Clockwork Angel (The Infernal Devices #1)


by Cassandra Clare

PROLOGUE

London, April 1878.

The demon exploded in a shower of ichor and guts.

William Herondale jerked back the dagger he was holding, but it was too late. The viscous acid of the demon’s blood had already begun to eat away at the shining blade. He swore and tossed the weapon aside; it landed in a filthy puddle and commenced smoldering like a doused match. The demon itself, of course, had vanished—dispatched back to whatever hellish world it had come from, though not without leaving a mess behind.

“Jem!” Will called, turning around. “Where are you? Did you see that? Killed it with one blow! Not bad, eh?”

But there was no answer to Will’s shout; his hunting partner had been standing behind him in the damp and crooked street a few moments before, guarding his back, Will was positive, but now Will was alone in the shadows. He frowned in annoyance—it was much less fun showing off without Jem to show off to. He glanced behind him, to where the street narrowed into a passage that gave onto the black, heaving water of the Thames in the distance. Through the gap Will could see the dark outlines of docked ships, a forest of masts like a leafless orchard. No Jem there; perhaps he had gone back to Narrow Street in search of better illumination. With a shrug Will headed back the way he had come.

Narrow Street cut across Limehouse, between the docks beside the river and the cramped slums spreading west toward Whitechapel. It was as narrow as its name suggested, lined with warehouses and lopsided wooden buildings. At the moment it was deserted; even the drunks staggering home from the Grapes up the road had found somewhere to collapse for the night. Will liked Limehouse, liked the feeling of being on the edge of the world, where ships left each day for unimaginably far ports. That the area was a sailor’s haunt, and consequently full of gambling hells, opium dens, and brothels, didn’t hurt either. It was easy to lose yourself in a place like this. He didn’t even mind the smell of it—smoke and rope and tar, foreign spices mixed with the dirty river-water smell of the Thames.

Looking up and down the empty street, he scrubbed the sleeve of his coat across his face, trying to rub away the ichor that stung and burned his skin. The cloth came away stained green and black. There was a cut on the back of his hand too, a nasty one. He could use a healing rune. One of Charlotte’s, preferably. She was particularly good at drawing iratzes.

A shape detached itself from the shadows and moved toward Will. He started forward, then paused. It wasn’t Jem, but rather a mundane policeman wearing a bell-shaped helmet, a heavy overcoat, and a puzzled expression. He stared at Will, or rather through Will. However accustomed Will had become to glamour, it was always strange to be looked through as if he weren’t there. Will was seized with the sudden urge to grab the policeman’s truncheon and watch while the man flapped around, trying to figure out where it had gone; but Jem had scolded him the few times he’d done that before, and while Will never really could understand Jem’s objections to the whole enterprise, it wasn’t worth making him upset.

With a shrug and a blink, the policeman moved past Will, shaking his head and muttering something under his breath about swearing off the gin before he truly started seeing things. Will stepped aside to let the man pass, then raised his voice to a shout: “James Carstairs! Jem! Where are you, you disloyal bastard?”

This time a faint reply answered him. “Over here. Follow the witchlight.”

Will moved toward the sound of Jem’s voice. It seemed to be coming from a dark opening between two warehouses; a faint gleam was visible within the shadows, like the darting light of a will-o’-the-wisp. “Did you hear me before? That Shax demon thought it could get me with its bloody great pincers, but I cornered it in an alley—”

“Yes, I heard you.” The young man who appeared at the mouth of the alley was pale in the lamplight—paler even than he usually was, which was quite pale indeed. He was bareheaded, which drew the eye immediately to his hair. It was an odd bright silver color, like an untarnished shilling. His eyes were the same silver, and his fine-boned face was angular, the slight curve of his eyes the only clue to his heritage.

There were dark stains across his white shirtfront, and his hands were thickly smeared with red.

Will tensed. “You’re bleeding. What happened?”

Jem waved away Will’s concern. “It’s not my blood.” He turned his head back toward the alley behind him. “It’s hers.”

Will glanced past his friend, into the thicker shadows of the alley. In the far corner of it was a crumpled shape—only a shadow in the darkness, but when Will looked closely, he could make out the shape of a pale hand, and a wisp of fair hair.

“A dead woman?” Will asked. “A mundane?”

“A girl, really. Not more than fourteen.”

At that, Will cursed with great volume and expression. Jem waited patiently for him to be done.

“If we’d only happened along a little earlier,” Will said finally. “That bloody demon —”

“That’s the peculiar thing. I don’t think this is the demon’s work.” Jem frowned. “Shax demons are parasites, brood parasites. It would have wanted to drag its victim back to its lair to lay eggs in her skin while she was still alive. But this girl—she was stabbed, repeatedly. And I don’t think it was here, either. There simply isn’t enough blood in the alley. I think she was attacked elsewhere, and she dragged herself here to die of her injuries.”

“But the Shax demon—”

“I’m telling you, I don’t think it was the Shax. I think the Shax was pursuing her—hunting her down for something, or someone, else.”

“Shaxes have a keen sense of scent,” Will allowed. “I’ve heard of warlocks using them to follow the tracks of the missing. And it did seem to be moving with an odd sort of purpose.” He looked past Jem, at the pitiful smallness of the crumpled shape in the alley. “You didn’t find the weapon, did you?”

“Here.” Jem drew something from inside his jacket—a knife, wrapped in white cloth. “It’s a sort of misericord, or hunting dagger. Look how thin the blade is.”

Will took it. The blade was indeed thin, ending in a handle made of polished bone. The blade and hilt both were stained with dried blood. With a frown he wiped the flat of the knife across the rough fabric of his sleeve, scraping it clean until a symbol, burned into the blade, became visible. Two serpents, each biting the other’s tail, forming a perfect circle.