The Unicorn Emergency #8
Lucy Coats; Illustrated by Brett Bean
How will Demon, official Beast Keeper of Mount Olympus, heal a herd of sick unicorns before it's too late?
Demon has just returned from a trip to Asgard when a brand-new set of disasters fall into his lap. Not only does he have a groggy volcano monster to deal with, but something seems to be wrong with the unicorns, too. Demon's only clue is a mysterious note saying "Unicorn Emergency!" left on his bed. What does it mean? And how will Demon figure out the problem and fix it before time runs out?
Excerpt from The Unicorn Emergency #8
Farewell to Asgard
Demon cracked one eye open, groaned, and shut it again. His brain felt as if Hephaestus had been hitting it with hammers, and there was a strange ringing in his ears. It had been a very late night.
“Go ’way!” he said as a hand shook his shoulder roughly. “It’s too early.”
“No it’s not,” said Thrud Thorsdaughter, his new friend and the latest shield-maiden of Asgard. “You’ve been asleep for ages. I haven’t even been to bed yet,” she added proudly.
Demon groaned again. The evening before was all a bit of a blur. There’d been a lot of very loud singing with Thrud’s fellow maidens, and once most of the gods had left, there had also been a great deal of toasting his new status as holder of the Order of Yggdrasil. The Valkyries had insisted he try several sips of their mead, which had made his head go all funny and his knees wobble like a newborn lamb’s. He seemed to remember some rather energetic dancing, too. Sitting up cautiously, he opened his other eye.
“Tell me I didn’t make a complete fool of myself last night,” he said. Thrud sniggered and hurriedly turned it into a cough.
“Let’s just say that your version of the Bear Dance will go down in Asgard history, but your song about Fenrir needs some work on the wolf howling,” she said. “Come on, you’ll feel better after breakfast.”
The feasting hall of Valhalla was strewn with gnawed bones, overturned tables, empty mead flagons—and quite a few snoring bodies. The Asgardians definitely partied hard.
“I’m not really sure I feel much like breakfast,” Demon said, avoiding a puddle of something questionable on the floor. “I think I’ll go and check on Goldbristle instead.” Goldbristle was the boar he’d cured the day before, banishing the darkness caused by Loki, Thrud’s evil uncle.
“Oh, he’s long gone,” said Thrud, skipping toward the doors and flinging them wide open, so that the diamond-bright light of day filled the hall. “Frey couldn’t wait to drive up into the sky with him this morning. Doesn’t it all look WONDERFUL?” she exclaimed.
Demon blinked and screwed up his eyes, trying hard to ignore the sensation of daggers being driven into his skull as a million rainbow reflections bounced off the snow-covered streets.
“Lovely,” he muttered, putting his furry sheepskin hood up to block out the rays. Just then, a huge golden-haired god carrying a gigantic silver hammer came striding into view. It was Thor, god of thunder.
“Dad!” Thrud yelled, running out of the door and leaping into his arms.
“How’s my little shield-maiden?” Thor asked, whirling her around. “Have you tried out Mjolnirina yet?”
Thrud shook her head, stroking the small silver hammer hanging at her belt.
“Not yet,” she said. “I wanted to see if she could beat your Mjolnir. Let’s put them through their paces.” She turned and beckoned to Demon. “Come on, Olympus Boy. You can watch.”
As she and Thor strode off down the snowy streets, Demon stumbled after them. His head now felt as if it were full of mush. These Asgardians were very strange. How could Thrud and Thor talk about their hammers as if they were alive?
He soon found out. The minute they reached the other side of Asgard’s high wall, Thrud and Thor began whirling Mjolnirina and Mjolnir around their heads.
“Whee!” yelled Thrud, letting go.
“Woo-hooo!” shouted Thor, launching Mjolnir upward at exactly the same moment. Demon’s eyes nearly fell out of his head. Instead of rising and then falling to the ground, the two hammers shot up and up into the sky. When they were no more than dark specks against the blue, white clouds boiled up around them. Thunder roared above, and then, like two streaks of silver lightning, the hammers returned to earth, hitting with a ground-shaking thump. Where they landed, the snow began to steam and hiss.
Thor held out his hand.
“Come, Mjolnir!” he roared, and the huge hammer heaved itself out of the earth and returned to his hand.
Demon blinked. It was definitely as if the thing was alive and could understand.
“Come, Mjolnirina!” Thrud called.
“Mjolnirina, COME!” she called again. There was a sort of wet hiccup, and the little hammer flipped and flopped its way to her over the snow, falling at her feet.
