Clockwork Princess (Page 21)

Clockwork Princess(21)
Author: Cassandra Clare

Cecily gave a gasp. Gabriel rose to his feet, and in his expression Tessa saw again the boy who had challenged Will to single combat the first time she had met him-all arrogance, stiffness, and hate. "If you ever dare-," he began.

"Stop," Charlotte said-and then she broke off, as through the windows came the sound of the rusty gates of the Institute grinding open and the clop of horse hooves on pavement. "Oh, by the Angel. Jessamine." Charlotte scrambled to her feet, discarding her napkin on her plate. "Come-we must go down to greet her."

It proved, if an ill-timed arrival in other respects, at least an excellent distraction. There was a slight hubbub, and a deal of puzzlement on the part of Gabriel and Cecily, neither of whom really understood precisely who Jessamine was or the part she had played in the life of the Institute. They proceeded down the corridor in a disorderly fashion, Tessa hanging back slightly; she felt breathless, as if her corset had been laced too tightly. She thought of the night before, holding Jem in the music room as they kissed and whispered to each other for hours of the wedding they would have, the marriage that would follow-as if they had all the time in the world. As if getting married would grant him immortality, though she knew it would not.

As she started down the stairs toward the entryway, she stumbled, distracted. A hand on her arm steadied her. She looked up, and saw Will.

They stood there for a moment, frozen together like a statue. The others were already on their way down the stairs, their voices rising up like smoke. Will’s hand was gentle on Tessa’s arm, though his face was almost expressionless, seeming carved out of granite. "You do not agree with the rest of them, do you?" she said, with more of a sharp edge than she meant. "That I should not marry Jem today. You asked me if I loved him enough to marry him and make him happy, and I told you I did. I don’t know if I can make him happy entirely, but I can try."

"If anyone can, you can," he said, his eyes locking with hers.

"The others think I have illusions about his health."

"Hope is not illusion."

The words were encouraging, but there was something in his voice, something dead that frightened her.

"Will." She caught at his wrist. "You would not abandon me now-not leave me the only one who still searches for a cure? I cannot do it without you."

He took a deep breath, half-closing his shadowed blue eyes. "Of course not. I would not give up on him, on you. I will help. I will continue. It is only-"

He broke off, turning his face away. The light that came down through the window high above illuminated cheek and chin and the curve of his jaw.

"Only what?"

"You remember what else I said to you that day in the drawing room," he said. "I want you to be happy, and him to be happy. And yet when you walk that aisle to meet him and join yourselves forever you will walk an invisible path of the shards of my heart, Tessa. I would give over my own life for either of yours. I would give over my own life for your happiness. I thought perhaps that when you told me you did not love me that my own feelings would fall away and atrophy, but they have not. They have grown every day. I love you now more desperately, this moment, than I have ever loved you before, and in an hour I will love you more than that. It is unfair to tell you this, I know, when you can do nothing about it." He took a shuddering breath. "How you must despise me."

Tessa felt as if the ground had dropped out from beneath her. She remembered what she had told herself the night before: that surely Will’s feelings for her had faded. That over the term of years, his pain would be less than hers. She had believed it. But now- "I do not despise you, Will. You have been nothing but honorable-more honorable than ever I could have asked you to be-"

"No," he said bitterly. "You expected nothing of me, I think."

"I have expected everything of you, Will," she whispered.

"More than you ever expected of yourself. But you have given even more than that." Her voice faltered. "They say you cannot divide your heart, and yet-"

"Will! Tessa!" It was Charlotte’s voice, calling up to them from the entryway. "Do stop dawdling! And can one of you fetch Cyril? We may need help with the carriage if the Silent Brothers intend to stay at all."

Tessa looked helplessly at Will, but the moment between them had snapped; his expression had closed; the desperation that had fueled him a moment before was gone. He was shut away as if a thousand locked doors stood between them. "You go on down. I will be there shortly." He said it without inflection, turned, and sprinted up the steps.

Tessa put a hand against the wall as she made her way numbly down the stairs. What had she almost done? What had she nearly told Will?

And yet I love you.

