Anthony, Piers - Apprentice Adept 06 - Unicorn Point.txt

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Stile

Stile took the Lady Blue in his arms. "Thou dost know what
we are about," he said.

The Lady was fifty years old now, and her face was lined,
but she remained beautiful to him. Her hair still fell to her
waist, fair but seeming tinted with blue because of her blue
gown and slippers. She stood slightly taller than he, because
of his diminutive stature; it had never been an issue between
them.

After a pause, she murmured, "I know, my love."
"I will return in a few days," he continued gravely. "Thou
shallst have company."
"True." But there was a tear on her cheek.
He kissed her, then went outside the castle. There was
Neysa, her head turning white, her socks falling down about
her hooves but her hide glossy black between, and her mus-
cles still firm. She remained a fine figure of a unicorn; as her
kind put it, her hom retained its point. Stile mounted her
bareback, and she trotted across the drawbridge over the moat.

Neysa paused without being asked, so that Stile could turn
and wave to the castle. A blue kerchief waved back from the

2 | Piers Anthony

window. Stile felt a pang, because all three of them knew
that much more was afoot than this simple excursion.

Then Neysa turned away, and trotted from the Blue De-
mesnes. They were on their way.

"We have time," Stile remarked, reverting to the dialect
of his origin, as he tended to do when alone with her. "Let's
take the scenic route."

Neysa played an affirmative note on her horn, and bore
west. Stile, reminded by the sound, which resembled that of
a harmonica, brought out his own harmonica and began to
play. In a moment Neysa joined in, and they played a duet,
as they had in the old days when both were young. The music
was pretty, and there was an enhancement around them, be-
cause music summoned Stile's magic. He seldom used it these
days, because a given spell could be invoked only once, and
he preferred not to waste any. Magic, even for an Adept, was
often the last resort. But it was all right to summon die am-
bience without drawing on it.

After a while Stile paused in his playing. "I remember
when you protested my power, old friend," he said.

She played a laughing bit of melody. She had forgiven him
his power a quarter century before, at the time he made his
Oath of Friendship to her. From that time on, all the unicorns
of her Herd, and all the werewolves of Kurrelgyre's Pack,
had been her friends too, charmed by the peripheral power
of that Oath. There had been no war between Herd and Pack,
despite significant changes in their compositions as members
grew and bred and migrated, and the Oath had become a
minor legend. It had been the proof of his status as the Blue
Adept, for only Adept magic could affect unicorns against
their will.

"Aye, I remember well," he continued, experiencing the
nostalgia of old times. "I was an injured jockey from the
frame of Proton, discovering the strange new world of Phaze.
I decided I needed a steed, and you were there, you beautiful
animal, the finest of your kind I had seen, and small like me.
I loved you that moment, but you did not love me."

Neysa played a note of agreement. Her horn was musical,
but she could talk with it in her fashion, and he understood
her well. All the advanced animals of Phaze could commu-
nicate well in other than the human mode, though not as well
as they could by using it, because the conventions of notes

UNICORN POINT | 3

or growls or high sonics were less versatile than the com-
pletely developed human languages.

"So then did I challenge thee, and mount thee and ride
thee, and thou didst try to throw me off, and we careered all
over Phaze!" he continued, playfully switching back to Phaze
dialect. "I think I kept my place chiefly by luck�" Here she
snorted derisively. "But then thou didst get set to leap from
the high point, and I thought we both would die, and I let
thee go�and won thee after all." And she agreed.

"Then there came to me a woman, young and fair and
small, and lo! it was thee in human guise, and I learned what
it meant to befriend a unicom," he continued. "And now
we be old, and I have my son Bane and thou thy filly Fleta,
and they both be grown and have offspring in their fashion.
Were we wrong to oppose their unions? How much mischief
might we have avoided, had we accepted their pleas!"

