Yellow Brick War (Dorothy Must Die, #3)(4)

“Gert was next to useless,” Mombi said bluntly. “I’m pretty weak myself. The three of us weren’t strong enough to stop the Wizard outright. But we knew if Nox joined us and completed the circle, we’d be powerful enough to defeat him and Dorothy.”

“Wait, back up,” I said. “What circle? Does this have to do with what happened out there?” And if they were powerful enough to defeat the Wizard and Dorothy with Nox helping them, why had they ever needed me in the first place?

“You already know about the balance of power in Oz,” Gert said, and I remembered her uncanny trick of reading minds. “Oz depends on magic to survive, and no one person can tap too heavily into it without harming Oz. That balance is part of what the Order was trying to maintain. There have always been four witches—one each in the North, the South, the East, and the West. But that balance has been out of whack since Dorothy’s first visit to Oz, and it’s even more out of line now. When Dorothy’s house killed the Wicked Witch of the East, she opened up a vacuum that no one was strong enough to fill.”

“I still don’t understand,” I said.

“We’ve been trying to defeat Dorothy by fighting one battle at a time, but that’s like trying to put out a forest fire by hauling water in a bucket,” Mombi said. “The Order has been scattered across Oz. Half the soldiers you trained with back in the caverns are dead. Others . . .” She shrugged. “We know where some of them are, but we’re too spread out to do any good anymore. What we did out there”—she waved vaguely at the ruins of the place where I’d lived since my mom slid into her downward spiral of addiction—“was make Nox into one of us. The Wicked Witch of the East, essentially.”

“By restoring the Quadrant, we’re finally strong enough to kill Dorothy,” Glamora said. “We had all our hopes pinned on you—”

“But I can’t kill Dorothy,” I said slowly. “Because we’re linked somehow. So you have to do it yourselves.”

Mombi nodded.

“Not to mention the fact that Dorothy just teleported herself back to Oz and we’re stuck here.”

Mombi nodded again.

I sighed and put my head in my hands. I was getting really sick of witches. “If you knew all along that you could make Nox into one of you, why didn’t you do it sooner? Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Because once Nox is bound to the Quadrant, he’s in for life,” Gert said. “There’s no hope for him to ever be anything else. We didn’t tell you—he didn’t tell you—because we hoped it would never come to this. We’re older than you can imagine, Amy, and for us the sacrifice is—well, it’s done. There’s no going back for any of us. But this is a terrible fate to wish on someone as young as Nox.”

“He can never live a normal life,” Glamora said quietly. “Like us, he’s responsible now for the future of Oz. He can never have a family. Grow old like an ordinary person.”

“Fall in love,” Mombi added, with a significant look at me.

“He can fall in love,” Gert corrected. “He just can’t do anything about it.” She paused. “Of course you still have a place with us, if you want it. But we’re in Kansas, Amy. We’ll find a way to get back to Oz. And once we’re there, we can defeat Dorothy without you. You can go home.”

Home. I could go home. It struck me suddenly that I was in Kansas—and I could stay here.

Home was something I hadn’t thought about in a long time. I didn’t know what Oz was to me anymore. When I first got there, I had thought it was a place where I could finally belong. A place where I had found friends. Then it had become something else entirely.

But had Kansas ever been home either? What was I going to go back to? My mom was gone—who knew if she was even alive. I hadn’t exactly been Miss Popularity at Dwight D. Eisenhower Senior High. The trailer where I’d lived with my mom wasn’t a place I ever wanted to see again—and even if I did, it was long gone. Home might not be Oz, but it sure wasn’t the empty, ruined landscape outside the tent the witches had conjured up. And I’d been through so much in Oz, seen so much, that I couldn’t even imagine going back to a normal life. I’d learned how to do things I hadn’t even known were possible in a completely new world I hadn’t known was real. I’d battled some of the most terrifying enemies imaginable. I’d flown with monkeys, hung out with royalty, killed Dorothy’s baddest minions. What was I going to do next, get a job at the mall?

“It’s up to you, Amy,” Gert said, reading my mind again and pulling me back into the moment. “You don’t have to decide right now. But you do need to decide if you want to help us get back to Oz.”

“Okay,” I said slowly. “So we’re not stuck here forever? What’s your plan?”

Gert sighed. “It’s not going to be easy,” she said. “Even with Nox as part of the circle now, we’re not powerful enough to open a portal back to Oz. The Wizard was only able to do it because he had the magical gifts he’d given to the Lion, the Scarecrow, and the Woodman.” I tried not to think about that last, awful glimpse of the Wizard exploding into blood confetti as Dorothy twisted his spell. “But we do have an idea.”

Of course they did—yet another top-secret plan they only decided to clue me in on when they felt like it? I sighed, and Gert gave me a sympathetic smile. “Okay, let’s hear it,” I said, settling back into a pile of Glamora’s cushions. They even smelled heavenly—like the way the makeup counter at a mall smells, kind of glamorous and relaxing all at once.

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