Sunlight. Bright sunlight, forcing Reyna's eyes open. Tall grass boardered her vision. The sky... a violet-blue. On her back, she lay staring and the clear, cloudless sky.
"Where am I?"
Why she bothered to mutter aloud, even she hadn't any idea. She was as alone here, in this strange place, as she was in that dark cave. Nevertheless, it was a good question. She turned her head to the side, investigating the thick, broad-bladed blue-green grass. It was unlike anything she'd ever seen before. Forcing herself up, she leant on her elbow, and turned her head around. The meadow she was lying in was surrounded by trees. Fantastic, gnarled branches grew from the tree-trunks, twisting and turning in a way that made it difficult to tell which one grew from which tree. This place, strangely beautiful, seemed oddly familiar. Reyna had no memory of ever being here, or even dreaming of such a place, and she was definitely sure she'd never been there in her life, yet she felt like she new it.
She chuckled to herself, as she forced herself to her feet. What a preposterous idea! She? Reyna, the bruised and battered adoptee? She'd spent her entire life in that godforsaken city. Impossible to think that she'd ever been to, let alone seen, a place like this?
As she stood, she was greeted by a gentle breeze, softly pushing her golden hair across her face. She turned around, again and again. Which way should she go? Everyhere, trees. She could see nothing but trees.
Reyna stopped turning, double-taking. To the west, she strained her eyes. Was that... smoke? She lifted her leg, and stepped forward. She'd forgotten how much she'd run the night before, and her legs felt like dead weights. She was bruised all over, and her knees and palms grazed. It was best not to think on it too much.
She continued forward, straining her eyes to see what it was smoking through the trees.
Though, nothing like anything she'd ever seen before. Of course, the clearing she was in right now wasn't any different. It was all new to her. Or... maybe it wasn't. She felt like she new this place, like she'd been here many years ago. But she new her mother would never have allowed her. Her mind was playing tricks on her. Her eyes, however, weren't.
Houses! Tiny little cottages, with thatched rooves. How odd! She walked a little farther, and made her way into the trees. The grass eventually stopped, and Reyna was soon crunching dry leaves and twigs beneath her bare feet. She was literally dragging her feet along, often leaning against trees for support. She continued west, towards the village, in the hope that someone could help her. Perhaps someone would know how she could return to where she came from.
"But... why would I want to go back? Had I not just been running?"
Maybe she could stay here? It was beautiful enough. She could get a job, earn her stay, and work for new clothing. She'd eventually start to earn money, and maybe she could buy her own home here? Or maybe she'd keep running. Nobody would want her. She doubted anyone would even wish to look at her. She was a loner. She'd had no friends, no real family. She deserved nothing better than what she had.
"Maybe I'll go live under a bridge or something," she muttered, as a tear slid silently down her cheek.
There was a movement up ahead. A huge sillouhette moved towards her. Reyna dropped behind the tree she was leaning against. She scraped her shoulderblade on the bark, and bit her lip to stop from crying out in pain. With her back to the tree, she gripped the exposed roots, as if she was attempting to keep herself in place. It was getting closer, the irregular footsteps getting louder. Her heart pounded in her throat, and she began to shake. She closed her eyes, and pushed her head back against the tree trunk, awaiting the creature. After a moment, the footsteps had stopped. Reyna was sure that whatever was moving through the forest had gone, and she opened her eyes. She gasped. It wasn't gone, it was right in her face. She scrambled around the tree, horrified. It followed, its long, muscular neck twisting around slightly in an attempt to see the strange girl.
"G-get away from me," Reyna stuttered, trying to put her fears aside.
After a moment, she pulled herself onto her feet, and moved to face the creature. It brought its head up to meet her face, and she took a step back.
"What the hell..."
She was lost for words. She'd been hiding from a... a talking horse? A stallion. With... with a horn in the middle of his forehead?
"You're a... a..."
How could this be? She must have been dreaming. A Unicorn? No, never. They existed only in fairy tales.
The stallion lifted his head high, towering over the trembling girl, and spoke in a slightly condescending tone.
"A Unicorn? Yes, I'm a Unicorn. What else would I be?"
Now this, this was too much. Her surroundings were strange enough, but a talking unicorn? Reyna put a hand to her forehead, and let her eyes drop to his glistening hooves. Slowly, she let herself fall backwards, against another tree.
"I've... gone mad. I'm insane!"
Her chest started heaving, and she started to panic. Where was she? If only she'd stayed at home. If only she hadn't run.
The unicorn stepped forward, eyeing her suspiciously.
"Are you rabid?"
A single eyebrow drooped, and her expression twisted into confusion.
"You don't seem insane to me."
"Well for one... I fall asleep in some cave, and then I wake up here! Ok, so the sky is a weird colour, and the trees are like nothing I've ever seen before, sure. I could handle that. But... you're... a unicorn. And you're talking!"
