The Wicked Will Rise Page 26

“Oh,” Mombi said sourly. “It’s you. Did the boy go back into his hidey-hole?”

That got Ozma’s attention. She looked up and stuck her tongue out at Mombi. “Go away, witch,” she said. “You’re not my mother.”

I should have been proud of her, but I was too busy being annoyed for the umpteenth time to learn yet another thing that had been kept from me. “So how long have you known about him?” I asked.

“Known about him? I created him, didn’t I? Wasn’t until more recently that I learned he could still come out to play, but I wasn’t too surprised. Doesn’t matter much, in the end, does it?”

“Obviously it matters. I’m sick of being in the dark about everything,” I said. “You should have told me. It could have been useful to know.”

Mombi gave a little chuckle. “You still have a lot to learn, don’t you?” she said. “In a war, here’s how it works: we tell you what you need to know to do your job, and you don’t ask questions. That way, when they torture you, you can’t give up anything important.”

I put my face right up against Mombi’s.

“That changes now,” I said. “If I’m going to be a part of your little revolution, it’s going to be as an equal, not as your stupid pawn. From now on, you tell me everything, and I’ll decide whether I listen or not.”

Mombi looked at me like she didn’t get what the big deal was. “Sure,” she said. “Not many secrets left to tell anyway, but if I come up with something I’ll be sure to let you know right away. Until then, I need to rest these old bones.”

She flopped into my hammock and stretched her arms. “At least I’ve got a nice place to heal up. Those monkeys may say they hate magic, but if there isn’t something magical about these beds then I’m no witch. Pity though”—she gestured toward Ozma—“I was so looking forward to letting the boy give me a foot massage, just like old times. He was so good at them.”

I didn’t understand Mombi. Sometimes she seemed almost human, and then sometimes, like now, she . . . didn’t. She had practically raised Pete. No. Scratch the practically. She had raised Pete. Maybe she’d done it under unusual circumstances, but still. She was basically his mom, she hadn’t seen him in years, and now, when she’d almost had her chance, she didn’t seem to care at all that she’d missed it.

The last time I’d seen my mother she’d been in the passenger seat of Tawny Lingondorff’s beat-up red Camaro, riding away from the home we’d shared together, knowing the cyclone was just about to hit. She hadn’t even looked back.

“Is that all Pete was to you?” I asked Mombi, feeling my face flush. “Just someone who rubbed your feet? Don’t you care about him at all? I guess it figures. He told me all about what it was like growing up with you. He said you treated him like shit.”

“Oh, not that old sob story again,” Mombi moaned. She looked perfectly relaxed in the hammock, her eyes closed, her head thrown back. It made it all the more infuriating. “You try to do a good deed for a child in need and all you get for it is bellyaching. Do me a favor and save the soul-searching for a day when there’s not a revolution happening.” Her eyes snapped open, and she looked me up and down carefully. “In the meantime, you and I have other things to talk about. First of all, I believe that a certain item has come into your possession?”

I nodded. I was still pissed off at her—but I knew this was important.

I unstrapped my bag and pulled out my first trophy: the Tin Woodman’s mechanical heart, which was still beating like a watch that didn’t know time had stopped.

Mombi plucked it from my hand and cradled it at her chest. She ran her fingers over the surface and squinted carefully at it from every possible angle.

“You did good, getting this,” she said.

“Not just that,” I said. I tried not to let my pride show as I pulled out the Lion’s tail. “I had a run-in with the Lion after we left the Emerald City. One to go.”

Mombi’s eyes widened. “I guess we trained you well,” she said, as she took the tail and compared the two items. She stretched the tail to see if it had a breaking point and tapped the metal heart against her teeth as if trying to judge exactly what it was made of. I just stood there, antsy and eager to get them back.

“Fascinating,” she mused. “The Wizard wasn’t lying about one thing—they’re magic all right. But I can’t read the spells on them, and I don’t sense any special tie to Dorothy. And who enchanted them? The Wizard didn’t have the power to put any spell on anything back then—especially not spells this strange.”

She scrunched her eyebrows together. “I wonder . . .”

“What?” I asked.

“Oh, who knows. Good for you, getting them. That takes some kind of gumption.”

I put my hand out, and Mombi raised an eyebrow at me, then handed them back. “Someone’s awfully attached,” she said. “Be careful with those. We don’t know what they do, and I don’t trust the Wizard past the length of his pinkie finger.”

I was barely listening as I placed the objects back into my bag.

“Now,” Mombi said. “Do you have anything else to gather up?”

“Gather up?”

“Of course. Belongings. What, you thought you were staying here? The pool party’s over, sweetie.” She jerked her head toward Ozma. “Wouldn’t be much fun anymore now that your plaything’s packed himself back up in the toy box anyway, am I right?”

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