no place like oz Page 41

“And now the dress,” I said, and Aunt Em stood, and began to dab at my back with the rag. I could have cleaned it myself, with just a thought, but I didn’t want to.

“It’s such an honor,” Aunt Em was saying. “To be able to serve you like this.”

Then Ozma was standing in front of me. I hadn’t seen her approach.

She looked different than I’d ever seen her. This was so much more than the Ozma who I’d seen in the maze, the day I’d met her. It was like she had been hiding part of herself from me. She no longer looked like the girl I knew. She no longer looked like a girl at all.

Her skin was fiery and glowing like the sun; her green eyes were huge and iridescent. Her hair haloed her face in oily-black tendrils that coiled and twisted like snakes.

The wings she’d showed me in the garden that day had revealed themselves again, but they were bigger now, twice as big as her body, and they sizzled with magical energy.

She looked like a fairy, and not even a fairy princess. She looked like a queen.

“Dorothy,” she said. Her voice reverberated throughout the ballroom. “It’s time for you to leave.”

“No,” I started to say. But the words wouldn’t come out.

I knocked my heels together, trying desperately to use my magic against her. It didn’t work. Nothing happened at all. My feet felt cold. Too cold. Like the magic had been drained from them.

And then, with everyone in the ballroom staring, I felt myself turning and walking away. I had lost it. I had lost my magic, lost everything I had worked so hard for. I couldn’t fight back—Ozma was controlling me.

“Wait!” the Scarecrow called. I found I couldn’t answer him.

Before I knew what had happened, I was back in my bedroom, where I settled into a black and dreamless sleep.

Eighteen

I woke up to find Aunt Em sitting on the edge of my bed. She’d opened the windows, and the light was streaming through, casting her in a silhouette. The breeze hit my face. It smelled like grass and dirt and rain. It smelled like home.

For a second, I thought we were back in Kansas, and that it had all been a dream. I always hated it when stories ended that way.

“Dorothy,” Aunt Em said. I rubbed my eyes, still disoriented, and tried to think back to last night. It was foggy in my memory. There had been some kind of party, and I’d been dancing with the Lion and—

Oh.

I pulled the pillow over my face and groaned, trying to block it all out. If only I could go back to sleep, maybe everything would be okay.

“Dorothy,” Aunt Em said again. She pulled the pillow away. I grabbed for it, but she held it at arm’s length. “It’s nearly afternoon.”

“I need to sleep,” I said. “I think I ate something I shouldn’t have last night. I don’t feel so good.”

She pushed a lock of hair behind my ear and looked down at me. I expected her to be mad, but there was something tender in her expression. “I know, dear,” she said. “You know, you’re not in trouble.”

I sat up slowly and slumped against the silk-upholstered headboard. “I’m not?” I asked cautiously.

“Of course not. We all know that you didn’t mean to do any of that.”

“You do?”

“Yes, dear. Your uncle and I have had a long talk about it with Ozma, and we all agree that you’re not to blame. It’s those shoes. They’ve been doing something to you. Something terrible.”

“It’s not—”

“We just think it’s time for all of us to go home. We’ve stayed here too long already.”

“No!” I jumped out of bed and threw on the brocade robe that was draped over the armchair by the window. “Don’t you see?” I asked angrily. “It’s her. Ozma. She’s making you think that there’s something wrong with me, when really it’s just that she’s afraid I’m more powerful than she is, and now she wants to get rid of me, just like she got rid of Glinda. Well, the princess can’t always have her way. I’m not going anywhere.”

When I turned around, Ozma was standing in the doorway. In the late morning light, wearing a simple white shift, she looked more like a little girl than ever.

“You’re right,” she said sadly. “About one thing, at least. I was afraid of Glinda. She’s used to getting her way around here, you know. She was trying to manipulate me. I had to send her away. Oz has seen too many cruel rulers already. If Glinda had gotten what she wanted, I would have been another. I couldn’t let that happen.”

“Spare me,” I said. “I don’t believe anything you say. You’ve been tricking me all this time. Trying to make me think you’re this kind, innocent, little girl, when really you’re just like the witches—you just want Oz for yourself.”

Ozma shook her head sadly. “Don’t you see? When she couldn’t control me, she thought she might be able to control you. So she sent you those shoes, and brought you here to do her work for her. And it’s working.”

“You’re lying! Glinda sent me the shoes because she knew I was the only one who could save her. Which is exactly what I’m going to do.”

I didn’t know why I was even bothering talking to her. This could all be solved with a simple knock of my heels.

All I had to do was wipe Ozma’s mind clean. I’d done it once before, and I could do it again.

I tried to summon a spell, but where my magic had once been, all I found was a deep, aching emptiness. A hunger. I had gotten so used to having it—even if I couldn’t always use it, it was always there. Comforting me, protecting me. Feeding me.