Life at Ever After School has become familiar for Rory. She’s been on two quests, she’s a great sword fighter, and she has terrific friends. But familiar is no fairy tale, and Rory is still anxiously awaiting the chance to star in her own.
But as her connection to the Snow Queen continues to grow, Rory realizes her starring role might be well underway. When the Snow Queen sends the Pied Piper to kidnap several children, including the sibling of a fellow EAS-er, the teachers think the rescue mission is too dangerous and won’t send any kids. But Rory, Chase, and Lena are determined to help, and it’s not long before they find themselves in more trouble than they can handle. Then again, it wouldn’t be Ever After School if things worked out according to plan…
|Publisher:||Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers|
|Series:||The Ever Afters , #3|
|Product dimensions:||5.10(w) x 7.50(h) x 1.10(d)|
|Lexile:||730L (what's this?)|
|Age Range:||8 - 12 Years|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Of Sorcery and Snow
he wolves might not have attacked if we had left right after school. If we’d headed for Golden Gate Park on time, they might never have sniffed us out.
Of course, I wanted to hurry for a completely different reason. I squinted up the hill. Half of our classmates had clustered behind my best friend, trying to convince him to borrow their skateboards.
“We don’t have time for this, Chase! We need to get to EAS!” I told him.
Even thirty feet away, with a giant homemade ramp on the sidewalk between us, I could see Chase rolling his eyes. “Trust me, we won’t miss the tournament,” he said. He knew how much I wanted to wipe the smug look off a certain sword master’s face. “This’ll just take two minutes.”
“What’s the deal with that Ever After School?” asked the freckled kid who sat behind us in pre-algebra. “You, Rory, and Lena go every day.”
You could tell by the way he said it: He thought eighth graders going to day care was the lamest thing since kids started bringing their teachers apples.
Ever After School wasn’t day care. It was a program for fairy-tale Characters-in-training. I’d been going for about two years, my other best friend Lena for a little longer. Chase lived there with his dad.
But we obviously couldn’t tell that to a kid who didn’t know magic was real. I hadn’t even broken that news to my parents yet.
“It’s awesome. That’s all you need to know,” Chase said coldly. “Hey, Rory! Move, or I might land on you.”
Sighing, I trotted halfway up the steps to our school, Lawton Academy for the Gifted. It wasn’t that foggy today, but the sky was gray, the clouds close.
The door opened behind me. Lena came out wearing yellow rain boots, a yellow raincoat, and a waterproof backpack over her shoulder. “Ready! I—” Then she stopped. “Oh, hold on. I forgot my umbrella.”
She rushed back in, and I sighed again.
All I wanted to do was get to EAS, sign up for a duel with Hansel, and kick the sword master’s butt. I’d been fantasizing about it for months—no, years. During my first sword lesson, Hansel had told us, You have no idea what you might be up against. You would all be dead in two moves if the war hadn’t ended. Especially you girls. When I’d told him that we might grow up to be even better than him someday, he’d just sneered at me.
Well, today was the day I’d prove it.
But I couldn’t do that if we missed the whole tournament. EAS only held it every three years, and it would end in an hour and a half. Plus, we had a pretty long walk ahead of us—four city blocks and the whole Golden Gate Park before we even reached the Door Trek door. If I lost my chance just because my friends were too slow . . .
No. Never mind. I still remembered how much school sucked before Chase and Lena started coming with me.
Because my mom’s job made us move every three or four months, I’d been the new kid more times than I could count. I’d gotten used to it. Most of the time, it was just lonely.
Then, one morning last spring, Chase had shown up in my homeroom, and Lena had arrived the week after that. I hadn’t asked them to come. My family had moved twice since then, and both times Mom had dragged me to a new school. Chase and Lena had been there too—even if they had to enchant every teacher, secretary, and computer to get themselves into the school’s system.
Skateboarding and excessive rain gear were no big deal. I definitely had the best friends in the whole world, magical or otherwise.
