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As the Unicorn charged me, its four enormous-and-curiously-hoofless feet thundering across the hardwood floor of my office, I made ready to sidestep its charge. Though I had long ago been informed that my mortality was nothing that I needed to fear, I had not lived my life in such a way as to invite confirmation of this malediction. For one thing, there remained the suspicion that I may simply have been lied to, and I remained as frail and impermanent as any man of outstanding physique, staggering intellect and flawless moral character. And for another – as I had so often learned in the past – whether or not I was immune to death, I was certainly not immune to injuries, and the sight of the rapidly-approaching horn of this enraged beast made me keenly aware of the extent to which I might suffer such injuries were I not careful!
Even as prepared as I was, I only narrowly avoided the creature’s charging, thrashing head, twisting out of its way at the last possible moment. In the split-second I had before it passed me by entirely, I managed to twist about and bring my fist crashing downwards with all of my considerable strength, feeling it impact satisfyingly with the animal’s eyeball.
It careened past me, snorting with pain and fury as it did so, stumbling at the terminus of its charge and crashing side-long into my desk, causing both it and its contents to topple to the floor. I scowled with distaste. Yet another thing I would need to have Pansie clean up for me once I had attended this matter. What further indignities would I need to suffer this day? Even as I thought this, though, I was swiftly advancing on the unicorn in its moment of disorientation, fist once more raised above my head, ready to strike it in its anus and vagina before it could turn to face me for another charge. If that didn’t teach it to respect me, I daresay nothing would.
My foe was swifter than I gave it credit for, though, and a moment before I could pummel its nether-regions, it pivoted about with an impressively un-self-possessed lack of grace, plainly intent upon goring me with its mighty horn. Unwilling to be entirely thwarted, I rained down upon its thick hide a rapid series of blows. Even as focused as I was in my Koolookoo state, there remained a part of me which could not help but wonder at the extent to which the unicorn failed to resemble either the entirely factual and literal description given to them in the historical account of the creatures given in the bible, or indeed any horse of my acquaintance. I had to presume that this particular animal was either a birth defect, or else was the result of some thousands of years of animal husbandry since the time of the bible, producing a far more homely beast than the authors of the Good Book, in typically inerrant fashion, had reported to have existed in their personal experience.
Had I not been entirely and unshakably confident in my skills as a pugilist, I might have allowed the animal’s apparent lack of concern for or reaction to my brutal assault to have un-nerved me somewhat. As it stood, I had to begrudgingly admire its composure as it betrayed no visible sign of the searing pain it must even then have been nearly incapacitated by as a product of my attack. I did not allow this respect to stand in the way of my desire to see its lifeless head hanging from my study wall. Indeed, it only amplified that desire.
I began to attempt to circle my opponent as best I could in these close quarters, looking for some opening, but as its vast head swiveled about, tracking me, there seemed to be no obvious shortcomings or weaknesses to capitalize upon. I was about to attempt to distract it when it once again made to charge me. I prepared to side-step it again when I abruptly lost my footing. Tumbling to the ground, I spotted, with considerable ire, Ivan’s leg. It seemed he had somehow managed to conceal most of his vast bulk beneath a table, where he even now cowered. His legs, however, sprawled outwards, and it was these that had tripped me up at this inopportune moment. I made a note to have the man flogged in his sleep at gunpoint later on, even as I myself sprawled towards the floor.
The thought was interrupted, though, as a moment later the beast’s horn impacted my chest, mid-tumble, knocking the wind from me and tossing me against the opposite wall. I could feel several of my ribs buckle from the impact, though thankfully they did not break. Nevertheless, the blow to my head as I impacted the wall had me seeing stars and momentarily incapacitated. I slumped to the floor, only dimly aware in that moment of the danger I was in. The animal pressed its advantage, storming towards me, plainly meaning to trample me under its enormous feet where I lay. It was then that I heard a shout from the broken remains of the study’s door.
“Leave him alone, ya big sloppy bucket of cunt-leavings,” it shouted. I dizzily turned my head towards the door, there to see my young ward, Barty, holding my hunting shotgun awkwardly in his too-small hands, looking quite the sight at ten years of age holding a fully-grown man’s weapon in a crude approximation of a marksman’s stance. Fortunately, the unicorn also turned its head to observe this new intrusion, momentarily averting its deadly assault. “You alright down there, Doc?” Barty shouted at me.
“Naturally I am, you rapscallion,” I wheezed through gritted teeth, my words barely audible, my battered lungs scarcely providing me the wind to breathe, much less speak. Nevertheless, appearances needed to be maintained. I began to stagger to my feet, still swaying about disconcertingly as I did so, even as the unicorn turned its attention once again towards me. I knew I could not trust my legs to sustain me for long in my current state, and so I did the only thing I could think to do in the situation: I flung myself bodily at the beast’s hideous face, grappling its great horn with one arm as I attempted to pummel its skull with the other.
