Clockwork Princess (Page 17)

Clockwork Princess(17)
Author: Cassandra Clare

And yet here she was, choosing to spend her time alone in the training room with the silent collection of weaponry. The weight of the sword in her hand was comforting, almost as if it served as a barrier between herself and her feelings.

She and Will had wandered all over the city a few nights before, from opium dens to gambling hells to ifrit haunts, a blur of color and scents and light. He had not been exactly friendly, but she knew that, for Will, allowing her to accompany him on such a sensitive errand had been a gesture indeed.

She had enjoyed their companionship that night. It had been like having her brother back. But as the evening had worn on, Will had become progressively more silent, and when they’d returned to the Institute, he had stalked away, clearly wishing to be alone, leaving Cecily with nothing to do but return to her room and lie awake staring at the ceiling until dawn came.

She had thought, somehow, when she had planned to come here, that the bonds that held him here could not be that strong. His attachment to these people could not be like his attachment to family. But as the night had gone on and she had seen his hope, and then his disappointment, at each new establishment when he’d asked after yin fen and there was none to be had, she had understood-oh, she had been told it before, had known it before, but that was not the same as understanding-that the ties that bound him here were as strong as any ties of blood.

She was tired now, and though she gripped the sword as Will had taught her-right hand below the guard, left hand on the pommel-it slipped from her grasp and tipped forward, burying itself point-down in the floor.

"Oh, dear," said a voice from the doorway. "I’m afraid I could only give that effort a three. Four perhaps, if I were inclined to give you an extra point for practicing swordplay in an afternoon dress."

Cecily, who indeed had not bothered to change into gear, flung her head back and glared at Gabriel Lightwood, who had appeared in the doorway like some sort of imp of the perverse. "Perhaps I am not interested in your opinion, sir."

"Perhaps." He took a step forward into the room. "The Angel knows your brother never has been."

"In that we are united," Cecily remarked, pulling the sword free of the floor.

"But not in much else." Gabriel moved to stand behind her. They were both reflected in one of the training mirrors; Gabriel was a good head taller than her, and she could see his face clearly over her shoulder. He had one of those odd sharp-boned faces: handsome from some angles, and peculiarly interesting-looking from others. There was a small white scar on his chin, as if he had been nicked there by a thin blade. "Would you like me to show you how to properly hold the sword?"

"If you must."

He did not reply but reached around her, adjusting her grip on the pommel. "You never want to hold your sword point-down," he said. "Hold it like this-point out-so that if your opponent charges you, they will skewer themselves on your blade."

Cecily adjusted her grip accordingly. Her mind was racing. She had thought of Shadowhunters as monsters for such a long time. Monsters who had kidnapped her brother, and she a her**ne, riding up to rescue him even if he didn’t realize he needed rescuing. It had been strange and gradual, realizing how human they were. She could feel the warmth rising from Gabriel’s body, his breath stirring her hair, and oh, it was odd, to be conscious of so many things about someone else: the way they felt, the brush of their skin, the way they smelled-

"I saw the way you fought at Lightwood House," Gabriel Lightwood murmured. His callused hand brushed down over her fingers, and Cecily fought back a small shiver.

"Badly?" she said, attempting a teasing tone.

"With passion. There are those who fight because it is their duty and those who fight because they love it. You love it."

"I don’t-," Cecily began, but she was interrupted as the training room door flew open with a loud bang.

It was Will, filling the doorway with his lanky, broad-shouldered frame. His blue eyes were thunderous. "What are you doing here?" he demanded.

So much for the brief peace they had achieved the night before. "I am practicing," Cecily said. "You told me I would get no better without practice."

"Not you. Gabriel Lightworm over here." Will jerked his chin toward the other boy. "Sorry. Lightwood."

Gabriel slowly unhitched his arms from around Cecily. "Whoever has been tutoring your sister in swordplay has imparted many bad habits. I was merely endeavoring to help."

"I told him it was all right," Cecily said, having no idea why she was defending Gabriel, except that she suspected it would annoy Will.

