The Wicked Will Rise Page 28

“Oh, that’s all?”

“Should I give you a list, or will you remember?”

I didn’t say anything.

I looked from Mombi to Ozma and back. I weighed my options. I could stay here. I could go off looking for Nox on my own. I could look for the Scarecrow and Dorothy without any clue where either of them were. Or I could just take a nap.

Call me stubborn, but I didn’t really feel like obeying Mombi just for the sake of following orders. On the other hand, what if orders were, in this case, also the right thing to do?

“Fine,” I said. “I’ll go. But I’m not doing it for you. I’m doing it for Ozma.” I looked over at her. If there was a chance of fixing her, I wanted to give her that chance. I was doing it for Nox, too, but Mombi didn’t need to know that.

“I don’t care why you’re doing it,” Mombi said. “Just go! I’ll find you when I’m myself again.”

“Now?” I asked. “Can’t we wait till the morning?”

“Certainly not. Leave in the middle of the night and no one will notice or ask questions. Secrecy, my dove! Even up here, you never know who’s watching. Anyway”—Mombi looked around pointedly—“I only see two hammocks, and three of us. What would you propose to sleep on?”

“Can I at least say good-bye to Ollie and Maude?”

“Can’t you see I’m too weak and weary for all this tiresome chitchat? Tell no one! And if you encounter anyone on your journey, keep your trap shut. Or, better yet, kill them.”

I wasn’t prepared for this. I’d been looking forward to one more comfortable night’s sleep, at the very least. But Nox was out there somewhere, needing my help. And the bug Mombi had dropped in Ozma’s ear must already have been working, because she was making for the door.

I knew it was no use. I took a look at my dirty clothes heaped in the corner and decided I was better off traveling without them. I turned to Mombi, but she had already fallen asleep, and was now loudly emitting an unpleasant combination of a snore and a moan.

It was time to get moving. I followed Ozma out of the Princess Suite. This time, I took a page from my mother’s book and didn’t look back.


It was the dead of night, and Ozma and I were making our way through the jungle. Yet again, I was reminded of the dream I’d had that wasn’t quite a dream. The feeling of déjà vu was so visceral, tingling in my pores, setting the hairs on my arms on end. I ignored it and pushed ahead, following Ozma, and tried not to let it get to me.

I was holding a tiny orb of flame in my palm, just bright enough to light our way. But still, the woods around us were black, and we were moving more quickly than I thought possible. Ozma walked ahead of me with a strange purpose, not seeming to even need my light to see by. She didn’t hesitate with a single step, but she didn’t seem to be following any particular path either; she was weaving and zigzagging through the thick clusters of trees, sometimes doubling back on herself, sometimes groping oddly at the air as if feeling for something. In her flowing white dress, with her luminous ivory skin flickering in the glow of my flame, she looked like a teenaged ghost.

I just hoped she knew what she was doing, because I thought there was a distinct possibility that she was leading me in a circle.

With every step we took, I second-guessed myself. Was I doing the right thing? It didn’t feel like it. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d felt so alone. I wished I had Star. I wished I had Indigo, or Ollie, or anyone. I wished I had Nox.

Ozma didn’t count. Tomorrow I would try to summon Pete back—at least he would be someone to talk to—but for now, I just wanted to get out of the woods, find a place to rest, and take stock of things in the daylight.

So I walked, letting Ozma lead the way. My hand was clenched hard around my knife, which had appeared in my hand without even being summoned, the way it always did when I sensed danger or felt out of my element. The knife was beginning to feel so much like a part of me—like an extension of my body—that it was easy to forget Nox was the one who had given it to me, had spent hours carving the bird-shaped hilt himself not just because he wanted me to be able to protect myself, but because he wanted me to have something that he had made; something that was just mine.

I felt a pang of loneliness at the thought, but instead of getting sad, I tried to take that feeling and use it, to shape the pointless emotion into something more like determination. It felt almost like working with magic—the way you could take it and mold it into something different from what it had started as. Into something you could actually use.

The thing about Nox was that I didn’t even know him that well. I really didn’t.

We had kissed, what—twice? Three times? And most of the time that we hadn’t been kissing, it wasn’t even obvious that we were friends. Much less anything more than that.

Look, it didn’t matter what we were to each other. It didn’t matter whether I really knew him or not. I just knew that I wanted to find him.

But Nox wasn’t why I was roaming through the dark forest in the middle of the night. I wasn’t doing it for Mombi either, or for the Order, or for Ozma, although I had to admit I was starting to feel a certain amount of protectiveness toward her. I wasn’t doing it for Oz, or for justice. Some of those things were part of it, but they weren’t the main reason.

For some reason, I had kept it from myself, because it had made me feel somehow selfish, but isn’t everyone allowed to be selfish sometimes?

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