The Wicked Will Rise Page 10

Seeing him like this it was hard to believe that he had ever been capable of any of the terror he had caused. Without his courage, he was nothing. And I had it now. His tail coiled itself up around my arm like a piece of jewelry. The Lion was less than harmless now. And I felt powerful. Maybe even courageous.

My hands were red with blood; blood had plastered my clothes to my skin. Even my hair was damp with it. Off in the distance, I heard a single bird chirp.

My shoulders loosened. I took a deep, gulping breath. My knife faded from my grip, and as it did, the clouds parted and the sun was shining down on us again. My whole body was shaking as I felt the magic that had filled me during my fight begin to dissipate.

I thought, for a moment, of my mother, and of how fragile she looked when she was coming down from one of her binges. I thought of all the times she’d tried to go clean, and of all the times I’d tried to help her. Of how she’d failed every time.

I stood and turned away from the Lion. “Go,” I said, gesturing out into nowhere.

The Lion rose shakily to his feet. He stumbled and fell, then stood again and looked up, his whole face trembling. “Thank you,” he sniveled. “How can I ever—”

I cut him off. “Do it, before I change my mind.” He flinched, and then went limping off into the forest without looking back, blood trailing his every step.

Two down, one to go. After that, Dorothy would be mine, and one thing was for sure: I wasn’t going to let her off the hook as easily as I had the Lion.

Then the world began to come back into focus. In the rolling field of flowers, Maude and Ollie were standing stock-still, staring at me like they barely recognized me. Ozma, though, had a shy little smile on her face. It almost looked like pride.

I wanted to say something to them. See? I wanted to say. I let him go.

It was true. I had let him go. Even so, I knew there was a line that I had almost crossed, and they had watched me walk right up to the edge of it. I opened my mouth and closed it again. I didn’t have the words to explain any of it.

I was just standing there, still wondering what had just happened, when I saw the rest of them. They were everywhere. I had been so consumed with the Lion that I hadn’t noticed them arrive. Monkeys.

They were sitting in the branches of the trees and crouched in the hillocks of flowers and hiding in the thick shrubbery that blocked the forest. There must have been a hundred of them, monkeys of all shapes and sizes. Too bad I’d never paid much attention in science class; it would have been nice to name all the different types of species that were represented among them.

Like Maude and Ollie, they were just staring at me, unblinking and impassive. Like Maude and Ollie, they all looked scared of me.


The Queendom of the Wingless Ones was built high in the trees, just below the thick canopy of leaves that covered the Dark Jungle. The monkeys had known the path through the jungle by heart and commanded enough respect in these woods that we’d been able to pass without being bothered by any of the creatures who shared it with them, but it had still taken us hours to make our way through the dense brush of vines and branches into the heart of the forest where they had their treetop home. We’d paused only once, for me to wash the blood off my body in a stream, before we stopped in front of a big tree.

I looked at Ollie.

“Why are we stopping?”

“This is the human entrance. You can’t very well climb up there like the others, can you?”

I looked up to where he was pointing. Most of the monkeys traveling with us had simply scampered up into the branches.

Ollie pressed his palm into a barely visible indentation in the trunk and a door slid open, revealing that the tree had been outfitted with a makeshift contraption kind of like a dumbwaiter. Ollie crawled inside and beckoned for us to follow, and once we were all in, he and Maude and I all took turns pulling on the rope that turned the pulley and raised the platform carrying us up, up, up, into the darkness.

Ollie was completely out of breath and I wasn’t doing much better by the time we emerged from the passage onto a narrow platform.

The monkey village was like the world’s coolest tree house crossed with something out of a Swiss Family Robinson theme party thrown by Martha Stewart. Throughout the village, wooden houses of all shapes and sizes had been built into the treetops, all of them connected by a network of suspended walkways constructed out of roughly hewn planks and twisted vines. Everywhere I looked were monkeys in human clothing. There were monkeys in sharp little three-piece suits, monkeys in sweatpants and T-shirts, monkeys in nurses’ uniforms, and even monkeys in tiny little ball gowns who looked like they could be on their way to the monkey Oscars. Most of them weren’t using the walkways; instead, the ones with places to be were swinging from vines and scampering across branches, looking perfectly unaware of the fact that we were at least five hundred feet up.

We were greeted by a monkey who seemed not at all self-conscious about the fact that she was wearing a French maid’s uniform.

“Welcome back,” she said to Ollie in a voice too low and gruff for her tiny size. She gave him a quick pat on the back and a kiss on the cheek before turning to the queen, sinking into a clumsy curtsy as I fought to stifle a giggle. “Greetings, Your Highness,” she said to Ozma. “I’m Iris. We are honored to have you join us in our village.” After lingering on the queen for a few moments, Iris directed her attention to me. Her smile faded. I was starting to realize that these monkeys didn’t quite trust me.

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