The Wicked Will Rise Page 8

“Not very filling,” he said with a laugh. “But I hear rats are actually a delicacy in some parts of Oz.” He paused and licked a stray bit of my poor dead rat’s white fur from his lips. “Now, I’ve made a decision. On to the main course.”

“No,” I said as something strange came over me. I felt more lucid than ever, like the volume had been turned up on all of my senses. I felt like I was looking down on myself, watching the scene unfold from somewhere far away. “Wrong. Fucking. Move.” With that, I blinked myself out of his clutches.

The Lion lurched in surprise and twisted around to face me where I was now standing, a few yards away, my back to the trees. He pawed at the ground.

Somewhere in my peripheral vision—somewhere on the edge of my consciousness—I saw that Ollie and Maude were both clinging to Ozma under the protection of her bubble. They were safe, but I hardly cared anymore.

I didn’t care about them, I didn’t care about Oz. I didn’t even care about myself. All I cared about was my dead rat.

That stupid little rat was the last connection I had to home. In some ways she was the only friend I had left. She had made it through Dorothy’s dungeons with me. She had helped me survive. Now she was gone. The Lion had eaten her as easily as a marshmallow Easter Peep.

Now I was alone for real. But suddenly I knew that it was really no different from before. It was no different from Kansas, even.

I had always been alone and I would always be alone. It had just taken me this long to figure it out.

All I cared about now was revenge.

The Lion bounded for me with a thundering growl so loud it shook the trees. I didn’t move to step aside. If the Lion thought eating my rat and creating a racket was going to make me afraid, he couldn’t have been more wrong. I was less afraid than ever.

I was ready to kill, and I suddenly had no doubt what the outcome would be.

My heart opened up into an endless pit. I looked over the edge into the void, and then I jumped right in.

Brandishing my knife, I silently called out for more fire—for the white-hot flames of the sun. The Lion was going to burn.

The fire didn’t come. Instead, like a glass filling with ink, my blade turned from polished, flashing silver to an obsidian so deep and dark that it seemed to be sucking the light right out of the sky.

It wasn’t what I had been expecting, but that was how magic sometimes worked. Magic is tricky. It’s not as simple as saying abracadabra and waving a wand. When you cast the spell, the magic becomes a part of you. Who you are can change it. And I was different now.

Once, I had been an angry, righteous little ball of fire. Now I was something else.

But what?


I felt the magic in every pore of my skin, in every hair on the backs of my arms. I felt it in the tips of my eyelashes. I was vibrating with it as the Lion came at me with a roar loud enough to split the world right open.

It was too late for that.

He hurled himself at me in a lithe, powerful cannonball; he clawed and scratched and bit. He wasn’t playing around now; there was no taunting and no banter as he hit me with a graceful, animal fury that wouldn’t let up. But he couldn’t touch me.

When he had killed Star he had unleashed something in me that I hadn’t known was even in there. Now the magic was flowing through me like a song and my body was moving to its pulsing, thrumming beat.

I was everywhere at once. I was barely anywhere at all. With every move that he made, I was ahead of him. It was like we were dancing.

I was spinning and dodging and somersaulting, thrusting and parrying, and every time the Lion thought he had me, I found myself melting into the ground, only to rise back up a moment later in the place he least expected to find me.

It was a different kind of teleportation than the kind I did when I blinked myself from one place to the next. It was like I was entering a world of shadows. I wasn’t sure how I was doing it, and I wasn’t sure where I was going when I disappeared like that—only that wherever it was, it was cold and foreign and deadly silent. From down there, everything was hazy and slow-motion, and I was outside reality, looking up into it from the darkness like gazing up through a layer of black, muddy water.

I may not have known how I was doing it, but every time I rose back up, reshaping myself into my own form, I knew what I was doing when I was under there. I was touching the darkness.

If I’d had time to think about it, it probably would have frightened me. Somehow, I knew instinctively that I was tapping into some of the blackest kind of magic. Everywhere I slashed and stabbed, my knife left a thick, inky trail behind it. It looked like I was cutting a hole in the atmosphere, and what was on the other side was nothing.

We went on like that for a while. I could tell that the Lion was tiring out. We weren’t dancing together anymore. I was dancing, but him? He was just going to die.

It was pathetic, really, but I didn’t feel sorry for him. Actually, I was having fun. I’d found something in Oz I was good at.

Finally, he gave one last valiant effort and sprang up, grabbed a tree branch and swung, barreling down at me feetfirst. I didn’t bother dodging. I melted into nothing and rematerialized behind him, wondering how it was that this kind of magic was suddenly coming so easily to me.

The Lion was still scooping himself up from where he had fallen, and I let him flail for a moment in confusion before I swept my leg around in a roundhouse kick that met his face with the satisfying crunch of shattering teeth.

I plunged my knife into his side and a web of inky lines spidered across the surface of his golden, tawny muscles like I was injecting him with poison.

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