walked along the path.
The trees around them started to change, their leaves turning silvery as the three of them continued along the path. Soon, it was as though they were walking between two curtains of shimmering precious metal, the scepter still firmly indicating that it was this way Briony had to go.
Ahead, the silver branches parted, moving aside as Briony stepped towards them, revealing another expanse of bare stone. A kind of natural stone table, little more than a rough block of granite worn by the weather, sat a little way away, while beside it…
It was a unicorn. There was no other word for it. It was a horse higher at the shoulder than Briony was tall, with a hide so white that it seemed almost to glow from within. Its eyes were the same silver as the leaves on the trees, and there was a horn jutting from the center of its forehead, golden and gleaming. Briony had glimpsed unicorns from the air before, flying over them with Archer, but this one was somehow different.
“It’s the sacred unicorn,” Archer said, and the dragon sounded like he was in awe. “Look at it.”
“What’s so special about it?” Fallon asked, and Briony found herself wondering how he couldn’t see that everything about it was special.
“They say it was the first creature in Palisor,” Archer whispered, just behind Briony. “They say that its horn contains more magic than all the kings of Palisor put together. I never thought I’d see it.”
It seemed odd to Briony that they would suddenly find a creature this powerful, unless…
“Is this what Pietre was afraid of?” she asked.
Archer shook his head. “This isn’t the slayer. The unicorn doesn’t have an army. It doesn’t need one.”
“Then how did we find it?” Briony continued to look at the creature as she asked that. It seemed like too much of a coincidence. Even with the scepter showing them the way, why had they spotted it now?
“You found me because I wished to be found.” The words were clear, deep and strong. They sounded even though the lips of the unicorn didn’t move. The voice of the creature was male and gently authoritative; a voice to be obeyed out of love, not fear. “You found me because Palisor and your world do not need the slaying army now. That could be worse than the threat it is set free to counter. You need another way, and I have that, though the price is a great one.”
Briony turned her head slightly, looking to Archer for guidance. The dragon shrugged.
“I don’t know what you should do, Briony. Isn’t the scepter telling you anything? You should trust that.”
“Ah, the scepter,” the unicorn said. “You carry it, and the blood of royalty. Two parts of a prophecy, but also the way to many other things. You are the only one of the direct line left now, aren’t you? You are the Queen?”
Briony nodded. “Yes. I am.”
“Then I was right. It’s time. You must do what is needed to make sure that my land stays safe from harm.”
Its land. Maybe Archer was right about it being the first creature in Palisor.
“What do I have to do?” Briony asked. She remembered something the creature had said before. “You said something about there being a price. What price?”
The unicorn tilted its head towards a stone table. On it, now that she could take her eyes off the unicorn long enough to look, Briony could see a knife of purest obsidian, the handle made from the same granite as the table.
“The price is mine to pay,” the unicorn said, “but it will not be easy