Welcome back! This week we are featuring Unicorn Precinct by Keith R.A. DeCandido, book two in the Dragon Precinct Series. Currently there are five novels and one short story collection, but more of each are planned. This has been described as “Dungeons and Dragnet” by one reviewer and “JAG meets Lord of the Rings” by another. In either case, you get the idea. These are fantasy police procedural fun.
Vaspar had been thinking about how much he’d been enjoying the calm and quiet of the past five weeks when he found the dead body.
He’d been serving in the Cynnis household for his entire life, as his father had before him, and his father before him, all the way back to the founding of Cliff’s End. Then when his father, along with Sir Wilt and Madam Marva, died at sea during a hurricane, Vaspar had been made head butler.
The first few years were wonderful, as the only person he was responsible for was sir and madam’s teenaged boy, Malik Cynnis. Upon turning sixteen, he was made Sir Malik, and was quickly married to the wealthy Hassa Trinnek, such a link doing much to restore the Cynnis family’s affairs.
For Vaspar, it was a most satisfactory situation. Sir Malik and Madam Hassa were fine people who treated the household staff very well—not an attitude often seen in the young—and bringing two rich families together meant they could hire more staff. A bigger staff meant Vaspar could delegate some of the more unpleasant tasks to less senior servants.
Everything was fine until Madam Hassa had children.
To begin with, madam’s entire personality warped when she was with child to the point where the cook quit and the dressing girl almost did likewise. Vaspar had solved both problems by finding a better cook and convincing the dressing girl to stay, but it was a near thing.
And then there were the children. Awful creatures, each one was more annoying than the last. Jared, who slept with any woman he could find, a problem that only worsened after he married; Blan, with his predilection for thievery; and Crilla, who treated everyone horribly and then complained that nobody liked her.
Then came the youngest, Arra, who was a beautiful, sweet-tempered child that, if she didn’t have madam’s eyes and sir’s nose, Vaspar would have been hard-pressed to believe she came from the same parents as the other three.
Arra was just sixteen and betrothed, and her preparations for the wedding were at too advanced a state for her to accompany her siblings to Iaron to visit friends, a journey that had taken up most of the past five weeks, and had kept the house magnificently quiet.
Sadly, Jared, Blan, and Crilla were due back in a few days, so Vaspar was reveling in the peace while he still could.
He was downstairs on the servants’ floor, located just below ground level, heading toward the kitchen to fix himself a quick lunch. When he went by the sewing room, he was surprised to see two of Arra’s dress girls giggling and laughing.
“What is going on?” Vaspar asked with an iron tone. These two—along with a third, oddly not present—were supposed to be hard at work on Arra’s wedding gown. In fact, if he recalled correctly, she was supposed to be trying it on this afternoon.
Both girls straightened and stopped laughing at the sight of the head butler. One said in a subdued voice, “Apologies, but we’re waitin’ for Biroa t’get back.”
Vaspar frowned. “Get back from where?”
“Seamstress down on Sandy Brook Way. We’re short on fabric, y’see, an’ Biroa went t’get more.”
“Was Arra informed of this?”
The girls exchanged nervous glances. “Dunno. Thought Biroa told ’er.”
With a heavy sigh, Vaspar said, “I will inform Arra of this delay.” He had no faith in Biroa’s having done so. Of the three dress girls, Biroa was by far the cheekiest, always talking back. She would never have spoken so respectfully to the head butler. She barely was deferential to sir and madam, truth be told.
The delay was not much of a concern. At first, Vaspar had been worried that the female staff had not left enough time for all the preparations. However, Vaspar’s only experience with preparing a girl for marriage had been the endless nightmare that was Crilla’s engagement, which had involved a great deal of shouting, revising, and starting over. Arra was far more even-tempered and, indeed, she was already ahead of schedule when compared to her older sister.
Still, Vaspar felt that Arra should at least be informed that one of her dress girls had left the mansion—without so much as mentioning it to the head butler—and that her fitting would be a few hours later than expected.
