Horn Sworn Book 1 by Taylor Haiden & Angela Kulig
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Perfect for fans of Sarah J. Maas and Victoria Aveyard, Dark Unicorn is the first of the new and mysterious adult fantasy series Horn Sworn.
Princess Wrenyve knows her oath to return her Kingdom’s missing artifact, the Heart of Spellshallow, means one of the King’s children will die. Even if Wren is cunning, fast, and strong enough, there’s a good chance it will still be her.
Without the Heart, magic will flee the land faster than the night flees the day. Without the Heart, Spellshallow, and everything in it will cease to exist. As her brother’s shameful thievery is uncovered, Wren must swallow her pride and accept help from allies whom she knows she can’t trust:
- Thackery is the ambitious son of the richest and most powerful councilman—her very ex, scorned lover—and the wounds Wren caused him are still raw.
- Calen isn’t a boy at all. Trapped in human form after a hideous defeat, Calen may have lost his horn, but is still a unicorn—a self-serving, treacherous scoundrel, as dangerous to any man who crosses him as he is to the innocence of every fair maiden.
- Luckily for Wren, she was already doomed.
To find the Heart and restore the magic, to retrieve the lost horn, Wren and her unfortunate travel companions must survive three separate realms—each more deadly than the last. Unknown enemies and strange magic hinder their way, and yet the most perilous thing is what lies within their own hearts.
The servicewomen hadn't come down yet. It was probably because a fight had broken out between some of the more impatient patrons. I looked over the remains of the noon meal spread across two tables. They flanked both sides of the redwood door that was the only way in or out of the room. The meager fare had been picked clean by a crowd of worthless vagrants, cutthroats, and drunkards—and me, though I suppose I was all three.
A fistfight was no cause for concern, the local muscle paid to keep things orderly let you have it out so long as you didn't cause any excessive property damage. Most of the furniture was cobbled together from repaired and splintered wood anyways, so even that could get a little fuzzy.
The alehouse was narrow and long. Crooked steps led up to the second floor where anyone with coin could find a disreputable lady to relieve them of it. A cloudy mirror hung on the back behind a rough bar that looked like it had seen too many knife fights.
I was a favorite among the female employees of this particular establishment. They doted on my every word and loved to pass on small tidbits of information their customers let drop. Sometimes it even proved useful.
My silver hair caught the light, and I paused to consider the reflection. A handsome face with a strong jaw looked back—it was difficult not to notice the cheeks were a bit sunken in below the eyes. A hazard, of my newfound liquid diet. Though still blue, my eyes were rimmed with a line of red. That should improve with time. You couldn't make the whole ocean crimson just by spilling a little blood.
Alcohol was the only thing that seemed to help. Nothing else could silence the bone-deep ache I felt inside. The barkeep placed a glass of amber liquid precisely two fingers from the edge of my left hand. He didn’t interrupt my brooding, silently filling my drink time and time again. I regarded the lanky man casually. His hair had grown longer and Lin had taken to tying it in a knot behind his head. Clean-shaven, with a friendly face that was not unpleasant or overly attractive. An easily forgettable face that blended in perfectly no matter where he was. Lin was a good bartender—surprising, since he was also a master assassin.
Catching my eye, Lin leaned across the counter, the modest grin not entirely masking a curiosity in his dark eyes I hadn't seen in some time. Not since I'd first come to the House of Glass the year before.
“Someone’s been asking about you,” Lin murmured under his breath.
My fingers twitched, the only reaction I gave.
The House of Glass was less house and more bar and brothel, which meant it had eyes and ears and an agenda that changed as frequently as the wind.
“Someone?” I asked.
That was a sticky point with me. Someone, I could handle, it was a special sort of someone that tended to interrupt the carefully crafted routine I had built here. Rolling my shoulders, my eyes ghosted across the others seated at the bar.
Lin nodded. “A mage, from a noble family. You should have seen the shiny pantaloons and nose pointed in the air. You'd have laughed.”
A mage was no laughing matter. That was the special sort I tried to avoid.
“So, this mage, is he going to be a problem?” I asked Lin. He'd turned his back to me, but I’d said it too loudly. I could feel the ears around me perk up…
“I think,” Lin said, polishing a glass, “that's very likely.”
I leaned closer to Lin. “And did this mage say what he wanted?”
Mages were a nuisance, particularly the more powerful ones. The only thing worse was one born of nobility.
Lin shook his head as he applied the rag to the hopeless bar top. “Just came to check on a rumor.”
My life was one big rumor and I did my best to shy away from anyone looking to spread it.
“You didn't see me,” I said, sliding a few red notes in his direction.
“I never do,” Lin replied, making the money disappear, “didn’t hear ya neither.” Bartenders can be so wise. Or were assassins wise?
