A/N: Here's hoping it's a little less messy than my last few attempts... read and review, but above all, enjoy!
It was a wonderful day for flying.
The sun was soaring high above the mountains, and the clouds simply weren't in the mood to gather; below, the cities and towns and villages of Oz were miniscule things that scarcely looked real from this height- except, of course, for the Emerald City, which glittered magnificently from every single angle it could be seen from. From it, the Yellow Brick Road snaked outwards, a length of yellow twine against the patchwork quilt of the landscape, coiling away into Munchkinland, and… and…
The Wizard's contented smile cracked and fell off his face for the nineteenth time.
He couldn't stop thinking about how it had all gone wrong so quickly: it had started with that apparently inexplicable feeling of depression upon hearing of Elphaba's death. At the time, he'd thought that it hadn't been anything more than simple regret that he hadn't been able to make her see reason; but now the awful truth was clear- she was his daughter and he'd signed her death warrant.
And not just that, either: alone in his balloon, he'd had time to think about Elphaba's life and everything he'd heard of it; he'd heard of how she'd grown up ostracized and bullied because of her appearance; how her mother had died thanks to her father's vain attempt at making sure the next child didn't turn out green; how Elphaba had blamed herself for this and the crippling of her sister…
Just about every tragedy, from birth to death, spiralled back to him- beginning with the day he'd sauntered into the Thropp household with a few bottles of Elixir in his coat and an evening of fun on his mind. The sheer scale of it seemed to dwarf everything he'd done in his time on the throne of Oz; but then again, that was easy; all he'd had to do when suppressing animal rights was sit back and say to himself that it was for the good of the public. This… this couldn't be justified, no matter how he looked at it: his own daughter, wronged at every turn of her life by her own father. Her face loomed from his memories, caught forever in an expression of hurt and disillusionment; the words she'd said that day echoed over and over again: "Nobody believed in you more than I did."
At this point, the Wizard would have given anything in the world to stop thinking about her. But the truth was, he couldn't- and he had nothing left to give, anyway. He'd lost his kingdom, he'd lost his authority, he'd lost his machines, and he was on his way back to Nebraska in much the same condition he'd arrived in- admittedly with much more expensive clothes this time. He'd even lost a daughter he'd never known existed…
Stop thinking about it. Please, just stop.
Machines! Machines were good; he was always good at losing himself in planning out a new machine, a little something for the next audience. And if that didn't dull the pain, there was always the bottle of…
He'd been up here for the better part of an hour, floating sharply east across the Land of Oz, and he still couldn't stop thinking about Elphaba. As he flew across the Deadly Desert, he toyed with the idea of fooling himself into thinking that all his time in Oz had just been a dream- yes, an old, deluded circus magician's dream, the sort you'd conjure up on a warm summer afternoon with nothing to do but sit in your tent, put your feet up and maybe practice throwing your voice. That'd work, wouldn't it? He'd fooled an entire country, hadn't he? What was one foolish old man's belief compared to the beliefs of a whole country?
"Elphaba," said his memory, treacherously, "where I'm from, we believe all sorts of things that aren't true. We call it "history"."
Bastard. Stupid, stupid old bastard.
He couldn't take any more of this. And why should he? It wasn't as if anyone would miss him if he just threw himself out of the balloon right here and now; in Nebraska, he was just another cheap trickster with delusions of stardom; in Oz, he was almost certainly all but forgotten- after all, did anyone remember the old monarchy that came before him? Certainly not! And not now, not with Glinda taking the assumed role of "Shining Beacon of Hope" so seriously. Maybe the Animals would remember him for a while, but undoubtedly as the hated dictator who'd tried to reduce them to mindlessness. As for Dorothy and her friends, they'd remember him. But they'd probably dismissed him as a foolish old humbug by now. That left Madame Morrible, a careerist maniac who was probably doing her very best to get in Glinda's good books- not an ounce of care from her.
So, with nobody to miss him and very little to live for, the Wizard began thinking about death; when would be the right time to end it all? The decision had occurred very quickly; after all, the Wizard had always been very prompt in acting on his impulses, and right now, the impulse to end his life- if it would stop him from thinking about all the waste, all the pointless struggle and all the points in which he could have offered complete amnesty to Elphaba, have surrendered himself to her judgement, possibility after possibility, one wild fantasy after another. He couldn't bear it.
In fact… he was well past the Deadly Desert, now; he couldn't recognize the mountains below, but they looked pretty lethal to him. Beneath those towering peaks, his body would vanish, never to be seen again by the precious few who still thought of him; yes, it sounded more and more promising by the minute. And though there was the issue of pain, something that he'd avoided wherever possible, he doubted it would last longer than a few seconds.
He took a deep breath, and began climbing up the side of the basket; as he took hold of the ropes, he found himself looking down at the landscape unfolding below him, the gargantuan mountains that looked close enough to touch, and found himself curiously exhilarated. Standing here on the very edge of a long drop, with only the balloon's tethering to stop him from falling to his death, he wondered idly if Elphaba had felt this way when she'd first flown from his palace on her broomstick.
