Clockwork Princess (Page 47)

Clockwork Princess(47)
Author: Cassandra Clare

Will darted forward. "No seraph blades!" he cried. "Fight them with other weapons! The angel blades are useless!"

Cecily, hearing him, jerked back even as her seraph blade connected with the automaton she was fighting-and crumbled away like dry frost, its fire gone. She had the presence of mind to duck beneath the creature’s swinging arm, just as Cyril and Bridget plunged toward her, Cyril laying about him with a stout staff. The automaton went down under Cyril’s assault, as Bridget, a flying menace of red hair and steely blades, sliced her way past Cecily to Charlotte’s side, shearing the arms off two automatons with her sword before whirling about, her back to Charlotte, as if she meant to protect the head of the Institute with her life.

Will’s hands were suddenly tight on Tessa’s upper arms. She caught a glimpse of his white, set face as he pushed her toward Magnus, hissing: "Stay with her!" Tessa began to protest, but Magnus caught hold of her, drawing her back even as Will dashed into the melee, fighting his way toward his sister.

Cecily was fending off a massive, barrel-chested automaton with two arms on its right side. Seraph blade abandoned, she had only a short sword to defend herself. Her hair began to slip free of its fastenings as she lunged forward, stabbing at the creature’s shoulder. It roared like a bull, and Tessa shuddered. God, these creatures made such sounds; before Mortmain had changed them, they had been silent-they had been things; now they were beings. Malevolent, murderous beings. Tessa started forward as the automaton fighting Cecily seized the blade of her weapon and jerked it out of her grasp, pulling her forward-she heard Will call out his sister’s name-

And Cecily was caught and thrown to the side by one of the Silent Brothers. In a whirl of parchment robes, he spun to face the creature, staff held before him. As the automaton lurched toward him, the Brother swung out with the staff, with such speed and force that the automaton was knocked back, its chest dented inward. It tried to move forward again, but its body was too badly bent. It gave an angry whir, and Cecily, scrambling back up to her feet, cried out a warning.

Another automaton had loomed up beside the first. As the Silent Brother turned, the second automaton knocked the staff from his hand and seized him, lifting him off his feet, wrapping its metal arms around his body from behind, in the parody of an embrace. The Brother’s hood fell back, and his silvery hair shone out in the dim chamber like starlight.

All the air rushed out of Tessa’s lungs in a single instant. The Silent Brother was Jem.

Jem.

It was as if the world had stopped. Every figure was still, even the automatons, frozen in time. Tessa stared across the room at Jem, and he looked back at her. Jem, in the parchment robes of a Silent Brother. Jem, whose silvery hair, tumbling over his face, was threaded through with black. Jem, whose cheeks were scarred with two matching red cuts, one over each cheekbone.

Jem, who was not dead.

Tessa, jerked from her frozen shock, heard Magnus say something to her, felt him reach for her arm, but she tore away from him and plunged into the melee. He shouted after her, but all she saw was Jem-Jem seizing at the automaton’s arm where it wrapped his throat, his scrabbling fingers unable to find a purchase on the smooth metal. Its grip tightened, and Jem’s face began to suffuse with blood as he strangled. She drew her dagger, slashing out in front of her to clear a path, but she knew it was impossible, knew she couldn’t get to him in time-

The automaton gave a roar and toppled forward. Its legs had been sliced clean through from behind, and as it fell, Tessa saw Will rising from a crouch, a long-bladed sword in his hand. He reached out for the automaton as if he could catch it, prevent its fall, but it had already crashed to the floor, half on top of Jem, whose staff had rolled from his hand. Jem lay still, pinned by the massive machine above him.

Tessa darted forward, ducking under the outstretched arm of a clockwork creature. She heard Magnus shout something from behind her but ignored it. If she could get to Jem before he was badly hurt, even crushed-but as she ran, a shadow fell across her vision. She skidded to a stop, and looked up into the face of a leering automaton, reaching for her with clawed fingers.

The force of the fall and the weight of the automaton on his back knocked the air from Jem’s lungs as he hit the ground, bruisingly hard. For a moment stars danced across his vision and he fought for breath, his chest spasming.

