Clockwork Princess (Page 22)

Clockwork Princess(22)
Author: Cassandra Clare

Dimly he was aware that Bridget had stopped singing, and that both girls had crowded into the doorway of the dining room, staring at him in owlish astonishment. He released the pendant, letting it fall against his chest.

"What is it, Master Will?" Sophie said. She had stopped calling him Mr. Herondale since the truth of his curse had come out, though he still wondered sometimes if she liked him very much. "Are you well?"

"It is not I," he said. "We must go downstairs, quickly. Something has gone terribly wrong."

"But you’re dead," Tessa gasped, backing up a step. "I saw you die-"

She broke off with a shriek as long metal arms snaked around from behind her like bands, jerking her off her feet. Her sword clattered to the ground as an automaton’s grip tightened about her, and Mrs. Black smiled her terrible cold smile.

"Now, now, Miss Gray. Aren’t you at least a little glad to see me? After all, I was the first to welcome you to England. Though you’ve made yourself quite at home since, I daresay."

"Let me go!" Tessa kicked out hard, but the automaton only slammed its head into hers, making her bite down hard on her lip. She choked and spit: saliva and blood spattered Mrs. Black’s still white face. "I’d rather die than go with you-"

The Dark Sister wiped away the fluid with a glove and a scowl of distaste. "Unfortunately, that cannot be arranged. Mortmain wants you alive." She snapped her fingers at the automaton. "Take her to the carriage."

The automaton took a step forward, Tessa in its arms-and collapsed forward. Tessa barely had time to throw her arms out to break her fall as they hit the ground, the clockwork creature on top of her. Agony shot through her right wrist, but she pushed against it anyway, a scream ripping free of her throat as she tore herself sideways and slid down several steps, Mrs. Black’s shriek of frustration echoing in her ears.

She looked up dizzily. Mrs. Black was gone. The automaton that had been holding Tessa listed sideways on the steps, part of its metal body sheared away. Tessa caught a quick glimpse of what was inside it as it turned: gears and mechanisms and clear tubes pumping brackish fluid. Jem stood behind and above it, breathing hard, splattered with the automaton’s oily black blood. His face was white and set. He glanced at her quickly, a swift check to assess that she was all right, and sprang down the stairs, slicing again at the automaton, severing one of its legs from its torso. It spasmed like a dying snake, and its remaining arm shot out and seized Jem by the ankle and yanked hard.

Jem’s feet went out from under him, and he clattered to the ground, rolling over and over down the steps, clutched in an awful embrace with the metal monster. The noise as the automaton skidded down, of metal being dragged along stone, was awful. As they hit the ground together, the force of the fall knocked them apart. Tessa stared in horror as Jem staggered dizzily to his feet, his own red blood mixing with the black fluid staining his clothes. His sword-cane was gone-lying on one of the stone steps where he had dropped it as he’d fallen.

"Jem," she whispered, and hauled herself to her knees. She tried to crawl forward, but her wrist gave way; she dropped to her elbows and reached for the cane-

Just as arms came around her, jerking her upright, and she heard Mrs. Black’s hissing voice in her ear. "Don’t struggle, Miss Gray, or it’ll go very badly for you, very badly indeed." Tessa tried to twist away, but something soft came down over her mouth and nose. She smelled a sickly sweet stench, and then blackness came down over her vision and carried her away into unconsciousness.

Seraph blade in hand, Will bolted out of the open door of the Institute and into a scene of chaos.

He looked automatically for Tessa first, but she was nowhere to be seen-thank God. She must have had the sense to hide herself away. A black carriage was drawn up at the foot of the steps. Slumped against one of the wheels, amid a pile of broken glass, was Jessamine. On either side of her were Henry and Charlotte: Henry with his sword and Charlotte with her whip, fending off three long-legged metal automatons with bladed arms and smooth, blank heads. Jem’s sword-cane lay on the steps, which were everywhere slippery with oily black fluid. Near the doors Gabriel and Gideon Lightwood were fighting another two automatons with the practiced competence of two warriors who had trained together for years. Cecily was kneeling by the body of a Silent Brother, his robes stained scarlet with blood.

