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

Jace had been right; the truck was idling. Clary smelled the exhaust as they approached, her heart sinking. Luke would never have left the car door open and the keys in the ignition like that unless something had happened.

Jace was circling the truck, frowning. “Bring that witchlight closer.” He knelt down in the grass, running his fingers lightly over it. From an inner pocket he drew an object Clary recognized: a smooth piece of metal, engraved all over with delicate runes. A Sensor. Jace ran it over the grass and it obliged with a series of loud clicking noises, like a Geiger counter gone berserk. “Definite demonic action. I’m picking up heavy traces.”

“Could that be left over from the demon who attacked Maia?” Simon asked.

“The levels are too high. There’s been more than one demon here tonight.” Jace rose to his feet, all business. “Maybe you two should go back inside. Send Alec out here. He’s dealt with this sort of thing before.”

“Jace—” Clary was furious all over again. She broke off as something caught her eye. It was a flicker of movement, across the street, down by the cement rock-strewn bank of the East River. There was something about the movement—an angle as a gesture caught the light, something too quick, too elongated to be human…

Clary flung an arm out, pointing. “Look! By the water!”

Jace’s gaze followed hers and he sucked in his breath. Then he was running, and they were running after him, over the asphalt of Kent Street and onto the scrubby grass that bordered the waterfront. The witchlight swung in Clary’s hand as she ran, lighting bits of the riverbank with haphazard illumination: a patch of weeds there, a jut of broken concrete that nearly tripped her up, a heap of trash and broken glass—and then, as they came in clear sight of the lapping water, the crumpled figure of a man.

It was Luke—Clary saw that instantly, though the two dark, humped shapes crouching over him blocked his face from her view. He was on his back, so close to the water that she wondered for a panicked moment if the hunched creatures were holding him under, trying to drown him. Then they drew back, hissing through perfectly circular lipless mouths, and she saw that his head was resting on the gravelly riverbank. His face was slack and gray.

“Raum demons,” Jace whispered.

Simon’s eyes were wide. “Are those the same things that attacked Maia—?”

“No. These are much worse.” Jace gestured at Simon and Clary to get behind him. “You two, stay back.” He raised his seraph blade. “Israfiel!” he cried, and there was a sudden hot burst of light as it blazed up. Jace leaped forward, sweeping his weapon at the nearest of the demons. In the light of the seraph blade, the demon’s appearance was unpleasantly visible: dead-white, scaled skin, a black hole for a mouth, bulging, toadlike eyes, and arms that ended in tentacles where hands should have been. It lashed out now with those tentacles, whipping them toward Jace with incredible speed.

But Jace was faster. There was a nasty snick sort of noise as Israfiel sheared through the demon’s wrist and its tentacled appendage flew through the air. The tentacle tip came to rest at Clary’s feet, still twitching. It was gray-white, tipped with blood-red suckers. Inside each sucker was a cluster of tiny, needle-sharp teeth.

Simon made a gagging noise. Clary was inclined to agree. She kicked at the spasming clot of tentacles, sending it rolling across the dirty grass. When she looked up, she saw that Jace had knocked the injured demon down and they were tumbling together across the rocks at the river’s edge. The glow of Jace’s seraph blade sent elegant arcs of light shattering across the water as he writhed and twisted to avoid the creature’s remaining tentacles—not to mention the black blood spraying from its severed wrist. Clary hesitated—should she go to Luke or run to help Jace?—and in that moment of hesitation she heard Simon shout, “Clary, watch out!” and turned to see the second demon lunging straight at her.

There was no time to reach for the seraph blade at her belt, no time to remember and shout out its name. She threw her hands out and the demon struck her, knocking her backward. She went down with a cry, hitting her shoulder painfully against the uneven ground. Slick tentacles rasped against her skin. One braceleted her arm, squeezing painfully; the other whipped forward, wrapping her throat.

She grabbed frantically at her neck, trying to pull the lashing, flexible limb away from her windpipe. Already her lungs were aching. She kicked and twisted—

And suddenly the pressure was gone; the thing was off her. She sucked in a whistling breath and rolled to her knees. The demon was in a half crouch, staring at her with black, pupil-less eyes. Getting ready to lunge again? She grabbed for her blade, spat: “Nakir,” and a spear of light shot from her fingers. She’d never held an angel knife before. The hilt of it trembled and vibrated in her hand; it felt alive. “NAKIR!” she cried, staggering to her feet, the blade outstretched and pointed at the Raum demon.

