This takes place three years before the current story arc.
I woke up sometime around Oh-Fuck-No in the morning to the distinct sound of munching. Loud, crunching, chewing, gulping, swallowing, soon-to-be-digested unignorable eating noises.
After a few moments of quiet denial, I dragged myself out of bed and peeked out the window. After which I took approximately forty-five seconds to digest what I was seeing. Then, having gotten the troublesome process of thought done, I went to brush my teeth.
I took my time. Went to the kitchen window so as to better examine the problem, thinking about how I could deal with this quickly and quietly enough so I could return back to bed. In the end all I could think to do was turn the sprinklers on them, which, while mildly entertaining, didn't scare them away.
Lacking any other viable option and deciding that misery loves company, I strolled to my boss's bedroom. The door was locked, but not magically so, meaning a bit of hellfire was enough to make the lock decide it really wasn't worth keeping me out and melt in shame.
"Boss," I said, strolling in. "Bit of a problem."
He stayed asleep. I sighed and set the glass I'd brought onto the bedside table. The face of the clock next to it reminded me smugly exactly how early it was, draining me of any and all sympathy. If I was awake now, then so was he. I dug through the mountain of blankets he'd buried himself in until I found his face.
"Boss," I said.
He wriggled away and burrowed deeper into the pile. I found him again and this time I unceremoniously dumped my glass of water onto him. He spluttered to life.
"What?" he snarled.
I jabbed my thumb over my shoulder, indicating a general 'over there' direction. "There's a herd of unicorns in the backyard."
He pulled the covers over his head, making sure to avoid the damp spot. "So turn the sprinklers."
"Tried that, didn't work. Come on, up."
No luck. He was like a very stubborn donkey who didn't want to get out of bed.
"You know, boss, I'm pretty sure they've eaten all the begonias."
And he was out of bed and tearing down the stairs before I could even make up a lie about why the lock was melted. I followed after, partly because it was sort of an unspoken rule that I was supposed to follow him whenever he went running off to places in a blind panic like that, but mostly because I wanted to see his face when he realized he'd gone out into the colder than hell butt-crack of dawn in nothing but his shorts.
I got out here and found Faust trying- and failing- to shoo the unicorns away from his garden.
In the few minutes since I'd tried the sprinklers, the herd had finished off the begonias and taken care of the petunias and the hyacinths as well. Now they were making their way through the roses, apparently unbothered by the thorns.
They looked more like slightly damp deer than horses on the sliding scale of behooved animals, with maybe a little bit of goat thrown in. Despite all the rooting around in the garden boxes they'd done earlier, their coats remained an unmarred, eye-searing shade of bright white. All had the tell-tale spiral horns sticking out of their foreheads. There were probably about twelve of them, total, but it was kind of hard to tell since they all looked the exact same and kept on moving when I tried to take a head count.
"Go on!" Faust shouted. He approached one of them and waved his arms. "Get out!"
The unicorn he'd accosted gave him a look that told us exactly how many shits he gave about Faust and flicked its ear back.
"Go!" said bossman, getting closer. When he got too close, it danced off to the side.
"You know," I said from my position on the porch. "I don't think they're taking you seriously."
He glared at me, his lips were starting to go a little blue around the edges. "You left the gate open last night, didn't you? What have I told you about locking up-"
"You said it's something I should do. How was I supposed to know this would happen?"
One of the unicorns, a little colt I hadn't noticed before, wandered away from its mother and started eating some of the glass roses from the weirder side of Faust's garden. It made tinkling, breaking-glass sounds as it ate. Bossman looked like he was about to explode and ran over, scaring it away.
"I suppose it's too much for you to come and help me, is it?" he snarled.
I grinned and hopped off the porch. "Please. They're just horses. I can handle them."
"Glad to see you're so confident." He pointed to the nearest one. "You take it from that side, I'll take this one. We'll try to corral it out, then go for the others."
This, of course, did not happen.
Any time bossman went near one, it would shy away from him and go further back into the yard. If he tried going around or coming up from the side to herd it towards the driveway (and so the exit), it would just go opposite the way he wanted it to, leading him around in circles.
Whenever I tried to get near one, they tried to trample me.
Several bruises, three attempted impalings, and a lot of wasted time later, I limped over to where bossman was standing and said, "What we need is a-"
"No fire," he said.
"I wasn't going to say-"
"No guns either."
I scraped some rainbow gunk off my shoes. "You're no fun."
"We need a virgin," he said.
"Alright, maybe you're more fun than I thought, but is this really the right time-?"
"To deal with the unicorns! We need somebody to lead them out."
"Aaaaand you're back to being no fun."
He stopped the flow of water on the garden hose he'd been using to spray our pests. "This isn't working. I'm going to check the index and see if there are any kinds of pest control places that deal with these things."
