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The Iron Daughter, Page 55

Julie Kagawa

Page 55


  Then the white shape of the unicorn reared up, pawing the air, slashing with its horn, before it was pulled under the black mass. I pushed myself to my knees, calling out to it, but my arms shook, and I collapsed, sobbing in frustration. Once more, the unicorn reared up, its white coat streaked with crimson, several dark things clinging to its back. I cried out, crawling forward desperately, but with a shrill cry, the unicorn disappeared into the churning mass once more. This time, it didn’t resurface.

  As I gasped for breath, fighting tears, something wet and slimy dripped onto my arm. I looked up into the warty face of a goblin, its crooked teeth slick with drool as it grinned at me, flicking a pale tongue over its lips.

  “Tasty girl dead yet?” it asked, poking my arm with the butt of its spear. I lurched upright. Nausea surged through me and the ground twirled. I concentrated on not passing out. The goblin scuttled back with a hiss, then edged forward again. I frantically gazed around for a weapon, and saw the scepter, lying in the snow a few feet away.

  The goblin grinned, raising its spear, then vanished under several tons of wyvern as the monstrous lizard landed on it with a boom that shook the ground, sending snow flying. Roaring, it reared back to strike, and I lunged for the scepter. My hand closed over the rod, and a jolt of electricity shot up my arm. I felt the wyvern’s hot breath on my neck and rolled back, bringing up the scepter. In that split second, I saw the gaping, tooth-filled maw of the wyvern fill my whole vision, and the scepter in my hand glowing, not blue or gold or green, but a pure, blinding white. Lightning shot from the rod, slamming into the wyvern’s open mouth. The blast flung the lizard’s head back, filling the air with the stench of charred flesh. At the same time, I felt something inside me break, like a hammer striking glass, shattering into a million pieces. Sound, color and emotion flooded my mind, a bottled-up wave of glamour pouring outward, and I screamed.

  A pulse ripped through the air, flying outward. It knocked the nearest fighters off their feet and continued, spreading across the field. Fighting a wave of dizziness, I staggered to my feet, swaying like a drunk sailor in a torn and filthy gown. I couldn’t see Mab or Oberon through the indistinct shadows around me, but I did see hundreds of glowing eyes, shining blades and bared teeth, ready to tear me apart. I certainly had everyone’s attention now. The scepter pulsed in my hand. Gripping the handle, I raised it over my head. A flickering light spilled over the crowd, making them mutter and draw back.

  “Where is Queen Mab?” I called, my voice reedy and faint, barely rising above the howl of the wind. No one answered, so I tried again. “My name is Meghan Chase, daughter of Lord Oberon. I am here to return the Scepter of the Seasons. ” I hoped someone told Mab quickly; I didn’t know how much longer I could stay conscious, much less speak in coherent sentences in front of the queen.

  Slowly, the crowd parted, and the air around us dropped several degrees, making my breath steam before my face. Mab came through the crowd on a huge white warhorse, her gown trailing behind her, her hair unbound and flowing down her back. The horse’s hooves didn’t quite touch the ground, and great gouts of steam billowed from its nostrils, wreathing the Winter Queen in a ghostly halo of fog. Her lips and nails were blue, her eyes as black as a starless night as she peered down at me.

  “Meghan Chase. ” The queen’s voice was a hiss, her perfect features terrifyingly blank. Her gaze flicked to the rod in my hand, and she smiled, cold and dangerous.

  “I see you have my scepter. So, is the Summer Court finally admitting their mistake?”

  “No,” came a strong voice before I could answer. “The Summer Court had nothing to do with stealing the scepter. You are the one who jumped to conclusions, Lady Mab. ”

  And Oberon was there, sweeping through the crowd on a golden-bay stallion, flanked by a squad of elven knights. His faery mail glittered emerald and gold, bright links woven around protrusions of bark and bone, and an antlered helm rose above his head. I felt a surge of relief at seeing him, but it shriveled when the Erlking looked at me, his green eyes cold and remote. “I told you before, Queen Mab,” he said, speaking to Mab but still glaring at me, “I knew nothing of this, nor did I send my people to steal the scepter from you. You have started a war with us over a false pretense. ”

  “So you say. ” Mab gave me a predatory smile, making me feel like a trapped rabbit. “But, it seems the Summer Court is still at fault, Erlking. You might have known nothing of the scepter, but your daughter admits her guilt by trying to return what is mine, hoping perhaps, that I will be merciful. Is that not correct, Meghan Chase?”