“Rory! You’re not looking!” Chase called.
I turned back to the top of the hill. “If I watch, can we do a warm-up match when we get to EAS?”
“Only if I hear a big round of applause.” Chase hopped on the skateboard and rolled down the slope. He didn’t brake or even take a few turns like the other boys had. He just barreled full tilt for the ramp.
The door squeaked open again, and a second later, Lena clutched my arm. “He’s not even wearing a helmet!”
The skateboard’s wheels clattered when they hit the ramp. Then Chase sailed off the end, way too high, and he grabbed the front end of the board. Gravity dragged him back down, and he hit the sidewalk smoothly. The boys rushed down the hill after him, cheering.
“I thought you were going to fly straight into traffic!” Lena told Chase. He just swerved to a stop right in front of us and grinned expectantly.
But I didn’t have good news. “That jump wasn’t human,” I said, and his face fell.
Chase was half Fey. He had wings, which were invisible most of the time, and he couldn’t resist using them to show off. It hadn’t taken him long to figure out that he was a natural on a skateboard and that regular kids were a lot easier to impress than Characters and fairies. He always asked me to watch, so I could tell him if he overshot.
“About eight feet too high, I think,” I added gently, and Chase nodded.
Lena looked at me funny, not getting it. She didn’t know that Chase’s mom was Fey. I’d tried to convince him to tell Lena a hundred times. She was the smartest person I knew. She was eventually going to figure it out, and then she would probably be furious with us for keeping such a big secret from her. But Chase refused.
So, except for all the grown-ups, I was the only Character at EAS who knew.
The boys reached us, and every single kid was begging Chase to teach them how to get that much air. His grin immediately reappeared.
Lena and I exchanged a look.
“We’ll meet you at the crosswalk,” she told him, and we skirted around the crowd, down the sidewalk, to the street corner. We knew from experience that Chase liked to bask in our classmates’ admiration for a while, but when he noticed we were leaving without him, Chase broke away and caught up.
I stared at the crosswalk signal and willed it to change. Underneath it, a college student in a red sweatshirt was chatting on her phone. Her enormous black dog stood higher than her waist, and it didn’t have a leash. It turned toward us, its eyes glinting yellow.
Chase looked at the bank sign clock over Lena’s shoulder. “Wait. Is it really three twenty-two? Registration for the tournament ended at six fifteen, Eastern Standard Time. I totally forgot.”
Seven minutes ago. I froze. He’d spent weeks helping me train. He knew how important this was. I couldn’t believe he’d—
“Rory, he’s messing with you,” Lena said.
Chase laughed. “April Fool’s!”
He loved April Fool’s jokes. He’d also tied my shoelaces to my desk in English, stolen Lena’s textbook in math, unplugged all the computers in the computer lab, and cast a glamour over our chemistry experiment, turning the sulfur bright blue. Our teacher had a hard time trying to explain that one.
I rolled my eyes to hide my relief. “I can’t believe I fell for that.”
The light changed, and we hurried across the street. The giant black dog sniffed at us as we passed, its ears pricked forward. We turned down the hill, the park very green ahead of us.
“I can. You’re taking this tournament way too seriously,” Chase said, obviously trying to sneak in one last lesson before we reached EAS. “You’re never going to beat Hansel if you don’t loosen up. Getting all nervous is going to make you stiff. It’ll slow you down a fraction.”
“No, Rory—you’re going to do great,” Lena said firmly, but she was just saying that to be a good friend. She was more of a magician than a fighter. “You’ll beat him easy.”
“I hope so,” I said.
I’d been watching Hansel for two years. I knew his habits. He always fought with a broadsword, and he always finished duels in one of two ways: If he wanted to lull his students into overconfidence, he struck high with a one-handed strike, then low, faked a blow to the left—and always left; I think he had an old injury that made him a little slower coming from the right—stepped inside the kid’s guard, and disarmed them. If he just wanted to get the duel over with quickly, Hansel switched to a two-handed grip, locked swords with the student, and kind of leaned on the crossed blades until the kid either buckled or freaked. Then he did the disarm. I’d never seen him end a fight any other way—not even with his advanced classes.
