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“Knocked out,” Chase said. “Point for Rory.”

The other one ran in from an angle. I slashed at both eyes, and it retreated, howling. Chase and I sprinted forward.

Another two dove at us together, one biting high and one biting low. I kicked the snout of the one underneath (“Beware the Mighty Snap Kick,” Chase muttered) as I stabbed the tongue of the one above.

“Rory!” Chase pointed to our right, where the biggest dragon leaped, claws out. I held my sword in both hands like a baseball bat, stepped between its forelegs, and swung. It fell on its back, wheezing, a huge gash across his chest.

We were only five feet from the door. I gestured to the crack, looking past Chase. Three dragons stared down at their fallen leader and started to regroup for another attack.

Chase nodded at the closest of the remaining dragons. It looked
like it was about ready to burp. “Careful. That’s the one that can breathe fire.” He ran and skidded across the tile, sliding under the door.

I rolled after him, stumbling to my feet on the other side. Flames licked the bottom of the door, and I coughed. The smoke tasted like chemicals.

Chase leaned against the wall, breathing hard. He looked a little amazed. “Do you know what the chances of us making it out of there alive were?”

“The sword’s magic,” I reminded him, avoiding his eyes and wiping the sword clean on my jeans. The blood left a purple-black stain.

“Well, yeah, but you definitely figured out a way to turn the magic on.”

I didn’t know what to say. My hands started to shake, and I sheathed my sword before I dropped it.

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Jimmy’s voice boomed across the hall. “Trap him in a corner, Matty. Then I’ll get him.”

Now we had to figure out a way to help Lena.

In the office, Matilda held a wastebasket, trying to catch something human-size and blue that zipped across the room. Jimmy slapped the flyswatter around, always a second too late.

, dear.” The giantess was obviously on the verge of losing her temper.

Something crashed to the floor in the office across the hall, and a bronze-colored lampshade as big as a Jacuzzi rolled through the doorway toward us.

“Lena!” She could be crushed in all the commotion.

“Here!” Lena jumped out of the lampshade. The right lens in her glasses was cracked, but she smiled widely.

The hen clucked a little, her head sticking out of Lena’s backpack.
The golden harp was in her hands, gagged with what looked like half of Lena’s sleeve, and she struggled against the shoelaces that Lena had tied around her arms.


“Ready?” Lena ran down the hall without waiting for an answer.

We followed. Chase lagged behind, muttering “Ow, ow, oww” with every step. So I ran back and slid his good arm over my shoulders to hurry him along.

Lena started talking as soon as we reached the fridge. “She sent Bluebeard—the Snow Queen, I mean. I saw that part in the dream. Jimmy was so busy fighting him that he didn’t even notice me, not once,” she said happily, “and I— Oooh, where did you get that light?” I opened my mouth to answer, but then Lena squinted at Chase, sounding alarmed for the first time. “What happened to

Chase grimaced. “I was wondering when you would notice.”

“Baby dragons,” I said.

“Nine of them. I took one for the team, and now I’m bleeding to death,” he said with a proud indifference, like he was practicing for when he’d tell the triplets later.

“At least none of us are afraid of blood,” I said, but then I noticed Lena’s queasy look. “Oh no, Lena.”

“We better go,” she said, averting her eyes from Chase’s shoulder. “It’s only a matter of time before the giants catch on.”

We had to hurry—way too fast for Chase’s comfort. Halfway around the giants’ swimming pool, he even called a halt, sweating with pain and very pale. Blood soaked his collar and ran down his arm in red rivulets.

“I don’t know if we have time for a break.” I couldn’t stop myself from glancing back at the giants’ house.

But Chase just reached out and touched the harp’s head with
one finger. She looked up at him, trying to say something through her gag, and golden tears ran down her face. One dropped to the concrete with a clink.

I didn’t catch all the words, but Chase told her something like, “
Themora kish desrainth mereati cavolth
(mumble mumble).”

Whatever that meant, it worked. The harp blinked and stopped struggling. She even smiled up at Lena coyly.

“We can go,” Chase said, and Lena jogged forward again.

“That wasn’t English.” I adjusted my grip on Chase’s waist and followed her around the pool.

Chase winced and shook his head. “Fey. I’m going to die. If the dragon bite doesn’t do me in, the chlorine fumes will.”

Lena disappeared into the grass. It slowed me and Chase down a lot. He kept tripping over roots, and he was almost heavy enough to drag me down to the ground with him. I was very out of breath and very relieved when Lena stopped.

She bit her lip. “Um, does anyone remember where we left the beanstalk?”

“Doom,” Chase moaned, holding a stalk of grass with a bloody hand. He started to slide dramatically to the ground.

“Not helpful, Chase.” I yanked him back up with maybe more force than necessary. Then his breath hissed through his teeth, and I regretted being so rough.

“Ask the harp.” When Lena looked skeptical, he added, “She won’t scream.”

Lena untied the gag very carefully, acting like she would clap a hand over the harp’s mouth at the first unexpected noise.

The harp only nodded over to the left a little and spoke with an accent I didn’t recognize. “That way, Mistress.”

“Thanks!” Lena took off again.

“The light is growing dim,” Chase said with another exaggerated sigh. “The pain is too great. My vision—”

“Cut it out, Chase,” Lena called back. “You’re scaring Rory. She doesn’t have enough experience to know you’re exaggerating.”

“Is that true, Rory?” Chase asked, surprised. “You worried about me?”

