Darkness rode the world with icy steps, shadows clinging to every frozen surface like leeches. The cold winds of winter howled their torment to the dead, unfeeling stars. Frozen stalks of midnight grass whipped the legs of a gnarled oak, lone on the frigid plains. A haunting, keening cry rent the icy air, unworldly and full of bitter loss. A mare mourning for her foal.

The pale gold of the sun on an autumn day, the unicorn stood unmoving, the frosty blusters tossing a mane as dark as the night into her clouded eyes. A small huddled bundle lay at her cloven heels, still and lifeless. Again the wail broke from the mare's frozen maw, hoarsely shrieking through the apathetic grasses. An arched crest bent slowly, as a velvet muzzle nosed the prone body, questing, aching for some sign of life. But the small flame had long since fluttered out of the colt's eyes, leaving them dank marbles in a slack face. Cold and hunger had robbed the future from the brown dappled form, had stolen from the amber mare the get of her womb. Tears leaked from eyes red rimmed with weeping, following an iced trail down her golden cheeks. Her night dark horn rose from her forehead like a spire of testimony for her grief.

Out of shadows stepped a shade of the night, towering over the mare like a benevolent giant. His horn seemed to glow with a radiant azure light, bathing the grief-stricken mother with a healing balm. Blood red shone at the tip, a dark stain on the bright blade. The shadow spoke, his voice deep and mellow, and seemed to ache with all the sadness of the world.

"Why do you weep, little-horn mother?" His accent strange, lilting and nasal, made the amber mare raise her weary head to stare at the stranger.

"I weep because my foal is dead! Dead, dead is the nurseling of my womb, last of his noble line! And I shall live to bear no more." Sobbing broke her voice and her harsh breath fogged in the air. The subtle light of the shade's horn lit the graying muzzle, the lined and world-sore eyes, the sagging sway-backed body, and he nodded silently.

"So it is death that is wished for here? The calm embrace of oblivion?" Eyes as light as his spire gazedat her in calm melancholy.

"If only I could fall upon my own horn, so I would. I have nothing left to live for. The winter is harsh and I am all but forgotten by my own herd."A spark of interest was kindled in the dull eyes, and she took a step towards him. "Why do you ask, stranger? And who are you?"

"I am called many things. The Horn of Twilight, the Bringer of Sleep, the Granter of Peace. But most call me Bloodied Spire." His calm blue eyes stared at her warmly, and the amber mare felt hypnotized by their oceanic depths. "I ask because, ifyou aresure, mare-of-the-flaxen-coat, that which you askcan Igive thee."

Fire flared in the old mare's eyes, and the barest smile touched her lips. "I am sure, Bloodied Spire. If you would give this last gift to me, my spirit shall be ever gratefull." And with those fateful words spoken, she lifted her tired and head and bared her golden throat.

"So be it, little-horn mother."The shade stepped forward, and gently, like a lovers kiss, slid his blade into the vulnerable flesh. The mare gasped once, as bright blood bloomed like roses and ran down herthroat like rivers, then fell still upon the earth beside her foal.Horn stained with the mare's life-blood, Bloodied Spire watched a shimmering golden essence rise from theprone form. Gusting this way and that with the wind, the mare's spirit raised a wispy head and cried a silent peal of joy to the cold stars. Then she was gone, and the shade was alone.

Bloodied Spire shook the frost from his mane, and smiled into the darkness. After all his years of hurting others, it was good to bring peace. "So it begins." He whispered into the blustery winter's night, and was gone, with nothing remaing but the stiff bodies on the ground to mark his presence.