The Institute gates were open, and through them was pounding a second black carriage, hurtling away from the Institute at top speed. But Will barely spared it a thought, for at the foot of the stairs was Jem. As pale as paper but upright, he was backing away as another automaton advanced on him. It was staggering, almost drunkenly, half its side and an arm sheared away, but Jem was unarmed.

The cold sharpness of battle came over Will, and everything seemed to slow down around him. He was aware that Sophie and Bridget, both armed, had fanned out on either side of him-that Sophie had run to Cecily’s side, and that Bridget, a whirl of red hair and slashing blades, was busy reducing a surprisingly enormous automaton to scrap metal with a ferocity that would in other cases have astonished him. But his world had narrowed, narrowed to the automatons and to Jem, who, looking up, saw him and reached out a hand.

Leaping down four steps and skidding sideways, Will seized up Jem’s sword-cane and threw it. Jem caught it out of the air just as the automaton lunged for him, and Jem carved it cleanly in two. The top half fell away, though the legs and lower torso, now pumping an excess of disgusting black and greenish fluids, continued lurching toward him. Jem whirled to the side and swung his sword again, cutting the thing off at the knees. It fell finally, its disparate bits still twitching.

Jem turned his head and looked up at Will. Their eyes met for a moment, and Will offered a smile-but Jem did not smile back; he was as white as salt, and Will could not read his eyes. Was he injured? He was covered in so much oil and fluid that Will could not tell if he was bleeding. Anxiety spearing through him, Will began to move down the stairs toward Jem-but before he could go more than a few steps, Jem had whirled around and run for the gates. As Will stared, Jem disappeared through them, vanishing into the streets of London beyond.

Will broke into a run-and was brought up short at the foot of the steps when an automaton slid in front of him, moving as quickly and gracefully as water, to block his pathway. Its arms ended in long scissors; Will ducked as one slashed at his face, and Will drove his seraph blade into its chest.

There was the spitting noise of melting metal, but the creature only staggered back a foot and then lunged again. Will ducked under its bladed arms, seizing a dagger from his belt. He whirled back, slashing out with the blade-only to see the automaton suddenly come apart in ribbons before him, great slices of metal peeling back like the skin of an orange. Black fluid boiled up and splashed across his face as the thing went down in crumpled pieces.

He stared. Bridget looked at him serenely across its ruined body. Her hair was standing out around her head in a frizz of red curls, and her white apron was covered in black blood, but she was expressionless. "You ought to be more careful," she said. "Don’t you think?"

Will was speechless; fortunately, Bridget did not seem to be waiting for an answer. She tossed her hair and walked away toward Henry, who was battling a particularly fearsome-looking automaton, at least fourteen feet high. Henry had deprived it of one of its arms, but the other, a long, multi-jointed monstrosity ending in a curved blade like a kindjal, was still stabbing at him. Bridget walked up behind it calmly and stuck it through the jointure of the torso with her blade. Sparks flew, and the creature began to totter forward. Jessamine, still crouched against the wheel of the carriage, gave a scream and began to crawl out of its way on her hands and knees, toward Will.

Will watched her in stunned surprise for a moment as she bloodied her hands and knees on the glass shards of the broken carriage window but kept crawling. Then, as if slapped into action, he moved forward, darting around Bridget until he reached Jessie, and slid his arms under her, deadlifting her from the ground. She gave a little gasp-his name, he thought-and then went limp against him, only her hands tautly gripping his lapels.

He carried her away from the brougham, his eyes on what was happening in the courtyard. Charlotte had dispatched her automaton, and Bridget and Henry were in the middle of slicing another into bits. Sophie, Gideon, Gabriel, and Cecily had two automatons on the ground among them, and were carving them up like a Christmas roast. Jem had not returned.

"Will," Jessie said, her voice a weak thread. "Will, please set me down."

"I need to get you inside, Jessamine."

"No." She coughed, and Will saw to his horror that blood was running from the corners of her mouth. "I won’t survive that long. Will-if ever you cared about me at all, even a bit, put me down."

Will sank to the foot of the stairs with Jessie in his arms, trying his best to cradle her head against his shoulder. Blood freely stained her throat and the front of her white dress, pasting the material to her body. She was terribly thin, her collarbone sticking out like the wings of a bird, her cheeks sunk into hollows. She resembled a patient staggering out of Bedlam more than the pretty girl who had left them only eight weeks ago.

