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Welcome to Shadowhunter Academy, Page 2

Cassandra Clare

  * * *

  Simon had remembered snatches about Idris, towers and a prison and stern faces and blood in the streets, but all of it was from the city of Alicante.

  This time, he found himself outside the city. He was standing in the lush countryside, on one side a valley and on the other meadows. There was nothing to be seen for miles but different shades of green. There were the jade-green stretches of meadows upon meadows right down to the crystalline dazzle on the horizon that was the City of Glass, its towers blazing in the sunlight. On the other side, there were the emerald depths of a forest, dark green abundance cloaked in shadows. The tops of the trees ruffled in the wind like viridescent feathers.

  Catarina looked around, then took one step, so she was standing right on the lip of the valley. Simon followed her, and in that one step the shadows of the forest lifted, as if shadows could become a veil.

  Suddenly there were what Simon recognized as training grounds, stretches of clear ground cut into the earth with fences around them, markings indicating where Shadowhunters would run or throw etched so deep in the earth Simon could see them from where he stood. At the center of the grounds and in the very heart of the forest, the jewel to which all the rest was background setting, was a tall gray building with towers and spires. Simon was suddenly searching for architectural words like “buttress” to describe how stone could carry the shape of a swallow’s wings and support a roof. The Academy had a stained-glass window set in its very center. In the window, darkened with age and years, an angel wielding a sword could still be seen, celestial and fierce.

  “Welcome to Shadowhunter Academy,” said Catarina Loss, her voice gentle.

  They began their descent together. At one point Simon’s sneakers slid in the soft, crumbling earth of the steep slope, and Catarina had to grab hold of his jacket to steady him.

  “I hope you brought some hiking boots, city boy.”

  “I did not bring hiking boots even slightly,” said Simon. He’d known he was packing wrong. His instincts had not led him astray. Nor had they been at all helpful.

  Catarina, probably disappointed by Simon’s demonstrable lack of intelligence, was silent as they walked under the shadow of the boughs, in the green dusk created by the trees, until the trees became sparse and the sunlight flooded back into the space around them and Shadowhunter Academy loomed in the distance before them. As they drew closer, Simon began to notice certain small flaws with the Academy that he had not observed when he was awestruck and far away. One of the tall, skinny towers was leaning at an alarming angle. There were large bird nests in the arches, and cobwebs hanging as long and thick as curtains fluttered in a few of the windows. One of the panes in the stained-glass window was gone, leaving a black space where the angel’s eye should have been so that he looked like an angel turned to piracy.

  Simon did not feel good about any of these observations.

  There were people walking in front of the Academy, under the gaze of the pirate angel. There was a tall woman with a mane of strawberry-blond hair, and behind her two girls who Simon figured were Academy students. They both looked about his age.

  A twig snapped under Simon’s clumsy foot and all three of the strolling women looked around. The strawberry blonde leaped into action, running full tilt toward them and falling on Catarina as if she was a long-lost blue sister. She seized Catarina by the shoulders and Catarina looked extremely discomposed.

  “Ms. Loss, thank the Angel you’re here,” she exclaimed. “Everything is chaos, absolute chaos!”

  * * *

  “I don’t believe I’ve had the . . . pleasure,” Catarina observed, with a significant pause.

  The woman collected herself and released Catarina, nodding so her bright hair flew around her shoulders. “I’m Vivianne Penhallow. The, ah, dean of the academy. Delighted to make your acquaintance.”

  She might speak formally, but she was awfully young to be spearheading the effort to reopen the Academy and prepare all the new, desperately needed trainees for the Shadowhunter forces. Then again, Simon supposed that was what happened when you were second-cousins-in-law with the Consul. Simon was still trying to work out how Shadowhunter government and also Shadowhunter family trees worked. They all seemed to be related to each other and it was very disturbing.

  “What seems to be the problem, Dean Penhallow?”