Before he had become a Silent Brother, before they had put the first ritual knife to his skin and cut the lines into his face that would begin the process of his transformation, the fall, the injury, might have killed him. Now, as he sucked the air back into his lungs, he found himself twisting, reaching for his staff, even as the creature’s hand closed on his shoulder-

And a shudder went through its body, along with the ring of metal on metal. Jem seized up his staff and jabbed it upward, knocking the automaton’s head sideways even as the top half of its body was lifted off him and thrown to the side. He kicked out at the weight still pinning his legs, and then that was gone too and Will was on his knees beside him where he lay on the ground. Will’s face was as white as ashes.

"Jem," he said.

There was a stillness around them both, a gap in the battle, an eerie timeless silence. The weight of a thousand things was in Will’s voice: disbelief and amazement, relief and betrayal. Jem began to struggle up onto his elbows just as Will’s sword, smeared with black oil, riven with dents, clattered to the ground.

"You’re dead," Will said. "I felt you die." And he put his hand over his heart, on his bloodstained shirt, where his parabatai rune was. "Here."

Jem scrabbled for Will’s hand, caught it in his, and pressed the fingers of his blood brother’s hand to the inside of his own wrist. He willed his parabatai to understand. Feel my pulse, the beat of blood under the skin; Silent Brothers have hearts, and they beat. Will’s blue eyes widened. "I did not die. I changed. If I could have told you-if there was a way-"

Will stared at him, his chest rising and falling quickly. The automaton had clawed one side of Will’s face. He was bleeding from several deep scratches, but he didn’t appear to notice. He drew his hand back from Jem’s grasp and exhaled softly. "Roeddwn i’n meddwl dy fod wedi mynd am byth," he said. He spoke, without thinking, in Welsh, but Jem understood the words regardless. The runes of the Silent Brothers meant that no language was unknown to him.

I thought you were gone forever.

"I am still here," Jem said, and then there was a flicker at the corner of his eye, and he moved swiftly, spinning aside. A metal axe whistled down through the space where he had just been, and clanged against the stone floor. Automatons had surrounded them, a ring of whirring metal.

And Will was on his feet, sword in hand, and they were back-to-back, and Will was saying: "There is no rune effective against them; they must be hacked apart by main force-"

"I gathered that." Jem gripped his staff and swung it hard, knocking one automaton back into a nearby wall. Sparks flew from its metal carapace.

Will struck with his blade, slicing through the jointed knees of two creatures. "I like that stick of yours," he said.

"It’s a staff." Jem swung out to knock another automaton sideways. "Made by the Iron Sisters, only for Silent Brothers."

Will lunged forward, slicing his blade cleanly through the neck of another automaton. Its head rolled to the ground, and a mixture of oil and vapor poured from its ragged throat. "Anyone can sharpen a stick."

"It’s a staff," Jem repeated, and saw Will’s quicksilver smile out of the corner of his eye. Jem wanted to grin back-there was a time he would have grinned back naturally, but something in the change that had been wrought in him put what felt like the distance of years between him and such simple mortal gestures.

The room was a mass of moving bodies and swinging weapons; Jem could see none of the other Shadowhunters clearly. He was aware of Will next to him, matching his stride to Jem’s, matching him blow for blow. As metal rang on metal, some inner part of Jem, some part that had been lost without his even knowing it was lost, felt the pleasure of fighting together with Will one last time.

"Whatever you say, James," said Will. "Whatever you say."

Tessa swung around, bringing her dagger up, and plunged it into the creature’s metal carapace. The blade punched through with an ugly ripping sound, followed by-her heart sank-a gravelly laugh. "Miss Gray," said a deep voice, and she looked up to see the smooth face of Armaros. "Surely you know better than that. No weapon that small can cut me apart, nor do you have the strength."

Tessa opened her mouth to scream, but his clawed hands seized her, and he swung her up in his arms, clamping his hand over her mouth to stifle her cry. Through the haze of movement in the room, the flash of swords and metal, she saw Will cutting apart the automaton that had fallen on Jem. He reached to move it, just as Armaros snarled into her ear: "I may be made of metal, but I have the heart of a demon, and my demon’s heart yearns to feast on your flesh."

Armaros began to carry Tessa backward, through the fighting, even as she kicked at him with her boots. He tore her head to the side, his sharp fingers ripping the skin of her cheek. "You can’t kill me," she gasped. "The angel I wear protects my life-"

"Oh, no. It’s true I cannot kill you, but I can hurt you. And I can hurt you most exquisitely. I have no flesh with which to feel pleasure, so the only pleasures left to me are causing pain. While the angel at your throat protects you-as do the orders of the Magister-I must stay my hand, but were the angel’s power to fail-should it ever fail-I would rip you apart in my metal jaws."

