City of lost souls – Chapter 14: As Ashes

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Chapter 14: As Ashes

Clary came back to consciousness slowly, with the dizzy sensation she recalled from that first morning in the Institute, when she had woken with no idea of where she was. Her whole body ached, and her head felt as if someone had smashed an iron barbell into it. She was lying on her side, her head pillowed on something rough, and there was a weight around her shoulder. Glancing down, she saw a slim hand, pressed protectively against her sternum. She recognized the Marks, the faint white scars, even the blue mapping of veins across his forearm. The weight inside her chest eased, and she sat up carefully, slipping out from under Jaces arm.

They were in his bedroom. She recognized the incredible neatness, the carefully made bed with its hospital corners. It still wasnt disarranged. Jace was asleep, propped up against the headboard, still in the same clothes hed worn the night before. He even had his shoes on. He had clearly fallen asleep holding her, though she had no recollection of it. He was still splattered with the odd silvery substance from the club.

He stirred slightly, as if sensing that she was gone, and wrapped his free arm around himself. He didnt look injured or hurt, she thought, just exhausted, his long dark gold eyelashes curled in the hollow of the shadows beneath his eyes. He looked vulnerable asleep-a little boy. He could have been her Jace.

But he wasnt. She remembered the nightclub, his hands on her in the dark, the bodies and blood. Her stomach churned, and she put a hand over her mouth, swallowing down nausea. She felt sickened by what she remembered, and underneath the sickness was a nagging prickle, the sense that she was missing something.

Something important.

“Clary. ”

She turned. Jaces eyes were half-open; he was looking at her through his lashes, the gold of his eyes dulled with exhaustion. “Why are you awake?” he said. “Its barely dawn. ”

Her hands bunched in the tangle of blankets. “Last night,” she said, her voice uneven. “The bodies-the blood-”

“The what?”

“Thats what I saw. ”

“I didnt. ” He shook his head. “Faerie drugs,” he said. “You knew. . . ”

“It seemed so real. ”

“Im sorry. ” His eyes closed. “I wanted to have fun. Its supposed to make you happy. Make you see pretty things. I thought we would have fun together. ”

“I saw blood,” she said. “And dead people floating in tanks-”

He shook his head, his lashes fluttering down. “None of it was real. . . ”

“Even what happened with you and me-?” Clary broke off, because his eyes were closed, his chest rising and falling steadily. He was asleep.

She rose to her feet, not looking at Jace, and went into the bathroom. She stood looking at herself in the mirror, numbness spreading through her bones. She was covered in smears of silvery residue. It reminded her of the time a metallic pen had burst inside her backpack, ruining everything in it. One of her bra straps had snapped, probably where Jace had yanked on it the night before. Her eyes were surrounded with smeared black stripes of mascara, and her skin and hair were sticky with silver.

Feeling faint and sick, she stripped off the slip dress and her underwear, tossing them into the wastebasket before crawling into the hot water.

She washed her hair over and over again, trying to get the dried silver gunk out. It was like trying to wash out oil paint. The scent of it lingered too, like the water from a vase after the flowers have rotted, faint and sweet and spoiled on her skin. No amount of soap seemed to be able to get rid of it.

Finally convinced she was as clean as she was going to get, she dried off and went to the master bedroom to get dressed. It was a relief to climb back into jeans and boots and slip on a comfortable cotton sweater. It was only then, as she pulled on her second boot, that the nagging feeling returned, the feeling that she was missing something. She froze.

Her ring. The gold ring that let her speak to Simon.

It was gone.

Frantically she searched for it, tearing through the wastebasket to see if the ring had gotten caught on her dress, then searching every inch of Jaces room while he slept peacefully on. She combed through the carpet, the bedclothes, checking the nightstand drawers.

At last she sat back, her heart slamming against her chest, a sick feeling in her stomach.

