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The Land of Stories: Beyond the Kingdoms
By Chris Colfer
Read by Chris Colfer
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The Masked Man is on the loose in the Land of Stories, and it’s up to Alex and Conner Bailey to stop him…except Alex has been thrown off the Fairy Council, and no one will believe they’re in danger.
With only the help of the ragtag group of Goldilocks, Jack, Red Riding Hood, and Mother Goose and her gander, Lester, the Bailey twins discover the Masked Man’s secret scheme: He possesses a powerful magic potion that turns every book it touches into a portal, and he is recruiting an army of literature’s greatest villains!
So begins a race through the magical Land of Oz, the fantastical world of Neverland, the madness of Wonderland, and beyond. Can Alex and Conner catch up to the Masked Man, or will they be one step behind until it’s too late?
Fairy tales and classic stories collide in the fourth adventure in the bestselling Land of Stories series as the twins travel beyond the kingdoms!
Table of Contents
A Sneak Peek of The Land of Stories: An Author's Odyssey
A Sneak Peek of The Land of Stories: A Treasury of Classic Fairy Tales
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THE WITCHES' BREW
The creatures of the Dwarf Forests knew to avoid Dead Man's Creek tonight if they valued their lives. At midnight of every full moon, witches from the forests and neighboring kingdoms gathered at the creek. The meetings were strictly for witches only, and they enjoyed making gruesome examples out of those who disturbed them.
Dead Man's Creek was shrouded in mystery, making it an ideal place for the witches to assemble. Every so often, without any warning or explanation, the creek redirected itself to flow uphill into the forest. And every time the rerouting occurred, coffins floated in from an unknown location.
The dead bodies in the coffins were never identified, nor was who or what had sent them—not that any time was given for an investigation. When corpses were found, the witches picked them apart like vultures, taking home what they needed in jars to stock their potion supplies.
The midnight gatherings were held at the Witches' Brew, an old tavern made entirely of twigs and mulch that sat in the middle of the creek like a giant beaver dam. Smoke rose from the tavern's single chimney, filling the air with a foul odor and signaling to the witches traveling to the creek that the meeting was about to begin.
The gatherings were usually uneventful and low in attendance. However, due to a recent crisis that had taken the kingdoms by storm, tonight's attendance was expected to be much higher than usual.
Some witches traveled to the creek on foot or by mule. Flocks of witches flew toward the tavern's smoky signal on broomsticks. A few sailed down the creek by boat or on makeshift rafts. Some even slithered through the water like serpents.
At half past midnight, the tavern was fuller than it had ever been. A hundred or so witches were seated around an enormous cauldron in the center of the tavern, while the latecomers stood in the back.
Dark magic was known for leaving a mark on those who partook of it, and each woman's appearance had been affected differently. Some witches had warts, enlarged noses, decaying flesh, or eyeballs that hung out of their sockets. Others had been transformed past the point of appearing human and resembled other species. They had hooves and horns, tails and feathers; some even had snouts and beaks.
A short and stout witch with skin made of stone approached the cauldron. She threw a handful of rocks inside and the liquid glowed, illuminating the room in a menacing green light: The meeting had begun.
"Welcome, sisters," the stone witch said in a gruff voice. "I am Gargoylia, the Stone Mistress of the Dwarf Forests. I assume we've all come tonight to discuss the same matter, so let's not waste any time."
The witches looked around the tavern and nodded to one another. They may have been a diverse group, but they were united in paranoia.
Serpentina, a witch with scaly green skin and a long forked tongue, took the floor.
"We're here to dissscusss the missssing children," she hissed. "Ssso let me be the firssst to sssay, whichever witch isss taking them needsss to ssstop at once before ssshe getsss usss all killed!"
Most of the tavern was outraged by her remarks. Charcoaline, a witch made of ash and soot, hit the side of her seat so hard that part of her fist crumbled off.
