Danielle Paige's 'Wizard Of Oz' Retelling Comes To Its Conclusion In 'The End Of Oz' — EXCLUSIVE EXCERPT

The end is nigh — for Oz that is. When former soap opera writer Danielle Paige released her debut novel Dorothy Must Die in 2014, it was obvious that this Wizard of Oz retelling was the beginning of something extraordinary. In the series, Dorothy is not a nice, helpful, witch-smashing girl from Kansas. She's a despot, ruling Oz with a cruel hand. The Revolutionary Order of the Wicked has risen up to fight her, and they've selected the only person that can get rid of her — assassin and Kansas girl Amy Gumm.

Amy is transported to Oz via tornado, and along with the Revolutionary Order, she is tasked with overthrowing the land's wicked ruler. Along the way, she falls in love with a male witch, Nox.

But Amy fails to defeat Dorothy.

In The Wicked Will Rise and Yellow Brick War, Amy and the Revolutionary Order pick up the pieces of their efforts. In this explosive finale, readers will find out if Amy, Nox, and the people of Oz get their happy ending.

"It is incredibly satisfying as a writer to get to the end of this Yellow Brick Road," Danielle Paige tells Bustle. "And at the same time there is a part of me that could stay in Oz forever. I spent the first half of my career writing soaps, and the stories never ended. Here, I give my characters the happily or wickedly ever afters they deserve."

The End Of Oz by Danielle Paige, $10.33, Amazon

Though Dorothy Must Die is coming to an end, Danielle Paige fans don't have to look far for more of her writing. Last year, the author released a new book: a Snow Queen retelling called Stealing Snow. Right now, she's hard at work on the sequel.

"Snow grew up in mental hospital haunted by dreams of an icy fairytale land and flashes of uncontrollable anger," Paige says. "And when her boyfriend Bale is kidnapped through a portal at the hospital, she follows in an effort to save him. She learns that the world that she dreamed of not only exists but she is destined to be queen."

And after that? Paige has a special love for retellings, and she'll be tackling a different fairy tale after she finishes the sequel to Stealing Snow. "It's a fairy godmother origin story that I couldn’t be more excited about," she says. "But as I enter yet another world, I will never forget my first one. It’s like a first love or a first kiss — it’s with you forever."

Did someone say fairy godmother retelling? Sign. me. up.

For now, enjoy The End of Oz, out today. For a sneak peek, check out Bustle's exclusive excerpt below:

GIPHY

Chapter Four:

We heard the creatures before we saw them, but we still didn’t have time to prepare. From beyond a rocky hillside came a rattly, squeaking din that sounded like a hundred rusty bicycles being ridden through a gravel pit.

“What’s that noi—” I began, and then they came over the hill. Madison’s face went suddenly white.

“Oh my god,” she whispered. “I hated this movie.”

“Which movie?” I had my back to her and was in a fighting stance, ready to defend us with our fists if I had to, but I knew we didn’t stand a chance if they attacked. We were too outnumbered, and we didn’t have magic.

Return to Oz? It’s like showing a little kid Clockwork Orange,” she said. “Fucked me up for life. Anyway, those are the Wheelers.” Her voice was even but I knew she must be terrified. Madison was tough, though. I knew from experience that she didn’t flinch when it came to a fight.

“What’s a movie?” Nox asked. In all the time we’d spent together talking about Oz’s magic, I’d never gotten much of a chance to tell him about the magic in my world. The tiny television back in my trailer in Kansas had been a window to other places, including Oz.

“Forget it,” Madison said.

“Well, whatever those things are, get ready to fight,” Nox said as the creatures descended on us.

There were at least a dozen of the Wheelers—they moved so fast I lost count—and they were terrifying. They moved on all fours, their limbs stretched out impossibly long and thin. Each of their arms and legs ended in a huge, spiky, and rust-coated wheel that squealed horribly as they circled us. They were dressed in a crazy patchwork of filthy, bloodstained rags and richly embroidered velvet, scraps of metal, beads, and pieces of old-fashioned armor. Their clothes were crusted with old food and bits of meat and other things I didn’t want to think about. They smelled like death.

