Winged unicorns

The world of the Shine Cycle includes a variety of fantastical fauna, including dragons and the Sigyni, a race of four-winged sentient bats. Today I’d like to talk about another example: winged unicorns.

A winged unicorn is a large equine creature with two large feathered wings and a single, long ivory horn sprouting from its forehead. Winged unicorns, like centaurs, come in as wide a variety of colors as ordinary horses, though black coats are vanishingly rare and most individuals are some shade of white. Some have wings that match their coats, and some have wings colored in more avian patterns; pure white wings are most highly prized and are considered a sign of greatness. Because of this, the stereotypical winged unicorn has a white coat and white wings, though that combination is not common.

Winged unicorns are very intelligent; some are as simple as a (particularly canny) ordinary horse, but many are as intelligent (if not as wise) as a dragon or a human being, though along different lines. They are also highly social, spending most of their time in the wild in flocks of between a handful and a few dozen individuals. Further, a winged unicorn will often befriend others outside its own species, forming a strong bond with a dragon, giant, elf, or human being, for example, or attracting a collection of smaller and “lesser” animals (such as birds or even cats) as followers.

A winged unicorn is, physiologically, a magnificent creature; like a centaur it has a highly efficient metabolism and a tremendously strong frame. Its legs, torso, and neck are strong and sturdy enough to bear a rider (or, at need, armor), while its wings are strong but light, designed for flight. The internal organs are designed for endurance—in addition to large lungs and a strong heart, the winged unicorn is blessed with a digestive system that slowly but efficiently extracts all the energy and nutrients it needs from its diet (which is primarily greens, but like a horse’s is supplemented at need with grain). What is not immediately used (except for certain nutrients that can’t or shouldn’t be stored and thus pass through) is stored, and then drawn on later. Winged unicorns instinctively know how to manage their diet to maintain an optimal reserve, with a preternatural sense of what conditions are likely to be like for the near future.

A winged unicorn’s horn, like that of an ordinary unicorn, is a useful and somewhat powerful tool, capable of detecting and negating poisons, among other properties. (More about that when I write about ordinary unicorns, perhaps in a few months.) But a winged unicorn’s unique powers go far beyond that: Each winged unicorn possesses what some have called a “shield” that makes it effectively invulnerable. Essentially nothing can touch it, or an ally within range, against its will. If a winged unicorn forms a particularly strong bond with a companion—usually a human being—it can share a somewhat weaker version of this shield with him or her.

Any comments or questions about winged unicorns?

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