"How dare you blame us!" she hollered at Serpentina. Embers flew out of her mouth as she spoke. As her temper rose, a lava-like glow filled the cracks of her skin. "We're always the first ones accused whenever there's a crisis! I expect better from someone of our own kind!"
Arboris, a witch whose hair was made of sticks and whose body was covered in tree bark, stood by Serpentina's side.
"Twelve children from the Corner Kingdom and twelve children from the Charming Kingdom have disappeared without a trace," Arboris said. "Only a witch would be stealthy and brave enough to commit such a crime, and she's probably among us in this tavern!"
Tarantulene, a large witch with fangs, four hairy arms, and four hairy legs, descended from the ceiling on a web produced from her abdomen. "If you two are so certain a witch kidnapped the children, perhaps it was one of you!" she growled, pointing with all four of her hands.
The tavern grew increasingly loud as each witch voiced her opinions on the matter. Gargoylia threw another handful of rocks into the cauldron, and a blinding flash of green light hushed them.
"Silence!" Gargoylia yelled. "It doesn't matter which witch is responsible—the kingdoms will hold all of us responsible when they're caught! I've heard rumors that a witch hunt is being organized throughout the villages. We must prepare ourselves!"
A witch wearing scarlet robes stepped forward. "May I offer a suggestion?" she asked calmly. She lowered her hood and a few witches gasped. She was a completely normal-looking middle-aged woman—and a pretty one at that.
"Hagetta!" Gargoylia said with a dirty gaze. "After all this time, you've finally graced us with your presence."
"Ssshe doesn't belong here!" Serpentina hissed.
"She's an embarrassment to all real witches," Charcoaline said.
Chastising Hagetta was the only thing all the witches could agree on, but Hagetta had come to the tavern expecting to cause a fuss.
"Practicing white magic doesn't make me any less of a witch than you," Hagetta said. "And I guarantee you, no one outside this tavern will care what kind of witchcraft I practice if more children disappear. Angry mobs will sweep through the woods until every last witch is found. We'll all be rounded up and burned at the stake. So, unlike the rest of you, I've come to present a solution that will hopefully prevent a witch hunt from happening."
The witches mumbled and grunted insults at her. Gargoylia tossed another handful of rocks into the cauldron to quiet them.
"None of us want a witch hunt, so if Hagetta thinks she can save us from one, let her speak," she said. "But make it quick—I'm out of rocks."
Hagetta looked around the tavern, making eye contact with as many witches as possible. She knew it would be a challenging audience, but she wasn't going to leave until she convinced them.
"I say we stop assigning blame and put our efforts into finding the perpetrator," she said. "The world has always blamed all of us for individual witches' mistakes. None of you would have come tonight if you were responsible, so let's work together and turn over the one who is responsible. We'll prove our innocence if we decide to help the kingdoms solve the mystery of the missing children."
"We can't turn in one of our own! This is a sisterhood!" Charcoaline yelled.
"It won't be much of a sssisssterhood if we're all dead," Serpentina said.
"The last thing the humans want is help from witches!" Arboris argued.
A witch standing in the back with a large stomach and a carrot-like nose burst into tears, and the entire tavern turned to her.
"I'm sorry," the emotional witch said. "I just relate to what Hagetta is saying. I'm not a saint, but I've been blamed my entire life for things that I'm innocent of."
She blew her nose into the cloak of the witch standing next to her.
"THERE'S NO SUCH THING AS AN INNOCENT WITCH!" shouted a deep voice no one was expecting to hear.
Suddenly, the front doors of the tavern burst open, causing all the witches to jolt. A man wearing a sack over his head strolled into the tavern as if he owned it. A dozen soldiers in red and white uniforms followed behind him. All the witches jumped to their feet, outraged by the intrusion.
"Forgive us for interrupting, ladies—and I use that term loosely," the Masked Man said with a cocky laugh. "I've been listening to your discussion all night, and I'm afraid I can't keep quiet any longer."
"How dare you disturb us!" Gargoylia shouted. "No one disrupts us and lives to tell—"
He raised a hand to silence her.
