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City of Ashes (The Mortal Instruments 2) Cassandra Clare 2022/8/5 16:53:18

He raised the rune-stone and it flared into light, making his eyes water even more. Through the blur he saw the slender figure of a girl standing in front of him, her hands clasped across her chest, her hair a splash of red color against the black metal all around them.

His hand shook, scattering leaping darts of witchlight as if a host of fireflies had risen out of the darkness below. “Clary?”

She stared at him, white-faced, her lips trembling. Questions died in his throat—what was she doing here? How had she gotten to the ship? A spasm of terror gripped him, worse than any fear he’d ever felt for himself. Something was wrong with her, with Clary. He took a step forward, just as she moved her hands away from her chest and held them out to him. They were sticky with blood. Blood covered the front of her white dress like a scarlet bib.

He caught her with one arm as she sagged forward. He nearly dropped the witchlight as her weight fell against him. He could feel the beat of her heart, the brush of her soft hair against his chin, so familiar. The scent of her was different, though. That scent he associated with Clary, a mix of floral soap and clean cotton, was gone; he smelled only blood and metal. Her head tilted back, her eyes rolling up to the whites. The wild beating of her heart was slowing—stopping—

“No!” He shook her, hard enough that her head rolled against his arm. “Clary! Wake up!” He shook her again, and this time her lashes fluttered; he felt his relief like a sudden cold sweat, and then her eyes were open, but they were no longer green; they were an opaque and glowing white, white and blinding as headlights on a dark road, white as the clamoring noise inside his own mind. I’ve seen those eyes before, he thought, and then darkness surged up over him like a wave, bringing silence with it.

There were holes punched into the darkness, glimmering dots of light against shadow. Jace closed his eyes, trying to calm his own breathing. There was a coppery taste in his mouth, like blood, and he could tell that he was lying on a cold metal surface and that the chill was seeping through his clothes and into his skin. He counted backward from one hundred inside his head until his breathing slowed. Then he opened his eyes again.

The darkness was still there, but it had resolved itself into familiar night sky punctuated by stars. He was on the deck of the ship, flat on his back in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge, which loomed at the ship’s bow like a gray mountain of metal and stone. He groaned and lifted himself onto his elbows—then froze as he became aware of another shadow, this one recognizably human, leaning over him. “That was a nasty knock to the head you got,” said the voice that haunted his nightmares. “How do you feel?”

Jace sat up and immediately regretted it as his stomach lurched. If he’d eaten anything in the past ten hours, he was fairly sure he would have thrown it up. As it was, the sour taste of bile flooded his mouth. “I feel like hell.”

Valentine smiled. He was sitting on a stack of empty, flattened boxes, wearing a neat gray suit and tie, as if he were seated behind the elegant mahogany desk at the Wayland manor house in Idris. “I have another obvious question for you. How did you find me?”

“I tortured it out of your Raum demon,” said Jace. “You’re the one who taught me where they keep their hearts. I threatened it and it told me—well, they’re not very bright, but it managed to tell me it had come from a ship on the river. I looked up and saw the shadow of your boat on the water. It told me you’d summoned it too, but I already knew that.”

“I see.” Valentine seemed to be hiding a smile. “Next time you should at least tell me you’re coming before you drop by. It would save you a nasty run-in with my guards.”

“Guards?” Jace propped himself against the cold metal railing and took in deep breaths of clean, cold air. “You mean demons, don’t you? You used the Sword to summon them.”

“I don’t deny that,” Valentine said. “Lucian’s beasts shattered my army of Forsaken, and I had neither time nor inclination to create more. Now that I have the Mortal Sword, I no longer need them. I have others.”

Jace thought of Clary, bloody and dying in his arms. He put a hand to his forehead. It was cool where the metal railing had touched it. “That thing in the stairwell,” he said. “It wasn’t Clary, was it?”

“Clary?” Valentine sounded mildly surprised. “Is that what you saw?”