Neysa did not comment. She, with her unicom stubborn-
ness, had not yet changed her mind about her position. They
proceeded a while in silence. Stile mulling it over. His son
Bane had managed to exchange identities with his opposite
number in Proton, who happened to be a robot: the manu-
factured son of the humanoid robot Sheen, once Stile's lover.
The robot youth, called Mach, had occupied a living human
body for the first time, and fallen in love with the human
form of Fleta before properly appreciating her nature. Across
the frames, the robot and the unicorn�the impossibility of
this relationship had been evident to all except the protagon-
ists. Only the conniving Adverse Adepts, who sought to use
the boys for their own purposes, had supported the union.
Bane, in the robot body in Proton, had developed a similarly
difficult relationship with an alien creature. Thus Stile had
lost his son to the enemy. He had recognized his mistake, in
retrospect, too late; the boys were working for the enemy,
and Stile and his allies were suffering.

"Yet now there be Flach," he said, vocalizing again,
knowing that Neysa would have no trouble following. He pro-
nounced the name "Flash"; it was the merger of Fleta and
Mach, with the hard ch become soft. "The first man-unicom
crossbreed, and a delight to us both. Perhaps in time he will
develop abilities drawn from both our stocks. And little Nepe,
in Proton�"

Neysa's ears perked. She was listening to something. Stile

4 | Piers Anthony

paused, so as to give her a better chance; her ears were better
than his. It was probably nothing significant; still, it was
always best to be alert, because there were more monsters
than in the past, and not all of them had learned proper re-
spect for either unicorns or Adepts.

Neysa elevated her nose to sniff the breeze. She made a
musical snort of perplexity. Evidently this was not routine.
"Do you wish me to intercede?" Stile asked. As an Adept,
he could handle just about any threat from anything less than
another Adept, and at present the Adepts were not harrying
each other despite their enmities.

But the unicorn was independent, true to the nature of her
species. She preferred to handle this herself. She broke into
a trot, and then into a gallop, moving at the velocity only her
kind could manage. Stile crouched low, hanging on to her
mane, enjoying this run as much as he had her easy walk.

They broke into open country, much as they had a quarter
century before, covering ground at a rate beyond the powers
of any horse. The magic of the unicorn was not merely in
her hom! This time she was trying not to throw him off, but
to outdistance something. What could it be, that caused her
to react this way?

Stile looked around, craning his head to see the ground
behind them. But their pursuer was not on the ground. It was
in the air, flying strongly. A small dragon? No, the shape was
wrong, and the mode of flight; it seemed to have birdlike
wings and a running body.

He ran through his mental repertoire of monsters, but could
not find a match. This one seemed alien to Phaze. What
could it be? No wonder Neysa was concerned; she did not
trust anything unfamiliar.

He continued his effort to place the creature. It had to be
something^. It had a body like that of a panther or lion, and a
head like that of a bird of prey. It reminded him of the old
heraldic devices in the history texts�

"Griffin!" he exclaimed. "That's a griffin! Head and wings
of an eagle, body of a lion!"

Neysa made a musical toot of agreement and continued
running at speed. She had known it by the sound and smell.

"But there are no griffins in Phaze!" he exclaimed after a
moment.

UNICORN POINT 15

Yet there it was, and gaining on them. A classic heraldic
monster. Obviously it did exist here.

Stile's brain was now racing at almost Neysa's pace. Sparks
were flying up from her heating hooves, and figurative sparks
were emanating from his head. There were only a few ways
that such a creature could be in Phaze. Was it possible that
all the surveys of the wildlife of the frame had been wrong,
and had overlooked this creature? He doubted that; those sur-
veys had been competent and conducted magically. The grif-
fin might be an illusion, crafted by another Adept. But he
doubted that too, because Neysa had heard it and scented it;

it would require an extremely thorough illusion to cover
sound, smell and sight in a manner that would convince a
unicorn. So it was probably a form assumed by some other
creature.

A number of Phaze creatures could change their forms.
There were the unicorns, each typically having two forms in
addition to the equine one. The werewolves, who changed
from wolf to man and back. The vampires, who were bats
and men. And the Adepts, who could do almost anything they
chose. But though the animals could change forms as many
times as they wished, they were limited to those few they had
mastered, and Stile knew of none who had elected a non-
Phaze form. The Adepts could take any form, but only once.
Thus it would be necessary to find new variants of the spell
to achieve the same alternate form, which seemed like too
much trouble.

However, a single appearance in this form might be enough,
depending on its purpose. Why should an Adept assume the
form of a griffin to chase another Adept? Was one of the
Adverse Adepts breaking the truce? Trying to take him out
anonymously, using this shape in cas...
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