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The Iron Daughter, Page 42

Julie Kagawa

Page 42


  A crackle and a flash of light, and Ash convulsed, shoving me away. I fell against the cold floor, striking my head against the ice, blackness momentarily blinding me. Fighting for consciousness, I saw a glint of light, of something tiny and metallic, fly up toward the ceiling, and Ash staring at his hands in horror. The metal spark hovered in the air a moment, than zipped toward me with a furious buzz.

  Puck’s hand shot out, snatching the bug from the air, hurling it to the floor. For a split second, it lay there glinting coldly against the ice. Then his boot smashed down and ground the bug into oblivion.

  I struggled upright, breathing hard, waiting for the room to stop spinning. Puck knelt in front of me, one shoulder covered in blood, his whole body tense with concern.

  “Meghan. ” One of his hands smoothed my cheek, rough and urgent. “Talk to me. Are you all right?”

  I nodded. “I think so. ” My voice came out harsh and raspy, and my throat burned like I’d been gargling with razor blades. Something cold and wet dripped onto my knee. I glanced up and saw that the ceiling was beginning to crack and melt. “Where’s Ash?”

  Puck moved aside, looking grave. Ash was slumped against the wall in the corner, head down, one hand covering his still bleeding ribs. His eyes were open, staring at the floor, at nothing. Heart in my throat, I gingerly approached and knelt beside him, saw him shift, very slightly, away from me.

  “Ash. ” My worry for him, for Ethan, for my family, was a painful knot in my stomach. I longed to help him, but the image of my mom and Luke, frozen on the couch, filled me with dread and fear. If Ash had hurt them, if they were…I could never forgive him. “My mom,” I asked, staring into his face. “My stepdad. Did…did you…?”

  He gave his head a small shake, a tiny movement in the shadows. “No,” he whispered without looking at me, his voice flat and dead. “They’re just…asleep. When the ice melts, they should be fine, with no memory of what happened. ”

  Relief bloomed through me, although short-lived. I reached out to touch his arm, and he flinched as if my touch was poison.

  “What will you do with me now?” he whispered.

  Puck’s shadow fell over us. I looked back and saw him holding Ash’s sword, a grim, frightening look on his face. For a second, I was afraid Puck would stab him right there, but he tossed the blade at Ash’s feet and turned away. “Think you can walk, Prince?”

  Ash nodded without looking up. Puck pulled me reluctantly to my feet and drew me aside. “I’ll deal with Ash, Princess,” he murmured, holding up a hand to interrupt my protest. “Why don’t you check on your brother before we go?”

  “Go? Where?”

  “I’d say Ash needs a healer, Princess. ” Puck glanced back at the prince and made a face. “I know I would, if I’d had a metal bug stuck inside my head. Probably screwed him up pretty bad. Luckily, I know a healer not far from here, but we should go now. ”

  I looked back at Mom and Luke, at the water slowly dripping from their frozen silhouettes, and yearning twisted my stomach. I missed them, and who knew when I’d see them again. “We can’t stay, just a little while?”

  “What would you tell them, Princess?” Puck gave me a look that was sympathetic and exasperated at the same time. “The truth? That a faery prince froze the inside of the house in order to draw you here and kill you?” He shook his head, making sense even as I hated him and his logic at that point. “Besides, we need to get his royal iciness to a healer, and soon. Trust me, it’s better if your folks never knew you were here. ”

  I gave my parents one last look and nodded slowly. “Right,” I sighed. “I was never here. Let me say goodbye to Ethan, at least. ”

  Feeling old inside and out, I retreated up the steps, pausing once to look back. Puck was crouched in front of the Unseelie prince, his lips moving soundlessly, but Ash was looking straight at me, his eyes glimmering slits in the gloom. Biting my lips, I continued on to Ethan’s bedroom.

  I found him in the hallway, peering out between the railings, the blanket still draped over his shoulders. “Ethan!” I hissed, and he glanced up with big blue eyes. “What are you doing out here? I told you to stay in your room. ”

  “Where’s Mommy and Daddy?” he asked as I picked him up, carrying him back to his room. “Did you tell the bad person to go away?”

  “They’ll be all right,” I told him with my own sense of relief. “Ash didn’t hurt them, and as soon as the ice melts, they’ll be back to normal. ” Though they would probably wonder why the whole house was wet. The ice was melting rapidly; I stepped around several puddles as I crossed the hall into his room.

