The Iron King

By: Julie Kagawa




“Let go!” I screamed, jerking my arm free and trying to claw the prince’s eyes. “My brother is out there! I have to save him!”




“You don’t even know where he is.” Ash caught my flailing wrist and pinned it to his chest. Silver eyes glared into mine as he shook me, once. “Listen to me! If you go charging out there without a plan, you’ll kill us all, and your brother will die. Is that what you want?”



“No,” I whispered, all the fight going out of me. With a shaky breath, I straightened and wiped my eyes. “Sorry,” I said, embarrassed. “I’m okay now. No more freaking out, I promise.”



Ash still held my hand. Gently I tried pulling back, but he wasn’t letting go. I glanced up, and found his face inches from mine. My heart stumbled a bit, then picked up, louder and faster than before. The prince’s expression was blank; nothing showed on his face or in his eyes, but his body had gone very still.



I licked my lips and whispered, “Is this where you say you’ll kill me?”



One corner of his lip curled. “If you like,” he murmured, a flicker of amusement crossing his face. “Though it’s gotten far too interesting for that.”



BOOK ONE

THE IRON FEY








PART I





CHAPTER ONE




The Ghost in the Computer

Ten years ago, on my sixth birthday, my father disappeared.

No, he didn’t leave. Leaving would imply suitcases and empty drawers, and late birthday cards with ten-dollar bills stuffed inside. Leaving would imply he was unhappy with Mom and me, or that he found a new love elsewhere. None of that was true. He also did not die, because we would’ve heard about it. There was no car crash, no body, no police mingling about the scene of a brutal murder. It all happened very quietly.

On my sixth birthday, my father took me to the park, one of my favorite places to go at that time. It was a lonely little park in the middle of nowhere, with a running trail and a misty green pond surrounded by pine trees. We were at the edge of the pond, feeding the ducks, when I heard the jingle of an ice cream truck in the parking lot over the hill. When I begged my dad to get me a Creamsicle, he laughed, handed me a few bills, and sent me after the truck.

That was the last time I saw him.

Later, when the police searched the area, they discovered his shoes at the edge of the water, but nothing else. They sent divers into the pond, but it was barely ten feet down, and they found nothing but branches and mud at the bottom. My father had disappeared without a trace.

For months afterward, I had a recurring nightmare about standing at the top of that hill, looking down and seeing my father walk into the pond. As the water closed over his head, I could hear the ice cream truck singing in the background, a slow, eerie song with words I could almost understand. Every time I tried to listen to them, however, I’d wake up.

Not long after my father’s disappearance, Mom moved us far away, to a tiny little hick town in the middle of the Louisiana bayou. Mom said she wanted to “start over,” but I always knew, deep down, that she was running from something.

It would be another ten years before I discovered what.



MY NAME IS MEGHAN CHASE.

In less than twenty-four hours, I’ll be sixteen years old.

Sweet sixteen. It has a magical ring to it. Sixteen is supposed to be the age when girls become princesses and fall in love and go to dances and proms and such. Countless stories, songs, and poems have been written about this wonderful age, when a girl finds true love and the stars shine for her and the handsome prince carries her off into the sunset.

I didn’t think it would be that way for me.

The morning before my birthday, I woke up, showered, and rummaged through my dresser for something to wear. Normally, I’d just grab whatever clean-ish thing is on the floor, but today was special. Today was the day Scott Waldron would finally notice me. I wanted to look perfect. Of course, my wardrobe is sadly lacking in the popular-attire department. While other girls spend hours in front of their closets crying, “What should I wear?” my drawers basically hold three things: clothes from Goodwill, hand-me-downs, and overalls.

I wish we weren’t so poor. I know pig farming isn’t the most glamorous of jobs, but you’d think Mom could afford to buy me at least one pair of nice jeans. I glared at my scanty wardrobe in disgust. Oh, well, I guess Scott will have to be wowed with my natural grace and charm, if I don’t make an idiot of myself in front of him.

I finally slipped into cargo pants, a neutral green T-shirt, and my only pair of ratty sneakers, before dragging a brush through my white-blond hair. My hair is straight and very fine, and was doing that stupid floating thing again, where it looked like I’d jammed my finger up an electrical outlet. Yanking it into a ponytail, I went downstairs.

Luke, my stepfather, sat at the table, drinking coffee and leafing through the town’s tiny newspaper, which reads more like our high school gossip column than a real news source. “Five-legged calf born on Patterson’s farm,” the front page screamed; you get the idea. Ethan, my four-year-old half brother, sat on his father’s lap, eating a Pop-Tart and getting crumbs all over Luke’s overalls. He clutched Floppy, his favorite stuffed rabbit, in one arm and occasionally tried to feed it his breakfast; the rabbit’s face was full of crumbs and fruit filling.