Authors: Anna Staniszewski
Copyright Â© 2013 by Anna Staniszewski
Cover and internal design Â© 2013 by Sourcebooks, Inc.
Cover design by Jennifer Jackman
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The characters and events portrayed in this book are ï¬ctitious or are used ï¬ctitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.
Published by Jabberwocky, an imprint of Sourcebooks, Inc.
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Source of Production: Webcom, Toronto, Canada
Date of Production: January 2013
Run Number: 19467
“The universe is made of stories, not of atoms.”
If someone tells you that you're being sent to a magical mermaid land, take my advice and spend the day at the aquarium instead. Then you can have a nice lunch, feed some dolphins, and not get caught in the middle of a merpeople war.
Mermaids are nothing like the gorgeous girls you see in movies. In reality, they're bitter creatures who hate the water because it turns their skin pruney. Even though their tails don't transform into legs, that doesn't stop them from desperately wanting to live on land so they can spend their days basking in the sun. Which is why the Green Tails and the Blue Tails were ï¬ghting over an island the size of a school bus. And why I, Jenny the Adventurer, had been sent to stop them.
To be honest, I wasn't doing a very good job so far. If I'd been on this mission alone, things probably would have been ï¬ne. But my bossesâthe all-powerful and all-annoying Committeeâdidn't trust me after I'd threatened to quit being an adventurer, so they'd found me a baby-sitter: Jasmine, the wimpiest girl in the universe.
“Jenny,” she said as the two of us huddled behind a sand dune. The mermaid armies were lined up on the beach, on opposite sides of the tiny island, balanced on their tails like trained seals. “I think our current position is overly exposed. Maybe we should relocate?”
right in between the two merpeople clans, but since the island only had three sand dunes and one puny palm tree, there was nowhere else for us to go.
“Relocate to where?” I made sure to keep my nose covered with my T-shirt as I spoke. Fun fact about mermaids: they smell like a bucket of old ï¬sh.
Before Jasmine could answer, a shout rang out among the Blue Tails: “Load the catapult!”
A second later, a bunch of sea sponges shot through the air.
Jasmine shrieked and covered her head. “I think this situation is getting too dangerous! We should call for our guides.”
I stared at her. Jasmine was only a couple years older than me, but she acted like a little old lady. Was she really afraid of some flying sponges? “Jasmine, we only just got here. And we can't abandon an assignment.”
“Spray!” one of the Green Tails yelled. A shower of starï¬sh sailed over our heads.
“There's no shame in walking away from an adventure and trying again another day,” said Jasmine. “Better safe than sorry.” We adventurers sure love our cheesy sayings.
I guess I couldn't blame Jasmine for being so cautious. Thanks to Klarr, the evil clown sorcerer, she'd spent days as a bear statue. Even now, weeks after I'd managed to defeat the crazy clown, Jasmine claimed that dust came out of her nose whenever she sneezed.
“We can ï¬gure this out,” I said over the dolphin-like war cries of the nearby clan. “Where there's a will, there's a way, right?”
Jasmine's dark eyes narrowed. “Are you sure you're not putting us in unnecessary danger so you'll have a better story to share with your friends?”
I almost laughed thinking of how Trish and Melissa, my regular-life friends, would react when I told them what merpeople were really like. My friends couldn't get enough of hearing about my adventures. Trish was even doing a huge English paper on magic, which meant she asked me about a hundred questions a day.
“Reload the catapult!” Something flew past that looked suspiciously like a flailing octopus. Okay, this was getting ridiculous.
“I have an idea.” I pulled off my sock and poured a handful of sand into it. Hey, if my plan failed, I could always stun the merpeople with foot odor.
“What are you doing?” said Jasmine, staring at me in horror. “You might get some type of foot fungus in a place like this!”
I resisted the urge to smack her with my sock. Instead, I jumped up and yelled, “Fish! Get your delicious ï¬sh! Whoever stops ï¬ghting ï¬rst gets this super-amazing, tasty treat.” I waved my sock around like there was a ï¬shy delicacy inside.
The ï¬ghting stopped and all mermaid eyes swung toward me. I couldn't help smiling. Finally, I'd gotten their attention.
“What kind of ï¬sh?” one of the Blue Tails asked, snifï¬ng the air.
“Not so fast.” I hid the sock behind my back. “First, we need to get you guys to stop ï¬ghting. Let's sit downâer, I mean, float around, and talk about this. There has to be a way to work things out.”
“The only way is for the Green Tails to leave our land!” cried one of the mermaids.
land?” demanded a blue-tailed merman as he shimmied forward, snake-like. “We saw it ï¬rst.”
“Prove it, tuna breath!”
prove it, shark face!”
A chorus of chirps and clicks erupted, followed by sea-lion-like howls.
“Hey!” I yelled, swinging my sock over my head, but no one was listening to me anymore. Soon rocks and seaweed and shellï¬sh were flying through the air again. I managed to duck to avoid getting hit in the eye with an oyster.
can we go?” said Jasmine.
I opened my mouth to tell her we weren't going anywhere until we ï¬gured out a way to settle this mess, but I was interrupted by a loud
! I turned just as my magical guide, Anthony the Gnome, materialized next to me.
