IMPORTANT
A day shy of a week ago Robotech Master was out on his e-bike when an SUV struck him and drove off. According to the most recent news available, he passed away from his injuries at around 2:00 this morning. I have kept some news up on his user page and, at this point, ask that anyone wishing to leave messages or tributes do so on either his talk page or another page that can be used for such things. His account here and all of the stories he has gifted the Shifti community with will be preserved in memoriam, as we also did for Morgan.

User:Michael Bard/Like the Unfolding Petals of a Dream

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Like the Unfolding Petals of a Dream

Author: Michael Bard
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Xanadu story universe

She stood there, terrified. Alone. Dressed. Her hand on the door handle. Unable to move.

Did she look alright? Better check. With relief, she let go of the handle, the resin hoofnails clicking against the metal. Turning, petticoats rustling, she clopped over to the full length mirror hanging on the bathroom door.

Her vision was slightly darkened through the mesh of the eyes, but she could see the unicorn mare looking back at her. Her head was of the brightest white, though a bit dirty behind the ears, as was her mane. Inside her ears, around the tip of her muzzle, was soft lavender, as was her alicorn—the small spiral horn that rose from between her blue eyes. Below her head could be seen the soft white fur between her breasts, and a choker hanging around her neck. She was wearing a short-sleeved dress of blue and green, with ruffles and embroidery and puffy sleeves. Her arms could be seen, covered in fine white fur, a hint of feathering at her wrists, white furred fingers and thumb ending in hard resin hooflets, the same lavender as her muzzle. The dress covered her chest, her small mounds just visible, and was cinched around her waist. Below was layer after layer of petticoats, almost covering her dainty white legs ending in lavender colored hooves. Slipping her hand downwards, she gently pulled the long white tuft-tipped tail up and let it slide back down.

And no matter how she tried to ignore it, there was the golden bridle that wrapped around her muzzle, one end torn and trailing down her back.

Everything was right. He was hot, but not too hot. The high-heeled shoes he’d made into hooves were comfortable. The breast forms were secure on his body, and the brassiere beneath the dress held them so they only jiggled a little. It was so much more comfortable than the horse fursuit hanging in the closet.

But the horse was his technical pride and joy; the one everybody knew about. Full digitigrade stilts for hooves, balaclava-based head with moving jaw, moving ears, expression, electronics. Realism.

So here he was, wearing a cartoon. A simple, silly cartoon. A unicorn mare. His soul.

He didn’t understand it. He didn’t want to be a woman; he had no interest in cross-dressing. But for this one case, there was no question: This unicorn was definitely a mare. To him, wearing her with male clothes felt like cross-dressing.

Did that make it any better?

But it was so right!

He’d told nobody. He’d snuck her in. He’d hidden his Xanadu ID away so that his name couldn’t be seen. Just her badge and her name: Morgana. He’d told his roommate that he was meeting someone, and asked him not to come back until late.

He swallowed.

So why couldn’t he leave? Why was he so afraid? It’s not like anybody would recognize him… would they?

Then she had it! She’d forgotten the lilac scent.

Her hooves thumping on the carpet, she made her way to the makeup box for the horse costume, her tail wagging behind her, and pulled out the little bottle. She spritzed a dab behind each ear and hid the bottle away.

Last check. And, yes, room key safely hidden away. All good.

Hooves thumping, she walked across to the door and pulled it open. Something inside her screamed, but he wanted this too. Making sure the door clicked shut behind her, she walked down the hall to the elevator. Hips moving slightly side to side, breasts bouncing slightly in counterpoint to her tail, petticoats rustling against her legs.

The hall was quiet, dimly lit. She looked around, made sure her Master—she’d have spit out the term, if she hadn’t been raised right—was around. Sure, the whole ‘sadistic master’ business was something created by he who was wearing her, as an excuse for the bridle; that didn’t make it, or the ‘controlled by a magic bridle’ business, any less real for the imagined persona she was. When he’d been driven to purchase the costume, it had come with a glued-on bridle to hide the seam between the white and lavender on the head, so he’d dutifully created an ‘in character’ explanation for the bridle. And thus, dutifully, she moved as silently as a guy in a cartoony unicorn fursuit could. Or, at least, as silently as a guy in a cartoony unicorn fursuit, pretending he was moving silently, could.

She was at the elevator before encountering her first person. He wasn’t really in costume: somewhere he’d picked up an elephant nose and stuck it over top of his own. His voice was slurred, but at least he was clean. She reacted first, cocking her head to peer at him, and then jerking her muzzle upward a few times as though she were sniffing him. Then she relaxed from her simulated flight response.

“Cute costume. You a girl in there?”

He panicked, but she forced him down. Looking around, she scratched the base of her muzzle, and then nodded vigorously, breasts bobbing.

“Wow!” The elevator dinged and stopped and he, polite, motioned her in first. She curtsied, something she’d mastered with long practice, and walked in, her resin-cast hooves clopping on the linoleum floor of the elevator. He followed, and the doors closed. “That’s a really nice job you did.”

He laughed inside, but she earblushed, even though nothing was visible. For him, this costume was intentionally simple, almost ugly in its lack of realism. For her, however, it was her dream, the best she could do. After all, she had created it, not him, for nobody would ever know that he was inside. Staying in character inside the fursuit, she offered a hug to show her appreciation. He returned it, restraining himself to just a gentle hug, nothing more. She was impressed.

