Clockwork Princess (Page 5)

Clockwork Princess(5)
Author: Cassandra Clare

The worm caromed backward, and there were hands under Will’s arms, hauling him to his feet. Jem. He released Will, who turned to see that his parabatai already had his sword-cane out and was glaring ahead. The demon worm appeared to be writhing in agony, undulating as it swept its great, blind head from side to side, uprooting shrubbery with its thrashings. Leaves filled the air, and the small group of Shadowhunters choked on dust. Will could hear Cecily coughing and longed to tell her to run back to the house, but he knew she wouldn’t do it.

Somehow the worm, by thrashing its jaws, had worked the sword free; the weapon clattered to the ground among the rosebushes, smeared with black ichor. The worm began to slide backward, leaving a trail of slime and blood. Gideon grimaced and dashed forward to seize up the fallen sword with a gloved hand.

Suddenly Benedict reared up like a cobra, his jaws apart and dripping. Gideon raised the sword, looking impossibly small against the creature’s vast bulk.

"Gideon!" It was Gabriel, white-faced, raising his bow; Will spun aside as an arrow flew past him and buried itself in the worm’s body. The worm yelped and spun, humping its body away from them with incredible speed. As it slithered away, a flick of its tail caught the edge of a statue, and squeezed it tightly-the statue exploded into dust, showering into the dry ornamental pool.

"By the Angel, it just crushed Sophocles," noted Will as the worm vanished behind a large structure shaped like a Greek temple. "Has no one respect for the classics these days?"

Gabriel, breathing hard, lowered his bow. "You fool," he said savagely to his brother. "What were you thinking, rushing up to him like that?"

Gideon whirled, pointing his bloody sword at Gabriel. "Not ‘him.’ It. That is not our father any longer, Gabriel. If you cannot countenance that fact-"

"I shot him with an arrow!" Gabriel shouted. "What more do you want of me, Gideon?"

Gideon shook his head as if disgusted with his brother; even Will, who did not like Gabriel, felt a twinge of sympathy for him. He had shot the beast.

"We must pursue it," said Gideon. "It has gone behind the folly-"

"The what?" said Will.

"A folly, Will," said Jem. "It is a decorative structure. I assume there is no real interior."

Gideon shook his head. "It is merely plaster. If we two were to go around one side of it, and you and James the other-"

"Cecily, what are you doing?" Will demanded, interrupting Gideon; he knew he sounded like a distracted parent, but he didn’t care. Cecily had slid her blade into her belt and appeared to be trying to climb one of the small yew trees inside the first row of hedges. "Now is not the time for climbing trees!"

She looked toward him angrily, her black hair blowing across her face. She opened her mouth to answer, but before she could speak, there was a sound like an earthquake, and the folly burst apart in shards of plaster. The worm hurtled forth, heading straight toward them with the terrifying speed of an out-of-control train.

By the time they reached the front courtyard of Lightwood House, Tessa’s neck and back were aching. She was tightly laced into her corset beneath the heavy wedding dress, and the weight of the sobbing Tatiana dragged down her left shoulder painfully.

She was relieved to see the carriages come into view-relieved, and also startled. The scene in the courtyard was so peaceful-the carriages where they had left them, the horses cropping grass, the facade of the house undisturbed. After half-carrying, half-dragging Tatiana to the first carriage, Tessa wrenched the door open and helped her in, wincing when the other girl’s sharp nails dug into her shoulders as she heaved herself and her skirts into the space inside.

"Oh, God," Tatiana moaned. "The shame of it, the terrible shame. That the Clave might know of what has befallen my father. For pity’s sake, could he not have thought of me, even for a moment?"

Tessa blinked. "That thing," she said. "I do not think it was capable of thinking of anyone, Mrs. Blackthorn."

Tatiana looked at her dizzily, and for a moment Tessa was ashamed of the resentment she had felt toward the other girl. She had not liked being sent away from the gardens, where she might perhaps have helped-but Tatiana had just seen her husband torn to pieces before her eyes by her own father. She was deserving of more sympathy than Tessa had been feeling.

Tessa made her voice more gentle. "I know you have had a bad shock. If you would lie down-"

"You are very tall," Tatiana said. "Do gentlemen complain of it?"

Tessa stared.

