Bartok and the Unicorn

Originally published in Quantum Muse (July 2002)

Bartok never told anyone about the unicorn.

Which made sense — after all, the beast wasn’t even part of his heritage. It was a creature of European mythology, a pale horse with a single nacreous horn sprouting from its forehead, its eyes rolling red and wild as it thundered through the forest. Bartok was of another order entirely, a Russian, his bones steeped in the mythos of the Baba Yaga and the firebird, the cold winds of the Urals reflected in his soul.

Nonetheless, he knew the unicorn like he knew his own skin. The fine white hide, the hooves of heavy metal that struck sparks along the ground, the great hooped nostrils snorting breath, and the wonder of the single protrusion, the glistening horn that marked it as unique, magical, other.

He was sixteen when the unicorn made its first appearance. The young Bartok was the son of a minor Russian Mafia leader, spoiled as such with Western goods and luxuries available on the thriving black market that was Russian’s shadow economy. At that age, he dressed in the finest designer clothing, listened to MP3 players and the later bonefone amplifiers, drove a lovingly restored Morris Mini. Beneath the retro-Western chic was a strong but unformed intelligence, sopping up what scraps of education his father tossed his way — a destitute businessman offering lessons in English and French in return for clemency on a debt, a whore who knew Russian history, even an old academician grown addicted to cheap vodka who took him up on the roof of his father’s dacha and explained the pattern of the stars.

Bartok’s father, a fair-haired man with Siberian eyes and a single scar across the bridge of his nose, kept him supplied with everything he needed, reinforcing the belief that Bartok was special, separate, endowed. And so it was when he decided to have his first woman, it was the luscious little daughter of the local gasoline peddler, and her cries and beggings made no difference to him. His shield of entitlement stopped the sounds like so many raindrops on a pane of glass, as he leisurely forced her to the bed of her parents’ apartment (the rest of the family out manning the black market stations that sold the impure Turkestanish gasoline), tore away her cheap blouse, beheld the small, firm breasts that were his to fondle.

He had opened the fly of his levis and was preparing to mount her when he saw something out of the corner of his eye. Assuming it was a member of the girl’s family, he turned to order them out.

He saw the unicorn. Silent, encased in a blaze of holy light, it stood at the side of the bed, watching them — watching him — with a mix of equine humor and contempt.

Bartok froze in shock, still braced over the girl. And then the heat from the unicorn’s hide washed over his own skin, sinking into the icy Russian winter that was his soul, filling him with an unearthly rapture. He could smell the horsy musk of its hide, see each individual hair of its mane, the pearlescent glimmer of its hooves, the spiraling glory of its horn. The eye turned to him was a deep red, the color of blood.

It was ecstasy.

Is this how you would throw away your gift, it said inside his head. Spending it in the gruntings and thrustings of mortal lust? I would have thought better of you, Bartok.

And suddenly he understood what it meant, the message dropped into his head in a hot burst of knowledge. To rut with this girl was to lose his sacred status, his innocence of women. But to pull back, to keep himself pure, would mean he was worthy of the unicorn’s attentions and more of this white-hot bliss that surged through his veins.

If he chose the girl, he would say farewell to the unicorn forever. If he abstained, however. . .

Bartok stumbled to his feet, the girl forgotten. No mortal flesh could compare to the enticement of such a demon lover. “I am yours,” he cried, as the girl cowered against the bedstead. “Yes, oh yes, I am yours, now and forever.”

Humans speak such pretty words, but they mean nothing, the unicorn said, tossing its mane. If you are truly mine, you must prove your dedication to me.

“How?” he whispered.

I am a creature of old magic, and have existed from the beginning of the world. But mankind has spread over this world like a plague of locusts — crowding it, poisoning it, beating it into submission with their machines. There is no room left for old magic or its creatures in such a world, and because of this I die a little each day.

Bartok shuddered at the thought of the unicorn’s death. “What can I do?” he whispered.

I must have a place made for me in your new world, using the human magic of science. Make this place for me, Bartok, the unicorn said. Bring me back to this world, by the work of your own hands. Then, and only then, shall you be worthy of me.

And then it was gone. Bartok was left alone with the shivering girl. He didn’t bother to ask her if she had seen the unicorn — it wasn’t important, she wasn’t important. All that mattered was his vision and his task. He did up his trousers and left without a word, a new goal blazing in his soul.

