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City of Ashes (The Mortal Instruments 2) Cassandra Clare 2022/8/5 16:53:13

The smell of rotting fruit grew stronger as they reached the end of the stairs and found themselves in another long tunnel. This one opened out into a pavilion surrounded by spires of carved bone—a pavilion Clary remembered very well. Inlaid silver stars sprinkled the floor like precious confetti. In the center of the pavilion was a black table. Dark fluid had pooled on its slick surface and trickled across the floor in rivulets.

When Clary had stood before the Council of Brothers, there had been a heavy silver sword hanging on the wall behind the table. The Sword was gone now, and in its place, smeared across the wall, was a great fan of scarlet.

“Is that blood?” Isabelle whispered. She didn’t sound afraid, just stunned.

“Looks like it.” Alec’s eyes scanned the room. The shadows were as thick as paint, and seemed full of movement. His grip was tight on his seraph blade.

“What could have happened?” Isabelle said. “The Silent Brothers—I thought they were indestructible…”

Her voice trailed off as Clary turned, the witchlight in her hand catching strange shadows among the spires. One was more strangely shaped than the others. She willed the witchlight to burn brighter and it did, sending a lancing bolt of brightness into the distance.

Impaled on one of the spires, like a worm on a hook, was the dead body of a Silent Brother. Hands, ribboned in blood, dangled just above the marble floor. His neck looked broken. Blood had pooled beneath him, clotted and black in the witchlight.

Isabelle gasped. “Alec. Do you see—”

“I see.” Alec’s voice was grim. “And I’ve seen worse. It’s Jace I’m worried about.”

Isabelle went forward and touched the black basalt table, her fingers skimming the surface. “This blood is almost fresh. Whatever happened, it happened not long ago.”

Alec moved toward the Brother’s impaled corpse. Smeared marks led away from the blood pool on the floor. “Footprints,” he said. “Someone running.” Alec indicated with a curled hand that the girls should follow him. They did, Isabelle pausing only to wipe her bloody hands on her soft leather leg guards.

The path of footprints led from the pavilion and down a narrow tunnel, disappearing into darkness. When Alec stopped, looking around him, Clary pushed past him impatiently, letting the witchlight blaze a silvery-white path of light ahead of them. She could see a set of double doors at the end of the tunnel; they were ajar.

Jace. Somehow she sensed him, that he was close. She took off at a half run, her boots clacking loudly against the hard floor. She heard Isabelle call after her, and then Alec and Isabelle were also running, hard on her heels. She burst through the doors at the end of the hall and found herself in a large stone-bound room bisected by a row of metal bars sunk deep into the ground. Clary could just make out a slumped shape on the other side of the bars. Just outside the cell sprawled the limp form of a Silent Brother.

Clary knew immediately that he was dead. It was the way he was lying, like a doll whose joints had been twisted the wrong way until they broke. His parchment-colored robes were half-torn off. His scarred face, contorted into a look of utter terror, was still recognizable. It was Brother Jeremiah.

She pushed past his body to the door of the cell. It was made of bars spaced close together and hinged on one side. There seemed to be no lock or knob that she could pull. She heard Alec, behind her, say her name, but her attention wasn’t on him: It was on the door. Of course there was no visible way to open it, she realized; the Brothers didn’t deal in what was visible, but rather what wasn’t. Holding the witchlight in one hand, she scrabbled for her mother’s stele with the other.

From the other side of the bars came a noise. A sort of muffled gasp or whisper; she wasn’t sure which, but she recognized the source. Jace. She slashed at the cell door with the tip of her stele, trying to hold the rune for Open in her mind even as it appeared, black and jagged against the hard metal. The electrum sizzled where the stele touched it. Open, she willed the door, open, open, OPEN!

A noise like ripping cloth tore through the room. Clary heard Isabelle cry out as the door blew off its hinges entirely, crashing into the cell like a drawbridge falling. Clary could hear other noises, metal coming uncoupled from metal, a loud rattle like a handful of tossed pebbles. She ducked into the cell, the fallen door wobbling under her feet.

