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City of Ashes (The Mortal Instruments 2) Cassandra Clare 2022/8/5 16:53:17

“He is hurting her. He has no choice,” Clary said. She was shaking her head. “That’s how it always is these days. There’s never any choice.” Maia cried out again and Clary gripped the edge of the counter as if she were in pain herself. “I hate this!” she burst out. “I hate all of it! Always being scared, always being hunted, always wondering who’s going to get hurt next. I wish I could go back to the way things used to be!”

“But you can’t. None of us can,” Simon said. “At least you can still go out in daylight.”

She turned to him, lips parted, her eyes wide and dark. “Simon, I didn’t mean—”

“I know you didn’t.” He backed away, feeling as if there were something caught in his throat. “I’m going to go see how they’re doing.” For a moment he thought she might follow him, but she let the kitchen door fall shut between them without protest.

All the lights were on in the living room. Maia lay gray-faced on the couch, the blanket he had brought pulled up to her chest. She was holding a wad of cloth against her right arm; the cloth was partly soaked through with blood. Her eyes were shut.

“Where’s Luke?” Simon said, then winced, wondering if his tone was too harsh, too demanding. She looked awful, her eyes sunken into gray hollows, her mouth tight with pain. Her eyes fluttered open and fixed on him.

“Simon,” she breathed. “Luke went outside to move the car off the lawn. He was worried about the neighbors.”

Simon glanced toward the window. He could see the sweep of the headlights grazing the house as Luke swung the car into the driveway. “How about you?” he asked. “Did he get those things out of your arm?”

She nodded dully. “I’m just so tired,” she whispered through cracked lips. “And—thirsty.”

“I’ll get you some water.” There was a pitcher of water and a stack of glasses on the sideboard next to the dining room table. Simon poured a glass full of the tepid liquid and brought it to Maia. His hands were shaking slightly and some of the water spilled as she took the glass from him. She was lifting her head, about to say something—Thank you, probably—when their fingers touched and she jerked back so hard that the glass went flying. It hit the edge of the coffee table and shattered, splashing water across the polished wood floor.

“Maia? Are you all right?”

She shrank away from him, her shoulders pressed against the back of the sofa, her lips pulled away from bared teeth. Her eyes had gone a luminous yellow. A low growl came from her throat, the sound of a cornered dog at bay.

“Maia?” Simon said again, appalled.

“Vampire,” she snarled.

He felt his head rock back as if she had slapped him. “Maia—”

“I thought you were human. But you’re a monster. A bloodsucking leech.”

“I am human—I mean, I was human. I got turned. A few days ago.” His mind was swimming; he felt dizzy and sick. “Just like you were—”

“Don’t ever compare yourself to me!” She had struggled up into a sitting position, those ghastly yellow eyes still on him, scouring him with their disgust. “I’m still human, still alive—you’re a dead thing that feeds on blood.”

“Just because you can’t get human, or the Shadowhunters will burn you alive—”

“Maia,” he said, and her name in his mouth was half fury and half a plea; he took a step toward her and her hand whipped out, nails shooting out like talons, suddenly impossibly long. They raked his cheek, sending him staggering back, his hand clapped to his face. Blood coursed down his cheek, into his mouth. He tasted the salt of it and his stomach rumbled.

Maia was crouched on the sofa’s arm now, her knees drawn up, clawed fingers leaving deep gouges in the gray velveteen. A low growl poured from her throat and her ears were long and flat against her head. When she bared her teeth, they were sharply jagged—not needle-thin like his own, but strong, whitely pointed canines. She had dropped the bloody cloth that had wrapped her arm and he could see the punctures where the spines had gone in, the glimmer of blood, welling, spilling—

A sharp pain in his lower lip told him that his fangs had slid from their sheaths. Some part of him wanted to fight her, to wrestle her down and puncture her skin with his teeth, to gulp her hot blood. The rest of him felt as if it were screaming. He took a step back and then another, his hands out as if he could hold her back.

