Bitter of TongueCassandra Clare
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The sun was shining, the birds were singing, and it was a beautiful day at Shadowhunter Academy.
Well, Simon was pretty sure the sun was shining. There was a faint luminescence to the air in his and George's underground chamber, casting a pleasant glow upon the green slime that coated their walls.
And all right, he could not hear the birds from his subterranean room, but George did come back from the showers singing.
"Good morning, Si! I saw a rat in the bathroom, but he was taking a nice nap and we didn't bother each other."
"Or the rat was dead of a very infectious disease which has now been introduced to our water system," Simon suggested. "We may be drinking plague-rat water for weeks."
"Nobody likes a Gloomy Gus," George scolded him. "Nobody likes a Sullen Si. Nobody is here for a Moody Mildred. No one fancies--"
"I have gathered the general tenor of your discourse, George," said Simon. "I object strongly to being referred to as a Moody Mildred. Especially as I really feel like I'm a Mildly Good-Humored Mildred right now. I see you're looking forward to your big day?"
"Have a shower, Si," George urged. "Start the day refreshed. Maybe style your hair a little. It wouldn't kill you."
Simon shook his head. "There's a dead rat in the bathroom, George. I am not going in the bathroom, George."
"He's not dead," George said. "He's just sleeping. I'm certain of it."
"Senseless optimism is how plagues get started," Simon said. "Ask the medieval peasants of Europe. Oh, wait, you can't."
"Were they a jolly bunch?" George asked skeptically.
"I'm sure they were much jollier before all the plague," said Simon.
He felt he was making really good points, and that he was backed up by history. He pulled off the shirt he'd slept in, which read LET'S FIGHT! and below in tiny letters OUR ENEMY OFF WITH CUNNING ARGUMENTS. George whipped Simon's back with his wet towel, which made Simon yelp.
Simon grinned as he pulled his gear out of their wardrobe. They were getting started right after breakfast, so he might as well change into gear straight off. Plus, every day wearing gear made for men was a victory.
He and George went up to breakfast in good humor with all the world.
"You know, this porridge isn't at all bad," Simon said, digging in. George nodded enthusiastically, his mouth full.
Beatriz looked sad for them, and possibly sad that boys were so stupid in general. "This isn't porridge," she told them. "These are scrambled eggs."
"Oh no," George whispered faintly, his mouth still full, his voice terribly sad. "Oh no."
Simon dropped his spoon and stared into the depths of his bowl with horror.
"If they are scrambled eggs . . . ?" he asked. "And I'm not arguing with you, Beatriz, I'm just asking what I feel is a very reasonable question . . . if they are scrambled eggs, why are they gray?"
Beatriz shrugged and continued eating, carefully avoiding the lumps. "Who can say?"
That could be made into a sad song, Simon supposed. If they are eggs, why are they gray? Who can say, who can say? He found himself still thinking of song lyrics sometimes, even though he was out of the band.
Admittedly, "Why Are the Eggs So Gray?" might not be a big hit, even on the hipster circuit.
Julie plopped her bowl down on the table beside Beatriz.
"The eggs are gray," she announced. "I don't know how they do this. Surely at this point, it would actually make sense for them not to mess up the food sometimes. Every time, every day, for over a year? Is the Academy cursed?"
"I have been thinking it might be," George said earnestly. "I hear an eldritch rattling sometimes, like ghosts shaking their terrible chains. Honestly, I was hoping the Academy was cursed, since otherwise it's probably creatures in the pipes." George shuddered. "Creatures."
Julie sat down. George and Simon exchanged a private pleased look. They had been keeping track of how often Julie chose to sit with the three of them, rather than with Jon Cartwright. Currently they were winning, sixty percent to forty.
Julie choosing to sit with them seemed like a good sign, since this was George's big day.
