The Iron Daughter, Page 41Julie Kagawa
“I hid, and everything turned to ice. ” Ethan gripped my hand, big blue eyes beseeching mine. “Meggie, Mommy and Daddy are still out there, with him! You have to save them. Make him go away!”
“We will,” I promised. My heart started an irregular thud in my chest. “We’ll make this right, Ethan, I promise. ”
“He should stay here,” Puck murmured, peering through a crack in the door.
“Man, it looks like the whole house is iced over. Ash is here, all right. ”
I nodded. I hated to leave Ethan, but there was no way I wanted my brother to see what came next. “You wait here,” I told him, smoothing down his curly hair. “Stay in your room until I come get you. Close the door and don’t come out, no matter what, okay?”
He sniffled and huddled deeper into the quilt. With my heart in my throat, I turned to Puck. “All right,” I whispered. “Let’s find Ash. ”
We crept down the stairs, Puck in front, me clinging to the railing because the stairs were slick and treacherous. The house was eerily silent, an unfamiliar palace of sparkling crystal, the cold so sharp that it cut into my lungs and burned my fingers as they gripped the railing.
We reached the living room, cloaked in shadow except for the light that came from the open door and the flickering static of the television. Silhouetted against the screen, Mom’s and Luke’s heads were visible over the top of the couch. Leaning together, as if asleep, they were frozen solid, encased in ice like everything else. My heart stood still.
I rushed forward, but Puck grabbed my arm, holding me back. Snarling, I turned on him, trying to shake him off, until I saw his face. His eyes were hard, his jaw set as he pulled me behind him, a dagger appearing in his hand.
Trembling, I looked into the living room again just as Ash melted out of the shadows on the far wall, drawing his sword as he did. In the harsh blue light, he looked awful, his skin split open along his cheekbones and his eyes sunk into his face. There were new wounds over his arms and hands, where the skin had blackened along the openings, looking burned and dead. His silver eyes were bright with pain and madness as he stared at us, every inch a killer, but I couldn’t be afraid of him. There was only grief now, a horrible, soul-wrenching pain knowing that, no matter what happened, I had to let him die. If I wanted to save my family, Puck would have to kill Ash. Tonight. Right here in my living room. I forced down a sob and stepped forward, ignoring Puck as he grabbed for me, my eyes only for the dark prince standing across the room.
“Ash,” I whispered as his eyes flicked to my face, following my every move.
“Can you hear me at all? Please, give us something. Otherwise, Puck is going to…” I swallowed hard, as he continued to regard me blankly. “Ash, I can’t let you hurt my family. But…I don’t want to lose you, either. ” The tears spilled over, and I faced him desperately.
“Please, tell me you can fight this. Please—”
“Kill me. ”
I sucked in a breath, staring at him. He stood rock still, the muscles working in his jaw, as if he was struggling to speak. “I…can’t fight this,” he gritted out, closing his eyes in concentration. His arms shook, and his grip on the sword tightened. “You have to…kill me, Meghan. I…can’t stop myself…”
His eyes opened, glazed over once more. “Get away from me, now!”
Puck shoved me away as Ash leaped across the room, his sword coming down in a sapphire blur. I hit the floor, wincing as the ice scraped my palms and bruised my knees. With my back against the wall, I watched Puck and Ash battle in the middle of the living room, feeling dead inside and out. I couldn’t save him. Ash was lost to me now, and worse, one of them was going to die. If Puck won, Ash would be killed. But if Ash emerged victorious, I would lose everything, including my own life. I guess I should’ve been rooting for Puck, but the cold despair in my heart kept me from feeling anything. As Ash whirled away from a vicious upward slash, something glittered beneath his hair at the base of his skull. Scrambling to my feet, I narrowed my eyes and my senses, staring at it intently. A tiny spark of cold, iron glamour glimmered at the top of Ash’s spine and I gasped. That was it! The bug, the thing that was controlling him and, ultimately, killing him.
As if it could sense my thoughts, Ash whirled, his eyes narrowing in my direction. As Puck’s knife came down at his back, he spun, knocking it aside, and stabbed forward with his weapon. Puck twisted desperately, but it wasn’t enough, and the icy blade plunged deep into his shoulder. I cried out, and Puck stumbled back, dark blood blossoming over his shirt, his face tight with pain.
Ash lunged at me, and I tensed, my heart hammering in my chest. All those times watching him fight gave me an inkling of what was coming. As the sword came slashing down at my head, I dove forward, hearing the savage chink of the blade against the ice. Rolling away, I glanced back, saw the sword coming and threw myself aside, barely avoiding the second swing that bit into the floor, pelting me with ice shards. I hit the wall and turned back to see Ash standing over me, weapon raised high. There was nowhere to go. I looked into his face, saw his jaw tighten and his arm tremble as he met my gaze. For a split second, the sword wavered, and he closed his eyes…
Just as Puck rose up from nowhere with a snarl and slammed the dagger into his chest.