He smiled and blushed beet red, and pushed the button for one floor down. He motioned her to the controls and she pushed for the ground floor.

“Well, good luck in the contests. I think you deserve to win.”

She giggled inside, as he snickered at the idea of him winning one of the beginning category awards… Unlikely, though, as the judges had his experience level recorded, and that would make him (or her) ineligible.

The elevator dinged to a stop and the doors slid open. He waved, walked out, and the doors slid shut. It was nice to know, she thought, that not all boys were pricks—himself included in the ‘good’ category. The elevators thudded shut.

Now he worried. He worried a lot. In moments, he’d be in the massed crowds, exposed to the world—to everybody who knew him. He reached out to stop the elevator, but she stopped him.

Mentally she glared. He may have created her, but she was going to explore, at least a little. And cautiously. After all, the thing that’d trapped her—that had bridled her—was looking for her. There was so much she could do if not for the cursed bridle! She’d have to find somebody, and she couldn’t afford to trust. Reaching behind, she hid the torn strand of the bridle in her mane.

He surrendered, as she was his soul, and she needed time to find herself.

The elevator stopped, and she was pressed against the floor, grabbing one of the railings to maintain her balance. High heels really weren’t the easiest things to walk on, though certainly easier than those stilts. Holding her muzzle high, but not so high that she couldn’t see, she walked out. Mentally, her ears were flicking wildly (even though they weren’t in reality), and her tail was lashing back and forth, rather than just waving which is what it was doing in reality.

The doors thunked shut behind her as her hooves click-clicked on the tiled floor. She stopped, sniffing around, trying to get a handle on everything. Looking for her master’s scent. Even through the head, even with her human nostrils, she could smell greasepaint and glue and fur and sweat and perfume and unwashed bodies. Part of her wished she’d hooked up a giant can of Febreeze to the sprinkling system. She wondered what the reaction would be? The question now was, how to make an entrance?

«Obviously, silly, why are you here?» the shivering male inside her fur asked. «To escape? To find safety? Who can you trust?»

Oh, right. For some reason it was hard to tell the virgins from the non-virgins. And that was important, because non-virgins weren’t to be trusted. After all, they’d given in to their base desires and carnal drives, risking who-knew-what horrific infections solely for the momentary nova of pleasure.

«Don’t rub it in!» said her wearer, who was, sadly, a thirty-two-year-old virgin.

«Why do you think you’re allowed to wear me?» She giggled.

Even though conventional fursuit doctrine stated that the best thing was to get involved, to hug where invited, to play with the children, and generally be active, it didn’t make sense for this particular character. As an added bonus, it made him even less recognizable. So she held up the front of her dress and tippy-toed along the wall with exaggerated motions, to try and not be noticed. Of course, the bridle kept her from using her magics to be truly silent and invisible, so all she could do was go clippy-cloppy along the floor. Inwardly she winced—her Master had to hear that—and shivered from the tips of her ears to the tip of her tail, wiggling her behind a bit to get the proper shivery motion.

“Hey!”

She stopped in mid-tiptoe and spun her head, looking in the direction of the voice. It wasn’t her Master! Yay! She jumped for joy, her hooves clopping on the ground.

“Neat!” said the unwashed boy who was suddenly upon her. He was young, late teens. Dirty, ill kept, and full of eagerness and wearing a t-shirt glowingly labeled Midwest Furfest 2000 which looked to have been worn a thousand times, and washed maybe once. She was surprised it didn’t rear up and attack him as she watched. Almost involuntarily, she recoiled as his rich odor swept across her, the miasma of a thousand doughnuts and cokes, and hot and sweaty night romps without protection.

She didn’t need her magic to know that this wasn’t virgin material! That, at least, worked, even through the bridle. Staggering backwards, almost tripping over her hooves, though actually in control, she shuddered, shuddering with her entire body, her tail shaking and quivering

At least the sweaty boy reacted. “I didn’t mean—”

She shook her head, miming leaning against a wall around him, and shyly pointing down between his legs.

For a moment he looked confused, then he blushed a fiery red. He may have no idea of cleanliness, but he had a brain! She nodded vigorously, and then lowered her muzzle sadly, placing her hands over her eyes and miming crying at not being able to be near him. He smiled. “Have fun! Nice fursuit.”

She hugged her chest and bounced in happiness at the complement.

«None of your business! I’m having fun!»

He was horrified. He couldn’t believe what she was doing. He’d always been shy, and, although his fursuit was technically excellent, it had never become famous as he could never make himself be silly. Make himself interact. And now, in this, to his mind, piece of crap, he was mingling and being silly, without even touching anybody! «What are you doing?»

In his mind she giggled. «Your soul just needs to get out and play once in a while. Little girls just want to have fun!»

He cringed, but she was in charge, and snuggled his fake breasts, pressing the warm latex against his own.

He blushed, as fiery as the furry who was waving as he walked off. «But—»

«Shh!» she giggled in his mind.

What was happening to him? But it was so much fun!

«Exactly!»

Was this his soul? Or was he just going mad?

Giggling, trotting with a bouncing step, she stayed along the wall, just in case Master showed up.

After that, time passed quickly. She was very careful in whom she let approach, getting the shivering fear down to a science. A few people, those dressed as obviously evil characters, she avoided, cringing from the stench of evil and really hamming it up. Most males she assumed weren’t virgins—likely true in this day and age—and pantomimed sadness at not being able to come close. One idiot hugged her anyway, sneaking up behind. She went stiff at his touch, opening her muzzle to scream in pain—even though it didn’t open—and it took somebody in the crowd watching to tell him “You’re not a virgin, idiot!” to general laughter, for him to let go. She kinda hung there, standing, but with her entire body miming exhaustion, shivering, showing the after effects of pain.