Chase and I had run through both scenarios until I was sure I could outmaneuver Hansel. All I had to worry about now was if the tricks I planned would work on an opponent bigger, stronger, and heavier than Chase. And more experienced. And not nearly as likely to go easy on me.
Right. I wasn’t worried at all.
The street was full of traffic. Some smoke wafted toward us, and Lena waved it away, shooting a glare at the driver who’d rolled down his car window for a cigarette. He didn’t notice. He was too busy turning up the radio.
“. . . a frightening case of misreporting,” said the announcer. “The incident in Portland was not an April Fool’s joke. Those children are missing. The mass kidnapping is still under investigation, and the authorities have yet to name any suspects.”
Mass kidnapping sounded serious. So serious that my worrywart mom would probably want to see me as soon as she heard about it. That’s fine, I thought, walking even faster, as long as I have my match with Hansel first.
We stepped into the park, and the trees closed over our heads. Pine smells replaced exhaust. Tourists passed us on their way to the exit, see-through ponchos over their I LEFT MY HEART IN SAN FRANCISCO T-shirts. No other humans were in sight, but two huge dogs sat beside the trail ahead. The dark gray one with white paws tilted its head at us and whined, but the brown one nipped its ear. Golden Gate Park had some weird strays.
Suddenly Chase flinched. “Did I just feel a raindrop?” He hated the rain, especially getting his wings wet. He told me once that they itched while they dried.
As I pulled up my hood, Lena shook her umbrella open, happy to be prepared. “I can share!”
“We’ll just hurry,” Chase said, practically running down a sidewalk lined with benches. “It’s not bad yet.”
My eyes landed on a puddle forming on the concrete ahead, the perfect revenge for earlier. I grinned. “Lena, are you thinking what I’m thinking?”
She spotted it a second later. “Yep!”
Lena and I ran up to it, bending our knees dramatically. Catching on, Chase sprinted out of the splash zone.
We didn’t jump.
“April Fool’s!” I said, and Lena and I cracked up.
“Hilarious, you guys.” Chase turned onto the next trail.
“Ooooo, I see,” I teased as we veered toward the bridge. We always crossed Stow Lake and followed the path around the island. Lena was sure gnomes had built and hidden a colony between the waterfall and the gazebo. She was hoping to find one of their hats for an experiment. “You can dish out the April Fool’s jokes, but you can’t take—”
Three enormous dogs stood on the bridge, blocking our path. I stopped in my tracks, wondering how they’d caught up to us so fast.
“I’ve seen those dogs before.” I was sure they were the same ones—the black one from the crosswalk, the older brown one, and the little gray with the big, white paws. All three triangular faces turned toward me in unison, pink tongues hanging past long teeth, and the hairs stood up on the back of my neck.
Lena squeaked and ducked behind a tree so she could unzip her backpack.
“Crap.” Chase thrust his arm in the front pocket of his carryall—the one Lena had designed specifically for easy access to weapons—and drew out his sword.
If these two started freaking out, then we had a battle coming. So I started searching my backpack too. Somewhere in there was my sword, but since my carryall was the older model, it didn’t have the convenient sword pocket—my sword could be anywhere.
“Rory, those aren’t dogs!” Lena whispered. “They’re wolves.”
I could tell from the way she said it that these weren’t the regular, endangered variety. The Snow Queen sometimes made wolves for her army, transforming criminals to create a soldier with the intelligence of a human and the teeth and claws of an animal.
Magical creatures sometimes snuck into human areas, like the bridge troll we’d once caught in Boston, but I had the awful feeling that these wolves had been waiting for us.
“At least there are only three of them—” I started, trying to make myself feel better.