The ring was gone. Lost, somewhere, somehow. She tried to remember the last time shed seen it. Surely it had flashed on her hand while shed wielded that dagger against the Elapid demons. Had it fallen off in the junk store? In the nightclub?

She dug her nails into her blue-jeaned thighs until the pain made her gasp. Focus, she told herself. Focus.

Maybe the ring had fallen from her finger somewhere else in the apartment. Probably Jace had carried her upstairs at some point. It was a small chance, but every chance had to be explored.

She rose to her feet and went as soundlessly as she could out into the hallway. She moved toward Sebastians room, and hesitated. She couldnt imagine why the ring would be in there, and waking him up would only be counterproductive. She turned around and made her way down the stairs instead, walking carefully to mask the sound of her boots.

Her mind was racing. With no way to contact Simon, what was she going to do? She needed to tell him about the antiques shop, the adamas. She should have talked to him sooner. She wanted to punch the wall, but she forced her mind to slow down, to consider her options. Sebastian and Jace were beginning to trust her; if she could get away from them briefly, on a busy city street, she could use a pay phone to call Simon. She could duck into an Internet cafe and e-mail him. She knew more about mundane technology than they did. Losing the ring didnt mean it was over.

She would not give up.

Her mind was so occupied with thoughts of what to do next that at first she didnt see Sebastian. Fortunately, he had his back to her. He stood in the living room, facing the wall.

Already at the bottom of the staircase, Clary froze, then darted across the floor and flattened herself against the half wall that separated the kitchen from the larger room. There was no reason to panic, she told herself. She lived here. If Sebastian saw her, she could say she had come downstairs for a glass of water.

But the chance to observe him without his knowledge was too tempting. She turned her body slightly, peering over and around the kitchen counter.

Sebastian still had his back to her. He had changed his clothes since the nightclub. The army jacket was gone; he wore a button-down shirt and jeans. As he turned, and his shirt lifted, she could see that his weapon belt was slung around his waist. As he raised his right hand, she saw that he held his stele-and there was something about the way he held it, just for a moment, with a careful thoughtfulness, that reminded her of the way her mother held a paintbrush.

She closed her eyes. It felt like fabric snagging on a hook, the jerk inside her heart when she recognized something in Sebastian that reminded her of her mother or herself. That reminded her that however much of his blood was poison, just as much was the same blood that ran in her own veins.

She opened her eyes again, in time to see a doorway form in front of Sebastian. He reached for a scarf that hung on a peg on the wall, and stepped out into darkness.

Clary had a split second to decide. Stay and search the rooms, or follow Sebastian and see where he was going. Her feet made the choice before her mind did. Spinning away from the wall, she darted through the dark opening of the door moments before it closed behind her.

The room Luke was lying in was lit only by the streetlights glow, which came through the slatted windows. Jocelyn knew she could have asked for a light, but she preferred it like this. The darkness hid the extent of his injuries, the pallor of his face, the sunken crescents beneath his eyes.

In fact, in the dimness he looked very like the boy she had known in Idris before the Circle had been formed. She remembered him in the school yard, skinny and brown-haired, with blue eyes and nervous hands. Hed been Valentines best friend, and because of that, no one had ever really looked at him. Even she hadnt, or she would not have been so enormously blind as to miss his feelings for her.

She remembered the day of her wedding to Valentine, the sun bright and clear through the crystal roof of the Accords Hall. Shed been nineteen and Valentine twenty, and she remembered how unhappy her parents had been that shed chosen to marry so young. Their disapproval had seemed like nothing to her-they didnt understand. Shed been so sure there would never be anyone for her but Valentine.