It thrashed its great head around in confusion and fury, snorting and attempting to bite me with its repulsive, stinking maw as it did so. It was only by dint of my unwavering confidence in my own skills that I was able to determine that I was indeed having an impact upon the creature, all appearances to the contrary notwithstanding. It began to stomp forwards, evidently meaning to ram me once again against the wall, this time to crush me between its horn and the hardwood paneling.
“Doc! What you want me to do?” Barty shouted uselessly from the door.
“Shoot it, damn your prepubescent bones!” I bellowed at him as I was carried forwards by the monster’s attack. “Do it now while my fists have already essentially incapacitated it, lest your shot be rendered entirely ineffectual!”
“Bugger yer arse with a rusty pipe, you glocky dollymop!” he shrieked as he let loose a thunderous shot in the direction of the thrashing beast I was heroically clinging to, flinging himself back off of his feet and into the hall with the recoil as he did so. I was not altogether certain where he had acquired his salty and curiously incoherent tongue from. I blamed foreigners.
I had little time to contemplate this, nor indeed whether he was addressing me or the unicorn with his sailor-talk just then, as at that moment, the side of its head exploded in a shower of bone and gore where the shotgun shell had struck it. In a flash, I seized upon this distraction and dealt what I must assume to have been a fatal blow to its injured head with my fist as it began to topple, for it was at that moment that I sensed the fight had gone out of it. I scrambled to disengage myself from its blood-slicked head before it crashed to the ground, only just barely succeeding in doing so, rolling out of the way of its body before it could crush me under its descending bulk.
I took just a moment or two to inspect my handiwork, ensuring that the animal was indeed dead. The blow I had struck to its exposed brain would under ordinary circumstances have been fatal to any but the heartiest of horses, but this was a steed of uncommon cunning and ferocity. I dared not take any chances. Nevertheless, as the blood ceased to spurt from its open wound, I felt I could with some confidence say that I had – with some minimal assistance from my young ward – vanquished the rampaging equine. I stood up and brushed off the worst of the gore from my suit and turned to face Barty.
“Bloody good show there, young man! A fine, lucky shot. We’ll make a marksman of you yet!” I snatched my shotgun from his hand and cuffed him affectionately in the head. “But don’t get any big notions about wielding old Cleopatra here without my leave.” I stroked the barrels of my beloved custom-built triple-barreled shotgun, still warm from her momentary infidelity with the boy. “I provided you with that Derringer pistol for a reason, and it should be more than adequate for a boy your age.”
He scowled at me petulantly, and I could scarcely blame him. Cleopatra was a fine lady of a firearm, and he couldn’t help but be jealous of the special relationship I shared with her, as compared to the common street whore of a gun I had fashioned him with on his eighth birthday. Nevertheless, one needed to be firm with boys that age.
“That bloody laycock of an iron wouldn’t have done a thing against that bludger, you great nancy!” he shouted at me, stamping his darling little feet in a small temper tantrum. “How’d a bloomin’ Rhino get in here, anyways?”
“Rhino?” I chuckled indulgently. “No, no, boy. This is a unicorn. Haven’t you been paying attention in sunday school?”
“It’s a bloody rhino, you daft bastard”, he insisted, “I seen it in a picture book! Great grey animal out of Africa! Got big dumb horns on its face an’ all!”
“A rhino, you say...” I chuckled for a moment, before, like a bolt of thunder out of the blue, a realization hit me. “Rhino... Rhino king. It’s all connected!” I shouted, excitement overtaking me at my brilliant deduction. “Ah, you thought you could pull the wool over my eyes, my newfound nubian nemesis, but you didn’t count on the throbbing, turgid pillar of intellect which is Doctor Sir Reginald Kingsley II, by George!” I slapped one bloodied hand down into the other in emphasis, and turned towards Barty. “Well, now he’s made the mistake of making this personal. No matter how cunning a foe this blighter may be, he’ll soon have cause to curse this curse of his, just you wait and see!”
“Bloody mad as a hatter”, Barty mumbled disgustedly, presumably with reference to this ‘Rhino King’ fellow. Naturally, I couldn’t help but agree, and nodded sagely, with a smile on my face to accompany it.
“Now, then, fetch Pansie! She has some cleaning to do, and we have an expedition to plan! Snap to it, boy!”
As he left the room, gingerly stepping over some of the shattered wooden remains of the door, he muttered furiously to himself beneath his breath, and I couldn’t but sympathize with his outrage. Nevertheless, I had little time to commiserate; I needed to attend Miss Elliot, whose whereabouts I had seemed to have lost track of in the fracas...
(To be continued!)