Never Touch the Mirror
Once upon a new school year, Raven Queen was packing. She blasted Tailor Quick's new album from her MirrorPod, dancing while grabbing things from her closet and tossing them into her clothing trunk. The heap of clothes was entirely purple and black, so she threw in a pair of silver sandals to add color.
Raven opened her window. The sun was setting into the copper sea. The last page of summer was closing.
"Hey, Ooglot!" she called out as she hefted her trunk onto the windowsill of her fourth-story bedroom. She let the trunk fall. In the courtyard below, the family ogre caught it with one blue hand and waved to her. She waved back.
Summer had been nice. No homework—just hours and hours to listen to music and read adventure novels. A couple of days each week she had babysat Cook's twin boys—Butternut and Pie—in exchange for heaps of pastries. And she and Dad had sailed their little boat down the coast to spend a week with Pinocchio and his daughter, Cedar Wood. Raven had loved making tea visits with the Blue-Haired Fairy, playing card games by the fire, and staying up late with Cedar, singing karaoke and laughing into their pillows.
All nice as mice. But Raven was eager to rejoin her friends at Ever After High for her second year of boarding school.
She was trying very hard not to think about how her Legacy Day was just a few weeks away. Ever since witnessing Legacy Day as a first-year, she'd done her best to block it out. Back then, the future had seemed so distant.
A foghorn bellowed, calling her to dinner.
Raven put on a sweater as she left her room. Queen Castle was chilly. There were far too many unoccupied rooms to bother lighting fires in all their hearths. When her mother had ruled, the castle had teemed with servants, soldiers, and creatures of the shadows. And all of them had watched young Raven, ready to tattle to her mother if they caught Raven doing anything kind.
"Raven," her mother would say, "Yop the Goblin heard you apologize to a rat for stepping on its tail. Such behavior must stop!"
"But I didn't mean to step on its tail," she'd say.
"Not that. The apology! The Evil Queen never apologizes for anything. You must learn that now."
Raven preferred the castle mostly empty.
She made her way through the massive Great Hall, feeling as if she'd been swallowed by a whale. She stuck out her tongue at the shadows and slid down the banister of the staircase as she used to when she was a kid.
She flung open the huge dining room doors and announced, "I'm here!" Years ago her mother hosted hundreds of guests at that dining table. Tonight, as usual, the only diners were Raven, her father, Cook, and Cook's four-year-old sons.
"Raven!" Butternut and Pie said in unison. They had hair as orange as Butternut's namesake and faces as round as Pie's.
"Hey, little Cooklings," she said.
"I made this for you," said Pie, pushing a piece of paper across the table. Raven held up a finger painting of herself done in all black and purple.
"Wicked cool. Thank you," she said.
Raven's father, the Good King, kissed her forehead when she sat beside him. His trimmed beard was beginning to gray, and the top of his head was totally bald, as if his hair had made room for the golden crown he rarely bothered to wear. His eyes were bright blue and brightened even more when he smiled—which was often.
"All packed?" he asked. "Don't forget a warm coat. And rain boots. And an enchanted umbrella."
"Got it," said Raven. "And don't you stay cooped up in here all year without me. Cook, make sure he gets outside, goes sailing and fishing."
"Of course. Now dinner. I made roast duck," Cook said hopefully, lifting the platter.
"I'll just have a princess pea–butter sandwich, please," Raven said while playing peekaboo behind her napkin with Butternut.
Cook rolled her eyes but handed Raven her usual sandwich.
"Thank you," Raven said, and then winced automatically. But her mother wasn't there to scold her for being nice.
Her father must have noticed her wince, because he put a comforting hand on her shoulder and smiled.
"My meat is cold," said Butternut.
"I can warm it up for you," Raven said, wiggling her fingers as if preparing to cast a spell.
"No!" both Cook and the king said at once, lunging to their feet.
"Oh my, you had me for a moment." The king pressed his hand to his heart and sat back down.
A couple of years before, Raven had tried to reheat her father's meal and ended up setting the entire table on fire. She wouldn't make that mistake again. Dark magic + good intentions = catastrophe.
After the plum pudding, the Good King said, "Cook, thank you so much for a perfect dinner. Raven, would you ...?" He inclined his head toward the door.
Raven's stomach turned cold, but she followed him out.
Once they were alone in the hall, he whispered, "It's time, Raven. If you'd rather not ..."
"No, I'll go talk to her."
"I'll go with you," he said.
Raven shook her head. She was fifteen now. She was old enough to face her mother alone.
Raven straightened her shoulders and began the long walk to the Queen's Wing in the Other Side of the Castle for the first time in a year. Colors dimmed—dark wood walls, scarlet and black carpets. Portrait paintings looked down. Her mother smiling. Her mother not smiling. Her mother's profile. A close-up of her mother's nose. In one, her mother was winking. In all of them, she was beautiful.
Monstrous statues seemed to watch Raven as she passed. Drapes rustled where there was no draft. Raven's forehead prickled with cold sweat.
Two guards in shiny armor stood outside her mother's old bedroom, wielding spiky spears and magic staffs. They nodded to her as she opened the door.
