Fantasy Suspense Sad

This story contains sensitive content

TW: Mental Health/Suggestion of Self Harm

My rainbows and unicorns are broken.

Torn asunder, whipped and beaten, drowned by dread. The coloured bands of the polychromatic arcs that once formed a ceiling across the land brutally cleaved apart, blackened and cast far and wide. The pristine white hair of my precious, horned family scorched, seared and branded by evil, welts on their backs, chains on their hooves, misery their only companion.   

And I, the King of the Unicorns, the Vassal of Variegation Valley, the Master of this mountainous domain, made this happen.

Because I let the Darkness blindside me, catch me unawares while I wasn't watching, take root in my realm and wrest control.

Trapped now, a prisoner in a cage of mud-wood taken from the quagmire that encircles the mountains, its overwhelming stench and magic-damping qualities sapping my energy, subduing the enchantments in my horn, I can but watch, helpless, as the smoke-formed interlopers with their gaping, grinning maws and pinprick, ember eyes continue their destruction of my world and annihilation of everything I love.

The sky above, seen through the criss-crossed, tar-dripping bars of rotten swamp wood, crudely bound together to form a cell, is home now to lichen-like, pustulous storm clouds, black and grey and ashen, throbbing in the day–or night–like cancerous tumours. 

The land ahead, once verdant green fields of quivering grass, dancing daffodils and swaying sunflowers, is now a mutilated hellscape, a desolate quarry pockmarked by the quiet screaming mouths of the mineshafts blasted into it, openings by which to access the depths of the mountain and the iridescent, life-giving Opalite Hearts held within.

My family, my brethren, my beautiful white unicorns with their manes of coloured hair and once-sparkling horns, enslaved by the Shadoween Smokemen, forced to do their bidding in this fog-enshrouded valley where time no longer has meaning. Manacled. Bridled. Wings clipped. Harnessed. Forced to venture deep into the mountain to do their captors' bidding. The endless, soul-destroying work of excavating Hearts from the rock with their ivory alicorns, repurposed for use as common tools.

My loved ones, being tortured and whipped, branded and burnt, starved and neglected by soulless, substance-less creatures from the outer void, forced to use their mighty hooves and glorious horns to betray their heritage, disfigure their home, surrender the magical heartstones that allow them to fly and thread kaleidoscopic rainbows of soul-lifting light through the sky.

Being forced to destroy this sanctuary from within.

And I, in a moment of weakness, allowed it to happen.

And now I am powerless to stop it. 

And so I can only watch.

Watch as poor Jennabelle falters, her energy at last giving out, her scuffed and scraped knees buckling at the mouth of a cavern, as a Shadoween warden floats close, threatening with a tentacle arm of black mist, that undulates and writhes like a snake, that can choke and crush and burn if it closes around her.

Poor Jennabelle, the jade green hair of her tail skirt and mane tangled and frayed, far from the immaculate beauty it once was, lying on the ravaged ground, tongue lolling in rock dust, bloodshot eyes staring wearily, panting as the warden approaches, silent, looming, extending its tentacle further, forming fingers that reach towards her muzzle.

She knows what will happen when the smoke fist engulfs her head.

I know what will happen.

But neither of us can do a thing about it. 

I am powerless, my alicorn bound by wart leaves and covered in tar, its magic long drained by lack of exposure to light and Opalite Heart deprivation. Heavy leather straps secure my wings to my back, coarse ropes bind my ankles and secure me to posts in the earth. 

I can not move. 

I can not help. 

I am useless.

And so is Jennabelle. She has given everything. She has spent days and nights, countless numbers of them, working the makeshift mines, digging Hearts from rock with chipped and blunted horn, dragging carts full of treasure up from the depths then back down again when their cargo is transferred to bunkers. Orb-shaped metal bunkers at the edge of the clearing. Bunkers full to the brim with precious heartstones, waiting to be spirited away when the work is over, when the Shadoween have drilled every last Heart from the earth and slaughtered my unicorns.

