The Iron Warrior
Page 17

 Julie Kagawa

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Hissing, they drew back, rallied and lunged forward again, claws and talons raking the air. I kicked myself out of my shocked trance and threw myself into the chaos, lunging beside the whirling dervish of death, adding my own swords to the fray. Forgotten shrieked in fury, falling back to avoid the steel, trying to pounce on me from behind. I stood back to back with Guro, fending off attacks, not thinking of anything but keeping my arms moving, reacting to the dark blurs of shadow clawing at me from every side.
“Ethan, above you!” Kenzie’s voice rang out from somewhere beyond the mass of Forgotten. I stepped back, whipping my sword up, and sliced through a Forgotten dropping toward me from the ceiling. I caught a split-second glance of Guro, surrounded by Forgotten, his swords moving so fast they were a blur. His eyes were still closed as he spun and whirled his blades around him, driving the faeries back.
“Ethan, Guro!” Kenzie called out again. “This way! Back to the corner, hurry!”
I didn’t dare look back to see what she was doing. Glancing at Guro, I started edging toward her voice, falling back before the relentless press of Forgotten. They hissed and slashed at us, still crowding in from all sides, and my arms started to burn from constantly swinging my blades. One of the Forgotten hit my arm, claws tearing through my forearm and sending a spatter of blood to the cement floor. I barely felt the wound, though I knew it was going to hurt like hell when this was done. If they didn’t tear me to pieces before then.
And then, as we backed into the corner with Kenzie, still fending them off with our blades, the press of Forgotten just...stopped. Like we had crossed some invisible barrier the Forgotten couldn’t pass. Panting, I looked down at my feet to see that a thick line of salt had been poured across the floor, boxing us in. The Forgotten hissed and crowded the other side of the salt line, glaring with sinister yellow eyes, but they couldn’t come any farther.
Slumping in relief, I looked at Kenzie. Her backpack sat open in the corner, and she held a huge canister of salt in both hands. Catching my gaze, she offered a wry grin.
“Part of the survival pack for the Nevernever,” she said, her voice shaking only slightly. “Item number one on the list—iron. Item number two—salt.” She gave a small shrug and put the canister on the floor by her pack. “I might not be able to swing a sword, but I can sling salt around like nobody’s business.”
Still keeping an eye on the Forgotten, I reached out with my uninjured arm and hugged her. She squeezed back, her heart thudding rapidly against mine. The black wall of Forgotten had gone silent again, standing motionless outside the circle. They didn’t look like they would move or go away anytime soon, but I’d worry about getting us out of here after I’d caught my breath.
Guro turned to us, dark eyes searching. “You are injured,” he said, and of course at that point, my arm started to throb with the reminder. I gritted my teeth and pulled back from Kenzie with a hiss of pain, looking at my arm. Four long, straight gashes were raked across my forearm, oozing blood down my skin and dripping to the floor.
Kenzie winced in sympathy. “Oh, Ethan. Hang on,” she said, and knelt by her pack, rummaging through the pockets. “Item number three,” she sighed, and pulled out a red-and-white plastic box, setting it on the ground. “First-aid kit.”
Guro loomed over us, sword in each hand, watching patiently, as I sat in the corner and Kenzie took care of my shredded arm. His dark eyes scanned the room beyond the salt barrier, and my heart leaped.
“Guro? Can you see them?”
“No,” Guro replied calmly, not taking his eyes from the room. “Not completely. I can see...flashes. Glimpses from the corner of my eye, like dark shadows. But they disappear when I look at them directly.”
“Is that why you closed your eyes?”
He glanced down at me. “What have I told you before, Ethan?” he asked softly. “Your eyes are not your only senses in a fight. I do not need to see my opponent to know where he is.”
“Damn,” I breathed, shaking my head. My respect for my instructor had just turned into terrified awe. If I ever got out of here, I would never miss a class again.
“How many are left?” Guro asked, going back to scanning the room.
“Um.” I clenched my jaw as Kenzie tightened the gauze around my arm and clinched it shut. I stared at the Forgotten, trying to get a head count. It was hard. They were just black blobs of shadow that melted into each other. If it wasn’t for their glowing yellow eyes, it would be impossible. “Hard to say. Maybe a dozen?”
“Fourteen,” Kenzie said quietly. Snapping the first-aid kit shut, she slid it into her pack and hefted the bag to her shoulders. Razor bounced to her shoulder as she stood, holding a hand out to me. “So, the question is,” she continued, as I grabbed her wrist, and she pulled me upright, “how do we get out of here?”
I eyed the Forgotten over the salt line and narrowed my eyes. “I could always smack them from this side of the barrier, I guess.”
As one, the Forgotten drew back. Just a few steps, but just out of reach of my swords. Kenzie grimaced.
“They do understand us, Ethan. Maybe you could try talking to them?”
I glared at the Forgotten, and as I did, one of the shadowy forms eased closer to the edge of the salt barrier. I raised my sword and stepped in front of Kenzie, as the Forgotten stared back with its empty gold eyes.
“What do you want?” I asked.
“You,” the Forgotten whispered, its raspy voice making my skin crawl. “We want you, Ethan Chase. Your life. Your blood. You.”
“Sorry, you already got both a few months ago.” I sneered at the Forgotten, as if dying was something I did every day. No big deal. “And I don’t really feel like doing that again. You can go back and tell the Lady she only gets to kill me once.”
“Not the Lady,” the Forgotten hissed. “She did not send us here.”
Not the Lady? “Then, who—”
The answer hit me like a slap, and I stared at the Forgotten in growing rage and horror. “Keirran,” I said, as Kenzie gasped and Razor gave a disbelieving “Master?” from beneath her hair. “Keirran sent you after me?”
“Yes,” whispered the Forgotten, and pointed at me with a long, sharp finger. “He wants you, Ethan Chase. You have the disturbing habit of not dying when you are supposed to, and the Iron Prince will take no more chances. You will not interfere with the Lady’s plans. Surrender now, and the others may go. We have no interest in the other mortals. But you must come with us.”
My arms shook, and I didn’t know if it was from shock or a blinding, absolute fury. Not that Keirran really wanted me dead, but that he’d sent minions to finish the job. He couldn’t even be bothered to face me himself. Just further proof that the Iron Prince, the Keirran I used to know, was gone. “Yeah?” I challenged, feeling the cold spread through my whole body. “And how do you expect to do that, with us on this side of the barrier?”
“You cannot stay there forever,” hissed the Forgotten. “Sooner or later, you must come out. You are only mortal.” It eased back, into the crowd of its brethren. “We can be patient, Ethan Chase.”
“Dammit,” I muttered, and turned away from the Forgotten, feeling desperation rise up to mingle with the fear and rage. They were right; we couldn’t stay here forever, especially with Guro’s family still out there. His wife and little girl could come home at any minute, and my blood chilled at what might happen to them. “Fine,” I growled, raising both my swords again. “You really want me that bad, huh?” The Forgotten shifted eagerly, ready to attack as soon as I crossed the barrier, and I smiled grimly.