Angels Twice DescendingCassandra Clare
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"I think we should have a funeral," George Lovelace said, voice trembling on the last word. "A proper one."
Simon Lewis paused in his labors and peered up at his roommate. George was the kind of guy Simon had once loathed on sight, assuming anyone with that bronze glow, those six-pack abs, that maddeningly sexy (at least, according to every girl and more than a few of the guys Simon had checked with) Scottish brogue, must have a brain the size of a rat turd and a personality about as appealing. But George turned Simon's assumptions on their head on a daily basis. As he was doing right at this moment, wiping away something that looked suspiciously like a tear.
"Are you . . . crying?" Simon asked, incredulous.
"Of course not." George gave his eyes another furious wipe. "Well, in my defense," he added, sounding only slightly abashed, "death is a terrible thing."
"It's a dead rat," Simon pointed out. "A dead rat in your shoe, I might add." Simon and George had discovered that the key to a happy roommate relationship was clear division of labor. So George was in charge of disposing of all creatures--rats, lizards, cockroaches, the occasional odd-shaped mishmash of the three whose ancestor had, presumably, once insulted a warlock--found in the closets or beneath the beds. Simon handled all those that had crawled inside items of clothing and--he shuddered to remember the moment they realized this labor needed assigning--under pillows. "Also, for the record, only one of us has actually been a rat--and you'll note he's not the one crying."
"It could be the last dead rat we ever find!" George sniffled. "Think about it, Si. This could be the last shared dead rat of our entire lives."
Simon sighed. As Ascension Day approached, the day they would officially stop being students and start being Shadowhunters, George had been mournfully noting every last time they did anything. Now, as the moon rose over their last night at the Academy, he'd apparently lost his mind. A little nostalgia made sense to Simon: That morning, at their last-ever calisthenics session, Delaney Scarsbury had called him a spaghetti-armed, four-eyed, bow-legged demon-snack-in-waiting for the last time, and Simon had almost said thank you. And that night's final bowl of "meat-flavored" custard had admittedly gotten them all a little choked up.
But losing it over a rat with stiffening limbs and athlete's foot? That was taking things too far.
Using the torn-off cover from his old demonology textbook, Simon managed to scoop the rat out of the shoe without touching it. He dropped it into one of the plastic bags he'd had Isabelle bring him specifically for this purpose, tied the bag tightly, then--humming taps--dropped it into the trash.
"RIP, Jon Cartwright the Thirty-Fourth," George said solemnly.
They named all their rats Jon Cartwright--a fact that drove the original Jon Cartwright nuts. Simon smiled at the thought of it, their gallingly cocky classmate's forehead flush with anger, that vein in his disgustingly muscled neck starting to throb. Maybe George was right.
Maybe, someday, they would even miss the rats.
Simon had never put much effort into imagining his graduation day, much less the night before. Like prom and homecoming, these seemed like rituals meant for a very different kind of teenager--the school-spirited, letter-jacketed jocks and cheerleaders he knew mostly from bad movies. No keg parties for him, no weepy farewells or ill-advised hookups fueled by nostalgia and cheap beer. Two years ago, if he'd bothered to think about it at all, Simon would have assumed he'd spend that night like he'd spent most of his nights in Brooklyn, hanging with Eric and the guys in Java Jones, guzzling coffee and brainstorming names for the band. (Dead Sneaker Rat, Simon mused out of habit. Or maybe Rodent Funeral.)
Of course, that was back when he'd assumed high school would lead to college, which would lead to rock stardom . . . or at least a moderately cool job at a moderately cool record label. Before he knew there was such a thing as demons, before he knew there was a race of superpowered, angel-blooded warriors eternally pledged to battle them--and definitely before he'd volunteered himself up to be one of them.