But worst of all, their faces were human—almost. Their skin was leathery and wrinkled, and most of them had terrible scars or open wounds crisscrossing their faces like an insane road map of pain. Their hair was matted. They held dirty, rusty knives in their teeth and jabbed forward with their jaws, thrusting the weapons at us and herding us into a tight bunch. They formed a whirling circle around us—but they didn’t touch us. Madison covered her nose and mouth against the stench.

“Stop!” One of the Wheelers called out to the others in a deep, scratchy voice that made me think of an old man who’d spent his entire life chain-smoking and chugging hard liquor. Immediately the Wheelers screeched to a halt.

The Wheeler who had spoken creaked closer and stared at me. Even though he wasn’t carrying a weapon in his teeth like the others, he managed to be even scarier. His face was deeply tanned and covered with a network of old scars. One eye was missing, the socket a mess of bulging scar tissue. His hair hung in lank strands braided with beads and pieces of metal and chunks of bone. He stared at me with his good eye, which was a crazy, piercing blue, and then he smiled, and I saw why he didn’t need a knife: his teeth were filed into razor-sharp points.

I heard Madison breathe in hard next to me, but she didn’t make a noise. I felt weirdly proud of her.

“Welcome to Ev, honored guests,” the Wheeler sneered. His voice sounded like tin cans being dragged behind an old car. “Princess Langwidere requests your most esteem presence at her palace.”

At the word esteem the other Wheelers began to snicker. “Esteem! Esteem! Princess call guests esteem!” one of them squealed, and the others burst into awful, screeching giggles that sent chills running down my spine.

Langwidere? What kind of name was that—and who on earth was she? Next to me, Nox looked a shade paler. “That’s not good,” he said in my ear.

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t know anything about these Wheelers, but I definitely have heard of Langwidere. And everything I’ve heard is . . . bad.”

He’d spoken quietly, but the Wheelers overheard him anyway. At his words, they hooted and shrieked with laughter. “Little flesh-foot denies his honor!” one of them howled, sending the others into hysterical giggles again.

“Look, knock it off. “ Madison stepped forward. Her voice was clear and loud and somehow, even though I knew she must be terrified, she seemed confident. Most of the Wheelers kept laughing but a few stopped and looked at her.

“Are you going to kill us? Because if you aren’t, we have business to take care of, so maybe you can leave us alone and get out of here. Right?” She looked at Nox, whose mouth was open in astonishment. “Right?” she said again.

“Uh, right.” Nox closed his mouth and looked serious. “Exactly. Yes, what she said.”

The Wheelers’ laughter died down into the occasional giggle. The leader peered at us again, his beady good eye squinting. A smile played over his cracked lips and he chuckled to himself. “A spicy little flesh-foot!” he cackled, staring at Madison. He creaked forward until his face was inches away from hers but she didn’t flinch. He opened his mouth and screamed with laughter.

Even from where I was standing I nearly gagged at the rank, foul stench of his breath. Bits of rotting meat were caught in his jagged teeth. But Madison didn’t back down.

“Cool, so you’re not going to kill us, am I right?” she said. “Since we’re not dead yet, and you guys are just dicking around. How about you let us go then?”

“Princess says to bring you to her unharmed,” the Wheeler admitted reluctantly. He was clearly unhappy about those instructions.

“Princess didn’t say unharmed! Princess said ‘in one piece’! Could be harmed but still one piece!” one of the other Wheelers broke in excitedly, squeaking back and forth on his wheels. The leader cocked his head, considering, and then shook his head no, sending his dirty braids flying.

“You want to argue with Princess, your problem,” he said. The other Wheeler abruptly stopped moving and looked alarmed.

“Not arguing with Princess,” he said quickly. “Wouldn’t, wouldn’t.”

“We take you to her now,” the lead Wheeler said to us.

“We don’t want to go with you,” Madison said. At that, the Wheelers screeched with laughter again.

“Wants to argue with Princess!” they yelled. “Wants to argue! Little flesh-foot says no to Princess!”

