Every Exquisite Thing, Page 4Cassandra Clare
Back in her room, Anna waited until she heard the other members of the household go to bed before changing her clothes. She had taken the time to clean her outfit and mend it as best she could. When she dressed, she looked dapper and dangerous. She had decided now that this was how she would dress if she slipped out on adventures, even to meet Ariadne.
She slipped out of her window at eleven, sliding down a rope which she tossed back inside. She could have jumped, but it had taken her some time to arrange her hair under the hat correctly. She walked to Belgravia, and this time she did not bother to avoid the pools of streetlight. She wanted to be seen. She straightened her back and widened her step. The more she walked, the more she felt herself slipping into the gait, the attitude. She tipped her hat to a lady passing in a carriage; the lady smiled and looked away shyly.
Anna knew now that she was never going to go back to wearing dresses. She had always loved the theater, always loved the idea of a performance. The first time she had worn her brother’s clothes it had been a performance, but with each time she did it again, it became more her reality. She was not a man and did not want to be—but why should men get to keep all the good pieces of masculinity for themselves because of an accident of birth? Why should she, Anna, not wear their clothes, and their power and confidence, too?
You have stolen fire from the gods.
Anna’s swagger faded a bit as she turned the corner on to Cavendish Square. Would Adriane accept her like this? It had felt so right a moment before, but now . . .
She almost turned back, but then she turned on her heel and forced herself on.
The Bridgestock house was dark. Anna looked up, fearing that Ariadne had been teasing. But then she saw a flick of a curtain, and the sash window opened. Ariadne looked down at her.
And she smiled.
A rope sailed out of the window, and Ariadne slid down it, more gracefully than she had in training. She wore a light blue dress, which fluttered as she dropped.
“Oh my,” she said, walking up to Anna. “You look . . . quite devastating.”
Anna would not have traded the way Ariadne looked at her in that moment for a thousand pounds.
They took a carriage to Soho. Though she and Ariadne were both glamoured to hide their Marks from mundanes, Anna enjoyed the look she got from the driver when he realized the handsome young gent in his cab was a handsome young lady. He doffed his cap as she and Ariadne alighted from the cab, muttering something about “young people these days.”
They arrived at the house, but this time, when Anna knocked on the door, the person answering was less accommodating. He looked at Anna, then at Ariadne.
“No Shadowhunters,” he said.
“That was not your previous policy,” Anna said. She noticed that the windows were now covered in heavy velvet curtains.
“Go home, Shadowhunters,” he said. “I have made myself clear.”
The door was slammed in their faces.
“Now I am curious,” Ariadne said. “We must go in, don’t you think?”
Ariadne certainly had a wicked streak in her that complemented her bubbly cheerfulness, a love of things that were just a bit . . . naughty. Anna felt she should encourage this impulse.
There was no clear point of access on the flat front of the house, so they moved down to the end of the street and found a narrow alley backing the houses. This was bricked up to the third floor. There was, however, a drainpipe. Anna got a hold on this and made the climb. She could not reach the third-story windows from there, but she could get onto the roof. She looked down to see Ariadne climbing up after her, again showing more skill than she had in the training room. They managed to pry open an attic window. From there, they crept down the winding stairs, Anna first, with Ariadne behind. Ariadne kept a hand on Anna’s waist, possibly for guidance as they walked, or . . .
Anna would not think about it.
They were burning a great deal of incense in the house tonight. It hummed through the hall and up the stairs, almost causing Anna to cough. It was not a pleasant smell—it was acrid and hard. Anna detected wormwood, mugwort, and something else—something with a metallic edge, like blood. The group was usually quiet. There was only one voice, speaking low. A female voice with the Germanic accent. She heard the incantations.
Anna knew a summoning when she heard one. She turned to Ariadne, who had a look of concern on her face.
