Night, A Unicorn, A Bat
The first day, she awoke to screams. Half were taken then. The next day, the men came again and took most of everyone else. Over two weeks, those who remained hid well and slept little. Eventually, it was only her and her mother left. Around mid-day, she woke to one last scream. She flew away as high and far as her body could take her. She collapsed on a small crevice on the side of a cliff, exhausted from her frantic path and lack of sleep. The sun bore down on her with hot rays. Water was far away. She forced herself into the bits of shadow the sun hadn't stolen away yet and tried to sleep through her tears. She never saw the others again. The wooden patch they all called home was now quiet of her kind's calls in the night. She wondered if there may be a few others left, staying silent under the night's cover. She dared not call out herself. Without her mother, she didn't know what to do. Though she was an adult, she always stayed near her mother. The others called her "Baby" for her insistence on being attached to her mother and refusal to participate in mating with the males. She didn't care about them, though she preferred them over the males that came by during mating time. Her world revolved around Mother. Without Mother, she didn't know what to do. There were no wings to hide in anymore. One month after her mother's capture, she cautiously returned to their old spots searching for her. She heard from humans walking through the wooded patch and the nearby park that sometimes humans captured animals to heal wounds and release them. Her mother said this was a lie and they really experimented on them, then tossed them back when they were no longer useful. She had always believed her mother over anything humans said, but she hoped maybe this once the humans might be telling the truth. Through the sound of cars, planes, and other human noise, she couldn't hear anything else. Lights had been installed in the woods and a path from the park now twisted between the once dense trees. She squinted her eyes. The lights were brighter than the ones that used to be in the park. She noticed the older lights in the park area had also been changed to brighter ones. "I don't like them either. All these new lights make it harder to see the sky." A voice said. She looked around. Below her, sitting on a newly installed bench, she saw a human woman dressed in a sleeveless, short black dress with black tights and black boots. Long, wavy blond hair appeared too golden to be natural on a human and eyes as grey as mist. She assumed the blond shade must've been made by the "potions" she heard them talk about that came in boxes humans bought in their magic stores and the eyes another work of human trickery. She looked around to see who the human woman was talking to. There were no other humans around. The young woman looked straight at her. "I don't think there are any others left here. You should find a new home or another form if you want to stay." She froze. Human women scared her less than human men. It was usually the men who came in with nets and axes into the woods, and human women often ran from them. But they sometimes called men over with guns. The human woman stood up. She smiled and offered out her hand. "You don't need to be afraid of me. I don't belong to this place either." On the human woman's forehead appeared a long, sharp golden horn. It vanished as quickly as it appeared. She sighed. "A unicorn in the city. What is a being like you doing in this place?" "I thought I'd take a scroll around. Never been here before." The unicorn disguised as a human said. "Actually, I was hoping I might run into a friend of mine soon. You see, I've been shapeshifting through so many forms for centuries now and I've forgotten what I originally looked like. I don't remember my own gender, actually. Hmm...what was it?" "How do you forget what gender you are?!" She hung upside down from a branch and rolled her eyes. Her mother had always told her unicorns and fairies were obnoxious in this way. They were born with forms but easily cast them aside in favor of others, content to be in any body, and favored by the most ancient of magic. Her kind had no magic of their own, and were fine with always staying as they were where they belonged. Unicorns weren't tricksters like fairies and were safer than a human, but her mother warned her to never trust anything that can become something else at a moment's notice. The unicorn stretched on the bench. "Well, I've never really cared much about it. It mattered more when I married humans years ago...how many years ago...was it three hundred or five? I can remember their faces, but not mine. Actually...I can't remember my birth name anymore either..." She shook her head. 'Dumb, absent-minded creatures. How are you so loved by the oldest mother of all?' The unicorn laughed. "I can read thoughts, you know. You're a funny one, little bat. Tell me then, what's your name?" "My mother named me Bea." She stated confidently, then covered her mouth. Her mother always told her to never tell her name to creatures with magic. "Bea. That's a cute name." The unicorn stood up and dusted off the back of the black dress. "I've forgotten my real name, but I've been going by Elle for a while. You can call me that, if you'd like, or Unicorn. I don't really care what you call me. Say, would you like to join me in exploring the city while I search for my friend? I know my friend will be passing through here at some point tonight, but I need to kill some time." "I can't join you. I'm a bat. If I go wandering around the city, they'll kill me." Bea said, offended at the suggestion. "Hmm...in that form, perhaps. Why don't I change your appearance for a few hours to one that won't draw any attention to you." The unicorn said. "What would...you mean...turn me into one of them?!" The bat screamed at the notion. "Why not? It's not permanent. What's wrong with taking a human form?" The unicorn twirled around. "I do it all the time. It's fun. Oh, would you prefer a dog? We can explore most places if I turn you into a cute, little lap dog. How about a chihuahua?" "A chihuahua?! Absolutely not! I am not a dog!" Bea flapped her wings angrily. "Hmm, well. Suit yourself. I suppose I can find another companion for the night." The unicorn looked down at a digital watch. "Well, I'll be off then. Goodnight, little bat. You should hurry on and find somewhere new to live soon. I heard they'll be spraying this area with poison tomorrow to kill off the rest of the animals the richer humans find disgusting." "Wait! Don't go yet!" The bat flew down and landed on the unicorn's left shoulder. "I don't know where I should go. This patch was always our home and the next big patch in the woods over is already filled with so many human houses along its edges. Where am I supposed to go to be safe from humans?" "I don't know, little bat. You could go to the other realm with me at the end of the night." The unicorn said. "I can't go there. I have no magic to protect myself with. Something will surely eat me there!" The bat covered her head with the ends of her wings. Elle picked up the bat and held the creature gentle between both palms. "Well, little bat, if you can't go there, you'll have to learn to find a way to live with the humans here or travel beyond where they build their homes. Perhaps you can find a nice human who likes bats and will let you live near them or in their home." "Are you really a fairy? What sort of nonsense is this? There are no humans that will love a bat!" Bea flew up and in front of Elle's face. "Do you really believe that? I suppose after what happened here, you might think so. But there are many humans out there who like bats. I could take you to a bat sanctuary run by biologists nearby. They wouldn't let anything happen to you." Elle said. The bat rested back on Elle's shoulder. "Those places aren't safe. They're tricks. Humans say they'll keep the bats safe, but then they lock them up and torture them. My mother said her sister heard from a friend that her aunt saw bats starving in one of those places! They were so starved they were tiny to make them snack sized for humans and then the humans put them in colored wrappers to eat like their candy bars and cakes!" Elle laughed. "I don't think they were going to eat them. Humans in this area don't eat bats. They hardly cook, much less eat anything outside of their grocery stores. Maybe you should come with me tonight. It seems to me there's a lot you may have misunderstood about humans. We could go to a grocery store and I'll show you they don't have bats to eat in there." "How do I know you're not planning on eating me?" The bat said. "I don't really know that you're truly a unicorn." "Unicorn or fairy, neither of us eat meat." Elle said. "You're the one who eats other animals, my insect eating friend." Bea thought over the idea more. She didn't want to be alone, especially with so many humans nearby. She also wanted to prove the unicorn wrong. Her mother always told her unicorns were some of the most foolish creatures in the