Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Wednesday Briefs: Unicorn Quests Chapter 6



We moved almost constantly, skulking through the night, watching the sky, our backs, and for anyone who might have followed us instead of scrambling for the glittering coins that Grif had scattered. I was still shocked she’d given up any treasure.

“Bah. Mere trifles, barely worth the metal they were struck on.” She waved away my shock. “I found a whole bag of them. Probably what she gave her staff on holidays.”

I licked my lips. “Still. Did you find the diamonds?” I asked.

“No, but I’m sure it’s in one of the bags we grabbed. I don’t have that itchy feeling.”

Well, that was a good sign. I sighed in relief and licked my lips.

Grif eyed me in the growing daylight. “Why do you keep doing that?”

“What?” I blinked, not sure what I was supposed to be doing. Mostly I was walking around, exhausted. I’d stayed female, but became shorter and stouter, my face rounded and cheeks pudged up to narrow my eyes.

“Lick your lips.”

“He always does that as a female. I think it’s their hormones. Makes him crazy.” Londe was resting with one back leg cocked, shaking the hoof periodically as his tail swished restlessly.

“What? No I don’t! I mean, I’m not crazy. I change my body, not who I am. It’s not like I’m really a woman inside.” They didn’t need to know anything else. “I’m not even a human, people, remember?” Much less a woman. It hurt, aching deep inside myself, to have to remind them of that.

“Did I hurt your feelings?” Londe asked. “I didn’t mean to do that.” He stepped close, draping his head over my shoulder and nudging me with his warm cheek.

“You didn’t,” I said as gruffly as possible. “My feet just hurt, and I’m tired. And hungry. I want out of this damn city.” We’d hid in the Being sections whenever possible, but there were enough humans here that my skin itched. “You have an idea for that, Grif?”

They let me change the subject.

“We walk right out.” Grif rummaged around in her ruff, pulling out a leather bag tied with a black cord. “Invisibility powder, right here.”

“What?” Lorde scoffed. “That doesn’t exist.” He paused, chomping his teeth a few times. “Does it?” he asked me quietly.

Grif cawed out a raucous laugh, way too loud for the hour and the corner of the city we were trying to hide in.

“Shh,” I frantically hushed her. “And, no, it doesn’t. What the devils have you got there, Grif?”

“Oh, just a little Toranian dervish powder. There will be such a commotion going on that we won’t be noticed sneaking out.”

Grif’s prediction was true, though it was a struggle getting her out of the gates when the two nobles who were coming in tangled with a merchant who couldn’t stop jerking and spinning. The resulting spill of goods into the road left many sparklies about for grasping fingers.

And we finally made it to a safe place outside of the city, and the hollow that sheltered us also meant no risk of prying eyes. I didn’t care about Londe and Grif’s, though, and I wasted no time stripping, dropping every bag in a pile at my feet, and ridding myself of both the feminine clothes and form.

The loss of the fangs was the biggest relief. I’d pricked my lips so many times I’d had to keep licking them to heal the wounds, but I’d had to shed the teeth and growing new ones would take a few hours. Embarrassing, but I’d just keep my mouth shut as much as possible.

I hated the oddities that came with being able to shift form, but when I’d had my horn removed and stolen, I’d lost my unicorn form. Only the shapeshifter magic gifted to me allowed me to change. If I could ever find a mage strong enough, I hoped to pair the shapeshifting magic and my horn to regain my true form.

Until then, I remained a Being unique in the world. The only anchors I had were Londe and the babies. Someone had stolen them, and I would get them back. Then I’d return to my quest to become whole again.

Plunking down on the cold ground, I shivered. Londe grunted, but he folded his knees and sank down behind me, providing an additional block to the wind and a backrest.

“We’ll split the bags, other than the red diamonds. You have majority share,” I said. Grif was nearly shivering in delight, or maybe cold. She’d already dropped her bags on the same pile.

“Sure, sure, yes, yes, whatever. Sparklies!” she crowed. She started opening things at a frantic rate, spilling out coins and gems.

“Careful,” Londe snapped. “We can’t afford to lose a single diamond.”

Grif scoffed, and the two were off, sniping at each other. I think it was to take Londe’s mind off the fear we hadn’t gotten the diamonds; Grif was just bitchy.

