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City of Ashes (The Mortal Instruments 2) Cassandra Clare 2022/8/5 16:53:11

“Nothing.” Beet red, his hand still clamped to his neck, Alec started down the corridor. Jace followed him. “I went walking in the park. Tried to clear my head.”

“And ran into a vampire?”

“On your neck?” Alec made a noise, and Jace decided the issue was clearly better dropped. “Fine, whatever. What did you need to clear your head about?”

“You. My parents,” Alec said. “My mother explained why they were so angry after you left. And she explained about Hodge. Thanks for not telling me that, by the way.”

“Sorry.” It was Jace’s turn to flush. “I couldn’t bring myself to do it, somehow.”

“Well, it doesn’t look good.” Alec finally dropped his hand from his neck and turned to look accusingly at Jace. “It looks like you were hiding things. Things about Valentine.”

Jace stopped in his tracks. “Do you think I was lying? About not knowing Valentine was my father?”

“No!” Alec looked startled, either at the question or at Jace’s vehemence in asking it. “And I don’t care who your father is either. It doesn’t matter to me. You’re still the same person.”

“Whoever that is.” The words came out cold, before he could stop them.

“I’m just saying.” Alec’s tone was placating. “You can be a little—harsh sometimes. Just think before you talk, that’s all I’m asking. No one’s your enemy here, Jace.”

“Well, thanks for the advice,” Jace said. “I can walk myself the rest of the way to the library.”

But Jace was already gone, leaving Alec’s distress behind. Jace hated it when other people were worried on his behalf. It made him feel like maybe there really was something to worry about.

The library door was half open. Not bothering to knock, Jace went in. It had always been one of his favorite rooms in the Institute—there was something comforting about its old-fashioned mix of wood and brass fittings, the leather-and-velvet-bound books ranged along the walls like old friends waiting for him to return. Now a blast of cold air hit him the moment the door swung open. The fire that usually blazed in the huge fireplace all through the fall and winter was a heap of ashes. The lamps had been switched off. The only light came through the narrow louvered windows and the tower’s skylight, high above.

Not wanting to, Jace thought of Hodge. If he were here, the fire would be lit, the gas lamps turned up, casting shaded pools of golden light onto the parquet floor. Hodge himself would be slouched in an armchair by the fire, Hugo on one shoulder, a book propped at his side—

But there was someone in Hodge’s old armchair. A thin, gray someone, who rose from the armchair, fluidly uncoiling like a snake charmer’s cobra, and turned toward him with a cool smile.

It was a woman. She wore a long, old-fashioned dark gray cloak that fell to the tops of her boots. Beneath it was a fitted slate-colored suit with a mandarin collar, the stiff points of which pressed into her neck. Her hair was a sort of colorless pale blond, pulled tightly back with combs, and her eyes were flinty gray chips. Jace could feel them, like the touch of freezing water, as her gaze traveled from his filthy, mud-splattered jeans, to his bruised face, to his eyes, and locked there.

For a second something hot flickered in her gaze, like the glow of a flame trapped under ice. Then it vanished. “You are the boy?”

Before Jace could reply, another voice answered: It was Maryse, having come into the library behind him. He wondered why he hadn’t heard her approaching and realized she had abandoned her heels for slippers. She wore a long robe of patterned silk and a thin-lipped expression. “Yes, Inquisitor,” she said. “This is Jonathan Morgenstern.”

The Inquisitor moved toward Jace like drifting gray smoke. She stopped in front of him and held out a hand—long-fingered and white, it reminded him of an albino spider. “Look at me, boy,” she said, and suddenly those long fingers were under his chin, forcing his head up. She was incredibly strong. “You will call me Inquisitor. You will not call me anything else.” The skin around her eyes was mazed with fine lines like cracks in paint. Two narrow grooves ran from the edges of her mouth to her chin. “Do you understand?”