world. There were almost none of them left in existence now, and the few that were left spent all their time in any form but that of their original selves. Humans had hunted most of them down for a number of strange reasons, but the unicorns continued to want to be near them anyway. This one before her had admitted to having married humans in the past and hadn't been in their original form for so long they had somehow forgotten their own name and gender. She wanted to show the foolish, beloved creature that humans were truly awful. "Only for a night? Fine, transform me. But you must promise to transform me back into myself at the end of the night." The bat said. "Show me what you want. Nothing about me will change by sunrise." The unicorn with the human form grinned. A light enveloped the little bat, growing brighter and bigger until it was larger than the unicorn and brighter than any human made light. The light burst. Where the bat once was, a human woman stood. Jet black, curly short hair with bangs that mostly clung to the sides of her face; a long sleeved black dress similar to the unicorn's own; black pants, tightly fitting, underneath the knee length dress; black flat sneakers with low cut socks; the bat looked over her changed form, a deep discomfort washing over her skin at each article adorning her. She cupped her breasts, heavy weights on her chest. Through the dress, she could feel the shape of the bra on her. Twisting her legs, the sensation of the underwear hidden by her pants rid up on her in ways that made her want to scream. She clawed at the high collar kissing her neck. "What is this? How do humans wear such things? Ugh, and these...why are they so...big?! Can't you make them smaller?" Bea grabbed at her chest. "But I made yours smaller than mine. Well, if you insist..." The unicorn shrugged. A light formed around Bea's chest. When it burst, her chest was smaller. She still felt uncomfortable. She wanted them gone entirely, but if she was to pretend to be a human woman for a night, she needed to endure some amount of them there. Bea told herself she would deal with the discomfort of the clothes. If this was what human women did, then that was what they did. Bea wasn't going to play the unicorn's game of bending all the rules. For tonight, she would be a human then return to being a bat as she was supposed to be, her hatred of humans firmly intact. "Did you want me to change anything else?" Elle asked. Bea tugged again at the collar. "No. It doesn't matter. Let's go to this 'grocery store' then. Show me their meat." Elle created a purse out of thin air and pulled out a long wallet. "Let's go." The unicorn and the bat, dressed in human bodies, walked through the wooden area, across the park, and into the sea of artificial lights beneath the stars. The busy city didn't sleep. Many stores were open for most of the night, and some twenty-four hours. Elle followed signs to a large grocery store. Bea walked right behind, eyes wide with panic and wonder. With human eyes, the lights didn't hurt as much. She was fascinated by the neon lights on signs and the changing colors that controlled the movement of cars. At the entrance of the grocery store, Bea hid behind the unicorn. People passed in and out of the building, groups of humans and some by themselves. Bea had never been around so many humans at once before. The people leaving carried bags and pushed metal carts around the parking lot. Bea's mother told her the grocery store contained most of all human magic. That was where they got potions to change their hair color, paint illusions on their faces, and summon up food without having to hunt, fish, or gather. Clothing sold without a maker to change the human's outside appearance at will, traveling devices with big wheels for humans at all ages, and phones, a device humans created to speak to any other human anywhere else in the world--Bea hated to admit she wanted to see these things and what else may be kept inside the grocery store magic marketplace. They passed through the automatic doors, inviting them in with magic right away. The unicorn strolled into the brightly lit building casually. The bat carefully walked behind, like a child closely following their mother to always stay in grabbing range of her skirt. The store was a mix of men and women, a peculiar experience to Bea. Aside from young males, the adults she only saw in passing or during the mating season. Humans were always in mixed company. Many, she heard, lived in family units or as mixed pairs like some birds. She couldn't understand how the women could stand it. Bea hated being around the male bats. She hid herself entirely during mating season, as her mother instructed. Human males were the worst creatures of all--the most violent beings to ever exist. That was what her mother told her. From the few times she had interacted with humans, the males were the ones who aimed guns and swatted at her. The humans who captured all the other bats were men. The others never came back. Bea hoped they were able to survive somewhere, but she had accepted that they were likely all dead now. The men in the store didn't appear to be violent, but she reminded herself they didn't know what she was. If they knew, she thought, they would surely kill her and eat her. The unicorn led Bea to the meat section. "Well, here we are. Have a look for yourself. Humans label everything. Not a single bit of bat meat here." Bea looked at the meat. All of it had been chopped up. She couldn't tell what any of it was originally. Bea looked at the white labels on the packages. "I don't know what these symbols mean..." "Oh, right. Let me fix that." The unicorn came up from behind Bea and placed a hand over each eye, then removed them. "Look now." Bea looked again. "Beef. What's that?" "Cow meat." The unicorn said. "Oh...I have heard humans eat cows." Bea said. She looked up. "This whole area...is all cow?!" "In this country, they eat a lot of cow. Cows, chickens, and pigs are most of the meats that people in this country eat. Go on, and keep looking. You might find bison, goat, rabbit even, but you won't find bat here." The unicorn said. "None of this is fresh either. They keep the meats cold like this to preserve their food longer. Once humans purchase these, whatever isn't cooked that day goes into something even colder inside their homes." Bea looked down the aisle. The unicorn was right. Not one package said "bat" on it. "Something colder...that's that big box they all have in their homes, right? It has two doors." Elle nodded. "The refrigerator and freezer. One door is cool, the other contains frozen things. Quite an invention. I think it makes the food taste terrible, but most humans don't seem to mind." Bea's eyes wandered to other aisles. She stared at the cereal aisle. "What are those for?" "Cereal? They eat that for breakfast, typically before going to work or school." The unicorn led Bea into the aisle. Picking up one of the cereal boxes with a cartoon mascot on it, the unicorn showed Bea the back of the box. "You see this? More human inventiveness. This food has nutrition added to it." "What do you mean?" Bea asked. "It's food...Shouldn't it already have nutrition?" "It does, but this one is 'enriched', as they call it. They've added nutrition that doesn't normally exist in this kind of food. It's interesting, though quite silly, if you ask me. Humans are busier these days, so they don't really cook often and don't eat well. This is one of their solutions to keep up their fast work pace. Such poor, tired creatures." The unicorn put the box back on the shelf. "Much of human food in stores is built around the idea of saving time for humans, in preparation and in thought. The poor things are always exhausted." "Sounds like they're stupid to me." Bea said. She stared at the cereal boxes with annoyance and the smallest bit of curiosity. She dare not let the unicorn know she wanted to try a little of the strange creation. "Where do they keep the hair potions? I've seen some humans with blue and purple hair." "Potions? Oh, the hair dye. It's near the soap and make-up." The unicorn looked up at the signs above the aisles. "Should be that way." Bea was excited to see what the potions would look like. She hated humans for their ability to change their appearance so casually, but she wanted to know how they did it and how they could even match the colors of bright flowers. Reaching the hair dye section left her disappointed. She stared at the boxes of pretty, young woman with different hair colors. A few of the boldest colors had some handsome young men on the boxes and young women who were also pretty, but with make-up much different from what the women on the other boxes wore. Near the far end had boxes with older, scruffy men on it. She wondered what those were for. Bea picked up a box of neon green dye. "It's in here in this cardboard box?" "Yes, a mixed concoction of dyes. They pour it on their heads and let it sit for a bit, then wash it out. The hair is changed after that, for a while. They have to keep doing it, because it doesn't truly