|This story is set in the Environmental Protection universe, in which unicorns (and other ancient myths) butt up against the modern world. In this case, the magic of a unicorn against the cold iron of a 30-06 shotgun, among other weapons...
Go here for more information on the setting.
by E. H. Wrangler
©2001 E. H. Wrangler -- all rights reserved
The door opened swiftly as Roger staggered in, closed it behind him and leaned against it rolling his eyes back as he softly banged the back of his head against it. He was back at work again and, after yesterday, nothing was going to be the same.
The noise from his head banging was enough to alarm the secretary, who quickly made her way over to him. "Are you all right Mr. Harris?" she asked.
Roger opened his eyes and gave her a wan smile. "I'm fine Millie. I just spent all of yesterday and some of this morning talking with my wife over some of my new duties."
Millie looked at him with a peculiar expression for a few seconds and then it dawned on her what he meant. "Oh! You mean those duties."
Roger nodded. "Is everyone upstairs?"
"Everyone except Louis and Stacy. They're having a business lunch over at Garber's Grill."
Roger gave her a quick "thank you" look and quickly made his way up the stairs. He glanced back over his shoulder as Millie made her way back to her desk. She was the only human working in the building now that Roger had been "promoted," but she was a trusted friend of Louis and Gwen and therefore in the know and accepting of the situation.
Roger on the other hand still needed to come to terms with some things. He wasn't upset about his plight; rather, confused. He still needed answers and there was one person upstairs who could give them to him.
Walking into the meeting room, he found Arthur and Rebecca discussing the morning's air quality readings.
Arthur spoke heatedly with his coworker. "Look, I know it's still healthy, but the pollution index is a lot higher then it should be. All I'm saying is..." He stopped mid-sentence when he saw Roger standing by the door, waving to them with an awkward smile.
"Roger! It's good to have you back."
Roger rolled his eyes. "I was only gone for one day Arthur. Hey Rebecca. Still letting Arthur win all the arguments?"
Rebecca grinned. "Actually, I think I'm going to have to mop the floor with him on this one."
Roger twisted his head towards a large room in the corner. "Is Gwen in her office?" Rebecca nodded and Roger nodded in return before making his way over to the office and giving the door three light taps.
"Come in," replied a female voice, with a familiar English lilt. Roger opened the door and strolled inside.
"Hello Roger," Gwen sang. She stood up from behind her desk and walked over to greet him.
"And how has our new recruit been adjusting?"
Roger shifted his stance, relieved that Gwen had brought the point up first. "That's actually why I came up here to see you. You were aware of course that I spent all of yesterday with my wife, explaining what happened to Jason and I two nights ago."
Gwen nodded, reluctantly. "I know. So she knows everything?"
Roger shrugged. "Yeah, well as much as I know that is." He stopped for a second and inspected the look on her face. "I can understand why you're concerned about her knowing. What with all the stuff you guys have to do to stay secretive just to keep alive."
"All the stuff we have to do," Gwen corrected with a smile.
Roger lightly slapped his forehead in frustration over his slip. "Yes, I know, I keep forgetting. I'm in the same boat with you guys now."
"It's okay," Gwen conceded. "I know you're still getting used to all of this."
With that, she took a step back and began changing. Within seconds, Gwen was standing before Roger in her true form. He shook his head in shock and amazement.
"No matter how many times I see that, I don't think I'll ever get used to watching someone change into a unicorn."
Gwen gave him a big equine smile. "You will, love. Trust me. You have plenty of time."
"That's one of things I wanted to ask you about. How long do you... I mean we..." he stuttered the words out. "How much time do we have?"
Gwen rolled her eyes. "Just like a human to ask. Oh, don't feel ashamed, my husband and all the rest asked me the same question. The fact is we live for so long, you won't be able to keep track. I have some friends who remember running around with the dinosaurs, if that's any hint."
Roger's jaw dropped. "You're kidding, right? I mean I was expecting maybe a few centuries, but that long?"
Gwen nodded. "Yeah, so I hope you're not in any hurry to visit St. Peter, otherwise you have a long wait in store for you."
Roger tried to think of something profound to say. All that came out was "Whoa!"
"I think that sums it up quite well, don't you?"
Roger reached up and gently touched her horn. "What about our powers? Is there any -- I don't know -- scientific explanation for them?"
Gwen let out a whinny-laugh. "I'm sorry, but your last question is so funny." She tried to contain her humor. "No, I can't think of any rational or logical explanation for what we are or how we do things. I guess for lack of a better term, the best word to describe our power is 'magic.' If you want to get technical, we harness the energy around us and restructure it, but that's about the best answer I can give you."
She took a step forward, and nudged him playfully on his shoulder. "If you want to talk, how about coming with me? There's a place in the woods north of the lake that's one of my favorite places to go when I want to be by myself."
Roger smiled. "Why not?"
With that, Gwen quickly closed her eyes. When she opened them, she and Roger where surrounded by trees and bushes.
"Whoa," Roger muttered, as he almost fell back into a bush. He had been leaning against the door back in the office, and it took a second to regain his balance. "I thought you wanted to drive here or something."
Gwen just smiled. "This is a lot quicker." She trotted around Roger, whinnying as she made her passes. "Come on Roger! Doesn't the fresh air make you want to run around on all fours?"
Roger sighed. She has a point, he silently agreed. "Are you sure it's safe?"
With that, Roger concentrated on taking his unicorn form. His body lost sensation for a moment as it changed and he quickly morphed into a stallion. He was grateful for both the speed and lack of feeling involved during the change, because after watching An American Werewolf in London, the last thing he wanted was to suffer a long and painful transformation.
"That's just Hollywood for you," said Gwen. Roger looked at her stunned for a moment before he realized she must have just used her telepathic abilities.
