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City of Ashes (The Mortal Instruments 2) Cassandra Clare 2022/8/5 16:53:14

Isabelle, to everyone’s surprise, blushed. A moment later the curtain of vines was drawn aside and a faerie stepped through it, shaking back his long hair. Clary had seen some of the fey before at Magnus’s party and had been struck by both their cold beauty and a certain wild unearthliness they possessed even when they were dancing and drinking. This faerie was no exception: His hair fell in blue-black sheets around a cool, sharp, lovely face; his eyes were green as vines or moss and there was the shape of a leaf, either a birthmark or tattoo, across one of his cheekbones. He wore an armor of a silvery brown like the bark of trees in winter, and when he moved, the armor flashed a multitude of colors: peat black, moss green, ash gray, sky blue.

Isabelle gave a cry and jumped into his arms. “Meliorn!”

“Ah,” said Simon, quietly and not without amusement, “so that’s how she knows.”

The faerie—Meliorn—looked down at her gravely, then detached her and set her gently aside. “This is not a time for affection,” he said. “The Queen of the Seelie Court has requested an audience with the three Nephilim among you. Will you come?”

Clary put a protective hand on Simon’s shoulder. “What about our friend?”

Meliorn looked impassive. “Mundane humans are not permitted in the Court.”

“I wish someone had mentioned that earlier,” said Simon, to no one in particular. “I take it I’m just supposed to wait out here until vines start growing on me?”

Meliorn considered. “That might offer significant amusement.”

“Simon’s not an ordinary mundane. He can be trusted,” Jace said, startling them all, and Simon more than the rest. Clary could tell Simon was surprised because he stared at Jace without offering a single smart remark. “He has fought many battles with us.”

“By which you mean one battle,” muttered Simon. “Two if you count the one where I was a rat.”

“We will not enter the Seelie Court without Simon,” Clary said, her hand still on Simon’s shoulder. “Your Queen requested this audience with us, remember? It wasn’t our idea to come here.”

There was a spark of dark amusement in Meliorn’s green eyes. “As you wish,” he said. “Let it not be said that the Seelie Court does not respect the desires of its guests.” He spun on a perfectly booted heel and began to lead them down the corridor without pausing to see if they were following him. Isabelle hurried to walk alongside him, leaving Jace, Clary, and Simon to follow the two of them in silence.

“Are you allowed to date faeries?” Clary asked finally. “Would your—would the Lightwoods be cool with Isabelle and what’shisname—”

“Meliorn,” put in Simon.

“—Meliorn going out?”

“I’m not sure they’re going out,” Jace said, weighting the last two words with a heavy irony. “I’d guess they mostly stay in. Or in this case, under.”

“You sound like you disapprove.” Simon pushed a tree root aside. They had moved from a dirt-walled corridor to one lined with smooth stones, only the occasional root snaking down between the stones from above. The floor was some kind of polished hard stuff, not marble but stone veined and flaked with lines of shimmering material like powdered jewels.

“I don’t disapprove exactly,” said Jace. “The faeries are known to dally with the occasional mortal, but they always end in abandoning them, usually the worse for wear.”

His words sent a shiver down Clary’s spine. At that moment Isabelle laughed, and Clary could see now why Jace had dropped his voice, because the stone walls threw Isabelle’s voice back to them amplified and echoing so that Isabelle’s laughter seemed to bounce off the walls.

“You’re so funny!” She tripped as the heel of her boot caught between two stones, and Meliorn caught and righted her without changing expression.

“I do not understand how you humans can walk in shoes that are that tall.”

“It’s my motto,” said Isabelle, with a sultry smile. “‘Nothing less than seven inches.’”

Meliorn gazed at her stonily.

“I’m talking about my heels,” she said. “It’s a pun. You know? A play on—”

“Come,” the faerie knight said. “The Queen will be growing impatient.” He headed down the corridor without giving Isabelle a second glance.