It did. His eyes narrowed. "And did he tell you he has been looking for years for a way to get back at me for what he perceives as an insult to his sister? And what better way to do it than through you?"

Cecily whipped her head around to stare at Gabriel, who wore an expression of mixed annoyance and defiance. "Is that true?"

He did not reply to her but to Will. "If we are going to live in the same house, Herondale, then we shall have to learn to treat each other cordially. Don’t you agree?"

"As long as I can still break your arm as easily as look at you, I agree to no such thing." Will reached up and plucked a rapier off the wall. "Now get out of here, Gabriel. And leave my sister alone."

With a single scornful look, Gabriel pushed his way past Will and out of the room. "Was that absolutely necessary, Will?" Cecily demanded as soon as the door had shut behind him.

"I know Gabriel Lightwood and you do not. I suggest you leave it to me to be the best judge of his character. He wishes to use you to hurt me-"

"Really, you cannot imagine a motivation he might have that is not yourself?"

"I know him," Will said again. "He has shown himself to be a liar and a traitor-"

"People change."

"Not that much."

"You have," Cecily said, striding across the room and dropping her sword onto a bench with a clatter.

"So have you," Will said, surprising her. She turned on him.

"I have changed? How have I changed?"

"When you came here," he said, "you spoke over and over of getting me to come home with you. You disliked your training. You pretended otherwise, but I could tell. Then it ceased to be ‘Will, you must go home,’ and became ‘Write a letter, Will.’ And you began to enjoy your training. Gabriel Lightwood is a bounder, but he was right about one thing: You did enjoy fighting the great worm at Lightwood House. Shadowhunter blood is like gunpowder in your veins, Cecy. Once it is lit, it is not so easily extinguished. Remain much longer here, and there is every likelihood you will be like me-too entwined to leave."

Cecily squinted at her brother. His shirt was open at the collar, showing something scarlet winking in the hollow of his throat. "Are you wearing a woman’s necklace, Will?"

Will put a hand to his neck with a startled look, but before he could respond, the door to the training room opened once more and Sophie stood there, an anxious expression upon her scarred face.

"Master Will, Miss Herondale," she said. "I have been looking for you. Charlotte has requested that everyone come to the drawing room right away; it is a matter of some urgency."

Cecily had always been something of a lonely child. It was difficult not to be when your elder siblings were dead or missing and there were no young people your age nearby whom your parents considered suitable companions. She had learned early to amuse herself with her own observations of people, unshared with others but kept close that she might take them out later and examine them when she was in solitude.

The habits of a lifetime were not broken quickly, and though Cecily was no longer lonely, since she had come to the Institute eight weeks ago, she had made its inhabitants the subject of her close study. They were Shadowhunters, after all-the enemy at first, and then, as that had become less and less her view, simply the subject of fascination.

She examined them now as she walked into the drawing room beside Will. First was Charlotte, seated behind her desk. Cecily had not known Charlotte long, and yet she knew that Charlotte was the sort of woman who kept her calm even under pressure. She was tiny but strong, a bit like Cecily’s own mother, although with less of a penchant for muttering in Welsh.

Then there was Henry. He might have been the first of them all to convince Cecily that though Shadowhunters were different, they were not dangerously alien. There was nothing frightening about Henry, all lanky legs and angles as he leaned against Charlotte’s desk.

Her eyes slid over Gideon Lightwood next, shorter and stockier than his brother-Gideon, whose green-gray eyes usually followed Sophie about the Institute like a hopeful puppy’s. She wondered if the others in the Institute had noticed his attachment to their maid, and what Sophie thought about it herself.

And then there was Gabriel. Cecily’s thoughts where he was concerned were jumbled and confused. His eyes were bright, his body tense as a coiled spring as he leaned against his brother’s armchair. On the dark velvet sofa just across from the Lightwoods sat Jem, with Tessa beside him. He had looked up as the door had opened and, as he always did, had seemed to glow a little brighter when he saw Will. It was a quality peculiar to both of them, and Cecily wondered if it was that way for all parabatai, or if they were a unique case. In either eventuality, it must be terrifying to be so intertwined with another person, especially when one of them was as fragile as Jem.

