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City of Ashes (The Mortal Instruments 2) Cassandra Clare 2022/8/5 16:53:25

It was Simon who spoke, turning to Jace. “What does it say?”

But it was Valentine who answered, not taking his eyes from the wall. There was a look on his face—not at all the look Clary had expected, a look that mixed triumph and horror, despair and delight. “It says,” he said, “Mene mene tekel upharsin.”

Clary staggered to her feet. “That’s not what it says,” she whispered. “It says open.”

Valentine met her eyes with his own. “Clary—”

The scream of metal drowned out his words. The wall Clary had drawn on, a wall made of sheets of solid steel, warped and shuddered. Rivets tore free of their housings and jets of water sprayed into the room.

She could hear Valentine calling, but his voice was drowned out by the deafening sounds of metal being wrenched from metal as every nail, every screw, and every rivet that held together the enormous ship began tearing free from its moorings.

She tried to run toward Jace and Simon, but fell to her knees as another surge of water came through the widening hole in the wall. This time the wave knocked her down, icy water drawing her under. Somewhere Jace was calling her name, his voice loud and desperate over the screaming of the ship. She shouted his name only once before she was sucked out the jagged hole in the bulkhead and into the river.

She spun and kicked in the black water. Terror gripped her, terror of the blind darkness and of the depths of the river, the millions of tons of water all around her, pressing in on her, choking out the air in her lungs. She couldn’t tell which way was up or which direction to swim. She could no longer hold her breath. She sucked in a lungful of filthy water, her chest bursting with the pain, stars exploding behind her eyes. In her ears the sound of rushing water was replaced by a high, sweet, impossible singing. I’m dying, she thought in wonder. A pair of pale hands reached out of the black water and drew her close. Long hair drifted around her. Mom, Clary thought, but before she could clearly see her mother’s face, the darkness closed her eyes.

Clary came back to consciousness with voices all around her and lights shining in her eyes. She was flat on her back on the corrugated steel of Luke’s truck bed. The gray-black sky swam overhead. She could smell river water all around her, mixed with the smell of smoke and blood. White faces hovered over her like balloons on strings. They swam into focus as she blinked her eyes.

Luke. And Simon. They were both looking down at her with expressions of anxious concern. For a moment she thought Luke’s hair had gone white; then, blinking, she realized it was full of ashes. In fact, so was the air—it tasted of ashes—and their clothes and skin were streaked with blackish grime.

She coughed, tasting ash in her mouth. “Where’s Jace?”

“He’s…” Simon’s eyes went to Luke, and Clary felt her heart contract.

“He’s all right, isn’t he?” she demanded. She struggled to sit up and a hard pain shot through her head. “Where is he? Where is he?”

“I’m here.” Jace appeared at the edge of her vision, his face in shadow. He knelt down next to her. “I’m sorry. I should have been here when you woke up. It’s just…”

“It’s just what?” She stared at him; backlit by starlight, his hair was more silver than gold, his eyes bleached of color. His skin was streaked with black and gray.

“He thought you were dead too,” Luke said, and stood up abruptly. He was staring out at the river, at something Clary couldn’t see. The sky was full of swirls of black and scarlet smoke, as if it were on fire.

“Dead too? Who else—?” She broke off as a nauseating pain gripped her. Jace saw her expression and reached into his pocket, bringing out his stele.

“Hold still, Clary.” There was a burning pain in her forearm, and then her head began to clear. She sat up and saw that she was sitting on a wet plank shoved up against the back of the truck cab. The bed was full of several inches of sloshing water, mixed with swirls of the ash that was sifting down from the sky in a fine black rain.

She glanced at the place where Jace had drawn a healing Mark on the inside of her arm. Her weakness was already receding, as if he’d shot a jolt of strength into her veins.

He traced the line of the iratze he’d drawn on her arm with his fingers before he drew back. His hand felt as cold and wet as her skin did. The rest of him was wet too; his hair damp and his soaked clothes sticking to his body.

There was an acrid taste in her mouth, as if she’d licked the bottom of an ashtray. “What happened? Was there a fire?”

Jace glanced toward Luke, who was staring out at the heaving black-gray river. The water was dotted here and there with small boats, but there was no sign of Valentine’s ship. “Yes,” he said. “Valentine’s ship burned down to the waterline. There’s nothing left.”

“Where is everyone?” Clary moved her gaze to Simon, who was the only one of them who was dry. There was a faint greenish cast to his already pale skin, as if he were sick or feverish. “Where are Isabelle and Alec?”

“They’re on one of the other Shadowhunter boats. They’re fine.”

“And Magnus?” She twisted around to look into the truck cab, but it was empty.

“He was needed to tend to some of the more badly wounded Shadowhunters,” said Luke.

“But everyone’s all right? Alec, Isabelle, Maia—they are all right, aren’t they?” Clary’s voice sounded small and thin in her own ears.

“Isabelle was injured,” said Luke. “So was Robert Lightwood. He’ll be needing a good amount of time to heal. Many of the other Shadowhunters, including Malik and Imogen, are dead. This was a very hard battle, Clary, and it didn’t go well for us. Valentine is gone. So is the Sword. The Conclave is in tatters. I don’t know—”

He broke off. Clary stared at him. There was something in his voice that frightened her. “I’m sorry,” she said. “This was my fault. If I hadn’t—”

“If you hadn’t done what you did, Valentine would have killed everyone on the ship,” said Jace fiercely. “You’re the only thing that kept this from being a massacre.”

Clary stared at him. “You mean what I did with the rune?”

“You tore that ship to fragments,” Luke said. “Every bolt, every rivet, anything that might have held it together, just snapped apart. The whole thing shuddered into pieces. The oil tanks came apart too. Most of us barely had time to jump into the water before it all started to burn. What you did—no one’s ever seen anything like it.”

“Oh,” Clary said in a small voice. “Was anyone—did I hurt anyone?”

“Quite a few of the demons drowned when the ship sank,” said Jace. “But none of the Shadowhunters were hurt, no.”

“Because they can swim?”

“Because they were rescued. Nixies pulled us all out of the water.”

Clary thought of the hands in the water, the impossible sweet singing that had surrounded her. So it hadn’t been her mother after all. “You mean water faeries?”

“The Queen of the Seelie Court came through, in her way,” said Jace. “She did promise us what aid was in her power.”

“But how did she…” How did she know? Clary was going to say, but she thought of the Queen’s wise and cunning eyes, and of Jace throwing that bit of white paper into the water by the beach in Red Hook, and decided not to ask.

“The Shadowhunter boats are starting to move,” said Simon, looking out at the river. “I guess they’ve picked up everyone they could.”

“Right.” Luke squared his shoulders. “Time to get going.” He moved slowly toward the truck cab—he was limping, though he seemed otherwise mostly uninjured.

Luke swung himself into the driver’s seat, and in a moment the truck’s engine was roiling again. They took off, skimming the water, the drops splashed up by the wheels catching the gray-silver of the lightening sky.

“This is so weird,” said Simon. “I keep expecting the truck to start sinking.”

“I can’t believe you just went through what we went through and you think this is weird,” said Jace, but there was no malice in his tone and no annoyance. He sounded only very, very tired.

“What will happen to the Lightwoods?” Clary asked. “After everything that’s happened—the Clave—”

Jace shrugged. “The Clave works in mysterious ways. I don’t know what they’ll do. They’ll be very interested in you, though. And in what you can do.”

Simon made a noise. Clary thought at first that it was a noise of protest, but when she looked closely at him, she saw he was greener than ever. “What’s wrong, Simon?”

“It’s the river,” he said. “Running water isn’t good for vampires. It’s pure, and—we’re not.”

“The East River’s hardly pure,” said Clary, but she reached out and touched his arm gently anyway. He smiled at her. “Didn’t you fall into the water when the ship came apart?”

