The Iron Queen, Page 8Julie Kagawa
“You okay?” Ash’s cool breath tickled my cheek.
I nodded and pulled myself upright. My head still hurt, and there would be many long hours trying to sort out the torrent of images and emotions, but I finally knew what I had to do.
“All right, Grim,” I said, looking up with a new resolve. “I have what I came for. Now I’m ready to see Leanansidhe. ”
But there was no answer. Grimalkin had disappeared.
“Grimalkin?” I called again, looking around the room. “Where are you?”
Nothing. This was a bad sign. Grimalkin often disappeared when there was trouble, with no explanation and no warning for the rest of us. Of course, sometimes he disappeared just because he felt like it, so there was no telling what was going on, really.
“Meghan,” Ash said, looking out the window with narrowed eyes, “I think you’d better see this. ”
A figure stood in the road outside the museum. Not human, I could tell that much. Though he wore ripped jeans and a studded leather jacket, the sharp, angular face and pointed ears gave him away. That, and his wild black hair, spiked up like a punk rocker, had neon threads of lightning flickering between the strands, reminding me of those plasma globes found in novelty stores. From his stance, it was obvious he was waiting for us.
“An Iron faery,” Ash muttered, dropping his hand to his sword. “Do you want me to kill it?”
“No,” I said, laying a hand on his arm. “He knows we’re here. If he was going to attack us he would’ve done it by now. Let’s see what he wants first. ”
“I would advise against that. ” Ash glowered at me, a hint of exasperation in his eyes. “Remember that the false king is still after you. You can’t trust the Iron fey, especially now. Why would you want to speak with this one? The Iron Kingdom and everything in it are your enemies. ”
“Ironhorse wasn’t. ”
Ash sighed and took his hand off the sword hilt. “As you wish,” he murmured, bowing his head. “I don’t like it, but let’s see what the Iron faery wants. Though if he makes any threatening move at all, I will cut him down faster than he can blink. ”
We slipped out the doors into the humid night, crossing the road to where the Iron faery waited for us.
“Oh, good. ” The Iron fey smiled as we walked up, a cocky, self-confident grin, much like a certain redhead I knew. “You didn’t run. I was afraid I’d have to chase you through the city streets before we could talk. ”
I scowled at him. Up close, he looked younger, almost my age, though I knew that meant nothing. The fey were ageless. He could have been centuries old for all I knew. But despite that, and despite his obvious fey beauty, he looked like nothing more than a seventeen-year-old punk kid.
“Well,” I said, crossing my arms, “here I am. Who are you, and what do you want?”
“Brief and to the point. I like that. ” The faery smirked. I didn’t return his smile, and he rolled his eyes, which were a shimmering violet, I noticed. “Fine, allow me to introduce myself, then. My name is Glitch. ”
“Glitch. ” I furrowed my brow, looking at Ash. “That sounds familiar. Where have I heard that name before?”
“I’m sure you’ve heard it before, Meghan Chase,” Glitch said, and the grin on his face stretched wider, showing teeth. “I was King Machina’s first lieutenant. ”
Ash drew his sword in a flash of blue light, filling the air with cold. Glitch’s eyebrows shot up, but he didn’t move, even as the tip of the sword hovered inches from his chest. “You could hear me out instead of jumping to conclusions,” he offered.
“Ash,” I said softly, and Ash backed off a step, not sheathing his sword but not aiming it at Glitch’s heart anymore, either. “What do you want with me?” I asked, holding his gaze. “Do you serve the false king, now? Or did you just come by for introductions?”
“I’m here,” Glitch said, “because I want the false king stopped as much as you do. In case you haven’t heard, princess, the war with Iron isn’t going so well. Oberon and Mab have united to stop the false king, but their armies are slowly being crushed. The wyldwood grows smaller every day, as more and more territory is absorbed into the Iron Kingdom, expanding the false king’s realm. He needs only one more thing to be completely unstoppable. ”
“Me,” I whispered. It wasn’t a question.
