The Iron Daughter, Page 52Julie Kagawa
I felt a surge of cold iron glamour, and she shoved Ash away, pushing him back in a flash of green. He recovered immediately, but before he could rush her again, Virus retreated, stepping off the mezzanine to float several feet in the air. Her poisonous green eyes found me and she smiled.
“Well. ” She sniffed and cast bemused glances at the chaos spread at her feet. Ironhorse, surrounded by Iron fey, still kicked and raged at them, though his struggles were growing weaker. More Thornguards came rushing up the steps, but these held crossbows with iron bolts, pointed right at us. Ash and Puck drew back so that they were standing between me and the guards, who had us surrounded in a bristly black ring.
“Meghan Chase. You are full of surprises, aren’t you?” Virus smiled at me.
“I’ve no idea how you managed to free the Winter prince from my bug, but it doesn’t matter now. The armies of the false king are ready to march on Summer and Winter. Once they have taken the Nevernever and killed off the oldblood rulers, it will be our turn. We will overrun their armies and kill the false king before he has a chance to savor his victory. Then, the Nevernever will belong to m—”
She didn’t have a chance to finish. Ash drew back and hurled a flurry of ice daggers at her face, taking her by surprise. She flinched, holding up the scepter; there was a flash of green light and a surge of power. The icicles shattered, bursting apart before they reached her. With angry shouts, the crossbow men released their quarrels even as Virus screamed at them to stop.
The deadly storm of iron bolts flew toward us. I could feel them sailing through the air, Matrix style, leaving distorted ripples in their wake. Without thinking, I turned and flung out my hand. I didn’t think how crazy it was, that at such close range the bolts would rip right through me like I was paper. That we would all most certainly die, peppered by lethal darts that could kill even if they weren’t made of iron. I wasn’t thinking of anything as I spun and gestured sharply, feeling a surge of electricity beneath my skin. A ripple went through the air. The bolts flew to either side of us, thunking into the walls and pinging off metal beams to clatter to the floor. I heard Iron fey shriek as they were hit, but not one of the half-dozen bolts touched us.
The Thornguards gaped. Ash and Puck stared at me as if I had grown another head. I shivered violently, trembling from the strange cold glamour that writhed under my skin and buzzed in my ears.
“Impossible. ” Virus spun slowly to face me, her face draining of color. She shook her head, as if trying to convince herself. “You cannot be the one. A weakling human girl? You’re not even one of us. It’s a mistake, it must be!”
I had no idea what she was talking about, but it didn’t seem to matter. Virus started to giggle, sticking a green-tinted nail in her mouth, her laughter growing louder and more hysterical, until she stopped and glared at me with wide, crazy eyes. “No!” she screamed, making even the Thornguards flinch. “It isn’t right! I was his second! His power should have been mine!”
Her mouth opened, gaping impossibly wide, and the Thornguards backed away. Heart pounding, I pressed close to Ash and Puck, feeling their grim determination, their resolve to go down fighting no matter what. The air started to vibrate, a terrible buzzing filling the air, and Virus threw her head back. With the droning of a million bees, a huge swarm of metal bugs spiraled up from Virus’s mouth, swirling around her in a frantic glittering cloud. Her smile was savage as she looked down at us, extending a hand from the center of the buzzing tornado. “Now, my dears,” she said, barely audible over the droning of a thousand bugs, “we will end this little game once and for all. I should have done this when I first saw you, but I had no idea you were the one I was searching for all along. ”
Everything grew very still. The cold glamour still buzzed beneath my skin, and I could taste metal on the air. I looked at the swarm and saw thousands of individual bugs, but also a single creature sharing one mind, one goal, one purpose. A hive mind, I thought impassively, not knowing why I felt so calm. Control one, and you control them all.
Vaguely, I was aware that Virus was speaking, her voice seeming to come from very far away.
“Go,” she screamed, sweeping her arm toward us. “Crawl down their throats and nostrils, into their eyes and ears and every open pore. Burrow into their brains and make them tear out their own hearts!”
The Swarm flew toward us, a furious, buzzing cloud. Ash and Puck pressed close; I felt one of them shaking but couldn’t tell who. A droning filled my ears as the Swarm approached, glowing bright with iron glamour, melded into a single massive entity. One mind. One creature.
I threw up both my hands as the Swarm dove forward to attack, Stop!
The Swarm broke apart, swirling around us, filling the air with their deafening buzz. But they didn’t attack. We stood in the middle of the screaming hurricane, metal bugs zipping around us frantically but moving no closer.
