I can’t actually remember the last time I went to a party. Ever since I established the PEF, most of my time goes out the window.
The parlour is so crowded, it’s almost as if half the Hollow is here. Actually, scratch that. Knowing Raven, half of the Hollow probably is here.
I stand next to the food table, stuffing my face with chocolate as politely as I can and trying to calm my nerves.
“Rose, this is Rachel.” Rachel’s voice carries through my com. “I’ve just arrived. Meet me in the garden in five minutes.”
“Ok,” I say quietly. “See you then.”
Raven spots me and comes over.
“How’s my favourite party pal enjoying themselves?”
I smile. “Great. The food is amazing.”
She grins. “Awesome! D’you want to start a game of – Evie, are you listening?”
I am certainly not listening, because I just saw an all too familiar face in the crowd.
He may be wearing an elf costume, but I’d know my brother’s face anywhere.
I’m not listening because Jack Frost has just crashed the party.
A look of icy terror washes over Evie’s face.
I quickly look over my shoulder, tossing my ponytail aside. I scan the crowd of newcomers to the party quickly, looking for anyone who could have scared Evie this badly.
I may have only know her for less than three days, but I can tell she’s scared witless.
My eyes fall on the grotesquely tight-looking face of a sparrow man.
His eyelids are pulled back, his lips stretched into an artificial grin.
After a few moments, I recognize him from one of my trips into Havendish Square. Strange man – but he did give me the reference to Jed.
I can’t seem to recall his name…
Whoever he is, Evie obviously isn’t a fan of him. Not taking my eyes off the sparrow man, I ask her:
“Do I need to ask him to leave?”
I get no reply.
Reluctantly tearing my gaze off the sparrow man, I turn around to see that Evie is gone.
There’s very few people in the garden, so it’s a lot quieter than inside. When I arrive, Rachel is already there. It’s decorated with an arrangement of wintery lanterns and ice crystals, but I barely take notice of it.
Rachel is wearing one of her spectacular party dresses: this one a sparkly green. She looks up from her leaf journal and sees me.
“Evie!” She cries, a smile breaking out on her face. She closes her journal and rushes up to me, tackling me in a hug.
“Nice cover,” I say quietly.
“Thanks. Have you found something yet?” She mutters.
“Something, no.” I say, breaking away. “Someone, yes. Jack is here.”
Rachel stares at me. “You’ve got to be kidding me. What in Neverland is he doing here?”
“I don’t know, but it does confirm one thing – Raven is in league with Jack.” I feel a little disappointed having to admit this. Mission aside, I had enjoyed spending the last few days with Raven. It was nice to spend time with someone who was so laid-back and cheerful, even if it probably was an act.
“Did he see you?” Asks Rachel.
“I don’t think so,” I say. “But we’d better stay away from him, just in case he recognizes us.”
“I agree – the last thing I want to do is run into your crazy brother. He gives me the creeps.” She looks at me. “No offense.”
“None taken – I’ll admit he’s not exactly a gentleman.”
“I found out something as well. I was talking to Sophie – she’s a friend of Raven’s – and she mentioned that Raven was acting all suspicious, trying to hide something from her the other day.”
“Did she find out what it was?” I ask.
“No, but she said whatever it was is inside a heap of crates.”
“Probably whatever she bought off of Jed,” I say, blood running cold. “Did she say where?”
“Yes – somewhere around the back of the house.”
“Well then,” I say. “What do you say we go check it out?”
I swivel my head around, looking for Evie. Did she go to the refreshments table? Or to get some fresh air on the balcony?
I’ll leave her to her own devices for a bit. It’s getting late, and the grand finale isn’t nearly ready! Evie is my best party pal, but I can’t risk anyone finding out!!!
I set down my flute of fairy punch, dab at my face with an ornate blue napkin, and begin to walk up the stairs quickly.
I smile, nod, and wave at people as I pass them on the stairs and in the hallway. When I reach my bedroom, I walk inside, unlatch my window, and fly out towards the back of my house.
I did have to move the crates from the knothole, but I kept them close.
I can’t be spotted around the front of the house, so I hid them in a large, scruffy bush near my garden.
As I creep towards the scraggly bush, I see Evie talking to another pixie in the near deserted garden.
It’s good to see Evie having a good time. The bad news is, Evie and the pixie she’s talking to are standing right in front of the pathway to the place where I hid my crates.
This could be a problem.