"And you are dressed as a bride," said Tatiana. "Is that not very odd? Would not gear suit the task better? I understand it is unflattering, and needs must as the devil drives, but-"

There was a sudden loud crash. Tessa detached herself from the carriage and glanced about; the sound had come from inside the house. Henry, Tessa thought. Henry had gone into the house, alone. Of course, the creature was out in the gardens, but nevertheless-it was Benedict’s house. She thought of the ballroom, full of demons the last time Tessa had been there, and she gathered up her skirts in both hands. "Remain here, Mrs. Blackthorn," she said. "I must discover the cause of that noise."

"No!" Tatiana sat bolt upright. "Do not leave me!"

"I am sorry." Tessa backed away, shaking her head. "I must. Please stay inside the carriage!"

Tatiana cried something after her, but Tessa had already turned to dash up the steps. She pushed her way through the front doors and emerged in a grand entryway floored with alternating squares of black and white marble, like a checkerboard. A massive chandelier hung from the ceiling, though none of its tapers were lit; the only light in the place came from the daylight flooding in through the high windows. A curving staircase of great grandeur wound its way upward. "Henry!" Tessa cried. "Henry, where are you?"

An answering cry and another crash came from the floor above. Tessa dashed up the stairs, stumbling as her foot caught on the hem of her dress and ripped a seam wide open. She switched the skirt out of the way impatiently and continued running, down a long corridor whose walls were painted powder blue and were hung with dozens of gilt-framed etchings, through a pair of doors, and into another room.

It was most assuredly a man’s room, a library or an office: the curtains a heavy dark fabric, oil paintings of great ships of war hung on the walls. Rich green wallpaper covered the walls, though it appeared to be mottled with odd dark stains. There was a strange smell to the place-a smell like the one down by the banks of the Thames, where odd things rotted in the weak daylight. And laid over that, the coppery tang of blood. A bookcase had tipped over, a welter of smashed glass and broken wood, and on the Persian rug beside it was Henry, locked in a wrestling match with a thing with gray skin and an unnerving number of arms. Henry was yelling and kicking out with his long legs, and the thing-a demon, no doubt-was tearing at his gear with claws, its wolflike snout snapping at his face.

Tessa looked around wildly, seized up the poker that lay by the dormant fireplace, and charged. She tried to keep her training in mind-all those hours of Gideon’s careful talk of calibration and speed and grip-but in the end it seemed pure instinct to drive the long steel rod into the creature’s torso, where there would have been a rib cage if it had been a real, earthly animal.

She heard something crunch as the weapon went in. The demon gave a howl like a baying dog and rolled off Henry, and the poker clattered to the floor. Black ichor sprayed, filling the room with the stench of smoke and rot. Tessa stumbled back, her heel catching on the torn edge of her gown. She fell to the ground just as Henry heaved himself over and, with a muttered curse, slashed the demon across the throat with a daggerlike blade that glowed with runes. The demon gave a gurgling cry and folded up like paper.

Henry lurched to his feet, his gingery hair matted with blood and ichor. His gear was torn at the shoulder, scarlet fluid leaking from the wound. "Tessa," he exclaimed, and then he was beside her, helping her to her feet. "By the Angel, we’re a pair," he said in his rueful Henry way, looking at her worriedly. "You’re not hurt, are you?"

She glanced down at herself and saw what he meant: Her dress was soaked with a spray of ichor, and there was an ugly cut on her forearm where she had fallen on the broken glass. It didn’t hurt much, yet, but there was blood. "I am quite all right," she said. "What happened, Henry? What was that thing and why was it in here?"

"A guardian demon. I was searching Benedict’s desk, and I must have moved or touched something that awoke it. A black smoke poured from the drawer, and became that. It lunged at me-"

"And clawed you," Tessa said in concern. "You’re bleeding-"

"No, I did that myself. Fell on my dagger," Henry said sheepishly, drawing a stele from his belt. "Don’t tell Charlotte."

Tessa almost smiled; then, remembering, she dashed across the room and tugged open the curtains across one of the tall windows. She could see out across the gardens, but not, frustratingly, the Italian garden; they were on the wrong side of the house for that. Green box hedges and flat grass, beginning to brown with winter, stretched out before her. "I must go," she said. "Will and Jem and Cecily-they were battling the creature. It has killed Tatiana Blackthorn’s husband. I had to convey her back to the carriage as she was near fainting."

