City of Heavenly Fire (The Mortal Instruments 6) - Page 45

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“A lot of things shouldn’t be possible,” Clary said, raking her fingers through her hair. She wanted a shower, but she couldn’t bear the thought of standing there alone, under the water. Thinking about her mother. About Luke. The idea of losing either of them, never mind both of them, was as terrifying as the idea of being abandoned out at sea: a tiny speck of humanity surrounded by miles of water around and below, and empty sky above. Nothing to moor her to earth.

Mechanically she started to divide her hair into two braids. A second later Isabelle had appeared behind her in the mirror. “Let me do that,” she said gruffly, and took hold of the strands of Clary’s hair, her fingers working the curls expertly.

Clary closed her eyes and let herself be lost for a moment in the sensation of someone else taking care of her. When she had been a little girl, her mother had braided her hair every morning before Simon had come to pick her up for school. She remembered his habit of undoing the ribbons while she was drawing, and hiding them in places—her pockets, her backpack—waiting for her to notice and throw a pencil at him.

It was impossible, sometimes, to believe that her life had once been so ordinary.

“Hey,” Isabelle said, nudging her. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” Clary said. “I’m fine. Everything’s fine.”

“Clary.” She felt Isabelle’s hand on her hand, slowly unclosing Clary’s fingers. Her hand was wet. Clary realized that she had been gripping one of Isabelle’s hairpins so tightly that the ends had dug into her palm and blood was running down her wrist. “I don’t—I don’t even remember picking that up,” she said numbly.

“I’ll take it.” Isabelle pulled it away. “You’re not fine.”

“I have to be fine,” Clary said. “I have to be. I have to stay in control and not fall apart. For my mom and for Luke.”

Isabelle made a gentle, noncommittal noise. Clary was aware that the other girl’s stele was sweeping over the back of her hand, and the flow of blood was slowing. She still felt no pain. There was only the darkness at the edge of her vision, the darkness that threatened to close in every time she thought about her parents. She felt like she was drowning, kicking at the edges of her own consciousness to keep herself alert and above the water.

Isabelle suddenly gasped and jumped back.

“What is it?” Clary asked.

“I saw a face, a face at the window—”

Clary seized Heosphoros from her belt and started to make her way across the room. Isabelle was right behind her, her silver-gold whip uncurling from her hand. It slashed forward, and the tip curled around the handle of the window and yanked it open. There was a yelp, and a small, shadowy figure fell forward onto the rug, landing on hands and knees.

Isabelle’s whip snapped back into her grasp as she stared, wearing a rare look of astonishment. The shadow on the floor uncurled, revealing a diminutive figure clad in black, the smudge of a pale face, and a tousle of long blonde hair, coming free from a careless braid.

“Emma?” Clary said.

The southwest part of the Long Meadow in Prospect Park was deserted at night. The moon, half-full, shone down on the distant view of Brooklyn brownstones beyond the park, the outline of bare trees, and the space that had been cleared on the dry winter grass by the pack.

It was a circle, roughly twenty feet across, hemmed in by standing werewolves. The whole of the downtown New York pack was there: thirty or forty wolves, young and old.

Leila, her dark hair bound back in a ponytail, stalked to the center of the circle and clapped once for attention. “Members of the pack,” she said. “A challenge has been issued. Rufus Hastings has challenged Bartholomew Velasquez for the seniority and leadership of the New York pack.” There was a muttering in the crowd; Leila raised her voice. “This is an issue of temporary leadership in the absence of Luke Garroway. No discussion of replacing Luke as leader will be had at this time.” She clasped her hands behind her back. “Please step forward, Bartholomew and Rufus.”

Bat stepped forward into the circle, and a moment later Rufus followed. Both were dressed unseasonably in jeans, T-shirts, and boots, their arms bare despite the chill air.

“The rules of the challenge are these,” said Leila. “Wolf must fight wolf without weapons save the weapons of tooth and claw. Because it is a challenge for leadership, the fight will be a fight to death, not to the blood. Whoever lives will be leader, and all other wolves will swear loyalty to him tonight. Do you understand?”

Bat nodded. He looked tense, his jaw set; Rufus was grinning all over, his arms swinging at his sides. He waved away Leila’s words. “We all know how it works, kid.”

Her lips compressed into a thin line. “Then you may begin,” she said, though as she moved back into the circle with the others, she muttered, “Good luck, Bat” under her breath just loudly enough for everyone to hear her.

Rufus didn’t seem bothered. He was still grinning, and the moment Leila stepped back into the circle with the pack, he lunged.

Bat sidestepped him. Rufus was big and heavy; Bat was lighter and a shade faster. He spun sideways, just missing Rufus’s claws, and came back with an uppercut that snapped Rufus’s head back. He pressed his advantage quickly, raining down blows that sent the other wolf stumbling back; Rufus’s feet dragged along the ground as a low growl began in the depths of his throat.

