little sadly.

The unicorn said, "That is true. You are a man, and men can do nothing that makes any difference." But her voice was strangely low and burdened. "Which will you choose?"

The magician laughed for a third time. "Oh, it will be the kind magic, undoubtedly, because you would like it more. I do not think that I will see you again, but I will try to do what would please you if you know. . . ." (pg. 206-7)

[~.~.~]

He was deeper into the woods. If he had imagination, he could pretend that it was an ancient wood, full of large spiders and hobbits and deer and elves. But Zee had no such imagination. He could tell by sound and scan what was within range. There was nothing magical, mythical, or unusual that he could detect.

Zee stopped at a spot and stood such as he had done in the clearing. He shook his head slowly, looking down, like a tired animal, and briefly clasped his hands in front of him before letting them dangle at his sides. He never really knew what to do with his hands, for sometimes they had a mind of their own.

This was the spot, a spot he replayed over and over in his memory.

[~.~.~]

" . . . Fifty years dead, can it be that you still remember, still desire—"

"Fifty years dead, what else can I do?" (pg. 166)

[~.~.~]

It wasn't his fault, Ro told him that. Zee still took the blame, because if he didn't, then who was there to blame? Ro? No, never Ro. Fate? That was a human belief, as was luck and karma. No, it was someone's fault, and Zee took it.

Again he shook his head and looked up into the trees. They had grown, changed. Even trees change. And one day this wood would be gone, the memory of the wood gone, everything gone. Except him, of course. He would remember, be a silent testament. Humans forget so quickly, remembering glorious wars that never happens, words never spoken, people that never existed. The forgot the truth, the actual people and reasons. Zee vowed he never would. It would be fact, truth for as far as it could be carried, then reasonable, unbiased conjecture afterwards. He would remember, because then the person existed. Ro existed. Bucky existed. Agent Bennet, Agent West, Agent Lee, they all existed because he remembered them. He existed because he remembered them.

[~.~.~]

" . . . she will remember you when men are fairy tales in books written by rabbits." (pg. 205)

[~.~.~]

Honestly, Zee couldn't say he missed his old companions and friends. He didn't know if what he was longing for was what missing someone was, but he had grown accustomed to their actions and responses. Even now he sometimes felt like something was missing when he went into a café and didn't leave with a cherry-cola-coke, even after all these many long, lonely years.

Bucky had died first, tragically and too early for any human. A vehicle accident. Ro and he had learned about Bucky's death weeks after it had happened, when Zee had been browsing though the Net. Something had frozen in him at that moment when he read the name, and Zee had foolishly rechecked and scanned and followed, hoping he had been mistaken. He had not been.

Ro had been shattered. Bucky had been one of her few human friends, but Zee honestly didn't gauge Ro's reaction. He was too busy gauging his own, processing his own questions, coming to his own conjectures. It was then he realized that one day Ro would leave too, and he had had a flash, an electrical surge of some sort. It passed quickly, very brief, and Zee knew he had felt it, but his scans showed no notice or mark of it.

Eventually, Bucky was pushed to the backs of minds, of memories, for Ro at least. Zee wasn't quite too sure about himself. He found himself habitually checking obituaries and reading about other people's lives. It was morbid, and he never told Ro of this. He read what relatives put down, what the person had done in their life. It was not right, he thought, to condense someone's life down to 500 words and make their life meaningless.

Life was not merely 500 words. Life was not meaningless.

He still read the obituaries and paid silent respect to this day.

[~.~.~]

"I can never regret." . . . "I can sorrow," she offered gently, "but it's not the same thing." (pg. 41)

[~.~.~]

He had been standing still for almost fifteen minutes when the slowing silence of the forest made him aware that he was not alone, or soon would no longer be so. The animals did not mind him. Squirrels took to scampering up his frame, or tried to, since their claws could rarely get purchase on his frame. He looked around slowly, wary of dangers, an old habit, but one he never grew out of, as Ro would say. He was going to forever be paranoid, and what was he going to do when she wasn't there to tell him to chill out?

Survive, Ro. Still survive.

