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The Iron Knight


Page 47









"I don't have Iron glamour," I told her. "It won't work for me."


She laughed. "You don't need glamour to work this. It's not magic, just technology. Anyone can use it. Now, come on." She waggled it in my direction. "Just give it a try."


I sighed. Very cautiously, I reached out and took it, stil half expecting to feel a searing pain in my hands as my f lesh reacted to the metal.


When nothing happened, I held it gingerly in both hands and stared at the screen, not knowing what to do.


Meghan slipped beside me, watching over my shoulder. "Touch the screen here," she ordered softly, demonstrating with graceful fingers.


"See? You can access files here, pul up pictures, make them bigger like this. Try it."


I did, and to my surprise, the tablet responded to my clumsy attempts, working exactly as it had for Meghan. I dragged a picture onto the screen, made it bigger, shrank it and whisked it away, feeling a foolish grin creep across my face. I discovered an entire library within the files of this strange device, more books than I had thought possible, all contained in this tiny screen. With the touch of a finger, music fil ed the air, one of the thousands of songs Meghan had "downloaded" from the


"web." I must've played with the thing for at least twenty minutes, before Meghan laughingly took it back, saying she stil had work to do.


"See, now," she told me, as I reluctantly gave it up, "being human isn't all bad, is it?"


I watched as she sat down and began working again, fingers f lying across the screen, eyes half-closed in concentration. Eventual y, she became aware of me staring at her and looked up, raising a quizzical eyebrow. "Yes?"


"I want one," I told her simply. She laughed and this time, I grinned back.


That was the beginning.


Humanity didn't come easily for me, or all at once. I stil missed my glamour, the easy way my body used to move, the quickness and the strength of my Unseelie heritage. To keep up my skil s, Glitch and I would spar daily in the training yard as the Iron knights looked on, and though I remembered how to wield a sword, I never seemed to move fast enough. The maneuvers that used to be second nature were extremely difficult to impossible now. True, I had been fighting for a very long time, and my experience was such that none of the knights could touch me in a one-on-one match. But I lost to Glitch more often than not, and it was frustrating. I had been better once.


My physical limitations weren't my only worries. I was often plagued with nightmares of my past, where I would wake in the night gasping, covered in cold sweat, ghostly faces ebbing into reality. Voices haunted my sleep, accusing, hateful voices, demanding to know why I was happy when they had died. My dreams were fil ed with blood and darkness, and there were many nights when I couldn't sleep, staring at the ceiling, waiting for dawn. Gradual y, however, the nightmares di-minished, as I began to forget that part of my life and focus on my new one. The dreams never ceased completely, but the demon at the heart of those nightmares wasn't me any longer. I was no longer Ash the Unseelie prince. I had moved on.


But, every once in a great while, I would have the surreal feeling that I was missing something. That my life with Meghan wasn't what it appeared to be. That I had forgotten something important. I would shake it off, convincing myself I was simply adjusting to being human, but it always returned, taunting me, a memory keeping just out of reach.


Regardless, time moved on in the Iron Realm. Meghan ruled without opposition, maneuvering the labyrinth of fey politics as if she had been born for it. I immersed myself in technology; laptops, cel phones, computer games, software. And gradual y, I grew accustomed to being human, slowly forgetting my faery side-my glamour, speed and strength- until I couldn't remember what it felt like at all.


CHAPTER TWENTY


THE MARCH OF TIME


A frantic beeping dragged me out of a comfortable sleep. Groggily, I raised myself up, being careful not to disturb Meghan, and reached for the phone on the end table. The glowing blue numbers on the screen proclaimed it 2:12 a.m., and that Glitch was going to die for waking me up like this.


I pressed the button, put the phone to my ear and growled: "Someone better be dead."


"Sorry, highness." Glitch's voice hissed in my ear, whispering loudly.


"But we have a problem. Is the queen stil asleep?"


I was instantly awake. "Yes," I murmured, throwing back the covers and rising from the bed. The Iron Queen was a somewhat heavy sleeper, often exhausted by the demands of ruling a kingdom, and tended to be cranky when woken up in the middle of the night. After getting snarled at several times for a middle-of-the-night emergency, Glitch started directing all midnight problems to me. Between us, we were usual y able to handle the situation before the queen knew something was wrong.


"What's going on?" I asked, shrugging into my clothes while stil pressing the phone to my ear with a shoulder. Glitch gave a half angry, half fearful sigh.


