The climb up the cliff had taken hours. The plummet two hundred feet to the bottom took seconds.
With the wind rushing past her ears and whipping her hair, Alexandra felt that she was falling too quickly. Perhaps the Falling Charm hadn’t worked after all. She was about to die.
But she landed feet-first and gently enough that the shock only jolted her for a moment. At the realization that her magic had worked, she let out a long breath that became a whoop. Charlie answered with an echoing caw.
“Well done, Questing Witch,” came a voice from a crack at the base of the cliff. Alexandra turned to see Crack-Dweller peering at her from the shadows, barely more than a shadow himself.
“Yeah, I got the Thren.” Alexandra held up the cage, in which the agitated bird sat, glowering at her. “Now what?
“Now, you must return to the mountain,” Crack-Dweller said.
“To the jimplicute’s lair, you mean? What if it follows me?”
“It will not. It knows you have a wand.” Crack-Dweller looked slyly at the cage. “Though if you could lure it back to hear the Thren sing…”
“One monster at a time,” Alexandra said. “That was the deal.”
The elf’s face puckered, and it vanished.
Alexandra kept her wand at the ready as she returned to the cave she had fled the previous day. Before entering, she spoke to the raven perched on her shoulder. “You stay outside, Charlie.”
“Never!” Charlie said.
Alexandra set down the Thren’s cage, and her wand, and reached for the raven with both hands. She stroked Charlie’s wings and leaned close enough that Charlie could have pecked at her eyes.
“This one, I have to do alone,” she said. She was facing an underwater panther, and she had to let the Thren sing. She didn’t know if she could protect Charlie from both of those threats. She wasn’t sure she’d survive them herself. She couldn’t project an air of confidence and unconcern to her familiar like she did to her friends — Charlie was not fooled. So she just kissed the top of Charlie’s head, and said, “You can call me anything you like, birdbrain, but this isn’t a discussion. You’re staying outside, and that’s that.”
“Crazy!” Charlie protested.
Alexandra released the bird. Charlie’s black eyes were accusing and resentful, but the raven finally bobbed its head in submission and flew to the nearest tree. Scolding caws followed her into the jimplicute’s lair.
Alexandra hoped that Crack-Dweller was right. The jimplicute might fear wands, but she doubted hers would actually be a match for it. The cave was empty, however, and she found Sees-From-Laurel’s corporeal self waiting for her.
“Aren’t you afraid of the jimplicute?” she asked.
“Not while I am with you,” said Sees-From-Laurel.
“You have that much confidence in me?”
“I have confidence in your wand. Or that if the jimplicute shows itself despite your wand, it will eat you first.”
Alexandra wasn’t sure whether this was elf humor, but she groaned when they reached the ledge she’d hidden on earlier. “I have to climb up there and crawl back through that tunnel?” She was so tired.
“The long way is longer,” Sees-From-Laurel said.
Alexandra considered asking the elf if he couldn’t simply Apparate all of them to where they were going, but thought better of it. “Fine.” She took a breath and said, “Ascendio!”
This time the basswood wand lifted her high enough to land on the ledge, though not gracefully. After that rough landing, the crawl through the tunnel was a grinding misery. By now Alexandra had stopped paying attention to the sensations in her body. Everything hurt and her clothes were shredded and torn.
Something additional kindled inside her, burning underneath the exhaustion and soreness. Resentment.
These elves, she thought. And the Grannies too, for that matter. It didn’t have to be this hard. None of them had to make it this hard.
Even after she could walk upright again, the tunnels seemed to go on for miles. They walked along the underground river, or another underground river just like the previous one. The pools of water and caves looked familiar, but then they were all pretty similar. Alexandra had no need to light a lantern this time — the glow from her wand was bright enough.
As they walked, she finished off the last of the pemmican. She didn’t offer Sees-From-Laurel any. She considered trying to feed the Thren, but her fingers still hurt from its beak earlier.