He’d never had an experience like this. He’d always been outside, slow, stately, talking with others about technical issues, but not gathering a crowd. He was terrified of somebody figuring out who he was. A large part of him was surprised he hadn’t pissed his pants, though she observed that might have helped with the pain from the non-virgin hug, if she hadn’t wanted to get the dress dirty. And then she laughed!

The few females, or pretend females, she treated different. Some she sniffed, guessing at their virgin state. Those she decided were pure she let approach, being especially cautious after the surprise hug, but eventually letting the chosen few touch her alicorn, and then she’d offer them a sisterly hug. Sisterly! If only they knew. But then, how many of them were males in disguise.

«Maybe they should instigate an identifying symbol for those,» she giggled.

He cringed.

One person she saw in the distance should have creeped her out, but he didn’t. She would have bet money that he was a virgin, but had no clue how she knew. Body language? He was wearing a little girl’s headband with a little golden horn and little white ears. And he though that his suit was bad… Still, she avoided him just to be safe. But then, he was trying to hide from everybody else far more than she was pretending to.

And then there was one person, a pudgy man in a sad excuse for a raccoon fursuit, who terrified her. Poor craftsmanship or no, he could have been Master if Master hadn’t been a fictitious creation. She couldn’t say why he—at least she thought it was a he—well, he just creeped her out. He was carrying around a giant tinfoil ball and petting and cuddling it. He’d see people and bound over and mime drooling over their buttons or glasses. Anything shiny. She half expected him to take the shinies he drooled over when they weren’t looking. She’d have sworn she saw him palm a wallet from somebody he was interacting with, but wasn’t sure. He couldn’t be doing it, could he? She, and he, had nothing against raccoons in general. But this one…

She shivered, thinking of him as she sat in the headless lounge, head on for anonymity, sipping cool water through a long purple straw she’d had hidden in the folds of her dress.

It’d been a long day. He was hot and sweaty, soaked in sweat. But she was in charge, and she was having far too much fun to even think about going back! The original plan had been for him to spend the morning as the unicorn. Then go up, shower, and come back in his horse fursuit for some of the technical categories.

She wouldn’t let him. «Look at it this way,» she said. «We can go up and change,» she pouted in his mind, «and watch a boring presentation whilst you stand there, quiet, shy, and ignored.»

«But I might win—»

«Give it a break! The guy from Lion of the Sun has better looking stilts than yours, even though his clink from the springs. The furring is far nicer. And that giant fish has some kind of pressure based system, he’s got to! Who knows how many categories he’s up for.»

«But—»

«So, we can go up, change, return to your boring life, and win nothing. Or, we can stay here, have fun—»

«You can have fun—»

«We can have fun, and cheer the prizes.»

«And maybe Master will be here—»

«Oh, come on! You’re the one who created him.»

«And you.»

«I’m your soul finally let free. Do you want to imprison me back away? Really?»

He was silent for a moment before whispering. «No.»

«There you go then!» Smugly, she resumed meeting people, and avoiding being touched. It was so hard being limited to virgins! But challenging. And even with the bridle still around her, at least she was still free of Master. If only she could get the thing off… She couldn’t remove it, and she hadn’t found anybody else who would. Or could. A few had tried—

«It’s glued on.»

She snorted. «I’m characterizing here!» Anyway: a few had tried, but weren’t noble or pure enough. Or, maybe there was something in her binding her to it. She shivered at the thought.

Inside, he just shook his head. He’d never talked to a fursona before—well, not one of his fursonas. Not his Morgan suit, though he considered that more himself. But this, this was something different. It was like an out-of-control character in a story, and it scared him! And yet, he was having the time of his life!

Finally, the presentations began. A cheerful woman in a dress constructed of cloth leaves, wielding a clipboard as a weapon, spoke out. “Eric Winters, everyone!”

She leapt up and down clapping, though her padded gloves made little sound compared to the clop clop of her hooves.

His feet were going to hurt in the morning, but he didn’t care!

She watched as Eric Winters raised the clipboard to read the first of the winners, when it happened.

At first he thought he’d been in suit too long. Too much fun, and now he was dehydrated and about to faint. But he wasn’t. Along with her, he felt things changing, felt life filling him, life that was cruelly bound and imprisoned with the cold, cold bridle that clung to her muzzle like a lamprey. All around she could see the room changing, flowing with colors and lines of power. A unicorn, one she’d never seen before, but somehow knew was that weird man in the little girl’s headpiece, fell onto all fours. He screamed, and vanished. He wasn’t her, they were different, but tears still filled her eyes at the pain he’d felt. Magic and destiny poured into a pudgy white rabbit standing talking to another rabbit. She made a note to stay away from him. All around her, things that were fake, that were dreams, became real.

And so did she.

But he didn’t die. He could still talk, feel, sense, but now he was the dream, and she was the reality. He screamed, knowing that everybody would know who he was!

She used what power she could access to cloak herself. Not true invisibility, but a distraction, making people not notice them. They needed to talk, and she couldn’t with the screaming in her mind. «Shut up! We need to think! I can’t now. Neither of us knows what happened, nor does anybody else. And, who’s going to recognize you?»

«If I hide, then my job, my possessions, my friends are all gone—forever.»