He shook his head, and then began a slow trot around the area, gracefully slaloming between trees without missing a step. He made his way back to her, a smile on his face.
"Bravo," Gwen said. "You really do make a handsome stallion, but you'll of course forgive me if I say that my Louis is much more beautiful to watch gallop?"
Roger chuckled. "Sure. Hey, do you think we can walk and talk?"
Gwen gave him a sunny smile. "I don't see why not."
"So you're telling me that we aren't the only 'mythical' creatures that are actually real?"
Gwen nodded her head. "Quite. I have mermaid and elf chums all over the world -- and of course there are leprechauns, but they mostly stay to themselves. The bloody little toads are always afraid someone wants to steal their gold, as if we unicorns even cared about such things."
Roger laughed. "Now, now. Remember, even us unicorns have to pay our bills every month."
Gwen snickered along with him. "An unfortunate side effect of modern living, I'll grant you that."
Roger nodded. Then he moved slightly closer to his companion and spoke in a softer voice. "How are we supposed to behave? You know, as unicorns. What rules do we have to follow?"
Gwen smiled as she slowed down her walk. "We unicorns don't have any form of 'organized rules' we adhere to. We don't have any Parliament or representatives, or any other silliness such as a Republican National Convention."
"Hey now," Roger responded. "That's hitting below the belt."
Gwen gently nipped at his ear. "I'm just playing with you. However, on a more serious note, we strive to serve all species on earth and protect the environment against any threats. We are the planet's sentinels; ancient guardians who have defended it since time began. Really, the reason some of us join organizations like the EPA or even the SPCA is a matter of convenience. It just lets us perform our duties more easily in these modern times."
A beat-up sedan pulled in front of city hall and five ragged looking men stepped out. A man wearing a brown trench coat took the lead and the rest followed behind him. He walked casually through the main entrance and toward a man guarding a private elevator, showing his authorization to enter. The man stepped aside and let the five men enter. The elevator reached the third floor and the door opened, where the quintet were immediately greeted by a man in a black business suit. He gave the group a smile and then looked exclusively at the man in the trench coat.
"Mr. Soles, so glad you made it. The mayor is happy that you could help us on such short notice."
Soles pulled a cigarette our from is pocket and popped it in his mouth. "Tell the mayor that for the right price, I'd fly to Antarctica in a heartbeat."
The businessman smiled. "Yes, I'll bet you would."
Soles motioned with his hand towards his band. "These are my associates. Lyle, Todd, Zack and Kurt."
The man smiled. "A pleasure, gentlemen." He then turned back to Soles. "I assume you already know why you're here."
Soles nodded. "A couple of days ago, one of the mayor's top men ended up missing."
"Tim Fine, yes. Two other men as well. They just up and vanished during a routine supervision of waste disposal from Brian's brother's plant. They haven't been heard from since."
"This is all touching. What do I need to do?"
The businessman rolled his eyes. "Mayor Brian suspects foul play. He needs to know who his enemies are -- and he needs them dealt with."
Soles shrugged. "Sounds like a routine job. We just took care of something like that in Pittsburgh last spring. Got any leads?"
"As a matter of fact, we do. A group of people who we know to be a constant irritation with our operations."
"Just off the top of your head, what's the weirdest thing to happen to you since you became a unicorn?"
Roger stopped cantering to consider. "Well, I haven't been one long, but I'd have to say last night when I stepped outside from the house to clear my head, and a raccoon came right up to me and asked me how I was doing."
Gwen started up laughing again.
"It wasn't funny. Claire came out and found me talking to it, and thought I had lost my mind. I had to explain to her that I could talk to animals now."
Gwen smiled and said, "As long as we're on that subject, I'd like you to meet someone. She lives right up around this bend."
"Okay, but I hope she's not a raccoon."
"I promise," Gwen swore as she led the way into a small clearing. The entire grove became a chorus as soon as Roger and Gwen entered. "It's the unicorns! The unicorns are here!"
Roger felt a little uneasy as Gwen and he became surrounded by a variety of woodland creatures, all chattering excitedly about their presence. Gwen just leaned over to him slightly, and gave him a wink as well as a reassuring smile.
Roger suddenly felt something land on his back, and he shot his head back in panic. Twisting around, he found a young squirrel standing on his lower neck, both front paws lifted in a peaceful manner.
"I'm sorry unicorn, did I harm you?"
Roger let out a sigh of relief. "No, you just frightened me. I'm just not used to having animals jump all over me... yet." With that, the squirrel politely hopped down and joined his fellow rodents below.
It took a few moments for it to register, but Roger realized that none of the creatures actually used the term "unicorn." He heard things like "noble steed" and "forest guardian," but not that magical word he'd come to embrace as a child. The funny thing was however, no matter what the animals called them, he always comprehended it as unicorn. It was like when one hears a word in a foreign language and immediately translates it into his or her own language without concentrating too much on the interpretation.
He turned to Gwen, curious about their nicknames. "How come they have all these epithets for us? Why not just call us unicorns?"
Gwen smiled. "'Unicorn' is the word humans have invented to describe us, by taking the Latin words for 'one' and 'horn' and combining them. These animals, on the other hand, use their own system of words. Now as part of your powers you hear the language they speak while at the same time your mind translates it into a form you're more comfortable with. Since you naturally speak English, you hear the English equivalent for all their words."
Roger nodded. "Oh, I see. Does it work in reverse?"
"Of course. When you speak, while you hear your voice in English, your mouth is actually talking in their tongue."
Roger grinned. "So if I was to say 'tree' to a squirrel..."
"They would hear it as 'tall home' in their language."
Before Roger could carry the conversation any further, a female deer came forward and a presented herself before Gwen. Gwen smiled and lowered her snout until they both met, nuzzling the doe. Roger watched the gesture and saw it as the animal kingdom equivalent of a handshake or hug.