“We arrive,” said Sees-From-Laurel. The river spread into a great underground lake, larger than Geegowl’s lair. It stretched off into darkness beyond the circle of light cast by Alexandra’s wand. She felt a strange, electrifying sensation, like a breeze against her face. She stepped carefully over slippery rocks until her boots crunched on pebbles, then found solid footing where the cave floor turned to flat chert and limestone slabs along the water’s edge. Just as she could see no light reflecting off the far sides of the cavern, she saw none reflecting from beneath the water. The bottom, if there was one, must have been very deep. Alexandra felt like she was standing at the edge of a bottomless, water-filled pit, a pit punched through subterranean rock by unknown, possibly eldritch means.
The “breeze” increased. It seemed to blow through her, rather than around her, bringing a tingling sensation that started at her fingertips and her scalp. It ran down her spine and up her arms, making her feel strangely invigorated despite her fatigue.
“What is this place?” she asked.
“The way to the World Away,” said Sees-From-Laurel.
Alexandra raised her wand and said, “Ter Lumos!” to make the light brighter. She expected the basswood wand to resist her as usual, but it was as if the impedance in the stubborn goat-feather core had given way, and her spell shot through the wand and blazed out its tip, lighting the cavern so abruptly that the elf covered his eyes while Alexandra held her wand aloft and gaped.
The cave was much taller than it was wide; above her it stretched up a hundred feet. Across the water from her was a flat, vertical plane of gray rock. A black seam ran through it, stretching all the way to the top, a dark chasm whence the wind blew into her face.
But it wasn’t a wind. She felt a breeze, but she wasn’t cold. Her hair didn’t stir.
“What am I feeling?” she asked.
“Ah, you do feel it.” Sees-From-Laurel nodded. “Our folk do also, in a manner of speaking, but our senses are different from yours, I think. What you feel is magic.”
There was a low rumble, then. At first Alexandra thought it was rocks falling, or some tectonic movement, but then the rumble became a growl, echoing through the chamber.
It came from the water.
Twin yellow beacons of light floated up from the depths, growing larger by the second.
Alexandra shivered. “You’re not going to show me the World Away. You brought me here to die, didn’t you?”
Sees-From-Laurel said, “I do not know if Ozarker tales are true, oh Troublesome, but only she who can open the way to the World Away can free us. Good luck.” He disappeared without even a pop.
She looked down at the Thren, and wondered how she’d been convinced this would work. A great horned head burst through the surface of the water, and Alexandra stared into the enormous glowing eyes of a golden, cat-like creature whose head was nearly the size of a car.
“Oh, crap,” she said. She tried to back away and found solid stone behind her. “Nice kitty.”
The gigantic panther bared its fangs and roared. Flames poured out of its mouth. From a dozen yards away, Alexandra felt the heat of its breath, and smelled sulfur and blood.
“Quietus,” she said. The Silencing Charm she cast on herself stilled all sound, and the world went deathly silent. Then she tapped her wand against the cage, and undid the Silencing Charm on the Thren.
The underwater panther lunged all the way out of the water, and its massive paws slammed into the rock shelf where Alexandra stood. Only her Seven-League Boots let her leap out of the way, but with that leap she was backed into a corner of the cavern, with solid rock at her back and to one side of her, the bottomless lake on the other. Behind the panther, she saw the Thren’s cage go bouncing away in the opposite direction, knocked across the cavern with a bump from the monster’s foot.
The light from her wand reflected dazzlingly off the giant panther’s golden hide. It was as large as the great beast she had encountered three years earlier, a locomotive-sized monstrosity, and every bit as terrifying. Its eyes glowed balefully, and it closed the distance between them in two steps. Alexandra found herself looking directly up into its terrible maw, opened wide enough to swallow her whole.
A small, black feathered form flitted around its face, and it turned its head to follow the tiny nuisance that had suddenly appeared as if from nowhere. Alexandra screamed Charlie’s name soundlessly.