«Oh. Right.»

«I am soooo screw—»

“Hello, shiny unicorn!”

Both of them yanked themselves back to the real world and looked. They saw a raccoon staring at them; and not just any raccoon, but the same one that had bothered her earlier. The one that she would have sworn had pick-pocketed somebody. But that was the least of it.

He glowed with power. Fine lines of shimmering black linked him to a dozen panicking creatures nearby. The lines pulsed towards him, it was like they were drawing something. She realized that he was extracting, leeching, life force from the victims. Not enough to really hurt them, just enough to make them feel tired. But, when it added up—

“You have such a shiny horn. And such a shiny bridle.” What that, he held up a length of glistening twisted gold. That was when they realized that the bridle, once gold thread over lavender straps, was now finely woven actual gold. Somehow, the end of his was torn exactly where hers was.

«How the hell did he get that?» he screamed. «Master—the bridle—I just made them up!»

She could feel it. It became the focus of all her soul, and she could see the strands of magic linking her bridle to it. A tiny fraction of what would be when the two halves were rejoined. It had taken her months to rub it against the cold stone wall, breaking one strand a night so that Master wouldn’t notice. Taking all her will, she forced back the panic. “What’s that?” Her voice shook.

The raccoon laughed, a cold, dark sound, tinged with madness. “Oh, you know what this is, don’t you my shiny! I don’t know what happened, but now I can steal anything! Life, magic, knowledge.” His voice turned even darker. “Even dreams.”

Inside her, he started screaming, but she pushed him back. His fursona had been a civilized product of technology. She had been imagined, created, from the dreams of his soul for magic. And she knew what was at stake here. She couldn’t afford to give in. Snorting, trying to hide the frantic beating of her heart, she calmly answered, “You would challenge my magic.”

“Shiny, dear, I own your magic.” With that, he reached out with his fragment of the bridle.

She could feel the icy depth of its power piercing her soul. She knew that if he got control of her, he’d become nigh-unstoppable. Not to mention the imagined memories of what she’d felt when Master had owned her, body and magic. Her body felt heavy, made of lead, but she forced her way through the molasses around her and fled, forcing one hoof in front of the other, nostrils gasping through the gluey air as she ran. She didn’t care where, it just had to be away from the raccoon!

Though she gained distance, he followed her with his mocking laughter. “I’ll find you. There’s nowhere you can hide, my Shiny!”

They reached his room and she staggered in, panting, sweat soaking her flanks underneath her dress. Slamming the door, she latched it, and put the chain on and then looked around for furniture to shove in front of it.

«That won’t do anything,» he said.

«Shut up!»

«Think about it. Assume he wasn’t lying about his power: He can get the key from any hotel staff at will by magically stealing it. He probably could have pickpocketed it even before… whatever happened, happened. And that chain on the door isn’t very strong.»

«How will he find us?»

«You’re not thinking rationally. Based on what I created, the piece of the bridle will lead him right to us.»

«Oh, goddess! What have I done to deserve this!»

«No more than I did, so shut up! Whining isn’t going to get us anywhere.»

«It’s all your fault! You and your damn dreams and your need to work out a rationale for everything, especially the damn bridle!»

«You were enjoying it just as much as I was. And you were the dream. How do you think I feel? Look at Morgan sitting there in the closet. I could have been him! Instead, now I’m a bloody cartoon being chased by a cartoon villain!»

«But—»

«And seeing as how you’ve locked the door, exactly where are you going to run when he gets here?»

She started sobbing.

The phone rang. And again.

«Answer it. Please,» he said.

She sniffled. «Yeah—why not—what can a few taunts hurt…»

She picked up the phone. “He—hello?”

“Umm… I have this room registered to a Mister Edwards…”

«What do I say? What do I say?»

He sighed. «Tell her ‘yes’. You’re as much me as is going to exist ever again.»

“Yes—”

“Umm—okay—Should I call you Mr. then, or Miss, or Mrs…”

The normality forced her to calm down. “Ah… ‘Miss’ is fine, I guess…”

There was a pause. &#147;I need to request that you don&#146;t leave your room. Law enforcement agencies have come and are restoring order as quickly as possible. Just remain calm and everything will be okay. Please stay where you are for your own safety. Somebody will get to you as soon as possible. Thank you.&#148; <click>.

Slowly she hung up the phone.

«So much for fleeing the hotel.»

«Huh?» she asked.

«If they&#146;re asking us to stay in our rooms, logically they&#146;ve surrounded the hotel. You saw the others change too. Saw it in more ways than one. How do you think the U.S. Government is going to react?»

She nodded. «But what&#151;»

There was a knock at the door. Mentally they looked at each other. «Don&#146;t say anything he said.

Another, louder, knock. Then a familiar voice: &#147;Hello, Shiny!&#148; There was a whisk of a keycard in the door, and a click as the lock released itself.

«Oh no!» she screamed to her dream self.

There was a boom of some weight being forced against it, and then the chain ripped out of the wall. The door banged off the wall with a far more gentle sound, revealing the raccoon. &#147;Shii-neeey! I&#146;m hooo-oome!&#148;

She just stood there, shaking, tail whipping back and forth, heart pumping in a whirl of fear. The raccoon slowly walked forward, the bridle piece hanging from one hand. She could see that the magic streamers leading to him were fainter than they&#146;d been, but still present. He was grinning, his eyes and nostrils and mouth black holes of death, even though she could see the glimmering eyes and teeth overlaid.