She reached for her seraph blade and indicated to Ariadne that she would go ahead and look. Ariadne nodded. Anna crept to the end of the steps, then down the hall. She pushed back a bit of the velvet curtain that closed off the main sitting room. Everyone there was turned toward the center of the room, so mostly she saw backs and the faint flicker of candlelight.
Anna could make out the form of a circle drawn on the floor. The woman in the turban was just on the edge of it, her face tilted up in ecstasy. She wore a long black robe and held a book with a pentagram over her head. The book was bound in something odd. It looked like skin.
Towering above all was the warlock Leopolda, her eyes closed and her arms raised. She held a curved dagger in her hands. She was chanting in a demonic language. Then she looked to the woman in the turban and nodded. The woman took a long step into the circle. Green flame flashed all around, making the mundanes murmur and back away. There were not, Anna noticed, many Downworlders present.
“Come forth!” cried the woman. “Come forth, beautiful death. Come forth, creature, that we may worship you! Come forth!”
There was a terrible smell, and the room filled with darkness. Anna knew she could no longer stand still.
“Get out!” Anna yelled, pushing her way into the room. “All of you!”
The group had no time to be surprised. A massive Ravener demon burst forth out of the darkness. The woman in the turban went down on her knees before it.
“My lord,” she said. “My dark—”
The Ravener whipped its tail around and easily severed the woman’s turbaned head from her neck. The assembled let up a collective scream, and there was a rush for the door. Anna had to fight her way toward the demon. The Ravener was making short work of the woman’s remains.
Leopolda Stain simply looked on the scene with gentle amusement.
It was hard to fight a demon in such close quarters without killing all the people as well. Anna shoved several mundanes aside and launched herself at the demon, her seraph blade raised. It made an angry screeching noise. This was because something had just struck out one of its eyes. Ariadne was next to her, holding an electrum whip and smiling.
“Very good aim,” Anna said as the angry demon wheeled around. It made a leap and broke through one of the front windows. Anna and Ariadne went right after it, Anna making the jump easily in her new clothes. Ariadne went through the door, but she was fast on her feet, snapping her whip in the air. Between them, they quickly made short work of the beast.
There was a strange, crackling noise. They turned to see that the demon had not come alone—a cluster of smaller Raveners poured through the broken window, their jaws dripping green liquid. Anna and Ariadne turned to face them, weapons drawn. A small Ravener jumped forward first. Ariadne sliced through it with her whip. Another sprang out, but as soon as it appeared, a staff swung through the air next to Anna, bashing its head in. She turned as it disappeared, to find herself looking at Brother Zachariah. She was well acquainted with her uncle’s former parabatai, though she had no idea what he was doing here.
How many? he asked.
“I don’t know,” she said as another demon came forth from the house. “They’re coming from a circle inside the house. There are people hurt.”
He nodded and indicated that he would proceed inside, while Anna and Ariadne fought outside. One of the creatures was about to descend on one of the fleeing mundanes. Anna jumped on its back, dodging its angrily swinging tail, and plunged h
er seraph blade into the back of its neck. The stunned mundane crab-crawled backwards as the Ravener fell dead to the ground. She turned to look for Ariadne, who was making short work of one of the Raveners, slicing her electrum whip through the air and then right through the demon’s legs. Anna was surprised—the only other electrum whip she had ever seen was owned by the Consul, Charlotte Fairchild.
Ariadne and Anna stood back to back, fighting like parabatai might, their movements in sync. Though they were certainly not parabatai. It would be very wrong to feel about a parabatai the way Anna felt about Ariadne. There was no mistaking it, Anna thought, though it was an awkward revelation to have in the middle of a demon fight.
She was definitely in love with Ariadne Bridgestock.
Jem entered the house through the open door, his staff at the ready. The room seemed empty, quiet. There was a tremendous amount of blood on the floor, and the torn remains of a human.
“Herein!” said a voice. “I was hoping you would come.”
Jem turned. Leopolda Stain was sitting in the anteroom on a large brocade chair, holding the head of a woman in her lap. Jem raised his staff.