Time stood still. A scream lodged in my throat as Puck and Ash stared at each other, Puck’s shoulders heaving with breaths or sobs, I couldn’t tell. For a moment, they stood there, locked in a morbid embrace, until Puck let out a strangled noise and wrenched himself away, yanking out the dagger in a spray of crimson. The sword fell from Ash’s hand, hitting the ground with a ringing clang that echoed through the house.
Ash staggered back, managing to stay on his feet for a moment, arms curled around his stomach. He swayed, putting his back to the wall, as dark blood began to drip to the ice, pooling beneath him. As I finally found my voice and screamed his name, Ash raised his head and gave me a weary smile. Then those silver eyes dimmed, like the sun vanishing behind a cloud, and he crumpled to the ground.
I rushed forward, shoving Puck out of the way. Puck stumbled aside, moving like a sleepwalker. The bloody dagger dropped limply from his hand. Ignoring him, I lunged toward Ash.
His voice brought me up short, sharp and desperate. Ash struggled to his knees, arms around his stomach, shaking with agonized gasps. Blood pooled around him as he raised his head, eyes bright with anguish. “Stay back, Meghan,” he gritted out, a line of red trickling from his mouth. “I could…still kill you. Let me be. ” He grimaced, closing his eyes, one hand clutching at his skull. “I can still…feel it,” he rasped, shuddering. “It’s in…shock now, but…it’s getting strong again. ” He gasped, clenching his teeth in pain. “Dammit, Goodfellow. You could’ve…made it clean. Hurry and get it over with. ”
“No!” I cried, flinging myself down beside him. He flinched away from me, and I caught his shoulder.
It was like touching an electric fence, without the shock. I felt a rush of sharp, metallic glamour coming from Ash, buzzing in my ears and vibrating my senses. I felt something inside me respond, like a current beneath my skin, rushing up to my fingertips, and suddenly everything was much clearer. If glamour was raw emotion and passion, this was the absence of it: logical, calculating, impassive. I felt all my fear, panic and desperation drain away, and I looked at Ash with a new curiosity. This was a problem, but how was I going to fix it? How would I solve this equation?
“Meghan, run. ” Ash’s voice was strangled, and that was all the warning I had before his eyes went glassy and his hands fastened around my throat, cutting off my air. I gasped and clawed at his fingers, staring into his blank eyes as a sharp, droning voice echoed through my head.
sped airlessly, fighting to stay calm, to stay connected to that cold, impassive glamour buzzing under my skin. As I stared into his eyes, I could see the bug, its hateful glare peering back at me. I could see its round, ticklike body, clamped to the top of Ash’s spine, the metal parasite that was killing him. I could hear it, and I knew it could hear me, too.
“Meghan!” Puck snatched the ice sword from where it lay, forgotten, and raised it over his head.
“Puck, don’t. ” My voice came out raspy, but calm. I fought for air and felt Ash’s grip loosen the tiniest bit. He closed his eyes, breaking my connection with the bug, but I could still feel the iron glamour, buzzing all around me. He was fighting its commands, his face tight with concentration, sweat running down his skin.
“Do it,” he rasped, and I realized he spoke to Puck, not me.
“No!” I met Puck’s conflicted gaze, saw the sword waver as he swept it toward Ash. “Puck, don’t! Trust me!”
My vision was getting fuzzy. I didn’t have much time. Praying Puck would hesitate a little longer, I turned back to Ash, laying my palm against his cheek. “Ash,” I said, hoping my mangled voice would get through to him, “look at me, please. ”
He didn’t respond at first, his fingers shaking as he fought the compulsion to crush my throat. When he did look up, the raw anguish, horror and torment on his face was agonizing. But, beyond his pain-filled eyes, I could see the parasite as it tightened its hold on him. My will rose up to meet it, iron glamour swirling around us. I shaped that glamour into a command, and sent it lancing into the metal bug.
Let go, I told it, putting as much force into the words as I could. It buzzed furiously and clamped down hard, and Ash cried out in agony. His fingers on my throat tightened, crushing my windpipe and turning my world red with pain. I sagged, fighting to stay conscious, seeing darkness crawling along the edge of my vision. No! I told it. I will not lose to you. I will not give him up! Let go!
The bug hissed again…and loosened its hold, still fighting me all the way. I put my shaking hand against Ash’s chest, over his heart, feeling it crash against his ribs. Ash’s grip tightened once more, and the world started to go black. Get out, I snarled with the last of my strength. Get out of him, now!