Clockwork Princess (Page 4)

Clockwork Princess(4)
Author: Cassandra Clare

"Tatiana’s carriage," he said shortly as Jem and Tessa reached him. He pointed toward the vehicle drawn up by the steps. Its doors were both open. "She must have decided to pay a call."

"Of all the times …" Gabriel sounded furious, but his green eyes were sick with fear. Tatiana was their sister, recently married. The coat of arms on the carriage, a wreath of thorns, must have been the symbol of her husband’s family, Tessa thought. The group stood frozen, watching, as Gabriel moved to the carriage, slipping a long sabre from his belt. He leaned in the door, and cursed aloud.

He pulled back, his eyes meeting Gideon’s. "There’s blood on the seats," he said. "And … this stuff." He prodded at a wheel with the tip of the sabre; when he drew it away, a long thread of stinking slime trailed from it.

Will whipped a seraph blade from his coat and called aloud, "Eremiel!" As it began to blaze, a pale white star in the autumn light, he pointed first north, then south. "The gardens run all round the house, down to the river," he said. "I ought to know-I chased the demon Marbas all up through here one night. Wherever Benedict is, I doubt he’ll leave these grounds. Too much of a chance of being seen."

"We’ll take the west side of the house. You take the east," said Gabriel. "Shout if you see anything and we’ll converge."

Gabriel cleaned his blade on the gravel of the drive, stood, and followed his brother around the side of the house. Will headed the other way, followed by Jem, with Cecily and Tessa just behind them. Will paused at the corner of the house, scanning the gardens with his gaze, alert for any unusual sight or sound. A moment later, he beckoned for the others to follow.

As they moved forward, the heel of Tessa’s shoe caught on one of the loose bits of gravel beneath the hedges. She stumbled, and immediately righted herself, but Will glanced back, and scowled. "Tessa," he said. There had been a time when he had called her Tess, but no longer. "You shouldn’t be with us. You’re not prepared. At least wait in the carriage."

"I shan’t," said Tessa mutinously.

Will turned back to Jem, who appeared to be hiding a smile. "Tessa’s your fiancee. You make her see sense."

Jem, holding his sword-cane in one hand, moved across the gravel to her. "Tessa, do it as a favor to me, could you?"

"You don’t think I can fight," Tessa said, drawing back and matching his silvery gaze with her own. "Because I’m a girl."

"I don’t think you can fight because you’re wearing a wedding dress," said Jem. "For what it’s worth, I don’t think Will could fight in that dress either."

"Perhaps not," said Will, who had ears like a bat’s. "But I would make a radiant bride."

Cecily raised her hand to point into the distance. "What’s that?"

All four of them whirled to see a figure racing toward them. The sunlight was directly ahead, and for a moment, as Tessa’s eyes adjusted, all she saw was a blur. The blur quickly resolved itself into the figure of a running girl. Her hat was gone; her light brown hair flew on the wind. She was tall and bony, dressed in a bright fuchsia dress that had probably once been elegant but was now torn and bloodstained. She continued shrieking as she barreled toward them and threw herself into Will’s arms.

He staggered backward, nearly dropping Eremiel. "Tatiana-"

Tessa couldn’t quite tell if Will pushed her away or she drew back on her own, but either way Tatiana moved an inch or so away from Will, and Tessa could see her face for the first time. She was a narrow, angular girl. Her hair was sandy like Gideon’s, her eyes green like Gabriel’s, and she might have been pretty had her face not borne the lines of pinched disapproval. Even though she was tearstained and gasping, there was something theatrical about it, as if she were aware of all eyes on her-especially Will’s.

"A great monster," she wept. "A creature-it seized darling Rupert from the carriage and made off with him!"

Will pushed her a bit farther away. "What do you mean ‘made off with him’?"

She pointed. "Th-there," she sobbed. "It dragged him to the Italian gardens. He managed to elude its maw at first, but it harried him through the paths. No matter how much I screamed, it would not put him d-down!" She burst into a fresh wave of tears.

"You screamed," Will said. "Is that all you did?"

"I screamed a great deal." Tatiana sounded injured. She drew fully away from Will and fixed him with a green gaze. "I see you are as ungenerous as you ever were." Her eyes skated to Tessa, Cecily, and Jem. "Mr. Carstairs," she said stiffly, as if they were at a garden party. Her eyes narrowed as they fell on Cecily. "And you-"

"Oh, in the name of the Angel!" Will pushed past her; Jem, with a smile at Tessa, followed.

