City of Ashes: Excerpt
The Hunter's Moon
Maia had never trusted beautiful boys, which was why she hated Jace Wayland the first time she ever laid eyes on him.
Her twin brother, Daniel, had been born with her mother’s honey-colored hair and huge dark eyes, and he’d turned out to be the sort of person who lit the wings of butterflies on fire to watch them burn and die as they flew. He’d tormented her as well, in small and petty ways at first, pinching her where the bruises wouldn’t show, switching the shampoo in her bottle for bleach. She’d gone to her parents but they hadn’t believed her. No one did, looking at Daniel; they confused beauty with innocence and harmlessness. When he broke her arm in ninth grade she’d run away from home, but her parents had brought her back. In tenth grade, Daniel had been knocked down in the street by a hit and run driver and killed instantly. Standing next to her parents at the graveside, Maia had been ashamed by her own overwhelming sense of relief. God, she thought, would surely punish her for being glad that her brother was dead.
The next year, He did. She’d met Jordan. Long dark hair, slim hips in worn jeans, indie-boy rocker shirts and lashes like a girl’s. She never thought he’d go for her — his type usually preferred skinny, pale girls in hipster glasses — but he seemed to like her rounded shape and soft, coffee-colored skin. He told her she was beautiful in between kisses. The first few months were like a dream; the last few months like a nightmare. He became possessive, controlling. When he was angry with her, he’d snarl, whip the back of his hand across her cheek leaving a mark like too much blusher. When she tried to break up with him, he’d pushed her, knocked her down in her own front yard until she ran inside and slammed the door.
Later, she’d let him see her kissing another boy, just to get the point across that it was over. She didn’t even remember that boy’s name any more. What she did remember was walking home that night, the rain misting her hair in fine droplets, mud splattering up the legs of her jeans as she took a shortcut through the park near her house. She remembered the dark shape exploding out from behind the metal merry-go-round, the huge wet wolf body knocking her into the mud, the savage pain as its jaws clamped down on her arm. She’d screamed and thrashed, tasting her own hot blood in her mouth, her brain screaming: This is impossible. Impossible. There weren’t wolves in New Jersey, not in her ordinary suburban neighborhood, not in the twenty-first century.
Her cries had brought lights on in the nearby houses, one after another of the windows lighting up like struck matches. The wolf let her go, her arm trailing ribbons of blood and torn flesh.
Twenty-four stitches in the arm later, she was back in her pink bedroom, her mother hovering anxiously. The emergency room doctor had said the bite looked like a large dog’s, but Maia knew better. As the wolf had turned to race away, she’d heard a hot, familiar, whispered voice in her ear, You’re mine now. You’ll always be mine.
She never saw Jordan again — he and his parents packed up their apartment and moved and none of his friends knew where he’d gone, or would admit they did. She was only half surprised the next full moon when the pains started: tearing pains that ripped up and down her legs, forcing her to the ground, bending her spine the way a fortuneteller might bend a spoon. When her teeth burst out of her gums and rattled to the floor like spilled Chiclets, she fainted. Or though she did. She woke up miles away from her house, naked and covered in blood, the scar on her arm pulsing like a heartbeat. That night she hopped the train to Manhattan. It wasn’t a hard decision. There was no home to go back to, after all.
It hadn’t been that hard to find a pack to fall in with. There were several of them just in Manhattan. She wound up with the downtown pack, the ones who slept in the old police station in Chinatown.
Pack leaders were mutable. There’d been Kito first, then Véronique, then Anton, and now Luke. She’d liked Anton all right, but Luke was better. He had a trustworthy look and kind blue eyes and wasn’t too handsome, so she didn’t dislike him on the spot. She was comfortable enough here with the pack, sleeping in the old police station, playing cards and eating Chinese food on nights when the moon wasn’t full, hunting through the park when it was, and the next day drinking off the hangover of the Change at the Hunter’s Moon, one of the city’s better underground werewolf bars. There was ale by the yard, and nobody ever carded you to see if you were under twenty-one. Being a lycanthrope made you grow up fast, and as long as you sprouted hair and fangs once a month you were good to drink at the Moon, no matter how old you were in mundane years.