"What do I do?"
He handed me the watering hose. "Aim and shoot. Try not to get squashed."
"Right-o." I switched the setting on the nozzle from 'stream' to 'jet'.
The unicorns were not amused.
When bossman came back out a little later, fully clothed and carrying some papers, he found the water hose detached from the spigot and bitten into shreds by horsey teeth. I had the perfect view of the top of his head.
He turned around and looked up.
"Hi," I said, waving.
"Why are you on the roof?"
My back ached. There would probably be a hoof-shaped bruise someplace uncomfortable tomorrow. "They kicked me up here."
"Then kick yourself back down." He waved the papers at me. "I've got directions to a place I think might be able to help us."
* * * * *
We pulled into the parking lot of the offices of the Sacramental Sisters and any spark of interest or curiosity I might've had started to shrink and sputter out. The Sacramental Sisters set up shop in a place that looked about as inviting as the office to a dentist. A small dentist's. A private practice that couldn't afford interesting wall hangers in the waiting room and had to make do with out of date magazines.
Waiting room, I thought miserably. There was an entire floor down below dedicated to the creation and management of waiting rooms.
"Can I sit in the car?" I said as he parked.
He snorted. "You think after what happened last time-"
"Oh come on, I only took it around the block-"
"Do you know how much it cost to fix the ignition?"
"What do you care about cost? You're-"
"You're coming in with me."
Damn. Squashed a perfectly good argument before it could really get going. We went inside, him in the lead and me grumbling about everything ever.
The office was bigger on the inside. Huge.
It was like the Crystal Palace had fucked a Roman temple and then left the resulting offspring to be raised by someone who really really liked flowers. Everything was shining and shimmering, colored in pastels- not from any kind of paint, but because of the light coming through the ginormous stained glass windows that made up most of the ceiling and a good chunk of the walls. Windows that were definitely not on the dull little office outside. I tapped my foot. The floor was made out of something that looked like glass but felt like rock.
A fountain and pool sat smack-dab in the middle of the room, basked in the colored lights. A koi fish peeked its heads out of the water long enough to get a look at us before sinking back down to do whatever it is koi do.
"Snazzy," I said.
"Hello?" said bossman. Somewhere on the premises wind-chimes were going nuts. "I'm here to see Lady Spiros?"
"Do y'all have an appointment?"
We looked around for the source of the voice. There was only one other living thing in the room, and it was poking its scaly head out of the water to watch us. "Boss, I think that fish is-"
"I heard it."
"Well?" said the koi expectantly. "Do y'all have an appointment?"
"I'm afraid not," Faust said. "But I was told you accept walk ins."
"That we do," said the fish, nodding. It disappeared into the pool and popped back up again with a clipboard in its mouth. It tossed the board out of the pool with a splash and sent it clattering across the floor to rest at Faust's feet. "Just fill that out and then give it back to me when you're done, hon."
"Right," he said, taking up the clipboard. The water fell away from it, running down like the paper was made out of plastic until it was completely dry.
"Seats are over there," said the fish, gesturing helpfully with its fin. Sure enough, there were a few benches along the wall, half-hidden behind the big-assed flower pots right next to them.
"Thanks," said bossman. He went and sat and I sidled up beside him to read over his shoulder.
"'Reasons for requesting virginal aid'," I read aloud. "'Note, we are not an escort service-' I wonder how many people actually come in here looking for prostitutes?"
He checked the box labeled 'unicorn infestation', right between the ones labeled 'dragon bait' and 'sacred fire'. "Probably more often than we'd expect."
"You think they get their deposit back if they accidentally sacrifice a virgin?"
"I think they blacklist them."
I got bored of him filling out paperwork and went to go chat with the receptionist.
"So," I said, crouching by the pool. "How did a nice fish like you wind up working here? What's that accent- Georgian?"
She pulled a dolphin and stood up out of the water for a moment before splashing back down. "Alabama, actually. Funny you should ask! My aunty got me the job, apparently she and Ms. Spiros knew each other back when they were girls." She came as close to the edge of the pool as she could and whispered, "This is actually my first job." She tried and failed to stifle some nervous giggling.
"Is there really that big a demand for virgins?" I said.
"Like you wouldn't believe, honey."
"Here," said Faust, coming up with the clipboard. "Do I-?"
"Just drop it in here, hon. I'll take care of it."
Bossman did as she said. The clipboard hit the water and sank. The receptionist dove after it. There must've been a tunnel or something in there, because both she and the clipboard disappeared. She reappeared a moment later.
"Ms. Spiros will see you now," she said.
A curtain of ivy parted revealing a shadowed doorway. We went through.
