Clockwork Princess (Page 41)

Clockwork Princess(41)
Author: Cassandra Clare

Tessa could not help herself-she thought of A Tale of Two Cities, of Lucie Manette’s appeals to Sydney Carton’s better nature. She had always thought of Will as Sydney, consumed by sin and despair against his own better knowledge, even against his own desire. But Will was a good man, a much better one than Carton had ever been. And Mortmain was barely a man at all. It was not his better nature she appealed to but his vanity: All men thought of themselves as good in the end, surely. No one believed themselves a villain. She took a breath. "Surely that is not so-surely you might again be worthy and good. You have done what you set out to do. You have brought life and intelligence to these-these Infernal Devices of yours. You have created that which might destroy the Shadowhunters. All your life you have pursued justice because you believed the Shadowhunters were corrupt and vicious. Now, if you stay your hand, you win the greatest victory. You show that you are better than they."

She searched Mortmain’s face with her eyes. Surely there was some hesitation there-surely the thin lips were shaking slightly, surely there was the tension of doubt in his shoulders?

His mouth quirked into a smile. "You think, then, that I can be a better man? And if I were to do as you say, to stay my hand, you would have me believe that you would stay with me out of admiration, that you would not return to the Shadowhunters?"

"Why, yes, Mr. Mortmain. I swear it." She swallowed against the bitterness in her throat. If she had to remain with Mortmain in order to save Will and Jem, to save Charlotte and Henry and Sophie, she would do it. "I believe you can find your better self; I believe we all can."

His thin lips turned up at the corners. "It is afternoon already, Miss Gray," he said. "I did not wish to wake you earlier. Come with me now, outside the mountain. Come and see this day’s work, for there is something that I wish to show you."

A finger of ice touched her spine. She straightened. "And what is that?"

His smile spread across his face. "What I have been waiting for."

To: Consul Josiah Wayland

From: Inquisitor Victor Whitelaw

Josiah: Forgive my informality, for I write in haste. I am certain that this will not be the only letter you will receive on this subject; in fact, it is likely not even the first. I myself have already received many. Each touches upon the same question that burns in my mind: Is Charlotte Branwell’s information correct? For if so, it seems to me that there is a more than likely chance that the Magister is indeed in Wales. I know of your doubts in the veracity of William Herondale, but we both knew his father. A hasty soul, and too greatly ruled by his passions, but a more honest man you could not find. I do not think the younger Herondale a liar.

Regardless, as a result of Charlotte’s message, the Clave is in chaos. I insist that we hold a dedicated Council meeting immediately. If we do not, the trust of the Shadowhunters in their Consul and their Inquisitor will be irrevocably eroded. I leave the announcement of the meeting in your hands, but this is not a request. Send out the call for the Council, or I shall resign my position and let it be known why.

Victor Whitelaw

Will was awoken by screams.

Years of training made themselves known instantly: He was on the floor in a crouch before he was even properly awake. Glancing around, he saw that the small room of the inn was empty save for himself, and the furniture-narrow bed and plain deal table, barely visible in the shadows-was undisturbed.

The screams came again, louder. They were emanating from outside the window. Will rose to his feet, crossed the room soundlessly, and twitched one of the curtains back to look out.

He barely remembered walking into town, leading Balios behind him, the horse clopping slowly in exhaustion. A small Welsh town, like other small Welsh towns, unremarkable in any particular way. He had found the local public house easily and turned Balios over to the ministrations of the stable-boy, ordering the horse rubbed down and fed a hot bran mash to revive him. The fact that he spoke Welsh had seemed to relax the innkeeper, and he had been shown quickly to a private room, where he had collapsed almost immediately, fully clothed, onto the bed and fallen into dreamless sleep.

The moon was bright above, its position indicating that it was not yet late in the evening. A gray haze seemed to hang over the town. For a moment Will thought it was mist. Then, inhaling, he realized it was smoke. Patches of bright red leaped up among the houses in the town. He narrowed his eyes. Figures were darting back and forth within the shadows. More screams-a flash that could only be blades-

He was out the door with his boots half-laced in barely a moment, seraph blade in hand. He pounded down the steps and into the main room of the inn. It was dark and cold-there was no fire, and several of the windows had been smashed in, letting in the chill night air. Glass littered the floor like chunks of ice. The door hung open, and as Will slipped through it, he saw that the upper hinges were nearly torn out of their mooring, as if someone had tried to rip the door free….

