The Iron King

By: Julie Kagawa


“It’s time,” he murmured.

For a moment, I stared at him, not understanding. Then it hit me all at once. Oh, God. The contract. He’s here to take me to the Winter Court.

“Meghan?” Mom looked from me to the door, not seeing the Winter prince silhouetted against the frame. But her face was tight; she knew something was there. “What’s happening? Who’s there?”

I can’t go now, I raged silently. I just got home! I want to be normal; I want to go to school and learn to drive and go to prom next year. I want to forget faeries ever existed.

But I gave my word. And Ash had upheld his end of the bargain, though he almost died for it.

Ash waited quietly, his eyes never leaving mine. I nodded at him and turned back to my family.

“Mom,” I whispered, sitting on the couch, “I…I have to go. I made a promise to someone that I would stay with Them for a while. Please don’t worry or be sad. I’ll be back, I swear. But this is something I gotta do, or else They might come looking for you or Ethan again.”

“Meghan, no.” Mom gripped my hand, squeezing hard. “We can do something. There has to be a way to…keep Them back. We can move again, all of us. We—”

“Mom.” And I let my glamour fade away, revealing my true self to her. It wasn’t difficult this time, to manipulate the glamour surrounding me. Like the roots in Machina’s domain, it came so naturally I wondered how I ever thought it hard. Mom’s eyes widened, and she jerked her hand back, pulling Ethan close. “I’m one of Them now,” I whispered. “I can’t run from this. You should know that. I have to go.”

Mom didn’t answer. She kept staring at me with a mix of sorrow, guilt, and horror. I sighed and rose to my feet, letting the glamour settle on me again. It felt like the weight of the entire world.

“Ready?” Ash murmured, and I paused, glancing up toward my room. Did I want to take anything with me? I had my clothes, my music, little personal items collected in my sixteen years.

No. I didn’t need them. That person was gone, if she had been real in the first place. I needed to figure out who I really was, before I came back. If I came back. Glancing at Mom, still frozen on the couch, I wondered if this would ever be home again.

“Meggie?” Ethan slid off the couch and padded up to me. I knelt, and he hugged me around the neck with all the strength a four-year-old could muster.

“I won’t forget,” he whispered, and I swallowed the lump in my throat. Standing up, I ruffled his hair and turned to Ash, still waiting silently at the door.

“You have everything?” he asked as I approached. I nodded.

“Everything I need,” I murmured back. “Let’s go.”

He bowed, not to me, but to Mom and Ethan, and walked out. Ethan sniffled loudly and waved, trying hard not to cry. And I smiled, seeing their emotions as clearly as a beautiful painting: blue sorrow, emerald hope, scarlet love. We were connected, all of us. Nothing, fey, god, or immortal, could sever that.

I waved to Ethan, nodded forgiveness at Mom, and shut the door, following Ash into the silver moonlight.





ACKNOWLEDGMENTS




The road to publication is a long and arduous one, and I have many people to thank for seeing me through to the end. My parents, for encouraging me to go for my dreams instead of getting a real job. My sister, Kimiko, and my brother-in-law, Mike, for their willingness to read those horrible first drafts. My mentor, Julianne Lee, and the wonderful authors, teachers, and students at Green River Writers of Louisville, KY. My fabulous agent, Laurie McLean, for giving me a chance, and my editor, Natashya Wilson, for making the dream happen. My writing group, for all the weekends we’ve spent together, bleeding on one another’s manuscripts, shredding one another’s characters, and beating dead horses.

But mostly, I want to thank my amazing husband, Nick, who has been my writing partner, cheerleader, editor, sounding board, proofreader, voice of reason, and always willing to talk story, plot, and character whenever I got myself stuck. I couldn’t have done it without him.