It’s time to decide: Team Zombie or Team Unicorn? A must-have anthology with contributions from bestselling YA authors is now available in paperback!
It’s a question as old as time itself: Which is better, the zombie or the unicorn? This all-original, tongue-in-cheek anthology edited by Holly Black (Team Unicorn) and Justine Larbalestier (Team Zombie), makes strong arguments for both sides in the form of spectacular short stories. Contributors include bestselling authors Cassandra Clare, Libba Bray, Maureen Johnson, Meg Cabot, Scott Westerfeld, and Margo Lanagan.
Discover how unicorns use their powers for evil, why zombies aren’t always the enemy, and much more in this creative, laugh-out-loud collection that will have everyone asking: Team Zombie or Team Unicorn?
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Holly Black is the author of The Curse Workers series: White Cat, Red Glove, and Black Heart; The Poison Eaters: And Other Stories; and the Modern Faerie Tales: Tithe, Valiant, and Ironside. She is an editor of Zombies vs. Unicorns, and she collaborated with Tony DiTerlizzi on the bestselling Spiderwick series. Holly lives in Amherst, Massachusetts, and you can visit her at BlackHolly.com.
Justine Larbalestier is the author of several teen novels, including Liar and the Magic or Madness trilogy. Born and raised in Sydney, Australia, she and her husband, Scott Westerfeld, split their time between Sydney and New York City. Visit her at JustineLarbalestier.com.
“The Highest Justice”
Holly: Legends of unicorns occur all over the world throughout recorded history. From a unicorn in Persia, described in the fourth century as having a long white horn tipped in crimson, to the German unicorn whose single horn broke into branches like a stag, to the fierce Indian unicorn, black-horned and too dangerous to be taken alive. There’s the kirin in Japan, with a deerlike body, a single horn, and a head like a lion or wolf. And there’s the medieval European unicorn, with the beard of a goat and cloven hooves.
No matter the origin, the unicorn is usually thought to be a solitary creature whose very body possesses the power to heal. The legends describe it as elusive and beautiful, fierce and strange.
In fact, such is the mysterious draw of the unicorn that originally the story that follows was meant to be a zombie story. Somehow the power of the unicorn caused the story itself to switch sides.
Garth Nix’s “The Highest Justice” draws on the association between unicorns and kings. The Chinese qilin presaged the death of Emperors. The heraldic unicorn shows up on coats of arms, including the Royal Arms of Scotland and England. And in “The Highest Justice,” a unicorn takes an even more direct interest in a royal family.
Justine: That is so unconvincing. Emperors and kings. Noble families. You’re just saying unicorns are stuck-up snobs. Zombies are the proleteriat. Long live the workers!
Also, your global list of genetic experiments gone wrong (deer with the head of a lion? Talk about top heavy!) prove nothing about unicorn variation. Everyone knows unicorns are all-white or rainbow-colored. Ewww. Zombies come in all races. There is nothing more democratic than zombies!
It’s an outright lie that the power of the unicorn caused the story to switch sides. Garth Nix has always been a unicorn lover! He was supposed to write a zombie-unicorn story. But he messed it up, didn’t he? (Dear Readers, you will notice much messing up from Team Unicorn throughout this anthology.)
Holly: Zombies represent the workers? A seething mass out to get us all, eh? That doesn’t seem so egalitarian.
The Highest Justice
By Garth Nix
The girl did not ride the unicorn, because no one ever did. She rode a nervous oat-colored palfrey that had no name, and led the second horse, a blind and almost deaf ancient who long ago had been called Rinaldo and was now simply Rin. The unicorn sometimes paced next to the palfrey, and sometimes not.
Rin bore the dead Queen on his back, barely noticing her twitches and mumbles and the cloying stench of decaying flesh that seeped out through the honey- and spice-soaked bandages. She was tied to the saddle, but could have snapped those bonds if she had thought to do so. She had become monstrously strong since her death three days before, and the intervention by her daughter that had returned her to a semblance of life.
Not that Princess Jess was a witch or necromancer. She knew no more magic than any other young woman. But she was fifteen years old, a virgin, and she believed the old tale of the kingdom’s founding: that the unicorn who had aided the legendary Queen Jessibelle the First was still alive and would honor the compact made so long ago, to come in the time of the kingdom’s need.
The unicorn’s secret name was Elibet. Jess had called this name to the waxing moon at midnight from the tallest tower of the castle, and had seen something ripple in answer across the surface of the earth’s companion in the sky.
An hour later Elibet was in the tower. She was somewhat like a horse with a horn, if you looked at her full on, albeit one made of white cloud and moonshine. Looked at sideways she was a fiercer thing, of less familiar shape, made of storm clouds and darkness, the horn more prominent and bloody at the tip, like the setting sun. Jess preferred to see a white horse with a silvery horn, and so that is what she saw.
