The Witch Must Burn Page 20

“But I don’t even know how to use my magic,” I said. “I never even knew what I was. How can I help you?”

“Nox is our eyes and ears in Glinda’s palace,” Gert replied. “And you can do that work for us in the Emerald City. No one is as close to Dorothy as you are.”

“And Glinda hasn’t told her about your magic,” Glamora added. “As far as she knows, you’re just as ordinary as anyone else in Oz—if anyone in Oz can be said to be truly ordinary.”

“If Glinda recognized me as part fairy, why hasn’t Dorothy? She has magic, too,” I pointed out.

“Dorothy doesn’t have magic of her own,” Gert said. “All her power comes from those infernal shoes of Glinda’s. Dorothy is learning how to use that power for her own ends, but for now Glinda can still control her.”

I sat for a moment, digesting what they’d told me. “You’re asking me to risk my life when I don’t even know what you’re trying to do,” I said finally.

“That part is simple,” Mombi said. “The witch is going to burn.” Everyone else at the table fell silent. Mombi slapped her hands on the table and heaved herself to her feet, trundling around the table to where I sat. “Listen, little girl,” she said, grabbing my chin and forcing me to meet her eyes. “You don’t think much of us now, and I can’t blame you. I know more about your life than you think. I know what you’ve seen and I know how much Dorothy and Glinda have hurt you. Not just you—your friends. I know you remember what it was like to live in a free Oz. We might not look like much, but we can do it. We can make Oz free again.”

Her tone was gruff, but underneath her harsh words there was something almost sympathetic.

As if she could sense me softening, Mombi continued. “We’re asking you to risk your life, sure. You know that. You’re not stupid. But your life is already at risk, every day you work for Dorothy. Glinda’s already figured out she can’t use you in her machine. You’re no more use to her. Do you really want to be Dorothy’s head maid for the rest of your life? This is your chance, Jellia. It’s your chance at something better. We’re not going to pretend it’s not risky. But Oz deserves better—and you have the power to help.”

Her grip on my jaw was firm, but when I met her eyes again they were full of compassion. “I know,” she said, so quietly I didn’t think the others at the table could hear her. “I know how much you want the real Ozma back. In that, if nothing else, we’re together.”

I jerked away from her grip, and she let me. She took a few steps backward, put her hands on her broad hips, and stared at me. They were all watching me now.

“I need some time,” I said.

“We can give you a few minutes, but that’s all,” Gert said. “We can bewitch the Munchkins who were tasked with taking you back to Dorothy so that they won’t realize you were gone, but the longer you’re here, the harder it will be.”

“Fine,” I said. Without another word, Gert led me back to the cavern with the healing pool and left me there.


I sat staring into the pool as the soft slap of Gert’s bare feet on stone faded away. A pale pink mist had formed over the water, which was now an opaque, rich blue and smelled of honeysuckle. I had no idea how long I’d been sitting there when something in the air changed and I realized Nox was sitting beside me. He’d come up behind me and sat down so silently I hadn’t even noticed.

“I’m sorry,” he said in a low voice, looking at the water.

“Why did you join them?”

He was silent for a long time. “It might not seem like it,” he said at last, “but you’ve been protected in the Emerald City from the truth of how evil Dorothy is. Glinda has been trying to tap into Oz’s magic for a long time, and Dorothy is helping her. It’s not just that machine—Glinda’s been digging mines deep under Oz, looking for ways to pull magic out of the earth. The Tin Woodman’s soldiers have been kidnapping people and using them as slave labor.”

I thought of the rumors that had swirled around Dorothy’s palace ever since Ozma had changed. The stories of Munchkins going hungry, of the winged monkeys turning evil. They hadn’t just been stories, then. “That still doesn’t explain how you got here,” I said.

“The Tin Woodman’s soldiers burned my hometown to the ground when I was just a boy,” he said quietly, not looking at me. “They tried to take all of the adults, but everyone fought back. No one was left alive—except me. Mombi rescued me and brought me here. She raised me to be a fighter. I owe the Order my life.” He looked up at me. “But it’s more than that. More than just gratitude. I believe in the possibility of a better Oz, Jellia. I have to. I won’t let Glinda and Dorothy keep destroying our country. And if I can avenge my parents’ deaths—well, so much the better.”

I searched for the right words. “I’m sorry,” I said simply, though it hardly seemed like enough. “I didn’t realize.”

He shrugged. “You didn’t know. But now you have to decide, Jellia. Will you help us?”

“I’ve already made up my mind,” I said, and his face fell. But as soon as the words were out of my mouth, Gert materialized next to me in a little puff of purple smoke.

“I knew we could count on you, Jellia,” she said, her voice full of pride. She wrapped me up in a big, soft hug, and after a moment I returned the gesture. I could see Nox’s confused expression over her shoulder.

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