No, Charlie! No!
The panther opened its jaws. It could have swallowed a hundred ravens in one gulp. Alexandra, unable to use incantations, could only point her wand and focus every ounce of her will into a nonverbal spell.
A tiny, purple arc of electricity sputtered and crackled out of the tip and touched the panther’s nearest leg. Alexandra wasn’t even sure it had felt it, until its head swiveled back in her direction.
Fly, Charlie! Fly! she thought. Obey me, and live! I forbid you to die with me!
She couldn’t see where Charlie had gone. She didn’t know if the raven had disobeyed her and followed her into the caverns, or if her own treacherous will had summoned her familiar, in the face of death, but she could face her own death more easily than Charlie’s.
She was facing death now. Her plan had failed. The Thren was dead or silent, and the underwater panther was going to eat her.
A memory came to her, of looking up into the face of Galenthias, Dean Grimm’s cat. It was her first year at Charmbridge. She had been transformed into a rat, by a curse the Dean had put on her and Larry Albo. She had not known then that Dean Grimm was her aunt, and that Galenthias was in fact her mother. She had not known a lot of things, like when to be afraid, or when death was staring her in the face.
She didn’t look away as the underwater panther’s head descended on her. She made one final attempt to Apparate. There was no twisting sensation, no splinch, nothing at all — she remained rooted in place as the panther collapsed to the rocks. Its massive head landed directly in front of her, so close that the impact would have knocked her down if she didn’t already have a stone wall behind her. Its mouth opened, and for a moment she stared past teeth the length of her forearm into a red tunnel lit by internal fires, ready to engulf her.
Then, slowly, the jaws of the beast closed, and its head lolled slightly to one side, tilted to regard her through lidded eyes as if bewildered by the strange creature that dared to stand before it in all its fiery, impervious glory.
The underwater panther lay stretched out before her, like a giant cat waiting to be scratched behind its ears. Its eyes dimmed. One rear leg slid off the rocky shelf and dangled in the water. It continued to stare dully at her as the fire in its belly went out, and even its hide seemed to lose its glow.
Alexandra stared at the creature wide-eyed, with her heart pounding in her chest. Everything had happened as if in a silent movie, even when she felt the impact of the giant cat hitting the stones.
With shaky legs, she jumped over the panther’s massive paw, which was almost the size of a sofa. She edged along the rock wall, squeezing past the panther’s body, until once more she could see the Thren’s cage, lying at the very edge of the water. And sitting atop it was Charlie.
“Charlie,” she said, in anger and relief and wonder, and of course, silently, because the Quietus spell was still on her. She stared at the Thren, which peered out from between the bars of the cage, its body swelling and shrinking with each breath. Bright blue feathers lay scattered around it.
Charlie’s beak opened in a silent raven reproach.
She pointed her wand and reactivated the Silencing Charm on the Thren’s cage, then reversed the charm on herself. Restored sound struck her ears like a roar, though it was really only Charlie croaking and the dripping of water.
“You did it,” she said to the Thren. She looked at Charlie. “Charlie,” she repeated. She didn’t know how Charlie had arrived in the nick of time, or how the raven had survived the Thren’s song. But then Charlie sang, and Alexandra felt a faint shiver.
It was an imitation of the Thren’s melody. Coming from the raven, it was merely eerie, but Alexandra looked from Charlie to the Thren, and understood. The Thren had been too terrified and shaken to sing from its battered cage, until Charlie… Charlie had induced it to sing. And the raven was apparently immune to the Thren’s song.
“You clever bird!” she said, laughing. “You did it!”
“Clever bird,” Charlie agreed.
“Yes. My pretty, clever bird, who keeps saving me.” She held out her arms, and Charlie fluttered to her and allowed her to cradle the raven to her chest. “I told you not to do that again!”