The first step had been facing his father and demanding a university education, a proper one at a good school. The Mafia leader had laughed at first — like the other of his profession, he expected his son to follow in his footsteps. But Bartok stood firm.

The father scowled, then raged. He struck his son across the face, threatened to throw him out on the streets. No child of his would waste time with books and classrooms while there was a business to be run, he shouted. He took away Bartok’s fine clothes, the toys, the car.

But Bartok stood firm.

Finally, because it was his only son and he had faith that the rigors of the classroom that filled him with boredom would affect Bartok the same way, the father agreed. Bartok could spend a year at a preparatory academy, then enter the university in Prague.

His father had assumed that Bartok would find school dull. His father was wrong. Bartok shone in his classes, locking himself in the small, dank room overlooking the Vitava to study while his classmates caroused and drank among the whores of Prague. He swallowed education like the others swallowed cream-filled tarts and helpings of goulash, gulping it down in greedy chunks, eager to stuff himself with what he needed to know.

Once in university, he began to specialize in the sciences. Biology was his target, the workings of a living mammalian body his focus. Much had been discovered in the late 20th century, and researchers in the 21st century had built busily upon this foundation, until it seemed only a matter of time that all the secrets of the living cell would be unlocked. This was Bartok’s life for four years, and no distraction was allowed to enter its rigorously guarded walls. He received his degree with honors and was accepted at the university’s medical school, much to the bemused frustration of his father, who was nonetheless secretly pleased that one of his children (he had many, scattered among the whores of Moscow) showed such signs of intelligence and drive.

Medical school was Bartok’s first stumbling block. He knew what he wanted, what he had to do in order to make a place for the unicorn. But standing in the way of that goal were the requirements that every medical student must learn — human biology, anatomy gross and fine, diagnostics, the intricacies of modern medicine’s pharmocoepia. He did what he had done at university, what his classmates were now also doing — locking himself in his room, studying until his eyes felt raw and sore, until his brain felt like jelly sloshing in his skull. Slaving over the leathery corpse (donated by a charity hospital when there was no money for a funeral, a common practice among the poor), slicing it ever finer with laser blades. Stuffing fact after fact into his mind, learning to do with little or no sleep, forcing himself ever closer to his goal.

His efforts bore fruit at the end of his second year, when he was accepted into an elite M.D./Ph.D. program offered by the university. The program trained doctor-scientists, savants who could treat the ills of the body and delve into the root causes of those selfsame ills in shining laboratories. Bartok decided to specialize in molecular genetics, the field that studied the effects of genetic interaction on a chemical level. He apprenticed himself to an old researcher named Sokal, who had been accused of doing cross-species gene splicing work on primates without permission from the EU Medical Boards. Now Sokal was limited to doing basic bacteriological plasmid swaps, work that could have been done by any intelligent graduate student, and teaching the occasional student who didn’t mind having a pariah as a mentor.

Bartok didn’t mind — he needed Sokal. He wined the researcher, dined him, listened to his incessant complaints about the stranglehold of the European Union’s medical branch on pure research. And finally, he convinced Sokal to pass on his experience with cross-species gene splicing. Using nanotechnology and the latest recombinant techniques, Bartok began to learn how to manipulate mammalian genes in ways that Sokal had only dreamed of, lifting single genes and entire gene complexes from one cell and transplanting them into another with various levels of success.

Bartok assumed a double life, then, slipping into it like a comfortable old coat. During the day, he attended classes, ate lunch with the other medical students, worked in Sokal’s simple laboratory and did his official research into genetic anomalies of the bony structure of the human skull. At night, he crept back to Sokal’s laboratory (the old man was never there — he preferred the comfort of his private club and its female performers) and performed his own work.

Finding the raw materials wasn’t difficult — even an urban location like Prague had easy access to an assortment of animals. All he needed was a skin shaving, occasionally a blood sample when it was available. They all came back to Sokal’s laboratory, stored in the small refrigerator that was devoted to Bartok’s work. At night he would prepare the samples, going through the tedious methods that reduced a flake of skin, a droplet of blood, into a readable genetic pattern. Bartok used the money his father sent to purchase entry into assorted genetic databases maintained by the Human Genome Project, the Dolly Foundation, the European Farming Syndicate. And at last, he isolated what he wanted. That night he celebrated with a bottle of fine cognac, toasting the unicorn. He imagined it appearing, red-eyed and white-maned, deigning to sniff the glass it was offered, before turning away with a horsy smile.

