Jace looked up at Hodge, surprised. Clary noted the contrast: the ravaged face of the older man and the boy’s unlined one, the pale locks of hair falling into Jace’s eyes making him look even younger. “I’m not sure what you mean,” Jace said.
Hodge’s breath hissed out through his teeth. “You look so much like him.”
“Like who?” said Jace in astonishment; he had clearly never heard Hodge talk this way before.
“Like your father,” Hodge said, and raised his eyes to where Hugo, black wings stirring the humid air, hovered just overhead.
Hodge narrowed his eyes. “Hugin,” he said, and with an unearthly caw the bird dived straight for Clary’s face, claws outstretched.
Clary heard Jace shout, and then the world was whirling feathers and slashing beak and claws. Bright pain bloomed along her cheek and she shrieked, instinctively throwing her hands up to cover her face.
She felt the Mortal Cup yanked from her grasp. “No!” she cried, grabbing for it. An agonizing pain shot up her arm. Her legs seemed to go out from under her. She slipped and fell, striking her knees painfully against the hard floor. Claws raked her forehead.
“That’s enough, Hugo,” said Hodge in his quiet voice.
Obediently the bird spun away from Clary. Gagging, she blinked blood out of her eyes. Her face felt shredded.
Hodge had not moved; he stood where he was, holding the Mortal Cup. Hugo was circling him in wide, agitated rounds, cawing softly. And Jace—Jace lay on the floor at Hodge’s feet, very still, as if he had fallen suddenly asleep.
All other thoughts were driven from her mind. “Jace!” Speaking hurt—the pain in her cheek was startling and she could taste blood in her mouth. Jace didn’t move.
“He’s not hurt,” said Hodge. Clary started to her feet, meaning to fling herself at him—then reeled back as she struck something invisible but as hard and strong as glass. Infuriated, she struck against the air with her fist.
“Hodge!” she shouted. She kicked out, nearly bruising her feet on the same invisible wall. “Don’t be stupid. When the Clave finds out what you’ve done—”
“I’ll be long gone by then,” he said, kneeling over Jace.
“But—” A shock ran through her, a jolt of electric realization. “You never sent a message to the Clave, did you? That’s why you were so weird when I asked you about it. You wanted the Cup for yourself.”
“Not,” said Hodge, “for myself.”
Clary’s throat was dry as dust. “You work for Valentine,” she whispered.
“I do not work for Valentine,” said Hodge. He lifted Jace’s hand and drew something from it. It was the engraved ring Jace always wore. Hodge slipped it onto his own finger. “But I am Valentine’s man, it is true.”
With a swift movement he twisted the ring three times around his finger. For a moment nothing happened; then Clary heard the sound of a door opening and turned instinctively to see who was coming into the library. When she turned back, she saw that the air beside Hodge was shimmering, like the surface of a lake seen from a distance. The shimmering wall of air parted like a silver curtain, and then a tall man was standing next to Hodge, as if he had coalesced out of the humid air.
“Starkweather,” he said. “You have the Cup?”
Hodge raised the Cup in his hands, but said nothing. He appeared paralyzed, whether with fear or astonishment, it was impossible to tell. He had always seemed tall to Clary, but now he looked hunched and small. “My Lord Valentine,” he said, finally. “I had not expected you so quickly.”
Valentine. He bore little resemblance to the handsome boy in the photograph, though his eyes were still black. His face was not what she had expected: It was a restrained, closed, interior face, the face of a priest, with sorrowful eyes. Creeping out beneath the black cuffs of his tailored suit were the ridged white scars that spoke of years of the stele. “I told you I would come to you through a Portal,” he said. His voice was resonant, and strangely familiar. “Didn’t you believe me?”
“Yes. It’s just—I thought you’d send Pangborn or Blackwell, not come yourself.”
“You think I would send them to collect the Cup? I am not a fool. I know its lure.” Valentine held out his hand, and Clary saw, gleaming on his finger, a ring that was the twin of Jace’s. “Give it to me.”
But Hodge held the Cup fast. “I want what you promised me first.”
