The Iron Daughter, Page 7Julie Kagawa
“They have forgotten you,” murmured a voice in the darkness. A deep, familiar voice. I turned and found Machina, his cables folded behind him, watching me with a small smile on his lips. His silver hair glowed in the blackness. My brow furrowed. “You’re not here,” I muttered, backing away. “I killed you. You aren’t real. ”
“No, my love. ” Machina shook his head, his hair rippling softly. “You did kill me, but I am still with you. I will always be with you, now. There is no avoiding it. We are one. ”
I drew back, shivering. “Go away,” I said, retreating into the black. The Iron King watched me intently, but did not follow. “You’re not here,” I repeated. “This is just a dream, and you’re dead! Leave me alone. ” I turned and fled into the darkness, until the soft glow of the Iron King faded into the void.
ANOTHER ETERNITY PASSED, or perhaps only a few seconds, when through the confusion and darkness, I felt a presence near the bed. Mom? I wondered, a little girl once more. Or maybe Tiaothin, come to bother me again. Go away, I told them, retreating into my dreams. I don’t want to see you. I don’t want to see anyone. Just leave me alone.
“Meghan,” whispered a voice, heart-wrenchingly familiar, drawing me out of the void. I recognized it immediately, just as I realized it was a figment of my desperate imagination, because the real owner of that voice would never be here, talking to me. Ash?
“Wake up,” he murmured, his deep voice cutting through the layers of the darkness. “Don’t do this. If you don’t come out of this soon, you’ll fade away and drift forever. Fight it. Come back to us. ”
I didn’t want to wake up. There was nothing but pain waiting for me in the real world. If I was asleep, I couldn’t feel anything. If I was asleep, I didn’t have to face Ash and the cold contempt on his face when he looked at me. Darkness was my retreat, my sanctuary. I drew back from Ash’s voice, deeper into the comforting blackness. And, through the layer of dreams and delirium, I heard a quiet sob.
“Please. ” A hand gripped mine, real and solid, anchoring me to the present.
“I know what you must think of me, but…” The voice broke off, took a ragged breath. “Don’t leave,” it whispered. “Meghan, don’t go. Come back to me. ”
I sobbed in return, and opened my eyes.
The room was dark, empty. Faery light filtered through the window, casting everything in blue and silver. As usual, the air was icy cold. A dream, then, I thought, as the mist swirling around my head for so long finally cleared, leaving me devastatingly awake and aware. It was a dream, after all.
A sense of betrayal filled me. I’d come out of my lovely darkness for nothing. I wanted to retreat, to return to the oblivion where nothing could hurt me, but now that I was awake, I couldn’t go back.
An ache filled my chest, so sharp that I gasped out loud. Was this what a broken heart felt like? Was it possible to die from the pain? I’d always thought the girls at school so dramatic; when they broke up with their boyfriends, they cried and carried on for weeks. I didn’t think they needed to throw such a fuss. But I’d never been in love before. What would I do now? Ash despised me. Everything he’d said and done was to bring me to his queen. He was a cheat. He’d used me, to further his own ends. And the saddest part was, I still loved him.
Stop it! I told myself, as tears threatened once more. Enough of this! Ash doesn’t deserve it. He doesn’t deserve anything. He’s a soulless faery who played you every step of the way, and you fell for it like an idiot. I took a deep breath, forcing back the tears, willing them to freeze inside me, to freeze everything inside me. Emotions, tears, memories, anything that made me weak. Because if I was going to play in the Unseelie Court, I had to be made of ice. No, not ice. Like iron. Nothing will hurt me again, I thought, as my tears dried and my emotions shriveled into a withered ball. If the damned faeries want to play rough, so be it. I can play rough, too.
I threw back the covers and stood tall, the cold air prickling my skin. Let it freeze me, I don’t care. My hair was a mess, tangled and limp, my clothes rumpled and disgusting. I peeled them off and walked into the bathroom for a long soak in the tub—the only warm place in the entire court—before dressing in black jeans, a black halter top and a long black coat. As I was finishing lacing up my black boots, Tiaothin walked into the room. She blinked, obviously astonished to see me on my feet, before breaking into a huge grin, fangs shining in the moonlight. “You’re up!” she exclaimed, bouncing over and leaping onto my bed. “You’re awake. That’s a relief. Mab’s been annoyed and cranky ever since you collapsed. She thought you were going to sleep forever, and then she’d have a devil of a time explaining your condition to the Seelie courtiers when they come for the Exchange. ”
I frowned at her, and for a moment, a tiny spark of hope flickered inside.
“What Exchange?” I wondered. Have they come for me? Has Oberon finally sent someone to rescue me from this hellhole?
