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

“Wait.” Clary was suddenly nervous. “The melted metal—it could be, like, toxic sludge or something.”

Maia snorted. “I’m from New Jersey. I was born in toxic sludge.” She marched up to the hole and peered through it. “There’s a metal catwalk on the other side,” she announced. “Here—I’m going to pull myself through.” She turned around and stuck her feet through the hole, then her legs, moving backward slowly. She grimaced as she wriggled her body through, then froze. “Ouch! My shoulders are stuck. Push me?” She held her hands out.

Clary took her hands and pushed. Maia’s face turned white, then red—and she suddenly pulled free, like a champagne cork popped from the bottle. With a shriek, she tumbled backward. There was a crash and Clary stuck her head anxiously through the hole. “Are you all right?”

Maia was lying on a narrow metal catwalk several feet below. She rolled over slowly and pushed herself into a sitting position, wincing. “My ankle—but I’ll be fine,” she added, seeing Clary’s face. “We heal fast too, you know.”

“I know. Okay, my turn.” Clary’s stele poked uncomfortably into her stomach as she bent, prepared to slide through the hole after Maia. The drop to the catwalk was intimidating, but not as intimidating as the idea of waiting in the storage space for whatever came to claim them. She turned over onto her stomach, sliding her feet into the hole—

And something seized her by the back of her shirt, hauling her upward. Her stele fell out of her belt and rattled to the floor. She gasped in sudden shock and pain; the neck band of her sweater cut into her throat, and she choked. A moment later she was released. She crashed to the floor, her knees hitting the metal with a hollow clang. Gagging, she rolled onto her back and looked up, knowing what she would see.

Valentine stood over her. In one hand he held a seraph blade, glittering with a harsh white light. His other hand, which had gripped the back of her shirt, was clenched into a fist. His carved white face was set into a sneer of disdain. “Always your mother’s daughter, Clarissa,” he said. “What have you done now?”

Clary pulled herself painfully up to her knees. Her mouth was filled with the salty blood from where her lip had torn open. As she looked at Valentine, her simmering rage bloomed like a poisonous flower inside her chest. This man, her father, had killed Simon and left him dead on the floor like so much discarded trash. She had thought she had hated people before in her life; she’d been wrong. This was hatred.

“The werewolf girl,” Valentine went on, frowning, “where is she?”

Clary leaned forward and spat her mouthful of blood onto his shoes. With a sharp exclamation of disgust and surprise, he stepped backward, raising the blade in his hand, and for a moment Clary saw the unguarded fury in his eyes and thought he was really going to do it, was really going to kill her right there where she crouched at his feet, for spitting on his shoes.

Slowly, he lowered the blade. Without a word, he walked past Clary, and stared through the hole she had made in the wall. Slowly, she turned, her eyes raking the floor until she saw it. Her mother’s stele. She reached for it, her breath catching—

Valentine, turning, saw what she was doing. With a single stride, he was across the room. He kicked the stele out of her reach; it spun across the metal floor and fell through the hole in the wall. She half-closed her eyes, feeling the loss of the stele like the loss of her mother all over again.

“The demons will find your Downworlder friend,” said Valentine, in his cold, still voice, sliding his seraph blade into a sheath at his waist. “There is nowhere for her to flee to. Nowhere for any of you to go. Now get up, Clarissa.”

Slowly, Clary got to her feet. Her whole body ached from the pummeling it had taken. A moment later she gasped in surprise as Valentine seized her by the shoulders, turning her so that her back was to him. He whistled; a high, sharp, and unpleasant sound. The air stirred overhead and she heard the ugly flap of leathery wings. With a little cry, she tried to break away, but Valentine was too strong. The wings settled around them both and then they were rising into the air together, Valentine holding her in his arms, as if he really were her father.

Jace had thought he and Luke would be dead by now. He wasn’t sure why they weren’t. The deck of the ship was slippery with blood. He was covered in filth. Even his hair was lank and sticky with ichor, and his eyes stung with blood and sweat. There was a deep cut along the top of his right arm, and no time to carve a healing rune into the skin. Every time he lifted the arm, a searing pain shot through his side.

