The Iron Queen, Page 39Julie Kagawa
I must’ve drifted off, because the next thing I knew, something landed on my stomach, and I bolted upright with a yelp, throwing it off.
“Ouch,” exclaimed a raspy voice, and a gremlin leaped from the floor to the edge of the cot, regarding me with electric green eyes. “Found you!” it exclaimed, and I yelled.
Ash burst into the room a millisecond later, sword already drawn, ready to attack whatever had ambushed me. Seeing the gremlin, he tensed, and I threw my hand up, stopping him before he could lunge.
“Ash, wait!” He paused, scowling, and I turned to the gremlin, which was now in a defensive crouch, hissing and baring its teeth at Ash. “Did…did you just talk?” I stammered. “You spoke, right? I didn’t just imagine it?”
“Yes!” it exclaimed, bouncing up and down, its ears flapping like sails. “Yes, you hear me! Razor found you! Found girl and funny dark elf. ”
“Razor,” I repeated, as Ash stared at us in complete bewilderment. “Is that your name?”
“You can understand it?” Ash said, frowning at the gremlin, who snarled and scuttled up the wall, hanging there like an enormous spider. “The creature is actually talking to you?”
I nodded and looked back at the gremlin, which was now gnawing on one of its huge ears and still glaring at Ash. “When did you guys learn to talk?”
The gremlin blinked at me. “We talked,” it stated, cocking its head as if confused. “Always talked. No one hears us, though. Except the Master. ”
I winced. Even though I had suspected for a while now, to have a gremlin actually confirm it was disturbing. They listened to me because they thought I was their new master. I was at a loss. Not long ago, I thought the gremlins mindless and animalistic, cunning but lacking any sort of language or society. To hear one speak was more than a little surprising.
I looked down at Razor, beaming up at me, hanging on my every word. I certainly had no idea what to do with a gremlin. “How did you get in here?” I asked instead.
“Followed!” The spindly creature grinned, flashing his neon-blue, razorsharp teeth. Its voice buzzed like a bad radio station. “Brothers say they see you at old city. Razor followed. Followed you here. Found you!”
“What does it want?” Ash muttered, frowning as the gremlin cackled and scurried to the ceiling, hanging upside down as it swayed from side to side.
“I don’t know. ” I looked up at the gremlin. “Razor, why did you follow me?
What do you want?”
“Food!” the gremlin crowed. “Razor smells food! Hungry!” Hissing, he scuttled across the ceiling, zipped out the open door and vanished into the ruins. Ash sighed and sheathed his blade. “Are you all right?” he asked. “It didn’t hurt you, did it?”
I shook my head. “I can understand them,” I said, wondering what to do with this new revelation. Standing, I walked to the door, peering out at the ruins. Lights flickered erratically, and a faint hum filled the air, the buzz of machines and electricity. “They think I’m their master now, Ash,” I said, leaning against the door frame. “Like Machina was. I guess…because I have his power, they think they should follow me. ”
“Interesting. ” Ash’s thoughtful voice made me glance back. I was half expecting him to be worried or disgusted with the whole talking to gremlins thing. But the look in his eyes was one of intrigue, not contempt. “I wonder what you could do,” he mused, “with all the gremlins under your command. ”
A sudden commotion somewhere in the ruins drew my attention. “Gremlin!”
someone shouted, accompanied by much cursing. “We have a gremlin! Get away from those wires, you little—hell. ” The lights sputtered and went out, plunging the ruins into blackness. “Glitch! It just ate through the electrical cables!”
“Get the backup generator going!” Glitch’s voice cut through the commotion.
“Diode, see if you can reconnect the lights. And someone catch that gremlin!”
Puck appeared, fading out of the shadows, yawning and scrubbing his hair.
“Sounds like they’ve got a little pest problem. ” He grinned as the lights flickered and struggled to come back on. Ash glared at him.
“Where’ve you been, Goodfellow?”
“Me? Oh, I’ve been scouting the compound, chatting to the natives, exploring possible escape routes, you know, useful stuff. ” Puck scratched his nose and leered at Ash. “What’ve you been doing all night, ice-boy?”
“Wouldn’t you like to know. ”
I sighed, loudly, before they could start insulting each other. “Has anyone seen Grimalkin yet?”