Luke had been his best man. She remembered his face as she walked down the aisle-she had looked at him only briefly before turning her full attention to Valentine. She remembered thinking that he must not have been well, that he looked as if he were in pain. And later, in Angel Square, as the guests milled about-most of the members of the Circle were there, from Maryse and Robert Lightwood, already married, to barely fifteen Jeremy Pontmercy-and she stood with Luke and Valentine, someone made the old joke about how if the groom hadnt showed up, the bride would have had to marry the best man. Luke had been wearing evening clothes, with the gold runes for good luck in marriage on them, and he had looked very handsome, but while everyone else had laughed, hed gone terribly white. He must really hate the idea of marrying me, shed thought. She remembered touching his shoulder with a laugh.

“Dont look like that,” shed teased. “I know weve known each other forever, but I promise youll never have to marry me!”

And then Amatis had come up, dragging a laughing Stephen with her, and Jocelyn had forgotten all about Luke, the way he had looked at her-and the odd way Valentine had looked at him.

She glanced over at Luke now and started in her chair. His eyes were open, for the first time in days, and fixed on her.

“Luke,” she breathed.

He looked puzzled. “How long-have I been asleep?”

She wanted to throw herself onto him, but the thick bandages still wrapped around his chest held her back. She caught at his hand instead and put it against her cheek, her fingers interlocking with his. She closed her eyes and, as she did, felt tears slip from under her lids. “About three days. ”

“Jocelyn,” he said, sounding really alarmed now. “Why are we at the station? Wheres Clary? I really dont remember-”

She lowered their interlaced hands and, in as steady a voice as she could manage, told him what had happened-about Sebastian and Jace, and the demon metal embedded in his side, and the help of the Praetor Lupus.

“Clary,” he said immediately, when she was finished. “We have to go after her. ”

Drawing his hand from hers, he started to struggle into a sitting position. Even in the dim light she could see his pallor deepen as he winced with pain.

“Thats not possible. Luke, lie back down, please. Dont you think if there were any way to go after her, I would have?”

He swung his legs over the side of the bed so he was sitting up; then, with a gasp, he leaned back on his hands. He looked awful. “But the danger-”

“Do you think I havent thought about the danger?” Jocelyn put her hands on his shoulders and pushed him gently back against the pillows. “Simons been in contact with me every night. Shes all right. She is. And youre in no shape to do anything about it. Killing yourself wont help her. Please trust me, Luke. ”

“Jocelyn, I cant just lie here. ”

“You can,” she said, standing up. “And you will, if I have to sit on you myself. What on earth is wrong with you, Lucian? Are you out of your mind? Im terrified about Clary, and Ive been terrified about you, too. Please dont do this-dont do this to me. If anything happened to you-”

He looked at her with surprise. There was already a red stain on the white bandages that wrapped his chest, where his movements had pulled his wound open. “I. . . ”

“What?”

“Im not used to you loving me,” he said.

There was a meekness to his words that she didnt associate with Luke, and she stared at him for a moment before she said, “Luke. Lie back down, please. ”

As a sort of compromise he leaned further back against the pillows. He was breathing hard. Jocelyn darted to the nightstand, poured him a glass of water, and, returning, thrust it into his hand. “Drink it,” she said. “Please. ”

Luke took the glass, his blue eyes following her as she sat back down in the chair beside his bed, from which she had barely moved for so many hours that she was surprised she and the chair hadnt become one. “You know what I was thinking about?” she asked. “Just before you woke up?”

He took a sip of the water. “You looked very far away. ”

“I was thinking about the day I married Valentine. ”

Luke lowered the glass. “The worst day of my life. ”

“Worse than the day you got bitten?” she asked, folding her legs up under her.

“Worse. ”

“I didnt know,” she said. “I didnt know how you felt. I wish I had. I think things would have been different. ”

He looked at her incredulously. “How?”

“I wouldnt have married Valentine,” she said. “Not if Id known. ”

“You would-”

“I wouldnt,” she said sharply. “I was too stupid to realize how you felt, but I was also too stupid to realize how I felt. Ive always loved you. Even if I didnt know it. ” She leaned forward and kissed him gently, not wanting to hurt him; then she put her cheek against his. “Promise me you wont put yourself in danger. Promise. ”

She felt his free hand in her hair. “I promise. ”

She leaned back, partly satisfied. “I wish I could go back in time. Fix everything. Marry the right guy. ”

“But then we wouldnt have Clary,” he reminded her. She loved the way he said “we,” so casually, as if there were no doubt at all in his mind that Clary was his daughter.