“You don’t choose,” the Wheelers’ leader said to Madison. He lunged forward so fast that she didn’t even have time to scream, fastening his serrated teeth in her arm and dragging her toward the nearest Wheeler, who bent down on his elbows. The leader half dragged, half threw Madison on his back and he reared up again with Madison clutching frantically to his embroidered jacket. Blood seamed her shirtsleeve and her face was white and terrified.

“Now you,” the leader said to me, his teeth red with Madison’s blood. I swallowed hard as another of the Wheelers bent in front of me. The leader bared his teeth and snapped at me as I clambered awkwardly onto the Wheeler’s back. Next to me, Nox was doing the same. Up close, the Wheeler smelled even worse. And when I looked down, I saw fleas crawling in his dirty, ragged clothes. I closed my eyes, willing myself not to throw up.

“Now we go,” the leader said, and the Wheelers lurched forward across the barren earth.

I’d had a lot of bad journeys in Oz, but riding a Wheeler across the desert definitely took the prize for Most Awful Form of Transportation of All Time. The hot, merciless sun beat down on my back, sucking all the moisture out of my body. The Wheeler’s jagged wheels made his gait jolting and uneven, and although I was exhausted, I had to struggle every minute of the ride to cling to his filthy, bony back. I managed to tear off a strip of fabric from the bottom of my dress and toss it to Madison for her wound. She probably needed some kind of shot to ensure it wouldn’t get infected but this was the best I could do for now.

As the sun rose higher, the smell got worse. Every time I glanced over at Madison, she looked more and more as though she was about to pass out. Even Nox was turning a distinct shade of sickly green.

The landscape around us wasn’t much better. Mostly it was deserted, but here and there we passed tiny villages that looked even worse than I felt: houses with collapsing roofs and crumbling walls, farm animals with ribs that poked horribly out of their fly-dotted hides, poking dispiritedly along the sun-bleached, rocky ground in vain search of food. As we creaked and rumbled by, terrified faces appeared briefly in broken-paned windows and then disappeared again as everyone we passed hid from the Wheelers.

Once, one of the Wheelers broke off from our group, speeding toward a village with a howl of glee, but the leader sharply called him back and he returned reluctantly, still brandishing his knife in his teeth. The leader bit him hard on the ear and he yelped with pain.

“We follow Princess orders!” the leader snarled. “No play today. Serious business.” The other Wheeler shot him a murderous look but obeyed. I didn’t want to think about what the Wheelers considered “play.” The horror in the faces of the people we passed gave me a pretty good idea.

The sun dragged slowly across the sky. I wondered if someone here controlled the time, the way Dorothy had once used the Great Clock. It certainly felt like some sadistic force was making the time pass as slowly as possible, but I suspected it was just the awfulness of the journey that made it seem endless.

I tried to remember everything I knew about Ev. Mombi had told me about the Nome King back when I’d found Dorothy’s journal in Kansas. Something about how he’d tried to invade Oz a long time ago, but Ozma defeated him when she was queen the first time around. When he showed up in Kansas, Mombi immediately assumed the worst and thought he might be trying to use me—and he’d basically told me as much when he’d crashed Ozma’s coronation party, dragged Madison into Oz, and murdered Mombi with Glinda’s help.

I didn’t want to think about the last time I’d seen her or the way she’d looked—almost resigned, as if she knew this might be her last fight. She had not given up—she was a fighter. And she had thrown herself into the fray to give me and Nox a chance to escape. But if the Nome King could take out Mombi, the witch with the most Wickedness, that didn’t say much for my chances of defeating Ev’s most sinister senior citizen on his own turf.

I was pretty sure she’d never said anything about any Princess Langwidere, though. I wished I could ask Nox more about who she was, but I didn’t want the Wheelers to overhear our conversation. Instead, I closed my eyes, concentrating on finding the magic within myself. Magic was the only weapon I had left. We had no idea what we were going to be up against with this Langwidere person. I had to be able to use my powers in case I needed them to help save us.

But trying to find my magic felt the same way it had on the road: I could almost feel it, but it was as if I was trying to reach through a wall. My boots throbbed again, but this time it felt like a warning. As if they were telling me to be careful. As if they were letting me know they might not be able to protect me.

