The Iron Knight, Page 34Julie Kagawa
“A beast,” Grimalkin said calmly as the real Wolf curled a lip at him.
“A beast in its truest, savage nature. With no intel igence, no clear thoughts, no morals, just raw animal instincts and the desire to kill .
That is what your ref lections show you—yourself in your purest form.
Do not dismiss them as having no meaning. You only deceive yourself if you do. ” He stood and curled his whiskers at us. “Now, hurry. We have no time to stand around doing nothing. If the mirrors upset you, the logical answer would be not to look at them. Let us go. ”
He lashed his tail and trotted off, back down the hal way into the dark.
As he padded away, not bothering to glance back, I noticed that the cait sith's ref lection looked no different from the real Grimalkin.
Somehow, I wasn't surprised.
As we hurried after Grimalkin, I glanced at my ref lection once more and received another shock. It wasn't there anymore, and neither were any of the others. The candles, the f lickering f lames, stil cast their ref lections, stretching away into infinity, but our images were gone.
“Hurry!” came Grimalkin's voice, echoing out of the darkness. “Time is running out. ”
We broke into a sprint, footsteps echoing down the narrow corridor, passing hundreds of eerily empty mirrors. I could see the candles f lickering around us, thousands of orange lights ref lected in the glassy wall s. But other than the lights and the opposite wall s, the mirrors showed nothing else. It was like we weren't even there.
We came to a crossing, where another hal way stretched away in opposite directions, vanishing into the black. In the middle sat Grimalkin, calmly washing a front paw. He blinked as we stopped, gazing up with a bemused expression on his face.
“What do you mean, yes?” Puck said. “Did your feline brain finally snap? You said to hurry, and now you're just sitting here. What's the deal?”
“The exit is farther down. ” Grimalkin yawned, curled his tail around his legs, and smiled at us. “But I doubt you will ever reach it. I find it amusing that you can speak so freely of intel igence, when you cannot tel the difference between what is real and what is not. ”
“What?” Puck looked startled, but the Wolf suddenly let out a snarl that raised the hair on the back of my neck. I drew my sword and looked up, searching for hidden attackers.
Robin Goodfel ow smiled at me from the mirror's reflection, arms crossed to his chest, a demonic grin on his face. I spared a quick glance at Puck, and saw him backing away, pul ing his daggers, different actions from his image on the wall . His ref lection waved cheerfully……and stepped out of the mirror.
“Where do you think you're going?” Goodfel ow smiled, drawing his own weapons as he faced the real Puck. “The party's just getting started. ”
Movement rippled behind me. I spun, throwing myself to the side as the monstrous head of the other Wolf exploded from the frame and lunged at me. I felt its hot breath and heard the snap of its massive jaws inches from my head. Backing away, I drew my sword as it slid out of the mirror and into the hal , a monstrous creature with burning green eyes, drool hanging in ribbons from its teeth. It howled, making the mirrors tremble, and crouched to spring at me, and that's when the real Wolf hit it from behind.
I leaped aside as the two giant wolves careened past, ripping and tearing at each other, vanishing down the side hal way. The smel of blood fil ed the air, the roars and snarls adding to the din of chaos. I turned to see Puck locked in battle with his twin and a second Robin Goodfel ow stepping out of the mirror behind him, raising his blade.
An arrow streaked through the air, striking the second false Puck in the chest, causing him to explode in a swirl of leaves. Ariel a, grim-faced and determined, raised her bow again, but a tal , pale figure slid out of the mirror beside her. I shouted and lunged forward, but the false Ariel a raised her scepter and struck her twin in the back of the head. Ariel a crumpled to the f loor, dazed, and the false Ariel a loomed over her with a vicious smile.
Roaring, I f lew at the false Ariel a, but the Ice Queen raised dead, cold eyes to me and slipped back into the mirror. I swung at her retreating form, and my blade struck the surface of the glass, shattering it.
Shards f lew from the force of the blow, glinting in the light, and the entire surface col apsed in a ringing cacophony, scattering pieces over the f loor.
“My love. ” The false Ariel a appeared in another frame, empty gaze boring into me. I slashed at her, shattering another mirror, but she slipped into the one beside it, her eyes beseeching mine. “Why?” she murmured, fading back, appearing in a frame on the opposite wall .
“Why was I not enough? Why could I not keep you from giving in to despair?” She slid away, vanishing from sight, and I turned warily, waiting for her to appear again. “I loved you,” her voice whispered, giving no indication of where she was. “I would have given everything for you. But you couldn't stop thinking of her. A human! You let a human replace me. ” She finally appeared again, her face twisted into a mask of bitter hate, her eyes blazing with jealously. “So now you can die for her!”