Of course she’d be dead twice over if Charlie heeded her. There was probably a lesson there, or just an irony she couldn’t appreciate right now, but she was too overwhelmed to think about it. She turned to examine the great golden monster behind her, magnificent as an ancient statue, pitiable in death. She reached out a hand to lay on its furry tail, then withdrew her hand quickly as its fine golden hair, sharp and hard as metal, cut her palm.
“You did it,” said an elfish voice. Alexandra jerked her head up. Sees-From-Laurel was perched on a lip of rock barely large enough to hold him, just above the underwater panther’s head. And he was not alone.
Elves had appeared as if melting out of the stones around her, and now crowded the cavern. Everywhere she looked — on a narrow ledge above the underwater panther’s prone form, on the stone shelf at the edge of the water behind her and on the other side of the panther, even clinging to cracks and deformations on the walls of the cavern — she saw elves, all wearing cast-off clothes and rags, dolls dresses, mittens, discarded socks, even aluminum foil and plastic bags here and there. She was surrounded, and the elven multitude stared at her with eyes that were large and reflective and eerie. They seemed excited, murmuring to themselves and pointing. All Alexandra could make out of what they were saying was “Troublesome,” repeated many times.
“Troublesome! Troublesome!” repeated Charlie, as Alexandra set the raven on her shoulder.
Alexandra remembered another time she had been surrounded by elves, deep underground. The hand clenching her wand trembled and became a fist. She was tempted to smite them all, or as many as she could. “You never expected me to survive.”
“Yet you did,” said Sees-From-Laurel. “As you were meant to. Troublesome indeed.”
Alexandra pointed her wand at him. “You told me you’d show me the way to the World Away.” The magical “breeze” was heightening all her senses, making her feel wired. She looked at Charlie again, as if hoping her familiar might have some sage advice, but Charlie’s black eyes offered no wisdom.
“Yes,” said Sees-From-Laurel. “Do you feel that, Troublesome? The Ozarkers have been celebrating their Jubilee. And now is the time when they Unwork all their magical workings, and send that magic… here. Do you feel it?”
“Feel… what?” But Alexandra did feel something.
The not-breeze from the cracked seam on the other side of the lake intensified. The magic that had been like a leaking exhalation became a rush of wind, and instead of tingling, it fairly electrified her. It was no longer coming from within the mountain, but from without. It was a torrent, a rush, a roar, and Alexandra opened her mouth to shout or to scream, because it was like nothing she’d ever felt before. It wasn’t painful but it was too much. It was a storm engulfing her, and she couldn’t believe her hair wasn’t flying, her clothes weren’t flapping. Charlie should have been blown away — indeed, so should the elves — yet nothing physical touched her.
But magic — magic was pouring over her like a stream of molten lava, like a storm of lightning, like flames in her mind.
It rushed past her and she saw colors her eyes couldn’t see and her skin felt sensations impossible to describe. Charms and Transfigurations, Bindings and Conjurations, and Enchantments by the dozen, score, hundred. Spells that held things together, spells that kept them apart, spells that Warded and Attracted and Summoned and Banished, spells that animated and repaired and replaced and transformed. They came flooding past, each one just a tiny bit of magic like what she might produce from her wand with the right words and gestures and knowledge, but this was the magic of hundreds, thousands of wands, magic cast over days, weeks, months, years. Magic holding up roofs, magic warding homesteads, magic pulling water from streams, magic boiling water in kettles. Magic repelling beasts and insects and lightning bolts, magic hiding the Hollers from Muggle eyes, magic that made mules fly. Magic that cleaned and polished, and some magic that was almost certainly illicit, magic that kindled love or planted seeds of lust or fanned them into flames. There were charms for childbearing and potency — a lot of those — and a smaller number of charms for protection against the same. Deceitful charms to make sloppy work look fine, trickster charms to pull shoes and hats and bonnets off or blow skirts up. A few nastier jinxes to burn or cut, to blister and pox, and here and there a thread of true Darkness, magic that had been cast with some evil and hidden purpose and surely whoever had cast it didn’t want their neighbors to know about it, but these too were undone and sent to the mountain vault in the Ozarkers’ great Unworking.