There were slight rustlings from where he had come through, and Zee turned to face the intruder. In the clearing, he never cared if people arrived. People always arrived in the clearing and left soon after, but as far as he knew, only he came out this far into the wood. Whoever this was, it would bare marking.

He did a slow blink when he saw a familiar head a blond hair, then shook his head. "Lee, what are you doing?" he asked calmly.

His little worshipper came out from where she was hiding rather poorly and grinned sheepishly. "Following you."

"Yes, I know. But why?"

"Because I want to."

[~.~.~]

"I told you I was older than I look," he said. "I was born mortal, and I have been immortal for a long, foolish time, and one day I will be mortal again; so I know something that a unicorn cannot know. Whatever can die is beautiful—more beautiful than a unicorn, who lives forever, and who is the most beautiful creature in the world. Do you understand me?"

"No," she said.

The magician smiled wearily. "You will. You're in the story with the rest of us now, and you must go with it, whether you will or no. . . . This story cannot end without the princess." (pg. 108)

[~.~.~]

He nodded. It was logic. "Of course. Where is your mother?"

By the girl's sheepish gaze, Zee could tell Lee had fleed mother to find him. He shook his head sadly and held out his hand. "Come here, Lee. Let's go find your mother."

Lee came closer and took his hand, but argued, "We don't have to go find mummy."

"Yes we do. She will be worried about you."

The girl nodded. "Yes, but she knows I would have gone to find you, Zee!"

"Yes. And?"

Lee took a big, deep breath. "So she knows I'll be with you!"

Zee nodded at the logic. No doubt that would be the mother's belief, although with far more worry. "We should still go to her. She will be worried. Mothers are like that, I'm told." She pouted up at him, then looked around.

"What are you doing here?"

"Standing and holding your hand."

Lee rolled her eyes childishly and swung his hand. "Before I got here, Zee!"

"Recalling memories."

"Of what?"

"I had a friend a long time ago named Ro. She died here."

Lee blinked. "Oh," she said softly, looking around and coming to the understanding that she had intruded on something. "Was she nice?"

Zee smiled. "Reasonably so. She was Ro."

"Ro's a funny name," Lee said looking around, then added quickly, "I likes it, though!"

He didn't take offense, of course. "Her real name was Rosalie."

Her face broke out into a wild smile. "Really?"

Zee nodded solemnly. "Yes."

"My name's Rosalie, too!"

Zee paused. "Really?" Lee nodded enthusiastically, giddy that she had something in common with her hero, as if by having the same name as he dead friend, she was his friend by default.

[~.~.~]

"I wish you had never come. Why do you come to me now?" The tears began to slide down the sides of her nose.

The unicorn made no reply, and Schmendrick sad, "She is the last. She is the last unicorn in the world."

"She would be." Molly sniffed. "It would be the last unicorn in the world that came to Molly Grue. . . . It's all right. I forgive you."

"Unicorns are not to be forgiven." The magician felt himself growing giddy with jealously, not only of the touch but of something like a secret that was moving between Molly and the unicorn. "Unicorns are for beginnings," he said, "for innocence and purity, for newness. Unicorns are for young girls."

Molly was stroking the unicorn's throat as timidly as though she were blind. She dried her grimy tears on the white mane. "You don't know much about unicorns," she said. (pg. 70)

[~.~.~]

"That is an interesting coincidence," Zee said simply.

"Huh? A coin-see-dince?"

"A chance," Zee explained. "She also had blond hair."

Lee's eyes widened and patted her tresses. "Really?!"

"It was shorter, though."

Lee made a silent vow to get her hair cut. "When did she die?" she asked after awhile, after wondering why they weren't walking away to her mother.

"A very long time ago."

"Oh." Lee bit her lip and swung her other arm, rocking on her heels. It was unnerving being in the presence of her hero, and she wondered what to say. Lee never thought her idol as someone who had troubles in his life, and it was dampening her mental image slightly.