The fourth bag I loosened and spilled into my hand sent a cascade of bright red gemstones to pool in my palm. “Oh thank the spirits!” We had found them. I’d begun to doubt as Grif hurried through the bags.

She scampered around me. “Diamonds, diamonds, small and shiny. Came right out of Earth’s tight hiny.” She cackled and cawed.

“Oh do shut up for once in your life, you shrill harpy!” Londe sniffed. He was pretending like he wasn’t crying in relief, but I wasn’t fooled. Had he really been that afraid that we wouldn’t succeed?

Of course we would; I wouldn’t let anyone keep the babies. Those young were as good as traded back into our arms.

“Shrill? Pfft.” Grif made a gesture with one wing and her beak that was extremely rude. Her breasts heaved, the cloth she’d donned in camp barely covering them. She started separating out bags. “Coins for you, must better. Shiny blues and silvery grays for me… yes, yes,” Grif hummed happily.

TBC
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Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Wednesday Briefs: Unicorn Quests Chapter 5



Please be easy. Please be easy. I had no idea why I thought using that mantra would work, but a fool can hope. I was a big fool. We made our slow way upstairs, and I almost didn’t have to feign the stumbling. It’d been some time since I’d taken a woman’s form.

They were so top heavy!

“Would you care for your usual, madam?” sked the butler, or whoever he was, when he stopped outside a set of thick, double doors at the end of a hall.

“Oh. Yes. Please.” I licked my lips. What the hell was my usual? Her usual, I meant. I couldn’t ask, and if I said no, that might make him suspicious.

“Very good.” He dropped his arm, and I had a moment of panic not knowing what to do with mine. I’m sure I looked awkward as a human—a definite no no for a vampire—but fortunately his back was turned as he opened the doors. “We anticipated your needs.”

Reclining on the bed in a simple loincloth, his bare chest oiled, was a man. His eyes were half-lidded, his arms stretched and tied with silken cords. Red. Matching the bedding.

For all the saints and sinners. I licked my lips, and my servant smiled. “We have pleased you.” He bowed. “Enjoy your night, madam.”

Oh, his madam would not be pleased, not when I left here. But maybe the morsel would help. He seemed willing enough, and a sated vampire female wasn’t looking for more food when she returned. Oh no. She’d have something else in mind.

“You want this?” I ran my hands down my ribs to my hips, the flare strange but growing more familiar as I wore the body.

“Yes, madam.” His husky voice was deep, strained, nearly as strained as the fabric covering the clearly impressive cock between his bent legs. “Whatever you wish from me, I am yours.”

“Close your eyes,” I whispered as I drew close.

He shuddered, the bed creaking, but the sacrifice did as I said. He never saw me draw back one arm, take careful aim, or the fist that flew at his face and cracked into his jaw. He stiffened, grunting, and then went limp in his bonds.

Well, most of him. They must have dosed him because a certain part of him didn’t flag as I checked to ensure he was out but not in danger. I rushed to the window, eyeing the wards. Thankfully, they were simple. A quick swipe with the knife I’d hidden in my breasts, and poof, no more wards. I unlatched the shutters, then the window, then the outer shutters. Waving, I waited for Grif.

“Ooh, what do we have here?” she crooned.

“Ignore him,” I ordered. “Find the diamonds!”

The room was richly appointed, but jewels? None in sight. Yet Grif’s information said they were here. She’d sniff them out; it was what she did.

“Fine. But he is pretty too, and finding pretties is what I do.” She tapped her talons together and spun while eyeing every wall and corner. “Ahhh, thought you were smart. Nope, not that smart.”

She went to a mirror that was embedded into the stone wall. “What are you doing?” I hissed. “Find the gems, don’t go staring at yourself.”

Grif cast a glare over her shoulder. “Don’t be an ass. Come here.” She stood in front of one spot and I stood behind her. “What do you see?”

“You. Me. The room.” What was she getting at? “We don’t have much time!” My stomach churned, and I was having a hard time breathing. “Quit asking me questions and just find the damn jewels.”

“I did. Look there.” She touched what looked to be a smudge in the mirror, and a whole panel of it clicked open.

“There wasn’t even a seam!” How had they done that? It was amazing craftsmanship.