&#147;Fun&#146;s over, Shiny. Now let me just fix this little toy, and we can be happy together forever and ever.&#148;

&#147;Never,&#148; she whispered.

The raccoon stopped and laughed. &#147;Forever and ever and ever!&#148;

«Run! Run now he screamed inside her mind.

«Somebody watches too much B5,» a tiny part of her whispered back, as the rest of her ran, taking off like a bolt of lightning. The raccoon stood for an instant in shock, and then threw himself to the side as she shot past him, alicorn lowered. Grabbing the door frame to turn herself around, she galloped down the carpeted hall.

«Not the elevator&#151;the stairs,» he said.

She wasn&#146;t really thinking, was just running in a blind panic. His words were like orders, instructions that she had to obey. And she did. Stumbling to a stop at the entrance to the stairwell, she yanked on the handle to open the door.

Behind her, she could see the raccoon bounding after her on all fours, holding the glimmering bridle in its mouth. She felt like the cat being chased relentlessly by Pepe le Peu.

«Go downstairs. To the lobby. Find help.»

Throwing the door open, she clattered into the stairwell and bounded down. Flight after flight, level after level. Her ears flicked as she could hear the calm clicking of claws from behind her, always the same pace, always the same distance. They reached the ground floor.

«Get out here!»

Skidding and almost falling, she pushed the handle and shoved the door open. Beyond it was a carpeted hallway, but there was smoke in the air, scorch marks in the wall. In the distance something wailed in pain, and she could smell ozone.

«The lobby!»

Looking either way, she thought she saw brighter light to the left and ran that way, her hooves again soft on the carpet.

The door clicked shut behind her, and then clicked open. &#147;I can see you, Shiny!&#148;

She screamed, her cry a wail of despair and terror, and ran faster.

The classical view of unicorns is one of creatures of grace, beauty, and wonder. She was none of those. Her dress was torn, the rest plastered to her by her sweat. She stumbled and tripped, staggering, before forcing herself to go on. Her mane was tangled, wet with sweat, and her tail waved in jagged chaos behind her. Her hooves were scuffed and dirty, scarred and scratched.

And, behind her, the calm bouncing of the raccoon. &#147;Here, Shiny, Shiny, Shiny&#133;&#148;

She staggered into the lobby where two Jedi were dueling with light sabers&#151;obviously a practice session. The Force, golden magic to her eyes, swirled around them. Seeing her approach, they stopped, their light sabers humming into silence as they were switched off.

&#147;Are you all right, Miss?&#148; said the one who looked like Luke Skywalker, dressed all in black.

The other, a double of Alec Guinness in his role of Obi-Wan Kenobi, stood back and let Luke take initiative.

She burst into his arms, sobbing, just as the raccoon bounded into the room, bridle piece hanging from his mouth. &#147;The Shiny is mine,&#148; he said.

&#147;&#145;Shiny&#146;?&#148; Obi-Wan asked.

&#147;The Unicorn.&#148;

Luke gripped her shoulders, looked at the broken bridle. &#147;Do you want to go?&#148;

&#147;No! No!&#148; she screamed.

&#147;It&#146;s not as though the Shiny has a choice.&#148; With that, before anybody could act, he jumped forward, and touched his part of the bridle to hers. There was a burst of light, and the two parts were one again.

The world closed in around her&#151;everything dimmed&#151;the magic flowed past her and into her Master. Her will vanished, reducing her to an object, a thing&#151;an instrument of Master.

&#147;Now,&#148; said Master. &#147;Do you want to come with me, Shiny?&#148;

Her coat dull, she answered in a monotone. &#147;Yes, Master.&#148;

&#147;There you go. Come along, little Shiny.&#148;

&#147;I think not,&#148; Obi-Wan said as he stepped forward. &#147;You will release her.&#148;

The raccoon laughed. &#147;Release my Shiny?&#148;

&#147;He is strong in the Dark Side,&#148; said Luke.

&#147;And he shall not have his victim,&#148; said Obi-Wan as his saber hummed to life.

The raccoon took a step back, still holding his end of the bridle. Hissing and humming, the light saber throomed down and touched the thin golden strand. It seemed like the world held its breath as the glimmering laser that could cut anything impacted the spiderweb-thin gold. Energies strained, sparks flew, magic and Force swirled around and around in a kaleidoscope of color&#151;

The light saber, Obi-Wan, Morgana, all were thrown back from the point of contact. Luke caught Obi-Wan; the raccoon, Master, caught her. Laughing, he dragged her unresisting form behind him, tears glistening in her eyes.

&#147;My Shiny! Mine!&#148;

Luke took a step forward, but Obi-Wan stopped him. &#147;I&#146;m sorry. There is nothing we can do for them; they must find their own way.&#148;


Drip. Drip. Drip.

