City of Fallen Angels
Page 24

 Cassandra Clare

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Clary blinked. She wasn't too familiar with the Bible-she certainly didn't have anything like Jace's near-perfect recall of large passages of it-but while that sounded religious, it was also an odd bit of text to feature in a church. She shivered, and drew closer to the altar, where a large closed book had been left out. One of the pages seemed to be marked; when Clary reached to open the book, she realized that what she'd thought was a bookmark was a black-handled dagger carved with occult symbols. She'd seen pictures of these before in her textbooks. It was an athame, often used in demonic summoning rituals.
Her stomach went cold, but she bent to scan the marked page anyway, determined to learn something-only to discover that it was written in a cramped, stylized hand that would have been hard to decipher had the book been in English. It wasn't; it was in a sharp, spiky-looking alphabet that she was sure she'd never seen before. The words were below an illustration of what Clary recognized as a summoning circle-the kind of pattern warlocks traced on the ground before they enacted spells. The circles were meant to draw down and concentrate magical power. This one, splashed across the page in green ink, looked like two concentric circles, with a square in the center of them. In the space between the circles, runes were scrawled. Clary didn't recognize them, but she could feel the language of the runes in her bones, and it made her shiver. Death and blood.
She turned the page hastily, and came on a group of illustrations that made her suck in her breath.
It was a progression of pictures that started with the image of a woman with a bird perched on her left shoulder. The bird, possibly a raven, looked sinister and cunning. In the second picture the bird was gone, and the woman was obviously pregnant. In the third image the woman was lying on an altar not unlike the one Clary was standing in front of now. A robed figure was standing in front of her, a jarringly modern-looking syringe in its hand. The syringe was full of dark red liquid. The woman clearly knew she was about to be injected with it, because she was screaming.
In the last picture the woman was sitting with a baby on her lap. The baby looked almost normal, except that its eyes were entirely black, without whites at all. The woman was looking down at her child with a look of terror.
Clary felt the hairs on the back of her neck prickle. Her mother had been right. Someone was trying to make more babies like Jonathan. In fact, they already had.
She stepped back from the altar. Every nerve in her body was screaming that there was something very wrong with this place. She didn't think she could spend another second here; better to go outside and wait there for the cavalry to arrive. She might have discovered this clue on her own, but the result was way more than she could handle on her own.
It was then that she heard the sound.
A soft susurration, like a slow tide pulling back, that seemed to come from above her. She looked up, the athame gripped firmly in her hand. And stared. All around the upstairs gallery stood rows of silent figures. They wore what looked like gray tracksuits-sneakers, dull gray sweats, and zip-up tops with hoods pulled down over their faces. They were utterly motionless, their hands on the gallery railing, staring down at her. At least, she assumed they were staring. Their faces were hidden entirely in shadow; she couldn't even tell if they were male or female.
"I ... I'm sorry," she said. Her voice echoed loudly in the stone room. "I didn't mean to intrude, or..."
There was no answer but silence. Silence like a weight. Clary's heart began to beat faster.
"I'll just go, then," she said, swallowing hard. She stepped forward, laid the athame on the altar, and turned to leave. She caught the scent on the air then, a split second before she turned-the familiar stench of rotting garbage. Between her and the door, rising up like a wall, was a nightmarish mishmash of scaled skin, bladelike teeth, and reaching claws.
For the past seven weeks Clary had trained to face down a demon in battle, even a massive one. But now that it was actually happening, all she could do was scream.
Chapter 11
The demon lunged for Clary, and she stopped screaming abruptly and flung herself backward, over the altar-a perfect flip, and for one bizarre moment she wished Jace had been there to see it. She hit the ground in a crouch, just as something struck the altar hard, making the stone vibrate.
A howl sounded through the church. Clary scrambled to her knees and peered over the edge of the altar. The demon wasn't as big as she'd first thought, but it wasn't small, either-about the size of a refrigerator, with three heads on swaying stalks. The heads were blind, with enormous gaping jaws from which ropes of greenish drool hung. The demon seemed to have smacked its leftmost head on the altar when it grabbed for her, because it was shaking the head back and forth as if trying to clear it.