As she watched, Tessa laid her hand over Jem’s and said something quiet to him that made him smile. Tessa looked quickly to Will, but he only crossed the room as he always did to lean against the fireplace mantel. Cecily had never been able to decide if he did this because he was perpetually cold or because he thought he looked dashing standing before the leaping flames.

You must be ashamed of your brother-harboring illicit feelings for his parabatai’s fiancee, Will had said to her. If he had been anyone else, she would have told him there was no point keeping secrets. The truth would out, eventually. But in Will’s case, she was not sure. He had the skill of years of hiding and pretending on his side. He was a master actor. If it were not that she was his sister, if it were not that she saw his face at the moments when Jem was not looking, she did not think she would have guessed it either.

And then there was the awful truth that he would not need to hide his secret forever. He needed to hide it only as long as Jem lived. If James Carstairs were not so unrelentingly kind and well intentioned, Cecily thought, she might have hated him on her brother’s behalf. Not only was he marrying the girl Will loved, but when he himself died, she feared, Will would never recover. But you could not blame someone for dying. For leaving on purpose, perhaps, as her brother had left her and her parents, but not for dying, the power over which was surely beyond the grasp of any mortal human.

"I’m glad you’re all here," Charlotte said in a strained voice that snapped Cecily out of her brown study. Charlotte was looking gravely down at a polished salver on her desk, on which was an opened letter and a small packet wrapped in waxed paper. "I have received a disturbing piece of correspondence. From the Magister."

"From Mortmain?" Tessa leaned forward, and the clockwork angel she always wore around her neck swung free, glittering in the light from the fire. "He wrote to you?"

"Not to inquire about your health, one presumes," said Will. "What does he want?"

Charlotte took a deep breath. "I will read you the letter."

My Dear Mrs. Branwell,

Forgive me for troubling you at what must be a distressing time for your household. I was grieved, though I must confess not shocked, to hear of Mr. Carstairs’s grave indisposition.

I believe you are aware that I am the happy possessor of a large-I might say exclusively large-portion of the medicine that Mr. Carstairs requires for his continued well-being. Thus we find ourselves in a most interesting situation, which I am eager to resolve to the satisfaction of us both. I would be very glad to make an exchange: If you are willing to confide Miss Gray to my keeping, I will place a large portion of yin fen in yours.

I send a token of my goodwill. Pray let me know your decision by writing to me. If the correct sequence of numbers that are printed at the bottom of this letter, are spoken to my automaton, I am sure to receive it.

Yours sincerely,

Axel Mortmain

"That is all," Charlotte said, folding the letter in half and placing it back on the salver. "There are instructions on how to summon the automaton to which he wishes us to give our answer, and there are the number he speaks of, but they give no clue as to his location."

There was a shocked silence. Cecily, who had seated herself in a small flowered armchair, glanced at Will and saw him look away quickly as if to hide his expression. Jem paled, his face turning the color of old ash, and Tessa-Tessa sat very still, the light from the fire chasing shadows across her face.

"Mortmain wants me," she said finally, breaking the silence. "In exchange for Jem’s yin fen."

"It is ridiculous," Jem said. "Untenable. The letter should be given to the Clave to see if they can discern anything about his location from it, but that is all."

"They will not be able to discern anything about his location from it," said Will quietly. "The Magister has proved himself over and over too clever for that."

"This is not clever," said Jem. "This is the crudest form of blackmail-"

"I do not disagree," said Will. "I say we take the packet as a blessing, a handful more of yin fen that will help you, and we ignore the rest."

"Mortmain wrote the letter about me," Tessa said, interrupting them both. "The decision should be mine." She angled her body toward Charlotte. "I will go."

There was another dead silence. Charlotte looked ashen; Cecily could feel her own hands slippery with sweat where they twisted in her lap. The Lightwood brothers seemed desperately uncomfortable. Gabriel looked as if he wished he were anywhere else but there. Cecily could hardly blame them. The tension between Will, Jem, and Tessa felt like a powder keg that needed only a match to blow it to kingdom come.