Jess had called the unicorn as her mother gasped out her final breath. The unicorn had come too late to save the Queen, but by then Jess had another plan. The unicorn listened and then by the power of her horn, brought back some part of the Queen to inhabit a body from which life had all too quickly sped.
They had then set forth, to seek the Queen’s poisoner, and mete out justice.
Jess halted her palfrey as they came to a choice of ways. The royal forest was thick and dark in these parts, and the path was no more than a beaten track some dozen paces wide. It forked ahead, into two lesser, narrower paths.
“Which way?” asked Jess, speaking to the unicorn, who had once again mysteriously appeared at her side.
The unicorn pointed her horn at the left-hand path.
“Are you sure—,” Jess asked. “No, it’s just that—”
“The other way looks more traveled—”
“No, I’m not losing heart—”
“I know you know—”
“Talking to yourself?” interjected a rough male voice, the only other sound in the forest, for if the unicorn had spoken, no one but Jess had heard her.
The palfrey shied as Jess swung around and reached for her sword. But she was too late, as a dirty bearded ruffian held a rusty pike to her side. He grinned, and raised his eyebrows.
“Here’s a tasty morsel, then,” he leered. “Step down lightly, and no tricks.”
“Elibet!” said Jess indignantly.
The unicorn slid out of the forest behind the outlaw, and lightly pricked him in the back of his torn leather jerkin with her horn. The man’s eyebrows went up still farther and his eyes darted to the left and right.
“Ground your pike,” said Jess. “My friend can strike faster than any man.”
The outlaw grunted, and lowered his pike, resting its butt in the leaf litter at his feet.
“I give up,” he wheezed, leaning forward as if he might escape the sharp horn. “Ease off on that spear, and take me to the sheriff. I swear—”
“Hunger,” interrupted the Queen. Her voice had changed with her death. It had become gruff and leathery, and significantly less human.
The bandit glanced at the veiled figure under the broad-brimmed pilgrim’s hat.
“What?” he asked hesitantly.
“Hunger,” groaned the Queen. “Hunger.”
She raised her right arm, and the leather cord that bound her to the saddle’s high cantle snapped with a sharp crack. A bandage came loose at her wrist and dropped to the ground in a series of spinning turns, revealing the mottled blue-bruised skin beneath.
“Shoot ’em!” shouted the bandit as he dove under Jess’s horse and scuttled across the path toward the safety of the trees. As he ran, an arrow flew over his head and struck the Queen in the shoulder. Another, coming behind it, went past Jess’s head as she jerked herself forward and down. The third was struck out of the air by a blur of vaguely unicorn-shaped motion. There were no more arrows, but a second later there was a scream from halfway up a broad oak that loomed over the path ahead, followed by the heavy thud of a body hitting the ground.
Jess drew her sword and kicked her palfrey into a lurching charge. She caught the surviving bandit just before he managed to slip between two thorny bushes, and landed a solid blow on his head with the back of the blade. She hadn’t meant to be merciful, but the sword had turned in her sweaty grasp. He fell under the horse’s feet, and got trampled a little before Jess managed to turn about.
She glanced down to make sure he was at least dazed, but sure of this, spared him no more time. Her mother had broken the bonds on her left arm as well, and was ripping off the veil that hid her face.
“Hunger!” boomed the Queen, loud enough even for poor old deaf Rin to hear. He stopped eating the grass and lifted his head, time-worn nostrils almost smelling something he didn’t like.
“Elibet! Please … ,” beseeched Jess. “A little longer—we must be almost there.”
The unicorn stepped out from behind a tree and looked at her. It was the look of a stern teacher about to allow a pupil some small favor.
“One more touch, please, Elibet.”
The unicorn bent her head, paced over to the dead Queen, and touched the woman lightly with her horn, briefly imbuing her with a subtle nimbus of summer sunshine, bright in the shadowed forest. Propelled by that strange light, the arrow in the Queen’s shoulder popped out, the blue-black bruises on her arms faded, and her skin shone, pink and new. She stopped fumbling with the veil, slumped down in her saddle, and let out a relatively delicate and human-sounding snore.
“Thank you,” said Jess.
She dismounted and went to look at the bandit. He had sat up and was trying to wipe away the blood that slowly dripped across his left eye.
“So you give up, do you?” Jess asked, and snorted.
The bandit didn’t answer.
Jess pricked him with her sword, so he was forced to look at her.
“I should finish you off here and now,” said Jess fiercely. “Like your friend.”
“My brother,” muttered the man. “But you won’t finish me, will you? You’re the rightful type, I can tell. Take me to the sheriff. Let him do what needs to be done.”
“You’re probably in league with the sheriff,” said Jess.
“Makes no odds to you, anyways. Only the sheriff has the right to justice in this wood. King’s wood, it is.”
“I have the right to the Middle and the Low...
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