The Iron QueenJulie Kagawa
“Is…is it normal to be this tired?” I asked, as feeling slowly returned to my legs. Ash shook his head, his face dark and grim.
“No. That little amount of glamour should have been nothing for you. ” He stood, crossing his arms over his chest, regarding me with a worried expression.
“Something is wrong, and I don’t know enough about Summer magic to help you. ” Holding out his hand, he pulled me to my feet with a sigh. “We’re going to have to find Puck. ”
“What? No!” I let go of him too fast and stumbled, nearly falling again.
“Why? We don’t need Puck. What about Grimalkin? He can help, right?”
“Probably. ” Ash looked over to where Grimalkin was stalking butterflies through the grass, tail twitching in excitement. “Do you really want to ask him?”
I winced. “No, not really,” I sighed. Stupid, favor-collecting cat. “Fine. But why Puck? Do you really think he’ll know what’s going on?”
Ash lifted one lean shoulder in a shrug. “I don’t know. But he’s been around longer than me and might know more about what’s happening to you. The least we can do is ask. ”
“I don’t want to see him. ” I crossed my arms, scowling. “He lied to me, Ash. And don’t tell me that faeries can’t lie—omitting the truth is just as bad. He let me believe my dad abandoned us, and he knew where he was all along. Eleven years, he lied to me. I can’t forgive him for that. ”
“Meghan, believe me, I know what it’s like to hate Puck. I’ve been at it for longer than you, remember?” Ash softened his words with a rueful smile, but I still felt a stab of guilt. “Trust me, I don’t particularly want to go begging for his help, either. ” He sighed, raking a hand through his hair. “But if anyone is to teach you Summer magic, it should be him. I can only show you the basics, and you’re going to need more than that. ”
My anger deflated. Of course, he was right. My shoulders sagged and I glared at him. “I hate it when you’re reasonable. ”
He laughed. “Someone has to be. Come on. ” He turned and held out a hand.
“If we’re going to find Goodfellow, we should get started now. If he’s hiding, or if he doesn’t want to be found, we could be searching awhile. ”
Taking his hand, I resigned myself as we crossed the meadow and slipped into the thick forest surrounding it.
IN THE END, PUCK FOUND US.
The woods surrounding the cabin were sprawling and vast, mostly pine and big, shaggy trees with furry trunks. It made me think we were high in the mountains somewhere. Ferns and pine needles littered the forest floor; the air was cool and smelled of sap.
Ash slipped through the woods like a ghost, following some invisible path, keen hunter instincts showing the way. As we hiked, ducking branches and scrambling over needle-covered rocks, my insides churned angrily. Why did Puck have to help us? What would he know? My dad’s face swam before me, tears shining from his eyes as I told him, once again, that Mom was married to someone else, and I clenched my fists. Whether my dad’s abduction was planned or not, Puck had a lot to answer for.
Ash brought us to a grotto surrounded by pine trees and stopped, gazing around. I joined him, taking his hand as we searched the trunks and shadows. It was very quiet. Threads of sunlight slanted in through the trees and dappled the forest floor, covered in mushrooms and pine needles. The trees here were old, thick creatures, and the air seemed filled with ancient magic.
“He’s been here,” Ash said, as a breeze stirred the branches, ruffling his dark hair. “In fact, he’s very close. ”
“Looking for something?”
The familiar voice echoed from somewhere above us. I turned, and there was Puck, lying on an overhead branch, smirking at me. His shirt was off, showing a lean, bronzed chest, and his red hair was all over the place. He looked more…I don’t know…fey out here, something wild and unpredictable, more like Shakespeare’s Robin Goodfellow, who turned Nick Bottom into a donkey and wreaked havoc on the humans lost in the forest.
“Rumor going round these parts is that you’re looking for me,” he said, tossing an apple in one hand before biting into it. “Well, here I am. What do you want, your highnesses?”
I bristled at the implied insult, but Ash stepped forward. “Something is wrong with Meghan’s glamour,” he said, brief and to the point as usual. “You know more about Summer magic. We need to know what’s happened to her, why she can’t use glamour without almost passing out. ”
“Ah. ” Puck’s emerald eyes sparkled with glee. “And so they come crawling back for Puck’s help after all. Tsk tsk. ” He shook his head and took another bite of the apple. “How easy it is to forget grudges when someone has something you need. ”
I swelled indignantly, but Ash sighed, as if he’d expected this. “What do you want, Goodfellow?” he asked wearily.