change their hair color, only the hair currently on their head. New hairs will be the old color." The unicorn explained, picking up a different bottle. "Some of them are much shorter in length. This one you wash only when you want the color to go away. These are temporary dyes. Some humans like to change their hair color a lot, and some can't have it dyed at work so they only dye it on their off days." Bea wanted to see inside the box. "Is there a vial inside?" "More like plastic. Plastic and cardboard are favorites of humans for containing things." The unicorn put the box back on the shelf. "The colors are pretty, but it's nothing like what I can do. And their method is quite toxic to themselves. The ingredients in these mixtures are very harsh. But well, that is the human way. Most of the things in here aren't good for their bodies to endure for long, but it's what they've managed to make work for their situations." Bea tilted her head. "Do they know they're poisoning themselves?" "Most do, to some degree. But it's a cost. Humans are always busy and don't have time to worry over that. There's no time to do anything about it." The unicorn sighed. "So long as the pain isn't too great in the moment, they'll put up with most things." The bat crossed her arms. "Well, of course. Life is full of pain and discomfort. But we're talking about poison." The unicorn stared at the bat. "You're an interesting one. Did you want to see anything else in here?" Bea looked around. There was a lot she wanted to explore, but she couldn't get herself to admit it. "I suppose not." "Well then, we should move on. I'm getting hungry." The unicorn started to walk toward the entrance. "Wait! I know...come with me!" "Where to?" Bea asked. The unicorn was already dashing off in another direction before Bea could get an answer. Bea ran after the disguised beast. They ended up in the toy section of the store. Elle led Bea to the stuffed animal section. "There's got to be at least one..." The unicorn tossed soft toys aside to the floor. "Aha! Here's one!" "One what?" Bea dodged the falling stuffed animals. "Look!" With both hands, Elle held up a sparkling stuffed animal of a bat. "See! Not all humans hate bats. They make toys of them for their children to cuddle with at night." Bea took the toy bat. She looked it over. The stuffed animal was smiling. Its eyes were big and glittering, a bright, unnatural purple. The wings were decorated with purple stars. Bea felt over the soft body, so unlike her own coarse fur. "They don't like us. We look nothing like this. Is this what we'd have to look like for them to not kill us?" The unicorn disguised as a human looked over and grabbed another toy, a plush unicorn with a rainbow mane and tail and a pink horn. "It's not like that. This doesn't look like me either. I may not remember my original self very well, but I've never met a unicorn with rainbow anything anywhere on their bodies. And all our horns are always gold or red-black. Pink? Silly. But this is in the realm of make-believe. The children are playing with these, learning to imagine. It's alright if the things aren't exact. A child that plays with these toys is more likely to love us if they encountered us than ones that don't." "I just don't...believe a human can ever really love a bat." Bea put the toy back on the shelf. "They make more scary stories about us than toys to cuddle with. I've seen how they are on Halloween." The unicorn sighed. "Even on Halloween, many of the bats they put up are because people love bats." "Those are weird humans who 'love' us because other people find us 'scary'. I don't care about them." Bea walked out of the toy section. "Didn't you want to get something to eat? I'm getting hungry too. Human food isn't all poison too, right?" "Ah, well...it depends." The unicorn shrugged. "I was thinking of getting Chinese food. Did you want to try something else?" The bat shook her head. "I don't care what we eat." The grey eyes of the unicorn watched the bat with deep sadness. They left the store and walked back out under the city lights. Bea stayed close to the unicorn. Though it was now later in the night, it appeared to be that there were more humans out than before. Many of them walked strangely and laughed loudly. She had seen this sort of display many times at night. Bea despised drunk humans most of all. They never restrained themselves when like that. From across the street, two young men whistled at them. One of them made lewd comments at Elle. Bea's heart raced, afraid the men would do what she heard her mother claim human men always did to human women. The most intimate violation. Bea hid behind Elle. Elle blew a kiss at the man who made lewd comments. The men howled and threw more lewd words at them. Elle waved at them and walked on. "Why did you blow a kiss at that nasty man?" The bat asked, hiding most of her body from the men with Elle's body. "He was cute." Elle laughed. "If I didn't have other plans tonight, I would've took him up on his offer." "What?! But he was vile!" Bea shouted. "I don't see it that way. I like the attention. But I am a unicorn. It's in my nature to like human attention." Elle laughed again. "That's probably why we can't have children with humans. If we could, we'd have ceased to exist eventually from all the human marriages." "Strange horned horse." Bea narrowed her eyes. A thought came to her. "Hey, if unicorns shapeshift so much...what happens if a unicorn mates with another unicorn but neither are in their original forms?" "Whoever happens to be in a female body at the time will give birth to a unicorn, if they get pregnant of course." Elle said. "Will it come out looking like a unicorn or what the parents are disguised as?" "A unicorn is always born a unicorn. It can't be anything else but that." "That doesn't answer my question...so it is the same form as the parents or not?" Elle grinned. "It will be born a unicorn." "Ugh, nevermind." Bea rolled her eyes. "How far are we from the food place? I'm really hungry." "There's a place not far from here. I saw it earlier." Elle answered. The unicorn looked around, appearing more lost than certain. 'So you don't know.' Bea shook her head. Now that she could read human words, she looked around for a sign that might tell them which way to go. Her eyes noticed someone across the street. Beneath the crosswalk light, a young man waited, holding the strap of a backpack. Bea's eyes widened. Images flashes in her mind of her mother telling her not to linger long away from her and Bea resting upside down on a branch outside a window, content to stare in for hours. Bea felt heat rising in her face. She hid behind Elle. Elle looked back at her and across the street. "That man. Is he bothering you?" "He caught me once." Bea said. "What do you mean?" The unicorn asked. "I got stuck inside his home. He caught me in there before I could escape back out." Bea hid herself more behind Elle, but her eyes remained on the man across the street. Elle looked over at the young man. "Did he hurt you?" Bea held onto Elle's dress reflexively, as she often clung to her mother. "Let's go. I don't want him to see me." "He won't recognize you. You don't look like a bat right now, remember?" Elle reassured her. "I know." Bea's face was a deep red. She hated this body. It revealed far more than her real body did. Elle led her away to a fountain in the middle of the city. The unicorn sat down on the edge of the fountain. Bea refused to sit, nervous to be in any position that might make it harder to flee. The bat opened her mouth to complain. She noticed a strange man carrying a dead crow. The man had long, wavy black hair and eyes as green as the brightest of birds. He wore loose, dark clothes. The bird's body dripped blood across the pavement. Rotten meat filled the air. The man looked over at Bea, then down at Elle. Bea stepped back. Elle turned around and stared at the strange man. For a moment, Elle's horn was visible, glowing pure gold light. On the stranger, black antlers appeared on his head. "Wicked monster, still filling your stomach with sickness?" Elle glared at the stranger, the light and the horn disappearing. The strange man's antlers stayed, glowing a red at the ends, then vanished. "A unicorn in the city. You ask why I'm here, when you are the strange one to be wandering in this place of filth." "Elle, who is this?" Bea whispered. Elle pulled Bea down onto the fountain's edge. "This is Kier, once a guardian of life and forests. He was made by the earth's first Lord of Life to protect the weak and help bring new life into the world. Instead of protecting life, he ended it. He ate the woods clean of any life." Kier ripped into the dead bird's stomach with his teeth and swallowed a lump of flesh. Blood ran down his face. "Most life eats life. We can't all be like you, Unicorn." "Deer weren't meant to eat meat and you know it." Elle rose up from the fountain. "It's a good thing your father didn't make you as strong as your younger brothers, Osán and Llywelyn. You're rather weak in performing any except making protective shields and