“You don’t wanna do that, love,” he warned. His dark hair was pulled back in a tail, and horns curled up from his brow. He moved to the edge of the bar, and I heard hooves clopping over the wood. “Why don’t you come over here and I’ll fix you something nice? On the house, what’d you say?”

Grimalkin leaped onto a bar stool and put his front paws on the counter. A human on the stool next to him sipped his drink like nothing was happening. “We’re looking for Shard,” Grim said as the bartender shot him an irritated look, turning away from me.

“Shard is busy,” the satyr replied, but he didn’t meet Grim’s eyes as he said it, and a moment later he began wiping down the bar. Grim continued to stare at him, until the satyr looked up. His eyes slitted dangerously. “I said, she’s busy. Now, why don’t you beat it, before I get the redcaps to stuff you into a bottle?”

“David, that’s no way to treat customers,” a cool female voice breathed from behind me, and I jumped. “Especially if one is an old friend.”

The woman behind us was small and slight, with pale skin and neon-blue lips that curled sardonically at the edges. Her spiky hair stuck out at every angle, its dyed shades of blue, green, and white resembling ice crystals growing out of her scalp. She wore tight leather pants, a midriff tee that barely covered her br**sts, and a dagger on one thigh. Her face glittered from countless piercings: eyebrows, nose, lips, and cheeks, all silver or gold. Her long ears sparkled with rings, studs, and bars, enough to make any metalhead weep from envy. A silver bar lanced through her belly button, and a tiny dragon pendant dangled from it.

“Hello, Grimalkin,” the woman said, sounding resigned. “It’s been a while, hasn’t it? What brings you to my humble club? And with the Summer whelp in tow?” Her eyes, scintillating blue and green, looked me over curiously.

“We need passage into Tir Na Nog,” Grimalkin said without hesitation. “Tonight, if you can.”

“Don’t ask for much, do you?” Shard grinned, motioning us into a corner booth. Once seated, she leaned back and snapped her fingers. A human, lean and gangly, melted out of the shadows to stand beside her, his face slack with adoration.

“Appletini,” she told him. “Spill it, and spend the rest of your days as a roach. Do you two want anything?”

“No,” Grimalkin said firmly. I shook my head.

The human scurried off, and Shard leaned forward. Her blue lips curved in a smile.

“So. Passage to Winter’s territory. You want to use my trod, is that correct?”

“It is not your trod,” Grimalkin said, thumping his tail against the booth cushions.

“But it is under my dance club,” Shard replied. “And the Winter Queen won’t be pleased if I let the Summer whelp into her territory unannounced. Don’t look at me like that, Grim. I’m not stupid. I know the daughter of the Erlking when I see her. So, the question is, what do I get out of this?”

“A favor repaid.” Grimalkin narrowed his eyes at her. “Your debt to me canceled.”

“That’s fine for you,” Shard said, and turned her leer on me, “but what about this one? What can she offer?”

I swallowed. “What do you want?” I asked before Grimalkin could say anything. The cat shot me an exasperated glare, but I ignored him. If anyone would barter away my fate, it would be me. I didn’t want Grimalkin promising this woman my firstborn child without my consent.

Shard leaned back again, crossing her legs with a smile. The gangly boy appeared with her drink, a green concoction with a tiny umbrella, and she sipped it slowly, her eyes never leaving mine.

“Hmm, that’s a good question,” Shard murmured, swirling her ’tini thoughtfully. “What do I want of you? It must be awfully important for you to get into Mab’s territory. What would that be worth?”

She took another sip, appearing deep in thought. “How about…your name?” she offered at last. I blinked.

“My…my name?”

“That’s right.” Shard smiled disarmingly. “Nothing much. Just promise me the use of your name, your True Name, and we’ll call it even, yes?”

“The girl is young, Shard,” Grimalkin said, watching us both with slitted eyes. “She might not even know her true calling yet.”

“That’s all right.” Shard smiled at me. “Just give me the name you call yourself now, and we’ll make do, yes? I’m sure I can find some use for it.”

“No,” I told her. “No deal. You’re not getting my name.”

“Oh, well.” Shard shrugged and raised the glass to her lips. “I guess you’ll have to find another way into Mab’s territory, then.” She shifted toward the end of the booth. “It has been a pleasure. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve a club to run.”

“Wait!” I blurted out.

Shard paused, watching me expectantly.

“All right,” I whispered. “All right, I’ll give you a name. After that, you’ll open the trod, right?”

The faery smiled, showing her teeth. “Of course.”

“Are you sure you want to do this?” Grimalkin asked softly. “Do you know what happens when you give a faery your name?”

I ignored him. “Swear it,” I told Shard. “Promise that you’ll open the trod once I give you the name. Say the words.”

The faery’s smile turned vicious. “Not as stupid as she first appears,” she muttered, and shrugged. “Very well. I, Shard, keeper of the Chaos trod, do swear to open the path once I have received payment in the form of a single name, spoken by the requesting party.” She broke off and smirked at me. “Good enough?”