“If youd been there more while she was growing up. . . ” Jocelyn sighed. “I just feel like I did everything wrong. I was so focused on protecting her that I think I protected her too much. She rushes headlong into danger without thinking. When we were growing up, we saw our friends die in battle. She never has. And I wouldnt want that for her, but sometimes I worry that she doesnt believe she can die. ”

“Jocelyn. ” Lukes voice was soft. “You raised her to be a good person. Someone with values, who believes in good and evil and strives to be good. Like you always have. You cant raise a child to believe the opposite of what you do. I dont think she doesnt believe she can die. I think, just like you always did, she believes there are things worth dying for. ”

Clary crept after Sebastian through a network of narrow streets, keeping to the shadows close beside the buildings. They were no longer in Prague-that much was immediately clear. The roads were dark, the sky above was the hollow blue of very early morning, and the signs hung above the shops and stores she passed were all in French. As were the street signs: RUE DE LA SEINE, RUE JACOB, RUE DE LABBAYE.

As they moved through the city, people passed her like ghosts. The occasional car rumbled by, trucks backed up to stores, making early-morning deliveries. The air smelled like river water and trash. She was fairly sure where they were already, but then a turn and an alley took them to a wide avenue, and a signpost loomed up out of the misty darkness. Arrows pointed in different directions, showing the way to the Bastille, to Notre Dame, and to the Latin Quarter.

Paris, Clary thought, slipping behind a parked car as Sebastian crossed the street. Were in Paris.

It was ironic. Shed always wanted to go to Paris with someone who knew the city. Had always wanted to walk its streets, to see the river, to paint the buildings. Shed never imagined this. Never imagined creeping after Sebastian, across the Boulevard Saint Germain, past a bright yellow bureau de poste, up an avenue where the bars were closed but the gutters were full of beer bottles and cigarette butts, and down a narrow street lined with houses. Sebastian stopped before one, and Clary froze as well, flat against a wall.

She watched as he raised a hand and punched a code into a box set beside the door, her eyes following the movements of his fingers. There was a click; the door opened and he slipped through. The moment it closed, she darted after him, pausing to key in the same code-X235-and waiting to hear the soft sound that meant the door was unlocked. When the sound came, she wasnt sure if she was more relieved or surprised. It shouldnt be this easy.

A moment later she stood inside a courtyard. It was square, surrounded on all sides by ordinary-looking buildings. Three staircases were viewable through open doors. Sebastian, however, had disappeared.

So it wasnt going to be that easy.

She moved forward into the courtyard, conscious as she did so that she was bringing herself out of sheltering shadow and into the open, where she could be seen. The sky was lightening with every passing moment. The knowledge that she was visible prickled the back of her neck, and she ducked into the shadow of the first stairwell she encountered.

It was plain, with wooden stairs leading up and down, and a cheap mirror on the wall in which she could see her own pale face. There was a distinct smell of rotting garbage, and she wondered for a moment if she were near where the trash bins were stored, before her tired mind clicked over and she realized: The stink was the presence of demons.

Her tired muscles started to shake, but she tightened her hands into fists. She was painfully conscious of her lack of weaponry. She took a deep breath of the stinking air and began to make her way down the steps.

The smell grew stronger and the air darker as she made her way downstairs, and she wished for a stele and a night-vision rune. But there was nothing to be done about it. She kept going as the staircase curved around and around, and she was suddenly grateful for the lack of light as she stepped in a patch of something sticky. She clutched for the banister and tried to breathe through her mouth. The darkness thickened, until she was walking blind, her heart pounding so loudly she was sure it must be announcing her presence. The streets of Paris, the ordinary world, seemed eons away. There was only the darkness and herself, going down and down and down.

