This is my first story, I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I'm enjoying writing it :)

I imagined most of the characters and settings in this story, but the kingdom of Stormhold belongs to the film Stardust, not me

Chapter 1

Fairytales have a life of their own. Like all living things they grow over time, gaining more power, and more momentum with each telling until finally the fairytale is too strong to control. It sucks people in, so the story is fulfilled time and time again and it becomes known as 'destiny'. It's impossible to fight a Happy Ending. However, this is one fairytale that won't behave...

5:00 am. The sky is inky black apart from a feeble ray of purple light peeping over the horizon; the first sign of dawn. Barely five minutes away in the suburban village of Spindles End an eerie silence lingers over the streets. But the forest is another world. Its inhabitants prefer the cover of darkness, and at night the forest is at its most alive.

Situated on the very edge of the forest is a crumbling cottage. You would never imagine anyone living there, as its forbidding exterior coupled with a distinct air of abandonment make it look as un-homely as possible. However, this makes it the perfect place to hide.

Only one corner of this cottage is the space that Issy can truly call her own. Her tiny bedroom with whitewashed walls and bare floorboards, furnished only with her uncomfortable bed and a single chest of drawers has one single feature that she likes: a window looking out over the forest. She never sleeps with the curtains pulled, so that she can look at the stars and count them as she falls asleep. Tonight, however, there are no stars, so when Issy wakes and opens her eyes she sees only darkness. Consumed with panic she blinks frantically, feeling the darkness leaking into her throat: she can't breathe...

With a gasp Issy sat bolt upright in her bed and looked around. As her eyes adjusted to the darkness she took in the familiar features of her room and felt her panic subside. Sighing, she swung her legs out of bed and stood up, wincing as her feet touched the cold floor. Electricity and central heating were unheard of at the cottage. Issy dressed in the darkness, fumbling around trying to find the clothes she'd left folded at the foot of her bed the night before. Her pale skin seemed deathly white in contrast to the blackness all around. On good days she thought of her complexion as 'ethereal' but most days she accepted it for what it was: pale and unhealthy. Finally dressed, she tip-toed to the door and paused, before pushing the door open. A long whine split the silence, and Issy cursed in her head. Placing each foot with extreme care, she slowly advanced down the hallway. With each step, the ancient floorboards creaked and groaned in protest. I swear they do that deliberately, Issy thought, casting a glance towards the three doors on the opposite side of the hall to hers. It was impossible for her to leave her room without one of the witches hearing her pass. Someone stirred behind the door nearest to her. Abandoning caution, Issy fled down the stairs, on through the kitchen and flung the back door open.

Taking huge lungfuls of the crisp morning air, she headed towards the forest, ignoring the fact that her school shoes were soaked with dew. She loved the forest; it was the one place where she felt safe. A slight breeze swept through the trees. Issy smiled as she listened to the rustling of leaves, imagining that the trees were whispering to each other. At last she came to a clearing. There she stopped and leaned against a formidable oak tree. And she waited.

The unicorns emerged one by one from the shadows. Their pearlescent white coats shone, bathing the clearing in their radiant light. An old female, the matriarch of the herd, was the first to approach Issy. Avamir was Issy's special friend. She was thinner and smaller than the others and she didn't have a horn, just a jagged scar where her horn should have been. Issy stroked Avamir's velvety nose gently while the old unicorn closed her eyes in bliss. Not wanting to be left out, Aiedail – Avamir's son – nudged Issy's cheek. Issy had raised Aiedail from a foal, but he was grown up now and had a mate of his own. His two foals Twilight and Moonsilver cantered around the clearing, enjoying the excitement of a visit from Issy. She loved the unicorns with all her heart, and worried constantly that they would be found.

Beep-ity beep, beep-ity beep, beep-ity beep.

The shrill screeching of his alarm clock was the first thing Nico heard that morning. Groaning, he rolled over and switched off, before burying his head under the pillow. He didn't want to get up. Today was his first day at Spindles End High School. He hadn't even wanted to move to Spindles End in the first place, but he didn't put up much of a fight. He was used to moving. His mum was a property developer; meaning that her job was to buy a house, do it up and then move on to the next place. It never bothered his dad, who could simply request a transfer to another bank, but Nico had to switch schools, leave behind all his old friends, and he'd be just starting to settle in when they'd move again. It was exhausting.

Finally, Nico couldn't put off leaving for school any longer. He was about to walk out the door when he caught a glimpse of himself in the hallway mirror. His navy blazer was too big, and he had a spot coming up on his chin. Great. He ran a hand through his floppy brown hair (a habit of his when he was nervous) then slung his schoolbag over his shoulder and left, without saying goodbye to his mum despite the fact that she called out to him as he passed.

Spindles End High School didn't make a very good first impression. It was a depressing grey building surrounded by a concrete yard. The enormous school field was its one redeeming feature. Nico strolled casually into the reception area, not wanting to look as nervous as he felt. The grumpy receptionist showed him to his form room. Nico followed a little behind her, trying to remember the way through the maze of identical corridors. The receptionist's high-heeled shoes made an unnaturally loud 'clack-clacking' sound on the shiny lino floors. Finally they arrived at a blue door that the receptionist knocked on twice with her bony fist before walking off, leaving Nico to enter on his own.

