The Wicked Will Rise Page 11

“Hi,” I said awkwardly. “I’m Amy.”

“Yes,” she said. “Queen Lulu has been awaiting your arrival. Ollie will take you to her while I escort Her Majesty to the quarters you’ll be sharing.” With that, Iris took the wide-eyed Ozma by the hand and led her away.

“I don’t think your friends are that into me,” I said to Ollie.

He just shrugged. “The Wingless Ones have a bad track record with witches.” Before I could protest he was already moving, scampering off across a rope bridge. I followed.

Because the canopy blocked out almost any light from the sun, the village was lit instead by strange, floating lanterns that looked like oversize, translucent lemons. They hung in the air along the walkways and over the tree houses, their glowing light giving the otherwise dim village the feeling of a fancy garden party just about to start. (Not that I’ve ever been to a fancy garden party, but back in Kansas I did sometimes used to watch HGTV with my mom. When we were getting along, I mean.)

“Sunfruit,” Ollie explained, seeing me staring at the lamp-things as we made our way across the walkways. “Try one.” He plucked a fruit from where it hovered and expertly shucked a piece of soft, thin rind from the top, revealing a yellowish, glowing goop inside. He handed it to me.

The sunfruit felt warm in my palm and had the rubbery consistency of a gummi bear. I was a little afraid of it, but I didn’t want to offend him, so I stuck a finger in, scooped out some of the slime, and tasted it.

I was expecting it to be kind of gross. I wasn’t prepared for it to be pretty much the most delicious thing I’d ever eaten. It tasted like ten things at once: like saltwater taffy and pineapples and fruity drinks with little umbrellas. It tasted like summer, and the last day of school, and the beach. I closed my eyes and savored it for a second, suddenly realizing exactly how long it had been since I’d taken the time to actually enjoy something. These days, distractions like that were pretty hard to come by.

I could have spent the next hour trying to separate out all the flavors of the sunfruit, but Ollie was already tugging at my sleeve. “We don’t want to keep Queen Lulu waiting. She is a wise ruler, but she gets frustrated easily. You’d rather not see her when she’s angry.”

I took his word for it, but I continued scooping up more of the sunfruit as we kept walking. A few minutes later, we came to a spiral of stairs that had been built into the outside of a thick-trunked tree. “The queen will see you alone,” Ollie said. “When you’re done, you can find your chambers near the waterfall.”

“A waterfall? Up here? In the trees?”

“Can’t miss it,” he said, jumping from the path and grabbing on to a vine with his tail. He swung around and hung there upside down, looking me in the eye. “Thank you, Amy,” he said, and I knew that he wasn’t just thanking me for saving him, or for saving his sister.

Then he was gone into the leaves.

I took a deep breath and began to make my way up the rickety wooden stairs that twisted up toward the canopy. I took each wobbly step carefully, hugging the tree as closely as I possibly could, trying not to think about the fact that I was probably the first fully grown human to use this path in years. You’d think the day I’d just had would have cured me of my fear of heights, but nope.

Look, fear’s not always rational, okay? Anyway, there’s a difference between being afraid and being a coward. At least there was one thing I could take comfort in: if you’re afraid, you must still be a little bit human.

When I finally made it up through the canopy, I discovered that the “palace” wasn’t really a palace at all. Just a large, round hut that sat on a spacious platform of planks above the leaves.

Inside, Queen Lulu was sitting on a large throne constructed out of sticks and branches in the middle of a filthy room strewn with banana peels, clothes, and piles upon piles of newspapers, books, toys, and other junk. She wore bright red lipstick, a poufy pink tutu, and pink, rhinestone-encrusted cat-eye sunglasses. She sat there eyeing me, all the while fanning herself with a paper fan.

“Well, well, well,” she squeaked from behind her fan. “If it isn’t famous Amy Gumm. Welcome to my queendom.”

So she was no Kate Middleton. Still, I wasn’t sure what to expect from her as I approached her throne, and I figured that even a queen in a tutu expects a certain amount of respect. I bowed. “It’s an honor to meet you, Your Highness,” I said.

“Charmed, I’m sure,” Queen Lulu said. Her voice was squeaky but tough, too. “I hear you’re a hero type, the real deal. You and your daring rescues! Oh, sure, we’ve heard all about those around these parts.”

“Uh, thanks,” I said. “I don’t know. I was just doing what anyone would have done, I guess.”

“Well, bless your heart,” Lulu said. She set her fan aside and casually scratched her armpit. “Shall we call our debt all settled up here, then?”

“Debt?” I asked.

“Yeah, debt. You saved Ollie and Maude, they saved you. Even-steven. No more monkey business.”

“Oh,” I said, taken aback. “I mean, okay. It wasn’t like I was keeping track or anything.”

Queen Lulu lowered her sunglasses and looked out over them. “Let’s cut the crap,” she said. “You seem like a nice girl, but I want to make sure we have things straight here. I allowed Ollie and Maude to help you out this one little time, but we Wingless Ones aren’t going to get involved in whatever nonsense is brewing in Oz these days. What Dorothy and the rest of them do down there? That’s someone else’s ball of beeswax. We’ve got a good thing going up here in the trees.”

Prev Next
Romance | Vampires | Fantasy | Billionaire | Werewolves | Zombies