Authors: Rachel Roberts
SONG OF THE UNICORNS
Copyright © 2012 Red Sky Entertainment, Inc.
“Music by Heart” Written by Debra Davis ©
Big Old Soul Music, Lyrics Used by Permission
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher, except where permitted by law.
Published by Premiere Digital Publishing, Inc.
Made in the U.S.A.
Cover and interior illustrations by Allison Strom
HE BLOOD-RED SUN
rose above an ocean of roiling mist. Two centaurs—half man, half horse—stood on a ledge overlooking the gorge. Eliath, the first was called, shook the clinging damp from his hide and glanced north, then south.
The proud centaur lifted the silver amulet that hung from his neck. Beams of light shot from the object, casting a circular web of stars over the gorge. A line of bright stars curved along several strands.
“It should have been one clean jump,” the other one, Corinth, complained. “Palenmarth to Dalriada. We’re not supposed to be here.”
“I’d agree with you if I knew where ‘here’ was.” Eliath studied the fairy map carefully, pinpoints of light reflecting in his wide, human-like eyes. “I think we’re somewhere in the northeast quadrant near the outer edge of the web.”
“A portal must have closed us out of the jump less than halfway there.” Corinth followed where his friend pointed. The portal path they were supposed to follow curved around the center of the web and off to the northwest. Instead, they appeared to be near an uncharted area, next to a realm that shimmered with dark waves. “So close to the Otherworlds. This is the last place we want to be!”
One light blinked brightly near their position. It meant that a portal lay a short distance ahead, but the only way to get there was to cross the gorge.
“There’s another portal on the far side,” Eliath observed.
“We can’t trust the map.” Corinth swished his long tail nervously. “The magic has been too unstable all along the web.”
Eliath nodded. Both centaurs knew the risks they were taking using the fairy map now. Magic flowed uncontrolled and wild across the web, closing portals that had been open for centuries and creating new ones as yet unmapped. And now they were way off course and stranded.
“You forget how important our mission is,” Eliath said, nodding toward the wagon behind them. From inside, mournful wails wafted over the desolate place.
“I have not forgotten.” Corinth searched the edge of the gorge. “Are you sure there’s a bridge here?”
Eliath focused the bubble of light into a sharp beam. It revealed a series of interconnected flat stones twisting their way across the gorge before vanishing into the mist-shrouded far side.
“There it is!” Corinth said. “The Demon’s Crossing.”
The wide stones floated precariously, moving and shifting to the silent rhythm of ancient magic.
“That bridge goes completely across?” Eliath asked.
Corinth stamped his forelegs to keep the icy chill from seeping up his flanks. Glancing to the covered wagon behind him, the centaur frowned. “We have no choice. We can’t go back.”
The centaurs had been hand-picked to bring the cargo to its safe destination. The mission must not fail.
“Let’s just move on,” Eliath said sharply.
Corinth sighed and adjusted the shoulder straps that hooked to long leather reins connecting to the wagon.
The two centaurs moved carefully to the edge of the outcropping and stepped upon the floating bridge. It was solid as rock.
Eliath nodded. Confident the ancient bridge would hold their weight and that of the wagon, they started across.
Mist curled over the stones like smoke as the wagon jostled forward. The centaurs could barely see their hooves.
“What was that?” Corinth shuddered, looking out across the bottomless chasm.
“There’s nothing but mist,” Eliath answered. But something tingled across his shoulders, inching down his back—fear.
“I swear something is moving out there,” Corinth insisted, craning his neck to look more closely into the swirling void.
Corinth was right. In the vast mass of clouds, something coalesced into a dark shape, moving—no—swimming through the mists.
“Let’s move!” Eliath commanded.
But their steel horseshoes slipped on the damp rocks. The wagon lurched. A cacophony of screeches and whines rose from inside.
“Quiet!” Corinth hissed.
The centaurs moved quickly, the wagon only narrowly avoiding the bridge’s blunt edges and the perilous drop into nothing.
Suddenly, Corinth staggered backward, his hind legs almost slipping over the edge. Eliath released the reins from his shoulder straps and trotted to the back of the wagon. The left rear wheel was wedged in a deep crevice that had been eaten away by centuries of icy wind.
The centaur lowered his shoulder and pushed against the wagon. Again, his cargo reacted with another chorus of angry and frightened sounds.
Muscles cording tight, Eliath strained. Sweat began to pour freely down his rich brown hide.
“Pull, Corinth!” Eliath yelled. “Harder!”
A black mass flew across the wagon’s path.
The wagon rolled forward.
Breathing hard, Eliath ran to the front of the wagon. He froze.
“Corinth?” Torn reins fluttered in the wind. The other centaur had disappeared.
Snorting, Eliath tried to shake off the panic creeping into his chest. He quickly snapped the reins to his harness and pulled.
Black shapes swam all around, skimming through the mists with terrifying speed. A bolt of wild magic suddenly pierced the top of the wagon from within, sending splinters of wood flying.
“No!” Eliath called over his shoulder. “You’ll only make it worse!”
But it was too late. Like sharks to fresh blood, the mists roiled with huge black beasts. Too many! Eliath thought.
From the depths of the gorge, a razor fin sliced though the surface, coming right toward them.
With a mighty effort, Eliath pulled the wagon forward.
Bursts of light sent fireworks trailing as the wailing cries from the wagon turned to panicked screams.
Eliath tried to ignore the powerful forces building behind him. He tore the silver amulet from the chain around his neck, crisscrossing its light into a wide shield.
The monstrous creature erupted from the void, huge jaws gaping, revealing rows of long black teeth. It missed the wagon by inches, smashing into the shield and exploding into angry tatters of mist.
Eliath pulled with every ounce of his strength, trying to gauge where the next attack would come from.
The other side of the gorge was just ahead!
Eliath stopped short. Silhouetted by the crimson sun, something stood at the end of the bridge blocking the path. A figure in black armor, faceplate drawn, stepped forward. In a black-gloved hand, the knight held a staff of power. The green jewel upon its tip glowed dangerously.
Eliath drew the sword strapped to his back. Ancient Elvin magic coursed up and down its fine edges.
The evil knight raised his staff, sending bolts of foul magic into the mists.
A mistbeast sprang from the gorge, sinking teeth into wood. With a vicious shake of its massive head, it ripped out the rear wheels. The wagon fell backward, crashing to the stone and skidding half over the edge.
Eliath instantly threw the amulet. The glittering shield expanded, surrounding the wagon.
The startled centaur suddenly felt his neck locked in an iron grip.
Eliath desperately struggled, kicking his attacker with powerful rear hooves, but the knight was too strong. With a cry, the brave centaur was thrown into the void.
The wagon teetered perilously on the edge of the bridge.
The knight’s armor-clad hand grasped only mist as the wagon tumbled into the gorge.
Blinding light exploded, spreading into a pulsing circle inside the clouds.
With a last burst, the light vanished, taking the terrified screams with it.