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Dec 12, But she could have never guessed that her father was a mythical faery king and is a pawn in a deadly aracer.mobi Meghan will learn just how far. Read "The Iron Daughter" by Julie Kagawa available from Rakuten Kobo. Sign up today and get $5 off your first download. From the limitless imagination of New . In a bid for power, Rowan sided with our greatest enemies, the Iron fey, helping their king nearly destroy the Nevernever. I killed Rowan in the end, avenging.
Skyscrapers of twisted metal towered over everything; glittering, skeletal silhouettes that vanished into the clouds. Faeries roamed across the darkened landscape, swarms of them, but they were not my Unseelie brethren. I gazed around at my homeland and shuddered. No normal fey could live here.
We would all die, the very air we breathed burning us from the inside out, from the Iron corruption that hung thick on the air like a fog. I could feel it searing my throat, spreading like fire to my lungs. Coughing, I put my sleeve to my nose and mouth and staggered away, but where could I go if all of Tir Na Nog was like this?
No one stood there, but from the corner of my eye I caught a shimmer, a presence, though it slid away whenever I tried to focus on it. This is what would have happened had Meghan not become the Iron Queen. Everything, everyone you knew, destroyed. The Iron fey would have corrupted the entire Nevernever, were it not for Meghan Chase. And she could not have succeeded had you not been there. Though, even in my worst imaginings, I had not pictured quite this much destruction.
You loved the girl. You would have done anything for her, regardless of the circumstances. Had Meghan Chase not survived to become the Iron Queen, this would be your world today. Each breath stabbed like a knife, and my skin was starting to blister as well.
This was worse. I sank to my knees, fighting to stay upright, as my skin blackened and peeled from my bones. This was a dream; I realized that much. I knew with a sudden, grim clarity. It was keeping me here, tied to this nightmare world, despite my efforts to wake.
I wondered if it was possible to die in a dream. I want you to understand the sacrifice that had to be made. With a silent gasp, I wrenched myself out of the dream, back into the waking world. It was very dark now, though the skeletal trees glowed with a soft white luminance that left them hazy and ethereal.
Several yards away, Puck still sat in the branches, hands behind his head, chewing the ends of a grass stalk. I shrugged. You know better then to ask such questions. You will have to discover the answers for yourself. Ignoring the cat, I turned away, staring into the trees. A stray sod emerged from the darkness, a tiny green faery with a clump of weeds growing from its back.
It blinked at me, bobbed its mushroom hat, and quickly slipped back into the undergrowth. Time has no meaning in the wyldwood. Light and darkness will chase each other through the sky, play hide-andseek or tag or catch-me-if-you-can. Sometimes, one or the other will become offended over an imagined slight and refuse to come out for an indefinite amount of time. Once, light became so angry, a hundred years passed in the mortal realm before it deigned to come out again.
And though the sun continued to rise and set in the human world, it was a rather turbulent period for the world of men, as all the creatures who lurked in darkness and shadow got to roam freely under the lightless Nevernever skies.
So it was still full dark when Puck and I started out again, following the cait sith into the endless tangle of the wyldwood. Grimalkin slipped through the trees like mist f lowing over the ground, gray and nearly invisible in the colorless landscape around him. I suspected he was testing us, or perhaps playing some annoying feline game, subtly trying to lose us without completely going invisible.
The light had finally decided to make an appearance when, without warning, Grimalkin stopped. Leaping onto an overhanging branch, he stood motionless for a moment, ears pricked to the wind and whiskers trembling.
Around us, huge gnarled trees blocked out the sky, gray trunks and branches seeming to hem us in, like an enormous net or cage. The wyldwood was huge, eternal and constantly changing. Peering over my shoulder, he snorted under his breath.
Did you finally get lost? Something does not belong. Right before he vanished. I glanced at Puck and frowned. At my silent gesture, Puck stepped away and slid into the trees to the right of me. Plants were brown and dying, trees had spots where they had been burned, and the air began to smell of rust and copper, tickling my throat and making me want to gag. I was suddenly reminded of my dream, the nightmare world of the Iron fey, and gripped my sword hilt even tighter.
It disintegrated at his touch. What would Meghan say if we killed one of her subjects? By law, no Iron fey can set foot in the wyldwood without permission from Summer or Winter. It would be a breach of the treaty if the courts found out, and at worst it would be seen as an act of war.
