Jessamine sounded neither gentle nor angelic, but Tessa forbore mentioning this. “I don’t see how I …”
Jessamine caught Tessa’s arm fiercely. “Don’t you? I can leave the Institute, Tessa, but I cannot live alone. It wouldn’t be respectable. Perhaps if I were a widow, but I am only a girl. It just isn’t done. But if I had a companion—a sister—”
“You wish me to pretend to be your sister?” Tessa squeaked.
“Why not?” Jessamine said, as if this were the most reasonable suggestion in the world. “Or you could be my cousin from America. Yes, that would work. You do see,” she added, more practically, “that it isn’t as if you have anywhere else to go, is it? I’m quite positive we would catch husbands in no time at all.”
Tessa, whose head had begun to ache, wished Jessamine would cease to speak of “catching” husbands the way one might catch a cold, or a runaway cat.
“I could introduce you to all the best people,” Jessamine continued. “There would be balls, and dinner parties—” She broke off, looking around in sudden confusion. “But—where are we?”
Tessa glanced around. The path had narrowed. It was now a dark trail leading between high twisted trees. Tessa could no longer see the sky, nor hear the sound of voices. Beside her, Jessamine had come to a halt. Her face creased with sudden fear. “We’ve wandered off the path,” she whispered.
“Well, we can find our way back, can’t we?” Tessa spun around, looking for a break in the trees, a patch of sunlight. “I think we came from that way—”
Jessamine caught suddenly at Tessa’s arm, her fingers claw-like. Something—no, someone—had appeared before them on the path.
The figure was small, so small that for a moment Tessa thought they were facing a child. But as the form stepped forward into the light, she saw that it was a man—a hunched, wizened-looking man, dressed like a peddler, in ragged clothes, a battered hat pushed back on his head. His face was wrinkled and white, like a mold-covered old apple, and his eyes were gleaming black between thick folds of skin.
He grinned, showing teeth as sharp as razors. “Pretty girls.”
Tessa glanced at Jessamine; the other girl was rigid and staring, her mouth a white line. “We ought to go,” Tessa whispered, and pulled at Jessamine’s arm. Slowly, as if she were in a dream, Jessamine allowed Tessa to turn her so they faced back the way they had come—
And the man was before them once again, blocking the way back to the park. Far, far in the distance, Tessa thought she could see the park, a sort of clearing, full of light. It looked impossibly far away.
“You wandered off the path,” said the stranger. His voice was singsong, rhythmic. “Pretty girls, you wandered off the path. You know what happens to girls like you.”
He took a step forward.
Jessamine, still rigid, was clutching her parasol as though it were a lifeline. “Goblin,” she said, “hobgoblin, whatever you are—we have no quarrel with any of the Fair Folk. But if you touch us—”
“You wandered from the path,” sang the little man, coming closer, and as he did, Tessa saw that his shining shoes were not shoes after all but gleaming hooves. “Foolish Nephilim, to come to this place un-Marked. Here is land more ancient than any Accords. Here there is strange earth. If your angel blood should fall upon it, golden vines will grow from the spot, with diamonds at their tips. And I claim it. I claim your blood.”
Tessa tugged at Jessamine’s arm. “Jessamine, we should—”
“Tessa, be quiet.” Shaking her arm free, Jessamine pointed her parasol at the goblin. “You don’t want to do this. You don’t want—”
The creature sprang. As he hurtled toward them, his mouth seemed to peel wide, his skin splitting, and Tessa saw the face beneath—fanged and vicious. She screamed and stumbled backward, her shoe catching on a tree root. She thumped to the ground as Jessamine raised her parasol, and with a flick of Jessamine’s wrist, the parasol burst open like a flower.
The goblin screamed. He screamed and fell back and rolled on the ground, still screaming. Blood streamed from a wound in his cheek, staining his ragged gray jacket.
“I told you,” Jessamine said. She was breathing hard, her chest rising and falling as if she had been racing through the park. “I told you to leave us alone, you filthy creature—” She struck at the goblin again, and now Tessa could see that the edges of Jessamine’s parasol gleamed an odd gold-white, and were as sharp as razors. Blood was splattered across the flowered material.
The goblin howled, throwing up his arms to protect himself. He looked like a little old hunched man now, and though Tessa knew it was an illusion, she couldn’t help feeling a pang of pity. “Mercy, mistress, mercy—”
“Mercy?” Jessamine spat. “You wanted to grow flowers out of my blood! Filthy goblin! Disgusting creature!” She slashed at him again with the parasol, and again, and the goblin screamed and thrashed. Tessa sat up, shaking the dirt out of her hair, and staggered to her feet. Jessamine was still screaming, the parasol flying, the creature on the ground spasming with each blow. “I hate you!” Jessamine shrieked, her voice thin and trembling. “I hate you, and everything like you—Downworlders—disgusting, disgusting—”
“Jessamine!” Tessa ran to the other girl and threw her arms around her, pinning Jessamine’s arms against her body. For a moment Jessamine struggled, and Tessa realized there was no way she could hold her. She was strong, the muscles under her soft feminine skin coiled and as tense as a whip. And then Jessamine went suddenly limp, sagging back against Tessa, her breath hitching as the parasol drooped in her hand. “No,” she wailed. “No. I didn’t want to. I didn’t mean to. No—”
Tessa glanced down. The goblin’s body was humped and motionless at their feet. Blood spread across the ground from the place where he lay, running across the earth like dark vines. Holding Jessamine as she sobbed, Tessa could not help but wonder what would grow there now.
It was, unsurprisingly, Charlotte who recovered from her astonishment first. “Mr. Mortmain, I’m not sure what you could possibly mean—”
“Of course you are.” He was smiling, his lean face split from ear to ear by an impish grin. “Shadowhunters. The Nephilim. That’s what you call yourselves, isn’t it? The by-blows of men and angels. Strange, since the Nephilim in the Bible were hideous monsters, weren’t they?”