Home > The Iron Queen (The Iron Fey #3)(7)

The Iron Queen (The Iron Fey #3)(7)
Author: Julie Kagawa

“Here is what you seek,” she rasped, dropping the globe into my hand. I blinked in surprise. The glass felt as light and delicate as a bubble resting in my palm, as if I could crush it just by flexing my fingers. “When you are ready, simply shatter the globe, and your memory will be released.

“Now,” she continued, drawing back, “I believe that is everything you need, Meghan Chase. When I see you again, no matter what you choose, you will not be the same.”

“What do you mean by that?”

The oracle smiled. A breath of wind stirred the room, and she dissolved into a swirling cyclone of dust, sweeping through the air and stinging my eyes and throat. Coughing, I turned away, and when I was able to look up again, she was gone.

Trembling, I looked down at the globe in my hand. In the flickering faery light, I could see faint outlines in the reflective surface, images sliding across the glass. Reflections of things not there.

“Well?” came Grimalkin’s voice, as the cat appeared on another counter amid several jars containing dead snakes in amber liquid. “Are you going to smash it or not?”

“Are you sure it’ll come back to me?” I asked, watching a man’s face slide across the glass, followed by a girl on a bike. More images rippled like mirages, too brief and distorted to recognize. “The oracle just told me they’d be released—

she didn’t specifically say that they would come back. If I break this now, my memory won’t dissolve into thin air, or get soaked up by some hidden faery memory-soaker, will it?”

Grimalkin sneezed, echoing Ash’s quiet chuckle in the corner. “You’ve been around us too long,” Ash murmured, and I thought I heard a trace of sadness in his voice. I didn’t know if he meant I was being too suspicious, looking for loopholes in a faery bargain, or that he thought that was exactly what I should be doing.

Grimalkin snorted, giving me a disdainful look. “Not all fey seek to deceive you, human,” he said in a bored voice. “As far as I could tell, the oracle’s offer was genuine.” He sniffed and thumped his tail against the counter. “Had she wanted to entrap you, she would have wrapped so many riddles around the offer that you would never have a chance of untangling the true meaning.”

I looked at Ash, and he nodded. “Okay, then,” I said, taking a deep breath. I raised the globe above my head. “Here goes nothing.” And I flung it to the floor with all my might.

The fragile glass shattered against the carpet with an almost musical chime, shards spiraling up to become fragments of light that spun around the room. They merged and coalesced into a thousand images, fluttering through the air like frantic doves. As I watched, breathless, they swirled together and descended like a flock of birds in a horror movie. I was bombarded by an endless stream of images and emotions, all trying to rip into my head at once. I put my hands to my face, trying to block them out, but it didn’t help. The visions kept coming, flitting through my head like a strobe light. Of a man with lank brown hair, long gentle fingers, and eyes that were always smiling. The images were all of him. Him…pushing me on the park swing. Holding my first bike steady as I wobbled down the sidewalk. Sitting at our old piano, his long fingers flying over the keys, as I sat on the couch and watched him play. Walking into a tiny green pond, the water closing over his head, as I screamed and screamed until the police arrived.

When it was over, I was kneeling on the floor with Ash’s arms around me, holding me to his chest. I was panting, my hands clenched in his shirt, and his body was rigid against mine. My head felt too full, throbbing like it was about to explode, ready to burst open at the seams.

But I remembered. Everything. I remembered the man who’d looked after me for six years. Who’d raised me, thinking I was his only daughter, not knowing my real heritage. Oberon had called him a stranger, but to hell with that. As far as I was concerned, Paul was my father in everything but blood. Oberon might be my biological dad, but he was never around. He was a stranger who had no interest in my life, who called me daughter but didn’t know me at all. The man who’d read me bedtime stories in a singsong voice, put unicorn bandages on my scraped elbows, and held me on his knee while he played the piano—he was my real dad. And I’d always think of him as such.

“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.”

“Who’s ‘we’?”

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?”

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