And what happens then? We politely ask it to go home? He winced. Well then, lead on, ice-boy. The trees in this area were blackened and dead, and the air smelled poisonous and foul. After a moment, I realized why. Sitting against a tree, his armor glinting in the sun, was an Iron knight. I paused, my fingers tightening around the hilt of my sword. I had to remind myself that the knights were not our enemies anymore, that they served the Iron Queen and followed the same peace treaty as the rest of the courts.
Besides, this one was clearly no threat to us. His breastplate had been staved in, and dark, oily blood pooled beneath him. His chin rested limply on his chest, but as we got closer, he opened his eyes and looked up.
Blood trickled from one corner of his mouth. We managed to drive them off and followed them here, but there were more than…we first thought. The knight made a gesture over the rise, back into the forest. Tell her…we… failed…. I stood, taking a step back from the dead Iron knight. Puck sheathed his dagger as he stepped up beside me, giving the Iron faery a dubious look.
Should we head to the Iron Court? Or did you forget? You would perish long before you reached the Iron Queen. Did you forget who you were talking to? Grimalkin yawned, but at least Puck looked faintly guilty. But I would not sit back and do nothing. But, uh, you do know they took out a whole squad of Iron knights, right, ice-boy? On the banks of a lake, the slim, crooked tower with its mossy gargoyles and faded blue roof stood tall and proud, easily visible through the trees.
At the base, sheltered among broken rocks and crumbling stones, several sidhe knights milled around a smoldering campfire, unaware of Puck and me, crouched in the shadows at the edge of the trees.
The knights wore suits of familiar black armor, long spines bristling from the shoulders like giant thorns. Though once sharp and proud, the faces beneath the helmets were now ravaged as though diseased; charred, melted f lesh, open sores and naked bone gleamed in the f lickering campfire. Some of their noses had fallen off, others had only one good eye. The breeze shifted, and the stench of burned, rotting f lesh assaulted our senses, washing over us. Puck stif led a cough.
I thought they were all killed in the last war. The Thornguards once belonged to my brother Rowan, his elite personal guard.
When Rowan joined the Iron fey, the Thornguards followed him, believing his claims that they could become immune to iron. They thought the Iron fey would destroy the Nevernever, and the only way to survive was to become like them.
To prove their loyalty, they wore a ring of iron beneath their gauntlets, enduring the agony and the destruction it wreaked on their bodies, believing if they could survive the pain, they would be reborn.
The Thornguards had been misled, deceived, but they had still chosen to side with the Iron fey and Rowan in the recent war, which made them traitors to the courts of Faery. These few had gone even further, threatening Meghan and attempting to end her life. That made them my personal enemies, a very dangerous position, indeed. How do you want to do this, prince? I could lure them away, one at a time. Puck sighed.
Together, Puck and I walked down the bank to the tower, wrapped in a grim, killing silence. One sentry came at us, howling, but I blocked his sword, plunged my blade through his armor and stepped around him, leaving the guard to crumple in the dirt. By the time we reached the center of camp, six Thornguards were waiting for us, standing in formation with their weapons drawn.
Puck and I approached calmly and stopped at the edge of the firelight. For a moment, nobody moved. His eyes, a glazed, glassy blue, f licked back and forth between us. What a surprise to find you here. Before I kill you, I want to know why. The war is over. The Iron Realm is no longer a threat, and the courts are at peace.
Why would you jeopardize that? Then, the thin mouth twisted into a sneer. Rowan is dead. The Iron King is dead. Where do we go now? We gave it our best shot, even made it as far as the throne room, but the little bitch was stronger then we realized. We were driven back at the last minute. Did he tell you the secret of becoming like them? His sneer widened. How very touching. In the dim light, it was like gazing at a corpse.
His stench washed over me, and I fought the urge to step back. This is what happens to our people in the Iron Realm. We thought we could be like them. Now look at us.
Including their queen, and any sympathizers to the Iron Realm. If we can start another war with the Iron fey, and their kingdom is destroyed for good, everything we endured will be worth it. Destroyed your weakness, as a Winter prince should have done. Around him, the rest of the Thornguards did the same.