“I forgot,” Isabelle muttered as the rest of them caught up to her. “Faeries have no sense of humor.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t say that,” said Jace. “There’s a pixie nightclub downtown called Hot Wings. Not,” he added, “that I have ever been there.”

Simon looked at Jace, opened his mouth as if he intended to ask him a question, then seemed to think better of it. He closed his mouth with a snap just as the corridor opened out into a wide room whose floor was packed dirt and whose walls were lined with high stone pillars twined all over with vines and bright flowers bursting with color. Thin cloths were hung between the pillars, dyed a soft blue that was almost the exact hue of the sky. The room was filled with light, though Clary could see no torches, and the overall effect was of a summer pavilion in bright sunshine rather than a dirt and stone room underground.

Clary’s first impression was that she was outside; her second was that the room was full of people. There was a strange sweet music playing, flawed with sweet-sour notes, a sort of aural equivalent of honey mixed with lemon juice, and there was a circle of faeries dancing to the music, their feet barely seeming to skim the floor. Their hair—blue, black, brown and scarlet, metal gold and ice white—flew like banners.

She could see why they were called the Fair Folk, for they were fair indeed with their pale lovely faces, their wings of lilac and gold and blue—how could she have believed Jace that they meant to harm her? The music that had jarred her ears at first now sounded only sweet. She felt the urge to toss her own hair and to move her own feet in the dance. The music told her that if she did that, she too would be so light that her feet would barely touch the earth. She took a step forward—

And was jerked back by a hand on her arm. Jace was glaring at her, his golden eyes bright as a cat’s. “If you dance with them,” he said in a low voice, “you’ll dance until you die.”

Clary blinked at him. She felt as if she’d been pulled out of a dream, groggy and half-awake. Her voice slurred when she spoke. “Whaaat?”

Jace made an impatient noise. He had his stele in his hand; she hadn’t seen him take it out. He gripped her wrist and inscribed a quick, stinging Mark onto the skin of her inner arm. “Now look.”

She looked again—and froze. The faces that had seemed so lovely to her were still lovely, yet behind them lurked something vulpine, almost feral. The girl with the pink-and-blue wings beckoned, and Clary saw that her fingers were made of twigs, budded with closed leaves. Her eyes were entirely black, without iris or pupil. The boy dancing next to her had poison green skin and curling horns twisting from his temples. When he turned in the dance, his coat fell open and Clary saw that beneath it, his chest was an empty rib cage. Ribbons were woven through his bare rib bones, possibly to make him look more festive. Clary’s stomach lurched.

“Come on.” Jace pushed her and she stumbled forward. When she regained her balance, she looked around anxiously for Simon. He was up ahead and she saw that Isabelle had a firm grip on him. This once, she didn’t mind. She doubted Simon would have made it through the room on his own.

Skirting the circle of dancers, they made their way to the far end of the room and through a parted curtain of blue silk. It was a relief to be out of the room and into another corridor, this one carved from a glossy brown material like the outside of a nut. Isabelle let go of Simon and he stopped walking immediately; when Clary caught up to him, she saw that this was because Isabelle had tied her scarf across his eyes. He was fiddling with the knot when Clary reached him. “Let me get it,” she said, and he went still while she untied him and handed the scarf back to Isabelle with a nod of thanks.

Simon pushed his hair back; it was damp where the scarf had held it down. “That was some music,” he observed. “A little bit country, a little bit rock and roll.”

Meliorn, who had paused to wait for them, frowned. “You didn’t care for it?”

“I cared for it a little too much,” Clary said. “What was that supposed to be, some kind of test? Or a joke?”

He shrugged. “I am used to mortals who are easily swayed by our faerie glamours; not so the Nephilim. I thought you had protections.”

“She does,” Jace said, meeting Meliorn’s jade green gaze with his own.

Meliorn only shrugged and began walking again. Simon kept pace beside Clary for a few moments without speaking before he said, “So what did I miss? Naked dancing ladies?”

Clary thought of the male faerie’s torn-open ribs and shuddered. “Nothing that pleasant.”

