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City of Ashes (The Mortal Instruments 2) Cassandra Clare 2022/8/5 16:53:19

“What do you think?” Jace was still sitting on the piano bench, his shoulders slumped forward; he looked as if he hadn’t slept all night. Alec was leaning against the piano behind him, probably because it was as far away from Magnus as he could get.

“Jace, that’s enough.” Luke was sitting up straight but looked as if it were something of an effort. “You said you could draw new runes, Clary?”

“I said I thought so.”

“Well, I’d like you to try.”

Luke smiled faintly. “Unless you’ve got something else in mind?”

Clary flipped the sketchpad to a blank page and stared down at it. Never had a sheet of paper looked quite so empty to her before. She could sense the stillness in the room, everyone watching her: Magnus with his ancient, tempered curiosity; Alec too preoccupied with his own problems to care much for hers; Luke hopefully; and Jace with a cold, frightening blankness. She remembered him saying that he wished he could hate her and wondered if someday he might succeed.

She threw her pencil down. “I can’t just do it on command like that. Not without an idea.”

“What kind of idea?” said Luke.

“I mean, I don’t even know what runes already exist. I need to know a meaning, a word, before I can draw a rune for it.”

“It’s hard enough for us to remember every rune—” Alec began, but Jace, to Clary’s surprise, cut him off.

“How about,” he said quietly, “Fearless?”

“Fearless?” she echoed.

“There are runes for bravery,” said Jace. “But never anything to take away fear. But if you, as you say, can create new runes…” He glanced around, and saw Alec’s and Luke’s surprised expressions. “Look, I just remembered that there isn’t one, that’s all. And it seems harmless enough.”

Clary looked over at Luke, who shrugged. “Fine,” he said.

Clary took a dark gray pencil from the box and set the tip of it to the paper. She thought of shapes, lines, curlicues; she thought of the signs in the Gray Book, ancient and perfect, embodiments of a language too faultless for speech. A soft voice spoke inside her head: Who are you, to think you can speak the language of heaven?

The pencil moved. She was almost sure she hadn’t moved it, but it slid across the paper, describing a single line. She felt her heart skip. She thought of her mother, sitting dreamily before her canvas, creating her own vision of the world in ink and oil paint. She thought, Who am I? I am Jocelyn Fray’s daughter. The pencil moved again, and this time her breath caught; she found she was whispering the word, under her breath: “Fearless. Fearless.” The pencil looped back up, and now she was guiding it rather than being guided by it. When she was done, she set the pencil down and gazed for a moment, wonderingly, at the result.

The completed Fearless rune was a matrix of strongly swirling lines: a rune as bold and aerodynamic as an eagle. She tore the page free and held it up so the others could see it. “There,” she said, and was rewarded by the startled look on Luke’s face—so he hadn’t believed her—and the fractional widening of Jace’s eyes.

Jace got to his feet and crossed the room, taking the sheet of paper out of her hand. “But does it work?”

Clary wondered if he meant the question or if he was just being nasty. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, how do we know it works? Right now it’s just a drawing—you can’t take fear away from a piece of paper, it doesn’t have any to begin with. We have to try it out on one of us before we can be sure it’s a real rune.”

“I’m not sure that’s such a great idea,” Luke said.

“It’s a fabulous idea.” Jace dropped the paper back onto the table, and began to slide off his jacket. “I’ve got a stele we can use. Who wants to do me?”

“A regrettable choice of words,” muttered Magnus.

Luke stood up. “No,” he said. “Jace, you already behave as if you’ve never heard the word ‘fear.’ I fail to see how we’re going to be able to tell the difference if it does work on you.”

Alec stifled what sounded like a laugh. Jace simply smiled a tight, unfriendly smile. “I’ve heard the word ‘fear,’” he said. “I simply choose to believe it doesn’t apply to me.”

“Exactly the problem,” said Luke.

“Well, why don’t I try it on you, then?” Clary said, but Luke shook his head.

