The Wicked Will Rise Page 56

“Oh, nothing much,” Polychrome said. “Just a little Tincture of Revelation. Old family recipe. Not to worry; it’s quite harmless. Tastes quite a bit like Earl Grey, I’m told.”

She sniffed at the cauldron, and when she was satisfied that the tincture had been properly prepared, she poured it into a little teacup ringed with a delicate floral pattern and a gilded rim.


She placed the teacup on the floor where Heathcliff could reach it, and he bent his head and touched the liquid with his horn. I didn’t notice that it had any effect, but when Polychrome examined the mixture again she seemed happy with the result.

She handed the cup to Ozma. “Drink up, Your Highness,” she said. “And let all that is hidden be revealed. When all this is over, I hope that we can be lovely friends again.”

Ozma sipped tentatively from the cup, and then, appearing to like the taste of it, gulped thirstily. As she drank, her movements began to slow. The empty cup dropped from her hands, and shattered on the floor.

“Never liked that pattern anyway,” Polychrome said to herself.

I wasn’t very worried about Polychrome’s china. I was too busy watching what was happening to the princess.

Her arms dangled lazily at her sides, her mouth went slack, and her eyes were heavy-lidded in an expression of sedate peacefulness. Meanwhile, something was emerging from her, a green smoke that curled out from her chest and hovered in the center of the room.

At first, it was just an indistinct cloud. Then its colors shifted, and the smoke condensed as it gathered itself into recognizable form. No: two forms, each of them hanging in the air next to each other, translucent but clearly visible as separate, familiar bodies.

One of them was Pete. The other was Ozma—a second Ozma, a ghostly simulacrum of the version who was still standing in a semi-drugged state on the stool.

Pete looked utterly himself: slim and lanky and a little bit mischievous, his features sharp and strong, with an odd, mismatched beauty.

This version of Ozma though, was different. Not in any way that I could really put a finger on, but in a way that was subtle and at the same time impossible to miss. Her eyes were bright and full of intelligence; her posture, even as she hung suspended above the ground, perfectly still, was regal and dignified. She had a power about her; an awe-inspiring grace that, even knowing she wasn’t real, made me want to kneel and bow my head to the ground.

She looked, in short, like a queen.

Behind them, the real Ozma—or, what I guess was the real Ozma—observed the two spirit forms that had been summoned forth from somewhere deep within her. She didn’t try to move from the stool she was standing on, and instead was simply looking on with the confused, sheepish guilt of a little kid who’s just been caught next to a broken cookie jar, the cookies scattered across the floor.

Polychrome looked back and forth between them and raised a knowing eyebrow.

“Interesting,” she said. “There have been two life forces occupying the princess’s body. But you knew that already, didn’t you?”

She smirked in my direction, like she’d had a feeling all along that this is exactly what she would find.

I nodded. What else could I do? But Polychrome didn’t seem to care that I had lied to her. “No matter,” she said. “We all have our secrets. One of mine is that I’m not as dim as people often think. But, actually, I have a whole cabinet of secrets. So much more convenient not to have them rattling around in my head, you know? It’s much safer to keep them all locked up where I can’t leave them lying around by accident. Anyway. I could run some more tests, but I have a nagging little suspicion that you already have most of the answers we could desire. Who is this second soul?”

She stepped over to the spot where Pete’s form hovered and circled him, looking him up and down wolfishly. “Is he as charming as he appears?”

I tried my best to explain the whole Pete situation—what I knew of it, at least—to Polychrome, who nodded along with the story as I related it to her.

“I see,” she said. “When Mombi attempted to disguise the princess, she inadvertently created the seed of a new soul. It happens! The trick is catching it and nipping it in the bud before it comes into itself. Mombi has always been so sloppy when it comes to the details. It seems simple, now that you explain it. When Ozma was restored all those years ago, she suppressed this other soul. Then, when Dorothy did her little number on the princess, the thing was allowed to flourish again. At any rate, it shouldn’t interfere much with things.”

“What are you going to do?” I asked. I wasn’t sure I wanted to hear the answer.

“I can see now that the spell Dorothy cast on the princess was all anger and impulse. No sense of precision at all, but it was powerful, too. That makes it a bit more complicated, especially now that it’s had so much time to put roots down. But I think with a little elbow grease, I can restore Ozma to her proper state—the state you see before you instead of the simpering, foolish nincompoop who has been occupying her place all these years. And that will certainly change the game, won’t it?”

“What will happen to him? To Pete?” I tried to hide the panic I was feeling, but I don’t think I did a very good job of it.

“Oh, dear.” Polychrome gave me a sympathetic frown. “Did you develop a little crush on the rogue soul? Well, he is handsome, I’ll give you that. But you can’t let yourself get all mushy over it. I imagine it’ll just disappear.”

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