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

He reached down and savagely yanked a hunk of grass out of the ground. Dirt still clung to the roots. He tossed it aside. “We were forced to do what we did. It’s not as if we did it for fun, or to hurt him. Besides,” he said, with the ghost of a smile, “you’re my sister.”

“Don’t say it like that—”

“What, ‘sister’?” He shook his head. “When I was a little kid, I realized that if you say any word over and over fast enough, it loses all its meaning. I’d lie awake saying the words over and over to myself—‘sugar,’ ‘mirror,’ ‘whisper,’ ‘dark.’ ‘Sister,’” he said, softly. “You’re my sister.”

“It doesn’t matter how many times you say it. It’ll still be true.”

“And it doesn’t matter what you won’t let me say, that’ll still be true too.”

“Jace!” Another voice, calling his name. It was Alec, slightly out of breath from running. He was holding a black plastic bag in one hand. Behind him stalked Magnus, impossibly tall and thin and glowering in a long leather coat that flapped in the wind like a bat’s wing. Alec came to a stop in front of Jace and held out the bag. “I brought blood,” he said. “Like you asked.”

Jace opened the top of the bag, peered in, and wrinkled his nose. “Do I want to ask you where you got this?”

“From a butcher shop in Greenpoint,” said Magnus, joining them. “They bleed their meat to make it halal. It’s animal blood.”

“Blood is blood,” said Jace, and stood up. He looked down at Clary and hesitated. “When Raphael said this wouldn’t be pleasant, he wasn’t lying. You can stay here. I’ll send Isabelle down to wait with you.”

She tipped her head back to look up at him. The moonlight cast the shadow of branches across his face. “Have you ever seen a vampire rise?”

“Then you don’t really know, do you?” She stood up, and Isabelle’s blue coat fell around her in rustling folds. “I want to be there. I have to be there.”

She could see only part of his face in the shadows, but she thought he looked almost—impressed. “I know better than to tell you there’s anything you can’t do,” he said. “Let’s go.”

Raphael was tamping down a large rectangle of dirt when they came back into the clearing, Jace and Clary a little ahead of Magnus and Alec, who seemed to be arguing about something. Simon’s body was gone. Isabelle was sitting on the ground, her whip coiled at her ankles in a golden circle. She was shivering. “Jesus, it’s cold,” Clary said, pulling Isabelle’s heavy coat close around her. The velvet was warm, at least. She tried to ignore the fact that the hem of it was stained with Simon’s blood. “It’s as if it turned to winter overnight.”

“Be glad it isn’t winter,” said Raphael, setting the spade against the trunk of a nearby tree. “The ground freezes like iron in winter. Sometimes it is impossible to dig and the fledgling must wait months, starving underground, before it can be born.”

“Is that what you call them? Fledglings?” said Clary. The word seemed wrong, too friendly somehow. It reminded her of ducklings.

“Yes,” said Raphael. “It means the not-yet or newly born.” He caught sight of Magnus then, and for a split second looked surprised before he wiped the expression carefully from his features. “High Warlock,” he said. “I hadn’t expected to see you here.”

“I was curious,” said Magnus, his cat eyes glittering. “I’ve never seen one of the Night Children rise.”

Raphael glanced at Jace, who was lounging against a tree trunk. “You keep surprisingly illustrious company, Shadowhunter.”

“Are you talking about yourself again?” asked Jace. He smoothed the churned dirt with the tip of a boot. “That seems boastful.”

“Maybe he meant me,” said Alec. Everyone looked at him in surprise. Alec so rarely made jokes. He smiled nervously. “Sorry,” he said. “Nerves.”

“There’s no need for that,” said Magnus, reaching to touch Alec’s shoulder. Alec moved quickly out of range, and Magnus’s outstretched hand fell to his side.

“So what do we do now?” Clary demanded, hugging herself for warmth. Cold seemed to have seeped into every pore of her body. Surely it was too cold for late summer.

Raphael, noticing her gesture, smiled minutely. “It is always cold at a rising,” he said. “The fledgling draws strength from the living things that surround it, taking from them the energy to rise.”