You have murdered innocent mundanes, Jem said.
“They slew themselves,” Leopolda said. “They were playing with fire. They were burned. You know of such creatures. They believe they understand magic. They must come to understand its true nature. I do them a service. They will not call another demon. If I wanted to teach them a lesson, where’s the harm? There is hellfire in me, but I do not think I am your chief concern.”
Jem was torn. His instinct was to strike her down for what she had done, and yet . . .
“You hesitate, James Carstairs,” she said with a smile.
My name is Brother Zachariah.
“You were James Carstairs, the Shadowhunter who was addicted to yin fen. You were acquainted with Axel Mortmain, the one they called the Magister, I think? ”
At the sound of Mortmain’s name, Jem lowered his staff.
“Ah,” Leopolda said with a smile. “You remember dear Axel.”
You knew him?
“Quite well,” she said. “I know many things. I know a warlock helps run the Institute here, yes? Named Tessa Herondale. She is a Shadowhunter, and she can bear no Marks. She is married to your parabatai.”
Why would you be asking me about Tessa? Jem said. It was as if cold fingers were touching his spine. He did not like this warlock. He did not like her interest in Tessa and Will.
“Because you have been in the Shadow Market, asking many questions about her. About her father. Her demonic father.”
She let the head roll from her lap.
“As I said, I knew Mortmain,” she said. “Since you have been asking about him and how Tessa was created, news has trickled back to me—one of his only remaining friends. I believe you are curious about how Mortmain created Tessa. You seek the demon he summoned to be her father. If you put your weapon away, perhaps we can have a conversation.”
Jem did not set down his staff.
“She might not have been too curious about her demon father before . . .” Leopolda played with the gold netting in her hair, “but now that she has children . . . and those children show signs of their demon heritage . . . I imagine things are very different?”
Jem stood coldly stricken. It was as if she had reached into his mind and touched his memory. Standing on Blackfriars Bridge with Tessa on a cold January two years ago. The fear on her face. I do not want to trouble Will . . . but I worry so over Jamie and Lucie . . . James despairs of his eyes, calls them doorways into Hell, as if he hates his own face, his own bloodline. If I but knew who my demon father was, perhaps I could know, prepare them and myself . . . and Will. Jem had feared even then that it was a dangerous errand, that knowledge would gift them only further worries and doubts. But it was something Tessa had wanted for Will and the children, and he loved them all too much to say no.
“Your friend Ragnor’s queries have finally borne fruit,” said Leopolda. “I know who Tessa’s father was.” She narrowed her eyes. “In exchange I only need something small. Just the smallest amount of blood from a living Shadowhunter. You will not even feel it. I was going to get it from the girl, the one who dresses as a boy. I like her very much. I would like to collect her, if I could.”
You will stay away from her.
“Of course I will,” Leopolda said. “I will help you as well. Just the smallest amount of blood, and I can tell you of Tessa Herondale’s true father.”
“Brother Zachariah!” he heard Anna yell.
Jem turned for one moment, and Leopolda moved toward him. He flung up his staff, knocking her backward. She let out a hiss and darted away faster than seemed possible. She lifted her curved blade.
“Do not toy with me, James Carstairs. Do you not want to know of your Tessa?”
There was another cry from outside. Jem had no choice. He ran in the direction of Anna’s voice.
Outside, Anna and another girl were in a fierce fight with at least six Raveners. They were pressed to the wall, fighting back to back. Jem swung out with his staff and brought it down on the back of the closest one. He continued swinging until Anna and the girl were able to regain some ground. Jem took down another, while Anna made short work of two at once with a long swing of her blade. There was but one Ravener left. It extended its spiked tail and pointed it at the other girl’s chest. In a second, Anna was diving through the air, knocking the other girl out of the way. They rolled together, Anna’s arms around the girl, shielding her. Jem struck out at this last demon, landing a blow on its head.
