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City of Ashes (The Mortal Instruments 2) Cassandra Clare 2022/8/5 16:53:12

“Me too,” Clary said, turned around, and went back to the kitchen. She sat down at the table and put her face in her hands. A moment later Luke followed her.

“Sorry,” he said. “I guess you weren’t in the mood to meet anyone.”

Clary looked at him through splayed fingers. “Where’s Simon?”

“Talking to Maia,” Luke said, and indeed Clary could hear their voices, soft as murmurs, from the other end of the house. “I just thought it would be good for you to have a friend right now.”

Luke pushed his glasses back up his nose. “Did I hear him call you his girlfriend?”

She almost laughed at his bewildered expression. “I guess so.”

“Is that something new, or is this something I’m already supposed to know, but forgot?”

“I hadn’t heard it before myself.” She took her hands away from her face and looked at them. She thought of the rune, the open eye, that decorated the back of the right hand of every Shadowhunter. “Somebody’s girlfriend,” she said. “Somebody’s sister, somebody’s daughter. All these things I never knew I was before, and I still don’t really know what I am.”

“Isn’t that always the question,” Luke said, and Clary heard the door shut at the other end of the house, and Simon’s footsteps approaching the kitchen. The smell of cold night air came in with him.

“Would it be okay if I crashed here tonight?” he asked. “It’s a little late to head home.”

“You know you’re always welcome.” Luke glanced at his watch. “I’m going to get some sleep. Have to be up at five a.m. to get to the hospital by six.”

“Why six?” Simon asked, after Luke had left the kitchen.

“That’s when hospital visiting hours start,” Clary said. “You don’t have to sleep on the couch. Not if you don’t want to.”

“I don’t mind staying to keep you company tomorrow,” he said, shaking dark hair out of his eyes impatiently. “Not at all.”

“I know. I meant you don’t have to sleep on the couch if you don’t want to.”

“Then where…” His voice trailed off, eyes wide behind his glasses. “Oh.”

“It’s a double bed,” she said. “In the guest room.”

Simon took his hands out of his pockets. There was bright color in his cheeks. Jace would have tried to look cool; Simon didn’t even try. “Are you sure?”

He came across the kitchen to her and, bending down, kissed her lightly and clumsily on the mouth. Smiling, she got to her feet. “Enough with the kitchens,” she said. “No more kitchens.” And taking him firmly by the wrists, she pulled him after her, out of the kitchen, toward the guest room where she slept.

THE DARKNESS OF THE PRISONS OF THE SILENT CITY WAS more profound than any darkness Jace had ever known. He couldn’t see the shape of his own hand in front of his eyes, couldn’t see the floor or ceiling of his cell. What he knew of the cell, he knew from the torchlit first glimpse he’d had, guided down here by a contingent of Silent Brothers, who had opened the barred gate of the cell for him and ushered him inside as if he were a common criminal.

Then again, that’s probably exactly what they thought he was.

He knew that the cell had a flagged stone floor, that three of the walls were hewn rock, and that the fourth was made of narrowly spaced electrum bars, each end sunk deeply into stone. He knew there was a door set into those bars. He also knew that a long metal bar ran along the east wall, because the Silent Brothers had attached one loop of a pair of silver cuffs to this bar, and the other cuff to his wrist. He could walk up and down the cell a few steps, rattling like Marley’s ghost, but that was as far as he could go. He had already rubbed his right wrist raw yanking thoughtlessly at the cuff. At least he was left-handed—a small bright spot in the impenetrable blackness. Not that it mattered much, but it was reassuring to have his better fighting hand free.

He began another slow promenade along the length of his cell, trailing his fingers along the wall as he walked. It was unnerving not to know what time it was. In Idris his father had taught him to tell time by the angle of the sun, the length of afternoon shadows, the position of the stars in the night sky. But there were no stars here. In fact, he had begun to wonder if he would ever see the sky again.

Jace paused. Now, why had he wondered that? Of course he’d see the sky again. The Clave weren’t going to kill him. The penalty of death was reserved for murderers. But the flutter of fear stayed with him, just under his rib cage, strange as an unexpected twinge of pain. Jace wasn’t exactly prone to random fits of panic—Alec would have said he could have benefited from a bit more in the way of constructive cowardice. Fear wasn’t something that had ever affected him much.