"Remember," said one, "never touch the mirror."
"I remember," she said.
The room was so thick with cobwebs it seemed as if skeletons had decorated for a party. Raven fought her way through the webs to the far wall and ripped the velvet cloth off the mirror. She saw her own reflection staring back—long black hair with purple highlights, dark eyebrows, strong nose and chin. It was strange to see her own face. She usually avoided looking at herself in mirrors. Mirror-gazing had been her mother's hobby.
"Mirror, mirror on the wall," she said, "um ... show me my mother."
The mirror didn't require a rhyme to work. Rhyming was so last chapter.
The mirror sparked, electricity skating across its silver surface. Slowly her mother appeared. She was wearing a striped jumpsuit. Her dark hair was piled on her head in the shape of a crown.
"Raven, is that you? You're so ... so beautiful!" The Evil Queen laughed. "You are going to give that fair-skinned, blood-lipped brat a run for her money!"
Raven pulled her hair out from behind her ear, letting it fall over half her face.
"Hey, Mother," she said. "How's, you know, mirror prison?"
"Meh," the Evil Queen said with a pretty shrug. "Tell me all the gossip. What's happening in Ever After? Did they figure out how to undo my poisoning of Wonderland madness yet? Has someone else copied me and tried to take over all the kingdoms? Is your father still a mind-numbing excuse for a man?"
Raven clenched her fists. Don't make fun of my dad! she wanted to shout. But she met those dark eyes in the mirror, took a deep breath, and looked down. Even with her mother imprisoned far away, she didn't dare argue back. "Everything's pretty much the same as last year. And the year before."
"Ha! See what happens when I'm gone? Nothing. I made life interesting. I hope you learn from this, darling. You have to go out there and force life to be what you want it to be, like I did."
"Yeah," said Raven. Her mother had certainly made her childhood interesting. In those days, the castle was always crowded with soldiers in spiked armor and creatures that scurried through shadows and hissed at her. Quality time with Mother had included sitting on her lap while the queen met with her generals and hatched plots to kill, conquer, and rule, or spending hours in the dungeon workshop, coughing on smoke and helping Mother make toxic potions and evil spells.
"So are you ready for your Legacy Year?" asked the queen. "Ready to sign the Storybook of Legends and bind yourself to following in my footsteps?"
"You should be eager to become the next Evil Queen. Why, your legacy is one of power, control, and command! Just think, you could have been born to one of those pathetic princesses who have to sit in a tower and wait to be rescued. Or worse, get suckered into eating a poisoned apple."
The queen cackled beautifully. If ever a cackle could bring a tear to your eye, it was the Evil Queen's.
"I guess I just ... I just ..."
"What? Don't mumble. Stop slouching and speak up like a Queen. Now, what were you saying?"
Raven straightened her spine. "Nothing. Never mind."
"Don't be so timid, Raven. This is your chance to show those dull 'good' folk just what you're made of!"
"Okay, I'll try." And as a show of effort, she cracked a small smile.
"I'm so proud! Oh, I miss you, my beautiful baby girl." Her mother lifted her hand, pressing it against the mirror as if she were just on the other side of a window. "Let me touch you, even if it's only through glass."
Raven's hand lifted, almost of its own accord. Her mother really did love her, in her way. Hope was like a sticky, too-sweet syrup she yearned to drink just one more time. But Raven stopped her hand before she touched the mirror. This wasn't the actual mirror prison. That was far away and locked up tight. But her mother was such a powerful sorceress, she might be able to take Raven's hand even through a viewing portal.
"I love you, Mother," said Raven, "but I'm not helping you escape."
The queen's eyes narrowed, and her hand dropped. "Hmph. If you were as evil as I raised you to be, you wouldn't hesitate. I must say, Raven Queen, I'm disappointed in you. Never mind. I'll watch with interest to see what you accomplish. You have inherited a bottomless capacity for true evil and breathtaking power. Don't waste it." She leaned so close all Raven could see in the mirror were her mother's deep purple eyes. "Give 'em hex, Raven."
Raven swallowed. All she wanted was to run away.
Their time ended and the mirror turned off. Instead of her mother's face, Raven saw her own again. It was remarkable, really, how much they looked alike.
Simply, Unquestionably Perfect
Apple white opened the pink silk curtains even wider to let in all that buttery sunshine.
"My, what a perfect day for travel!" she said.
Her bedroom was bustling with servants in matching white uniforms, dwarves running errands, and friendly woodland creatures.
A robin hovered before Apple, a red slipper in its beak. It cocked its head to one side as if asking a question.
"Yes, pack that one," said Apple. "In fact, let's just pack all my shoes, shall we?"
The squirrels rustling across the floor squeaked in unison. They began carrying shoes from the closet and depositing them in an open trunk as if storing nuts for the winter.
"Not the blue ones," Apple called to a bluebird in her sock drawer. "The white ones, if you please!"
Apple's MirrorPhone played a measure of One Reflection's single "You Don't Know You're Charming" to announce she'd received another hext message. This one was from Briar Beauty. Apple typed with one hand while brushing her blond curls with the other. Her hair never seemed to need brushing, but she was an overachiever.