“Why wouldn’t it be what I saw?” Jace struggled to keep his voice flat, nonchalant. He wasn’t unfamiliar or uncomfortable with secrets—either his own or other people’s—but his feelings for Clary were something he had told himself he could bear only if he did not look at them too closely.

But this was Valentine. He looked at everything closely, studying it, analyzing in what way it could be turned to his advantage. In that way he reminded Jace of the Queen of the Seelie Court: cool, menacing, calculating.

“What you encountered in the stairwell,” Valentine said, “was Agramon—the Demon of Fear. Agramon takes the form of whatever most terrifies you. When it is done feeding on your terror, it kills you, presuming you are still alive at that point. Most men—and women—die of fear before that. You are to be congratulated for holding out as long as you did.”

“Agramon?” Jace was astonished. “That’s a Greater Demon. Where did you get hold of that?”

“I paid a young and hubristic warlock to summon it for me. He thought that if the demon remained inside his pentagram, he could control it. Unfortunately for him, his greatest fear was that a demon he summoned would break the wards of the pentagram and attack him, and that’s exactly what happened when Agramon came through.”

“So that’s how he died,” Jace said.

“The warlock,” Jace said. “His name was Elias. He was sixteen. But you knew that, didn’t you? The Ritual of Infernal Conversion—”

Valentine laughed. “You have been busy, haven’t you? So you know why I sent those demons to Lucian’s house, don’t you?”

“You wanted Maia,” said Jace. “Because she’s a werewolf child. You need her blood.”

“I sent the Drevak demons to spy out what there was to see at Lucian’s and report back to me,” Valentine said. “Lucian killed one of them, but when the other reported the presence of a young lycanthrope—”

“You sent the Raum demons to take her.” Jace felt suddenly very tired. “Because Luke is fond of her and you wanted to hurt him if you could.” He paused, and then said, in a measured tone: “Which is pretty low, even for you.”

For a moment a spark of anger lit Valentine’s eyes; then he threw his head back and roared with mirth. “I admire your stubbornness. It’s so much like mine.” He got to his feet then and held a hand out for Jace to take. “Come. Walk around the deck with me. There’s something I want to show you.”

Jace wanted to spurn the offered hand, but wasn’t sure, considering the pain in his head, that he could make it to his feet unaided. Besides, it was probably better not to anger his father so soon; whatever Valentine might say about prizing Jace’s rebelliousness, he had never had much patience with disobedient behavior.

Valentine’s hand was cool and dry, his grip oddly reassuring. When Jace was on his feet, Valentine released his hold and drew a stele out of his pocket. “Let me take those injuries away,” he said, reaching out for his son.

Jace drew away—after a second’s hesitation that Valentine would surely have noticed. “I don’t want your help.”

Valentine put the stele away. “As you like.” He began to walk, and Jace, after a moment, followed him, jogging to catch up. He knew his father well enough to know he would never turn around to see if Jace had pursued him, but would just expect that he had and begin talking accordingly.

He was right. By the time Jace reached his father’s side, Valentine had already started speaking. He had his hands loosely clasped behind his back and moved with an easy, careless grace, unusual in a big, broad-shouldered man. He leaned forward as he walked, almost as if he were striding into a heavy wind.

“… if I recall correctly,” Valentine was saying, “you are in fact familiar with Milton’s Paradise Lost?”

“You only made me read it ten or fifteen times,” said Jace. “It’s better to reign in hell than serve in heaven, etcetera, and so on.”

“Non serviam,” said Valentine. “‘I will not serve.’ It’s what Lucifer had inscribed upon his banner when he rode with his host of rebel angels against a corrupt authority.”

“What’s your point? That you’re on the devil’s side?”

“Some say Milton was on the devil’s side himself. His Satan is certainly a more interesting figure than his God.” They had nearly reached the front of the ship. He stopped and leaned against the guardrail.

