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Authors: Kevin Outlaw

02 Unicorn Rider

BOOK: 02 Unicorn Rider
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THE UNICORN RIDER
– Book Two of The Legend Riders –

 

By Kevin Outlaw

 

 

 

 

The Unicorn Rider
Copyright Kevin Outlaw © 2012

Published December 2012

The right of Kevin Outlaw to be identified as the Author of the work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any format.

All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, dragons, or other mythological creatures, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

 

Cover design by James Lloyd, based on original line art by Kevin Outlaw.

Find out more about the author at www.thelegendriders.com

 

 

 

 

This is a book about family, and as such it is dedicated to mine.

With a very special thank you to my wife, Amy, for her love, support, and boundless enthusiasm. Also with thanks to my mum, for all her help.

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

 

The woods on the east side of Landmark village were still out of bounds.

Once, old men had told stories of goblins and fairie folk who would snatch up children and carry them away into the night; stories that were designed to scare the local children into behaving. But now the stories were true. Once there were only whispered campfire tales of trolls, dryads, witches and ghosts; but now these things really did stalk the mist–veiled woodland. Magic had returned to the world, and with it had come all the creatures that for hundreds of years had existed only as pages in fading history books.

The Forbidden Woods had never been safe, but now they were truly deadly; and even the bravest hunters dared not venture there.

However, some people were not lucky enough to have a choice. Those were the people who were often never heard from again.

 

***

 

It was early morning, just two short months since the black dragon, Sorrow, had been defeated. A rolling fog had crept from the ocean, wrapping itself silently around the quiet houses of Landmark village until the world was so white it was impossible to see anything more than vague outlines. The sun was just a red smudge on the horizon.

Through the blanket of fog, a blue spike of motion leapt up from the village square, slicing a trail above the rooftops before descending on a clearing at the edge of the Forbidden Woods. There was a dull thump, the heavy slapping of gigantic wings, then silence again.

Eventually, a deep, grumbling voice cracked the morning calm, scattering a cluster of nearby birds. ‘You can open your eyes, Nimbus.’

The dragon Cumulo emerged from the fog, glistening as the moisture in the air beaded on his scales. ‘We’re here,’ he said.

The boy clinging to the dragon’s neck opened one eye, looking around in a way that suggested he was still not entirely convinced they were no longer flying. ‘We’re back on the ground,’ he said, forming the sentence half as a question and half as an exclamation of joy.

‘We are,’ Cumulo confirmed. Moving on all fours, using his clawed arms to help shift his mammoth weight, the dragon crossed the clearing in just a few strides, then lowered his head. ‘You can let go, Nimbus. You are quite safe.’

Nimbus slipped off the side of Cumulo’s neck, clanking and clunking awkwardly inside an uncomfortable–looking suit of red armour. He leaned against the nearest tree, retching violently; but as he had already been sick twice that morning there was nothing left to come out of him other than rather unpleasant noises.

‘Are you okay?’ Cumulo asked. ‘You sound like a cat hacking up a hairball.’

‘I think I left my stomach back at Landmark.’

‘You’re going to have to get used to the flying sooner or later. You are a Wing Warrior now, after all.’

Nimbus wiped his mouth with the back of his glove and shot Cumulo a killer glance. ‘Well thank you very much for stating the obvious.’

‘I was just saying.’

‘Well, you don’t have to just say, all right? And you don’t have to go so fast either.’

‘Actually, I do. Any slower and there’s a very good chance I would fall out of the sky.’

Nimbus sat with his back to the tree. His leg muscles were still shaking from where they had strained through the whole flight, and his fingers ached from gripping. ‘I make quite an impression puking my guts up every time I turn up somewhere, don’t I?’ he said, with a self–deprecating laugh.

Cumulo shrugged; a motion that ran through his whole body and shivered water droplets over Nimbus. ‘We can only hope it will get better in time.’

‘How much time do you think it will take? I haven’t kept down a single meal this week.’ He ran a hand through his damp hair. ‘And I forgot my helmet too. Dad will never let me hear the end of this.’

‘Do you want to go back for it?’

Nimbus stood. In its sheath, the Wing Warrior sword glowed faintly, demanding to be drawn. ‘No,’ he said. ‘We have to go on.’

Something screeched deep in the wood. The hollow, disembodied sound hung in the ethereal fog expectantly. After a while there was another cry, but whether it was some kind of response to the first was uncertain.

Nimbus shivered.

‘Okay,’ he said, ‘let’s see what I can remember from dad’s lesson on how to be a good tracker.’ He crouched on one knee, where the earth was marked with tiny footprints leading from the direction of the village. Once, not too long ago, he had stolen the mayor’s horse, and had left footprints behind much like these ones. Soldiers from the village garrison, led by Captain Obsidian, had been able to easily follow his trail and there had been a terrible fight. He had been arrested, and Cumulo had been locked in a dungeon.

Now that Nimbus was a Wing Warrior, and people had realised he had taken the mayor’s horse in order to save lives, he had come to appreciate, rather than resent, how easily Obsidian had found him. He had come to understand how dangerous it could be to walk carelessly, and he was always much more cautious about where he stood these days. However, he had not yet managed to perfect the knack of following a trail left by someone else.

He tried to recall the lecture on the subject that his father had given him, but all he seemed to remember was that it had been very boring.

Cumulo waited patiently, stretching his wings one at a time.

‘Two children were here,’ Nimbus said.

‘The farmer already told us that.’

‘That’s right. And now I know he was telling the truth. He said they were playing, didn’t he?’

‘Running.’

‘That’s right. Then when they reached this spot... Look at these other tracks.’ Nimbus gestured at a series of deep furrows in the mud. ‘What do you make of those?’

