Ironside (Modern Faerie Tales #3) - Page 23

"Kaye," Corny said. "It's not your fault.”

"We have to warn him," she said, pacing the room. She didn't want to admit that it bothered her that she wasn't going to be carried off for the Tithe, she wasn't the key, she wasn't even important. She'd just made things worse for Roiben, distracted him. Silarial had played them both.

"We don't even know where he is," said Corny. "The hollow hill in the graveyard isn't even hollow anymore.”

"But we know where he will be," she said. "Hart Island.”

"Tomorrow night. At this point, basically later today." Corny walked over to his computer and jiggled the mouse, then typed in a few words. "It's an island off of New York, apparently. With a giant graveyard. And a prison—although I don't think it's in use. And—oh, perfect—it's completely illegal to go there."

All three of them slept squished into Corny's bed, with him in the middle, his arm over Kaye's back, and Luis's head pillowed on his shoulder. When he woke, it was late in the afternoon. Kaye was still curled up beside him, but Luis sat on the rug, speaking softly into Corny's cell phone.

Luis said something about "ashes" and "afford," but he shook his head when he saw Corny watching, and then turned to the wall. Padding past, Corny went out to the kitchen and turned on the coffeepot. He should have been worried. They were hours from heading into danger. Still, as he measured out the grounds, a smile spread over his face.

He immediately felt guilty. He shouldn't be so happy when Luis was mourning his brother. But he was.

Luis liked him. Luis. Liked. Him.

"Hey," Kaye said, scrubbing her hand through her tangled hair. She'd stolen one of his T-shirts and it hung on her like a dress. She grabbed a blue cup out of the cabinet. "Here's to the sweet balm of coffee.”

"By the grace of which we'll accomplish the task before us.”

"Do you think we will?" Kaye asked. "I don't know if Roiben will even listen to me.”

The coffeepot gave a death rattle, and Corny poured three cups. "I do. He will. Honest. Drink up.”

"So . . . you and Luis?" Her mug almost hid her grin.

He nodded. "I mean, not now with everything happening, but yeah.”

"I'm glad." Her smile faded. "You don't have to go tonight. I'm not trying to be a martyr; it's just that with Luis losing his brother and you guys having something . . . This is my problem. They're my people.”

He shrugged and put his arm around her shoulder. "Yeah, well, you're my problem. You're my people.”

She leaned her head against him. Even just risen from bed, she smelled like grass and earth. "What about your fear of megalomaniacal fiends? I didn't think our recent trip was the ticket to getting over that.”

He felt crazy with confidence. Luis liked him. His curse was gone. Everything seemed possible. "Let's get the fiends before the fiends get us.”

Luis came out of the bedroom, closing the phone against his chest. "I saw your mom this morning. She said that she wanted to talk to you when she got home from work. I didn't tell her anything.”

Corny nodded, reminding himself to seem calm. Reminding himself not to kiss Luis. He hadn't brushed his teeth and it didn't seem like great timing anyway. Luis was probably feeling grim.

"I'll leave a note. Then we'd better go. Luis, if you have to stay here and sort out stuff—”

"What I need is to stop Silarial from hurting anyone else." He looked Corny dead in the eye, as if daring him to act pitying.

"Okay," Kaye said. "We're all in. Now what we need is a map and a boat.”

"Hart Island is in the Long Island Sound, off of City Island, which is off of the Bronx. But it isn't exactly within paddling distance." Corny held out a mug to Luis. When he took it, their fingers brushed, and he felt a different kind of power.

"So we could get a boat with a motor," Kaye said. "There's a boating store on Route 35. I could turn a pile of leaves into money. Or we could find a marina up there to filch a boat from.”

Luis busied himself adding sugar to his coffee. "I've never steered a boat or read a navigational chart. Have you?”

Kaye shook her head, and Corny had to admit that he hadn't either.

"There's mermaids in the East River," said Luis. "Probably in the Sound, too. I don't know much about them, but if they don't want us to get to Hart Island, they could pitch us into the water. They've got vicious teeth.”

