KATE

When she was only four years old, Kate promised her mother she would look out for her brother and sister. For ten years, in orphanage after orphanage, that's what she did. She celebrated their birthdays, checked their homework, told them stories about their parents, and assured Michael and Emma that their mother and father would one day return.

Kate wears her mother's final gift around her neck, a golden locket with a picture of herself and her brother and sister. She wishes she had a picture of her mother. She doesn't know that with her dark blond hair and hazel eyes, she looks more like her every day.

MICHAEL

Michael's favorite book is The Dwarf Omnibus by one G. G. Greenleaf. Among the many subjects it touches upon are dwarfish history, the laws and customs of dwarfish society, dwarfish art, literature and song; the book even provides, in one of its appendices, enough recipes to whip up a very respectable dwarfish feast.

Of course, Michael knows dwarves don't actually exist. Sort of. But thinking about dwarves is one way to escape life in an orphanage. Granted, it can also get you beat up. But it's worth it, since his father, whom he hasn't seen in ten years, gave him the book.

EMMA

Emma is small for her age. Her arms are skinny, her shoulders thin, her fists too small to do much damage. Yet according to her file in the orphanage office, she has been in twenty-three documented fights.

Unlike her brother and sister, Emma has no memory of their parents. Michael and Kate are her only family, and the orphanage the only world she has ever known. As such, it has one rule: when you stop fighting, you're finished.

Emma's file does not say that each of her fights was with children older and bigger than herself. And that she won all twenty-three.

DR. PYM

Seeing Dr. Stanislaus Pym certain things are readily apparent...

His tweed suit is rumpled and frayed. His tortoise shell glasses are bent and patched. His eyebrows rise from his head like a pair of great snowy horns. Ink and tobacco stains dot his shirt and tie.

What is not apparent...

He has been alive for thousands of years. He can transport himself hundreds of miles in an instant. He is endlessly kind. If it turns out the world is not destroyed by an evil, tyrannical force, he will have been largely responsible.

In short, he is the greatest good wizard the world has ever known and desperately needs a dry-cleaner.

THE COUNTESS

Once hailed as the greatest beauty in tsarist Russia, the Countess began her career by murdering her husband, her lover, her lover's family, and finally, for good measure, throwing acid in the face of a rival. But it was not all fun and games. As she's quick to point out, poisoning one's husband, especially when he is a finicky eater, can be exceedingly difficult.

For two years now, she has held the people of Cambridge Falls captive, and she would, without hesitation, sacrifice every man, woman and child to achieve her goal.

She also enjoys dancing, shuttlecock, and sitting outside on a summer's evening.

GABRIEL

When he was fifteen, Gabriel tracked a seven-hundred-pound black bear that had been terrorizing his village. Using only a knife and wooden spear, he fought the beast in the narrow confines of its cave. The bear left a deep scar down the boy's face-but the boy killed the bear.

Since the Countess's arrival, Gabriel's one goal has been to convince his village they must free the people of Cambridge Falls. He says he will fight the witch's demons alone if necessary. No one doubts him.

He is terrible at small talk. He has no close friends. He does his best not to scare people.