reviving life. Quite useless for a glutton like you." "Oh, like I haven't heard that before. Osán...You judge me, yet that fool courts death just the same." Kier took another bite of the bird. He tapped one of his antlers with a bloodied hand. "At least my antlers are real. Osán's are merely a crown. He's no wings like Llywelyn. His body is entirely human. What a waste to make that one my father's replacement. It should've been me. Why am I to blame for him making me so hungry?" "He didn't make you that way. You became that way when you decided to kill and eat an animal in your care." Elle said. Kier stuffed the remainder of the bird's body in his mouth. He ate the entirety of the body. Bea cowered behind Elle. This being frightened her more than any human man. His energy itself drenched her in the agony of Death's embrace. Her mother used to tell her stories of ancient monsters like this. Kier wiped his face off with his sleeve, the blood hidden by the black cloth. "It's not often a unicorn lectures me this long. So, you must know one of them. Who do you know of the old ones? Or is it one of my brothers?" "I serve the first Lady of Life, Liliana." The unicorn said. "Oh, Liliana. I haven't seen her in years. She tried to drown me the last time we met. How is she? Still pining away at her river for a love that can never be?" Kier snickered. Bea had no idea what they were talking about. She didn't know what a Lord or Lady of Life was. Her mother never gave titles to anyone she spoke of when talking of the elder beings of the world. Only the great mother of all mattered to bats. Whoever Liliana was, Bea assumed the person must've been someone important and if that was so, then Elle was too. She couldn't comprehend how. Elle seemed young and foolish. Elle finally stood up, smirking. The grey in Elle's eyes filled with rainstorms. "She's been relieved of her duties and is spending her time with her dearest other half. What of you? Oh, right. You ate your beloved." Kier put his hand over his stomach. "You think you mock me, but we are always one." "You're disturbed." Elle said. "What are you doing here? Looking for life to steal?" "Oh, that's not really necessary." Kier looked out at the humans around them. A man stabbed another man at a street corner. "Humans readily provide me with more food. They kill faster than I ever could, including their own. They can keep me well fed without me having to lift a finger if I arrive in time." Elle grabbed the murderous beast's wrist. "I think you'll be joining us tonight, and leaving this place with me." "You think you can order me around, Unicorn? What authority do you have?" "I also serve the eldest grandchild of your younger brother's lover. I would think you'd heard of that sorcerer." Elle said. "Oh, that one. The one with all the potential. That one's still not as strong as Osán yet, even if that one could one day match ones older than Earth." Kier yanked his wrist away. "You are far weaker than Osán. You don't have a quarter of his magic, and you have limited magic at that. But he isn't the one you need to fear. If in some way you harmed me or my dearest friend, you'll have to contend with that sorcerer's lover. He incinerated an elf's entire being, soul and all. There was nothing left to collect. Do as I say and harm none tonight, or that will be your fate." Elle grinned widely. Kier put his hands in his pockets. "You sure have a lot of connections, Horse. What is your name?" "I've been going by Elle these days." "Can't say I know that name as anyone important. Perhaps you're lying about your connections." "Unicorns don't lie about anything for any reason." Elle said. Kier stared at Bea. Bea's stomach growled. He laughed. "Very well, I'll come with you. But you're going to have to keep me fed in some way and it sounds like that boy over there is hungry too." Bea looked around. "Boy? I'm female!" Kier raised an eyebrow. "Whatever. Feed me or you have no right to cage me." "We were on our way to get dinner anyway. I hope you like Chinese food." Elle said. "Can't say I don't. Of course, there's not much I won't eat." Kier licked bits of dry blood off his hands. "But aren't you rather far from the nearest Chinese restaurant? I believe the closest one is that way, about a thirty minute walk from here." "Oh, is it?" Elle looked back. "Right...that's right. I guess I've been going the wrong way." Bea rolled her eyes. "You really didn't know where you were going at all!" Elle shrugged and laughed. "Well, let's go." Bea walked beside Elle, keeping her distance from Kier. Kier stayed uncomfortably close to Elle. He watched the humans closely, and their pets. Ten minutes into their walk, Kier pulled out a dead mouse from his pants pocket. He swallowed it whole. The stench of his breath drifted over to her every time he opened his mouth. "You can't wait thirty minutes before eating again?" Bea asked. "Afraid I can't. My mouth is always craving blood." Kier pretended to hold a glass and drink from it. "I need it like some of these fools need alcohol. Doesn't matter the age or state, but fresh and raw is better. Dying is best." "Monster." Elle commented. "I am no different than the stray dogs roaming these streets." Kier defended himself. The unicorn was unimpressed with the deer's words. "Dogs eat because they need meat to survive. You eat meat because you get a high out of it. You feed off the final moments of agony in the blood and flesh embedded from Decay and Death." "You would love it too, if you tried it. Poor bat, you couldn't taste it. You've no magic about you. But you, Horse, you'd love it if you tried it. They certainly do." "They?" Bea asked. Kier pointed up at the span wires the nearby traffic lights hung from. Black wolves with red eyes walked across the wires. At the ends of the wires, shadowy, black dogs looked on at the wolves passing through. "What are those?" Bea asked. "The wolves are underlings of a former associate of mine, one who goes by Lou these days. A monster, that one. Those wolves up there, they were human once. They feed on other humans and spread diseases. They're all cursed with their hunger, the same as I am." Kier said. "The dogs on the end are simply human ghosts who've abandoned their human appearance. They can't feel hunger the way we can. Humans are so devoid of magic, most don't notice either of them there. The wolves regain their old forms temporarily once a month to find new humans to eat or curse with sickness. How pitiful. They only get four days a month to eat." "Wretched things." The unicorn took Bea's hand and walked ahead. "Don't linger here. They are not pitiable creatures. They are the worst type of human. Only the ghosts have my sympathy." Kier caught up with them. "Oh, you pity them? Most of them will turn into demons in time if Death cannot persuade them to move on. Then, they'll eat up humans too, down to their souls." Bea looked back at the dogs and wolves on the wires. They seemed to be the same type of creature to her. She couldn't sense the differences the way Kier and Elle could, but she could hear their howls and barks were completely unlike one another. The dog's voices were full of pain and regret. The howling of the wolves reminded her more of maniacal laughter. They bore their teeth at her. "Can humans really not see them? They're so many dogs up there." Bea asked. "They have all those potions...do they really not have much magic at all?" Kier laughed as strangely as the wolves. "You think humans have magic? They wish they did." "But then how did they make all their things?" Bea asked. "That's not magic, child. It's a pale imitation." Kier said. "I do like many of their inventions. You can go into their stores and snatch up meat already nicely cut down into easy portions to eat. So convenient." A couple walked in front of the trio. A middle aged man, dressed nicely, led a young woman in a short, red dress into the alley. Bea assumed by the way the woman clung to the man, they were going back there for things she didn't want to see. After they passed the couple, Kier lingered back for a moment. Elle pulled him forward. "You're not eating them." Elle said. "I was only going to eat the woman. She'll be dead soon." Kier ran his finger across his own lips. "How do you know?" Bea asked. "You didn't see the reaper following them?" Kier asked. Bea shook her head. "Her kind can't see them unless they're close to their own death, much like most humans." Elle said. "Oh, is that so?" Kier put his hands in his pocket and dug around. He pulled out a lizard, then tossed it in his mouth. "I suppose bats are rather simple creatures, aren't they?" "I am not simple!" Bea yelled at him. "Wait, how did you know what my real form is?" Kier raised an eyebrow. "I was made to create life. No form can deceive me from the truth of a being's essence. I know what you were when you were born and everything you can ever be. I can see your very soul itself. Though I'm no mind reader like the horse over here." "If you can do all that, why don't you make better life forms?" Bea asked. Kier rubbed his stomach. "Personally, I don't see any point in creating new life except to fill myself with more food." Elle sighed. "Can you be quiet until we get to the restaurant? I'm tired of hearing you talk." Kier puts his hands back in his pocket. "You could let me go. There's going to be plenty of food back there soon." "Did you forget about my friend and what he can do to you?" Elle reminded him. "Yeah, yeah. I get it. You know the Hell Raven, you know the Lord of Death's apprentices, you know my brother, I get it. You know everyone important that's ever lived or died." Kier checked the street signs. "It's to the left." "Oh, thank you." Elle said. Bea couldn't understand the two creatures. They were more confusing to her than humans. They seemed to hate each other, but were being far too friendly for that to be true. 