"Before you turn us into mice for your familiars to feast on, please allow me to introduce myself," he said. "They call me the Masked Man—for obvious reasons. The men behind me are what's left of the Grande Armée that nearly conquered the world five months ago. Perhaps you've heard of us?"
Although none of them had been directly involved with the recent war, the witches knew very well about the pandemonium the Grande Armée had caused.
"This man is a joke," Hagetta said, knowing she had to intervene somehow before the witches' curiosities grew any more. "He'll fill your head with tales of grandeur about how he led an army and raised a dragon, but in the end, a dying old fairy made him run for his life."
The Masked Man scowled at her. "So you've heard of me, at least," he said. He looked Hagetta up and down—there was something very familiar about the witch. He was certain their paths had crossed a long time ago, but he didn't want to waste any time recalling it. He had come to the tavern with a purpose, and the witches weren't going to give him much time.
"I haven't come here to impress you; I've come here to establish a partnership by offering you a warning," he said.
"We don't need partnerships with the likes of you," Gargoylia said.
The Masked Man continued his pitch despite her unwillingness. "You have the right to be worried," he said. "It's widely believed that a witch is responsible for the missing children, and the villages that lost their young are not taking it lightly. I've lived in hiding for months and even I've heard about their upcoming retaliation. They aren't planning a witch hunt—they're planning an extermination!"
The news was heavy for the witches. Was the Masked Man trying to rile them up, or was the situation even worse than what they feared?
"Which is why we need to find the witch responsible while we still can," Hagetta said.
The Masked Man shook his head. "I'm afraid there's nothing you can do to prevent this," he said. "Even if you proved every witch was innocent, this massacre will happen. They don't want justice for the missing children; they want justice for every crime your kind has ever committed against theirs. They're using the missing children as an excuse to seek centuries' worth of revenge!"
The witches went quiet. Relations between witches and mankind had never been easy, and the missing children may have angered the kingdoms of man past the point of no return.
"You try to start wars wherever you go," Hagetta said, desperately trying to belittle the information he was presenting. "We cannot listen to this man! He won't be satisfied until the whole world burns!"
The Masked Man smiled. "There will be battles and fights, but you're giving yourself too much credit if you think there'll be a war," he teased. "Witches won't stand a chance once they're targeted—you're too outnumbered! Soon, your kind will be as extinct as the dragons."
The emotional witch in the back burst into tears again. She hunched over and vomited on the floor. "Sorry," she peeped. "I overwhelm easily."
Colonel Rembert, who stood among the soldiers of the Grand Armée, raised an eyebrow at her. Something about this witch didn't sit well with him.
"I think the Happily Forever After Assembly is behind the kidnappings!" the Masked Man said. "The fairies have always wanted to get rid of the witches, and inspiring a massive witch extermination would do the trick! I wouldn't be surprised if the new Fairy Godmother kidnapped the children herself!"
"The Fairy Godmother would never kidnap two dozen children," said one of the heads of a two-headed witch in the back.
Rat Mary, a mousy witch with thick bushy hair and enormous buckteeth, stood on her seat to get the tavern's attention. "Even if the fairies aren't behind it, I'm sure they'll encourage it!" she said.
"They want to live in a world without witchcraft!" Arboris said.
"They want magic sssolely for themssselvesss!" Serpentina hissed.
The witches were easily convinced that the missing children had been a scheme concocted against them, and soon the entire tavern roared with hatred for the fairies. The Masked Man had the witches exactly where he wanted them.
"It's time the witches fought back!" the Masked Man said.
The witches cheered, but Gargoylia shook her head, acting as the voice of reason.
"That would be suicide," she said. "You just said we're outnumbered, especially if the fairies are involved."
The Masked Man rubbed his hands together. "Not if you make the right friends," he said snidely. "With my help, we can raise another army!"
The witches cackled at him. The idea seemed ridiculous.
Hagetta quickly reclaimed the floor. "An army? An army of what?" She laughed. "Besides, you already had an army, and it failed miserably. Who would trust you to handle another?"