“You can’t Mark Downworlders, Clary, not with any real effect. The demon disease that causes lycanthropy prevents the Marks from taking effect.”

“Try it on me,” Alec said unexpectedly. “I could do with some fearlessness.” He slid his jacket off, tossed it over the piano stool, and crossed the room to stand in front of Jace. “Here. Mark my arm.”

Jace glanced over at Clary. “Unless you think you should do it?”

She shook her head. “No. You’re probably better at actually applying Marks than I am.”

Jace shrugged. “Roll up your sleeve, Alec.”

Obediently, Alec rolled his sleeve up. There was already a permanent Mark on his upper arm, an elegant scroll of lines meant to give him perfect balance. They all leaned forward, even Magnus, as Jace carefully traced the outlines of the Fearless rune on Alec’s arm, just below the existing Mark. Alec winced as the stele traced its burning path across his skin. When Jace was done, he slid his stele back into his pocket and stood a moment admiring his handiwork. “Well, it looks nice at least,” he announced. “Whether it works or not…”

Alec touched the new Mark with his fingertips, then glanced up to find everyone else in the room staring at him.

“So what?” Alec rolled his sleeve down, covering the Mark.

“So, how do you feel? Any different?”

Alec looked considering. “Not really.”

Jace threw his hands up. “So it doesn’t work.”

“Not necessarily,” Luke said. “There might simply be nothing going on that might activate it. Perhaps there isn’t anything here that Alec is afraid of.”

Magnus glanced at Alec and raised his eyebrows. “Boo,” he said.

Jace was grinning. “Come on, surely you’ve got a phobia or two. What scares you?”

Alec thought for a moment. “Spiders,” he said.

Clary turned to Luke. “Have you got a spider anywhere?”

Luke looked exasperated. “Why would I have a spider? Do I look like someone who would collect them?”

“No offense,” Jace said, “but you kind of do.”

“You know”—Alec’s tone was sour—“maybe this was a stupid experiment.”

“What about the dark?” Clary suggested. “We could lock you in the basement.”

“I’m a demon hunter,” Alec said, with exaggerated patience. “Clearly, I am not afraid of the dark.”

“Well, you might be.”

Clary was spared replying by the buzz of the doorbell. She looked over at Luke, raising her eyebrows. “Simon?”

“Couldn’t be. It’s daylight.”

“Oh, right.” She’d forgotten again. “Do you want me to get it?”

“No.” He stood up with only a short grunt of pain. “I’m fine. It’s probably someone wondering why the bookstore’s shut.”

He crossed the room and threw the door open. His shoulders went stiff with surprise; Clary heard the bark of a familiar, stridently angry female voice, and a moment later Isabelle and Maryse Lightwood pushed past Luke and strode into the room, followed by the gray, menacing figure of the Inquisitor. Behind them was a tall and burly man, dark-haired and olive-skinned, with a thick black beard. Though it had been taken many years ago, Clary recognized him from the old photo Hodge had showed her: This was Robert Lightwood, Alec and Isabelle’s father.

Magnus’s head went up with a snap. Jace paled markedly, but showed no other emotion. And Alec—Alec stared from his sister, to his mother, to his father, and then looked at Magnus, his clear, light blue eyes darkened with a hard resolution. He took a step forward, placing himself between his parents and everyone else in the room.

Maryse, on seeing her eldest son in the middle of Luke’s living room, did a double take. “Alec, what on earth are you doing here? I thought I made it clear that—”

“Mother.” Alec’s voice as he interrupted his mother was firm, implacable, and not unkind. “Father. There’s something I have to tell you.” He smiled at them. “I’m seeing someone.”

Robert Lightwood looked at his son with some exasperation. “Alec,” he said. “This is hardly the time.”