Of which four will remain when Jennabelle succumbs.

And I can only watch.

And wait.

In agony.

And yet. 

Something is happening.

Corralled together at the edge of the quarry, beside the orb-like bunkers, my unicorns shudder, their legs weak from another day’s exertion, their matted coats covered in sweat and rock–dust, alicorns scraped, bent and worn. Looking on in horror at Jennabelle’s plight, they whinny and wail, swish manes and tails, their urge to assist their fallen mother at odds with the knowledge of the punishment that awaits should they step out of line. Well-earned knowledge beaten, burnt and suffocated into them, the price of disobedience and rebellion. 

As if by way of reminder, the Shadoween wardens slipping lumpy, black sheaths of strange, organic material over their horns–sheaths secured to the end of fleshy, vein-like tubes that trail from the middle of the bunkers–swell their bodies up to twice their size to hiss and threaten.

But something is different.

As Jennabelle lets her eyes fall shut and the Smokeman towering over her starts to close his fist around her head, I notice silver-maned Ri-Chard glaring at me across the barren earth, make contact with his accusatory eyes, see how the filthy white hairs on his back bristle as he stares into my soul, communicating his thoughts loud and clear.

Fight, I hear, and it startles me. Get up and fight. We need you. We need you here.

Tears, unexpected, well up in my eyes as the words I can somehow hear rain down on my anvil heart like hammers. And for the first time in a long time…I stir.

It is the slightest of movements, a twitch of a hind leg, numb from lack of movement and inadequate blood flow, an alien sensation, unnatural. But it’s there. My leg is there. I can move it.

But not enough.

And even if I could replicate the movement in my other limbs, even if I could somehow stand, I don’t have the strength to free myself from the ropes that tie me down, to remove the harness from my back, to pull off the muzzle and uncover my horn.

I am sorry Ri-Chard. It is impossible. 

I send the thought back with sorrow-filled eyes and a deflated slump of my head and Ri-Chard responds, not by looking away from his King in disgust and submissively accepting his mother’s fate but by shaking his head in rejection and standing tall. Some hitherto unknown reserves of strength and defiance surge through him and he erupts into a gallop, away from the wardens, away from his siblings, away from the bunkers, the veiny rope connecting his horn to an orb growing taut as he races towards Jennabelle.

No, I think, and now both hind legs are twitching. Stop!

But he doesn’t, and as the fleshy cable reaches its maximum extension; as the smoke-made Shadoween rise up behind him and roar, additional tentacle-like arms wafting from their bodies to swirl after him; as Jennabelle thrashes and kicks beneath suffocating warden, he grunts and snorts, rising up on his hind legs and throwing his head forward with all his might, the tumour-like sheath around his horn tugging violently as the sinewy cord attached to it snaps, ripping the alicorn from his head in a spray of sparkles.

Ri-Chard doesn’t falter.

Ri-Chard neighs in pain but thunders on, blood spurting from the hole in his forehead, running in rivulets down his muzzle as he reaches Jennabelle, charging into and through the warden, shattering it like an illusion and scattering its smoke in all directions. Its body, its tentacle, its hand disappear and the green-maned unicorn, face scorched and seared, lifts her head up to hack for breath.

Ri-Chard howls in agony, having run through the monster’s burning form, knees giving out and sending him hurtling to the ground. He hits chin first, slides along the rock, into the mineshaft opening, while the warden pulls itself back together, a large shapeless blob now, from which dozens of tentacles sprout forth, whipping and writhing in the air.

Somehow, I realise, I have gotten my legs underneath me and am pushing myself into standing, a shaky, teetering stance the gentlest breeze could blow over.

But I am up.

For all the good it will do Ri-Chard and Jennabelle, who are now being threatened by not just the smoke-blob but the other Shadoween, who have moved from the bunkers to surround them, burning red fire-eyes dilated, empty maws frozen in silent scream. I have seen this demeanour before. They intend to make an example of the rebels. They intend to blacken and burn til scorched ash remains.

