Clockwork Princess (Page 33)

Clockwork Princess(33)
Author: Cassandra Clare

Will Herondale

Having sealed the letter, Will called over the landlord and confirmed that for half a crown, the boy would bring it to the night coach for delivery. Having made his payment, Will sat back, considering whether he should force down another glass of wine to ensure that he could sleep-when a sharp, stabbing pain shot through his chest. It felt like being shot with an arrow, and Will jerked back. His wineglass crashed to the floor and shattered. He lurched to his feet, leaning both hands on the table. He was vaguely aware of stares, and the landlord’s anxious voice in his ear, but the pain was too great to think through, almost too great to breathe through.

The tightness in his chest, the one that he had thought of as one end of a cord tying him to Jem, had pulled so taut that it was strangling his heart. He stumbled away from his table, pushing through a knot of customers near the bar, and passed to the front door of the inn. All he could think of was air, getting air into his lungs to breathe.

He pushed the doors open and half-tumbled out into the night. For a moment the pain in his chest eased, and he fell back against the wall of the inn. Rain was sheeting down, soaking his hair and clothes. He gasped, his heart stuttering with a mixture of terror and desperation. Was this just the distance from Jem affecting him? He had never felt anything like this, even when Jem had been at his worst, even when he’d been injured and Will had ached with sympathetic pain.

The cord snapped.

For a moment everything went white, the courtyard bleaching through as if with acid. Will jackknifed to his knees, vomiting up his supper into the mud. When the spasms had passed, he staggered to his feet and blindly away from the inn, as if trying to outrace his own pain. He fetched up against the wall of the stables, beside the horse trough. He dropped to his knees to plunge his hands into the icy water-and saw his own reflection. There was his face, as white as death, and his shirt, and a spreading stain of red across the front.

With wet hands he seized at his lapels and jerked the shirt open. In the dim light that spilled from the inn, he could see that his parabatai rune, just over his heart, was bleeding.

His hands were covered in blood, blood mixed with rain, the same rain that was washing the blood away from his chest, showing the rune as it began to fade from black to silver, changing all that had been sense in Will’s life into nonsense.

Jem was dead.

Tessa had been walking for hours, and her thin shoes were cut through from the jagged rocks by the riverbed. She had started out almost running, but exhaustion and cold had overtaken her, and now she was limping slowly, if determinedly, downstream. The soaked material of her skirts dragged her down, feeling like an anchor that would pull her to the bottom of some terrible sea.

She had seen no sign of human habitation for miles, and was beginning to despair of her plan, when a clearing came into view. It had begun to rain lightly, but even through the drizzle she could see the outline of a low stone building. As she drew closer, she saw that it seemed to be a small house, with a thatched roof and overgrown path leading to the front door.

She picked up her pace, hurrying now, thinking of a kindly farmer and his wife, the kind in books who would take in a young girl and help contact her family, as the Rivers had done for Jane in Jane Eyre. As she drew closer, though, she noticed the dirty and broken windows and the grass growing on the thatched roof. Her heart sank. The house was deserted.

The door was already part open, the wood swelled with rain. There was something frightening about the house’s emptiness, but Tessa was desperate for shelter from both the rain and any pursuers that Mortmain might have sent after her. She clung to the hope that Mrs. Black would think she had died in the fall, but she doubted that Mortmain would be so easily put off her trail. After all, if anyone knew what her clockwork angel could do, it would be him.

There was grass growing between the flagstones of the floor inside the house, and the hearth was dirty, with a blackened pot still hanging over the remains of the fire and the whitewashed walls dingy with soot and the passage of time. There was a tangle of what looked like farming implements near the door. One resembled a long metal stick with a curved forked end, the tines still sharp. Knowing she might need some means of defense, she caught it up, then moved from the entrance room into the only other room the house had: a small bedroom in which she was delighted to find a musty blanket on the bed.

She looked down hopelessly at her wet dress. It would take ages to remove without Sophie’s help, and she was desperate for warmth. She wrapped the blanket around herself, wet clothes and all, and curled up on the prickly hay-stuffed mattress. It smelled of mold and probably had mice living in it, but at this moment it felt like the most luxurious bed Tessa had ever stretched herself upon.

