The Wicked Will Rise Page 64

“No,” I said.

“Yes,” she said, digging around inside. “Let’s see. One mechanical heart. Check. One artificial tail. Check. And . . . a French textbook? I mean . . . I guess that could come in handy, too. You never know when a girl might want to aim for higher education.” She brushed a lock of hair from her face and the blackness began to fade.

As the world returned, I saw that the battle was over. Really over. The floating island on which it had been waged was now just a scorched, charred husk of dirt and rock, with only a few small flames lingering in the wreckage.

Polychrome lay still in the middle of it, her delicate hand wrapped around Heathcliff’s lifeless tail. Nox was kneeling beside them in defeat, his face bloody and covered in dirt and ash, his formerly wild hair singed to almost nothing.

The battle was over, and we had lost. I had lost. Glinda stood above us, arms crossed at her chest in a pose of both victory and impatience.

“There you are,” she said as Dorothy stumbled out of the shadows to join her at her side. “I was just about to wonder if I was going to have to leave without you.”

“I got what we came for,” Dorothy said, holding up my bag triumphantly.

“And yet the girl lives. Curious.”

Dorothy shrugged. “You know how magic can be. Annoying,” she said, finishing her own thought.

“So it can,” Glinda agreed.

“Must be some dumb rule no one remembers. She couldn’t kill me either, by the way.”

“It makes no difference. The girl is no more than a nuisance now. So what do you think? Should we take them with us?” Glinda asked. “Put them to work? The Order’s little warlock can wash windows, the witch from Kansas can serve, and the beautiful boy behind the boulder”—she waved a hand and a large rock disappeared from the periphery, revealing a sheepish Bright’s hiding spot—“could make a very interesting plaything.”

Even as she said it, I could see that it was, at least in part, bravado. She and Dorothy might have won, but they hadn’t come out of this unscathed. Dorothy looked aged and decrepit, her skin still a sickly green, and even Glinda looked exhausted. Her bun had come undone, her armor had been pierced in several places, and she had a giant gash running from her shoulder to her elbow. If she’d had the juice left in her, she could have done whatever she wanted to us. But she didn’t. Which meant that this was a stalemate of sorts, whether or not either of them wanted to admit it.

Dorothy shook her head with an exasperated groan, trying to act like she seriously didn’t give a shit. “They’re too much trouble,” she said. “Ozma is back in our control. We have the things we came for. The rainbow fairy and her familiar are dead, and this horrible so-called paradise has been burned to a crisp. Soon, we’ll have done the same to the place I used to call home. I say, let’s get out of here.”

“Your wish is my command,” Glinda said. She turned gloatingly to me: “Toodle-oo! Polly’s been the mostess of hostesses, but even the most delightful teatimes must come to an end. And Dorothy and I are late for a very important appointment, aren’t we, dear heart?”

“We sure are.” Dorothy lowered her eyes toward the bodies on the ground, then shot a glance at me. “I hate to leave it such a mess, but I guess a girl from the trailer park has slung some slop in her day.” She gave me a barely perceptible wink. “Not that I know what that’s like.”

Suddenly, out of nowhere, Ozma let out a screech from where Dorothy still had her chained, where Pete had been earlier. It had taken her this long to come to her senses, but now, she finally seemed to understand that she was being held prisoner.

“I command you!” she shouted. “With the Old Magic that . . .”

“That’s the royal spirit we like!” Glinda said, looking like she wanted to explode with laughter.

Dorothy waved a hand, the chains pulled tighter, and Ozma was silent.

Then Glinda snapped her fingers and, in a puff of pink smoke and a shower of glitter, all three of them were gone.


Glinda, Dorothy, and Ozma were gone. The falls, and the islands revolving around it, had been destroyed. The sun was rising, and the purple sky was filled with floating ash and ember and the sad, wilted remnants of barbecued rainbows.

Off in the distance, the place in the skyline that had been occupied by the Rainbow Citadel now held only a billowing plume of blue-black smoke.

It all looked like the morning after a surprise party gone really, really wrong.

Nox and I couldn’t even bring ourselves to look each other in the eye.

Meanwhile, Bright stood stoically, gazing out at the wreckage as the sun rose slowly above it. He shook a single cigarette from his case. “My last one,” he said. “Ever, I guess. No more rainbows left. I guess I should savor it, huh?” But instead of lighting it, he put it carefully back into the case and patted it like a precious object.

He walked over to Polychrome’s sad, limp body and knelt to touch her face. “She was something,” he said. “Y’know, I never figured out what she saw in me, not really.” He bent over and kissed her tenderly.

As his lips touched hers, her body began to glow one last time, and when he pulled away, a small, weak tendril of yellow light curled from out of her mouth and began to eat away at the rest of her until she had melted into a shapeless puddle that danced with color like an oil slick. When there was nothing left of her, the puddle began to unwind, rising—first slowly, then quickly—into the sky in a luminous, vibrant thread.

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