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City of Ashes (The Mortal Instruments 2) Cassandra Clare 2022/8/5 16:53:15

“Oh, come on,” said Isabelle. “It isn’t vampires.”

Jace shot her a look. “What Isabelle means to say is that we’re almost certain that the murderer is someone else. We think he may be trying to throw suspicion on the vampires to shield himself.”

“Have you proof of that?”

Jace’s tone was calm, but the shoulder that brushed Clary’s was tight with tension. “Last night the Silent Brothers were slaughtered as well, and none of them were drained of blood.”

“And this has to do with our child, how? Dead Nephilim are a tragedy to Nephilim, but nothing to me.”

Clary felt a sharp sting at her left hand. Looking down, she saw the tiny shape of a sprite darting away between the pillows. A red bead of blood had risen on her finger. She put the finger into her mouth with a wince. The sprites were cute, but they had a mean bite.

“The Soul-Sword was stolen as well,” said Jace. “You know of Maellartach?”

“The sword that makes Shadowhunters tell the truth,” said the Queen, with dark amusement. “We fey have no need of such an object.”

“It was taken by Valentine Morgenstern,” said Jace. “He killed the Silent Brothers to get it, and we think he killed the faerie as well. He needed the blood of a faerie child to effect a transformation on the Sword. To make it a tool he could use.”

“And he won’t stop,” Isabelle added. “He needs more blood after that.”

The Queen’s high eyebrows were arched even higher. “More blood of the Folk?”

“No,” Jace said, shooting a look at Isabelle that Clary couldn’t quite interpret. “More Downworlder blood. He needs the blood of a werewolf, and a vampire—”

The Queen’s eyes shone with reflected light. “That seems hardly our concern.”

“He killed one of yours,” Isabelle said. “Don’t you want revenge?”

The Queen’s gaze brushed her like a moth’s wing. “Not immediately,” she said. “We are a patient folk, for we have all the time in the world. Valentine Morgenstern is an old enemy of ours—but we have enemies older still. We are content to wait and watch.”

“He’s summoning demons to him,” Jace said. “Creating an army—”

“Demons,” said the Queen lightly, as her courtiers chattered behind her. “Demons are your charge, are they not, Shadowhunter? Is that not why you hold authority over us all? Because you are the ones who slay demons?”

“I’m not here to give you orders on behalf of the Clave. We came when you asked us because we thought that if you knew the truth, you’d help us.”

“Is that what you thought?” The Queen sat forward in her chair, her long hair rippling and alive. “Remember, Shadowhunter, there are those of us who chafe under the rule of the Clave. Perhaps we are tired of fighting your wars for you.”

“But it isn’t our war alone,” said Jace. “Valentine hates Downworlders more than he hates demons. If he defeats us, he’ll go after you next.”

The Queen’s eyes bored into him.

“And when he does,” said Jace, “remember that it was a Shadowhunter who warned you what was coming.”

There was silence. Even the Court had fallen silent, watching their Lady. At last, the Queen leaned back on her cushions and took a swallow from a silver chalice. “Warning me about your own parent,” she said. “I had thought you mortals capable of filial affection, at least, and yet you seem to feel no loyalty toward Valentine, your father.”

Jace said nothing. He seemed, for a change, lost for words.

Sweetly, the Queen went on, “Or perhaps this hostility of yours is the pretense. Love does make liars out of your kind.”

“But we don’t love our father,” said Clary, as Jace remained frighteningly silent. “We hate him.”

“Do you?” The Queen looked almost bored.

“You know how the bonds of family are, my lady,” said Jace, recovering his voice. “They cling as tightly as vines. And sometimes, like vines, they cling tightly enough to kill.”

The Queen’s lashes fluttered. “You would betray your own father for the sake of the Clave?”

She laughed, a sound as bright and cold as icicles. “Who would have thought,” she said, “that Valentine’s little experiments would turn on him?”

Clary looked at Jace, but she could see by the expression on his face that he had no idea what the Queen meant.

It was Isabelle who spoke. “Experiments?”

