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City of Ashes (The Mortal Instruments 2) Cassandra Clare 2022/8/5 16:53:22

“I am dead,” Simon said. He was staring at his hand. As he watched, the blisters fading, the pain lessening, the skin resuming its normal pallor.

“I know, but I meant—really dead.” She swiped at her face with her bound hands. Simon tried to move toward her, but something brought him up short. A metal cuff around his ankle was attached to a thick metal chain sunk into the floor. Valentine was taking no chances.

“Don’t cry,” he said, and immediately regretted it. It wasn’t as if the situation didn’t warrant tears. “I’m fine.”

“For now,” said Maia, rubbing her wet face against her sleeve. “That man—the one with the white hair—his name is Valentine?”

“You saw him?” Simon said. “I didn’t see anything. Just my front door blowing in and then a massive shape that came at me like a freight train.”

“He’s the Valentine, right? The one everyone talks about. The one who started the Uprising.”

“He’s Jace and Clary’s father,” Simon said. “That’s what I know about him.”

“I thought his voice sounded familiar. He sounds just like Jace.” She looked momentarily rueful. “No wonder Jace is such an ass.”

Simon could only agree.

“So you didn’t…” Maia’s voice trailed off. She tried again. “Look, I know this sounds weird, but when Valentine came for you, did you see someone you recognized with him, someone who’s dead? Like a ghost?”

Simon shook his head, bewildered. “No. Why?”

Maia hesitated. “I saw my brother. The ghost of my brother. I think Valentine was making me hallucinate.”

“Well, he didn’t try anything like that on me. I was on the phone with Clary. I remember dropping it when the shape came at me—” He shrugged. “That’s it.”

“With Clary?” Maia looked almost hopeful. “Then maybe they’ll figure out where we are. Maybe they’ll come after us.”

“Maybe,” Simon said. “Where are we, anyway?”

“On a boat. I was still conscious when he brought me onto it. It’s a big black hulking metal thing. There are no lights and there are—things everywhere. One of them jumped out at me and I started screaming. That was when he grabbed my head and banged it into the wall. I passed out for a while after that.”

“Things? What do you mean things?”

“Demons,” she said, and shuddered. “He has all sorts of demons here. Big ones and little ones and flying ones. They do whatever he tells them.”

“But Valentine’s a Shadowhunter. And from all I’ve heard, he hates demons.”

“Well, they don’t appear to know that,” said Maia. “What I don’t get is what he wants with us. I know he hates Downworlders, but this seems like a lot of effort just to kill two of them.” She had started to shiver, her jaws clicking together like the chattery-teeth toys you could buy in novelty stores. “He must want something from the Shadowhunters. Or Luke.”

I know what he wants, Simon thought, but there was no point in telling Maia; she was upset enough already. He shrugged his jacket off. “Here,” he said, and tossed it across the room to her.

Twisting around her manacles, she managed to drape it awkwardly around her shoulders. She offered him a wan but grateful smile. “Thanks. But aren’t you cold?”

Simon shook his head. The burn on his hand was entirely gone now. “I don’t feel the cold. Not anymore.”

She opened her mouth, then closed it again. A struggle was taking place behind her eyes. “I’m sorry. About the way I reacted to you yesterday.” She paused, almost holding her breath. “Vampires scare me to death,” she whispered at last. “When I first came to the city, I had a pack I used to hang out with—Bat, and two other boys, Steve and Gregg. We were in the park once and we ran into some vamps sucking on blood bags under a bridge—there was a fight and I mostly remember one of the vamps just picking Gregg up, just picking him up, and ripping him in half—” Her voice rose, and she clamped a hand over her mouth. She was shaking. “In half,” she whispered. “All his insides fell out. And then they started eating.”

Simon felt a dull pang of nausea roll over him. He was almost glad that the story made him sick to his stomach, rather than something else. Like hungry. “I wouldn’t do that,” he said. “I like werewolves. I like Luke—”

“I know you do.” Her mouth worked. “It’s just that when I met you, you seemed so human. You reminded me what I used to be like, before.”