His hands hung at his sides, his fingers clenched in. Bat swung again, landing a punch to Rufus’s shoulder, just as Rufus turned and slashed out with his left hand. His claws were fully extended, massive and gleaming in the moonlight. It was clear he had sharpened them somehow. Each one was like a razor, and they raked across Bat’s chest, slicing open his shirt, and his skin with it. Scarlet bloomed across Bat’s rib cage.

“First blood,” Leila called, and the wolves began to stamp, slowly, each raising their left foot and bringing it down in a regular beat, so that the ground seemed to echo like a drum.

Rufus grinned again and advanced on Bat. Bat swung and hit him, landing another punch to the jaw that brought blood to Rufus’s mouth; Rufus turned his head to the side and spit red onto the grass—and kept coming. Bat backed up; his claws were out now, his eyes gone flat and yellow. He growled and flung out a kick; Rufus grabbed his leg and twisted, sending Bat to the ground. He flung himself after Bat, but the other werewolf had already rolled away, and Rufus landed on the ground in a crouch.

Bat staggered to his feet, but it was clear that he was losing blood. Blood had rolled down his chest and was soaking the waistband of his jeans, and his hands were wet with it. He slashed out with his claws; Rufus turned, taking the blow on his shoulder, four shallow cuts. With a snarl he seized Bat’s wrist and twisted. The sound of snapping bone was loud, and Bat gasped and pulled back.

Rufus lunged. The weight of him bore Bat to the ground, slamming Bat’s head hard against a tree root. Bat went limp.

The other wolves were still pounding the earth with their feet. Some of them were openly weeping, but none moved forward as Rufus sat up on Bat, one hand pressing him flat to the grass, the other raised, the razors of his fingers gleaming. He moved in for the killing blow—

“Stop.” Maia’s voice rang out through the park. The other wolves looked up in shock. Rufus grinned.

“Hey, little girl,” he said.

Maia didn’t move. She was in the middle of the circle. Somehow she had pushed past the line of wolves without them noticing. She wore cords and a denim jacket, her hair pulled tightly back. Her expression was severe, almost blank.

“I want to issue a challenge,” she said.

“Maia,” Leila said. “You know the law! ‘When ye fight with a wolf of the pack, ye must fight him alone and afar, Lest others take part in the quarrel, and the pack be diminished by war.’ You cannot interrupt the battle.”

“Rufus is about to deliver the death blow,” Maia said unemotionally. “Do you really feel like I need to wait that five minutes before I issue my challenge? I will, if Rufus is too scared to fight me with Bat still breathing—”

Rufus leaped off Bat’s limp body with a roar, and advanced on Maia. Leila’s voice rose in panic:

“Maia, get out of there! Once there’s first blood, we can’t stop the fight—”

Rufus lunged at Maia. His claws tore the edge of her jacket; Maia dropped to her knees and rolled, then came up onto her knees, her claws extended. Her heart was slamming against her rib cage, sending wave after wave of icy-hot blood through her veins. She could feel the sting of the cut on her shoulder. First blood.

The werewolves began to stamp the earth again, though this time they weren’t silent. There was muttering and gasping in the ranks. Maia did her best to block it out, ignore it. She saw Rufus step toward her. He was a shadow, outlined by moonlight, and in that moment she saw not just him but also Sebastian, looming over her on the beach, a cold prince carved out of ice and blood.

Your boyfriend’s dead.

Her fist clenched against the ground. As Rufus threw himself at her, razor claws extended, she rose and flung her handful of dirt and grass into his face.

He staggered back, choking and blinded. Maia stepped forward and slammed her boot down on his foot; she felt the small bones shatter, heard him scream; in that moment, when he was distracted, she jammed her claws into his eyes.

A scream ripped from his throat, quickly cut off. He slumped backward, collapsing onto the grass with a loud crash that made her think of a tree falling. She looked down at her hand. It was covered in blood and smears of liquid: brain matter and vitreous humor.

She dropped to her knees and threw up in the grass. Her claws slid back in, and she wiped her hands on the ground, over and over, as her stomach spasmed. She felt a hand on her back and looked up to see Leila leaning over her. “Maia,” she said softly, but her voice was drowned out by the pack chanting the name of their new leader: “Maia, Maia, Maia.”

Leila’s eyes were dark and concerned. Maia rose to her feet, wiping her mouth on the sleeve of her jacket, and hurried across the grass to Bat. She bent down beside him and touched her hand to his cheek. “Bat?” she said.

With an effort he opened his eyes. There was blood on his mouth, but he was breathing steadily. Maia guessed he was already healing from Rufus’s blows. “I didn’t know you fought dirty,” he said with a half smile.

Maia thought of Sebastian and his glittering grin and the bodies on the beach. She thought of what Lily had told her. She thought of the Shadowhunters behind their wards, and of the fragility of the Accords and Council. It’s going to be a dirty war, she thought, but that wasn’t what she said out loud.

“I didn’t know your name was Bartholomew.” She picked up his hand, held it in her own bloody one. All around them the pack was still chanting. “Maia, Maia, Maia.”

He closed his eyes. “Everyone’s got their secrets.”

Tags: Cassandra Clare The Mortal Instruments Young Adult