I felt the Swarm straining against my will, fighting to get past it. I saw Virus’s face, first slack with disbelief, then white with fury. She made a violent gesture, and the Swarm buzzed angrily in response. I strengthened my hold, pouring magic into the invisible barrier, drawing glamour from the factory. My head pounded, and sweat ran into my eyes, but I couldn’t break my concentration or we’d be torn apart.
Virus smiled nastily. “I have underestimated you, Meghan Chase,” she said, rising higher into the air. “I did not think you would force me to use the scepter, but there you go. Do you know what this does, my dear?” she asked, holding it out before her. Ash looked up sharply. “It took me forever to puzzle it out, but I finally got it. ” She grinned, triumphant. “It enhances the power of the one who holds it. Isn’t that interesting? So, for instance, I could make my darling bugs do this…”
The scepter glowed a sickly green, and in that light, the Swarm started to change. They swelled like ticks full of blood, becoming sharp and spiky, with long stingers and huge curved jaws. Now they were the size of my fist, a horrible cross between a wasp and a scorpion, and their wings scraped against each other like a million knives. And their minds changed, to something more savage, more visceral and predatory. I nearly lost my hold on them, and the whirlwind tightened, pressing closer to us, before I regained control and pushed them back.
Buzzing furiously, they turned on whatever living thing they could reach, including the guards surrounding us. The Thornguards screamed, reeling back and clawing at themselves as the metal bugs swarmed over them, biting and stinging, burrowing into their armor.
Virus giggled madly overhead. “Kill them!” she cried, as several bugs chewed their way into their victims, who fell thrashing and screaming to the ground. My stomach heaved, but I couldn’t look away for fear of losing control of the Swarm. I didn’t know what Virus thought she was doing until a moment later, when the Thornguards lurched to their feet again, crazed gleams in their eyes.
Raising their swords, they staggered toward us, blood pouring from their wounds and the holes in their armor, their eyes empty of reason. Ash and Puck met them at the edge of the whirlwind, and the clash of weapons joined the metallic drone of the Swarm. We were lost. I couldn’t keep this up forever. My head throbbed so much that I felt nauseous, and my arms were shaking violently. I could feel my strength draining with the amount of glamour I was using to keep the Swarm at bay.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a Thornguard, covered in bugs, stagger to the edge of the platform and pick up a crossbow. Raising it up, he loaded an iron bolt and swung it around at me. I couldn’t move. If I dodged, the Swarm would break free and kill us. Puck and Ash were busy fighting off the other guards and couldn’t help. I couldn’t even shout a warning. In slow motion, I watched him raise the crossbow, unhindered, and take aim. Later, I remembered the clanging footsteps charging up the steps only because they seemed so out of place. I saw Puck whirl around, saw his dagger whip out and soar end over end toward the Thornguard, just as he pulled the tri
gger. The dagger thunked into the guard’s chest, hurling him off the mezzanine, but it was too late. The bolt was coming toward me, and I couldn’t do anything about it.
Something huge and black lunged across my vision a split second before the bolt hit home. Ironhorse, covered in bugs and shedding chunks of iron everywhere, stumbled, fighting desperately to stay on his feet. He staggered toward the edge of the overhang, shaking his head as bugs swarmed him viciously. A hoof slipped off the edge, and he lurched sideways.
“No!” I screamed.
With a last defiant bellow and blast of flame, Ironhorse toppled from the edge, vanishing from sight. I heard his body strike the cement with a resounding boom that echoed through the building, and my vision went white with rage. I arched my back, clenching my fists, and glamour rushed through me, exploding out in a wave. “GET BACK!” I roared at the Swarm, at Virus, at every Iron faery in the room. “Damn you all! Back off, NOW!”
The Swarm flew in every direction, scattering to all four corners of the room. The Thornguards flinched and stumbled backward; some even fell off the edge of the railing. Even Virus jerked in midair, reeling back like she had been sucker punched, her hands falling limply at her sides.
I slumped to the floor, all the strength going out of me. As the Swarm began coalescing again, buzzing angrily as they swarmed back together, and the Thornguards regained their senses, Virus put a hand to her temple and looked down at me, a smug grin stretching her blue lips.
“Well, Meghan Chase. Congratulations, you’ve managed to give me a pounding headache. But it is not enough to—aaaahhhhhh!”
She jerked, throwing up her hands as Ash launched himself off the edge of the railing and leaped at her, sword raised high. Still screaming, she tried to bring up the scepter, too late. The ice blade sliced down, through her collarbone and out the other side, cutting her clean in two.
If I wasn’t so dizzy, I might’ve puked. Virus’s halves fell away, wires and oily goo spilling from her severed body as both she and Ash dropped out of sight. The Thornguards spasmed, then collapsed like puppets with cut strings. As I sat there, dazed by what had just happened, Puck hauled me upright and dragged me under a beam. Then it started raining insects.