By Chris Colfer
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The thrilling third book in Chris Colfer's #1 New York Times bestselling A Tale of Magic… series
As the doors were pushed, flames and magma spewed out from between the cracks, offering glimpses into the world of fire and chaos beyond them.
Brystal Evergreen is running out of time. It has been almost one year since she made a deal with Death to find and destroy the Immortal in exchange for her life. But she still hasn’t found a single clue about who or where the Immortal is. To make matters worse, something dark and malignant has risen from deep within the earth, threatening life as we know it.
To stop this new evil, the fairies and witches must work with all the kingdoms and territories, including the Righteous Brotherhood and their Army of the Dead. But is the threat more familiar than they expected? And why is a secretive group of Sorcerers convinced that Xanthous Hayfield is connected to it?
Sorcery, magic, and science collide in this thrilling third book in the Tale of Magic… series that will keep readers on the edge of their seats.
THE RIGHTEOUS EMPIRE
It had been almost a year since the Southern Kingdom’s last sunrise. The citizens would never forget the horrifying afternoon when Prince “Seven” Gallivant marched his Righteous Army of the Dead through the countryside and took Chariot Hills by storm. There, the prince sat upon his late grandfather’s throne in the Champion Castle and declared himself—not the new king of the Southern Kingdom—but the emperor of a new Righteous Empire.
Unfortunately, there was nothing anyone in the Southern Kingdom could do to stop him. It was well within the prince’s legal rights to change his newly inherited kingdom however he wanted. But not even his most loyal followers could foresee the horrors he had in mind, and soon they began to resent the monster they had helped create.
The emperor’s first act was to dissolve the Southern Kingdom’s military and replace it with his Army of the Dead. His second act was to strip the Justices of all power and give their positions to the clansmen of his devoted Righteous Brotherhood. Third, the emperor eradicated the Southern Kingdom’s constitution and created a new one based on the principles of the Brotherhood’s oppressive Righteous Philosophy.
Under the new laws, all schools and churches were shut down—the only thing citizens were allowed to study or worship was the emperor himself. All the markets and shops were boarded up—food and supplies were now distributed at the emperor’s will. All the talking creatures—elves, dwarfs, trolls, goblins, and ogres—were exiled to their respective territories and banned from returning. The borders were permanently closed, and any communication with the outside world was strictly forbidden.
The emperor also placed his entire population under harsh curfews and social restrictions. No one was allowed to be outdoors from dusk until dawn, citizens needed permission to travel beyond their homes, and it was illegal for people to gather with anyone outside their immediate family. Additionally, all forms of creative expression, such as art, music, and theater, were outlawed. The only clothes the citizens were allowed to wear in public were the drab black uniforms the emperor provided. Private residences were routinely searched for money, jewelry, weapons, and other valuables, and they were taken as “donations” to the Empire.
The emperor’s dead soldiers patrolled the streets day and night to make sure the new laws were being followed, and the walking corpses weren’t shy about making grotesque examples out of people who disobeyed. So the citizens stayed in their homes to avoid trouble, all the while praying for something—or someone—to liberate them from this new nightmare.
However, the most severe change to the constitution was the law regarding magic. The Empire sentenced people to death simply for sympathizing with the magical community. The broad decree gave the emperor the right to imprison anyone he thought might be supporting his magical enemies.
In the months following the emperor’s succession, the Army of the Dead rounded up over one hundred “magic sympathizers,” and they were quickly sentenced to hang without any evidence or trial. Strangely, although the verdicts were rushed, the actual executions were put on hold. The emperor never gave an indication of what he was waiting for, but secretly he was saving the executions for a very strategic occasion.
In his first weeks of power, the emperor demolished the University of Law in the Chariot Hills town square and constructed a massive coliseum in its place. The coliseum towered over the other buildings in the capital—it had enough seating for thousands of people—and was purposely built with only two entrances, making it difficult to enter and exit. The project was finished just two weeks before the Righteous Empire’s one-year anniversary. On the evening of its completion, the emperor ordered all citizens of Chariot Hills to the coliseum to witness the delayed executions of the “magic sympathizers.”
The Righteous Brotherhood—dressed head to toe in their ghostly silver uniforms and armed with their glowing bloodstone weapons—herded the tired, hungry, and dejected citizens into the coliseum. The emperor was already there when his people arrived, standing in a private balcony at the very top of the coliseum. He radiated crimson light thanks to his bloodstone suit, cape, and crown that curled around the sides of his face like the horns of a ram.