[~.~.~]

"My lady," he said. "I am a hero. It is a trade, no more, like weaving or brewing, and like them it has its own tricks and knacks and small arts. There are ways of perceiving witches, and of knowing poison streams; there are certain weak spots that all dragons have, and certain riddles that hooded strangers tend to set you. But the true secret of being a hero lies in knowing the order of things. The swineherd cannot already be wed to the princess when he embarks on his adventures, nor can the boy knock at the witch's door when she is away on vacation. The wicked uncle cannot be found out and foiled before he does something wicked. Things must happen when it is time for them to happen. Quests may not simply be abandoned; prophecies may not be left to rot like unpicked fruit; unicorns may go unrescued for a long time, but not forever. The happy ending cannot come in the middle of the story." (pg. 179-80)

[~.~.~]

"Why did your family come here today?" Zee asked, watching as lee struggled to find something to talk about. He wanted to get off the topic of Ro, which he felt Lee would not want to leave.

"Esme wanted to see if Mattie was telling the truth, if the rumor was real."

"About what?"

Le shrugged. She truly didn't know the rumor. "I dunno. She wouldn't tell me."

"Of course not. No doubt the rumor is merely a rumor. Rumors usually are."

[~.~.~]

" . . . Haven't you ever been in a fairy tale before?" The magician's voice was kind and drunken, and his eyes were as bright as his new money. "The hero has to make a prophesy come true, and the villain is the one who has to stop him—though in another kind of story, it's more often the other way around. And a hero had to be in trouble from the moment of his birth, or he is not a real hero. It's a great relief to find out about Prince Lir. I've been waiting for this tale to turn up a leading man."

The unicorn was there as a star is suddenly there, moving a little way ahead of them, a sail in the dark. Molly said, " If Lir is the hero, what is she?"

That's different. Haggard and Lir and Drinn and you and I—we are in a fairy tale and must go where it goes. But she is real. She is real." (pg. 91-2)

[~.~.~]

"But she was so excited!" Lee countered. "She wanted to find out and see it for herself."

"If it existed, or if it existed and she could see it?" Zee asked, slightly puzzled.

"Both. It's supposed to be dangerous, comes at midnight. It might kill people," Lee tried hopelessly. Here Zee was asking questions, and she couldn't tell him any of the answers.

"Then why would she want to see it?"

"Because?"

"Why?"

"Why not?"

Zee smiled down at her. "I doubt if there is anything truly dangerous in the woods these days. Deer, birds, and squirrels, for the most part."

"I bet Esme wouldn't wants to hear that!"

"Most likely not. Teenagers find it interesting to be in danger, for some reason. An adventure, I suppose. It is strange, to want to be in danger."

"But they're not in danger," Lee countered, confused. "You said nothing's in here." She clung to his hand tighter.

[~.~.~]

"I would like to leave you with one this one last thought," he told them. "The most professional curse ever snarled or croaked or thundered can have no effect on a pure heart. Good night." (pg. 91)

[~.~.~]

"Yes, I did," Zee nodded. "Why did you come back to find me?"

"Because."

"Yes, but why?"

Lee was slightly embarrassed, and she scuffed a toe in the dirt. "Cause you're you. You save people."

"I do not," Zee replied quietly.

Her head snapped up, betrayal in her eyes. "But you said . . ."

He shook his head. "People save themselves. I merely rescue them from unfortunate circumstances. I do not save them."

"Oh."

[~.~.~]

"It isn't like the others," she said.

"No," Schmendrick agreed grudgingly. "But there's no credit due to Mommy Fortuna for that. You see, the spider believes. She sees those cat's-cradles herself and thinks them her own work. Belief makes all the difference to magic like Mommy Fortuna's. Why, if that troop of witlings withdrew their wonder, there'd be nothing left of all her witchery but the sound of a spider weeping. And no one would hear it."

. . .

But another sound followed them long after these had faded, followed them into morning on a strange road—the tiny, dry sound of a spider weeping. (pg. 22 & 40)

[~.~.~]

She wasn't disenchanted with his admission. Zee doubted if she even understood it. "It's getting late."

Lee was duly disappointed when she looked up and saw the darkening sky. "It's always late," she whined quietly.

"That is because it is becoming winter. The days will get shorter, while the nights longer."

"So it's really not late?" she asked hesitantly.

"Perhaps not as late as one would believe. I do not know why people say it is late when it is not though. It truly is never late. Perhaps too late, but never late."

She tilted her head. "Ooh?"