“Stop thinking about the how and find the jewels.” Grif was pawing through the things on the lower end, and I started higher. There were many bags of different things, but I needed just one. Just the red diamonds. Hopefully they wouldn’t be missed for a while, if we could get them and get out before the vampire arrived home…

The clatter of wheels and an exclamation drifted in through the open window.

Oh shit. “Time’s up.” There were at least ten bags I hadn’t checked. I pulled open the front of my dress and swept all of them in, trusting the panel to hold them in place until later. “Grif, let’s go.”

No telling what she was up to, stuffing things left and right, but she finally clicked the mirror shut.

Already shifting my features, I hooked one hand over the windowsill. Swinging my legs over, I used the increased strength in my fingers and forearms to hold me as I swung myself to one side, then down. My dark cloak would hopefully blend with the exterior and help hide me from casual view if anyone looked up.

Huffing and puffing, glad I was lighter than my blacksmith form, I made my way down the side of the building as fast as I could.

“Hey, you there!” Something whizzed through the air and struck the stone with a sharp clang just spans from my ear. A bow twanged, and another strike hit closer. I yelped, my higher voice breaking the night.

“Jump,” someone said. I knew that voice. Londe had come. I breathed a sigh of relief, glanced down quickly, then pushed off the building and vaulted down and onto his back. He took off, brandishing his horn and hooves to deadly effect.

We were still fighting when Grif dropped something.

Coins! They spilled out on the courtyard and into the road, and even with the late hour, the poor city rats, human and Being, who skulked through the night saw the windfall and came racing.

We made our escape in the mayhem.

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Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Wednesday Briefs: Unicorn Quests Chapter 4


“How long are we waiting?” I was exhausted. Londe was dozing on four feet. Grif’s eyes were focused on the windows of the place with a singular intensity.

She looked at the sky, the moon partially obscured by clouds. The stars, the ones not blocked by the new gas lights on the corners of the streets, blinked in the inky blackness of the near midnight sky. “It might be safe now.”

We’d watched the carriage roll out of the gates a good candle hour before, though it felt like longer. “Just what were we waiting for?”

“She’ll be feeding by now, too busy to notice anyone breaching her wards.”

That woke Londe. “There are wards? Are you trying to get us killed?”

“Red diamonds are not an easy prize. You asked for my help, and I am giving it, but do you want them or not?”

I sighed. “We need them. It’s not about want.” I placed a hand on Londe’s neck, calming him. “It’s a risk I will have to take.” So I just had to shift— “Wait. Did you say she? The vampire is female?”

“That’s right.”

“Damn it.” I pinched the bridge of my nose. I hated rearranging my body into a female’s form. And wearing their clothes? Miserable! “I don’t even have a dress.”

“Stop whining.” Grif pulled a dress out of the pack on her back. “I came prepared. Now get going with the magic and the shift and all that.” She waved a wing.

“It is not that easy.”

“Stop whining,” she cawed. “Just do it.”

“Fine.” Words could not describe how grumpy I was, but that one popped out with all the attitude I could muster. I flushed, embarrassed.

Londe shifted and I went around him to get some privacy. I took off my pack and hung it on the strap on the pack he’d let me attach to his withers. I took a few deep breaths and then focused. Shifting small muscles and fat cells under my skin, altering my skin color, eye shape and color, the outline of my lips, nose, and ears, those were easy. But shrinking down the mass of my body and rearranging my limbs to new sizes, enlarging my breasts, widening my hips while narrowing my waist by altering my ribs and bones…

The sounds were disturbing, and the pain of it left me panting and holding on to Londe as I fought the whimpering. This was not a natural form to me, and the more I deviated, the worse it was. By the time I was done, my clothes didn’t fit right, and I definitely wanted to do nothing more than find a bed.

That’s what I got for assuming the fancy person we’d be stealing from was a man; I should have known the owner of red diamonds would be a woman. I could have shifted a few days ago and gotten used to this form. I groaned as I stretched an arm over Londe’s back. “Give me the dress,” I said in a deep voice. Damn it, I’d forgotten my voice box.

Always the details tripping me up. I squeaked and squawked a few words out until Grif told me my voice was good as I redressed in a velvet number cut low enough to nearly show my navel. It was a good thing I’d made my breasts perky.