The stallion abruptly dropped his hindquarters, and sat before her. Reyna would have laughed, had she not been so frightened.
"Well, the sky has forever been this colour, and these trees are everywhere. I can't see how you'd miss them. As for me... Of course I'm talking."
He paused a moment, then continued.
"Where do you come from, girl? And what is your name?"
What could she say? She couldn't just stay silent. Slowly, she got to her knees, rubbing her neck for a moment.
"I... I am Reyna."
Where only a moment before, the stallions eyes on her made her feel uneasy, she now felt a considerable comfort in his presence. After a moment of silence and confusion, he lowered his head, waiting for Reyna to continue.
"Glacier city," she shrugged.
Awaiting his reply, she took the time to look at him. To really look at him. His appearance, Reyna found, was mesmerizing. His eyes were a deep, forest green, his coat an incredible gold, like his silver streaked mane and tail. He seemed to glow, to shine in the shadows beneath the forest canopy. And his horn. At the base of the long, spiraling ivory, she could see a sparkling emerald. As a child, she'd loved to hear stories of unicorns. They fascinated her, she adored them, like the horses she was never allowed anywhere near. Moving forward absentmindedly, she looked into the emerald. A flame burned brightly in the crystal, and only when the unicorn shifted uncomfortably, did she tear her eyes away.
"Glacier city," the unicorn repeated. "Never heard of it."
Reyna pushed herself to her feet, grimacing as she became suddenly aware that almost all of her body was aching.
"Well, I suppose I'm not surprised," she muttered. "And... your name? That is, if unicorns have names?"
The unicorn spluttered, leaping to his hooves.
"Of course I have a name," he said, lifting his head proudly, he shifted his weight from leg to leg.
"I am Renegade, born of Alkanair... somewhere I'm not particularly familiar. I don't... have a home, really."
No home? Should a unicorn have a home? All the stories Reyna had heard portray unicorns as being loners, or that secretive and mysterious creature that dwells deep within some enchanted forest. Though, in such a strange place, nothing should surprise her.
"Right. Well, Renegade, I don't suppose you could enlighten me as to where I am?"
"Possibly. Probably. Yes."
For a moment he sat still, staring at her, as if awaiting another question. When he realized Reyna was waiting for him to continue, he went on.
His head perked up, and flashed her what seemed to be an apologetic grin. Now, Reyna had never been very good at biology, or any science class as a matter of fact, but she was sure it was anatomically impossible.
"Ah-huh," she breathed. What could she say? She was in some strange dream. Unicorns? Talking Unicorns? It certainly felt like reality. But it couldn't be.
The Unicorn jumped to his feet abruptly, and turned his back on her.
"Come on then."
As he started to walk away, Reyna scrambled towards him on her knees and pulled herself up by a tree. She jogged toward him.
"Wait... where are we going?" She asked, her voice seemingly desperate.
Renegade slowed slightly to allow her to catch up, and turned her head slightly to keep an eye on her.
"Into town. I suppose if you've never been here before, you'd better get a look at the culture," he sighed, his voice light and airy. "Perhaps get a change of clothing."
"What's wrong with what I'm wearing?"
Reyna glanced down at her jeans and shirt briefly, and shut her mouth. Torn in so many places, and patches soaked through with blood. Perhaps a change would be a good idea. But how would she pay for them? Her wallet was at home. Not that she ever had much cash anyway.
"I've never seen anyone wearing such odd garments in my life, and you can be sure that people will be quite suspicious. Dunno if it's the style where you come from, but most clothing worn here is intact. And clean."
Reyna took a deep breath, and looked forward. Standing so close to him, she finally took in how tall he was. He towered over her, Reyna guessed 17 hands high at least. Her own short height wasn't really helping.
There was a short silence while she took in her surroundings, though they had barely changed since they'd started off.
"So, uh, Renegade," She began slowly, picking out her words carefully. "This Alkanair. Where is it? Why are you in Bal... Balino, if you're home is somewhere else?"
The great Unicorn sighed yet again, and lowered his head.
"It's Balinor. And... I don't know."
"How can you not know? If you were born there, surely you'd-"
"No. I wasn't born there. At least, I'm pretty sure I wasn't born there. But it was my home."
"Then why did you leave?"
Though the tight feeling in her gut told her she'd probably stepped over the line, she was overly curious. Renegade himself didn't seem too phased by the question, but did take a minute to figure out how he was going to word his answer.
"My bonded human went missing."
Bonded human? What was he talking about?
"Her parents were traveling through the Hall of Doors, in aid of some diplomatic union between two nations. Being only four, she stumbled into a door by herself, and was lost. Those who she'd accompanied knew exactly where she'd gone, but were too scared to follow. Even to save their own child. I was also only young. But I wasn't with her. I remember finding out, and I took it hard. I don't remember much after that. I left for... somewhere else."
"No. Where I was born. Somewhere much different, uninhabited by humans. And I was there for many years. I haven't much memory of the place. But I know something happened and I was... here. Left wandering around Balinor."