"Jess," he said softly. "Jessie. Where are you hurt?"

She gave a ghastly sort of smile. Red rimmed the edges of her teeth. "One of the creature’s talons went through my back," she whispered, and indeed, as Will looked down, he saw that the back of her dress was soaked through with blood. Blood stained his hands, his trousers, his shirt, filling his throat with its choking coppery smell. "It pierced my heart. I can feel it."

"An iratze-" Will began to fumble at his belt for his stele.

"No iratze will help me now." Her voice was sure.

"Then the Silent Brothers-"

"Even their power cannot save me. Besides, I cannot bear to have them touch me again. I would rather die. I am dying, and I am glad of it."

Will looked down at her, stunned. He could remember when Jessie had come to the Institute, fourteen years old and as wicked as an angry cat with all her claws out. He had never been kind to her, nor she to him-he had never been kind to anyone save Jem-but Jessie had saved him the trouble of regretting it. Still, he had admired her in an odd way, admired the strength of her hatred and the force of her will.

"Jessie." He put his hand on her cheek, awkwardly smearing the blood.

"You needn’t." She coughed again. "Be kind to me, that is. I know you hate me."

"I don’t hate you."

"You never visited me in the Silent City. The others all came. Tessa and Jem, Henry and Charlotte. But not you. You are not forgiving, Will."

"No." He said it because it was true, and because part of the reason he had never liked Jessamine was that in some ways she reminded him of himself. "Jem is the forgiving one."

"And yet I always liked you better." Her eyes darted over his face thoughtfully. "Oh, no, not like that. Don’t think it. But the way you hated yourself … I understood that. Jem always wanted to give me a chance, as Charlotte did. But I do not want the gifts of generous hearts. I want to be seen as I am. And because you do not pity me, I know if I ask you to do something, you will do it."

She gave a gasping breath. The blood had formed bubbles about her mouth. Will knew what that meant: Her lungs were punctured or dissolving, and she was drowning in her own blood. "What is it?" he said urgently. "What is it you want me to do?"

"Take care of them," she whispered. "Baby Jessie and the others."

It took Will a moment before he realized that she meant her dolls. Good God. "I will not let them destroy any of your things, Jessamine."

She gave the ghost of a smile. "I thought they might-not want anything to remember me by."

"You are not hated, Jessamine. Whatever world lies beyond this one, do not go to it thinking that."

"Oh, no?" Her eyes were fluttering shut. "Though surely you would all have liked me a bit better if I had told you where Mortmain was. I might not have lost your love then."

"Tell me now," Will urged. "Tell me, if you can, and earn that love back-"

"Idris," she whispered.

"Jessamine, we know that’s not true-"

Jessamine’s eyes flew open. The whites were tinted scarlet now, like blood in water. "You," she said. "You of all people should have understood." Her fingers tightened suddenly, spasmodically, on his lapel. "You are a terrible Welshman," she said thickly, and then her chest hitched, and did not hitch again. She was dead.

Her eyes were open, fixed on his face. He touched them lightly, closing her eyelids, leaving the bloody prints of his thumb and forefinger behind. "Ave atque vale, Jessamine Lovelace."

"No!" It was Charlotte. Will looked up through a mist of shock to see others gathered about him-Charlotte, slumped in Henry’s arms; Cecily with her eyes wide; and Bridget, holding two oil-spattered blades, quite expressionless. Behind them Gideon was sitting on the steps of the Institute with his brother and Sophie on either side of him. He was leaning back, very pale, his jacket off; a torn strip of cloth was tied about one of his legs, and Gabriel was applying what was likely a healing rune to his arm.

Henry nuzzled his face into Charlotte’s neck and murmured soothing things as tears ran down his wife’s face. Will looked at them, and then at his sister.

"Jem," he said, and the name was a question.

"He went off after Tessa," said Cecily. She was staring down at Jessamine, her expression a mixture of pity and horror.

A white light seemed to flash in front of Will’s eyes. "Went off after Tessa? What do you mean?"

"One-one of the automatons seized her and threw her into a carriage." Cecily faltered at the fierceness in his tone. "None of us could follow. The creatures were blocking us. Then Jem ran through the gates. I assumed-"