How Not to Poach a Unicorn


Lord Cailo was paying no attention at all to the ruckus outside.

He had over a hundred well-armed men to deal with the any situation that arose. He mused that the prisoners might try some kind of daring escape and rescue attempt. He considered going outside to watch them get put down, but he doubted that they’d even get up the steps and the story told later would be better than the event itself. Instead he would focus on the delectable morsel before him.

He raised a gloved hand and Kish rose up off the floor. He spread his fingers and her body went taut as an invisible force pulled her arms and legs apart. Holding the one hand perfectly still, he raised his other and began to make delicate gestures. The laces of her bodice slowly started to untie by themselves and then casually loosen.

“You’re a monster!” Growled Kish. Her gaze was hateful and fearless.

“Yes. I am” His venomous voice slid out through the unwavering gentle grin of his mask. “You don’t get my job by being nice now do you?” To emphasize his point he stretched the fingers on his left hand out a little more and Kish let out a cry of pain as she was stretched apart even harder.

The noises in the courtyard were growing in intensity and were starting to annoy the Lord. “Lieutennant! Come!” He commanded and then returned to his task at hand.

The laces were undone and he slid the bodice off, manipulating her arms behind her to do so. He stopped for a moment to savour her helpless form dangling in the air, covered only by a loose, low-cut blouse and a tattered skirt. He rubbed up against her and inhaled her scent. Displeased he stepped away and levitated a jug of water over her head and emptied its contents with delight.

“I should have had you properly cleaned before you were delivered. Ah, how I suffer for my impatience.” He paused again to enjoy the way that the now soaking blouse clung to her muscular form body only to realize that his patience was indeed being tried. “Lieutenant! Here! Now!” His voice cracked with his displeasure.

The door to his chambers opened and he turned to scold the lieutenant for being so slow. Instead he found a large angry black wolf bearing down on him. He let fall his grip on Kish and turned his attention to the mouthful of sharp teeth that was headed towards him at a startling pace. He didn’t have enough time to grab the wolf so he focused his mind and pushed just as Kazé knocked him down.

Kazé was thrown back across the room, smashing into an antique wardrobe. A tangle of silk and splintered wood tumbled down onto him. Meanwhile, Cariolta had dashed over to Kish as she regained her feet and Prag moved in quickly to flank the Lord. The boy entered as well, though with significantly less purpose and set about rummaging through the pile of silk scarves in which Kazé had found himself entangled.

Kish was elated “I don’t know how you did it! I don’t care! I could kiss you!”

“Save it for when we’re actually free.” Cariolta smiled and turned to face her opponent. She gripped her short-spear gingerly and lowered her stance. “Now take your swords and let’s end this monster.”

Noticing the extra weaponry that the Princess had strapped on, Kish drew both blades in a single flourish and spun to the right, aiming to surround the Lord. “Careful, he’s a wizard,” she warned.

Kazé was free of the scarves as well, thanks to some unintentional help from the boy, but Lord Cailo was ready again as well. He chuckled horribly as the four escapees circled him “Why don’t we just sit down and chat like civilized people? Have a little… face to face?” Cailo reached up to remove his hood and mask.

The four reeled back. The stories of Lord Cailo’s terrible visage rushed into their minds. ‘So terrible that one look could drive a man mad, to look directly into his eyes would kill’. They rushed to overt their eyes but it was too late, they had seen.

Nothing. They saw nothing. Where his head should be, where his mask had been mounted, there was nothing. All they saw was the back of his glimmering hood.

The Lord made the most of that moment of shock. He threw off his cloak and stripped away his gloves leaving himself completely invisible. All four combatants took another step back. Their opponent had vanished. They thought he might have escaped, but they were dreadfully wrong.

Simultaneously Cariolta and Prag felt a tight grip around their necks and they began to choke. They swung their weapons wildly as they were lifted off their feet but there was no target within reach.

Kish charged the empty space where she imagined her invisible opponent must be standing. Her twin blades swung and twirled in a graceful tornado of steel but found no mark. She must have been close, though. She saw her comrades fall, coughing to the ground as Cailo’s concentration was shaken.

