The Wicked Will Rise Page 14

“More magic,” Queen Lulu sighed. “Whoopee. Just what we need.”

But my ears perked up. This was the first I had heard of anything like that. I’d thought that last night was just about killing Dorothy. No one had told me about any plan beyond that.

“There’s something else,” the monkey in the bolero said. “With Dorothy and her allies gone, it’s unclear who is occupying the palace—but something is happening there.”

“Cut to the chase, please,” Lulu said. “I don’t know what ‘something’ means. What’s happening to the palace?”

The monkey looked nervous. “Well,” she said. “For one thing, it seems to be growing.”


As it turned out, there really was a giant waterfall up here in the trees. It was easy to find; I only had to follow a series of signs that led through the maze of walkways in the trees until I heard the sound of rushing water in the distance. Ollie hadn’t been kidding around. Even though we were so high up that it was hard to imagine there was anything above us, a bright blue river was raging down from the sky.

It was spilling from somewhere over the treetops and crashing through an opening in the canopy into a series of basins the size of swimming pools, built into the tree trunks like stairs. The water cascaded over the edge of one and into the next, overflowing and spilling off into endlessness as it continued its unstoppable course toward the jungle floor.

In the pools, groups of monkeys were frolicking happily, scrubbing themselves and playing, hooting and doing backflips and cannonballs. They were having fun.

Looking at it like this, Oz didn’t seem so bad after all, and I stood there for a minute, just watching them play. It took me a few seconds to figure out why it looked so strange: this was the first time since I’d gotten to Oz that I’d actually felt like I was in the place I’d always known from books and movies. A place with witches and monsters, yes, but a place that was magical and joyful and, in the end, beautiful. A place that was happy.

It was the first time since I’d gotten here that I’d actually seen anyone really having fun.

Then I understood what Queen Lulu had been saying to me. This was why she wanted to stay out of it, why she wanted the monkeys to just keep to themselves and let the rest of Oz fight for power. The monkeys had made a place for themselves, and they wanted to enjoy it.

Would it be so bad to stay up here, I wondered? To just say screw it to the promises I’d made—to the war that was going on below us—and never go back down there to fight, and kill, and maybe die?

But it didn’t matter. I couldn’t stay. Not because I’m such a good person, but because I knew this happy feeling wouldn’t last. You can’t just cover your eyes and pretend like terrible things aren’t happening simply because you can’t see them, even if that is something that would seem like a good idea to a monkey.

Evil will always catch up with you. That’s why you have to get to it first.

I turned away, and realized that I was standing at the entrance to a tree house with the words “Princess Suite” burned into the door in elaborate but sloppy cursive.

Princess Suite. This had to be my room. I hoped it lived up to its name. After the day I’d had, I was ready for a little royal treatment.

The inside of the so-called Princess Suite wasn’t lavish—I’m pretty sure my servant’s quarters back in the Emerald Palace had been almost as big—and with only one room it wasn’t much of a suite. But it was cozy and welcoming, illuminated by sunfruit that floated along the edge of the ceiling. In opposite corners of the room, situated under tented curtains of gauzy mosquito netting that could be pulled shut for privacy, were hammocks woven from large palm fronds. Ozma was sitting on one of the hammocks. She lit up and waved when she saw me.

“Hey,” I said. Ozma smiled and fluttered her eyelashes. She shook out her hair.

It wasn’t a surprise that I was tired. Of course I was tired. The surprising part was that I was only feeling it now. I stripped off the servant’s dress I’d been wearing for Dorothy’s big party, now tattered and blood-crusted from my fight with the Lion, and sank heavily into the free hammock opposite the one in which Ozma was swinging happily back and forth, twirling a lock of hair around her finger.

As I lay down, I realized why she looked so content: the hammock conformed to my body perfectly, and maybe it was just that anything would have felt good at that moment, but it almost seemed to be massaging my aching muscles. It was like one of those vibrating chairs at one of those gadget stores at the mall, except better because it didn’t make my butt feel numb.

I closed my eyes. I had a plan, and that plan was to fall asleep.

I wasn’t going to think about anything. I wasn’t going to dwell on anything that had happened, or on what was going to happen next. I was just going to forget the world.

I’d had trouble sleeping when I was little. I was always worrying about things, and so my mother had taught me a trick to clear my mind that I’ve used ever since. You close your eyes and relax and try to keep your breathing steady, and every time a stray thought enters your head, you picture it inside a soap bubble. Then you just blow the bubble away, and pretty soon you’ll be out like a light. Works every time.

It was a skill that was coming in handy around here. When you don’t know what’s happening tomorrow, it’s important to get your sleep where you can—because who knows the next time you’ll have a decent pillow? Or any pillow at all, for that matter.

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