Tessa knew it was wiser to stay awake. But despite everything, she could no longer withstand the demands of her battered and exhausted body. Clutching the metal weapon to her chest, she slid away into sleep.

"So this is him, then? The Nephilim?"

Will did not know how long he had been sitting slumped against the wall of the stable, growing ever wetter with the rain, when the growling voice came out of the darkness. He lifted his head, too late to ward off the hand reaching for him. A moment later it had grabbed his collar and hauled him to his feet.

He stared through eyes dimmed by rain and agony at a group of werewolves standing in a half circle around him. There were perhaps five of them, including the one who had him slammed up against the stable wall, a hand fisted in his bloody shirt. They were all dressed similarly, in black garb so wet with rain, it shone like oilskin. All were hatless, their hair-worn long as werewolves did-plastered to their heads.

"Get your hands off me," Will said. "The Accords forbid touching a Nephilim unprovoked-"

"Unprovoked?" The werewolf in front of him yanked him forward and slammed him back against the wall again. In ordinary circumstances it most likely would have hurt, but these were not ordinary circumstances. The physical pain of Will’s parabatai rune had faded, but his whole body felt dry and hollow, all the meaning sucked out of the center of him. "I’d say it’s provoked. If it wasn’t for you Nephilim, the Magister never would have come after our lot with his dirty drugs and his filthy lies-"

Will looked at the werewolves with an emotion bordering on hilarity. Did they really think they could hurt him, after what he had lost? For five years it had been his absolute truth. Jem and Will. Will and Jem. Will Herondale lives, therefore Jem Carstairs lives also. Quod erat demonstrandum. To lose an arm or a leg would be painful, he imagined, but to lose the central truth of your life felt-fatal.

"Dirty drugs and filthy lies," Will drawled. "That does sound unsanitary. Though, tell me, is it true that instead of bathing, werewolves just lick themselves once a year? Or do you all lick one another? Because that’s what I’ve heard."

The hand in his shirt tightened. "You want to be a little more respectful, Shadowhunter."

"No," Will said. "No, I really don’t."

"We’ve heard all about you, Will Herondale," said one of the other werewolves. "Always crawling to Downworlders for help. We’d like to see you crawl now."

"You’ll have to cut me off at the knees, then."

"That," said the werewolf holding Will, "can be arranged."

Will exploded into action. He slammed his head into the face of the werewolf in front of him. He both heard and felt the sick crunch of the werewolf’s nose breaking, hot blood spurting over the man’s face as he staggered back across the courtyard and crumpled onto his knees on the cobblestones. His hands were pressed to his face, trying to stem the flow of blood.

A hand grasped Will’s shoulder, claws piercing the fabric of Will’s wet shirt. He whirled around to face the wolves and saw in this second werewolf’s hand, silvery in the moonlight, the sharp gleam of a knife. His assailant’s eyes shone through the rain, gold-green and menacing.

They did not come out here to taunt or hurt me, Will realized. They came out here to kill me.

For one black moment Will was tempted to let them. The thought of it seemed like an enormous relief-all pain gone, all responsibility gone, a simple submersion in death and forgetting. He stood without moving as the knife swung toward him. Everything seemed to be happening very slowly-the iron edge of the knife swinging toward him, the sneering face of the werewolf blurred by the rain.

The image he had dreamed the night before flashed before his eyes: Tessa, running up a green path toward him. Tessa. His hand came up automatically and grasped the werewolf’s wrist in one hand as he ducked the blow, swinging under the wolf’s arm. He brought the arm down hard, breaking the bone with a savage splintering. The lycanthrope screamed, and a dark bolt of glee shot through Will. The dagger fell to the cobblestones as Will kicked his opponent’s legs out from under him, then slammed his elbow into the man’s temple. The wolf went down in a heap and didn’t move again.

Will snatched up the dagger and turned to face the others. There were only three of them standing now, and they looked decidedly less sure of themselves than they had before. He grinned, cold and terrible, and tasted the metal of rain and blood in his mouth. "Come and kill me," he said. "Come and kill me if you think you can." He kicked the unconscious werewolf at his feet. "You’ll have to do better than your friends."