  “Well, not to put too fine a point on it, the weeks allotted to renovating the Academy seem to have been, ah . . . ‘wildly insufficient’ are the words that perhaps best describe the situation,” said Dean Penhallow, her words rushing out. “And some of the teachers have already—er—left abruptly. I do not believe they intend to return. In fact some of them informed me of this in very strong language. Also, the Academy is a trifle chilly and, to be perfectly honest, more than a trifle structurally unsound. Moreover, in the interest of thoroughness I must tell you there is a problem with the food supplies.”

  Catarina raised an ivory eyebrow. “What’s the problem with the food supplies?”

  “There aren’t any food supplies.”

  “That is a problem.”

  The dean’s shoulders sagged and her chest deflated somewhat, as if holding all that in had been confining her in an invisible corset of distress. “These girls with me are two of the older students and of good Shadowhunter families—Julie Beauvale and Beatriz Velez Mendoza. They arrived yesterday and have really been proving themselves invaluable. And this must be young Simon,” she said, favoring him with a smile.

  Simon was briefly startled and not sure why, until he dimly recalled that very few adult Shadowhunters had ever shown any signs of pleasure at having a vampire in their midst. Of course, she had no reason to hate him on sight now. She’d also seemed eager to meet Catarina, Simon thought; maybe she was all right. Or maybe she was just eager to have Catarina help her.

  “Right,” said Catarina. “Well, what a surprise that the building left vacant after an upheaval decades ago isn’t running entirely smoothly after a few weeks. You’d best show me some of the worst trouble spots. I can shore them up so we don’t have all the fuss of a baby Shadowhunter breaking their little neck.”

  Everyone stared at Catarina.

  “The inestimable tragedy, I meant,” Catarina amended, and smiled brightly. “Can one of the girls be spared to show Simon to his room?”

  She seemed eager to get rid of Simon. She really did not like him. Simon could not think what he could possibly have done to her.

  The dean stared at Catarina for a moment longer, and then snapped out of it. “Oh yes, yes, of course. Julie, would you please see to it? Put him in the tower room.”

  Julie’s eyebrows shot up. “Really?”

  “Yes, really. The first room as you enter the east wing,” the dean said, her voice strained, and turned back to Catarina. “Ms. Loss, I am once again most thankful you have arrived. Can you truly fix some of these irregularities?”

  “There is a saying: It takes a Downworlder to clear up a Shadowhunter mess,” Catarina observed.

  “I . . . hadn’t heard that saying,” said Dean Penhallow.

  “How odd,” said Catarina, her voice fading as they walked away. “Downworlders say it often. Very often.”

  Simon was left abandoned and staring at the remaining girl, Julie Beauvale. He’d liked the look of the other girl better. Julie was very pretty, but her face and nose and mouth were all oddly narrow, giving the impression that her entire head was pursed with disapproval.

  “Simon, was it?” she asked, and her prepursed mouth seemed to purse further. “Follow me.”

  She turned, her movements sharp as a drill sergeant’s, and Simon followed her slowly across the threshold of the Academy into an echoing hall with a vaulted ceiling. He tilted his head and tried to make out if the greenish cast of the ceiling was bad lighting from the stained-glass window or actual moss.

“Please keep up,” said Julie’s voice, floating from one of the six dark, small doorways cut into the stone wall. Its owner had already vanished, and Simon plunged into the darkness after her.

  The darkness turned out to be only a dim stone stairway, which led up into a dim stone corridor. There was still hardly any light, because the windows were tiny slits in the stone. Simon remembered reading about windows like that, made so nobody could fire in at you but so you could fire arrows out.

  Julie led him down one passage, down another, up a short flight of stairs, down still another passage, made her way through a small circular room, which was nice for a change but which led to yet another passage. All the dark, close stone and the funny smell, combined with all the corridors, were making Simon think the words “passage tomb.” He was trying not to think of the words, but there they were.

  “So you’re a demon hunter,” said Simon, shifting his bag on his shoulders and hurrying after Julie. “What’s that like?”

  “Shadowhunter, and that’s what you’re here to find out,” the girl told him, and then stopped at one of many doors, the wood stained oak with black iron fittings, the handle carved to look like an angel’s wing. She clasped the handle, and Simon saw that it must have been turned so often over the centuries that the details of the angel’s wing had been worn almost smooth.

