Chapter 1: There’s no place like home

A thin tendril of mist seeped through a crack in the sewer grate, giving off an oddly colourful hue. The tendril grew slowly thicker, and brighter, its rainbow glow driving away the dark shadows of the deserted alley. Then, suddenly, a rasping sound came from the grate as it shifted, slowly moving aside. A nearby rat gave a startled squeak and scurried away.
For a long moment all was silence. Then, a figure climbed slowly out of the sewer, its aura lit up with the same rainbow glow. Almost immediately the glow began to fade until the alley was dark again and the figure indiscernible amongst the shadows.
The unicorn looked around, taking a moment to adjust to her new surroundings. The air was cold, causing goosebumps to break out on the skin of her human form. A faintly putrid scent rode the bitter night air, and the distinct sound of scrabbling feet had her forcing back a shudder. She hated rats.
Still, apart from its furry residents and awful smell, the alley appeared empty – exactly what she’d been hoping for. It wouldn’t do for the human residents of this world to see the arrival of a visitor from…well…another world. Not many of them knew other worlds even existed. Steadying herself, the unicorn reached out for her two friends, but nothing was there. Frowning, she tried again, using more of her unicorn power. Although it was limited in this world, it should have no difficulty finding two people she knew so well…
But there was nothing. She couldn’t feel them at all.
The unicorn let out a sigh. She’d been away so long, and there had always been the possibility they might be long gone. Still, some part of her had hoped…
A chill breeze swept through the alley, and she shivered, glancing down at the thick, hooded cloak hanging from her right hand – the only thing she’d brought with her from home. She felt warmer the instant the cloak settled over her shoulders, and for a moment she rested her cheek against the green cloth, memories of its owner making her smile.
A sound, sharp and shrill, ripped through the alley, tearing her from her thoughts and making her jump. By the time she realised it was just a car horn, her heart was pounding and she was reminded of the reason she’d come back. The best way for her to accomplish what she needed and save her homeland was to find her two friends. They would know more than she did about the demons. They could help.
Closing her eyes, the unicorn drew upon her power and allowed her surroundings to dissolve from her mind’s eye. Instead, she pictured the place she wanted to travel to, populating the image with as much detail as she could remember and focusing on it with fierce concentration. Then, she let out a deep breath.
Opening her eyes, she found the image from her mind right across the street from her. Just like she remembered, the warm glow from inside the bar spilled out onto the pavement while inside its patrons smiled and laughed as they clustered in groups both small and large. The unicorn crossed the square in quick strides and opened the door, the warm heat inside soothing her chilled body. Almost as soon as she stepped inside, however, she knew that her friends weren’t there.
Disappointment flooded her so strongly she froze, her hand gripping the handle as she leaned against the door for support. The distraction had been momentary, but long enough for her to miss the approach of two men coming up swiftly behind her.  The first she knew of the attack was a strong arm wrapping around her neck, and a thick, sweet-smelling cloth being pressed over her nose.
Then all she knew was blackness…
When the unicorn woke, it was to feel an odd lethargy and nausea knotting her stomach. Pain throbbed in her shoulders from where her wrists had been pulled back and bound tightly behind the chair she was sitting on. There was no way of knowing how long she’d been unconscious. Great, she thought to herself. Barely an hour back in this world and already kidnapped. After that whole diatribe she’d unloaded on the unicorn council about how capable she was in surviving the human world.
“Who are you?”
The unicorn looked up, blinking the blurriness from her vision as she searched for the source of the voice. The faint light from a small lamp in the corner didn’t help. After a few moments, her gaze fell on another young woman across the room, similarly tied to a chair. “My name is Steph.”
“You’re a unicorn, aren’t you?”
“On my better days.” She winced as she tried to move her wrists and succeeded only in rubbing already raw skin. “How could you tell?”
“You were glowing there for a while.” The girl paused. “They call me the Hacker.”
The hacker? What kind of name was that? Wait…this girl knew about unicorns? Her groggy thoughts were slowly clearing, and she shook her head, trying to dispel the remaining cloudiness. “Why are you here? Do you know who kidnapped us?”
“I haven’t a clue,” the girl said cheerfully. Far too cheerfully for someone tied to a chair.
The unicorn peered at the girl, wondering if she was entirely sane.
“Can’t unicorns travel wherever they want?” the girl asked, brown ponytail bobbing as she looked around the room.
“You know a lot about unicorns,” she noted. More oddities. “There’s something in the walls of this room blocking my power. It’s a trick demons have.”
“Demons?” the hacker asked blankly. “Did they give you some type of drug? Are you feeling all right?”
“You know about unicorns, but not demons?” the unicorn asked. “Who are you?”
“I’m very sheltered,” she announced proudly.
A heavy thump sounded just outside the room’s only door, stopping further conversation in its tracks. The unicorn froze, staring intently at the door. There were no further sounds, but the unicorn kept watching, heart beating faster, anticipation rising…
The door was kicked open with enough force to rip it from its hinges and send it clattering to the ground. The unconscious – or dead – body of a demon lay slumped on the floor outside. Hope flared in the unicorn’s chest as she instantly recognised the dark clothing and mask of a ninja, but no…. this one was too tall. This ninja paused at the threshold and glanced coolly between the two women in the room, her gaze lingering just a second longer on the unicorn.
