Lara squeaked and ran out of the shadows to cling to Scarlet. The magician pulled back his robes and she realised that he was a she. She had the kind of voice one expected from a guy called Dave who wore dresses at weekends and tried to cover his adam’s apple with foundation, but there was no doubt what sex she was.
She was gorgeous, in a posh sort of way, and had the most amazing hair. She could feel Lara thinking exactly the same thing, as they stared at the jet-black wall that flowed free of the hood and drifted down to her waist. Yeah, she sounded like a man, but she looked great.
She was also smiling. ‘Don’t worry, my dear. Had the king wanted you imprisoned, you certainly would be, do not doubt it.’
She swayed over, gaze flicking between them. ‘It is essential that we maintain the semblance of strict governance. It enables us to rule effectively, without ever having to use force on our people.’
Our? ‘So why didn’t he want us imprisoned? I mean, Elt did try and kill him.’
She sighed, resting her hand against the unicorn’s nose. ‘Elt tries every now and then. The loss of his horn drove him mad, a little, I fear. Not one of our better decisions, but it had to be done.’
‘Why?’ Lara almost shouted and Scarlet was surprised to see her eyes were damp. She stepped past Scarlet, chin thrust out and she grinned, enjoying the fire.
‘He was killing people. Most unicorns do, once they reach maturity. A young unicorn is a pleasure to have around, magical in everything they do. Once they flower, everything changes. It becomes about territory and establishing the next generation. Had we not settled here, perhaps he could have flourished, but we needed land and lord knows, there’s plenty of space.’
Scarlet shook her head. ‘Unicorns don’t kill people, they’re lovely and friendly and—’
‘Yes, for the first twenty or so years of their lives, they are exactly that. But beyond that time, they become aggressive, violent creatures, utterly unwilling to listen to reason and grumpy to boot. And, as in the case of Elt, they may also become deceptive and manipulative.’
She looked away. ‘Anyway, we are paying for our crime many times over, and I didn’t wait around to be lectured by a pair of schoolgirls.’
She folded her arms over her chest and looked down her nose at them. Scarlet gave her a sheepish grin. ‘Yeah, sorry, fair enough. So, will you free him?’
‘I will, but there is something you should know. The king’s decision is simple and fair and it is that Elt’s banishment will now be absolute. He will travel with you to Earth and he will stay there. He will no longer be welcome in Illest. Is that understood?’
They both nodded. Scarlet stared at the beast beside her. She was getting her own unicorn. Admittedly, it was a mad, violent unicorn without a horn, but still. Cool.
‘Are you going to tell him?’
The magician shook her head. ‘No I am not. I think it best for me to be some distance away when I let the spell finish. It will be up to you to explain to him what has been decided. Please, make it clear. If he returns, we will kill him.’
Scarlet nodded and the magician faded back into the darkness before disappearing altogether. She had to get Martin to show her that one. Scarlet jumped as Elt’s hooves came crashing down on the dais. He shouted, loud, wordless, shaking his entire body, then set off galloping around the throne room.
His hooves slammed into the throne, sending it crashing to the floor. He caught chairs and they flew across the space, one striking the wall and shattering. Scarlet shouted at him. ‘Elt, stop it, please, cut it out. Come on, COME ON.’
Lara shouted. Scarlet winced, moving to one side.
‘ELT, THAT IS ENOUGH. STOP THIS INSTANT.’
To Scarlet’s, and apparently Lara’s, amazement, it worked. The unicorn dropped to all fours, snorting and stamping, flanks heaving. Scarlet took a step, but Lara came past, putting her hand on his side and patting him vigorously, stroking his neck as he calmed.
She turned and gave Scarlet a look, eyebrows raised, and she gave her the thumbs up. After a while the unicorn turned its eyes to them, head lifting slowly. ‘Sorry, s’pose.’
‘You should be. But I get it. I don’t have a, you know, horn, but if someone took my magic away, I’d be, like, really pissed.’
He shook his long head. ‘It’s not just my magic, it’s my people. When they chopped my horn off, they stole my ability to have children. The unicorn’s are finished on this planet.’ He snorted, flicking his head toward the ceiling. ‘The End of Days? That is here because of what they did. A magical world cannot exist without unicorns.’
Scarlet raised her eyebrows, trying not to smirk. ‘Is it me, or have we just stepped into a really bad fairy tale?’
The unicorn went for her, lips pulled back from his yellowing teeth. Lara got between them and he stopped, snorting, head shaking from side to side. His eyes were rolling and she was reminded of what the magician said. He was young no longer, no longer the friendly creature of myth.
‘Whoah, easy fella. You’re the one who betrayed us, remember, you don’t have the right to get grouchy.’
‘My people are dead and when I die, another world is left empty. Don’t tell me what I can or can’t be.’
Lara flapped her hands, voice high and just a little shrill. ‘Stop it, both of you, please? This is no good. We have to go home and we have to do it now and you have to get along. Please.’
Scarlet looked at the floor, face reddening, and Elt did something similar, only without the redness. Lara opened her mouth and turned to Scarlet, then stopped, frowning. She turned back to Elt.
‘Hang on. If a magical world can’t exist and Earth has magic… Why are there no unicorns on earth?’
Elt whickered and shook his head. ‘How sure are you about that?’
Scarlet and Lara looked at one another, wide-eyed, and laughed. ‘Yeah, OK, that’s pretty cool. I wonder where they are?’
‘I wouldn’t be surprised if Homeland Security have them locked up somewhere.’
Scarlet nodded, keeping the smile. She wasn’t entirely sure what Homeland security was, but she was certain it featured in the Avengers movie somewhere. So the Avengers had them. Bastards.
Lara pulled at her arm. ‘Can we go home now, please?’
Scarlet pulled the spell book out, set out the ingredients, and chanted slowly. The light appeared and holding Lara’s hand, she rested her other hand on Elt’s back and guided them through.
She imagined the street in front of her house and they appeared there, beneath the light of the street lamp. She sighed, the familiar smell of west London making her eyes go damp. Then she froze.
There were two police cars pulled up in front of her house, lights flashing, and she could see the wreckage of the lounge window, shattered glass flickering in the blue.
Next Installment Wednesday 12th March