Jace joined him there. They had passed the bridges of the East River and were heading out into the open water between Staten Island and Manhattan. The lights of the downtown financial district shimmered like witchlight on the water. The sky was powdered with diamond dust and the river hid its secrets under a slick black sheet, broken here and there with a silvery flash that could have been a fish’s tail—or a mermaid’s. My city, Jace thought, experimentally, but the words still brought to mind Alicante and its crystal towers, not the skyscrapers of Manhattan.

After a moment Valentine said, “Why are you here, Jonathan? I wondered after I saw you in the Bone City if your hatred for me was implacable. I had nearly given up on you.”

His tone was level, as it almost always was, but there was something in it—not vulnerability but at least a sort of genuine curiosity, as if he had realized that Jace was capable of surprising him.

Jace looked out at the water. “The Queen of the Seelie Court wanted me to ask you a question,” he said. “She told me to ask you what blood runs in my veins.”

Surprise passed over Valentine’s face like a hand smoothing away all expression. “You spoke with the Queen?”

“It is the way of the Folk. Everything they say has more than one meaning. Tell her, if she asks again, that the blood of the Angel runs in your veins.”

“And in every Shadowhunter’s veins,” said Jace, disappointed. He’d hoped for a better answer. “You wouldn’t lie to the Queen of the Seelie Court, would you?”

Valentine’s tone was short. “No. And you wouldn’t come here just to ask me that ridiculous question. Why are you really here, Jonathan?”

“I had to talk to someone.” He wasn’t as good at controlling his voice as his father was; he could hear the pain in it, like a bleeding wound just under the surface. “The Lightwoods—I’m nothing but trouble for them. Luke must hate me by now. The Inquisitor wants me dead. I did something to hurt Alec and I’m not even sure what.”

“And your sister?” Valentine said. “What about Clarissa?”

Why do you have to ruin everything? “She’s not too pleased with me either.” He hesitated. “I remembered what you said at the Bone City. That you never got a chance to tell me the truth. I don’t trust you,” he added. “I want you to know that. But I thought I’d give you the chance to tell me why.”

“You have to ask me more than why, Jonathan.” There was a note in his father’s voice that startled Jace—a fierce humility that seemed to temper Valentine’s pride, as steel might be tempered by fire. “There are so many whys.”

“Why did you kill the Silent Brothers? Why did you take the Mortal Sword? What are you planning? Why wasn’t the Mortal Cup enough for you?” Jace caught himself before he could ask any more questions. Why did you leave me a second time? Why did you tell me I wasn’t your son anymore, then come back for me anyway?

“You know what I want. The Clave is hopelessly corrupt and must be destroyed and built again. Idris must be freed from the influence of the degenerate races, and Earth made proof against the demonic threat.”

“Yeah, about that demonic threat.” Jace glanced around, as if he half-expected to see the black shadow of Agramon hulking toward him. “I thought you hated demons. Now you use them like servants. The Ravener, the Drevak demons, Agramon—they’re your employees. Guards, butler—personal chef, for all I know.”

Valentine tapped his fingers on the railing. “I’m no friend to demons,” he said. “I am Nephilim, no matter how much I might think the Covenant is useless and the Law fraudulent. A man doesn’t have to agree with his government to be a patriot, does he? It takes a true patriot to dissent, to say he loves his country more than he cares for his own place in the social order. I’ve been vilified for my choice, forced into hiding, banished from Idris. But I am—I will always be—Nephilim. I can’t change the blood in my veins if I wished to—and I don’t.”

I do. Jace thought of Clary. He glanced down at the dark water again, knowing it wasn’t true. To give up the hunt, the kill, the knowledge of one’s own soaring speed and sure abilities: It was impossible. He was a warrior. He could be nothing else.

“Do you?” Valentine asked. Jace looked away quickly, wondering if his father could read his face. It had been just the two of them alone for so many years. He’d known his father’s face better than his own, once. Valentine was the one person from whom he felt he could never hide what he was feeling. Or the first person, at least. Sometimes he felt as if Clary could look right through him as if he were glass.

“No,” he said. “I don’t.”

“You’re a Shadowhunter forever?”