'Must be something with how old beings are. How old is this unicorn?' Elle looked over at Bea. "I'm the same age as the friend I'm meeting with later. We shared the same milk even, from my mother." "Oh." Bea's eyes widened. "You read my thoughts again!" "Well, yes, I do that." Elle said, unconcerned with Bea's feelings on the matter. The trio arrived at the restaurant soon after. They were seated at a table in the middle of the dining area. For a late night, the restaurant was very full. The other tables were far too close to theirs for Bea's comfort. She buried her head deep in the menu. "What are you going to order, Bea?" Elle asked. Bea peered over the top of the menu. "Umm...I don't really know..." "Hey, Horse, are you paying for this or are we splitting the bill? Because I'm really hungry." Kier said. Elle put the menu down. "I'm paying. Order as much food as you want, but not so much you keep us here all night. I have someone to meet with later." "Alright, alright. Well, if you're treating..." "Bea, do you want me to order for you?" Elle asked her. Bea looked at the menu. "Um...I'll pick something out myself..." She looked over the pictures on the menu. She didn't know the names of the foods, but she did recognize many of them. Her mind brought her to memories from another time, staring in through an apartment window. She remembered the pleasant smell drifting out into the night air. The happy face of the man who lived there. Bea read the names under the pictures. Wonton soup, pork fried rice, steamed dumplings, an egg roll. She was certain that was what he ordered the most. She could almost hear his voice as he'd eat and talk on his kitchen phone with a textbook, notebook, and papers sprawled out all over the rest of the table. "This place is busy tonight." Bea thought she was hallucinating. She looked back. The young man from earlier dropped his backpack under the table. He sat across from another man who appeared to be around his age. Heat rose in Bea's face. He was less than a foot away from her. Elle noticed. The unicorn whispered, "Do you want me to ask for a different table or change it to take-out?" "No...it's fine." Bea whispered back. Mostly hidden by the menu, she let her eyes wander over the young man. He was definitely the same man she used to watch, the man who caught her in his home. The other man who came with him cleaned his glasses. "So, Peter, you were telling me how it went with that girl you went out with last week. What was her name?" "I don't want to remember her name." Peter, the young man with the backpack, said. "Oh, was it that bad?" The other man put his glasses back on. "Awful. She was nasty at dinner, she wouldn't shut up during the movie, and she was terrible in bed. Criminally terrible." Peter looked down at the menu. "Criminally terrible? What the hell did she do?" "You ever had a really lousy blowjob, but you're trying to enjoy it anyway? Now imagine, you're almost there and boom, teeth. Just clamps down with full force." Peter looked at the other man across the table from behind the menu. He lowered his voice. "I pushed her off and then she tried to shove her finger inside me." The other man lowered his voice too. "In your ass?" "No." "Your...no, don't tell me...How would you even fit that in there..." The man gasped. "She said she read about it in Cosmo. But it gets worse. Anyway, a few days later, I started feeling weird. Went to the doctor. Let me just say, I have to take some meds for the next couple of weeks for reasons I don't want to say in a public place." Peter whispered very quietly the last part. "I should've gone home after the movie. I should've never agreed to go down on her without protection or let her do the same. Ugh, every time I take a piss, it burns." "It'll clear up though, right?" "Yeah, that's what the doctor said." Peter's face was slightly red. "My last five dates have all been terrible. Maybe I should try going out with a guy again." "Didn't the last guy you went on a date with puke on your bed?" The friend asked. "Why did you need to remind me of that?" Peter put his head down. "Maybe there's some curse on me right now." "You could always ask me out again. I'm single." The young man put his hand on Peter's. "Sorry. No." Peter turned his head to look away from the friend. "I love you and all, but we're only compatible as friends. Those months we dated were a disaster." "I know..." The other man leaned back in his chair. "You'd think with how we get along otherwise, it wouldn't've ended up like that." "Something must be missing, I guess." Peter hid his face behind his arms. "Maybe there's just something wrong with me." "Nah, you're just having some bad luck, is all. It'll end eventually." The friend said. Bea tried not to overhear their conversation. She told herself she didn't want to. Her heart raced as she listened to the things the young men were talking about. Her mother always told her most men only cared about sexual things. She didn't want to look at him. It was disgusting. Bea shifted in her seat, her underwear soaked through. Blushing, she grabbed at Elle's sleeve. With quiet words, she said. "Um...Elle, I need to go to the bathroom." "Oh, it's over there. Do you need me to come with you?" Elle asked. Bea nodded. Elle got up, glaring at Kier before leaving with Bea. "Don't run off on me." "I won't. I'm hungry and you're paying." Kier waved them away. Elle took Bea to the women's restroom. For the small restaurant, it was a single open room. Elle locked the door. "What's wrong?" "What did you do to my body?" Bea asked, her eyes watering. "I'm gross." "What do you mean you're gross?" The unicorn stared at her in confusion, then came to understand without any words exchanged. "Bea, I gave you a human body. You're reacting no different than any other human to your own thoughts." "I don't have dirty thoughts! Those are what men have!" Bea cried out. Her mind pictured the young man, Peter, again. She recalled another night at another window, staring in as he undressed in the bathroom. No human could see him from that high up, but she could see everything going on in the shower. She watched him do dirty things in there more than once. Her human form betrayed her hidden thoughts more. She didn't want the unicorn to be able to see what she was thinking, but the more she wanted to shut out the thoughts, the stronger they got. "Bea, human women also enjoy those things. This isn't about gender. These sorts of things may vary between species, but in the form you are inhabiting now, this is a perfectly normal thing. You know, even with bats, the females may be less inclined to it, but they still enjoy it from time to time. Why are you so upset?" Elle tried to comfort her. "Mother always said...it was gross...I'm to never do that, ever. It's terrible." "But your mother must've done it otherwise you wouldn't have been born. Is your mother terrible?" Elle asked her. Bea wiped her face off. "Mother didn't have a choice. One of the males attacked her and forced himself on her." The unicorn rubbed her head, then hugged her. "So, that's how it is. Bea, what happened to your mother was wrong. But that doesn't mean every sexual encounter is rape. You...you don't think all the other women out there in the world are all being raped, right?" "That's how the world is. But I'm not going to participate in that. They're not going to get me." Bea remembered another night she watched Peter from the window. He had brought over someone. The lights were off in the bedroom, but she could see very clearly what was happening. She couldn't forget the icky, terrible, good feelings it gave her. "I'll hide from everyone. No one will ever catch me and hurt me. And don't you lie to me and tell me it's not that way. You didn't save that woman in the alley when you knew she was going to die soon." "I couldn't interfere. If a reaper arrived, she had moments left at most. It was her fate to die that night." The unicorn said. "And what about those nasty men earlier? You could've punished them for being lewd." "I enjoyed it. I didn't want to punish them." Elle said. "Then we don't need to wait for your friend. I can tell you now you're just a man in a dress. No woman would want that!" Bea yelled. Elle moved away from her. "Bea, none of the things you're saying define what makes someone anything at all. You're thinking these things because of your mother's own twisted ideas caused by her pain. But that is all they are, delusions spurred by pain. I can't answer you what I am. Perhaps, I am a man, perhaps I'm not. I don't really care either way, but I can tell you that feeling desire has nothing to do with gender at all. If it's too much for you, I can change you into a different form for the night, or change you back into a bat." Bea's mind betrayed her once more. She pictured her human body in bed with that man. She felt disgust, discomfort, and desire. Her face went a deep red. "I don't believe you. Mother wasn't delusional. She saw the truth. Everyone else is crazy." The unicorn's horn appeared again. Elle touched Bea's forehead with it. "For a little while, I will grant you my ability to read minds. You tell me if I'm wrong." Bea could hear and see things inside her mind she couldn't before. She locked eyes with Elle. 