These days she hardly thought of her family at all, but when the blond boy in the long black coat stalked his way into the bar, Maia stiffened all over. He didn’t look like Daniel, not exactly — Daniel had had dark hair that curled close to the nape of his neck and coffee skin, and this boy was all white and gold. But they had the same lean bodies, the same way of walking, like a panther on the lookout for prey, and the same total confidence in their own attraction. Her hand tightened convulsively around the stem of her glass and she had to remind herself: He’s dead. Daniel’s dead.
A rush of murmurs swept through the bar on the heels of the boy’s arrival, like the froth of a wave spreading out from the stern of a boat. The boy acted as if he didn’t notice anything, hooking a barstool towards himself with a booted foot and settling onto it with his elbows on the bar. Maia heard him order a shot of single malt in the quiet that followed the murmurs. He downed half the drink with a neat flip of his wrist. The liquor was the same dark gold color as his hair. When he lifted his hand to set the glass back down on the bar, Maia saw the thick coiling black marks on his wrists and the backs of his hands.
Bat, the guy sitting next to her — she’d dated him once, but they were just friends now — muttered something under his breath that sounded like Nephilim.
So that’s it, Maia thought. The boy wasn’t a werewolf at all. He was a Shadowhunter, a member of the arcane world’s secret police force. They upheld the Law, backed by the Covenant, and you couldn’t become one of them: you had to be born into it. Blood made them what they were. There were a lot of rumors about them, most unflattering: they were haughty, proud, cruel; they looked down on and despised Downworlders. There were few things a lycanthrope liked less than a Shadowhunter — except maybe a vampire.
People also said that the Shadowhunters killed demons. Maia remembered when she’d first heard that demons existed and been told about what they did. It had given her a headache. Vampires and werewolves were just people with a disease, that much she understood, but expecting her to believe in all that Heaven and Hell crap, demons and angels, and still nobody could tell her for sure if there was a God or not, or where you went after you died? It wasn’t fair. She believed in them now — she’d seen enough of what they did not to be able to deny it — but she wished she didn’t have to.
"I take it,” the boy said, leaning his elbows on the bar, “that you don’t serve Silver Bullet here. Too many bad associations?”
The bartender, Freaky Pete, just looked at the boy and shook his head in disgust. If the boy hadn’t been a Shadowhunter, Maia guessed, Pete would have tossed him out of the Moon, but instead he just walked to the other end of the bar and busied himself polishing glasses.
The boy’s eyes gleamed, narrow and shining, like the moon at a quarter full.
"Actually,” said Bat, who was unable to stay out of anything, “we don’t serve it because it’s really crappy beer.”
The boy turned his narrow, shining gaze on Bat, and smiled delightedly. Most people didn’t smile delightedly when Bat looked at them funny: Bat was six and a half feet tall, his narrow features saved from handsomeness by the thick scar that disfigured half his face, where silver powder had burned his skin. Bat wasn’t one of the overnighters, the Pack who lived in the police station, sleeping in the old cells. He had his own apartment, even a job. He’d been a pretty good boyfriend, right up until he dumped Maia for a red-headed witch named Eve who lived in Yonkers and ran a palmistry shop out of her garage.
"And what are you drinking?” the boy inquired, leaning so close to Bat that it was like an insult. “A little hair of the dog that bit — well, everyone?”
"You really think you’re pretty funny,” said Bat. By this point the rest of the Pack was leaning in to hear them, ready to back up Bat if he decided to knock this obnoxious brat into the middle of next week. “Don’t you?”
“Bat,” Maia said. She wondered if she were the only Pack member in the bar who doubted Bat’s ability to knock the boy into next week. It wasn’t that she doubted Bat. It was something about the boy’s eyes. “Don’t.”
Bat ignored her. “Don’t you?” he said, again.
"Who am I to deny the obvious?” the boy inquired. His eyes slid over Maia like water, as if she were invisible, and went back to Bat. “I don’t suppose you’d like to tell me what happened to your face? It looks like —” and here he leaned forward and said something to Bat so quietly that Maia didn’t hear it. The next thing she knew, Bat was swinging a blow at the boy that should have shattered his jaw, only the boy was no longer there. He was standing a good five feet away, laughing, as Bat’s fist connected with the boy’s glass and sent it soaring across the bar to strike the opposite wall in a shower of shattering glass.
Freaky Pete was around the side of the bar, his big fist knotted in Bat’s shirt, before Maia could blink an eye. “That’s enough,” he said. “Bat, why don’t you take a walk and cool down.”