So instead of Java Jones, he was in the Academy's student lounge, squinting through candlelight, sneezing from two centuries' worth of dust, and dodging the intimidating glares of noble Shadowhunters past whose portraits lined the room, their expressions seeming to say, How could you possibly imagine you could be one of us? Instead of Eric, Matt, and Kirk, who he'd known since kindergarten, he was with friends he'd met only a couple of years before, one of whom nurtured an intense affection for rats and another who shared his name with them. Instead of speculating about their futures in rock and roll, they were readying themselves for a life battling multidimensional evils. Assuming, that is, they survived graduation.
Which wasn't exactly a safe assumption to make.
"What do you think it will be like?" Marisol Garza asked now, nestled beneath Jon Cartwright's beefy arm and looking like she was almost happy to be there. "The ceremony, I mean. What do you think we'll have to do?"
Jon, like Julie Beauvale and Beatriz Mendoza, descended from a long line of Shadowhunters. For them, tomorrow was just another day, his official farewell to student life. Time to stop training and start battling.
But for George, Marisol, Simon, Sunil Sadasivan, and a handful of other mundane students, tomorrow loomed as the day they Ascended.
No one was quite sure what it meant: Ascension. Much less what it entailed. They'd been told very little: That they would drink from the Mortal Cup. That they would, like the first of the warrior race, Jonathan Shadowhunter, sip the blood of an angel. That they would, if they were lucky, be transformed on the spot into real, full-blooded Shadowhunters. That they would say good-bye to their mundane lives forever and pledge themselves to a fearless life of service to humanity.
Or if they were very unlucky, they would die an immediate and presumably gruesome death.
It didn't exactly make for a festive evening.
"I'm just wondering what's in the Cup," Simon said. "You don't think it's actual blood, do you?"
"Isn't that your specialty, Lewis?" Jon sneered.
George sighed wistfully. "The last time Jon makes a stupid vampire joke."
"I wouldn't count on it," Simon muttered.
Marisol whacked Jon's shoulder. "Shut up, idiot," she said. But she said it rather too lovingly for Simon's taste.
"I bet it's water," Beatriz said, always the peacemaker. "Water that you're supposed to pretend is blood, or that the Cup turns into blood, or something like that."
"It doesn't matter what's in the Cup," Julie said in her best obnoxiously knowing way, even though she clearly didn't know any better than the rest of them. "The Cup's magic. You could probably drink ketchup out of it and it would still work."
"I hope it's coffee, then," Simon said with a wistful sigh of his own. The Academy was a caffeine-free zone. "I would be a much better Shadowhunter if I got to Ascend well-caffeinated."
"Sunil said he heard that it's water from Lake Lyn," Beatriz said skeptically. Simon hoped she was right to be skeptical; his last encounter with Lake Lyn's water had been unsettling, to say the least. And given that some unknown percentage of mundanes died upon Ascending, it seemed to him like the Cup didn't need any additional help on the occasionally fatal front.
"Where is Sunil, anyway?" Simon asked. They hadn't exactly made a plan
to meet up tonight, but the Academy offered limited recreational options--at least if you didn't enjoy spending your free time accidentally getting locked in the dungeons or stalking the giant magical slug rumored to slither through the corridors in the predawn hours. Most nights for the last couple of months, Simon and his friends had ended up here, talking about their futures, and he'd expected they would spend this last night the same way.
Marisol, who knew Sunil the best, shrugged. "Maybe he's 'considering his options.'" She curled her fingers around the phrase. This was how Dean Penhallow had advised students on the mundane track to spend their final evening, assuring them there was no shame in backing out at the last moment.
"Humiliation. Lifelong embarrassment over your mundie cowardice and guilt for wasting all of our very valuable time," Scarsbury had growled at them, and then, when the dean shot him a disapproving look, "But yeah, sure, no shame."
"Well, shouldn't he be 'considering'?" Julie asked. "Shouldn't you all be? It's not like going to doctor school and taking the Hypocritical oath or something. You don't get to change your mind."
"First of all, it's the Hippocratic oath," Marisol said.