I nodded.

“Fine.” Shard licked her lips, looking inhumanly eager, as her eyes gleamed. “Now, give me the name.”

“All right.” I took a deep breath as my stomach twisted wildly. “Fred Flintstone.”

Shard’s face went blank. “What?” For one glorious moment, she looked utterly bewildered. “That is not your name, half-blood. That’s not what we agreed on.”

My heart pounded. “Yes, it is,” I told her, keeping my voice firm. “I promised to give you a name, not my name. I’ve upheld my end of the contract. You have your name. Now, show us the trod.”

Beside me, Grimalkin started sneezing, a sudden explosion of feline laughter. Shard’s face remained blank a moment longer, then cold rage crept into her features and her eyes turned black. Her quills bristled, and ice coated the glass in her hand before it shattered into a million sparkling pieces.

“You.” Her gaze stabbed into me, cold and terrifying. I fought the urge to run screaming out of the club. “You will regret this insolence, half-breed. I will not forget this, and will make you beg for mercy until your throat is raw from it.”

My legs trembled, but I stood and faced her. “Not before you show us the trod.”

Grimalkin stopped laughing and jumped onto the table. “You have been out-negotiated, Shard,” he said, his voice still thick with amusement. “Cut your losses and try again some other time. Right now, we need to be going.”

The faery’s eyes still glimmered black, but she made a visible effort to control herself. “Very well,” she said with great dignity. “I will uphold my end of the bargain. Wait here a moment. I need to inform David that I’ll be gone for a bit.”

She stalked away with her chin in the air, her spines quivering like icicles.

“Very clever,” Grimalkin said softly as the faery marched toward the bar. “Shard has always been too rash, never pausing to listen for important details. She thinks she is too smart for that. Still, it is never wise to anger a Winter sidhe. You might regret your little battle of wits before this is over. The fey never forget an insult.”

I remained silent, watching Shard lean over and whisper something to the satyr. David looked up at me, eyes narrowing, before jerking his head once and turning to wipe the counter.

Shard returned. Her eyes were normal again, though they still glared at me with cold dislike. “This way,” she announced frostily, and led us across the room, toward the Staff Only door on the far wall.

We followed her down five or six flights of stairs, pausing at another door with the words Danger! Keep Out! painted on the surface in bright red. Shard looked back at me with an evil little smile.

“Don’t mind Grumly. He’s our last deterrent against those who poke their noses where they don’t belong. Occasionally, some phouka or redcap will think themselves clever, and sneak past David to see what’s down here. Obviously, I can’t have that. So, I use Grumly to dissuade them.” She chuckled. “Sometimes, a mortal will find his way down here, as well. That’s the best entertainment. It cuts down on his food bill, too.”

She gave me a razor-sharp grin and pushed the door open.

The stench hit me like a giant hammer, a revolting mix of rot and sweat and excrement. I recoiled, and my stomach heaved. Bones littered the stone floor, some human, some decidedly not. A pile of dirty straw lay in one corner, next to a door on the far wall. I knew that was the entrance to the Unseelie territory, but reaching it would be a real challenge.

Chained to a ring in the floor, manacled by one tree-stump leg, was the biggest ogre I’d ever seen. His skin was bruise purple, and four yellow tusks curled from his lower jaw. His torso was massive, muscles and tendons rippling under his mottled hide, and his thick fingers ended in curved black claws.

He also wore a heavy collar around his throat, the skin underneath red and raw, showing old scars where he’d clawed at it. A moment later, I realized both the collar and the manacles were made of iron. The ogre limped across the room, favoring the chained leg as he moved, his ankle festering with blisters and open sores. Grimalkin gave a small hiss.

“Interesting,” he said. “Is the ogre really that strong, to be bound that way?”

“He’s escaped a few times in the past, before we started using the iron,” Shard replied, looking pleased with herself. “Smashed the club to bits, and ate a few patrons before we stopped him. I thought drastic measures were called for. Now he behaves himself.”

“It is killing him.” Grimalkin’s voice was flat. “You must realize this will considerably shorten his life span.”

“Don’t lecture me, Grimalkin.” Shard gave the cat a disgusted look and stepped through the door. “If I didn’t keep him here, he’d only be rampaging somewhere else. The iron won’t kill him right away. Ogres heal so fast.”

She sauntered up to the ogre, who glared at her with pain-filled yellow eyes. “Move,” she ordered it, pointing toward the pile of straw in the corner. “Go to your bed, Grumly. Now.”

The ogre stared at her, snarled feebly, and shuffled to his bed, the chain clinking behind him. I couldn’t help but feel a little sorry for him.

Shard opened the door. A long hallway stretched beyond the door, and mist flowed through the opening into the room. “Well?” she called back to us. “Here’s your trod to the Winter territory. Are you going to stand there or what?”

Tags: Julie Kagawa The Iron Fey Book Series
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