The Adventures of Princess Kiyoko

Episode 1: The Unicorn Cat

Standing in the bedroom near the top of her tower, Princess Kiyoko cast incantations on her gilt-framed makeup mirror. “Silver moon, sun-splashed sky, protect me from the Evil Eye.”

 

The mirror shimmered. The reflections of her big chestnut eyes sparkled. Her porcelain skin radiated a rosy hue.

 

The protection would hold. Neither witches nor warlocks would seize her soul this day or next.

 

One last thing. The gods were many and fickle, and must be appeased before beginning a Quest, in case one of them could be bothered to help. Or in case one of them felt like a spot of mischief at her expense.

 

The large circular bedroom was ringed and ceilinged with magenta satin. Tall windows, their light diffused through pink gauze, faced each cardinal direction. Just past her velvet-quilted bed, an ebony cabinet sheltered dozens of statuettes, each in its own cubbyhole with a silver plate in front. Kiyoko opened a drawer below the cubbyholes and placed offerings on the plates.

 

She lit a candle for Ling-Ling. Incense for Ceridwen. Rose petals for Lotharié.

 

Ulthor, God of Battle, liked gold. And mead - the stronger, the better. Kiyoko didn't drink and didn't have any gold, so Ulthor would have to settle for an I.O.U. “Maybe if you showed up and helped once in a while,” she said, “I’d have some freakin’ gold to give you. Just saying, that’s all.”

 

And of course Bast, the cat deity, liked a nice snack of salmon. “A fish slice a day keeps the grumpies away,” she said as she placed the sashimi on Bast’s silver platter.

 

Kiyoko clasped her hands together and knelt in front of the cabinet. She scanned the idols. “Please bless my Quest, and give such aid as you can.”

 

The gods taken care of, she donned her long robes and wig, both red, the color of luck. She strapped on her katana, hidden by the folds of her silk robes.

 

Finally, she put on her tiara, symbol of her royal blood. Its elegant lines were crafted from silver, and a large moon-gem in the center helped gather qi - natural energy that could be shaped into spells if you knew how.

 

Kiyoko thrust a pair of curtains aside and descended the spiral stairs to the ground floor of the tower. She gathered strawberries and other supplies, and packed them on her pink-maned pony, Evergood. She led him outside onto the lawn and locked the door behind them.

 

“Well, Evergood,” she told her pony, “this is it.”

 

During Kiyoko’s last visit to the Other World, which she called The Smelly World, her liaison there, Nyasuke, told her what she must do.

 

Seated on a twilit garden chair, Nyasuke fixed glowing eyes on her. “In your world, all heroes must have a companion.”

 

“So it is said.”

 

“And despite your talents and beauty, you have none.”

 

“I have my pony, Evergood.”

 

Nyasuke scrunched his furry grey face. “I have a counterpart in your world. You will find him in the Hidden Glade, a prisoner of the Cyclops. Free him and your realm will achieve great prosperity.”

 

“Who is he? What does he look like? How will he help my realm?” Her kingdom – Princessdom? - was small and poor, she had to admit.

 

Nyasuke twitched his tail. “You will know when you find him.”

 

 

Saddled on Evergood, Kiyoko consulted her map. The Hidden Glade, which was well marked on the map, lay thirty-seven leagues from her realm, deep inside the Fabulous Forest. She could take the Orange Brick Road south to Knickersworth, then the Ipswich Highway west to Fuddleton, then the Unimproved Road to the Fabulous Forest.

 

Or she could take a shortcut.

 

“Let us be off,” she told Evergood. She opened the front gate and they exited her quarter-acre realm.

 

 

Two short trots and a long teleport later, the Fabulous Forest stretched across the horizon, a wall of dark green beyond gently waving fields of alfalfa. “We’re here, Evergood!”

 

The Unimproved Road turned into a dirt track when they entered the forest. The light dimmed beneath stately oaks and elms. Warblers sang counterpoint melodies and hidden faeries strummed harps. Evergood farted.

 

“Oh, that is most unregal of you!” Princess Kiyoko counted her blessings, though. In the Smelly World, it would have been a thousand times worse.

 

Kiyoko spurred her pony onward. Fallen twigs and leaves on the path crunched beneath his hooves. Spider webs reflected glints of scattered sunlight. With her katana, she knocked away the webs stretching across the path every dozen yards or so. No way was she going to let spiders crawl on her face.

