Lion (Faeries of Oz #0.5) by Candace Robinson



Chapter One




Lion





Green light coated everything in the Emerald City twice a day—once at dawn and again at dusk. Lion avoided stepping out during those times if he could help it. He hated that it made everything look sickly, but a summons from the Wizard of Oz was never optional. Though, if Lion were being honest, a gnarled troll banging on his door when it was nearly dark was intriguing. He rarely had visitors, and if he did, they were never from Oz’s personal guard. Things had become far too monotonous since the Wizard marred Tin’s face with iron—even the cursed pixies that tortured the residents calmed down after that stunt—but perhaps that was about to change.

Lion had his courage.

What he needed was something to do with it.

The troll led him through freezing green glass corridors. His footsteps echoed through the dim hall, then again off the impossibly high ceiling, as they made straight for Oz’s private chambers. Two expressionless elves guarded a massive, scrolled doorway. When the troll approached, the elves swung the doors open without a word. The moment Lion was inside—they slammed the entrance shut again. With a scowl, Lion tucked his long blond hair behind his ears and scanned the seemingly empty bedroom. His top lip lifted in disgust as the putrid smell hit him like a stone wall.

The bed was bare, a single blanket and stained pillow tossed haphazardly onto the mattress. Feathers spilled from a few holes and garbage littered the floor. The room itself was opulent—hanging crystal lighting, floor-to-ceiling windows, hand-crafted furniture. The emeralds and diamonds embedded in the headboard had to cost more than Lion’s entire home. Dark curtains hung crookedly from their rods. The embroidery was stitched with mermaid hair and embellished with crystallized nixie tears, but the sparkle of both was hidden beneath a thick layer of dust.

Lion’s boot crunched over a slice of moldy, stale bread, but that was the least of the food problems. Rotting fruit cores were scattered around the room, the sickly scent permeating the air. What the hell happened in here? Surely there was a mistake. Oz couldn’t have gotten this bad with his faerie fruit addiction without someone interfering on his behalf…

“Wizard?” Lion called, his tail flicking nervously behind him.

Something banged on the other side of the bed followed by a soft oof. “Lion!” Oz’s head popped up over the far side of the bed, scratching his scabbed scalp. The unmistakable gleam of red faerie fruit juice glistened on his lips when he gave a smile full of blackened teeth. His thinning white hair stuck up at different angles as if he hadn’t brushed it in days, and his wrinkled skin had taken on a yellow hue. “You made good time getting here.”

Lion ventured farther into the room with a cocked eyebrow. “Is everything okay?”

“Of course. Why wouldn’t it be?”

“Have you fired the maids?” Lion asked carefully.

“Those spies! Good riddance. Always poking through my things.” He flung a small suitcase onto his mattress. “Hand me that map, would you?”

Lion glanced at the partially unfolded paper Oz pointed at on the end table. Circles with symbols he didn’t know how to read dotted the fae countries north of the Land of Oz. “Are you going to a diplomatic meeting?”

Oz snapped his fingers anxiously until Lion handed the map to him. “Just a trip. Nothing to worry about.”

Lion shifted suspiciously. “Am I to come along?”

“What? No. I’m going on my own. Guards would only get in the way.” Oz shot him a withering look. “Why would I bring you with me, of all people?”

“Why would you summon me?” Lion asked. Oz hadn’t bothered him since Dorothy returned to Kansas. Lion was gifted a cozy cottage inside the city and a small stipend for his part in killing the Wicked Witch, Reva, but that was the last personal interaction they had. “It’s been years since we’ve seen each other.”

Oz’s hands shook as he stared into his closet where his clothes were stuffed haphazardly. He murmured under his breath about foreign weather and something called galoshes. Lion scowled. How much fruit had he eaten today?

“Wizard,” he said in a stern voice. “Why am I here?”

Oz blinked and looked at Lion as if he’d forgotten he had company. “Right. Yes. I have a quest for you, but the walls have ears.”

Lion looked around at the glimmering green wallpaper with its swirling pattern of leaves. That was either another strange human saying—because there were no ears—or Oz’s addiction to faerie fruit was worse than anyone feared.