It was a momentary victory at best. As she passed the spot where she thought the Lord should have been, she felt a force grab her sopping wet hair and pull her violently to the ground.

Kazé reacted. Following the scent of his prey, he dashed forward. He felt his leading paw make contact with something and he spread his jaws wide to bite down. The attack never fell. Instead, a clenched fist of pure force rammed into his open mouth and carried him across the room, knocking over a number of potted plants on the way. He crashed through one of the tall mahogany posts of an elegant bed-frame and was pinned against the far wall, gagging on the force-hand holding him there.

Cariolta, having recovered, took her turn. She took an offensive stance and began to thrust and jab at the air with practiced and precise strikes. The spearhead danced and flashed about in the air, advancing steadily towards the centre of the room.

She must have come close, because the magical hand holding Kish’s hair broke loose and shot towards the Princess. A few strands of hair that had been torn out in the struggle betrayed the movement of the hand and Cariolta managed to get the haft of her spear between the hand and her throat, saving herself from further choking. She was still locked in a losing struggle for her spear, however.

Prag’s calculating mind was racing. His initial plan was to hit and run; grab the girls and escape. The instant Cailo revealed himself, though, that plan had shattered. If they escaped with still Cailo alive, they would have to deal with an invisible wizard hunting them through the wilderness and that was a losing battle. He could pick them off, one by one, at his leisure. If they were going to survive, they would have to kill him now.

He carefully weighed their assets. He could tell from the way that Cariolta held her spear that she had some formal training with it. The sort of training that gets drilled into soldiers and works best when there’s a hundred others with the same. The Princess wasn’t ideal but her long reach would be an annoyance to the wizard. Kish’s movements were wild, but at the same time purposeful. As her twin blades spun and whirled about her she somehow kept each of them in a position to defend and attack yet never in a predictable place from which to do either. He noted her as a very dangerous temporary ally and moved on. Kazé was strong, ferocious and unlikely to stop fighting until well after he had died. The naked boy couldn’t exactly be counted on as an asset; he was barely even paying attention to what was going on. Prag’s greatest hope for him was that he wouldn’t be a liability.

He squinted and considered their opponent. He was alone, but invisible. That shouldn’t be possible. Prag knew enough about magic that there was no such thing as true invisibility. Also, he couldn’t see an animal about that Cailo might be using as a familiar, so he couldn’t cut off the wizard’s source of power by attacking that. There was some kind of trick going on here, not that it would help to know what it was since he could see neither the opponent nor his power source. He just hoped that the good Lord was actually in the room and they weren’t just fighting a bunch of magical force. The invisibility might be used to their advantage, however. The Lord would be unwilling to pick up a weapon or chant another spell as it would betray his location. Those two disembodied hands were all they’d have to deal with for now. Also, if they kept him on the defensive, he would be unwilling to conjure enough force from his disembodied hands to kill any of them. There was hope, as long as they got lucky before they got exhausted.

That’s what ran through Prag’s mind as he was being lifted off the ground by his throat. Once released he quickly regained his feet, toppled the broken wardrobe in front of the door, blocking any means of escape from this extravagant boudoir, and lunged at the most likely place for a wizard to be standing.

He must have guessed correctly for he saw Kazé drop and felt a magical hand grip the wrist of his sword arm and pull him up towards the domed mosaic ceiling. He hung, wrist pinned against a rather provocative image of a wood nymph being hunted by a centaur. He was somewhat unconcerned though, as Kish had found her feet and begun her flourishing attack anew.

The boy was enthralled. There was so much going on around him and there was so much to see and touch. The fuzzy black thing had uncovered a mass of new colours and textures in which he indulged himself briefly. When the container he was playing in was tipped over, he spend some time watching the movements of the other creatures in the room. It was amazing how they seemed to balance on two legs while at the same time moving their pointy things all around. He was puzzled though, they also seemed like they could stop touching the ground for long periods of time and they were falling over quite a lot.

He decided to try it, himself. He used a table to steady himself, and he pulled himself up onto his feet.

He steadied himself, ignoring entirely the chokes and screams and smashes going on behind him.

He let go of the table tentatively. He was wobbly, but standing. With his confidence blooming, he took a step… and toppled backward crashing through a glass display case.

