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City of Ashes (The Mortal Instruments 2) Cassandra Clare 2022/8/5 16:53:24

“But isn’t that what love is, Clarissa? Ownership? ‘I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine,’ as the Song of Songs goes.”

“No. And don’t quote the Bible at me. I don’t think you get it.” She was standing very near to the locker now, the hilt of the Sword within reaching distance. Her fingers were wet with sweat and she dried them surreptitiously on her jeans. “It’s not just that someone belongs to you, it’s that you give yourself to them. I doubt you’ve ever given anything to anyone. Except maybe nightmares.”

“To give yourself to someone?” The thin smile didn’t waver. “As you’ve given yourself to Jonathan?”

Her hand, which had been lifting toward the Sword, spasmed into a fist. She pulled it back against her chest, staring at him unbelievingly. “What?”

“You think I haven’t seen the way you two look at each other? The way he says your name? You may not think I can feel, but that doesn’t mean I can’t see feelings in others.” Valentine’s tone was cool, every word a sliver of ice stabbing into her ears. “I suppose we have only ourselves to blame, your mother and I; having kept you two apart so long, you never developed the revulsion toward each other that would be more natural between siblings.”

“I don’t know what you mean.” Clary’s teeth were chattering.

“I think I make myself plain enough.” He had moved out of the light. His face was a study in shadow. “I saw Jonathan after he faced the fear demon, you know. It showed itself to him as you. That told me all I needed to know. The greatest fear in Jonathan’s life is the love he feels for his sister.”

“I don’t do what I’m told,” said Jace. “But I might do what you want if you ask me nicely.”

The Inquisitor looked as if she wanted to roll her eyes but had forgotten how. “I need to talk to you.”

Jace stared at the Inquisitor. “Now?”

She put a hand on his arm. “Now.”

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“You’re insane.” Jace looked down the length of the ship. It looked like a Bosch painting of hell. The darkness was full of demons: lumbering, howling, squawking, and slashing out with claws and teeth. Nephilim darted back and forth, their weapons bright in the shadows. Jace could see already that there weren’t enough Shadowhunters. Not nearly enough. “There’s no way—we’re in the middle of a battle—”

The Inquisitor’s bony grip was surprisingly strong. “Now.” She pushed him, and he took a step back, too surprised to do anything else, and then another, until they were standing in the recess of a wall. She let go of Jace and felt in the folds of her dark cloak, drawing forth two seraph blades. She whispered their names, and then several words Jace didn’t know, and flung them at the deck, one on either side of him. They stuck, points down, and a single blue-white sheet of light sprang up from them, walling Jace and the Inquisitor off from the rest of the ship.

“Are you locking me up again?” Jace demanded, staring at the Inquisitor in disbelief.

“This isn’t a Malachi Configuration. You can get out of it if you want.” Her thin hands clasped each other tightly. “Jonathan—”

“You mean Jace.” He could no longer see the battle past the wall of white light, but he could still hear the sounds of it, the screams and the howling of the demons. If he turned his head, he could just catch a glimpse of a small section of ocean, sparkling with light like diamonds scattered over the surface of a mirror. There were about a dozen boats down there, the sleek, multi-hulled trimarans used on the lakes in Idris. Shadowhunter boats. “What are you doing here, Inquisitor? Why did you come?”

“You were right,” she said. “About Valentine. He wouldn’t make the trade.”

“He told you to let me die.” Jace felt suddenly light-headed.

“The moment he refused, of course, I called the Conclave together and brought them here. I—I owe you and your family an apology.”

“Noted,” said Jace. He hated apologies. “Alec and Isabelle? Are they here? They won’t be punished for helping me?”

“They’re here, and no, they won’t be punished.” She was still staring at him, eyes searching. “I can’t understand Valentine,” she said. “For a father to throw away the life of his child, his only son—”

“Yeah,” said Jace. His head ached and he wished she would shut up, or that a demon would attack them. “It’s a conundrum, all right.”

Now he looked at her in surprise. “Unless what?”

She jabbed a finger at his shoulder. “When did you get that?”