She tensed to spring, just as the door to the kitchen flew open and Clary burst into the room. She leaped onto the coffee table, landing lightly as a cat. She held something in her hand, something that flashed a bright white-silver when she raised her arm. Simon saw that it was a dagger as elegantly curved as a bird’s wing; a dagger that whipped past Maia’s hair, millimeters from her face, and sank to the hilt in gray velveteen. Maia tried to pull away and gasped; the blade had gone through her sleeve and pinned it to the sofa.

Clary yanked the blade back. It was one of Luke’s. The moment she’d cracked open the kitchen door and gotten a look at what was going on in the living room, she’d made a beeline for the personal weapons stash he kept in his office. Maia might be weakened and sick, but she’d looked mad enough to kill, and Clary didn’t doubt her abilities.

“What the hell is it with you?” As if from a distance, Clary heard herself speaking, and the steel in her own voice astonished her. “Werewolves, vampires—you’re both Downworlders.”

“Werewolves don’t hurt people, or each other. Vampires are murderers. One killed a boy down at the Hunter’s Moon just the other day—”

“That wasn’t a vampire.” Clary saw Maia blanch at the certainty in her voice. “And if you could stop blaming each other all the time for every bad thing that happens Downworld, maybe the Nephilim would start taking you seriously and actually do something about it.” She turned to Simon. The vicious cuts across his cheek were already healing to silvery red lines. “Are you all right?”

“Yes.” His voice was barely audible. She could see the hurt in his eyes, and for a moment she wrestled the urge to call Maia a number of unprintable names. “I’m fine.”

Clary turned back to the werewolf girl. “You’re lucky he’s not as much of a bigot as you are, or I’d complain to the Clave and make the whole pack pay for your behavior.” With a sharp tug, she yanked the knife loose, freeing Maia’s T-shirt.

Maia bristled. “You don’t get it. Vampires are what they are because they’re infected with demon energies—”

“So are lycanthropes!” Clary said. “I may not know much, but I do know that.”

“But that’s the problem. The demon energies change us, make us different—you can call it a sickness or whatever you want, but the demons who created vampires and the demons who created werewolves came from species who were at war with each other. They hated each other, so it’s in our blood to hate each other too. We can’t help it. A werewolf and a vampire can never be friends because of it.” She looked at Simon. Her eyes were bright with anger and something else. “You’ll start hating me soon enough,” she said. “You’ll hate Luke, too. You won’t be able to help it.”

“Hate Luke?” Simon was ashen, but before Clary could reassure him, the front door banged open. She looked around, expecting Luke, but it wasn’t Luke. It was Jace. He was all in black, two seraph blades stuck through the belt that circled his narrow hips. Alec and Magnus were just behind him, Magnus in a long, swirling cape that looked as if it were decorated with bits of crushed glass.

Jace’s golden eyes, with the precision of a laser, fixed immediately on Clary. If she’d thought he might look apologetic, concerned, or even ashamed after all that had happened, she was wrong. All he looked was angry. “What,” he said, with a sharp and deliberate annoyance, “do you think you’re doing?”

Clary glanced down at herself. She was still perched on the coffee table, knife in hand. She fought the urge to hide it behind her back. “We had an incident. I took care of it.”

“Really.” Jace’s voice dripped sarcasm. “Do you even know how to use that knife, Clarissa? Without poking a hole in yourself or any innocent bystanders?”

“I didn’t hurt anyone,” Clary said between her teeth.

“She stabbed the couch,” said Maia in a dull voice, her eyes falling shut. Her cheeks were still flushed red with fever and rage, but the rest of her face was alarmingly pale.

Simon looked at her worriedly. “I think she’s getting worse.”

Magnus cleared his throat. When Simon didn’t move, he said, “Get out of the way, mundane,” in a tone of immense annoyance. He flung his cloak back as he stalked across the room to where Maia lay on the couch. “I take it you’re my patient?” he inquired, gazing down at her through glitter-crusted lashes.

Maia stared up at him with unfocused eyes.