The doe took a step towards Gwen. "Unicorn, you honor us with your presence."
Gwen just shook her head. "It is my duty and my pleasure to maintain the well being of this forest. I thank you for all the assistance you give me."
The doe smiled. "It has been one of my greatest joys to serve you all these years." She then turned to the crowd of animals. "The unicorn called Gwen extends her greetings to everyone." At once all of the animals in the meadow jumped up and cheered.
Roger was once again startled by the outburst, and instinctively took a step back. Gwen noticed his discomfort and immediately followed suit. She then leaned and whispered in his ear, "Emotional little blighters, aren't they?"
Roger let out a short giggle, and the tension lifted a bit.
The doe then looked straight at him, and tilted her head slightly. "I don't believe I've had the pleasure of meeting you before, unicorn."
Roger bit his lip. "Er, no. I'm a..." he stopped for a second to look questioningly at Gwen, who just smiled back. "I'm a new recruit."
The doe's eyes widened and her jaw dropped. "A new unicorn! A new guardian chosen to take the form!" She then bent the front of her body down until she was bowing. "It is an honor to meet you."
The deer's gesture affected Roger in the opposite way than she'd intended, as he felt humbled while watching her revering him. "No, please don't do that. I'm not royalty, you don't have to bow or salute me. My name is just Roger, and I'm happy to meet you, Ms., uh..." He turned to Gwen for help.
Gwen saw his need for help and stepped forward. "Animals don't have names in the same sense as humans do, but for simplicity she has chosen the name Whitetail."
Whitetail got up and gave a slight nod. "Roger, the modest unicorn." And as if on cue, the rest of the assembly began to bleat, "Modest unicorn."
Roger just shook his head and tried to think what he wouldn't give to find some hole to curl up in.
Soles and his men inspected the area where Fine and the others disappeared. Zack and Kurt took pictures of the ground, while Lyle and Todd scattered around looking for clues. Soles knelt down and paid particular attention to a strange set of tracks around the area.
His .45 automatic dug into his armpit and he adjusted it, never taking his eyes off the ground. "I don't believe it," he muttered. The tracks looked like the hoof prints of a horse, but it was distinctly cloven, with a groove running from the front to about halfway back.
Zack came over to him. "Do you recognize those kind of tracks?"
Soles looked up to him. "Better then that. I've seen the creature that makes them. I was doing a job at a tannery near Kansas City once, looking for workers who had disappeared. They went out a few evenings before to dump some silicone into a nearby lake, and never came back."
The cameraman scratched his cheek. "Sounds a lot like what happened here."
Soles nodded. "That's what worries me. I found the same kind of hoof prints in the ground near that lake. I told the tannery manager to dump some silicone that night while I hid out in the woods and waited. Sure enough, I saw the animal responsible for the men's disappearance, coming to deal with the new group as well. I tried to jump out and grab it, but it just vanished right before my eyes, but not before I got a good look at it. Even seeing it, I could hardly believe they actually existed."
Zack had a blank look.
Soles stood up. "Come on. If what I think is right, then we might be able to take care of the creature, or creatures, living around here."
Gwen and Roger arrived back at the office at about 1:00, just in time to bump into Louis and Stacy as they walked back in from lunch. Louis gave Gwen a motion with his head to come over, and she was greeted with a kiss on the lips.
Pulling away slowly, Gwen asked, "How was lunch?"
"Delicious as always. Best steak in town."
Gwen shook her head. "I don't know how you can eat a cow. It's an... animal."
Louis smiled in return. "Now Jenny, dear, you know that I developed a taste for beef long before I ever became a unicorn."
Roger noticed that the debate seemed to end as quickly as it began. He figured that this was an ongoing argument between the two, and that it was probably not going to be resolved today or anytime soon. It wasn't as though Gwen seemed angry or upset about Louis' taste in food, more like she was disgusted.
Roger just assumed that was part of what she was. As a natural born unicorn, she obviously was brought up with an aversion to eating any kind of meat. He could understand Gwen's position given her nature, but deep down he sided with Louis. Unicorn or not, he thought to himself, no one's going to make me give up hamburgers.
With that, he spun on his heel and headed down to his office, whistling a merry tune and putting a slight skip in his step. The trip to the woods, no matter how strange it had been, had somehow revived him. He was now a little wiser about his job as a unicorn, and the specifics didn't seem so abstract now that he had gotten to meet some of the animals under his protection.
Roger slipped into the office and closed the door behind him. He was both surprised and pleased to see that work hadn't piled up too much since he was gone. He took a seat at his desk and thumbed through the stack of papers. He was about to pick up a local vehicle emission report when the phone rang.
"EPA, this is Roger Harris."
"Hi Roger, it's Claire."
Roger smiled at the sound of her voice. "How's it going, dear?"
"Oh, I'm fine -- I guess." Her voice sounded distant, distracted, but before he could ask, she continued. "Roger, are you doing okay? I mean, what with what's happened and everything?"
Roger rolled his eyes, not quite sure what to really say. "Honey, I feel fine. Really."
There was a brief pause before she continued. "They don't have you doing anything weird, do they?"
Roger sighed. "No, I'm still doing basic analyst work. Look, Claire, I don't really want to talk to you about this kind of stuff over the phone. It's not that I don't want to tell you about it at all, but it seems like it should be more of a face to face thing."
Now Claire sighed. "I understand. Hey, I got a call from Jason's school today."
Oh no Roger thought. "He didn't turn anyone into a frog or anything, did he?" As silly as what he just said might have sounded coming from someone else, he tried to deliver it in at least a semi-serious tone.
"No," Claire answered angrily. "The principal just wanted to tell us personally that Jason won first place in the science fair."
A feeling of relief swept of Roger. "I'm sorry Claire, it was a stupid thing to say."