Jace looked down and saw that the spider demon’s poison had eaten a hole in his shirt, leaving a good deal of his left shoulder bare. “The shirt? At Macy’s. Winter sale.”

“The scar. This scar, here on your shoulder.”

“Oh, that.” Jace wondered at the intensity of her gaze. “I’m not sure. Something that happened when I was very young, my father said. An accident of some kind. Why?”

Breath hissed through the Inquisitor’s teeth. “It can’t be,” she murmured. “You can’t be—”

There was a note of uncertainty in the Inquisitor’s voice. “All those years,” she said, “when you were growing up—you truly thought you were Michael Wayland’s son—?”

Sharp fury went through Jace, made all the more painful by the tiny stab of disappointment that accompanied it. “By the Angel,” he spat, “you dragged me off here in the middle of battle just to ask me the same goddamned questions again? You didn’t believe me the first time and you still don’t believe me. You’ll never believe me, despite everything that’s happened, even though everything I told you was the truth.” He jabbed a finger toward whatever was happening on the other side of the wall of light. “I should be out there fighting. Why are you keeping me here? So after this is all over, if any of us are still even alive, you can go to the Clave and tell them I wouldn’t fight on your side against my father? Nice try.”

She had gone even paler than he’d thought possible. “Jonathan, that’s not what I—”

“My name is Jace!” he shouted. The Inquisitor flinched, her mouth half-open, as if she were still about to say something. Jace didn’t want to hear it. He stalked past her, nearly knocking her to the side, and kicked at one of the seraph blades in the deck. It toppled over and the wall of light vanished.

Beyond it was chaos. Dark shapes hurtled to and fro on deck, demons clambered over crumpled bodies, and the air was full of smoke and screaming. He strained to see anyone he knew in the melee. Where was Alec? Isabelle?

“Jace!” The Inquisitor hurried after him, her face pulled tight with fear. “Jace, you don’t have a weapon, at least take—”

She broke off as a demon loomed up out of the darkness in front of Jace like an iceberg off the bow of a ship. It wasn’t one he’d seen before tonight; this one had the wrinkled face and agile hands of a huge monkey, but the long, barbed tail of a scorpion. Its eyes were rolling and yellow. It hissed at him through broken needle teeth. Before Jace could duck, its tail shot forward with the speed of a striking cobra. He saw the needle tip whipping toward his face—

And for the second time that night, a shadow passed between him and death. Drawing a long-bladed knife, the Inquisitor threw herself in front of him, just in time for the scorpion’s sting to bury itself in her chest.

She screamed, but stayed on her feet. The demon’s tail whipped back, ready for another strike—but the Inquisitor’s knife had already left her hand, flying straight and true. The runes carved on its blade gleamed as it sliced through the demon’s throat. With a hiss, as of air escaping from a punctured balloon, it folded inward, its tail spasming as it vanished.

The Inquisitor crumpled to the deck. Jace knelt down beside her and laid a hand on her shoulder, rolling her onto her back. Blood was spreading across the gray front of her blouse. Her face was slack and yellow, and for a moment Jace thought she was already dead.

“Inquisitor?” He couldn’t say her first name, not even now.

Her eyes fluttered open. Their whites were already dulling. With a great effort she beckoned him toward her. He bent closer, close enough to hear her whisper in his ear, whisper on a last exhale of breath—

“What?” Jace said, bewildered. “What does that mean?”

There was no answer. The Inquisitor had slumped back against the deck, her eyes wide open and staring, her mouth curved into what almost looked like a smile.

Jace sat back on his heels, numb and staring. She was dead. Dead because of him.

Something seized hold of the back of his jacket and hauled him to his feet. Jace clapped a hand to his belt—realized he was weaponless—and twisted around to see a familiar pair of blue eyes staring into his with utter incredulity.

“You’re alive,” Alec said—two short words, but there was a wealth of feeling behind them. The relief on his face was plain, as was his exhaustion. Despite the chill in the air, his black hair was plastered to his cheeks and forehead with sweat. His clothes and skin were streaked with blood and there was a long rip in the sleeve of his armored jacket, as if something jagged and sharp had torn it open. He clutched a bloody guisarme in his right hand and Jace’s collar in the other.

