The Wicked Will Rise Page 21

“You have to come in,” he said. “The water’s incredible.”

“I don’t have a bathing suit,” I said. I was suddenly feeling shy.

Pete gave me a whatever look. “Who cares? Anyway, can’t you just magic yourself something else?” he asked. “I thought you’d gone all witch now.”

“The Order’s training camp isn’t exactly fashion school,” I said. “If you need me to incinerate someone, though, I’m your girl.” Then I thought of something. “Hey,” I said, with a sly, sidelong glance in his direction, hoping I wasn’t hitting on a touchy subject. “What about you? Aren’t you a fairy or whatever?”

Pete grimaced like I’d just insulted him. “Um, no,” he said. Then he caught himself. “I mean, not exactly,” he said, more calmly. He paused and looked at the ground. “Well, maybe, I guess. Maybe technically? But I can’t do magic,” he said. “Not even a simple spell. I don’t really know why. I wish I could.”

This time, when he jumped in, he did it in a huge cannonball, purposely drenching me with the splash. “Come on,” he said. “I won’t look. I promise. Anyway, I hate to tell you, but I’ve already seen you in your underwear.”

“What? When?”

“Um, try this morning?” Pete said. Then he screwed his face up and started talking in a squeaky voice. “I have to find Nox,” he said. “He’s the only one I trust.”

It took me a beat to realize that he was mimicking me.

“You heard that?” I asked, my stomach dropping as I realized exactly what he was saying. Trying to remember everything I’d said and done around Ozma with no idea that I’d had an audience beyond one catatonic princess. “What else did you hear?” I asked, not sure I wanted to know the answer.

“I don’t know.” He shrugged. “Not everything. When Ozma’s in charge, things are sort of fuzzy. Sometimes I miss days at a time; other times it’s like I’m seeing through her eyes. But don’t worry—I try to be a gentleman about it. Anyway, now we’re even. You’ve seen me in my underwear, and you know all my secrets. Plus, I don’t care about your crush on Nox. Is it supposed to be surprising? Who can resist an angry, tortured rebel type? Especially when he’s—you know . . . extremely attractive.”

He dove back under the water without waiting for my answer, and I watched his pale figure disappear as he went deeper and deeper below the surface. I was basically dying to go in myself.

Screw it, I thought. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d gone for a real swim. It would be a total waste to pass up the opportunity now. So without thinking about it anymore, I stripped down to my bra and my leopard print granny panties and jumped in.

The water felt better than I’d imagined was possible. It was cool, but not freezing, and there was something about it that gave my skin a minty tingle. I stayed under as long as I could, just letting it seep into me.

Finally, I had to come up for air, and when I did, Pete was waiting. He grabbed me around my waist and lifted me into his arms, both of us laughing, then tossed me across the pool.

“You suck!” I shouted at him after I recovered myself. He was still laughing, but then his laughing stopped and his smile turned into something more serious. “I’ll tell you one other thing I saw,” he said. His tone wasn’t mean, just concerned or something. “I saw you fighting the Lion. I’m glad you did what you did, but . . .”

He didn’t seem to be able to put it into words. But he didn’t have to. I’d been trying to put it out of my mind ever since it had happened.

“I know,” was all I said.

He wasn’t going to let it go quite that easily. “It’s just like . . . Dorothy was good once upon a time, too, you know? Not just good. She was the best. Until the magic got ahold of her.”

“I know,” I said. He didn’t look away. “I know,” I repeated.

“You know what that means, right?”

But before I could reply, there was a crashing sound, a burst of purple smoke, and Mombi was sprawled out on a bamboo platform next to the water, right between where Pete stood and I sat.

Her face was bruised and swollen. Her cloak was in tatters.

She looked from me to Pete and back. “Well,” she said in a strained voice. “I’m glad to see you two are getting along.”

Then her eyes rolled back in her head, and she crumpled to the ground.


Later that afternoon, I once again found myself in Queen Lulu’s chambers, which the monkeys had transformed into a makeshift courtroom. Mombi was on trial.

In addition to being queen of the monkeys, it turned out that Lulu was also the chief justice of their supreme court, and she was presiding in a long black robe and a crooked white judge’s wig, clutching an oversize gavel in her paw. All around the room, the members of the monkey council were perched in whatever spots they could find, all of them outfitted in somber courtroom garb, monkey style.

The hours following Mombi’s surprise arrival had been a blur. We had no idea where she’d been or how she’d found us. Within seconds of her collapse, a retinue of monkey guards in beefeater uniforms had swept in—apparently her teleportation spell had tripped their alarms. The Wingless Ones had not been amused to have yet another witch in their presence, and as they’d hauled her motionless body off to the monkey slammer, it was unclear whether she was even still alive.

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