Claire on the other hand was still a bit shaken by his remark. "Can you two do stuff like that?"
"Yeah, of course. Gwen turned Tim Fine into a rat. Look, Claire, I have to get back to work, but I appreciate the call. I'll see you tonight."
"Okay. I love you. Good-bye."
Roger hung up the telephone and laughed at himself for a few seconds. Then he spun around in his chair until he was facing his radio and turned on his favorite station, which was currently having its classical music hour. Roger whistled along with Beethoven's Sixth Symphony as he read the emission report, underlining the important pieces with his pen.
"That's a beautiful melody."
Roger jumped up in fright. He turned his head quickly and saw Gwen standing at his door. He hadn't even heard her open it.
"You slipped out so quickly I didn't see you had left until Louis and I finished our conversation." She motioned towards that radio. "That's a good rendition, but you should have heard Beethoven conduct it himself. He really was a master."
Roger looked quizzically at Gwen as he regained his posture. "You heard this song when it was first composed, live?"
Gwen smiled. "I jolly well did. It was 1808 in Vienna's Burgtheater, opening night. I was there. He really brought the house down that night."
Roger shook his head in amazement. "I can't believe it. I mean, I know you were around back then, but still..."
Gwen closed her eyes and began to reminisce. "It was magical. His capture of the feeling of being free on the countryside was spot on. I felt like turning back into my real form then and there, but discretion got the better of me. Still, the peaceful mood I felt then has stayed with me all these years."
"Well, you are serene, I'll give you that, but I guess that's in our nature. As unicorns I mean."
"Yes, it is. You won't see an angry unicorn very often." She checked herself after that last line, looking around. "Well, maybe around here, but not very many other places. Moreover, violence is almost out of the question, save a few exceptions, such as a life threatening situation. But being almost immortal goes hand in hand with being almost invincible as well, so you can tell how often that happens."
Roger nodded, and then turned back towards the radio. "Man, you must have had the opportunity to hear some good musicians in all the years you've been on Earth."
Gwen gleamed at hearing that last remark. "Oh, absolutely. Over the centuries I've been privileged enough to witness many talented composers and performers during their lifetimes. Mozart, Bach, Strauss, Tchaikovsky -- and," she added with a quick smile, "Led Zeppelin."
Roger snickered. "Led Zeppelin?"
Gwen gave him a grin. "Well, I am British."
Right at that moment Rebecca burst into the room, looking towards Gwen nervously.
"Gwen, you won't believe this. There's a man out in the lobby who wants to talk to Arthur. I think he works for Mr. Brian."
Gwen got up without another word. Roger watched silently as she left his office, stunned. He remembered his last run in with Brian's men and what it almost cost him. I won't be so helpless if they try anything this time, he reminded to himself.
Gwen marched right into the hallway and joined Louis, who was already standing before a mysterious looking man in a brown trench coat, accompanied by another man wearing a red baseball hat. Her superior sense of smell immediately picked up the first man's irritating cologne and she did the best she could not to gag at the stench.
Her husband turned to acknowledge her and then spun back to introduce their visitor. "Gwen, this is Devin Soles. He wants to..."
"...talk to Arthur," Gwen said quickly, finishing his sentence. "Yes, I've heard. What exactly do you wish to see him for?"
Soles continued to look straight at Louis. "We just want to ask him a few questions."
"What kind of questions?" inquired a voice from a behind them. They turned to see Arthur descending the stairs.
Soles looked over and gave Arthur a brief smile. "They concern any knowledge you may have about the whereabouts of a Tim Fine."
"Your guess is as good as mine," Arthur answered casually, while making a slight eye movement towards Gwen. He quickly telepathically called to her, Gwen, what do I do?
Gwen didn't avert her eyes from Soles as she responded, Just relax and answer his questions the best you can.
Soles had managed to catch Arthur's eye motion. "I ask you because you and he had an argument about the quality of water at a local river the day he disappeared. We haven't been able to find any trace of his body, so we suspect foul play."
Arthur crossed his arms. "So you think I killed him?"
Soles shrugged. "I'm paid to track down leads, and right now you're the best candidate." He feigned a yawn and leaned back slightly, his hands catching both sides of his jacket and pulling them back enough to expose his handgun.
Gwen saw the firearm and realized that he was trying to intimidate them. "And what exactly is your job, Mr. Soles?" She wasn't sure what it was, but she sensed something about him that made her feel uncomfortable.
Soles raised his eyebrows. "Whatever the situation calls for. Detective, bounty hunter..."
"Mercenary?" Gwen offered.
Soles chuckled briefly before answering emotionlessly, "Whatever."
"Look -- Mr. Soles, was it?" Arthur started, waiting for Soles to turn to him. "Fine and I had our differences, but I would never kill him, or anyone else."
Soles scratched his cheek. "Very well, then. I'll be back to talk to you again if I find anything else out. Don't leave town, Mr. Martin."
"Is that a threat?"
"Consider it an order from the mayor. That is, if you still respect his authority." With that, Soles and his silent companion swaggered down the hallway and out of the building.
"Why did we even come here?" asked his associate as they walked to the car. "You already said you know who -- I mean, what -- caused this."
Soles smiled. "Just hedging my bets, Lyle. Did you see the way Arthur glanced at that woman? It was almost as if he was looking to her for advice. They know something, and they may be involved."
Lyle looked at him incredulously as he opened the passenger door. "Involved? With those things?"
Soles took his seat behind the steering wheel and turned the ignition. "Lyle, they may very well be those things." The sedan jerked forward and pulled away from the building.
Roger watched through his office window as Gwen and Arthur discussed their encounter with Soles. Arthur seemed nervous as he elaborated his fears to Gwen, but she in turn remained calm and tried to settle him down, like a mother trying to console her child, Roger thought to himself -- no, like the head unicorn trying to comfort one of her apprentices. He smiled briefly at the notion.