There was a silence. Then: "Tessa," Henry said in an odd voice, and she turned to see him, arrested in the act of applying an iratze to his inner arm. He was staring at the wall across from him-the wall Tessa had thought earlier was oddly mottled and splotched with stains. She saw now that they were no accidental mess. Letters a foot tall each stretched across the wallpaper, written in what looked like dried black blood.

THE INFERNAL DEVICES ARE WITHOUT PITY.

THE INFERNAL DEVICES ARE WITHOUT REGRET.

THE INFERNAL DEVICES ARE WITHOUT NUMBER.

THE INFERNAL DEVICES WILL NEVER STOP COMING.

And there, beneath the scrawls, a last sentence, barely readable, as if whoever had written it had been losing the use of his hands. She pictured Benedict locked in this room, going slowly mad as he transformed, smearing the words on the wall with his own ichor-ridden blood.

MAY GOD HAVE MERCY ON OUR SOULS.

The worm lunged-and Will dived forward into a roll, narrowly missing its snapping jaws. He came up into a crouch, then to his feet, and raced along the length of the creature until he reached its thrashing tail. He whirled around and saw the demon looming like a cobra over Gideon and Gabriel-though, to his surprise, it seemed to have frozen, hissing but not attacking. Did it recognize its children? Feel anything for them? It was impossible to tell.

Cecily was halfway up the yew tree, clinging to a branch. Hoping that she would see sense and stay there, Will spun toward Jem and held up a hand so his parabatai could see him. They had long ago worked out a series of gestures they used to communicate what they needed in the midst of battle, in case they could not hear each other’s voices. Jem’s eyes lit with understanding, and he tossed his cane toward Will. In a perfect throw it sailed end over end till Will caught it in one hand and clicked the handle. The blade shot out, and Will brought it down swift and hard, cleaving straight through the creature’s thick skin. The worm jerked back and howled as Will struck again, parting its tail from its body. Benedict thrashed at both ends, and ichor gushed forth in a sticky blast, coating Will. He ducked away with a shout, his skin burning.

"Will!" Jem darted toward him. Gideon and Gabriel were slashing at the worm’s head, doing their best to keep its attention focused on them. As Will wiped burning ichor from his eyes with his free hand, Cecily dropped from the yew tree and landed squarely on the worm’s back.

Will dropped the sword-cane in shock. He had never done that before, never dropped a weapon in the middle of a battle, but there was his little sister, clinging with grim determination to the back of a massive demon worm, like a tiny flea clinging to the fur of a dog. As he stared in horror, Cecily yanked a dagger from her belt and drove it viciously into the demon’s flesh.

What does she think she’s doing? As if that tiny dagger could kill a thing that size! "Will, Will," Jem was saying in his ear, his voice urgent, and Will realized he had spoken aloud, and, name of the Angel, the worm’s head was swinging around toward Cecily, its mouth open and vast and lined with teeth-

Cecily let go of the dagger’s handle and rolled sideways, off the body of the worm. Its jaws missed her by a hairsbreadth and snapped viciously shut on its own body. Black ichor gushed and the worm jerked its head back, a howl like the wail of a banshee erupting from its throat. A massive wound gaped in its side, and gobbets of its own flesh hung from its jaws. As Will stared, Gabriel raised his bow and let an arrow fly.

It sang home to its target and buried itself in one of the worm’s lidless black eyes. The creature reared back-and then its head sagged forward and it crumpled in on itself, folding up, disappearing as demons did when the life left them.

Gabriel’s bow fell to the ground with a clatter that Will barely heard. The trampled ground was soaked with blood from the worm’s savaged body. In the midst of it all, Cecy was rising slowly to her feet, wincing, her right wrist twisted at an odd angle.

Will did not even feel himself begin to run toward her-he realized it only when he was brought up short by Jem’s restraining hand. He turned on his parabatai wildly. "My sister-"

"Your face," replied Jem, with remarkable calm, considering the situation. "You are covered in demon blood, William, and it is burning you. I must give you an iratze before the damage cannot be undone."

"Let me go," Will insisted, and tried to pull away, but Jem’s cool hand was cupping the back of his neck, and then there was the burn of a stele on his wrist, and the pain he had not even known he was feeling began to ebb. Jem let go of him with a small hiss of pain of his own; he had gotten some of the ichor on his fingers. Will paused, irresolute-but Jem waved him away, already applying his own stele to his hand.