Zee sighed and looked down at his companion. This was the longest companionship he'd had with anyone for many years and it caused a chill within his processes. "Who are you, Lee?"

"What do you means, Zee?"

"Who are you?" In seventy years, who you were will not matter to the world, Zee thought quietly. At least matter now.

[~.~.~]

"My lady," said the oldest of the men, "command your servants. We are used men, spent men—but if you would see miracles, you have only to request the impossible of us. We will become young again if you wish it so." . . .

But the Lady Amalthea whispered in answer, "No, no, you will never be young again." Then she fled from them, with her wild, blinding hair hiding her face, and the satin gown hissing.

"How wise she is!" the oldest men-at-arms declared. "She understands that not even her beauty can do battle with time. It is a rare, sad wisdom for one so young. . . ." (pg. 136)

[~.~.~]

"I'm . . . Lee," she said slowly, looking up at him with confusion. "Rosalie. I'm eight years old." She stopped, casting a glance to see if that was enough.

Zee stood patiently, then saw she did not know what to say. She was, after all, only eight. Half of her life she did not remember. She didn't know of the marvelous feats she had given, the first steps and first words. He nodded and smiled. "Yes, I suppose you are."

"I am!" she said indignantly.

"Yes. You are," Zee agreed and turned his head slightly. Children were always so interesting. Adults were enigmatic, but children, interesting. They had the ability to see the world as how it should be, not how it was, and yet sometimes they saw the world as it was. Adults were full of contradictions, children full of uncompleted puzzles. Both with their rose-colored glasses and jarred vision saw different things, while he only saw what he saw. Zee wondered which was right, something hoping that it wasn't his.

[~.~.~]

"How can it be?" she wondered. "I suppose I could understand it if men had simply forgotten unicorns or if they had changed so that they hated all unicorns now and tried to kill them when they saw them. But not to see them at all, to look at them and see something else -- what do they look like to one another, then? What do trees look like to them, or houses, or real horses, or their own children?" (pg. 7)

[~.~.~]

"Why are you here?" Lee asked suddenly.

"I already told you."

"That's all? You should be rescuing someone."

"Perhaps I am rescuing you."

"From what?"

"I do not know."

Lee smiled slowly. "Maybe I'm rescuing you!" She giggled at the absurdity.

"It is very possible. Anything is possible."

"Na-uh! You can't not blink when you sneeze."

"Have you tried?"

Lee nodded stoutly.

"Perhaps you just cannot do it."

"No one can do it," Lee stated. "It's proven fact. Teacher told us."

"And what if a person does not have eyelids?"

"He sti . . ." Lee trailed off and looked up in confused wonder. "That person can't blink."

"He cannot. Therefore, anything is possible in the right circumstances."

"But that was cheating."

"How?"

"He didn't have eyelids to blink! That's not right!"

Zee tilted his head, then said, "Sometimes cheating is an effective method to get things done. But you shouldn't cheat anyway. Cheating is wrong."

[~.~.~]

She went on. "I know why you did it too. You can't become mortal yourself until you change her back. Isn't that it? You don't care what happens to her, or to the others, just as long as you become a real magician at last. Isn't that it? . . . You don't care about anything but magic, but what kind of magician is that? . . ."

. . . "That's right. Nothing but magic matters to me. I would round up unicorns for Haggard myself if it would heighten my powers by half a hair. It's true. I have no preference and no loyalties. I have only magic." His voice was hard and sad.

"Really? . . . That's awful." She was very impressed. "Are you really like that?"

"No," he said, then or later. "No, it's not true. How could I be like that, and still have all these troubles?" (pg. 181-2)

[~.~.~]

"Only if you gets caught," Lee said slyly.

"No, that is just when you get in trouble."

"But who cares if you know the multiplication tables," Lee complained. "We gots calculators for math."

"What is five times five?"

Lee tried to remembered, then answered, "Five times five."

"Correct."

She blinked. "Teacher says that's wrong."

"It is an answer. It is just not the one she wants."

"What is the right answer?"

"There are no right answers. The standard answer, though, is 25."

"Wow! You know that?"

"I know all the multiplications possible."

"No you don'ts."