“Yes, it is. This is important. You see, I’m not just seeing anyone.” Words seemed to be pouring out of Alec in a torrent, while his parents looked on in confusion. Isabelle and Magnus were staring at him with expressions of nearly identical astonishment. “I’m seeing a Downworlder. In fact, I’m seeing a war—”

Magnus’s fingers moved, quick as a flash of light, in Alec’s direction. There was a faint shimmer in the air around Alec—his eyes rolled up—and he dropped to the floor, felled like a tree.

“Alec!” Maryse clapped her hand to her mouth. Isabelle, who had been standing closest to her brother, dropped down beside him. But Alec had already begun to stir, his eyelids fluttering open. “Wha—what—why am I on the floor?”

“That’s a good question.” Isabelle glowered down at her brother. “What was that?”

“What was what?” Alec sat up, holding his head. A look of alarm crossed his face. “Wait—did I say anything? Before I passed out, I mean.”

Jace snorted. “You know how we were wondering if that thing Clary did would work or not?” he asked. “It works all right.”

Alec looked supremely horrified. “What did I say?”

“You said you were seeing someone,” his father told him. “Though you weren’t clear as to why that was important.”

“It’s not,” Alec said. “I mean, I’m not seeing anyone. And it’s not important. Or it wouldn’t be if I was seeing someone, which I’m not.”

Magnus looked at him as if he were an idiot. “Alec’s been delirious,” he said. “Side effect of some demon toxins. Most unfortunate, but he’ll be fine soon.”

“Demon toxins?” Maryse’s voice had become shrill. “No one reported a demon attack to the Institute. What is going on here, Lucian? This is your house, isn’t it? You know perfectly well if there’s been a demon attack you’re supposed to report it—”

“Luke was attacked too,” Clary said. “He’s been unconscious.”

“How convenient. Everyone’s either unconscious or apparently delirious,” said the Inquisitor. Her knifelike voice cut through the room, silencing everyone. “Downworlder, you know perfectly well that Jonathan Morgenstern should not be in your house. He should have been locked up in the warlock’s care.”

“I have a name, you know,” Magnus said. “Not,” he added, seeming to think twice about interrupting the Inquisitor, “that that matters, really. In fact, forget all about it.”

“I know your name, Magnus Bane,” said the Inquisitor. “You’ve failed in your duty once; you won’t get another chance.”

“Failed in my duty?” Magnus frowned. “Just by bringing the boy here? There was nothing in the contract I signed that said I couldn’t bring him with me at my own discretion.”

“That wasn’t your failure,” the Inquisitor said. “Letting him see his father last night, that was your failure.”

There was a stunned silence. Alec scrambled up off the floor, his eyes seeking out Jace’s—but Jace wouldn’t look at him. His face was a mask.

“That’s ridiculous,” Luke said. Clary had rarely seen him look so angry. “Jace doesn’t even know where Valentine is. Stop hounding him.”

“Hounding is what I do, Downworlder,” said the Inquisitor. “It’s my job.” She turned to Jace. “Tell the truth, now, boy,” she said, “and it will all be much easier.”

Jace raised his chin. “I don’t have to tell you anything.”

“If you’re innocent, why not exonerate yourself? Tell us where you really were last night. Tell us about Valentine’s little pleasure boat.”

Clary stared at him. I went for a walk, he’d said. But that didn’t mean anything. Maybe he really had gone for a walk. But her heart, her stomach, felt sick. You know what the worst thing I can imagine is? Simon had said. Not trusting someone I love.

When Jace didn’t speak, Robert Lightwood said, in his deep bass voice: “Imogen? You’re saying Valentine is—was—”

“On a boat in the middle of the East River,” said the Inquisitor. “That’s correct.”

“That’s why I couldn’t find him,” Magnus said, half to himself. “All that water—it disrupted my spell.”

“What’s Valentine doing in the middle of the river?” Luke said, bewildered.

“Ask Jonathan,” said the Inquisitor. “He borrowed a motorcycle from the head of the city’s vampire clan and he flew it to the boat. Isn’t that right, Jonathan?”

Jace said nothing. His face was unreadable. The Inquisitor, though, looked hungry, as if she were feeding off the suspense in the room.