'Across the moor galloped a huge dark beast; a heavily muscled horse with a gleaming, rippling black mane. The animal reared up, its hooves cutting the sky, its silken tail streaming like a banner. Its spiralled horn glinted in the sun.'
Lewis is cold, wet and miserable on his school residential trip in the highlands of Scotland. The last thing he expects to see is a mythical creature galloping across the bleak moorland. Unicorns aren't real... are they?
Lewis and his best friend Rhona find themselves caught up in a dangerous adventure to save the world's last herd of wild unicorns. Fighting against dark forces, battling the wild landscape, and harnessing ancient magic, can they rescue the legendary creatures in time?
|Sold by:||Barnes & Noble|
|File size:||513 KB|
|Age Range:||9 - 12 Years|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Rhona peered over the edge of the cliff, grinning like a gargoyle. Far below, Lewis dangled in his harness, legs kicking, frantic with fear.“You were meant to hold on to the rocks!” she called, her voice choked with laughter. “You weren’t supposed to let go!”“It isn’t funny,” he muttered. “Shut up, shut up, shut up.”Terror was making his guts clench, his throat tighten. His palms were so clammy they slid on the rope. This was the polar opposite of funny.He was making a fool of himself, as he’d known he would. His list of fails was getting longer. He was rubbish at rugby, clueless at kayaking, a failure at football and now, brand new to the list, abysmal at abseiling. And that was the edited version, not the complete list. Not even close.The instructor on the ground was yelling instructions, but he might as well have been speaking in Mandarin, like Lewis’s mother when she was chatting on the phone to Grandpa in his Beijing flat. Lewis couldn’t make out a word, then or now.He was too far up, a dizzying, terrifying distance from Earth. If his harness broke, he’d plummet head first onto rocks. He could imagine the sickening crack as his neck snapped on impact, his skull crushed, brains oozing from under the helmet, gloopy as frog spawn.That was the one thing Lewis excelled at: imagining worst-case scenarios.It was no struggle to picture his mother’s face when she got the phone call telling her the tragic news; he could hear her breaking down, distraught, sobbing at his funeral. “My poor boy! He had his whole life ahead of him. I should never have let him go. Why was I so selfish?” A major downside of being dead would be his inability to answer back, to remind her that he’d told her many times that he didn’t want to go on the trip, and she hadn’t listened, that she’d never listened.“Oi! Lewis! You look like ma granny’s soap on a rope!”The vision dissolved and Lewis was dragged back to real life, dangling from a cliff face, jagged rocks below, helpless as an upended beetle. Imagining his own funeral had been more fun.“Belt up, Rhona. It’s not funny.” Lewis had been aiming for irritated, but instead his words flew out as squawks of panic. Rhona burst out laughing.“You should see it from up here! It really is funny. It’s bloomin’ hysterical.”Scott leant over the cliff edge and waved a gloved hand. “Right, Lewis! No worries! We’re bringing you down!”The rope moved and Lewis was mortified to hear a whimper of terror that could only be his. Slowly, the rope started to descend and his body began to spin, like a hanged corpse. Lewis opened his eyes, saw jutting black rocks and squeezed them shut again. But the spinning rope was making him so dizzy he was scared he might spew, so he prised his eyes open and focused on the horizon: jagged mountains, a vast expanse of bleak moorland.And then he saw it.At first, it was a dark smudge, far in the distance. The smudge was moving fast, tracing a path across the moor, arcing like a shooting star across the sky. As it came nearer, he could see it was an animal: huge, broad-backed, long-legged.Lewis blinked, unable to believe his eyes, which wasn’t unreasonable: his eyesight was dodgy and his glasses were tucked inside his rucksack. Oblivious to the swinging rope, he kept staring; even Rhona’s raucous voice faded into the background.It couldn’t be. Lewis blinked again, trying to clear his vision, remove what could only be a mirage. Though that can’t be right, can it? Mirages happen in deserts and there are no deserts in Scotland, it’s too wet. Although on second thoughts, Eastgate’s a desert. No cinema, no theatre, no museums. It doesn’t even have a Costa. All you can do in Eastgate is get a haircut, buy booze or place a bet… Right, stop havering… Need to focus. There isn’t anything weird going on. Nothing weird at all. Everything’s fine. But when he stopped blinking frantically and looked again, he could still see it. Across the moor galloped a huge dark beast, a heavily