Clary glared at him resentfully. “You don’t seem cold.”

“I’m not living.” He stepped back a little from the edge of the grave—Clary forced herself to think of it as a grave, since that’s exactly what it was—and gestured to the others to do the same. “Make room,” he said. “Simon can hardly rise if you are all standing on top of him.”

They moved hastily backward. Clary found Isabelle clutching her elbow and turned to see that the other girl was white to the lips. “What’s wrong?”

“Everything,” Isabelle said. “Clary, maybe we should have just let him go—”

“Let him die, you mean.” Clary jerked her arm out of Isabelle’s grip. “Of course that’s what you think. You think everyone who isn’t just like you is better off dead anyway.”

Isabelle’s face was the picture of misery. “That isn’t—”

A sound tore through the clearing, a sound unlike any Clary had ever heard before—a sort of pounding rhythm coming from deep underground, as if suddenly the heartbeat of the world had become audible.

What’s happening? Clary thought, and then the ground buckled and heaved under her. She fell to her knees. The grave was roiling like the surface of an unsteady ocean. Ripples appeared in its surface. Suddenly it burst apart, clods of dirt flying. A small mountain of dirt, like an anthill, heaved itself upward. At the center of the mountain was a hand, fingers splayed, clawing at the dirt.

“Simon!” Clary tried to rush forward, but Raphael yanked her back.

“Let me go!” She tried to pull herself free, but Raphael’s grip was like steel. “Can’t you see he needs our help?”

“He should do this himself,” Raphael said, without loosening his hold on her. “It is better that way.”

“It’s your way! It’s not mine!” She jerked herself out of his grip and ran toward the grave, just as it heaved upward, hurling her back to the ground. A hunched shape was forcing itself out of the hastily dug grave, fingers like filthy claws sunk deep into the earth. Its bare arms were streaked black with dirt and blood. It tore itself free of the sucking earth, crawled a few feet, and collapsed onto the ground.

“Simon,” she whispered. Because of course it was Simon, Simon, not an it. She scrambled to her feet and ran toward him, her sneakers sinking deep into the churned earth.

“Clary!” Jace shouted. “What are you doing?”

She stumbled, her ankle twisting as her leg sank into the dirt. She fell onto her knees next to Simon, who lay as still as if he really were dead. His hair was filthy and matted with clots of dirt, his glasses gone, his T-shirt torn down the side, blood on the skin that showed under it. “Simon,” she said, and reached to touch his shoulder. “Simon, are you—”

His body tensed under her fingers, every muscle tightening, his skin hard as iron.

“—all right?” she finished.

He turned his head, and she saw his eyes. They were blank, lifeless. With a sharp cry he rolled over and sprang at her, swift as a striking snake. He struck her squarely, knocking her back into the dirt. “Simon!” she shouted, but he didn’t seem to hear. His face was twisted, unrecognizable as he loomed up over her, his lips curling back, and she saw his sharp canines, the fang-teeth, gleam in the moonlight like white bone needles. Suddenly terrified, she kicked out at him, but he grabbed her shoulders and forced her back down into the dirt. His hands were bloody, the nails broken, but he was incredibly strong, stronger even than her own Shadowhunter muscles. The bones in her shoulders ground together painfully as he bent down over her—

And was plucked away and sent flying as if he weighed no more than a pebble. Clary shot to her feet, gasping, and met Raphael’s grim gaze. “I told you to stay away from him,” he said, and turned to kneel down by Simon, who had landed a short distance away and was curled, twitching, on the ground.

Clary sucked in a breath. It sounded like a sob. “He doesn’t know me.”

“He knows you. He doesn’t care.” Raphael looked over his shoulder at Jace. “He is starving. He needs blood.”

Jace, who had been standing white-faced and frozen at the grave’s edge, stepped forward and held out the plastic bag mutely, like an offering. Raphael snatched it and tore it open. A number of plastic packets of red fluid fell out. He seized one, muttering, and tore it open with sharp nails, spattering blood down the front of his dirt-stained white shirt.