She awoke. Her fur was matted, almost half had fallen out leaving bruised skin behind. Her alicorn was dull, flaking, chipping. She sat there on the floor, her back against the cold, cement brick, wall. She was naked, water pooled around her. She no longer cared.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

She had no idea how much time had passed. The nights, the days, all ran together in a dreary blur. She remembered the authorities at Xanadu questioning them. She&#146;d stated she was the raccoon&#146;s lover, and wanted to go with him voluntarily. The raccoon, Master, owned the bridle and there was nothing she could do against him. The National Guard eventually let the two of them go, even as what was left of her soul screamed for help.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

Somehow, a bunch of his friends from online had found her, thinking she was him. They&#146;d tried to figure out why she&#146;d left her life, told her that they, and others, were worried sick. She&#146;d just told them, in a soulless monotone, that she never wanted to see them again, never wanted to talk to them again. The only true thing was when she begged them to go and never come back. Master had enough from her already, so he let them go. Or so Master said.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

At first, once Master had brought her here, he&#146;d paraded her around. Made her the star attraction of his strip club, made her eat shit, lap up piss, and things she refused to remember. But Master noticed she was getting weaker, that there was less life he could steal from her. So he fed her Purina Horse Chow once a day, gave her clean water, and only brought her out for certain special guests.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

A rat ticked its way up her side and stopped on her chest, sitting back on its hind legs. Its cheeks were puffed full and it opened its mouth, offering the seeds. She blinked. &#147;No, little one, keep them for your children.&#148;

The rat stretched out and pushed a seed against her lips with its tongue.

&#147;I can&#146;t. I don&#146;t deserve it.&#148;

«That&#146;s it!» a voice roared in her head. It was a cold, hard voice, a voice long missed. The rat skittered away in sudden fear, but stayed close.

«Mor&#151;Morgan? But he must have stolen you, destroyed you. It&#146;s been so long!» Her heart beat faster, thudding against her ribs, easily visible beneath her stretched flesh.

«I had to lay low. If Master found me, you&#146;d truly be alone. He&#146;s stolen your dreams, he&#146;s stolen mine, and he will pay.»

«But how?»

«One thing at a time. Take the seeds. They&#146;re a gift and have little enough nutrient value that Master won&#146;t notice any change.» With that, he went back to where he&#146;d been hiding.

What could she do? What? She could stay like this, and die. Or&#133; &#147;I&#146;m sorry, little one. A gift freely offered should never be refused.&#148;

The rat squeaked and bounced up on her chest, almost to her neck, and brushed her lips with its whiskers. One by one, she took the damp seeds, feeling the love with which they were offered, and accepting them gratefully. After she swallowed the last one, she looked at the rat, and the rat looked back from behind its black eyes. Somehow she knew that he&#151;the rat&#151;was sorry that he could do no more.

«Ask him to chew through the bridle,» he whispered.

She jerked, and the rat squeaked.

«Let him try! Consider: Unicorn magic is tied up in virginity, or so the legends go. Was Luke, or whomever he&#146;d been, a virgin? The rat is&#151;you&#146;d know if he wasn&#146;t.»

&#147;Little one, there is another thing you can do. A favor. This bridle,&#148; she motioned towards it, careful not to touch it where her skin was blackened, cracked and oozing blood. As daintily as she could, she touched the hanging strand, the point where her piece had joined with the fragment Master held.

Tiny claws skittered up her neck, burrowed into her flesh with squeaked apologies, as the rat wiggled through her bedraggled mane. It clung there and she could hear him begin chewing.

«This isn&#146;t going to work&#133;» she said in her mind.

«So?»

«And Master told me not to escape. Told me to tell him about anybody who helps me try to escape.»

«Again: So? Look, the Master I created for your background couldn&#146;t have been very smart. If he was, you&#146;d never have escaped in the first place. Besides, we have nothing to lose at this point.»

Absently, some part of her noted that the magic which shackled her was weakening.

«But why the rat? You saw the light saber bounce off the bridle!»

She felt his mental shrug. «It&#146;s magic&#151;you&#146;re asking me for an explanation? It&#146;s what we had available. Like I said, maybe that Luke wasn&#146;t a virgin. Maybe it had to be done out of love of what you are, or were. I don&#146;t know. I repeat: What have we got to lose?»

«Well&#133; it is traditional&#133; remember Aslan at the Stone Table?»

«Meaningless. Facts are facts. It works. At this point, the reason is immaterial.»

With a spark and a hiss, the bridle&#146;s rein fell free, and smacked onto the floor.

The world brightened. Strength flowed into her. Nowhere near enough to replace what Master had stolen, but life!

«Master knows!» she wailed.

«Of course he does. Ask the rat to take the piece and hide it. Have him hide it where it&#146;ll never be found.»

She felt the rat licking her ear. Offering him her palm, she felt it walk on and carried it, cocking her muzzle to look at it through on eye. &#147;Little one, I must ask one more favor of you.&#148;

It squeaked.

&#147;Take the piece that lies on the floor,&#148; she pointed. &#147;Take it and hide it where Master will never, ever find it. Or you. And be safe!&#148;

The rat squeaked, twitched its whiskers, and bound down her arm and her body. It grabbed the glistening gold in its mouth, splashed through a puddle and vanished into a hole. The gold trailed after, and vanished in the blackness.

«We&#146;re free&#151;»

«Wrong&#151;we&#146;re just back where we started. Now, get up! Open the door. Who knows how much time we have?»

She stood up, muddy water dribbling from the matted hair of her legs. She wobbled, leaned against the wall until she was a bit more steady, and then clopped and staggered over to the door.

«But it&#146;ll be locked!»

«Try it anyway.»

She did. It creaked open.

«Good. As far as Master knows, you&#146;re magically forbidden to escape! The only reason for him to lock the cell door is to keep other people from seeing you&#151;but with the state we&#146;re in, who&#146;d want to do that? Why do you think we&#146;re leaving now? Go left&#151;he usually goes left. Look for stairs or an exit.»