Behind us, something howled, and a half dozen other wolves joined it, including the ones on the bridge. Forget the hairs on the back of my neck. Every hair on my body stood up.
“Looks like you’re going to get that warm-up fight after all, Rory,” Chase said.
But they weren’t attacking. The three furry guys on the bridge hadn’t even moved, except for the younger one, who tilted his head a little. Maybe they were here for some other reason. “So, what do we think? Did one of us just become the new Little Red Riding Hood?” I asked.
Lena shook her head, kind of apologetically, like she knew how much I hoped that was true. “I think one of us would have to be wearing red for that.”
“The Snow Queen just sent something new to kill us,” Chase said. “You know, since dragons, ice griffins, and trolls didn’t work.”
I’d been afraid of that. The Snow Queen liked to send her minions to kill Characters.
She especially liked trying to kill us. This was the second time her forces had ambushed us out of the blue. In February she’d sent a squadron of trolls after Lena at home. Luckily, Chase and I had been visiting. We’d managed to fight them off and transport Lena’s whole house to EAS’s courtyard.
“We’ve never been attacked in public before.” I stuck my head half in the carryall, determined to find my sword.
“First time for everything,” Chase said. “We have company. Four more wolves at two o’clo—Watch out!”
I looked up. The big black wolf had run forward, snarling seven feet away. Chase raised his sword to defend us, but he didn’t notice the little gray one running at us.
Neither did Lena, who was busy tucking a baby food jar labeled 3 into her raincoat. When the gray wolf leaped, teeth bared, I shoved Lena down with my right hand and swung out with my left.
The punch connected with the wolf’s muzzle. It sailed back thirty feet and hit the lake with a splash so big that lake water doused the top of the bridge. Whoops. Definitely overkill.
I was still getting used to the silver ring that gave me the West Wind’s strength. I hadn’t learned how to totally control all that power yet, but at least I had gotten better at not smashing stuff accidentally.
The little wolf didn’t surface. His brown pack mate on the bridge howled, probably calling for backup.
“Thanks.” Lena peeked inside my bag, pulled out my sword, and pressed the ridged hilt into my palm. “Remind me to put a hook in here for your sword belt.”
“We need to get out of here, before the rest of them catch up,” Chase said, as Lena and I slung our carryalls back on. He sprinted down the path along the lake, not even looking twice at the pile of black fur he’d left behind.
My stomach squirmed. Chase killed bad guys so easily, and I knew he wanted me to do the same. But I couldn’t imagine killing one the way I slayed dragons and ice griffins. These wolves had been human before the Snow Queen enchanted them. I didn’t want to go home knowing I’d taken a life, without being able to tell my mom why I was upset.
Something snarled at my elbow. I spun and crashed my hilt between the eyes of a small red-brown wolf. It fell, legs sprawled out in all directions, its breath whistling through its black nostrils. It didn’t get up.
Knocking a wolf out with one blow felt pretty satisfying though.
“We need a doorway,” Lena said, huffing just ahead. “We’re not going to make it to the Door Trek door.”
She was right. The director of EAS frowned on temporary-transport spells, but for emergencies, Lena had premixed some paint with just enough powdered dragon scale to magic the three of us back to EAS. This definitely counted as an emergency.
“What about the museum?” Chase said.
“In this rain?” Lena asked, incredulous.
“It’ll probably be filled with tourists right now,” I agreed. “We need to look for a shed or a public bathroom or something.”
Lena read the sign we sprinted past, her hands on her glasses to keep them steady. “Or the Shakespeare Garden!”
Chase snorted. “You want to go there? What’ll keep the wolves away? The flowers or the poetry?”
“No, the fence has a gate,” I said. “Where is it?”
Lena double-checked the sign. “Oh,” she said in a small voice. Then she pointed at the far side of the lake.
“You mean, back toward the wolves?” Chase said, obviously not a fan of the idea.
But Lena was right on this. “We need a door frame. It’s better than losing time searching for one.”