  Ethan nodded, gazing at me solemnly as I set him on his bed. “You’re going away again, aren’t you?” he asked matter-of-factly, though his lip trembled and he sniffled, trying to hold back tears. “You didn’t come back to stay with me. ”

  I sighed, sitting beside him on the frozen bed. “Not yet,” I murmured, smoothing down his hair. “I wish I could. I really do, but…” Ethan sniffled, and I pulled him close. “I’m sorry,” I whispered. “There are still some things I have to take care of. ”

  “No!” Ethan clung to me, burying his face in my side. “You can’t leave again. They won’t take you again. I won’t let them. ”


  “Princesss. ” From the darkness under the bed, something latched on to my ankle, claws digging into my skin. I yelped, swinging my feet up onto the mattress, and Ethan gave a startled cry.

  “Dammit, bogey!” My sore throat blazed with pain at the outburst, making me even angrier. I leaped off the bed and stalked to Ethan’s dresser, grabbing the flashlight still kept on top. Bogeys hated light, and the white beam of a flashlight could make them flee in terror. “I am so not in the mood for this,” I rasped, flicking on the beam. “You have three seconds to get out of here before I make you leave. ”

  “Meggie. ” Ethan hopped off the bed and padded up, taking my hand. “It’s okay. It’s only Spider. He’s my friend. ”

  I looked at him, aghast. Since when did bogeys make friends with the kids they terrorized? I didn’t believe it, but a soft slithering sound came from under the bed, and two yellow eyes peered up at me.

  “Fear not, Princesss,” it whispered, keeping a wary eye on the flashlight in my hand. “I am here under ordersss. Prince Asssh told usss to watch thisss houssse. It isss under the protection of the Unssseelie Court. ”

  “Ash ordered this? When?”

  “Before he came to collect your bargain, Princesss. Before you went back with him to Tir Na Nog. ” The thing slithered to the edge of the crack, staying just out of the light. “The child isss in no danger,” it rasped, “and neither are hisss parentsss, though they do not know we are here. Protect thisss houssse and work no missschief on thossse who live here, those are our ordersss. ”

  “He tells me stories every night,” Ethan said, looking up at me. “Most of them are pretty scary, but I don’t mind. And sometimes there’s a black pony in the front yard, and little man in the basement. Mommy and Daddy don’t see them, either. ”

  I closed my eyes. The thought of so many Unseelie fey hanging around my house did nothing to ease my nervousness, even if they were claiming to protect my family.

  “How did you know about Ash?” I finally asked.

  “I sssmelled an Iron fey coming, and knew I mussst protect the boy, at leassst,” Spider went on, oblivious to my conflicted feelings. “I pulled him under the bed, where I could hide him better. Imagine my sssurprissse when I dissscovered it wasss Prince Asssh himssself, attacking thisss houssse. He mussst have been posssesssed, or perhapsss it wasss an Iron fey disssguisssed asss the prince. But, I followed my ordersss, and kept the boy sssafe. ”

  “Well, I’m grateful for that,” I muttered. And then a thought occurred to me, one that I almost didn’t ask about, but couldn’t leave alone. “Have…have my parents…mentioned me? Do they talk about
me at all, or wonder where I am?”

  “I know nothing of the adultsss, Princesss. ”

  It didn’t really matter now, but I suddenly wanted to know. Was I still a part of this family, or just a long-forgotten memory? How could I find out without asking Mom and Luke? I snapped my fingers. My bedroom. I had deliberately avoided it until now, unsure if I could handle seeing it turned into an office, or a guest room, proof that Mom had forgotten me. But with Ethan clutching my hand, his blanket trailing behind us, I walked down the hall to my room and pushed the door open.

  It was exactly as I remembered it, frozen in ice, familiar and strange at the same time. A lump caught in my throat as I walked inside. Nothing had changed. There was my old stuffed bear sitting on my bed, a birthday present from long ago. My Naruto and Escaflowne posters were still on the wall. I ran my fingers over my dresser, scanning the photographs between my scattered collection of CDs, now probably ruined. Photos of me, Mom and Ethan. One family picture with Luke. One of me and Beau, our old German shepherd, as a puppy. And a small, single framed picture on my nightstand that I didn’t recognize.

  Frowning, I snapped it away from the ice and held it up, staring at the photograph. It was a picture of me as a little kid, no older than Ethan, being held by an unfamiliar man with short brown hair and a lopsided smile.

  “Oh, my God,” I whispered.

  My knees crumpled, and I sat down on the bed, slush and frigid water seeping through my clothes. I barely felt it. Ethan stood on tiptoes to stare at the frame. “Who’s that?”

  he whispered.

  Puck appeared in the doorway, his shirt and hands smeared with blood.

  “Princess? We should get going. Ash says there’s a tatter-colt outside who can give us a ride to the healer. ” He stopped when he saw my face. “What’s wrong?”