“Nope, but you know our furry friend. ” Puck shrugged and leaned against the wall. “He’ll show up when we least expect him, being all cool and mysterious. I wouldn’t worry about the furball. ” The lights flickered once and finally stayed on. Puck rolled his eyes. “You know, if we ever wanted to cause a lot of havoc, we’d just have to find a dozen gremlins and turn them loose. Those things make more trouble than me. Almost. So, princess. ” He turned to me, and his voice dropped to a murmur. “Any idea of when we’re getting out of here?”
“I don’t know, Puck. ” I shook my head. “I don’t exactly have a plan, yet. We have to somehow get around that huge army, sneak into the castle, find the false king, and take him out, all before he reaches the wyldwood. ”
“Sounds pretty impossible to me,” Puck grinned. “When do we start?”
“Start what?” And Glitch came around the corner, eyes narrowed suspiciously. “I hope you’re not planning to start anything with the false king, because if you are, let me say again how stupid and impossible that is. Also, I’m not going to let you deliver yourself right into his hands, princess. You’ll have to get through me before you go off on any suicide missions. Just letting you know. So please…” He smiled at me, though it didn’t quite reach his eyes. “Behave yourselves. For all our sakes. ”
“What do you want, Glitch?” I asked, before Ash and Puck said anything that would get us thrown in rebel jail. Not that I didn’t doubt our ability to fight our way free, but I didn’t want needless bloodshed from those who were supposedly allies. Even though I knew it would probably come to that eventually. Neither of the boys did well in forced captivity, and we would have to go after the false king soon, planned or not. I couldn’t let him reach the wyldwood and destroy everything.
“Just wanted to let you know, if you haven’t guessed already, that there’s a gremlin running around the base. They’re not dangerous, usually, but they’ll make a nuisance of themselves by chewing on wires and short-circuiting any equipment we have. So if the lights flicker, or if something stops working abruptly, you can thank our little friend. ”
Puck snickered. “It gives me all kinds of hope knowing your highly trained forces can’t track down one teensy little gremlin. ”
“You think you can do better, you try finding the thing. ” Glitch glared at Puck, and his spines bristled, before turning to me. “Anyway, here. ” He handed me a bag. “Thought you might be hungry. Since you’re our guests, it would be impolite if we didn’t share our food with you. That’s your rations for the week. Try to make it last. ” At my surprised look, he rolled his eyes. “Not all of us live on oil and electricity, you know. ”
“What about Ash and Puck?”
“Well, I’m pretty sure eating our food won’t melt their insides to gooey paste. But you never know. ”
“Thanks,” I said dryly.
The lights flickered again, and a voice yelled for Glitch somewhere overhead. Sighing, Glitch excused himself and hurried away, calling instructions. I wondered if I should be helping the rebels try to catch the gremlin, since it was my fault Razor was here, but then decided it was Glitch’s problem now. He wasn’t willing to help us or let us go, so he could deal with the trouble it caused. At the mention of food, I realized I hadn’t eaten anything since the night before, and my stomach grumbled. Opening the b
ag, I found several cans of processed meat, beans, fruit cocktail, a tube of squeezy-cheese with crackers, and a six-pack of diet soda. There was also a stack of paper bowls and a handful of plastic spoons.
Peering into the bag over my shoulder, Puck made a disgusted noise. “Of course, all their food would be wrapped in those stupid cans. What’s so great about preservatives, I ask you? Why can’t humans just be happy with an apple?”
I glanced over my shoulder and sighed. “I take it you’re not going to eat anything while we’re here?”
“I didn’t say that. ”
“Well, stop griping then, and let’s find a place to eat. ” Closing the bag, I started down the hallway, looking for some privacy. My room was the logical place, but I felt cramped and claustrophobic in that tiny space and wanted to see the open sky.
“Fine, princess. ” Ash and Puck followed me up the stairs into the ruins above. “But if I get sick, I expect you to wait on me hand and foot. ”
“If you get sick, I’ll just have Ash put you out of your misery. ”
“I’m touched that you care. ”
The tower was buzzing tonight as scores of rebels scurried back and forth, trying to repair the damage one lone gremlin had caused. I felt a nasty glow of satisfaction as I watched them, and a strange pride that I had caused this. Well, that my gremlin had caused this. What good were they, these rebels, if all they did was hide from the false king in the hopes that someone else cleaned up the mess?
And when did I start thinking of the gremlin as mine?
Despite the activity in the tower, the space around the great oak was quiet and still. I felt drawn to it, just as I was the first night we came here. Beneath the towering limbs, nestled in a circle of roots at the base of the trunk, I sat down and started pulling out rations.