Chapter one

The Masked Empire

The air was filled with so much smoke, you could barely see the sky. Every time it was cleared by a strong wind, it was quickly replenished from another pillaged town or forest fire. During the day, the sun looked like a weak lantern shining through a brown sheet. At night, seeing a star had become as rare as spotting a shooting star.

The fairy-tale world had faced many troubling times in recent years, but never anything like this. It was the first time in history that happily ever after seemed impossible to regain.

Over the course of one night, the Wicked Witch of the West’s Winkie army attacked the Charming Kingdom and the Troblin Territory. Her flying monkeys were

sent to terrorize the Elf Empire and the Corner Kingdom. The Queen of Hearts marched her card soldiers through the Center Kingdom and then wreaked havoc on the Eastern Kingdom. Captain Hook’s band of pirates poisoned the waters of Mermaid Bay, sending the mermaids fleeing deeper into the ocean. Captain Hook’s flying ship, the Jolly Roger, attacked the Fairy Kingdom, leaving the palace in pieces. Then the captain took the Northern Kingdom by storm.

The soldiers and villagers of every kingdom, who had once banded together to fight off the Grande Armée, were no match for these invaders. Their homes and towns were pillaged and burned to the ground. Their farms and stables were raided, and their livestock and horses were stolen.

All the fairies were presumed dead or in hiding. The kings and queens had lost their thrones, and their homes lay in ruins. The forests were slowly burned one at a time, giving the animals and refugees fewer and fewer places to hide.

The kingdoms and territories of yesterday ceased to exist. All the land in the fairy-tale world had been combined into one large empire ruled by the infamous Masked

Man and his newly assembled Literary Army.

The elf, troll, goblin, and human civilians from all over the fairy-tale world were rounded up and marched into the Northern Kingdom. They were pushed into Swan Lake, just beside the severely damaged Northern Palace. The lake had been dried out by the Literary Army, making it a deep, muddy crater, perfect to hold the civilians prisoner. By the time the lake was filled, the sun had started its descent in the western sky. The Literary soldiers pointed their captives’ attention to a large balcony of the palace.

Doors opened and the Masked Man appeared. His entire head was covered in a mask made of rubies and jewels with only two slits for his eyes. His raggedy clothes had been upgraded to a well-tailored suit. He wore a long black cape with a collar that towered sinisterly over his head.

The Masked Man finally looked like the menacing ruler he had always wanted to become.

His entrance was met with a thunderous rumble of booing and hissing, which only escalated when the Queen of Hearts, the Wicked Witch of the West, and Captain Hook joined him on the balcony. The Masked Man held his hands out in front of him, embracing the noise as if it were applause.

“Now, now, now,” he said. “Is that how you address your new emperor?”

The title was not received well by his imprisoned audience. Many of the civilians had stashed food in their clothing before being forced from their homes, and rather than saving it, they threw it angrily at the Masked Man. The self-appointed emperor was pelted with tomatoes, plums, and heads of lettuce.

The civilians roared with laughter. Even the Wicked Witch of the West cackled at the embarrassing scene. But the Masked Man wouldn’t let his first moments as emperor become a mockery.

“SILENCE OR I’LL KILL YOU ALL!” the Masked Man yelled.

The food throwing stopped, and a tense hush fell over the dried-up lake. He had already destroyed their villages and homes; there was no telling how far he’d go to gain respect. A winged monkey brought the Masked Man a rag, and he wiped the food off his clothing.

“From this day forward you will no longer be the people of your pathetic kingdoms, but the property of this empire,” he announced. “Disrespect me again, and I will not show you the same mercy as your weak kings and fragile queens. Anyone who dares to cross me will not only lose their own lives, but will first watch as I take their families’ lives as well!”

Children throughout the lake began to cry, and their parents held them tightly. It seemed the darkest days were still ahead.

“I’ve brought you all here to witness the birth of a new era,” the Masked Man preached. “But before we achieve a new future, the ways of the past must be destroyed—and the leaders of the past are no exception!”