Bat twisted in Pete’s grasp. “Take a walk? Did you hear —“
"I heard.” Pete’s voice was low. “He’s a Shadowhunter. Walk it off, Bat.”
Bat swore and pulled away from the bartender. He stalked toward the exit, his shoulders stiff with rage. The door banged shut behind him.
The boy had stopped smiling and was looking at Freaky Pete with a sort of dark resentment, as if the bartender had taken away a toy he’d intended to play with. “That wasn’t necessary,” he said. “I can handle myself.”
Pete regarded the Shadowhunter with opaque eyes. “It’s my bar I’m worried about,” he said, finally. “You might want to take your business elsewhere, Shadowhunter, if you don’t want any trouble.”
"I didn’t say I didn’t want trouble.” The boy sat back down on his stool. “Besides, I didn’t get to finish my drink.”
Maia glanced behind her, where the wall of the bar was soaked with alcohol. “Looks like you finished it to me.”
For a second, the boy just looked blank; then a curious spark of amusement lit in his golden eyes. He looked so much like Daniel in that moment that Maia wanted to back away.
Pete slid another glass of amber liquid across the bar before the boy could reply to her. “Here you go,” he said. His eyes drifted to Maya. She thought she saw some admonishment in them.
"Pete—“ she began. She didn’t get to finish. The door to the bar flew open. Bat was standing there in the doorway. It took a moment for Maia to realize that the front of his shirt and his sleeves were soaked with blood.
She slid off her stool and ran to him. “Bat! Are you hurt?”
His face was gray, his silvery scar standing out on his cheek like a piece of twisted wire. “An attack,” he said. “There’s a body in the alley. A dead kid. Blood — everywhere.” He shook his head, looked down at himself. “Not my blood. I’m fine.”
"A body? But who —”
Bat’s reply was swallowed in the commotion. Seats were abandoned as the pack rushed to the door. Pete came out from behind his counter and pushed his way through the mob. Only the Shadowhunter boy stayed where he was, his head bent over his drink.
Through gaps in the crowd around the door, Maia caught a glimpse of the gray paving of the alley, splashed with blood. It was still wet and it had run between the cracks in the paving like the tendrils of a red plant. “His throat cut?” Pete was saying to Bat, whose color had come back.
"There was someone in the alley. Someone kneeling over him,” Bat said. His voice was tight. “Not like a person — like a shadow. They ran off when they saw me. He was still alive. A little. I bent down over him, but —” Bat shrugged. It was a casual movement, but the cords in his neck were standing out like thick roots wrapping a tree trunk. “He died without saying anything.”
"Vampires,” said a buxom female lycanthrope — her name was Amabel, Maia thought — who was standing by the door. “The Night Children. It can’t have been anything else.”
Bat looked at her, then turned and stalked across the room toward the bar. He grabbed the Shadowhunter by the back of the jacket — or reached out as if he meant to, but the boy was already on his feet, turning fluidly. “What’s your problem, werewolf?”
Bat’s hand was still outstretched. “Are you deaf, Nephilim?” he snarled. “There’s a dead boy in the alley. One of ours.”
"Do you mean a lycanthrope or some other sort of Downworlder?” The boy arched his light eyebrows. “You all blend together to me.”
There was a low growl — from Freaky Pete, Maia noticed with some surprise. He had come back into the bar and was surrounded by the rest of the Pack, their eyes fixed on the Shadowhunter. “He was only a cub,” said Pete. “His name was Joseph.”
The name didn’t ring any bells for Maia, but she saw the tight set of Pete’s jaw and felt a flutter in her stomach. The Pack was on the warpath now and if the Shadowhunter had any sense he’d be backpedaling like crazy. He wasn’t, though, he was just standing there looking at them with those goid eyes and that funny smile on his face. “A lycanthrope boy?” he said.
"He was one of the Pack,” said Pete. “He was only fifteen.”
"And what exactly do you expect me to do about it?” said the boy.
Pete was staring. “You’re Nephilim,” he said. “The Clave owes us protection in these circumstances.”
The boy looked around the bar, slowly and with such a look of insolence that a flush spread over Pete’s face.
"I don’t see anything you need protecting from here,” said the boy. “Except some bad décor and a possible mold problem. But you can usually clear that up with bleach.”
