April 15, 2022

The Swift-Footed Darling of the Rocks (Do NOT Actually Call Me That)

by Marie Croke


“I trample the grass until it turns back to sand. I touch my horn on hard-to-reach rocky places so that vines shrivel and flowers wither.”

Grass! There is GRASS in my mosaics. Little spits of green jutting up between my maroon swirls, in my rocky piles, even on my signature. Little spits of greenery in the shapes of hoof prints trampling through my land. And I spent a long time on that signature.

Oh, my fury will be known!

I can see the interloper out there past the outcropping, her blazing white tail sparkling, her sleek black back shining, her head held up like she is proud of the destruction her wake has wrought. That’s the problem with other unicorns:  they are condescending, thinking everyone wants their obnoxious green sprouts that grow in their hoof prints and blossom from their drool.

[Last time, it was this teal unicorn with an (admittedly gorgeous) aqua and violet mane with starfish clinging to it. He insisted that he needed to trot right through my caverns, fill them with water. Saltwater, if you could believe it. Wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer either. So I stabbed him.

Okay, I didn’t stab him, but I wanted to. And I sharpened my horn later for good measure. In preparation.

Because I’m a preparer.]

And because I have prepared for this inevitability, I lower my head and stamp my hooves against the sand and rock of my domain. And charge.

That sleek black unicorn with her perfect sparkling hair laughs at me. She gallops straight through my territory, sprouting flowers off the rocks, turning sand to soil. A spring shot up where she took a moment to… you know. A SPRING. Complete with hopping frogs and water lilies. [Shudder.]

“It’s an oasis,” she calls at my bray of absolute dismayed affront. “It’s fine.”

UGH. She’s the WORST.

“I don’t need you ruining my home! I like sand! I like rocks!” Some of this may have come out as grunts. She’s quite fast.

“But it’s so dry.” She stomps her hoof and up pops a lavender bunch, already in bloom. “It’s in need of growth.” Strands of her swinging tail settle behind her where wavy lines of pansies sprout in all the colors of the rainbow. “You’d get more visitors.” She noses the sand aside and out comes a horde of butterflies.

“I don’t want visitors.” I sure sound whiny. I must fix that. I clear my throat with a neigh and then stomp my hoof and swing my head like she did. Wait, too much like her. Too much. I shake my head again. Yes, that’s… somewhat better. “You are to leave. At once.”

She flicks that sparkly tail. And then she takes the longest, most winding, criss-crossing path back into the grass-plains from whence she’d come. My world has been wrought. It has been ravaged. My beautiful desolation, with its fine sand, and smooth rocks, and lovely formations has been wrecked with GREEN.

She even had the gall to flick her tail against one of my longest standing formations, the rock in the shape of an elephant if you look at it from the east, but an upside-down seal from the west.

[I’ve been told that I should say diving seal, not upside-down, but when I say that, other unicorns get it in their heads that I want the seal to be diving into water rather than the lovely sand that squeaks under my hooves. So I say upside-down, because that gives others pause. Long enough my preparation with my horn might come in handy. (It hasn’t yet, but I hold out hope.)]

I then spend the rest of the afternoon and long into the evening fixing all the damage that awful creature wrought. I trample the grass until it turns back to sand. I touch my horn on hard-to-reach rocky places so that vines shrivel and flowers wither. I lay within that spring and thrash about until the water turns yellow, then brown, then an irony reddish color before it seeps far, far away to escape me. As it should. Hmpf.

Then I stand on one of my favorite rocks (a grand formation that cuts into a beautiful, sharpened point where I just barely fit) to admire my domain. I swing my head (I try for haughty) and I neigh, rearing onto my hind legs (I almost fall, but I’m mostly sure no one saw).

This is my world. My paradise. The moonlight shines upon my speckled red and yellow body, attempting to bring a shine to my dust-covered matte expression and the brown highlights in my gray forelock (No. I am not old. I am majestically two-toned, rock and stone.)

[Which reminds me of that gloriously obnoxious white unicorn with her rainbow mane who called me DULL last season. UGH. And her hooves sprouted CLOUDS everywhere. I had a dreadful time getting those out, because whenever I snorted at them, they turned dark and threatened rain.]

Down along the edge of my domain, where it butts against the lower land where flowers grow and the wind attempts to blow seeds my way (I am a seed murderer and a damn good one, I might add) that black unicorn with her sparkling hair stands. I think she’s watching me (she surely didn’t see me almost fall after I reared).

She tosses her head like she had earlier, dances forward INTO MY DOMAIN and gets her nasty grass EVERYWHERE. I back up, ready to just leap off this precipice and DESTROY HER, but then she laughs (that was certainly a laugh I heard) and dances back through the plain, heading for the forest where her grass and trees and twee little springs that sprout from her… you know… belong.