Corny shuddered at the thought. His mind went to Janet, held underneath the waves by a delighted kelpie. "We could trade them something, maybe," he said. "They might drag us there for a price.”

Kaye looked over at him warily. He figured she was remembering how they'd traded an old carousel horse to that same kelpie for information. Before they knew how dangerous the kelpie was. Before it murdered Janet.

She nodded slowly. "What do mermaids like?"

Luis shrugged. "Jewelry . . . music . . . sailors?"

"They eat people, right?" Corny asked.

"Sure. When they're done with them."

Corny smiled. "Let's bring them a couple of big steaks."

They bought an inflatable green raft and two oars at the boat store. The clerk looked at Kaye strangely when she counted out hundreds of curled and tattered dollars, but her smile charmed him into silence.

They got back into the car.

Luis rode shotgun and Kaye rested in the back with her head on the cardboard box. As Corny changed lanes on the highway, he looked over at Luis, but Luis looked out the window, his eyes not focused on anything. Whatever he saw, it wasn't something Corny could share. Silence filled up the car.

"Who was it?" Corny asked finally. "On the phone?”

Luis looked toward him too quickly. "It was the hospital. They were upset about me not having a mailing address or a landline phone and him being under eighteen. And even though they didn't know if I'd be allowed to claim him, they started talking about my options. Basically, I have to come up with the money for cremation.”

"Kaye could—”

Luis shook his head.

"We could sell the boat when we're done with it.”

Luis smiled, a small lift of his lip. "I want him to have a good burial, you know.”

At Janet's funeral there had been a coffin and a service, flowers and a stone. Corny had never asked about the cost, but his mom wasn't rich. He wondered how much she'd gone into debt for his sister to be buried in style.

"My parents—they're out where we're going." Luis's finger turned his lip ring.

"Hart Island?”

He nodded. "That's where potter's field is. Where they bury the 'friendless' dead. Which basically means the dead with no living relatives, who are renters and in credit card debt. My parents. I was underage, so I couldn't claim them. If I'd even tried, they'd probably have hauled Dave and me off to child services.”

The possible replies scrolled in front of Corny's eyes. Wow. Are you okay? I'm so sorry. All of them inadequate.

"I've never been there," Luis said. "It'll be good to go."

• • •

They drove over the drawbridge, to the very edge of City Island, and parked the car behind a restaurant. Then, sitting in the snow, they took turns blowing up the raft, like they were passing around a joint.

"How are we going to attract those mermaids?" Corny asked, while Luis huffed into the little tube.

Kaye picked up a receipt from the floor of his car. "You got something pointy?”

Corny searched through his backpack until he came up with a discarded safety pin.

She poked her finger and, wincing, smeared her blood onto the paper. Walking to the edge of the water, she dropped it in. "I'm Kaye Fierch," she said firmly. "A pixie. A Seelie Court changeling on a quest for the King of the Night Court. I come here and ask for your help. I ask for your help. Three times I ask for your help.”

Corny looked at her, standing in front of the water, her green hair pulled back from her glamoured face, her battered purple coat blown by the wind. For the first time, he thought that even in her human guise she had somehow grown formidable.

Heads bobbed in the black water, pale hair floating around them like sea grass.

Kaye went down on her knees. "I ask that you bring us three to Hart Island safely. We have a boat. All you have to do is pull it.”

"And what will you give us, pixie?" they answered in their melodious voices. Their teeth were translucent and sharp, like they were made of cartilage.

Kaye walked back to the car and brought out the ShopRite plastic bag full of meat. She held up a raw and dripping shank. "Flesh," she said.

"We accept," said the mermaids.

Kaye, Corny, and Luis dragged the boat onto the water and pushed off. The mermaids swam around them, pushing the boat and singing softly as they went, their voices so beautiful and insistent that Corny found himself dazed. Kaye appeared tense, sitting at the prow like a ship's figurehead.

Looking over the side, Corny saw a mermaid coming up through the water, and for a moment it seemed like she wore his sister's face, blue with cold and death. He looked away.