"There’s a dead body outside this bar’s front door,” said Bat, enunciating carefully. “Don’t you think —”
"I think it’s a little too late for him to need protection,” said the boy, “if he’s already dead.”
Pete was still staring. His ears had grown pointed, and when he spoke his voice was muffled by his thickening canine teeth. “You want to be careful, Nephilim,” he said. “You want to be very careful.”
The boy looked at him with opaque eyes. “Do I?”
"So you’re going to do nothing?” Bat said. “Is that it?”
" I’m going to finish my drink,” said the boy, eyeing his half-empty glass, still on the counter, “if you’ll let me.”
“So that’s the attitude of the Clave, a week after the Accords?” said Pete with disgust. “The death of Downworlders is still worth nothing to you?”
The boy smiled, and Maia’s spine prickled. He looked exactly like Daniel just before Daniel reached out and yanked the wings off a ladybug. “You Downworlders,” he said, “expecting the Clave to clean your mess up for you. As if we could be bothered just because some stupid cub decided to splatterpaint himself all over your alley —”
And he used a word, a word for weres that they never used themselves, a filthily unpleasant word that implied an improper relationship between wolves and human women.
Before anyone else could move, Bat flung himself at the Shadowhunter – but the boy was gone. Bat stumbled and whirled around, staring. The Pack gasped. Amabel cried, “There, on the bar!”
Maia looked up and her mouth dropped open. The Shadowhunter boy stood on the bar, feet planted wide apart, and he really did look like an avenging angel getting ready to dispatch divine justice from on high, as the Shadowhunters were meant to do. Then he reached out a hand and curled his fingers towards himself, quickly, a gesture familiar to her from the playground as Come and get me—and the pack rushed at him.
Bat and Amabel swarmed up onto the bar; the boy spun, so quickly that his reflection in the mirror behind the bar seemed to blur. Maia saw him kick out, and then the two were groaning on the floor in a flurry of smashed glass. She could hear the boy laughing even as someone else reached up and pulled him down; he sank into the crowd with an ease that spoke of willingness, and then she couldn’t see him at all, just a welter of flailing arms and legs. Still, she thought she could hear him laughing, even as metal flashed — the edge of a knife — and she heard herself suck in her breath.
It was Luke’s voice, quiet, steady as a heartbeat. It was strange how you always knew your pack leader’s voice, part of the weird alchemy of the pack mentality. Maia turned and saw him standing just at the entrance to the bar, one hand against the wall. He looked not just tired, but ravaged, as if something were tearing him down from the inside; still, his voice was calm as he said, again, “That’s enough. Leave the Nephilim alone.”
The pack melted away from the Shadowhunter, leaving just Bat still standing there, defiant, one hand still gripping the back of the Shadowhunter’s shirt, the other holding a short-bladed knife. The boy himself was bloody-faced but hardly looked like someone who needed saving; he was grinning a grin as dangerous-looking as the broken glass that littered the floor. “He’s not a boy,” Bat said, defensively. “He’s a Shadowhunter.”
"They’re welcome enough here,” said Luke, his tone neutral. “They are our allies.”
"He said it didn’t matter,” said Bat, angrily. “About Joseph —”
"I know,” Luke said quietly. His eyes shifted to the blond boy. “Did you come in here just to pick a fight, Jace Wayland?”
The boy —Jace — smiled, stretching his split lip so that a thin trickle of blood ran down his chin. “Luke.”
Bat, startled to hear their pack leader’s first name come out of the Shadowhunter’s mouth, let go of the back of Jace’s shirt. “I didn’t know —”
"There’s nothing to know,” said Luke, the tiredness in his eyes creeping into his voice.
Freaky Pete spoke, his voice a bass rumble. “He said the Clave wouldn’t care about the death of a single lyncathrope, even a child. And it’s a week after the Accords, Luke.”
"Jace doesn’t speak for the Clave,’” said Luke, “and there’s nothing he could have done even if he wanted to. Isn’t that right?”
He looked at Jace, who was very pale. “How do you —”
"I know what happened,” said Luke. “With the Lightwoods.”
Jace stiffened, and for a moment Maia saw through the Daniel-like savage amusement to what was underneath, and it was dark and agonized and reminded her more of her own eyes in the mirror than of her brother’s. “Who told you? Clary?”