I am up, I am unsteady, I am angered but also inspired, by Ri-Chard, the upstart, who found it in himself to fight back, to show me that we don’t have to accept such a fate, to embarrass me into taking action.

On the ground, by the mineshaft, I see him lift his head to regard me, that steely gaze seizing me again.

You can make it, I hear him in my head. It’s not too late. You can come back. Please come back. We need you.

I want to, I think, hoping the words channel back. But I don’t know how to…

Ri-Chard’s severed horn, on the ground, in its sheath, draws my attention, sizzling, spitting and bursting into flame, joyous, psychedelic flame, which ignites the sheath and the vein its attached to, races along the artery like fire on oil. Back, back, back, past the Shadoween, back, back, back to the bunkers, back, back, back up the flesh-rope and into the orb, which emits a high-pitched, keening wail as it rattles and shakes, cracks zig-zagging through it, fissures appearing on its surface as the Hearts within react.

 A booming screech of rending metal accompanies the eruption of a shimmering rainbow sword, which lances through the foetid air filling the valley and stabs its way into the clouds. 

Carves a path. 

Tears a hole.

Forms a shaft in the turbulent nimbus’, like those in the mountain below, through which golden rays of beckoning light stream forth, angling down to caress the grey slate before my prison.


After all this time. 

I thought I’d never see it again.

And now it’s here…I wonder.

Can I reach it with my horn?

My first attempt at taking a step ends badly and I topple, colliding with the ooze-coated bars of my cage. Ends badly for my confidence but well for my hope, as I notice the tip of my alicorn protruding through the rough-hewn stakes of mud-wood almost pierces the beam. 

I can reach it.

At a stretch.

And so, as I watch the Shadoween wardens close ranks around Jennabelle and Ri-Chard, linking their tentacles and transforming into a smokey enclosure that starts folding in to consume then, I begin sawing my horn back and forth against the mud-wood slats either side of it, tearing at the sticky coating of tar and wart leaves that surround it.

Hurry, Ri-Chard communicates. You’re running out of time. You must get out, now

I believe him.

For one reason or another I believe I am running out of time.

And so, it seems, do the rest of my unicorns, the three still tethered to their bunkers by the black veins and sheaths that cover their horns, draining any energy that may have built up inside them during the course of a day mining Opalites.

Escape and resistance are not options. The Shadoween ensure this with precautions. Ordinarily. But Ri-Chard broke free while a faint sliver of power remained in his horn, and breaking it off made magic. 

Magic the others think they can recreate, as evidenced by how, with a glance and a nod, they all, as one, begin to run, not towards the Shadoween engulfing their mother and brother but away, towards the edge of the valley and the fog bank of mist that shifts and slinks there.

Cobalt blue, scarlet red, canary yellow manes and tail skirts whipping, Bilabee, Finalon and Dandril run towards it and into and vanish, the arteries connecting them to their bunker-orbs snapping taut. I see their severed horns then, still held firm in organic gloves, arcing back through the air, trailing sputtering, sizzling sparkles in their wake.    

This time, before they hit the ground, the alicorns explode, and a trio of multi-coloured fire trails blaze back along the veins, burning their way into the bunkers and activating Opalites.

Three more bunkers crack and shatter, three more rainbow swords burst forth, startling the Shadoween, halting their attack on their captives and drawing their attention to the tumultuous, throbbing thunderclouds above, which split apart and buckle as the swords slice through. 

Four rainbows rising from the earth, four knife-wounds stabbed into the clouds, four effulgent light shafts lancing down, miraculously zeroing in on the same spot and expanding the diameter of sunlight hitting the ground.

I can do this.

Another violent spasm of my head and the tar-encrusted covering of hardened, crispy wart leaves peels from my horn, drops to the ground, exposes the dull ivory surface of my spiral alicorn as I press my head forward between cage bars, letting its tip drift into the light. 

