The scent of burning fur struck her first: sulfurous and stinging, while tears streamed down her face from the bright light. As the glow faded, she noticed a charred mark on the ground where the beast had been, and a man standing beside it.
He wore battered armor that gleamed beneath the scrapes and held a sword, glowing brilliantly like a shaft of sunlight made solid. His eyes blazed with fire and his skin gleamed molten bronze, but he was gentle as he lifted a hand to caress the unicorn’s neck.
“Are you afraid?” he asked. The words rang in her ears, many voices speaking at once. She tasted copper on her tongue.
She felt a weight behind him —a separate Presence so timeless and vast, it overwhelmed her.
“Yes.” Heart racing, she forced the words past trembling lips.
“Don’t be.” The man’s face was stern, yet she felt comforted. She let out a breath she didn’t realize she’d been holding. The Presence was still nigh overwhelming, but she sensed something familiar — like a long forgotten memory.
“Are you He?” The girl’s voice cracked.
“No. I am not He: only one of His MESSENGERS.” Dozens of meanings pulsed beneath the last word, simultaneous yet separate: soldier, agent, warrior, servant, child. As the echoes faced, the man began to fade like a dream lost upon awakening.
“Wait!” She scrambled to her feet, the unicorn moving to her side. She buried her fingers in his mane, welcoming the comfort offered. “What if it comes back? Am I safe now?”
“This one will not return,” he said, gesturing towards the blackened grass. “But others might. Your choices will determine that.”
“But what if I choose wrong?” she whispered, hand clenching in the unicorn’s mane. She could see it: so many paths stretching out before her. How would she know which path was safe? She’d felt nudges in the past, something she now recognized as the Presence, but she hadn’t always listened.
“He will be with you regardless,” said the man as he faded out of sight. But the Presence was not gone. It remained, comforting and gentle at the very edge of her senses.
Amazed, she realized the Presence has always been there, waiting patiently for her and soothing her when the loneliness in her home became too painful to bear.
“Let’s go home,” she murmured to the unicorn. Her father would no doubt be gone, but she felt the Presence touch her mind as she climbed onto the unicorn’s back, and knew she wouldn’t be alone.