“Look,” Madison said in a low voice, jerking me out of my thoughts. On the horizon I saw a black smudge that I thought at first was a heat-induced mirage over the shimmering desert. But as we slowly wheeled closer the smudge got bigger and bigger, looming over the landscape like a bad dream.

“What is that?” I asked.

“Princess! Princess!” screamed one of the Wheelers in delight. “Princess soon! Princess treat guests so well!”

They exploded into their awful laughter again and some of them broke off from the group to speed around us in circles, taunting us. “Flesh-feet think they’re too good for Wheelers! Wait until Princess cuts off your heads! Then you won’t be so smarty-smart! Little witches get Wheeler stitches!”

The Wheeler carrying me grunted and kicked out with one leg at the others. I grabbed his back, afraid of sliding off. I had no doubt that whatever the princess’s orders the others wouldn’t hesitate to run me over with their spiked wheels if I fell to the ground.

“They’re joking, right?” Madison said.

Nox cleared his throat. “That’s, um, sort of what she’s known for,” he said. “Her head collection.” Madison’s eyes got wide. I wasn’t sure I looked any better myself.

Princess Langwidere’s palace was close enough that I could make out its details. I liked it a lot better when it was far enough away that I couldn’t see the specifics.

It was big, for one thing. Really, really big. But that part wasn’t scary at all. What was scary was how it looked: as if the vampire Lestat had barfed up a gaudy cathedral. A forest of spiky turrets and towers bristled out of a massive, hulking body of black stone dotted with thousands of tiny black windows that seemed to suck up the sunlight rather than reflect it. The towers were carved with hundreds of heads and faces, misshapen and deformed. Some of them looked like they were screaming in pain or fear. Others were grinning evilly. One tower flowed into the next like a massive pile of candle drippings.

But the palace wasn’t the worst part. The worst part was definitely the road.

As if in twisted mockery of the Road of Yellow Brick, the road to Princess Langwidere’s palace was made of crumbling black stone that split into fissures so wide the Wheelers had to creak around them. The road was lined with dozens of spikes. And on every single one was impaled a rotting head.

Madison looked like she was going to throw up. I couldn’t decide whether I was more scared or more grossed out. The heads were in varying stages of decomposition. Some of them looked fresh, and others were just skulls with a few dried scraps of flesh and hair still clinging to them.

But as we passed them I sensed something strange. The faint, unmistakable, electric buzz of magic. Maybe I couldn’t use it here, but I could sense it. Where was it coming from?

And then I realized: the heads weren’t real. They were a glamour—a powerful one, if they were there all the time, but an illusion all the same. Why would someone go to so much gory trouble to line a road nobody seemed to use? Why would she send her scary minions to collect us if they weren’t going to hurt us? None of this made any sense. Who was this chick?

I glanced over at Nox, and he met my eyes. He’d noticed it, too. And from the look on his face, he was wondering the same thing.

I didn’t have any more time to think about it—we were approaching the castle gate. Like the rest of the palace, it was jagged and misshapen and carved with howling, grimacing faces. Whatever Princess Langwidere’s deal, she had a real thing for heads. I hoped that didn’t mean ours were on the line.

The gates swung open with a horrible screech as the Wheelers approached. In front of us was a courtyard paved with the same cracked black stone as the road to Langwidere’s palace. Walls surrounded us on all sides, pockmarked with windows that stared down at us like lidless eyes. The skin on the back of my neck prickled. It felt like the castle itself was watching us.

The Wheelers dumped us unceremoniously on the hard ground and circled us again, leering and throwing insults. “Say hi-hi to Princess!” the leader shrieked happy. “We go now to burn and burn!”

“Burn! Burn! Burn!” the others chanted, wheeling back and forth ecstatically. And then, with one final rotation, they were gone, speeding out of the gate in a racket of clattering wheels and screams. The doors slammed behind them. We were alone.

And now we were trapped.

Reprinted with permission from HarperCollins

The End Of Oz by Danielle Paige, $10.33, Amazon