“I don’t have a mother,” said Jace. His hands were shaking. “The woman who gave birth to me walked away from me before I learned to remember her face. I was nothing to her, so she is nothing to me.”
“Your mother is not the one who walked away from you,” said Luke, his gaze moving slowly to Valentine. “I would have thought even you,” he said slowly, “were above using your own flesh and blood as bait. I suppose I was wrong.”
“That’s enough.” Valentine’s tone was almost languid, but there was fierceness in it, a hungry threat of violence. “Let go of my daughter, or I’ll kill you where you stand.”
“I’m not your daughter,” said Clary fiercely, but Luke pushed her away from him, so hard that she nearly fell.
“Get out of here,” he said. “Get to where it’s safe.”
“I’m not leaving you!”
“Clary, I mean it. Get out of here.” Luke was already lifting his dagger. “This is not your fight.”
Clary stumbled away from him, toward the door that led to the landing. Maybe she could run for help, for Alaric—
Then Jace was in front of her, blocking her way to the door. She had forgotten how fast he moved, soft as a cat, quick as water. “Are you insane?” he hissed. “They’ve broken down the front door. This place will be full of Forsaken.”
She shoved at him. “Let me out—”
Jace held her back with a grip like iron. “So they can tear you apart? Not a chance.”
A loud clash of metal sounded behind her. Clary pulled away from Jace and saw that Valentine had struck at Luke, who had met his blow with an ear-shattering parry. Their blades ground apart, and now they were moving across the floor in a blur of feints and slashes. “Oh, my God,” she whispered. “They’re going to kill each other.”
Jace’s eyes were nearly black. “You don’t understand,” he said. “This is how it’s done—” He broke off and sucked in a breath as Luke slipped past Valentine’s guard, catching him a blow across the shoulder. Blood flowed freely, staining the cloth of his white shirt.
Valentine threw back his head and laughed. “A true hit,” he said. “I hardly thought you had it in you, Lucian.”
Luke stood very straight, the knife blocking his face from Clary’s view. “You taught me that move yourself.”
“But that was years ago,” said Valentine in a voice like raw silk, “and since then, you’ve hardly had need of a knife, have you? Not when you have claws and fangs at your disposal.”
“All the better to tear your heart out with.”
Valentine shook his head. “You tore my heart out years ago,” he said, and even Clary could not tell if the sorrow in his voice was real or feigned. “When you betrayed and deserted me.” Luke struck at him again, but Valentine was moving swiftly back across the floor. For a big man he moved surprisingly lightly. “It was you who turned my wife against her own kind. You came to her when she was weakest, with your piteousness, your helpless need. I was distant and she thought you loved her. She was a fool.”
Jace was taut as a wire beside Clary. She could feel his tension, like the sparks given off by a downed electrical cable. “That’s your mother Valentine’s talking about,” she said.
“She abandoned me,” said Jace. “Some mother.”
“She thought you were dead. You want to know how I know that? Because she kept a box in her bedroom. It had your initials on it. J. C.”
“So she had a box,” said Jace. “Lots of people have boxes. They keep things in them. It’s a growing trend, I hear.”
“It had a lock of your hair in it. Baby hair. And a photograph, maybe two. She used to take it out every year and cry over it. Awful brokenhearted crying—”
Jace’s hand clenched at his side. “Stop it,” he said between his teeth.
“Stop what? Telling you the truth? She thought you had died—she’d never have left you if she’d known you were alive. You thought your father was dead—”
“I saw him die! Or I thought I did. I didn’t just—just hear about it and choose to believe it!”
“She found your burned bones,” said Clary quietly. “In the ruins of her house. Along with the bones of her mother and father.”
At last Jace looked at her. She saw the disbelief plain in his eyes, and around his eyes, the strain of maintaining that disbelief. She could see, almost as if she saw through a glamour, the fragile construct of his faith in his father that he wore like a transparent armor, protecting him from the truth. Somewhere, she thought, there was a chink in that armor; somewhere, if she could find the right words, it could be breached. “That’s ridiculous,” he said. “I didn’t die—there weren’t any bones.”
