The boy gestured to the Dumpster. “What were you doing with that?”
I’m no good at lying on the spot, Clary thought, and looked at Jace, who, she hoped, would be excellent at it.
He disappointed her immediately. “We were trying to get into the hotel. We thought there might be a cellar door behind the trash bin.”
The boy’s eyes widened in disbelief. “Puta madre—why would you want to do something like that?”
Jace shrugged. “For a prank, you know. Just a little fun.”
“You don’t understand. This place is haunted, cursed. Bad luck.” He shook his head vigorously and said several things in Spanish that Clary suspected had to do with the stupidity of spoiled white kids in general and their stupidity in particular. “Walk with me; I’ll take you to the subway.”
“We know where the subway is,” said Jace.
The boy laughed a soft, vibrant laugh. “Claro. Of course you do, but if you go with me, no one will bother you. You do not want trouble, do you?”
“That depends,” Jace said, and moved so that his jacket opened slightly, showing the glint of the weapons thrust through his belt. “How much are they paying you to keep people away from the hotel?”
The boy glanced behind him, and Clary’s nerves twanged as she imagined the narrow alley mouth filling up with other shadowy figures, white-faced, red-mouthed, the glint of fangs as sudden as metal striking sparks from pavement. When he looked back at Jace, his mouth was a thin line. “How much are who paying me, chico?”
“The vampires. How much are they paying you? Or is it something else—did they tell you they’d make you one of them, offer you eternal life, no pain, no sickness, you get to live forever? Because it’s not worth it. Life stretches out very long when you never see the sunlight, chico,” said Jace.
The boy was expressionless. “My name is Raphael. Not chico.”
“But you know what we’re talking about. You know about the vampires?” Clary said.
Raphael turned his face to the side and spit. When he looked back at them, his eyes were full of a glittering hate. “Los vampiros, sí, the blood-drinking animals. Even before the hotel was boarded up, there were stories, the laughter late at night, the small animals disappearing, the sounds—” He stopped, shaking his head. “Everyone in the neighborhood knows to stay away, but what can you do? You cannot call the police and tell them your problem is vampires.”
“Have you ever seen them?” Jace asked. “Or known anyone who has?”
Raphael spoke slowly. “There were some boys, once, a group of friends. They thought they had a good idea, to go into the hotel and kill the monsters inside. They took guns with them, knives too, all blessed by a priest. They never came out. My aunt, she found their clothes later, in front of the house.”
“Your aunt’s house?” said Jace.
“Sí. One of the boys was my brother,” said Raphael flatly. “So now you know why I walk by here in the middle of the night sometimes, on the way home from my aunt’s house, and why I warned you away. If you go in there, you will not come out again.”
“My friend is in there,” said Clary. “We came to get him.”
“Ah,” said Raphael, “then perhaps I cannot warn you away.”
“No,” Jace said. “But don’t worry. What happened to your friends won’t happen to us.” He took one of the angel blades from his belt and held it up; the faint light emanating from it lit the hollows under his cheekbones, shadowed his eyes. “I’ve killed plenty of vampires before. Their hearts don’t beat, but they can still die.”
Raphael inhaled sharply and said something in Spanish too low and rapid for Clary to understand. He came toward them, almost stumbling over a pile of crumpled plastic wrappers in his haste. “I know what you are—I have heard about your kind, from the old padre at St. Cecilia’s. I thought that was just a story.”
“All the stories are true,” Clary said, but so quietly that he didn’t seem to hear her. He was looking at Jace, his fists clenched.
“I want to go with you,” he said.
Jace shook his head. “No. Absolutely not.”
“I can show you how to get inside,” Raphael said.
Jace wavered, temptation plain on his face. “We can’t bring you.”
“Fine.” Raphael stalked by him and kicked aside a heap of trash piled against a wall. There was a metal grating there, thin bars filmed with a brownish-red coating of rust. He knelt down, took hold of the bars, and lifted the grating away. “This is how my brother and his friends got in. It goes down to the basement, I think.” He looked up as Jace and Clary joined him. Clary half-held her breath; the smell of the garbage was overwhelming, and even in the darkness she could see the darting shapes of cockroaches crawling over the piles.