Potions and brooms and animations and wards, enchantments and artifacts of all kinds, everything made persistent or permanent by magic was magic no longer as the spells upon these things fled, back along with all the other magic being released in the Jubilee.
Alexandra, standing at the nexus where it gathered, could “see” it without seeing it, feel it washing across her skin though it never touched her. It was as if a third eye had opened in her mind, or a sense from an organ she’d never known she had was now thrumming with unbearable stimulation as she stood in the path of the magical energy and witnessed it all being drawn into that seam, into the place beneath the mountain where all the magic was stored —
Seven years’ worth of magic. Seven years from all five Hollers, every spell the Ozarkers had cast, every item that had been enchanted, every charm still intact, everything, everything but their wands. Going to join the magic from the last Jubilee, the magic of all the Jubilees since the Ozarkers came here to these mountains, and maybe longer. Seven years times seven times seven.
There was so. Much. Magic.
Alexandra floated into the air, lifted by nothing more than her will. She hardly noticed her wand falling from her hand. She spread her arms and tilted her head back, gasping like someone drowning. She could breathe and the magic that ran up and down and under her skin was not burning her, not hurting her, but it was so much.
She curled her fingers and flicked them, and fiery lines glowed against the rocks on either side of the cave. Sees-From-Laurel and the other elves flinched. Charlie cawed, and Alexandra sent a thought the raven’s way: Don’t worry, Charlie. I’ll protect you. Whatever happens, nothing will hurt you.
And it was true, because there was so much magic here that what she willed, she made real. She didn’t need a wand. She was a wand.
She saw through the mountain, casting her Witch’s Sight through the rock all the way to its heart and upward to the surface, so she saw the repository of all Ozarker magic like an enormous blazing coin in an unimaginably deep vault. She saw Geegowl cringing in the fetid air of his cave, and she saw all the dwarves within the mountain, in their dwarven tunnels and dwarven holes, with their tools and hoards and halls.
“Troublesome,” said Sees-From-Laurel, “do you see the World Away?”
Alexandra let magic fill her eyes and saw with Witch’s Sight as she had never seen before. She could see for miles. She could see everywhere.
There were cracks in the world.
They radiated across the earth and sky, mostly tiny, hairline fractures that even the most sensitive witch would never discern without some spell more refined than Alexandra could imagine. With her heightened awareness they were glowing threads running deep into the ground and up into the air. It was like being able to see atoms.
Larger than the tiny seams were cracks and fissures, spread far apart and mostly hidden away from inhabited areas, but stretching through the hills and under streams and occasionally, just occasionally, touching someplace in a town or along a bridge or highway. Some of the largest rents almost split open deep in forests or swamps. One was in a small lake bordered by Indian ruins and crossed by vacationers in speedboats, unaware of the crack in the world touched by the ripples they left in the water.
Those places, Alexandra thought, must be spots where even Muggles sometimes saw strange things.
“Cracks in the world,” she said, speaking to no one.
“Can you open them?” Sees-From-Laurel asked.
Alexandra looked at the elf in surprise, focusing her vision back on her immediate surroundings.
“Open them?” She looked at the nearest one again — a seam in the air that touched this very mountain. She held out a hand.
The seam flared and split and Alexandra saw through it to the other side.
It was another land. There were hills and trees — blue-tinted trees and hills that shimmered with unnatural smoothness, like primitive pastoral paintings. A red-orange sun pulsed warmly, within concentric circles of yellow and white.
She turned her gaze on another one of the lines running through the Ozarks, this one crossing the nearest Muggle city, far out in what looked like the city’s Old Town, near a crumbling train station where rails long since choked with weeds lay brown and rusting.
