The Wicked Will Rise Page 33

We just stood there for a minute, catching our breath together. Somehow I knew that she had heard everything Lulu had said. Somehow I could tell that it had mattered, too. That, in some small way, Ozma was different now than she had been yesterday.

I put my knife away, and cast a flame again to light the dark. “Are you okay?” I asked. Not necessarily because I thought Ozma would answer me, but only because it seemed important to say.

But she did answer. “No, thank you,” she said. I got the gist: she didn’t want to talk about it.

She started walking again. This time, she moved forward in a straight, undeviating line, carelessly pushing aside anything in her way. I followed after her, and then she started running, throwing herself through the brush.

I ran, too. After all my training with the Order, I’m in pretty decent shape. When you’ve spent several months of your life in twenty-four-hour training to be a witch assassin it’s hard not to be. I don’t tire out easily, but now, after a few minutes of trying to keep up with Ozma, my feet flying over everything in my way, I was struggling. Ozma, meanwhile, seemed to have totally forgotten about me and was getting farther and farther ahead, her white dress streaming behind her. She was going so fast that I was starting to lose sight of her.

I couldn’t let her get away. I was panting and sweating, and my legs felt like they could give out from under me at any second. I wanted to stop and catch my breath, but I couldn’t. I didn’t have a choice except to dig deep.

So I dug deep. I pushed past the pain and exhaustion, just kept my legs moving as fast as I possibly could, and then faster. I wasn’t even trying to use magic. It just sort of happened. My body began to course with a tingling, now familiar warmth, and the trees were blurring by faster and faster until it was like they weren’t even there at all. The only thing that stayed in focus was Ozma ahead of me, the bright red flowers that she always wore at her temples glowing in the dark and leaving a smudgy crimson streak in her wake.

We ran, and everything melted away: the pain in my legs, the ache in my chest. Home, and Oz, and the rest of the world. Even the sadness and loneliness that had been with me for as long as I remembered—not just since I’d come to Oz, but before that, too, for most of my life. It was just gone. All that was left was the wind on my face and in my hair, my feet thumping in the dirt, the magic rippling through my veins.

I felt more like an animal than like a person. Like a dog chasing a ball that had been tossed out into a field, or a wild horse that runs for no reason at all, except because it can. I understood why Ozma had started running in the first place. Because it was a relief.

I had no idea how far we ran, but when I finally broke through the trees, I stopped.

The sun was rising on the horizon, peeking up over a hazy, faraway mountain range. I was standing at the edge of a purple field, and Ozma was alone in the middle of it, her arms across her chest, staring at the sky.

We had made it out of the woods.

I didn’t care that it was technically morning, or that there might be people nearby. Lulu had told me that the handkerchief she’d given me would protect us while we rested, and rest was exactly what I needed.

I tossed it in the grass in front of me, just like she’d told me to do, and watched to see what would happen. Before my eyes, it began to unfold itself into a huge sheet. The sheet floated up into the air and the gauzy material began to thicken, changing color, and it began to take on a shape.

A minute later, l was standing next to a modest canvas camping tent, festooned in jaunty pink and white stripes. At its peak, a miniature flag bearing the royal insignia of Oz—a golden, ornate Z inside a larger O—fluttered in the breeze.

After spending some time in a fairy kingdom, it’s not hard to get a little jaded about the whole magic thing, especially when most people, including you, are basically just using it to try to kill each other. But then it impresses you when you least expect it. And when I crawled inside, I remembered, with a gasp, that appearances in Oz are often deceptive.

From the outside the tent had looked like a normal camping tent, barely big enough for two people in sleeping bags, and only if they didn’t mind getting a little cozy. But the inside was easily twice as big as the rooms at the Best Western that my mom and I had sometimes stayed in when we’d gone on vacation—back when we sometimes used to go on vacation.

Several lanterns hung from the peaked ceiling, burning with soft, pink flames and lighting the space with a rosy, homey glow. On either side of the room were two impeccably made-up beds that looked straight out of a department store display; in the corner, a small sitting area housed an armchair and ottoman upholstered in pink and gold brocade. In the middle of the room, a table with crisp, white linens, flickering votive candles, and an arrangement of pink roses had been laid out for us with a lavish spread and two bubbling flutes of champagne. The remainder of the bottle was chilling in a standing ice bucket next to the table.

Well, Lulu had mentioned that she had “borrowed” the handkerchief from Glinda. And it figured that Glinda wasn’t going to sleep in the dirt in some ratty old sleeping bag.

Ozma had crept in behind me, and made a beeline for the champagne, which she downed in one gulp before moving on to some cheese.

The delicious-looking spread was tempting, but even more tempting were the beds. I was out before I could even crawl under the covers.

I woke up to the smell of freshly cooked bacon. And . . . wait. Was that coffee? Mom must have been in a great mood. Maybe she’d won bingo night with Tawny down at the bar. No, it was more likely I was dreaming.

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