Witchlight filled the small room, lighting it as bright as day. She barely noticed the rows of manacles—all of different metals: gold, silver, steel, and iron—as they came undone from the bolts in the walls and clattered to the stone floor. Her eyes were on the slumped figure in the corner; she could see the bright hair, the hand outstretched, the loose manacle lying a little distance away. His wrist was bare and bloody, the skin braceleted with ugly bruises.

She went down on her knees, setting her stele aside, and gently turned him over. It was Jace. There was another bruise on his cheek, and his face was very white, but she could see the darting movement under his eyelids. A vein pulsed at his throat. He was alive.

Relief went through her like a hot wave, undoing the tight cords of tension that had held her together this long. The witchlight fell to the floor beside her, where it continued to blaze. She stroked Jace’s hair back from his forehead with a tenderness that felt foreign to her—she’d never had any brothers or sisters, not even a cousin. She’d never had occasion to bind up wounds or kiss scraped knees or take care of anyone, really.

But it was all right to feel tenderness toward Jace like this, she thought, unwilling to draw her hand back even as Jace’s eyelids twitched and he groaned. He was her brother; why shouldn’t she care what happened to him?

His eyes opened. The pupils were huge, dilated. Maybe he’d banged his head? His eyes fixed on her with a look of dazed bemusement. “Clary,” he said. “What are you doing here?”

“I came to find you,” she said, because it was the truth.

A spasm went across his face. “You’re really here? I’m not—I’m not dead, am I?”

“No,” she said, gliding her hand down the side of his face. “You passed out, is all. Probably hit your head too.”

His hand came up to cover hers where it lay on his cheek. “Worth it,” he said in such a low voice that she wasn’t sure it was what he’d said, after all.

“What’s going on?” It was Alec, ducking through the low doorway, Isabelle just behind him. Clary jerked her hand back, then cursed herself silently. She hadn’t been doing anything wrong.

Jace struggled into a sitting position. His face was gray, his shirt spotted with blood. Alec’s look turned to one of concern. “And are you all right?” he demanded, kneeling down. “What happened? Can you remember?”

Jace held up his uninjured hand. “One question at a time, Alec. My head already feels like it’s going to split open.”

“Who did this to you?” Isabelle sounded both bewildered and furious.

“No one did anything to me. I did it to myself trying to get the manacles off.” Jace looked down at his wrist—it looked as if he’d nearly scraped all the skin off it—and winced.

“Here,” said both Clary and Alec at the same time, reaching out for his hand. Their eyes met, and Clary dropped her hand first. Alec took hold of Jace’s wrist and drew out his stele; with a few quick flicks of his wrist, he drew an iratze—a healing rune—just below the bracelet of bleeding skin.

“Thanks,” said Jace, drawing his hand back. The injured part of his wrist was already beginning to knit back together. “Brother Jeremiah—”

“Is dead,” said Clary.

“I know.” Disdaining Alec’s offered assistance, Jace pulled himself up to a standing position, using the wall to hold him up. “He was murdered.”

“Did the Silent Brothers kill each other?” Isabelle asked. “I don’t understand—I don’t understand why they’d do that—”

“They didn’t,” said Jace. “Something killed them. I don’t know what.” A spasm of pain twisted his face. “My head—”

“Maybe we should go,” said Clary nervously. “Before whatever killed them…”

“Comes back for us?” said Jace. He looked down at his bloody shirt and bruised hand. “I think it’s gone. But I suppose he could still bring it back.”

“Who could bring what back?” Alec demanded, but Jace said nothing. His face had gone from gray to paper white. Alec caught him as he began to slide down the wall. “Jace—”

“I’m all right,” Jace protested, but his hand gripped Alec’s sleeve tightly. “I can stand.”

“It looks to me like you’re using a wall to prop you up. That’s not my definition of ‘standing.’”

“It’s leaning,” Jace told him. “Leaning comes right before standing.”

“Stop bickering,” said Isabelle, kicking a doused torch out of her way. “We need to get out of here. If there’s something out there nasty enough to kill the Silent Brothers, it’ll make short work of us.”

“Izzy’s right. We should go.” Clary retrieved the witchlight and stood up. “Jace—are you okay to walk?”