Clary glanced up wildly, but the tracksuited figures were still where they had been before. None of them had moved. They seemed to be watching what was going on with a detached interest. She spun and looked behind her, but there appeared to be no exits from the church besides the door she'd come through, and the demon was currently blocking her path back to it. Realizing she was wasting precious seconds, she scrambled to her feet and grabbed for the athame. She yanked it off the altar and ducked back down just as the demon came for her again. She rolled to the side as a head, swaying on a thick stalk of neck, darted over the altar, its thick black tongue flicking out, searching for her. With a scream she jammed the athame into the creature's neck once, then jerked it free, scrambling backward and out of the way.
The thing screamed, its head rearing back, black blood spraying from the wound she'd made. But it wasn't a killing blow. Even as Clary watched, the wound began to heal slowly, the demon's blackish green flesh knitting together like fabric being sewed up. Her heart sank. Of course. The whole reason Shadowhunters used runed weapons was that the runes prevented demons from healing.
She reached for the stele in her belt with her left hand, and yanked it free just as the demon came for her again. She leaped to the side and threw herself painfully down the stairs, rolling until she fetched up against the first row of pews. The demon turned, lumbering a bit as it moved, and made for her again. Realizing she was still clutching both the stele and the dagger-in fact, the dagger had cut her as she had rolled, and blood was quickly staining the front of her jacket-she transferred the dagger to her left hand, the stele to her right, and with a desperate swiftness, cut an enkeli rune into the athame's hilt.
The other symbols on the hilt began to melt and run as the rune of angelic power took hold. Clary looked up; the demon was almost on her, its three heads reaching, their mouths gaping. Propelling herself to her feet, she drew her arm back and flung the dagger as hard as she could. To her great surprise, it struck the middle head right in the center of the skull, sinking in up to the hilt. The head thrashed as the demon screamed-Clary's heart lifted-and then the head simply dropped, hitting the ground with a sickening thud. The demon kept coming anyway, dragging the now-dead head on its limp neck after it as it moved toward Clary.
The sound of many footsteps came from above. Clary looked up. The tracksuited figures were gone, the gallery empty. The sight was not reassuring. Her heart doing a wild tango in her chest, Clary turned and ran for the front door, but the demon was faster than she was. With a grunt of effort it launched itself over her and landed in front of the doors, blocking her way out. Making a hissing noise, it moved toward her, its two living heads swaying, then rising, stretching to their full length in order to strike at her-
Something flashed through the air, a darting flame of silvery gold. The demon's heads whipped around, the hissing rising to a scream, but it was too late-the silvery thing that encircled them pulled tight, and with a spray of blackish blood, its remaining two heads sheared away. Clary rolled out of the way as flying blood splattered her, searing her skin. Then she ducked her head as the headless body swayed, fell toward her-
And was gone. As it was collapsing, the demon vanished, sucked back to its home dimension. Clary raised her head cautiously. The front doors of the church were open, and in the entranceway stood Isabelle, in boots and a black dress, her electrum whip in hand. She was winding it back slowly around her wrist, glancing around the church as she did so, her dark eyebrows drawn together in a curious frown. As her gaze fell on Clary, she grinned.
"Damn, girl," she said. "What have you gotten yourself into now?"
The touch of the vampire servants' hands on Simon's skin was cold and light, like the touch of icy wings. He shuddered a little as they unwound the blindfold from around his head, their withered skin rough on his, before they stepped back, bowing as they retreated.
He looked around, blinking. Moments ago, he had been standing in the sunlight on the corner of Seventy-Eighth Street and Second Avenue-enough of a distance from the Institute that he had judged it safe to use the grave-dirt to contact Camille without arousing her suspicions. Now he was in a dimly lit room, quite large, with a smooth marble floor and elegant marble pillars holding up a high ceiling. Along the left wall ran a row of glass-fronted cubicles, each with a brass-lettered plaque hanging over it that read TELLER. Another brass plaque on the wall proclaimed this to be the DOUGLAS NATIONAL BANK. Thick layers of dust padded the floor and the counters where people had once stood to write out checks or withdrawal slips, and the brass-bound lamps that hung from the ceiling were coated with verdigris.