The conversation effectively concluded, Arthur reluctantly nodded and turned and made his way up the stairs to his office. Gwen watched him as he left, then slowly spun around, heading back for Roger's office. Roger dropped his head down so that it wouldn't seem like he was eavesdropping and quickly shuffled through his paperwork, placing the emission report on top of the stack.
"If you're trying to hide what you're doing," said Gwen as she walked in front of his desk, "then don't place your papers upside-down."
Roger looked down at the papers and let out a sigh. Tossing his pen on the desk, he asked, "Am I that obvious?"
Gwen smiled briefly in response, and then her expression became solemn. "Arthur was really shaken up by what just happened."
Roger nodded. "I know. For some reason, I... I felt it."
Gwen just cocked her head. "That was your telepathy kicking in. Remember when I told you that a unicorn can hear another unicorn's call for help?"
Roger again nodded. "It works just like that, huh?"
"Yes, only Arthur focused his call more, so that only I received the message. However, you and everyone else here felt the fear he was projecting."
Roger smiled. "Never knew I was so talented."
"Now you are," Gwen confirmed, and then changed the subject. "I'm going to check out this Mr. Soles. I don't know why, but my instinct tells me he's a danger."
"We unicorns can look inside someone and see if they are good or evil. I couldn't pinpoint anything about Soles, because I was too busy mentally trying to calm down Arthur. However, what I did feel disturbed me. It was like he knew something about us."
Roger bit his lip. "What can you do?"
"A background check, I rather think. It should be easy; we work for the government, remember?"
"After that, I can 'call out' to other unicorns and see if any of them know about him. It's a slim chance, but I'll do it, for the sake of us all."
"You're looking out for our safety?"
Gwen nodded. "All the time. When I changed everyone here into unicorns, I took you all in as my pupils. It's my duty to protect you until you're 'mature' enough to look after yourselves."
Gwen turned to leave, but Roger called out to her, "How long does that take? How long before we're 'mature' as you called it?"
"Oh, usually about a decade."
Roger just shook his head in amazement. It's a good thing I'm not planning on moving anytime soon...
The morning broke slowly the next day, yet Roger roused himself from bed before his alarm clock could sound. He quickly threw on some lounging clothes to wear before he had to really get dressed for work, and stumbled half-consciously out of his room. He was embarking on an important mission; he had to make it to the coffee pot as soon as possible. As he walked down the hallway, he heard a strange commotion coming from Jason's bedroom and he slowly pushed his son's door open and peeked inside.
Roger's jaw dropped as he saw his son, in his unicorn form, standing in the middle on the room, surrounded by different animals. Jason froze in both fear and embarrassment as his father watched him. The animals also reacted in fright as they saw the human looking at them, but the shock was only a short one, once they saw who it was.
"The modest unicorn," one little squirrel declared and the others began to silently repeat this with a sense of awe as they whispered among themselves.
Oh God, Roger thought as he rolled his eyes. It's spreading.
Jason smiled crookedly. "Hey, Dad. I was just... talking to some friends."
Roger just stared at his son for several moments, not quite sure what to do or say. Finally, he just laughed. "It's okay, Jason. I've had a few conversations with wildlife myself over the past couple days."
Jason smiled too, once he saw his father wasn't upset. "They wanted to take me to see their families, but I told them I had to go to school."
The little squirrel spoke up again. "Why must your foal go to this 'school' place, unicorn?"
Roger sighed. "It's something that we humans have to do to get educated."
The squirrel seemed perplexed. "But you're not humans, you're unicorns."
Unable to think of a good response, Roger threw his hand up and said, "Look, it's just something you're going to have to accept. Jason, when you come home from school, you can go visit with your new -- I can't believe I'm saying this -- friends. Just make sure no one sees you."
Jason nodded. "I know, I know."
Roger smiled. "Better get ready for school, son. And don't let Mom know you let wild animals come in your room, or we'll both get yelled at."
"Okay. Thanks dad."
"Goodbye, unicorn," all the animals said in unison.
Roger shot the creatures a short, obligatory wave before he closed the door, still shaking his head in disbelief.
Soles' beat-up sedan pulled off the main road and onto a trail that led deep into the forest. Lyle looked out the side window and watched as the skyscrapers in the distance were soon blocked from sight as more and more trees covered the terrain. After a few minutes, the vehicle pulled to the side of the path and came to a stop.
The five men stepped out, all clad in camouflage hunting gear. Soles slid his trench coat on over his shirt, and motioned for the others to follow him as he went back to the trunk. A quick twist of the keys opened the rear compartment, which was filled with long leather cases.
Each man selected his own and then unzipped them, pulling out guns. Zack and Kurt each had Remington 30-06 automatics, and Todd carried a World War II era M-14. Lyle and Soles had Benelli 12-gauge shotguns. Each man loaded up their weapons and started out into the woods.
After a few moments, Lyle began to get a bit antsy, and walked closer to Soles. "Look, Devin, its not that I don't believe you -- even though it is a bit hard to accept -- but if you say that we're looking for a unicorn, I'll take your word for it. What I don't understand is how you think this is going to help."
Soles shot Lyle a quick look. "I'm not an expert on how these things act, Lyle. When I spotted that one up in Kansas City I damn near panicked. I never told the tannery owners just what I saw, 'cause I knew they'd think I was crazy, but I realized that if unicorns did exist, I'd need to know a lot more about them in case I ever ran into one again. I started doing research at different libraries; trying to find out anything I could about them from myths and legends. Most of it was pretty vague, but a few sources seemed to favor the idea that unicorns didn't just frolic in the forests, but that they guarded them as well."
Lyle jerked his head back. "Guarded them?"
