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

“Because my father poisons everything he touches?” Jace said bitterly.

“Because your father, for all his sins, still has a son, and she doesn’t. And because she blames him for Stephen’s death.”

“And she’s right,” said Jace. “It was his fault.”

“Not entirely,” said Luke. “He offered Stephen a choice, and Stephen chose. Whatever else his faults were, Valentine never blackmailed or threatened anyone into joining the Circle. He wanted only willing followers. The responsibility for Stephen’s choices rests with him.”

“Free will,” said Clary.

“There’s nothing free about it,” said Jace. “Valentine—”

“Offered you a choice, didn’t he?” Luke said. “When you went to see him. He wanted you to stay, didn’t he? Stay and join up with him?”

“Yes.” Jace looked out across the water toward Governors Island. “He did.” Clary could see the river reflected in his eyes; they looked steely, as if the gray water had drowned all their gold.

“And you said no,” said Luke.

Jace glared. “I wish people would stop guessing that. It’s making me feel predictable.”

Luke turned away as if to hide a smile, and paused. “Someone’s coming.”

Someone was indeed coming, someone very tall with black hair that blew in the wind. “Magnus,” Clary said. “But he looks … different.”

As he drew closer, she saw that his hair, normally spiked up and glittered like a disco ball, hung cleanly past his ears like a sheet of black silk. The rainbow leather pants had been replaced by a neat, old-fashioned dark suit and a black frock coat with glimmering silver buttons. His cat’s eyes glowed amber and green. “You look surprised to see me,” he said.

Jace glanced at his watch. “We did wonder if you were coming.”

“I said I would come, so I came. I just needed time to prepare. This isn’t some hat trick, Shadowhunter. This is going to take some serious magic.” He turned to Luke. “How’s the arm?”

“Fine. Thank you.” Luke was always polite.

“That’s your truck parked up by the factory, isn’t it?” Magnus pointed. “It’s awfully butch for a bookseller.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” said Luke. “All that lugging around heavy book boxes, climbing stacks, hard-core alphabetizing…”

Magnus laughed. “Can you unlock the truck for me? I mean, I could do it myself”—he wiggled his fingers—“but that seems rude.”

“Sure.” Luke shrugged and they headed back toward the factory. When Clary made as if to follow them, though, Jace caught her arm. “Wait. I want to talk to you for a second.”

Clary watched as Magnus and Luke headed for the truck. They made an odd pair, the tall warlock in a long black coat and the shorter, stockier man in jeans and flannel, but they were both Downworlders, both trapped in the same space between the mundane and the supernatural worlds.

“Clary,” Jace said. “Earth to Clary. Where are you?”

She looked back at him. The sun was setting off the water now, behind him, leaving his face in shadow and turning his hair to a halo of gold. “Sorry.”

“It’s all right.” He touched her face, gently, with the back of his hand. “You disappear so completely into your head sometimes,” he said. “I wish I could follow you.”

You do, she wanted to say. You live in my head all the time. Instead, she said, “What did you want to tell me?”

He dropped his hand. “I want you to put the Fearless rune on me. Before Luke gets back.”

“Why before he gets back?”

“Because he’s going to say it’s a bad idea. But it’s the only chance of defeating Agramon. Luke hasn’t—encountered it, he doesn’t know what it’s like. But I do.”

She searched his face. “What was it like?”

His eyes were unreadable. “You see what you fear the most in the world.”

“I don’t even know what that is.”

“Trust me. You don’t want to.” He glanced down. “Do you have your stele?”

“Yeah, I have it.” She pulled the woolly glove off her right hand and fished for the stele. Her hand was shaking a little as she drew it out. “Where do you want the Mark?”

“The closer it is to the heart, the more effective.” He turned his back on her hand and drew off his jacket, dropping it on the ground. He shrugged his T-shirt up, baring his back. “On the shoulder blade would be good.”