“So it was a glamour,” he said roughly.
“Ask your father what happened to his mother- and father-in-law,” said Clary. She reached to touch his hand. “Ask him if that was a glamour, too—”
“Shut up!” Jace’s control cracked and he turned on her, livid. Clary saw Luke glance toward them, startled by the noise, and in that moment of distraction Valentine dove under his guard and, with a single forward thrust, drove the blade of his sword into Luke’s chest, just below his collarbone.
Luke’s eyes flew open as if in astonishment rather than pain. Valentine jerked his hand back, and the blade slid back, stained red to the hilt. With a sharp laugh Valentine struck again, this time knocking the weapon from Luke’s hand. It hit the floor with a hollow clang and Valentine kicked it hard, sending it skittering under the table as Luke collapsed.
Valentine raised the black sword over Luke’s prone body, ready to deliver the killing stroke. Inlaid silvery stars gleamed along the blade’s length and Clary thought, frozen in a moment of horror, How could anything so deadly be so beautiful?
Jace, as if knowing what Clary was going to do before she did it, whirled on her. “Clary—”
The frozen moment passed. Clary twisted away from Jace, ducking his reaching hands, and raced across the stone floor to Luke. He was on the ground, supporting himself with one arm; Clary threw herself on him just as Valentine’s sword drove downward.
She saw Valentine’s eyes as the sword hurtled toward her; it seemed like eons, though it could only have been a split second. She saw that he could stop the blow if he wanted. Saw that he knew it might well strike her if he didn’t. Saw that he was going to do it anyway.
She threw her hands up, squeezing her eyes shut—
There was a clang. She heard Valentine cry out, and she looked up to see him holding his empty sword hand, which was bleeding. The red-hilted kindjal lay several feet away on the stone floor, next to the black sword. Turning in astonishment, she saw Jace by the door, his arm still raised, and realized he must have flung the dagger with enough force to knock the black sword out of his father’s hand.
Very pale, he slowly lowered his arm, his eyes on Valentine—wide and pleading. “Father, I …”
Valentine looked at his bleeding hand, and for a moment, Clary saw a spasm of rage cross his face, like a light flickering out. His voice, when he spoke, was mild. “That was an excellent throw, Jace.”
Jace hesitated. “But your hand. I just thought—”
“I would not have hurt your sister,” said Valentine, moving swiftly to retrieve both his sword and the red-hilted kindjal, which he stuck through his belt. “I would have stopped the blow. But your family concern is commendable.”
Liar. But Clary had no time for Valentine’s prevarications. She turned to look at Luke and felt a sharp nauseous pang. Luke was lying on his back, eyes half-closed, his breathing ragged. Blood bubbled up from the hole in his torn shirt. “I need a bandage,” Clary said in a choked voice. “Some cloth, anything.”
“Don’t move, Jonathan,” said Valentine in a steely voice, and Jace froze where he was, hand already reaching toward his pocket. “Clarissa,” her father said, in a voice as oily as steel slicked with butter, “this man is an enemy of our family, an enemy of the Clave. We are hunters, and that means sometimes we are killers. Surely you understand that.”
“Demon hunters,” said Clary. “Demon killers. Not murderers. There’s a difference.”
“He is a demon, Clarissa,” said Valentine, still in the same soft voice. “A demon with a man’s face. I know how deceptive such monsters can be. Remember, I spared him once myself.”
“Monster?” echoed Clary. She thought of Luke, Luke pushing her on the swings when she was five years old, higher, always higher; Luke at her graduation from middle school, camera clicking away like a proud father’s; Luke sorting through each box of books as it arrived at his store, looking for anything she might like and putting it aside. Luke lifting her up to pull apples down from the trees near his farmhouse. Luke, whose place as her father this man was trying to take. “Luke isn’t a monster,” she said in a voice that matched Valentine’s, steel for steel. “Or a murderer. You are.”