“What is this?” I said, waving a hand at the outfit.

“She’s out hunting. Human males are easy to lure with a promise of flesh,” Grif said. Her own form was shapely enough and she used it often, so I guessed she knew what she was talking about.

“The vampire left in a carriage. Why would I just stroll back in without it?” I asked.

“Make something up! Do I have to do all the thinking for you?” Grif asked.

“You are the thief,” Londe said haughtily.

“Just say they will be following and you wish to go rest. Act like you are stuffed and slightly drunk, like you just feasted and want nothing more than to rest. The gems are supposed to be kept in a locked case in her chambers.”

“Fine.” I took a deep breath, instantly regretting it when the edge of a pink nipple popped from the dress.

“Or do that.” Grif laughed. “It will definitely distract the staff.”

“Shut up!” I hissed. I stuffed the offending breast back into the dress and then took off at a stroll. I kept my back straight, shoulders tucked so my breasts lead the way, with my hips swaying as I tried to remember how I’d learned to move the last time I’d taken on a woman’s role in disguise.

At least Grif thought to provide flat-soled shoes, not the atrocious buttoned up boots I’d worn before. Though the heels did make for lovely weapons when someone needed to be stabbed in the throat.

Donning an air of superiority all vampires held, and acting as if I owned the place, I entered the man gate. A guard snapped to attention as soon as he caught sight of my face.

“My lady.” He saluted.

I inclined my head but kept going. A mere guard wouldn’t rate my attention. Going up the wide, flat stairs to the front door, I paused. Someone opened them from inside; they must have someone watching, even if I wasn’t expected back so soon.

Sweeping inside, I settled my skirts as I made it through the narrow door. Hmm, defensive purposes? Most mansions this size would have huge doors.

“Madam, you have returned already?”

“Hmm, yes. Quite done for the night, thank you.” Her purring alto really was soothing and enticing. The humans in the hall both smiled beatifically as I thanked them. “I will retire now.” I swayed, acting drunk as Grif suggested.

“Let me escort you upstairs, madam,” the butler or house manager, whoever he was, said. He held out one arm rigidly.

Lovely. Straight to the prize!

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Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Wednesday Briefs: Unicorn Quests Chapter 3


By day three Grif was completely sober and only the lure of the shiny stones we aimed to steal was keeping the harpy from flapping her wings for the closest tavern. Londe had pretended to ignore her the first few hours, but after she’d gone for his mane after one comment too many, and he’d tried to gouge her with his horn, they were both sworn to silence.

It made for quiet traveling, but boring afternoons. My stomach rumbled. This form required feeding, and I wasn’t sure if I liked it or not. The food was either wonderful and fresh or stale and terrible. Opening the flap of the bag on my hip, I sighed in relief. The charm on the wrapping held, and the bread was fresh.

“Grif? Bread?”

She flew overhead, her talons outstretched. They clenched shut, black razor curves catching the chunk of bread I sent skyward perfectly. She transferred the crust to her hand and tore into it.

“Hey!” Londe shook his head, his ears flicking frantically. “Crumbs! Stupid human food. Ughs.” His voice faded, but he kept grumbling in my head. He’d taken to talking less and less, not wanting to get caught unaware by humans who might hear him speaking. It was a closely guarded secret that some Beings had speech, much less spoke the common tongue.

So much easier to overhear plans or escape when those holding you captive assumed you were dumb, or just a beast, or simply unable to understand their motives.

Then again, many pure beings fell prey to them for just that reason. Dryads were often lured from their trees and springs by handsome lads and lasses, then cruelly captured and drained for their ability to fertilize fallow ground.

Never mind what that did to their tree, or stream, or pond…

Londe’s skin shivered under my thighs, and I was abruptly brought back to attention. We crested a hill, and spread out below us was a town. Walls surrounded it, though half the walls shimmered and glittered.

A mixer town. There were some, places where humans and Beings lived—if not in harmony—in uneasy peace. Typically there was a tribute paid.

But who ruled this town? The humans or the Beings?

“Grif?” She’d been tight-beaked about the owners of the gems, unusual for her. “Tell me you have an in past those gates?” Any place with walls like that, and gates that stood open on the road, would have guards.

“What need I for gates?” she cawed. She tilted her wings side to side. “Land-bound creatures, bah.”

