Clockwork Prince (Page 30)

Clockwork Prince(30)
Author: Cassandra Clare

"Have you ever thought of transforming yourself into one of your parents?"

Will asked. "Your mother, or father? It would give you access to their memories, wouldn’t it?"

"I have thought of it. Of course I have. But I have nothing of my father’s or mother’s. Everything that was packed in my trunks for the voyage here was discarded by the Dark Sisters."

"What about your angel necklace?" Will asked. "Wasn’t that your mother’s?"

Tessa shook her head. "I tried. I-I could reach nothing of her in it. It has been mine so long, I think, that what made it hers has evaporated, like water."

Will ‘s eyes gleamed in the shadows. "Perhaps you are a clockwork girl.

Perhaps Mortmain’s warlock father built you, and now Mortmain seeks the secret of how to create such a perfect facsimile of life when all he can build are hideous monstrosities. Perhaps all that beats beneath your chest is a heart made of metal."

Tessa drew in a breath, feeling momentarily dizzy. His soft voice was so convincing, and yet-"No," she said sharply. "You forget, I remember my childhood. Mechanical creatures do not change or grow. Nor would that explain my ability."

"I know," said Will with a grin that flashed white in the darkness. "I only wanted to see if I could convince you."

Tessa looked at him steadily. "I am not the one who has no heart."

It was too dark in the carriage for her to tell, but she sensed that he flushed, darkly. Before he could say anything in response, the wheels came to a jerking halt. They had arrived.

Chapter 12: Masquerade

So now I have sworn to bury All this dead body of hate,

I feel so free and so clear

By the loss of that dead weight,

That I should grow light-headed, I fear,

Fantastically merry;

But that her brother comes, like a blight

On my fresh hope, to the Hall to-night.

-Alfred, Lord Tennyson, "Maud"

Cyril had paused the carriage outside the gates of the property, under the shade of a leafy oak tree. The Lightwoods’ country house in Chiswick, just outside London proper, was massive, built in the Pal adian style, with soaring pil ars and multiple staircases. The radiance of the moon made everything pearlescent like the inside of an oyster shell. The stone of the house seemed to gleam silver, while the gate that ran around the property had the sheen of black oil. None of the lights in the house seemed to be il uminated-the place was as dark as pitch and grave-silent, the vast grounds stretching all around it, down to the edge of a meander in the Thames River, unlit and deserted. Tessa began to wonder if they had made a mistake in coming here.

As Will left the carriage, helping her down after him, his head turned, his fine mouth hardening. "Do you smel that? Demonic witchcraft. Its stink is on the air."

Tessa made a face. She could smel nothing unusual-in fact, this far out of the city center, the air seemed cleaner than it had near the Institute. She could smel wet leaves and dirt. She looked over at Will, his face raised to the moonlight, and wondered what weapons lay concealed under his closely fitted frock coat. His hands were sheathed in white gloves, his starched shirtfront immaculate. With the mask, he could have been an il ustration of a handsome highwayman in a penny dreadful.

Tessa bit her lip. "Are you certain? The house looks deadly quiet. As if no one were home. Could we be wrong?"

He shook his head. "There is powerful magic at work here. Something stronger than a glamour. A true ward. Someone very much does not want us to know what is happening here tonight." He glanced down at the invitation in her hand, shrugged, and went up to the gate. There was a bel there, and he rang it, the noise jangling Tessa’s already stretched nerves. She glared at him. He grinned. "Caelum denique, angel," he said, and melted away into the shadows, just as the gate before her opened.

A hooded figure stood before her. Her first thought was of the Silent Brothers, but their robes were the color of parchment, and the figure that stood before her was robed in the color of black smoke. The hood hid its face completely. Wordlessly she held out her invitation.

The hand that took it from her was gloved. For a moment the hidden face regarded the invitation. Tessa could not help but fidget. In any ordinary circumstance, a young lady attending a bal alone would be so improper as to be scandalous. But this was no ordinary circumstance. At last, a voice issued from beneath the hood: "Welcome, Miss Lovelace."

It was a gritty voice, a voice like skin being scraped over a rough, tearing surface. Tessa’s spine prickled, and she was glad she could not see beneath the hood. The figure returned the invitation to her and stepped back, gesturing her inside; she fol owed, forcing herself not to look around to see if Will was following.