“I want the princess to ask me,” Puck said, switching his gaze to mine. “I’ll be helping her, after all. I want to hear it from her own frosted pink lips. ”
I pressed my pink lips together to keep back a nasty reply. Glad to see at least one of us is being mature about this, I wanted to say, which wouldn’t have been very mature at all. Besides, Ash was watching me, all solemn and serious, and a little bit pleading. If he could swallow his pride and ask his archnemesis for help, I guess I could be the grown-up here, too.
I sighed. “Fine. ” But there will be repercussions later, believe me. “Puck, I’d really appreciate it if you helped me out a little. ” He raised an eyebrow, and I grit my teeth. “Please. ”
He flashed me a smug grin. “Help you out with what, princess?”
“My magic. ”
“What’s wrong with it?”
I was sorely tempted to fling a rock at his head, but he wasn’t flashing me that stupid grin anymore, so maybe he was being serious. “I don’t know,” I sighed. “I can’t use glamour anymore without getting either really tired or really sick. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. It didn’t used to be like this. ”
“Huh. ” Puck jumped down from the tree, landing as lightly as a cat. He took two steps toward us and stopped, peering at me with intense green eyes. “When was the last time you used glamour, princess? Without getting sick or tired?”
I thought back. I’d used Summer magic on the spider-hags and nearly thrown up with the effort. Before that, my glamour had been sealed by Mab, so… “The warehouse,” I answered, remembering the battle with another of Machina’s old lieutenants. “When we fought Virus. You were there, remember? I stopped her bugs from swarming all over us. ”
Puck bobbed his head, looking thoughtful. “But that was Iron magic, wasn’t it, princess?” he asked, and I nodded. “When was the last time you used Summer glamour, normal glamour, without feeling sick or tired?”
“Machina’s realm,” Ash said softly, looking at me. Understanding was beginning to dawn on him, though I had no idea where this was leading. “You pulled up the roots to trap the Iron King,” he went on, “right before he stabbed you. Right before he died. ”
“That’s where you got your Iron glamour, princess,” Puck added, nodding thoughtfully. “I’d bet Titania’s golden mirror on it. You somehow got stuck with Machina’s Iron magic—that’s why the false king wants you, I’d wager. It has something to do with the power of the Iron King. ”
I shivered. Glitch had said as much, but I hadn’t wanted to think about it. “So what does that have to do with my glamour problems?” I asked. Ash and Puck shared a look. “Because, princess,” Puck said, leaning back against a tree, “you have two powers inside you right now, Summer and Iron. And, simply put, they’re not getting along. ”
“They can’t exist together,” Ash put in, as if he’d just figured it out.
“Whenever you try, one glamour reacts violently to the other, the same way we react to iron. So the Summer glamour is making you sick because it touched Iron
magic, and vice versa. ”
Puck whistled. “Now that’s a Catch-22. ”
“But…but I used Iron glamour before this,” I protested, not liking their explanations at all. “In the factory with Virus. And I didn’t have any problems then. We’d all be dead otherwise. ”
“Your regular magic was sealed then. ” Ash frowned, deep in thought. “When we went to Winter, Mab put a binding on you, sealing away your Summer magic. She didn’t know about the Iron glamour. ” He looked up. “After the binding shattered, that’s when you started having difficulty. ”
I crossed my arms in frustration. “This is so not fair,” I muttered, as Ash and Puck looked on with varying degrees of sympathy. I glared at them both. “What am I supposed to do now?” I demanded. “How am I supposed to fix this?”
“You’ll have to learn to use them both,” Ash said calmly. “There has to be a way to wield both glamours separately, without one tainting the other. ”
“Maybe it’ll get easier with practice,” Puck added, and that irritating smirk came creeping back. “I could teach you. How to use Summer glamour at least. If you want me to. ”
I stared at him, searching for a hint of my former best friend, for a spark of the affection we’d had for each other. The obnoxious smirk never wavered, but I saw something in his eyes, a glimmer of remorse, perhaps? Whatever it was, it was enough. I couldn’t do this alone. Something told me I was going to need all the help I could get.
“Fine,” I told him, watching his smile turn dangerously close to a leer. “But this doesn’t mean we’re okay. I still haven’t forgiven you for what you did to my family. ”
Puck sighed dramatically and glanced at Ash. “Join the club, princess. ”