Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

The Iron Knight, Page 54

Julie Kagawa

Page 54


  “Wait, you already know where you are?” Puck demanded as we edged toward the mouth of the all ey, stepping over trash and piles of debris.

  “How does that work, cat?”

  “Most cities are very much the same, Goodfel ow. ” Grimalkin reached the edge of the sidewalk and peered back, waving his tail. “Trods are everywhere, if you know where to look. Also, I am a cat. ” And he trotted off down the street.

  “Hold it, ice-boy,” Puck said as I started to fol ow. “You're forgetting something. ” He pointed to my sword, hanging at my side. “Normal humans don't walk around city streets with big, pointy weapons. Or if they do, they tend to draw unwanted attention. Better give it to me for now. At least until we reach the wyldwood. ”

  I hesitated, and Puck rol ed his eyes. “I swear I'm not going to lose it, or drop it in the gutter, or give it to a homeless guy. Come on, Ash. This is part of being human. You have to blend in. ”

  I handed the belt and sheath over reluctantly, and Puck looped it around one shoulder. “There, that wasn't so bad, was it?”

  “If you lose that…”

  “Yeah, yeah, you'l kill me. Old news, ice-boy. ” Puck shook his head and motioned me forward. “After you. ”

  We emerged from the all eyway onto a sidewalk bustling with people, rushing by with barely a glance. Overhead, huge towers of glass and steel loomed against the sky, f lashing in the evening sun. Cars honked and slid through the streams of traffic like giant metal fish, and the smel of asphalt, smoke, and exhaust fumes hung thick on the air.

  The changes were subtle, but I could stil see a difference. The world wasn't quite as sharp as it had been. Edges were dul , colors not quite so bright anymore. Sounds were muted; the murmur of voices around me had merged into a babble of human noise, and I could no longer pick out conversations just by listening to them.

  I took a step forward, and someone ran into me, knocking me back a pace. “Watch where you're going, jackass,” the human snapped, shooting me a glare without breaking stride. I blinked and joined the f low of street traffic, fol owing Grimalkin as he expertly wove his way through the multitude of feet and swinging legs. No one seemed to notice him, or Puck, walking right beside me, glamoured and invisible.

  Even on a crowded sidewalk, they swerved around him or stepped out of his way, often at the last second, without even knowing there was a faery in their midst. But I caught several glances— curious, appreciat-ive, or chal enging—as I maneuvered my way through the crowd, jostling and bumping into me. It was a good thing Puck stil had my sword; otherwise I might've been tempted to draw it to get them all out of my way.

  As I swerved out of the path of yet another human, I brushed against a wrought-iron fence encircling the base of a smal tree on the edge of the sidewalk and instinctively recoiled, jerking back from the metal.

  But the weakness and pain of being so close to iron didn't come, though I did earn a few strange looks from various passersby. Cautiously, I reached out and touched the fence, ready to yank my hand back as centuries of fey survival screamed at me to stop. But the iron, once akin, for me, to touching live coals while being violently il , was cold and harmless beneath my fingers. I looked up the street at the long line of trees similarly encased in iron, and grinned.

  “Wil you stop doing that?” Puck hissed a moment later, shuddering as I trailed my fingers along every fence that we passed. “You're freaking me out. I get chil s every time we pass one of those things. ”

  I laughed but moved away from the fences and the iron, back to the center of the walk where traffic was thickest. Now that I knew they wouldn't just swerve around me, it was easier to dodge and weave through the unending masses. “Does this mean I can put a fence around my yard and you'l leave me alone?” I asked, grinning back at Puck. He snorted.

  “Don't get cocky, ice-boy. I've been playing with humans since long before you ever thought of becoming one. ”

  The crowds thinned as it got later, and Grimalkin led us farther down-town. Streetlights f lickered to life, and the buildings lining the streets grew more run-down and shabby. Broken windows and graffiti were commonplace, and I could sense eyes on me from shadows and dark corridors.

  “That's a fancy jacket, boy. ”

  I stopped as four humans melted out of an all ey, wearing hoodies and bandannas, sidling up to block my path. The biggest, a mean-looking thug with a shaved head covered in tattoos, sauntered forward, leering at me. I gave him and his companions a quick once-over, searching for horns or claws or sharp, pointed teeth. Nothing. Not half-breeds, then.

  Not exiles from the Nevernever, scraping out a living in the mortal world. They were human through and through.

  “My boy Rico here. He was just thinking that he needed a fancy coat like that one. ” The thug leader smiled, showing off a gold tooth. “So, why don't you hand it over, boy? That, and leave your wall et on the ground, too. Wouldn't want to have to bash your pretty head in, now, would we?”

