The Iron King

By: Julie Kagawa

“It’s only a permit, Rob.” I gathered my backpack as the bus lurched to a halt. “I won’t have my license yet. Knowing Mom, it’ll be another sixteen years before I can drive the car on my own. Ethan will probably get a license before I do.”

The thought of my half brother sent an unexpected chill through me. I remembered his words from the night before: You can see through the Mist and the glamour, Floppy says so.

Stuffed rabbit aside, I had no idea what he was talking about.

As I walked down the bus steps, a familiar figure broke away from a large group and came striding toward me. Scott. My stomach twisted, and I gazed around for a suitable escape route, but before I could flee into the crowd, he was already in front of me.

“Hey.” His voice, drawling and deep, made me shiver. Terrified as I was, he was still gorgeous, with his damp blond hair falling in unruly waves and curls on his forehead. For some reason, he seemed nervous today, running his hands through his bangs and gazing around. “Um…” He hesitated, narrowing his eyes. “What was your name again?”

“Meghan,” I whispered.

“Oh, yeah.” Stepping closer, he glanced back at his friends and lowered his voice. “Listen, I feel bad about the way I treated you yesterday. It was uncalled-for. I’m sorry.”

For a moment, I didn’t understand what he was saying. I’d been expecting threats, taunts, or accusations. Then a great balloon of relief swelled inside me as his words finally registered. “O-oh,” I stammered, feeling my face heat, “that’s okay. Forget about it.”

“I can’t,” he muttered. “You’ve been on my mind since yesterday. I was a real jerk, and I’d like to make it up to you. Do…” He stopped, chewing his lip, then got it all out in a rush. “Do you want to eat lunch with me this afternoon?”

My heart pounded. Butterflies swarmed madly in my stomach, and my feet felt like they were floating an inch off the ground. I barely had the voice to squeak a breathless “Sure.” Scott grinned, showing blindingly white teeth, and gave me a wink.

“Hey, guys! Over here!” One of Scott’s football buddies stood a few feet away, a camera-phone in hand, pointed at us. “Smile for the birdie.”

Before I knew what was happening, Scott put a hand around my shoulders and pulled me close to his side. I blinked up at him, stunned, as my heart began racing around my chest. He flashed his dazzling grin at the camera, but I could only stare, stupefied, like a moron.

“Thanks, Meg,” Scott said, breaking away from me. “See you at lunch.” He smiled and trotted off toward the school with one final wink. The cameraman chuckled and sprinted after him, leaving me dazed and confused at the edge of the parking lot.

For a moment, I stood there, staring like an idiot as my classmates surged around me. Then a grin spread across my face and I whooped, leaping into the air. Scott Waldron wanted to see me! He wanted to have lunch with me, just me, in the cafeteria. Maybe my luck was finally turning around. My best birthday ever might just be starting.

As a silvery curtain of rain crept over the parking lot, I felt eyes on me. Turning, I saw Robbie a few paces away, watching me through the crowd.

Through the rain, his eyes glittered, a too-bright green. As water pounded the concrete and students rushed toward the school, I saw a hint of something on his face: a long muzzle, slitted eyes, a tongue lolling out between pointed fangs. My stomach twisted, but I blinked and Robbie was himself again—normal, grinning, unconcerned that he was getting drenched.

And so was I.

With a little yelp, I sprinted beneath the overhang and ducked inside the school. Robbie followed, laughing, pulling at my limp strands of hair until I smacked him and he stopped.

All through the first class, I kept glancing at Robbie, looking for that eerie, predatory hint on his face, wondering if I was crazy. All it got me was a sore neck and a brusque comment from my English teacher to pay attention and stop staring at boys.

WHEN THE LUNCH BELL RANG, I leaped up, my heart fluttering a hundred miles a minute. Scott was waiting for me in the cafeteria. I grabbed my books, stuffed them into my backpack, whirled around—

And came face-to-face with Robbie, standing behind me.

I shrieked. “Rob, I’m going to smack you if you don’t stop doing that! Now, move. I have to get somewhere.”

“Don’t go.” His voice was quiet, serious. Surprised, I looked up at him. The perpetual goofy grin was gone, and his jaw was set. The look in his eyes was almost frightening. “This is bad, I can feel it. Jockstrap is up to something—he and his buddies were hanging around the yearbook department for a long time after he talked to you. I don’t like it. Promise me you won’t go.”

I recoiled. “Were you eavesdropping on us?” I demanded, scowling. “What’s wrong with you? Ever hear of a ‘private conversation’?”

“Waldron doesn’t care about you.” Robbie crossed his arms, daring me to contradict him. “He’ll break your heart, princess. Trust me, I’ve seen enough of his kind to know.”