The Masked Man jerked his head toward her. Clearly she had touched on a sore subject.
"I'VE NEVER FAILED!" he yelled. "I have spent my entire life planning a way to abolish the fairies! So far I have succeeded in every step of my plan! The Grande Armée, the dragon, and the attack on the Fairy Palace were never meant to defeat them—just weaken them! Once they thought the fight was over, I snuck into the palace and retrieved a potion I've been after from the very beginning! Now that the potion is in my possession, the real war can begin!"
Beads of sweat soaked through the sack over the Masked Man's head. He took a few deep breaths to calm himself down.
"But before I can begin the next phase of my plan, I need your assistance," he continued. "There was something else in the Fairy Palace I meant to steal along with the potion—a collection of sorts, but the late Fairy Godmother must have gotten rid of it. I need your help finding where she put it. Once we find it and combine it with the potion, I'll be able to recruit the new army."
Gargoylia crossed her arms. "But what kind of army?" she asked. "If the Grande Armée and a dragon weren't enough to obliterate the fairies, what is?"
"An army beyond your wildest imaginations!" the Masked Man said with theatrical gestures. "An army that will make the Grande Armée look like a gang of children! I've been dreaming and scheming about it since I was a boy, and with your help we can bring it here. We can lead this army together and this world will be ours!"
The witches couldn't tell if the Masked Man was insane or if there was merit to what he was saying.
The emotional witch couldn't contain herself after hearing his speech. "I'm sorry. It's just so nice to see a man so passionate about something," she cried, and tears spilled down her face.
Colonel Rembert eyed the witch suspiciously. As the witch cried, her carrot-like nose was washed away by her tears—it was a disguise!
"Sir, I believe we are in the company of more than just witches!" Rembert shouted to the Masked Man. He quickly retrieved his pistol from inside his vest and aimed it at the witch.
Suddenly, the emotional witch leaped into the air and somersaulted toward Rembert, drawing a long sword from inside her cloak. She sliced off the tip of the pistol as she landed at Rembert's feet.
The witch moaned and held her stomach. "Somersaulting is more difficult when you're pregnant," she said.
The Masked Man stared down at the impostor—she wasn't a witch at all.
"GOLDILOCKS!" he screamed.
"Goldilocks, what are you doing in the tavern?" Hagetta said.
"Hello, Hagetta," Goldilocks said. "We followed you here. We knew the Masked Man couldn't resist an audience with the witches."
"We?" Hagetta asked.
The Masked Man backhanded Rembert across his face. "You idiot! You've led us right into a trap!" he shouted. "Seize her!"
The soldiers of the Grand Armée rushed toward Goldilocks with their weapons raised.
"NOW!" she yelled.
Four figures in the back threw off their disguises. Jack, Red Riding Hood, Froggy, and the third Little Pig had been among the witches the entire time.
The two-headed witch charged toward the Masked Man, separating into two different people as she closed in—Alex and Conner Bailey. The two circled the Masked Man. Alex pointed her crystal wand at him and Conner raised his sword.
"You aren't the only one with masks, dude," Conner said.
Alex didn't say anything. She was clutching her wand so hard, she was afraid it might break in her hand. After months and months of agonized searching, they had finally found him. She would unmask the Masked Man and expose his true identity to the world.
"It's over," Alex told him. "And no one is going anywhere this time!"
Alex flicked her wand at every window and door, and metal bars appeared over them. The twins, their friends, the witches, the soldiers, and the Masked Man were all trapped inside the tavern.
"It's the Fairy Godmother!" Rat Mary screamed, and the tavern erupted in chaos. The witches ran around as if the place were on fire. With no exit, the disorder only grew. It was hard for the twins to keep track of the soldiers and Masked Man with all the panicking women running around them.
It was incredibly overwhelming, and Alex felt her heart beat faster and faster. She couldn't lose the Masked Man again—not after coming so close.