"So how long have you been on your own?"
"For somewhere around five years."
To Reyna, that seemed like far too long to spend on her own. She'd have gone insane. The thoughts triggered a panic, and she wondered what she'd do. She'd run from home with nowhere to go. Would she be stuck wandering on her own for five years? The thought was horrifying, but something in her seemed to calm her, and it wasn't just her frantic 'I'll be fine. I shouldn't worry,' way of thinking.
But she really needn't worry. They'd reached the village, and the streets were full of people. There were stall owners peddling goods, customers buying the goods, and children running about, nearly tripping up said customers. Aside the marketplace, houses with thatched roof's and small, but pleasant gardens. A few had the odd cow, or goat, grazing happily and lifting their heads to occasionally greet passers-by. Greeting passers-by. There was something incredibly strange about this place.
A duck and a line of chicks tailing her waddled across Rey and Renegade's path, and the mother lifted her wing, waving at the pair, and hollered, "good day, Sir and Madam!"
Reyna smiled, and said hello in return. Then stopped. Abruptly. Double taking, she nearly dropped to her knees.
"They're... they're talking," she breathed, looking round frantically at the many animals she'd not really taken note of a moment before.
"Yeees," Renegade accentuated. "They are talking."
He gripped her shirt shoulder in his teeth, and dragged her a little way. She plodded backwards, and then turned, almost falling forward when he let go of her shirt. It seemed Renegade was beginning to become accustomed to Reyna's strange behaviour, and her many queries on life in Balinor. He supposed she'd been hit over the head, and lost her mind. Or part of it. But that wouldn't explain her foreign clothing.
Just as Reyna was dumbfounded about the life in this 'Balinor' place, the villagers seemed curious as to why she was wearing such horrid garments. She was getting some strange glances, but didn't seem to notice. Too busy with her own shock.
Not long had they been walking, they'd passed cottages and stores, the occasional pub, and more cottages, and now Renegade was directing Reyna behind a large building at the end of the dirt pathway.
"The Unicorn Inn," she read, craning her head around behind her to read the sign standing in the front of the building. She could hear the clip-clop of hooves on cobblestones, and felt the change from dirt beneath her feet. There was a voice around the corner calling, "Arianna!" and Rey soon saw the voice was of a large bronze Unicorn. He was just as breathtaking as Renegade, and it seemed of the same height and build. Was this what all Unicorns looked like? The stories she'd heard tended to show Unicorns as petite, delicate and white. But the Unicorns before her were large, muscular. Then again, she doubted that many people from where she'd come from had actually seen a Unicorn.
"Ari, hurry up," the stallion called. His voice was deep, and though he wasn't yelling, it echoed like a bell around the courtyard. Another Unicorn, a stocky black mare, stuck her head out of one of the many stalls situated at the back of the yard, keen to get a glimpse of the bronze Unicorn. Reyna would have wondered why if she wasn't enthralled by his appearance herself. She noticed he, like Renegade, had a carbuncle, yet the mare did not. Maybe only males had a jewel at the base of their horn? Then again. She was built more like a work horse. Perhaps draught Unicorns didn't need one?
"Go inside," Renegade ignored the other Unicorns, and pointed towards the back door to the building with his horn. It seemed that he had little regard for the other stallion. Perhaps he knew him? Perhaps not. Being magnificent himself, there was probably no need to bother with another.
"Go inside, and ask for a man named Samlett. Tell him I sent you for new clothing."
Reyna stepped forward slowly, then realized she had no means of paying for clothing.
"I don't have any money!"
"You don't have to worry. I've pulled carts for the man before, but haven't bothered claiming anything in return. What use has a lone Unicorn with silver or gold?"
Gold? Must be a pretty rich country to use gold as currency. She walked hurriedly to the door, keen to be changed into something clean. As she reached for the handle, a young girl of about fourteen pushed it open, nearly knocking Reyna off her feet.
"I'm coming, Chase!" she called out to the bronze Unicorn who was standing impatiently waiting for her. She turned to Rey, smiling in apology, and breathed quickly, "oh, I'm sorry. I-"
She cut herself off and stopped in her tracks. She stared intently at the older girl standing before her with with wide blue eyes. She pulled her own bronze hair out of her face, as she took a good glance at Reyna's ripped clothing. Ripped, modern clothing.
"You're not from around here, are you?" She spoke slowly. Her voice was full of suspicion, but it was warm and kind.
she turned and jogged towards her Unicorn, glancing back at Reyna stepping through the door, and mounted. As they started off, she spoke to him.
"That girl. She was from the other side of the gap, wasn't she?"
They took off at a trot, and left Renegade standing on the cobblestones straining his neck to watch them. He was too far away to hear the other Unicorn's reply.
'The other side of the gap?' he thought to himself, and moved to the paddocks beside the stables to graze, contemplating.