In the center of the room was a high armchair, and in the chair sat Camille. Her silvery-blond hair was undone, and rained down over her shoulders like tinsel. Her beautiful face had been wiped clean of makeup, but her lips were still very red. In the dimness of the bank, they were almost the only color Simon could see.
"I would not normally agree to meet during sunlight hours, Daylighter," she said. "But since it is you, I have made an exception."
"Thank you." He noticed no chair had been provided for him, so he continued awkwardly standing. If his heart still beat, he thought, it would have been pounding. When he had agreed to do this for the Conclave, he had forgotten how much Camille scared him. Maybe it was illogical-what could she really do to him?-but there it was.
"I suppose this means that you have considered my offer," said Camille. "And that you agree to it."
"What makes you think I agree?" Simon said, very much hoping that she wouldn't put down the fatuousness of the question to the fact that he was stalling for time.
She looked mildly impatient. "You would hardly deliver in person the news that you had decided to refuse me. You would be afraid of my temper."
"Should I be afraid of your temper?"
Camille sat back in the wing-back chair, smiling. The chair was modern-looking and luxurious, unlike anything else in the abandoned bank. It must have been hauled here from somewhere else, probably by Camille's servants, who were currently standing off to each side like silent statues. "Many are," she said. "But you have no reason to be. I am very pleased with you. Though you waited until the last moment to contact me, I sense you have made the right decision."
Simon's phone chose that minute to begin buzzing insistently. He jumped, feeling a trickle of cold sweat going down his back, then fished it hastily out of the pocket of his jacket. "Sorry," he said, flipping it open. "Phone."
Camille looked horrified. "Do not answer that."
Simon began lifting the phone to his ear. As he did, he managed to hit the camera button several times with his finger. "It'll just take a second."
He hit the send button and then quickly flipped the phone closed. "Sorry. I didn't think."
Camille's chest was rising and falling with rage, despite the fact that she didn't actually breathe. "I demand more respect than that from my servants," she hissed. "You will never do that again, or-"
"Or what?" Simon said. "You can't hurt me, any more than anyone else can. And you told me I wouldn't be a servant. You told me I'd be your partner." He paused, letting just the right note of arrogance into his voice. "Maybe I ought to reconsider my acceptance of your offer."
Camille's eyes darkened. "Oh, for God's sake. Don't be a little fool."
"How can you say that word?" Simon demanded.
Camille raised delicate eyebrows. "Which word? Are you annoyed that I called you a fool?"
"No. Well, yes, but that's not what I meant. You said 'Oh, for-'" He broke off, his voice cracking. He still couldn't say it. God.
"Because I do not believe in him, silly boy," said Camille. "And you still do." She tilted her head to the side, regarding him the way a bird might regard a worm on the sidewalk that it was considering eating. "I think perhaps it is time for a blood oath."
"A ... blood oath?" Simon wondered if he'd heard right.
"I forget that your knowledge of the customs of our kind is so limited." Camille shook her silvery head. "I will have you sign an oath, in blood, that you are loyal to me. It will prevent you from disobeying me in the future. Consider it a sort of ... prenuptial agreement." She smiled, and he saw the glint of her fangs. "Come." She snapped her fingers imperiously, and her minions scurried toward her, their gray heads bent. The first to reach her handed her something that looked like an old-fashioned glass pen, the kind with a whorled tip meant to catch and hold ink. "You will have to cut yourself and draw your own blood," said Camille. "Normally I would do it myself, but the Mark prevents me. Therefore we must improvise."
Simon hesitated. This was bad. Very bad. He knew enough about the supernatural world to know what oaths meant to Downworlders. They were not just empty promises that could be broken. They truly bound the promiser, like virtual manacles. If he signed the oath, he really would be loyal to Camille. Possibly forever.