“Time’s not the issue.” Chase said. “Wait, are you still afraid we’ll miss the tournament? I was joking.”
A wolf howled in the distance, and we all turned to stare in that direction. All we saw were trees.
“There’s probably more than one,” I said.
“Lena, can you check?” Chase asked.
We ran up the path. His way, unfortunately. Since he had the most fighting experience, he was used to taking the lead during attacks.
Lena fumbled inside her jacket and pulled out a fabric-covered square—her mini magic mirror. This was an improved one. Since the first walkie-talkie M3, she’d added a video recorder, a flashlight, texting capabilities, and most recently, a radar for bad guys.
“Lena?” Chase said, sounding impatient.
“It’s a lot harder to read when I’m running! Wait, just a—” Before we rounded the corner, Lena gasped and threw out both arms. Chase and I skidded to a stop. Four wolves stood shoulder to shoulder across the trail, growling. White teeth gleamed in their black gums, gray fur bristling around their necks. The second pack had outrun us.
“Rory!” Chase grabbed a fallen branch from beside the trail, hacked some vines to free it, and tossed it to me. I passed my sword to Lena, so I could catch the branch with both hands. The wolves plowed forward. I swung. A gust of wind built up over my left hand, and then the branch connected. Three wolves whooshed backward. With a crunch of broken glass, two hit a car parked thirty yards away; the other smashed into a tree as big as the one in EAS’s courtyard. It slid to the ground, leaving a canine-shaped scar on the tree bark.
It whimpered, its forelegs bent in an impossible direction.
Lena handed my sword back. Chase had taken care of the fourth wolf. Red spilled into the fur above its heart. With his sword, he pointed at the injured wolf beside the tree. His blade was covered in fresh blood. “Are you going to finish that one off?”
I scowled at him but didn’t answer.
I tried to explain it to him once. As much as I loved EAS, being a Character wasn’t easy. It forced me to do things I would have really liked to leave to the grown-ups. Because I had to, I would face off with the Snow Queen and her minions. I would keep Chase’s secrets from Lena, and even lie to my family, but I drew the line at killing. Not forever, of course—I knew I’d need to kill enemies eventually, but it could wait until high school.
Maybe I hadn’t explained myself all that well, because Chase had only replied, “Waiting won’t change anything, Rory.”
He still bugged me about it too. And only me, even though I knew for a fact no one else in eighth grade had slain anyone besides beasts, like dragons and ice griffins. Even Lena, who had been in almost as many battles as me and Chase. It drove me crazy.
Chase rolled his eyes. “Come on, Rory—”
Lena sprinted back the way we’d come, cradling the M3 to her chest. “Tell her off later, Chase. More are coming, and one of them is really big.”
Chase wheeled around too. “Better to take on two than five.”
We dashed around the lake again. It was pouring now. The ground was soggy, and mud splattered up the back of my clothes.
Lena led us down a sidewalk between the road and some trees. Three cars passed, and I really hoped it was raining too hard for the people inside to notice that Chase and I both had swords. The path opened up, and I saw buildings—one was big and boxy, another had a lawn and glass bubbles on its roof. Between them was a sunken courtyard.
Chase wiped the rain out of his eyes. “Last call for the museum.”
“I don’t think so.” A very big group of tourists, all with cameras, stood under the awning. They saw the swords. A few even took pictures.
I turned away, shielding my face, and dashed down the stairway to the courtyard. The last thing I needed was someone recognizing me and selling the photo to some tabloids. I could see the caption now: DAUGHTER OF HOLLYWOOD ROYALTY CARRIES WEAPON INTO GOLDEN GATE PARK, WOUNDS ENDANGERED WOLVES.
The courtyard was full of bald-looking, knobby trees. Their leaves had barely started growing in, so it was easy to see the wolves stream down the steps after us.
Lena glanced down at her M3. “Eleven. Oh my gumdrops. Oh my gum—”
“Don’t panic,” Chase said. “We’ve faced worse odds than this.”