“Don’t tell me they don’t have archers.” I didn’t fall into her schemes. “The agreement was entry, theft, and safe escape. I will help you in exchange for a fair split.”

“Thieving is never safe!” She was wheeling now, diving toward me. She jabbed a finger in my direction. “Never.”

“Okay, okay, fine. But you still better have a plan for those gates.”



“Tales as old as time… It’s good enough for swine…”

‘Would you shut her up?’ Londe huffed. He was horrified, high-stepping in the muck, and breathing shallowly. Even if they weren’t about to enter the heavily-fortified town, he refused to breathe deep enough to talk.

Of course Grif’s plan had been to get in through the muck sewers. She’d pulled out a bag from her cowl filled with a fizzing powder that dissolved the bars in mere moments of waiting. She’d barely waited before she trundled in, her awkward gait rocking side to side as she had to walk instead of fly by the stones arching just a few spans overhead.

I’d removed my breeches, unwilling to dirty them and my footwear were tied around my neck. I nearly added to the filth when something semisolid squished beneath and up through my toes, oozing and nearly making me slip. If I hadn’t had one hand gripped in Londe’s mane, I’d have fallen.

There was no shape I could have taken that I would be able to get clean enough after that.



We crept from the sewers into the evening glimmer. Lights were beginning to appear in the small window panes, the heavy lead breaking up the illumination. People and Beings scurried to and fro, the boards and stones keeping their feet clean. Grif, at least, knew enough of the city to bring us up near a well and a handy trough to clean up so we could dress discretely.

Still, what appeared to be a human, a harpy, and a unicorn walking down the street? Yeah, that caught eyes and would soon set tongues wagging as well.

“Time to take those red diamonds,” I hissed. Grif was eyeing a human’s long set of pearls draped around her neck and shoulders to rest right above her pert rear.

“Fine. Fine. Red sparklies it is. Don’t know why white wouldn’t work as well.”

“They won’t. Just… help us. You said it would take my kind of magic to get them. I refused before, but now I need them. Tell me where and how, and I’ll share. Fifty-fifty split.”

“We need to sneak into the owner’s home, take the gems, and get out.”

“And why do I have to do it if we’re going out at night?” I echoed the question Londe asked in my head. “Why can’t you just fly in and snatch them?”

“One, the windows are barred. Two, they are barred and shuttered during the day. Three, they are shuttered with solid wood shutters because the Being who owns this home is a vampire.”

“You plan to steal diamonds from a vampire!” Londe exclaimed, forgetting himself.

“No, you do. I’m just helping.”

“How the hell shall I fool a vampire?” They fed on humans, sure, but one whiff and my disguise wouldn’t crumble. I didn’t smell human.

“You aren’t fooling her. You’re fooling her staff. Hell-ooo, stupid heads.” Grif cawed out her obnoxious laugh, claws on stone less abrasive.

“Nothing could go wrong there,” Londe muttered.

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Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Wednesday Briefs: Unicorn Quests Chapter 2



“She’s a buxom wench, with hair on her chest, and a dwarvish gold mine if I swive her!” The shriek and resulting laughter was so loud Londe’s ears twitched back, and I wanted to cover mine.

‘You have to be kidding me,’ Londe said. ‘You can hear her out here! She’s drunk already.’

“Not likely. She gets the hiccups when she’s drunk, and there wasn’t a single hic in that whole verse.” I slid off Londe’s back in front of the Bleating Banshee. The ramshackle building stood on the edge of a town barely big enough to call it that, but the crossroads at the other side of the lane ensured it got plenty of traffic through.

With stones starting to fall from the mortar in the foundation, peeling bark on the boards making up the sides, and the thatching showing a bit bare in spots, a more dubious place of rest probably couldn’t be found.

Then again, it was the only public place to get a bite, a beverage, and a room that probably had bed bugs the size of my hand within hours. So dancing light shone through the dingy windows, smoke curled from the slanted chimney, and there were many voices inside.

But Grif was definitely one of the loudest.

“You stay out here,” I said.

‘No, I thought I’d go inside like this,’ Londe snarked. He tossed his head, the spirals on his horn catching the late afternoon light, then wandered away from the building and closer to the field to the right.