The Masked Man gestured to a large wooden platform below the balcony, on the lawn between the palace and the dried lake. A very tall man in a long black cloak climbed to the top of the platform and placed a large wooden block in the center.

A dozen flying monkeys pulled a wagon out from behind the palace. It carried all the former kings and queens of the fairy-tale world: Cinderella, King Chance, Sleeping Beauty, King Chase, Snow White, King Chandler, Troll-bella, Empress Elvina, Rapunzel, Sir William, and even the young princesses Hope and Ash. All the royals had their hands tied together and were blindfolded and gagged with strips of white cloth.

The tall man on the platform withdrew a large silver axe from inside his cloak. The civilians began screaming and shouting in horror once they realized the purpose of

it—the Masked Man was going to have the royal families executed!

Although they couldn’t see, the kings and queens knew what was happening by the sound of the terrified crowd. They fought against their restraints, but they didn’t budge. The civilians desperately tried to climb out of the dried lake to save their rulers, but they were kicked back into the mud. The card soldiers stood around the lake’s perimeter and locked arms, forming a wall to block them.

The Masked Man laughed wildly at all the terror he was causing. Winkie soldiers pulled the royals out of the wagon and pushed them up the steps to the platform, then stood guard around it. The cloaked executioner sharpened his axe as he awaited his cue to begin.

“Start with the men, then the women, then the children,” the Masked Man ordered. “Your Majesty, if you would please do the honors . . .”

The Queen of Hearts stepped to the edge of the balcony. With enlarged eyes and a devious grin, she looked down at the distressed royals like they were a delicious snack.


The lake erupted in protest. The women cried desperate pleas for the execution to stop; the men yelled profanities at the Masked Man for being so cruel. The frightened royal families huddled together in a corner of the platform and trembled.

The executioner selected King Chance to be his first kill. He grabbed him by the arm and dragged him to the block. Cinderella and Hope screamed through their gags when they realized he was no longer standing beside them.

The executioner forced Chance into a kneeling position and placed his head on the wooden block. He held the axe above the king’s neck and practiced swinging. With each swing, the civilians gasped, fearing it was the fatal blow. Finally, the executioner raised his axe higher into the air than he had raised it before. The pleas and screams from the helpless bystanders multiplied; the royals knew it was only a matter of seconds before the king lost his head.

The executioner brought the axe down—but as he did, he spun his body so it sliced the platform floor instead of the king’s neck. Suddenly, the floor caved in, causing the executioner and all the royals to fall through the platform and disappear from sight. It was so unexpected, the panicked crowd went silent—this couldn’t have been part of the plan.

“WHAT JUST HAPPENED?” the Masked Man screamed from the balcony. “GET THEM OUT OF THERE!”

 Just as the Winkie soldiers went to inspect the platform, three large horses burst out from inside it! Porridge, Buckle, and Oats had been under the platform the entire time. They were pulling a carriage with the executioner and all the royals safely aboard. The platform had been a large trapdoor! 

“NOOOO!” the Masked Man screamed, and leaned over the balcony as far as he could to get a better look.

To his horror, he saw Goldilocks on Porridge and Jack on Buckle! The couple steered the horses and the carriage into the forest beyond the palace, knocking over dozens of Winkie soldiers as they went. The execution had turned into a rescue mission right before the Masked Man’s eyes! 

Goldilocks glanced back at the rescued royals. “Is everyone all right?”

The royals moaned through their gags. Still blindfolded, they had no clue what was going on. The executioner threw off his cloak—it had been the Tin Woodman all along!

“Don’t fret, Your Majesties!” he said. “This is a rescue!”


The Tin Woodman sliced off the royals’ restraints with his axe.

“We’re not out of it yet!” Jack said. “Everyone stay low! This is going to be a bumpy ride!”

Meanwhile, the elf, troll, goblin, and human civilians embraced one another and cheered as their leaders got away. The Masked Man was so furious, he was practically breathing fire. The visible skin around his eyes turned so red, it matched the rubies in his mask.

“AFTER THEM! ALL OF YOU!” he ordered the Literary Army. “DON’T LET THEM ESCAPE!”