'You can hear me, can't you?' Elle asked Bea. Bea nodded. She expected to see and hear more from the unicorn, but the unicorn's mind appeared to largely be devoid of thoughts. Bea wiped her face off again and went back to the table with Elle. She looked around at the women in the restaurant. Their thoughts slipped into her mind with ease. A woman sitting with a man near the back thought. 'He's so hot. God, I bet his dick is huge.' One of the waitresses walked over to the table. Bea read her thoughts. 'Hurry up and order. Ugh, why do I need to fart right now?!' 'I bet no one would notice if we did it in the bathroom.' One woman thought as she fantasized about having sex near a toilet. Another woman was thinking about various sexual activities with a coworker as she spoke cheerfully to her husband. A single mother who brought her sleepy children to eat was thinking on how many months it had been since she last had sex and wondering if she should buy another vibrator. One of the waitresses was thinking violent thoughts about a former roommate and what she wished she could've done to him. Profanity and lewdness rushed into Bea's mind from all their thoughts. Elle touched the left side of Bea's head. Bea couldn't hear the women anymore, but now she heard the men. Peter, still sitting behind her, came in the loudest. 'I'm gonna be alone forever.' Peter's friend's thoughts came in next. 'I wish you still loved me like back then.' A waiter's thoughts followed. 'She never answers my calls anymore. Is she still mad about that porn video? Who doesn't watch porn?' The man who's date thought he was cute had his own thoughts about her. 'I don't think this will work out long-term. Should I go home after this or bring her back to my place? She looks like she'd probably be down for it.' The husband of the woman thinking sexually about her coworker was thinking about a recent night he spent in bed with his own coworker. A single man was watching the single mother, wondering if he should talk to her or slip her his number. Another man was worrying over his ex-girlfriend stalking him. Sitting alone, one man was amusing himself by repeating a dirty joke he heard earlier to himself over and over. Bea glanced over at Kier, frightened of what may be lurking in his mind. She expected something violent and strange to be in there. 'Father never did love me, did he? But I deserve as much. I bet Osán hates me too.' The unicorn looked at Bea. 'Are you satisfied?' Bea nodded. Elle touched Bea's head again. All the thoughts went away. The waitress came by to take their order. Bea fumbled through speaking with the waitress. She didn't know what to make of what she heard in the minds of others. 'Maybe it's just humans are this way...most of them are always thinking about nasty things.' Bea thought. 'Should I let you see the thoughts of other animals too?' The unicorn slipped back into her mind. Bea looked away. 'No, I don't want to know.' She was starting to believe Elle. Her own mind, for all she denied it, was quite dirty. If even the purest of beasts, a unicorn, had desires like that too, perhaps her mother was wrong after all. 'But she always seemed so certain when she spoke. Mother was always wise, always fighting to protect me...could she really have been wrong?' The bat looked at the young man again. Her body ached with desire for him and her mind flooded with dirty images of all the ways she wanted to touch him. Something still nagged at her. Even accepting the desire as natural, she felt uncomfortable. She wondered if it was because she was in a human body at the moment, but she couldn't do anything with him in her original form. She was always uncomfortable in that form too. Bea reasoned that was simply the nature of being female. She wished she'd had the courage to ask the unicorn for an even smaller chest. Peter noticed her gaze. He spoke to her. "I'm sorry. Are we talking too loud?" Bea sat up straight, face bright. "N-no! You're n-not bothering m-me...I'm sorry...I wasn't staring at you...I was just staring off at nothing!" "Oh, haha. Well, if we do talk too loud, let me know. Sometimes, we can get a bit carried away." Peter said. His friend laughed along. "We? More like you." Bea laughed nervously. She turned back around. Elle was smiling at her. Their food arrived a few minutes later. Bea hoped Peter wouldn't notice she made the exact same order he did. She was anxious to try the food. On the many nights she had secretly watched Peter behind her mother's back, he always seemed so excited to eat this kind of food. Bea added roughly the same amount of soy sauce to her soup as she always saw Peter add. She wanted it to taste exactly the way he ate it. The smell was good, she thought. She put the spoon up to her mouth. The taste was much saltier than she expected, but she liked it. The steamed dumplings, however, ended up being her favorite of the four food items she tried. She didn't like the soda very much. It was far too sweet for her. She quietly listened to Peter and his friend talk about classes, exams, and different beers they'd tried recently. Bea wished she could talk to Peter, but she likely wouldn't be seeing him again after tonight. There was no safe place for her to return to around here anymore. She would need to fly far, far away from this city. Peter and his friend left before the three of them. The trio was held up by Kier needing seconds, thirds, and a to-go bag. Bea watched them leave, unable to say a single word. After the three of them left, Kier wanted to walk to the cemetery. "When will your friend be here? I'm getting hungry." "You just ate enough food for two entire families. How can you still be hungry?!" Bea yelled. Kier had already eaten everything in his to-go bag. "Well, you know...hmm...there's a fresh grave here. I wonder..." "Kier, leave the dead that have been buried in the ground." Elle said to him. Kier sniffed out the freshly dug grave. "It's over there. Come on, Unicorn. This is an entirely ethical meal. I'm not going to do it in broad daylight. They'll never know. I'll leave everything exactly as it was. The worms will eat it anyway." Elle turned away. "Return it exactly as you found it." "I swear to you I will. I never leave graves open like that." Kier hurried over to the disturbed earth. "You're really going to let him do that?" Bea asked. "He's right. The insects will eat the body anyway. The humans have already completed their mourning process. So long as he leaves everything as it was, no one will know and no pain will have been inflicted." Elle stated. "It's disgusting, but I'd rather he do this than kill to eat to satiate that addiction of his. I'm surprised you care. Don't you hate humans?" "Well...I..." Bea blushed. "So, what really happened with that boy? What was his name? Peter?" Elle asked. "I did get caught in his house...but I..." Bea covered her face. "It's so shameful..." "I won't tell anyone what you did." "Well...Mother always told me humans were disgusting and males were vile. A human male was the worst thing in the world. But I...I saw him one night at the park. I ended up following him back to his home. I started watching him from his windows. I wanted to know what sort of things human males got up to. It was wrong of me. I watched too many private things...One night, he left the window open." Bea thought back to that night. Nervously, she flew into the apartment. Peter had stepped out with his laundry. He shouldn't have returned back for a long time. With Peter gone, she played around. She pressed the buttons of the TV remote with her feet to change channels. She tried to brush herself with his hairbrush. Bea drank from a cup of juice he left out, then rolled around on his bed. When Bea was playing inside a shirt he left at the edge of the bed, a light flicked on. Peter had returned, searching for his wallet. He saw Bea right away. Bea froze. He captured her. "He found me and wrapped me up in a shirt. I thought he was going to kill me. He put the shirt by the window and walked to the other side of the room. He kept saying 'it's safe, go on and fly away now'. I flew out and ran into my mother. She was