I think she respects me. No, I don’t think she respects me. I just think she’d gotten tired of messing with me and would go find unicorns like her, ones with grass for brains and sparkles for… everything else. Only, I wake the next morning TO HER STANDING OVER ME LIKE A CREEP!

I get up.

[I am not going to describe how I get up. I’m sure it was graceful, my beautiful matte body not undulating with terror startlement minor concern.]

“What’s your name,” she asks with condescension layered into each word like something with much condescension.

I snap my teeth and start to rear, but then remember that would merely reveal my belly to her horn, so I do a little hop-step thing I turn into a prancing of much aggression. “I am Eurian, the Princess of the Wastes, the Queen of the Sands, the Swift-Footed Darling of the Rocks.”

[No one actually calls me any of those things, but I get annoyed with all these rainbow-haired, sparkly-hooved, lavender-eyed cousins who pretentiously call themselves Starlight’s Eager Path or Song of the Grassy Knolls or, worst of all, The Sun-Kissed Beauty of the Woods of Many Delights. (I actually met one with that name. I did not make that up. He wanted me to call him Sun-Kissed Beauty. I called him Many and added words such as Irritations or Annoyances afterward under my breath until he finally huffed and stomped his Sun-Kissed butt back to the forest where he rightly belonged.)

Really, it’s just Eurian.]

The black unicorn bobs her head, her horn coming dangerously level with my eye. She probably did that on purpose. “I’m Dur.”

What an awful… unassuming name. “Dur of the Trees with Many Boughs? Dur, the Empress of Blossoms and Frogs? Dur, the–”

“Just Dur. Thank you.”

That is when I finally turn my attention away from her horn and her sparkly forelock and her sleek body to see the stretch of green beyond her. Her wake had thickened, saplings growing up from the deepest of hoof prints, moss covering some of my more perfect stones that now boasted water lingering in their cracks and divots. She must have been standing over me for a long time. HOW CREEPY!

“Get out!” I demand. [It did not come out as a high-pitched shriek of horror. It wasn’t high-pitched at all, I assure you. It was demanding, aggressive, powerful.]

Dur flinches. “They told me you were persnickety.”

“Who told you? How dare they! They come here and destroy my domain, wreck awful paths through my sand that I’m constantly having to fix. You stroll through like you own the place, which you most certainly do NOT. It is mine. GET OUT!”

“I’m sure they don’t mean harm. This place is so desolate, so empty. They just wanted you to be happier. Moss makes me happy.”

“I LIKE IT LIKE THIS! IT IS NOT DESOLATE! I WOULD BE HAPPIER IF YOU DIDN’T RUIN EVERYTHING I LOVE!”

This time my rage has an effect. Dur backs away. Not in the direction of her grassy wake, I might add. Somehow she manages to back up in an entirely new direction, spreading her contagion further.

“I see that now,” she says. “Well then, I’d like to formally invite you to the low-lands. You could craft a rock formation and the two of us together could turn it into a fun old ruin… covered in moss.”

“OUT!” [I may have been delirious at this point, but I most certainly was not frothing at the mouth.] I lower my horn and charge.

Everything that happens after is a blur. I’m sure I was terrifying and awesome and chased her from my domain and stamped out her awful hoof print growth that was attempting to take over. I’m sure of it.

That spot on my head that hurts a little is just likely from me running sideways into one of my rock formations. And all the growth still left the next day is just because I grew tired and needed a nap. Though, that’s a lot of growth. It’s going to take me forever to fix.

Dur doesn’t come back as I’m working on cleaning up her mess (she got DANDELION SEEDS IN MY MOSAICS. THEY GROW EVERYWHERE! MUST STOMP THEM OUT!). However, she does keep calling to me. Every day, as I beat back her spreading growth more and more.

“Eurian!” she calls with that melodious voice from where she hovers in the low-lands between my domain and the forest. “There’s this great place right here where you could sprout a formation!”

I ignore her. [I mean, I try to, but she’s so sparkly, it’s hard not to turn my head every time the sun glints off her, which is all the time.]

“Eurian! Why not help craft a little shore-side paradise over here next to this spring I made! It needs some fun rocks around it too!”

I don’t tell her I already have a paradise. [But I do peek a gander at the spring after she’d disappeared into the forest for the night. It really does need some rocks.]

“Eurian! Thank you for the rocks!”

I hide in my caverns. [WHY did I do that? Now she’ll NEVER leave.]

“Eurian! Have you ever made an arch? How amazing would it be for you to make a glorious stone arch and me drape vines on it? We could hide anything inside!”

I contemplate sneaking into her forest and… you know… to make some sink holes.