They had managed to wedge themselves into a recess in the metal wall of the ship, and they fought from this shelter as the demons lurched at them. Jace had used both his chakhrams and was down to his last seraph blade and the dagger he’d taken from Isabelle. It wasn’t much—he wouldn’t have gone out to face only a few demons this poorly armed, and now he was facing a horde. He ought to be frightened, he knew, but he felt almost nothing at all—only a disgust for the demons, who did not belong in this world, and rage at Valentine, who had summoned them here. Distantly, he knew his lack of fear wasn’t entirely a good thing. He wasn’t even afraid of how much blood he was losing from his arm.

A spider demon scuttled toward Jace, chittering and jetting yellow poison. He ducked away, not quite fast enough to keep a few drops of the poison from splattering his shirt. It hissed as it ate through the material; he felt the sting as it burned his skin like a dozen tiny superheated needles.

The spider demon clicked in satisfaction, and sprayed another jet of poison. Jace ducked and the venom hit an Oni demon coming toward him from the side; the Oni screamed in agony and thrashed its way to the spider demon, claws extended. The two grappled together, rolling across the deck.

The surrounding demons surged away from the spilled poison, which made a barrier between them and the Shadowhunter. Jace took advantage of the momentary breather to turn to Luke beside him. Luke was almost unrecognizable. His ears rose to sharp, wolfish points; his lips were pulled back from his snarling muzzle in a permanent rictus, his clawed hands black with demon ichor.

“We should go for the railings.” Luke’s voice was half a growl. “Get off the ship. We can’t kill them all. Maybe Magnus—”

“I don’t think we’re doing so badly.” Jace twirled his seraph blade—which was a bad idea; his hand was wet with blood and the blade almost slipped out of his grasp. “All things considered.”

Luke made a noise that might have been a snarl or a laugh, or a combination of both. Then something huge and shapeless fell out of the sky, knocking them both to the ground.

Jace hit the ground hard, his seraph blade flying out of his hand. It struck the deck, skittered across the metal surface, and slid over the edge of the boat, out of sight. Jace swore and staggered to his feet.

The thing that had landed on them was an Oni demon. It was unusually big for its kind—not to mention unusually smart to have thought of climbing up onto the roof and dropping down on them from above. It was sitting on top of Luke now, slashing at him with the sharp tusks that sprouted from its forehead. Luke was defending himself as best he could with his own claws, but he was already drenched in blood; his kindjal lay a foot away from him on the deck. Luke grabbed for it and the Oni seized one of his legs in a spadelike hand, bringing the leg down like a tree branch over its knee. Jace heard the bone break with a snap as Luke cried out.

Jace ran to him and knelt down. “Your leg—”

“It’s broken.” Luke struggled into a sitting position. His face twisted in pain.

Luke looked around, his face grim. The Oni might have been dead, but the other demons had learned from its example. They were swarming up onto the roof. Jace couldn’t tell, in the dim moonlight, how many of them there were—dozens? Hundreds? After a certain number it didn’t matter anymore.

Luke closed his hand around the hilt of the kindjal. “Not fast enough.”

Jace drew Isabelle’s dagger from his belt. It was the last of his weapons and it seemed suddenly and pitifully small. A sharp emotion pierced him—not fear, he was still beyond that, but sorrow. He saw Alec and Isabelle as if they were standing in front of him, smiling at him, and then he saw Clary with her arms out as if she were welcoming him home.

He rose to his feet just as they fell from the roof in a wave, a shadow tide blotting out the moon. Jace moved to try to block Luke, but it was no use; the demons were all around. One reared up in front of him. It was a six-foot skeleton, grinning with broken teeth. Scraps of brightly colored Tibetan prayer flags hung from its rotting bones. It gripped a katana sword in a bony hand, which was unusual—most demons didn’t arm themselves. The blade, inscribed with demonic runes, was longer than Jace’s arm, curling and sharp and deadly.