Everything we believed in is dead. I raised my sword and drew glamour from the air, letting the cold power of Winter swirl within. And I smiled. I parried one slash and swiped at another, leaping back to avoid a third. Behind me, Puck whooped in unrestrained glee, the clash of his daggers ringing in my ears as he danced around his opponents. They followed, savage and unrelenting. The Thornguards were formidable as a unit, using group tactics to threaten and harry, much like a pack of wolves.
But that was their greatest failing as well. Single them out, and they fell apart. Surrounded by a trio of Thornguards, I leaped back and f lung a hail of stinging ice shards into their midst, catching two guards in the deadly arc. They f linched for a brief second, and the third leaped forward, alone, meeting my sword as it cut across his neck. The warrior frayed apart, black armor splitting open as dark brambles erupted from the spot where he died.
As with all fey, death returned him to the Nevernever, and he simply ceased to exist. I turned and stabbed the warrior through the chest as Puck hurled a dagger into another rushing me from behind. More brambles spread across the stones. Now there were only three Thornguards left.
Remember that, ice-boy? Both warriors split apart, their weapons clanging against the rocks as they died. They struck with muffled thunks, and the Thornguard gasped, pitching forward. Staggering to his knees, he looked up as I stepped around to face him, his glassy blue eyes filled with pain and hate. Get on with it. Unless you swear to me, on this spot, that you will abandon your quest to harm the Iron Queen, her subjects and her kingdom.
Your little halfbreed queen? If you let me go, I will find my way back to the Iron Queen, and I will put a sword in her heart and laugh as they cut me down for it.
Puck sighed as brambles erupted from the dead Thornguard, crooked fingers clawing at the sky. They had no reason to hide. Were the Thornguards that delusional? They had only wanted what I did: Hoping to live in the Iron Realm.
What are you thinking of? Puck started to protest, but I hurried on, unwilling to think about it any longer. I hoped he would be quiet, leave me in peace, but of course I had only a few moments of silence before he opened his mouth. A necklace? A mirror? So you do remember, after all! He grinned cheekily.
Hey, whatever happened to that thing, anyway? I seem to recall it was a really nice piece of work. And said nothing after that.
Grimalkin was waiting for us atop a broken limb at the edge of the tree line, washing his paw with exaggerated nonchalance. Flicking his tail, the cat rose and sauntered along the splintered branch with no explanation.
Hopping lightly to an overhead limb, he vanished into the leaves without looking back, leaving Puck and me hurrying to catch up.
Grimalkin took us through a glen where the trees slowly followed us until we looked back, freezing them in place, only to have them creep forward again when our backs were turned. We crossed a rolling, windy plain where herds of wild horses stared at us with cold intelligence, their furtive conversations blown away in the wind.
Because remembering Puck as something more than a rival only reminded me of my vow, the one spoken in a f lash of despair and rage, the one that had turned us into bitter enemies for years to come. As tradition dictated, twice a mortal year, the courts of Summer and Winter would meet to discuss politics, sign new treaties, and basically agree to play nice for another season.
Or at least to refrain from declaring all-out war on the other court. It bored me to tears, but as a Winter prince and the son of Queen Mab, my presence was required, and I had learned to dance the dance and be a good little court monkey. It was not yet twilight, and as such the Summer Court had not yet arrived.
As Mab disapproved of my locking myself in my room until Elysium began, I was in a dark corner of the courtyard, rereading a book from my collection of mortal authors and poets. If anyone asked, I was overseeing the arrival of the last of the guests, but mostly I was avoiding Rowan and the current f lock of nobles who would surround me with coy, f lattering, razor-sharp smiles.
Their voices would be the softest purr, the sweetest song, as they offered me favors covered in honey and nectar but with a core of vilest poison. I was a prince, after all, the youngest and most favored of Mab, at least according to some. I suppose the common belief was that I was more naive, easier to trap, perhaps.
But I was a true son of Winter, and knew the twisted steps of court better than most. And those who sought to entrap me in a web of honey and favors soon found themselves tangled in their own dark promises. I knew the dance. Most of them I knew, or had seen before. The Lady Snowfire, dressed in a gown of sparkling icicles that chimed musically as she walked.
The new duke of Frostfell—having disposed of the old duke by getting him exiled to the mortal realm—glided through the snow trailed by his goblin slaves. The Baroness of the Icebound Heart gave me a chilly nod as she strode past, her two snow leopards hissing and snarling at the ends of their silver chains.
