Clockwork Prince (Page 42)

Clockwork Prince(42)
Author: Cassandra Clare

"Did you really think I didn’t know?" he spat. "After that note arrived at Benedict’s ball, sending me off on that wild goose chase to Vauxhall, I realized. It all made sense. I should have known it was you from the beginning. Stupid little girl."

"Stupid?" she hissed. "I got you to spil your secrets, Nate. You told me everything. Did Mortmain find out? Is that why you look like you haven’t slept in days?"

He jerked his arm tighter around her, making her gasp with pain. "You couldn’t leave well enough alone. You had to pry into my business. Delighted to see me brought low, are you? What kind of sister does that make you, Tessie?"

"You would have kil ed me if you had the chance. There is no game you can play, nothing you can say to make me think I’ve betrayed you, Nate. You earned every bit of it. all ying yourself with Mortmain-"

He shook her, hard enough to make her teeth rattle. "As if my all iances are any of your business. I was doing well for myself until you and your Nephilim friends came and meddled. Now the Magister wants my head on a block.

Your fault. all your fault. I was almost in despair, til I got that ridiculous note from Jessamine. I knew you were behind it, of course. all the trouble you must have gone through too, torturing her to get her to write me that ridiculous missive-"

"We didn’t torture her," Tessa ground out. She struggled, but Nate only held her more tightly, the buttons on his waistcoat digging into her back. "She wanted to do it. She wanted to save her own skin."

"I don’t believe you." The hand that wasn’t across her throat gripped her chin; his nails dug in, and she yelped with pain. "She loves me."

"No one could love you," Tessa spat. "You’re my brother-I loved you-and you have kil ed even that."

Nate leaned forward and growled, "I am not your brother."

"Very well, my half brother, if you must have it-"

"You’re not my sister. Not even by half." He said the words with a cruel pleasure. "Your mother and my mother were not the same woman."

"That’s not possible," Tessa whispered. "You’re lying. Our mother was Elizabeth Gray-"

"Your mother was Elizabeth Gray, born Elizabeth Moore," said Nate. "Mine was Harriet Moore."

"A unt Harriet?"

"She was engaged once. Did you know that? After our parents-your parents-were married. The man died before the wedding could take place.

But she was already with child. Your mother raised the baby as hers to spare her sister the shame of the world knowing she had consummated her marriage before it had taken place. That she was a whore." His voice was as bitter as poison. "I’m not your brother, and I never was. Harriet-she never told me she was my mother. I found out from your mother’s letters. all those years, and she never said a word. She was too ashamed."

"You kil ed her," Tessa said numbly. "Your own mother."

"Because she was my mother. Because she’d disowned me. Because she was ashamed of me. Because I’ll never know who my father was. Because she was a whore." Nate’s voice was empty. Nate had always been empty. He had never been anything but a pretty shell, and Tessa and her aunt had dreamed into him empathy and compassion and sympathetic weakness because they had wanted to see it there, not because it was.

"Why did you tell Jessamine that my mother was a Shadow-hunter?" Tessa demanded. "Even if Aunt Harriet was your mother, she and my mother were sisters. Aunt Harriet would have been a Shadowhunter, too, and so would you. Why tell such a ridiculous lie?"

He smirked. "Wouldn’t you like to know?" His grip tightened on her neck, choking her. She gasped and thought suddenly of Gabriel, saying, A im your kicks at the kneecaps; the pain is agonizing.

She kicked up and backward, the heel of her boot col iding with Nate’s knee, making a dull cracking sound. Nate yel ed, and his leg went out from under him. He kept his grip on Tessa as he fell, rol ing so that his elbow jammed into her stomach as they tumbled to the ground together. She gasped, the air punched from her lungs, her eyes fil ing with tears.

She kicked out at him again, trying to scramble backward, and caught him a glancing blow on the shoulder, but he lunged at her, seizing her by the waistcoat. The buttons popped off it in a rain as he dragged her toward him; his other hand gripped her hair as she flailed out at him, raking her nails down his cheek. The blood that sprang immediately to the surface was a savagely satisfying sight.

"Let me go," she panted. "You can’t kil me. The Magister wants me alive -"

"’Alive’ is not ‘unhurt,’" Nate snarled, blood running down his face and off his chin. He knotted his hand in her hair and dragged her toward him; she screamed at the pain and lashed out with her boots, but he was nimble, dodging her flailing feet. Panting, she sent up a silent call : Jem, Will, Charlotte, Henry-where are you?