Why is it that the whole world seems to want to keep me from setting these crates off? Sophie, and now Evie and her friend? Is there some secret society whose only goal is to prevent me from blowing up those crates?!
The two of us stroll around to the back of the house, trying to act as casual as we can along the way. As soon as we’re out of sight, I change into something more comfortable – a white knitted jumper and skirt with bright blue tights, and a pair of trainers. Not the best thing to be creeping around in, but the best I can do on such short notice. At least my feet are comfortable again. We break into a sprint, which is a lot easier now than it would have been in my dress. We’re about to run around the corner when Rachel stops abruptly, and I to run into her.
“What are you -”
“Shhh!” She hisses. “Look.”
I poke my head around the corner and see what she saw moments before me.
Someone’s beaten us to the crates, and it’s not Raven.
I have no plan. All I know is that I can’t let Jack get those crates. Without thinking, I run into the clearing, all caution thrown to the winds.
Jack looks up, startled. I storm up to him.
“Just what do you think you’re doing?” I snarl.
As I creep closer to my hidden pathway, I see Evie and her friend dash inside.
That could mean big trouble!!
I quickly run in behind them, keeping as quiet as I can.
What I see is a very angry-looking Evie, yelling at a sparrow man I can’t quite make out.
Actually, is… is that Jack? What are Evie, her friend, and Jack doing so close to my explosives?
“Well well, I wasn’t expecting to see you here, sis.” Says Jack, a smiling spreading over his face. Evie clenches her fists.
Sis? Is Jack, the reference to Jed, related to Evie, my party pal?
“Step away from the crates, Jack.” She says, her voice hard as steel.
“What crates?” He asks, a look of mock surprise on his face.
“Don’t play dumb with me Jack, I’m really not in the mood. You know exactly which crates. You’re in league with Raven, and we’re here to stop you.”
“Oh really? Tell me, Rose, tell me how you are so sure I’m working with your pal?”
Rose? ROSE? You mean, Evie doesn’t exist?
“She isn’t my pal, Jack. It’s called a cover. I’ve been watching her for the past few days. We found out who gave her the explosives. We traced it back to you. We figured it all out, and now we’re here to stop you.”
Evie doesn’t exist, Jack is tricking me, and some unknown party in league with Rose thinks I’m trying to blow up half the Hollow.
So, maybe my judgement is a little clouded by the fact that I’ve just been triple-crossed, but I’m 99% sure I’m completely in the right when I take running leap from my hiding spot and tackle Rose to the ground.
“What the -” Rose barely has time to react.
“How dare you pretend to be my friend and then accuse me of trying to blow things up!”
During the confusion of me tackling Rose and Rose’s friend trying to pull me off of her, Jack seems to have taken his leave. As in, trying to run away from the dog pile of three angry pixies.
Raven is scary when she’s angry.
Her hair is messy and covered in twigs, her dress slightly torn. I do my best to block her punches, but training never really taught me how to do that flat on the ground.
Rachel is screaming and trying to pull her off of me, but not with much success.
“Rose, he’s getting away!” Exclaims Rachel.
In sheer desperation, I enact a shield spell. Raven flies twenty feet into the air and Rachel gets thrown backwards into the bushes. I get to my feet.
“Are you alright?” I ask Rachel, dropping the shield and running to her.
“Ouch.” She groans, and sits up. “I think I just found Raven’s hidden stash of explosives.”
She’s right – the bushes she landed in happens to have a large pile of crates hidden inside them.
“We should probably get rid of these,” Is say. “Before they cause any damage.”
“Yeah, we probably – Look out!”
I whirl around in time to see Raven speeding towards me.
“Do not mess with those crates!” She yells.
I throw up my shield again, this time making sure that it’s around me and Rachel. Raven flies as hard as she can, trying to get through.
“Calm down, Raven!”
“I will not calm down!” She says angrily. “You’ve been lying to me this whole time! How dare you- DON’T YOU TOUCH THOSE CRATES!”
I turn my head to see Rachel prying off the lid of one of the crates, revealing a massive pile of –
“Fireworks?” Says Rachel, looking utterly baffled. I turn back to Raven, my mind slowly putting the pieces together.
“You really weren’t trying to blow up the Hollow,” I say.
“You just figured that out now? Really, it’s almost as though everyone assumes I’m a redheaded psycho, bent on destroying the world.”
I try to process this.