“If you two would like to escape, I’d suggest you get moving before they come back.”
“That’s such a lovely offer, but…” the hacker began, but the unicorn cut her off.
“Our hands are tied.”
“Oh, right.” The ninja pulled a knife from somewhere on her body – she was too quick for the unicorn to see where – and crossed the room in long strides to swiftly and efficiently cut the ropes binding both women’s’ hands. The unicorn stood instantly, flexing her aching wrists and determinedly ignoring the dizziness that swept through her.
“Follow me.” The ninja was already heading out the door.
The unicorn and the hacker followed as the ninja led them down a narrow hallway and up a dim flight of stairs. They passed three more demon bodies along the way.  The door at the top of the stairs was unguarded, and led through into another corridor. From here they exited out into bright afternoon sunlight.
“Why did you help us?” The unicorn asked, blinking rapidly against the glare. A warehouse stood behind them, and the entire area looked deserted.
The ninja shrugged slightly and passed her a folded scrap of paper. “I have my reasons. Good luck to the both of you.”
By the time the unicorn had glanced down at the paper in her hands, and then back up, the ninja had vanished.
“I think I’m going to leave too,” the hacker said. “It was nice meeting you, Steph.”
“Oh.” The unicorn gestured vaguely towards where the ninja had stood only moments ago. “I take it you’re good with ninjas too. Just not demons.”
“Right.” The hacker beamed. “No such thing. Ninjas are pretty cool though – especially the way they can literally fade into a shadow.”
“Okay,” the unicorn said faintly, beginning to wonder if maybe she’d sustained a head injury in the kidnapping. Her human form was more fragile than her normal one.
“Look me up if you’re ever in Boston.” The hacker smiled and began walking away. After a few moments, she paused and turned back. “Oh, and my name is Rose.”
Once Rose had vanished from sight, the unicorn unfolded the paper in her hands, taking a few moments to decipher the scrawled handwriting. It was an address. After committing it to memory, she crumpled the paper and let it drop to the ground, frustration sweeping through her. She hadn’t been back more than a day, and already she’d been kidnapped and then rescued by a stranger. There was no trace of her friends, and her homeland was still in terrible danger.
With another sigh, she leaned down and picked up the paper, tucking it into her pocket. Her memory wasn’t that great, in all honesty. Closing her eyes, she summoned her power and focused hard on the address in the note.  A cacophony of beeping horns and car engines surrounded her as she opened her eyes to find herself standing on a busy road in the middle of a city.
Turning around, she saw the doorway to a small shop. The number on the door matched the one written on the scrap of paper. Straightening her cloak, the unicorn pushed open the door and walked inside. Chimes over the door tinkled merrily at her entrance, and it took a few moments for her eyes to adjust to the dimness inside.  When they did, it was to see a young woman with tied-back blonde hair coming towards her.
“Welcome, welcome,” she said pleasantly. “I take it you’re looking for someone?”
“Excuse me?” the unicorn asked.
“Oh, you’re a unicorn,” she said delightedly. “I haven’t seen one if your kind in many years. So who are you looking for?”
“I’m not…I mean, how do you…?”
“I’m a wizard whose specialty is looking for things,” the woman said as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. “Why else would you be here?”
“I don’t know why I’m here, to be honest. My homeland is in danger, and I came here to try and save them, and I need the help of my two friends, but they’re gone, so…” The unicorn rubbed at her temples where a headache was beginning to throb.
“Oh, I see. Well…” The wizard patted her pockets until finding what she was looking for inside her jacket. It was a long, slim wand. She focused carefully on it, and a spark of blue light shot out of the wand and hit a nearby stack of books. The stack toppled to the ground and a faint burning smell filled the air. “I can help you save the world.”
The unicorn stared at her, trying to work out how to respond, when the chimes over the door sounded again and someone else came rushing in, breathless. At the sight of the unicorn standing with the wizard, her shoulders sagged in apparent relief.
“I finally caught up with you! Phew.”
The unicorn eyed the newcomer, who couldn’t have stood taller than her shoulders, in astonishment. “Who are you?”
“I’m Levs, the amazon.”
“I’m Ami!” the wizard pushed past the unicorn to offer Levs her hand.
“Hi, nice to meet you!” They shook hands enthusiastically, and then the amazon turned to the unicorn. “I was told your world is in danger and I’m to help you.”
This day was officially insane. There most definitely had to be a serious head injury of some sort. Rolling with it, the unicorn lifted an eyebrow. “Told by who?”
“No clue. The orders were in a letter pushed under my door this morning.”
“I’m helping too!” the wizard said excitedly.
“Great. Should we get started?” the amazon head for the door.
The unicorn sat on the nearest chair and took a deep breath. “I need a coffee first.”
Across the street, a hooded watcher saw as first the unicorn, and then the amazon, walked into the wizard’s shop.
This was an interesting development indeed.
“Fred, are they inside?” His partner appeared to relieve his shift.
“They are. Should we take action now?”
“No, our orders are to keep watch for the moment.”
“All right. Enjoy your shift, I’ll see you in a few hours.”
Fred drew the hood of his cloak further down over his face, and then turned and walked into the convenience store…
To be continued…