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City of Ashes (The Mortal Instruments 2) Cassandra Clare 2022/8/5 16:53:20

So why was she so panicked?

She glanced behind her. The old woman was gone; Kent was empty. The old abandoned Domino sugar factory rose up in front of her. Seized by a sudden urge to get off the street, she ducked down the alley beside it.

She found herself in a narrow space between two buildings, full of garbage, discarded bottles, the skittering of rats. The roofs above her touched, blocking out the sun and making her feel as if she had ducked into a tunnel. The walls were brick, set with small, dirty windows, many of which had been smashed in by vandals. Through them she could see the abandoned factory floor and row after row of metal boilers, furnaces, and vats. The air smelled of burned sugar. She leaned against one of the walls, trying to still the pounding of her heart. She had almost succeeded in calming herself down when an impossibly familiar voice spoke to her out of the shadows:

She whirled around. He was standing at the entrance to the alley, his hair lit from behind, shining like a halo around his beautiful face. Dark eyes fringed with long lashes regarded her curiously. He was wearing jeans and, despite the chill in the air, a short-sleeved T-shirt. He still looked fifteen.

“Daniel,” she whispered.

He moved toward her, his steps making no sound. “It’s been a long time, little sister.”

She wanted to run, but her legs felt like bags of water. She pressed herself back against the wall as if she could disappear into it. “But—you’re dead.”

“And you didn’t cry at my funeral, did you, Maia? No tears for your big brother?”

“You were a monster,” she whispered. “You tried to kill me—”

“Not hard enough.” There was something long and sharp in his hand now, something that gleamed like silver fire in the dimness. Maia wasn’t sure what it was; her vision was blurred by terror. She slid to the ground as he moved toward her, her legs no longer able to hold her up.

Daniel knelt down beside her. She could see what it was in his hand now: a snapped-off jagged edge of glass from one of the broken windows. Terror rose and broke over her like a wave, but it wasn’t fear of the weapon in her brother’s hand that was crushing her, it was the emptiness in his eyes. She could look into them and through them and see only darkness. “Do you remember,” he said, “when I told you I’d cut out your tongue before I’d let you tattle on me to Mom and Dad?”

Paralyzed with fear, she could only stare at him. Already she could feel the glass cutting into her skin, the choking taste of blood filling her mouth, and she wished she were dead, already dead, anything was better than this horror and this dread—

“Enough, Agramon.” A man’s voice cut through the fog in her head. Not Daniel’s voice—it was soft, cultured, undeniably human. It reminded her of someone—but who?

“As you wish, Lord Valentine.” Daniel breathed outward, a soft sigh of disappointment—and then his face began to fade and crumble. In a moment he was gone, and with him the sense of paralyzing, bone-crushing terror that had threatened to choke the life out of her. She sucked in a desperate breath.

“Good. She’s breathing.” The man’s voice again, irritable now. “Really, Agramon. A few more seconds and she’d have been dead.”

Maia looked up. The man—Valentine—was standing over her, very tall, dressed all in black, even the gloves on his hands and the thick-soled boots on his feet. He used the tip of a boot now to force her chin up. His voice when he spoke was cool, perfunctory. “How old are you?”

The face gazing down at hers was narrow, sharp-boned, leached of all color, his eyes black and his hair so white he looked like a photograph in negative. On the left side of his throat, just above the collar of his coat, was a spiraling Mark.

“You’re Valentine?” she whispered. “But I thought that you—”

The boot came down on her hand, sending a stab of pain shooting up her arm. She screamed.

“I asked you a question,” he said. “How old are you?”

“How old am I?” The pain in her hand, mixed with the acrid stench of garbage all around made her stomach turn. “Screw you.”

A bar of light seemed to leap between his fingers; he slashed it down and across her face so quickly that she didn’t have time to jerk back. A hot line of pain burned its way across her cheek; she slapped a hand to her face and felt blood slick her fingers.