And then, she walked in. None could argue her beauty: But, all of our kind are, if not very attractive, at least striking in some way. Being surrounded by beauty tends to dull your appreciation of it, especially if the beauty only hides the cruelty beneath.
The nobles could sense emotion like a shark smelled blood; they would devour her before the day was out. A part of me told me not to care, that it was everyone for themselves in the Winter Court, and that was how it always had been.
That this girl, new and untried, would take the attention off me for once. Despite that voice, I found myself intrigued. Snapping shut the book, I started toward her.
She was turning in slow circles when I walked up, and jumped when we came face-to-face. Admitting you were lost was a grave mistake in the Winter Court; you never wanted to be caught unaware by anyone. It annoyed me a bit that the first thing I fell back on was checking for weakness, poking at chinks in her armor. But in the Unseelie Court, you could never be too careful.
She blinked at the question and took a step back, seeming to see me for the first time. Clear, blue-green eyes rose to meet my gaze, and I made the mistake of looking right at her. Her gaze captured mine, drawing me in, and I was suddenly drowning. Flecks of silver dotted her irises like tiny stars, as if I was staring at a whole universe in her eyes. Brilliant emotion gazed out at me, pure and clean and untainted by the darkness of the Unseelie Court.
For a moment, we just stared at each other, neither willing to look away. Until I realized what I was doing and turned, pretending to watch another carriage pull up to the gates, furious with myself for dropping my guard. For a brief moment, I wondered if that had been her ploy all along—pretend to be naive and innocent, and lure unsuspecting princes right into her clutches.
Unorthodox, but effective. Fortunately, it seemed the girl was just as shaken as I was. He is indisposed at the moment and sends his apologies for not being able to attend. Apparently, the duke had run into some trouble while hunting ice wyrms in the mountains of his territory.
The court had been abuzz with who would come to represent him, as he was rumored to have only one daughter, who never left the estate. So, this was she. Ariella smiled again, nervously brushing her hair back, and instantly lost her regal bearing. This girl needed an escort, someone to show her the ways of Winter, otherwise the nobles were going to chew her up and spit her out. If anyone wanted to toy with Ariella Tularyn, they would have to go through me first.
And I was no wide-eyed newcomer when it came to the Unseelie Court. I took secret hunting trips to the Glassbarrow Mountains, enticing her away. Duke Glassbarrow was livid, but I was the Winter prince, and he eventually buckled under the threat of banishment or death. Rumors f lew, of course. As part of the royal family, my life was under constant scrutiny, even when there was nothing interesting about it.
Prince Ash was obsessed, Prince Ash had found a new plaything and, worst of all, Prince Ash was in love. When I was with Ariella, I could forget the court, my responsibilities, everything. Was I in love? Love was such an unknown concept, something that everyone cautioned against. Love was for mortals and weak Summer fey, it had no place in the life of an Unseelie prince.
None of this swayed me. All I knew was, when we were together, I could leave behind the intrigues and pitfalls of court and just be. It was high summer when the last person I wanted to find out about us did so anyway.
Ariella and I hunted often. It was a chance to get away from the court and be alone together, without the whispers and the stares and the snide, pitying looks.
She was an excellent huntress, and our outings usually turned into friendly competitions, seeing whose arrow could drop our quarry first. I lost as often as I won, which filled me with an odd sort of pride. I knew my skill was considerable; that Ariella could match it brought some excitement back into the hunt and forced me to concentrate. We stood on the banks of a clear green pond, my arms around her waist and her head leaning against my chest, watching two piskies tease an enormous carp by darting close to the surface, then zipping away as the fish lunged for them.
It was getting late, but we were loath to go back to court; Winter fey tended to be restless and irritable during the summer months, which led to a great amount of squabbling and backbiting.
Here in the wyldwood, it was still and quiet, and only the most desperate or savage of wild fey would consider taking on two powerful Unseelie. Abruptly, the peaceful silence was interrupted. Or him, of course. Nothing was sacred to him. Ariella jerked in surprise. Groaning, I buried my face in her hair. The Puck? I swear, I thought those caves were empty.
Did the giant carpet of bones not tip you off? Traveled together? We will both readily admit that. Puck and I have been known to…bend the rules a little. Not always, and not often.