“Hmm,” said Thor. “You may have to work on the obedience commands a bit. But good first effort.” He grinned at Demon, showing very white teeth under a magnificent mustache. “Perhaps you have a potion for your head, young Pandemonius?”
Demon grinned back, his headache finally lifting. It was hard to be formal with a god like Thor.
“Not me, Your Humungous Hammeriness,” he said. “My potions are strictly for sick beasts.”
Thor clapped him on the shoulder, sending him flying into a nearby snowbank.
“By Odin’s hat,” the big god said, fetching Demon out with one meaty hand and dusting the ice off him clumsily. “I forgot my own strength again.”
“That reminds me. I went to check on Fenrir this morning. He’s still asleep, but he does seem to be whimpering a lot.”
Immediately, Demon felt guilty. The day before, he’d put the enormous wolf into a permanent sleep to stop him from killing Odin, the king of the Asgardians. Fenrir’s wolf mind was truly and properly lost to madness, but Demon still felt bad that he hadn’t been able to cure him.
“Maybe he’s having nightmares,” said Thrud. “I don’t suppose you can do much about those.”
“Nightmares are terrible things,” said Thor. “I have them myself.” He shuddered. “Dreamed I was being eaten by old Fafnir the dragon once, teeth crunching, flesh tearing and all. Took me days to shake it off. Even Odin admitted that was a bad one when I told it to him.”
“I might be able to do something,” Demon said slowly as they walked back into Asgard again. “But it would have to wait till I get back to Olympus. There’s somebody there who is a specialist in dreams. His name is Morpheus.”
“Would he come here, then?” Thrud asked. Demon nodded.
“I think so. He helped me once before, when I had some mad horses to manage.”
“Mad horses?” Thor asked. “That sounds like a good adventure. Tell us more.”
So Demon told them about the mad meat-eating mares that horrible Heracles had left in his mom’s village, and how Morpheus had given them permanent dreams of hay and peace.
“Sounds like just the god we need here,” said Thor. “Fenrir will be dreaming of chasing fluffy bunnies in no time.”
Just then, Demon saw a tall, curvy figure up ahead, wrapped in white furs. All around her the ice flowed into curving tendrils, which exploded into bouquets of exquisite ice blossoms. It was Demeter, goddess of fruitfulness.
“Ah, there you are, Pandemonius,” she said as she reached them. “My work here is done, now that Goldbristle is back in the sky. The apple trees are all back in fruit, and it’s time we returned to Olympus. Gather your things and meet me at Heimdall’s Gate. Hurry now.”
“Yes, Your Fabulous Fruitiness,” he said. “Right away.” The Olympian gods were much more formal than the Asgardian ones, and he didn’t want to take the chance of being turned into a giant peach or something worse.
Once he’d gathered up his magic medicine box and stowed Far Caller, the little horn Odin had given him, in his bundle, Thrud led him to Heimdall’s Gate, where Demeter was already waiting.
“I’ll miss you,” said Thrud, giving him a hug. “Come back soon!”
Demon hugged her back.
“Or you could come visit Olympus,” he said with an exaggerated shiver. “We have proper sunshine there—none of this freezy snow stuff!” Thrud only laughed.
Demon looked around as he joined Demeter, expecting the cloud ship he’d arrived on. But there was nothing visible. How were they going to return to Olympus?
Just then, Heimdall arrived. The herald of Asgard’s white beard was plaited into three jutting forks, each with small icicles hanging from it. His eyes were still the pale white-blue of an early winter sky.
“Ready?” he boomed.
Demeter nodded, gesturing for Demon to stand beside her.
Heimdall took the golden horn that twisted around his body like a huge snake and blew it softly. The sound Demon heard was like a crisp dip in a cold forest pool. All the hair on his body lifted as a rainbow bridge spun forward out of nothing, filling the sky with color.
“Step forward onto Bifrost, and state your destination,” the god commanded.
Demeter walked confidently onto the rainbow, beckoning Demon to stand beside her with one imperious finger.
“Olympus!” she cried.
It was not at all like traveling on the Iris Express. Bifrost was more like a moving road. Demon tried not to look down at the earth, so far below, as they sped forward. The icy wind whipped his hair around his cheeks, blowing his hood off, and he clutched his coat around him. Gradually, though, the air got warmer and warmer, and by the time they approached Olympus, he was becoming uncomfortably hot.