Soon, Bartok, he heard in the inner chambers of his mind. Make me a place soon.

The years passed, and the spectre of graduation and departure from the university loomed on the horizon. Bartok knew that he had to act while he still had access to Sokal’s laboratory, before he was forced to give up research for the hellmouth of the internship. His basic research was complete — the next step was the application of what he had learned.

As it happened, a street dog had chosen that time to whelp in the shed behind his apartment building, producing a healthy litter of pups. Sensing the unicorn’s touch in this, Bartok selected a test subject from the litter, bringing it to the lab after Sokal had safely left for the night. He worked swiftly, anesthetizing the tiny scrap of fur so that it would lie still, then shaving the chosen spot. An incision was made, the tissues underneath prepared, and the gene-bearing plasmid injected. He closed the incision with a single stitch. Now it was only a matter of time.

He kept the puppy in his rooms for the next few weeks. Every day, he would feed and groom the animal before class, making sure that the incision was clean and free of infection. Every evening, it would be waiting for him when he came home, wagging its tail and making the whining barks that meant it wanted attention. He would take the puppy out on the small balcony of his rooms and let it squat there, then pick it up and stroke it until it quieted. Cleaning up the small mess was safer than taking the animal out on the streets, where anything could happen to it.

One evening, he noticed the animal swiping its paw over its head, as if trying to itch something between its eyes. He leaned closer, then took the puppy back into the apartment. The pup wriggled and yapped, happy to be receiving so much attention from its master that it didn’t complain when Bartok held its head under a magnifying lamp.

There it was — a tiny nub poking its way out of the semi-healed incision, growing from the skull tissue underneath. And Bartok felt the breath of the unicorn on his neck, and its rejoicing in his heart.

He watched carefully for the next week, measuring the horn’s growth. It had to be in tune with the puppy’s body — an overlong horn was as bad as one that was too short. Symmetry was everything to the unicorn. The nub lengthened, just enough to protrude from the young dog’s skull, and the animal even came to enjoy its new body part, sparring with Bartok’s hand and using it to butt his ankle for attention. It was perfect in every way.

Almost as an aside, he took his final exams and passed them with little pain, confident in the success of his work. His thesis on “Genetic Deformities in Post-Natal Human Cranial Tissue” was accepted by the medical school’s review board, and his defense successful. He received his twin doctorates on graduation day, as planned.

Sokal was in his laboratory that afternoon, as Bartok came in to clear out his bench and remove the few personal things he kept on his desk. He had accepted an internship at a teaching hospital in Scotland, and would be leaving in three days. “So it went well, then,” the old man said, smoking a delicate cigarette that was one of his few remaining vices. “They gave you the diplomas after all, heh?”

“Quite, sir.”

“Ah. That’s good. I was worried that my reputation might drag you down.” Sokal stared across the laboratory, at the windows letting in the bright Prague sunshine, and sighed. “I must admit, I’ll miss you, Bartok. You were a good student, and a good scientist. I always felt that I could talk to you, not like the rest of this department. The bastards have never been able to recognize true vision like we have, eh?”

Bartok focused on cleaning his desk, nodding at all the right places, hiding his impatience at the familiar ramble.  Then the old man said something else, and he jerked his attention back to the present. “I’m sorry?”

“I was asking, Bartok, what you were going to do with your little dog?,” Sokal repeated, smiling. “The British quarantine for animals is long and expensive, and I was wondering. . .yes, I was wondering if you might like to leave it with me.” The old man chuckled. “I would enjoy the company of a puppy, if you had no other plans for it, of course.”

Bartok didn’t blink. “If that was possible, I would do it,” he said. “But the puppy died last week. Tainted meat, I think.”

Sokal’s mouth collapsed into an O. “I’m sorry. Hard luck, that.”

Bartok inclined his head. The puppy was evidence that he couldn’t allow to fall into other hands. A few burnt bones, carefully crushed with the long poker kept next to the furnace door in his apartment building, were all that was left. The tissue samples from the horn and the surrounding bony matrix were already in liquid nitrogen, ready for their trip to Scotland.

“Yes. Hard luck,” he agreed.


And so Bartok traveled to the home of the unicorn, or what he always thought was the appropriate home for his demon lover. Even then, the goal still eluded him, teasing him while he toiled at the great teaching hospital attached to the even greater university. At the same time, he gained a certain stature in the field of molecular genetics; his research was impeccable, his insights into the functioning of gene transfer and mutation profound. As he worked towards his goal, his professional reputation became secure.