"Not Clary.” Maia had never heard Luke speak that name before, but he said it with a tone that implied that this was someone special to him, and to the Shadowhunter boy as well. Luke held a hand out. “I’m the Pack leader, Jace, I hear things. Now come on. Let’s go to Pete’s office and talk.”
Jace hesitated for a moment before shrugging. “Fine,” he said, “but you owe me for the scotch I didn’t drink.”
"That was my last guess,” Clary said with a defeated sigh, sinking down onto the steps outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art and staring disconsolately down Fifth Avenue.
"It was a good one." Simon sat down beside her, long legs sprawled out in front of him. "I mean, he's a guy who likes weapons and killing, so why not the biggest collection of weapons in the whole city? And I'm always up for a visit to Arms and Armor anyway. Gives me ideas for my campaign.”
She looked at him in surprise. “You still gaming with Eric and Kirk and them?”
"Sure. Why wouldn’t I be?”
"I thought gaming might have lost some of its appeal for you since…” Since our real lives started to resemble one of your campaigns, she thought. Complete with good guys, bad guys, really nasty magic, and important enchanted objects you had to find if you wanted to win the game.
Except in a game, the good guys always won, defeated the bad guys and came home with the treasure. Whereas in real life, they’d lost the treasure, and sometimes Clary still wasn’t clear on who the bad and good guys actually were.
She looked at Simon and felt a wave of sadness. If he did give up gaming, it would be her fault, just like everything that had happened to him in the past weeks had been her fault. She remembered his white face at the sink that morning, just before he’d kissed her.
"Simon —” she began.
"Right now I’m playing a half-troll cleric who wants revenge on the Orcs who killed his family,” he said cheerfully.
She glanced down, hiding her smile. “What’s your character’s name?”
"Hotshaft von Hugenstein.”
He grinned. “Who says I can’t steal Jace’s jokes? It’s not like he’s paying attention.”
She laughed just as her cell phone rang. She dug it out of her pocket and flipped it open; it was Luke. “We didn’t find him,” she said, before he could say hello.
"No. But I did.”
She sat up straight. “You’re kidding. Is he there? Can I talk to him?” She caught sight of Simon looking at her sharply and dropped her voice. “Is he all right?”
"Mostly,” Luke said cautiously.
"What do you mean, mostly?”
"He picked a fight with a werewolf pack. He’s got some cuts and bruises.”
Clary half-closed her eyes. Why, oh why, had Jace picked a fight with a pack of wolves? What had possessed him? Then again, it was Jace. He’d pick a fight with a Mack truck if the urge took him.
"I think you should come down here,” Luke said. “Someone has to reason with him and I’m not having much luck.”
“Where are you?” Clary asked, and he told her. A bar called the Hunter’s Moon on Hester Street. She wondered if it was glamoured. Flipping her phone shut, she turned to Simon, who was staring at her with raised eyebrows.
"The prodigal returns?” he inquired.
"Sort of.” She scrambled to her feet and stretched her tired legs, mentally calculating how long it would take them to get to Chinatown on the train and whether it was worth shelling out the pocket money Luke had given her for a cab. Probably not, she decided — if they got stuck in traffic it would take longer than the subway.
"…come with you?” Simon finished, standing up. He was on the step below her, which made them almost the same height. “What do you think?”
She opened her mouth, then closed it again quickly. “Er…”
He sounded resigned. “You haven’t heard a word I said these past two minutes, have you?”
"No,” she admitted. “I was thinking about Jace. It sounded like he was in bad shape. Sorry.”
"His brown eyes darkened. “I take it you’re rushing off to bind up his wounds?”
"Luke asked me to come down,” she said. “I was hoping you’d come with me.”
Simon kicked at the step above his with a booted foot. “I will, but — why? Can’t Luke return Jace to the Institute without your help?”
"Probably. But he thinks Jace might be willing to talk to me about what’s going on first.”
“I thought maybe we could do something tonight,” Simon said. “Something fun. See a movie. Get dinner downtown.”
She looked at him. In the distance, she could hear water splashing into a museum fountain. She thought of the kitchen at his house, the water running in the sink, his wet hands in her hair, but it all seemed very far away, even though she could picture it — the way you might remember the photograph of an incident without really remembering the incident itself any longer.
"He’s my —” Clary broke off, and tried again. “It's Jace. I have to go.”
Simon looked as if he were too weary to even sigh. “Then I’ll go with you.”