For most of his life the Inquisitor had been a distant half-mythical figure to Jace. Her identity, even many of her duties, were shrouded in the secrecy of the Clave. He had always imagined she would be like the Silent Brothers, with their self-contained power and hidden mysteries. He had not imagined someone so direct—or so hostile. Her eyes seemed to cut at him, to slice away his armor of confidence and amusement, stripping him down to the bone.

“My name is Jace,” he said. “Not boy. Jace Wayland.”

“You have no right to the name of Wayland,” she said. “You are Jonathan Morgenstern. To claim the name of Wayland makes you a liar. Just like your father.”

“Actually,” said Jace, “I prefer to think that I’m a liar in a way that’s uniquely my own.”

“I see.” A small smile curved her pale mouth. It was not a nice smile. “You are intolerant of authority, just as your father was. Like the angel whose name you both bear.” Her fingers gripped his chin with a sudden ferocity, her nails digging in painfully. “Lucifer was rewarded for his rebellion when God cast him into the pits of hell.” Her breath was sour as vinegar. “If you defy my authority, I can promise that you will envy him his fate.”

She released Jace and stepped back. He could feel the slow trickle of blood where her nails had cut his face. His hands shook with anger, but he refused to raise one to wipe the blood away.

“Imogen—” began Maryse, then corrected herself. “Inquisitor Herondale. He’s agreed to a trial by the Sword. You can find out whether he’s telling the truth.”

“About his father? Yes. I know I can.” Inquisitor Herondale’s stiff collar dug into her throat as she turned to look at Maryse. “You know, Maryse, the Clave is not pleased with you. You and Robert are the guardians of the Institute. You’re just lucky your record over the years has been relatively clean. Few demonic disturbances until recently, and everything’s been quiet the past few days. No reports, even from Idris, so the Clave is feeling lenient. We have sometimes wondered if you’d actually rescinded your allegiance to Valentine. As it is, he set a trap for you and you fell right into it. One might think you’d know better.”

“There was no trap,” Jace cut in. “My father knew the Lightwoods would raise me if they thought I was Michael Wayland’s son. That’s all.”

The Inquisitor stared at him as if he were a talking cockroach. “Do you know about the cuckoo bird, Jonathan Morgenstern?”

Jace wondered if perhaps being the Inquisitor—it couldn’t be a pleasant job—had left Imogen Herondale a little unhinged. “The what?”

“The cuckoo bird,” she said. “You see, cuckoos are parasites. They lay their eggs in other birds’ nests. When the egg hatches, the baby cuckoo pushes the other baby birds out of the nest. The poor parent birds work themselves to death trying to find enough food to feed the enormous cuckoo child who has murdered their babies and taken their places.”

“Enormous?” said Jace. “Did you just call me fat?”

“And I,” said Maryse, “don’t want your pity, Imogen. I refuse to believe the Clave will punish either myself or my husband for choosing to bring up the son of a dead friend.” She squared her shoulders. “It isn’t as if we didn’t tell them what we were doing.”

“And I’ve never harmed any of the Lightwoods in any way,” said Jace. “I’ve worked hard, and trained hard—say whatever you want about my father, but he made a Shadowhunter out of me. I’ve earned my place here.”

“Don’t defend your father to me,” the Inquisitor said. “I knew him. He was—is—the vilest of men.”

“Vile? Who says ‘vile’? What does that even mean?”

The Inquisitor’s colorless lashes grazed her cheeks as she narrowed her eyes, her gaze speculative. “You are arrogant,” she said at last. “As well as intolerant. Did your father teach you to behave this way?”

“Not to him,” Jace said shortly.

“Then you’re aping him. Valentine was one of the most arrogant and disrespectful men I’ve ever met. I suppose he brought you up to be just like him.”

“Yes,” Jace said, unable to help himself, “I was trained to be an evil mastermind from a young age. Pulling the wings off flies, poisoning the earth’s water supply—I was covering that stuff in kindergarten. I guess we’re all just lucky my father faked his own death before he got to the raping and pillaging part of my education, or no one would be safe.”