“Eurian! This arch is huge!”

Yes, I know. I made it. Why is she the worst like that?

Though, now that I’m thinking about it, Dur hasn’t so much as stepped foot in my domain since that day she nearly ruined it. She keeps her dancing and prancing and preening and looking gorgeous to the forest and the low-land between. That’s… actually very polite of her.

I should tell her. Yes. I clear my throat as I approach the edge of my domain and she canters over, all sparkly and black. But then I think better of it. Why should I have to thank her for not ruining my things? That makes absolutely no sense. But, I’m here, so…

“How… are you?” I ask.

Dur shakes her head (strands of her mane turn into dragonflies as they float through the air so I shake my mane and make a few lizards to control the dragonfly population explosion).

“Good morning, Eurian! I’ve been thinking, since you’ve been doing all these projects with me here, maybe I could put some sand-plants under that elephant formation?”

“NO!”

She sags. No, she crumbles, almost all the way to the ground, her sparkling forelock falling into her face, covering her eyes. I think she may be crying.

“Oh, all right,” I mutter. “But only a few!”

The way she immediately perks up and prances over into my domain makes me wonder if she’d been fake-crying. But I don’t say anything as she touches her horn here and there and sprouts tiny little plants that look like they’re attempting to be cacti. [I say attempting because well… at least she tried.]

She is very polite after and dances backward, away from the elephant, through her grassy wake and back into the neutral territory. [I call it neutral because I’ve got a few sandy paths woven throughout that I notice Dur hasn’t tried to eradicate.]

“They look…” I need to come up with an adjective. Quickly, brain, quickly! Not cute, not sandy. They certainly don’t belong, but they do have sharp— “Pointy.”

“Yes! Sand-plants must have points I’ve found. They aren’t all soft and squishy like my moss.”

“I like pointy.” I glance up at my sharp precipice, where I like to stand and admire my domain. (And sometimes Dur when she’s running about the low-lands, but I will NEVER TELL HER THAT.)

“Yes. I know.”

There’s something sardonic in her voice, and I snort at her because I’m pretty sure she’s saying that I’m pointy too. That’s fine. I turn away. Maybe I can nudge the plants into a slightly better shape. Or, well, I guess I could just leave them like that. They aren’t viney. They aren’t mossy. They don’t attract frogs or twee little bunnies. In fact, I think I see one of my rodents hiding behind one right now. I guess they can stay.

“Eurian! Will you make a ruin with me?”

I make a show of thinking about it, but my heart kind of pounds weird. “Yes.” I sniff as if I’m deigning to help her.

Dur picks a place along the edge and has me craft balanced rocks into a pedestal. I notice her direction is turning the upper spread of the pedestal into petals, like I’m making an open blossom, so I tweak it slightly so it looks more like twisty sand snakes. They end up looking a little more like water snakes though because Dur puts moss and lichen everywhere. She also fills the basin with fresh water.

I carefully introduce some cracks underneath so the water only lingers in pockets and ponds, leaving some nice dry spots where a lizard might hide to snap at her dragonflies.

By the time we back away to admire our work, the land in a circle about our new formation (she keeps calling it a ruin, but it hasn’t been in existence long enough for that title… I’m not going to correct her though) has become trampled with a mix of her hoof prints and mine. Some of it has invaded my domain, but it’s only a small portion so I don’t say anything about that either.

I turn to look at her, at her sparkly white mane, at her sweaty, shiny body… and I find her staring at me. I quickly look away with another snort.

“Eurian!”

Why does she always shout? I’m literally standing right here. “What?”

“I love you!”

I mutter something about sparkles and sleekness and shininess, but I most certainly do not say I love her back. I bend down and make her some more rocks though. Lots of little rocks with divots in them that would hold water and gather moss around their edges.

[When I say I made her rocks, I mean I just made rocks. Not that they were for her. I mean, I guess they were for her, but I…

Whatever.]

“Dur!”

She perks up. And it’s really cute.

“I made you some rocks!”

She presses her neck against mine, while all about our hooves, the grass and sand and moss and stones all get too blended to see where either of us had first stepped. And, okay, it’s kind of nice.

The End

Don’t worry. I’m keeping a little section that’s just sand. I need my domain.

[Dur calls it my unicorn cave.]

The Real End

 

* * *


About the Author

Marie Croke is a fantasy and science-fiction writer living in Maryland with her family, all of whom like to scribble messages in her notebooks when she’s not looking. She is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop and her stories have been published or are forthcoming in over a dozen publications, including Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Diabolical Plots, and Apex Magazine. You can find her book and short story recommendations at mariecroke.com or chat about writing woes or being book drunk with her @marie_croke on Twitter.

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