"Yeah. They were like, defenders of the animals and such. The more I thought about how the unicorn I had met had acted, the more it became logical that maybe it was attacking the people dumping the toxic waste because it knew they were poisoning its home. It was trying to save the lives of the animals living in its forests."
"Come on, Devin. These things -- even if they are unicorns -- are still just animals. How could they be that smart?"
"They just are."
"Well, how come you said those EPA people might be the unicorns?"
Soles stopped dead in his tracks. "They're magical creatures, Lyle. You don't think they can't change forms and things like that if they want to? How else would they remain hidden from the general public?"
Lyle shook his head in disgust as more and more questions filled his head. Why would they pretend to be human? What would they accomplish? Has Soles lost it completely? But most of all, "What are we going to do if we get one?"
Soles smiled. "Think about it, Lyle. Do you know how much money we could make if we brought someone proof there were unicorns?"
Lyle gave a nod, and then pumped his shotgun. "I guess we could get a lot. I still don't know how we're going to get one, though. I mean, it's not like it's going to just come up to us."
Soles shot him an optimistic grin. "The same way you catch anything, my boy. Bait."
Roger made it in to work early that day, but still he was the last one to arrive. He couldn't help but feel perplexed as he came into the meeting room and saw everyone else was already gathered together. Curious, he took his usual seat and Gwen stood up, holding a folder in her hand.
"I've found a few things about Devin Soles that I think everyone should know. A friend of mine at the FBI was able to dig up information on him. He runs a small free-lance hit team called 'The Killer Elite.' They've done jobs all over the world, solving 'problems' for drug-dealers, terrorists and anyone else who can't go to the police. Recently he's been working here in America for different companies having problems with unions or," she paused for effect, "the attention they get over environmental concerns."
"Going on this, I sent a call out for any other unicorns who may have had a run in with Soles. I got in touch with a friend of mine,a fellow unicorn who lives in Missouri. Imagine my surprise when she said that she was almost captured by a man fitting his description near Kansas City. She had been transforming some factory workers into elk after discovering that they were dumping silicone into a local lake, poisoning the wildlife and the humans living in the area. She was attacked by the man and had to quickly teleport away to safety, but she distinctly remembered that he wore a brown trench coat."
Silence filled the room. Eyes darted back and forth as the unicorns waited for someone to say something. No one else seemed to have anything to offer and Roger still felt a little uncomfortable about talking about such things with the group due to his inexperience with being a unicorn. However, he suddenly felt a need to speak.
"What should we do?"
Gwen slowly exhaled. "I've been giving this a lot of thought. Louis and I decided that the best thing to do would be for us to check around the forests and make sure the animals are okay. If this man is unprincipled enough to try and catch a unicorn, he's a greater risk to any other creature."
Richard, who had remained quiet through out the meeting, spoke up. "How do you propose that we handle this?"
"We should split up in pairs. Each pair take a part of the forest and spread the word to all the animals to be on their guard and report anything out of the ordinary to us as soon as possible. The sooner we do it, the sooner we can guarantee the safety of the forest."
Everyone nodded, and then split into teams. Roger was not the least bit surprised to see Arthur and Rebecca team up, and he turned his head to see Richard pair up with Stacy. Louis took a step towards Gwen, but then paused when he saw Roger was left without a partner. He didn't want Roger to be alone on something important like this, and felt that his inexperience meant that he needed the best buddy in the group.
"You know," Louis said, a bit reserved. "We can't just leave the office unattended. Millie would have a hard enough time as it is. I'll stay behind and watch over things."
Gwen looked at him for a second, and then nodded. She could tell right away why he had made the offer and she mentally sent him the message, That was very noble of you, dear.
Louis telepathically responded, Roger needs your help more then I do.
Gwen turned to Roger and said aloud, "I guess that means it's you and I."
Roger smiled and opened the door for her. "Wouldn't have it any other way."
Before taking advantage of Roger's gentlemanly act, Gwen turned to the others and said, "Roger and I will take the woods north of the lake."
Roger smiled to himself. Gwen's favorite place, he thought.
Richard spoke up next. "Stacy and I will take the forest south of the city."
Rebecca lightly tapped Arthur on the shoulder and noted, "I guess that leaves us the woods by the petrochemical plant."
They all agreed and everyone but Louis transformed into their unicorn forms and the floor creaked slightly as twelve sets of hooves rested upon it.
Roger watched as, one by one, everyone began to glow and then disappeared. Soon only he and Gwen were left.
Roger smiled. "Would you do the honors? I still haven't figured that one out yet."
Gwen grinned back and nodded her large head. "With pleasure."
Roger watched her horn begin to radiate, then the room quickly dissolved and was replaced with the dense flora of the forest. Roger looked down and saw his hoofs engulfed in deep grass, and then took in a deep breath. Ah, the forest! he thought happily.
Gwen nudged him forward. "Come on, we'd better get moving."
They both began to trot along a trail that led into the forest, and Gwen yelled out our warning as we went. "We need your attention. There are some bad humans in the area. We need you tell us at once if you see any humans in these woods."
At once, scores of different animals lined up along the path, listening to what their guardian had to say. Foxes, birds, rabbits, badgers, raccoons and squirrels were among those that were uncharacteristically assembled, drawn together by a common bond of loyalty to the unicorns.
Roger just watched silently as he trotted alongside Gwen, who was still delivering her message. "There is a chance that they may come in the woods; if any human comes in the woods, keep your distance from them. More so than usual. Spread the word around to your families and acquaintances."
All the animals seemed to understand and headed back to their respective habitats. Satisfied that everyone understood; Gwen motioned with her head for Roger to look at her. "We have to tell my charge, Whitetail. She'll be able to spread the message quickly, since she's in charge of correspondence." Roger followed as they turned off the trail and in the direction of the deer's grove.