Then he saw it…

The loud crash behind her distracted Cariolta for the instant necessary for Cailo to wrench the spear from her grasp. Once free, the spear shot across the room towards Kazé who had begun another charge. He dodged to the side, but the spear still caught his flank. He stumbled and barked out in pain.

With Cariolta disarmed and Kazé wounded, Cailo turned his attention to Kish and Prag. He grabbed Kish’s wrist and began to force her duel with the similarly bound Prag. He threw them at each other. Both twisted painfully to dodge their ally’s blade. The unwilling marionettes were then spun about and forced to attack again.

Cariolta scrambled over the plush sheets to recover her spear but had to jump away as Prag’s body was flung at her. Kazé tried to lunge forward but found his way repeatedly blocked by Kish’s sword or body, and with a wounded leg he couldn’t move around her fast enough. They were on the defensive now. Cailo had them, and he knew it.

The boy marveled at what he had found. It was beautiful. It had been balled up and discarded beneath the dressing table. It shimmered with every colour imaginable. The boy slowly started to unfold the large cloak, savouring the shifting spectrum as he did so. Suddenly it was torn from his hands. It flew across the room and under the bed.

He gave chase.

Prag grinned. Cailo had been forced to release his grip on Prag to rescue his cloak from the simpleton—a foolish act on several counts. First he had freed his most dangerous opponent, whether he or anyone else knew it. Second, by doing so he had allowed the Princess access to her spear. Finally, he had betrayed the source of his power. Prag scolded himself for not recognizing it earlier. That cloak could be the Lord’s downfall, and that serendipitous simpleton had developed a fondness for it.

Prag lunged, grinning, even as the magical hand grabbed him by the neck again and forced him backwards.

The naked youth clambered under the bed. There he found his beloved piece of fabric. It lit the whole underside of the bed with its ever shifting glow. He found something else there as well. It wasn’t nearly as beautiful as the fabric, but it was very interesting. It was white stone box, inlaid with interweaving patterns of silver which shone brilliantly in the scintillating light of the cloak. He determined that there must be something inside it and he wanted to see what that was.

After some quick scrutinizing he bit open the latches keeping it closed which fell broken and mangled to the floor. He then tried to open the box, but the lid was being blocked by the bottom of the bed.

Cailo was in trouble and he knew it. His enemies had begun to coordinate. They looked tired and he had managed to injure one of them, but he could only keep two at bay at a time and their timing was improving. He was certain that, given time, he could wear them down and kill them. He was confident that he could even keep a couple of the humans in good enough condition to still enjoy them afterwards. What worried him, however, was the madman who had become infatuated with his cape. He had dived under the bed and was now doing gods know what with his cloak under there. If only he had a moments reprieve, he could cast a spell that would end the life of that miserable wretch and everyone else in the room along with him. His opponents were being rather ungracious in that regard, however.

Cailo’s musings were interrupted as the mercenary, Prag, who had been coughing and spitting up blood an instant earlier had sprung up impossibly quickly and was lunging towards him. Cailo realized too late that the human had been bluffing, only pretending to be worn down while pinpointing his location. There was no time to react as the blade shot directly towards his chest. But it never landed.

Cailo was saved, in a manner of speaking, by a large, overstuffed four-post bed which careened across the room. It caught both Cailo and Prag squarely, carrying them with it. The bed smashed into a thousand pieces as it slammed into the far wall. The two combatants were left lying in an explosion of feathers, somewhat stunned.

The impact had broken Cailo’s concentration and his spell had failed. He realized almost instantly that the cloud of feathers, while momentarily obscuring him from sight, was dissipating and some of the feathers were sticking to him, betraying his presence. He gambled and cast a spell, the strongest he could muster.

Dark words slithered out of Cailo’s mouth and the room was filled with the crackle of lightning. The feathers in the air burst into ash as an arc of blue energy snaked around the room. Cailo listened gleefully to each of his opponents shriek with pain as they were struck again and again by the lightning storm that filled the room.

