The Wicked Will Rise Page 52

Polychrome raised a brow in recognition of Mombi’s name, then shook her head as she continued pulling out jars and vials. “I’m sorry,” she said. “It’s true that this was once a meeting place for Mombi’s cohort, but none of them has passed through here in as long as I can remember. Now would you care for some rose petals? A relaxing snort of poppy pollen? Perhaps a thimbleful of dew?” She drew out the last word into at least three syllables so it was almost hard to tell what she had said.

“No thanks,” I said. “We can’t stay long. Anyway, I’m not hungry.”

“No one ever is,” she said with a sigh. “I guess I just have a larger appetite than most. For now I believe I’ll just munch on some freshly caught wasps.”

My stomach lurched as she pulled out a large glass jar containing what looked like most of a fairly healthy hive of crawling, brown insects. She unscrewed the lid and reached inside to pluck one out with her fingers, then popped the still-squirming creature into her mouth—chomping down on it with an audible crunch.

Bright lit another rainbow cigarette. “She’s just showing off,” he said. “She knows it’s disgusting, but she does it every time someone new comes around.”

She gave him an unamused look. “Must you smoke in here?” she asked icily.

“Where else am I going to smoke?” he asked, deliberately blowing a smoke ring into her face. Instead of getting angry, she giggled and batted her eyelashes again. For a second, I was worried they were going to start making out again.

Instead, Polychrome sat down on the pillow next to him, tucking her legs underneath her body and gesturing for me and Nox to sit, too.

She tossed another wasp into the air, watched in amusement as it buzzed around trying to evade her, and then snapped her head forward to catch the bug in her mouth, looking quite pleased with herself. “So,” she said. “Tell me about you.”

“Please,” I said. “We need your help.”

“All in good time. First, introduce yourselves.”

“I’m Amy,” I said. “This is Nox. That’s Ozma over there.”

“Oh, I know the princess, of course. Or the queen, I suppose. Everyone was always so vague when it came to her title.”

She cast a pitying look toward Ozma, who was still occupying herself by looking at the view. “So tragic what happened to her, isn’t it?” Polychrome said. “Before her troubles, we were the best of friends. Sure, she was always a little too serious—constantly worrying about tariffs and labor regulations and the dullest things like that, never seemed to have any time to rip off our clothes and go for a fully nude romp in the clouds, just us girls—but nevertheless, I adored her.”

Polychrome saw the skeptical look I was giving her. “You land dwellers never understand,” she said. “It’s very important for fairy princesses to commune with nature. In the nude, the way fairies were intended to be. Anyway, forget about Ozma: the poor thing is a lost cause. Amy, Nox, it’s lovely to meet you.” A sudden thought swept across her face. “Oh!” she said excitedly. “Would you like to meet my pet unicorn?”

I groaned inwardly, wondering if we’d really come all this way to make small talk over thimbles full of dew. But I could also see that I was going to get nowhere unless I at least tried to humor her. “You have a unicorn?” I asked politely.

“I’m the Daughter of the Rainbow,” she said in a voice that indicated she was beginning to think I was a bit of an idiot. “Of course I have a unicorn. You simply must see him. I guarantee he’ll enchant you.” She snapped her fingers in summons. “Unicorn!” she singsonged. “Unicorn, unicorn!”

When there was no response whatsoever, she rolled her eyes, shook her head, and screeched at the top of her lungs. “Heathcliff!”

That did the job. In the distance, I heard the patter of feet, and a large, snow-white creature came bounding from the stairway and settled into a dignified crouch at Polychrome’s side.

She smiled and patted it behind the ears. It was not a unicorn. In fact, it was a huge cat—a panther, maybe?—with a long, sharp horn fastened around its head with a pink ribbon tied in a bow under its chin.

“Interesting unicorn,” Nox said. “Never seen that particular species before.”

“Look, I always wanted a unicorn,” Polychrome said. “A fairy princess should have a unicorn, don’t you agree? The problem is, purebred unicorns don’t take to being made into pets. It’s one of their biggest failings. Of which they have many, I might add. Ugh, they’re awful creatures in the end. So haughty and headstrong, impossible to train, always making a mess in the house. They’re very judgmental, too—always setting perfectly ridiculous rules about who gets to ride them and who can’t. But the Daughter of the Rainbow should have a unicorn. And I am, above all things, a fairy of can-do spirit. So, you see, I had to fashion myself a unicorn of my own. And anyway, Heathcliff is so much better than another unicorn would be. He’s very dear, he lets me pet him, and he can devour an entire human in just three bites if I need him to. So why should I have any regrets?”

She turned to the beast, who pawed at the ground looking, frankly, a bit humiliated at the charade he was being forced to enact. “And you love being my little unicorn, don’t you? You’re such a pretty, noble little loveykins, aren’t you?”

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