"You cannot be other than Will’s sister," said Tatiana to Cecily as the boys vanished into the distance. Tessa she pointedly ignored.

Cecily looked at her incredulously. "I am, though I cannot imagine what difference it makes. Tessa-are you coming?"

"I am," Tessa said, and joined her; whether Will wanted her there or not-or Jem either-she could not watch the two of them walk into danger and not want to be where they were. After a moment she heard Tatiana’s reluctant footsteps on the gravel behind her.

They were moving away from the house, toward the formal gardens half-hidden behind their high hedges. In the distance sunlight sparked off a wood-and-glass greenhouse with a cupola on the roof. It was a fine autumn day: There was a brisk wind, the smell of leaves in the air. Tessa heard a rustle and glanced at the house behind her. Its smooth white facade rose high, broken only by the arches of balconies.

"Will," she whispered as he reached up and unlocked her hands from around his neck. He drew her gloves off, and they joined her mask and Jessie’s pins on the stone floor of the balcony. He pulled off his own mask next and cast it aside, running his hands through his damp black hair, pushing it back from his forehead. The lower edge of the mask had left marks across his high cheekbones, like light scars, but when she reached to touch them, he gently caught at her hands and pressed them down.

"No," he said. "Let me touch you first. I have wanted …"

Blushing furiously, Tessa pulled her gaze away from the house and the memories it contained. The group had reached a gap in the hedges on their right. Through it what was clearly "the Italian garden" was visible, ringed round by foliage. Within the circle the garden was lined with rows of statuary depicting classical heroes and figures of myth. Venus poured water from an urn in a central fountain, while statues of great historians and statesmen-Caesar, Herodotus, Thucydides-regarded each other with blank eyes across the walkways that radiated out from the central point. There were also poets and playwrights. Tessa, hurrying along, passed Aristotle, Ovid, Homer-his eyes bound with a stone mask to indicate his blindness-Virgil and Sophocles, before an earsplitting scream rent the air.

She whirled around. Several feet behind her Tatiana was standing stock-still, her eyes bulging out of her head. Tessa dashed back toward her, the others on her heels; she reached the girl first, and Tatiana caught at her blindly, as if forgetting for the moment who Tessa was. "Rupert," Tatiana moaned, staring ahead of her, and Tessa, following her gaze, saw a man’s boot protruding from behind a hedge. She thought for a moment that he must have been lying stunned upon the ground, the rest of his body hidden by foliage, but as she leaned forward, she realized that the boot-and the several inches of gnawed-upon, bloody flesh that protruded from the boot’s opening-were all there was to see.

"A forty-foot worm?" Will muttered to Jem as they moved through the Italian garden, their boots-thanks to a pair of Soundless runes-making no noise on the gravel. "Think of the size of the fish we could catch."

Jem’s lips twitched. "It’s not funny, you know."

"It is a bit."

"You cannot reduce the situation to worm jokes, Will. This is Gabriel and Gideon’s father we’re discussing."

"We’re not just discussing him; we’re chasing him through an ornamental sculpture garden because he’s turned into a worm."

"A demonic worm," said Jem, pausing to peer cautiously around a hedgerow. "A great serpent. Would that help your inappropriate humor?"

"There was a time when my inappropriate humor brought you a certain amusement," sighed Will. "How the worm has turned."

"Will-"

Jem was interrupted by an earsplitting scream. Both boys spun, in time to see Tatiana Blackthorn reel backward into Tessa’s arms. Tessa caught the other girl, supporting her, as Cecily moved toward a gap in the hedges, whipping a seraph blade from her belt with the ease of a practiced Shadowhunter. Will did not hear her speak, but the blade sprang up in her hand, lighting her face and setting a sick blaze of dread alight in Will’s stomach.

He began to run, Jem at his heels. Tatiana was sagging limply in Tessa’s arms, her face starkly twisted into a wail. "Rupert! Rupert!" Tessa was struggling with the other girl’s weight, and Will wanted to pause to help her-but Jem already had, his hand on Tessa’s arm, and it was reasonable. It was his place, as her fiance.

Will savagely yanked his attention away, back to his sister, who was moving between the gap in the hedges, her blade held high as she edged around the grisly remains of Rupert Blackthorn.