To her surprise, the demon skittered backward, tentacles waving, almost as if it were—but this wasn’t possible—afraid of her. She saw Simon, running toward her, a length of what looked like steel pipe in his hand; behind him, Jace was getting to his knees. She couldn’t see the demon he’d been fighting; perhaps he’d killed it. As for the second Raum demon, its mouth was open and it was making a distressed, hooting noise, like a monstrous owl. Abruptly, it turned and, with tentacles waving, dashed toward the bank and leaped into the river. A gush of blackish water splashed upward, and then the demon was gone, vanishing beneath the river’s surface without even a telltale spray of bubbles to mark its place.

Jace reached her side just as it vanished. He was bent over, panting, smeared with black demon blood. “What—happened?” he demanded between gasps for breath.

“I don’t know,” Clary admitted. “It came at me—I tried to fight it off but it was too fast—and then it just left. Like it saw something that scared it.”

“Are you all right?” It was Simon, skidding to a stop in front of her, not panting—he didn’t breathe anymore, she reminded herself—but anxious, clutching a thick length of pipe in his hand.

“Where did you get that?” Jace demanded.

“I wrenched it off the side of a telephone pole.” Simon looked as if the recollection surprised him. “I guess you can do anything when your adrenaline is up.”

“Or when you have the unholy strength of the damned,” Jace said.

“Oh, shut up, both of you,” snapped Clary, earning herself a martyred look from Simon and a leer from Jace. She pushed past the two of them, heading for the riverbank. “Or have you forgotten about Luke?”

Luke was still unconscious, but breathing. He was as pale as Maia had been, and his sleeve was torn across the shoulder. When Clary drew the blood-stiffened fabric away from the skin, working as gingerly as she could, she saw that across his shoulder was a cluster of circular red wounds where a tentacle had gripped him. Each was oozing a mixture of blood and blackish fluid. She sucked in her breath. “We have to get him inside.”

Magnus was waiting for them on the front porch when Simon and Jace carried Luke, slumped between them, up the stairs. Having finished with Maia, Magnus had put her to bed in Luke’s room, so they set Luke down on the sofa where she’d been lying and let Magnus go to work on him.

“Will he be all right?” Clary demanded, hovering around the couch as Magnus summoned blue fire that shimmered between his hands.

“He’ll be fine. Raum poison is a little more complex than a Drevak sting, but nothing I can’t handle.” Magnus motioned her away. “At least not if you get back and let me work.”

Reluctantly, she sank down into an armchair. Jace and Alec were over by the window, heads close together. Jace was gesturing with his hands. She guessed he was explaining to Alec what had happened with the demons. Simon, looking uncomfortable, was leaning against the wall beside the kitchen door. He seemed lost in thought. Not wanting to look at Luke’s slack gray face and sunken eyes, Clary let her gaze rest on Simon, gauging the ways in which he looked both familiar and very alien. Without the glasses, his eyes seemed twice their size, and very dark, more black than brown. His skin was pale and smooth as white marble, traced with darker veins at the temples and the sharply angled cheekbones. Even his hair seemed darker, in stark contrast to the white of his skin. She remembered looking at the crowd in Raphael’s hotel, wondering why there didn’t seem to be any ugly or unattractive vampires. Maybe there was some rule about not making vampires out of the physically unappealing, she’d thought then, but now she wondered if the vampirism itself wasn’t transformative, smoothing out blotched skin, adding color and luster to eyes and hair. Perhaps it was an evolutionary advantage to the species. Good looks could only help vampires lure their prey.

She realized then that Simon was staring back at her, his dark eyes wide. Snapping out of her reverie, she turned back to see Magnus getting to his feet. The blue light was gone. Luke’s eyes were still closed but the ugly grayish tint had gone from his skin, and his breathing was deep and regular.

“He’s all right!” Clary exclaimed, and Alec, Jace, and Simon came hurrying over to have a look. Simon slid his hand into Clary’s, and she wrapped her fingers around his, glad for the reassurance.