"Try me."

She tired to think of one she knew the answer to. "Three times three."

"Nine."

"Eight times three?"

"Twenty-four."

"Zero times 15?"

"Zero."

Lee frowned. She had been hoping to trick Zee. The Zeroes always got her. "Two-hundred ninety-seven times six thousand, fifty-four."

"You do not know the answer to that one."

"No," she responded quietly.

"Then how do you know I will answer correctly?"

She started to answer, then stopped, unsure. "You don't know the answer. You can't. It's too big a number."

"The answer is one million, seven hundred ninety-eight thousand, thirty-eight."

Lee's mouth hung open. The whole idea that the number was wrong never entered her mind. "How did you do that?"

Of course wasn't going to tell her how he knew the answer. "I cheated."

"How?"

"I know my multiplication tables."

Lee looked away, silent. "How many?"

"Up to ten is sufficient, although I know many more."

"Just ten?"

"Yes, just ten."

"I have to memorize up to twenty! That's not fair!"

"Teachers are never fair. They are teachers."

[~.~.~]

"Do something. . . . You have the power. You changed her into a unicorn—do something now to save her. I will kill you if you don't."

"I cannot," Schmendrick answered quietly. "Not all the magic in the world can help her now. If she will not fight him, she must go into the sea with the others. Neither magic nor will help her." . . .

"What is magic for?" Prince Lir demanded wildly. "What is the use of wizardry if it cannot save a unicorn?" he gripped the magician's shoulder hard, to keep from falling.

Schmendrick did not turn his head. With a touch of sad mockery in his voice, he said, "That's what heroes are for." . . .

. . . "Yes, of course," he said. "That is exactly what heroes are for. Wizards make no difference, so they say that thing does, but heroes are meant to die for unicorns." He let go of Schmendrick's shoulder, smiling to himself.

"There's a basic fallacy in your reasoning," Schmendrick began indignantly, but the prince never heard what it was. (pg. 187-8)

[~.~.~]

Lee laughed slightly. "You're funny."

"So many have told me." He looked around. "Do you know what is in this forest?"

Lee shook her head.

"We are in this forest."

"Yes . . .?"

Zee looked down at her. "Does it matter if there is something else in the forest with us?"

"Yes, if it's going to eat us up!"

[~.~.~]

King Haggard said, "What she wears, what may have befallen you, what you all are to one another—these things are fortunately no concern of mine. In such matters you may lie to me as much as you dare. I want to know who she is. I want to know how she broke Mabruk's magic without saying a word. I want to know why there are green leaves and fox cubs in her eyes. Speak quickly, and avoid the temptation to lie, especially about the green leaves. Answer me." . . .

. . . "Father, what difference does it make? She is here now." . . .

. . . "Of course you are right," he said. "She is here, they are all here, and whether they mean my doom or not, I will look at them for a while. A pleasant air of disaster attends them. Perhaps that is what I want." (pg. 123)

[~.~.~]

Zee never laughed. It was a human trait he never mastered, although he made note of when he would have laughed if he laughed. "Yes, that is a valid argument. But does it make sense that if we are the only thing in the forest, then whatever we see is something that we brought in with us?"

"No. It might live in the forest."

"But then what are the humans seeing, what is feeding this rumor? What is this monster or creature people see, when there is nothing living in the forest such as that? What are humans bringing in with them?"

Lee frowned and looked up at him warily.

[~.~.~]

"What cheat is this, how can it be? There are no green leaves in her eyes now." (pg. 159)

[~.~.~]

"You are a strange little human, Lee."

"Why?"

"Because you remind me of things."

"I'm sorry?"

"Don't be. Remembering is good, sometimes. It ties us to the past, keeps everything that died alive in some small way humans no doubt have a metaphor for. No matter how old you are, you can remember something and smile."

[~.~.~]

"I suppose I was young when I first saw them," King Haggard said. "Now I must be old -- at least I have picked many more things up than I had then, and put them all down again. But I always knew that nothing was worth the investment of my heart, because nothing lasts, and I was right, and so I was always old. Yet each time I see my unicorns, it is like that morning in the woods, and I am truly young in spite of myself, and anything can happen in a world that holds such beauty." (pg. 158-9)

[~.~.~]

"How old are you?"