“I’m Magnus Bane,” he went on in a soothing tone, stretching out his ringed hands. Blue sparks had begun to dance between them like bioluminescence dancing in water. “I’m the warlock who’s here to cure you. Didn’t they tell you I was coming?”

“I know who you are, but…” Maia looked dazed. “You look so … so … shiny.”

Alec made a noise that sounded very much like a laugh stifled by a cough as Magnus’s thin hands wove a shimmering blue curtain of magic around the werewolf girl.

Jace wasn’t laughing. “Where,” he asked, “is Luke?”

“He’s outside,” Simon said. “He was moving the truck off the lawn.”

Jace and Alec exchanged a quick look.

“Funny,” Jace said. He didn’t sound amused. “I didn’t see him when we were coming up the stairs.”

A thin tendril of panic unfurled like a leaf inside Clary’s chest. “Did you see his pickup?”

“I saw it,” Alec said. “It was in the driveway. The lights were off.”

At that even Magnus, intent on Maia, looked up. Through the net of enchantment he had woven around himself and the werewolf girl, his features seemed blurred and indistinct, as if he were looking at them through water. “I don’t like it,” he said, his voice sounding hollow and far away. “Not after a Drevak attack. They roam in packs.”

Jace’s hand was already reaching for one of his seraph blades. “I’ll go check on him. Alec, you stay here, keep the house secure.”

Clary jumped down from the table. “I’m coming with you.”

“No, you’re not.” He headed for the door, not glancing behind him to see if she was following.

She put on a burst of speed and threw herself between him and the front door. “Stop.”

For a moment she thought he was going to keep right on going even if he had to walk through her, but he paused, just inches from her, so close she could feel his breath stir her hair when he spoke. “I will knock you down if I have to, Clarissa.”

“Stop calling me that.”

“Clary,” he said in a low voice, and the sound of her name in his mouth was so intimate that a shudder ran up her spine. The gold in his eyes had turned hard, metallic. She wondered for a moment if he might actually spring at her, what it would be like if he struck her, knocked her down, grabbed her wrists even. Fighting to him was like sex to other people. The thought of him touching her like that brought the blood to her cheeks in a hot flood.

She spoke around the breathless catch in her voice. “He’s my uncle, not yours—”

A savage humor flashed across his face. “Any uncle of yours is an uncle of mine, darling sister,” he said, “and he’s no blood relation to either of us.”

“Besides, I haven’t got time to Mark you,” he said, lazy gold eyes raking her, “and all you’ve got is that knife. It won’t be much use if it’s demons we’re dealing with.”

She jammed the knife into the wall beside the door, point-first, and was rewarded by the look of surprise on his face. “So what? You’ve got two seraph blades; give me one.”

“Oh, for the love of—” It was Simon, hands jammed into his pockets, eyes burning like black coals in his white face. “I’ll go.”

Clary said, “Simon, don’t—”

“At least I’m not wasting my time standing here flirting while we don’t know what’s happened to Luke.” He gestured for her to move aside from the door.

Jace’s lips thinned. “We’ll all go.” To Clary’s surprise he jerked a seraph blade out of his belt and handed it to her. “Take it.”

“What’s its name?” she asked, moving away from the door.

Clary had left her jacket in the kitchen, and the cold air sheeting off the East River cut through her thin shirt the moment she stepped out onto the dark porch. “Luke?” she called. “Luke!”

The truck was pulled up in the driveway, one of the doors hanging open. The roof light was on, shedding a faint glow. Jace frowned. “The keys are in the ignition. The car’s idling.”

Simon shut the front door behind them. “How do you know that?”

“I can hear it.” Jace looked at Simon speculatively. “And so could you if you tried, bloodsucker.” He loped down the stairs, a faint chuckle drifting behind him on the wind.

“I think I liked ‘mundane’ better than ‘bloodsucker,’” Simon muttered.

“With Jace, you don’t really get to choose your insulting nickname.” Clary felt in her jeans pocket until her fingers encountered cool, smooth stone. She raised the witchlight in her hand, its glow raying out between her fingers like the light of a tiny sun. “Come on.”