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City of Ashes (The Mortal Instruments 2) Cassandra Clare 2022/8/5 16:53:23

“My son in return for the Mortal Instruments. That was it, correct? Otherwise you’ll kill him.”

“Kill him?” Isabelle echoed. “MOM!”

“Isabelle,” Maryse said tightly. “Shut up.”

The Inquisitor shot Isabelle and Alec a venomous glare between her slitted eyelids. “You have the terms correct, Morgenstern.”

“Then my answer is no.”

“No?” The Inquisitor looked as if she’d taken a step forward on solid ground and it had collapsed under her feet. “You can’t bluff me, Valentine. I will do exactly as I threatened.”

“Oh, I have no doubt in you, Imogen. You have always been a woman of single-minded and ruthless focus. I recognize these qualities in you because I possess them myself.”

“I am nothing like you. I follow the Law—”

“Even when it instructs you to kill a boy still in his teens just to punish his father? This is not about the Law, Imogen, it is that you hate and blame me for the death of your son and this is your manner of recompensing me. It will make no difference. I will not give up the Mortal Instruments, not even for Jonathan.”

The Inquisitor simply stared at him. “But he’s your son,” she said. “Your child.”

“Children make their own choices,” said Valentine. “That’s something you never understood. I offered Jonathan safety if he stayed with me; he spurned it and returned to you, and you’ll exact your revenge on him as I told him you would. You are nothing, Imogen,” he finished, “if not predictable.”

The Inquisitor didn’t seem to notice the insult. “The Clave will insist on his death, should you not give me the Mortal Instruments,” she said, like someone caught in a bad dream. “I won’t be able to stop them.”

“I’m aware of that,” said Valentine. “But there is nothing I can do. I offered him a chance. He didn’t take it.”

“Bastard!” Isabelle shouted suddenly, and made as if to run forward; Alec grabbed her arm and dragged her backward, holding her there. “He’s a dickhead,” she hissed, then raised her voice, shouting at Valentine: “You’re a—”

“Isabelle!” Alec covered his sister’s mouth with his hand as Valentine spared them both a single, amused glance.

“You … offered him…” The Inquisitor was starting to remind Alec of a robot whose circuits were shorting out. “And he turned you down?” She shook her head. “But he’s your spy—your weapon—”

“Is that what you thought?” he said, with apparently genuine surprise. “I am hardly interested in spying out the secrets of the Clave. I’m only interested in its destruction, and to achieve that end I have far more powerful weapons in my arsenal than a boy.”

“Believe what you like,” Valentine said with a shrug. “You are nothing, Imogen Herondale. The figurehead of a regime whose power is soon to be shattered, its rule ended. There is nothing you have to offer me that I could possibly want.”

“Valentine!” The Inquisitor threw herself forward, as if she could stop him, catch at him, but her hands only went through him as if through water. With a look of supreme disgust, he stepped back and vanished.

The sky was licked with the last tongues of a fading fire, the water had turned to iron. Clary drew her jacket closer around her body and shivered.

“Are you cold?” Jace had been standing at the back of the truck bed, looking down at the wake the car left behind it: two white lines of foam cutting the water. Now he came and slid down beside her, his back against the rear window of the cab. The window itself was almost entirely fogged up with bluish smoke.

“No.” He shook his head and slid his jacket off, handing it across to her. She put it on, reveling in the softness of the leather. It was too big in that comforting way. “You’re going to stay in the truck like Luke told you to, right?”

“Do I have a choice?”

“Not in the literal sense, no.”

She slid her glove off and reached out her hand to him. He took it, gripping it tightly. She looked down at their interlaced fingers, hers so small, squared-off at the tips, his long and thin. “You’ll find Simon for me,” she said. “I know you will.”

“Clary.” She could see the water all around them mirrored in his eyes. “He may be—I mean, it may be—”

“No.” Her tone left no room for doubt. “He’ll be all right. He has to be.”

Jace exhaled. His irises rippled with dark blue water—like tears, Clary thought, but they weren’t tears, only reflections. “There’s something I want to ask you,” he said. “I was afraid to ask before. But now I’m not afraid of anything.” His hand moved to cup her cheek, his palm warm against her cold skin, and she found that her own fear was gone, as if he could pass the power of the Fearless rune to her through his touch. Her chin went up, her lips parting in expectation—his mouth brushed hers lightly, so lightly it felt like the brush of a feather, the memory of a kiss—and then he pulled back, his eyes widening; she saw the black wall in them, rising up to blot out the incredulous gold: the shadow of the ship.

Jace let go of her with an exclamation and scrambled to his feet. Clary got up awkwardly, Jace’s heavy jacket throwing her off balance. Blue sparks were flying from the windows of the cab, and in their light she could see that the side of the ship was corrugated black metal, that there was a thin ladder crawling down one side, and that an iron railing ran around the top. What looked like big, awkwardly shaped birds were perched on the railing. Waves of cold seemed to roll off the boat like freezing air off an iceberg. When Jace called out to her, his breath came out in white puffs, his words lost in the sudden engine roar of the big ship.

She frowned at him. “What? What did you say?”

He grabbed for her, sliding a hand up under her jacket, his fingertips grazing her bare skin. She yelped in surprise. He yanked the seraph blade he’d give her earlier from her belt and pressed it into her hand. “I said”—and he let her go—“to get Abrariel out, because they’re coming.”

