The Wicked Will Rise Page 68

For one thing, it seems to be growing.

At the time, I’d had no idea what that had meant. It had seemed so strange that I’d pretty much ignored it when I’d heard it. Now I understood.

It was true. Somehow, the palace was bigger than when I’d left it. Much bigger. Maybe it was still growing: when I stared at it long enough, I realized it seemed to be moving, like it was a living thing. It seemed to be breathing.

But before I could ask Nox what he thought had happened, I saw a movement out of the corner of my eye, and then from out of every crevice and alleyway and window, from the sewer grates and the gutters and out from behind every building, an army of monkeys emerged, coming toward us. Leading the way was Queen Lulu, who was dressed in army fatigues and carrying a small, silver pistol.

“Amy,” Lulu said. “We’ve been waiting for you. And I’ll tell you one thing. You sure know how to make an entrance.”


“You were right,” Lulu told me as she approached. The rest of her monkey guard was hanging back, watching silently. “You told me we couldn’t just sit up there in the trees, waiting for bad things to come to us. We’d been ignoring the rest of Oz for too long—and now look what happened. When I heard there was trouble afoot in the city, this seemed like the best place to come. I had a feeling you’d turn up sooner or later. I guess you chose later.”

“What happened to Mombi?” Nox cut in. “Is she here, too?”

“Nope,” Lulu said. “She disappeared from her quarters last night. Don’t know where she got herself to, but there’s no time to worry about that.”

“What happened to the city?” I asked. “Where is everyone?”

Lulu let out a cackle. “Everyone? Everyone left, I figure. Or at least, everyone who hadn’t left when you and yours attacked the place. With Dorothy gone, and the city ruined, wasn’t much reason to stick around. And it’s not safe here. Doesn’t feel right. There’s something going on in the palace—something rottener than week-old herring.”

“I can see that,” I said.

“I don’t know what it’s all about, but I’ve sent in three separate patrols to check it out. Last I’ve seen any of them. But we have seen a few signs of life.”

My ears perked up. “Who?” I asked. “Who’s been through here?”

“Dorothy and Glinda passed through a few hours ago—zipped right over the top of the yellow brick wall in a pink soap bubble. Not quite as impressive as blowing the whole thing to smithereens of course.”

My stomach dropped as I looked around for signs of them. “Where did they go?” I asked. “We have to find them. Now.”

Lulu bared her teeth and narrowed her eyes. “Honey, don’t I know it,” she said. “But we monkeys haven’t just been sitting around on our heinies. The sorceress has been . . . dealt with. For now.” She gave an oblique glance toward her pistol. “Dorothy got away. Took Ozma with her and headed straight for her old haunt. The palace.”

“Did she say what she wanted?” I asked.

“What, you think we were making small talk? If you want to know what she’s up to, you’d better find out for yourself. You have a job to do, sweetheart. My people and I will protect the city. You’d better hop to.”

I clenched my jaw, with no idea where all this was heading.

“It’s that way,” Lulu said, stating the obvious as she pointed toward it. “Wish I had more time to catch up, but if you want my opinion, time’s already wasting. Good luck.”

I looked at Nox, who nodded back at me. The crowd of monkeys parted to let us pass, and we began to move on our way.

“If I were you, I’d head for the maze!” Lulu shouted after us. We were already gone.

“Now, I ask you,” Nox said. “What the hell is going on?”

I was pretty sure the question was rhetorical. Even if it wasn’t, I didn’t know the answer. All I knew was that something had brought us here, and that whatever was going on, the palace was at the center of it.

As we rushed through the abandoned city streets, the feeling of dread that was emanating from the center became more and more palpable. When I looked over at Nox, he looked almost sick.

“There’s something evil in there,” he said. “I can feel it.” He didn’t say it aloud, but he was staggering a little, slowing down, and I could tell that he was fighting with everything he had just to keep going. “It’s like it wants me to turn back,” he said.

I could feel it, too. And I could tell that it was evil. But instead of repelling me, that same feeling was pulling me closer, like there was a party going on somewhere nearby, and I was following the music. Like someone was cooking a delicious roast and I was a starving woman following the scent.

I didn’t mention that.

Nox put his head down and kept on moving.

Soon, we were there, and I saw exactly how grotesque the palace had become. It was covered in a slimy, filthy moss, and in place of the ornate, golden doors that had once served as the entrance, there was a kind of horrible sculpture: a gigantic, monstrous creature in bas-relief. Itlooked kind of like an octopus, but with more arms, and with a nasty, crowded mouthful of sharp, gritted teeth.

“What the hell is that?” Nox asked in disbelief.

I didn’t answer, because I had just noticed something even more disturbing.

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