The emperor never looked down as his citizens filled the seats—he only had eyes for the land surrounding the coliseum. He held a pair of binoculars tightly against his eyes, scanning every inch of the horizon and every patch of the evening sky.
“Your Greatness.” The emperor’s High Commander bowed as he stepped onto the private balcony. “The citizens are seated and the soldiers are in position, sir.”
“And the archers?” Seven asked.
“Stationed throughout the coliseum and on every rooftop in the capital.”
“And the entrances?”
“Completely surrounded, sir,” the High Commander said. “I’m confident we’ve created the most secure structure in the world.”
“Secure enough for her, High Commander?” Seven pressed.
“If she finds a way inside, she won’t get out alive.”
Seven grinned under his binoculars but didn’t lower them.
“Good,” he said. “Let’s begin.”
The High Commander hesitated. “Sir, are you certain she’ll show? Given the extra security measures, it would be extremely risky for—”
“Trust me, High Commander, she’ll take the bait!” Seven said. “Now proceed. I’ve waited long enough for this moment.”
With that, the High Commander turned on his heel and faced the center of the coliseum. At his signal, two clansmen began turning a lever, and a heavy caged door opened behind them. More clansmen came through the door, escorting over a hundred prisoners from a dungeon belowground. The hands and feet of the “magic sympathizers” were wrapped in thick chains, and they could barely shuffle forward as the clansmen shoved them into the arena.
Although the citizens wanted to scream at the sight of their friends and family in chains, they remained as quiet as possible. Still, a few cries escaped their lips and echoed through the quiet coliseum.
“Start with the Evergreen family,” Seven called over his shoulder.
Five clansmen plucked the five members of the Evergreen family from the long line of prisoners. Justice Evergreen and his wife, their sons Brooks and Barrie, and Barrie’s wife, Penny, were all dragged up the steps of a tall wooden gallows and placed in a row behind a single noose. The citizens were impressed by how stoic the Evergreens remained—some of them even seemed eager to be there. Mrs. Evergreen eyed the noose with a wide and creepy smile, Penny was so excited she was practically buzzing, and Brooks gave a thumbs-up to the people in the crowd.
“How dare you treat us like criminals!” Justice Evergreen shouted. “For God’s sake, I am a Justice of the Southern Kingdom! I’ve devoted my life to preserving the law!”
“No, you were a Justice,” Seven scoffed. “And soon you’ll cease to exist at all.”
“Shall we start with the former Justice, my lord?” the High Commander asked.
“No, hang the younger brother first,” Seven instructed. “If that doesn’t get the Fairy Godmother’s attention, nothing will.”
The clansmen pushed Barrie forward and fastened the noose tightly around his neck.
“Oh, w-w-woe is me!” Penny cried. “I can’t b-b-believe I am about to witness my husband’s d-d-death! What a c-c-cruel world!”
“Don’t worry, Jenny—I mean, Penny!” Barrie could barely speak with the rope around his throat. “It’ll all be over soon.”
“P-p-please show him some m-m-mercy!” his wife pleaded.
“I suppose in some ways hanging him is rather merciful,” Brooks said. “It’s much quicker than being burned, drowned, crucified, or boiled. And it isn’t nearly as messy as beheading, impaling, drawing and quartering, crushing by stones—”
“Pssst! Brooks!” Justice Evergreen whispered. “Zip it! It’s not your turn to speak!”
“Oh, sorry!” Brooks whispered back. “I didn’t realize I said that out loud.”
“Well, I agree with my son!” Mrs. Evergreen announced theatrically, making sure everyone in the coliseum could hear her. “You call this a public execution? I’ve been to tea parties that were more menacing! Come on, Emperor, you can do better than this! Give us blood! Give us suspense! Give us absolute terror!”
Mrs. Evergreen stared up at the emperor with large, exhilarated eyes, as if she was daring him to order a more gruesome death for her son. Justice Evergreen groaned and gave his family members a dirty scowl.
“Guys! We all agreed to stick to the script! Stop going rogue!”
“You can’t expect a mother to remain silent at a time like this!” Mrs. Evergreen proclaimed. “I want the best for my son—and that includes his execution!”
Justice Evergreen winced and slapped an open palm against his forehead.
“Had I known you were going to act like this, Mrs. Evergreen, I never would have asked you to be my wife!” he grumbled. “Everyone just shut up! I’ll do all the talking from now on!”