Now that they were Shadowhunter trainees in their second year, and in the words of Scarsbury "no longer totally hopeless and liable to cut off your own stupid heads," they were given their own slightly more important missions. Every mission had an appointed team leader, and the team leader got double points if the mission was a success. Julie, Beatriz, Simon, and Jon had already been team leaders, and they had killed it: everyone's mission accomplished, demons slain, people saved, Downworlders breaking the Law penalized severely but fairly. In some ways it was a pity that Jon's mission had gone so well, as he had bragged about it for weeks, but they couldn't help it. They were just too good, Simon thought, even as he slapped the wooden table so as not to jinx himself. There was no way for them to fail.
"Feeling nervous, team leader?" asked Julie. Simon had to admit she could sometimes be an unsettling companion.
"No," said George, and under Julie's gimlet eye: "Maybe. Yes. You know, an appropriate amount of nervous, but in a cool, collected, and good-under-pressure way."
"Don't go all to pieces," said Julie. "I want a perfect score."
An awkward silence followed. Simon comforted himself by looking over at Jon's table. When Julie abandoned him, Jon had to eat all alone. Unless Marisol decided she wanted to sit with him and torment him. Which, Simon noted, she was doing today. Little devil. Marisol was hilarious.
Jon made urgent gestures for help, but Julie had her back turned to him and did not see.
"I'm not saying this to scare you, George," she said. "That's a side benefit, obviously. This is an important mission. You know faeries are the worst kind of Downworlder. Faeries crossing over into the mundane realm and tricking the poor things into eating faerie fruit is no joke. Mundanes can wither away and die after eating that fruit, you know. It's murder, and it's murder we can hardly ever get them for, because by the time the mundanes die the faeries are long gone. You're taking this seriously, right?"
"Yes, Julie," said George. "I actually do know murder is bad, Julie."
Julie's whole face pursed up in that alarming way it did sometimes. "Remember it was you who almost screwed up my mission."
"I hesitated slightly to tackle that vampire child," George admitted.
"Precisely," said Julie. "No more hesitation. As our team leader, you have to act on your own initiative. I'm not saying you're bad, George. I am saying you need to learn."
"I'm not sure anybody needs this kind of motivational speech," Beatriz said. "It would freak anyone out. And it's too easy to freak George out as it is."
George, who had been looking touched at Beatriz's gallant defense, stopped looking touched.
"I just think they should do a repeat team leader occasionally," Julie grumbled, letting them know where all this hostility was coming from. She stabbed her gray eggs wistfully. "I was so good."
Simon raised his eyebrows. "You had a horsewhip and threatened to beat me about the head and face if I didn't do what you said."
Julie pointed her spoon at him. "Exactly. And you did what I said. That's leadership, that is. What's more, I didn't beat you about the head and face. Kind but firm, that's me."
Julie discussed her own greatness at some length. Simon got up to get anot
her glass of juice.
"What kind of juice do you think this is?" Catarina Loss asked, joining him in the line.
"Fruit," said Simon. "Just fruit. That's all they would tell me. I found it suspicious as well."
"I like fruit," Catarina said, but she did not sound sure about that. "I know you're excused from my class this afternoon. What are you up to this morning?"
"A mission to stop faeries from slipping over their borders and engaging in illicit trade," Simon said. "George is team leader."
"George is team leader?" Catarina asked. "Hm."
"Why is everyone so down on George today?" Simon demanded. "What's wrong with George? There's nothing wrong with George. It is not possible to find fault with George. He's a perfect Scottish angel. He always shares the snacks that his mother sends him, and he's better-looking than Jace. There, I said it. I'm not taking it back."
"I see you're in a good mood," said Catarina. "All right then. Go on, have a good time. Take care of my favorite student."
"Right," said Simon. "Wait, who's that?"
Catarina gestured him away from her with her indeterminate juice. "Get lost, Daylighter."
Everyone else was excited to go on another mission. Simon was looking forward to it as well, and pleased for George's sake. But Simon was mostly excited because after the mission, he had somewhere else to be.