“Phew!” said Demeter, making a very un-goddess-like flapping gesture with her hand as she stepped off. At once, all her furs disappeared, leaving her in her usual white goddess robes as she vanished with a sparkle of lights and a delicious smell of ripe orchards.
“Not a word of thanks, as usual,” said a gruff voice. “Typical goddess.”
“Um, thank you for getting me back home safely,” Demon said, trying to shed his woolly coat and boots.
“My pleasure,” said Bifrost, just as a familiar flurry of colors arched down out of the evening sky.
“And just who is THIS intruder?” purred Iris the rainbow goddess dangerously, twining herself around the bridge.
“Iris, meet Bifrost; Bifrost, meet Iris,” said Demon, deciding to leave undressing till later. There had been a distinct edge to Iris’s voice—one he knew all too well.
“I’ll, er, just leave you two to it, shall I?” he said, hurrying off in the direction of the Stables of the Gods. He knew a goddess in a temper when he heard one, and it was always best to move far, far away for fear of being turned into something unnatural.
Star Nymphs, Ahoy!
The Stables were quiet as he approached, panting. The sooner he got rid of the rest of his furry Asgard clothes and put on something normal, the better.
“Hey, Pan’s scrawny kid,” said the griffin, flying down off its perch on the roof. “How was the frozen North? Did you bring me back a nice big reindeer leg to chew on?”
“Unfortunately not,” said Demon. “But I did have an adventure with some dark elves and a very scary dragon. I’ll tell you all about it as soon as I’ve got out of all these hot clothes.”
The griffin cocked its head sideways, looking at him out of one orange eye.
“Your face does look a bit like the red part of old Heffy’s forge,” it said. “All glowing and shiny.”
Demon rolled his eyes.
“Thanks for the compliment,” he said.
Quickly, he dumped everything and ran up the stairs to the loft above the Stables where he slept. It was a big relief to put on his tunic and feel cool again. When he got back down, his assistant, Bion the faun, was there, fending off the griffin, who was pecking at his small hooves.
“Leave Bion alone,” Demon said. “You know he doesn’t like you doing that.”
By the time he had inspected the Stables and told Bion and the griffin all about his adventures, he was yawning. His late night with the Valkyries was definitely catching up with him.
“I’m going to turn in,” he said. “I’ll leave you to do the last checks, Bion.”
“Sweet dreams,” said the griffin.
Demon stopped dead. How could he have forgotten? He’d promised to send Morpheus to Asgard. But how was he to get hold of the god of dreams? Suddenly, he remembered. Morpheus had given him a dream catcher. Maybe he could contact him through that. Fumbling right at the bottom of his pouch, his fingers touched something curiously squishy. He pulled out a shiny black crystal, whose edges seemed to blur and shift. Clutching it in his hand, he climbed up to the loft and fell into bed, snuggling down under his familiar spider-silk blanket as he stared into the dream catcher’s depths. The rainbows swirling within it were . . . so . . . soothing . . .
“Please, Morpheus, help Fenrir,” he whispered as his eyelids drooped shut.
Almost immediately, or so it seemed, he found himself floating in a gray place, with myriad silver stars whirling in a night sky that shimmered and changed in dizzying swirls. Black sand stretched as far as his eyes could see, and on the horizon there were two huge arches, one bone white, one a golden brown. Suddenly, a shadowy dot appeared through the white arch, very far away but rapidly coming closer, resolving itself into a strange being, all long thin arms and legs, and eyes like pools of deep water. In its hand it carried a torch of black-and-gold flame.
“Pandemonius!” said the god, sounding surprised. “How did you get here?”
Quickly, Demon explained what he’d done. Then he told Morpheus about Fenrir.
“I think he’s having terrible nightmares,” he finished, “and you were the only person I could think of who might be able to help.”
“Very well,” said Morpheus. “But don’t use the dream catcher in that way again. This is a dangerous place to be. Anything you think here can become real.” He made a twisty gesture with his torch, and Demon knew nothing more till he woke the next morning. On the floor by his bed, written in flowing letters of black sand, was a message.
The Wolf dreams well now . . . M.
Demon was just pouring a big load of Sun Cow poo down the poo chute, to the appreciative roars of the hundred-armed monsters beneath, when the griffin landed beside him in a flurry of golden feathers.
“Hey, Pan’s scrawny kid, old Heffy wants to see you immediately. I should run if I were you. He sounded quite bothered.”