The observing citizens found the family discussion peculiar. Confused looks were exchanged throughout the coliseum—even the Righteous Brotherhood were scrunching their foreheads under their masks. The emperor, on the other hand, wasn’t paying any attention to the Evergreens. He had other concerns.
“Something is wrong…,” Seven muttered to himself. “She should be here by now.… Her favorite brother is seconds away from death, and she’s nowhere to be found.…”
The emperor’s heart was racing with anticipation. He feverishly scanned the horizon with his binoculars, worried he had missed something.
“Hang him on three!” the High Commander called to the gallows.
No, this can’t be right… Seven thought. She would rather die than let her family perish.…
So where is she? Why hasn’t she flown to their rescue? What is she waiting for?
“Unless…” Seven said as he was struck by a troubling thought. “She’s already here!”
The emperor spun around and faced the gallows. The floor dropped out from below Barrie’s feet, and his body fell straight through the wooden platform. The horrified crowd gasped; however, the prisoner’s neck didn’t snap as they expected. Instead, Barrie Evergreen’s neck began to stretch and stretch like a rubber band until both of his feet touched the ground. All the citizens throughout the arena screamed—a few even fainted.
“THAT’S NOT BARRIE EVERGREEN!” Seven shouted from the balcony.
“The jig is up!” Justice Evergreen told his family. “It’s go time!”
Suddenly, the chains wrapped around the Evergreens’ bodies evaporated into thin air. The family pulled the skin off their faces and the hair off their heads—they had been wearing enchanted disguises the entire time! As the wigs and masks were removed, the imposters’ true identities were revealed. Justice Evergreen was a chubby young woman with white feathers for hair, Mrs. Evergreen was an enormous doll with button eyes and burlap flesh, Brooks was a walking plant with chlorophyll skin and leaves growing from its scalp, and Penny had wings, bulging eyes, and a stinger like a giant insect.
As if his skull was made of clay, Barrie’s head slipped completely out of the noose, and when he removed his disguise, he turned into a young woman with whiskers and a skunk tail.
“WE’VE BEEN DECEIVED BY WITCHES!” Seven screeched.
If that wasn’t enough to shock the crowded arena, the five clansmen at the gallows abruptly flung off their silver uniforms and five very colorful young people appeared. The first was a young man in a metallic golden suit with fire burning on his head and shoulders. The second was a young woman with curly dark hair who wore a robe made of gleaming emeralds. The third was a girl with a bright orange beehive and a dress made from dripping patches of honeycomb. The fourth was a girl in a sapphire bathing suit whose hair flowed down her body like a continuously flowing waterfall. And finally, the fifth was a beautiful young woman in a sparkling pantsuit, wielding a crystal wand.
“IT’S THE FAIRY COUNCIL!” Seven roared. “KILL THEM! KILL THEM ALL!”
The archers throughout the coliseum aimed their crossbows at the newcomers. Brystal Evergreen pointed her wand at Stitches, Sprout, Beebee, and Pip and broomsticks appeared in their hands. The witches hopped aboard the brooms and flew in circles around the arena. The citizens and clansmen ducked and dived out of the way as the witches looped through the air mere inches above their heads. The motion discombobulated the archers and they didn’t know where or who to shoot first.
“FOOLS! DON’T LET THEM DISTRACT YOU!” Seven ordered. “FIRE AT THE FAIRY GODMOTHER! SHE’S THE PRIORITY!”
“Xanthous! Skylene! Give me some steam!” Brystal said.
A fiery jet erupted from Xanthous’s outstretched palms and a geyser of water sprayed from Skylene’s index fingers. The fire collided with the water, creating an enormous cloud of steam. Brystal waved her wand and a strong wind blew the steam around the center of the coliseum, blocking the fairies and the prisoners from the archers’ sight.
“WHY AREN’T YOU SHOOTING?!” Seven screamed.
“Sir, the archers can’t see where they’re firing! And we still have men down there!” the High Commander said.
“I DON’T CARE WHO OR WHAT THEY HIT! JUST FIRE!” Seven ordered.
The archers fired their crossbows, and bloodstone arrows whizzed through the center of the coliseum, barely missing Brystal and her friends. The clansmen among them tried to use the prisoners as human shields. Brystal waved her wand again and the cowardly clansmen joined the cloud of steam and whirled around the fairies like they were caught in a powerful tornado. The archers lowered their crossbows, afraid they might hit fellow clansmen.
The emperor howled with rage at the Brotherhood’s incompetence. He dashed to the other side of his balcony and called to the dead soldiers patrolling the entrances.