  I noticed crowds of both Winter and Summer fey edging back from the rulers, and wished I could do the same. “No,” I blurted out, feeling the glare of both rulers burning holes through my skull. “I mean…no, I didn’t steal it. ”

  “Lies!” Mab leaped from her warhorse and stalking toward me. The mad gleam was back, and my stomach contracted in fear. “You are a filthy human, and all you speak is lies. You turned Ash against me. You made him fight his own brother. You fled Tir Na Nog and sought sanctuary with the exile Leanansidhe. Is this not true, Meghan Chase?”

  “Yes, but—”

  “You were in the throne room when my son was murdered. Why did they let you live? How did you survive, if it was not the Summer Court behind it all?”

  “I told you—”

  “If you did not steal the Scepter of the Seasons, who did?”

  “The Iron fey!” I shouted, as my temper finally snapped. Not the smartest move, but I was hurt, dizzy, exhausted, and could still see the body of Ironhorse, sprawled lifelessly on the cement, the unicorn torn apart before my eyes. After everything we’d done, everything we’d gone through, to have some faery bitch accuse me of lying was the last straw.

  “I’m not lying, dammit!” I screamed at her. “Stop talking and just listen to me! The Iron fey stole the scepter and killed Sage! I was right there when it happened! There’s an army of them out there, and they’re getting ready to attack! That’s why they stole the scepter! They wanted you to kill each other before they came in and wiped out everything!”

  Mab’s eyes went glassy and terrifying, and she raised her hand. I figured I was dead. You don’t shout at a faery queen and expect to walk away scot-free. But Oberon finally stepped forward, interrupting Mab before she could turn me into a Popsicle. “Hold, Lady Mab,” he said in a low voice. The Winter Queen turned her mad, killing glare on him, but he faced her calmly. “Just a moment, please. She is my daughter, after all. ” He gave me a measuring look. “Meghan Chase, please return the scepter to Lady Mab, and let us be done with this. ”

  Gladly. I approached Mab and held out the scepter in both hands, anxious to be rid of the stupid thing. For all its power, it seemed such a small, trivial item, to cause so much hate and confusion and death. For a moment, the Winter Queen stared at me, her features cold and blank, letting me sweat. Finally, and with great dignity, she reached out and took the scepter, and a great sigh of relief spread across the battlefield. It was done. The Scepter of the Seasons was back where it belonged, and the war was over.

  “Now, Meghan Chase,” Oberon said as the ripple died down, “why don’t you tell us everything that happened?”

  So I did, summarizing as best I could. I told them about Tertius stealing the scepter and killing Sage. I told them about the Thornguards, and how they wanted to become Iron fey themselves. I described Grimalkin leading us through the Briars, and how we met Leanansidhe, who agreed to help us. And finally, I told them about Virus, her plans to invade the Nevernever, and how we were able to track her down and get the scepter back. I left out the parts with Ironhorse. Despite his help and noble sacrifice, they would only see him as the enemy, and I didn’t want to be accused of guilt by association. When I was done, an incredulous silence hung in the air, and for a moment only the wind could be heard, howling over the plains.

  “Impossible. ” Mab’s voice was
chilly, but it had lost the crazy edge, at least. My handing over the scepter seemed to placate her for now. “How did they get into the palace, and out again, without anyone seeing them?”

  “Ask Rowan,” I shot back, and a mutter went through the ranks of surrounding fey. “He’s working with them. ”

  Mab went absolutely still. Goose bumps rose along my arms as ice began creeping over the ground, snapping and crinkling, spreading out from the feet of the Winter Queen. When she spoke, her voice was soft, almost a whisper, but it scared me more than when she was crazy and shouting. “What did you say, half-breed?”

  I glanced at Oberon, but he looked disbelieving, as well. I could feel his patience and support wearing thin; if I was going to accuse a son of Mab’s of treason, I’d better be able to prove it. Else he wouldn’t be able to protect me much longer.

  “Rowan is working with the Iron fey,” I repeated, as the ice spread around me, sparkling in the snow. “Him and the Thornguards. They…they want to become like them, immune to iron. They think—”

  “Enough!” Mab’s shriek made everyone but Oberon flinch. “Where is your proof, half-breed? Do not expect me to accept these blasphemous claims without proof—you are a human and can lie so easily! You say my son has betrayed his court and kin, to side with these iron abominations that none have seen? Very well! Show me proof!” She pointed a finger at me, eyes narrowed in triumph. “If you have none, you are guilty of slandering the royal family, and I will punish you as I see fit!”

  “I don’t—” But the sounds of a struggle interrupted us. The crowds shifted, looking around, then stepped out of the way as a trio of faeries came through. Ash and Puck, bleeding, grim faced and dirty, dragging the spiky frame of a Thornguard between them. Staggering into the circle, they threw the faery at Mab’s feet.

  Panting, Puck straightened, wiping blood from his mouth with the back of his hand. “There’s your proof. ”