terrified I had been in a human house. I lied to her and told her the wind knocked me in there, but the human let me go. She didn't believe me. She told me I was confused and lying to myself. He didn't let me go. In my panic, I deluded myself into believing that's what happened so I wouldn't be so afraid. That's what she told me. But I know...I know he let me go." "Then you already knew...there are humans that like bats." Elle said, smiling. "But you couldn't shake your mother's terror yet." "Yeah..." Bea looked up at the sky. She knew exactly what her mother would think of her spending the night in a human form wandering around a city. Her mother would be just as disgusted with her as she was when Bea wanted to mate with a male one year and as angry with her as when she was caught in Peter's house. "I've always done what Mother wanted...believed her no matter what...but now that she's gone, I feel...lost." "You like Peter, don't you? I can leave you in this form." The unicorn offered her. Bea shook her head. "I can't. A bat will always be a bat. I can't be anything else, not really." Elle stared at her. She laughed under her breath. "Well, if you say it is that way, then it is." Kier returned to them shortly after. "Done eating already?" Elle asked. Kier shook his head. "Couldn't touch it. Embalmed. Ugh, I don't understand why humans desecrate dead bodies with poison. How is anyone supposed to eat it when they fill them up with nasty things like that?" "I believe they would like that it stopped you from eating them, actually." Elle said. "Did you leave everything as it was?" "Yes." Kier clutched his stomach. "Guess I'll have to wait to eat again." "You're not actually hungry. You'll be fine." Elle reminded him. "I know. It doesn't make it less painful." Kier fell a little behind them as they walked on. Bea watched him, thinking back on the thoughts of his she could hear. Kier was watching Elle from behind. Bea noticed a hint of red in his cheeks and a sadness in his eyes. She turned back around. 'That can't be...' Bea wondered if she should tell Elle. Elle stopped the group just before the park Bea and Elle had met in. "Oh, my friend is here finally." "Where?" Bea looked around. A beautiful woman with short, wavy blonde hair and brown eyes approached Elle. She wore high heels, a mini skirt, and a tight fitting business jacket. Red lips stood out in the buzzing lights of the park. She greeted Elle. "There you are. I heard you calling for me. What was it you wanted?" Bea looked over the woman. She appeared human, but if she was friends with the unicorn, she likely wasn't. Bea wondered if the friend was another unicorn, a fairy, or some other deeply magical being. Elle sat on a bench. "Don't laugh, but I seem to have forgotten myself. I figured you'd remember at least. Am I a man or a woman?" "Ah, you've always been 'he' to me, but does it matter? Shouldn't you be able to answer that yourself?" The woman put her hands on her hips. "You're quite silly." "Hmm...that's right...Huh. I forgot. Oh, my name. I've lost that too." Bea looked over at her companion of the night. She was shocked. 'A man?!' For as much as she had started to accept that men weren't necessarily scary, knowing that the things she learned came from a man made her distrust those thoughts again. "Elios." The woman shook her head. "Good grief. Someone of your kind should know better than to forget their name. Your mother would be embarrassed." Elios transformed into a white stallion with a long, golden horn and golden hooves. The beast was decorated in golden trinkets and sparkling jewels. Satisfied with seeing his original self once more, Elios transformed back into the form of a young woman. Elios rubbed the back of his head and laughed. "Don't tell her. She'll never let me live it down. What about you? Are you trying to conceive again? Why are you in this form?" "Oh, absolutely not. Rowan and I can use magic if we want to have another. Trying to conceive naturally is too much of a problem. I'm in disguise." The young woman waved a hand in the air dismissively. She looked over at Bea. "Who's this? Another unicorn?" "I am not a unicorn. I am a bat." Bea glared at Elios. "We only just met this night. Then he turned my body into this." "Given your tone, I take it you want me to change you back now." Elios said to Bea. "Yes, I would prefer we get that over with as quickly as possible." Bea crossed her arms. "Forgive me. I've ruined your night. I was hoping I could show you a new side to humans, but it seems I've failed. My apologies." Elios put a hand in the air as light engulfed Bea's body. In a flash, she was returned to her original form. Bea flew up into a tree and hung upside down. "A little bat." The woman watched Bea. She spoke to her. "Don't much care for humans, huh?" "No, but I care not for men at all." Bea yelled. Her mother's cautious words were already slipping back into her mind. The woman leaned against the tree Bea hung on. "Can't say I blame you. Sometimes, I wish I could avoid them altogether myself, but that's a bit difficult since my husband is a human and so am I. And our sons. Quite a problem." Bea flew higher into the tree. The words that left her mouth came straight from her mother's overbearing spirit. "I should have known. Even with such magic to be able to understand my kind, you are no different than the other human women. Does your husband control all of your travels? Does he force himself on you to make his children? You are all such wretched creatures." "Woman?" The lady looked over at Elios. "Is she an ordinary bat?" "Seems so. No magic like the ones you've known in the other realm." Elios answered. The woman laughed loudly. Her body shifted to that of a man's, though the clothes remained the same. He looked up at the bat. "Well, I'm glad I was also convincing to you. My transformation abilities aren't too bad, at least for a human. But no, my husband does not force himself on me. I won't stand for such a wicked accusation against him. I can strike you down with lightning at any moment. Don't say awful things against others unless you wish to fight." The bat hid behind a leaf. "You say it is a wicked accusation, but you threaten me with violence right away! That is proof enough!" The strange man laughed. He shifted his clothes from the dress suit to a long robe. "Perhaps, but if you were truly afraid of me, would you still be here trying to agitate me? Do you wish to confirm your bias that hard that you would risk your life for a fight that has no meaning just to feel right about your view of the world?" Bea couldn't think of a response. She blurted out. "I don't need to feel right! I know I'm right because it's common sense that I am!" "Common sense? if you says so..." The sorcerer laughed again. Kier looked up at Bea. "The bat seems convinced of a lot of strange things." The human sorcerer looked over at Kier. "You...you're Kier. Elios, what are you doing with him?" "We crossed paths. I thought I'd keep him near to keep him from causing too much trouble tonight." Elios explained. "I had hoped I could help the little bat too, but the bat is angry with me now and somehow in the night, Kier convinced me to let him dig up a grave for food." "Now that you've met up with your friend, I should be on my way. I know I'm not welcome here." Kier bowed and shifted form to a stag with black antlers. "Wait a minute. You said..." Elios started to say. The stag sunk beneath the earth. "Don't worry. I'll be leaving this city. I've eaten more than enough for tonight, right? I suppose I owe you for dinner. Farewell, Unicorn." Elios's shoulders dropped. He looked around for Bea, but couldn't see her anymore. "Seems no one's enjoyed my company tonight." The man put his hand on Elios's shoulder. "Don't worry over the bat or that old deer. Since you're here, could you spare me some energy? I used up most of mine today dealing with a mess humans around here have been making." "Oh, of course you may." Elios put his hands on the man's face. "Will that be enough for you to fly home, Little Bird?" "Yes, thank you." The man said. "What was with that bat? She seemed very...odd." "Her mother put a lot of horrid things in her mind, and she has been separated from her mother for the first time. She doesn't know what to do. I hope she'll be able to sort it out one day." Elios searched for the bat amongst the trees, but Bea had already flown off by then. "If you don't mind, could I come home with you tonight? I'm feeling a bit down. It'd be nice to see some familiar faces. I don't think I want to spend any more time here." "That's fine with me. I'm sure Rowan and Luca will be happy to see you." The man said. "So, what have you been doing today, Little Bird?" Elios asked. "You wouldn't believe the things humans get up to. A few especially foolish ones are trying to harness old Red Eyes's sickness for their own purposes. I hear he goes by Lou these days." "I heard Kier mention that earlier. They want to use his powers...that's really...unwise." Elios shook his head. "Humans rarely do what is most wise. I was able to save one life