“Clary!” It was Jace.
Clary ignored him. Her eyes were fixed on her father’s cold black ones. “You murdered your wife’s parents, not in battle but in cold blood,” she said. “And I bet you murdered Michael Wayland and his little boy, too. Threw their bones in with my grandparents’ so that my mother would think you and Jace were dead. Put your necklace around Michael Wayland’s neck before you burned him so everyone would think those bones were yours. After all your talk about the untainted blood of the Clave—you didn’t care at all about their blood or their innocence when you killed them, did you? Slaughtering old people and children in cold blood, that’s monstrous.”
Another spasm of rage contorted Valentine’s features. “That’s enough !” Valentine roared, raising the black-star sword again, and Clary heard the truth of who he was in his voice, the rage that had propelled him all his life. The unending seething rage. “Jonathan! Drag your sister out of my way, or by the Angel, I’ll knock her down to kill the monster she’s protecting!”
For the briefest moment Jace hesitated. Then he raised his head. “Certainly, Father,” he said, and crossed the room to Clary. Before she could throw up her hands to ward him off, he had caught her up roughly by the arm. He yanked her to her feet, pulling her away from Luke.
“Jace,” she whispered, appalled.
“Don’t,” he said. His fingers dug painfully into her arms. He smelled of wine and metal and sweat. “Don’t talk to me.”
“I said, don’t talk.” He shook her, hard. She stumbled, regained her footing, and looked up to see Valentine standing, gloating over Luke’s crumpled body. He reached out a fastidious booted toe and shoved Luke, who made a choking sound.
“Leave him alone!” Clary shouted, trying to yank herself out of Jace’s grasp. It was useless—he was much too strong.
“Stop it,” he hissed in her ear. “You’ll just make it worse for yourself. It’s better if you don’t look.”
“Like you do?” she hissed back. “Shutting your eyes and pretending something’s not happening doesn’t make it not true, Jace. You ought to know better—”
“Clary, stop.” His tone almost brought her up short. He sounded desperate.
Valentine was chuckling. “If only I had thought,” he said, “to bring with me a blade of real silver, I could have dispatched you in the true manner of your kind, Lucian.”
Luke snarled something Clary couldn’t hear. She hoped it was rude. She tried to twist away from Jace. Her feet slipped and he caught her, yanking her back with agonizing force. He had his arms around her, she thought, but not the way she had once hoped, not as she had ever imagined.
“At least let me get up,” said Luke. “Let me die on my feet.”
Valentine looked at him along the length of the blade, and shrugged. “You can die on your back or on your knees,” he said. “But only a man deserves to die standing, and you are not a man.”
“NO!” Clary shouted as, not looking at her, Luke began to pull himself painfully into a kneeling position.
“Why do you have to make it worse for yourself?” Jace demanded in a low, tense whisper. “I told you not to look.”
She was panting with exertion and pain. “Why do you have to lie to yourself?”
“I’m not lying!” His grip on her tightened savagely, though she hadn’t tried to pull away. “I just want what’s good in my life—my father—my family—I can’t lose it all again.”
Luke was kneeling upright now. Valentine had raised the bloodstained sword. Luke’s eyes were closed, and he was murmuring something: words, a prayer, Clary didn’t know. She twisted in Jace’s arms, wrenching around so that she could look up into his face. His lips were drawn thin, his jaw set, but his eyes—
The fragile armor was breaking. It needed only a last push from her. She struggled for the words.
“You have a family,” she said. “Family, those are just the people who love you. Like the Lightwoods love you. Alec, Isabelle—” Her voice cracked. “Luke is my family, and you’re going to make me watch him die just like you thought you watched your father die when you were ten years old? Is this what you want, Jace? Is this the kind of man you want to be? Like—”
She broke off, suddenly terrified that she had gone too far.
“Like my father,” he said.
His voice was icy, distant, flat as the blade of a knife.