The Wicked Will Rise Page 5

It’s not as good as being invisible, but, hey, it’s saved my ass on more than a couple of occasions. That’s sort of how it goes: my magic is strictly the in-case-of-emergency kind. In nonemergencies, I prefer to do things the normal way. Call me old-fashioned. It’s just easier.

But falling out of the sky from five thousand feet probably qualifies as an emergency, right? If Maude, Ollie, Ozma, and I were going to land without becoming pancakes served Oz style, it was going to take some serious witchcraft.

So as we plunged through the air, I just closed my eyes, tuned everything out, and concentrated, trying my best to ignore the fact that I probably had about fifteen seconds to get the job done. I couldn’t think about that.

Instead, I focused on the energy that was all around me. I tuned into its frequency and gathered it all up, channeling it through my body as the wind whipped fiercely past me.

Once, I’d seen Mombi do a spell where she reversed gravity, turning the whole world upside down and sending herself, along with her passengers, all shooting up into the sky. Like falling, but in the wrong direction. Or the right direction, depending on how you looked at it.

I wasn’t so sure I’d be able to pull off that trick, but I hoped that even my bargain basement version of Mombi’s designer magic would be good enough that my friends and I just might be able to walk away from this. Or at least crawl away. Or whatever.

And maybe because it was do-or-die or maybe it was something else, but for one of the first times ever, it came easily to me. I reached out with my mind and twisted the magic into something new; something that could help.

The first rule of magic is that it gets bored easily—it always wants to be something different from what it is. So I imagined it as an energy re-forming itself into a parachute flying at our backs. I imagined it catching its sail in the wind, imagined it opening up and carrying us. It was like drawing a picture with my mind, or like molding a sculpture out of soft, slippery clay.

When I opened my eyes again, we were still falling, but our descent was slowing by the second. Soon we were floating like feathers, gliding easily toward the earth.

It had worked.

I can’t say I wasn’t surprised.

“Someone’s been practicing her tricks,” Ollie said. There was a hint of suspicion in his voice, but mostly it was just relief.

“I guess I just got lucky,” I said. It was kind of a lie. It hadn’t felt like luck at all. It hadn’t felt like I had known what I was doing either. Somehow I had just done it. But how?

I tried to put my doubt aside. This wasn’t the time for me to be questioning myself. It had been a gentler landing than I’d been planning on, but I felt as exhilarated and exhausted from the feat I’d just accomplished as if I’d run a marathon.

I picked myself up, dusted off, and tried to collect myself. My body was aching, sore from the trip, and my mind raced as I sifted through everything that had just happened, knowing that I had to stay alert. I had a feeling that the rocs hadn’t attacked us by coincidence, which meant that, for now, we were still in danger.

And yet it was hard to be too worried when I saw where we had touched down: I was looking out over a sea of flowers, stretching far into the distance.

When I say a sea of flowers, I really mean that it was like an ocean, and not just because I couldn’t see the limit to it. I mean, that was one thing, sure. More importantly, though, was the fact that it was moving.

The blossoms were undulating like waves, building themselves up and rolling toward us, petals spraying everywhere as they crashed at our feet, petering out into a normal, grassy meadow. If this was an ocean, we were standing right at the shore.

“I’ve heard of the Sea of Blossoms,” Maude said. “I’ve heard of it but . . .”

Her voice trailed off as we all gazed out in something like amazement.

The Sea of Blossoms. It was beautiful. Not just beautiful: it was enchanted. Of everything I had seen since I had come to Oz, this felt the most like the magic that was supposed to be everywhere here. After our near escape from the flying monsters, I knew I should be on edge, but there was something so joyful about the way the flowers were rippling in the breeze that I felt my heart filling with hope.

But then I turned around and saw what was behind us, and I remembered something Nox had once told me: that even in the best of circumstances, every bit of brightness in Oz was balanced out by something dark.

Here was that darkness, right on cue: at our backs, the way was blocked by a thick, black jungle, with trees taller than I’d ever seen before, clustered together so closely that it was hard to see a way through. My body gave an involuntary shiver.

At least they didn’t have faces. Still, there was something dangerous about it. Something that said keep out.

“Is this where the monkeys live?” I asked, hoping the answer was no.

Ollie gave a rueful little laugh. “Not quite. The Queendom of the Wingless Ones is deep in the forest, high up in the trees. Flying would have been faster, but we still can make it there by nightfall, if we move quickly.”

“And if the Fighting Trees decide to let us pass,” Maude said darkly. “In the past, they have been friends to the monkeys, but nothing is certain these days. Things are changing quickly in Oz. The Sea of Blossoms was supposed to have dried up years ago. Ozma said the magic was returning. As foolish as she is, she is still deeply attuned to this land. I wonder if something your wicked friends did last night has awakened some of the magic Dorothy and Glinda have been stealing from it for all this time.”

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