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

“Fine,” Jace said. “You get her out of here. I’m going to deal with that.”

“With what?” Alec said, bewildered.

“With that,” Jace said again, and pointed. Something was coming toward them through the smoke and flames, something huge, humped, and massive. Easily five times the size of any other demon on the ship, it had an armored body, many-limbed, each appendage ending in a spiked chitinous talon. Its feet were elephant feet, huge and splayed. It had the head of a giant mosquito, Jace saw as it came closer, complete with insectile eyes and a dangling blood-red feeding tube.

Alec sucked in his breath. “What the hell is it?”

Jace thought for a moment. “Big,” he said finally. “Very.”

Jace turned and looked at Alec, and then at Isabelle. Something inside him told him that this might very well be the last time he ever saw them, and yet he still wasn’t afraid, not for himself. He wanted to say something to them, maybe that he loved them, that either one of them was worth more to him than a thousand Mortal Instruments and the power they could bring. But the words wouldn’t come.

“Alec,” he heard himself say. “Get Isabelle to the ladder, now, or we’ll all die.”

Alec met his gaze and held it for a moment. Then he nodded and pushed Isabelle, still protesting, toward the railing. He helped her up onto it and then over, and with immense relief Jace saw her dark head disappearing as she began to descend the ladder. And now you, Alec, he thought. Go.

But Alec wasn’t going. Isabelle, now out of view, cried out sharply as her brother jumped back down from the railing, onto the deck of the ship. His guisarme lay on the deck where he’d dropped it; he seized it now and moved to stand next to Jace and face the demon as it came.

He never got that far. The demon, bearing down on Jace, made a sudden swerve and rushed toward Alec, its bloody feeding tube whipping back and forth hungrily. Jace spun to block Alec, but the metal deck he was standing on, rotted with poison, crumbled underneath him. His foot plunged through and he fell hard against the deck.

Alec had time to shout Jace’s name, and then the demon was on him. He stabbed at it with his guisarme, plunging the sharp end of it deep into the demon’s flesh. The creature reared back, screaming a weirdly human scream, black blood spraying from the wound. Alec retreated, reaching for another weapon, just as the demon’s talon whipped around, knocking him to the deck. Then its feeding tube wrapped around him.

Somewhere, Isabelle was screaming. Jace struggled desperately to pull his leg from the deck; sharp edges of metal stabbed into him as he jerked himself free and staggered to his feet.

He raised Samandiriel. Light blazed forth from the seraph blade, bright as a falling star. The demon flinched back, making a low hissing sound. It relaxed its grip on Alec and for a moment Jace thought it might be going to let him go. Then it whipped its head back with a sudden, startling speed and flung Alec with immense force. Alec hit the blood-slippery deck hard, skidded across it—and fell, with a single hoarse cry, over the side of the ship.

Isabelle was screaming Alec’s name; her screams were like spikes being driven into Jace’s ears. Samandiriel was still blazing in his hand. Its light illuminated the demon stalking toward him, its insectile gaze bright and predatory, but all he could see was Alec; Alec falling over the side of the ship, Alec drowning in the black water far below. He thought he tasted seawater in his own mouth, or it might have been blood. The demon was almost on him; he raised Samandiriel in his hand and flung it—the demon squealed, a high, agonized sound—and then the deck gave way beneath Jace with a screech of crumbling metal and he fell into darkness.

“YOU’RE WRONG,” CLARY SAID, BUT HER VOICE HELD NO conviction. “You don’t know anything about me or Jace. You’re just trying to—”

“To what? I’m trying to reach you, Clarissa. To make you understand.” There was no feeling in Valentine’s voice that Clary could detect beyond a faint amusement.

“You’re laughing at us. You think you can use me to hurt Jace, so you’re laughing at us. You’re not even angry anymore,” she added. “A real father would be angry.”

“I am a real father. The same blood that runs in my veins runs in yours.”

“You’re not my father. Luke is,” said Clary, almost wearily. “We’ve been over this.”

