The day is brisk and bright when Kellan and Ruby return to Edgewall. After the rough living of Dunbarrow and the wonder of the giants' home, this place seems both a paradise and a hovel. That is what Kellan likes most about it. If he were to return home to Orrinshire, he knows precisely what he would see: his mother at the loom, his stepfather tending sheep, the villagers going about their day in perfect harmony. There are no traces of the Wicked Slumber in Orrinshire, nor any surprises.

Here in Edgewall there are plenty.

First is the spread of violet across the town. Where once the cursed threads accented the streets and alleys, they now form rivers and brooks. When they left, there were dozens of sleepers. Now, with a sinking heart, Kellan realizes that the victims are beyond counting. Leaning against balconies, hidden beneath parchment and blankets, standing at open windows ...

Even Ruby is thrown off by the sight. She doesn't say so—she's too brave—but he hears it in the sharp draw of her breath as they walk the streets. He sees it in the careful hops she makes to avoid any strands of violet, in the stiffness of her posture. "Watch your step," she tells him with a smile more for his sake than any joy of her own. "Can't have our hero falling asleep on us."

"Don't call me that," Kellan replies. "My mother always tells me that if I act like something I've done is no big deal, everyone else will, too. You're just as heroic as I am."

Ruby laughs. "Your mom does sound like a nice lady, but you're mistaken. Peter's the hero in our family. Raising your little sister all on your own and being the best hunter in town ..." She hops a cursed thread. "That's a real hero."

"I think there are plenty of ways to be a hero," Kellan says. "Peter's one, but so are you. And I'd like to be one someday, too."

"Well, you're already on a quest," says Ruby. She leads them through the streets to a small cabin on the very edge of town. An uncharitable soul might say it isn't part of Edgewall at all, but the city colors draped in the window proudly proclaim otherwise. A plume of applewood smoke rises from the chimney. Kellan's stomach rumbles.

"What do you think makes a hero, anyway?" she asks him.

"A hero is someone who always does the right thing," he says. "Someone who makes other people's lives better."

Ruby stops with her hand on the door. She narrows her eyes. Kellan waits to see if she'll answer, but there's no chance to talk it over. Peter spots them from the window and invites them inside. With fresh venison steaks sizzling in his cast iron pans, the subject of heroism gallantly gives way to that of dinner. And plans.

They tell him they are going to Loch Larent, and he agrees to take them—on one condition.

"You must wear my thickest cloak, and when you can no longer feel your nose, you must turn back. No matter the circumstances."

"But what if we're not done by then?" Kellan says.

"Then once the two of you have returned, I will go myself," says Peter. "I've heard about that castle. No one's managed to get to the center. Not the other hunters, not the bandits. Syr Imodane tried it before she came here. In her opinion it was an easier thing to brave the wilds than it was to walk more than forty paces across the drawbridge—and she with that firey magic to warm her."

Quiet falls over the room. Kellan glances to Ruby, and Ruby to Kellan.

"I'm not going to turn back," he says. "I can't. Not when so many people are sick. My lord said that whoever defeats the witches will end the curse—"

"Your lord did not say it had to be you, lad," says Peter. "There's no shame in needing help. You're only a boy, and Ruby still young herself. You must know when a beast can be felled, and when it is best to leave it be."

When Kellan catches Ruby's eye again, he knows she's thinking the same thing.

What if Peter's right?

In the end, Ruby makes the promise. Her brother drapes a bearskin around her shoulders, though she insists on keeping the hood. To Kellan he grants a fine coat of wool, the sight of which makes the boy break out in a groan. The wool is from Orrinshire.

Yet he wears it proudly at night, when Peter tells them he has a surprise for them, and he buries his face in its raised collar once the embarrassment overcomes him. For there, in the town square, there are children gathered in red hoods and woolen cloaks. Dozens of them, he thinks—and there are girls in wool as much as there are boys in red. All watch in perfect stillness as two puppets triumph over all manner of trouble to defeat an evil, man-eating witch.

In the flickering candlelight, Kellan thinks he sees Ruby tear up. But she wipes them away the second he spots her, and the two of them say no more of this sacred moment.

Art by: Julie Dillon