Ariella was still Unseelie, brought up to hate Summer and everything in it. I sighed inwardly. I was a prince of the Unseelie Court. I would always side with my court and kith, there was no question in my mind. If it came down to that choice, I would turn my back on Puck, turn my back on our years of camaraderie, and choose Winter.
Ariella stared at us, and I waited to see what she would do, how she would react. Finally she broke into a teasing smile. I could keep the best of both worlds without sacrificing either.
Oy, ice-boy! Furball suggests we look for shelter, since this area has a reputation for f lash f loods. According to him, we should reach the seer sometime tomorrow. Puck followed easily, continuing to talk. A sleeping giant sensing change in the air, like a forgotten heartbeat, faint but still alive, beginning to resurface. The part of me that was pure Unseelie, pure hate and darkness and bloodlust. I lost myself to it once, the day Ariella died. I became something consumed by rage, filled with a black hatred that turned me against my closest friend.
I could feel it in me now, an old madness, an ancient darkness rising to the surface, filling me with anger. And hate. Wounds that had never really closed, tearing open again, seeping poison into my heart. It disturbed me, and I shoved it down, back into the blackness it had come from. But I could still feel it, pulsing and bubbling just below the surface.
Directed solely at Puck, who was, of course, still talking. The whole brooding thing is really overrated. So, come on, out with it. The irreverent smirk vanished, and his eyes became hard as stone. We stared at each other, inches apart, while the wind picked up and howled around us, stirring up a cyclone of leaves and dust.
I swore to her I would.
Or the oath? Lightning f lashed through the trees again, and thunder growled an answer. At the bottom of the slope, Grimalkin sat on a stump, tail curled over his feet, watching us with unblinking golden eyes. We found a cave, or rather, an annoyed, impatient Grimalkin led us to a cave, seconds before the sky opened up and the rain poured down. As the light rapidly disappeared, I left Puck poking the fire and retreated to a dark corner. Sitting with my back against the wall, I pulled one knee to my chest and glowered into the distant f lames.
The f lames cast a burning orange halo around the cat. I told you before, you and Goodfellow have no idea what lies ahead. The anger. The darkness. A sudden hiss from the campfire showed Puck hanging a skinned rabbit over the f lames.
Yawning, he stretched languidly, raking his claws over the stones, and trotted off to oversee dinner preparations. Outside, the storm howled and raged, bending trees and blowing rain at a sharp angle across the mouth of the cave. The fire crackled cheerfully, licking at the rabbit carcass, and the smell of roasted meat began to fill the chamber. I rose and wandered to the cave mouth, gazing out at the storm. Wind tugged at me, spattering my face with raindrops.
Beyond the lip of the cavern, rain skittered over the ground in waves, like silver curtains tossed by the wind. Something was out there. Watching us. He acted perfectly normal, as if the words between us earlier that day had never happened. We stared at each other by the mouth of the cave, the storm whipping at us and making the campfire f licker.
Puck sighed, leaning against the wall and crossing his arms. Two days ago, you were fine. We were f ine. I could feel the darkness in me rising again, despite my attempts to freeze it out. Maybe not tomorrow. But soon. Our past is catching up to us, Goodfellow, and this feud has gone on long enough. But at least Puck would be there for her if I failed. It would be better for both of us if you were gone. Well, you sure know how to make a guy feel wanted, prince.
Pushing himself off the wall, he took a step forward, never looking away. And I can be just as stubborn as you. Puck and I glared at each other until we were interrupted by a loud pop from the campfire. Breaking eye contact at last, Puck glanced over his shoulder and let out a yelp. Grimalkin, you sneaky, gray…pig! I smiled to myself and turned back to the rain.
The violence of the storm had not abated, nor had my feeling of being watched, though continued searches of the trees and shadows yielded nothing. I stood, looking out, until the wind finally died down and the rain slowed to a drizzle. All through the night, I stood there, waiting. But whatever was watching me from its mysterious location never made itself known.
Sounds were absorbed into the surrounding white, and it was impossible to see more than ten feet ahead. We left the cave, following a smug Grimalkin into the wall of mist. The world looked different from the night before, hidden and lurking, the trees dark, crooked skeletons in the mist. No birds sang, no insects buzzed, no small creatures scurried through the undergrowth.