“You only look to Luke as your father because of his relationship with your mother—”

“Their relationship?” Clary laughed out loud. “Luke and my mother are friends.”

For a moment she was sure she saw a look of surprise pass over his face. But “Is that so,” was all he said. And then, “You really think he endured all this—Lucian, I mean—this life of silence and hiding and running, this devotion to the protection of a secret even he didn’t fully understand, just for friendship? You know very little about people, Clary, at your age, and less about men.”

“You can make all the innuendoes about Luke you want. It won’t make any difference. You’re wrong about him, just like you’re wrong about Jace. You have to give everyone ugly motives for everything they do, because ugly motives are all you understand.”

“Is that what it would be if he loved your mother? Ugly?” said Valentine. “What’s so ugly about love, Clarissa? Or is it that you sense, deep down, that your precious Lucian is neither truly human nor truly capable of feelings as we would understand them—”

“Luke’s as human as I am,” Clary flung at him. “You’re just a bigot.”

“Oh, no,” Valentine said. “I’m anything but that.” He moved a little closer to her, and she stepped in front of the Sword, blocking it from his view. “You think of me that way because you look at me and at what I do through the lens of your mundane understanding of the world. Mundane humans create distinctions between themselves, distinctions that seem ridiculous to any Shadowhunter. Their distinctions are based on race, religion, national identity, any of a dozen minor and irrelevant markers. To mundanes these seem logical, for though mundanes cannot see, understand, or acknowledge the demon worlds, still somewhere buried in their ancient memories, they know that there are those that walk this earth that are other. That do not belong, that mean only harm and destruction. Since the demon threat is invisible to mundanes, they must assign the threat to others of their own kind. They place the face of their enemy onto the face of their neighbor, and thus are generations of misery assured.” He took another step toward her, and Clary instinctively moved backward; she was pressed up against the footlocker now. “I’m not like that,” he went on. “I can see the truth of it. Mundanes see as through a glass, darkly, but Shadowhunters—we see face-to-face. We know the truth of evil, and know that while it walks among us, it is not of us. What does not belong to our world must not be allowed to take root here, to grow like a poisonous flower and extinguish all life.”

Clary had meant to go for the Sword and then for Valentine, but his words shook her. His voice was so soft, so persuasive, and it wasn’t as if she thought demons should be allowed to stay on earth, to drain it away to ashes as they’d drained away so many other worlds… It almost made sense, what he said, but—

“Luke isn’t a demon,” she said.

“It seems to me, Clarissa,” said Valentine, “that you’ve had very little experience of what a demon is and what it is not. You have met a few Downworlders who seemed to you to be kind enough, and it is through the lens of their kindness that you view the world. Demons, to you, are hideous creatures that leap out from the shadows to rend and attack. And there are such creatures. But there are also demons of deep subtlety and secrecy, demons who walk among humans unrecognized and unhindered. Yet I have seen them do such dreadful things that their more bestial colleagues seem gentle in comparison. There was a demon in London that I once knew, who posed as a very powerful financier. He was never alone, so it was difficult for me to get close enough to kill him, though I knew what he was. He would have his servants bring him animals and young children—anything that was small and helpless—”

“Stop.” Clary put her hands up to her ears. “I don’t want to hear this.”

But Valentine’s voice droned on, inexorable, muffled but not inaudible. “He would eat them slowly, over the course of many days. He had his tricks, his ways of keeping them alive through the worst imaginable tortures. If you can imagine a child trying to crawl to you with half its body torn away—”

“Stop!” Clary tore her hands away from her ears. “That’s enough, enough!”

“Demons feed on death and pain and madness,” Valentine said. “When I kill, it is because I must. You grew up in a falsely beautiful paradise surrounded by fragile glass walls, my daughter. Your mother created the world she wanted to live in and she brought you up in it, but she never told you it was an illusion. And all the time the demons waited with their weapons of blood and terror to smash the glass and pull you free of the lie.”

“You smashed the walls,” Clary whispered. “You dragged me into all this. No one but you.”

