The Wicked Will Rise Page 51

It took me the whole ride to identify it as hope.

From up close, the palace was even more beautiful than before, with intricate floral patterns etched into all of its surfaces. The rainbow bridge took us over a moat of clouds and right to the castle’s grand, arched entranceway, where the doors flung themselves open before we could even step up to them.

Standing behind them was a girl so beautiful that I was startled at the sight of her. She was tall and statuesque and willowy, wearing a loosely fitting caftan in a neon paisley print. Even though the dress was roughly the size and shape of a refrigerator box, it was translucent to the point of near abstraction, almost like the fabric itself had been woven from threads of light and color, and didn’t do much to cover the shape of her slim, coltish body.

But it was her hair that was the most impressive thing about the girl. It flowed around her like she was being blown with one of those giant fans they use in music videos, and was so long that it was hard to tell where it ended. It was intertwined with beads and flowers and threads of color that shifted through the spectrum depending on the angle you looked at them.

I had a pretty good feeling that this was Polychrome.

“Welcome to my kingdom, visitors!” she exclaimed in an ethereal voice.

“What, no welcome for me?” Bright asked, stepping up and wrapping an arm around her waist.

“Oh, hello there,” she said, batting her eyelashes coquettishly.

“Hey, babe,” Bright said huskily.

“You’ve been gone too long. Lost again, I presume?”

“Yup. Saw a lot of crazy stuff this time. There’s some serious business happening on the ground right now—we have a lot to talk about.”

“I’m sure,” she agreed, and she promptly swept him up into the kind of kiss that made me feel like I should probably look away.

Was he kidding me? I was pretty sure he’d been hitting on me back on the ground, and it was now clear that Polychrome was his girlfriend. Had he been trying to embarrass me before, or was he such a player that he just couldn’t help himself?

Probably both, I thought. Nox must have known exactly what I was thinking, because he gave me a smug I told you so look and then a gag me gesture.

They didn’t notice. Their makeout went on. And on. And on.

And on.

About two minutes after it had gotten seriously uncomfortable, I cleared my throat, and Polychrome pulled away from Prince Charmless looking flushed.

“Forgive me,” she said, remembering us. “What a bad hostess I’m being. I can’t help it sometimes—we rainbow dwellers are a people who truly delight in the senses. But please! Come in and join me in my rumpus room. I’ve been so looking forward to your visit.”

“She knew we were coming?” I whispered to Nox as we stepped into the castle, but I guess I’d been too loud, because it was Polychrome herself who responded.

“My sprites sent word of your arrival, of course,” she explained as she led us up through a lavish foyer. “They got so excited when they saw you heading up the bridge. Tourism used to be one of our biggest industries here in the falls, but Dorothy’s rule put an end to all that. Now we’re reduced to selling those disgusting rainbow cigarettes on the black market to make ends meet. We never get visitors anymore. Especially none as royal as yourselves.” She glanced over her shoulder at Ozma and gave a halfhearted little curtsy without breaking her stride.

“Come on, Polly. Everyone’s a royal around here,” Bright said. “Can’t go ten feet without bumping into someone who claims total dominion over a patch of grass. Is it really such a big deal to have another princess in our midst?”

I was starting to agree with him, but Polychrome didn’t look amused. “Please forgive my Royal Consort,” she said, beginning to ascend a spiral staircase with translucent, floating steps and a thin silver, handrail. “He’s a monstrous pain in the ass, and the absolute laziest person you’ll ever have the misfortune to meet, but you have to admit: he’s hot.”

“Guilty as charged,” Bright said.

The staircase went up and up, high into the castle, and opened up into a spacious, circular lounge that was entirely enclosed in glass, providing a stunning, three-hundred-sixty-degree view so expansive that I was pretty sure I would have been able to see from one end of Oz to the other, if my vision were sharp enough.

Ozma trotted over to the window and stared out at the kingdom, fully entranced. She turned to me. “The time draws near,” she said.

I glanced at her in surprise. Her moments of lucidity were becoming more and more frequent—and more lucid.

“The time for what?” I asked. But she didn’t reply.

On one edge of the room was a curved, chrome bar, its glass shelves fully stocked with hundreds of tiny jars and bottles of strange things I wasn’t able to recognize. In place of any other furniture, the rest of the space was strewn with plush, oversize pillows in various shades of white. Bright immediately flopped down on one of them and leaned back, stretching languorously, his shirt rising to reveal an inch of stomach.

I caught myself staring and quickly looked away, hoping that no one had noticed, only to see that Polychrome was openly ogling him, too. When she saw me, she tossed her hair saucily, gave me a just us girls wink, and stepped behind the bar.

“Can I offer anyone a snack?” she asked.

“We’re looking for the Order,” I said. It was easy to get caught up in the strangeness of everything, but I couldn’t forget I was here on a mission. “Mombi said we might find some of them here.”

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