Demon left his wheelbarrow tipped on its side and started to run up the rocky mountain path to Hephaestus’s forge at once. He had a bad feeling right down to his toes. Heffy didn’t usually get bothered—he was quite calm for a god, really. What could have gone wrong? Had the Colchian Dragon eaten something that made it gassy again? Was the whole of Olympus about to blow up?
Puffing and panting, he hurtled into the forge to find the blacksmith god kneeling in front of a large flashing red gemstone set into the wall, which was making a horrible wailing sound. The Colchian Dragon was curled into a large purple ball with its tail wrapped around its head.
“What’s THAT?” Demon shouted, putting his fingers in his ears.
“The Typhon alarm,” Hephaestus yelled back. “I’m trying to turn it off!” He raised a huge, grimy fist and gave it a wallop. Suddenly, there was a blissful quiet, although the jewel was still flashing red.
“Who’s Typhon?” Demon asked into the silence as the Colchian Dragon uncurled itself with a rattle of scales.
Hephaestus sighed, tugging on his beard.
“He’s a terrible hundred-headed monster,” said the smith god. “Zeus put me in charge of him. He’s been asleep under a mountain for the last thousand years, but that alarm tells me he’s waking up for some reason. I need to go and see what’s up, and you’re coming with me, Pandemonius. Every one of his heads is some sort of animal—bears, lions, dragons, that sort of thing—so I’ve a feeling we’ll need those pipes of yours.”
“Can I come, too?” asked the Colchian Dragon. “I haven’t been out for ages, and I’ve cried out LOTS of fire jewels for you.” It looked sideways at Demon. “And I helped you with your display for the gods of the North, too,” it said.
“Oh, very well,” said Hephaestus. “But we’ll have to borrow Helios’s sun boat. You’re too big to fit in the Iris Express now.”
A short while later, Demon, Hephaestus, and the dragon were installed in a huge golden boat, round as a bowl, with a big oar at the back. Demon had his medicine bag, his pipes, and four enormous bags of charcoal for the dragon in case it got hungry.
“Now,” said the smith god, “let’s see if I remember how this thing works.” He wiggled the oar left, then right, and with a jerk, the sun boat shot up into the sky. Higher and higher they went, until the air turned cold and dark as the boat lurched from side to side, banging into stars along the way.
“By Zeus’s ears,” said Hephaestus, wrestling with the oar, which seemed to have a mind of its own, “I think this wretched contraption needs a steering modification.”
Tiny chips of bright silver stardust clinked and tinkled as they fell into the boat, flickering out and turning black. The dragon nibbled on them.
“Tasty!” it said. “Like charcoal but with a hint of sky.”
Clinging to the side to keep from being thrown out, Demon scooped some of the stardust into a wide-necked bottle. He’d show it to Chiron, his centaur teacher, and find out if it could be used as medicine, he thought. But before the bottle was more than half-full, Hephaestus gave a yell, wrenching the oar over to his right.
“Star nymphs, ahoy!” he shouted. “Watch out! Boat coming through!” Suddenly, there was a tremendous bang, and all at once the sun boat was full of thrashing limbs, angry screams, and the faint smell of deep cold, tinged with flowers.
“Oof!” said Demon as someone landed on him, knocking him backward into the Colchian Dragon, which roared angrily and let out a belch of purple flame. Everything was chaos for a few minutes as the boat veered and rocked, nearly tipping over. Eventually Hephaestus got it back under control, and as it resumed its progress through the sky, Demon saw that the limbs and the angry screams belonged to six nymphs, their floaty robes silver against the gold of the boat. Each had a crown of living stars whirling around her head, and they shone so brightly that Demon had to squint to see them properly. The smallest of them was standing in front of Hephaestus, shaking one long finger at him.
“Careless, clumsy oaf of a god!” she shrieked. “Take us back at once! How dare you kidnap us like this?”
Hephaestus looked embarrassed.
“Now, now, Maia,” he said. “It was an accident. This wretched sun boat of Helios’s isn’t easy to steer, you know . . .”
“She always gets so angry,” said a voice in Demon’s ear. It was the nymph who had fallen on him. “I’m Alcyone, by the way. One of the seven Pleiades, you know. Sorry if I squashed you.”
“Nice to meet you,” said Demon. “I’m Demon.” Then he frowned, counting noses. “But there are only six of you.”
“Oh, Electra’s invisible. She’ll be around here somewhere, but she’s rather shy.” Her eyes twinkled. “She’s looking at you right now. I think she might like you.”
Demon blushed. He wasn’t at all sure about an invisible nymph admirer.