“Hmm…” Barrett scratched his chin, “It’s kinda depressing to kill a rare creature just to save myself.”
Master Hykel shrugged, “No need to kill them. Unicorn horns grow back. They don’t live well in captivity though.”
“Okay but if we take its horn, won’t it be defenseless? That’s basically killing it.”
“Horses aren’t defenseless just because they don’t have horns on their head,” Master Hykel pointed out. “Do you want your curse removed or not?”
“I do!” Barrett responded enthusiastically, “Being cursed is terrible.”
“Then we need to hurry. If others get there first we might not get the horn and the creature might die as well. There are other reasons people hunt them.”
“Right!” Barrett picked up his running pace. They were already in the forest, which seemed extremely… normal up to where they had gotten. It was something Barrett expected to see around Durham or any mundane city, not near a city of cultivators. The trees were all recognizable and the animals were relatively small and tame. Once they neared the theoretical secret grove, Master Hykel took out the map to guide them the rest of the way. Starting at a particularly large and gnarled tree, they ran a large clockwise circle about the center of the forest, “Does something like this really work?” Barrett asked, “I remember seeing these trees before… which is exactly as expected from going in a circle.”
“I don’t know about this particular instance…” Master Hykel responded, “But in places of overlapping space, a seeming lack of progress can suddenly turn into success.”
They ran another clockwise loop, then started going counterclockwise. Barrett frowned, “Some of this looks different, did we get off course, or does it just seem different from this direction?” Master Hykel didn’t respond, and Barrett continued carefully following the steps behind him. By the time they ran far enough to complete another loop, Barrett wasn’t recognizing any of the terrain. There were suddenly hills that he would have noticed from the city, and large mushrooms were replacing some of the trees. The sky changed from blue to a rainbow of different colors across the sky. “I guess the map was right. How does anyone figure out something like that?”
“They might wander around and find it by accident. There will usually be many routes into an area such as this. Alternatively, it is possible to follow certain forest creatures with connections to these places- such as a unicorn.”
“Right…” Barrett looked around, seeing no sign of Ogloni or the surrounding countryside, “How do we get back when we’re done? The map didn’t have anything like that.”
“We just walk in one direction far enough, and we will be out. See how it gets misty off on the horizon?”
“Oh, right. So, once we go there can’t we just step back in?”
“Space doesn’t always work in both directions.”
“Oh. This is another instance where I learned how the world worked so I could recognize when it was following different rules.”
“That’s right…” Master Hykel looked around, “This is a relatively small area. As long as we avoid leaving the area, we should find the unicorn or some sign of it quickly, if it’s here. We might start with over there, where there appears to be a section of plains.”
Barrett squinted his eyes, though that was of negligible benefit since he also used Pure Body Tempering to enhance his vision. He saw a field of green grass, but not the sort of green he had seen anywhere else. Unlike regular grass, which ranged from dark green to a pale green, it was light but not pale or faded looking. Instead, it was very vibrantly green, enough to almost hurt his eyes. “Seems just as good as anywhere else.” The two of them started running downhill in that direction, “Do unicorns eat grass? I don’t remember reading about them.”
“They eat grass, among other things. They may not have been included in the books because of their rarity and lack of aggression.” Master Hykel frowned as they got closer, “You may have to be the one to fight it. It appears we are not alone here. I sense several others up ahead.”
Barrett tried to feel them, then shook his head, “How strong?”
“Oh, a handful of third tiers, with a couple at fourth or fifth. There seem to be a few groups. Let’s approach carefully.”
Barrett stepped gingerly on the now-mossy ground, weaving through the trees and mushrooms… some of which were also covered in moss. The ground was fortunately soft enough and void of many sticks or leaves to crunch, so he reached the edge of the field without being noticed by any of the others he spotted nearby. Some warriors were standing at the edge of the man-height grass of the field, crouched down just slightly to conceal themselves from where they were looking. Barrett tracked their heads to see a unicorn, which was slightly larger than most regular horses along with being a pure, shining white. Only its head really stood out from the bright green grass, on which there was a horn that reached over half a meter in length.
Master Hykel angled around to one side, and Barrett followed. The two of them approached the edge of the field, trying to stay out of the peripheral vision of the group Barrett had spotted. They did so, but before they could quite reach the field, a handful of arrows shot out of another portion of the grass. The unicorn immediately darted off, though Barrett thought the arrows got very close to it. “Tch. They got impatient. Follow after it! I’ll distract the people here.”
Master Hykel leaped out into the field, seeming to chase after the unicorn until the archers fired arrows at him. He turned to face them, at the same time throwing a casual attack with a lead ball towards the group Barrett had spotted. The lead ball exploded with berserk energy- not directly next to any of them. It might have seemed like Master Hykel missed, but instead he just didn’t want to start a slaughter. They had no grudges with any of the people around, they were just competing for the same resource.
Barrett crouched down and dashed through the grass, adjusting his center of gravity so that he could keep his balance even at a high speed in that position. He lost track of unicorn as it dashed out of the field into another section of the forest, but he noticed spatters of shiny red blood on the grass, and saw a few sparkles up ahead even in the shade of the trees and giant mushrooms.