The Iron Daughter, Page 51Julie Kagawa
Fortunately, our luck seemed to hold as we made our way around the back of the factory. A small platform hovered over the ground, attached to a pulley system that climbed all the way up to the roof. The wall was dark, and the gremlins were absent, at least for now.
Grimalkin hopped lightly onto the wooden platform, followed by Ash and Puck, being careful not to touch the iron railings. Ash pulled me up after him, and then Ironhorse clambered aboard. The wooden planks creaked horribly and bent in the middle, but thankfully held firm. I prayed the entire thing wouldn’t snap like a matchstick when we were three stories in the air.
Puck and Ironhorse each grabbed a rope and began drawing the platform up the side of the building. The dark, mirrored walls reflected a strange party back at us: a cat, two elf-boys, a girl in a slightly tattered gown, and a monstrous black man with glowing red eyes. I contemplated how strange my life had become, but was interrupted by a soft hiss overhead. A gremlin crouched on the pulleys near the top of the roof, slanted eyes glowing in the dark. Spindly and long limbed, with huge batlike ears, it flashed me its razor-blue grin and let out a buzzing cry.
Instantly, gremlins started appearing from everywhere, crawling out of windows, scuttling along the walls, swarming over the roof to peer at us. A few even clung to the pulley ropes or perched on the railings, staring at us with their eerie green gaze. Ash pulled me close, his sword bared to slash at any gremlin who ventured near, but the tiny Iron fey didn’t make any move to attack. Their buzzing voices filled the air, like radio static, and their vivid grins surrounded us with a blue glow as we continued to inch up the wall, unhindered.
“What are they doing?” I whispered, pressing closer to Ash. He held me protectively with one arm, his sword between us and the gremlins. “Why are they just staring at us? What do they want? Ironhorse?”
The lieutenant shook his head. “I DO NOT KNOW, PRINCESS,” he replied, sounding as mystified as I felt. “I HAVE NEVER SEEN THEM ACT IN THIS MANNER
“Well, tell them to go away. They’re creeping me out. ”
A buzz went through the gremlins surrounding us, and the swarm began to clear. Crawling back along the walls, they disappeared through the windows, squeezed into the cracks or scrambled back over the roof. As suddenly as they’d appeared, the gremlins vanished, and the wall was dark and silent again.
“Okay. ” Puck cast wary looks all around us. “That was…weird. Did someone release gremlin repellant? Did they just get bored?”
Ash sheathed his sword and released me. “Maybe we scared them off. ”
“Maybe,” I said, but Ironhorse was staring at me, his crimson eyes unfathomable.
Grimalkin reappeared, scratching his ear as if nothing had happened. “It does not matter now,” he said, as the platform scraped up against the roof. “They are gone, and the scepter is close. ” He yawned and blinked up at us. “Well? Are you just going to stand there and hope it flies into your hands?”
We crowded off the platform onto the roof of the factory. The wind was stronger here, tugging at my hair and making my gown snap like a sail. I held on to Ash as we made our way across the roof. Far below and all around us, the city sprawled out like a glittering carpet of stars.
Several raised glass skylights sat in the middle of the roof, emitting a fluorescent green glow. Cautiously, I edged up to one and peered down.
“There,” Ash muttered, pointing to a mezzanine twenty or so feet above the floor, and maybe thirty feet below us. Through the glass, I could pick out a blur of poison-green amid the stark grays and whites, surrounded by several faeries in black armor. Virus walked to the edge of the overhang and gazed out over a crowd of assembled fey, ready to give a speech, I supposed. I saw Thornguards and wiremen and a few green-skinned men in business suits, along with several fey I didn’t recognize. The scepter pulsed yellow-green in Virus’s hands as she swept it over her head, and a muffled roar went through the crowd.
“Okay, so we found her,” Puck mused, pressing his nose against the glass.
“And it looks like she hasn’t gathered her whole army quite yet, which is nice. So, how do we get to her?”
Ash made a quiet noise and drew back.
“You don’t,” he muttered. “I will. ” He turned to face me. “For all she knows, I’m still under her control. If I can get close enough to grab the scepter before she figures out what happened—”
“Ash, no. That’s way too dangerous. ”
He gave me a patient look. “Anything we try will be dangerous. I’m willing to take that risk. ” His hand came up, fingers brushing the spot where Puck had stabbed him. “I’m still not completely recovered. I won’t be able to fight as well as I normally do. Hopefully, I can fool Virus long enough to get the scepter from her. ”
“And then what?” I demanded. “Fight your way out? Against those masses?