"ENOUGH!" Alex yelled. Her eyes began to glow and her hair floated above her head. Without Alex raising her wand, vines shot out of the ground, wrapped around each witch and Grande Armée soldier, and pulled them to the floor.
Conner looked around nervously. "Alex, snap out of it!" he whispered. "Remember to stay focused so you can control your powers!"
Alex shook her head and snapped out of the daze her emotions had put her in. Her hair fell and her eyes stopped glowing. She had been having difficulty controlling her powers in recent months, but she didn't care if the vines were summoned consciously or subconsciously—capturing the Masked Man was the only thing that mattered to her.
"You're a powerful girl, but you're going to make the witches angry if you treat them like this," the Masked Man said, looking around the tavern for any possible escape.
"I'll take my chances," Alex said.
"Very well—so will I!"
The Masked Man leaped toward the cauldron and pushed it over. The liquid spilled all over the floor and went dim, causing the tavern to go pitch-black. Alex waved her wand and torches appeared on the walls, restoring the light—but the Masked Man was gone.
"Alex! Look!" Conner yelled, and pointed to the fireplace. "He's going up the chimney! He's headed for the roof!"
She looked just in time to see the Masked Man's feet disappear up the fireplace. Alex dashed toward it and climbed up after him.
The witches fought against the vines restraining them. Serpentina, Tarantulene, Rat Mary, and Charcoaline broke free and zeroed in on Conner and the others.
"We will not be disrespected in our own tavern!" Rat Mary yelled. She stretched out her hand and a broomstick flew into it. She hopped aboard and flew in circles around Conner, scratching and smacking him as she went.
"OUCH!" Conner yelled. "Knock it off, rat lady!"
He grabbed her broom handle and the two of them zoomed around the tavern, bouncing off the walls and ceiling like a Ping-Pong ball.
Serpentina crawled across the walls like a lizard and lunged for Goldilocks. The expectant mother swung her sword and sliced off the witch's left arm. Goldilocks looked at the severed arm on the floor and burst into tears.
"I'm so sorry!" she sobbed, but her tears quickly disappeared. "Wait a second, no I'm not! Damn these hormones!"
It was a good thing she came to her senses, because Serpentina's arm grew back almost instantaneously. Her tongue rolled out of her mouth and whirled around Goldilocks like a slimy red whip. It wrapped around Goldilocks's foot and jerked her to the ground.
Jack ran across the tavern to help his wife, but Arboris stood in his way. Hundreds of insects crawled out of the witch's tree-bark skin and attacked him, biting and stinging him all over his body. He dropped to the floor and rolled around, frantically brushing them off.
Tarantulene had her sights set on Froggy. She chased him around the tavern, firing blasts of web at him as they ran.
"I hate spiders! I hate spiders!" Froggy shouted as he leaped away from her. "I can't believe I agreed to do this tonight! I have a kingdom to run!"
Instead of running to her friends' aid, Red had a seat with the third Little Pig and placed a thick binder between them.
"Since everyone is busy, I think we should take this moment to plan the final details of the wedding," she said cheerfully, and flipped through the binder.
"Of course, Your Former and Future Majesty," the third Little Pig said.
"Darling! I don't think this is a good time to plan our wedding!" Froggy said, barely dodging the web being shot at him.
"The wedding is days away, Charlie!" Red said. "We've spent so much time helping the twins track down the Masked Man, I've barely had time to plan anything! Now let's see, oh yes, I have to pick out the right fabric for the tablecloths.…"
She pulled out three samples of red fabric that were tucked neatly in the binder.
"What do you think, sweetheart? Should we go with the rubyrock, the blushington, or the blood-blossom?" she asked, and held up the samples to show him.
A rogue string of web shot toward Red, knocking a fabric sample out of her hand and sticking it to the wall.
"Oh, nice suggestion!" she said. "Rubyrock it is!"
"Yes, ma'am," the third Little Pig said, and took note of the decision in a small pad.