She opened that crack also, and saw through to — someplace else. Dark and watery, no land to be seen and the sky an eternal black lit only by lightning. No place any human would want to go. She shuddered, then realized that the crack was open right there in the town, spraying black water onto the street and flooding the abandoned railway station. She gulped and closed the breach, realizing in the moment she did it that this was within her power.
She pinched the other crack closed too.
“That’s all?” she asked. “Find a crack and open it?”
But the magic she’d used to do that wasn’t her own. She had no way of measuring how much she’d used, but she knew that what she’d just done was a feat many times greater than what her friends had done last year when they called the Stars Above. That was just to open a tiny pinprick to wherever the Stars Above dwelled, and let them shine through if they chose — which they did. Alexandra had done more than every student in Charmbridge put together could have managed.
And she’d only made a small tear.
To open a way, and hold it open, so that all the Ozarkers could pass through — and then close it again…
That would take a lot of magic. Possibly seven times seven times seven years’ worth of magic.
As if reading her thoughts, Sees-From-Laurel said, “The Ozarkers have been husbanding their magic for generations. Saving it for the day when they can finally take their exodus from this world. In that time, perhaps they have forgotten how they originally meant to accomplish it. Or perhaps they fear the day when they must actually leave. They have no idea whether their magic is enough. But it is — isn’t it, Troublesome?”
“I think so,” Alexandra whispered. Maybe it had been enough for a long time. She stared at the lattice of cracks in the world, knowing that even after this magic faded, she would never see the world quite the same way again. Everywhere she went, there might be somewhere nearby a crack in reality that, with the right senses, with enough power, could be pried open.
She flexed a few of them, poking as one might with curious fingers, prying them open to spy inside, then closing them again. It was tempting and so easy. The magic available to her right now — it felt limitless.
“Troublesome,” said Sees-From-Laurel, “when you free us from this mountain, and lead the Ozarkers to the World Away, our pact will be complete.”
Alexandra looked down at Sees-From-Laurel and the elves surrounding him, and her face blazed. Those nearest to him gulped and disappeared.
“Is that so?” she said.
She looked up. High in the sky, like shimmering bands, like paths for divine chariots, were more cracks. Could she let the Stars Above themselves back into the world through them?
She looked down at the dead panther, and descended until her feet once more touched the limestone sloping to the edge of the water. Gently, she laid her hand on the panther’s muzzle, and this time its hide did not cut her. She plucked its whiskers as if they were threads, and then, holding them in her hand, she sent the panther’s corpse sliding back into the water with a thought. It sank like a giant gold statue, down to the fathomless depths where it had slept until awoken by trespassers in its domain.
Good-bye, she thought sadly. It wasn’t the panther’s fault, any more than it was the jimplicute’s. They were just acting according to their natures.
Not like elves, or dwarves, or wizards.
She focused her vision to see instead through the stone of the mountain above her, and saw again all the dwarves moving about, vaguely aware of the magical investment taking place below but unaffected by it. They hammered at metal and fashioned weapons and counted gold. Alexandra saw a lot of gold.
Those dwarves, she thought. She’d sworn she would make the little bastards pay.
She reached a hand up. She was all-powerful. She didn’t need incantations. She didn’t need a wand. She stood at the center of magic greater than even her father could ever dream of wielding.
The mountain trembled.
“What are you doing?” shrieked Sees-From-Laurel.
“Payback,” Alexandra said. “This is for messing with me.”
She clenched her fist and the mountain shook. Now the dwarves jumped up and put on metal helmets and looked for exit tunnels. She found their panic hilarious. It made her feel like a child poking ants with a stick, and when she remembered the way they had hit her and tied her up and battered her and thrown her about, and threatened to eat her and Charlie, she didn’t feel guilty at all. The magic was running through her and it was meant to be used.