 

She stopped a couple of times to gather acorns and paper-disked elm seeds from the ground near the trail, dropping them into the pink leather saddle bags. Once she expanded her realm, she’d need some enchanted woods.

 

A quarter mile into the forest, a glow caught her eye. She pulled back on the reins, forcing a stop.

 

Past an understory of purple wildflowers, a circle of big polka-dotted mushrooms gave off a yellow hue. Magic mushrooms.

 

Kiyoko dismounted. She could do all sorts of things with magic mushrooms. Supposedly they could expand your mind, and you could visit more worlds. “Stay here, Evergood.”

 

She crept through the purple flowers and between scattered blueberry bushes. The mushroom patch wasn’t far, just a few dozen paces.

 

When she arrived, she noticed half the red-and-yellow mushrooms were missing their tops. Their stalks bore parallel teeth marks. They must be tasty. She opened her curlicue-embroidered carry bag and picked an intact mushroom by her feet. Its cap was bigger than her palm.

 

Leaves rustled nearby. The hairs rose on her arms.

 

Just past the mushrooms was a thick copse of thorny rose bushes. Something - several things - shifted inside the bushes, moving leaves and snapping twigs.

 

In the shadows behind the leaves, eyes appeared. Lots of eyes. Rheumy, bloodshot eyes with wide, staring pupils.

 

Kiyoko’s heart pounded, but she wouldn’t run. She was a Princess. She drew her katana. “Who’s there?”

 

The bushes parted and a mangy brown rabbit hopped out, followed by another, then two more, then more and more, until a small army faced her. They stared at her with gaping eyes and drooling mouths, yellow incisors bared.

 

She pointed her katana forward. “I am Princess Kiyoko from the Eastern Lands. I am on a Quest. I have no quarrel with you.”

 

“Our mushrooms!” a bunny insisted in a squeaky voice.

 

“Our mushrooms! Our mushrooms!” a chorus repeated. They hopped closer.

 

Kiyoko took a step back and glanced to the left and right. Rabbits were outflanking her and would soon surround her. Nuts.

 

Kiyoko reached into her bag and pulled out the mushroom she’d picked. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know they belonged to anyone.”

 

A cacophony of “Our mushrooms!” echoed off the trees. Birds flew off with eeps and whooshes.

 

Time for a strategic withdrawal. She hurled the mushroom as high into the air as she could. Bunny eyes fixated on the rotating mushroom as it flew upward into the canopy, slowed, passed over a branch, then returned downward.

 

By then, Kiyoko was already sprinting as fast as she could, back to the path. The flanking rabbits tried to cut her off. Incisors bared, one lunged for her leg.

 

She kicked it as hard as she could, feeling a furry thud. The bunny flew into the air, sailed in a long arc, and crashed into a distant bush.

 

Kiyoko reached the path and leapt onto her pony. “Fly, Evergood, fly!”

 

“But I don’t have wings,” her pony said.

 

Ponies were cute but didn’t understand hyperbole. She kicked its flanks. “Move!”

 

The rabbit army hopped behind her, but Evergood was faster, and she left her pursuers behind.

 

 

Evergood began to tire, and slowed to a trot. No sign of the mushroom-crazed bunnies. Kiyoko checked her map. The Hidden Glade was close.

 

Past the next bend of the path, off to the right, the dense trees thinned. Patches of daylight appeared beyond. She patted her pony’s pink mane. “We made it.”

 

The path continued past the glade, not toward it. Kiyoko dismounted and led Evergood through the trees, toward the lighted area.

 

Trees gave way to a meadow. Sunlight exploded off orange, yellow, and white wildflowers. Bees buzzed from one flower to the next. A brook gurgled through the field, with iridescent dragonflies hovering overhead. This had to be the most beautiful place on the continent.

 

Except for the scraggle-bearded, one-eyed giant in the middle. He stomped toward her, wearing only a leather loincloth, a tree-sized club in one hand.

 

“I’m looking for a special creature,” Kiyoko said. “Possibly a cat.”

 

The Cyclops raised the rough-hewn club. “You go smoosh now.” He swung the club down at her.

 

She dodged out of the way. The club smashed against the ground and threw up bits of dirt, grass, and flower petals.

 

Kiyoko drew her katana. “That’s not very nice.”

 

The Cyclops raised his club again. Obviously there was no reasoning with the creature. He swung downward again.

 

Kiyoko jumped to the left. The Cyclops pivoted on his feet and swept the massive club sideways. It caught her in the stomach.