"Older than you, I believe."

"Yes, but how old?" Lee asked impatiently, tired of the games and conversations she didn't understand.

Zee smiled and looked down at her. "I am old enough to know when not to answer a question." She frowned at him. In a strange motion, he tapped her nose with his finger. "Do not be upset, Lee. Answers are only important if the right questions are asked. My age isn't important. In some fields, you probably pass me exceedingly."

"Like in what?"

"There is that new holo-game. I do very poorly on it when I try."

Lee brightened. "I got top scores for three weeks!"

"Yes. And age played no part in achieving such a thing."

"Old people can't play games," Lee argued playfully.

"Then I fear I am very old."

She laughed. "You're silly. Who cares if you win a game? You saves people lives!"

[~.~.~]

She had killed dragons with it, and healed a king whose poisoned wound would not close, and knocked down ripe chestnuts for bear cub." (pg. 1)

[~.~.~]

"Don't you ever wonder why I save lives?"

Lee shook her head. It was like asking a fish why it lives in water, to her mind.

"I save them because I should, because lives should be saved. You never know what someone will be. It is always better to save than to forgo. I save lives because Ro would want me to. She taught me a lot."

[~.~.~]

"I'm her guide," the magician said importantly. The unicorn made a soft, wondering sound, like a cat calling her kittens. Molly laughed aloud, and it made it back.

"You don't know much about unicorns," she repeated. "She's letting you travel with her, though I can't think why, but she has no need of you. She doesn't need me either, heaven knows, she she'll take me too. Ask her." The unicorn made the soft sound again, and the castle of Molly's face lowered the drawbridge and threw wide even the deepest keep. "Ask her," she said.

Schmendrick knew the unicorn's answer by the sinking in his heart. He meant to be wise, but then his envy and emptiness hurt him . . . (pg. 71)

[~.~.~]

"You miss her."

"I believe so. It's rather strange."

"Why?"

"Because of what I am?"

"And what's that?"

Zee smiled at her. "It doesn't matter anymore."

[~.~.~]

"The others have gone," she said. "They are scattered to the woods they came from, no two together, and men will not catch sight of them much more easily than if they were still in the sea. I will go back to my forest too, but I do not know if I will live contentedly there, or anywhere. I have been mortal, and some part of me is mortal yet. I am full of tears and hunger and the fear of death, though I cannot weep, and I want nothing, and I cannot die. I am not like the others now, for no unicorn was ever born who could regret, but I do. I regret." (pg. 207)

[~.~.~]

"You lie," Lee frowned.

"No, I never lie."

"That's impossible! Everybody lies!"

Zee shook his head. "I do not lie. I make no response or omit details. I do not lie."

"It is the same thing."

"Really?"

Lee lost her gusto, wondering if this was again going to prove her wrong. "Yes?"

Zee paused and thought about it. "Humans are very strange," he said at last. "You take comfort in lies and hide in the truth." He smiled at her. "I do not know why you ever interested me."

[~.~.~]

The unicorn watched him with great interest and a growing uncertainty, not of his heart but of his craft. He made an entire sow out of a sow's ear; turned a sermon into a stone, and a glass of water into a handful of water, and five spades into a twelve of spades, and a rabbit into a goldfish that drowned. Each time he conjured up confusion, he glanced quickly at the unicorn with eyes that said, "Oh, but you know what I really did." Once he changed a read rose into a seed. The unicorn liked that, even though it did turn out to be a radish seed. (pg. 31)

[~.~.~]

Lee opened her mouth, unsure about his word choice. "Are you an alien?"

"No. I am from Earth." His grin widened. "That is why humans still interest me, though. You are so strange and unique and wrong." His grin faded though, and he shook his head. "But you die so very quickly."

"I won't die."

Zee looked at her and smiled. "We'll see, I suppose. Would you like to see what is in the forest?"

"We are in the forest!" she answered proudly.

"Would you like to see what other people see in the forest?"

Lee paused, then nodded. "Yes."

"I'll show you." And Zee shifted his hologram slightly, extending it and erasing it into brilliant white.