But God in Heaven, what good would that do, what benefit would it be to anyone to say those words? Only the most awful burden on him, for he would know what she felt but not be able to act on it. And it would tie him to her, would not free him to seek out someone else to love-someone who was not engaged to his best friend.

Someone else to love. She stepped out onto the front stairs of the Institute, feeling the wind cut through her dress like a knife. The others were there, gathered on the steps a bit awkwardly, especially Gabriel and Cecily, who looked as if they were wondering what on earth they were doing there. Tessa barely noticed them. She felt sick at the heart and knew it was not the cold. It was the idea of Will in love with someone else.

But that was pure selfishness. If Will found someone else to love, she would suffer through it, biting her lips in silence, as he had suffered her engagement to Jem. She owed him that much, she thought, as a dark carriage driven by a man in the parchment robes of the Silent Brothers rattled through the open gates. She owed Will behavior that was as honorable as his own.

The carriage clattered up to the foot of the stairs and paused. Tessa felt Charlotte move uneasily behind her. "Another carriage?" she said, and Tessa followed her gaze to see that there was indeed a second carriage, all black with no crest, rolling silently in behind the first.

"An escort," said Gabriel. "Perhaps the Silent Brothers are worried she will try to escape."

"No," said Charlotte, bewilderment shading her voice. "She wouldn’t-"

The Silent Brother driving the first carriage put away his reins and dismounted, moving to the carriage door. At that moment the second carriage pulled up behind him, and he turned. Tessa could not see his expression, as his face was hidden by his hood, but something in the cast of his body betokened surprise. She narrowed her eyes-there was something strange about the horses drawing the second carriage: their bodies gleamed not like the pelts of animals but like metal, and their movements were unnaturally swift.

The driver of the second carriage leaped down from his seat, landing with a jarring thud, and Tessa saw the gleam of metal as his hand went to the neck of his parchment robes-and pulled the robes away.

Beneath was a shimmering metal body with an ovoid head, eyeless, copper rivets holding together the joints of elbows, knees, and shoulders. Its right arm, if you could call it that, ended it a crude bronze crossbow. It raised that arm now and flexed it. A steel arrow, fletched with black metal, flew through the air and punched into the chest of the first Silent Brother, lifting him off his feet and sending him flying several feet across the courtyard, before he struck the earth, blood soaking the chest of the familiar robes.

Chapter 9 Graven in Metal

The liquid ore he drained

Into fit moulds prepared; from which he formed

First his own tools; then, what might else be wrought

Fusil or graven in metal.

-John Milton, Paradise Lost

Silent Brothers, Tessa saw with a frozen shock, bled as red as any mortal man did.

She heard Charlotte shout out orders, and then Henry was tearing down the stairs, racing for the first carriage. He yanked the door open, and Jessamine tumbled out into his arms. Her body was limp, her eyes half-closed. She wore the ragged white dress Tessa had seen her in when she had visited her in the Silent City, and her lovely blond hair was shorn close to her skull like a fever patient’s. "Henry," she sobbed audibly, clutching at his lapels. "Help me, Henry. Get me inside the Institute, please-"

Henry rose, turning, with Jessamine in his arms, just as the doors of the second carriage burst open and automatons poured out, joining the first one. They seemed to be unfolding themselves as they stepped out, like children’s paper toys-one, two, three, and then Tessa lost count as the Shadowhunters around her seized weapons from their belts. She saw the flash of the metal that shot from the tip of Jem’s sword-cane, heard the murmur of Latin as seraph blades blazed up around her like a circle of holy fire.

And the automatons charged. One of them raced toward Henry and Jessamine, while the others darted for the steps. She heard Jem call her name, and realized she had no weapon. She had not planned to train today. She looked around wildly, for anything, for a heavy rock, or even a stick. Inside the entryway there were weapons hung on the walls-as adornment, but a weapon was a weapon. She dashed inside and seized a sword from its peg on the wall before spinning about and racing back outside.

The scene that met her eyes was chaos. Jessamine was on the ground, crouched against a wheel of her carriage, her arms up over her face. Henry stood before her, a seraph blade slashing back and forth in his hands as he fended off the automaton trying to get by him, its spiked hands reaching for Jessamine. The rest of the clockwork creatures had spread out across the steps and were locked in combat with individual Shadowhunters.