“No. There was a piece of metal floating in the water and Jace tossed me onto it. I stayed out of the river.”

Clary looked over her shoulder at Jace. She could see him a little more clearly now; the darkness was fading. “Thank you,” she said. “Do you think…”

He raised his eyebrows. “Do I think what?”

“That Valentine might have drowned?”

“Never believe the bad guy is dead until you see a body,” said Simon. “That just leads to unhappiness and surprise ambushes.”

“You’re not wrong,” said Jace. “My guess is he isn’t dead. Otherwise we would have found the Mortal Instruments.”

“Can the Clave go on without them? Whether Valentine’s alive or not?” Clary wondered.

“The Clave always goes on,” said Jace. “That’s all it knows how to do.” He turned his face toward the eastern horizon. “The sun’s coming up.”

Simon went rigid. Clary stared at him in surprise for a moment, and then in shocked horror. She whirled to follow Jace’s gaze. He was right—the eastern horizon was a blood-red stain spreading out from a golden disc. Clary could see the first edge of the sun staining the water around them unearthly hues of green and scarlet and gold.

Jace looked at her in surprise, and then at Simon, who sat motionless, staring at the rising sun like a trapped mouse staring at a cat. Jace got quickly to his feet and walked over to the truck cab. He spoke in a low voice. Clary saw Luke turn to look at her and Simon, and then back at Jace. He shook his head.

The truck lurched forward. Luke must have pressed his foot to the gas. Clary grabbed for the side of the truck bed to steady herself. Up front, Jace was shouting at Luke that there had to be some way to make the damn thing go faster, but Clary knew they’d never outrun the dawn.

“There must be something,” she said to Simon. She couldn’t believe that in less than five minutes she’d gone from incredulous relief to incredulous horror. “We could cover you, maybe, with our clothes—”

Simon was still staring at the sun, white-faced. “A pile of rags won’t work,” he said. “Raphael explained—it takes walls to protect us from sunlight. It’ll burn through cloth.”

“But there must be something—”

“Clary.” She could see him clearly now, in the gray predawn light, his eyes huge and dark in his white face. He held out his hands to her. “Come here.”

She fell against him, trying to cover as much of his body as she could with her own. She knew it was useless. When the sun touched him, he’d fall away to ashes.

They sat for a moment in perfect stillness, arms wrapped around each other. Clary could feel the rise and fall of his chest—habit, she reminded herself, not necessity. He might not breathe, but he could still die.

“I won’t let you die,” she said.

“I don’t think you get a choice.” She felt him smile. “I didn’t think I’d get to see the sun again,” he said. “I guess I was wrong.”

Jace shouted something. Clary looked up. The sky was flooded with rose-colored light, like dye poured into clear water. Simon tensed under her. “I love you,” he said. “I have never loved anyone else but you.”

Gold threads shot through the rosy sky like the gold veining in expensive marble. The water around them blazed with light and Simon went rigid, his head falling back, his open eyes filling with gold as if molten liquid were rising inside of him. Black lines appeared on his skin like cracks in a shattered statue.

“Simon!” Clary screamed. She reached for him but felt herself hauled suddenly backward; it was Jace, his hands gripping her shoulders. She tried to pull away but he held her tightly; he was saying something in her ear, over and over, and only after a few moments did she even begin to understand him.

“No!” Her hands flew to her face. She could taste the brackish water from the bottom of the truck bed on her palms. It was salty, like tears. “I don’t want to look. I don’t want to—”

“Clary.” Jace’s hands were at her wrists, pulling her hands away from her face. The dawn light stung her eyes. “Look.”

She looked. And heard her own breath whistle harshly in her lungs as she gasped. Simon was sitting up at the back of the truck, in a patch of sunlight, openmouthed and staring down at himself. The sun danced on the water behind him and the edges of his hair glinted like gold. He had not burned away to ash, but sat unscorched in the sunlight, and the pale skin of his face and arms and hands was entirely unmarked.