They were outside the circle of the fighting now, and the demon was carrying her into an alcove, part hidden by a pillar of stone.

"Do it. I’d rather die by your hands than be married to Mortmain."

"Don’t worry," he said, and while he spoke without breath, his words still felt like a whisper against her skin, making her shudder in horror. Cold metal fingers circled her arms like manacles as he drew her into the shadows. "I will make sure of both."

Cecily saw her brother slice out at the automaton attacking Brother Zachariah. The roar of metal as it collapsed forward tore her eardrums. She started toward Will, seizing a dagger from her belt-and then toppled forward as something closed about her ankle, jerking her off her feet.

She hit the ground on knees and elbows and twisted about to see that what had caught at her was the disembodied hand of an automaton. Sliced off at the wrist, black fluid pumping from the wires that still protruded from the jagged metal, its fingers were digging into her gear. She twisted and pivoted, hacking at the thing until its fingers loosened and separated and it clattered to the ground like a dead crab, twitching faintly.

She groaned in disgust and staggered to her feet, only to find that she could no longer see Will or Brother Zachariah. The room was a chaotic blur of motion. She saw Gabriel, back-to-back with his brother, a pile of dead automatons at their feet. Gabriel’s gear was torn at the shoulder and he was bleeding. Cyril lay crumpled on the ground. Sophie had moved to be near him, slashing out in a circle with her sword, her scar livid in her pale face. Cecily could not see Magnus, but she could see the trail of blue sparks in the air that indicated his presence. And then there was Bridget, visible in flashes between the moving bodies of clockwork creatures, her weapon a blur, her red hair like a burning banner. And at her feet …

Cecily began to fight her way through the crowd toward them. Halfway there she dropped her dagger, picking up a long-handled axe that one of the automatons had dropped. It was surprisingly light in her grasp, and made a very satisfying crunch when she drove the blade into the chest of a mechanical demon that had reached to seize her, sending the automaton spinning backward.

And then she was leaping over a crumpled pile of fallen automatons, most of which had been hacked apart, their limbs scattered-no doubt the source of the hand that had seized her ankle. At the far end of the pile was Bridget, whirling this way and that as she beat back the tide of clockwork monsters threatening to advance on Charlotte and Henry. Bridget spared Cecily only a glance as the younger girl darted by her and dropped to her knees beside the head of the Institute.

"Charlotte," Cecily whispered.

Charlotte looked up. Her face was white with shock, her pupils so wide, they seemed to have swallowed the light brown of her eyes. Her arms were wrapped around Henry, his head lolling back against her fragile shoulder, her hands locked about his chest. He seemed entirely limp.

"Charlotte," Cecily said again. "We cannot win this fight. We must retreat."

"I cannot move Henry!"

"Charlotte-he is past our help now."

"No, he’s not," Charlotte said wildly. "I can still feel his pulse."

Cecily reached out a hand. "Charlotte-"

"I am not mad! He is alive! He is alive, and I will not leave him!"

"Charlotte, the baby," Cecily said. "Henry would want you to save yourselves."

Something flickered in Charlotte’s eyes-she tightened her grip on Henry. "Without Henry we cannot leave," she said. "We cannot make a Portal. We are trapped in this mountain."

Cecily’s breath went out of her in a little gasp. She had not thought of that. Her heart pounded a sharp message through her veins: We’re going to die. We are all going to die. Why had she chosen this? My God, what had she done? She raised her head, saw a familiar flash of blue and black at the corner of her vision-Will? The blue reminded her of something-of sparks rising above the smoke-

"Bridget," she said. "Get Magnus."

Bridget shook her head. "If I leave you, you will be dead in five minutes," she said. As if to illustrate her point, she brought her blade down on a charging automaton as if she were splitting kindling. The creature fell to both slides, sliced down the middle in two equal parts.

"You don’t understand," Cecily said. "We need Magnus-"

"I’m here." And he was, appearing above Cecily so suddenly and soundlessly that she stifled a scream. There was a long cut along his collar, shallow but bloody. Warlocks bled as red as humans did, it seemed. His gaze fell on Henry, and a terrible, fathomless sadness crossed his face. It was the look of a man who had seen hundreds die, who had lost and lost and lost and was facing loss once more. "God," he said. "He was a good man."