The Wicked Will Rise Page 60

Crouched at her feet, looking more like a cat who had just eaten one too many canaries, was the Lion. Like Pete, his body was wrapped in a thick, heavy chain, one end of which Dorothy was clutching like a leash. He was whimpering pathetically, hiding his face with his huge paws, quivering in fear. A coward.

“Amy Gumm,” Dorothy said. “Just who we were hoping to run into. Somehow I had a feeling we might find you here—and when I say a feeling, what I mean is that this guy told us.” She nodded smugly in Pete’s direction. “Careful who you trust, hmm? That’s a lesson you could both stand to learn. Can you imagine? He thought Glinda would actually help him.”

“I’m glad you found me,” I said, mustering more confidence than I actually felt. “It’s actually pretty convenient. Everyone I want to kill, and you’re all lined up in a neat little row so I can pick you off one by one. Now who wants to go first?”

I couldn’t help shooting daggers at Pete. “How about you?” I asked. “Nah. Not worth my time.”

At that moment, my reinforcements came bursting through the wall of flames, the charred rainbow that had carried them expending itself in a final sputter of exhaust as they landed: first Polychrome, followed by Nox, Heathcliff, and, finally, a dazed-looking Bright.

Polychrome didn’t waste any time. In one quick move, she jumped astride her cat, and they seemed to merge into one: together, they were undulating with color, a panther and unicorn and girl and rainbow all at once, a single form burning with even more intensity than the flames that were everywhere around us.

“Witch,” the creature bellowed, rearing on sinewy haunches and launching itself straight for Glinda, claws extended and long as kitchen knives. As it flew through the air, its churning colors shifted up the spectrum until it was a radiant beast of pure light.

Glinda simply flung her arms out, throwing up protection, and the whole sky lit up in a blinding flash as the creature collided with her in a shower of multihued sparks. It looked like someone had just set off a whole entire barge of fireworks in one go. But the sorceress just let out an uncharacteristically harsh cackle as she stood there, unharmed.

The monster that had been Polychrome just a minute ago drew back, undeterred, and struck again, quick as lightning. The battle was on, and I had to trust that Polychrome could handle her part of it. I had another enemy to fight.

Suddenly Nox was at my side. “Ready to raise the body count?” he asked.

“I’m ready,” I said. As if it would ever be a question. It had taken me sixteen years to figure it out, but this was what I had been born for: to fight. When I looked down on the knife that was already in my hand, I saw that it wasn’t a knife at all anymore, but now a sword with a shining ebony blade.

Dorothy hadn’t moved an inch. She was observing the scene in unconcerned amusement. She looked down at the Lion crouched at her feet.

“Cowardly one,” Dorothy commanded. “Prove your worth.”

“But . . . ,” the Lion whimpered. Dorothy yanked at the chain that bound him, pulling it tight around his neck, choking him with it.

“Kill them,” she said.

He roared, not with menace but with rageful anguish, and attacked, bounding for us. Nox hadn’t come bearing a weapon, but he didn’t need one: his magic was made for battle. His hands began to crackle with mystical energy. He dropped to the ground, letting the Lion sail over him, and then reached up and plunged his burning fingers into the beast’s belly. The Lion yelped and rolled away as Nox bounced right back up.

“I’ve got him,” Nox said. “You take Dorothy.”

I teleported myself ten feet over Dorothy’s head and dove for her, swinging my sword with both hands like a batter ready to hit the game-winning home run.

She just laughed and ducked.

I kept on going, feeling like a windup toy. I was hitting her from every possible angle, slicing and dicing and shooting off one fireball after the next, moving with the grace and precision of a ballerina. But every shot I took missed, and she barely seemed to have broken a sweat.

She was still holding tightly to the end of the chain that she seemed to be controlling the Lion with, and she kept glancing over at him, muttering things under her breath like she was giving instructions. Was she controlling him with magic? It was like she was fighting in two places at once, her mind—and maybe her power—divided between me and Nox.

It should have given me an advantage to have her distracted like this. It didn’t. Nothing I did seemed to even come close to hurting her.

But I couldn’t give up. I wouldn’t give up. I had been brought here to do this. It was my only purpose, and I wasn’t going to fail again.

Then a voice pulled me out of my fugue. It was Pete. “Amy!” he shouted. I snapped my head toward him, only to see Bright lying unconscious on the ground and Nox in the clutches of the Lion, who had him by the collar of his shirt and was dangling him aloft. Nox writhed and fought, helpless in his grip.

Dorothy shot Pete a look of disgusted consternation. “Oh, shut up,” she snapped, sending a bolt of energy flying for him. “You can’t keep changing sides like that.” As the magic connected with a ruby-red flash, Pete disappeared, replaced, once again, by Ozma.

That was the least of my worries. If I didn’t do something fast, Nox was a goner.

“Kill the warlock,” Dorothy cooed at the Lion, who was baring his fangs in threat. I realized he was trembling. Once a coward, always a coward. “I want to see him suffer,” Dorothy said.

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