Simon, as if scenting the blood, curled up and let out a piteous wail. He was still twitching; his broken-nailed hands gouged at the dirt and his eyes were rolled back to the whites. Raphael held out the blood packet, letting some of the red fluid drip onto Simon’s face, streaking the white skin with scarlet. “There you go,” he said, almost in a croon. “Drink, little fledgling. Drink.”

And Simon, who had been a vegetarian since he was ten years old, who wouldn’t drink milk that wasn’t organic, who fainted at the sight of needles—Simon snatched the packet of blood out of Raphael’s thin brown hand and tore into it with his teeth. He swallowed the blood in a few gulps and tossed the packet aside with another wail; Raphael was ready with a second one, and pressed it into his hand. “Do not drink too fast,” he cautioned. “You will make yourself sick.” Simon, of course, ignored him; he had managed to get the second packet open without help and was gulping greedily at the contents. Blood ran from the corners of his mouth, down his throat, and spattered his hands with fat red drops. His eyes were closed.

Raphael turned to look at Clary. She could feel Jace staring at her too, and the others, all with identical expressions of horror and disgust. “Next time he feeds,” Raphael said calmly, “it will not be quite so messy.”

Messy. Clary turned away and stumbled out of the clearing, hearing Jace call out for her but ignoring him, starting to run when she reached the trees. She was halfway down the hill when the pain hit. She went to her knees, gagging, as everything in her stomach came up in a wrenching flood. When it was over, she crawled a short distance away and collapsed against the ground. She knew she was probably lying on someone’s grave, but she didn’t care. She rested her hot face against the cool dirt and thought, for the first time, that maybe the dead weren’t so unlucky after all.

THE CRITICAL CARE UNIT OF BETH ISRAEL HOSPITAL ALWAYS reminded Clary of photos she’d seen of Antarctica: It was cold and remote-feeling, and everything was either gray, white, or pale blue. The walls of her mother’s room were white, the tubes that snaked around her head and the endless beeping banks of instruments around the bed were gray, and the blanket pulled up around her chest was pale blue. Her face was white. The only color in the room was her red hair, flaring across the snowy expanse of pillow like a bright, incongruous flag planted at the south pole.

Clary wondered how Luke was managing to pay for this private room, where the money had come from and how he’d gotten it. She supposed she could ask him when he got back from buying vending machine coffee in the ugly little café on the third floor. The coffee from the machine down there looked like tar and tasted like it too, but Luke seemed addicted to the stuff.

The metal legs of the bedside chair squeaked across the floor as Clary pulled it out and sat down slowly, smoothing her skirt down over her legs. Whenever she came to see her mother in the hospital she felt nervous and dry-mouthed, as if she were about to get in trouble for something. Maybe because the only times she’d ever seen her mother’s face like this, flat and without animation, was when her mother was about to explode with rage.

“Mom,” she said. She reached out and took her mother’s left hand; there was a puncture mark on the wrist still, where Valentine had shoved one end of a tube. The skin of her mother’s hand—always rough and chapped, spattered with paint and turpentine—felt like the dry bark of a tree. Clary folded her fingers around Jocelyn’s, feeling a hard lump come into her throat. “Mom, I…” She cleared her throat. “Luke says you can hear me. I don’t know if that’s true or not. Anyway, I came because I needed to talk to you. It’s okay if you can’t say anything back. See, the thing is, it’s…” She swallowed again and looked toward the window, the strip of blue sky visible at the edge of the brick wall that faced the hospital. “It’s Simon. Something’s happened to him. Something that was my fault.”

Now that she wasn’t looking at her mother’s face, the story poured out of her, all of it: how she’d met Jace and the other Shadowhunters, the search for the Mortal Cup, Hodge’s betrayal and the battle at Renwick’s, the realization that Valentine was her father as well as Jace’s. More recent events too: the nighttime visit to the Bone City, the Soul-Sword, the Inquisitor’s hatred of Jace, and the woman with the silver hair. And then she told her mother about the Seelie Court, about the price the Queen had demanded, and what had happened to Simon afterward. She could feel tears burn her throat while she talked, but it was a relief to tell it, to unburden herself to someone, even someone who—probably—couldn’t hear her.