Clary placed a hand on his shoulder to steady herself. His skin there was a paler gold than the skin of his hands and face, and smooth where it was not scarred. She traced the tip of the stele along the blade of his shoulder and felt him wince, his muscles tightening. “Don’t press so hard—”

“Sorry.” She eased up, letting the rune flow from her mind, down through her arm, into the stele. The black line it left behind looked like charring, a line of ash. “There. You’re finished.”

He turned around, shrugging his shirt back on. “Thanks.” The sun was burning down beyond the horizon now, flooding the sky with blood and roses, turning the edge of the river to liquid gold, softening the ugliness of the urban waste all around them. “What about you?”

“What about me what?”

He took a step closer. “Push your sleeves up. I’ll Mark you.”

“Oh. Right.” She did as he asked, pushing up her sleeves, holding her bare arms out to him.

The sting of the stele on her skin was like the light touch of a needle’s tip, scraping without puncturing. She watched the black lines appear with a sort of fascination. The Mark she’d gotten in her dream was still visible, faded only a little around the edges.

“‘And the Lord said unto him, Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold. And the Lord set a Mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him.’”

Clary turned around, pulling her sleeves down. Magnus stood watching them, his black coat seeming to float around him in the wind off the river. A small smile played around his mouth.

“You can quote the Bible?” asked Jace, bending to retrieve his jacket.

“I was born in a deeply religious century, my boy,” said Magnus. “I always thought Cain’s might have been the first recorded Mark. It certainly protected him.”

“But he was hardly one of the angels,” said Clary. “Didn’t he kill his brother?”

“Aren’t we planning to kill our father?” said Jace.

“That’s different,” said Clary, but didn’t get a chance to elaborate on how it was different, because at that moment, Luke’s truck pulled up onto the beach, spraying gravel from its tires. Luke leaned out the window.

“Okay,” he said to Magnus. “Here we go. Get in.”

“Are we going to drive to the boat?” Clary said, bewildered. “I thought…”

“What boat?” Magnus cackled, as he swung himself up into the cab next to Luke. He jerked a thumb behind him. “You two, get into the back.”

Jace climbed up into the back of the truck and leaned down to help Clary up after him. As she settled herself against the spare tire, she saw that a black pentagram inside a circle had been painted onto the metal floor of the truck bed. The arms of the pentagram were decorated with wildly curlicuing symbols. They weren’t quite the runes she was familiar with—there was something about looking at them that was like trying to understand a person speaking a language that was close to, but not quite, English.

Luke leaned out the window and looked back at them. “You know I don’t like this,” he said, the wind muffling his voice. “Clary, you’re going to stay in the truck with Magnus. Jace and I will go up onto the ship. You understand?”

Clary nodded and huddled into a corner of the truck bed. Jace sat beside her, bracing his feet. “This is going to be interesting.”

“What—” Clary began, but the truck started up again, tires roaring against gravel, drowning her words. It lurched forward into the shallow water at the edge of the river. Clary was flung against the cab’s back window as the truck moved forward into the river—was Luke planning to drown them all? She twisted around and saw that the cab was full of dizzying blue columns of light, snaking and twisting. The truck seemed to bump over something bulky, as if it had driven over a log. Then they were moving smoothly forward, almost gliding.

Clary hauled herself to her knees and looked over the side of the truck, already fairly sure what she would see.

They were moving—no, driving—atop the dark water, the bottom of the truck’s tires just brushing the river’s surface, spreading tiny ripples outward along with the occasional shower of Magnus-created blue sparks. Everything was suddenly very quiet, except for the faint roar of the motor and the call of the seabirds overhead. Clary stared across the truck bed at Jace, who was grinning. “Now this is really going to impress Valentine.”

“I don’t know,” Clary said. “Other crack teams get bat boomerangs and wall-crawling powers; we get the Aquatruck.”

“If you don’t like it, Nephilim,” came Magnus’s voice, faintly, from the truck cab, “you’re welcome to see if you can walk on the water.”