“So he’ll live?” Simon said, as Magnus sank down onto the armrest of the nearest chair. He looked exhausted, drawn and bluish. “You’re sure?”

“Yes, I’m sure,” Magnus said. “I’m the High Warlock of Brooklyn; I know what I’m doing.” His eyes moved to Jace, who had just said something to Alec in a voice too low for any of the rest of them to hear. “Which reminds me,” Magnus went on, sounding stiff—and Clary had never heard him sound stiff before—“that I’m not exactly sure what it is you think you’re doing, calling on me every time one of you has so much as an ingrown toenail that needs clipping. As High Warlock, my time is valuable. There are plenty of lesser warlocks who’d be happy to do a job for you at a greatly reduced rate.”

Clary blinked at him in surprise. “You’re charging us? But Luke is a friend!”

Magnus took a thin blue cigarette out of his shirt pocket. “Not a friend of mine,” he said. “I met him only on the few occasions when your mother brought him along when your memory spells were being refreshed.” He passed his hand across the cigarette’s tip and it lit with a multicolored flame. “Did you think I was helping you out of the goodness of my heart? Or am I just the only warlock you happen to know?”

Jace had listened to this short speech with a smolder of fury sparking his amber eyes to gold. “No,” he said now, “but you are the only warlock we know who happens to be dating a friend of ours.”

For a moment everyone stared at him—Alec in sheer horror, Magnus in astonished anger, and Clary and Simon in surprise. It was Alec who spoke first, his voice shaking. “Why would you say something like that?”

Jace looked baffled. “Something like what?”

“That I’m dating—that we’re—it’s not true,” Alec said, his voice rising and dropping several octaves as he fought to control it.

Jace looked at him steadily. “I didn’t say he was dating you,” he said, “but funny that you knew just what I meant, isn’t it?”

“We’re not dating,” Alec said again.

“Oh?” Magnus said. “So you’re just that friendly with everybody, is that it?”

“Magnus.” Alec stared imploringly at the warlock. Magnus, however, it seemed, had had enough. He crossed his arms over his chest and leaned back in silence, regarding the scene before him with slitted eyes.

Alec turned to Jace. “You don’t—” he began. “I mean, you couldn’t possibly think—”

Jace was shaking his head in puzzlement. “What I don’t get is you going to all these lengths to hide your relationship with Magnus from me when it’s not as if I would mind if you did tell me about it.”

If he meant his words to be reassuring, it was clear that they weren’t. Alec went a pale gray color, and said nothing. Jace turned to Magnus. “Help me convince him,” he said, “that I really don’t care.”

“Oh,” Magnus said quietly, “I think he believes you about that.”

“Then I don’t…” Bewilderment was plain on Jace’s face, and for a moment Clary saw Magnus’s expression and knew he was strongly tempted to answer. Moved by a hasty pity for Alec, she pulled her hand out of Simon’s and said, “Jace, that’s enough. Let it alone.”

“Let what alone?” Luke inquired. Clary whirled around to find him sitting up on the couch, wincing a little with pain but looking otherwise healthy enough.

“Luke!” She darted to the side of the sofa, considered hugging him, saw the way he was holding his shoulder, and decided against it. “Do you remember what happened?”

“Not really.” Luke passed a hand across his face. “The last thing I remember was going out to the truck. Something hit my shoulder and jerked me sideways. I remember the most incredible pain—Anyway, I must have passed out after that. The next thing I knew I was listening to five people shouting. What was all that about, anyway?”

“Nothing,” chorused Clary, Simon, Alec, Magnus, and Jace, in surprising and probably never-to-be-repeated unison.

Despite his obvious exhaustion, Luke’s eyebrows shot up. But “I see,” was all he said.

Since Maia was still asleep in Luke’s bedroom, he announced that he’d be just fine on the couch. Clary tried to give him the bed in her room, but he refused to take it. Giving up, she headed into the narrow hallway to retrieve sheets and blankets from the linen closet. She was dragging a comforter down from a high shelf when she sensed someone behind her. Clary whirled, dropping the blanket she’d been holding into a soft pile at her feet.