“I seem to be,” Jace admitted. “I won’t be for long if you don’t give me a weapon, though.”

With a quick glance around, Alec let go of Jace, took a seraph blade from his belt, and handed it over. “Here,” he said. “It’s called Samandiriel.”

Jace barely had the blade in his hand when a medium-size Drevak demon scuttled toward them, chittering imperiously. Jace raised Samandiriel, but Alec had already dispatched the creature with a jabbing blow from his guisarme.

“Nice weapon,” Jace said, but Alec was looking past him, at the crumpled gray figure on the deck.

“Is that the Inquisitor? Is she…?”

“She’s dead,” Jace said.

Alec’s jaw set. “Good riddance. How’d she get it?”

Jace was about to reply when he was interrupted by a loud cry of “Alec! Jace!” It was Isabelle, hurrying toward them through the stench and smoke. She wore a close-fitting dark jacket, smeared with yellowish blood. Gold chains hung with rune charms circled her wrists and ankles, and her whip curled around her like a net of electrum wire.

She held her arms out. “Jace, we thought—”

“No.” Something made Jace step back, shying away from her touch. “I’m all covered in blood, Isabelle. Don’t.”

A hurt expression crossed her face. “But we’ve all been looking for you—Mom and Dad, they—”

“Isabelle!” Jace shouted, but it was too late: A massive spider demon reared up behind her, jetting yellow poison from its fangs. Isabelle screamed as the poison struck her, but her whip shot out with blinding speed, slicing the demon in half. It thudded to the deck in two pieces, then vanished.

Jace darted toward Isabelle just as she slumped forward. Her whip slipped from her hand as he caught her, cradling her awkwardly against him. He could see how much of the poison had gotten on her: It had splashed mostly onto her jacket, but some of it spattered her throat, and where it touched, the skin burned and sizzled. Barely audibly, she whimpered—Isabelle, who never showed pain.

“Give her to me.” It was Alec, dropping his weapon as he hurried to help his sister. He took Isabelle from Jace’s arms and lowered her gently to the deck. Kneeling beside her, stele in hand, he looked up at Jace. “Hold off whatever comes while I heal her.”

Jace couldn’t drag his eyes away from Isabelle. Blood streamed from her neck down onto her jacket, soaking her hair. “We have to get her off this boat,” he said roughly. “If she stays here—”

“She’ll die?” Alec was tracing the tip of his stele as gently as he could over his sister’s throat. “We’re all going to die. There are too many of them. We’re being slaughtered. The Inquisitor deserved to die for this—this is all her fault.”

“A Scorpios demon tried to kill me,” Jace said, wondering why he was saying it, why he was defending someone he hated. “The Inquisitor got in its way. Saved my life.”

“She did?” Astonishment was clear in Alec’s tone. “Why?”

“I guess she decided I was worth saving.”

“But she always—” Alec broke off, his expression changing to one of alarm. “Jace, behind you—two of them—”

Jace whirled. Two demons were approaching: a Ravener, with its alligator-like body and serrated teeth, its scorpion tail curling forward over its back, and a Drevak, its pale white maggot-flesh gleaming in the moonlight. Jace heard Alec, behind him, suck in an alarmed breath; then Samandiriel left his hand, cutting a silvery path through the air. It sliced through the Ravener’s tail, just below the pendulous poison sac at the end of its long stinger.

The Ravener howled. The Drevak turned, confused—and got the poison sac full in the face. The sac broke open, drenching the Drevak in venom. It emitted a single garbled scream and crumpled, its head eaten away to the bone. Blood and poison splattered the deck as the Drevak vanished. The Ravener, blood gushing from its tail stump, dragged itself a few more paces forward before it, too, disappeared.

Jace bent and picked up Samandiriel gingerly. The metal deck was still sizzling where the Ravener’s poison had spilled on it, pocking it with tiny spreading holes like cheesecloth.

“Jace.” Alec was on his feet, holding a pale but upright Isabelle by the arm. “We need to get Isabelle out of here.”