We didn’t have time to stay long. The humans might get out of their castle and come after us. We had killed a duke, after all. I needed to get Grif, get her away from the bottle of whatever was making her so happy, and get going west to find the foals.

Taking a bottle away from that harpy was a chore and a half, and I was down a hand. I grimaced at the blistered flesh, wishing iron wounds didn’t heal so slow. It was still raw and threatened to crack open if I flexed my hand.

Okay, one-handed harpy wrangling it would be.



“Did you have to claw my face?” I complained.

Grif cackled out a laugh. “You would prefer I let the pixie bite you? Besides, it’s a tiny scratch.”

Her tiny scratch was a solid stripe from my temple to nearly my nose, burning across my sharp cheekbones every time I spoke. This quest was piling on the injuries, and we had no time to seek out a healer or even a decent apothecary to stock my stores of herbal remedies.

“Your aim was off, I think. Can you please fly straight, you’re making me dizzy.” Thankfully I could ride Londe, and he wouldn’t let me fall. I’d taken an ale pot to the back of the head from a half-Cyclops who insisted Grif was the twinkle in his eye, and the pixies who’d been apparently working for him went after me when I tried to lead her out of Bleating Banshee.

I think he just wanted Grif to work for him, and when she was drunk she’d agree to just about anything. Which was why she’d agreed to join my quest and help us seek the red diamonds we’d need to rescue the foals.

See, Londe might not have known who the trolls were who had them, but I did. I’d heard of them before, and their avarice was well-known. They horded the rarest of the rare—why they’d undoubtably bought our foals from the nefarious being who’d stolen them.

To even get near them, we’d need a shiny distraction. Red diamonds were rare, shiny, and in the direction we needed to go to get to the foals. Grif could sniff out shiny things just like any other harpy, her love of glittering and glamorous objects well known to both her friends and enemies.

Fortunately, I was her friend.

“I am flying straight. You’re riding crooked.”

“Am not,” I huffed. She was still drunk. She was lucky we’d left the forest behind and the road wound through fields and meadows, otherwise she’d have a bunch of scrapes to match mine.

“Can I ask where we’re going?” Londe finally broke his silence. His attempt at protesting Grif’s presence with a practiced indifference and ignoring her having been completely ignored by the still drunk harpy probably irked him immensely. I leaned down and wrapped my arms around his neck, thrilling at the feel of his warm flesh against the unmarked side of my face. His chest and neck muscles flexed with every step, and I closed my eyes.

“Somewhere safe to camp for the night. We have a few days to travel, yes, Grif?” I asked with my eyes closed. I’d worked from before first light, my forge lighting in the predawn darkness. I’d experienced battle surge, a flood of hormones when I saw Londe trapped like a beast by those foul humans, and we’d traveled for hours before I’d been assaulted by a cyclops with a harpy fixation and his tiny, murderous winged friends.

“Oh, yes. I know of so many sparklies closer, but the red ones? Those are at least three days away.”

“Spectacular,” Londe huffed, his neck expanding under my petting hands. “Three days with this drunk lout. Please tell me you frisked her and didn’t forget her neck cowl this time?”

“I did. All the liquor was left behind. I think that’s why she actually scratched me,” I said quietly.

Life had been getting harder for Beings in recent years. The humans had spread, and far too many were willing to band together to defend against the strength, or magic, or whatever else they found threatening about Beings even if they hadn’t been threatened first.

It wasn’t defense if you were striking first. It was just an attack.

And sheer greed prompted the rest. A unicorn foal?

Priceless.

I had to get them back.

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Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Wendesday Briefs: Unicorn Quests Chapter 1


“Blacksmith!”

I ignored Duke Pravolo’s strident call. Ringing blows rained down on the glowing silver, completing the rosette I’d attach to a decorative bridle. I wiped my arm across my sweaty brow.

My throat was parched, so I disregarded the arrogant popinjay in favor of guzzling lukewarm water from the bucket. Alone among the humans with only whispered rumors to guide me, I longed for the cool meadows of my homeland, but I was on a mission.

“Blacksmith!”

Humans like him plagued me. They sought me out for the magic I could weave into metal, never divining my true purpose searching among their stables. I finally stepped outside to endure his newest demand after he sent two men to bang on my doors, the incessant sound too loud to say I couldn’t hear.  I swayed at the sight, nearly destroying weeks of effort in a single moment of desperate shock. Behind the human is his fatal mistake.