A thin smile had formed, just at the corners of Jace’s mouth. He still had the angel blade in his hand. The witchlight that came from it lent his face a ghostly cast, reminding her of the way Simon had held a flashlight under his chin while telling her horror stories when they were both eleven. “Thanks,” he said to Raphael. “This will work just fine.”
The other boy’s face was pale. “You go in there and do for your friend what I could not do for my brother.”
Jace slipped the seraph blade back into his belt and glanced at Clary. “Follow me,” he said, and slid through the grating in a single smooth move, feet first. She held her breath, waiting for a shout of agony or amazement, but there was only the soft thump of feet landing on solid ground. “It’s fine,” he called up, his voice muffled. “Jump down and I’ll catch you.”
She looked at Raphael. “Thanks for your help.”
He said nothing, only held out his hand. She used it to steady herself while she maneuvered into position. His fingers were cold. He let go as she dropped down through the grating. It was only a second’s fall and Jace caught her, her dress rucking up around her thighs and his hand grazing her legs as she slid into his arms. He let her go almost immediately. “You all right?”
She pulled her dress down, glad he couldn’t see her in the dark. “I’m fine.”
Jace pulled the dimly glowing angel blade out of his belt and lifted it, letting its growing illumination wash over their surroundings. They were standing in a shallow, low-ceilinged space with a cracked concrete floor. Squares of dirt showed where the floor was broken, and Clary could see that black vines had begun to twine up the walls. A doorway, missing its door, opened onto another room.
A loud thump made her start, and she turned to see Raphael landing, knees bent, just a few feet from her. He had followed them through the grating. He straightened up and grinned manically.
Jace looked furious. “I told you—”
“And I heard you.” Raphael waved a dismissive hand. “What are you going to do about it? I can’t get back out the way we came in, and you can’t just leave me here for the dead to find … can you?”
“I’m thinking about it,” Jace said. He looked tired, Clary saw with some surprise, the shadows under his eyes more pronounced.
Raphael pointed. “We must go that way, toward the stairs. They are up on the higher floors of the hotel. You will see.” He pushed past Jace and through the narrow doorway. Jace looked after him, shaking his head.
“I’m really starting to hate mundanes,” he said.
* * *
The lower floor of the hotel was a warren of mazelike corridors opening onto empty storage rooms, a deserted laundry—moldy stacks of linen towels piled high in rotted wicker baskets—even a ghostly kitchen, banks of stainless-steel counters stretching away into the shadows. Most of the staircases leading upstairs were gone; not rotted but deliberately chopped away, reduced to stacks of kindling shoved against walls, bits of once-luxurious Persian carpet clinging to them like blossoms of furry mold.
The missing stairs baffled Clary. What did vampires have against stairs? They finally found an unharmed set, tucked away behind the laundry. Maids must have used it to carry linens up and down the stairs in the days before elevators. Dust lay thick on the steps now, like a layer of powdery gray snow that made Clary cough.
“Shh,” hissed Raphael. “They will hear you. We are close to where they sleep.”
“How do you know?” she whispered back. He wasn’t even supposed to be there. What gave him the right to lecture her about noise?
“I can feel it.” The corner of his eye twitched, and she saw that he was as scared as she was. “Can’t you?”
She shook her head. She felt nothing, other than strangely cold; after the stifling heat of the night outside, the chill inside the hotel was intense.
At the top of the stairs was a door on which the painted word LOBBY was barely legible beneath years of accumulated dirt. The door sprayed rust when Jace pushed it open. Clary braced herself—
But the room beyond was empty. They were in a large foyer, its rotting carpeting torn back to show the splintered floorboards beneath. Once the centerpiece of this room had been a grand staircase, gracefully curving, lined with gilt banisters and richly carpeted in gold and scarlet. Now all that remained were the higher steps, leading up into blackness. The remainder of the staircase ended just above their heads, in midair. The sight was as surreal as one of the abstract Magritte paintings Jocelyn had loved. This one, Clary thought, would be called The Stairs to Nowhere.