“You’re not looking your best.” I didn’t mention that he was leaning on me twice as much as he had when we left the house.

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“Don’t worry,” Chase told me. “I’m as fit as a fiddle. I’m going to live to be an old man and die in my sleep. I—”

“Found it!” Lena cried happily.

The beanstalk had grown a couple feet taller since we’d left it, and through the hole in the clouds below, I could see the green square of the EAS courtyard and the darker green dot that had to be the Tree of Hope. Like clockwork, I started to feel sick to my stomach.

“He can’t climb by himself,” the harp said softly.

Lena and I exchanged glances. Whoever started climbing now would be the safest, and we had to figure out who that would be.

I pushed the nausea away so that I could think clearly. If they caught Chase, Jimmy would either give him to the dragonet litter or to the Snow Queen.

If they caught Lena, the same might happen, but the Snow Queen would get the harp, too. Lena had to go first, and as fast as she could.

“So, what are my choices?” Chase said. “Climb with the girl afraid of heights or with the girl afraid of blood? Tough call.”

I promised myself that if we made it down alive, I would memorize all the bones of the wrist just for Chase’s benefit. “Go on, Lena. I’ll take him.”

“Are you sure?” Apparently, leave-no-kid-behind was part of Lena’s fearless leader mode.

“Yeah, are you
?” Chase repeated nervously.


“I think you already have enough to carry,” I told Lena, glancing pointedly at the harp.

Lena nodded and started to climb. “See you at the bottom.”

I had to look down this time. I didn’t have another option, but I tried to look close to the stalk, just as far as the next stem, ignoring all the blue sky around it. I held the sturdiest part of the beanstalk in both hands and lowered myself slowly. Chase watched me, wide-eyed, waiting for a freak-out.

Panic rose and stiffened my limbs. But no. I couldn’t freeze. I knew what would happen if Jimmy caught Chase—dragons or the Snow Queen. My foot settled safely on the next leaf down.

“Okay, your turn,” I told Chase, clinging to the stalk with both hands. My heart beat so hard I could practically feel it hit my ribs. Then I forced myself to look down for the next leaf.

I made Chase climb a little above me. He was careful with the three limbs he could still use, but he had to keep stopping to wipe the blood off his hands. Once, he lost his grip and started to fall backward.

I caught him with both arms, my legs hooked around the stalk. I closed my eyes tight and told myself that there was a safety net below us, that we were only ten feet from the ground.

“You all right?” I hoped that the answer was yes. If he fainted, he would be too heavy to carry, and I couldn’t leave him.

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“Yeah,” he said, but it came out more like a grunt. I felt him get his grip back. “So maybe I’m
dying. But it really does hurt.”

Carefully, I spotted the next leaf and blocked everything else out. “Halfway there,” I said, trying to sound cheery. My mouth was so dry that my tongue felt clumsy.

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Chase looked down and snorted. Half his shirt was already red. “Liar.”

Lena moved much faster, even with the harp in her hands and the hen and gold coins in her backpack. She kept yelling encouragement up to us—“You can do it!” and “Only seven more stories to go!”—but her voice became fainter and fainter.

Finally, the beanstalk shook under us, so violently that Chase almost fell off again. I had to grab his bad arm to catch him.

Chase winced. “Looks like Jimmy found us.”

The beanstalk shook again, under Jimmy’s second foot.

I made sure I had a good grip on two separate leaves and looked down, all the way to the ground. Dizziness hovered close by, but I ignored it.

“Lena’s almost there,” I said, relieved.

“Good for Lena,” Chase said sarcastically.

I didn’t answer. I noticed squares moving across the green grass of the courtyard below—the T-shirts of the other students.

Falling is the fastest way down,
Rapunzel had said.

The Tree of Hope was just a circle of darker green. A flicker of violet looped right above it, and suddenly, I knew what it was.

I couldn’t believe what I was planning to do.

“Rory, this is
the time to freeze again.” Chase looked up. “Feet! I see huge feet!”

“Were you lying about the magic carpet?” I grabbed a handful of Chase’s shirt.

Chase said, staring.

I let go of the beanstalk and threw myself backward, taking him with me.

hase screamed, his voice cracking. “I can’t save us now!”

The wind stole all the air out of my lungs. I couldn’t breathe, let alone tell him off for thinking I didn’t have it under control, but I didn’t let him go. I twisted, turning us both and bending my legs under me.

The little bit of color that had been circling raced up to meet us. It hit my knees so hard I got rugburn.


We were fifty feet from the ground.

Chase stopped yelling. “Oh,” he said breathlessly.

“Thank you very much, Mr. Carpet,” I said, voice shaking.

Chase nuzzled the carpet with his cheek. “You’re my new best friend.”

“I’m going to have nightmares for

Chase said. “I think I just developed a new phobia.”

Hovering motionless, the carpet rippled a little in a questioning way.

“Take us to the base of the beanstalk, please,” I said.

The carpet swooped down, whipping past dozens of students, who watched us go by. At least seven mouths hung open. When it stopped abruptly, I tumbled off and got to my feet shakily.

“Thanks again, Mr. Carpet,” I said, as it flew off. Lena was
nowhere in sight. “Never leaving the ground again.”

Row after row of faces turned to us, but I couldn’t make out anyone’s features. All the dizziness hit me at once, and the whole scene spun.

“Is that Chase and Rory?”

“They look so different.”

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“Maybe it’s the blood.”