I eyed the man next to me. His boots were caked with mud and he had a dull look in his eyes as he pounded back drink after drink. Hired killer. My eyes bounced to a flash of red by the door. It wasn’t the mage though, it was a girl. Pale as a snowdrift in January with hair the exact shade of a hickory fire. She looked right at me, with the same expression that everyone has the first time they do.
“Is that him?” I heard her ask too loudly. The room fell silent.
She should have thrown a knife in my direction. Then maybe people would have ignored her.
“That's him,” a voice next to her said.
I put down my glass. It made a strange hollow clink despite still being partially filled.
“She’s back,” Lin said, dropping his towel.
“You never said it was a girl,” I said. So this girl was the mage.
“You never asked.” Lin retreated to the back under the guise of restocking the bar.
“Princess,” the drunken man next to me slurred, “What is her kind doing here?” A princess mage?
That was something you didn't see every day, not in this realm anyway.
A man in the center of the room lurched to his feet. “Princess, is that you?”
“Markson?” The girl turned with a confused look toward the man. His balding head dipped in shame.
“Markson, what are you doing here?” she began, “—never mind, where is my brother?” She eyed the room carefully. This was, after all, no place for a lady.
“Gone miss, I... I left his service.” The haggard-looking soul straightened the strings on his tunic. They were lavender and gold, the colors of a Spellshallow personal guard.
“I've been with Pieter since he was just a baby miss, I never... I couldn't... but he did a terrible thing, Princess. A most despicable—and still I couldn't...”
The man began to cry in earnest. It had been a while since I'd let anyone else’s shame touch me. The clear remorse over abandoning his sworn duty was so sharp it made me remember my own. The other patrons made a show of going back to their drinks, while still keeping an ear open.
“We know that he took the Heart, Markson, no one blames you.” The girl tried to soothe him, but it was an ointment that wouldn't stick.
“We know everything, Markson,” said a tall man at the princess's side, “including about the Collector.”
The Collector... Hashir the Collector? That dung-pile of a man...
The killer at my side unfolded a small crossbow from beneath his shirt. I should have known. Who else would he be here to kill? I rushed to disarm him, but he turned and fired before I had the chance.
“No,” the Princess cried out as the bolt flew towards her heart. Somehow, Markson was fast enough. The man must have seen the killer take aim and threw himself in front of the Princess.
The girl hit her knees just as the body fell lifeless in front of her. Must’ve been a magicked poison to work that fast. Poor fool, trying to atone by trading his life for hers.
I wasn't in the habit of lending a hand, and I hadn't intended to start at that moment, but my life was built on things I never planned to do. Knocking the crossbow from the killer’s hand, I smashed his face with the back of my elbow. He fell back bloodied, but recovered faster than any normal man should have been able to.
In an instant, a poison-tipped hunting knife was in his hand and streaking towards my throat. I casually ducked under the blade. Grabbing his forearm, I snapped it in half and shoved the man’s own knife into his gut. His eyes met mine in surprise. Recognition of what I was finally dawned there and his face became fearful—then the poison took hold and he saw nothing at all.
Lin had somehow made his way upstairs and was hollering at someone, but I didn't pause to consider who that might be. I dashed across the room and paused in front of the broken little girl who knelt by the dead man like a child. Sparing not another glance for her companion, or toward the chaos that was erupting all around me, I reached out my hand to her. My cold fingers, tinged with blue and silver, took her small white hand in mine. For some reason she let me.
As our skin touched, it ignited a spark that made me feel alive again for the first time since that fateful day. It made me want to spread my wings once more, to run wildly through the forests. At that moment, I realized something. My horn and my cause may be lost, but I would always be a unicorn.
Horn Sworn Book 2
The Collector has all the magic, holds all the cards, leaving the Cruel King with nothing but blood on his hands.
For Wren, her only hope of saving her people now hinges on the one person she can never trust.
Calen has regained his horn and all the old debts have been called in. This time there's more than just his horn on the line.
They escape the Collector's clutches by fleeing to the beautiful Realm of Unicorns. But will they find a welcomed homecoming or an inescapable prison?
Can Wren and Calen kill two kings without destroying themselves and their tenuous love? Or will the lies and deceit be too much to overcome?
TAYLOR HAIDEN has three beautiful children and an amazingly supportive spouse and lives with them in Arizona. Tylor's days are spent enjoying the breathtaking blue skies and pink sunsets while writing a variety of genres. When not writing, Taylor enjoys traveling to new places, tasting new and exciting foods, binging on Netflix, and experiencing everything that life has to offer from barbecues to scuba diving. Taylor is author of the Werewolf M.D. series with more in the works.
Angela Kulig is an American gypsy, and former pirate. She has been from sea to shining sea--and though she is currently trapped in the desert against her will, she escapes everyday in the form of many books.