It was his personal reputation that suffered. Bartok was marked out by his Scottish colleagues as an odd bird, one who would return a chilly smile and a single shake of the head to an invitation to the pub, or dinner, or a local nightclub. He chased no nurses, and was never seen to seek the sexual company of men. They finally decided he was a eunuch of sorts, sacrificing his emotional needs in the name of science. He was in no mood to enlighten them.

And so, he almost missed her when she started as a ward nurse, a timid transplant from the Midlands set adrift in the cold climes of Edinburgh. Her white hair gave the impression of age, but the fair, unlined face, the firm, pale lips, spoke of youth. Her shape was slender to the point of skinniness — no voluptuous curves like the whores he remembered from his youth. And her pale pink eyes, constantly watering from the harshness of the light, gave her a moist, insipid look.

He felt the unicorn’s thrill surge through his veins. This one, oh yes.

He began to watch her. And in watching, devoured every scrap of information he could find about her. Her name was Jenny Burke, she lived alone in a tiny flat close to the hospital, and she had no boyfriend or indeed local friends of any sort. Her albinoism was a mutation, a freak of nature that sensitized her eyes to the fluorescent lights, her skin to the mild rays of the English sun. Indeed, it was that reason that prompted her to seek refuge in Scotland, where the sun was weak even in summer. During her break time, she would retire to the nurse’s lounge with a ball of wool and knit, her neatly coifed head bent over flashing needles.

The unicorn whispered in Bartok’s ear. And he smiled.

He was careful, as always. The materials were easy enough to obtain at any surgical supply store — even so, he made his purchases in England, traveling down to Cheshire and Yorkshire on the weekends, filling the back of his Citroën with steel tables, tubing, drapes and blankets. Equipment could be rented, or borrowed, or even stolen from the hospital as a last resort (but he avoided this whenever possible). More difficult was obtaining a sample of DNA, but here the unicorn smiled on him and caused her to cut her finger on a patient’s chart. The discarded scrap of gauze used to stop the bleeding was palmed from the nurse’s station, and went straight back to his lab and a waiting bath of liquid nitrogen.

His biggest difficulty was finding a place for the work. It had to be relatively large, yet secluded, with good electricity and plumbing, and close enough to the hospital so that his private work would go unnoticed. Eventually he found what he was looking for in a renovated cottage, a remote building of four rooms set in the Moorfoot Hills.

Best of all, it had a stone-clad cellar with electricity and running water. Perfect.

He took his time with the preparations. The upstairs was decorated simply, sparsely, reflecting his personal disinterest in the surroundings. The cellar — ah, the cellar was different. One section was set up as the lab, glinting tables and racks set up in a U with the requisite refrigeration units, an extraordinarily expensive video unit hooked up to a microscope, and his computer with its DSL link to the university’s mainframe and the hospital’s databanks. Another section was set up as an operating room, and still another (a small, rectangular room he’d had constructed at the end of the cellar by local stonemasons) had been outfitted as a simple bedroom. He arranged for time on the gene sequencer at the hospital, and a weekly shipment of liquid nitrogen kept the cell line tanks and their precious cargo safely frozen.

Now all he needed was the girl. In the end, that was easier than he had anticipated. Nurse Burke had fallen into the habit of walking back and forth to her tiny flat, disdaining the ancient, chugging bus system that serviced the town in favor of the cold, crisp streets. Her route took her down a relatively dark street that had once been zoned for business, but was now lined with the blind faces of long-closed shops.

He waited for a night with rain and slashing wind, the type that went straight through any but the most expensive overcoat. He made sure that the number plates of the car were carefully daubed with mud and muck, hiding the registration number from any unfortunate passersby. And then he set off at a measured pace from the hospital, driving down the street as the tiny figure of the nurse, bent against the force of the rain, struggled down it with a battered umbrella.

His car slowed to a stop, and he rolled down the window. “Nurse Burke,” he called, smiling into the darkness. “What a dreadful night. You should not be walking in such weather, my dear!”

The jovial tone from the normally chilly Dr. Bartok surprised her, he could see that much. She came up to the car, wiping water from her blinking pink eyes.

“Come — let me give you a ride to your flat, my dear. We can’t have our nurses catching their death of pneumonia,” he said cheerfully.

“Well. . .yes, all right.” And she was in the car.


