The sun shone on the marble towers of Unicorn Academy as Layla ran to the stables. She couldn’t wait to show her beautiful unicorn, Dancer, the new sparkly hoof polish that had arrived from her parents. She planned to brush his velvety coat and then paint his hooves.
Layla had loved unicorns for as long she could remember. It had been a dream come true when, just after her tenth birthday, she’d traveled with her parents across Unicorn Island to become a student at Unicorn Academy. On their first day at the academy, students were paired with their very own unicorn. Each pair spent the next year working together and learning to trust each other so that they could bond and graduate to become guardians of Unicorn Island.
Layla had been delighted when Ms. Primrose, the wise head teacher, had paired her with Dancer. He was very handsome, and his snow-white coat had pink, yellow, and indigo patterns that matched the color of his mane and tail. But Layla loved him most for his kind, thoughtful nature. He was perfect! I’m so lucky
, she thought as she reached the stables. Being at Unicorn Academy was amazing. It wasn’t just because she had a unicorn of her own; she also loved the lessons and, although she’d felt quite shy at first, she’d made friends with the five other girls in Sapphire dorm.
The stables’ shiny automatic carts full of hay trundled down the aisle in front of her as she walked in. Layla called out, “Good morning!” but there was no reply. The stalls that the Sapphire dorm unicorns slept in were empty. As it was such a lovely morning, Layla decided the unicorns must have gone out to play. She hurried back outside and found them gathered beside a rainbow-colored stream that ran through the meadow. All the streams and rivers in the land contained water that flowed from Sparkle Lake, the huge magical lake in the school grounds. The water was very important because it nourished the people and the land and strengthened the unicorns’ magic.
Layla paused. All the Sapphire dorm unicorns—Dancer, Blaze, Rainbow, Star, Cloud, and Snowflake—were standing on one bank of the wide stream.
“I bet you can do it, Dancer!” said Rainbow, tossing his brightly colored mane.
“You’re the best at jumping,” said Star.
“Go, Dancer! Go!” chanted Blaze, stamping her front hooves, her fire magic making sparks fly into the air.
Each unicorn had their own magic power that they discovered while they were at the academy. Dancer still hadn’t found his magic. Layla hoped it would be something like healing magic. It would be lovely to be able to make people well. She definitely wouldn’t want him to have something scary like fire magic!
She watched as Dancer reared up on his hind legs. He balanced for a moment and then rushed forward. Galloping toward the stream, he leaped into the air, soaring across the water with the grace of an eagle. He landed safely on the far side of the bank, and the other unicorns all whinnied.
“You’re so good at jumping!” called Cloud admiringly.
Dancer’s eyes shone with the praise, and Layla’s heart sank. Dancer was great at jumping and Layla knew how much he enjoyed it, but she hated galloping fast and jumping and avoided both at all costs.
“The rest of us will never be able to jump that far,” said Star.
Rainbow’s eyes sparkled. “Then I guess we’ll have to use magic to get across!”
He tossed his mane, and multicolored light shone from the center of his forehead. It arched across the stream, forming a rainbow bridge. Rainbow anchored the light to the ground. Whinnying happily, the unicorns galloped across it and surrounded Dancer.
Layla hesitated and then, shoving the hoof polish into her pocket, headed back to school. She’d let Dancer have some fun with his friends. She could paint his hooves another time.
There was the sound of hooves cantering up behind her. It was Dancer. “Were you looking for me?” He pushed his nose against her chest. She stroked him, happiness spiraling through her as she breathed in his sweet smell—a mixture of hay and sky berries.
“I was. I’ve got some new hoof polish, but you look like you’re having fun.” Layla hugged him. “Go and finish your game. I can paint your hooves later.”
“The game’s finished. Did you see me jump the widest part of the stream?” He nuzzled her, and she took out the polish. “Gold and silver! That’s fancy! Should we go to the stables and try it out?”
“I really don’t mind if you want to stay here,” said Layla.
“I’d rather be with you.” Dancer’s eyes met hers.
Layla smiled, and they walked back to the stables, her hand on his neck. Dancer was totally selfless and very loving. She just wished she could be a better friend to him—she knew he would love her to go galloping and jumping with him.
As her fingers played in his pink, yellow, and indigo mane, she wondered when they would bond. She would know when it happened because a lock of her hair would turn the same color as his mane. If she was being honest, she was a bit surprised it hadn’t happened already. Four of the six girls in her dorm had already bonded with their unicorns. But maybe it would happen when Dancer finally discovered his magic. A worrying thought crept into her brain—maybe he wouldn’t discover his magic, and they wouldn’t graduate at the end of the year.
Copyright © 2019 by Julie Sykes; illustrated by Lucy Truman. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.