“Maia,” Simon said. “You’re still human.”

“In the ways that count, you are. Just like me.”

She tried to smile. He could tell she didn’t believe him, and he hardly blamed her. He wasn’t sure he believed himself.

The sky had turned to gunmetal, weighted with heavy clouds. In the gray light the Institute loomed up, huge as the slabbed side of a mountain. The angled slate roof shone like unpolished silver. Clary thought she had caught the movement of hooded figures in the shadows by the front door, but she wasn’t sure. It was hard to tell anything clearly when they were parked over a block away, peering through the smeared windows of Luke’s truck.

“How long has it been?” she asked, for either the fourth or fifth time, she wasn’t sure.

“Five minutes longer than the last time you asked me,” Luke said. He was leaning back in his seat, his head back, looking utterly exhausted. The stubble coating his jaw and cheek was silvery gray and there were black lines of shadow under his eyes. All those nights at the hospital, the demon attack, and now this, Clary thought, suddenly worried. She could see why he and her mother had hidden from this life for so long. She wished she could hide from it herself. “Do you want to go in?”

“No. Jace said to wait outside.” She peered out the window again. Now she was sure there were figures in the doorway. As one of them turned, she thought she caught a flash of silvery hair—

“Look.” Luke was sitting bolt upright, rolling his window down hastily.

Clary looked. Nothing appeared to have changed. “You mean the people in the doorway?”

“No. The guards were there before. Look on the roof.” He pointed.

Clary pressed her face to the truck window. The slate roof of the cathedral was a riot of Gothic turrets and spires, carved angels, and arched embrasures. She was about to say irritably that she didn’t notice anything other than some crumbling gargoyles, when a flash of movement caught her eyes. Someone was up on the roof. A slim, dark figure, moving swiftly among the turrets, darting from one overhang to another, now dropping flat, to edge down the impossibly steep roof—someone with pale hair that glinted in the gunmetal light like brass—

Clary was out of the truck before she knew what she was doing, pounding down the street toward the church, Luke shouting after her. The huge edifice seemed to sway overhead, hundreds of feet high, a sheer cliff of stone. Jace was at the edge of the roof now, looking down, and Clary thought, It can’t be, he wouldn’t, he wouldn’t do this, not Jace, and then he stepped off the roof into empty air, as calmly as if he were stepping off a porch. Clary screamed out loud as he fell like a stone—

And landed lightly on his feet just in front of her. Clary stared with her mouth open as he rose up out of a shallow crouch and grinned at her. “If I made a joke about just dropping in,” he said, “would you write me off as a cliché?”

“How—how did you—how did you do that?” she whispered, feeling as if she were about to throw up. She could see Luke out of the truck, standing with his hands clasped behind his head and staring past her. She whirled around to see the two guards from the front door running toward them. One was Malik; the other was the woman with the silver hair.

“Crap.” Jace grabbed her hand and yanked her after him. They raced toward the truck and piled in beside Luke, who gunned the engine and took off while the passenger side door was still hanging open. Jace reached across Clary and jerked it shut. The truck veered around the two Shadowhunters—Malik, Clary saw, had what looked like a flinging knife in his hand. He was aiming at one of the tires. She heard Jace swear as he fumbled in his jacket for a weapon—Malik drew his arm back, the blade shining—and the silvery-haired woman threw herself onto his back, seizing at his arm. He tried to shake her off—Clary twisted around in her seat, gasping—and then the truck hurtled around the corner and lost itself in the traffic on York Avenue, the Institute receding into the distance behind them.

Maia had fallen into a fitful doze against the steam pipe, Simon’s jacket draped around her shoulders. Simon watched the light from the porthole move across the room and tried in vain to calculate the hours. Usually he used his cell phone to tell him what time it was, but that was gone—he’d searched his pockets in vain. He must have dropped it when Valentine charged into his room.

He had bigger concerns, though. His mouth was dry and papery, his throat aching. He was thirsty in a way that was like every thirst and hunger he’d ever known blended together to form a sort of exquisite torture. And it was only going to get worse.

