he morning before my fourteenth birthday, the witches ambushed us before Mom had a chance to finish her coffee. We were arguing about the usual things.
“The triplets will be here any minute,” I said, shoving my cellphone and my M3 into my carryall’s front pocket. Those guys were always a couple minutes late for guard duty. Sometimes they slept through their alarm. It was summer. That happened. “Then we can get out of here.” I slung on my raincoat. Big heavy drops pattered on the window.
Mom set down her mug and folded her hands carefully. I knew what that meant: I wasn’t going to like what she said next. “I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that, Rory.”
Amy didn’t even try to break it to me nicely. “No. They’re not coming with us today. We’re meeting with the play’s producers.”
“You need protection.” I reached for my magic combs and reminded myself that it wouldn’t do any good to get irritated. They just didn’t really understand—not yet.
“They’re teenagers.” Amy crossed her arms. “It looks like we’re babysitting them, not the other way around.”
“It is beginning to look strange, Rory,” Mom said. “Normally, I’m fine with them tagging along with us. I know that it makes you feel better, but today’s meeting is important—”
“Makes me feel better?” I wrestled with my temper and lost. “The Snow Queen attacks a new Character almost every day.”
Mom took a very deep breath, like she usually does when she thinks I’m exaggerating but doesn’t want to call me on it. “We’ve taken all these precautions, but we haven’t been in any danger since that wolf attacked us in the grocery store.”
She always brought that up in arguments, and it was getting old. “You didn’t want to move to Ever After School, even though it’s the safest place for us,” I reminded her, “and I said okay, but only if you accepted bodyguards. That was the deal. You promised me.”
Mom winced. She’d obviously hoped I’d forgotten about that. “They’re just kids, Rory. Just like you.”
“You could come with us,” Amy said. “That wouldn’t look as weird.”
“I have responsibilities too.” I had class in Hansel’s training courts in an hour, and I was on call for rescue duty until dinnertime. I’d explained this to them at least a hundred times.
“Besides, your mother made that promise more than three and a half months ago,” Amy said. “Maybe the Snow Queen forgot about you.”
“She hasn’t.” I was about to turn fourteen. According to my Tale, I would hold the fate of magic in my hands some time this month. The Snow Queen had to move now, but I’d been saying that since before Independence Day. They still weren’t convinced.
I wished the triplets would hurry up and get here. Company always cut our arguments short.
Something pounded against the roof. No matter what they said about the Snow Queen losing interest, Mom and Amy both jumped just as high as I did. Outside the window, white spheres bounced across the back porch. “Just hail,” I said. We didn’t usually see it in San Francisco.
“Great.” Amy dug through her purse for her keys. “I better check on the car.”
Movement flickered in the yar"A satisfying conclusion to a sword-and-sorcery series with a feminist fairy-tale twist."