“When?” Lena asked. “Because this is looking pretty bad.”
Near the museum, someone screamed. We looked back.
An enormous wolf trotted down the steps, easily four times as big as the others. The rain had soaked its black fur, but you could see red-brown streaks running down its sides—exactly the same color as dried blood. When it saw us looking, it howled so loud that it rattled the concrete under my sneakers.
Sometimes villains are so bad that you recognize them instantly, even if you’ve never seen them before.
Ripper. As in Jack the Ripper, the serial killer who was famous in Victorian London even before the Snow Queen made him a wolf. He had held the Big Bad Wolf title for one hundred and fifty years.
He’d never been captured. He’d never been defeated. He hadn’t even been seen since his mistress, the Snow Queen, had lost the last war.
“Scratch what I said about panicking,” Chase said in a tiny voice.
“Is that who I think it is?” Lena squeaked, starting to slow down. “Oh my—”
It didn’t matter. We still needed to get of there.
“Lena, quick—before they catch up.” I shook her shoulder, and she looked at me, her eyes enormous behind her glasses. “Where’s the Shakespeare Garden?”
“It’s behind the Tea Garden.” She leaped up the stairs and sprinted past a line of benches. Chase and I followed.
I glanced back one more time before we reentered the trees. The smaller wolves were only a hundred yards behind us, but Ripper hadn’t sped up at all. He just prowled behind the others, his jaws open in a smug doggy grin. Like he had all the time in the world. Like he knew he was going to get us.
I hated it when bad guys underestimated us.
“Here!” Lena dashed along an iron fence and through the opening. She pulled the baby food jar of green-gold paint from her pocket. “Oh no—where’s my brush?”
Chase reached the gate next. He grabbed the iron bars and waited under the sign that read SHAKESPEARE GARDEN, its letters decorated with metal leaves. “Rory!” He pointed over my shoulder. “Wolf!”
Without looking, I spun and punched. My fist caught a white wolf right between the eyes. It flew back with a whine, and its pack mates slowed to dart around him.
I swung myself inside, and Chase slammed the door. Breathing hard, hands over my knees, I scanned our defensive position—a smallish garden, about the size of eight parking spaces, encircled by a tall black fence. The garden didn’t have that much in it, just a brick walkway that led to a couple benches and a low brick monument.
“Lena, can you set up a temporary portal with a closed door?” Chase shouted, holding the gate shut. “Please say yes.”
“No, but just lock it.” Lena inspected some small doors set straight into the brick and opened them. A metal bust of Shakespeare sat inside, protected by a sheet of clear plastic. “I’ve got another idea. Just give me a second to get the Plexiglas off.”
“Awesome. Rory, help me look for something to tie this closed with,” Chase said, kicking through some leaves. “The park must use a chain to lock up. Check the bushes.”
A wolf yipped, just up the trail. We didn’t have time to search the whole garden.
I pulled my carryall in front of me and groped around until I found my sword belt. I tugged my sheath off and wrapped the sturdy leather strap once, twice, four times around the gate before buckling it closed.
Through the fence, I spotted three wolves—smallish with dark brown backs—tearing up the trail.
Chase stepped back, studying my handiwork. “They might try to chew through that.”
“You can stab them when they try,” I pointed out.
One of the wolves threw itself against the door, trying to open the gate. Not a great idea. The belt latch held, and Chase slid his sword through the metal bars, straight into the wolf’s throat.
It collapsed in front of us, and I felt kind of guilty for suggesting it.
“Lena, they’re catching up!” Chase said.
“Two more minutes!” Lena shouted back.
Another little wolf trotted up the trail, water dripping from its gray fur. I recognized its big white paws—it must have swum out of Stow Lake, and it looked absolutely thrilled when it spotted the belt. Definitely too smart for a regular wolf. It jumped up, rested its front paws on the gate, and angled its teeth toward the leather, but before Chase could even lift his sword, a brown wolf shouldered its pack mate aside.