"Wondering where your friends are?" He hauled her to her feet, one hand in her hair, the other fisted in the back of her shirt. "Well, here’s one of them, at least."

A grinding noise alerted Tessa to a movement in the shadows. Nate dragged her head around by the hair, shaking her. "Look," he spat. "It’s time you knew what you are up against."

Tessa stared. The thing that emerged from the shadows was gigantic- twenty feet tall, she guessed, made of iron. There was barely any jointure. It appeared to move as one single fluid mechanism, seamless and almost featureless. Its bottom half did split into legs, each one ending in a foot tipped with metal spikes. Its arms were the same, finishing in clawlike hands, and its head was a smooth oval broken only by a wide jagged-toothed mouth like a crack in an egg. A pair of twisting silvery horns spiraled up from its "head." A thin line of blue fire crackled between them.

In its enormous hands it carried a limp body, dressed in gear. Against the bulk of the gigantic automaton, she looked even smaller than ever.

"Charlotte!" Tessa screamed. She redoubled her attempts to get away from Nate, whipping her head to the side. Some of her hair tore free and fluttered to the ground-Jessamine’s fair hair, stained now with blood. Nate retaliated by slapping her hard enough that she saw stars; when she sagged, he caught her around the throat, the buttons on his cuffs digging into her windpipe.

Nate chuckled. "A prototype," he said. "Abandoned by the Magister. Too large and cumbersome for his purposes. But not for mine." He raised his voice. "Drop her."

The automaton’s metal hands opened. Charlotte tumbled free and struck the ground with a sickening thump. She lay unmoving. From this distance Tessa could not tell if her chest was rising and fal ing or not.

"Now crush her," said Nate.

Ponderously the thing raised its spiked metal foot. Tessa clawed at Nate’s forearms, ripping his skin with her nails.

"Charlotte!" For a moment Tessa thought the voice screaming was her own, but it was too low-pitched for that. A figure darted out from behind the automaton, a figure all in black, topped by a shock of blazing ginger hair, a thin-bladed misericord in hand.

Henry.

Without even a glance at Tessa and Nate, he launched himself at the automaton, bringing his blade down in a long curving arc. There was the clang of metal on metal. Sparks flew, and the automaton staggered back. Its foot came down, slamming into the floor, inches from Charlotte’s supine body. Henry landed, then threw himself at the creature again, slashing out with his blade.

The blade shattered. For a moment Henry simply stood and looked at it with stupid shock. Then the creature’s hand whipped forward and seized him by the arm. He shouted out as it lifted him and threw him with incredible force against one of the pil ars; he struck it, crumpled, and fell to the floor, where he lay still.

Nate laughed. "Such a display of matrimonial devotion," he said. "Who would have thought it? Jessamine always said she thought Branwel couldn’t stand his wife."

"You’re a pig," Tessa said, struggling in his grasp. "What do you know about the things people do for each other? If Jessamine were burning to death, you wouldn’t look up from your card game. You care for nothing but yourself."

"Be quiet, or I’ll loosen your teeth for you." Nate shook her again, and call ed out, "Come! Over here. You must hold her til the Magister arrives."

With a grinding of gears the automaton moved to obey. It was not as swift as its smaller brethren, but its size was such that Tessa could not help but fol ow its movements with an icy fear. And that was not all. The Magister was coming. Tessa wondered if Nate had summoned him yet, if he was on his way. Mortmain. Even the memory of his cold eyes, his icy, control ing smile, made her stomach turn. "Let me go," she cried, jerking away from her brother. "Let me go to Charlotte-"

Nate shoved her forward, hard, and she sprawled on the ground, her elbows and knees connecting with force with the hard wooden floor. She gasped and rol ed sideways, under the shadow of the second-floor gal ery, as the automaton lumbered toward her. She cried out- And they leaped from the gal ery above, Will and Jem, each landing on a shoulder of the creature. It roared, a sound like bel ows being fed with coal, and staggered back, all owing Tessa to rol out of its path and launch herself to her feet. She glanced from Henry to Charlotte. Henry was pale and still, crumpled beside the pil ar, but Charlotte, lying where the automaton had dropped her, was in imminent danger of being crushed by the rampaging machine.