* * * * *
For a second, I thought we'd walked into an Apple Store. The walls, floors, furniture were all fashionably white and full of curved edges. Ms. Spiros had the only colorful things in the room; straight black hair and a pale blue wrap around bedsheet that I guess was supposed to look like a toga, but wasn't done properly.
She didn't get up from behind her vaguely egg-like desk to greet us. Didn't even look up. Just kept scribbling down something on a sheet of paper. Only after she's finished and tucked the paper in an envelope did she bother looking at us. Her smile was professional, lacking warmth but making up for it by how well the lipstick was done, also giving us the only other color she had: eye-popping red.
"Hello," she said. "Come in, sit down." She gestured to two despicably modern looking white chairs directly in front of her desk that didn't look like they've be able to hold my weight, much less that of a full grown human. We sat down anyways. "Welcome to the second North American branch of the Sacramental Sisterhood." She reached her hand out across the desk for Bossman to shake. "My name is Aurora Spiros. Forgive me if I cut straight to business, but am I to understand you are interested in our services?"
"Yes," said bossman. "I'm afraid a blessing of unicorns has invaded my backyard."
She tutted sympathetically. "Nasty pests," she said. "Nearly impossible to get rid of alone."
"Which is why I've come to you. What are your going rates for unicorn wranglers?"
Her smile didn't technically move at all, but it certainly warmed up a little. She slid across a small piece of paper. On the paper was a figure of numbers.
I gave a low whistle.
"That's outrageous!" said bossman.
She shrugged. "Supply and demand. Our girls are trained from birth to do everything from taming unicorns and the finer arts of dragonslaying to pyromancy and handling the ins and outs of politics, to tending the house. Each one can kill a man with her bare hands in such a way so as not to get blood on her white dress. You aren't just hiring a unicorn wrangler, as you so put it. You are hiring the remains of legends."
We both stared at her.
"Does that pitch actually work for people?" I said.
"I just want unicorns to stop eating my garden," he said.
"The price stands."
Faust stood up. "Thank you for meeting with us, but I'm afraid we'll be taking our business elsewhere. Have a nice day, Ms. Spiros."
We left the office as quickly as the bare minimum of politeness dictated we could. The receptionist waved at us on our way out. I waved back. Out in the car, I said,
"So what do we do?"
"We find a virgin somewhere else."
"Where are we going to find one?" I said. "I mean, finding one who won't freak out and call the cops on us when we go and ask them if they're virgins and if they want to come play with our unicorns-"
Bossman took a second to close his eyes and think about it. After a moment, he opened them and took on a look of grim determination. He started the engine.
"I think I know."
* * * * *
Cut forward ten minutes and we're pulling into the parking lot of the local highschool.
"Uh, boss?" I said. "Remember what I said about cops and us getting arrested for harassing people? That sorta gets worse the younger you go."
He found a spot and parked. "An friend of mine has a kid who goes here. They might be able to help, but I'm not sure if they really fit the criteria."
That sounded kinda suspect to me, but everything seems suspect to me to some degree. So instead, I said, "What do you mean 'Fit the criteria'?" I said, getting out of the car. "Is this a Clinton thing?"
"Just come on."
School was obviously out, as it was four thirty and everyone but a few stragglers making their way across the grounds to the parking lot and the occasional teacher or custodian had gone home.
Bossman headed purposely towards a row of portables. "Keep an eye out for room 4B," he said.
We found the place fairly quickly out but the portables. Inside the painfully dull room were a dozen highschoolers. Most of them were either sitting around a TV on a trolly watching a subtitled cartoon, or they were in the back, sitting on top of the desks and playing card games. None of them cared that we were there.
"Hey," said bossman. A few heads turned. "Is there a Jason in here?"
One of the kids on the floor looked up. "Yeah? Oh!" He got to his feet and picked his way over to us. "Hey. Long time no see. What's up?"
"A word outside, Jason?"
"Uh. Sure." He looked at me, then at Faust, then at his friends. "Be right back, guys."
So we all went outside so as not to disturb the normal people.
"So, is everything okay?" said Jason. "If you're looking for my mom-"
"No, no. And no, actually. I'm having a bit of a problem and I was wondering if you'd be interested in helping me."
"Uh. Sure, I guess." He gave me a confused look. "Who's your friend?"
Bossman introduced us. "Imp, Jason. Jason, imp."
I gave him an upnod. "Sup."
"Imp?" He was starting to get that fidgety rabbit look people got when hey were wondering what they'd just walked in to.
"It's that kind of problem," said Bossman. "This is going to sound incredibly inappropriate, but are you a virgin?"
I smacked my forehead. "Oh, boss. . . "
"Have you ever had any kind of sexual intercourse with anyone or anything aside from your hand?"