“GUARDS! GET IN HERE AND ATTACK THESE HEATHENS! NOT A SINGLE WITCH OR FAIRY LEAVES THIS COLISEUM ALIVE!”
“Emerelda! Quick! Free the rest of the prisoners from their chains!” Brystal instructed.
While the Army of the Dead rushed inside, Emerelda dashed from prisoner to prisoner and turned their chains into a weak talc stone that crumbled off their hands and feet.
“Lucy! Tangerina! Block the entrances before the soldiers get in!” Brystal said.
The girls raced to the entrances on opposite sides of the coliseum. Lucy hit the ground with a fist and a giant crack zigzagged across the earth. The crack hit the first entrance like a bolt of lightning, causing the doorway to implode before the dead soldiers could get through it. Tangerina sent her swarm of bumblebees into the second entrance and the bees doused the approaching soldiers in honey, sticking them to the floor and walls. Soon the entrance was jammed by sticky skeletons.
“The entrances are blocked, but that means the exits are, too!” Lucy announced. “How are we going to get the prisoners to safety?”
“Leave that to me!” Brystal said.
Brystal pointed her wand at the prisoners and each one’s body was surrounded by a giant bubble. To the prisoners’ amazement, the bubbles rose into the air, carrying them high into the evening sky. Once all the prisoners had floated out of the coliseum, Brystal pointed her wand at Emerelda, Xanthous, Tangerina, Skylene, and Lucy, and then waved it around herself. She and her friends joined the prisoners in bubbles of their own and Stitches, Sprout, Beebee, and Pip followed on their broomsticks.
After the fairies’ departure, the cloud of steam in the arena slowly faded away and the whirling clansmen dropped to the ground. The citizens cheered for the escapees but then quickly fell silent, remembering that such sympathies were illegal. The emperor was so enraged to see the fairies and witches floating away with his prisoners he began foaming at the mouth.
“HIGH COMMANDER, ALERT THE ARCHERS IN THE CITY!” he ordered. “IF YOU LET THE FAIRIES GET AWAY, I WILL HAVE YOUR HEAD ON A PLATTER!”
“Yes, my lord!” the High Commander said.
The High Commander blew a horn to notify the archers positioned on the rooftops throughout the capital. The archers were quick to comply, firing hundreds and hundreds of bloodstone arrows as the escapees drifted over the city. The bubbles were pelted by the arrows, which caused many of them to pop and the prisoners to fall from the sky. Brystal waved her wand and restored their bubbles, but she couldn’t keep up.
“Stitches! Sprout! Beebee! Pip! Help me catch them!” Brystal said.
The witches immediately dived through the air and caught the falling prisoners just moments before they hit the ground. Unfortunately, the archers’ relentless attack showed no signs of slowing down, and the witches quickly ran out of space on their broomsticks.
“YES!” Seven cheered as he watched the bubbles burst. “They’ll never make it out of the capital! They’re all going to drop like flies!”
“Emerelda!” Brystal called over her shoulder. “Call for backup!”
Emerelda nodded and pressed a small emerald whistle against her lips. She blew the whistle with all her might and a sharp tone echoed through the sky.
“Sir, look!” the High Commander said. “Something’s approaching the capital!”
The emperor peered into the distance and every ounce of celebration drained from his spirits. An enormous black shadow appeared on the horizon, moving through the air like a veil caught in the wind. As the shadow flew closer and closer, the emperor realized it wasn’t just one object but thousands moving together. He raised his binoculars for a closer look and discovered a massive flock of gryphons had entered the city!
The magical creatures soared between the buildings of Chariot Hills and attacked the archers throughout the capital. They knocked the clansmen off rooftops with strokes of their wings, they ripped crossbows out of the men’s hands with their beaks, and they snatched handfuls of bloodstone arrows with their claws. The archers were completely caught off guard by the majestic beasts and many abandoned their posts. While the gryphons assaulted the clansmen, the fairies, witches, and prisoners drifted far away from Chariot Hills. Once they were out of the archers’ reach, the magical creatures joined the procession of bubbles, and they all soared safely into the horizon.
“NOOOOOOOOOO!” Seven roared so loudly the entire city could hear him. “HOW IS THIS EVEN POSSIBLE?! HOW COULD WE LET THEM ESCAPE?! AGAIN!”
The High Commander gulped and took a cautious step back.
“My sincerest apologies, my lord,” he said. “I thought our plan was foolproof!”