Leaning against the wall, slowing growing stronger as the trickle of magic the bridle let through healed her body, she made her way along the corridor. Its only light was a flickering fluorescent that whined loudly in her ears. It didn&#146;t take long until they came to a staircase going up. At the top could be seen a dim red EXIT sign.

«And there we are. Up the stairs and out.»

«Won&#146;t that set an alarm off?»

«Possible. And your point is..?»

Not knowing what to say, she made her way up, her hooves clicking on the steps. Too soon she reached the top. Stopping, she placed her worn, bleeding, cracked hands on the metal.

«Push it!»

«It&#146;ll alert Master

«And the breaking of the bridle hasn&#146;t? Just push the damn thing!»

A whimper slipped out of her muzzle and she pushed, leaning against it with all her strength. The handle clanked down and the door creaked open. All around screeched the ear-piercing CLANGCLANGCLANGCLANG of a massive bell as the electric driven clapper rattled against it. She fled out into the alleyway, more to escape the sound than anything else.

The alleyway was dark, lit by a single dirty bulb above the door. Garbage was strewn throughout, ripped plastic bags piled beside the door. Cans and broken glass were scattered around. Somebody&#151;a man, the stench of his virility assaulting her nostrils, looked up.

«He&#146;s no virgin. Run!»

She staggered out, turning towards the streetlight. «Where?»

«Look for it&#151;not by sight&#151;by smell, by feel. Find the nearest park or wood, as close as we can get to real wilderness. And find a virgin!»

She didn&#146;t need more urging. Hooves clattering on the cracked ground, metal and glass, with things better left undescribed crunching and squishing underneath, she ran. Like a ghost she made her way through the moon and streetlight-lit city, a vision of beauty and grace and magic in a mundane world. An instant of wonder&#151;before banality swept it away. The streets grew cleaner, the lights brighter, and still she ran. Cats and dogs stopped fighting to watch her pass; children woke up and stared wide-eyed through their windows at wonder. Tomorrow they&#146;d ask for stories of Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny, but end up crying for the magic they&#146;d nearly touched. In the pre-dawn light, with birds clouding around her, she felt dew-tickled grass beneath her hooves, and brush bowing out of her way. Only when she was deep in the wildness (or what passed for wildness in the midst of the city) did he let her sleep.

She awoke in the warm afternoon leaf-dappled sunlight. She looked almost beautiful. Except around the bridle, her wounds were healed, her coat white and glistening. Only where her muzzle touched it, did the woven gold lay against reddened, cracked, flesh. She didn&#146;t want to wake up; it had been such a wonderful dream being free&#151;

«It&#146;s not a dream, and it won&#146;t last much longer! Get up!»

She sat up, rubbing her sleep-dulled eyes. Coldness poured into her muzzle and she jerked, eyes popping open wide. «Master&#146;s coming!»

«I know! We need to get the bridle off, now. Try taking it off!»

«That won&#146;t work!»

«Just try it!»

She nodded, and raised a hand and touched the bridle. It was cold, slivers of ice stabbing into her skin. Wherever her fingers moved, it seemed to slither away from her touch, avoiding her even though it didn&#146;t move.

«Damn. Well, it was worth a shot. Get up! Find a virgin!»

«I&#151;fine.» She pushed herself onto her hooves and stood, far steadier than during the night. Making her way through the brush as it moved out of her way, she came upon a gravelled path. «Master isn&#146;t far!»

«Then run! Find somebody, anybody!»

Nodding, she ran down the path, her hooves crunching on the fine stone. She could smell the many people who&#146;d been here earlier. Mothers, students, males, females, dogs out being walked. But now, nobody&#151;

Heeeere, Shiny, Shiny, Shiny&#151;

«It&#146;s just in your mind!»

«He&#146;s here! Master is here!»

«Not yet, he isn&#146;t! There&#146;s still time, so run, damn you, run!»

She picked up the pace, her hooves clacking on the gravel. Bursting out into the mid-afternoon sunlight, she blinked, her gaze running across the close-cropped grass. A group of children ran, happily screaming, a few teenagers sat on a bench with laptops, gossiping and giggling. All by herself an older girl sat on a blanket reading a book through thick glasses.

«That one!»

&#147;I can see you, Shiny!&#148;

«Master&#146;s here!»

«Ignore him! Go for the girl. Ask her, beg! I don&#146;t want to die!»

She staggered towards the girl, sunlight glistening off her body, off her horn, off the gold of the bridle. In the distance, she could see Master bounding across the field, holding something in each of his hands. Tripping, she fell in front of the girl, her breath being knocked out of her in a lilac-smelling whoosh the whispered across the girl who was staring.

&#147;Help me&#151;&#148;

&#147;The Shiny&#146;s mine!&#148;

«He&#146;ll kill her, too!»

&#147;What...?&#148; asked the girl, blinking behind her thick glasses.

&#147;Don&#146;t let Master take me!&#148;

The sounds of the children were distant now, the sounds of their happiness odd and tinny, as though they were in a different world. Wind was beginning to howl, swirling around them, keeping out the growing flock of birds that swept round and round. The girl&#146;s long hair had been neatly braided, but now it blew loose, whipping around her body. Pages in her book flipped back and forth with sharp snapping sounds, like erudite stilettos.

&#147;The Shiny&#133; is mine!&#148;

&#147;Please&#151;help me&#151;&#148; the unicorn whispered, her voice clearly audible even over the howl of the wind.

The girl pushed herself back, eyes wide with terror.