“Troublesome!” said Sees-From-Laurel. “This is not —”
Alexandra spared one small thought for Charlie, which was enough to protect the bird from any shocks and falling debris — the elves could take care of themselves — and then she sent her will upward, and the mountain split wide open.
The dwarves screamed. Starlight shone down on them as rocks exploded to dust and the mountain came apart like a muffin torn in half, laying bare their tunnels and halls and vaults. The elves screamed as well, as the caves and caverns around them crumbled. The passage Alexandra had crawled through from the jimplicute’s lair collapsed. Down in his cave, Geegowl frantically scrambled for a deeper tunnel. Alexandra thought about splitting the mountain open further, or sending fire pouring in after the bugbear, but then she became fascinated with the magic flickering and coruscating around her fingertips, pouring through her. She forgot about the mountain and the dwarves as she examined the thousand threads of magic she was drawing out of the air and throwing into her chaotic work.
Impressions floated through her mind as the magic eddied over her: a horseless cart that traversed water as easily as land, and was its creator’s pride, even though he had to remake it every seven years. A dozen Soothing Charms; a baker’s dozen of strength potions; a rainproof roof; simple homemade brooms by the score; magical lanterns of all shapes and sizes, self-lighting, eternally burning, floating, some even talking; Cold Spells for cellars. All of it was magic used for the past seven years by the Ozarkers, flickering away and consumed in an instant, each small charm and artifact a single drop in the river of magic Alexandra wielded to play with power as if she were a Power herself. How many days’ or weeks’ worth of Ozarker magic was she casually flicking away? The magic they had vouchsafed to the elves in this great Unworking, Alexandra was using as if it were limitless. She might have used years worth of their magic already.
She calmed the mountain. Most of the elves in the cavern had disappeared already, vanishing with pops and puffs of air.
A terrified band of dwarves was within sight of her now — she had opened the mountain up right to where they stood. They were a hundred feet up, exposed to the open air.
She cast her voice to them, and made it loud enough to be heard throughout all the no-longer-subterranean passages.
“I AM ALEXANDRA OCTAVIA QUICK, DAUGHTER OF ABRAHAM THORN. I AM TROUBLESOME. YOU MESSED WITH THE WRONG ANGRY WITCH!”
The dwarves trembled. So did the few elves who hadn’t Apparated away already.
“YOU DON’T GET TO HIDE HERE AND AMBUSH PEOPLE ANYMORE,” she said.
One of the dwarves, braver than the rest, called down: “But where we will go? When comes the sun, have we nowhere to hide! Almost the only hill left in all the Ozarks is this for our kin.”
Alexandra laughed. “YOU SHOULD HAVE THOUGHT OF THAT BEFORE YOU DECIDED TO JUMP SOMEONE WHO WAS JUST MINDING HER OWN BUSINESS!”
It felt good to be this powerful, to terrify her enemies.
The Ozarkers’ magic. She was using their magic. And what exactly did they want her to do with it? She glowered at the dwarves.
“IF I WERE YOU, I’D PLEAD FOR SHELTER WITH THE ELVES AND THE OZARKERS BEFORE THE SUN COMES UP.”
The dwarves goggled at her.
“Will they have little mercy for our folk,” said the dwarf who spoke.
“I WONDER WHY? SUCKS TO BE YOU.”
Alexandra made the mountain shiver again, and the dwarves didn’t say anything else, just scrambled away.
“YOU’RE LUCKY I DON’T TAKE YOUR GOLD!” she shouted after them. Then she let the magical amplification fade, and her voice sounded tiny. “But I’m not a thief, no matter what those stupid stories say!”
That reminded her of something, though. She was able to see at once all the gleaming, golden treasures the dwarves had accumulated, and found what she was looking for in one fleeing dwarf’s pocket. She recognized him even through a hundred yards of stone. “Asshole!”