Nothing moved or seemed to breathe. Even Puck was affected by the somber mood and offered little conversation as we glided through this still, muffled world. The feeling of being watched had not dissipated even now, and was making me increasingly uncomfortable. Even more disturbing, I had the sense that something was following us, tracking us through the silent forest. I scanned the surrounding trees, the shadows and the undergrowth, watching, listening for something that seemed out of place.
But I could see nothing. The fog stubbornly refused to lift, and the farther we pushed into the quiet wood, the stronger the feeling became. Finally, I stopped, turning to gaze behind us. Mist crept over the ground and spilled onto the tiny forest path we were following, and through the blanket of white, I could sense something drawing closer. The storm slowed it down a bit, but it is coming fast now.
I suggest we hurry if we do not wish to meet it. And we do not, trust me. Now come, we are wasting time. I resisted the urge to glance continuously over my shoulder, half expecting the mist to part as whatever was following us lunged onto the path.
I hated being hunted, being tracked by some unseen, unknown monster, but Grimalkin seemed determined to outpace it, and if I paused I could lose the cat in the fog. Somewhere behind us, a f lock of crows took to the air with frantic cries, piercingly loud in the silence.
Skeletal trees loomed out of the water, their expanding web of roots looking like pale snakes in the murk. Small, mossy islands rose from beneath the lake, and rope bridges spanned the gulf between them, some sagging low enough to nearly touch the surface.
He paused to glance back at us, waving his tail. Hurry up. Grimalkin f lattened his ears and started across the bridge. Puck and I followed. Puck and I had systematically cut through each of the bridge ropes after every crossing, so whatever was following us would have to swim.
Hopefully, that would slow it down a bit, but it also meant that we had burned our bridges, so to speak, if we wanted to return the same way. A tiny village lay in the mud at the edge of the river, thatch and peat roofs covering primitive huts built into an embankment, peeking out between the roots of enormous trees. Spears lay in the mud, some broken, and the roofs of several huts had been torn off. Silence hung thick over the village, the mist creeping up from the lake to smother what was left of the hamlet.
Puck looked back and grimaced. And he disappeared. I whirled back, lunging forward as Puck hopped onto the hill, pulling himself up by a twisted root. With a yelp, Puck stumbled, f lailing wildly as the grassy mound shifted and lurched and started to rise out of the mud. Puck dove forward, landing with a splat in the mud, and the hill stood up, unfolding long, claw-tipped arms and thick, stumpy legs.
It turned, twenty feet of muddy green swamp troll, moss and vegetation growing from its broad back, blending perfectly with the landscape.
Dank green hair hung from its scalp, and its beady red eyes scanned the ground in confusion. It swiped a talon at him and he ducked, running under its enormous bulk, darting between the tree-stump legs.
The troll roared and started to turn, and I f lung a hail of ice daggers at it, sticking it in the shoulder and face. It bellowed and lurched toward me, making the ground shake as it charged. I dodged, rolling out of the way as the troll hit the embankment and ripped a huge gash through the huts, tearing them open. As the troll pulled back, I lunged at it, swiping at its thick arms, cutting a deep gash through the barklike skin. It howled, more in anger than pain, and whirled on me.
There was movement on its broad shoulders, and Puck appeared, clinging to its back, a huge grin splitting his face. The creature roared, a shrill, painful wail, and clawed desperately at its back. It screeched again, slapping and tearing, and Puck scrambled away. It staggered, falling to its knees and with a deep groan, toppled into the mud as I ducked out of the way. Puck sprang off its shoulders as it collapsed, rolled as he hit the ground and came to his feet, grinning, though he looked like some kind of mud monster himself.
Better than playing Stay on the Wild Pegasus. Can we do it again? Whatever is following us is still out there. You will have to do more then stick a sword in its chest if you wish to kill it for good. Puck winced. The swamp troll lumbered to its feet, its red eyes blazing and angry, fastened on us.
Effortlessly, it reached out and wrapped one claw around the trunk of a pine tree, pulling it from the mud as easily as picking a dandelion. With blinding speed, it smashed the weapon toward us. Puck and I leaped aside in opposite directions, and the tree struck the space between with an explosion of mud and water. The trunk hit him and sent his body tumbling through the air, striking his head on another tree and slumping into the mud several yards away.
Redeyed, the troll turned back to me, stepping forward threateningly. I retreated until my back hit the wall of the embankment, and I tensed as the huge troll loomed over me, raising its club over its head and smashing it down like a battering ram.