“Shoe it in gold.”

The unicorn’s proud neck bowed under the weight of an iron cage encasing his luminous horn. His hoof pawed the ground as I stared into those crystal-blue eyes as I approached. Two of the nobles men-at-arms held ropes to the cage, holding them taut to control the still dangerous mythical creature.

Damn humans and their need to bind all Beings.

“Easy.” Our bond flares in my chest like an ache I’d never been able to ignore, and time stilled when I finally touch him again. I’d begged him to remain safely behind before I left, but he followed me anyway. His muted magic showed me all he’d endured during our harrowing separation—but he also learned where the humans hid the foals.

“What are you waiting for?” Pravolo demands. “Shoe my new pet.”

Pet?

I tore the cage away, agony stealing my breath as my hands burned from contacting the metal without my special gloves, but I would endure that and more to free the innocents. More than my own pain echoed in the bond, but we both endured with one goal in mind. I pivoted, drawing the horn sheathed along my spine. As one, we stepped forward, his head lowered with horn ready as I lunged, one leg behind me to balance perfectly as I leaned forward so that, together, we speared through Pravolo’s despicable heart with matching strikes.

“We will never be human pets,” I snarled.

The men-at-arms gaped at us, and that gave us the opening we needed. I drew a blade from my waist and leapt onto the broad back offered me. Innately linked, my body flowed with his as he spun and kicked one man while he thrust his horn at another. I swayed with the back and forth play of his muscles, using his momentum to gain more heft behind my throw.

My blade, razor sharp as always, sliced through the heavy twined rope holding up the gate’s counterweight nearly at the top of the wall.

“Go!” I demanded.

We barely beat the spikes before they rushed down to thud with a dull thwack into the castle firmament. The humans would struggle to open the gates again anytime soon. The unicorn’s hindquarters bunched as he wheeled and sang out a ringing call of rage and triumph. He reared up, his front hooves striking the air.

“They still have arrows,” I hissed.

He wheeled again, turning on his back legs before dropping down and galloping flat out across the open meadow surrounding the duke’s walls. His mane slapped against my arms, the silvery hair fine and soft, and I looked behind us to see his tail streaming out as we outran the archers poor attempts to avenge their master’s death.

“Avoid the road,” I said, turning back.

‘You don’t have to tell me that’ he thought. ‘How do you think I followed you?’

“Then how did you get caught, Londe?” I slipped the horn back in the sheath along my spine. I started to take stock, cursing at some of the things I wish I’d had time to grab before we left. I’d made some premium weapons with that brigand’s metal, but at least without me to renew the spellcasting, they’d crumble within a week.

I’d not be guilty of leaving weapons in the hands of humans to use against Beings.

‘Let myself get caught. I’d found some information and knew I needed you.’

We entered the trees so Londe slowed, slipping between the branches without leaving a trace of his passing. No one could move swifter or more silent than a unicorn, so maybe I should believe him… “Yeah right. Oof, hey, stop that.” I caught myself with one hand on his withers.

‘Stop insulting me. It won’t work. Spirits curse them, are you okay?’

He must have caught the pain before I could muffle it. Trust me to forget to catch myself with the hand I hadn’t iron-kissed and left huge weeping blistered welts across.

“I’ll be fine. Can you find us a safe place? Are we close to where they have the foals?”

‘No. Two day’s run. We’ll need help too. A troll, at least, and maybe a river dryad. There’s a cave and a river near the human’s settlement. I’m thinking maybe we can go around, under, or through. If they can get us close enough.’

Considering our options, I had the best idea. I grinned, knowing Londe would hate it. “We need to head north.”

‘The foals are west,’ he protested.

“The help you want us to get is at the Bleating Banshee. We have to stop there first.”

‘What? I hate that place. Grif always hangs— No! You don’t plan on using her do you?’

“Bleating Banshee. It’s two hours, if that, and we can be on our way before nightfall. I’m owed favors. We’ll need them, Londe, to save the foals. Sure, Grif is a pain in the seat, but a better rock hound never existed.”

‘Fine,’ Londe sighed. ‘But I’m not carrying her bodies again!’


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