She was led around the side of the house, down a narrow garden path.

The gardens extended for a good distance out around the house, silvery- green in the moonlight. There was a circular black ornamental pond, with a white marble bench beside it, and low hedges, careful y clipped, running alongside neat paths. The path she was on ended at a tal and narrow entrance set into the house’s side. A strange symbol was carved into the door. It seemed to shift and change as Tessa looked at it, making her eyes hurt. She looked away as her hooded companion opened the door and gestured for her to go inside.

She entered the house, and the door slammed behind her. She turned just as it shut, catching a glimpse, she thought, of the face beneath the hood. She thought she had seen something very like a cluster of red eyes in the center of a dark oval, like the eyes of a spider. She caught her breath as the door clicked shut and she was plunged into darkness.

As she reached, blindly, for the handle of the door, light sprang up all around her. She was standing at the foot of a long, narrow staircase that led upward. Torches burning with a greenish flame-not witchlight-ran up the sides of the stairs.

At the top of the stairs was a door. Another symbol was painted on this one. Tessa felt her mouth go even dryer. It was the ouroboros, the double serpent. The symbol of the Pandemonium Club.

For a moment she felt frozen with fear. The symbol brought bleak memories rushing back: the Dark House; the Sisters torturing her, trying to force her to Change; Nate’s betrayal. She wondered what Will had said to her in Latin before he had vanished. "Courage," no doubt, or some variant of that. She thought of Jane Eyre, bravely facing down the angry Mr. Rochester; Catherine Earnshaw, who when mauled by a savage dog "did not yel out- no! she would have scorned to do it." And lastly she thought of Boadicea, who Will had told her was "braver than any man."

It’s just a ball, Tessa, she told herself, and reached for the knob. Just a party.

She had never been to a bal before, of course. She knew only a little of what to expect, and all of that was from books. In Jane Austen’s books the characters were constantly waiting for there to be a ball, or arranging a ball, and often an entire vil age seemed to be involved in the planning and location of the ball. Whereas in other books, such as Vanity Fair , they were grand backdrops against which scheming and plotting occurred. She knew that there would be a dressing room for the ladies, where she could leave her shawl, and one for the men, where they could safely dispose of hats, overcoats, and walking sticks. There ought to be a dance card for her, where the names of the men who had asked her to dance could be marked down. It was rude to dance more than a few dances in a row with the same gentleman. There should be a grand, beautiful y decorated bal room, and a smal er refreshment room, where there would be iced drinks and sandwiches and biscuits and tipsy cake . . .

But it was not quite like that. As the door closed behind her, Tessa found no servants hurrying to greet her, to guide her to the ladies’ dressing room and offer to take her shawl or assist her with a missing button. Instead a wash of noise and music and light struck her like a wave. She stood at the entrance to a room so grand, it was hard to believe that it fit somehow into the Lightwoods’ house. A great crystal chandelier hung from the ceiling; it was only after looking at it for several moments that Tessa realized it was shaped like a spider, with eight dangling "legs," each of which held a col ection of massive tapers. The wal s, what she could see of them, were a very dark blue, and running all along the side that faced the river were French windows, some propped open to catch the breeze, for the room, despite the cool weather outside, was stifling. Beyond the windows were curved stone balconies, looking out over a view of the city. The wal s were largely obscured by great swathes of shimmering fabric, loops and whorls of it hanging over the windows and moving in the faint breeze. The fabric was figured with all manner of patterns, woven in gold; the same shimmering, shifting patterns that had hurt Tessa’s eyes downstairs.

The room was crowded with people. Well, not quite people, exactly. The majority looked human enough. She caught sight also of the dead white faces of vampires, and a few of the violet and red-hued ifrits, all dressed in the height of fashion. Most, though not all, of the attendees wore masks- elaborate contraptions of gold and black, beaked Plague Doctor masks with tiny spectacles, red devil masks complete with horns. Some were bare- faced, though, including a group of women whose hair was muted tints of lavender, green, and violet. Tessa did not think they were dyes, either, and they wore their hair loose, like nymphs in paintings. Their clothes were scandalously loose as well. They were clearly uncorseted, dressed in flowing fabrics of velvet, tul e, and satin.