"And it's called medical school," Jon put in, looking rather proud of himself. Marisol had been schooling him on mundane life. Against his will, or so Jon had led them to believe.
"Second of all," Marisol added, "why would you think any of us would be likely to change our minds? Are you planning to change your mind about being a Shadowhunter?"
Julie looked affronted by the idea. "I am a Shadowhunter. You might as well have asked if I'm planning to change my mind about being alive."
"So what makes you think it's any different for us?" Marisol said fiercely. She was the youngest of them by two years and the smallest by several inches, but Simon sometimes thought that she was the bravest. She was certainly the one he'd bet on in a fight. (Marisol fought well--she also, when necessary, fought dirty.)
"She didn't mean anything by it," Beatriz said gently.
"I really didn't," Julie said quickly.
Simon knew it was true. Julie couldn't help sounding like a mundane-hating snob sometimes, any more than Jon could help sounding like--well, like an asshole sometimes. That's who they were, and Simon realized that, inexplicably, he wouldn't have it any other way. For better or worse, these were his friends. In two years they'd faced so much together: demons, faeries, Delaney Scarsbury, the dining hall "food." It was almost like a family, Simon reflected. You didn't necessarily like them all the time, but you knew, push come to shove, you'd defend them to the death.
Though he very much hoped it wouldn't come to that.
"Come on, aren't you a little nervous?" Jon asked. "Who can remember the last time anyone Ascended? It sounds utterly ridiculous when you think about it: One drink from a cup and--poof--Lewis is a Shadowhunter?"
"It doesn't sound ridiculous to me," Julie said softly, and they all fell silent. Julie's mother had been Turned during the Dark War. One drink from Sebastian's Infernal Cup, and she'd become Endarkened. A shell of a person, nothing more than a hollow vessel for Sebastian's evil commands.
They all knew what one drink from a cup could do.
George cleared his throat. He couldn't stand a somber mood for more than thirty seconds--it was one of the things Simon would miss most about living with him. "Well, I for one am entirely ready to claim my birthright," he said cheerfully. "Do you think I'll become unbearably arrogant on first sip, or will it take a little time to catch up with Jon?"
"It's not arrogance if it's accurate," Jon said, grinning, and just like that, the night righted itself again.
Simon tried to pay attention to his friends' banter and did his best not to think about Jon's question, about whether or not he was nervous--whether he should be spending this night in sober consideration of his "options."
What options? How, after two years at the Academy, after all his training and study, after he'd sworn over and over again that he wanted to be a Shadowhunter, could he just walk away? How could he disappoint Clary and Isabelle like that . . . and if he did, how could they ever love him again?
He tried not to think about how it would be even harder for them to love him--or at least for him to appreciate it--if something went wrong in the ceremony, and he ended up dead.
He tried not to think about all the other people who loved him, the ones who, according to Shadowhunter Law, he was supposed to pledge never to see again. His mother. His sister.
Marisol and Sunil didn't have anyone waiting for them back home, something that had always seemed unbearably sad to Simon. But maybe it was easier, walking away when you were leaving nothing behind. Then there was George, the lucky one--his adopted parents were Shadowhunters themselves, even if they'd never picked up a sword. He would still be able to go home for regular Sunday dinners; he wouldn't even have to pick a new name.
George had been teasing him lately, saying that Simon shouldn't have much trouble picking a new name, either. "'Lightwood' has quite a ring to it, don't you think?" he liked to say. Simon was getting very good at feigning deafness.
Secretly, though, a blush rising to his cheeks, he would think: Lightwood . . . maybe. Someday. If he dared let himself hope.
In the meantime, though, he had to come up with a new name of his own, a name for his new Shadowhunter self--which was approximately as unfathomable as everything else about this process.
"Um, can I come in?" A scrawny, spectacled girl of around thirteen stood in the doorway. Simon thought her name was Milla, but he wasn't sure--the Academy's new class was so large, and so inclined to goggle at Simon from a distance, that he hadn't gotten to know many of them. This one had the eager but confused look of a mundane, one who, even after all these months, couldn't quite believe she was really here.