  Beside me, Puck sighed, shaking his head. “Not terribly bright, are they?” he asked, gazing at the leader, who paid him no attention. Stepping away, he slipped around behind them, grinning and cracking his knuckles. “I guess we have time for one last massacre. For old time's sake. ”

  “Hey, you deaf, punk?” The thug leader shoved me, and I took a step back. “Or are you so scared you pissed your pants?” The others snickered and drew forward, surrounding me like hungry dogs. I didn't move. There was a f lash of metal, and the leader brandished a knife, holding it before my face. “I'll ask nicely one last time. Gimme that coat, or I'm gonna start feeding you your fingers. ”

  I met his eyes. “We don't have to do this,” I told him softly. Behind them, Puck smiled wickedly, tensing his muscles. “You can stil walk away. In eight seconds, you're not going to be able to. ”

  He raised an eyebrow, ran a tongue over his teeth. “Fine,” he nodded.

  “We'l do this the hard way. ” And he slashed at my face.

  I jerked back, letting the blade whiz by my cheek, then stepped forward and slammed a fist into the leader's nose, feeling it break under my fingers.

  He reeled back with a shriek, and I whirled toward the second thug, who was lunging at me from the side.

  Time seemed to slow. In my peripheral vision, I saw Puck loom up behind the two remaining thugs and knock their heads together, dropping his glamour as they staggered and turned around. His mocking laughter rang out over the howls and curses of his opponents. I dodged the knife of my second foe and kicked him in the knee, hearing it snap as he crashed to the ground.

  The thug leader was stil bent over, holding his nose. Suddenly he circled, dropping the knife, reaching for something at the smal of his back. I lunged forward as he brought up the gun, a dul black pistol, catching the inside of his wrist just as a roar of gunfire nearly deafened me. A twist, a snap, and the thug screamed, the deadly weapon clattering to the ground. Slamming him into a wall , I put my arm to his throat and shoved hard, seeing his eyes widen and his mouth gape for air. My adrenaline was up; my ears rang from the gunfire, and the sudden brush with death made my soul cry out for blood. This human had tried to kill me. He deserved no less himself. I leaned harder against his throat, intending to crush his windpipe, watching as his face turned blue and his eyes started to rol up in his head….

  And then, I stopped.

  I wasn't fey any longer. I was no longer Ash, prince of the Unseelie Court, ruthless and unmerciful. If I kill ed this human, I would only be adding his death to my long list of sins, only this time, I had a soul that could be tainted by needless kill ing and bloodshed.

  Releasing the pressure on the thug's neck, I stepped back and let him slump, gasping, to the cement. A quick glance in Puck's direction showed the red-haired fey surrounded by two moaning humans, cradling their heads, while Puck looked on smugly. Satisfied, I turned back to the leader.

  “Get out of here,�
� I said quietly. “Go home. If I see you again, I won't hesitate to kill you. ”

  Cradling his broken wrist, the thug f led, his three companions limping after him. I watched them until they disappeared around a corner, then turned back to Puck.

  He grinned, rubbing a hand over his knuckles. “Wel , that was fun.

  Nothing like a good bare-fisted, knock-down, dragout brawl to get the blood pumping. Though I will admit, I thought you were gonna kill the guy after he shot at you. You feeling all right, ice-boy?”

  “I'm fine. ” I looked at my hands, stil feeling the human's blood pumping under my fingers, knowing I could've ended his life, and smiled.

  “Never better. ”

  “Then, if you two are quite finished starting random brawls in the middle of the street—” Grimalkin appeared on the hood of a car, staring at us reproachful y. “Perhaps we can move on. ”

  He led us down another long all ey, until we came to a faded red door in the bricks. Beside the door, a sign on a barred, grimy window read, Rudy's Pawn Shop. Guns. Gold. Other. A brass bel tinkled as we pushed our way inside, revealing a tiny shop crammed f loor to ceiling with junk. Stereos sat on dusty shelves next to racks of televisions, car radios and speakers. One whole wall was dedicated to guns, protected by high counters and a blinking security camera. Racks of video games were displayed prominently, and a glass case near the front sparkled with a fortune's worth of gold: necklaces, rings, and belt buckles.

  A lone, pudgy figure was leaning against the glass case, playing solit-aire and looking bored, but he glanced up when we came in. Pale ram's horns curled back from the sides of his head, and his arms, gathering up the cards, were exceptional y shaggy. For a human, anyway, but not for a satyr.

  Or a half satyr, I realized as we drew closer. He wore a stained T-shirt and tan shorts, and his skinny legs, though hairy, were decidedly human.

  “Be right with ya,” he grunted as we approached the counter. “Just gimme a second to—” He stopped, really looking at us. Puck grinned at him, and he paled, breathing out an expletive. “Oh. Oh, sorry your…ah…your royalness? I didn't realize…I don't get many full-bloods through here. I mean…”