He slipped out the door and round the side of the inn, where the stables were. The smell of smoke hung thicker here, and he darted ahead-and nearly tripped over a humped figure on the ground. He dropped to his knees. It was the stable-boy, his throat cut, the ground under him a sodden mess of blood and dirt. His eyes were open, staring, his skin already cold. Will swallowed back bile and straightened up.

He moved toward the stables mechanically, his mind racing over the possibilities. A demon attack? Or had he stumbled into the middle of something non-supernatural, some feud between townsfolk, or God only knew what? No one seemed to be looking for him in particular, that much was clear.

He could hear Balios’s anxious whickering as he let himself into the stable. It appeared undisturbed, from the plaster ceiling to the cobbled floor crisscrossed with drainage ditches. No other horses were stabled there that night, which was lucky, for the moment he opened the stall door, Balios plunged forward, nearly knocking Will over. Will was only just able to dart out of the way as the horse hurtled past him and out the door.

"Balios!" Will swore and took off after his horse, pounding around the side of the inn and into the main road of the town.

He stopped dead. The street was in chaos. Bodies lay crumpled, discarded at the side of the road like so much rubbish. Homes stood with their doors ripped open, windows smashed in. People were running in and out of the shadows haphazardly, screaming and calling for one another. Several of the houses were burning. As Will stared in horror, he saw a family spill from the door of a burning house, the father in a nightshirt, coughing and choking, a woman behind him holding the hand of a small girl.

They had barely staggered into the street when shapes rose up out of the shadows. Moonlight sparked off metal.

Automatons.

They moved fluidly, without faltering or jerkiness. They wore clothes-a motley assortment of military uniforms, some recognizable to Will and some not. But their faces were bare metal, as were their hands, which gripped long-bladed swords. There were three of them; one, in a torn red army tunic, moved ahead, laughing-laughing?-as the father of the family tried to push his wife and daughter behind him, stumbling over the bloody cobblestones of the road.

It was all over in moments, too fast even for Will to move. Blades flashed, and three more bodies joined the heaps in the streets.

"That’s it," said the automaton in the ragged tunic. "Burn their houses and smoke them out like rats. Kill them when they run-" It raised its head, and seemed to see Will. Even across the space that separated them, Will felt the force of that gaze.

Will raised his seraph blade. "Nakir."

The shimmer of the blade blazed up, illuminating the street, a beam of white light amid the red of flames. Through blood and fire Will saw the automaton in the red tunic stride toward him. A longsword was gripped in its left hand. The hand was metal, jointed, articulate; it curved around the hilt of the blade like a human hand.

"Nephilim," the creature said, stopping a mere foot from Will. "We did not expect your kind here."

"Clearly," Will said. He took a step forward and rammed the seraph blade into the automaton’s chest.

There was a faint sizzling sound, as of bacon frying in a pan. As the automaton gazed down in bemusement, Nakir crumbled away to ash, leaving Will’s hand clutched around a vanished hilt.

The automaton chuckled, raising its gaze to Will. Its eyes crackled with life and intelligence, and Will knew with a sinking in his heart that he was looking at something he had never seen before-not just a creature that could turn a seraph blade to ash but a kind of machine that had will and cleverness and strategy enough to burn a village to the ground in order to murder the inhabitants as they fled.

"And now you see," said the demon, for that was what it was, standing before him. "Nephilim, all these years you have driven us from this world with your runed blades. Now we have bodies that your weapons will not work on, and this world will be ours."

Will sucked in his breath as the demon raised the longsword. He took a step back- The blade swung over and down- He ducked away, just as something hurtled alongside him in the road, something huge and black that reared and kicked and knocked the automaton aside.

Balios.