Now that the bed was out of the way, the boy could open the case easily. He was entranced by what he found inside. He scrambled to his knees and gently lifted it from its case. He recognized the shape. It was like the sharp things that the others were swinging about behind him, but it was so much prettier. He slid it slowly from its sheath which was made of the same white stone as the case and similarly laced with silver tracery. The blade was thin, two fingers wide and as long as his forearm. It was bright and perfectly polished. In it he saw himself for the first time.

He was entranced for a moment by his reflection, but the strange smells and drifting smoke burned his eyes a little so he looked away. He remembered watching the others, and how they swung the sharp things around and he decided that he should try it. He used the wall for balance. He stood up on his two feet, and swung. He nearly fell with the first attempt, but he caught himself. Then he swung again, and again. He built up speed and confidence. He reveled in the feeling of the blade slicing through the air.

Cailo looked on in satisfaction as the smoke and feathers cleared from in front of him. He watched each of the wayward prisoners convulse on the floor as they were struck repeatedly by his spell. He changed his focus a little, intensifying the strikes on the wolf and two men, while leaving the ladies relatively unharmed. He could still keep one as prey and the other for ransom if he didn’t damage them too badly.

His mind’s eye wavered… There was only one man…

Why couldn’t he feel the other human in the grip of his magical storm?

The air finally cleared enough for him to see across the room.

Cailo was stricken by the sight. The idiot human was standing, holding himself up against the wall and slashing wildly at the air like a child with a toy sword. Slashing… with his sword! His precious sword that was a gift from the sorcerer king, Ashunar himself ! Worse still, the mindless boy had one of his feet tangled in the Robe. Cailo cursed, the magical wards that he had placed on the robe to protect it and himself from his spells were now active on the boy, leaving him untouchable by the lightning filling the room.

Cailo watched in horror as the swipes grew wider and wilder. One especially wild swipe passed close to the boy’s left foot and cut through a fold in the shimmering cloth. Then the room was suddenly silent.

The cloak faded instantly to a mottled grey and Cailo’s spells failed. He stood motionless. If he moved he would be visible for the first time in over a decade. If he didn’t, his opponents would recover enough to seek him out and kill him. He suddenly felt very naked.

He decided to run, but a sudden pain in his side prevented him from moving. He looked down to find that a sword had slid between his ribs. The mercenary had stabbed him. The mercenary who was lying on the ground smoking, his body was actually smoking, had managed to stab him. Cailo was disgusted. He thought of a dozen horrible ways to kill the bastard, and some even more terrible things to do kill the imbecile who had stolen his sword. But the rage drifted away. He couldn’t keep focus. His mind began to swim with thoughts of climbing trees and warming himself on rocks in the sun. And he fell into darkness.

The four fugitives slowly recovered. Prag was first on his feet. He had removed the reptilian head of the now deceased Lord in a professional manner before Kish had managed to get her knees beneath her and stop coughing. She said a few words to him, but it became apparent that Prag wasn’t really conscious; he was somehow operating on instinct.

Eventually all four stood, smoking slightly, around the bizarre corpse. It was shaped like a giant lizard though it lacked a tail and looked to be built for walking on two feet. Its entire body, even its eyes, looked as though a perfect image of the west side of the room had been painted on it.

Prag, having regained most of his senses and finding that he really wished he hadn’t, began to ramble in hopes of distracting himself from the pain. “I didn’t think he could be truly invisible. He’s a lizardman.

There aren’t many of them, I don’t think, but I’ve heard of them. They’re supposed to be able to change their skin colour to hide in their forests. I suppose this one figured out how to enhance that with magic. I heard that they were lazy and peaceful. I guess the good Lord here was an exception. Awfully lucky that the kid over there decided to cut the cape. Hey, that’s a nice sword he’s got, I wonder if he’ll let me borrow it…”

Prag didn’t so much stop talking as stopped being listened to. The others moved their attention from the corpse to the boy. He was standing, one hand on the wall, one hand swishing an extremely dangerous looking sword around. He was still naked, but for the remains of his shackles. Noticing the attention from the others, he stepped away from the wall and stopped swinging his sword.

He stood proudly, the gleaming blade hanging loosely in his hand. He gave the party a wide, open mouthed grin, lost his balance, and fell over.

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