The Vampire and the Unicorn

These selections are from the Dragonflight series of fantasy novels for young adults. Dragonflight books team masters of fantasy fiction with terrific fantasy artists.

Black Unicorn

by Tanith Lee, Illustrated by Heather Cooper

Tanaquil's mother usually ignored her. She was often so busy with her work she didn't see her daughter for days. And when Tanaquil wanted to talk about something important, she could count on being brushed aside. The very last straw was when a living bird flew out of her breakfast orange. For Tanaquil's mother, Jaive, is a sorceress. She, as sorceresses before her, lives in a fortress in the middle of the desert. The view from Tanaquil's window had not changed in sixteen years. The day brings blistering sunlight, and at night it grows so cold that a thin snow falls. Sometimes the magics Jaive uses spill over sloppily to ordinary things. Such as Tanaquil's breakfast. Angry and famished, Tanaquil climbed the four flights of stone steps to her mother's sorcerium.

"What do you want?" asked Tanaquil's mother.
"Would you like a list?" said Tanaquil.
"I am engaged--" said Jaive.
"You always are. Did you enjoy your breakfast, mother? Mine had a bird in it and then turned into a flower. One of the peeves spilled the rest. My fountain water was berry wine. Most of my clothes have disappeared. I'm sick of it!"
"When I was little," said Tanaquil, "I thought it was wonderful. When you made the butterflies come out of the fire, and when you made the garden grow in the desert. But the butterflies went pop and the garden dissolved."
"These childish memories," said Jaive. "I've tried to educate you in the art of sorcery."
"And I wasn't any good at it," said Tanaquil.
"Dreadful," agreed her mother. "You're a mere mechanical, I'm afraid." She made a pass over a beaker and a tiny storm rose into the air. Jaive laughed in pleasure. Tanaquil's stomach rumbled.
"Mother," said Tanaquil, "Perhaps I should leave."
"Yes, do, Tanaquil. Let me get on."
"I mean leave the fortress."
"Tiresome girl, where could you go?"

Her mother had a point. The desert surrounded the fortress, and, without a sorceress' skills, such a journey could lead only to disaster. She would need her mother's help to succeed, and Jaive refused. Interview ended, Tanaquil went on a walk. She put on her boots, tied back her flaming red hair, and went out into the desert. These walks were boring and purposeless, but they made her a little less restless.

The desert may be the walls of Tanaquil's prison, but its sands hide many things, some more magical than anything Jaive knows. The skeleton of a unicorn lies under years of accumulation of arid storms. It is broken in many places, but Tanaquil doesn't care.
For the sorceress' child does have one useful talent: she can mend things. Perfectly. So perfectly that a black unicorn from a better world might be brought to life once more.

Child of an Ancient City by Tad Williams and Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Illustrated by Greg Hildebrandt

"In ages gone and times forgotten, there lived a young man who had spent all his life in abject poverty. He labored for others, serving in the lowliest positions, begging from beggars, a slave to slaves. Withal, he walked the streets with a bright eye, happy on the days when Fortune granted him a pinch of spice for his rice or the rind of a pomegranate with a few seeds still clinging to it, yet always looking for an opportunity to better his condition and himself."--Masrur's Tale

Every night stories to keep away the dark creature lurking just at the edge of their camp. Nothing else will stop the Vampyr of the Caucassian Mountains from devouring every last person in Masrur al-Adan's caravan.
This caravan had been sent by the Caliph across the desert sands to the land of the Armenites, beyond the Caucassian Mountains. The Caliph and the Armenite prince were bargaining to open a trade route between civilized Baghdad and the faraway gold-laden Armenites. The expedition brought gifts for the prince and a diplomat to make the Caliph's wishes known.

An easy journey, it seemed. Exotic certainly to the Islamic desert dwellers. Broken green mountains and fountains of waterfalls, a brazen and rough land full of shadows and dark woods.
The human wolves were the first to attack. Masur, the soldier, had fought before but had never stood against a foe like these fiends from hell. So much of the party was killed, and no sooner had the survivors stopped to rest than the black-robed bandits ambushed them. Those who remained after this later disaster were lost in the mountains until the Armenite boy Kurken was kidnapped to help them.

As their homeward journey takes them over certain jagged peaks, Kurken becomes almost insensible with fear, for they have entered the realm of the Vampyr. The legends say that a good storyteller can keep a Vampyr enthralled until morning comes and the villager can return to his home. But these travelers have no homes so night after night they must spin stories to keep away the prowling death that watches them. But the stories are wearing thin, and Vampyr is drawing ever nearer to the campfire.