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of anchors and bitter ends

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In his oldest memories, he has no awareness of how vast the space he resides in is, nor how thin - the finest cloth, the barest hint of a being of its own that touches all worlds, and is part of none of them. He only knows that he waits for a master. It is their existence, their need, that brings him out of that place of waiting where he resides, drifting between the worlds.

He does not think his masters know how much there is to creation - it is not in their nature. He knows them - by scent, and the sense of their power. Not physical strength, though it is there sometimes, but a singularity of purpose that sings out against the backdrop of those around them. They are as he is, existing only for their purpose, and his is to serve them when he finds them.

When the first ones call him, he has no form of his own. He is fire and lightning and everything they fear, and only that in the beginning. It is some time before he meets the one that calls him ‘bull’ and later, another says ‘red’. He does not know what these things mean, but they resonate and change his shape. They give him the description that all later masters will assume is his name, and who is he to argue?

What he might call a name, he needs no language for.

In thousands of years of wandering, many masters fade from memory, needing him only briefly, or being in themselves unremarkable despite the singularity. Though he is aware that each thinks him or herself unique, there are too many and he cannot bother to remember them all. There are some, though...

One is a storm, howling its rage against the world, wanting nothing so much as to see everything burn, and though it does not last, the energy is a welcome change from the stillness he experiences when waiting. But she is fire, this one, and everything she touches is consumed, even, eventually, herself. When he feels even the embers of her scatter, as her memory fades among the people who had followed her, he has no choice but to leave. He cannot serve what is no longer there.

Another is stillness of a different sort than his own, a waiting hunger that lurks in the high mountains of his home. This one has a hunger more focused, and more precise, and his prey is easily frightened in ways that make the Bull smaller and sharper, better able to navigate the sharp cliffs of his home. When this one ends, it is on the blade of one even colder than himself, but made that way by the loss of a prey. She slipped past in the shadows, her scent disguised by the way her grief had twisted her spirit, and the Bull does not know until the master’s hunger vanishes abruptly.

He might have lingered there, but the killer’s spirit still flows with attachments, and there is no room in her for the Bull, nor any need.

Then a shadow of sleep that wants only stillness, and a town by the sea that falls quiet under the Bull’s breath. Everything is sleep there, everything is release, and for once the Bull’s service ends without the death of a master, for when he finally wakes of his own accord something has changed in this one, and he does not need the Bull. There is a brightness there, suddenly, that the Bull will not encounter again for centuries, and it confuses him in a way nothing had before.

He might have thought to sleep himself afterwards, had he any need for that state that so often consumes his masters and the other beings around them. It seems a different sort of stillness from his own, and he had never felt a need before, but afterwards it is as if some touch of him lingers, as the fires of the incandescent one did, and many centuries down the line, the Bull will learn to sleep, as if a seed that had been planted finally came into bloom.

The road between himself and that time was full of shadows, attachments sometimes as brief as a nightmare, and most of them as fleeting. A poisoned valley where the earth screamed under his weight as all the plants died and the ground became dust. Fire consuming a city quite unlike any he’d seen before, and the feeling that time was not as it should be. Vast and shifting halls of crystal that he passed through like smoke, clinging and feeling that he was leaving something of himself behind like a stain. Long after that master has passed from his memory, he remembers that place and knows that he could find it again, if he chose.

He is not sure that he would choose, knowing his own nature. If what was left behind should have found a master of its own, or any way to grow, then it is better left alone. He is uncertain of what his own response would be to another like himself, and as for something changed by the clinging of those crystal halls...

If the Bull knew what irony was, he might have felt it when he met the new master. At first his hunger seems endless, gnawing and yet impossible to satisfy. He would no sooner find something which filled the emptiness than the fire inside of him would snuff it out. He could not be happy, could not find any peace or stillness, forever moving and clinging briefly to things which remained tainted afterwards. If a human could have been a child of those crystal halls, then Haggard was - and how was the Bull to know he was not?

Which seemed somehow more likely when Haggard first saw the unicorns. The fire of that hunger sprang up, so briefly all-consuming that the Bull’s hooves ached and he might have gone after them himself. He did not have long to wait for that order, consumed as his master was with need, and he gathered untold numbers of the creatures which to him smelled of the sea before he drove the first one in.

They smelled of the sea, and of soft green leaves, and of a peculiar twist of vanity that he did not understand. It was a light scent, unlike the heavier versions of it he had smelled on past masters, and yet very much the same feeling. They were unaccountably strong and fragile at the same time, striking points of influence on the world that reminded him of the way his masters stood out, and yet untethered to it.

All but the last.

And no matter how many he gathered, until there seemed none left in this world, they only eased his master’s hunger when he actually looked at them. He had some idea of this sense, from past masters, but it seemed... useless. He suspected they had no proper sense of smell, let alone other things he knew he could sense and they could not, but. Though he cannot ‘see’ through Haggard, he feels through him that there is something he is missing that he might want, and that is a disturbing new sensation.

Is it Haggard shaping him, as masters do, or is something new changing inside him? Is it the unicorns, as Haggard calls them, and the almost-pull of them reminding him of masters? He does not know, but it exhausts him in ways he had not known could exist, and for the first time in his existence he begins to sleep.

Beneath the witch-made castle he finds a simple cave at first, and in his sleeping it changes in ways that remind him of nearly forgotten snowy mountains, and crystal halls’ mad architecture, and something else besides. That he has no name for, though he chases it in his sleep, and begins to understand how that master could have woken so changed. It is not the stillness he took it for, but something altogether its own. Anything might happen in such a space.

Yet the Bull is reminded anything might happen in any space, when the last comes. She is like all the others at first, sea-smelling and frightened, and then she is not. She is not there in the same way, and the thing in the space where she was is also not there in a different way. She was whole, and her fear vivid in the air, and then it is nearly gone, and a scent of sorrow and vanishing takes her place. In all of its existence, the Bull has sensed nothing quite like this.

And it lingers, never quite resolving into a unicorn or a human woman, though the balance begins to shift towards human slowly. He does not know what to make of it, and Haggard does not, and so nothing comes of it until the unicorn scent is nearly gone, and the human woman wants something so sharply it cuts the Bull like a knife. He cannot serve two masters, and Haggard knows for certain now, and it must end.

The ending that comes is not something he could ever have suspected. The ending of the woman, the death of the man she’d loved, should have cut the unicorn’s ties to the world, not bound them so tight that the smell of her surrounds him. It is fierce, demanding, as strong as any master he has ever had, and the tie to Haggard wavers and fades as she tries to kill him.

To kill him! No master has ever wanted him to die, and it is not something he knows how to do. He cannot serve her, though he must serve, and for a moment the sheer confusion overwhelms him. He backs into the sea, and feels them driving the waters to a frenzied foam behind him, and all he can do is leave.

Leave, and wonder what he is meant to do with a master who does not want him, and will not die.