The emperor’s binoculars began to crunch under his tight grip, but he suddenly went very still and very quiet. His fury was interrupted by something strange he had spotted in the sky.
“Wait a second,” Seven said. “Where did the Fairy Godmother go? She and the fat witch aren’t with the others!”
The emperor scanned the horizon over and over again, but Brystal and Lucy had disappeared.
“Your orders, my lord?” the High Commander asked.
“Gather your men and search the city at once!” Seven demanded. “They’re still here!”
Brystal’s and Lucy’s bubbles descended into the Chariot Hills town square and popped on impact. As soon as they landed, Brystal took off running and Lucy sprinted after her.
“Well, the rescue was a smash but the performance was a flop!” Lucy griped. “I guess that’s what I get for casting amateurs. There’s nothing worse in show business than a novice who thinks they can improvise.”
Brystal abruptly stopped in her tracks and looked around like she was lost. She barely recognized the city she had grown up in. All the buildings were covered in silver banners bearing the emperor’s face or the Righteous Brotherhood’s white wolf symbol, all the doors and windows were boarded up or chained shut, and all the statues and tributes to past rulers had been removed or demolished. The streets were also covered in large piles of ashes, although Brystal couldn’t tell what had been burned. A smoky haze still lingered in the air, making it hard to see more than a few yards in each direction.
“Brystal, what’s wrong?” Lucy asked. “Why did we stop moving?”
“Everything looks so different I can’t tell which building is which anymore,” she said.
“Is there a town directory somewhere?”
“No—but maybe I can make one.”
Brystal closed her eyes and visualized the Chariot Hills from her childhood. She waved one arm in a large circle, and thousands of tiny lights emanated from the tip of her wand, as if she was spraying the streets in a glittery mist. However, the lights didn’t stick to the buildings as they were now, but re-created the city as Brystal remembered it. After she opened her eyes and got her whereabouts, the lights disappeared.
“The library’s over there!” she said. “Follow me! We don’t have much time!”
Brystal grabbed Lucy’s hand and pulled her toward a building with a glass dome, at the far end of the town square. Just like the other buildings, the library was covered in silver banners, but unlike the others, the library’s front steps were surrounded by a tall metal fence. A sign bolted to the fence read:
Under Section Two of the Emperor’s Righteous Constitution,
This Building Is Officially Closed to the Public.
Unauthorized Access Is Forbidden.
Trespassers Will Be Sentenced to Death.
The warning made Brystal’s blood boil. She blasted the fence with her wand, and then Lucy hurried up the front steps and kicked the double doors open. As soon as they stepped inside the dark building, Brystal’s stomach turned. The library had been ransacked beyond recognition! All the furniture was knocked over and the seat cushions had been ripped apart. The large silver globe that once stood regally in the center of the first floor now lay in pieces across the carpet. And most horrifying of all, every bookshelf in the three-story library was empty.
“Slim pickings,” Lucy said.
“No, this isn’t right,” Brystal said. “This place used to be full of books!”
“What do you think happened to them?” Lucy asked.
“Seven must have hidden them somewhere,” she said. “Let’s have a look around and see if they left anything behind.”
Brystal and Lucy wandered through the aisles of the spacious library like rats in a multilevel maze. Unfortunately, not a single page had survived the emperor’s purge. Even the Justices’ secret chamber, which Brystal had discovered when she worked as a maid, was completely vacant. Defeated, Brystal began pacing by a window on the third floor. Her gaze drifted toward the town square outside and her whole body went tense. It had suddenly dawned on her what had created all the ashes in the streets.
“Seven didn’t hide the books—he burned them!” Brystal said in disbelief.
“I’m confused,” Lucy said. “Why would Seven burn a bunch of books?”
Brystal sighed and shook her head. “Because reading inspires thinking, thinking inspires ideas, ideas inspire change, and nothing threatens a tyrant more than change.”
Lucy groaned and made fists with both hands. “God, I HATE that guy!” she declared. “Just when I think it isn’t possible to loathe someone more, he always proves me wrong!”
“Luckily, books can be replaced,” Brystal said. “Well… most books can be replaced.”
Lucy gulped. “Do you think it was destroyed with the others?”
“Honestly, I doubt it was even here to begin with. A book like that would definitely have caught my attention when I was a maid, and I don’t remember seeing anything even remotely like it—not even in the Justices’ private collection.”
- On Sale
- Sep 28, 2021
- Page Count
- 576 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers