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

The first thing Alec was aware of was freezing cold. The second was that he couldn’t breathe. He tried to suck in air and his body spasmed. He sat upright, expelling dirty river water from his lungs in a bitter flood that made him gag and choke.

Finally he could breathe, though his lungs felt like they were on fire. Gasping, he looked around. He was sitting on a corrugated metal platform—no, it was the back of a truck. A pickup truck, floating in the middle of the river. His hair and clothes were streaming cold water. And Magnus Bane was sitting opposite him, regarding him with amber cat’s eyes that glowed in the dark.

His teeth began to chatter. “What—what happened?”

“You tried to drink the East River,” Magnus said, and Alec saw, as if for the first time, that Magnus’s clothes were soaking wet too, sticking to his body like a dark second skin. “I pulled you out.”

Alec’s head was pounding. He felt at his belt for his stele, but it was gone. He tried to think back—the ship, overrun with demons; Isabelle falling and Jace catching her; blood, everywhere underfoot, the demon attacking—

“Isabelle! She was climbing down when I fell—”

“She’s fine. She made it to a boat. I saw her.” Magnus reached out to touch Alec’s head. “You, on the other hand, might have a concussion.”

“I need to get back to the battle.” Alec pushed his hand away. “You’re a warlock. Can’t you, I don’t know, fly me back to the boat or something? And fix my concussion while you’re at it?”

Magnus, his hand still outstretched, sank back against the side of the truck bed. In the starlight his eyes were chips of green and gold, hard and flat as jewels.

“Sorry,” Alec said, realizing how he had sounded, though he still felt that Magnus ought to see that getting to the ship was the most important thing. “I know you don’t have to help us out—it’s a favor—”

“Stop. I don’t do you favors, Alec. I do things for you because—well, why do you think I do them?”

Something rose up in Alec’s throat, cutting off his response. It was always like this when he was with Magnus. It was as if there were a bubble of pain or regret that lived inside his heart, and when he wanted to say something, anything, that seemed meaningful or true, it rose up and choked off his words. “I need to get back to the ship,” he said, finally.

Magnus sounded too tired to even be angry. “I would help you,” he said. “But I can’t. Stripping the protection wards off the ship was bad enough—it’s a strong, strong enchantment, demon-based—but when you fell, I had to put a fast spell on the truck so it wouldn’t sink when I lost consciousness. And I will lose consciousness, Alec. It’s just a matter of time.” He passed a hand across his eyes. “I didn’t want you to drown,” he said. “The enchantment should hold enough for you to get the truck back to land.”

“I—didn’t realize.” Alec looked at Magnus, who was three hundred years old but had always looked timeless, as if he had stopped getting older around the age of nineteen. Now there were sharp lines cut into the skin around his eyes and mouth. His hair hung lankly over his forehead, and the slump in his shoulders was not his usual careless posture but true exhaustion.

Alec put his hands out. They were pale in the moonlight, wrinkled from water and dotted with dozens of silver scars. Magnus looked down at them, and then back at Alec, confusion darkening his gaze.

“Take my hands,” Alec said. “And take my strength too. Whatever of it you can use to—to keep yourself going.”

Magnus didn’t move. “I thought you had to get back to the ship.”

“I have to fight,” said Alec. “But that’s what you’re doing, isn’t it? You’re part of the fight just as much as the Shadowhunters on the ship—and I know you can take some of my strength, I’ve heard of warlocks doing that—so I’m offering. Take it. It’s yours.”

Valentine smiled. He was wearing his black armor, and gauntlet gloves that shone like the carapaces of black insects. “My son.”

“Don’t call me that,” Jace said, and then, feeling a tremor begin in his hands, “Where’s Clary?”

Valentine was still smiling. “She defied me,” he said. “I had to teach her a lesson.”

“What have you done to her?”

“Nothing.” Valentine came closer to Jace, close enough to touch him if he had chosen to extend his hand. He didn’t. “Nothing she won’t recover from.”

Jace closed his hand into a fist so his father wouldn’t see it shaking. “I want to see her.”

“Really? With all this going on?” Valentine glanced up, as if he could see through the hull of the ship to the carnage on deck. “I would have thought you’d want to be fighting with the rest of your Shadowhunter friends. Pity their efforts are for nothing.”

“You don’t know that.”

“I do know it. For every one of them, I can summon a thousand demons. Even the best Nephilim can’t hold out against those odds. As in the case,” Valentine added, “of poor Imogen.”

“I see everything that happens on my ship.” Valentine’s eyes narrowed. “You do know it’s your fault she died, don’t you?”

Jace sucked in a breath. He could feel his heart pounding as if it wanted to tear its way out of his chest.

“If it weren’t for you, none of them would have come to the ship. They thought they were rescuing you, you know. If it had just been about the two Downworlders, they wouldn’t have bothered.”

Jace had almost forgotten. “Simon and Maia—”

“Oh, they’re dead. Both of them.” Valentine’s tone was casual, even soft. “How many have to die, Jace, before you see the truth?”

Jace’s head felt as if it were full of swirling smoke. His shoulder burned with pain. “We’ve had this conversation. You’re wrong, Father. You might be right about demons, you might even be right about the Clave, but this is not the way—”

“I meant,” said Valentine, “when will you see that you’re just like me?”

Despite the cold, Jace had begun to sweat. “What?”

“You and I, we’re alike,” said Valentine. “As you said to me before, you are what I made you to be, and I made you as a copy of myself. You have my arrogance. You have my courage. And you have that quality that causes others to give their lives for you without question.”

Something hammered at the back of Jace’s mind. Something he ought to know, or had forgotten—his shoulder burned—“I don’t want people giving their lives for me,” he cried.

“No. You do. You like knowing that Alec and Isabelle would die for you. That your sister would. The Inquisitor did die for you, didn’t she, Jonathan? And you stood by and let her—”

“You’re just like me—it isn’t surprising, is it? We’re father and son, why shouldn’t we be alike?”

“No!” Jace’s hand shot out and seized the twisted metal strut. It came off in his hand with an explosive snap, its broken edge jagged and wickedly sharp. “I am not like you!” he cried, and drove the strut directly into his father’s chest.

Valentine’s mouth opened. He staggered back, the end of the strut protruding from his chest. For a moment Jace could only stare, thinking, I was wrong—it’s really him—and then Valentine seemed to collapse in on himself, his body crumbling away like sand. The air was full of the smell of burning as Valentine’s body turned to ash that blew away on the cold air.

Jace put a hand to his shoulder. The skin where the Fearless rune had burned itself away felt hot to the touch. A great sense of weakness overwhelmed him. “Agramon,” he whispered, and fell to his knees on the catwalk.

It was only a few moments that he knelt on the ground as his hammering pulse slowed, but to Jace it felt like forever. When he finally stood up, his legs were stiff with cold. His fingertips were blue. The air still stank of something burned, though there was no sign of Agramon.

Still gripping the piece of metal strut, Jace made for the ladder at the end of the catwalk. The effort of clambering down one-handed cleared his head. He dropped from the last rung to find himself on a second narrow catwalk that ran along the side of a vast metal chamber. There were dozens of other catwalks laddering the walls and a variety of pipes and machinery. Banging sounds came from inside the pipes, and every once in a while one of the pipes would give off a blast of what looked like steam, though the air remained bitterly cold.

Quite a place you’ve got for yourself here, Father, Jace thought. The bare industrial interior of the ship didn’t fit with the Valentine he knew, who was particular about the type of cut crystal his decanters were made out of. Jace glanced around. It was a labyrinth down here; there was no way to know which direction he should go. He turned to climb down the next ladder and noticed a dark red smear on the metal floor.

Blood. He scraped the toe of his boot through it. It was still damp, slightly tacky. Fresh blood. His pulse quickened. Partway down the catwalk, he saw another spot of red, and then another a farther distance away, like a trail of bread crumbs in a fairy tale.

Jace followed the blood, his boots echoing loudly on the metal catwalk. The pattern of the blood splatters was peculiar, not as if there had been a fight, but more as if someone had been carried, bleeding, along the catwalk—

He reached a door. It was made of black metal, silvered here and there with dents and chips. There was a bloody handprint around the knob. Gripping the jagged strut more tightly, Jace pushed the door open.

A wave of even colder air hit him and he sucked in a breath. The room was empty except for a metal pipe that ran along one wall, and what looked like a heap of sacking in the corner. A little light came in through a porthole high up in the wall. As Jace stepped gingerly forward, the light from the porthole fell on the heap in the corner and he realized that it wasn’t a pile of trash after all, but a body.

Jace’s heart started to bang like an unlocked door in a windstorm.

The metal floor was sticky with blood. His boots pulled away from it with an ugly suctioning sound as he crossed the room and bent down beside the crumpled figure in the corner. A boy, dark-haired and dressed in jeans and a blood-soaked blue T-shirt.

Jace took the body by the shoulder and heaved. It flipped over, limp and boneless, brown eyes staring sightlessly upward. Jace’s breath caught in his throat. It was Simon. He was white as paper. There was an ugly gash at the base of his throat, and both wrists had been slashed, leaving gaping, ragged-edged wounds.

Jace sank to his knees, still holding Simon’s shoulder. He thought hopelessly of Clary, of her pain when she found out, of the way she’d crushed his hands in hers, so much strength in those small fingers. Find Simon. I know you will.

And he had. But it was too late.

When Jace was ten, his father had explained to him all the ways to kill vampires. Stake them. Cut their heads off and set them to burning like eerie jack-o’-lanterns. Let the sun scorch them to ashes. Or drain their blood. They needed blood to live, they ran on it, like cars ran on gasoline. Looking at the ragged wound in Simon’s throat, it wasn’t hard to see what Valentine had done.

Jace reached out to close Simon’s staring eyes. If Clary had to see him dead, better she not see him like this. He moved his hand down to the collar of Simon’s shirt, meaning to tug it up, to cover the gash.

Simon moved. His eyelids twitched and opened, his eyes rolled back to the whites. He gurgled then, a faint sound, lips curling back, showing the points of vampire fangs. The breath rattled in his slashed throat.

Nausea rose in the back of Jace’s throat, his hand tightening on Simon’s collar. He wasn’t dead. But God, the pain, it must be incredible. He couldn’t heal, couldn’t regenerate, not without—

Not without blood. Jace let go of Simon’s shirt and dragged his right sleeve up with his teeth. Using the jagged tip of the broken strut, he slashed a deep cut lengthwise down his wrist. Blood gushed to the surface of the skin. He dropped the strut; it hit the metal floor with a clang. He could smell his own blood in the air, sharp and coppery.

He looked down at Simon, who hadn’t moved. The blood was running down Jace’s hand now, his wrist stinging. He held it out over Simon’s face, letting the blood drip down his fingers, spill onto Simon’s mouth. There was no reaction. Simon wasn’t moving. Jace moved closer; he was kneeling over Simon now, his breath making white puffs in the icy air. He leaned down, pressed his bleeding wrist against Simon’s mouth. “Drink my blood, idiot,” he whispered. “Drink it.”

For a moment nothing happened. Then Simon’s eyes fluttered shut. Jace felt a sharp sting in his wrist, a sort of pull, a hard pressure—and Simon’s right hand flew up and clamped onto Jace’s arm, just above the elbow. Simon’s back arched off the floor, the pressure on Jace’s wrist increasing as Simon’s fangs sank deeper. Pain shot up Jace’s arm. “Okay,” Jace said. “Okay, enough.”

Simon’s eyes opened. The whites were gone, the dark brown irises focused on Jace. There was color in his cheeks, a hectic flush like a fever. His lips were slightly parted, the white fangs stained with blood.

Simon rose up. He moved with incredible speed, knocking Jace sideways and rolling on top of him. Jace’s head hit the metal floor, his ears ringing as Simon’s teeth sank into his neck. He tried to twist away, but the other boy’s arms were like iron bars, pinning him to the ground, fingers digging into his shoulders.