The iron knight, p.31
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       The Iron Knight, p.31

         Part #4 of The Iron Fey series by Julie Kagawa
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Page 31

 

  CHAPTER THIRTEEN

  THE GAUNTLET

  As I expected, the temple, though huge from the outside, didn't con-form to normal space. The first room we came to, past the long, narrow hal way, was a large, open courtyard, surrounded by wall s and covered in moss. Strange beams of light slanted down from somewhere above, and broken statues, pil ars and enormous stones were scattered throughout. The chamber looked like a miniature labyrinth of crumbled wall s, archways and columns, covered in vines and shattered with the weight of time.

  Ahead of us, a pair of huge double doors stood atop a platform, guarded by two hulking stone creatures, one on either side. The statues looked like a cross between a lion and some sort of monstrous canine, with broad heads, curling manes and thick, clawed forepaws.

  “Fu dogs,” Puck mused as we approached the doors, hopping over shattered pil ars and crumbling archways. “You know, I met a Fu dog once in Beijing. Persistent bastard chased me all over the temple grounds. Seemed to think I was some kind of evil spirit. ”

  “Imagine that,” Grimalkin muttered, and the Wolf snorted with laughter. Puck f licked a pebble at him.

  “These aren't like the standard variety,” Puck continued, making a face at the stone guardians. “They're bigger, for one. And older. Good thing they're not real Fu dogs, eh? We'd be in big trouble if—”

  And of course at that point, a loud grinding sound echoed through the room, as both statues turned their heads to stare at us.

  I sighed. “You should know better by now, Goodfel ow. ”

  “I know. I just can't help it. ”

  With snarling roars, the pair of massive stone guardians leaped from their bases, landing with deafening booms on the rocky f loor, shaking the ground. Their eyes burned with an emerald fire in their craggy faces, their paws crushed the stones beneath them and their bel owing voices fil ed the chamber. Grimalkin vanished, the Wolf added his own howling roar to the cacophony, and the Fu dogs lowered their heads and charged.

  As one Fu dog barreled past, I vaulted aside, cutting at its f lank as it thundered by. My blade screeched off the stony hide, leaving a trail of frost and a shal ow scratch, but the monster didn't even notice. It plowed headfirst into a stone pil ar, smashing it to rubble, before it whirled around, completely unharmed, and lowered its head for another charge.

  An ice arrow shattered off the broad muzzle as the Fu dog gal oped toward me, as Ariel a tried to catch its attention, but it didn't slow the dog. I dodged as it roared by, plowing straight through a wall like a furious bul , showering itself with rocks. A quick glance showed Puck bound onto a pil ar to avoid the second statue, which simply rammed its head into the stone base to knock the pil ar down. Puck managed to hop onto a second column as the Wolf lunged at the Fu dog, fangs f lashing for its thick neck. He bounced off the stony hide with a yelp that was more anger than pain, and the Fu dog whirled around to attack.

  This wasn't working. And we didn't have time to play keep-away with a pair of murderous stone giants. “Retreat!” I cal ed, ducking behind a headless statue to avoid being trampled by the first guardian, which grunted and spun around before hitting anything. “Puck, get to the doors, we don't have time for this!”

  “Oh sure, prince! You make it sound so easy!”

  The Fu dog attacking me rumbled a growl and stalked forward. Apparently it had given up blindly charging forward in the hopes of smashing me into paste. From the corner of my eye, I spotted Ariel a pul ing back her bow for another shot, and waved her back without taking my attention from the dog.

  “Ari, don't worry about me. Just go. ”

  “Are you sure?”

  “Yes! Get to the doors—I'll be right behind you. ”

  Ariel a slipped behind a wall and out of sight. The Fu dog glanced her way, growling, but I hurled an ice dagger at its face, smashing it right between the eyes, bringing its attention back to me with a roar.

  It lunged forward, teeth bared, claws raking deep gouges in the f loor.

  As it pounced, I leaped up, vaulting off its snout and landing on its broad shoulders. For a split second, I saw a f lash of gold on its bright red col ar, but then I was hurtling off its back and running toward the doors, where Puck and Ariel a waited for me.

  The Wolf was keeping the other Fu dog busy, dancing around and snapping at its back feet as it whirled on him. As I bounded up the stairs, the guardian turned on me with a snarl, but the Wolf lunged forward and slammed his shoulder into it, rocking it back, keeping its focus on him. I reached Puck and Ariel a, who looked grave as they turned to me.

  “No good. ” Puck frowned and punched the stone door, making a hol ow thump. “The sucker won't budge. I think there's a key or something to open it. Look. ”

  He pointed to the doors, where two indentations side by side formed perfect half circles that met where the two doors came together, making a ful sphere. A key of some sort, which probably meant it was lost or hidden somewhere in the room. With the two Fu dogs. I sighed in frustration.