Too late, I realized where she was looking and spun, bringing up my sword. Not fast enough. The point of a blade bit my shoulder as the other Ash stepped from the mirror behind me, slamming me against the wall .
I gritted my teeth as fire bloomed through my shoulder, nearly making me drop my sword. The other Ash smiled as he pushed the blade in farther, pinning me to the wall . Focusing through the pain, I switched my weapon to my other hand and stabbed at his chest, but he yanked his sword free and parried as if he'd been expecting it.
We circled each other, movements identical, almost as if I was looking through a mirror again. Other Ash smiled and lunged, a familiar attack I'd done thousands of times. I spun away and slashed at his head, but he was ducking almost before I had moved. We surged forward and met in the center of the hal , blue sparks f lying as we cut and blocked and parried, the din of swords ringing down the corridor.
Other Ash slid away, lashing out with his sword. “You can't beat me,” he said as I parried. We went up and down the hal , blades clashing, Other Ash's face blank but calm. “I am you. I know all your secrets, all your weaknesses. And unlike you, I can keep this up forever. ” He thrust out a hand, and an ice spear erupted from his palm, stabbing at my chest. I twisted aside and returned with a f lurry of daggers. He stepped back into a mirror, and the shards fractured the surface into a spiderweb of cracks.
I spared a moment waiting for him to appear again. When he did not, I broke away and hurried toward Ariel a, slumped against one of the wall s.
Puck stil fought with two of his doppelgängers, the Other Pucks grinning madly as they took turns darting in. Somewhere in the shadows beyond, the snarls and howls of the Wolves rang out even over the clash of blades. A screaming, high-pitched yelp suddenly echoed through the din, making my stomach clench. I'd hunted often enough to know a death cry when I heard it.
“Ari!” I cal ed as I approached her, and she raised her head, a f licker of pain crossing her face. “Don't move, I'll be right there. ”
A f lock of screeching ravens suddenly burst out from one of the mirrors, surrounding me and diving at my face, pecking and clawing.
Wincing, I f lung up one arm and slashed at them with the other, cutting them from the air. Blood and dismembered crows rained down on me, before the last one broke off, changing to a familiar grinning figure in an explosion of feathers.
“Where ya going, ice-boy?” Other Puck smiled and dodged back as I stabbed at him. “You can't leave now, it's just getting interesting. ”
“Get out of my way, Goodfel ow,” I threatened, but the other Puck only laughed.
“My other half seems a bit preoccupied at the moment, so I thought I'd come say hell o. La-la-la-lee,” he sang, pul ing his daggers, “which one is the real me?” He gav
e me that demonic grin and twirled his weapons. “You only get one chance to guess right, prince. ”
“Oy, ice-boy,” the real Puck cal ed, stil fighting his two doppelgängers.
“Quit playing around with my evil twin— you have your own!”
Frustrated, I glanced at Ariel a, beyond the Puck blocking my way, and my blood ran cold. The Ice Queen, the other Ariel a, was kneeling over her twin's body, looking down with her teeth bared in a wicked smile, one hand pressing Ariel a's throat to the f loor. Ariel a struggled weakly, but her twin didn't relent. Slowly, she raised a thin, jagged knife over her head, the twisted blade gleaming red in the candlelight, her eyes fil ed with hate.
“No!” I shouted, and tried lunging past Other Puck. He blocked my way, grinning, swiping at me with his dagger. With a roar of fury, I grabbed his wrist and jerked him to me, plunging my blade through his chest. His eyes bugged, and he exploded in a scattering of leaves, f luttering around me.
Without sparing him a glance, I hurled myself at the Ice Queen, knowing it was already too late.
A different roar echoed through the hal behind her, and she turned, her eyes going wide with fear. Scrambling off Ariel a, she leaped back, vanishing into a mirror, barely avoiding the huge jaws of the Wolf as he lunged out of the darkness. Snarling, the Wolf, our Wolf, met my eyes, his muzzle covered in blood and gore, and shook himself vigorously.
“Ari—” I panted, f linging myself down beside her. Taking her wrist, I eased her into a sitting position, as the Wolf loomed over us, growling.
“Are you all right? Can you stand?”
“Maybe in a minute. ” Ariel a winced, holding her head. “If the room would kindly stop spinning. ” Glancing at my worried expression, she gave me a weak smile. “Don't worry about me, Ash. I think I'm going to sit here and shoot at anything that comes within twenty yards of me. Go help Puck. I'll be fine. ”
I nodded reluctantly and glanced at the Wolf. “What about you?
Where's the other Wolf?”
Our Wolf bared his fangs.