“And the glass that cut you, the pain you felt, the blood? Do you blame me for that as well? I was not the one who put you into the prison.”

“Stop it. Just stop talking.” Clary’s head was ringing. She wanted to scream at him, You kidnapped my mother, you did this, it’s your fault! But she had begun to see what Luke had meant when he’d said you couldn’t argue with Valentine. Somehow he’d made it impossible for her to disagree with him without feeling as if she were standing up for demons who bit children in half. She wondered how Jace had stood it all those years, living in the shadow of that demanding, overwhelming personality. She began to see where Jace’s arrogance came from, his arrogance and his carefully controlled emotions.

The edge of the locker behind her was biting into the back of her legs. She could feel the cold coming off the Sword, making the hair on the back of her neck prickle. “What is it you want from me?” she asked Valentine.

“What makes you think I want anything from you?”

“You wouldn’t be talking to me otherwise. You’d have whacked me on the head and be waiting around for—for whatever the next step is after this.”

“The next step,” said Valentine, “is for your Shadowhunter friends to track you down and for me to tell them that if they want to retrieve you alive, they’ll trade the werewolf girl for you. I still need her blood.”

“They’ll never trade Maia for me!”

“That’s where you’re wrong,” said Valentine. “They know the value of a Downworlder as compared to that of a Shadowhunter child. They’ll make the trade. The Clave requires it.”

“The Clave? You mean—that’s part of the Law?”

“Codified into its very being,” said Valentine. “Now do you see? We are not so very different, the Clave and I, or Jonathan and I, or even you and I, Clarissa. We merely have a small disagreement as to method.” He smiled, and stepped forward to close the space between them.

Moving more quickly than she would have thought she could, Clary reached behind her and snatched up the Soul-Sword. It was as heavy as she’d thought it would be, so heavy she nearly overbalanced. Putting out a hand to steady herself, she lifted it, pointing the blade directly at Valentine.

Jace’s fall ended abruptly when he struck a hard metal surface with enough force to rattle his teeth. He coughed, tasting blood in his mouth, and staggered painfully to his feet.

He was standing on a bare metal catwalk painted a dull green. The inside of the ship was hollow, a great echoing chamber of metal with dark outward-curving walls. Looking up, Jace could see a tiny patch of starry sky through the smoking hole in the hull far above.

The belly of the ship was a maze of catwalks and ladders that seemed to lead nowhere, twisting in on each other like the guts of a giant snake. It was freezing cold. Jace could see his breath puffing out in white clouds when he exhaled. There was very little light. He squinted into the shadows, then reached into his pocket to retrieve his witchlight rune-stone.

Its white glow lit the dimness. The catwalk was long, with a ladder at the far end leading down to a lower level. As Jace moved toward it, something glinted at his feet.

He bent down. It was a stele. He couldn’t help but stare around him, as if half-expecting someone to materialize out of the shadows; how the hell had a Shadowhunter stele gotten down here? He picked it up carefully. All steles had a sort of aura to them, a ghostly imprint of their owner’s personality. This one sent a shot of painful recognition through him. Clary.

A sudden, soft laugh broke the silence. Jace spun around, shoving the stele through his belt. In the glare of the witchlight, Jace could see a dark figure standing at the end of the catwalk. The face was hidden in shadow.

“Who’s there?” he called.

There was no answer, only a sense that someone was laughing at him. Jace’s hand went automatically to his belt, but he had dropped the seraph blade when he fell. He was out of weapons.

But what had his father always taught him? Used correctly, almost anything could be a weapon. He moved slowly toward the figure, his eyes taking in the various details around him—a strut he could catch hold of and swing from, kicking out with his feet; an exposed bit of broken metal he could throw an opponent against, puncturing their spine. All these thoughts went through his head in a split second, the single split second before the figure at the end of the catwalk turned, his white hair shining in the witchlight, and Jace recognized him.

Jace stopped dead in his tracks. “Father? Is that you?”