He thought of Maryse saying, You were never afraid of the dark.

It was true. This anxiety was unnatural, not like him at all. There had to be more to it than simple darkness. He took another shallow breath. He just had to get through the night. One night. That was it. He took another step forward, his manacle jingling drearily.

A sound split the air, freezing him in his tracks. It was a high, howling ululation, a sound of pure and mindless terror. It seemed to go on and on like a singing note plucked from a violin, growing higher and thinner and sharper until it was abruptly cut off.

Jace swore. His ears were ringing, and he could taste terror in his mouth, like bitter metal. Who would have thought that fear had a taste? He pressed his back against the wall of the cell, willing himself to calm down.

The sound came again, louder this time, and then there was another scream, and another. Something crashed overhead, and Jace ducked involuntarily before remembering that he was several levels below ground. He heard another crash, and a picture formed in his mind: mausoleum doors smashing open, the corpses of centuries-dead Shadowhunters staggering free, nothing more than skeletons held together by dried tendon, dragging themselves across the white floors of the Silent City with fleshless, bony fingers—

Enough! With a gasp of effort, Jace forced the vision away. The dead did not come back. And besides, they were the corpses of Nephilim like himself, his slain brothers and sisters. He had nothing to fear from them. So why was he so afraid? He clenched his hands into fists, nails digging into his palms. This panic was unworthy of him. He would master it. He would crush it down. He took a deep breath, filling his lungs, just as another scream sounded, this one very loud. The breath rasped out of his chest as something crashed loudly, very close to him, and he saw a sudden bloom of light, a hot fire-flower stabbing into his eyes.

Brother Jeremiah staggered into view, his right hand clutching a still-burning torch, his parchment hood fallen back to reveal a face torqued into a grotesque expression of terror. His previously sewn-shut mouth gaped open in a soundless scream, the gory threads of torn stitches dangling from his shredded lips. Blood, black in the torchlight, spattered his light robes. He took a few staggering steps forward, his hands outstretched—and then, as Jace watched in utter disbelief, Jeremiah pitched forward and fell headlong to the floor. Jace heard the shatter of bones as the archivist’s body struck the ground and the torch sputtered, rolling out of Jeremiah’s hand and toward the shallow stone gutter cut into the floor just outside the barred cell door.

Jace went to his knees instantly, stretching as far as the chain would let him, his fingers reaching for the torch. He couldn’t quite touch it. The light was fading rapidly, but by its waning glow he could see Jeremiah’s dead face turned toward him, blood still leaking from his open mouth. His teeth were gnarled black stubs.

Jace’s chest felt as if something heavy were pressed against it. The Silent Brothers never opened their mouths, never spoke or laughed or screamed. But that had been the sound Jace had heard, he was sure of it now—the screams of men who hadn’t cried out in half a century, the sound of a terror more profound and powerful than the ancient Rune of Silence. But how could that be? And where were the other Brothers?

Jace wanted to scream for help, but the weight was still on his chest, pressing down. He couldn’t seem to get enough air. He lunged for the torch again and felt one of the small bones in his wrist shatter. Pain shot up his arm, but it gave him the extra inch he needed. He swept the torch into his hand and rose to his feet. As the flame leaped back into life, he heard another noise. A thick noise, a sort of ugly, dragging slither. The hair on the back of his neck stood up, sharp as needles. He thrust the torch forward, his shaking hand sending wild flicks of light dancing across the walls, brilliantly illuminating the shadows.

There was nothing there.

Instead of relief, though, he felt his terror intensify. He was now gasping in air in great sucking drafts, as if he’d been underwater. The fear was all the worse because it was so unfamiliar. What had happened to him? Had he suddenly become a coward?

He jerked hard against the manacle, hoping the pain would clear his head. It didn’t. He heard the noise again, the thumping slither, and now it was close. There was another sound too, behind the slither, a soft, constant whispering. He had never heard any sound quite so evil. Half out of his mind with horror, he staggered back against the wall and raised the torch in his wildly jerking hand.