[~.~.~]

Then the unicorns came out of the sea. (pg. 192)

[~.~.~]

Mary and Esme ran into the area, Mary slightly frantic. She had driven several miles before it became apparent that her youngest daughter was not with her. Damn Low Collents, trying to be frigerific or whatever the term was this week.

Part of Mary wasn't worried. She had a feeling where her daughter would go, to bother that young man. That caused the worry. Mary did not trust him, and so she sped up to ease the tension.

She found them in the clearing, the man called Zee sitting on the grass next to her daughter. Her daughter was bright-eyed and hyper, talking quickly while he merely nodded and listened. He looked up at their arrival. Lee noticed the change in attention and grinned at her mum, rushing over.

"Mum, mum! I saw it, I saws it!"

"Are you all right?" Mary asked, bending down to her child and doing routine motherly checks.

"Saw what?" Esme demanded, slightly afraid of the answer. If her sister saw it and she didn't . . . oh the horror!

"It was so shiny! And big and small and quick! Zee showed me!" She pointed happily, and both the other's shifted their attention to see Zee slowly standing up.

"Your vehicle was gone. I hoped you were going to return," he said softly.

"What was it?" Esme demanded. "What did you show here?"

Zee blinked at her, but Lee come to his rescue. "He can't show you!"

"Why not!"

Mary turned to Zee, smiling gratefully. "Umm . . . thanks for watching her. She just slipped out of the car."

"It was no trouble. She is very quick."

The mother sighed. "Yes, she is. I don't know how I can thank you."

"A thank you is sufficient," Zee smiled. "Your welcome."

Lee bonded herself to his leg and looked up at her mother. "Mummy, can Zee have dinners with us, please?"

"Lee, let go—"

"Ro."

"What?" Mary blinked.

"That's my name, Ro!" Lee grinned. "Like Zee's friend! Her name was Rosalie too! My name's Ro now too!"

Esme frowned. "You are so childish!"

"She is a child," Zee smiled, carefully detaching himself.

"Mummy, can he?"

"Le—Ro, I really . . ." Mary flustered. "I see you don't have a car. We could give you a lift into town, maybe a quick meal."

Zee shook his head. "No, I'll be fine."

"Zee! Please!"

He smiled down at her. "I'm sorry. I think tonight would be a bad night for me to be in company." The tapped her nose when she pouted. "Be good, Ro." Then he thought about it. "Perhaps you should be Ro, as well."

"Can you visit?" Lee asked happily.

"Perhaps." Zee had no intention of visiting. The human world gave too many ties that hurt when they were cut. If he did not visit, he could pretend this Ro was forever alive, even if he knew he was merely fooling himself. "We shall see."

"Promise?" Ro asked hopefully. Zee gave no response but to smile. He never lied.

"Please have a pleasant night," he smiled towards Esme and Mary. "Good bye."

He walked away from them and back towards his small memorial. The family would soon leave, and the stars started to peak out among the baring tear branches. Pale leaves whirl pooled around him as he walked. Once he reached his destination, he knelt down on the spot in a fashion as he had done years ago.

The air was cold.

There would be frost tonight.

[~.~.~]

"But what if there isn't a happy ending at all?"

"There are no happy endings, because nothing ends." (movie)

[~.~.~]

Disclaimers:

The Zeta Project and all adjoining characters are copyright to the respected individuals and companies (WB, creators, etc), no disrespect was meant in the writing of this story, and no copyright infringement was intended. Any coincidence to any event, real or fictional, was unintentional.

Book excerpts are from Peter S. Beagle's novel The Last Unicorn (1968) as well as one from the animated movie (1982). Page numbers are passed on the Roc Fantasy, paperback, 1991. They are used without permission and no copyright infringement is intended.

If you plan on suing, I'm a college student who watches cartoons. I'm poor and can plea insanity. Enough said.

[~.~.~]

A/N:

I love the book, The Last Unicorn. I was rereading/rediscovering it and loved a few quotes, and this is how the obsession manifested itself. I'm not quite proud of this story, but I like it enough to torture other people to it until my other works start telling me how they want themselves written.

Question: Who is the unicorn—Zee or Ro?