“He can lean on me.” Alec drew Jace’s arm across his shoulders. Jace leaned heavily against him. “Come on,” Alec said gently. “We’ll fix you up when we get outside.”

Slowly they moved toward the cell door, where Jace paused, staring down at the figure of Brother Jeremiah lying twisted on the paving stones. Isabelle knelt down and drew the Silent Brother’s brown wool hood down to cover his contorted face. When she straightened up, all their faces were grave.

“I’ve never seen a Silent Brother afraid,” Alec said. “I didn’t think it was possible for them to feel fear.”

“Everyone feels fear.” Jace was still very pale, and though he was cradling his injured hand against his chest, Clary didn’t think it was because of physical pain. He looked distant, as if he had withdrawn into himself, hiding from something.

They retraced their steps through the dark corridors and up the narrow steps that led to the pavilion of the Speaking Stars. When they reached it, Clary noticed the thick scent of blood and burning as she hadn’t when she’d passed through it before. Jace, leaning on Alec, looked around with a sort of mingled horror and confusion on his face. Clary saw that he was staring at the far wall where it was splattered thickly with blood, and she said, “Jace. Don’t look.” Then she felt stupid; he was a demon hunter, after all, he’d seen worse.

He shook his head. “Something feels wrong—”

“Everything feels wrong here.” Alec tilted his head toward the forest of arches that led away from the pavilion. “That’s the fastest way out of here. Let’s go.”

They didn’t talk much as they made their way back through the Bone City. Every shadow seemed to surge with movement, as if the darkness concealed creatures waiting to jump out at them. Isabelle was whispering something under her breath. Though Clary couldn’t hear the words themselves, it sounded like another language, something old—Latin, maybe.

When they reached the stairs that led up out of the City, Clary breathed a silent sigh of relief. The Bone City might have been beautiful once, but it was terrifying now. As they reached the last flight of steps, light stabbed into her eyes, making her cry out in surprise. She could faintly see the Angel statue that stood at the head of the stairs, backlit with brilliant golden light, bright as day. She glanced around at the others; they looked as confused as she felt.

“The sun couldn’t have risen yet—could it?” Isabelle murmured. “How long were we down here?”

Alec checked his watch. “Not that long.”

Jace muttered something, too low for anyone else to hear him. Alec craned his ear down. “What did you say?”

“Witchlight,” Jace said, more loudly this time.

Isabelle hurried up the stairs, Clary behind her, Alec just behind them, struggling to half-carry Jace up the steps. At the head of the stairs Isabelle stopped suddenly as if frozen. Clary called out to her, but she didn’t move. A moment later Clary was standing beside her and it was her turn to stare around in amazement.

The garden was full of Shadowhunters—twenty, maybe thirty, of them in dark hunting regalia, inked with Marks, each holding a blazing witchlight stone.

At the front of the group stood Maryse, in black Shadowhunter armor and a cloak, her hood thrown back. Behind her ranged dozens of strangers, men and women Clary had never seen, but who bore the Marks of the Nephilim on their arms and faces. One of them, a handsome ebony-skinned man, turned to stare at Clary and Isabelle—and beside her, at Jace and Alec, who had come up from the steps and stood blinking in the unexpected light.

“By the Angel,” the man said. “Maryse—there was already someone down there.”

Maryse’s mouth opened in a silent gasp when she saw Isabelle. Then she closed it, her lips tightening into a thin white line, like a slash drawn in chalk across her face.

“I know, Malik,” she said. “These are my children.”

A MUTTERING GASP WENT THROUGH THE CROWD. THE ONES who were hooded threw their hoods back, and Clary could see from the looks on the faces of Jace, Alec, and Isabelle that many of the Shadowhunters in the courtyard were familiar to them.

“By the Angel.” Maryse’s incredulous gaze swept from Alec to Jace, passed over Clary, and returned to her daughter. Jace had moved away from Alec the moment Maryse spoke, and he stood a little way away from the other three, his hands in his pockets as Isabelle nervously twisted her golden-white whip in her hands. Alec, meanwhile, seemed to be fidgeting with his cell phone, though Clary couldn’t imagine who he might be calling. “What are you doing here, Alec? Isabelle? There was a distress call from the Silent City—”