“Now,” Valentine said, in the same precise and cultured voice. “How old are you?”

“Fifteen. I’m fifteen.”

She sensed, rather than saw, him smile. “Perfect.”

Once back at the Institute, the Inquisitor herded Jace away from the Lightwoods and up the stairs to the training room. Catching sight of himself in the long mirrors that ran along the walls, he stiffened in shock. He hadn’t really looked at himself in days, and last night had been a bad one. His eyes were surrounded by black shadows, his shirt smeared with dried blood and filthy mud from the East River. His face looked hollow and drawn.

“Admiring yourself?” The Inquisitor’s voice cut through his reverie. “You won’t look so pretty when the Clave gets through with you.”

“You do seem obsessed with my looks.” Jace turned away from the mirror with some relief. “Could it be that all this is because you’re attracted to me?”

“Don’t be revolting.” The Inquisitor had taken four long strips of metal from the gray pouch that hung at her waist. Angel blades. “You could be my son.”

“Stephen.” Jace remembered what Luke had said back at the house. “That’s what he’s called, right?”

The Inquisitor whirled on him. The blades she gripped were vibrating with her rage. “Don’t you ever say his name.”

For a moment Jace wondered if she might really try to kill him. He said nothing as she got herself under control. Without looking at him, she pointed with one of the blades. “Stand there in the center of the room, please.”

Jace obeyed. Though he tried not to look at the mirrors, he could see his reflection—and the Inquisitor’s—out of the corner of his eye, the mirrors reflecting back at each other until an infinite number of Inquisitors stood there, threatening an infinite number of Jaces.

He glanced down at his bound hands. His wrists and shoulders had gone from aching to a hard, stabbing pain, but he didn’t wince as the Inquisitor regarded one of the blades, named it Jophiel, and plunged it into the polished wooden floorboards at her feet. He waited, but nothing happened.

“Boom?” he said eventually. “Was something supposed to happen there?”

“Shut up.” The Inquisitor’s tone was final. “And stay where you are.”

Jace stayed, watching with growing curiosity as she moved to his other side, named a second blade Harahel, and proceeded to drive that one into the floorboards as well.

With the third blade—Sandalphon—he realized what she was doing. The first blade had been driven into the floor just south of him, the next to the east, and the next to the north. She was marking out the points of a compass. He struggled to remember what this might mean, came up with nothing. This was clearly Clave ritual, beyond anything he’d been taught. By the time she reached the last blade, Taharial, his palms were sweating, chafing where they rubbed against each other.

The Inquisitor straightened, looking pleased with herself. “There.”

“There what?” Jace demanded, but she held a hand up.

“Not quite yet, Jonathan. There’s one more thing.” She moved to the southernmost blade and knelt in front of it. With a quick movement she produced a stele and marked a single dark rune into the floor just below the knife. As she rose to her feet, a high sharp sweet chime sounded through the room, the sound of a delicate bell being struck. Light poured from the four angel blades, so blinding that Jace turned his face away, half-closing his eyes. When he turned back, a moment later, he saw that he was standing inside a cage whose walls looked as if they had been woven out of filaments of light. They were not static, but moving, like sheets of illuminated rain.

The Inquisitor was now a blurred figure behind a glowing wall. When Jace called out to her, even his voice sounded wavering and hollow, as if he were calling to her through water. “What is this? What have you done?”

Jace took an angry step forward, and then another; his shoulder brushed a glowing wall. As if he’d touched an electrified fence, the shock that pulsed through him was like a blow, knocking him off his feet. He tumbled awkwardly to the floor, unable to use his hands to break his fall.

The Inquisitor laughed again. “If you try to walk through the wall, you’ll get more than a shock. The Clave calls this particular punishment the Malachi Configuration. These walls can’t be broken as long as the seraph blades remain where they are. I wouldn’t,” she added, as Jace, kneeling, made a move toward the blade closest to him. “Touch the blades and you’ll die.”