She snapped her fingers, and the Lost Traveler’s Compass appeared in her hand. She snapped her fingers again, and Asshole’s clothes caught fire. She giggled as the dwarf screamed and began rolling around on the ground, and then she forgot about him. She turned her attention back to a stunned Sees-From-Laurel and his remaining comrades. “As for you…”
“Us?” Sees-From-Laurel squeaked.
“You screwed me twice,” she said.
“I deny it!” Sees-From-Laurel protested. “Never did we lie to you —”
“Lies of omission are still lies! You deceived me. You tricked me. You sent me to my death, and whoopsie, looks like I’m Troublesome so I didn’t die, and now you think it’s all good?”
“We dealt with you as generously as wizard-kind have dealt with us,” said Sees-From-Laurel. “More generously yet.”
“Don’t say generously!” Alexandra snarled.
“We only wish to be free,” Sees-From-Laurel said. “And that we can never be until the Ozarkers leave this world for the World Away, and that cannot happen until…”
“Until I open it for them?” Alexandra stepped toward the elf, with magic still suffusing her. Her eyes glowed, sparks rippled through her hair, and her fingertips flamed green. The rock beneath her feet turned to smooth, yellow topaz. The air smelled peppery and hot. Sees-From-Laurel gulped and stepped back. The few elves who hadn’t vanished already disappeared. Alexandra realized that she could have prevented them. If she really wanted to, she thought she could call them all back. She didn’t bother. Sees-From-Laurel had stayed behind, and he wasn’t going anywhere.
Sees-From-Laurel, eyes wide and practically glowing with reflected light, said, “We are not your enemy, oh Troublesome. We wish only to fulfill the Compact and end our long service.”
“Deal more nicely with the Ozarkers and anyone else who crosses your path and needs help,” Alexandra said. “Or I will never help you. And if you ever cross me again, it will be the last time.”
At her feet, the Thren was a frantic, silent creature trying futilely to beat its way out of its cage. Alexandra smiled at it. “I’m sorry. You’re free now.” She pointed her finger and Apparated it outside with a pop. She waved her hand, and both the whiskers she’d been clutching in her other hand and the Thren feathers lying on the ground were magically whisked into her backpack. She snapped her fingers, and the cage followed.
She cast her Witch’s Sight far again. Now where are those Grannies?
There they were. In Down Below Holler, gathered with everyone else at the great dance where all of the Ozarks except Scotch Ridge was celebrating the end of the Jubilee. Most of the Ozarkers seemed unaware of the events that had just happened beneath the mountain where their great Unworking had sent their magic. But the Grannies were one and all craning their necks northward, toward Furthest where Alexandra’s Quest had begun and ended.
“Well, I guess I’d better make myself presentable,” she said, with a laugh that might have sounded like any girl’s laughter if not for the mad pitch and the gleam in her eyes. Sees-From-Laurel gaped at her.
Alexandra waved her hands, and her ragged, dirty clothes vanished, replaced immediately with the dress and bonnet she’d stuffed into her backpack. Instead of her Seven-League Boots, she wore shoes that she had turned into slippers to match her dress. The instantaneous transformation delighted her. She’d have to remember that one.
She summoned her wand into her hand, and levitated her backpack onto her shoulders. Then, almost as an afterthought, she touched a finger to her mouth, and found the gap where she’d been missing a cuspid since her fight with John Manuelito.
If Ozarker magic could repair all those other things, she thought, it could surely repair this. She helped herself to a little more magic, and felt a twinge in her gums, followed by a sharp pain as a tooth grew out of the empty socket. She tasted blood, which she made vanish, then ran her tongue over the new tooth, and smiled.
“Come, Charlie,” she said. The raven immediately flew to her arm. There was something in her voice that dissuaded any sass.
The heady feeling of power surging through her made Alexandra feel unstoppable. But she stroked Charlie’s feathers and whispered soothingly, “I don’t think this will hurt at all.”
Then she Apparated the two of them across the Ozarks.