“Hey there, Jenny-girl!” he said. “I have great news!”
“You know a way to stop these crazies from battling each other?” I said, emptying my sandy sock and pulling it back on. I really hoped Jasmine was wrong about the dangers of foot fungus.
Anthony's smile faltered. “Oh. No, I have no idea how to ï¬x that. It's probably hopeless. In fact, you're both being taken off this assignment.”
“What? Says who?” I asked, just as Jasmine let out a loud sigh of relief beside me.
“Says the Committee,” said Anthony, tugging on his bright orange beard. “This mission is being put on hold.”
That was weird. The Committee never let adventurers give up on missions. It was in our contract. “Why? What's going on?” I asked.
“Wellâ” Anthony began.
A broken oar sliced into the sand next to me like a javelin, causing Jasmine to let out an I'm-being-murdered scream.
“On second thought,” I said, “Anthony, how about taking us back to my house before you tell me about it?”
The merpeople sounded deafening battle cries and started furiously slithering toward each other. Apparently, they were done throwing things. Now it was time for hair-pulling and tail-slapping. There was no way Jasmine could handle that without having a total meltdown.
“Anthony!” I said. “Get us out of here!”
He harrumphed to himself. “Always being ordered around,” he said. “That's the life of a gnome.” Then he snapped his ï¬ngers, and with a
!, we were out of there.
After some mind-numbing spinning between the mermaid world and good old Earth, the three of us landed on my bedroom carpet. I groaned and pulled some seaweed out of my hair.
“Thank you, Anthony,” said Jasmine, brushing sand off her khakis. “That was getting exceptionally unsafe.”
“No problem-o,” said the gnome, snapping his ï¬ngers again. I expected a candy bar to materialize in his hands, so I nearly fell over in shock when a stalk of celery appeared instead.
Anthony saw me staring, and he made a sour face. “Dr. Bradley put me on a diet. I can't conjure anything but health food now.”
“Wow.” After all the adventures I'd been on, it took a lot to surprise me, but Anthony on a diet was about the strangest thing I could imagine. “So what's the big news?”
Anthony glanced at Jasmine. “It's kind of private. And Dr. Bradley made me swear not to tell you unless he was there too.”
Now that was interesting. What could be so important?
Jasmine took the hint. “If I'm not needed anymore, I'm off to crochet some orange elephant earrings. Jenny, I can make you a pair if you'd like.”
I smiled weakly, ï¬ngering the hideous frog earrings she'd given me for my thirteenth birthday last week. They were supposed to remind me of Crong and Ribba, talking frogs from one of my previous adventures, but mostly they just made me feel a little creepy crawly. Still, it was nice of her to offer. “Um, sure. Thanks.”
“Wait,” said Anthony as Jasmine headed for the door. “The Committee members sent word that they want to see you.”
Her eyes widened. “I thought the Committee never sees anyone.”
“Not usually,” he said, “but that's the message I got.”
“Whatever you do,” I told her, “make sure to turn off your cell phone. The Committee members are pretty psycho about that kind of thing.”
Jasmine straightened her blouse and smoothed back her hair. For some reason, she always dressed like a banker. “See you next time!” she said. Then she nodded at Anthony, who snapped his ï¬ngers to send her off to the Committee. Instantly, she was gone.
I went to pull off the small bag that was slung over my shoulderâthe “adventuring kit” I'd started bringing along on missionsâbut Anthony stopped me. “You might need that,” he said.
As I adjusted the strap of my bag, I expected Anthony to pop us over to Dr. Bradley's house, even though he lived just around the corner. But the gnome headed for the door instead, grumbling something about needing to get more exercise.
On the way out of the house, we passed by my aunt in the kitchen. She was in the middle of an art therapy session with a raccoon patient. They were both painting pictures of fruit, though the raccoon's bowl of apples looked a lot more lifelike than my aunt's basket of bananas.
“Hi, Aunt Evie!” I called.
“Hello, dear,” she called back, waving her paintbrush. She didn't seem to notice the brightly colored gnome walking alongside me, which was a good thing since my aunt had no idea about the adventuring part of my life. As far as she knew, I was a totally normal kid, and my parents had been totally normal dentists. Sometimes having a scatterbrained animal psychotherapist for a guardian had its advantages.
“Bye, Aunt Evie!” I said, opening the front door.
“Bye, dear!” she called after me while the raccoon chirped in my general direction.
When we were outside, Anthony conjured up a head of lettuce and started crunching away with a disgusted look on his face. He reminded me of a disgruntled hamster.
“How long is this diet supposed to last?” I asked.
“Too long,” Anthony muttered. “My high-school reunion is coming up next week, and I want to look great.” He grabbed his round belly and gave it a jiggle.
“Wait. You went to high school? Like a gnome one?”
“Yes, indeed,” he said. “And I was popular too. Played football and soccer and cottonball.”
I didn't bother asking what cottonball was. The thought of teams of gnomes playing sports against each other was plenty entertaining.