The street fell quiet. Anna was in the girl’s arms, very still.
Anna. Jem raced over. The Shadowhunter girl was already tearing away Anna’s sleeve to get to the wound. Anna hissed as the poison stung the surface of her skin.
Behind them, Leopolda stepped out of the house and began to simply walk away.
“I’m fine,” Anna said. “Go after her, Ariadne.”
The other girl, Ariadne, exhaled and sat back. “The poison did not enter your system. But it did get on your skin. We must wash the site with herbs, immediately. And your wound is deep. You will need several iratzes.”
The girl looked up at Jem.
“I’ll take care of her,” she said. “I am well trained in healing. I was taught by Silent Brothers while I lived in Idris. Anna’s right. Go after Stain.”
You are sure? Anna will need an amissio, a blood-replacement rune —
“Quite sure,” the girl said, easing Anna to her feet. “Believe me when I say Anna would rather lose a bit of blood than have her parents find out what we did tonight.”
“Hear, hear,” agreed Anna.
Take care of her, said Jem.
“I will.” Ariadne spoke with a firm confidence, and from the way she was handling the wound, her words appeared true.
“Come,” Ariadne said to Anna. “My house is not far. Can you walk?”
“With you,” Anna said, “I can go anywhere.”
Thus assured, Jem turned in the direction of Leopolda Stain.
They walked back to Ariadne’s house, Anna occasionally leaning on her friend for support. The poison on her skin was starting to have an effect, which was a bit like having too much wine, too fast. She tried to keep herself steady. They were glamoured now, walking unseen through the street.
When they arrived, Ariadne let them in quietly through the front door. They took the stairs gently, so as not to wake anyone. Luckily, Ariadne’s room was on the opposite side of the house from her parents’ room. Ariadne led Anna in and shut the door.
Ariadne’s room was like the person who inhabited it—perfumed, perfect, delicate. There were lace curtains on the large windows. The walls were papered in silver and rose, and there were fresh-cut lilacs and roses in vases around the room.
“Come,” Ariadne said, leading Anna to her bureau, where there was a water basin. Ariadne removed Anna’s jacket and pushed up her sleeve. Having mixed a few herbs into the basin, she poured the mixture over the wound, which stung.
“It is a nasty injury,” Ariadne said, “but I am a good nurse.”
She moistened a cloth and gently cleaned the wound with soft strokes, careful to wipe away any poison that had splashed on Anna’s skin. Then she got her stele and drew an amissio rune to speed blood replacement and an iratze to encourage healing. The wound began to close.
Throughout all of this, Anna was silent, breathless. She did not feel pain. She felt only Ariadne’s careful hands on her.
“Thank you,” she finally said.
Ariadne set her stele down. “It is nothing. You sustained this wound while saving me. You stepped in front of me. You protected me.”
“I would protect you always,” Anna said.
Ariadne looked at Anna for a long moment. The only light came in through the pattern in the lace.
“My dress,” Ariadne said softly. “I think it is quite ruined. I look a fright.”
“Nonsense,” Anna replied. Then, after a beat, she added, “You have never looked more beautiful.”
“It has blood on it, and ichor. Help me remove it, please.”
With trembling fingers, Anna undid the many buttons on the front of the dress, and it slid to the ground in a pile. Ariadne turned so that Anna could undo the stays of her corset. Ariadne wore a cotton chemise underneath, trimmed in delicate lace. Her chemise and bloomers were stark white against her brown skin. Her eyes glowed.
“You must rest a bit, Anna,” Ariadne said. “You cannot leave right now. Come.”
She took Anna by the hand and led her to the bed. Anna realized as she sank into it how exhausted she was from the fight, and also that she had never been so awake and alive.
“Lean back,” Ariadne said, stroking Anna’s hair.
Anna put her head down on the pillow. Her boots were gone. Her hair had come down, and she pushed it back impatiently.