and teach another the secret to fight off the sickness. I'll have to keep an eye on the situation." The man said. He continued explaining his day to the unicorn as they disappeared in mist to another place. Bea watched them from afar, anger rising. She hoped she'd never see any of those men again. Alone again, Bea returned to where she had last seen her mother. The unicorn and the immortal human sorcerer's voices were long gone. In their place, the footsteps of distant humans and rumbling cars. Bea cried, hugging against the place her mother used to be. "Stupid humans, stupid unicorn, stupid men." A flying fox bat, whiter than the moon, with wings cradling tiny blue galaxies, rested beside Bea. The large bat opened its neon blue eyes and turned to Bea. "A lonely one, you are. But this isn't your home anymore. You must let that time die here and fly on to somewhere safer." "Go away, fairy bat. I've had enough with magic for tonight." Bea clutched the space. "I am no fairy, child." The bat said. "Though I can be one if you would like. I am nothing, and I am everything." Bea looked more closely at the white bat. An overwhelming energy flowed through her. "Are you...are you the great mother?" "Some have called me that." The bat answered. "I am older than the words 'mother' and 'father'. You can call me as you like." "If you are the great mother...can't you make the humans go away and bring back my mother?" Bea asked. "Why have you taken the others from me?" "I did not take them. I create pieces and let them fall as they wish. I observe and only lightly alter. To see what you all become is what I enjoy most, and what pains me most. Humans took your mother away, but she is not dead. She is residing in a bat sanctuary now twenty miles away from here." "That's worse than her dying!" Bea cried out. "No, she is well fed and well cared for. They are looking for somewhere safe to release her and the others right now. If you wish, I can send you to them. But I do not think that is what you actually desire." "I could go to where Mother is..." Bea said. She had missed her mother so much. Her mind thought of Peter, and of the unicorn's kind embrace. "Do you wish for me to take you there, little one?" The white bat asked. "I should be with mother..." Bea said. She looked over at the great bat beside her. "If you are the oldest one of us all...tell me, were my mother's words true or the unicorn's?" "Unicorns are rarely wrong. They can be forgetful, but they cannot be deceitful, not even to themselves." The bat answered. "Your mother is still full of much pain. She bites her caretakers daily." "What if I don't wish to be a bat?" Bea asked. "I can change you into anything. I didn't give you that form. Fate chose it for you, for no special reason at all. But I can bend any strings in any universe and play them as I wish." The white bat put both wings around Bea. "What do you wish to be?" "I want...to be a human." Bea said. She wanted to specify more things, but those words were too taboo for her to speak. She wished the being would know what she really wanted without her having to say it. "That's a simple matter to arrange." The white bat pulled Bea closer. She fell through the bat's chest and found herself on the floor of a human building. She looked around. It appeared to be a living room, similar to Peter's but with different furniture. Bea looked down. Human again, the body was different. No breasts on the chest, a less slender form, something different between the legs. The body was dressed in a grey sweater, dark grey sweatpants, and the same shoes the unicorn had dressed the bat in before. The clothes didn't bother Bea the way the unicorn's choices did, but Bea noticed now other sensations of discomfort were also gone--sensations that had been there all along before that night since the earliest of her memories. Bea looked up at the old one. "You've turned me into a man." "Have I?" The white bat, now hanging from the ceiling, titled their head. Bea stared down at foreign, comfortable hands. "I don't understand." "Yes, you do. But you won't say you do." The being shifted shape to that of a young man with white hair and white clothes. "I won't make you say it." "Are you a man?" Bea asked the being. The being shook their head. "I can be, if you want me to be, but I am nothing because I am everything." "Where am I?" Bea asked. "This is your new home. I've arranged everything for you." The being handed Bea a card. It had a photo of Bea's new body on it, a name, and an address. The name read "Tristan Pine". Bea looked up at the old being. "What is this?" "This is the name you will give to other humans. Among humans, if you wish to change this name, you will need to go through the court system. But you must always have a name. If you don't like this one, you can change it later." The being sat on the sofa. "I won't be offended if you change it. It was simply the first thing that came to my mind. It has a nice, metallic texture to it, even in the taste of it, with a little astringency at the end. I knew it would match with the texture of the voice I intended to give you." "Don't I need...money for human things?" "There's a folder on the kitchen table with all the information you need. I've left you plenty to live off until you are ready to find a job. Don't overwork yourself, though. Live happier in this body." The being said. "Why are you doing this for me?" "You seemed very sad, and I thought, well, let's see what happens if I change this." The being smiled. "I'm excited to see what you become." In a flash, the being disappeared. "Wait...I..." Bea didn't want to be alone again. Looking down at the ID card, Bea read over the name again. Tristan. It sounded nice. Her mother wouldn't like it. Bea stopped herself. "Tristan, so that's my name now." Tristan said. "My voice...is nice too." Tristan stripped off the clothes and got a better look at the new body. There truly was no discomfort now. "How can that be?" Perhaps, Tristan thought, the unicorn was very right after all, to shift as he pleased and that the body didn't determine the essence either. It all made sense now. Kier had called Tristan a boy when they met. Had both the unicorn and the deer known the truth all along? He had ruined the night with his foolishness. They must've both thought he was ridiculous. Tristan doubted he'd ever see either of them again. He felt sad at that. He wanted to apologize to the unicorn at least, and tell the deer to pursue his own feelings. Tristan stepped into the bathroom and approached the shower. With human hands, he could control the knob as he wished. When he had gone into Peter's apartment, he wanted to try the shower, but didn't have the ability to use it. Tristan stepped into the warm water, letting it wash over him. He thought about his mother again. She wouldn't accept this, but if he was happy being a girl, she wouldn't accept that either. After all, he doubted, from what he saw in others' minds, that his lust-filled thoughts would change any. His mother had no right to stop him from reciprocating the feelings of that male bat years ago. "I can be my own person, Mother. I don't need you to 'save' me anymore." Tristan said aloud, more to affirm it to himself than anything. Once he was used to the human world, he thought he would go on a date with someone and try out all those naughty things he thought about in secret. The unicorn thought those things were fun, and unicorns are pure of heart. Tristan felt over every part of his new body. He liked it, far more than the body the unicorn had transformed him into or the one he was born with. This one was perfect. For the first time in his life, he felt confidence filling him where anxiety once dwelt. After the shower, Tristan dressed himself. He had fun trying on the different clothes the being had gifted him in the dresser and closet. He opened the folder in the kitchen, took the wallet that was inside on top of the papers, and stepped out of the apartment into the hall. He wanted to buy something and talk to someone. He didn't care what it was or who he talked to or what about. Anything would be enough. "Hey, are you new here?" A familiar voice asked. Tristan turned around. He saw Peter standing there. His heart pounded. "Y-yes...I just moved in here today..." "My name's Peter Wilson. I live next door." Peter offered his hand out. "What's your name?" Tristan shook his hand. "Tristan Pine." "Nice to meet you. If you ever need anything, I'm here." Peter smiled at him. "Well, I've got laundry to do. See you around, Tristan." "I-I will!" Tristan waved. He watched Peter leave, forgetting for a moment what he was planning on doing. He remembered himself and headed for the stairs. He noticed a clock hanging on the wall midway down the stairs. It was three in the morning. Sunrise was still a ways off. He paused under the clock. 'I don't know if you're still listening, but if you're there...could you grant me one last wish? Could you apologize to Elios for me?' No one answered him, but the wind outside danced around him when he left the building and ran out into the night.