The Fair Folk had been seen last on a moor in Devon. Simon was a bit excited to Portal there and hoped there would be time to see red postboxes and drink lager at an English pub.
Instead, the moor turned out to be a huge stretch of uneven field, rocks, and hills in the distance, no red postboxes or quaint pubs in sight. They were immediately given horses by the contact with the Sight who was waiting for them.
Lots of fields, lots of horses. Simon was not sure why they had bothered to leave the Academy, because this was an identical experience.
The first words George said as they were riding on the moor were: "I think it would be a good idea to split up."
"Like in . . . a horror movie?" Simon asked.
Julie, Beatriz, and Jon gave him looks of irritated incomprehension. Marisol's uncertain expression suggested she agreed with Simon, but she did not speak up and Simon didn't want to be the one mutinying against his friend's leadership. They would cover more moor if they split up. Maybe it was a great idea. More moor! How could it go wrong?
"I'll be partners with Jon," Marisol said instantly, a glint in her dark eyes. "I wish to continue our conversation from breakfast. I have many more things to say to him on the subject of video games."
"I don't want to hear any more about video games, Marisol!" snapped Jon, a Shadowhunter in a nightmare of torrential mundane information.
Marisol smiled. "I know."
Marisol had only just turned fifteen. Simon was not sure how she had worked out that telling Jon every detail about the mundane world would be such effective psychological terrorism. Her evil had only grown in the year and change Simon had known her. Simon had to respect that.
"And Si and I will be together," George said easily.
"Um," said Simon.
Neither he nor George was a Shadowhunter yet, and though Catarina helped them see through glamours, no mundane . . . er, non-Shadowhunter . . . was as securely protected from faerie glamour as one of the Nephilim. But Simon didn't want to question George's authority or suggest he didn't want to be partners. He was also scared of being partnered with Julie, and beaten about the head and face.
"Great," Simon finished weakly. "Maybe we can split up but also stay . . . within hearing range of each other?"
"You want to split up but stay together?" Jon asked. "Do you not know what words mean?"
"Do you know what the words 'World of Warcraft' mean?" asked Marisol menacingly.
"Yes, I do," said Jon. "All put together in that way, no, I do not, and I do not wish to."
He urged his horse onward across the moor. Marisol followed in pursuit. Simon stared at the back of Jon's head and worried he would go too far.
Except that they were meant to be splitting up. This was all right.
George gazed around at the remaining members of the team and appeared to come to a decision. "We'll stay within hearing range of each other, and comb over the moors, and see if we can see the Fair Folk in any of the places they were reported lurking. Are you with me, team?"
"I'm with you to the end, if it doesn't take too long! You know I'm going to Helen Blackthorn and Aline Penhallow's wedding," said Simon.
"Ugh, hate weddings," said George sympathetically. "You have to wear a monkey suit and go sit around for ages while everybody secretly hates each other over some fight about the flower arrangements. Plus, bagpipes. I mean, I don't know how Shadowhunter weddings go. Are there flowers? Are there bagpipes?"
"Can't talk right now," said Beatriz. "Picturing Jace Herondale in a tuxedo. In my head, he looks like a beautiful spy."
"James Bond," George contributed. "James Blond? I still don't like monkey suits. But it doesn't seem like you mind, Si."
Simon lifted a hand from the reins to point proudly to himself, a maneuver that would've had him falling off his horse a year ago. "This monkey is going as Isabelle Lightwood's date."
Just saying the words suffused Simon with a sense of well-being. In such a wonderful world, how could anything go wrong?
He looked around at his team: the whole lot of them, wearing long-sleeved gear against the winter chill, figures in black with bows strapped to their backs and their breath white plumes in the cold air, riding fast horses through the moors on a mission to protect humankind. His three friends by his side, and Jon and Marisol in the distance. George, so proud to be team leader. Marisol, scornful city kid, riding her horse with easy grace. Even Beatriz and Julie, even Jon, born Shadowhunters all, looked a little different to Simon, now that they were well into their second year at the Academy. Scarsbury had honed them, Catarina had lectured them, and even their fellow Academy students had changed them. Now the born Shadowhunters rode with mundanes and performed missions with them as a unit, and the so-called dregs could keep up.