In and among the human guests darted figures of all sizes and shapes.

There was a man, far too tal and thin to be a man, dressed in topcoat and tails, looming over a young woman in a green cloak whose red hair shone like a copper penny. Creatures that looked like great dogs roamed among the guests, their yel ow eyes wide and watchful. They had rows of spikes along their backs, like drawings of exotic animals she had seen in books. A dozen or so little goblin creatures screeched and chattered to one another in an incomprehensible language. They appeared to be fighting over some food-stuff-what looked like a torn-apart frog. Tessa swal owed down bile and turned- And saw them, where she had not before. Her mind had perhaps dismissed them as decorations, suits of armor, but they were not.

Automatons lined the wal s, silent and motionless. They were human in shape, like the coachman who had belonged to the Dark Sisters, and wore the livery of the Lightwood household, each with a patterned ouroboros over its left breast. Their faces were blank and featureless, like children’s sketches that had not been fil ed in.

Someone caught her by the shoulders. Her heart gave a great leap of fear -She had been discovered! As every muscle in her body tightened, a light, familiar voice said: "I thought you’d never get here, Jessie dear."

She turned and looked up into the face of her brother.

The last time Tessa had seen Nate, he had been bruised and bloodied, snarling at her in a corridor of the Institute, a knife in his hand. He had been a terrible mixture of frightening and pathetic and horrifying all at once.

This Nate was quite different. He smiled down at her-Jessamine was so much shorter than she was; it was odd not to reach to her brother’s chin, but rather to his chest-with vivid blue eyes. His fair hair was brushed and clean, his skin unmarked by bruises. He wore an elegant dress coat and a black shirtfront that set off his fair good looks. His gloves were spotlessly white.

This was Nate as he had always dreamed of being-rich-looking, elegant, and sophisticated. A sense of contentment oozed from him-less contentment, Tessa had to admit, than self-satisfaction. He looked like Church did after he had kil ed a mouse.

Nate chuckled. "What is it, Jess? You look as if you’ve seen a ghost."

I have. The ghost of the brother I once cared about. Tessa reached for Jessamine, for the imprint of Jessamine in her mind. Again it felt as if she were passing her hands through poisonous water, unable to grasp anything solid. "I-a sudden fear came over me, that you would not be here," she said.

This time his laugh was tender. "And miss a chance to see you? Don’t be a foolish girl." He glanced around, smiling. "Lightwood should lay himself out to impress the Magister more often." He held out a hand to her. "Would you do me the honor of favoring me with a dance, Jessie?"

Jessie. Not "Miss Lovelace." Any doubt Tessa might have had that their attachment was serious indeed was gone. She forced her lips into a smile.

"Of course."

The orchestra-a col ection of smal purple-skinned men dressed in silvery netting-was playing a waltz. Nate took her hand and drew her out onto the floor.

Thank God, Tessa thought. Thank God she’d had years of her brother swinging her around the living room of their tiny flat in New York. She knew exactly how he danced, how to fit her movements to his, even in this smal er, unfamiliar body. Of course, he had never looked down at her like this- tenderly, with lips slightly parted. Dear God, what if he kissed her? She had not thought of the possibility. She would be sick all over his shoes if he did.

Oh, God, she prayed. Let him not try.

She spoke rapidly, "I had dreadful trouble sneaking out of the Institute tonight," she said. "That little wretch Sophie nearly found the invitation."

Nate’s grip tightened on her. "But she didn’t, did she?"

There was a warning in his voice. Tessa sensed she was already close to a serious gaffe. She tried a quick glance around the room-Oh, where was Will ? What had he said? Even if you don’t see me, I’ll be there? But she had never felt so much on her own.

With a deep breath she tossed her head in her best imitation of Jessamine. "Do you take me for a fool? Of course not. I rapped her skinny wrist with my mirror, and she dropped it immediately. Besides, she probably can’t even read."

"Truly," said Nate, relaxing visibly, "they could have found you a lady’s maid who more befits a lady. One who speaks French, can sew . . ."

"Sophie can sew," Tessa said automatical y, and could have slapped herself. "Passably," she amended, and batted her eyelashes up at Nate.

"And how have you been keeping since the last time we saw each other?"