For a moment, bright as daylight, he saw the whole room: the cell, the barred door, the bare flagstones beyond, and the dead body of Jeremiah huddled against the floor. There was a door just behind Jeremiah. It was opening slowly. Something heaved its way through the door. Something huge and dark and formless. Eyes like burning ice, sunk deep into dark folds, regarded Jace with a snarling amusement. Then the thing lunged forward. A great cloud of roiling vapor rose up in front of Jace’s eyes like a wave sweeping across the surface of the ocean. The last thing he saw was the flame of his torch guttering green and blue before it was swallowed up by the darkness.

Kissing Simon was pleasant. It was a gentle sort of pleasant, like lying in a hammock on a summer day with a book and a glass of lemonade. It was the sort of thing you could keep doing and not feel bored or apprehensive or disconcerted or bothered by much of anything except the fact that the metal bar on the sofa bed was digging into your back.

“Ouch,” Clary said, trying to wriggle away from the bar and not succeeding.

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“Did I hurt you?” Simon raised himself up on his side, looking concerned. Or maybe it was just that without his glasses his eyes seemed twice as large and dark.

“No, not you—the bed. It’s like a torture instrument.”

“I didn’t notice,” he said somberly, as she grabbed a pillow from the floor, where it had fallen, and wedged it underneath them.

“You wouldn’t.” She laughed. “Where were we?”

“Well, my face was approximately where it is now, but your face was a lot closer to mine. That’s what I remember, anyway.”

“How romantic.” She pulled him down on top of her, where he balanced on his elbows. Their bodies lay neatly aligned and she could feel the beat of his heart through both their T-shirts. His lashes, normally hidden behind his glasses, brushed her cheek when he leaned to kiss her. She let out a shaky little laugh. “Is this weird for you?” she whispered.

“No. I think when you imagine something often enough, the reality of it seems—”

“No. No!” Simon pulled back, looking at her with nearsighted conviction. “Don’t ever think that. This is the opposite of anticlimactic. It’s—”

Suppressed giggles bubbled up in her chest. “Okay, maybe you don’t want to say that, either.”

He half-closed his eyes, his mouth curving into a smile. “Okay, now I want to say something smart-ass back at you, but all I can think is…”

She grinned up at him. “That you want sex?”

“Stop that.” He caught her hands with his, pinned them to the bedspread, and looked down at her gravely. “That I love you.”

“So you don’t want sex?”

He let go of her hands. “I didn’t say that.”

She laughed and pushed at his chest with both hands. “Let me up.”

He looked alarmed. “I didn’t mean I only want sex…”

“It’s not that. I want to change into my pajamas. I can’t take making out seriously when I still have my socks on.” He watched her mournfully while she gathered up her pajamas from the dresser and headed into the bathroom. Pulling the door closed, she made a face at him. “I’ll be right back.”

Whatever he said in response was lost as she shut the door. She brushed her teeth and then ran the water in the sink for a long time, staring at herself in the medicine cabinet mirror. Her hair was tousled and her cheeks were red. Did that count as glowing, she wondered? People in love were supposed to glow, weren’t they? Or maybe that was just pregnant women, she couldn’t remember exactly, but surely she was supposed to look a little different. After all, this was the first real long kissing session she’d ever had—and it was nice, she told herself, safe and pleasant and comfortable.

Of course, she’d kissed Jace, on the night of her birthday, and that hadn’t been safe and comfortable and pleasant at all. It had been like opening up a vein of something unknown inside her body, something hotter and sweeter and bitterer than blood. Don’t think about Jace, she told herself fiercely, but looking at herself in the mirror, she saw her eyes darken and knew her body remembered even if her mind didn’t want to.

She ran the water cold and splashed it over her face before reaching for her pajamas. Great, she realized, she’d brought her pajama bottoms in with her but not the top. However much Simon might appreciate it, it seemed early to break out the topless sleeping arrangements. She went back into the bedroom, only to discover that Simon was asleep in the center of the bed, clutching the bolster pillow as if it were a human being. She stifled a laugh.