And later, she was at the cottage, ensconced in her new home below the ground. It had been a simple matter some distracting talk, enough to make her smile and feel comfortable, a concerned effort at making sure her seat belt was properly fastened while his was kept loose, and then the folded pad of gauze soaked with chloroform. She barely struggled — out of sheer surprise or some atavistic recognition of her destiny, he wasn’t sure.

He carried the light, slight body through the cottage door, down the stairs, to the laboratory in the cellar. Stripped her clothes off like the long-ago gasoline seller’s daughter, but oh, with a different attitude this time, yes. He ran his eye over her pale, pale body, over the small porcelain breasts with their colorless tips, down the belly to the tiny thatch of white at the conjunction of her thighs.

And in his mind, he saw the unicorn.

He laid her more securely on the padded steel table, brought the stout leather restraints up and over her arms, her legs, binding her securely. Her legs widened at this, and he saw the delicate flesh between them, pale and colorless like her nipples. It excited him wildly.

But he forced his attention away, up towards her skull. First, a set of nasal spectacles to ensure the proper mix of nitrous oxide and oxygen, then another set of straps and a whiplash collar to hold the head still. He checked her pulse — slow and steady.

Next, the sting of a local anesthetic, in case she fought the nitrous and woke during the procedure. He had no intention of causing her the slightest amount of pain. He went off to scrub, feeling like a child with a new toy. The sterile gloves and gown went on, then he returned to the table with a tray of surgical implements.

Glass scalpel first, to incise the epidermis, dermis and musculature from the glabella to the middle of the frontal eminence, along the remains of the frontal suture that had closed during her development in the womb. The seed would take root there, utilizing the underlying structure of the frontal bone as a basis. He widened the wound slightly, exposing the bony tissue of the skull. Next, a neurosurgical drill with a short bore ground out a shallow concavity in the bone. There was no need to actually pierce the skull, merely to make room for the new addition.

She stirred, moaning. He paused, waiting until she stilled.

Then came time for the grafting. One bloodied hand touched the icy tray that held the bud, a genetically manipulated scrap of tissue that combined Nurse Burke’s own code for bone production with those of the narwhal. With a perfect joy, a joy born of years of waiting, patient study and purest love, he implanted the bud in Nurse Burke.

Closing the wound with delicate plastic surgery stitches, he smiled. Now it was only a matter of time.

The next few weeks were difficult, of course. First there were the police who combed the hospital, looking for clues. One pimply example of the force even entered his office and asked if he’d seen the missing nurse on the night of her disappearance. He answered carefully, the ring of twisted truth filling his words — he had seen her on the wards, yes, but not after that. A horrible business, he agreed with the policeman. Poor girl — what was this world coming to?

And then there was the actual evidence at his remote home — the pale, pale woman in his basement. After the first week, she didn’t bother to scream, weep or plead anymore. His ignorance of her cries helped with that, as did the strapping to the cot for forced feeding and catheterization.

But he didn’t want to keep her immobilized if he could help it. That was an affront to the unicorn, as well as an invitation to bedsores and other inactive injuries. So he sat her down and explained in his charmingly-accented English that she was a guest, his most beloved and treasured guest. He would not harm her unless she tried to escape, and even then he would try to use the least amount of force. Her modesty would not be violated, her sexuality would remain her own. She would be allowed the freedom of her limbs and her room, proper food and access to a toilet, books and other entertainment materials, if she simply. . .behaved.

It took some time, but she eventually complied. Now she sat there, limpid in her despair, wide pink eyes searching the damp stone walls of her room, small hands occasionally rising to touch the gauze pad in the center of her forehead. He suspected that she had lifted the pad to inspect the wound underneath, but she hadn’t questioned it, perhaps assuming that she had received an injury during her unconsciousness.

It wasn’t until the third week that she complained of pain in the wound. He guided her into the lab, taking a small, wicked pleasure in the way she shrank back from the gleaming examination table. But she was convinced to mount it, to lie back and allow him to examine her forehead.

And there it was. A tiny rounded tip of gleaming grey-white tissue, like a child’s milk tooth bursting through the baby gum. The mark of the unicorn.

And how it grew. The genetic material was tagged with markers that allowed it to absorb species-specific growth hormones. Within three weeks, the horn had grown to six centimeters, the nubbed tip sharper now, sleeking back into a beautifully knurled cone. She complained of headaches, unsurprising in light of the new appendage’s growth. Bartok made sure to keep her dosed with Tylenol-3, both to soothe the ache and keep her quiet with codeine.

