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The Iron Daughter, Page 18

Julie Kagawa

Page 18

 

  The spear hit one directly in the face, punching through the wires and tearing it from the hill. It clattered down the slope, arms and legs flailing, but the other fey leaped over the body or skittered aside, and kept coming.

  My horse snorted and backed away. I grabbed for its mane as Ash whirled his steed around, his face grim.

  “We can’t outrun them,” he announced, and I caught the faintest hint of fear in his voice, which only made me more terrified. “They’re faster than us, and will overtake the horses long before we reach a trod. We have to make a stand. ”

  I looked down at the approaching swarm, and my voice squeaked with terror.

  “Here? Now?”

  “Not here. ” Ash shook his head and pointed down the other side of the slope.

  “There’s an abandoned fort on the edge of the wyldwood. Ariella and I used it as a hunting lodge. If we can reach it, we might have a chance. ”

  The other side of the slope fell away into the same break-neck drop. Far, far in the distance, I saw where the snow-covered treetops met the writhing gray mist of the wyldwood.

  A raven circled us, giving a harsh cry as it passed overhead as the first of the wire-fey clawed its way to the top. Ash kicked his steed into motion, and mine followed, charging for the edge of the rise. I screamed as my horse gathered its legs underneath it and leaped into empty space.

  We fell for what seemed like an eternity. When we finally hit the ground, the horses landed with barely a jolt and immediately plunged into the forest. Behind us, the wiremen poured down the slope in a glittering flood. My body ached and my arms burned from clinging to the horse for so long. Every bump sent a lance of pain through my side, and my breath came in short, agonizing gasps. Finally, we burst through the trees into a snow-covered clearing. In the center of the grove, a crumbling tower rose skyward in a precarious upside down L, as if it might collapse any moment.

  “Come on!” Ash leaped off his mount, ignoring it as it raced away into the trees. My horse tried to follow, but the prince grabbed its reins, yanking it up short. I half slid, half fell out of the saddle, and I barely took a gasping breath before Ash was dragging me through the snow.

  We ran for the fort, hearing the scraping of claws behind us. I didn’t dare look back. Ahead, through the great wooden doors, I saw the darkened interior of the room. Sunlight slanted through holes in the roof, spilling over a strangely luminescent floor. As we drew closer, I gasped. The ground was completely carpeted in white, bell-like flowers, which glowed softly in the dim light. They grew on the walls and even covered the ancient furniture lying around the room: a wooden table, a cupboard, a few simple cots. Everything was also covered in snow and ice, as the roof was full of holes, but I supposed that hadn’t mattered to Ash and Ariella. Freezing temperatures never bothered the Winter fey. Ash pulled us through the opening, crushing flowers underfoot, and threw his weight against the doors. They groaned, reluctant to move. I joined him, and together, we strained at the stubborn gates. They closed slowly, creaking with age and time, and the wiremen were no more than twenty yards away when they finally banged shut. Ash threw down the bolt, then pressed both hands against it and sheathed the entire gate with ice. No sooner had he finished than the first blows rattled the wooden door, resounding through the chamber. The ice shivered and tiny cracks radiated through the surface as more blows shook the gate. It wouldn’t hold them for long.

  Ash drew his sword. “Get back,” he told me as the door rattled again. More cracks shot through the ice. “Find a place to hide. There’s an alcove behind that statue against the wall—you should be able to fit. ”

  I shook my head frantically, seeing Sage surrounded by the hideous wire-fey, dying on the floor of the throne room. I couldn’t watch Ash be torn apart like that before my eyes. Ash glanced back at me and frowned.

  “Meghan, there’s nothing you can do. Go! I’ll hold them as long as I can. Go, now!”

  A great chunk fell out of the door as a curved wire claw tore it away. The hole widened, as metal talons ripped and clawed at the wood. Fear got the better of me. I ran to the crumbling statue of some forgotten hero, darting behind it as the first of the wiremen squeezed through the crack like a giant spider.

  Claws flashing, it lunged at Ash, who was waiting for it. His sword arced through the air, shearing the spindly fey in half. Another skittered toward him, and he whipped his blade around to slice off a flailing arm. The wireman collapsed, twitching, in the flowers, shredding the delicate blooms like paper.

  I bit my cheek, trying not to be sick. More fey poured through the opening as they tore the gate to shreds. Ash was forced back, giving ground to prevent the wiremen from flanking him. Finally, he stood against a broken pillar, his back to the stones, as the Iron faeries swarmed around him, slashing and clawing.

  I heard a noise above us, and a shower of stones and ice tumbled to the ground. A metallic form suddenly crawled through a hole in the roof and crawled along the ceiling, making my blood run cold. “Ash, above you!” I yelled, as more fey slithered through the cracks. “They’re coming through the roof!”