"Cecily!" Will called in exasperation. She began to turn-

And the world exploded. A fountain of dirt and mud sprayed up before them, geysering into the sky. Clods of earth and mud clattered down on them like hail. In the center of the geyser-an enormous, blind serpent, a pale grayish-white color. The color of dead flesh, Will thought. A stench came off it like the stench of a grave. Tatiana gave a wail and went limp, pulling Tessa to the ground with her.

The worm began to fling itself to and fro, trying to pull free of the earth. Its mouth opened-it was less of a mouth and more of an enormous slash bisecting its head, lined with sharklike teeth. A great keening hiss came from its throat.

"Halt!" Cecily cried. She held her blazing seraph blade out in front of her; she looked absolutely fearless. "Get back, damned creature!"

The worm lashed down toward her. She stood fast, her blade in hand, as its great jaws descended-and Will leaped at her, knocking her out of the way. They both rolled into a hedge as the worm’s head struck the ground where she had been standing, leaving a sizeable dent.

"Will!" Cecily pulled herself away from him, but not quite in time. Her seraph blade slashed across his forearm, leaving a red burn behind. Her eyes were blue fire. "That was unnecessary!"

"You’re not trained!" Will shouted, half out of his mind with fury and terror. "You’ll get yourself killed! Stay where you are!" He reached for her blade, but she twisted away from him and onto her feet. A moment later the worm was surging down again, its mouth open. Will had dropped his own blade diving for his sister; it was several feet away. He leaped to the side, avoiding the creature’s jaws by inches, and then Jem was there, sword-cane in hand. He drove the blade up, hard, into the side of the worm’s body. A hellish scream burst from its throat, and it whipped backward, spraying black blood. With a hiss it disappeared behind a hedgerow.

Will spun around. He could barely see Cecily; Jem had thrown himself between her and Benedict, and he was spattered in black blood and mud. Behind Jem, Tessa had dragged Tatiana into her lap; their skirts belled out together, Tatiana’s gaudy pink mixing with the ruined gold of Tessa’s wedding dress. Tessa had bent over her as if to protect her from the sight of her father, and much of the demon blood had splashed upon Tessa’s hair and clothes. She looked up, her face pale, and her eyes met Will’s.

For a moment the garden, the noise, the stench of blood and demon, vanished away, and he was alone in a soundless place with only Tessa. He wanted to run to her, wrap her in his arms. Protect her.

But it was Jem’s place to do those things, not his. Not his.

The moment passed, and Tessa was on her feet, pulling Tatiana up by main force, looping the other girl’s arm about her own shoulders even as Tatiana lolled against her, half-conscious.

"You must move her from here. She’ll be killed," Will said, sweeping his gaze over the garden. "She has no training."

Tessa’s mouth began to set in its familiar, stubborn line. "I don’t wish to leave you."

Cecily looked horrified. "You don’t think … Wouldn’t the creature hold off? She’s his daughter. If it-if he-has any family feeling left-"

"He consumed his son-in-law, Cecy," Will snapped. "Tessa, go with Tatiana if you want to save her life. And stay with her by the house. It would be a disaster if she came rushing back here."

"Thank you, Will," Jem murmured as Tessa drew the stumbling girl away as quickly as she could, and Will felt the words as three needle pricks inside his heart. Always when Will did something to protect Tessa, Jem thought it was for his sake, not for Will’s. Always Will wished Jem could be entirely right. Each needle prick had its own name. Guilt. Shame. Love.

Cecily screamed. A shadow blotted out the sun, and the hedgerow in front of Will burst apart. He found himself staring down the dark red gullet of the massive worm. Ropes of spittle hung between its enormous teeth. Will snatched for the sword at his belt, but the worm was already rearing back, a dagger protruding from the side of its neck. Will recognized it without turning. It was Jem’s. He heard his parabatai cry out a warning, and then the worm was hurtling toward Will again and he slammed his sword upward, through the underside of its jaw. Blood spurted through its teeth, splattering Will’s gear with a hissing noise. Something struck the back of his knees and, unprepared, he went over hard, his shoulders slamming into the turf.

He choked as the wind was knocked out of him. The worm’s thin, annulated tail was wrapped around his knees. He kicked out, seeing stars, Jem’s anxious face, blue sky above him-

Thunk. An arrow embedded itself in the worm’s tail, just below Will’s knee. Benedict’s grip loosened, and Will rolled away across the dirt and struggled to his knees, just in time to see Gideon and Gabriel Lightwood pounding toward them across the dirt path. Gabriel held a bow. He was notching it again as he ran, and Will realized with a distant surprise that Gabriel Lightwood had just shot his father to save Will’s life.