"This is your fault." Charlie stabs her finger harder on the horn and glares death through the windshield at the horse eating grass in the middle of the road. The horse doesn't move and the horn is probably the only part of the car that actually works. "Roads should not have grass growing up in the middle of them. Take the back roads, you said. It's more interesting, you said. If I wanted to get closer to nature I'd go to a zoo or watch a movie."
"Two roads diverged into a wood."
"And we're taking the one that leads to serial killers and missing bodies. This isn't even on the GPS."
I rub the bridge of my nose. "Or the map."
"I still can't believe you know how to fold a map. That's part of being a magician, isn't it?"
"You don't think a random healthy horse on a road that isn't on any map at all could be unusual?"
She pulls her hands off the horn and lets out a sigh. "When you put it like that, no. Let me guess: dragon?"
"As far as I know all dragons work in treasury offices or are CEOs."
Charlie's eyes narrow, a hint of red seeping into them as the god inside her looks out. "I never know when you're joking."
"Good. You're not supposed to." I rap the dashboard with my knuckles and the engine grumbles a slow death that sounds not unlike a demon passing wind. With luck that wasn't anything I did.
Charlie gets out of the car as well and marches up to the horse. "You. Get out of our way."
The eyes of the horse shine white in response. A lot of magical creatures seem to be fixated on tricks involving their eyes. A hint of claws shimmer in the air around Charlie's fingers.
I cough and walk over. "I did tell you that the monster under your bed-slash-god inside you that you are shouldn't be called up for trivial reasons?"
Charlie pauses and pulls the aspect of the god slowly back inside her, turning to face me. "Why are you saying it like that?"
"Because," the horse says, "the magician is telling me you're not a demon and I should not destroy you."
She spins back, eyes wide. The unicorn that stands in front of her is smaller than the horse and what every deer dreams it was, as sharp as the wind and as swift as the sun. It is beautiful and terrible and could easily drive one half-mad.
"I've seen better FX in blockbuster movies." Charlie's pause is barely a hitch, her voice almost steady.
The unicorn's horn turns translucent. I cough again, louder.
"Magician," it says in a voice fit to make hunter's wet themselves.
"She is with me. And I believe beyond your purview?"
"Time was they would be older and wait for me." The unicorn's horn fades slowly from view as it draws up the seeming of a horse around itself again. "Men, women: it would not matter. They would see my purity and it would be a sign their own could end. And now I hide on roads without names or desires lest I be hunted down and used."
There is not much even a magician can say to that, or at least nothing kind. " I could increase the wards on this place."
"I need nothing from you." It turns and walks into the woods, the grace entirely that of a horse.
I walk back to the car.
"What was that about?" Charlie says as she gets in, trying to coax the engine back to life.
"A unicorn only has power over virgins."
"You're not a virgin."
"You look like one."
"Do you want to know what colours I could turn your hair?"
Charlie just grins and twists the key again until the car grumbles into life. "So how did we end up on this road?"
"I think no one has loved this car even once of all the people who owned it."
She pauses, mid-shift on the clutch, continues. "You mean no one has attempted stuff from the karma sutra in the back seat? Or the front?"
"I mean what I said. It's a magician thing."
"The unicorn didn't know?"
"Even unicorns see only what they want to see." I run fingers over the dashboard: the car asks for no magic, I offer it none.
"Are we getting rid of the car in the next town?" Charlie asks once we turn onto a proper road again.
"Yes." She asks nothing else. "All we could offer is pity, and the car doesn't deserve that."
"We can give it to a kid who just got his licence. It might be enough," she says finally as we pull into a town so small the GPS is reluctant to admit it exists. "But we're definitely taking proper roads from now on. With your luck we'll find out dragons are still around and have to rescue a princess."
I snort. "Those are just stories. That's not what princesses are for."
She slows the car and looks out the window for likely owners for the car and asks no questions at all. I leave her to decide on her own answers and close my eyes, pretending a sleep that becomes real sooner than expected.