BRIAR: Apple! When will you get to Ever After High?
APPLE: My father is prepping the Hybrid Carriage now. I should be there in a few short hours.
BRIAR: Hexcellent. Am planning a Book-to-School party. Going to be a page ripper!!!
APPLE: I'm there. Charm you later!
"Snoozy! Snappy!" Apple called to her dwarf lackeys. "The first four trunks are ready to go. Would you be so kind as to carry them down? You too, Pouty—don't you stick out that bottom lip, you silly."
"My name's not Pouty," Frank said poutily.
"Careful with that end, Sloppy!" Apple said cheerily.
"My name is Phil," Sloppy grumbled.
Apple laughed. "You sillies!"
She patted their heads, and they couldn't help but smile. Who could hold back a smile when looking at Apple White?
The sounds of cheering floated in through her window. Apple stepped onto her balcony, and the cheering grew louder. In the courtyard below, hundreds of men, women, and children from the village had gathered, many wearing I APPLE T- shirts.
"My dear subjects, you are simply, unquestionably perfect!" she called out, tossing candy and coins to the crowd. She kept a candy-and-coin basket on the balcony so she would be ready for adoring crowds at a moment's notice.
"No, you are perfect!" someone shouted, and the cheering renewed.
She pressed her hand to her heart. The whole world was so perfectly splendid she could just burst!
Above Apple, some birds carried a long pink ribbon in their beaks. A message was stitched across the satin ribbon: WE LOVE YOU, APPLE! EMBRACE YOUR DESTINY!
Destiny. She was beginning her Legacy Year, the first step in the journey to achieve her own Happily Ever After. Apple could hardly wait.
Apple strode down to the courtyard, where her parents waited like a portrait of the ideal king and queen. Her mother's black hair was curled under her golden crown. Her skin was still white as snow, her lips red as blood. She was as beautiful now as she had been when a magic mirror had named her the Fairest One of All.
Apple's father stood beside his wife, one hand on his sword hilt, always ready to do battle—though, of course, he'd never actually done any battle. His claim to fame had been falling in love with a comatose girl inside a glass coffin. But he looked so regal with a sword.
"This is a royally important year," said her mother as she helped Apple into the Hybrid Carriage. Her voice was high and a little squeaky, as if all that time spent lost in the woods with squirrels had taken its toll. "I am so proud of you. I know you will prepare yourself to be the perfect Snow White."
The maids, servants, guards, and dwarves in the huge Hybrid Carriage all nodded. Apple blushed. They must have noticed how dedicated she was to her subjects, how hard she had been studying Kingdom Management, all the time she put into preparing to be a queen—
"Just look at her eyes, her skin," whispered one of her maids.
"I did not think it possible," a groomsman whispered back, "but she is becoming even more beautiful than her mother."
"So beautiful," said a manservant. "The perfect Snow White."
"Well, except for the hair. A shame she was born blond."
"I think her blond hair is even lovelier than her mother's black hair."
"How can you? The fairytale specifies 'hair like ebony'—"
"Listen, the hair doesn't matter. Her eyes, her nose, those lips, that profile! She is the definition of beauty."
Apple turned her face to the window as the Hybrid Carriage started on its way. Was that all everyone saw in her? A perfect profile? A beauty like her mother? Surely being Snow White meant more than just looking pretty and having black hair.
Legacy Year would be her year. The beginning to her story. But she didn't just want to prove that she was pretty enough to be a queen, black hair or blond. She wanted to prove she could rule like one.
Always Doing Is How It's Undone
Raven hugged her father one last time, stepped into a Travel Mirror in the front room, and fell out of a Travel Mirror on a high balcony of Ever After High.
Raven peeled herself off the ground, her head swimming, her limbs shaking. She grabbed a banister to keep from falling again. Journey by mirror felt like being rolled into a blanket and tossed into a cold bath. But when your home is a faraway castle clinging to a craggy cliff over a wind-tossed sea, no travel options were convenient.
Ever After High held court on a hill in the center of a valley, its tower-set banners fluttering in the wind like birthday-candle flames. Below her, Raven could see the Village of Book End, and beyond that, pastures, forests, and mountains ranged out to all the fairytale kingdoms.
She took an uneasy step and almost squished a mouse, which scurried out of her way.
"Excuse me," said Raven.
It turned around, shaking a little gray fist at her, then, seeming to recognize her, squeaked and ran off.
Her trunk pushed through the mirror after her, landing with a thunk on the floor. She pulled on the strap, making slow, grating progress toward the castle door.
The Three Little Pigs were passing by, carrying their clothes tied up in handkerchiefs on the end of poles.
"Hey, would you mind helping me get this trunk up to the dorms?" she asked.
The Pigs turned around with smiles on their round faces, but when they saw Raven, the smiles disappeared. They squealed and hurried away, their trotters clacking on the tiles.
Excerpted from Ever After High: The Storybook of Legends by Shannon Hale. Copyright © 2013 Shannon Hale. Excerpted by permission of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.
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