By Colleen Cowley
Set fifteen years before the events of The Opposite of Magic
The evil warlock’s spells crackled through the air and hit all three heroes, leaving them helplessly immobilized.
Emily sighed as Tara scratched her nose. “Immobilized means still,” she whispered.
“Sorry,” Tara whispered back, getting in one last scratch.
The warlock threw up his arms and cackled. “You’ll never get the crystal now!”
Emily sighed again. More of a groan this time, actually. “Locket. The crystal is the one we destroyed yesterday.”
“Oh,” muttered Robbie, aka the warlock, though you needed a lot of imagination to see Robbie as a warlock. Or any sort of villain. He delivered the line again, this time mentioning the right magical object, but it lost something in the second take.
At least the barn made a passable evil lair. It was three-quarters dark, sunlight filtering through the slats in such an unenthusiastic way that the bales of straw looked ominous.
Emily pulled in a deep breath. Her turn. “We will prevail, Malevolo! Only those of pure heart may use the locket. Your wicked reign over this land is nearly at an end, and we shall cast you out! Never again will you foul the light with your darkness!”
George—standing impressively still on his bale of straw, one foot in the air—let out a snort. Not the reception a hero hoped to get for her grand speech.
“What,” Emily said.
“‘Foul the light with your darkness’? Really?”
She’d liked that part best when she’d dreamt it up during breakfast. “I suppose you want to write the script?”
“I think I’d do a better job of it,” George said. “For instance, if Malevolo here has frozen us, how can you talk back to him?”
Oh. She hadn’t thought of that.
“Also—Malevolo?” George shook his head. “What crazy parents would give a baby a name like that?”
“Maybe evildoing is the family business,” Tara said. Tara was always willing to go along with the fantasy, but only because she was always willing to go along with any game.
“No, that can’t be right,” Robbie said, frowning, “because he’s Em’s character’s brother, which means they have the same parents, and Em’s character’s name is Benevola.”
Oh, now Robbie could remember the plot.
“Malevolo isn’t his given name,” Emily said, thinking quickly. “It’s his . . . his warlock name. It’s supposed to sound scary.”
“I think it sounds silly,” George said, in his annoying I’m four months older than you voice.
George would be in big trouble if he ever got transported to a magical realm and was forced to find his way home.
“Never again,” Emily said, deciding to just plow forward, “will you foul the light with your darkness!”
Robbie gave another cackle on cue—his cackles, at least, were good—and said, “You cannot stop me or my darkness! It is spreading to the farthest reaches of Midgarn! It is . . .” He stopped, scuffing his sneaker in the barn’s dirt floor. “Em, I don’t wanna be the bad guy anymore. I’ve been the bad guy all three times. Can I trade?”
“Count me out,” George said. “Malevolo. Feh.”
“We could make it Malevola,” Robbie said. “You could be the villain, Em.”
“No!” Emily fell back a step in horror, ruining her otherwise-perfect frozen position. (Well, not counting all the talking.) “I can’t be the villain!”
George grinned at her. “Why not? Because you’re a girl?”
She almost insisted that girls certainly could be villains if they wanted to, thank you very much, but the argument struck her as less than helpful under the circumstances.
“No.” She looked down her nose at him, difficult to do now that he stood half an inch taller. “Because I want to be on the side of truth and justice and goodness. I want to stop the villains and”—she hesitated, because George would laugh, but then she said it anyway—“and save the world.”
“It’s just a game,” Tara said, shrugging.
Oh, how Emily wished—really, really, really wished—it wasn’t just a game.
George stretched his arms and legs. “How ’bout hide and seek? Not it!”
Emily’s “hey!” burst out at exactly the same instant as Tara and Robbie shouted “not it.”
She stood there, open-mouthed, temporarily frozen by outrage. Every bit as effective as an evil spell.
“Rules are rules.” George jumped down from his bale. “You, Benevola, are it.”
“But you can pretend you’re the hero and we’re the bad guys,” Robbie said.
So she did.