And then-light flared in the distance, a tiny point, like the tip of a match bursting into flame. She moved closer to the banister, almost crouching, as the light grew. She could see her own hand now, and the outline of the steps below her. There were only a few more. She reached the bottom of the stairs and glanced around.

Any resemblance to an ordinary apartment building was gone. Somewhere along the way the wooden stairs had turned into stone, and she stood now in a small, stone-walled room lit by a torch that gave off a sickly greenish light. The floor was rock, polished smooth, and carved with multiple strange symbols. She edged around them as she crossed the room to the only other exit, a curved stone arch, at the apex of which was set a human skull between the V of two enormous ornamental crossed axes.

Through the archway she could hear voices. They were too distant for her to make out what they were saying, but they were voices nonetheless. This way, they seemed to say. Follow us.

She stared up at the skull, and its empty eyes gazed back at her mockingly. She wondered where she was-if Paris was still above her or if she had stepped into another world entirely, the way one did when one entered the Silent City. She thought of Jace, whom she had left sleeping in what now seemed like another life.

She was doing this for him, she reminded herself. To get him back. She stepped through the arch into the corridor beyond, instinctively flattening herself against the wall. Soundlessly she crept along, the voices growing louder and louder. It was dim in the hall but not lightless. Every few feet another greenish torch burned, giving off a charred odor.

A door opened suddenly in the wall to her left, and the voices grew louder.

“. . . not like his father,” one said, the words as raspy as sandpaper. “Valentine would not deal with us at all. He would make slaves of us. This one will give us this world. ”

Very slowly Clary peered around the edge of the doorway.

The room was bare, smooth-walled, and empty of all furniture. Inside it was a group of demons. They were lizardlike, with hard green-brown skin, but each had a set of six octopuslike legs that made a dry, skittering sound as they moved. Their heads were bulbous, alien, set with faceted black eyes.

She swallowed bile. She was reminded of the Ravener that had been one of the first demons shed ever seen. Something about the grotesque combination of lizard, insect, and alien made her stomach turn. She pressed closer to the wall, listening hard.

“That is, if you trust him. ” It was hard to tell which of them was talking. Their legs clenched and unclenched as they moved, raising and lowering their bulbous bodies. They didnt seem to have mouths but clusters of small tentacles that vibrated as they spoke.

“The Great Mother trusted him. He is her child. ”

Sebastian. Of course they were talking about Sebastian.

“He is also Nephilim. They are our great enemies. ”

“They are his enemies as well. He bears the blood of Lilith. ”

“But the one he calls his companion bears the blood of our enemies. He is of the angels. ” The word was spat with such hate that Clary felt it like a slap.

“Liliths child assures us he has him well in hand, and indeed he seems obedient. ”

A dry, insectile chuckle. “You young ones are too consumed with worry. The Nephilim have long kept this world from us. Its riches are great. We will drink it dry and leave it as ashes. As for the angel boy, he will be the last of his kind to die. We will burn him on a pyre until he is only golden bones. ”

Rage rose in Clary. She sucked in a breath-a tiny sound, but a sound. The demon nearest her jerked its head up. For a moment Clary froze, trapped in the glare of its mirrored black eyes.

Then she turned and ran. Ran, back toward the entryway and the stairs and their path up into darkness. She could hear commotion behind her, the creatures screaming, and then the slithering, skittering noise of them coming after her. She cast one glance over her shoulder and realized she wasnt going to make it. Despite her head start, they were almost on her.

She could hear her own harsh breathing, sawing in and out, as she reached the archway, spun, and leaped to catch hold of it with her hands. She swung herself forward with all her force, her booted feet driving into the first of the demons, knocking it backward as it shrilled loudly. Still dangling, she caught at the handle of one of the crossed axes below the skull and yanked.