 

Her midriff convulsed and her vision flashed red and she tumbled through the air, wildflower colors spinning and whirling like a carnival on crack. She crashed in a crumpled heap in the center of the glade.

 

Evergood galloped to her. “Get on, mistress.”

 

The Cyclops rumbled forward. She couldn’t move, couldn’t think.

 

I’ll sing it to sleep. Music was one of her special talents. And it worked with cats.

 

Kiyoko weaved qi into a spell as she sang. “Sleep, Mr. Cyclops, time to sleep. Put down your club, it’s time to sleep—”

 

“Graah!” The Cyclops grabbed Evergood by his pink mane and lifted him in the air.

 

“Evergood!”

 

The giant opened his mouth into a saliva-drenched cave. Sharp teeth closed around Evergood’s neck. The creature pulled downward and the pony’s head came off in his teeth.

 

“Nooo!!!”

 

Bright red blood spurted from the neck stump. The monster stuffed the head the rest of the way into his mouth and chewed with disgusting crunches. Kiyoko’s aching stomach threatened to spew out her breakfast.

 

The giant swallowed, then burped. “Head’s the best part,” it grunted, still gripping the rest of the corpse in one massive hand.

 

My poor little pony! Kiyoko started to cry but remembered she was a Princess and further, was bound to avenge her companion.

 

In the Smelly World, a storm berserker once saved Kiyoko from an arch-demon by putting its eyes out. The creature devouring her pony only had one eye. But she couldn’t reach it. I should learn archery like Jennifer Lawrence.

 

She gathered her remaining qi and wove a light spell with maximum brightness. Instead of focusing the ball of light over her palm, she fixed it to the Cyclops’s eye.

 

Its eye disappeared behind a miniature sun. The giant roared and dropped the headless horse. It slapped the air with its hand, trying to dispel the blinding orb.

 

Kiyoko charged, katana out, and swung at its right leg. The blade sliced through flesh to the shin bone, black ichor spraying in its wake.

 

The Cyclops roared again. Still blinded, it swung its club downward.

 

Kiyoko dodged to the side. With a thud, the club showered debris into the air.

 

She dashed behind the creature and slashed her blade at its left ankle. She hit, severing muscle and tendons. Black goo spattered her silk robes. “Yuck! Does this stuff come out?”

 

She swung again at the same spot. With a shower of inky sludge, the leg parted from the foot. The Cyclops teetered forward, then fell, crashing to the ground. The quake almost threw Kiyoko from her feet.

 

She ran forward and jumped on the prone giant’s back. “For Evergood!” She plunged her sword into its hairy back, toward its dark heart. She pushed all the way to the hilt. The creature quivered, then stilled.

 

Kiyoko felt a surge of power through her veins. Her qi reached new levels and she felt a greater mastery of swordplay.

 

Where was the companion she was promised? She saw bees and dragonflies aplenty, but they were too small to forge a kingdom. “The Cyclops is dead,” she shouted. “It’s safe to come out.”

 

The air shimmered, and at the far end of the field, a large white cat appeared. It was easily Evergood’s size. An ivory spiraled horn grew from its forehead. She couldn’t tell just yet if it was a boy or a girl.

 

Kiyoko sheathed her katana and hurried toward the unicorn cat, her ruined robes fluttering like wings. The cat meowed when she arrived, not the high-pitched squeak of normal cats, but a low, goosebump-raising timbre.

 

She bowed. “You are surely the most wonderful creature I’ve ever seen. Will you be my companion?”

 

This is my home, a thought arose in her mind.

 

“Were you not a prisoner of the evil, pony-killing Cyclops?”

 

In a sense. If I dared move or make myself visible, it would have eaten me. Thank you for defeating it.

 

“What if we created a better home for you, an enchanted kingdom bigger and more amazing than any other in the whole world?”

 

The unicorn cat twitched its tail, revealing a furry scrotum beneath. How will you do that?

 

Kiyoko averted her eyes from his genitalia. “With your help. We are meant to be.”

 

The cat lowered himself to the ground. I will give you a chance, and see if you are indeed worthy. Hop on.

 

Kiyoko would have to bury poor Evergood before they left. But it couldn’t hurt to go for a quick ride first. She hopped onto the cat’s back and stroked his luxurious white fur. “I shall name you Nyasuke, same as your counterpart in the Smelly World, and you shall be my companion and soul mate here. Together, we shall forge a mighty kingdom.”

 

Let us adventure together.

 

She hugged him. “Best friends forever.”

 

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