"I know who you are," one of them said to Luis, coming up to the side, her white, webbed hand reaching up onto the side of the boat. "You brought my sisters the troll's potion.”

He nodded, swallowing.

"I could teach you how to heal better," the mermaid whispered. "If you came with me. Under the water.”

Corny put his hand on Luis's arm, and Luis jumped as if he'd been stung.

The mermaid turned her head toward Corny. "What about vengeance? I could give you that. You lost someone to the sea.”

Corny choked. "What?”

"You want it," she said. "I know that you do.”

The mermaid reached up, her webbed hand settling on the side of the raft, near Corny. Scales skived off, shining on the rubber. "I could give you the power," she told him.

Corny looked down at her gelatinous eyes and her thin, sharp teeth. Envy curled in his gut. She was beautiful and terrible and magical. But the feeling was distant, like being envious of a sunset. "I don't need any more power," he said, and was surprised to find he meant it. And if he wanted vengeance, he'd get it on his own.

Kaye made a soft noise. Corny looked up.

There on the far shore, behind heaps of mussel shells, a great crowd of beings had gathered. And beyond them, abandoned buildings stood near rows and rows of graves.

Chapter 13

"Thou art the unanswered question;

Couldst see thy proper eye,

Alway it asketh, asketh;

And each answer is a lie.”

—Ralph Waldo Emerson, "The Sphinx"

Kaye pushed through the crowd with Corny and Luis, shoving lavender-skinned bodies and batting aside clouds of pin-size sprites. A phooka with a goat head and dead white eyes called to her as she passed, licking its teeth with a cat's tongue. "Licksy tricksy pixie!”

Ducking beneath the arm of an ogre, Kaye leaped onto a grave marker to avoid three spindly hobmen locked in an embrace in the dirt.

From the top of the marker, she surveyed the court. She saw Ruddles drinking from a bowl and passing it to a number of other animal-headed beings. Ellebere stood beside him—hair fading from wine to gold as it fell over his shoulders, his armor a deep and mossy green.

Roiben himself was talking animatedly to a woman as slim as a wand, her long black hair knotted into a jeweled cape that draped over her back to match the long and twitching tail that was also hung with jewels. From where she was, Kaye couldn't tell whether or not they were arguing, only that he leaned far forward and the woman was gesturing with her hands.

Then, abruptly, Roiben turned and looked in Kaye's direction. Kaye was so surprised that she fell. She forgot to flap her wings. Her head hit a stone, and tears sprung to her eyes. For a moment she just lay there, resting her head against the ground and listening to the folk milling around her. It was awful to be so near him, awful how her heart leapt.

"You shouldn't eat the bones if you chew them like that." She heard someone say nearby. "They're too sharp. Cut up your insides.”

"Haven't you become a little beetleflower?" said another voice. "Marrow's better than meat, but you've got to go through the bones to get it.”

Corny reached out a hand to pull Kaye to her feet. "I don't think he saw you.”

"Perhaps not, but I did." A woman, her wings so tattered that only the veins hung from her back, looked down at Kaye. She held a knife that curved like a snake, and her armor gleamed the same shining purple as the carapace of a beetle.

"Dulcamara," Kaye said, standing. "My friends need to talk to Roiben.”

"Perhaps after the duel," she said. Her pink eyes regarded Kaye with contempt.

"They have to talk to him now," said Kaye. "Please. He can't duel. He has to call it off.”

Dulcamara licked the edge of her blade, painting it with her mouth's blood. "I will play messenger. Give me your words and I will carry them to him with my own tongue.”

"They have to tell him themselves.”

Dulcamara shook her head. "I will allow no more distractions from you than he has already borne.”

Corny stepped up. "Just for a moment. It'll only take a moment. He knows me.”

"Mortals are liars. They can't help it," said the faerie knight. Kaye could see her teeth were as sharp as the knife in her hand, and unlike the mermaids', hers were bone. She smiled at Corny. "It's your nature.”

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