“I think we should go in,” said Isabelle, her ear pressed to the library door. She beckoned for Alec to come closer. “Can you hear anything?”

Alec leaned in beside his sister, careful not to drop the phone he was holding. Magnus said he’d call if he had news or if anything happened. So far, he hadn’t. “No.”

“Exactly. They’ve stopped yelling at each other.” Isabelle’s dark eyes gleamed. “They’re waiting for Valentine now.”

Alec moved away from the door and strode partway down the hall to the nearest window. The sky outside was the color of charcoal half-sunk into ruby ashes. “It’s sunset.”

Isabelle reached for the door handle. “Let’s go.”

“I don’t want her to be able to lie to us about what Valentine says,” Isabelle said. “Or what happens. Besides, I want to see him. Jace’s father. Don’t you?”

Alec moved back to the library door. “Yes, but this isn’t a good idea because—”

Isabelle pushed down on the handle of the library door. It swung wide open. With a half-amused glance over her shoulder at him, she ducked inside; swearing under his breath, Alec followed her.

His mother and the Inquisitor stood at opposite ends of the huge desk, like boxers facing each other across a ring. Maryse’s cheeks were bright red, her hair straggling around her face. Isabelle shot Alec a look, as if to say, Maybe we shouldn’t have come in here. Mom looks mad.

On the other hand, if Maryse looked angry, the Inquisitor looked positively demented. She whirled around as the library door opened, her mouth twisted into an ugly shape. “What are you two doing here?” she shouted.

“Imogen,” said Maryse.

“Maryse!” The Inquisitor’s voice rose. “I’ve had about enough of you and your delinquent children—”

“Imogen,” Maryse said again. There was something in her voice—an urgency—that made even the Inquisitor turn and look.

The air just by the freestanding brass globe was shimmering like water. A shape began to coalesce out of it, like black paint being stroked over white canvas, evolving into the figure of a man with broad, planklike shoulders. The image was wavering, too much for Alec to see more than that the man was tall, with a shock of close-cropped salt-white hair.

“Valentine.” The Inquisitor looked caught off guard, Alec thought, though surely she must have been expecting him.

The air by the globe was shimmering more violently now. Isabelle gasped as a man stepped out of the wavering air, as if he were coming up through layers of water. Jace’s father was a formidable man, over six feet tall with a wide chest and hard, thick arms corded with ropy muscles. His face was almost triangular, sharpening to a hard, pointed chin. He might have been considered handsome, Alec thought, but he was startlingly unlike Jace, lacking anything of his son’s pale-gold looks. The hilt of a sword was visible just over his left shoulder—the Mortal Sword. It wasn’t as if he needed to be armed, since he wasn’t corporeally present, so he must have worn it to annoy the Inquisitor. Not that she needed to be more annoyed than she was.

“Imogen,” Valentine said, his dark eyes grazing the Inquisitor with a look of satisfied amusement. That’s Jace all over, that look, Alec thought. “And Maryse, my Maryse—it has been a long time.”

Maryse, swallowing hard, said with some difficulty, “I’m not your Maryse, Valentine.”

“And these must be your children,” Valentine went on as if she hadn’t spoken. His eyes came to rest on Isabelle and Alec. A faint shiver went through Alec, as if something had plucked at his nerves. Jace’s father’s words were perfectly ordinary, even polite, but there was something in his blank and predatory gaze that made Alec want to step in front of his sister and block her from Valentine’s view. “They look just like you.”

“Leave my children out of this, Valentine,” Maryse said, clearly struggling to keep her voice steady.

“Well, that hardly seems fair,” Valentine said, “considering you haven’t left my child out of this.” He turned to the Inquisitor. “I got your message. Surely that’s not the best you can do?”

She hadn’t moved; now she blinked slowly, like a lizard. “I hope the terms of my offer were perfectly clear.”