Jace flung the dagger. It struck the demon’s bony rib cage and stuck there. The demon barely seemed to notice; it only kept moving, inexorable as death. The air around it stank of death and graveyards. It raised the katana in a clawed hand—

A gray shadow cut the darkness in front of Jace, a shadow that moved with a whirling, precise, and deadly motion. The downward swing of the katana met with the grinding screech of metal on metal; the shadowy figure thrust the katana back at the demon, stabbing upward with the other hand with a swiftness that Jace’s eye could barely follow. The demon fell back, its skull shattering as it crumpled into nothingness. All around him he could hear the shrieks of demons howling in pain and surprise. Whirling, he saw that dozens of shapes—human shapes—were crawling up over the railings, dropping to the ground, and racing to close with the mass of demons that crawled, slithered, hissed, and flew upon the deck. They carried blades of light and wore the dark, tough clothing of—

“Shadowhunters?” Jace said, so startled that he spoke out loud.

“Who else?” A grin flashed in the darkness.

“Malik? Is that you?”

Malik inclined his head. “Sorry about earlier today,” he said. “I was under orders.”

Jace was about to tell Malik that his having just saved his life more than made up for his earlier attempt to prevent Jace from leaving the Institute, when a group of Raum demons surged toward them, tentacles lashing the air. Malik whirled and charged to meet them with a shout, his seraph blade blazing like a star. Jace was about to follow him when a hand seized him by the arm and pulled him sideways.

It was a Shadowhunter, all in black, a hood shading the face beneath. “Come with me.”

The hand tugged insistently at his sleeve.

“I need to get to Luke. He’s been hurt.” He jerked his arm back. “Let go of me.”

“Oh, for the Angel’s sake—” The figure released him and reached up to push back the hood of its long cloak, revealing a narrow white face and gray eyes that blazed like chips of diamond. “Now will you do what you’re told, Jonathan?”

It was the Inquisitor.

Despite the whirling speed with which they flew through the air, Clary would have kicked out at Valentine if she could. But he held her as if his arms were iron bands. Her feet swung free, but struggle as she might, she didn’t seem to be able to connect with anything.

When the demon banked and swerved suddenly, she let out a scream. Valentine laughed. Then they were spinning through a narrow metal tunnel and into a much larger, wider room. Instead of dropping them unceremoniously, the flying demon set them down gently on the floor.

Much to Clary’s surprise, Valentine let her go. She jerked away from him and stumbled into the middle of the room, looking around wildly. It was a big space, probably once some kind of machine room. Machinery still lined the walls, shoved out of the way to create a wide square space in the center. The floor was thick black metal, splotched here and there with darker stains. In the middle of the empty space were four basins, big enough to wash a dog in. The interiors of the first two were stained a dark rust brown. The third was full of dark red liquid. The fourth was empty.

A metal footlocker stood behind the bowls. A dark cloth had been thrown over it. As she drew closer, she saw that on top of the cloth rested a silver sword that glowed with a blackish light, almost an absence of illumination: a radiant, visible darkness.

Clary whirled around and stared at Valentine, who was quietly watching her. “How could you do it?” she demanded. “How could you kill Simon? He was just a—he was just a boy, just an ordinary human—”

“He wasn’t human,” said Valentine, in his silky voice. “He had become a monster. You just couldn’t see it, Clarissa, because it wore the face of a friend.”

“He wasn’t a monster.” She moved a little closer to the Sword. It looked huge, heavy. She wondered if she could lift it—and even if she could, could she swing it? “He was still Simon.”

“Don’t think I’m not sympathetic to your situation,” said Valentine. He stood unmoving in the single shaft of light that came down from the trapdoor in the ceiling. “It was the same for me when Lucian was bitten.”

“He told me,” she spat at him. “You gave him a dagger and told him to kill himself.”

“That was a mistake,” said Valentine.

“At least you admit it—”

“I should have killed him myself. It would have showed that I cared.”

Clary shook her head. “But you didn’t. You’ve never cared about anyone. Not even my mother. Not even Jace. They were just things that belonged to you.”