"Ah Nico, we thought you were never arriving" said his form tutor. "Everyone, this is Nico Fox." The form tutor seemed to think this was a good enough introduction. Nico stood awkwardly at the front of the classroom trying to ignore the curious and hostile stares of his new form. "There's a seat at the back next to Issy" said the form tutor, gesturing vaguely towards the back of the classroom. Several people sniggered. Feeling some trepidation Nico headed towards the seat he'd been pointed to. It was a relief to sit down, as everyone seemed to stop staring after that. He kicked his schoolbag out of the way, and only then did he glance at the girl sat next to him. Her face was hidden behind a thick curtain of wavy black hair that tumbled loosely over her shoulders, her thin hands were milky white and her school shoes were caked in mud. Nico thought he knew why people had laughed; she obviously didn't fit in. A tall blonde girl was going round the classroom handing out timetables. She strolled past and handed both Nico and Issy's timetables to Issy, who was nearer. Nico reached out to take his timetable from her, accidently brushing her skin as he did so. At the moment their hands touched, it felt as though an electric shock shot through Nico's arm! He jerked his hand away, looking at Issy with a shocked and puzzled expression. He quickly recovered and looked away, but not before he'd seen Issy glance at him with wide, frightened eyes. The second the bell went, she packed her things away at top speed and was out of the form room before he could blink. Nico watched her go feeling bemused. He wondered if he'd imagined that feeling, but he knew he hadn't. His hand was still tingling.

He looked down at his timetable, and saw that his first class was Maths in room G16. How the hell am I meant to know where that is?, he thought to himself. He looked around for someone to ask, which was when he noticed that a group of boys from his form were staring at him. When they realised he'd noticed them, the tallest one called over to him "What d'you do to freak girl to make her run off like that?" Nico wondered if he'd done something wrong, but they all seemed to be grinning. The one who'd spoken swaggered over to Nico. "I'm Ray" he said with a drawl. "Er... I'm Nico" said Nico warily. "Erm, d'you think you could show me where room G16 is?"

Nico hung around with Ray and the others all day. Ray seemed to be the unofficial leader, and if Nico was alright by him then he was alright by the others too. They didn't mention Issy again. At first he was relieved that she seemed to be the obvious target at this school, as this meant that people would be less likely to take notice of him, but as the day went on and her name didn't come up she faded from his thoughts. He'd almost forgotten she existed until he saw her at the end of the day.

Issy was looking over her shoulder all morning, and she'd never been so glad to hear the bell ring for lunch break before. She hated school normally, but the arrival of that new kid made it so much worse. She'd already seen him talking to the group of boys that enjoyed tormenting her most. This gang targeted Issy simply because she was an outsider, and there was something about her that was different. There was only one place in school where they couldn't find her, and it was there that she was going now. The entrance to her hideout was through an inconspicuous blue door marked 'Staff Only', but she'd never taken any notice of that. She pushed the door open after checking that no one was around, walked lightly up the concrete steps and came to another door at the top. This door often stuck, but today it swung open and she was nearly blinded with sunlight, for the door opened out onto the roof. Issy spent every break on the roof, even when it rained. She was completely invisible to the other students on the field below. The roof was the only place where she could snatch a few moments peace during school hours. Sighing, she settled down in her usual spot leaning against the waist-height wall that surrounded the flat roof, pulled her sketch book out of her satchel and began to draw.

Oh shit. Issy craned her neck to see if Ray and his gang were stood by the school gates, and her stomach lurched when she saw that they were. She dreaded having to walk past them as she left the building. As usual she kept her head down as she approached, hoping they wouldn't notice her. No such luck. Out of the corner of her eye she noticed one of them point her out to Ray, who turned and gave her a scathing look. He said something to the others, who roared with laughter whilst looking quite obviously at her. Issy was glad she hadn't heard what he'd said. She tried to look determinedly straight ahead as she passed them, but she couldn't help risking a glance sideways. That was when she saw Nico, looking at her with the same scathing expression as the rest of them. Misery settled in her stomach like a rock. As she hurried away one of them shouted "Fur-reak!" but she pretended she hadn't heard, despite the fact that her eyes had filled with tears.

She'd composed herself by the time she arrived back at the cottage. Issy rarely cried; tears never fixed anything and besides she had work to do. The witches expected her to clean and tidy the cottage, serve all their meals, and do all the washing as well as care for the unicorns. Issy knew they could do all her chores in 10 seconds if they used their magic, but all three seemed to consider it a waste of their powers, beneath them in a way. The three witches – Impusa, Detvortesau and Salmakia – rarely left the cottage. Impusa was the eldest, Salmakia the youngest. Impusa had long straggly silver hair, black, beetle like eyes, a lined face and she always wore black. Detvortesau was fat, with a disagreeable expression, and wore her red hair shot through with grey tied up in a messy bun. Salmakia was the only one who had anything resembling beauty; she reminded Issy of a wilted rose. Both the witches and their cottage seemed to Issy to belong to another world. If there was one thing Issy had learnt over the years, it was that magic and the real world didn't match.

The witches wanted to teach Issy magic, but so far she'd resisted. She'd been able to do baby-magic for as long as she could remember, but she refused to use these powers and tried her best to hide them, which wasn't always easy. Issy could heal small bruises and cuts, and she only had to lay her bare palm on a patch of earth for flowers and plants to bloom around her hand. Impusa had explained to her about baby-magic: how all witches are able to do some kind of magic instinctively and without being taught and that these powers usually reflect a witches personality, but they fade once a witch starts to learn real magic. Kind-hearted Issy had been born with the gifts of growth and healing. There was once a time when she enjoyed holding a seed in her hand and watching it sprout into a beautiful flower, and healing the wounds of the woodland creatures she met on her visits to the unicorns. It made her feel special. Now she resented it. Magic had never brought her anything but pain.