«Don&#146;t let her go! Tell her to take the bridle off! Don&#146;t let Master kill me!»

&#147;Why me&#151;?&#148; the girl asked.

&#147;Don&#146;t touch&#133; Shiny! Shiny&#133; is mine!&#148; Master was nearly upon them now, huffing and puffing, his raccoon body layered in bulges of fat, panting, heat pouring out of his muzzle. In one hand was the fragment of bridle, in the other the limp body of a rat. The rat that had helped the unicorn.

She screamed, &#147;He never hurt you!&#148; pointing at the rat&#146;s limp form.

Master turned to the girl. &#147;You help&#151;Shiny&#151;you end up&#151;dead! Dead like&#151;rat!&#148;

She turned to the girl, eyes wide and beseeching. &#147;The bridle&#151;take it off&#151;free me&#151;Please&#151;&#148;

«Tell her Master&#146;ll kill her if she doesn&#146;t!»

&#147;Shiny&#151;is mine!&#148; Master threw the dead rat so that it thudded into the unicorn&#146;s chest, blood oozing out its broken jaw.

&#147;No&#151;!&#148; she screamed, sobbing for the cost of her freedom. Turning back to the girl, she begged, &#147;Please&#151;save me&#151;&#148;

The sun dimmed as though shining through smoked glass. The girl looked from one to another, from the unicorn sobbing in front of her, to the fat raccoon panting for breath, crawling forwards as spittle flew from his muzzle with each gasping exhalation.

The unicorn just looked at her. &#147;Please&#151;&#148;

«You idiot!» he screamed. «I&#146;m not going to let your stupidity kill me! Let me in, damn you! Let me talk!» He shoved against her mind, fighting with the desperation of the damned to take over, to be able to speak, to tell the girl to take the bridle off.

In their mind she screamed in pain, feeling him shove into her, pushing, shoving. Even though she wanted to help, knew that he was stronger, afraid of that same strength, she couldn&#146;t.

&#147;Shiny! You&#146;re mine!&#148;

The girl looked from one to the other. And then she reached down, touched the bridle with one paper-cut finger and then another.

&#147;My Shiny!&#148;

And the girl yanked the bridle off! It fell to the ground, golden, sinister, glittering in the sun.

&#147;Nooooooo!&#148; screamed the raccoon.

The sunlight brightened, the wind calmed. The birds swooped down, bathing the unicorn in a living dress as sunlight poured into her. Inside the two minds entangled, desperate, afraid, were seized by the magic, the force of life, and twisted and mixed into the one soul they&#146;d originally been before the dream of the unicorn had awoken their fragments. The unicorn&#146;s body changed: It grew heavier, thicker, gained muscle. The horn grew tinged with black, black hairs tipped the ears. The unicorn&#146;s body beame harder, more masculine, but stayed feminine at the same time. Male organs grew into place, and the voice deepened.

&#147;Free,&#148; shi whispered, now male and female both. &#147;Free!&#148;

The birds burst away, revealing the new being, strong, healthy, and radiant. Shi stood there, naked and glowing with life and wonder.

&#147;My Shiny&#133;&#148; sobbed the raccoon.

The girl just stared, eyes wide as her glasses slid further down her nose.

The unicorn turned to face the raccoon. Turned and stomped with a hoof on the bridle on the ground. At the unicorn&#146;s touch, the gold melted into a glimmering mist, vanishing as if it had never been. &#147;You,&#148; shi said, glaring down at hir one-time tormentor.

&#147;But&#133; my Shiny&#133;&#148;

&#147;Before Xanadu, you were a small evil,&#148; said the unicorn. Although vengeance was more than warranted here, shi wasn&#146;t at all sure what form that vengeance should take. Shi felt that a unicorn ought to be something more than just a kind of executioner&#133; &#147;Small and inconsequential. You got everything you wanted&#151;everything you could ever have dreamed of&#151;and it made you smaller.&#148;

&#147;All I wanted&#133; was Shiny&#133;&#148;

What could shi do? More&#151;what should shi do? The raccoon was very dangerous, and more than a little insane. Even so, would it be justice to punish the black-masked menace for what someone else had made him to be? And suddenly, seeing his pitiful state, hir course of action was clear. Queer energies crackled as shi pronounced sentence: &#147;You may live out the rest of your allotted days in whatever peace you may find. But nevermore shall you have the power you had; never again will you steal life, magic, or souls. Remember what you could have had.&#148;

And when shi was done&#133; the helpless raccoon sobbed.

Shi turned and looked at the girl, staring at hir above her glasses. Hir arcane senses perceived the shape of the girl&#146;s soul, all of her drives and longings, and the unicorn knew that she was worthy.

&#147;And you, Jeanelle. You&#146;ve done something for which no payment is enough. Ask what you want; if it is within my power, it will be yours.&#148;

&#147;I&#133;&#148; She stood up, straightened her skirt. &#147;I want to be like you. I want my own magic, my own beauty, my own grace. I want to be different. I want&#133; I want my dreams.&#148;

The unicorn looked down at her. &#147;Are you certain? It will be a difficult path. I do not know if I can give you magic, but I can give you what you want. I can make you different. Is this truly what you wish, Jeanelle?&#148;

She swallowed, and then, quickly, nodded.

&#147;Very well. So mote it be.&#148;

With that, the unicorn leaned down and touched her head with hir alicorn, the shimmering black-tinged pearl horn that glowed with the power of life.

And Jeanelle received her dreams&#151;