How Not to Poach a Unicorn


Everyone was awake in an instant.

The yelp that woke them sounded like a puppy having its fangs torn out. Another yelp, then a series of growls and barks were let out before Kazé managed to form words. “Get off me! Let go or I’ll bite out your…” his sentence was cut off with another uncomfortable yelp.

“Kaz! Kaz are you alright? What’s happening?” shouted a panicked Cariolta. “Just stay calm and don’t fight! Just do as you’re told and we’ll all be better off.”

“Rip them to pieces.” interjected Kish. “Things aren’t going to get any worse.”

“What in the hells? Who’s out there?” The voice of the mystery madman from the night before echoed up the hallway.

“It’s the nearly dead guy in my cell.” snarled Kazé. “He’s grabbed my fur and started… petting me. He’s got a grip like a vice. He let go when I bit him. I think he’s simple or something.”

“Gods, you scared me! I thought they were going to take you downstairs and torture you!” Cariolta sighed with relief.

The man’s voice, sounding much more composed than the night before repeated, “Who’s out there?”

The ever-composed Kish answered quickly, “Just some unlucky travelers who lost their way and found themselves lodging in this fine establishment. Yourself?”

“The name’s Prag.”

“And what did you do to deserve the treatment you got last night?” growled Kazé suspiciously.

“Something’s wrong with your friend’s voice—sounds like he got kicked in the throat.”

“He’s a wolf, a High Wolf,” Cariolta informed their fellow captive. “And I’m also curious what got you into the state you were in when you were returned to your cell.”

“I don’t really remember much of what happened yesterday. Nor have I got much idea what day it is. I figure I’ve been here a little over two days. There’s no light or dark to tell the time by, but the guards here don’t seem to like working nights. So I figure I’ve had two days of torture.”

Cariolta interrupted, “But we’ve heard screaming all night. It sounded like they were working nonstop.”

“The place is haunted.” Prag seemed more annoyed than frightened. “They scream like that all the time. This place was something else before it was a prison; it’s ancient. You must have noticed the slight discrepancy in architectural styles in the courtyard.”

“You’re dodging the question,” commented Kish.

“No, I’m just rambling. I do that when I’m in pain. It distracts me. You see I’m in rather a lot of pain at the moment, so I’m likely going to ramble quite a bit. They’re pretty creative with their torture, I have to say. They’ve got some flashy magic gizmos down there that feel rather how I’d imagine licking a lightning bolt might. Had me strapped down to one of them for two days running now. It’s left me a might bit sore…”

“So why are they torturing you?” Kish was not letting the point slip away.

“Oh, cause I won’t tell them who hired me. Wouldn’t ever get another job if I did. It’s not professional, see…”

“Hired you to do what?” Kish was starting to get annoyed.

“Gather unicorn horns. All sorts of wizardy stuff you can do with those and they only live up north here…”

“Unicorns!” Cariolta was mortified.

“Oh, don’t start with me! Have you ever met a unicorn? No? I didn’t think so. They’re dirty, smelly, and ill-tempered. And besides I wasn’t hunting them. The damned things shed their horns every spring. I was just gathering a few. Met up with an unfriendly giant and a band of soldiers who took offence to my activities and they threw me in here…”

“So you’re a ranger of some kind?” queried Kish.

“Not really. Man at arms mostly. Bodyguard sometimes. Hunter when business is slow or when opportunity dictates…”

“Mercenary,” growled Kazé.

“I take it that you don’t much approve of my vocation.”

“Blades for hire have a habit of turning in favour of the man with the most money. No loyalties, no honour.” Kazé’s voice was little more than a snarl.

Prag was about to take offence but he was cut off by the loud clanging of the jail door being unlocked. The sound of several heavy metal boots pounded down the stairs. They came to a halt outside the cell doors and a voice that felt like a serpent infiltrating a baby’s crib gave out some instructions. “Let’s start with this one shall we. Open it up.”

Kazé’s cell door swung open and he was blinded by the light that suddenly flooded the room. As his eyes adjusted, he could see clearly, for the first time, his accommodations. The cell was a perfectly square room; every inch was polished obsidian with strange characters etched into it. It looked more like a priest’s chamber than a jail cell. In the center of the room was an emaciated young man, naked except for the absurdly heavy manacles which bound his feet, hands and neck. In the doorway were four heavily armoured guards wielding spears. Behind them stood the source of the light.

It looked like a firework had gone off inside the dungeon and had become trapped. There was a man standing just inside the cell wearing a huge, multicoloured cloak which covered his entire body except for his face, and exuded brilliant light in all directions. His face was covered by a very delicate looking porcelain mask in the form of a calm almost cruel smile. Lord Cailo spoke. “A High Wolf.” His words slithered out through his mask. “A curiosity to be sure, but of no real value to me alive. You’ll make a lovely rug for my den. And this boy, this is the one that Georg brought in? There was something unusual about him, yes? Georg broke his arm or something?”

A fifth guard entered, the helpful lieutenant from the day before. He nervously corrected the Lord, “Sir, the boy broke Georg’s arm, Sir. Shattered it, actually.”

“He broke Georg’s arm? Now, that is interesting!” The words dripped like venom. “What do we know about him?”

“Not much, Sir, we think he’s mute. He hasn’t said a thing, nor eaten anything since he got here three weeks ago.”

The boy’s only response to the attention was to roll onto his back and look curiously at the Lord’s vibrant cloak.

“And he’s still alive? I’ll have to have some fun with this one. Who’s next?”

“A poacher, Lord,” they exited and barred the door.

“Anything special about him?” grumbled the Lord with obvious disdain.

“Not really, Sir. He’s been hard to get any information out of, though. He was hunting unicorns to the west of here.”

“Then I’ll leave him to you. Now, where are these ladies you said you found?” His voice was thick with anticipation, like he had just found a meal after a month’s fast.

“In here, Lord, the one appears to be of noble birth. The other seems to be a guardian or servant.” The lieutenant swung the door open. Light poured in on the two women. They stood close together, both trying to protect the other from the masked gaoler.

Lord Cailo paced around them, staring at them intently with unseen eyes, hidden behind his gently grinning mask. The blond girl, Cariolta, was in shambles. Her curly hair was a mass of tangles and twigs, her makeup was put on so heavily that it was hard to tell if she was a young girl trying to look older or an old woman trying to look young. Her jaw was long and her figure was unimpressive. Her pale blue eyes were bloodshot from crying.

Kish was as different from Cariolta as could be. Her body was tanned and toned, betraying a life of manual labour. Her dark hair cascaded over her shoulders and framed her unblemished face as it scowled defiantly at the Lord. She was a wild beast and Lord Cailo found himself satisfied by the taut muscles being exposed by the tattered crimson gown she wore.

He stopped his investigation and glided out of the cell. “The one in yellow is nobility of some kind from Haelund. See if there have been any reports of missing daughters. She should likely fetch a decent ransom. Treat her well. The other is just a servant or a handmaiden, I expect. Bring her to my chambers. She should make for good sport.” His poisonous voice dripped with sadistic excitement.

Two guards pulled Cariolta away while the other two grabbed Kish and tried to force her out of the cell. A third guard and a sharp blow to her head were needed before any progress could be made, though. The friendly lieutenant gave Cariolta an apologetic and sorrowful look before barring the cell door behind him.

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