The moor was rolling green, tree line to their left all quivering leaves as if the trees were dancing in the slight breeze. The sunlight was pale and clear, shining on their heads and their black clothes alike. Simon found himself thinking, with affection and pride, that they looked like they might make real Shadowhunters after all.
He noticed that by silent mutual agreement, Beatriz and Julie were coaxing their mounts on faster. Simon squinted up into the distance, where he could just about still make out Jon and Marisol, and then squinted at Beatriz's and Julie's backs. He felt again that pang of uneasiness.
"Why are they all racing ahead?" Simon asked. "Um, not to tell you your job, but, brave team leader, maybe command them not to go too far."
"Ah, give them a minute," George said. "You know she kind of likes you."
"What?" said Simon.
"Not that she's going to do anything about it," said George. "Nobody who likes you is going to do anything about it. On account of, nobody would enjoy having Isabelle Lightwood cut their head off."
"Likes me?" Simon echoed. "Something about the way you're talking suggests multiple people. Who like me."
George shrugged. "Apparently you're the type who grows on people. Don't ask me. I thought girls liked abs."
"I could have abs," Simon told him. "I watched in the mirror once and I think I found an ab. I'm telling you, all this training is doing my body good."
It wasn't like Simon thought he was a hideous creature or anything. He'd now seen several demons who had tentacles coming out of their eyes, and he was fairly sure it did not revolt people merely to look upon him.
But he wasn't Jace, who made girls' heads spin around as if they were possessed. It made no sense that out of all the students in the Academy, Beatriz might like him.
George rolled his eyes. George did not truly understand the slow devel
opment of actual physical fitness. He'd probably been born with abs. Some were born with abs, some achieved abs, and some--like Simon--had abs thrust upon them by cruel instructors.
"Yes, Si, you're a real killer."
"Feel this arm," said Simon. "Rock hard! I don't mean to brag, but it's all bone. All bone."
"Si," said George. "I don't need to feel it. I believe in you, because that's what bros do. And I'm happy for your mysterious popularity with the ladies, because that's how bros are. But seriously, watch out for Jon, because I think he's going to shank you one of these days. He does not get your indefinable but undeniable allure. He's got abs to the chin and he thought he had the ladies of the Academy locked down."
Simon rode on, somewhat dazed.
He'd been thinking that Isabelle's affection for him was a stunning and inexplicable occurrence, like a lightning strike. (Gorgeous and courageous lightning whom he was lucky to be struck by!) Given current evidence, however, he was starting to believe it was time to reevaluate.
He had been reliably informed that he'd dated Maia, the leader of the New York werewolf pack, though he'd received the impression that he had well and truly messed that one up. He'd heard rumors about a vampire queen who might have been interested. He'd even gathered, strange as it seemed, that there was a brief period of time when he and Clary had gone out. And now possibly Beatriz liked him.
"Seriously, George, tell me the truth," said Simon. "Am I beautiful?"
George burst out laughing, his horse wheeling back a few easy paces in the sunlight.
And Julie shouted: "Faerie!" and pointed. Simon looked toward a hooded and cloaked figure with a basket of fruit over one arm, emerging as if innocently from the mist behind a tree.
"After it!" roared George, and his horse charged for the figure, Simon plunging after him.
Marisol, far ahead, shouted: "Trap!" and then gave a scream of pain.
Simon looked desperately toward the trees. The faerie, he saw, had reinforcements. They had been warned the Fair Folk were all more wary and desperate in the aftermath of the Cold Peace. They should have listened better and thought harder. They should have planned for this.
Simon, George, Julie, and Beatriz were all riding hard, but they were too far from her. Marisol was swaying in her saddle, blood pouring down her arm: elfshot.