“So you’re not in league with my crazy psychopath brother?” I ask.
“No, of course I’m not! You’re the one that let your crazy psychopath brother get away!”
“She’s right. We’re wasting time.” Says Rachel. I frown.
“I know.” I say. “Look, Raven, I know we messed up. Big time. I can explain and I will, but not right now. I have to go after Jack. Can I trust you not to try and kill me again if I put this shield down?”
“I’ll try to contain my homicidal maniac urges.” Raven replies, rolling her eyes.
Reluctantly, I take the shield down.
“Right.” I say, turning to Rachel. “We’re going to need backup. Can you call HQ on your com?” Rachel nods.
“What about you?” She asks.
I smile grimly. “I’m going to find Jack,” I say. “I think it’s time I had a little chat with my brother.”
Rose and Rachel, as I now know they are called, just called for backup from the Pixie Elite Four or something. So apparently, there was a secret society trying to prevent me from setting off some (illegal and pretty dangerous) fireworks.
Well, Rose and Rachel have run off somewhere. Turns out that because of the holidays, the Pixie Elite Fork or whatever couldn’t send enough backup in time, so Rose and Rachel are going to face Jack off alone.
A bad idea, if you ask me. But they didn’t. So now I’m here, sitting on a crate full of illegally distributed fireworks and trying to pull moss out of my hair.
I mean, they could have at least brought me along! I can kick villain butt too! But I guess the good guys always work alone.
Doesn’t mean I have to like it.
“I should never have roped Raven into this.”
“I don’t think that would have been physically possible.” Says Rachel, jogging to keep up with me. Apparently I walk faster when I’m agitated.
“Yes, but Raven shouldn’t have had to be involved.”
“Rose, I know you feel guilty about falsely accusing Raven, but there’s nothing you can do about it. And anyway, all the evidence pointed to her.”
I sigh. “I know. Come on, the sooner we confront my brother the sooner I can right this mess.”
“I think I may know a way that could make that much easier for you.”
I spin around to find Jack himself sitting on a tree stump we just passed.
“You were never very observant when you were angry at yourself,” He says.
“Fireworks?” I say, folding my arms. “You were trying to steal fireworks?”
“Well, if you had been more observant, you would have noticed a couple or grenades at the bottom of each crate. That was my main objective. The fireworks would have made a good celebration for afterwards.”
“Good thing you’ll never get your hands on them.” Rachel says.
“Who says I won’t?”
The next thing I know, Rachel and I are on the ground, as if pushed backwards by some force. Jack’s magic.
“Whilst you two were being attacked by Miss Redhead, I managed to snag this.” He pulls out a single grenade. My heart drops.
“So,” he says. “You now have a choice. Give me the ring, or watch your friend’s house go up in flames.”
There’s a rustle in the bushes behind us.
Raven emerges from the bushes, holding a humongous lit firework, pointing it straight at Jack.
“Choose this, Jack…”
I cough as the smoke fills my lungs. Jed didn’t tell me fireworks were so smoky! To be fair, Jed didn’t tell me he was planning on framing me and using me to blow up the whole Hollow.
A loud buzzing noise fills my ears as I try to stand up.
As I use a stray branch to help lift myself up, I notice my knees, hands, and elbows are scraped and bloody.
I wipe my hands on my torn skirt, and look behind me to see Rose and Rachel, also hacking their lungs out.
Jack is nowhere in sight.
I suppose I knocked him halfway outta the Hollow with that firework.
As I stumble over to Rose, I can hear her say:
“And that is exactly why explosives are banned from the Hollow.”
“So let me get this straight – you’ve been doing this for how many years?”
“About 5 years?” I say. “I’m not sure. I’ve never really kept count.”
It’s two days later, and Raven and I are enjoying cookies and a smoothie from the Tearoom whilst I give her that explanation I promised. The chocolate tastes a lot better this time. Maybe lying dulls your senses? I’m not sure.
“Well, at least it doesn’t seem like you’ll have to worry about it for a while.” Says Raven.
“Oh, I’m sure something will come up. I feel like my work never ends…” I sigh.
“So, are you actually planning on having a party in the New Year, or was that just part of your cover?”
“I have to admit, I came up with that on the spot.”
“Well, if you do…”
I roll my eyes. “Yes, you can help.” Raven punches the air. “Yes!” She starts rattling off a bunch of preparations. I sit back and listen, and for the first time in a while, I feel like my life is normal.