“The demons.” He pointed up. At first Clary saw nothing. Then she noticed the huge, awkward birds she’d seen before. They were dropping off the railing one by one, falling like stones down the side of the boat—then leveling out and heading straight for the truck where it floated on top of the waves. As they got closer, she saw that they weren’t birds at all, but ugly flying things like pterodactyls, with wide, leathery wings and bony triangular heads. Their mouths were full of serrated shark teeth, row on row of them, and their claws glinted like straight razors.

Jace scrambled up onto the roof of the cab, Telantes blazing in his hand. As the first of the flying things reached them, he flung the blade. It struck the demon, slicing off the top of its skull the way you might slice the top off an egg. With a high windy screech, the thing toppled sideways, wings spasming. When it struck the ocean, the water boiled.

“Well done,” said Jace. He had jumped down from the truck cab to dispatch another one of the screeching flying things. He had a dagger out now, its hilt slicked with black blood.

“What are these things?’ Clary panted, swinging Abrariel in a wide arc that slashed across the chest of a flying demon. It cawed and swiped at her with a wing. This close, she could see that the wings ended in blade-sharp ridges of bone. This one caught the sleeve of Jace’s jacket and tore it across.

“My jacket,” said Jace in a rage, and stabbed down at the thing as it rose, piercing its back. It shrieked and disappeared. “I loved that jacket.”

Clary stared at him, then spun around as the rending screech of metal assailed her ears. Two of the flying demons had their claws in the top of the truck cab, ripping it off the frame. The air was filled with the screech of tearing metal. Luke was down on the hood of the truck, slashing at the creatures with his kindjal. One toppled off the side of the truck, vanishing before it hit the water. The other burst into the air, the cab roof clutched in its claws, skreeking triumphantly, and winged back toward the boat.

For the moment the sky was clear. Clary raced up and peered down into the cab. Magnus was slumped down in his seat, his face gray. It was too dark for her to see if he was wounded. “Magnus!” she shouted. “Are you hurt?”

“No.” He struggled to sit upright, then fell back against the seat. “I’m just—drained. The protection spells on the ship are strong. Stripping them, keeping them off, is—difficult.” His voice faded. “But if I don’t do it, anyone who sets foot on that ship, other than Valentine, will die.”

“Maybe you should come with us,” said Luke.

“I can’t work on the wards if I’m on the ship itself. I have to do it from here. That’s the way it works.” Magnus’s grin looked painful. “Besides, I’m no good in a fight. My talents lie elsewhere.”

Clary, still hanging down into the cab, began, “But what if we need—”

“Clary!” Luke shouted, but it was too late. None of them had seen the flying creature clinging motionless to the side of the truck. It launched itself upward now, winging sideways, claws sinking deep into the back of Clary’s jacket, a blur of shadowy wings and reeking, jagged teeth. With a howling screech of triumph, it took off into the air, Clary dangling helplessly from its claws.

“Clary!” Luke shouted again, and raced to the edge of the truck’s hood and stopped there, staring hopelessly upward at the dwindling winged shape with its slackly hanging burden.

“It won’t kill her,” said Jace, joining him on the hood. “It’s retrieving her for Valentine.”

There was something about his tone that sent a chill through Luke’s blood. He turned to stare at the boy next to him. “But—”

Luke turned back to Magnus, whose pale face was just visible through the cracked windshield, a white smudge against the darkness. Luke held a hand up, thought he saw Magnus nod in response.

Alec released his hold on Isabelle, half-expecting her to start screaming the moment he took his hand off her mouth. She didn’t. She stood beside him and stared as the Inquisitor stood, swaying slightly, her face a chalky gray-white.

“Imogen,” Maryse said. There was no feeling in her voice, not even any anger.

The Inquisitor didn’t seem to hear her. Her expression didn’t change as she sank bonelessly into Hodge’s old chair. “My God,” she said, staring down at the desk. “What have I done?”

Maryse glanced over at Isabelle. “Get your father.”

Isabelle, looking as frightened as Alec had ever seen her, nodded and slipped out of the room.

Maryse crossed the room to the Inquisitor and looked down at her. “What have you done, Imogen?” she said. “You’ve handed victory to Valentine. That’s what you’ve done.”

“No,” the Inquisitor breathed.

“You knew exactly what Valentine was planning when you locked Jace up. You refused to allow the Clave to become involved because it would have interfered with your plan. You wanted to make Valentine suffer as he had made you suffer; to show him you had the power to kill his son the way he killed yours. You wanted to humble him.”

“But Valentine will not be humbled,” said Maryse. “I could have told you that. You never had a hold over him. He only pretended to consider your offer to make absolutely certain that we would have no time to call for reinforcements from Idris. And now it’s too late.”

The Inquisitor looked up wildly. Her hair had come loose from its knot and hung in lank strips around her face. It was the most human Alec had seen her look, but he got no pleasure out of it. His mother’s words chilled him: too late. “No, Maryse,” she said. “We can still—”

“Still what?” Maryse’s voice cracked. “Call on the Clave? We don’t have the days, the hours, it would take them to get here. If we’re going to face Valentine—and God knows we have no choice—”

“We’re going to have to do it now,” interrupted a deep voice. Behind Alec, glowering darkly, was Robert Lightwood.

Alec stared at his father. It had been years since he’d seen him in hunting gear; his time had been taken up with administrative tasks, with running the Conclave and dealing with Downworlder issues. Something about seeing his father in his heavy, dark armored clothes, his broadsword strapped across his back, reminded Alec of being a child again, when his father had been the biggest, strongest and most terrifying man he could imagine. And he was still terrifying. He hadn’t seen his father since he’d embarrassed himself at Luke’s. He tried to catch his eye now, but Robert was looking at Maryse. “The Conclave stands ready,” Robert said. “The boats are waiting at the dock.”