The Wicked Will Rise Page 42

And not just her voice. She was there in the flesh, hovering a few feet above the road, right in the middle of my path, haughty and imperious, her red shoes crackling with magic.

At first, she didn’t seem to notice me, but when she did, her face softened into a disarmingly kind expression that bordered on sympathy. Instead of screaming or insulting me or telling me what a loser I was, she smiled.

“I knew you’d be here before long,” she said. “The Scarecrow didn’t believe me, but I told him you were too smart to listen to the Fantasms. They’re liars. Figments. I know you better than they do, that’s for sure. You and I are alike, you know.”

“Yeah, people keep saying that,” I said.

I moved toward her slowly, not sure what I was supposed to do next. She wasn’t any different from the rest of them, except that I could see her. But if she was a figment of my imagination, would she go away if I ignored her or did I still have to fight her?

She was a figment of my imagination, right?

Dorothy shrugged. “Aw, c’mon,” she said. “Don’t make it like that. We’re two of a kind. Two good old farm girls a long way from home. We could practically be sisters.”

“First off,” I said, still advancing on my probably imaginary enemy, “all I know about farms is that they stink when you pass them on the highway. Second, I don’t have a sister. If I did, and she was anything like you, I would have drowned her before she’d learned to walk.”

“Back home, they call that kind of spirit gumption,” she said, curling a beckoning, red-nailed fingertip in my direction. “And I like a girl with gumption. I am a girl with gumption, after all. Join me. It’s lonely at the top, you know? Plus, ruling this place is a lot of work. Between the two of us, though, we could really turn this dump upside down. Make it a place actually worth living in, and have some fun in the meantime.”

I shot off a fireball, aiming for the center of her chest. It went right through her, just as I’d known it would, but at least it had been enough to annoy her: Dorothy’s smile curdled.

“Fine,” she said sourly. “I didn’t really expect anything different. Hoped, maybe. Go ahead, keep on fighting, if that’s what you want. Like it even makes a difference? If you think you’re really doing any good, think again. You’re just winging it anyway, aren’t you? You have no idea what you’re doing unless someone else is telling you to do it. Guess what, none of the witches you let boss you around know shit either. Every brilliant move you make just makes me stronger.”

“Oh yeah? Maybe we should test that,” I said, faking confidence.

“You know why? Because you’ll never kill me, and the harder you try, the closer you get to becoming just like me. Pretty soon, you’ll be knocking on my door, just begging for me to clear off a throne for you. You know I’m right. I can see it in your face.”

Claim yourself, the Magril had said. I suddenly understood. Dorothy and Glinda both thought they had my number. They both thought I was what Dorothy herself had been: a good little girl from the prairie who hadn’t meant any of it, who had never dreamed that she would turn out evil but just needed a little help—a little temptation, a few empty promises—to get there.

“Maybe you’re right,” I said. “Everyone else seems to think so. But there’s one important difference between us.”

“What’s that?” Dorothy asked sweetly.

“I know who I am,” I said. I thought I’d said it quietly, but when the words came out they weren’t quiet at all. They reverberated like I was whispering into a microphone.

Dorothy took a step backward.

I felt my knife itching to come to me, but I willed it away, just to prove a point to myself: that I didn’t need it. It was just a knife. It had a few magical bells and whistles, sure, not to mention a really nice hand-carved Magril on its hilt, but I wasn’t powerful because of the knife. The knife was powerful because of me.

So instead of summoning it, I just summoned myself. I thought of every doubt I’d ever had, of every time I’d had to eat the crap sandwich that my mother, and Madison Pendleton, and Dorothy had served me. Those days were gone.

“I. Know. Who. I. AM,” I said again, more confidently this time with each word bringing forth every bit of the power, the rage, and—yeah—the wickedness, that had been building inside of me since I was just a little girl. “And I’m willing to fight for it.”

My hands began to vibrate, and I clenched them into fists, then thrust them forward and brought them together with a thunderclap as a bolt of black lightning came down from the sky, cutting through the fog.

Everything went dark, and then slowly, the darkness lifted. The fog was gone, the voices were gone, Dorothy was gone, and I could see again. I had passed the test.

Ozma and I were standing on a narrow, pebbly beach in a basin in the mountains where the road had led us. When I turned around, I saw the road curving up through a narrow gap in a ridge of rocky peaks so high that I could barely see the tops when I craned my neck. Ahead of us was a vast, glassy lake, and beyond that, on the other side—it was impossible to tell how far away—were more mountains, even taller than the ones we had just come through.

As the road wended down the shore toward the water’s edge, it petered out until all that was left of it were a few scattered, moss-covered yellowish bricks. Wedged into the gaps sat a small, wooden canoe so weathered by age and wind and rain that it looked ready to fall apart at the slightest touch. Next to it, staked into the muddy bank, was a hand-lettered sign.

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