The Witch Must Burn
Page 19

 Danielle Paige

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If this was going to be my last meal, I might as well make it a good one. Nox, Glamora, and Gert filled their plates, too—but the fourth person sat at the far end of the table, glaring at the food as if she expected it to bite her. I eyeballed her surreptitiously as I ate.
She looked more like a troll than a witch. Like Gert, she was short and squat, but where Gert came across as nurturing, there was nothing generous about this woman. Her nose was the most extraordinary feature in her wrinkled face: huge and bulbous, with a wart at its very tip. She was dressed in purple rags that hung haphazardly from her stout body and a battered, pointed black hat rested on her greasy, stringy black hair at an alarming angle. “Why don’t you paint a picture, it’ll last longer,” she growled at me. Embarrassed at being caught staring, I quickly looked away, mumbling an apology. Next to me, Gert chuckled.
“Don’t you mind our Mombi,” she said. “She has a terrible attitude problem.”
“Remind me of my attitude problem the next time I save your skin,” Mombi snapped. “Are you done stuffing your faces? We don’t have all day. It’s time to get down to business.”
For the first time, it occurred to me to wonder what Glinda would think about my disappearance. How long had I been in the cave? What would happen when—if—I returned to her palace? And how had I gotten here in the first place?
“One at a time, dear,” Gert said, and I realized that she was answering me even though I hadn’t spoken aloud. “Bad habit,” she added, reading my thoughts again. “But it saves time. I won’t look in on anything that’s none of my business, don’t worry.”
“Fine,” I said, trying not to show her how unnerved I was by her magic mind reading. “How did I get here?”
“I can answer that,” Nox said. “I followed you when Glinda summoned you. I knew if she’d brought the Scarecrow to the palace, she was up to something really bad. We”—he indicated the others seated at the table—“didn’t realize she’d move again so quickly. I could protect you inside the palace, but by the time I got to you, it was almost too late. She and the Scarecrow had left you for dead. I thought there was still a chance we could save you, so I brought you here.” I thought of the Scarecrow’s machine and shivered, covering my eyes with my hands. I felt Gert put an arm around my shoulders.
“I’m sorry we couldn’t prevent you from experiencing so much pain,” she said. “We had no idea she would try again so soon after she brought you to the palace. Glinda and Dorothy have been looking for a way to tap into Oz’s magic since Dorothy took over the Emerald City. Glinda’s machine will be slowed down now by the fact that she’ll have to use Munchkin labor. But that won’t stop her for long. Oz is in danger, and we’re the only people who can keep the country safe.”
“Who’s ‘we’?” I asked. Mombi drew herself up to her full height.
“The Revolutionary Order of the Wicked,” she said proudly. “The only thing standing between Oz and its destruction.” If the only thing standing between Oz and its destruction was this ragtag bunch, I thought, then Oz was in even bigger trouble than I’d thought—but I kept my mouth shut. Gert was probably reading my mind anyway. “We’re witches, too,” Mombi continued. “But for years, we’ve kept to ourselves, letting our more attention-hungry sisters steal the spotlight. When Glinda brought Dorothy back to Oz, we knew it was time to come together to find a way to stop her.”
“You said you knew about me already,” I said to Nox. “Back at Glinda’s palace. What does that mean? Does it have something to do with your—Order?”
“We have eyes everywhere, including in the Emerald City,” he said. “We’ve known about you for a long time. You’re part fairy, Jellia. It’s why Glinda thought she could use you to tap into Oz’s magic.”
“But how could I be part fairy?” I asked.
“It’s not common,” Gert countered, “but it’s certainly possible. Why do you think your magic is so powerful? You’ve always been different, and you know that.”
I struggled to process what Gert was saying. I did have stronger magic than most—I knew that. But how could this be? How had I never known?
“Did Ozma know?” I said finally.
“I’m sure she did,” Nox said. “Anyone with enough magic can recognize your power, Jellia.”
“Why didn’t she ever tell me?”
“Ozma has always had her own reasons for doing what she does,” Glamora said. “The fairies aren’t like the other citizens of Oz. They literally are Oz; their magic is Oz’s magic. If she didn’t tell you, it was because she felt it was for the good of Oz. But everything is different now. You have to learn the extent of your powers if you want to help send Dorothy back to the Other Place and heal Ozma.”
“You’re not any better than Glinda,” I said, hurt surging up in my chest. “You only helped me out because you think I can do something for you.”
“Not because you can do something for us,” Mombi said curtly. “Because you can do something for Oz.”
“I know this is difficult, dear,” Gert said, her gentle voice countering Mombi’s gruffness. “But these are desperate times. We’ve protected you because you’re special, it’s true. But you have the power to help us heal Oz—to bring Ozma back and restore the rightful order. You can’t choose who you are. But you can choose what you’ll become.”