Amazingly enough, during practice we were back in fighting form, as if nothing had happened. I felt like I could admit to myself how much I wanted to win. And, not just that, how much I wanted our team to win. More for Wes and Frances and Gordon and Damien than anything else.

After we were done, Damien asked me if we could talk for a minute. Everyone else headed back to their rooms and we went down to the lobby. Other quiz bowl groups were swarming around; those that hadn’t made the semifinals were taking it for what it was—a night where, for a brief pause in their high school lives, they were free from any pressure or care.

“I’m sorry,” Damien said to me. “I was completely off base.”

“It’s okay. I shouldn’t have been so mean to Sung and Frances. I should’ve just left.”

We just sat there.

“I don’t know why I did that,” he said. “Reacted that way.”

It would take him another four months to figure it out. It would be a little too late, but he’d figure it out anyway.

We lost in the semifinals to the Des Moines School for the Blind. I knew from the look Sung gave me afterward that he would blame me for the loss for the rest of his life. Not because I missed the questions—and I did get two wrong this time. But for destroying his own invisible plans.

Looking back, I don’t think I’ve ever hated any piece of clothing as much as I hated Sung’s varsity jacket for those few weeks. You can’t hate something that much unless you hate yourself equally as much. Not in that kind of way.

It was, I guess, Wes who taught me that. Later, when we were back home and trying to articulate ourselves better, I asked him how he’d known so much more than I had.

“Because I read, stupid,” was his answer.

We lost in the semifinals, but the local paper took our picture anyway. Sung looks serious and aggrieved. Gordon looks awkward. Frances looks calm. Damien looks oblivious. And Wes and me?

We look like we’re in on our own joke.

In other words, happy.

All of the science facts in David Levithan’s story had to be found and/or checked on the Internet. The English facts came from his head. Take out the Internet part, and you pretty much have a summation of his academic career from kindergarten through college.

David’s books include Boy Meets Boy, The Realm of Possibility, Are We There Yet?, Marly’s Ghost, Wide Awake, Love is the Higher Law, and (with Rachel Cohn) Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist and Naomi & Ely’s No Kiss List. His next book is a collaboration with John Green, entitled Will Grayson, Will Grayson.

He still remembers who wrote Cry, the Beloved Country, but has completely forgotten how to work a sine or a cosine.

Text by Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci. Illustrations by Bryan Lee O’Malley.


by garth nix

“No going out till you’ve split that wood, Tony. All two tons, you hear?”

Tony looked up from lacing his outdoor boots and made a gesture to indicate he’d already done the job. His father understood the sign, but he still went outside to check, returning a few minutes later as Tony was finishing winding the lace around the top of his left boot.

“When did you do it?”

Tony held up five fingers and curled back his forefinger, to make it four and a half.

“Four thirty? This morning before school?” his father exclaimed. “You’re crazy, son. But good for you. You must have chopped like crazy.”

Tony nodded. He had chopped like crazy. He’d enjoyed it though, crossing the lawn to the shed, the frost cracking under his boots. It had been cold to start with, and quite dark under the single lightbulb swaying on its lead high above his head. But as he’d swung the blockbuster, split the wood and stacked it, he’d gotten hot very quickly, and the sun had come up bright and strong.

“What is it tonight? Basketball practice?”

Tony nodded again, and shrugged on his backpack. It was a full-on hiker’s backpack, not a school satchel or day bag. He carried it everywhere outside school, notionally for all his sporting equipment, and his father had gotten used to it long ago and didn’t inquire about what was actually inside.

“Considering how much practice you do it’s a wonder you guys never win a game,” said his father. He’d been an all-round athlete in his youth, and he couldn’t help but needle Tony a little about his lack of sporting success. He didn’t come to the games, either, not for the last few years. He didn’t like being with the other dads when Tony’s team didn’t win. He was also too busy. Though they lived on a farm on the outskirts of the city, it was a hobby farm, a tax deduction and sideline interest for his dad, who was a senior executive in some shadowy government intelligence outfit. Tony’s mother and younger sister lived on the other side of the city, almost an hour’s drive away. He spent some time with them, but not much. He preferred the farm, even though it took him forty minutes to get to school on the bus.

Tony settled his pack, then mimed turning a car key to his dad.

“You want to borrow the monster again?”

Tony nodded.

“You know, it wouldn’t hurt you to talk to me.”