“But you can touch them,” he said, unable to keep the loathing out of his voice.

“I can, but I won’t.”

“But what about food? Water?”

“All in good time, Jonathan.”

He got to his feet. Through the blurred wall, he saw her turn as if to go.

“But my hands—” He looked down at his bound wrists. The burning metal was eating into his skin like acid. Blood welled around the fiery manacles.

“You should have thought of that before you went to see Valentine.”

“You’re not exactly making me fear the revenge of the Council. They can’t be worse than you.”

“Oh, you’re not going to the Council,” the Inquisitor said. There was a quiet calm in her tone that Jace did not like.

“What do you mean, I’m not going to the Council? I thought you said you were taking me to Idris tomorrow?”

“No. I’m planning to return you to your father.”

The shock of her words almost knocked him back off his feet. “My father?”

“Your father. I’m planning to trade you to him for the Mortal Instruments.”

Jace stared at her. “You must be joking.”

“Not at all. It’s simpler than a trial. Of course, you’ll be banned from the Clave,” she added, as a sort of afterthought, “but I assume you expected that.”

Jace was shaking his head. “You have the wrong guy. I hope you realize that.”

A look of annoyance flashed across her face. “I thought we’d dispensed with your pretense of innocence, Jonathan.”

“I didn’t mean me. I meant my father.”

For the first time since he’d met her, she looked confused. “I don’t understand what you mean.”

“My father won’t trade the Mortal Instruments for me.” The words were bitter, but Jace’s tone wasn’t. It was matter-of-fact. “He’d let you kill me in front of him before he’d hand you either the Sword or the Cup.”

The Inquisitor shook her head. “You don’t understand,” she said, and there was a puzzling trace of resentment in her voice. “Children never do. The love a parent has for a child, there is nothing else like it. No other love so consuming. No father—not even Valentine—would sacrifice his son for a hunk of metal, no matter how powerful.”

“You don’t know my father. He’ll laugh in your face and offer you some money to mail my body back to Idris.”

“You’re right,” Jace said. “Come to think of it, he’ll probably make you pay the shipping charges yourself.”

“I see that you’re still your father’s son. You don’t want him to lose the Mortal Instruments—it would be a loss of power to you as well. You don’t want to live out your life as the disgraced son of a criminal, so you’ll say anything to sway my decision. But you don’t fool me.”

“Listen.” Jace’s heart was pounding, but he tried to speak calmly. She had to believe him. “I know you hate me. I know you think I’m a liar like my father. But I’m telling you the truth now. My father absolutely believes in what he’s doing. You think he’s evil. But he thinks he’s right. He thinks he’s doing God’s work. He won’t give that up for me. You were tracking me when I went out there, you must have heard what he said—”

“I saw you speak to him,” said the Inquisitor. “I heard nothing.”

Jace cursed under his breath. “Look, I’ll swear any oath you want to prove I’m not lying. He’s using the Sword and the Cup to summon demons and control them. The more you waste your time with me, the more he can build up his army. By the time you realize he won’t make the trade, you’ll have no chance against him—”

The Inquisitor turned away with a noise of disgust. “I’m tired of your lies.”

Jace caught his breath in disbelief as she turned her back on him and stalked toward the door.

She stopped at the door and turned to look at him. Jace could only see the angular shadows of her face, the pointed chin, and dark hollows at her temples. Her gray clothes vanished into the shadows so that she looked like a bodiless floating skull. “Don’t think,” she said, “that returning you to your father is what I want to do. It’s better than Valentine Morgenstern deserves.”

“What does he deserve?”

“To hold the dead body of his child in his arms. To see his dead son and know that there is nothing he can do, no spell, no incantation, no bargain with hell that will bring him back—” She broke off. “He should know,” she said, in a whisper, and pushed at the door, her hands scrabbling against the wood. It shut behind her with a click, leaving Jace, his wrists burning, staring after her in confusion.