The Iron King

By: Julie Kagawa


Ethan licked his hands, then raised his eyes to me and frowned. “Still hungry.”

“You are not,” I told him, snapping out of my daze. “If you eat anything else you’ll get sick. Go play in your room or something.”

He stared at me with a baleful expression, and it seemed that his skin grew darker, wrinkled, and shriveled beneath his baby fat. Without warning, he leaped off the chair, rushed me, and sank his teeth into my leg.

“Ow!” Pain lanced through my calf like an electrical shock. Grabbing his hair, I tried prying his teeth from my skin, but he clung to me like a leech and bit down harder. It felt like glass shards stabbing into my leg. Tears blurred my vision, and my knees almost buckled from the pain.

“Meghan!”

Robbie stood inside the front door, a backpack flung over his shoulder, his green eyes wide with shock.

Ethan released me, jerking his head toward the shout. Blood smeared his lips. Seeing Robbie, he hissed and—there’s no other way to put it—scuttled away from us and up the stairs, vanishing from sight.

I shook so hard I had to sit down on the couch. My leg throbbed, and my breath came in short, uneven gasps. Blood, bright and vivid, seeped through my jeans like an unfurling blossom. Dazed, I stared at it, numbness deadening my limbs, freezing them in shock.

Robbie crossed the room in three strides and knelt beside me. Briskly, as if he’d done this kind of thing before, he began rolling up the cuff of one pant leg.

“Robbie,” I whispered as he bent over his task, his long fingers surprisingly gentle. “What’s happening? Everything’s going crazy. Ethan just attacked me…like a wild dog.”

“That wasn’t your brother,” Robbie muttered as he pushed back the material, revealing a bloody mess below my knee. An oval of jagged puncture wounds marred my leg, seeping blood, and the skin around them was already purpling. Rob whistled softly. “Nasty. Wait here. I’ll be right back.”

“Like I’m going anywhere,” I replied automatically, and then his previous statement sank in. “Wait a minute. What do you mean, that wasn’t Ethan? Who the hell else could it be?”

Rob ignored me. Walking to his backpack, he opened it and pulled out a long, green-tinted bottle and a tiny crystal cup. I frowned. Why was he going for champagne now? I was hurt, in pain, and my kid brother had turned into a monster. I was certainly not in the mood for celebrating.

With the utmost care, Robbie poured the champagne into the cup and walked back, being careful not to spill a single drop.

“Here,” he said, giving it to me. The cup sparkled in his hand. “Drink this. Where do you keep the towels?”

I took it suspiciously. “In the bathroom. Just don’t use Mom’s good white ones.” As Rob walked off, I peered into the tiny cup. There was barely enough for a swallow. It didn’t look like champagne to me. I was expecting something fizzy white or pink, sparkling in the glass. The liquid in the cup was a deep, dark red, the color of blood. A fine mist writhed and danced on the surface.

“What is this?”

Robbie, returning from the bathroom with a white towel, rolled his eyes. “Do you have to question everything? It will help you forget the pain. Just drink it already.”

I sniffed experimentally, expecting hints of roses or berries or some type of sweet scent mixed in with the alcohol.

It smelled of nothing. Nothing at all.

Oh, well. I raised the glass in a silent toast. “Happy birthday to me.”

The wine filled my mouth, flooding my senses. It tasted of nothing, and everything. It tasted of twilight and mist, moonlight and frost, emptiness and longing. The room swayed, and I fell back against the couch, it was so strong. Reality blurred at the edges, wrapping me in a fuzzy haze. I felt sick and sleepy all at once.

By the time my senses cleared, Robbie was tying a bandage around my leg. I didn’t remember him cleaning or dressing the wound. I felt numb and dazed, like a blanket had dropped over my thoughts, making it hard to concentrate.

“There,” Robbie said, straightening up. “That’s done. At least your leg won’t fall off.” His eyes swept up to mine, anxious and assessing. “How’re you feeling, princess?”

“Un,” I said intelligently, and tried to sweep the cobwebs from my brain. There was something I wasn’t remembering, something important. Why was Robbie binding my leg? Had I hurt myself somehow?

I bolted upright.

“Ethan bit me!” I exclaimed, indignant and furious all over again. I turned on Robbie. “And you…you said that wasn’t Ethan at all! What were you talking about? What’s going on?”

“Relax, princess.” Robbie tossed the bloody towel onto the floor and plopped onto a footstool. He sighed. “I was hoping it wouldn’t come to this. My fault, I suppose. I shouldn’t have left you alone today.”

“What are you talking about?”

“You weren’t supposed to see this, any of this,” Robbie went on, to my utter confusion. He seemed to be talking more to himself than me. “Your Sight has always been strong, that was a given. Still, I didn’t expect them to go after your family, too. This changes things.”