The iron queen, p.37
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       The Iron Queen, p.37

         Part #3 of The Iron Fey series by Julie Kagawa
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Page 37

 

  “Meghan,” Ash said, his tone full of warning. I stepped back from the tree, breaking the connection, and turned to find we were surrounded. Iron fey stared back at us from every corner of the ruins, their eyes glowing in the shadows. From what I could tell, most of them had weapons—mostly iron swords and cross-bows, but a few had guns pointed at us, as well.

  “Meghan Chase,” said a familiar voice, and Glitch stepped out from behind the crowd, the spines on his head crackling with electricity as he shook his head at me. “What the hell are you doing here?”

  I STARED AT GLITCH, confusion and disappointment spreading through my chest. “Glitch?” I said, and the rebel leader arched an eyebrow. “Why are you here? I thought…this was where the false king lived. ”

  Glitch snorted. “Are you kidding? The false king wouldn’t come within a hundred yards of this place. This is Machina’s domain still, and everyone knows it. ” He crossed his arms, glaring at me with shimmering violet eyes. “But I believe I asked you first, princess. Why are you here? Don’t tell me you came looking for the false king. ”

  “Yes,” I said. “I came here to kill him. ”

  Glitch choked, and his spines crackled as the lightning threads flared wildly.

  “Excuse me?” he burst out. “Let me get this straight. You’re the one thing the false king needs to become unstoppable, and instead of hiding in the mortal world like a sane person, or better yet, letting us guard you and keep you safe, you want to go assault the false king’s forces and take him out yourself. ” He shook his head with a snapping sound. “You’re even crazier than I thought. ”

  “We can do it,” I insisted. “I just need to know where he is. ”

  “Uh, no, you can’t,” Glitch shot back. “There’s no way I’m telling you his location so you can march happily off to get yourself killed. This is what we’re going to do. You and your boyfriends will stay here, safely out of the false king’s reach, while he attacks the Nevernever and depletes his forces a bit. Then we can think about planning a counterstrike, but he’s too powerful to take on right now. ”

  “We can’t wait,” I insisted. “I can’t let him attack the Nevernever and destroy any more of it. We have to act now. ”

  “Sorry, your highness, but I don’t think you’re in any position to be giving orders,” Glitch said firmly. “This is my base, and these are my forces. And I’m afraid I can’t let you leave. Like I said before, it would be like handing the victory to the false king. And I tend to be a sore loser. You and the two oldbloods will stay right here. ”

  “Think you can keep us here by force?” Ash mused in his soft, dangerous voice, scanning the army spread around us. “I can promise you’ll lose a lot of rebels that way, and you need every one you can get. ”

  “Don’t take me so lightly, prince,” Glitch replied, and his own voice had gone quietly lethal. “There’s a reason I was Machina’s first lieutenant, and you’re in my house now. ”

  “Really?” Puck pulled his daggers before I could stop him. “Well, I’m placing my bet on the visiting team. ” Around us, the rebels tensed, raising their weapons, and Puck shot Ash a savage grin. “Odds are stacked just the way I like

  ’em. You ready, ice-boy?”

  “Stop right there!” My voice echoed around the room, startling everyone, myself included. “This will not, under any circumstances, turn into a fight. We’re on the same freaking side, dammit. Put your weapons away, now. ”

  Puck blinked at me, astonished, but Ash straightened and calmly slid his sword back in its sheath, diffusing the tension. A collective sigh seemed to go through the chamber as the rebels relaxed and lowered their weapons, as well. I sighed and turned to Glitch again, who was watching me with an unreadable expression on his face. “Look,” I said, stepping forward, “I know you don’t think I should go anywhere near the false king, but you don’t have to worry. I was the one who defeated Machina, remember? I snuck into this very tower, faced the last Iron King, and stuck an arrow through his heart. That’s why I’m here. Oberon and Mab sent me to deal with the false king—they think I’m the only one who has a chance. I don’t want to fight you, but one way or another, I have to face him. You can either help me, or get out of my way. ”

  Glitch sighed and scrubbed a hand through his hair, making the lightning sizzle. “You have no idea what you’re doing,” he snapped, shaking neon threads from his fingers. “You think you’re ready to take on the false king? All right, then. ” He stepped away from the tree, beckoning us with a hand. “Come with me. Not you two!” he barked, pointing to Ash and Puck. “They can stay here. We’re going for a little ride. ”

  “I don’t think so,” Ash said calmly, dropping his hand to his sword hilt. I shot him a warning look. Glitch snorted.