‘I’ve never seen anything like them. They don’t look like tracks at all. It’s more like the ground has been raked up. Perhaps you should see what the sword says?’

Nimbus grinned. ‘Of course. Who needs to be an expert tracker when you can get all your answers from a magic sword, right?’ He drew the Wing Warrior sword from its sheath. The blade glimmered fitfully. ‘What am I looking at?’

Yellow–white light flashed inside his head, and he was overcome with the sensation that he had been scooped up by a giant’s hand and thrown into the air. The white of the fog became the white of the clouds. He closed his eyes, gripped the Wing Warrior sword, and waited for the unsettling feeling to pass.

When he opened his eyes again, he was standing exactly where he had been when he drew the sword, but now he was seeing this place as it had been several hours earlier.

Cumulo smiled at him toothily. ‘You’re not used to that yet either, are you?’

Nimbus ignored the sly comment, and concentrated on the scene that was unfolding before him. The fog was a swirling veil that hid strange secrets, and it was difficult to see anything more than the motionless outlines of the grimly twisted trees.

Eventually the laughter of children carried on the wet air, and there was the soggy slap–slapping of running feet. ‘Why would the children be coming here?’ Nimbus said.

‘Perhaps they did not understand the danger,’ Cumulo suggested.

‘Maybe.’ Nimbus’s gaze swept across the woodland. Still nothing. Not a single sign of life.

Another voice called out, not too far away; a thick, heavy voice dampened by the fog. ‘You two. Where are you headed? These parts aren’t safe.’

‘That was the farmer,’ Nimbus said. ‘They never stopped for him. It was like they didn’t even see or hear him.’

‘Why was a farmer out here anyway?’ Cumulo asked.

‘He doesn’t know.’

‘How can he not know?’

‘He says he doesn’t remember.’

‘That seems a little...’

‘Quiet. Do you hear that?’

There was a horrible rumbling, and the ground beneath Nimbus’s feet started to tremble. For a moment it seemed the earth was going to collapse in on itself, but then a slender, green vine wriggled its way out of the mud. The vine flopped around blindly, twisting and probing in the mulch as it inched its way in the direction of the approaching children.

Nimbus’s heart started to race. He could feel the blood pounding in his veins, throbbing behind his eyes.

‘What is it?’ Cumulo asked.

‘It’s quite obviously a... kind of... it’s a... Well, it’s... weird. It’s a really weird thing.’

There was movement in the woods: Something graceful and elegant was sliding between the towering trunks. ‘Come with us,’ a voice whispered, and rows of silvery eyes blinked in the gloom. ‘Follow us.’

Then the doorway into the past slammed shut, and the power of infinite vision drained out of Nimbus’s body. He clenched his teeth as he waited for the past, present, and future to drop back into their rightful places. The light within the blade of the Wing Warrior sword faltered and went out.

‘So what do we do now?’ Cumulo asked.

Nimbus swept his hair out of his face, and swallowed hard. He pointed at the darkling woods. ‘Now we go in there.’

‘Do you think we can find them?’

Nimbus sheathed the sword and headed into the woods. ‘Come on. I don’t know how long the children will have before that weird thing does something weird to them.’

Cumulo paused before ducking under the first overhanging boughs of the trees. ‘Perhaps this is not such a good idea?’ he said.

‘Not scared, are you?’

‘Not scared. But we have no idea what we are about to face. Perhaps it would be best to get Cloud.’

‘My dad isn’t a Wing Warrior any more. I’m the Wing Warrior. This is my responsibility.’

‘Being a Wing Warrior doesn’t mean you can’t ask for help, Nim.’

‘Are you coming with me or not?’

Cumulo sighed. A puff of smoke came out of his flared nostrils. His scales turned red. ‘Of course I’m coming. The woods are full of evil. Perhaps even more evil than the great Wing Warrior can handle.’

‘The tracks lead this way,’ Nimbus said, paying little attention to the dragon’s sarcasm. ‘But there are no prints from the children. They must have been carried.’

Cumulo said nothing as he examined the trees.

‘I know this way,’ Nimbus went on. ‘They’re heading to the delving. A clearing in the heart of the woods. If I’m not mistaken, that’s where we’ll find the children.’

Wearily, Cumulo followed Nimbus deeper into the crowded trees. The fog was so thick, and the wood so dense, it was almost impossible to follow the trail. On numerous occasions Nimbus found himself plummeting down an embankment, or getting caught up in thorny branches; and it wasn’t long until his face was scratched and bloodied.

‘Nim?’ Cumulo said, as he crashed noisily through the brambles and leaves. ‘I have to ask again, is this really a good idea?’

‘It’s fine,’ Nimbus said, irritably. ‘I know what I’m doing.’

‘Are you sure?’

‘Yes, I’m sure.’

‘Because it does feel a little bit like we’re wandering around aimlessly.’

‘Don’t worry. The delving is just ahead.’

‘What are you trying to prove?’

Nimbus pushed and scrabbled in a particularly close patch of briars, squeezing through into a fog–shrouded clearing on the other side. ‘Be quiet,’ he hissed, as Cumulo followed. ‘This is the delving. I told you I knew what I was doing.’

‘What now? Even with my eyesight I can’t see a thing in here.’

Gradually, Nimbus became aware of a beautiful voice drifting in the air. He drew the Wing Warrior sword with trembling hands. The entrancing melody of the voice ebbed and flowed.

‘Can you make out what it’s saying?’ Nimbus asked.

Cumulo swayed slightly where he stood, a dreamy look in his eye.

‘Cumulo?’ Nimbus said.

Cumulo half turned to look at him. ‘Run,’ he said, and then he slumped on the ground. His eyes closed, his breathing slowed, and he started to snore.

‘Cumulo?’ Nimbus said, his forehead furrowing with confusion. ‘Cumulo, are you asleep?’

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