Blood was what he needed. He thought of the blood in the refrigerator beside his bed at home, and his veins burned like hot silver wires running just under his skin.

“Simon?” It was Maia, lifting her head groggily. Her cheek was printed with white dents where it had lain against the bumpy pipe. As he watched, the white faded into pink as the blood returned to her face.

Blood. He ran his dry tongue around his lips. “Yeah?”

“How long was I asleep?”

“Three hours. Maybe four. It’s probably afternoon by now.”

“Oh. Thanks for keeping watch.”

He hadn’t been. He felt vaguely ashamed as he said, “Of course. No problem.”

“I hope you know what I mean when I say I’m sorry you’re here, but I’m glad you’re with me.”

He felt his face crack into a smile. His dry lower lip split and he tasted blood in his mouth. His stomach groaned. “Thanks.”

She leaned toward him, the jacket slipping from her shoulders. Her eyes were a light amber-gray that changed as she moved. “Can you reach me?” she asked, holding out her hand.

Simon reached for her. The chain that secured his ankle rattled as he stretched his hand as far as it would go. Maia smiled as their fingertips brushed—

“How touching.” Simon jerked his hand back, staring. The voice that had spoken out of the shadows was cool, cultured, vaguely foreign in a way he couldn’t quite place. Maia dropped her hand and twisted around, the color draining from her face as she stared up at the man in the doorway. The man had come in so quietly neither one of them had heard him. “The children of Moon and Night, getting along at last.”

“Valentine,” Maia whispered.

Simon said nothing. He couldn’t stop staring. So this was Clary and Jace’s father. With his cap of white-silver hair and burning black eyes, he didn’t look much like either one of them, though there was something of Clary in his sharp bone structure and the shape of his eyes, and something of Jace in the lounging insolence with which he moved. He was a big man, broad-shouldered with a thick frame that didn’t resemble either of his children’s. He padded into the green metal room like a cat, despite being weighted down with what looked like enough weaponry to outfit a platoon. Thick black leather straps with silver buckles crisscrossed his chest, holding a wide-hilted silver sword across his back. Another thick strap circled his waist, and through it was thrust a butcher’s array of knives, daggers, and narrow shimmering blades like enormous needles.

“Get up,” he said to Simon. “Keep your back against the wall.”

Simon tilted his chin up. He could see Maia watching him, white-faced and scared, and felt a rush of fierce protectiveness. He would keep Valentine from hurting her if it was the last thing he did. “So you’re Clary’s father,” he said. “No offense, but I can kind of see why she hates you.”

Valentine’s face was impassive, almost motionless. His lips barely moved as he said, “And why is that?”

“Because,” Simon said, “you’re obviously psychotic.”

Now Valentine smiled. It was a smile that moved no part of his face other than his lips, and those twisted only slightly. Then he brought his fist up. It was clenched; Simon thought for a moment that Valentine was going to swing at him, and he flinched reflexively. But Valentine didn’t throw the punch. Instead, he opened his fingers, revealing a shimmering pile of what looked like glitter in the center of his broad palm. Turning toward Maia, he bent his head and blew the powder at her in a grotesque parody of a blown kiss. The powder settled on her like a swarm of shimmering bees.

Maia screamed. Gasping and jerking wildly, she thrashed from side to side as if she could twist away from the powder, her voice rising in a sobbing scream.

“What did you do to her?” Simon shouted, leaping to his feet. He ran at Valentine, but the leg chain jerked him back. “What did you do?”

Valentine’s thin smile widened. “Silver powder,” he said. “It burns lycanthropes.”

Maia had stopped twitching and was curled into a fetal position on the floor, weeping quietly. Blood ran from vicious red scores along her hands and arms. Simon’s stomach lurched again and he fell back against the wall, sickened by himself, by all of it. “You bastard,” he said as Valentine idly brushed the last of the powder from his fingers. “She’s just a girl, she wasn’t going to hurt you, she’s chained up, for—”