"It's public property," Julie said, a haughty--or rather, even haughtier-than-usual--note entering her voice. Julie loved lording it over the new kids.
The girl crept toward them skittishly. Simon found himself wondering how someone like her had ended up at the Academy--then caught himself. He knew better than to judge by appearances. Especially given how he'd looked when he showed up two years before, so skinny he could only fit into girl-size gear. You're thinking like a Shadowhunter, he chided himself.
Funny how that almost never sounded like a good thing.
"He told me to give this to you," the girl whispered, handing a folded paper to Marisol, and then quickly backing away. Marisol, Simon gathered, was somewhat of a hero to the younger mundanes.
"Who did?" Marisol asked, but the girl was already gone. Marisol shrugged and opened the note, her face falling as she read the message.
"What?" Simon asked, concerned.
Marisol shook her head.
Jon took her hand, and Simon expected her to slap him, but instead she squeezed tight. "It's from Sunil," she said in a tight, angry voice. She passed the note to Simon. "I guess he 'considered his options.'"
I can't do it, the note read. I know it probably makes me a coward, but I can't drink from that Cup. I don't want to die. I'm sorry. Say good-bye to everyone for me? And good luck.
They passed the note around one by one, as if needing to see the words in black and white before they could really believe it. Sunil had run away.
"We can't blame him," Beatriz said finally. "Everyone has to make his own choice."
"I can blame him," Marisol said, scowling. "He's making us all look bad."
Simon didn't think that was why she was really angry, not exactly. He was angry too--not because he thought Sunil was a coward, or had betrayed them. Simon was angry because he'd put so much effort into trying not to think about what could happen, or how this was his last chance to walk away, and now Sunil had made that impossible.
Simon stood up. "Think I need to get some air."
"Want company, mate?" George asked.
Simon shook his head, knowing George wouldn't be offended. It was another thing that made them such good
roommates--each knew when to leave the other alone.
"See you guys in the morning," Simon said. Julie and Beatriz smiled and waved good night, and even Jon gave him a sardonic salute. But Marisol wouldn't even look at him, and Simon wondered whether she thought he'd be the next to run.
He wanted to reassure her there was no chance of that. He wanted to swear that, in the morning, he'd be there beside the rest of them in the Council Hall, ready to take the Cup to his lips without reservation. But swearing was a serious thing for Shadowhunters. You never promised unless you were absolutely sure.
So Simon just said a final good night and left his friends behind.
Simon wondered whether, in the history of time, anyone had ever said, "I need to get some air," and actually meant it. Surely it was only ever used as code for "I need to be somewhere else." Which Simon did. The problem was, nowhere felt like the right place to be--so, for lack of a better idea, he decided his dorm room would have to do. At least there he could be alone.
This, at least, was the plan.
But when he stepped into the room, he found a girl sitting on his bed. A petite, redheaded girl whose face lit up at the sight of him.
Of all the strange things that had happened to Simon in the last couple of years, the strangest had to be that this--beautiful girls eagerly awaiting him in his bedroom--no longer seemed particularly strange at all.
"Clary," he said as he encompassed her in a fierce hug. It was all he needed to say, because that's the thing about a best friend. She knew exactly when he most needed to see her and how grateful and relieved he was--without his having to say a thing.
Clary grinned at him and slipped her stele back into her pocket. The Portal she'd created was still shimmering in the decrepit stone wall, by far the brightest thing in the room. "Surprised?"
"Wanted to get one last look at me before I go all buff and demon-fightery?" Simon teased.
"Simon, you do know that Ascending isn't going to be like getting bitten by a radioactive spider or something, right?"
"So you're saying I won't be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound? And I don't get my own Batmobile? I want my money back."
"Seriously, though, Simon--"