Her voice sounded as dry as the dust that coated everything. “What do vampires have against stairs?”
“Nothing,” said Jace. “They just don’t need to use them.”
“It is a way of showing that this place is one of theirs.” Raphael’s eyes were bright. He seemed almost excited. Jace glanced at him sideways.
“Have you ever actually seen a vampire, Raphael?” he asked.
Raphael glanced at him almost absently. “I know what they look like. They are paler, thinner, than human beings, but very strong. They walk like cats and spring with the swiftness of serpents. They are beautiful and terrible. Like this hotel.”
“You think it’s beautiful?” Clary asked, surprised.
“You can see where it was, years ago. Like an old woman who was once beautiful, but time has taken her beauty away. You must imagine this staircase the way it was once, with the gas lamps burning all up and down the steps, like fireflies in the dark, and the balconies full of people. Not the way it is now, so—” He broke off, searching for a word.
“Truncated?” Jace suggested dryly.
Raphael looked almost startled, as if Jace had broken him out of a reverie. He laughed shakily and turned away.
Clary turned to Jace. “Where are they, anyway? The vampires, I mean.”
“Upstairs, probably. They like to be high up when they sleep, like bats. And it’s nearly sunrise.”
Like puppets with their heads attached to strings, Clary and Raphael both looked up at the same time. There was nothing above them but the frescoed ceiling, cracked and black in places as if it had been burned in a fire. An archway to their left led farther into darkness; the pillars on either side were engraved with a motif of leaves and flowers. As Raphael glanced back down, a scar at the base of his throat, very white against his brown skin, flashed like a winking eye. She wondered how he’d gotten it.
“I think we should go back to the servants’ stairs,” she whispered. “I feel too exposed out here.”
Jace nodded. “You realize, once we get there, you’ll have to call out for Simon and hope he can hear you?”
She wondered if the fear she felt showed on her face. “I—”
Her words were cut short by a bloodcurdling scream. Clary whirled.
Raphael. He was gone, no marks in the dust showing where he might have walked—or been dragged. She reached for Jace, reflexively, but he was already moving, running toward the gaping arch in the far wall and the shadows beyond. She couldn’t see him but followed the darting witchlight he carried, like a traveler being led through a swamp by a treacherous will-o’-the-wisp.
Beyond the arch was what had once been a grand ballroom. The ruined floor was white marble, now so badly cracked that it resembled a sea of floating arctic ice. Curved balconies ran along the walls, their railings veiled in rust. Gold-framed mirrors hung at intervals between them, each crowned with a gilded cupid’s head. Spiderwebs drifted in the clammy air like ancient wedding veils.
Raphael was standing in the center of the room, his arms at his sides. Clary ran to him, Jace following more slowly behind her. “Are you all right?” she asked breathlessly.
He nodded slowly. “I thought I saw a movement in the shadows. It was nothing.”
“We’ve decided to head back to the servants’ stairs,” Jace said. “There’s nothing on this floor.”
Raphael nodded. “Good idea.”
He headed for the door, not looking to see if they followed. He had gotten only a few steps when Jace said, “Raphael?”
Raphael turned, eyes widening inquisitively, and Jace threw his knife.
Raphael’s reflexes were quick, but not quick enough. The blade struck home, the force of the impact knocking him over. His feet went out from under him and he fell heavily to the cracked marble floor. In the dim witchlight his blood looked black.
“Jace,” Clary hissed in disbelief, shock pounding through her. He’d said he hated mundanes, but he’d never—
As she turned to go to Raphael, Jace shoved her brutally aside. He flung himself on the other boy and grabbed for the knife sticking out of Raphael’s chest.
But Raphael was faster. He seized the knife, then screamed as his hand came in contact with the cross-shaped hilt. It clattered to the marble floor, blade smeared black. Jace had one hand fisted in the material of Raphael’s shirt, Sanvi in the other. It was glowing with such a bright light that Clary could see colors again: the peeling royal blue of the wallpaper, the gold flecks in the marble floor, the red stain spreading across Raphael’s chest.
***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com