  “The col ars, you fools. ” Grimalkin appeared on one of the statue bases, ears back, lashing his tail. “Look at their col ars. Must I do everything around here?” He vanished again, just as a Fu dog charged up the steps and lunged at us.

  We dove aside, and the dog rammed into the doors with a boom that shook the ceiling. Shaking its head, it backed off, and I saw that same f lash of gold around its neck, like a tag. Or a globe that had been cut in half…

  I glanced at Puck. “You take one, I'll get the other?”

  “You're on, ice-boy. ”

  We scattered to different corners of the room, Ariel a fol owing me, Puck leaping down to help the Wolf. As I'd hoped, my Fu dog stalked us persistently through the labyrinthine ruins, shattering pil ars and bursting through wall s to give chase.

  “What's the plan?' Ariel a whispered as we ducked around a corner, pressing our backs against the wall . A few feet away, the Fu dog stalked past, growling, so close I could've reached around the corner and touched it. Several aisles over, somewhere in the maze, I heard a crash and saw a cloud of dust bil ow into the air; the second guardian was close.

  “Stay here,” I told Ariel a. “Get out of sight. I want that thing to focus on me and nothing else. If Puck does what he's supposed to, this should be over soon. ” A pil ar toppled over nearby, followed by a frustrated snarl. “Head toward the door and wait for us,” I continued.

  “Find Grim and the Wolf if you can. We'l be there as soon as we can with the keys. ”

  “How—” Ariel a began, but with a crash and a shattering of stone, the Fu dog burst through a nearby wall and roared as it spotted me.

  I took off, sprinting deeper into the ruins, hearing the guardian close on my heels. Rocks f lew and statues shattered into marble dust as the massive stone creature hurled itself through the aisles after me.

  I turned the corner of a dilapidated wall , and suddenly Puck was there, running straight at me from the opposite direction. His green eyes widened as we closed, but it was what I was looking for. We both immediately dove aside as the Fu dogs turned the corner and slammed into each other with a crack that shook the earth.

  The force rocked the two stone giants back, and for a moment they stood stil , completely dazed. I saw one had a broken nose, and the other had a crack running down its face like a jagged scar. Lying on his stomach on the other side of the aisle, Puck raised himself to his elbows and grinned in triumph.

  “You know, no matter how often I see that, it never gets old. ”

  I scrambled to my feet. “Grab the key,” I snapped, approaching one Fu dog. Stil dazed, it didn't notice me as I stepped up and snatched the golden half orb from around its neck. Puck did the same with the second one, pausing a moment to grin at the stupefied guardian.

  “Bet that stung, didn't it?” he said, waving the orb in front of the dog's face. “Yeah, that'l give you a headache for weeks. That's wh
at you get for being so bul headed. ”

  “Puck!” I turned to glare at him. “Stop being an idiot and let's get out of here. ”

  Puck laughed and sauntered toward me, tossing the half orb in one hand. “Ah, the oldies are always the goodies,” he muttered, joining me at the corner. “Hey, remember when we pulled that little stunt on the minotaurs? They were so out of it they—”

  Two very low, very angry growls stopped him midsentence. I shot Puck a death glare, and he gave a feeble smile.

  “I know, I know. You're going to kill me. ”

  We f led through the ruins, the spheres clutched tightly in hand, the Fu dogs crashing behind us. No side trips or luring the dogs around corners this time; we went straight for the doors, taking the shortest route possible. I saw Ariel a at the foot of the stairs, her bow pulled back and aimed at the dogs, her lips drawn into a thin line of frustration. She knew her arrows could do no more then make the Fu dogs blink. The last hundred yards to the stairs was the most dangerous, f lat and open, with nothing to slow down our pursuers. I felt the ground shake with their gal oping footsteps as they closed the distance.

  Then the Wolf f lew over a broken wall in a dark blur, slamming into one of the Fu dogs, causing it to careen into the second. Knocked off balance, the statues went crashing into a wall , tumbling over each other with the grinding sound of a derailed train. Panting triumphantly, the Wolf bounded up the stairs with us, joining Ariel a and now Grimalkin, who appeared at the door lashing his tail with impatience.

  “Quickly!” he spat, as Puck and I sprinted up. “Insert the keys!”

  “You know, you can't just disappear and then pop up shouting orders when the rest of us did all the work,” Puck said as we reached the doors.

  Grimalkin hissed at him.

  “There is no time to argue your stupidity, Goodfel ow. The guardians are coming. The keys—”

  A roar drowned him out as the Fu dogs reached the top of the stairs, shaking their heads in fury. Trapped against the doors, we couldn't move away as they lunged forward with eager howls. The Wolf snarled in return and leaped forward to meet them as Grimalkin f lattened his ears and spat at us.