Stuck fast, it didnt move.

She closed her eyes, gripped it tighter, and with all her strength, pulled.

The axe came away from the wall with a rending sound, showering down rocks and mortar. Unbalanced, Clary fell, and landed in a crouch, the axe held out in front of her. It was heavy, but she barely felt it. It was happening again, what had happened in the junk shop. The slowing of time, the increased intensity of sensation. She could feel every whisper of the air against her skin, every unevenness of the ground under her feet. She braced herself as the first of the demons scuttled through the doorway and reared back like a tarantula, its legs pawing the air above her. Beneath the tentacles on its face were a pair of long, dripping fangs.

The axe in her hand seemed to swing forward of its own accord, sinking deep into the creatures chest. She immediately remembered Jace telling her not to go for the chest wound but for the decapitation. Not all demons had hearts. But in this case she was lucky. She had struck either the heart or some other vital organ. The creature thrashed and squealed; blood bubbled up around the wound, and then it vanished, leaving her to reel back a step, her ichor-slicked weapon in her hand. The demons blood was black and stinking, like tar.

As the next one lunged for her, she ducked low, swinging out with the axe and slicing through several of its legs. Howling, it tipped sideways like a broken chair; already the next demon was trampling over its body, trying to get to her. She swung again, her axe burying itself in the creatures face. Ichor sprayed and she darted backward, pressing herself up against the stairwell. If one of them got around behind her, she was dead.

Maddened, the demon whose face shed slashed open lurched at her again; she swung out with her axe, severing one of its legs, but another leg wrapped itself around her wrist. Hot agony shot up her arm. She screamed and tried to wrench her hand back, but the demons grip was too strong. It felt as if thousands of hot needles were stabbing into her skin. Still screaming, she drove out with her left arm, slamming her fist into the creatures face, where her axe had already sliced it. The demon gave a hiss and loosed its grip fractionally; she wrenched her hand free just as it reared back-

And out of nowhere a shimmering blade drove down, burying itself in the demons skull. As she stared, the demon vanished, and she saw her brother, a blazing seraph blade in his hand, ichor splattered across his white shirtfront. Behind him the room was empty save for the body of one of the demons, still twitching, but with black fluid pouring from its severed leg stumps like oil from a smashed car.

Sebastian. She stared at him in amazement. Had he just saved her life?

“Get away from me, Sebastian,” she hissed.

He didnt seem to hear her. “Your arm. ”

She glanced down at her right wrist, still throbbing in agony. A thick band of saucer-shaped wounds encircled it where the demons suckers had fastened themselves to her skin. Already the wounds were darkening, turning a sickening blue-black.

She looked back up at her brother. His white hair looked like a halo in the darkness. Or it might have been the fact that her vision was going. Light was haloing around the green torch on the wall too, and around the seraph blade burning in Sebastians hand. He was talking, but his words were blurred, indistinct, as if he were speaking underwater.

“. . . deadly poison,” he was saying. “What the hell were you thinking, Clarissa?” His voice faded out, and back in again. She struggled to focus. “. . . to fight off six Dahak demons with an ornamental axe-”

“Poison,” she repeated, and for a moment his face came clear again, the lines of strain around his mouth and eyes pronounced and startling. “So I guess you didnt save my life after all, did you?”

Her hand spasmed, and the axe slid out of her grip, clattering to the ground. She felt her sweater catch on the rough wall as she began to slide down it, wanting nothing more than to lie on the floor. But Sebastian wouldnt let her rest. His arms were under hers, lifting her up, and then he was carrying her, her good arm slung around his neck. She wanted to struggle away from him, but her energy had deserted her. She felt a stinging pain on the inside of her elbow, a burn-the touch of a stele. Numbness spread through her veins. The last thing she saw before she closed her eyes was the face of the skull in the archway. She could have sworn its hollow eyes were full of laughter.

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