Will reached up, blindly scrabbling for his horse’s mane. The demon sprang up from the mud and leaped for him, blade flashing, just as Balios bolted forward, Will swinging himself up and over onto the horse’s back. They plunged down the cobblestone street together, Will crouched down low on Balios, the wind tearing through his hair and drying the wetness on his face-whether it was blood or tears, he didn’t know.

Tessa sat on the floor of her room in Mortmain’s stronghold, staring numbly into the fire.

The flames played over her hands, the blue dress she wore. Both were stained with blood. She did not know how it had happened; the skin at her wrist was ragged, and she had some memory of an automaton seizing her there, tearing her skin with its sharp metal fingers as she tried to break away.

She could not rid her mind of the images that dominated it-the memories of the destruction of the village in the valley. She had been taken there blindfolded, carried by automatons, before being unceremoniously dumped onto an outcropping of gray rock with a view directly down into the town.

"Watch," Mortmain had said, not looking at her, only gloating. "Watch, Miss Gray, and then speak to me of redemption."

Tessa had stood prisoned, an automaton holding her from behind, a hand over her mouth, Mortmain murmuring softly under his breath the things he would do to her if she dared to look away from the village. She had watched helplessly as the automatons had marched into the town, cutting down innocent men and women in the streets. The moon had risen tinged red as the clockwork army had methodically set fire to house after house, slaughtering the families as they poured forth in confusion and terror.

And Mortmain had laughed.

"You see now," he had said. "These creatures, these creations, they are capable of thought and reason and strategy. Like humans. And yet they are indestructible. Look, there, at that fool with the rifle."

Tessa had not wanted to look, but she had had no choice. She had watched, dry-eyed and grim, as a distant figure had raised a rifle to defend himself. The blasts had knocked some of the automatons back but had not disabled them. They had kept coming at him, knocking his rifle from his hand, pushing him down into the street.

And then they had torn him apart.

"Demons," Mortmain had murmured. "They are savage and they love to destroy."

"Please," Tessa had choked. "Please, no more, no more. I shall do whatever you desire, but please, spare the village."

Mortmain had chuckled dryly. "Clockwork creatures have no hearts, Miss Gray," he’d said. "They do not have mercy, any more than fire or water do. You might as well beg a flood or a forest fire to cease its destruction."

"I am not begging them," she’d said. From the corner of her eye, she’d thought she’d seen a black horse pounding through the streets of the village, a rider on its back. Someone escaping the carnage, she’d prayed. "I am begging you."

He’d turned his cold eyes on her, and they’d been as empty as the sky. "There is no mercy in my heart either. You appealed, tiresomely, to my better self earlier. I brought you here to show you the futility of such action. I have no better self to appeal to; it was burned away years ago."

"But I have done what you asked," she’d said desperately. "There is no need for this, not for me-"

"It is not for you," he’d said, flicking his gaze away from her. "The automatons had to be tested before they were sent into battle. That is simple science. They have intelligence now. Strategy. Nothing can stand before them."

"They will turn on you, then."

"They will not. Their lives are linked to mine. If I die, so are they destroyed. They must protect me to endure." His look had been cold and faraway. "Enough. I brought you here to show you that I am what I am, and you will accept it. Your clockwork angel protects your life, but the lives of other innocents are in my hands-in your hands. Do not test me, and there will not be a second such village. I wish to hear no more tiresome protests."

Your clockwork angel protects your life. She put her hand on it now, feeling the familiar ticking beneath her fingers. She closed her eyes, but terrible images lived behind her eyelids. She saw in her mind the Nephilim driven before the automatons as the villagers had been, Jem torn apart by clockwork monsters, Will stabbed through with metal blades, Henry and Charlotte burning …

Her hand tightened savagely around the angel, and she tore it from her throat, casting it to the uneven rock floor just as a log fell in the fire, sending up a spitting column of red sparks. In their illumination she saw the palm of her left hand, saw the faint scar of the burn she had given herself the day she had told Will she was engaged to Jem.

As it had then, her hand went to the fireplace poker. She lifted it, feeling its weight in her hand. The fire had climbed higher. She saw the world through a golden haze as she raised the poker and brought it down on the clockwork angel.