muscled horse with a gleaming, rippling black mane. The animal reared up, its hooves cutting the sky and its silken tail streaming like a banner. Its spiralled horn glinted in the sun.Lewis blinked again. But the animal didn’t vanish. He was still staring at a unicorn. It has to be a dream. Or maybe I’ve died of fear. Maybe I’ve landed in a parallel universe, a Jurassic Park full of extinct creatures. That wouldn’t be so bad. I’ve just humiliated myself in front of everyone. If I’ve landed in an alternative universe I won’t have to see any of those losers ever again.Maybe I should just let go of the rope… but I don’t want to be dead. Eleven’s too young to die. There’s stuff I really want to do, once the hell that is Eastgate is over. I’m going to visit my relatives in Bejing, learn to drive a Maserati, become a world-famous artist and get another dog, one that nobody will take away from me… “Hey, guys. Keep the area clear, will you?” yelled Scott. “I need to bring Lewis down safely!”It dawned on Lewis then that he couldn’t possibly be dead. He was still hanging from the rope, still cringing with shame. When he looked towards the ground, he saw Flora Dixon sniggering and pointing upwards.Lewis closed his eyes and kept them closed, tried to ignore his heaving stomach. Being sick over Flora again would be a VERY BAD THING. Once had been humiliating enough, but he tried to convince himself it didn’t matter. He was basically dead to Flora already. His abseiling fail was just another clod of cold earth, dumped on top of his coffin. When his heels scraped against rock he wanted to weep with relief, but the nightmare wasn’t over. By the time he’d struggled to unbuckle all the straps and buckles on his harness, Derek McIvor was scrambling down the cliff face, bawling “FREEDOM!” Oh, great. Even Derek has made it down the mountain. I’m now officially wimpier than Derek the Dweeb. I’m the Wimp King. Miss James, who taught infants and must have been bribed into coming on the Primary 7 residential, gave him a sympathetic smile. “Never mind! You gave it a really good try!”He grimaced, unable to think of anything polite to say. He could imagine the shock on her face if he said what he was feeling: “Save that stuff for the little ones. Leave me alone.”
For another endless, torturous hour, Lewis huddled beside a large rock, shivering, as clouds covered the sun, and freezing rain started to fall. Rhona had commented on the rock earlier, saying that it looked like Pikachu, and although he’d told her she was havering, he had to admit he could see a resemblance. Standing next to his favourite Pokemon didn’t make him feel any happier about watching the rest of the class swing over the cliff edge and abseil fearlessly down. Could we not have gone on this trip in June instead of April? There would have been less risk of losing my extremities to frostbite. One by one the others reached the bottom and ran over to join the huddle. For a few minutes they leapt about, bouncy as wallabies, screaming with hysteria-tinged laughter. Then after a while, when the adrenaline wore off, they calmed down and started comparing abseiling techniques as if they were seasoned mountaineers, not a bunch of kids from the East End of Glasgow who’d never climbed anything higher than the stairs of a multi-storey flat before in their lives.Miss James, full of that irritating infant-teacher fake enthusiasm, stood at the bottom of the cliff, taking photo after photo for the school website. “Oh, well done! Well done! Great job!” I’m surprised she’s not handing out ‘Miss James says Good Effort!’ stickers. And how many pictures does she need to take? It’ll be like seeing it all again in real time. Please let there be no photographs of me dangling in that harness – or worse, video footage for YouTube. Oh heck, I’m going to go viral. Why didn’t I just throw myself off the cliff and have done with it? Mortified, and with no techniques to contribute, Lewis drifted apart from the group. He knelt, hunched over his rucksack, making pointless adjustments to the straps, while rain trickled down the back of his neck. Sometimes he’d straighten up and stare across the moor, searching for the unicorn. With his glasses on, his eyesight was near-average, and at one point he spotted a herd of red deer ambling uphill towards a distant pine wood. The stag was in the lead. He was taller and heavier than the hinds, with great branching antlers. It could have been that stag I saw earlier. It must have been him. It’s the only logical explanation. My eyesight must be getting worse. I’d better let Mum know, so she can make me an optician’s appointment. She should have let me get contact lenses last time, then I wouldn’t be half-blind. When Lewis thought about his mother, he got a bitter taste in his mouth. This was officially the second worst week of his life and it was totally his mum’s fault.