“Sorry,” mumbled Tony. His voice was low and scratchy. It sounded like a rough scrubbing brush being drawn across broken stones. He’d accidentally drunk some bathroom cleaner when he was little, and it had burned his throat and larynx. His mother had blamed his father for it, and his father still blamed himself. “Can I borrow the car?”

“Of course. Be careful. No drinking after practice. None at all, you hear?”

Tony nodded. He looked old enough that he could easily pass for legal drinking age. He stood six foot four in bare feet, and took after his father in both his heavy build and an early onset of dark stubble on his face. He didn’t plan on drinking and he wasn’t going to basketball practice anyway.

He took the keys to the farm truck. His father moved as if to hug him, but didn’t follow through. Tony waited stolidly, ready to hug if that was what was required to get the keys.

“Okay. I’ll see you later. I’ll be in my study, working till late. Check in when you get home.”

Tony nodded and walked out into the cool, near-freezing air of the night.

The backpack held his armor, belt, helmet, and mask. His foam-wrapped PVC pipe boffer sword was in a sack in the tray of the truck. Tony checked to make sure it was still there. His dad hardly ever used the truck and practically never looked in the back, but a good knight always checks his weapons before venturing to battle.

That night’s game was being held in the usual place, the old wool shed and farm buildings on Dave Nash’s family property. Dave was a big mover and shaker in LARP circles; he’d been involved in live-action role-playing for more than twenty years. He was in his forties, heavier and slower than in the old pictures and videos Tony had seen. He was still a tough fighter, though he mostly ran the games rather than participating in them.

Tony parked the truck off the road a half mile from the Nash property, edging it well behind a fringe of trees. It was a rural road, and not much traveled, but there would be other LARP gamers heading along it later and he didn’t want them to spot him or the vehicle.

It took him ten minutes to get his armor on. First there was the athletic supporter and the padded undergarment, which were easy enough. It was the thigh-length hauberk made of thousands of steel rings that was the hassle. It was a lot easier if you had help to lace the back up, but he’d worked out a method using a long leather strap and a lot of wriggling about.

He didn’t change his boots, but tied on a pair of gaiters that disguised them so they looked more medieval. The hauberk was long enough to protect his thighs, but he strapped on converted ice-hockey armor to his knees and shins. It was painted black and looked okay, at least it would in the partially lit game that would occur tonight.

Tony’s helmet was fairly basic. Unlike the hauberk, which he’d bought with the unwitting assistance of his mother, he’d made it himself in Dave’s workshop with a lot of help. It was modeled on a classic Norman nasal-bar helmet and went on over a padded lining and a mail coif, which also protected his neck.

With almost everything on, Tony added the final unique touch: a half-mask of beaten gold (actually gold paint over tough plastic) that covered his face from his chin to just below his eyes. It locked onto the nasal bar and the sides of the helmet and was perforated so he could breathe. And talk, if he wanted to do that.

All armored up, Tony tested his movement, jumping, springing, lunging and stepping back. Everything was on right and tight, so he strapped on his belt and put on his leather gauntlets. Last of all he took up his sword, practiced a few test swings and cuts, then laid it at rest on his shoulder.

There was a beaten track made by the sheep along the inside of the barbed wire fence that paralleled the road some ten yards in. Tony had made a rough stile when he first started going to the LARP sessions a few years before, just a log up against a corner post that he could run up and jump down on the other side. He checked that, too, before he went over. It would be very embarrassing to break a leg out here alone, in full armor….

As he always did, Tony stopped at the edge of the roadside trees to observe who was waiting outside the woolshed, before he went on. The woolshed itself was huge, a vast barnlike relic of bygone days when two hundred shearers had worked inside, shearing several thousand sheep a day. Dave Nash had partitioned it up inside with moveable walls and scenery like a theater so he could arrange all kinds of different scenarios. The LARP group used the paddocks outside as well as the smaller buildings. For evening games like this one, they always chose a night when the moon was full. It wasn’t up yet, so all the exterior lights were on, including the big floodlights at the front of the woolshed. They lit up the bare dirt field in front that was used as a car park.

There were half a dozen cars there now, parked as far from the woolshed as possible, in the half-dark so they wouldn’t detract from the atmosphere. Tony recognized all but one of them. Seeing a strange car made him cautious, so he carefully scanned the group around the front steps of the woolshed.