Conner couldn't hold on to the broomstick any longer. He let go and he and Rat Mary spun in opposite directions. Rat Mary crashed into Serpentina just as she was about to pounce on Goldilocks, and they both hit the floor.
Conner landed on top of Charcoaline. The witch roared at him and her entire body glowed from the lava building up inside her. She opened her mouth and a fiery jet erupted from it like a dragon. Conner dove behind the sideways cauldron, barely missing the inferno.
"I could use a little help over here! Things are getting heated!" Conner yelled to his friends.
Hagetta kneeled down and placed an open palm on the floor. She closed her eyes and concentrated. A rumbling traveled from directly beneath Hagetta to under Charcoaline. A geyser of water shot out of the ground under her, blasting her to the other side of the tavern. Hagetta redirected the rumbling and another geyser erupted under Arboris, sending her across the tavern, too.
Goldilocks ran to Jack's side and helped him brush the insects off of his body. She suddenly hunched over in pain.
"Goldie, are you all right?" Jack asked.
"The baby is kicking," she said. "I think it wants to join the fight. Boy or girl, it sure has a strong kick."
"Just like its mother," Jack said with a smile.
At the other side of the tavern, Red was losing patience with Froggy.
"What should we use as the centerpiece for the tables?" Red asked. "Candles or flowers?"
There was no response. Froggy was still frantically jumping away from Tarantulene. He was panting and slowing down. Each shot of web the witch aimed at him was a closer call than the one before.
"Charlie, why do I feel like I'm the only one who cares about this wedding?" she asked. "The least you can do is give me an answer."
She looked over her shoulder and saw that Froggy was stuck to a wall, twisted in Tarantulene's sticky web. The spider witch walked toward him with her fangs exposed. Froggy turned a shade of pale green.
"I won't taste good!" Froggy yelled.
"Nice try, but frog is my favorite!" Tarantulene growled.
Just as she was about to sink her fangs into him, Red hit her over the head with a chair. The witch fell to the floor and didn't move.
"Well done, darling!" Froggy cheered.
Red dragged the chair close to him and had a seat. "Charlie, since I finally have you pinned down for a moment, I think now is a good time to talk about the guest list."
Froggy sighed. There was no avoiding the wedding plans now.
Meanwhile, the Masked Man crawled through the opening of the chimney and stepped onto the roof. He ran along the edge, looking for a way down. Alex was right behind him, but as she squeezed through the top of the chimney, her arms became trapped at her sides and she couldn't reach her wand.
The Masked Man got to his hands and knees and carefully started climbing down to the ground.
"YOU'RE NOT ESCAPING THIS TIME!" Alex yelled. Just as they had before, her eyes glowed and her hair floated above her. Suddenly, the entire tavern began to sway. It rocked back and forth, then departed from the creek entirely and rose into the air like a giant balloon.
"Alex! I hope you're doing this on purpose!" Conner said. When there was no response, he crawled up the chimney after her.
The tavern floated higher and higher into the air, flying above the trees of the Dwarf Forests and into the clouds. The chimney around Alex broke away brick by brick and she was freed. There was no way the Masked Man could escape. This was finally Alex's chance to ask him about what she had been obsessing over for months.
"Just tell me why!" she said. "Why did you lie to us? Why did you pretend to be dead?"
"Life would be so dull if we knew all the answers," the Masked Man said, eyeing the ground below as it disappeared from view.
"How could you do this to your own family?" she asked desperately. "We loved you!"
The Masked Man laughed. "You're learning it the hard way, just like I had to," he said. "There is no such thing as love. Families are just strangers who share blood. They claim to love you unconditionally, but in the end, they always betray you the most. My mother taught me that lesson, and now you're learning it from me."
Alex shook her head. "You're sick," she said. "I don't know how you ended up like this, but Conner and I can help you!" She extended an open hand, but the Masked Man just glared at it.
Conner crawled through the broken chimney and cautiously joined his sister's side.
"Alex, are you taking us to the moon?" he said.
- On Sale
- Jul 7, 2015
- Hachette Audio