  Inside was a small stone room, containing two narrow beds—a suitcase open on one—with carved wooden bedposts, a diamond-paned window blurred with dust, and a large wardrobe tilted to one side as if missing a leg

  There was also already a boy in there, standing on a stool. He revolved slowly on the stool to face them, regarding them from on high as if he were a statue on a plinth.

  He did not look unlike a statue, if someone had dressed a statue up in jeans and a colorful red-and-yellow rugby shirt. The lines of his face were clean and statue-reminiscent, and he was broad-shouldered and athletic-looking, as most Shadowhunters were. Simon suspected the Angel did not choose the asthmatic or anyone who had ever gotten hit in the face by a volleyball in gym. The boy had a golden summer tan, dark brown eyes, and curly light-brown hair tumbling over his brow. The boy smiled at the sight of them, a dimple creasing one cheek.

  Simon did not consider himself much of a judge of male beauty. But he heard a small sound behind him and glanced over his shoulder.

  The small sound had been a sigh bursting in an irrepressible gust from Julie, who also, as Simon watched, performed a simultaneous sigh and slow, involuntary wriggle. Simon thought the siggle was probably an indication that this guy was something out of the ordinary when it came to looks.

  Simon rolled his eyes. Apparently, all Shadowhunter dudes were underwear models, including his new roommate. His life was a joke.

  Julie seemed occupied regarding the dude on the stool. Simon had several questions, like “who is that?” and “why is he on a stool?” but he didn’t want to be a bother.

  “I’m really glad you guys are here. Now . . . don’t panic,” the guy on the stool whispered.

  Julie backed up a step.

  “What’s wrong with you?” Simon demanded. “Saying ‘don’t panic’ is guaranteed to make everyone panic! Be specific about the problem.”

  “Okay, I get what you’re saying and you make a fair point,” continued the new boy. He had an accent, his voice light yet rumbling over certain syllables. Simon was fairly sure he was Scottish. “It’s just that I think there’s a demon possum in the wardrobe.”

  “By the Angel!” said Julie.

  Simon said: “That’s ridiculous.”

  There was a sound from within the wardrobe. A dragging, grunting, hissing sound that raised the hairs on the back of Simon’s neck.

  Quick as a flash and with Shadowhunter grace, Julie leaped onto the bed that did not have an open suitcase on it. Simon supposed that was his bed. The fact that he’d been here only two minutes and already had a girl hurling herself onto his bed would have been thrilling, except that of course she was fleeing infernal rodents.

  “Do something, Simon!”

  “Yes, Simon—are you Simon? Hi, Simon—please do something about the demonic possum,” said the guy on the stool.

  “I’m sure it’s not a demonic possum.”

  The sound of scuffling within the wardrobe was very loud, and Simon did not feel entirely sure. It did sound like there was something enormous lurking in there.

  “I was born in the City of Glass,” said Julie. “I am a Shadowhunter and I can handle the demonic. But I was also raised in a nice house that was not infested with filthy wildlife!”

  “Well, I’m from Brooklyn,” said Simon, “and not to bad-mouth my beloved city or call it a verminous garbage heap with good music or anything, but I know rodents. Also, I believe I was a rodent, but that was only for a little while—I don’t remember it clearly and I don’t want to discuss it. I think I can handle a possum . . . which again, I’m sure is not demonic.”

  “I saw it and you guys didn’t!” exclaimed the guy on the stool. “I’m telling you, it was suspiciously large! Fiendishly large.”

  There was another rustle, and some menacing snuffling. Simon sidled over to the open suitcase on the other bed. There were a lot more rugby shirts in there, but on top of them was something else.

  “Is that a weapon?” Julie asked.

  “Uh, no,” said Simon. “It’s a tennis racket.”

  The Shadowhunters needed more extracurricular activities.

  He suspected the racket was going to be a truly terrible weapon, but it was what he had. He edged back toward the wardrobe, and threw the door open. There, in the splintered, gnawed-on recesses of the wardrobe, was a possum. Its red eyes shone and its small mouth opened, hissing at Simon.