Something big and dark lunged between us with a booming snarl, and a monstrous shaggy thing slammed into the troll, teeth f lashing. The troll screeched and stumbled back, its arm clamped in the jaws of an enormous black wolf the size of a grizzly bear, who growled and shook his head, digging his fangs in farther. I caught my breath, recognizing the creature, knowing who it was, but there was no time to wonder why he was here. It began to stiffen, its skin turning gray and hard.
I yanked my sword free and vaulted off its back as the troll curled up on itself, much like a giant insect or spider, and turned to stone. In a few seconds, only a troll-shaped boulder sat in the mud at the edge of the village.
There was a deep chuckle beside me. Not bad. A few yards away, the enormous wolf of legend stared at me, eyes glowing yellowgreen in the gloom, fangs bared in a vicious smile. Around and inside me, glamour f lared, cold and lethal, ready to be unleashed. This was possibly the most dangerous, ancient creature to ever walk the wilds of the Nevernever. His stories outnumbered all the myths and legends ever told, and his power grew with every telling, every dire warning and fable that whispered his name.
His legends were all born of fear; he was the consummate villain, the creature that old wives warned their children about, a monster that consumed little girls and butchered entire herds for no reason. His brethren in the mortal world had suffered terribly for the fears that birthed him—they had been gunned down, trapped, and slaughtered wholesale—but each death reinforced those fears and made him more powerful than before. The immortal Big Bad Wolf. I was going to walk away from this.
If it came down to a fight, I was determined to win this time, by any means necessary. I would not die here, on the banks of a gloomy lake, torn apart by the Big Bad Wolf. I would survive this encounter and keep going. Meghan was waiting for me. The Wolf smiled. I kept my expression neutral, though an icy fist grabbed my stomach and twisted. Not in surprise, or even fear, just the knowledge that, as she did with all her subjects, the Winter Queen had finally grown tired of me.
Perhaps she was insulted by my refusal to return to court. Mab had sent the most feared hunter and assassin in the entire Nevernever to kill me. I sighed, suddenly feeling very tired. Taking a furtive breath, I calmed my mind, the glamour settling into a low, throbbing pulse. Quite the opposite, in fact. Mab sent me here to help you. The Winter Queen knows of your quest; she knows you will probably have to journey far to complete it. I am here to make sure you reach your destination with your guts on the inside.
In return, she will owe me a favor. Or the Summer prankster. Who, if he wants his head to remain on his shoulders, will think long and hard about jumping me from behind.
Next time, try standing downwind, Goodfellow. Brandishing his daggers, he sauntered up beside me, facing the huge predator. Will you also roll over and beg if she asks? I resisted the urge to hit Goodfellow, even though I knew what he was doing; taunting an opponent for more information. I will see you to the end of your quest alive.
You enjoy the hunt, and the challenge, but to agree to such a request without a kill at the end? Why not come down here and talk about me? I know why you are here, dog. His power, his entire existence, comes from stories, from myths and legends and all the dark, frightening and amusing tales about him that humans have invented over the years. It is how the Big Bad Wolf has survived for so long. It is how you have survived for centuries, Goodfellow.
Surely you know this. That you, a soulless and immortal being, wish to become human for the mortal you love. That is a tale that will endure for generations, if you can survive the trials, of course. I can help you in that respect. It will make the story longer anyway. The Wolf gave me an eerie smile, all fangs, and his eyes glinted in the shadows. I have been both, and such roles are easy for me to slip into.
I leave the choice to you. Finally, I nodded and carefully sheathed my blade. But I make no promises about our continued alliance. Grimalkin was not impressed. And if a certain dog forgets its manners, you will all be up the river without a paddle, so to speak. Remember that, prince. We still need him to reach the seer. This way, and do try to keep up.
A basilisk stirred on a rocky shelf, eyeing us hungrily as we passed beneath, but the Wolf silently curled his lip, baring his fangs, and the monster appeared to lose interest. After we crossed the plateau, the ground turned sharply downhill and thick, thorny brambles started appearing, choking out the trees.
When we reached the bottom of the slope, the briars rose around us like a spiny maze, ragged wisps of fog caught between their branches. The ground was wet and spongy, saturated with water, mud and something else. Something dark had seeped into the earth, turning the ground black and poisoned. The air was still, silent as a grave; nothing moved in the shadows or between the thorns, not even insects. What kind of monster do you think lives here, ice-boy?