Taking a deep breath, Tessa dashed across the room to Charlotte and knelt down, laying her fingers to Charlotte’s throat; there was a pulse there, fluttering weakly. Putting her hands under Charlotte’s arms, she began to drag her toward the wall, away from the center of the room, where the automaton was spinning and spitting sparks, reaching up with its pincered hands to claw at Jem and Will.

They were too quick for it, though. Tessa laid Charlotte down among the burlap sacks of tea and gazed across the room, trying to determine a path that might lead her to Henry. Nate was dashing back and forth, shouting and cursing at the mechanical creature; in answer Will sawed off one of its horns and threw it at Tessa’s brother. It bounced across the floor, skittering and sparking, and Nate jumped back. Will laughed. Jem meanwhile was clinging on to the creature’s neck, doing something that Tessa could not see. The creature itself was turning in circles, but it had been designed for reaching out and grabbing what was in front of it, and its "arms" did not bend properly.

It could not reach what clung to the back of its neck and head.

Tessa almost wanted to laugh. Will and Jem were like mice scurrying up and down the body of a cat, driving it to distraction. But hack and slash as they might at the metal creature with their blades, they were inflicting few injuries. Their blades, which she had seen shear through iron and steel as if they were paper, were leaving only dents and scratches on the surface of the mechanical creature’s body.

Nate, meanwhile, was screaming and cursing. "Shake them off!" he yel ed at the automaton. "Shake them off, you great metal bastard!"

The automaton paused, then shook itself violently. Will slipped, catching on to the creature’s neck at the last moment to keep himself from fal ing. Jem was not so lucky; he stabbed forward with his sword-cane, as if he meant to drive it into the creature’s body to arrest his fall, but the blade merely skidded down the creature’s back. Jem fell, gracelessly, his weapon clattering, his leg bent under him.

"James!" Will shouted.

Jem dragged himself painful y to his feet. He reached for the stele at his belt, but the creature, sensing weakness, was already on him, reaching out its clawed hands. Jem took several staggering steps backward and fumbled something out of his pocket. It was smooth, oblong, metal ic-the object Henry had given him in the library.

He reached back a hand to throw it-and Nate was behind him suddenly, kicking out at his injured, likely broken, leg. Jem didn’t make a sound, but the leg went out from under him with a snapping noise and he hit the ground for a second time, the object rol ing from his hand.

Tessa scrambled to her feet and ran for it just as Nate did the same. They col ided, his greater weight and height bearing her to the floor. She rol ed as she fell, as Gabriel had taught her to, to absorb the impact, though the shock stil left her breathless. She reached for the device with shaking fingers, but it skittered away from her. She could hear Will screaming her name, call ing to her to throw it to him. She stretched her hand out farther, her fingers closing around the device-and then Nate seized her by one leg and dragged her back toward him, mercilessly.

He is bigger than I am, she thought. Stronger than I am. More ruthless than I am. But there is one thing I can do that he cannot.

She Changed.

She reached out with her mind for the grip of his hand on her ankle, his skin touching her own. She reached out for the intrinsic, inborn Nate that she had always known, that spark inside him that flickered the way it did inside everyone, like a candle in a dark room. She heard him suck in his breath, and then the Change took her, rippling her skin, melting her bones. The buttons at her col ar and cuffs snapped as she grew in size, convulsions thrashing through her limbs, ripping her leg free of Nate’s grasp. She rol ed away from her brother, staggering to her feet, and saw his eyes widen as he looked at her.

She was now, other than her clothes, an exact mirror image of himself.

She whirled on the automaton. It was frozen, waiting for instructions, Will stil clinging to its back. He raised his hand, and Tessa threw the device, silently thanking Gabriel and Gideon for the hours of knife throwing instruction. It flew through the air in a perfect arc, and Will caught it out of the sky.

Nate was on his feet. "Tessa," he snarled. "What in the bloody hel do you possibly think you’re-"

"Seize him!" she shouted at the automaton, pointing at Nate. "Catch him and hold him!"

The creature did not move. Tessa could hear nothing but Nate’s harsh breathing beside her, and the sound of clanking from the metal creature; Will had vanished behind it and was doing something, though she could not see what.