Climbing the spiral wooden staircase to the third floor, Vaspar then walked down the wide hallway, covered with portraits of Cynnis family members from throughout the decades. Blan had always complained that walking down this hallway made him feel as if he was being spied on by his ancestors—which, to Vaspar’s mind, was reason enough to keep them there.
Most of the doors were open, since their occupants weren’t home. Sir and madam were both out of the mansion—Renna, one of the chambermaids, was in their bedroom dusting the furnishings. Vaspar nodded to her as he went by, and Renna curtsied back.
At the far end of the hall was the one closed door: Arra’s room. Vaspar rapped on the door three times, as was custom. “It’s Vaspar,” he added.
To his surprise, there was no reply.
Vaspar knocked two more times, and still no reply. She could have been asleep, but she rarely took naps at this hour. However, the pressure of the impending wedding might have taken its toll on her.
He knocked again, much louder this time. “It’s Vaspar!”
Dashing down the hallway to sir and madam’s bedroom, he said to Renna, “Arra is not answering her door. I’m concerned. Please go in and check on her.”
Nodding demurely, Renna curtsied and followed him down the hallway.
Vaspar stood at a respectful distance, so that he could not see inside the room when Renna opened the door. It wouldn’t do to see Arra in an indecent state, after all.
Renna turned the latch and pushed the door open.
Then she put her hands to her mouth and screamed loud enough to wake the dead.
Vaspar quickly moved to her side, saw what she saw, and realized that she wasn’t screaming quite that loud.
Because Arra lay unmoving on the floor, blood pooling on the carpeted floor beneath her.
Grabbing Renna by the shoulders, Vaspar quickly guided her away from the doorway and down the hall.
As he did, he heard the footfalls of several people coming from the end of the hall, as various servants ran upstairs to learn the reason for Renna’s piercing scream. The first to arrive at the landing was one of the footmen, a bearded youth.
“Andres,” Vaspar barked, “something horrible has happened. Send for sir and madam immediately.”
Nodding, Andres turned to go back downstairs.
“And Andres!” Vaspar said after a moment, realizing what else needed to be done.
The footman stopped and turned around.
“After that, go to Unicorn Precinct. We’ll need the Castle Guard.”
Keith R.A. DeCandido is a white male in his late forties, approximately two hundred pounds. He was last seen in the wilds of the Bronx, New York City, though he is often sighted in other locales. Usually he is armed with a laptop computer, which some have classified as a deadly weapon. Through use of this laptop, he has inflicted more than fifty novels, as well as an indeterminate number of comic books, nonfiction, novellas, and works of short fiction on an unsuspecting reading public. Many of these are set in the milieus of television shows, games, movies, and comic books, among them Star Trek, Alien, Cars, Summoners War, Doctor Who, Supernatural, World of Warcraft, Marvel Comics, and many more.
We have received information confirming that more stories involving Danthres, Torin, and the city-state of Cliff’s End can be found in the novels Dragon Precinct, Unicorn Precinct, Goblin Precinct, Gryphon Precinct, and the forthcoming Phoenix Precinct and Manticore Precinct, as well as the short-story collections Tales from Dragon Precinct and the forthcoming More Tales from Dragon Precinct. His other recent crimes against humanity include A Furnace Sealed, the debut of a new urban fantasy series taking place in DeCandido’s native Bronx; the Alien novel Isolation; the Marvel’s Tales of Asgard trilogy of prose novels starring Marvel’s versions of Thor, Sif, and the Warriors Three; short stories in the anthologies Aliens: Bug Hunt, Joe Ledger: Unstoppable, The Best of Bad-Ass Faeries, The Best of Defending the Future, TV Gods: Summer Programming, X-Files: Trust No One, Nights of the Living Dead, the award-winning Planned Parenthood benefit anthology Mine!, the two Baker Street Irregulars anthologies, and Release the Virgins!; and articles about pop culture for Tor.com and on his own Patreon.
If you see DeCandido, do not approach him, but call for backup immediately. He is often seen in the company of a suspicious-looking woman who goes by the street name of “Wrenn,” as well as several as-yet-unidentified cats. A full dossier can be found at DeCandido.net