“So am I being sent on another mission?” I asked. Dr. Bradley had helped me work out a deal with the Committee so I would only be sent on one magical assignment a month until I was done with school. That meant more time for friends, family, and unfortunately, homework. But maybe something serious was happening in the magical worlds that meant I had to be sent off on an adventure again.
“I can't say,” said the gnome.
Crunch. Crunch. Crunch.
Eating healthy sure was loud.
“Well, do you at least have any idea how long it will take?” I knew Anthony would laugh at me if I told him this, but I really wanted to go to a dance at school this weekend. Actually, it would be my ï¬rst dance
. Trish and Melissa had promised we'd all go together.
Anthony shook his head. “I'll let the doctor explain.”
Dr. Bradley no longer lived on my street, but he'd found a new place that was also in my neighborhood. It was a tiny house from the outside, but Dr. Bradley had worked some of his magic to make all his thingsâincluding his giant libraryâï¬t inside.
Not surprisingly, we found Dr. Bradley in his junk room happily sifting through a box of old toasters. If anyone ever made a TV show about magical hoarders, he'd be the star.
“Aren't these incredible?” he said, flashing a toothy grin.
“They look broken,” I pointed out. One of them was so burned that it was just a black lump.
,” said Dr. Bradley. “But there was a time when they worked swimmingly. I think I'd like to honor their service by putting them in a display case.”
I had to choke down a laugh as I imagined the toaster display next to the other cases the doctor had set up, including one ï¬lled with creepy headless dolls. Dr. Bradley was well on his way to having the most disturbing museum ever.
“You have news for me?” I said.
“Ah, yes.” Dr. Bradley grabbed his cane and got to his feet. “Anthony and I have something very exciting to tell you. You're being sent on another mission!”
the big news? I thought there was some kind of adventuring emergency going on.”
“It's not just any old mission, Jenny-girl,” said Anthony, popping some grapes in his mouth. “You're being sent to the Land of Tales.”
The room spun around me for a second. “The Land of Tales? You mean the placeâ¦?”
“Where your parents were last seen,” said Dr. Bradley, nodding with his whole body. “I speciï¬cally requested that you be sent on any missions that opened up there, but since the land has been closed off from the outside world, there haven't been any in years. Imagine my delight this morning when I received a message that Princess Nartha had requested help from the Committee.”
I couldn't believe it. This was the moment I'd been waiting for practically my whole life! Finally, after nothing but dead ends, I'd have a chance to get more clues about my parents' disappearance. I'd tried to ï¬nd out information from Aunt Evie, but she always got teary-eyed and said the past was too painful to stir up.
I glanced at the bracelet around my wrist, which had once belonged to my mother. I could almost hear its purple gems whispering to me.
parents, Jenny. They're waiting for you.
Okay, so missing my parents was possibly making me a little crazy. But I didn't just miss them; I felt like my whole body was bursting with questions about them. Where were they? Were they still alive? And what could I do to get them back?
“Wait,” I said. “Jasmine isn't coming with me, is she?” Jasmine was nice enough, and if I'd met her at school, the two of us might have even been friends. But if I had to go on another adventure with her and her weird yarn jewelryâespecially an adventure this importantâI didn't think I could keep from strangling her. Or at least throwing a sea sponge at her.
“No,” said Dr. Bradley. “The Committee has agreed to let you handle this one on your own.”
“Good. So when do we leave?” I didn't even care about the school dance anymore. There'd be other dances, but I only had one set of parents.
“First, I must brief you on the mission,” said Dr. Bradley, pushing his glasses up his long nose. He hobbled over to an armchair and settled into it, like he was getting ready for story time.
“Can't Anthony tell me everything once we get there? I don't think I can wait another minute.” I'd never been so eager to go on an assignment in my life.
Dr. Bradley glanced at Anthony, and the two of them had a silent conversation, nodding and blinking and nodding again.
“Is there a problem?” I asked. “Are you guys having some sort of episode?”
“No, no,” the doctor said ï¬nally. “I suppose it would be all right if Anthony briefed you. But be careful, Jenny. We've heard very little about what's been happening in the Land of Tales since your parents disappeared there. You never knowâ”
“Don't worry about me.”
“It's just, the Committee is concerned thatâ¦” Dr. Bradley's words faded away, and he looked suddenly interested in some invisible lint on his sweater vest.
“The Committee members don't think I should go, do they?”
“They're just worried, Jenny-girl,” said Anthony. “They think it's dangerous.”
I shook my head. “That's not it. They don't think I can do it.” That's why they'd had Jasmine babysitting me, to make sure I was following all their rules and being a good little adventurer. It stung that the Committee members didn't have faith in me, especially after I'd been going on mission after mission for them for over three years. If anyone should have a chance to go to the world where my parents had vanished, it was me.
“Come on, Anthony,” I said. “We're going.”
“But, Jenny,” said Dr. Bradley, “there are some things you should know beforeâ”
“I'll be ï¬ne. I promise.” I shot Anthony an insistent look. He sighed and nodded.
There was a loud
! and Dr. Bradley's house faded away, replaced by a blinding mix of colors. Normally, I dreaded traveling in between worlds, but this time I barely even noticed it. All I could think about was that after all these years, I might ï¬nally get some answers.