"Finesse," I said. "Subtlety. Charm. How are you still single?"
He probably would have smacked me, had Jason not been right there giving us the appropriate weirded-out, contemplating-how-far-away-the-campus-police-are look. "Uh."
"Unicorns have invaded my back yard, and I need an innocent-"
"Relatively innocent individual to go in and shoo them out. Well?"
"Oh." The kid relaxed for a second, like a unicorn infestation was a perfectly normal problem to have. I suddenly wondered who or what exactly his mother was to be friends with Faust. Then, apparently realizing the question needed an answer, he went fidgety again. "I- uh." The kid shook his head and turned beet red. "No. Well, I mean yes. I never- uh. . ." He trailed off. I cackled.
"Excellent," said bossman. "Do you mind helping me out, then? I can give you a lift home if you need it."
"I don't know-"
"I'll give you forty dollars."
He turned back to the portable. "I'll get my stuff."
* * * * *
One exceedingly awkward car ride later and we were home. We parked the car sort of to the side so there would be a clear path for the Jason to lead our pests through.
"Okay," said bossman. "The squirt and I will hang back while you get close to them. They should ping on to you pretty quickly and start following you around. All you need to do is walk them down the drive. As soon as the heard is out, we'll lock the gate behind you."
"What do I do with them once we're out?" The kid adjusted his backpack so it sat more evenly on his back.
"Distract them. Maybe walk them to the end of the block. We'll drive by and find you, pick you up, and then leave them in the dust. As soon as you're out of sight, they ought to lose interest and wander off to wherever they were before they came into my garden. Then I can drop you off at home."
We went around the side of the house and saw all the horny bastards munching their way through the lilacs.
"Okay," said Faust. "Your time to shine."
Jason nodded and went to confront them.
As soon as the kid came into view of them, they all simultaneously looked up towards him. He waved.
Then, as one, they made this heinous noise. Like a bray and a scream and the breaking of glass all at once, and then times a dozen. They all galloped out of the flower section, back past the fruit trees and vegetable plots all the way to the back fence, leaving Jason standing on the patio looking kind of stupid.
"Uh." He turned to where we were still standing. "Now what?"
"Dang," I said.
"What did I do?" said Jason. "Was that supposed to happen?"
"No," said bossman. We went to where he was standing. All the unicorns were freaking the fuck out, practically trampling over one another running back and forth along the fence.
"I don't understand," he said. "Even if Jason had lied, they wouldn't be reacting this way."
"Wait," I said, the gears in my head starting to turn. "It's the innocence they're sensitive to, right?"
"Yes. I mean, obviously sexual activity isn't the sole determining factor there, but it's typically a good indicator-"
"So, Jason," I said, slapping him companionably on the shoulder. "How much porn do you watch?"
I didn't think it was possible, but he managed to turn even redder than before. "I don't-"
"Judging by the unicorn's reaction, it must be some pretty kinky shit."
"I- I don't. . . "
I cackled. "No use lying to me, Kiddo. I shared a dorm with a succubus once. I know this stuff."
The flush went from his face up to the tip of his ears and then made his neck turn bright red, just for symmetry's sake. "Please don't tell my mom."
"So what do we do?" said bossman, looking deflated. "We can't lure them out this way-"
"You're thinking from the wrong direction." I grabbed the kid's sleeve and tugged him towards the back. "Come on."
After a moment's resistance, he let himself be dragged along by me and we approached the herd from the side. They screamed again and stampeded away from us, running through the garden and through the small space between garage and fence until they were going down the drive. Within moments the backyard was once again free of four legged pests. Bossman ran after them.
"Well done, kiddo," I said, clapping him on the back again. "Your filthy, filthy mind has saved our garden."
He looked down and tried to hide his face, which didn't work because, again, shorter than he was. "Great. Can I go home now?"
"Let's make sure the job is done, first." We headed for the front, me grinning like a loon and Jason looking miserable.
We saw Faust having some trouble getting a few stragglers out of the gate, as they'd apparently gotten over the shock of seeing Jason and were now going after the flowers in the front flower boxes. I elbowed the kid. He got the idea and, with a resigned sigh, walked over to them. They promptly flipped their horsey shit and bolted, following their comrades down the street and out of our hair.
"Thanks," said bossman, panting slightly from the running around he'd done.
"No problem," Jason said. "Can I go home?"
"Sure. Oh, before I forget," he pulled a couple twenties from his pocket and handed them over. Faster than the blink of an eye, they'd disappeared into the kid's bag.
"Alright. Imp, I'm going to drop him off. You stay here and make sure they don't come back."
"Right-o, mon capitan."
They drove off. I waited until the car was out of view before going inside. I'd been up for entirely too long. It was time for a nap.