Once they arrived, however, they found the grove completely deserted. Gwen slowly trotted around the area, looking for any signs of life. Roger watched silently as Gwen's search for Whitetail became more and more desperate. He took his eyes of her for a second to clear his head and spotted a torn up patch of grass.
"Gwen! Look at this!"
Gwen galloped back over to him to examine the indicated section of ground. After a few seconds she realized what it meant. "There was some kind of struggle here. Those are the kind of marks left when an animal is frantically scraping at the ground." She hoped with all her might that the scratches didn't come from deer hoofs, but as she examined them closer, she saw that the marks could belong to no other animal.
That was when she smelled it. Her nostrils wrinkled back in disgust as she whiffed a putrid odor. "It smells like..."
A look of dread came across her face. The scent of Soles' cologne emanated from the grass patch.
"Roger," she shouted. "We have to go now. We have to find her."
"What? What's wrong?"
"It was Soles. He was here, I can smell his cologne." She began to stamp her feet anxiously as she pleaded with Roger, "Please Roger, we have to find her."
Roger barely had time to nod before Gwen spun around and charged away. He shot after her, running as fast as he could, but even with all the speed of a unicorn he could barely stay with her. She was outdistancing him more and more with each second.
Gwen could smell Whitetail's scent getting stronger. She galloped on, leaping over bushes as she continued her search. She glanced back to make sure that Roger was still with her and then turned back around just in time to Soles dead ahead on the other side of a small clearing. She came to an abrupt stop with Roger stopping a few yards behind her.
Soles, along with his four cohorts, had Whitetail in his clutches. Lyle and Zack had a firm grip around her neck while Todd and Kurt each held on tightly to her legs. Soles rested the stock of his shotgun against his hip as he held it with one hand, the other tucked in his pocket. He looked over and saw the two unicorns and a look of triumph formed across his face.
"I told you they were real," he told his associates. "I knew that if we took one of their beloved forest animals, they'd come to us." Whitetail looked pleadingly over to Gwen, who returned her gaze with a sad look.
Roger stepped closer to Gwen and whispered, "What are we supposed to do? I mean, something inside me is telling me that we aren't supposed to be seen."
Gwen didn't take her eyes off Whitetail. "We're not. But she's in danger."
Roger let out a short nicker. "I know." He didn't like this situation, not one bit.
Soles smiled again, and then took a step forward. "Listen up. Can you understand me?"
Gwen gave him a quick nod.
A smile broke through Soles' icy exterior as he spoke to his associates. "See? They are sentient animals. I knew that they could understand us."
"What do you want?" asked Gwen, spitting the words out.
Soles was surprised by her ability to speak, but quickly responded with his demands, "A trade. You for her. Come over here peacefully, and we'll let her go."
Roger turned to Gwen in shock. "You can't go over there and let them take you."
Gwen bit her lip. "I have to Roger. I can't let them hurt her."
"But you could be killed."
Gwen gave him a reassuring smile. "Don't worry. Guns can't hurt us. The impact of a bullet stings for a few seconds, but that's all. They don't penetrate our skin, or even leave a mark. No manmade weapon can harm us."
She gently rubbed her snout on his, and then began to walk over to the gunmen. Lyle and Zack began to relax their grips on the doe, but Soles quickly lifted his hand.
He looked at Gwen. "Tell the deer to walk slowly. No fast movements."
Gwen told Whitetail to do so and the doe nodded. The four men released her and she slowly began to make her way towards Roger. She walked nervously across the clearing, taking anxious breaths as she neared Gwen, who in turn tried to give her a smile to show her that everything would be all right. Whitetail did her best to smile back.
It was at that moment that Soles lifted his shotgun up and took aim. "Just in case she tries to disappear like her friend from Missouri," he said to his henchmen.
Gwen eyes bulged as she froze in place.
Roger's jaw dropped.
The muzzle of the shotgun let out a loud burst, and the back of Whitetail's neck exploded. Her eyes and mouth both widened in response, and the front of her body began to drop down.
Gwen let out a scream in rage, and charged madly at the group of men. They all lifted their guns in reply, and quickly took aim at her.
Soles smiled. "Think of that as payback for Tim Fine, whatever you did to him." He then turned to his men and shouted. "She'll be staying for sure now boys. Don't make any fatal wounds."
The sound of gunfire filled the clearing as they all side stepped Gwen's gallop, repeatedly shooting her.
Roger felt his heart stop as he looked at Whitetail's face. The sound of shooting seemed distant to him as Whitetail looked deep into his eyes. The deer dropped to her knees, with her back legs falling quickly. The look of shock replaced with a painful grimace, she stared pleadingly at Roger, who looked helplessly back at her. In the background Gwen screamed as she swung her body around, knocking some of the men to the ground. Whitetail finally fell over on her side; blood running from her mouth as her head lifelessly hit the ground.
Roger gritted his teeth in anger and looked up in time to see Gwen being repeatedly hit by gunfire. She reared up on her legs and lashed out viciously at her attackers as Roger let out his own scream and charged the men. Startled, Kurt and Lyle broke away from the group and prepared to face the new attacker.
Gwen kicked her foreleg out and connected with Zack's face, shattering his nose and knocking him to the ground. Soles dropped his shotgun and jumped out of the way as Todd shot her in the muzzle. She winced in pain as the bullet bounced of her head, and then snapped her teeth down on his ear, biting as hard as she could.
His scream distracted Kurt and Lyle long enough for Roger to make a quick 180° spin until his rear faced the two men. He put all his weight on his front feet as he lifted his back legs off the ground, kicking them back as hard as he could. There was a sound of bones snapping as they made contact with Lyle's chest and sent him flying back more then fifteen feet.
Gwen let go of Todd's ear and then sent swung her head around, hitting Todd in the back of the head and sending him face first into the trunk of a nearby tree. The force of connecting with the tree knocked him out instantly.