And Virus? What if she knows you don’t have the bug anymore? You can’t expect to—” I stopped, staring at him, as something clicked in my head. “This isn’t about getting the scepter, is it?” I murmured, and he looked away. “This is about killing Virus. You’re hoping to get close enough to stab her or cut off her head or whatever, and you don’t care what happens next. ”
“What she did to me was bad enough. ” Ash’s silver eyes glittered as he turned back, cold as the moon overhead. “What she made me do, I will never forgive. If I am discovered, I will at least create a big enough distraction for you to slip in and grab the scepter. ”
“You could die!”
“It doesn’t matter now. ”
“It does to me. ” I stared at him in horror. He really meant it. “Ash, you can’t go down there alone. I don’t know where this fatalistic crap is coming from, but you can stop it right now. I’m not going to lose you again. ”
“SHE IS RIGHT. ”
We looked up. Ironhorse stood on the other side of the glass, watching us. His eyes glowed red in the darkness. “IT IS TOO DANGEROUS. FOR YOU. ”
I frowned. “What are you talking—”
“PRINCESS. ” Abruptly, he bowed. “IT HAS BEEN AN HONOR. WERE
THINGS DIFFERENT, I WOULD GLADLY SERVE YOU UNTIL THE END OF TIME. ” He looked to Ash and nodded, as it suddenly dawned on me what he was implying. “SHE THINKS
THE WORLD OF YOU, PRINCE. PROTECT HER WITH YOUR LIFE. ”
“Ironhorse, don’t you dare!”
He whirled and took off, oblivious to my cries for him to stop. My heart clenched as he approached the second skylight, and I watched helplessly as he gathered himself and jumped…
The glass exploded as he crashed into it, shattering into a million sparkling pieces. Gasping, I looked through the skylight to see the glittering shards rain down on the crowd below. Screaming and snarling, they looked up, covering their eyes and faces as the massive iron horse smashed into their midst with a boom that shook the building. Roaring, Ironhorse reared up, blasting flame from his nostrils, steel hooves flailing in deadly arcs. The room erupted into chaos. Once they recovered from their shock, Thornguards and wiremen surged forward to attack, flinging themselves at Ironhorse, ripping and clawing.
“We have to get down there!” I cried, rushing toward the broken skylight only to have Ash catch my arm.
“Not that way,” he said, pulling me back to the unbroken window. “The distraction has already been launched. We cannot help him now. Our target is Virus and the scepter. You should stay here, Meghan. You have no magic and—”
I yanked my arm from his grip. “You did not just bring that excuse up again!”
I snarled, and he blinked in surprise. I glared at him. “Remember what happened the last time you went off without me? Get this through your stubborn head, Ash. I’m not staying behind and that’s final. ”
One corner of his mouth twitched, just a little. “As you wish, Princess” he said, and glanced at Puck, who was leering at us both. “
Goodfellow, are you ready?”
Puck nodded and leaped onto the skylight. I scowled at them both and clambered onto the glass, ignoring Puck’s hand to help me up. “How do you expect us to get down there?” I demanded as I clawed myself upright. “Go right through the window?”
Puck snickered. “Glass is a funny thing, Princess. Why do you think ancient people put salt along windowsills to keep us out?” I looked down and saw Virus directly below us, shouting and waving the scepter above her head, her attention riveted on the battle and Ironhorse.
Ash leaped onto the skylight, drawing his sword as he did. “Look after Meghan,” he said, as glamour began shimmering around both him and Puck. “I’ll take care of Virus. ”
“What—?” I started, but Puck suddenly swept me into his arms. I was so surprised I didn’t have time to protest.
“Hold on tight, Princess,” he murmured, as a shimmer went through the air around us, and we dropped straight through the glass like it wasn’t there. We plummeted toward the overhang, a shriek escaping my throat, but it was swallowed up in the chaos between Ironhorse and the rest of the fey. Ash dropped toward Virus like an avenging angel, his coat flapping in the wind, sword bared and gleaming as he raised it over his head.
At the last moment, one of the Thornguards surrounding Virus glanced up, and his eyes got huge. Drawing his sword, he gave a shout of warning, and amazingly, Virus whirled and looked up. Ash’s blade slashed down in a streak of blue and met the Scepter of the Seasons as Virus swept it up to block him.
There was a flash of blue and green light and a hideous screech that echoed through the room and caused every eye to turn to the pair on the overhang. Sparks flew between the ice blade and the scepter, bathing the combatants’ faces in flickering lights. Virus looked rather shocked to be facing her former soldier; Ash’s mouth was tight with concentration as he bore down on her with his sword.
Puck set me down—I didn’t even remember landing—and leaped between the Thornguards as they rushed up with drawn swords. Grinning, he threw himself at the guards, daggers flashing in the hellish light coming from Ash’s blade and the scepter. Then Virus started to laugh.