Tiaothin, in that guileless way of hers, seemed to know exactly what I was thinking. “Don’t worry, half-breed,” she sniffed, looking at me with slitted eyes. “They’re not coming for you. They’re here to pass on the Scepter of the Seasons. Summer is finally over, and winter is on the way. ”
I felt a pang of disappointment and quashed it. No weakness. Show her nothing. I shrugged and casually asked, “What’s the Scepter of the Seasons?”
Tiaothin yawned and made herself comfortable on my bed. “It’s a magical talisman that the courts pass between them with the changing of the seasons,” she said, picking at a loose thread on my quilt. “Six months out of the year, Oberon holds it, when spring and summer are at their peak, and winter is at its weakest. Then, on the autumn equinox, it is passed to Queen Mab, to signify the shift in power between the courts. The Summer courtiers will be arriving soon, and we’ll have a huge party to celebrate the start of winter. Everyone in Tir Na Nog is invited, and the party will last for days. ” She grinned and bounced in place, dreadlocks flying. “It’s a good thing you woke up when you did, half-breed. This is one party you don’t want to miss!”
“Will Lord Oberon and Lady Titania be there?”
“Lord Pointy Ears?” Tiaothin sniffed. “He’s much too important to go slumming around with Unseelie lowlifes. Nah, Oberon and his bitch queen Titania will stay in Arcadia where they’re comfortable. Lucky thing, too. Those two stiff necks can really ruin a good party. ”
So I’d be on my own after all. Fine with me.
THE SUMMER COURT ARRIVED in a hale of music and flowers, probably in direct defiance of Winter, whose traditions I was beginning to hate. I stood calf deep in snow, the collar of my fur coat turned up against cold, watching Unseelie fey mill about the courtyard. The event was to take place outside, in the courtyard full of ice and frozen statues. Will-o’-the-wisps and corpse candles floated through the air, casting everything in eternal twilight. Why couldn’t the Winter fey hold their parties aboveground for once? I missed the sunlight so much it hurt. I felt a presence behind me, then heard a quiet chuckle in my ear. “So glad you were able to make it to the party, Princess. It would’ve been terribly boring without you. ”
My skin prickled, and I squashed down my fear as Rowan’s breath tickled the back of my neck. “Wouldn’t miss it for the world,” I replied, keeping my voice light and even. His eyes bored into my skull, but I didn’t turn. “What can I do for you, Your Highness?”
“Oh ho, now we’re playing the ice queen. Bravo, Princess, bravo. Such a brave comeback from your broken heart. Not what I expected from Summer at all. ” He shifted around me so that we were inches apart, so close I could see my reflection in his ice-blue eyes.
“You know,” he breathed, his breath cold on my cheek, “I can help you get over him. ”
I desperately wanted to back away, but I held my ground. You are iron, I reminded myself. He can’t hurt you. You’re steel inside. “The offer is appreciated,” I said, locking gazes with the
sidhe prince, “but I don’t need your help. I’m already past him. ”
“Are you now?” Rowan didn’t sound convinced. “You know he’s right over there, don’t you? Pretending not to watch us?” He smirked and took my hand, pressing it to his lips. My stomach fluttered before I could stop it. “Let’s show dear Ash how much you’re over him. Come on, Princess. You know you want to. ”
I did want to. I wanted to hurt Ash, make him jealous, put him through the same pain I had gone through. And Rowan was right there, offering. All I had to do was lean forward and meet his smirking mouth. I hesitated. Rowan was gorgeous; I could do worse in the casual make-out department.
“Kiss me,” Rowan whispered.
A trumpet sounded, echoing over the courtyard, and the smell of roses filled the air. The Seelie Court was arriving, to the roars and shrieks of the Winter fey. I started, wrenching myself out of the glamour-induced daze. “Dammit, stop doing that!” I snarled, yanking my hand from his grip and stumbling back. My heart slammed against my rib cage. God, I’d almost fallen for it this time; another half second and I would have been all over him. Shame colored my cheeks.
Rowan laughed. “You’re almost attractive when you blush,” he snickered, moving out of slapping range. “Until next time, Princess. ” With another mocking bow, he slipped away.
I glanced around furtively, wondering if Ash truly was nearby and watching us, as Rowan claimed. Though I saw Sage and his enormous wolf lounging against a pillar near Mab’s throne, Ash was nowhere in sight.
Two satyrs padded through the briar-covered gates of the courtyard, holding pale trumpets that looked made of bone. They raised the horns to their lips and blew a keening blast, one that set the Unseelie Court to howling. Atop her throne of ice, Mab watched the procedures with a faint smile.
“Gotcha!” hissed a voice, and something pinched me painfully on the rear. I yelped, whirling on Tiaothin, who laughed and danced away, dreadlocks flying. “You’re an idiot, half-breed,” she taunted, as I kicked snow at her. She dodged easily. “Rowan’s too good for you, and he’s experienced. Most everyone, fey and mortal boys included, would give their teeth to have him to themselves for a night. Try him. I guarantee you’ll like it. ”