The thing was filled with evil juice
“Pain was to them a solvent, a cathartic, almost a decoration, to be fairly worn while they survived it. Fear, the strongest motive in slothful man, broke down with us, since love for a cause—or for a person—was aroused.” —T.E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom
March 12th, 1917
Diary of Major T.E. Lawrence
My plan was to wait for the VIP train, blow up the track and then use virgins to lure the unicorn into a narrow ravine, and then capture it so that we could make further study of its biology and habits. To do this we needed virgins as bait, as only virgins can tame unicorns. My little impish servants Daud and Farraj volunteered immediately for this duty, insisting it would be a lark. The two friends were always inseparable from one another, so they both wanted to be in the trap together, but this was an unnecessary risk. So we tossed a coin to decide that Farraj would be the one to go. He jumped up and down with glee at this whilst Daud pouted and kicked the sand.
Our sources in Cairo told us that we were to expect a Turkish general and a high-ranking Austrian diplomat aboard the train, as well as a transfer of gold and bank notes for soldiers’ pay. Therefore, the unicorn was there to act as an unusually strict security measure. We were told that Turkish scouts and patrols were in high numbers in preparation for the train coming through; they were coming up and down the line hunting for signs of irregular fighters and sappers (our ilk), so we had to take extra precautions and a great deal of time concealing our trap.
We knew that acting as bait would not be without considerable risk, so we devised a foolproof plan. Farraj would lead the unicorn to the end of the ravine where the two cliffs converged. The sheer, 40 foot walls made escape impossible. With great difficulty, we constructed and maneuvered an iron cage in the ravine. Farraj would lure the beast into the cage, then escape through a trap-door cut into the roof of it. Two men would be partially buried in the sand. They would spring up and close the door of the cage, locking the unicorn in. A length of cable attached the roof of the cage to a heavy-equipment winch on an armored truck hidden at the top of the cliff. After the unicorn was trapped, it would be raised—cage and all—onto the truck, whilst Auda’s men covered our exit.
We expected the entire operation to take about twenty minutes—an eternity in this type of warfare—which is why some of our resources would be spent lying in wait further down the track in anticipation of Turkish reinforcements. They would not be able to defeat the rescuers of our train victims, but they would, in theory, be able to delay them and buy us enough time to complete the rather complex task of extracting the unicorn.
Events did not unfold according to plan. There was trouble right off as Browntrout and Auda argued over the purpose of the mission. Auda was for killing the unicorn in battle and taking its tusk. Browntrout argued the necessity of capturing it for further study. This was not a negotiable point and I was forced to intervene and make promises to Auda that there would be greater chances to win glory in the future. It was a delicate bargain, and a debt that I must now pay in full, in light of what followed.
All went well at first. The explosives took the train right off. The engine and first three cars toppled. However, I could see right away something was wrong. A VIP train would have several opulently equipped luxury carriages, easily identified by the number of windows. I instructed our machine gunners to target those first. However, there were only steel, windowless box cars. Then, slits opened inside them, revealing loopholes from which they began firing at us with carbines. Our .303 rounds were ineffective against the steel plating of the armored train, helplessly ricocheting off. The Maxims, chambered in another caliber, performed no better. We had access to an elephant gun which could have penetrated the armor, but we had left it back at our camp, reasoning it was too heavy to justify bringing with us and would not be needed.
In addition to the loopholes on the sides of the train, they fired at us with their own machine gunners from up top. Our camel-mounted calvary was cut down by their guns as they tried to get in close and place explosive charges, thereby blowing a hole in their defenses. Finally, after a few minutes of this back and forth, we stayed behind cover, pinning them down. All they needed to do was stay put inside their mobile fortress and await reinforcements.
I was about to give the order to abandon the mission and retreat, despite the fact that we would have to leave behind the iron cage we had taken so much effort to construct and place. The mission was already a failure in terms of loss of men. Just as I turned to Auda and Browntrout to give the signal for retreat, a door opened in the side of a train car. Out of it galloped a riderless unicorn. It was larger than the largest clydesdale I have ever seen, and covered in a sickly purplish hue—it was clearly a warcorn. It chuffed, pawed at the dirt and made right for our position. An Austrian officer appeared to be directing its movements using a whistle or pipe and hand signals. Our men sniped at it, and while many of their shots went home, none slowed the beast down for a moment. Stanley took up the Maxim gun, firing at it as it rode back and forth across our lines.