Maryse let out a sound much like a groan of horror. “Jace—”

But the Inquisitor cut her off. “And just like your father, you can’t keep your temper,” she said. “The Lightwoods have coddled you and let your worst qualities run rampant. You may look like an angel, Jonathan Morgenstern, but I know exactly what you are.”

“He’s just a boy,” said Maryse. Was she defending him? Jace looked at her quickly, but her eyes were averted.

“Valentine was just a boy once. Now before we do any digging around in that blond head of yours to find out the truth, I suggest you cool your temper. And I know just where you can do that best.”

Jace blinked. “Are you sending me to my room?”

“I’m sending you to the prisons of the Silent City. After a night there I suspect you’ll be a great deal more cooperative.”

Maryse gasped. “Imogen—you can’t!”

“I certainly can.” Her eyes gleamed like razors. “Do you have anything to say to me, Jonathan?”

Jace could only stare. There were levels and levels to the Silent City, and he had seen only the first two, where the archives were kept and where the Brothers sat in council. The prison cells were at the very lowest level of the City, beneath the graveyard levels where thousands of buried Shadowhunter dead rested in silence. The cells were reserved for the worst of criminals: vampires gone rogue, warlocks who broke the Covenant Law, Shadowhunters who spilled each other’s blood. Jace was none of those things. How could she even suggest sending him there?

“Very wise, Jonathan. I see you’re already learning the best lesson the Silent City has to teach you.” The Inquisitor’s smile was like a grinning skull’s. “How to keep your mouth shut.”

Clary was in the middle of helping Luke clean up the remains of dinner when the doorbell rang again. She straightened up, her gaze flicking to Luke. “Expecting someone?”

He frowned, drying his hands on the dish towel. “No. Wait here.” She saw him reach up to grab something off one of the shelves as he left the kitchen. Something that glinted.

“Did you see that knife?” Simon whistled, standing up from the table. “Is he expecting trouble?”

“I think he’s always expecting trouble,” Clary said, “these days.” She peered around the side of the kitchen door, saw Luke at the open front door. She could hear his voice, but not what he was saying. He didn’t sound upset, though.

Simon’s hand on her shoulder pulled her back. “Keep away from the door. What are you, crazy? What if there’s some demon thing out there?”

“Then Luke could probably use our help.” She looked down at his hand on her shoulder, grinning. “Now you’re all protective? That’s cute.”

“Clary!” Luke called her from the front room. “Come here. I want you to meet someone.”

Clary patted Simon’s hand and set it aside. “Be right back.”

Luke was leaning against the door frame, arms crossed. The knife in his hand had magically disappeared. A girl stood on the front steps of the house, a girl with curling brown hair in multiple braids and a tan corduroy jacket. “This is Maia,” Luke said. “Who I was just telling you about.”

The girl looked at Clary. Her eyes under the bright porch light were a strange amber green. “You must be Clary.”

Clary admitted that this was the case.

“So that kid—the boy with the blond hair who tore up the Hunter’s Moon—he’s your brother?”

“Jace,” Clary said shortly, not liking the girl’s intrusive curiosity.

“Maia?” It was Simon, coming up behind Clary, hands thrust into the pockets of his jean jacket.

“Yeah. You’re Simon, right? I suck at names, but I remember you.” The girl smiled past Clary at him.

“Great,” said Clary. “Now we’re all friends.”

Luke coughed and straightened up. “I wanted you to meet each other because Maia’s going to be working around the bookshop for the next few weeks,” he said. “If you see her going in and out, don’t worry about it. She’s got a key.”

“And I’ll keep an eye out for anything weird,” Maia promised. “Demons, vamps, whatever.”

“Thanks,” said Clary. “I feel so safe now.”

Maia blinked. “Are you being sarcastic?”

“We’re all a little tense,” Simon said. “I for one am happy to know someone will be around here keeping an eye on my girlfriend when no one else is home.”

Luke raised his eyebrows, but said nothing. Clary said, “Simon’s right. Sorry I snapped at you.”

“It’s all right.” Maia looked sympathetic. “I heard about your mom. I’m sorry.”