“There are ways for a human to join the faerie revels,” Isabelle, who had been eavesdropping, put in. “If they give you a token—like a leaf or a flower—to hold on to, and you keep it through the night, you’ll be fine in the morning. Or if you go with a faerie for a companion…” She shot a glance at Meliorn, but he had reached a leafy screen set into the wall and paused there.

“These are the Queen’s chambers,” he said. “She’s come from her Court in the north to see about the child’s death. If there’s to be war, she wants to be the one declaring it.”

Up close, Clary could see that the screen was made of thickly woven vines, budded with amber droplets. He drew the vines apart and ushered them into the chamber on the other side.

Jace ducked through first, followed by Clary. She straightened up, looking around her curiously.

The room itself was plain, the earthen walls hung with pale fabric. Will-o’-the-wisps glowed in glass jars. A lovely woman reclined on a low couch surrounded by what must have been her courtiers—a motley assortment of faeries, from tiny sprites to what looked like lovely human girls with long hair … if you discounted their black, pupil-less eyes.

“My Queen,” said Meliorn, bowing low. “I have brought the Nephilim to you.”

The Queen sat up straight. She had long scarlet hair that seemed to float around her like autumn leaves in a breeze. Her eyes were clear blue as glass, her gaze sharp as a razor. “Three of these are Nephilim,” she said. “The other is a mundane.”

Meliorn seemed to shrink back, but the Queen didn’t even look at him. Her gaze was on the Shadowhunters. Clary could feel the weight of it, like a touch. Despite her loveliness, there was nothing fragile about the Queen. She was as bright and hard to look at as a burning star.

“Our apologies, my lady.” Jace stepped forward, putting himself between the Queen and his companions. His voice had changed its tone—there was something in the way he spoke now, something careful and delicate. “The mundane is our responsibility. We owe him protection. Therefore we keep him with us.”

The Queen tilted her head to the side, like an interested bird. All her attention was on Jace now. “A blood debt?” she murmured. “To a mundane?”

“He saved my life,” Jace said. Clary felt Simon stiffen beside her in surprise. She willed him not to show it. Faeries couldn’t lie, Jace had said, and Jace wasn’t lying, either—Simon had saved his life. That just wasn’t why they’d brought him with them. Clary began to appreciate what Jace had meant by creative truth-telling. “Please, my lady. We had hoped you would understand. We had heard you were as kind as you were beautiful, and in that case—well,” Jace said, “your kindness must be extreme indeed.”

The Queen smirked and leaned forward, gleaming hair falling to shadow her face. “You are as charming as your father, Jonathan Morgenstern,” she said, and gestured at the cushions scattered around the floor. “Come, sit beside me. Eat something. Drink. Rest yourselves. Talk is better with wet lips.”

For a moment Jace looked thrown. He hesitated. Meliorn leaned over to him and spoke softly. “It would be unwise to refuse the bounty of the Queen of the Seelie Court.”

Isabelle’s eyes flicked toward him. Then she shrugged. “It won’t hurt us just to sit down.”

A pixie with bluish skin came toward them carrying a platter with four silver cups on it. They each took a cup of the gold-toned liquid. There were rose petals floating on the top.

Simon set his cup down beside him.

“Don’t you want any?” the pixie asked.

“The last faerie drink I had didn’t agree with me,” he muttered.

Clary barely heard him. The drink had a heady, intoxicating scent, richer and more delicious than roses. She picked a petal out of the liquid and crushed it between her thumb and forefinger, releasing more of the scent.

Jace jostled her arm. “Don’t drink any of it,” he said under his breath.

She set the cup down, as Simon had done. Her finger and thumb were stained pink.

“Now,” said the Queen. “Meliorn tells me you claim to know who killed our child in the park last night. Though I tell you now, it seems no mystery to me. A faerie child, drained of blood? Is it that you bring me the name of a single vampire? But all vampires are at fault here, for the breaking of the Law, and should be punished accordingly. Despite what may seem, we are not such a particular people.”