“Mark, you heard the boss’s orders,” it said.
I stumbled backward, my mouth open. I’d run into a bunch of fairy-tale wolves in the Glass Mountain, but I’d never heard a wolf talk.
“I know, I know,” said Mark, the gray wolf who tried to gnaw through my belt. “We wait till he gets here.”
He even sounded younger than the others, maybe the same age as Lena’s brother George. He skulked back to the other wolves, his tail between his legs, and it was easy to imagine the teenager he’d been before the Snow Queen enchanted him—probably as gangly and clumsy as George had been when he’d had a growth spurt last fall.
Great. I could never kill them now.
Chase’s eyes bulged. “Rory, this is bad.”
“No kidding,” I replied, as six more furry blurs ran along the fence.
“No, I mean, these are fresh wolves,” Chase said.
I glanced at him. I didn’t think he meant fresh as in cheeky.
“What’s the holdup here?” said one of the new arrivals—a black wolf with an X-shaped scar on his snout.
“Waiting for Ripper, Lieutenant Cross,” said Mark. “Just like he ordered.”
“The boss’s exact orders were to keep them busy,” said Cross. “The magician is working a transport spell. Besides, we know how to deal with fences, don’t we?”
Immediately, one of the big white wolves stood beside the iron bars. A brown wolf shuffled off into the trees, so deep in the shadows that I couldn’t see it anymore. Then it sprinted out. It jumped on the back of its white-furred pack mate and leaped again, clear over the fence. Chase slashed once—the wolf’s body hit the ground first, and its head dropped next, a few feet away.
“The same will happen to anybody else who comes in here,” my friend told the wolves, his face dark.
Every once in a while, Chase really freaks me out.
“Okay! The portal’s up,” Lena called.
But all the biggest wolves were standing by the fence now. Their smaller partners were disappearing into the woods for a running start.
“We kind of have a situation here, Lena.” Swallowing hard, I raised my sword. I couldn’t let Chase do all the work. He would never let me forget it.
“A big situation,” Chase added, looking up the trail.
Ripper padded into sight. My throat clenched. He was bigger than a buffalo.
“It’s okay!” Lena said. I could hear her rummaging through her carryall. “I have an invention for that.”
I thought she meant her new retractable spear, the weapon she only got out when we were so outnumbered Chase and I weren’t sure we could cover her. This was definitely one of those times, but I honestly didn’t see how Lena’s fighting skills could save us.
Three wolves sprinted out of the woods. Their pack mates beside the fence braced themselves, standing very still.
“Found it!” said Lena. “Up, bat! Beat!”
A wooden baseball bat sailed into view. At first I thought she’d thrown it, but as soon as the first wolf cleared the fence, the bat swerved. It walloped the wolf’s ribs and sped down the fence to smash another wolf across the nose.
I’d never seen this invention before.
“Oh, good—it works,” Lena said. “Come on.”
Ripper must have realized that his pack was losing. He began to run.
We were faster. “Ladies first,” Chase said, gesturing at Shakespeare’s head.
The frame around the bust shone green-gold. I sprinted for it, sliding my sword in its beltless sheath and hoping that Lena had finished her paint job. Otherwise, I would head-butt a metal Shakespeare.
Growling, the ginormous wolf lifted a paw over the fence.
I squeezed my eyes shut, dove . . .
. . . and I promptly collided with someone. She fell over when I hit her. “Oww,” she said when Chase and Lena flew into me.
I looked up. The Tree of Hope’s leaves shaded us. Branches stretched out and around, dipping to the grass and arcing back up to the sky, and we were surrounded by familiar Characters.
Ever After School. My favorite place.
“Made it!” I cried, still out of breath.
“Geez, Rory,” said the kid I’d knocked over. Miriam—an eleventh grader and George’s girlfriend—flipped her long black hair out of her eyes and shot me an irritated glare. “You don’t need to tackle anybody. The tournament’s not over yet.”