Kurt watched as Lyle lay on the ground, gasping for breath as he clutched his chest. Tearing his eyes away from Lyle, Kurt lifted his 30-06 and blasted Roger several times in the neck. Roger let out a shriek and then quickly dropped his head down, lifting it back up fast and hard. His muzzle made contact with Kurt's chin, knocking the man off his feet and onto to his back. Roger reared up angrily on his hind legs and brought down his full weight on Kurt's chest. The man's ribcage cracked like a wishbone. Kurt tried to scream out, but was unable to find the air.
Gwen turned her head just in time to see Soles vanish into the trees at the end of the clearing. She galloped after him, her eyes filled with rage as she gave chase. Roger saw her enter the forest, and after giving the men a quick look over to make sure they weren't going anywhere, turned and joined the pursuit.
Soles wasn't out of shape, but he was certain he couldn't outrun a mythical creature such as a unicorn. After a few more seconds of tearing through the woods, he stopped and spun around, pulling his Colt .45 from his shoulder holster. He pulled back the hammer and trained the pistol on Gwen as she broke out from the foliage and into his sight. She was less then twenty yards and closing fast when he began to repeatedly pull the trigger.
Gwen ignored the sting of the slugs as they bounced of her snout and chest. She continued to close in on him, dropping her head as she charged. Shocked, Soles continued to blast away, screaming in frustration and fear as his bullets did nothing to slow her down.
He realized the futility of his attack and tried to jump away, but it was too late. Gwen's horn pierced through his chest, ripping out the other side. She lifted her head up, picking him up until his feet kicked violently in the air.
At that moment Roger caught up and circled around Gwen, dropping his head and then shoving his own horn through Soles' back. Mouth agape, the man dangled in the air, helplessly impaled from both sides. After a moment, the two unicorns backed up and he dropped to the ground.
Roger looked down at Soles as he squirmed about on the ground. Roger's sneer vanished as he watched the man's legs kick in agony and the blood flow freely from his wounds. He would surely be screaming, if it weren't for the fact that Roger and Gwen had both punctured his lungs. Roger took a deep breath, and then looked up at Gwen.
"Gwen, we have to do something."
Gwen seemed unmoved, her lips still curled in a scowl.
Roger took a step closer. "We can't leave him like this."
Gwen slowly faced Roger, looking into his eyes. "I know how he feels, Gwen. Lying on the ground, waiting to die."
Gwen let out a long exhalation. She didn't want to do anything to help him, but she knew she would be no better then him if she didn't.
"Yes, you're right," she said begrudgingly as she closed her eyes. "I just told you the other day that we don't kill people. I should have said that our refusal to kill is by choice, not because we aren't capable of it."
Roger let out a sigh. He stepped back and watched as Gwen dropped her head down, pointing her horn at the wounded gunman.
Roger watched with a sense of awe as he saw the five rabbits inspect themselves. They were all surrounded by a larger group of rabbits that looked at them with curiosity. One rabbit hopped forward and offered the middle five membership to their warren. The five rabbits, seemingly having little other choice, were forced to oblige. The entire group departed into the thicket, with one rather large one from the new group stopping only momentarily to look at Gwen, who was bent over and licking Whitetail's face. The rabbit dropped its head in shame and then hopped off to join the others.
Roger was a little surprised by how easily the smaller group of rabbits had been accepted into the larger one's warren. But then, he thought to himself, maybe that's the way it should be. He turned and kicked a last clump of dirt on top of a hole he had dug. The hole was full of camouflage clothes and rifles. As they were no longer needed, they were being disposed of. Finished with his task, he returned to his unicorn form and trotted slowly to Gwen.
Tears flowed from her eyes as she looked up at him. Roger's lip trembled. "You can't bring her back, can you?"
Gwen shook her head. "No, I can't." She brought her head down on Roger's neck, beginning to whimper again. "She was my friend, Roger. One of my oldest and dearest friends here."
Roger let out a sigh. "I understand Gwen. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."
Gwen lifted her head and looked over at the doe's body. "I really don't want to have to look at her like that."
"It's okay, Gwen," Roger reassured her. "You can go. I'll bury her."
Gwen tried to give him a smile, still sniffling a bit. "I already called for some help."
Roger turned his head around just in time to see the other unicorns materialize in front of him. Stacy, Arthur, Richard and Rebecca all trotted sullenly to Gwen, expressing their sorrow. Gwen nodded appreciatively and they all changed into their human forms. A grave was dug and Whitetail's body was placed in it. Gwen tried her best to give a speech as the others covered the deer's body in soil and then placed a large stone on top of the grave.
No one spoke much after the incident, even when they all went back at the office. Louis was informed and he took his turn consoling Gwen, but the rest of the day just passed in near silence. There were quite a few times when Roger wanted to say something, but he couldn't work up the nerve.
When it was time for Roger to leave, he collected his belongings and started for the door, but was stopped by Gwen, who was waiting in the lobby for him. "Roger, I..." she started, pausing for a second to take a breath. "I'm sorry that you had to see me that way today. I'm even more sorry that you had to join me."
Roger put up his hand to stop her. "It's all right Gwen. You don't have to apologize, really. Everyone snaps sometimes; I guess even we unicorns."
Gwen smiled. "I'm glad you see it that way." She stopped for a moment, nervously shifting her weight to her other foot. "I want you to know that you acted bravely today. What's more, you reminded me about having compassion, even for our enemies. I can't thank you enough for that."
"I was just doing what I was supposed to do; backing up a fellow unicorn when she needed me. After all, we're a team, right?"
She gave him a nod in return, and then stepped out of his way. "Indeed we are. See you tomorrow?"
Roger spun around to face her as he walked out the door. "Bright and early. Unless a raccoon wants to talk."