They lunged at him, claws out, and Will went down hard onto the cobblestones, his head cracking against the stone. A set of claws raked his shoulder; he rolled sideways under a flurry of blows and lashed upward with his dagger. There was a high yelp of pain that ended on a whine, and the weight on top of Will, which had been moving and struggling, went limp. Will rolled to the side and sprang to his feet, spinning around.

The wolf he had stabbed lay open-eyed, dead in a widening pool of blood and rainwater. The two remaining werewolves were struggling to their feet, caked in mud and drenched in water. Will was bleeding from his shoulder where one of them had dug deep furrows with his claws; the pain was glorious. He laughed through the blood and the mud as the rain sluiced the blood from the blade of his dagger. "Again," he said, and barely recognized his own voice, strained and cracked and deadly. "Again."

One of the werewolves spun and bolted. Will laughed again and moved toward the last of them, who stood, frozen, clawed hands extended-with bravery or terror, Will wasn’t sure, and didn’t care. His dagger felt like an extension of his wrist, part of his arm. One good blow and a jerk upward, and he would rip through bone and cartilage, stabbing toward the heart-

"Stop!" The voice was hard, commanding, familiar. Will cut his eyes to the side. Striding across the courtyard, his shoulders hunched against the rain, his expression furious, was Woolsey Scott. "I command you, both of you, stop this instant!"

The werewolf dropped his hands to his sides instantly, his claws vanishing. He bent his head, the classic gesture of submission. "Master-"

A boiling tide of rage poured over Will, obliterating rationality, sense, everything but rage. He reached out and jerked the werewolf toward him, his arm wrapping the man’s neck, blade against his throat. Woolsey, only a few feet away, came up short, his green eyes shooting daggers.

"Come any closer," Will said, "and I’ll cut your little wolfling’s throat."

"I told you to stop," Woolsey said in a measured tone. He was wearing, as he always was, a beautifully cut suit, a brocade riding coat atop it, everything now liberally soaked with rain. His fair hair, plastered to his face and neck, was colorless with water. "Both of you."

"But I don’t have to listen to you!" Will shouted. "I was winning! Winning!" He glanced about the courtyard at the three scattered bodies of the wolves he had fought-two unconscious, one dead. "Your pack attacked me unprovoked. They broke the Accords. I was defending myself. They broke the Law!" His voice rose, harsh and unrecognizable. "I am owed their blood, and I will have it!"

"Yes, yes, buckets of blood," said Woolsey. "And what would you do with it if you had it? You don’t care about this werewolf. Let him go."

"No."

"At least let him free so he can fight you," Woolsey said.

Will hesitated, then released his grip on the werewolf he held, who faced his pack leader, looking terrified. Woolsey snapped his fingers in the wolf’s direction. "Run, Conrad," he said. "Fast. And now."

The werewolf didn’t need to be told twice; he turned on his heels and darted away, vanishing behind the stables. Will turned back to Woolsey with a sneer.

"So your pack are all cowards," he said. "Five against one Shadowhunter? Is that how it is?"

"I didn’t tell them to come out here after you. They’re young. And stupid. And impetuous. And half their pack was killed by Mortmain. They blame your kind." Woolsey stepped a little closer, his eyes raking up and down Will, as cold as green ice. "I assume your parabatai is dead, then," he added with shocking casualness.

Will was not ready to hear the words at all, would never be ready. The battle had cleared his head of the pain for a moment. Now it threatened to return, all-encompassing and terrifying. He gasped as if Woolsey had punched him, and took an involuntary step back.

"And you’re trying to get yourself killed because of it, Nephilim boy? Is that what’s going on?"

Will swiped his wet hair out of his face and looked at Woolsey with hatred. "Maybe I am."

"Is that how you respect his memory?"

"What does it matter?" Will said. "He’s dead. He’ll never know what I do or what I don’t do."

"My brother is dead," Woolsey said. "I still struggle to fulfill his wishes, to continue the Praetor Lupus in his memory, and to live as he would have had me live. Do you think I’m the sort of person who would ever be found in a place like this, consuming pig swill and drinking vinegar, knee deep in mud, watching some tedious Shadowhunter brat destroy even more of my already diminished pack, if it weren’t for the fact that I serve a greater purpose than my own desires and sorrows? And so do you, Shadowhunter. So do you."