I can get out.

The dull ivory surface of the tip of my horn starts to glow, softly at first as the sunlight pours into it, filling it up, revitalising. I feel it flowing into my head, my neck, my shoulders and flank, feel the hairs on my dried out mane rise up, feel the power of the sun activate dormant unicorn magic deep inside me and offer me life.

I can live.

Bilabee, Finalon and Dandril are lost in the fog, but I have to assume I can find them. Jennabelle and Ri-Chard are trapped, incapacitated, amongst the Shadoween, but I have to assume I can free them. I, the King of the Unicorns and Lord of this Land, am muzzled, harnessed, tied down and trapped in this cage…but I have to assume I can break out.

And with the power flooding through me, from the tip of my blinding bright horn, I make my move. No time to waste. Standing strong, muscle rippling. Spreading wings, harness ripping. Stretching jaw, muzzle snapping. Rising up, up, up, mud-wood sticks coming asunder above me, rope-posts ripping free of the earth beneath my hooves.  

I am free.

I am alive.

I am airborne.

And I continue to rise, flapping hard, kicking back, craning neck, up towards the clouds amongst the light beams, targeting a spot I deem weak, that seems to tremble and cave as I approach, opening wide in anticipation.


Blinding white light bursts through dreary grey clouds and I am ready, to escape the valley, to bask in the sun, to recharge myself ready to fight. 

To fight and kill the Darkness that invaded my land.

The Darkness that I, myself, unleashed.

The Darkness.

The Dark.



My eyelids flutter.

Light pours in, chasing shadows away.

People take shape before me.

Faces I recognise and don’t.

“Oh God, babe, thank God babe, oh Jesus.” Jenna.

“He’s awake. He’s awake, mum.” Richard.

“Dad? Can you hear me? Don’t move, okay, we’ve got you.” Billy.

“He’s still with us. Let’s get him onboard.” Someone. A man. Paramedic? Working with another, lifting a gurney, carrying me past the tear-stained faces of those I love, my family, the twins Finlay and Dan behind the others, watching as they slide me into a van.

 “I’m sorry,” I hear myself utter, my gaze drifting down to my arms, with tattoos of rainbows and unicorns, my wrists, with bandages wrapped tight, tell-tale red stains peeking through.

Memories return, carrying shame and remorse.

“I’m sorry.”

"Don't be sorry, babe," my wife at my side, squeezing my hand, leaning in, her forehead touching mine. "You don't have to be sorry. Just let us help."

The Black Dog came barking at my door again.

“I let it in,” I mutter, squeezing back, large doors slamming shut before me. "I'm sorry, Jen, I should have told you I was suffering. I should have... I should have..."

Her soft, loving lips, with warm, gentle kiss, cut me off.

"It's okay, my Unicorn King. It's okay, you're safe now, just rest "

The Darkness was strong this time. It hit hard, cut deep, almost took me.

But now I know I can beat it.

July 28, 2023 23:54

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E. M.
18:01 Jul 31, 2023

I'm in awe of the detail and description of this story. I really enjoyed how you started off with a literal interpretation of the prompt, but it became clear early on that this was a story within a story. The paralytic pain of depression and defeat was evident long before the reality of the ending set in. Your line about "the Black Dog" hit home for me, as I'm sure it does for many. You captured the hope and power of second chances given to us by our loved ones. Lovely piece; best of luck!


18:27 Jul 31, 2023

Thank you so much Em. Yes it hits home for a lot of us I feel, sadly. It's a constant struggle. Glad you enjoyed and I appreciate you commenting 😊


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Martha JPorter
14:54 Aug 04, 2023

The details💗 Chef's kiss 😙👌✨


16:03 Aug 04, 2023

Thanks Martha.. sadly didn't make the shortlist and I really thought it had a shot! Never mind! Im proud of this one!