It has to be pretty nasty for Furball to f lake out on us. The Wolf sniffed the air, growled low in his chest, and the hackles rose along his spine. The cait sith faced him seriously, his yellow eyes intense. The valley will not tolerate intruders. This part of the journey is for them, and them alone. Reluctantly, he nodded and took a step back. Grimalkin watched him go and turned to us. Puck crossed his arms, gazing past the edge of the valley into the darkness and thorns.
Silence hung thick on the air; not a peaceful, serene silence, but the silence of a tomb, or the aftermath of a battle, where death and darkness thrived and the living had no place. I could hear the whispers of hate and fear that hissed through the brambles, ghosts on the wind.
I could hear them call my name. Something in me recoiled, reluctant to set foot in that dark valley. It was waiting for me, somewhere beyond the mist. Still watching. Why this sudden fear? Fear meant nothing to me. Fear was the knowledge of pain, the awareness that you could be hurt, that you could die. That was all it came down to. I knew pain.
Nodding to Puck, I drew my sword and stepped into the hollow, feeling the mist coil around me as we slipped into the fog. A gray shroud enveloped us instantly, lit by a f lat, even glow that somehow managed to darken everything. Nothing moved in the hollow; all life had been swallowed by the thick black briars that sprang up everywhere, choking everything out. The ground beneath us was wet and spongy, though the writhing layer of mist made it impossible to see what we were stepping on.
As I moved through the brambles, my sword held up and ready, I began to sense the wrongness of the valley, right below my feet. The ground pulsed with hate and blood and despair; I could feel it clawing at me, the darkness of this place.
I could feel my Unseelie nature rise up in response, cold, ruthless and angry. I whirled, but no one was there. You all right? I wanted to take my sword and plunge it deep into his chest, to watch the light fade from his eyes right before he crumpled at my feet.
Turning away, I struggled to compose myself, to stif le the cold rage ebbing through me. The demon inside was stirring, unwilling to hold back any longer, and the core of the rage was directed, like a spearhead, at Puck. Several yards away, barely visible through the mist, a ghostly, glowing figure walked through a space between the briars, catching my eye and then vanishing from sight.
My breath caught in my throat. Forgetting Puck, forgetting everything that had brought us here, I followed the figure into the mist. Voices hissed at me through the brambles, faint and incomprehensible, though every so often I heard them whisper my name. I caught glimpses of the lone figure through the branches, always walking away from me, just out of reach.
Somewhere in the mist, I heard Puck call my name as he tried to follow, but I ignored him. Ahead of me, the thorns finally thinned, and the ghostly figure strode purposefully forward, never glancing back. It turned a corner, and I hurried to catch up…. The brambles fell away, and I found myself in a small clearing, thick briars hemming me in on either side. Before me, rising out of the mist, a bleached-white skeleton lay sprawled in the mud and stagnant water of the clearing.
The skeleton was huge, an enormous reptilian creature with thick hind legs and a long, powerful tail. Wingbones lay folded beneath it, snapped and broken, and the huge jaws were open in a last, silent roar. I started to shake. Not with fear, but with complete, allconsuming fury, and despair burned my throat like bile. I knew this place.
I recognized where we were at last. It was here, on this spot, that Puck, Ariella and I had fought and killed a monstrous wyvern, slaying it but losing one of our own in the process. This was the hollow where Ariella died. It had all started right here. It would end here, as well. Throne of Glass. Empire of Storms. Becca Fitzpatrick. The Heir. Goddess Interrupted. City of Heavenly Fire. Glass Sword. Victoria Aveyard. Lady Midnight.
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In this series View all Book 3. Book 4. Book 5. Book 6. Skip this list. Ratings and Book Reviews 12 star ratings 12 reviews. Overall rating 4. Yes No Thanks for your feedback! Report as inappropriate. One word: The book trailer didn't do this book justice. I was hooked from page one. Kid you not this book is and will be on my top 10 favorite book list along with all of the other books j kagawa has written.
She isa incredible story teller and insanely awesome world builder. You won't regret it. The first book is the Iron king Love every single one of these books. I know you will too. Toodles darlings!!! Seriously this book and this series is so captivating and intense to read.