“You need to go on this trip, Lewis,” she’d said, waving the form, oblivious to his hunched shoulders and scowling face. “Maggie says her best childhood memories are of the P7 residential; she says it was terrific fun. Midnight feasts, having a laugh with her pals…”“And if I go you won’t have to organise childcare for five whole days,” he’d muttered, forgetting that his mum’s hearing was keener than Wolverine’s. “You’ll get to go to that conference, after all.”“That’s unfair, Lewis,” she’d sighed. “I’ve already told Maggie I can’t go.”It might not have been fair, but it was accurate. No sooner had Mr Deacon prised the booking form from Lewis’s reluctant fingers, his mum had been on the phone to her boss.“Guess what, Maggie? I can make the conference after all! Where are you planning to stay? Can I get myself booked in too?”So Mum and Maggie were staying at a posh hotel in Edinburgh. Lewis had googled it before he left and discovered that it had a heated swimming pool and a luxury spa. The Outdoor Centre had neither. Now,that was unfair.When it was Rhona’s turn to abseil, she hurtled down the mountainside at double-quick speed, whooping all the way down. Her round cheeks were flushed with triumph when she arrived at the bottom.“That was amazin’! Did you see me?” she yelled at nobody in particular. Lewis glanced at Flora, saw her roll her eyes. Anger surged through him. She’s got a mean streak as wide as the Clyde. I wish I’d thrown up on her after all. And I was higher up this time. The puke would have gone over her head instead of her shoes. Rhona yanked off the helmet and harness, waved at the group and ran over to Lewis. “That was incredible! I thought I was goin’ to wee myself when I went over that ledge. It’s so high up!”Lewis shrugged and continued to stare at a fascinating clump of lichen by his feet. He’d convinced himself that frostbite was setting in, that his toes were about to turn as black as burnt chipolatas and drop off, one by one. Even Rhona, his best pal in the world – let’s face it, his only pal in the world – was getting on his nerves. She was enjoying herself, not missing home one bit, so he couldn’t even whinge without her trying to talk him out of it and jolly him along. But he knew Rhona was used to him being quiet. She could talk enough for both of them.“I bet it won’t be so bad next time! Now that we know what we’re doing! You just need to hold tight, Lewis, and use the belay thingy to control your speed. You’ll be fine.” She craned her neck upwards and waved her arms like wind turbines. “Can I go again, Scott?” she bawled. “And can Lewis have another go an’ aw?”Scott stood at the top of the cliff and waved down at her; he seemed to have no fear of heights. When Lewis was up there he’d kept low and clutched at tufts of grass, convinced the cliff edge was about to break off, or that he was going to flip forward and fall.“Light’s starting to go. There isn’t going to be time,” said Scott.“Aw, go on!”“Shut up. I’m not going down that cliff again,” Lewis hissed, appalled. “Specially not with you, you eejit. You were meant to be abseiling, not free-falling.”Rhona peered at him. “Don’t get snarky. I just thought if we went together it wouldn’t be as scary. You should have told Scott you don’t like heights. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, you know. I’m the same with snakes.”“Yeah, but heights are all over the place in Scotland. They’re hard to avoid. Being scared of snakes is unlikely to be a big issue, is it? How many snakes have you seen outside the zoo?”“None, yet, ’cept that big adder slithering up your trouser leg. Ha, made you look!”“Grow up, Rhona.”“No way. That isn’t happening. I’m the Lassie Who Never Grew Up. Like Peter Pan, but ginger and female.”She grinned at Lewis, and despite his black mood, he felt the corners of his mouth twitching.“Oh wow, you actually cracked a smile! I thought your face had forgotten how! Aw, if we had our phones you could have taken a selfie.”Lewis fished around in his brain for something to say, but his mind seemed to have been ambushed by unicorns. An enormous herd of unicorns was galloping around in his head, snorting, neighing, kicking their hooves. He felt his face flush, and he turned away from her, focused on hauling his rucksack onto his shoulders.“Give over, will you?” he muttered.One thing was for sure, he couldn’t tell her that while he’d been swinging from that rope he’d imagined he’d seen a unicorn. She’d think he had lost his mind. He was already the odd one out at school, the solitary freak who always had his nose in a book. Now he was the freak who saw unicorns. When he closed his eyes, he could see the unicorn again: powerful and magnificent, roaming free across the moor.