The Queen didn’t even glance at her. Her gaze, a luminous blue, was fixed on Jace. “The Fair Folk are a people of secrets,” she said. “Our own, and others’. Ask your father, when next you see him, what blood runs in your veins, Jonathan.”

“I hadn’t planned on asking him anything next time I see him,” Jace said. “But if you desire it, my lady, it will be done.”

The Queen’s lips curved into a smile. “I think you are a liar. But what a charming one. Charming enough that I will swear you this: Ask your father that question, and I will promise you what aid is in my power, should you strike against Valentine.”

Jace smiled. “Your generosity is as remarkable as your loveliness, Lady.”

Clary made a gagging noise, but the Queen looked pleased.

“And I think we’re done here now,” Jace added, rising from the cushions. He’d set his untouched drink down earlier, beside Isabelle’s. They all rose after him. Isabelle was already talking to Meliorn in the corner, by the vine door. He looked slightly hunted.

“A moment.” The Queen rose. “One of you must remain.”

Jace paused halfway to the door, and turned to face her. “What do you mean?”

She stretched out one hand to indicate Clary. “Once our food or drink passes mortal lips, the mortal is ours. You know that, Shadowhunter.”

Clary was stunned. “But I didn’t drink any of it!” She turned to Jace. “She’s lying.”

“Faeries don’t lie,” he said, confusion and dawning anxiety chasing each other across his face. He turned back to the Queen. “I’m afraid you’re mistaken, Lady.”

“Look to her fingers and tell me she didn’t lick them clean.”

Simon and Isabelle were staring now. Clary glanced down at her hand. “Of blood,” she said. “One of the sprites bit my finger—it was bleeding—” She remembered the sweet taste of the blood, mixed with the juice on her finger. Panicked, she moved toward the vine door, and stopped as what felt like invisible hands shoved her back into the room. She turned to Jace, stricken. “It’s true.”

Jace’s face was flushed. “I suppose I should have expected a trick like that,” he said to the Queen, his previous flirtatiousness gone. “Why are you doing this? What do you want from us?”

The Queen’s voice was soft as spider’s fur. “Perhaps I am only curious,” she said. “It is not often I have young Shadowhunters so close within my purview. Like us, you trace your ancestry to heaven; that intrigues me.”

“But unlike you,” said Jace, “there is nothing of hell in us.”

“You are mortal; you age; you die,” the Queen said dismissively. “If that is not hell, pray tell me, what is?”

“If you just want to study a Shadowhunter, I won’t be much use to you,” Clary cut in. Her hand ached where the sprite had bitten it, and she fought the urge to scream or burst into tears. “I don’t know anything about Shadowhunting. I hardly have any training. I’m the wrong person to pick.” On, she added silently.

For the first time the Queen looked directly at her. Clary wanted to shrink back. “In truth, Clarissa Morgenstern, you are precisely the right person.” Her eyes gleamed as she took in Clary’s discomfiture. “Thanks to the changes your father worked in you, you are not like other Shadowhunters. Your gifts are different.”

“My gifts?” Clary was bewildered.

“Yours is the gift of words that cannot be spoken,” the Queen said to her, “and your brother’s is the Angel’s own gift. Your father made sure of it, when your brother was a child and before you were ever born.”

“My father never gave me anything,” Clary said. “He didn’t even give me a name.”

Jace looked as blank as Clary felt. “While the Fair Folk do not lie,” he said, “they can be lied to. I think you have been the victim of a trick or joke, my lady. There is nothing special about myself or my sister.”

“How deftly you downplay your charms,” said the Queen with a laugh. “Though you must know you are not of the usual sort of human boy, Jonathan…” She looked from Clary to Jace to Isabelle—Isabelle closed her mouth, which had been wide open, with a snap—and back at Jace again. “Could it be that you do not know?” she murmured.

“I know that I will not leave my sister here in your Court,” said Jace, “and since there is nothing to be learned from either her or myself, perhaps you could do us the favor of releasing her?” Now that you’ve had your fun? his eyes said, though his voice was polite and cool as water.

The Queen’s smile was wide and terrible. “What if I told you she could be freed by a kiss?”

“You want Jace to kiss you?” Clary said, bewildered.