As Tessa lifted the sword in her hands, her eyes darted about the courtyard. These automatons were different from those she had seen before. They moved more swiftly, with less jerking to their steps, their copper joints folding and unfolding smoothly.

On the lowest step both Gideon and Gabriel were battling furiously with a ten-foot mechanical monster, its spiked hands swinging down at them like maces. Gabriel already had a wide slash across his shoulder that was pouring blood, but he and his brother were harrying the creature, one from the front, one from the back. Jem rose from a crouch to drive his sword-cane through the head of another automaton. Its arms spasmed and it tried to jerk back, but the sword was buried in its metal skull. Jem tugged his blade free, and when the automaton came at him again, he sliced at its legs, taking one out from under the creature. It lurched to the side, toppling to the cobblestones.

Closer to Tessa, Charlotte’s whip flashed through the air like lightning, slicing the crossbow arm from the first automaton. It did not even slow the creature down. As it reached for her with its second, spatulate and taloned arm, Tessa darted between them and swung her sword the way Gideon had taught her to, using her whole body to drive the force and striking from above to add the power of gravity to her strike.

The blade fell, shearing away the creature’s second arm. This time blackish fluid jetted from the wound. The automaton kept its course, bending to butt at Charlotte with the crown of its head, from which a short, sharp blade protruded. She cried out as it struck her upper arm. Then she flashed forth with her whip, the silver-gold electrum winding about the creature’s throat and pulling tight. Charlotte yanked her wrist back, and the head, sheared away, fell to the side; finally the creature toppled, dark fluid pulsing sluggishly from the gashes in its metal chassis.

Tessa gasped and tossed her head back; sweat was sticking her hair to her forehead and temples, but she needed both hands for the heavy sword and couldn’t push it away. Through stinging eyes she saw that Gabriel and Gideon had their automaton on the ground and were hacking at it; behind them Henry ducked just in time to miss a swing from the creature that had him cornered against the carriage. Its clublike hand punched through the carriage window, and glass rained down on Jessamine, who screamed and covered her head. Henry drove his seraph blade up, burying it in the automaton’s torso. Tessa was used to seeing seraph blades burn through demons, reducing them to nothing, but the automaton only staggered back and then came on again, the blade buried in its chest burning like a torch.

With a cry Charlotte began to dart down the stairs toward her husband. Tessa glanced around-and did not see Jem. Her heart lurched. She took a step forward-

And a dark figure rose up in front of her, robed all in black. Black gloves covered its hands and black boots its feet. Tessa could see nothing but a snow-white face surrounded by the folds of a black hood, as familiar and horrible as a recurring nightmare.

"Hello, Miss Gray," said Mrs. Black.

Despite ducking his head into every room he could think of, Will had not been able to find Cyril. He was irritable about it, and his irritable mood had not been helped by his encounter with Tessa on the stairs. After two months of being so careful around her that it had felt like walking a knife’s edge, he had spilled what he was feeling like blood from an open wound, and only Charlotte’s call had prevented his foolishness from turning into disaster.

And still, her response nagged at him as he made his way down the corridor and past the kitchen. They say you cannot divide your heart, and yet-

And yet what? What had she been about to say?

Bridget’s voice trilled out from the dining room, where she and Sophie were doing the cleaning up.

"’Oh, Mother, Mother, make my bed

Make it soft and narrow.

My William died for love of me,

And I shall die of sorrow.’

"They buried her in the old churchyard.

Sweet William’s grave was nigh hers

And from his grave grew a red, red rose

And from her grave a briar.

"They grew and grew up the old church spire

Until they could grow no higher

And there they twined, in a true love knot,

The red, red rose and the briar."

Will was wondering idly how Sophie refrained from hitting Bridget over the head with a plate, when a shock went through him as if he had been struck in the chest. He stumbled back against the wall with a short gasp, his hand going to his throat. He could feel something beating there, like a second heart against his own. The chain of the pendant Magnus had given him was cold to the touch, and he drew it hastily from his shirt and stared as the pendant that dangled there was revealed-deep red and pulsing with a scarlet light like the center of a flame.