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03:31 Aug 04, 2023

The imagary, especally in the beginning few paragraph, are so vivid! The way you wove fantasy into the reality is on point. Unicorns are usually associated with sunshine and happiness, so it was really interesting to see it tied to this theme and put in a battle. Kudos!


10:18 Aug 04, 2023

Thanks so much Naomi. This one wasn't easy to write to be honest so I'm glad it came together well.


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Michał Przywara
22:41 Aug 03, 2023

Quite intense! Great imagery too. Likening depression to darkness is nothing new, but the visuals of choking sentient shadows, of tumorous tentacles, these add a lot - especially contrasted against the light of unicorns and rainbows. Likewise, the image of digging through stone to extract Hearts from within, is apt. On that note, I enjoyed the double-twist. At first, I assumed the unicorns and rainbows thing was a metaphor, but then it turned out to be literally true (twist one). But then it turned out to be a metaphor after all (twist t...


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Ellen Neuborne
17:08 Aug 01, 2023

Very visceral writing. Well done.


17:59 Aug 01, 2023

Thank you! 😍


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Susan Catucci
15:07 Jul 31, 2023

Whoa. Soooooo so good, Derrick. I'm not ashamed to say I had to turn away several times at the start - I couldn't take it, it affected me to my core. I can't imagine a more apt depiction of mental anguish - aside from some of Van Gogh's work. The battle that ensued was just as descriptive of what goes on inside a person struggling. The only way I can think to describe what you have here is excruciatingly beautiful. The ending was as heartbreaking as anything I've read but that's where the light lay, in an Oz-like ending filled with h...


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Jessie Laverton
09:23 Jul 31, 2023

Oh! Oh!!


10:01 Jul 31, 2023

Is that a good 'Oh!' or a bad 'Oh!' ? :) thanks for reading!


Jessie Laverton
09:44 Aug 01, 2023

That's like a speechless oh :) So good yes. I read this yesterday and it's really stayed with me since. Very powerful writing. And I love the inverted interpretation of the prompt.


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Kevin Logue
12:47 Jul 30, 2023

What encapsulating descriptions, the imagery was fantastic. I'm going to say it, best unicorn story I've ever read ha. I was so engaged I totally forgot the trigger warning and ye got me, got me good. Another smashing piece!


20:19 Jul 30, 2023

Thanks mate. Had no idea where this one was going when I started writing, it just created itself as I went. So cool when that happens!


Kevin Logue
20:31 Jul 30, 2023

We followed the same path this week then so haha


10:03 Jul 31, 2023

Ha! Have you had any inspiration for this week yet?? I've got something percolating but feeling I want to do something a bit breezier this week.


Kevin Logue
12:46 Jul 31, 2023

Yeah, two things one an emotional one for the car journey prompt, thinking about when I had to take my dog to be put down years ago. But I think I'm going for the gas station prompt, but an interstellar gas station where the refuelling ship finds the station abandoned. I haven't done sci-fi before even though I love it so could be fun.


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Mary Bendickson
16:32 Jul 29, 2023

Wow, wow, wow!!! Derrick, going for the win again! Wonderful descriptions throughout painting a woeful world. Then the reality of what it all meant and the hope shining through. Powerful writing! Power to unicorns everywhere.🦄🤩🏆


16:09 Aug 04, 2023

Thanks Mary. I thought I had a shot at shortlist with this one for sure but ......who knows! On to the next! 💪💪


Mary Bendickson
17:24 Aug 04, 2023

Yes keep flexing those muscles. You have proven you have some big guns.


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Unknown User
22:49 Jul 31, 2023

<removed by user>


13:28 Aug 01, 2023

Thanks Joe!


Jill Murphy
10:46 Oct 11, 2023

Whenever it reads “UNKNOWN USER” it means user was removed from this site, either by choice or by force. User did not remove comment, even though it reads “REMOVED BY USER.”


11:41 Oct 11, 2023

oh really. i wonder why. Not sure which Joe it was!


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