  “Come off it, prince,” he said in a weary voice. “You really think I would hurt her? I’m the one who doesn’t want her running off on a suicide mission. Now that she’s exactly where I wanted her to be in the first place, you think I’d jeopardize that? Your princess will be perfectly safe under my care. And trust me, she’s going to want to see this. ”

  “I have no reason to trust anything you say,” Ash stated flatly. The rebel leader threw up his hands.

  “Fine,” he snapped. “You want an oath out of me, is that it? Here it is, then. I, Glitch, last lieutenant of King Machina, promise to keep Meghan Chase safe from harm, and to bring her safely back to the paranoid care of her guardians. Is that good enough for you?”

  “What about Puck and Ash?” I added.

  “Nor will my forces do them any harm, as well. Are we quite done here?”

  Glitch shot me an exasperated look. “I would think you’d want to see this, princess, since you’re so eager to get to the false king. ”

  I glanced at Ash and Puck. “I’ll be all right,” I said, raising a hand to cut off Puck’s protest. “If Glitch says this is important, I should go. ”

  “I don’t like it. ” Puck crossed his arms and gave the rebel leader a dubious glare. “It’s not that I don’t trust the guy, but…no, wait—that’s exactly the reason. Are you sure you want to do this, princess?”

  I nodded. “I’m sure. You two stay here, I’ll be back as soon as I can. ”

  “One more thing,” Ash said in his dangerous, soft voice as we turned away, and Glitch shot him a wary look. “If you do not return with her,” Ash continued, staring him down, “if she comes to any harm while she is with you, I will turn this entire camp into a bloodbath. That is my promise, lieutenant. ”

  “I’ll bring her back, prince,” Glitch snapped, and there was the faintest hint of fear in his voice now. “I gave you my word, and I’m bound to uphold it, same as you. Try not to slaughter any of my people while we’re gone, okay?”

  “Where are we going?” I asked as we turned away. Glitch gave me a humorless smile.

  “I’m going to show you what you’re up against. ”

  HE TOOK ME UP A FLIGHT of stairs to a part of the tower that hadn’t completely crumbled, where an open landing trembled and swayed in the wind. Far below, the flat obsidian plain stretched away into the horizon, spiderwebbed with orange lava and dotted with metallic trees. Overhead, the sky was clear save for a few ragged clouds, and the crimson moon winked at us like an evil red eye. Glitch walked to the edge of the landing, gazing out over the Iron Realm, his face turned to the sky. “Sky’s clear, good. ” He spun to face me, smirking. “No clouds now, but a storm can sweep in quickly, so we have to move fast. Don’t want to be caught in the rain without an umbrella, I can tell you that. ”

  “How are we going to get there?” I asked, peering cautiously over the edge at the blackened plain stretched out below us.

  Glitch smiled at me. “Fly. ”

  A buzzing filled the air. I looked straight up to see a pair of long, segmented creatures spiraling down at us, and leaped back as they perched on the edge of the landing.

&nbs
p; I tried not to cringe, but it was hard. The creatures looked like a cross between a hang glider and a dragonfly, with bulging insect eyes and six copper legs that gripped the railing with tiny claws. Their bodies were thin and shiny, though their wings looked more batlike than insect, made for gliding instead of speed. And they had propellers on their rear ends.

  Glitch looked annoyingly pleased with himself. “These are gliders,” he told me, enjoying my uneasiness. “Just walk to the edge of the platform and spread your arms and they’ll crawl into position. You steer them by pulling on their front legs and shifting your body weight. Easy enough, right?” I stared at him in disbelief, and he chuckled. “After you, your highness. Unless you’re scared, of course. ”

  “Oh, of course not,” I drawled sarcastically, taking a cue from Puck. “Big giant insect thing holding me several hundred feet in the air? What’s there to be nervous about?”

  Glitch leered and offered no comment. Taking a deep breath to calm my pounding heart, I walked to the edge and looked down. That was a mistake. Steeling myself for the inevitable, I spread my arms.

  A moment later I felt creepy jointed legs gripping my clothes as one of the insects crawled up my back, shockingly light for something that big. I clenched my teeth and tried not to flail as the legs curled under me, forming a kind of hammock. Overhead, the wings buzzed and fluttered, awaiting takeoff, but we didn’t move. I looked down at the dizzying drop, and my stomach spun so violently I was afraid I’d throw up any second.

  “Uh, you’re going to have to fall forward, princess,” Glitch said helpfully. I would’ve turned to glare at him if I hadn’t been terrified to move.

  “Yeah, I’m getting to that. ” Closing my eyes, I took deep short breaths, preparing for the drop. I would never take up bungee jumping, that much was certain. “Okay,” I whispered, trying to psyche myself up. “On three. Here we go. One…two…three!”