The Iron Warrior
Page 13

 Julie Kagawa

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“Black magic,” Ash muttered, sounding grim. “I know there are still those in the mortal realm that are capable of real power. It is not something to be trifled with, Ethan.”
“Yeah,” I said. “I sort of got that. But Keirran wouldn’t let it go. He begged Guro to save Annwyl, no matter the cost. Guro told him what would happen. He told him the dangers of black magic, laid it out word for word. But Keirran was determined to do it anyway. And I...agreed to let him do it. I knew it was a bad idea, and I didn’t stop him.”
Ash shook his head with a weary smile. “I don’t think you could have,” he murmured. “Once Keirran puts his mind to something, he won’t let it go. He’s always been that way. Too much of his father in him.” He sighed, all traces of amusement fading as he nodded for me to go on. “What happened after that?”
“There was a ritual,” I continued. “Dark magic, blood magic, whatever you want to call it. It got pretty intense.” I repressed a shiver, remembering that night. The drums, the chanting, the rage and hatred surging up in me. Rage toward Keirran, for taking my sister away, for being the cause of her abandonment. “Keirran and I both had to participate,” I confessed, wishing I had never agreed to do it. I still didn’t like what had been revealed, what I’d discovered about myself that night. “And when it was done, we had this amulet that would steal Keirran’s strength and his glamour and give it to Annwyl. It would keep her alive, keep her from Fading, but at the cost of Keirran’s own life. would kill them both.”
There was a moment of grim silence. I felt the chill emanating from Ash’s direction and shivered, wondering if he would blame me for the ultimate death of his son. If he did, he would be right. I had nothing to say in my defense.
“You mentioned this before,” Ash said, frowning. “But Keirran is still alive. How?”
“I don’t know,” I answered. “Annwyl went back to Leanansidhe’s when we crossed into the Nevernever. I haven’t seen her since. But...” I took a furtive breath. This was going to be the hardest part to explain. “There more thing you should know, about the amulet. When Titania refused to let Annwyl return to Arcadia, Keirran lost it. He attacked the queen, she tried to kill us, and we had to run.” I couldn’t stop my gaze from straying to Kenzie at that point, reliving the terror of that moment. Keirran and the Summer Queen had been hurling deadly magical projectiles at each other, and Kenzie, caught in the middle, had been struck by a stray lightning bolt and been badly hurt. She eased behind me and laced our fingers together, as if to let me know she was still here, that she was fine. I squeezed her hand and continued.
“After that,” I told Ash, “Keirran didn’t know what to do. Titania was our last resort. He was going to go home, but then, the Forgotten Queen called for him. And since he’d promised to speak with her one last time, he had to go. To Ireland—that’s where she was waiting.”
“And you went with him,” Ash guessed.
I nodded. “I couldn’t let him go alone.” Keirran was family, and he’d been trying to save Annwyl, despite all the stupid stunts he’d pulled. He couldn’t go by himself.
I did not mention that I’d nearly let him do just that. It was only Kenzie’s insistence that I help Keirran out, one more time, that had made me relent. Even lying in a hospital bed, recovering from the latest catastrophe he had caused, she was far more forgiving than I.
Ash was quiet. He knew, as I did, what came next.
“So, we went to see the Lady,” I continued. “And right before...Keirran stabbed me, the Lady mentioned something. She told him that my sacrifice would lift the Veil, that if I died, all exiles and Forgotten would be saved, because humans would be able to see them. And that belief would let them exist again. But, there other thing she told us. About Keirran, and the amulet. She said that not only was the amulet draining Keirran’s strength and magic, it was also...” I hesitated. Ash was going to hate me after this.
“What?” Ash prodded gently. I swallowed.
“Stealing his soul.”
“It was just supposed to be a temporary solution,” Kenzie broke in, as Ash went very still, looking dangerous now. “It was supposed to keep Annwyl alive until we could convince Titania to lift her banishment. Once she went back to the Nevernever, Keirran promised he would destroy that thing. It wasn’t...” Her voice shook, very slightly, and dropped to a whisper. “It wasn’t supposed to end like this.”
Silence filled the room. Memories, regret and what-ifs tore at me. So much waste, lost friendships, broken promises and families torn apart. The Nevernever was going to war. Meghan was going to have to fight her own son. All because Keirran had tried to save someone he loved from dying. It didn’t seem fair.
“Can the amulet be destroyed?” Ash questioned at last, his voice lethally soft.
“I—I don’t know,” I stammered helplessly. “We would have to find Annwyl, see if she still has it.” If she’s still alive. “But even if we do destroy it, Guro said the damage it causes might be permanent. I’d have to talk to him, see if there’s anything we can do, some way to reverse whatever’s happened to Keirran.”
Ash nodded slowly. “I think that’s all we can hope for now,” he mused, almost too faint to hear. Closing his eyes, he took a breath, and then his gaze sliced into me again. “I will not lose my son,” he said in a terrifying yet almost desperate voice. “Meghan is queen—her hands are tied in this matter—but I will do whatever it takes to see him returned to us. Ethan, you were his friend, once. You stood with him when no one else would. I know that what Keirran has done can never be forgiven, but...would you be willing to do this one final thing? For Meghan, if for no one else. Go to your Guro. Ask him about the amulet. See if there’s anything we can do to return Keirran to himself. If it’s not too late to save him.”
I swallowed hard. “Yeah,” I rasped, nodding. “I’ll do it. For Meghan.” For everyone.
Ash turned away, gesturing for us to follow, and we trailed him to the end of an aisle. Reaching up to a shelf, Ash hooked a finger atop a book spine and pulled it down. There was a creak, and a section of shelf swung back, revealing a narrow stone tunnel snaking away into darkness.
“This will take you out of the city,” Ash said, turning back. “There is a trod at the end of the tunnel that will return you to the mortal realm, very close to your own house, Ethan.” I blinked in surprise, and Ash smiled sadly. “Keirran used this passage all the time to sneak out of the palace, until I finally locked it down.”
A pained look crossed his face, but he shook his head, and it was gone. “I would go with you myself,” he continued, “ place is here, with Meghan. Too much is at stake in the Nevernever right now. We must prepare the Iron Realm for war, so I am counting on you—both of you—” he added, looking at Kenzie “—to save Keirran. Bring him home, so we can end this madness for good.”
“I can’t promise anything, Ash,” I said, thinking that my attempts to do the right thing had gotten us into this mess in the first place. “But I’ll try. If there’s a way to destroy that amulet without killing Keirran and Annwyl, I’ll find it.”