"Kierran has run off again."


"What?"


"His room was empty, and we think he managed to slip over the wall . I have four squads out looking for him, but I thought you should know your son has pulled another vanishing act."


I groaned and scrubbed a hand across my face. "Get the gliders ready.


I'll be right there."


Glitch met me on the highest tower, the lightning in his hair snapping angrily, his purple eyes glowing in the darkness. "We've already searched his usual hideouts," he informed me as I came up. "He's not in any of them, and we've been looking since midnight. We think he managed to get out of the city this time."


"How did he get over the wall ?" I asked, glowering at the first lieutenant, who grimaced.


"One of the gliders is missing," he said, and I growled a curse. Kierran, blue-eyed and silver-haired, was nearly eight in human years, and had just enough faery blood to make him as troublesome as a phouka.


From the time he could walk, the household staff had been unable to keep up with him. Nimble as a squirrel, he scaled the wall s, climbed out windows and perched on the highest towers, grinning in delight while everyone scrambled about to coax him down. His daring and curiosity only increased with age, and if you told him he could not do something, you pretty much ensured that he was going to try.


His mother was going to kill me.


Glitch looked faintly ashamed. "He was asking about them this morning. I should've picked up on it then. Any idea where he might've gone?"


Thinking back, I sighed. Kierran had been obsessed with the other territories of late, asking about the Summer and Winter courts and the wyldwood. That afternoon, we had been practicing archery in the courtyard, and he'd asked what type of things I had hunted. When I told him about the dangerous creatures in the wyldwood, about giants and chimeras and wyverns that could rip you apart or swal ow you whole, he'd almost glowed with excitement.


"Wil you take me hunting someday, Father? In the wyldwood?"


I looked at him. He gazed back innocently, diamond-blue eyes sparkling beneath long silver bangs, gripping his bow tightly in both hands.


The tips of his pointed ears peeked out of his hair, a constant reminder that he wasn't quite human. That the blood of the Iron Queen f lowed through him, making him faster, stronger, more daring than a normal child. He had already demonstrated a talent for glamour, and he picked up archery and sword fighting faster than he had a right to. Still, he was only eight, stil a child, and innocent to the dangers of the rest of Faery.


"When you're older," I told him. "Not yet. But when you're ready, I'll take you."


He grinned, lighting up his whole face. "Promise?"


"Yes." I knelt beside him and straightened out the bow, pointing it the right way. "Now, try to hit the target again."


He giggled, apparently satisfied, and didn't bring it up again. And I didn't give it another thought the rest of the afternoon. I should've known better.


"I have an idea." I sighed, and whistled for one of the gliders hanging from the wall . It turned its insectlike head and buzzed sleepily. "Have the knights search the wyldwood, particularly around the borders of the courts. And let's hope he's not found his way into Tir Na Nog."


"The other courts won't like it," Glitch muttered. "We're not really supposed to go into the wyldwood without their permission."


"This is my son." I fixed him with a piercing glare, and he looked away.


"I don't care if we have to tear up the entire wyldwood. I want him found, is that understood?"


"Yes, sire."


I nodded curtly and stepped to the edge of the balcony, spreading my arms. The glider spiraled down from the wall and crawled up my back, unfurling its wings. I looked back at Glitch, watching us solemnly, and sighed.


"Wake the queen," I told him. "Tel her the situation. This is something she needs to know right away." He winced, and I didn't envy him the job. "Tel her I'll be back with Kierran soon."


And with that, I pushed myself off the edge and swooped into empty space. The air currents caught the glider's wings, bearing us aloft, and we soared in the direction of the wyldwood.


I didn't have to search far. Only a few miles after I crossed the border of the Iron Realm and entered the wyldwood, I spotted the glint of a glider's wing in the moonlight and pushed my own glider to land nearby. Leaving the two iron creatures to buzz at each other excitedly, I clicked on a f lashlight and studied the ground around the landing site. Despite my human vision, centuries of hunting and tracking through the wyldwood could not be forgotten in a few short years, and I soon found a set of smal footprints, leading off into the tangled undergrowth. Grimly, praying nothing would find him before I did, I fol owed.


A few miles in, the tracks took on an ominous cast, as something large and heavy joined the smal er prints through the forest. Stalking them.


Soon after that, the stride between the prints lengthened, stretching out to a run, joined by snapped branches and twigs, and my blood ran cold.