  “How disgusting,” said Julie. “Kill it, Simon!”

  “Simon, you’re our only hope!” said the boy on the stool.

  The possum made a movement, as if to dart forward. Simon brought the racket down with a thwack against the stone. The possum hissed again and moved in a different direction. Simon had the wild idea that it was feinting, just before it actually ran between his legs. Simon let out a sound that was too close to a squawk, stumbled back, and hit wildly in several directions, striking flagstones every time. The other two screamed. Simon spun to try to locate the possum, seeing a flash of fur out of the corner of his eye and spinning again. The boy on the stool—either looking for reassurance or in a misguided effort to be helpful—grabbed at Simon’s shoulders and tried to turn him, using a handful of his shirt for leverage.

  “There!” he yelled in Simon’s ear, and Simon whirled of his own accord, was turned against his will, and walked backward into the stool.

  He felt the stool tip and tilt against his legs, and the boy on it snatched at Simon’s shoulders again. Simon, already dizzy, lurched and then saw the possum’s furry little body creeping over his own sneaker and made a fatal mistake. He hit his own foot with the racket. Very hard.

  Simon, the stool, the boy on the stool, and the racket all went tumbling onto the stone floor.

  The possum streaked out of the doorway. Simon thought it cast him a red-eyed look of triumph as it went.

  Simon was in no condition to give chase, since he was in a jumble of chair legs and human legs, and had knocked his head against the bedpost.

  He was trying to sit up, rubbing his head and feeling a little dizzy, when Julie jumped off the bed. The bedpost swayed with the force of her movement, and knocked against the back of Simon’s head once more.

  “Well, I’ll leave you guys before the creature returns to his nest!” Julie announced. “Er . . . I mean, I’ll leave you guys . . . to it.” She paused in the doorway, staring in the direction the possum had gone. “Bye now,” she added, and bolted in the opposite direction.

  “Ow,” Simon said, giving up on sitting up straight and leaning back on his hands. He
grimaced. “Very ow. Well . . . that was . . .”

  He gestured to the stool, the open doorway, the disgusting wardrobe, and his supine self.

  “That was . . . ,” he continued, and found himself shaking his head and laughing. “Just such an impressive display from three future awesome demon hunters.”

  The boy no longer on the stool looked startled, no doubt because he thought his new roommate was deranged and giggled over possums. Simon could not help it. He could not stop laughing.

  Any of the Shadowhunters he knew back in New York would have dealt with the situation without blinking an eye. He was sure Isabelle would have cut off the possum’s head with a sword. But now he was surrounded by people who panicked and screamed and stood on stools, flailing disasters of human beings who could not cope with a single rodent, and Simon was one of them. They were all just normal kids.

  It was such a relief, Simon felt dizzy with it. Or maybe that was because he’d hit his head.

  He kept laughing, and when he looked over at his roommate again, the other boy met his eyes.

  “What a shame our teachers didn’t see that awesome performance,” Simon’s new roommate said seriously. Then he burst out laughing too, hand against his mouth, laugh lines fanning out from the corners of his eyes, as if he laughed all the time and his face had just grown used to it. “We are gonna slay.”

  After the slight burst of possum-related hysterics, Simon and his new roommate got up off the floor and got to unpacking and introducing themselves.

  “Sorry about all that. I’m not great with scuttling little things. I’m hoping to fight demons a bit higher off the ground. I’m George Lovelace, by the way,” said the boy, sitting on the bed beside his open suitcase.

  Simon stared at his own bag, full of its many hilarious T-shirts, and then suspiciously at the wardrobe. He didn’t know if he trusted the possum wardrobe with his T-shirts.

  “So you’re a Shadowhunter, then?”

  He’d worked out how Shadowhunter names were constructed by now, and he’d already figured George for a Shadowhunter at first sight. Only that had been before Simon thought George might be cool. Now he was disappointed. He knew what Shadowhunters thought of mundanes. It would have been nice to have someone new to all this to go through school with.