Farraj ran out front waving a red scarf back and forth like a matador taunting a bull. I yelled for him to come back. The Turks concentrated their fire towards him. Bullets ricocheted off the rocks all around. The beast took notice and gave chase into the dark ravine where the cage awaited it. The trap was still set. I scrambled to the top of the cliff and followed the action through my field glasses. Farraj was yelling like a maniac to alert everyone that he was coming. The unicorn was hot on his tail. Farraj made it to the cage just in time, slamming the door closed behind him.
We thought that his virginal presence would act as a soporific, calming the warcorn enough that it would enter the cage gently and willingly. If anything, it was more enraged than when it first exited the train. It butted the cage with its head, nearly knocking it over. Seeing that he could not quiet it, Farraj taunted it with insults and funny faces. We called out to Farraj to climb out the trap door, but it was jammed and he was trapped inside the cage. The warcorn bashed at the lock and door of the cage, bending the iron bars inward. Farraj pressed himself to the back of the cage to avoid being gored by its deadly horn. Now terrified, Farraj began crying out for help. I saw that there was no chance of capturing the unicorn, so I ordered that we raise the cage with Farraj inside it to pull him to safety, and then drop dynamite on the unicorn from the cliff above.
Finally, we started the cumbersome process of raising the cage using the motorized winch. The Turks had still not left the train. Our scouts told us that Turkish reinforcements were already on the way from the south. We had, perhaps ten minutes before they arrived. They could be delayed no longer.
As the cage rose, the warcorn reared and bucked at it, but the cage was soon out of reach of its equine frame. Farraj laughed with relief. Then the warcorn pointed its rear end towards Farraj, and, with a sound like ripping paper, unleashed a plume of blue smoke that soon enveloped Farraj and the cage. The sounds of his laughter were replaced by gasping. As the smoke rose past the cage to the cliff top, we were forced to disperse because none of us had gas masks.
The smoke dispersed, leaving behind a kind of residue or vapor. When the cage finally came over the top of the cliff, we found Farraj delirious. His skin was the same deathly purple hue as the warcon, the same color as gangrene. His eyes were wide. I tried to give him a little water, but it was air he wanted, just air. Milky tears streamed down his face. “I can’t see. I can’t see,” he said. I told him he would be alright. I yelled at Browntrout to do more than just stand there and watch, but he just shrugged his shoulders helplessly. In truth, there was nothing he could do. “Did I do alright, Aurens?” were the last words of Farraj. There was no time even to close his eyes. The Turks were closing in on us.
Excerpt from Many Tales of Auda by Auda Abu Tayi
Auda’s men fell fast against the Turk on the day we fought the devil with the spiraled horn. Aurens promised that the greater glory would come from capturing rather than killing the devil horse. Auda said that it was Allah’s will that the devil horse be slain. Eventually, Auda was persuaded by Aurens. If we captured it, we would know better how to kill its brothers the next time, and this made sense.
Everything went wrong on this day. The Turk hid like a coward in his steel box and would not come out and fight like men. Their machine guns kept us from getting close enough to use our bombs to make them fight. More Turk were coming. There was no gold. There was no general. They knew we were coming.
The iron box we made to catch the devil with the spiraled horn did not work. The devil horse was clever and would not go in it. We pulled it up to save the servant of Aurens. Aurenses’ outcast servant died in it, killed by the vile gas of the devil horse. It made many more men very sick.
The devil horse turned around and tried to run out of the ravine. We dropped bombs [dynamite] on it and shot it many times. Two of Auda’s men died getting close to the devil horse to try to blow it up. One of them blew up with it. He was the one who finally killed it. Its front half flew far. Another man died when the Turk shot him trying to cut the spike off its severed head. In the end, no one took the spike because there was no time and we had to escape.
There was very little left of the men who died killing the devil with the spiraled horn. The thing was filled with evil juice. The liquid from its own wounds caused men’s skin to melt. This thing takes the shape of a horse, but it is not a horse. It is a demon sent here to punish us for our sins. The men who summoned it think they will escape its wrath, but they are wrong. All men are sinners and the devil horse will not cease until it has expunged the sins of all. There is no creature on earth that can compare to its evil, not even the Beastman who was friend of the other British. We must pray that Allah will send an angel to protect us before the devil with the spiraled horn wipes us off the face of the Earth.
I, Auda of the Howeitat witnessed these things. I do not lie.