The Queen burst out laughing, and immediately, the courtiers copied her mirth. The laughter was a bizarre and inhuman mix of hoots, squeaks, and cackles, like the high shrieking of animals in pain.

“Despite his charms,” the Queen said, “that kiss will not free the girl.”

The four looked at each other, startled. “I could kiss Meliorn,” suggested Isabelle.

“Nor that. Nor any one of my Court.”

Meliorn moved away from Isabelle, who looked at her companions and threw up her hands. “I’m not kissing any of you,” she said firmly. “Just so it’s official.”

“That hardly seems necessary,” Simon said. “If a kiss is all…”

He moved toward Clary, who was frozen in surprise. When he took her by the elbows, she had to fight the urge to push him away. Not that she hadn’t kissed Simon before, but this would have been a peculiar situation even if kissing him were something she was entirely comfortable doing, which it wasn’t. And yet it was the logical answer, wasn’t it? Without being able to help it, she cast a quick look over her shoulder at Jace and saw him scowl.

“No,” said the Queen, in a voice like tinkling crystal. “That is not what I want either.”

Isabelle rolled her eyes. “Oh, for the Angel’s sake. Look, if there’s no other way of getting out of this, I’ll kiss Simon. I’ve done it before, it wasn’t that bad.”

“Thanks,” said Simon. “That’s very flattering.”

“Alas,” said the Queen of the Seelie Court. Her expression was sharp with a sort of cruel delight, and Clary wondered if it weren’t a kiss she wanted so much as simply to watch them all squirm in discomfort. “I’m afraid that won’t do either.”

“Well, I’m not kissing the mundane,” said Jace. “I’d rather stay down here and rot.”

“Forever?” said Simon. “Forever’s an awfully long time.”

Jace raised his eyebrows. “I knew it,” he said. “You want to kiss me, don’t you?”

Simon threw up his hands in exasperation. “Of course not. But if—”

“I guess it’s true what they say,” observed Jace. “There are no straight men in the trenches.”

“That’s atheists, jackass,” said Simon furiously. “There are no atheists in the trenches.”

“While this is all very amusing,” said the Queen coolly, leaning forward, “the kiss that will free the girl is the kiss that she most desires.” The cruel delight in her face and voice had sharpened, and her words seemed to stab into Clary’s ears like needles. “Only that and nothing more.”

Simon looked as if she had hit him. Clary wanted to reach out to him, but she stood frozen to the spot, too horrified to move.

“Why are you doing this?” Jace demanded.

“I rather thought I was offering you a boon.”

Jace flushed, but said nothing. He avoided looking at Clary.

Simon said, “That’s ridiculous. They’re brother and sister.”

The Queen shrugged, a delicate twitch of her shoulders. “Desire is not always lessened by disgust. Nor can it be bestowed, like a favor, to those most deserving of it. And as my words bind my magic, so you can know the truth. If she doesn’t desire his kiss, she won’t be free.”

Simon said something angrily, but Clary didn’t hear him: Her ears were buzzing, as if a swarm of angry bees were trapped inside her head. Simon whirled around, looking furious, and said, “You don’t have to do this, Clary, it’s a trick—”

“Not a trick,” said Jace. “A test.”

“Well, I don’t know about you, Simon,” said Isabelle, her voice edged. “But I’d like to get Clary out of here.”

“Like you’d kiss Alec,” Simon said, “just because the Queen of the Seelie Court asked you to?”

“Sure I would.” Isabelle sounded annoyed. “If the other option was being stuck in the Seelie Court forever? Who cares, anyway? It’s just a kiss.”

“That’s right.” It was Jace. Clary saw him, at the blurred edge of her vision, as he moved toward her and put a hand on her shoulder, turning her to face him. “It’s just a kiss,” he said, and though his tone was harsh, his hands were inexplicably gentle. She let him turn her, looked up at him. His eyes were very dark, perhaps because it was so dim down here in the Court, perhaps because of something else. She could see her reflection in each of his dilated pupils, a tiny image of herself inside his eyes. He said, “You can close your eyes and think of England, if you like.”