Time to obey gravity, he thought sadly.
Pausing only to remove his top hat and place it in his left hand, he took a deep breath, closed his eyes and stepped out of the basket. Down he went, plummeting into the air, through the skies and down, down, down…
Apart from the brief lurch in his stomach, the fall was so long it almost became peaceful. In fact, it took so long for him to reach the nearest one of the mountains that he actually had to open his eyes at one point just to see where he was, only to slam them shut in surprise as the jagged peak of the nearest mountain abruptly stabbed upwards towards him. But he missed it, and continued plummeting along the side of the mountain, never once even so much as brushing the rough granite wall.
So it was to be a truly epic fall to the death, all the way to the ground. Somehow, he felt better for it; he'd die quickly, yet spectacularly. Wasn't that just the way he'd wanted to go out when he was a young man, just starting out with his act? Way back then, his death of choice had been pyrotechnic accident- a little too much hydrogen in the flash-bang, a little too much heat, and kaboom! Spectacular death, with an entertained audience to boot! It was such a shame that nobody was here to watch him tumble out of the sky; it would make him feel even better for it, and take his mind off... her.
As the ground rushed up towards him, the Wizard held his breath: this was it. In a minute or so, it'd all be over; no more guilt, no more memories, only peace. He wondered idly if heaven existed, and then quickly decided that he probably didn't deserve a place in it. Maybe purgatory, if all went well. He could feel time slowing: seconds were becoming minutes; he could see, out of the corner of his eye, his coat rippling and fluttering in the breeze, like wings. Oddly beautiful, but when was he going to hit the ground?
Suddenly, there was a loud rumble, and suddenly, where there had been sharp rocks less than twenty feet below him, there was a massive hole in the earth. The Wizard scarcely had time to utter a yelp of surprise before he fell right through it, the hole vanishing behind him as the rocks slowly crawled back into place. For what felt like an eternity, he tumbled blindly through the darkness; what had been a simple plunge to the hard, unforgiving ground had become an unexpected and unwelcome voyage into the ground, where God only knew what nightmarish monsters lurked, just waiting to enjoy the taste of tender human flesh.
He'd heard stories about the lands beyond Oz, about the things that dwelled there: he'd had a few ambassadors from these lands, almost all of them terrifyingly inhuman, and some of them magical enough to make him worry about his future. What if this lightless cavern wasn't the home of some eyeless, six hundred-legged abomination that could eat the entire population of Oz without needing to swallow, but of an intelligent race? Would that be worse?
Then light flooded the cavern, and the answer occurred to him, for he wasn't falling anymore: he was floating through an chamber of crystalline stalagtites- razor-sharp crystals of every colour of the rainbow, glittering eerily in the dim magical light hovering just above him; words like "enormous" and "colossal" wouldn't do justice to this chamber, for it seemed to go on for miles. For several minutes he floated through the jagged labyrinth, before emerging into what appeared to be a chamber entirely given over to row after row of less gigantic precious stones: diamonds, rubies, garnets, amethysts, sapphires, topazes, lapis lazuli, and... and emeralds.
As he drifted past the gemstones, the Wizard felt his stomach sinking all the way to his dangling shoes; he couldn't be certain, but something about this place was worryingly familiar- not that he'd ever been here. He'd have remembered a place like this. But perhaps he'd met someone who'd told him about this place, a diplomat, maybe, or even a king. He tried to remember who this person was and what they'd been talking about, to no avail; stress and misery had jumbled his memory.
As he tried to remember, the wall to his left opened, and whatever magical force that had caught him now ushered him inside, depositing him unceremoniously on the hard stone floor. Trembling, he rose to find himself standing in a small room- well, small in that it wasn't much larger than his own audience chamber back in the Emerald City. There was no furniture and no decorations- only craggy black stone walls and black floor tiles like honeycombs; then, with a deafening rumble of rock grinding against rock, the craggy stone wall in front of him moved, rolling upward to reveal another wall, this one smoother, paler, more rounded and with a large, circular carving in its centre.
The new wall swivelled left and right, and for a moment, the Wizard thought it was about to slide away and reveal another wall behind it; instead, the first wall came rolling back over it, and then rolled back into the ceiling. Then, the carving at the centre of the new wall appeared to turn in his direction, and the Wizard realised with horror that he was staring into the dilated pupil of a gigantic stone eyeball, and it had been blinking at him. Blinking, he thought, his mind trying get it's bearings amidst the indescribable, I'm being blinked at by something the size of a mountain...
"TELL ME WHO YOU ARE," boomed an old and terrible voice from all around him, "AND WHY YOU HAVE COME ALL THE WAY TO MY KINGDOM, AND WHAT I CAN DO TO MAKE YOU HAPPY."
He knew who this creature was.
And things had been looking so promising...