  The wiremen surrounded Ash in a chaotic blur. I could barely see him through the forest of slashing claws. Suddenly he leaped straight up, over the heads of the Iron fey, to land on the upright half of a broken pillar. His coat was in tatters, one side of his face was covered in crimson, and more blood dripped from numerous wounds to the flowers below. The wiremen resumed their attack, crawling up the pillar or dropping from the ceiling. Fear hammered against my chest. I tried reaching for that strange, cold glamour I’d felt earlier with Edgebriar, but came up with nothing. I tried drawing in regular glamour, but hit the glass wall again. I wanted to scream. What was wrong with me? I had once taken down the Iron King; where was that power now? Ash was going to die in front of me, and I couldn’t do anything to stop it.

  Something big and black hurtled through the smashed door, diving toward the battle. It screeched as it slammed into a wireman, knocking it off the column, and the rest of the fey looked up, startled at this newest threat. It wheeled around to land on the pillar across from Ash—a giant black raven with emerald-green eyes. My heart leaped in my chest. With a harsh, laughing cry, the bird disintegrated, vanishing in a swirling black cloud. A new form rose up from the explosion, shaking feathers from his fiery red hair, a wide, familiar grin spreading across his face.

  “Hey, Princess,” Puck called, brushing feathers from his clothes and gazing around at the carnage. “Looks like I got here just in time. ”

  The wire-fey paused just a moment, blinking up at this newcomer, than scuttled forward once more. Puck drew a furry ball from his pocket, winked at me, and tossed it into the ranks of Iron fey swarming below him. It hit the ground, bounced once, and erupted into a large black boar, which charged into the fey with a maddened squeal. Puck threw Ash a mocking smile. “You look like crap, Prince. Did you miss me?”

  Ash frowned, stabbing a faery that was clawing at his feet. “What are you doing here, Goodfellow?” he asked coldly, which only caused Puck’s grin to widen.

  “Rescuing the princess from the Winter Court, of course. ” Puck looked down as the wire-fey piled on the squealing boar, ripping and slicing. It exploded into a pile of leaves, and they skittered back in confusion. “Though it appears I’m saving your sorry ass, as well. ”

  “I could’ve handled it. ”

  “Oh, I’m sure. ” Puck brandished a pair of curved daggers, the blades clear as glass. His grin turned predatory. “Well, then, shall we get on with it? Try to keep up, Your Highness. ”

  “Just stay out of my way. ”

  They leaped down from their pillars directly into the ranks of wiremen, who instantly swarmed around them. Back to back, Ash and Puck sliced into their opponents with renewed vigor, neither giving an inch now that the other was there. The mob of Iron fey thinned rapidly. Through the mass of writhing limbs, I caught glimps
es of Ash’s face, taut with concentration, and Puck’s vicious smile.

  Silently, the last few wiremen broke from the whirlwind of death in the middle of the floor. Without looking back, they scuttled up the walls, clawed their way through the holes in the roof and were gone.

  Puck, his shirt now a tattered mess, sheathed his daggers and glanced around with a satisfied smirk. “Well, that was fun. ” His gaze found me, still frozen behind the statue, and he shook his head. “Wow, icy reception here. And to think I came back from the dead for this. ”

  I squeezed from my hiding place, my heart pounding against my ribs, and ran to him. His arms opened, and I threw myself against his chest, hugging him fiercely. He was real. He was here, not dying in a tree somewhere, left behind and forgotten. “I missed you,” I whispered against his neck.

  He held me tighter. “I’ll always come back for you,” he murmured, sounding so unlike himself that I pulled back and looked at him. For a moment, his green eyes were intense, and I caught my breath at the emotion smoldering within. Then he smirked, and the effect was ruined.

  I was suddenly aware of Ash leaning against a pillar, watching us with an unreadable expression. Blood streaked his face, splattering the white flowers beneath him, and his sword dangled limply from his grasp.

  Puck followed my gaze, and his grin grew wider. “Hey, Prince,” he greeted,

  “word is you’re a traitor to the Winter Court. You’ve got the entire wyldwood in an uproar—they say you tried to kill Rowan after he caught you escaping with the princess. Clearly, I’ve missed a few things. ”

  “News travels fast,” Ash replied wearily. He started to rake a bloody hand through his hair, then thought better of it, dropping it to his side. “It’s been an interesting morning. ”

  “To say the least. ” Puck gazed around at the bodies of the wiremen and wrinkled his nose. “What the hell are those things?”

  “Iron fey,” I said. “I’ve seen them before. They were in the throne room with Tertius when he stole the scepter. ”