Finally, when the horn had grown to its full length of 8 centimeters, it was time. His dedication, his daring use of genetic recombination techniques, had brought the goal to life. That night, Bartok dressed carefully, making sure that his dark hair was brushed just so, that his jacket was pressed and spotless. He carried a large white box wrapped with silver ribbon down the cellar stairs, moving soundlessly to the nurse’s room, and nudged open the door with one foot. She was napping as had become her custom, the fingertips of one hand resting lightly on her forehead, not actually touching the horn. He laid the box next to her on the bed, confident that she would see the note, and left.

Please put this on, then join me upstairs for dinner.

The doctor smiled when he heard the hesitant knock on the door. He opened it. Nurse Burke stood there hesitantly, dressed in a gown of white silk and crystal beads. Her hair had been brushed back neatly into some kind of twist which flattered her cheekbones, and she had made some effort to touch up her face.

“Ah. Welcome, my dear, welcome,” Bartok said, taking her by the arm and guiding her through the candlelit hallway, into the dining room. He watched her face carefully, noting the new light in her eyes as she saw the feast laid out on the table. Steamed Dungeness crabs were arranged on a silver platter, surrounded by bowls of roasted new potatoes, delicate green beans and pearl onions, hot crispy rolls, shallow dishes of fresh dill mayonnaise and melted butter, and other delicious things. He pulled out a chair, and trancelike the nurse sat in it, allowing herself to be nudged up to the table.

All through dinner Bartok spoke with sparkling energy, explaining his search for the unicorn, the years of research, of scientific trial and error that had culminated in her kidnapping. He toasted her repeatedly with champagne, complimenting her paleness, her beauty, refilling her glass whenever the level dropped much below the rim. By the time the Strawberries Belgian had been served, she was looking back at him with the same kind of light in her pale eyes, the very tip of her tongue peeking out now and then like a kitten’s.

He felt fulfilled. A rich, sweet joy flooded his veins, then became deeper, hotter, pulsing in his body. He had made a place for the unicorn, and now he would receive his reward.

Breathing harder, he stood up and extended his hand to the unicorn. She took it demurely, allowing herself to be helped up, guided, taken through to a new room. In the center of it was a bed out of some fanciful romance novel, all gauze and twined flowers climbing the slender posts at each corner, crossing to for a net of sweet foliage over the sheets. Here, he led the unicorn, and trembled at her beauty. Here, he unfastened the buttons of her gown with unsteady hands and pushed it down over her shoulders, her breasts, her waist, until it fell beyond.

She was perfection. White skin, white hair, high breasts rising and falling in rhythm. He dropped to his knees and worshipped at her thighs.

And then they were on the bed together, Bartok wrestling out of his clothes until he was as naked as the woman, with his own hard horn rising from the tuft of black fur at the base of his belly.

You are a virgin, the unicorn said softly in his mind.

“Yes, as you commanded,” he breathed.

You have waited for me. Searched for me.

“I have made a place for you, as you commanded. And now I am yours.”

Yes, my Bartok. Now.

He moved to enter her. And then there was — oh, yes. Heat, wet and yielding. Surrounding him like the most perfect glove, gripping him with soft strength. He cried out in wonder and pleasure as he thrust into the pure body, again and again. Hips rose up to meet his with each movement, urging him on silently. White arms twined around his back, nacreous nails scratching at the skin there.

Sex with the unicorn, he thought blindly. Perfect pleasure, perfect heat stroking along the length of him, over and over, the friction building until it was a sensation just this side of pain, he pulse of it, the pressure building in his balls until he thought he would cry out, yes, I am yours, take me, take me now —

And I shall.

His head reared back in purest ecstasy as he felt his orgasm build, ready to shoot into the woman, the unicorn, his demon lover. In ecstasy, he loved her as he had never loved anything in his life. And it was in ecstasy that her head snapped forward, the newborn horn speared into his left eye, through the thin shard of orbital bone and the brain beyond.

Bartok screamed as his body went rigid, hands clawing at the white silk sheets now spattered with red gore.

And he came, the pain mixing with the pleasure until they were indistinguishable, a single throb of sensation at the core of his being. A reedy gasp whispered from his throat, his intact eye open wide and staring into her own eyes. The eyes of the unicorn, laughing at him.

And he came.

And died.

One with the unicorn. Forever.