The Wicked Will Rise Page 24

I looked at Lulu, who nodded, dismissing me, and then followed the witch. I still wasn’t sure what had just happened. I was just glad it was all over.


“Monkeys,” Mombi muttered as soon as we were outside and out of earshot. “Winged, wingless, makes no difference. They’re all a damn pain in the ass. Now let’s get out of here before they change their minds. I could use a good foot massage after a day like this.”

She flashed me a sly grin, baring two crooked, slimy rows of teeth the color of moldy corn chips.

“You were amazing in there,” I said. “I’ve never heard you talk like that. All this time, I was never totally sure that you really cared.”

Mombi replied with a guffaw that turned into a hacking cough. “Oh, please,” she croaked when she’d recovered herself. “You really bought all that? I doubt even the queen herself believed a word of it. But, you know, Lulu and I go way back. This is at least the third time I’ve had to go before the monkey court, and it’s always exactly the same. In the end, she’s nothing but a puffed-up scullery maid at heart. You have to make her feel powerful—let her have her little trial; drum up some tears to show you respect her.”

I looked at her incredulously, kicking myself for being taken in by her load of bullshit in front of the monkey court. But had it been bullshit? With Mombi, you never really knew.

“But . . . ,” I started, and then stopped. Whether or not Mombi had actually been sincere was the least of what I cared about right now, and I didn’t have the patience to play games anymore. “Just tell me what’s going on,” I said. “After everything I’ve done for you, I deserve some honesty.”

We had come to the twisting, narrow staircase that led down to the rest of the village. She took a deep breath when she realized that she had to get down there somehow.

“Well, isn’t this nice,” she said. She looked totally humiliated as I put an arm around her waist to steady her. I clutched her frail body tightly, worried that if I didn’t drop her I might break her, and we made a slow, careful descent into the trees.

“Where were you?” I asked her. “What happened?” I was desperate to know what was going on, and at the same time, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to hear the answer. “After I . . .” I trailed off.

What I couldn’t say: after I failed. After I abandoned everyone. After I let Dorothy get away with her life. I knew it wasn’t my fault. Nothing I could have done would have changed anything. According to the Wizard, the only way to kill Dorothy was to remove the Tin Woodman’s heart, steal the Scarecrow’s brain, and take the Lion’s courage—something Mombi and the Order had failed to mention. But it didn’t matter what I knew now. The fact that I’d been given a job, failed, and ran away had been eating away at me ever since I’d left the Emerald City.

“Let’s just say it didn’t go exactly as planned,” Mombi said. “Then again, I suppose you know that already.” She glanced at me ruefully.

“It was fine at first. Better than fine, actually. While you tried to deal with Dorothy, and I worked to place a field around the palace to block her from using her magic, Glamora and Annabel led several of the Order’s other members on a mission to destroy the devices that Glinda had placed around the city to store and convert the magical energy they had been mining from Munchkin Country. Their success is the reason you may have noticed a sudden resurgence of enchantment throughout the kingdom.”

I nodded. I’d already figured most of that out, but I would have liked to have known about it from the start. “And then?” I asked.

“Then? What do you think happened then? You failed, and we did what we’ve always done. We kept fighting so you could have a running start without anyone following. Wanted to give you the best chance of escaping that we could.”

“Thank you,” I said simply.

Mombi reacted by rolling her eyes. “We weren’t doing it to be nice,” she said. “We were doing it because we need you. Personally, I would have given you right up, if I didn’t know how important you are. Lucky you. It wasn’t a fun fight, or a fair one. There were too many of them. Glinda, the Lion’s beasts, the Tin Soldiers. It felt like it went on for days—maybe it did. By the end, I don’t even know who we were fighting. Some of them were Dorothy’s people but others . . .” She shook her head. “Hell, maybe we were fighting our damn selves by the end. I just don’t know.”

With that, she sighed a creaky, defeated sigh. I felt like someone had stepped on my heart. She hadn’t answered the only question I really cared about.

“What about the others?” I asked.

“It was chaos. Nox, Glamora, and I were separated from the rest of the Order. We were surrounded. Cornered. There were just too many of them. You see the shape I’m in now. I didn’t look any better back there, and neither did they. Let me tell you, it’s going to take a mighty long trip to the hair salon for Glamora to get herself all clean and pretty again. We weren’t going to make it. Simple as that. So I zapped us out of there. It was the only thing to be done. Tried to get us back to headquarters. But teleporting’s tricky stuff even on a good day, and with more than one person? Over that kind of distance?” She let out a long whistle. “That wasn’t a good day, and I was in no shape for spelling around. Didn’t go so well.”

I couldn’t stand it. “What happened to Nox?” I asked more urgently. “Just tell me.”

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