Glitch nodded. “He needs Machina’s power, and then his claim to the throne will be irrefutable. If he can kill you and take that power for himself, it will be over. ”
“How does he know I have it? I’m not even sure, myself. ”
“You killed Machina. ” Glitch looked at me soberly, all cockiness gone. “The power of the Iron King passes to the one who defeats him. At least, that’s how I understand it. That’s why the false king’s claim to the throne is a sham. That’s why he wants you so badly. ” He grinned then, evil and mischievous. “Thankfully, we’re making it a bit difficult for him, both in the war effort, and now with you. ”
Glitch sobered. “Ironhorse was a friend of mine,” he murmured, and I felt a sharp pang at the mention of the noble faery. “He was the first to denounce the false king, and after him, more followed his example. We’re few in number, and we’ve been reduced to guerilla tactics against the false king’s army, but we do what we can. ”
“You’re the resistance the spider-hags were talking about. ”
“Spider-hags?” Glitch looked confused. “Ah, you must mean the king’s assassins. Yep, that’s us. Though like I said, we’re too small to really strike a blow against the false king. But we can do one very important thing that will keep him off the throne forever. ”
“And what’s that?”
Glitch gave me an apologetic smile, and snapped his fingers. Movement all around us, as dozens of Iron fey melted out of the shadows. I felt the cold pulse of Iron glamour, gray and flat and colorless, as they surrounded us in a bristly ring. I saw dwarves with mechanical arms and elves with huge black eyes, numbers scrolling across their pupils like glowing green ants. I saw dogs with bodies made of ticking clockwork, green-skinned fey with computer wires for hair, and many more. All of them had weapons—blades of iron, metal bats and chains, steely fangs or talons—all deadly to regular fey. Ash pressed close to me, his face grim, muscles coiled tight as he raised his sword. I spun and glared at Glitch.
“So, this is your plan?” I snapped, gesturing to the ring around us. “You want to kidnap me? That’s your answer to stopping the false king?”
“You have to understand, princess. ” Glitch shrugged as he backed away from me, into the circle of fey. “This is for your own safety. We cannot allow you to fall into the false king’s hands, or he’ll win and everything will be lost. We have to keep you hidden, and safe. Nothing else matters now. Please, come quietly. You know there’s too many of us to fight. Even the Winter prince cannot defeat this many. ”
“Really?” called a new voice, somewhere behind and above us all. “Well, if that’s the case, why don’t we level the field a bit?”
I whirled around, gazing up toward the rooftops, my heart leaping in my chest. Silhouetted against the moon, with his arms crossed and his red hair tousled by the wind, a familiar face grinned down at us, shaking his head.
“You,” Puck said, locking eyes with me, “are extremely difficult to track down, princess. Good thing Grimalkin came and found me. As usual, it looks like I have to rescue you and ice-boy from something. Again. This is starting to become a habit. ”
Ash rolled his eyes, though his attention didn’t leave the fey surrounding us.
“Stop yapping and get down here, Goodfellow. ”
“Goodfellow?” Glitch stared at Puck nervously. “Robin Goodfellow?”
“Oh, look at that, he’s heard of me. My fame grows. ” Puck snorted and leaped off the roof. In midair, he
became a giant black raven, who swooped toward us with a raucous cry before dropping into the circle as Puck in an explosion of feathers. “Ta-daaaaaaaaaa. ”
The rebels backed off a step, though Glitch held his ground. “There’s still only three of you,” he said firmly. “Not enough to fight us all. Princess, please, we only want to protect you. This doesn’t have to end in violence. ”
“I don’t need your protection,” I said. “As you can see, I have more than enough. ”
“Besides,” Puck said, grinning his evil grin, “who says I came alone?”
“You did,” called another Puck from the rooftop he just left. Glitch’s eyes bugged as the second Puck grinned down at him.
“No, he didn’t,” said a third Puck from the opposite roof.
“Well, I’m sure they know what he meant,” said yet another Puck, sitting atop a street lamp. “In any case, here we are. ”
“This is a trick,” Glitch muttered, as the rebels shot nervous glances at the three Pucks, who waved back cheerfully. “Those aren’t real bodies. You’re screwing with our heads. ”
Puck snickered. “Well, if that’s what you think, you’re welcome to try something. ”
“It won’t end well for you, either way,” Ash broke in. “Even if you manage to beat us, we’ll make sure to decimate your little band of rebels before we fall. Count on it. ”
“Get out of here, Glitch,” I said quietly. “We’re not going anywhere with you or your friends. I’m not going to hide from the false king and do nothing. ”
“That,” Glitch said, narrowing his eyes, “is exactly what I’m afraid of. ” But he turned and signaled his forces to back off, and the Iron fey melted into the shadows again. “We’ll be watching you, princess,” he warned, before he, too, turned and disappeared into the night.