“First? You don’t trust me, Starkweather?” Valentine smiled, a smile not without humor in it. “I’ll do as you asked. A bargain is a bargain. Though I must say I was astonished to get your message. I wouldn’t have thought you’d mind a life of hidden contemplation, so to speak. You never were much for the battlefield.”
“You don’t know what it’s like,” Hodge said, letting out his breath with a hissing gasp. “Being afraid all the time—”
“That’s true. I don’t.” Valentine’s voice was as sorrowful as his eyes, as if he pitied Hodge. But there was dislike in his eyes too, a trace of scorn. “If you did not intend to give the Cup to me,” he said, “you should not have summoned me here.”
Hodge’s face worked. “It is not easy to betray what you believe in—those who trust you.”
“Do you mean the Lightwoods, or their children?”
“Both,” said Hodge.
“Ah, the Lightwoods.” Valentine reached out, and with a hand caressed the brass globe that stood on the desk, his long fingers tracing the outlines of continents and seas. “But what do you owe them, really? Yours is the punishment that should have been theirs. If they had not had such high connections in the Clave, they would have been cursed along with you. As it is, they are free to come and go, to walk in the sunlight like ordinary men. They are free to go home.” His voice as he said “home” thrilled with all the meaning of the word. His finger had stopped moving over the globe; Clary was sure he was touching the place where Idris would be.
Hodge’s eyes darted away. “They did what anyone would do.”
“You would not have done it. I would not have done it. To let a friend suffer in my place? And surely it must engender some bitterness in you, Starkweather, to know that they so easily left this fate to you …”
Hodge’s shoulders shook. “But it is not the children’s fault. They have done nothing—”
“I never knew you to be so fond of children, Starkweather,” Valentine said, as if the idea entertained him.
The breath rattled in Hodge’s chest. “Jace—”
“You will not speak of Jace.” For the first time Valentine sounded angry. He glanced at the still figure on the floor. “He is bleeding,” he observed. “Why?”
Hodge held the Cup against his heart. His knuckles were white. “It’s not his blood. He’s unconscious, but not injured.”
Valentine raised his head with a pleasant smile. “I wonder,” he said, “what he will think of you when he wakes. Betrayal is never pretty, but to betray a child—that’s a double betrayal, don’t you think?”
“You won’t hurt him,” whispered Hodge. “You swore you wouldn’t hurt him.”
“I never did that,” said Valentine. “Come, now.” He moved away from the desk, toward Hodge, who flinched away like a small, trapped animal. Clary could see his misery. “And what would you do if I said I did plan to hurt him? Would you fight me? Keep the Cup from me? Even if you could kill me, the Clave will never lift your curse. You’ll hide here till you die, terrified to do so much as open a window too widely. What wouldn’t you trade away, not to be afraid any longer? What wouldn’t you give up, to go home again?”
Clary tore her eyes away. She could no longer bear the look on Hodge’s face. In a choked voice he said, “Tell me you won’t hurt him, and I’ll give it to you.”
“No,” said Valentine, even more softly. “You’ll give it to me anyway.” And he reached out his hand.
Hodge closed his eyes. For a moment his face was the face of one of the marble angels beneath the desk, pained and grave and crushed beneath a terrible weight. Then he swore, pathetically, under his breath, and held the Mortal Cup out for Valentine to take, though his hand shook like a leaf in a high wind.
“Thank you,” said Valentine. He took the Cup, and eyed it thoughtfully. “I do believe you’ve dented the rim.”
Hodge said nothing. His face was gray. Valentine bent down and gathered up Jace; as he lifted him up lightly, Clary saw the impeccably cut jacket tighten over his arms and back, and she realized that he was a deceptively massive man, with a torso like the trunk of an oak tree. Jace, limp in his arms, looked like a child by comparison.
“He’ll be with his father soon,” said Valentine, looking down at Jace’s white face. “Where he belongs.”
Hodge flinched. Valentine turned away from him and walked back toward the shimmering curtain of air that he had come through. He must have left the Portal door open behind him, Clary realized. Looking at it was like looking at sunlight bouncing off the surface of a mirror.
Hodge reached out an imploring hand. “Wait!” he cried. “What of your promise to me? You swore to end my curse.”
“That is true,” said Valentine. He paused, and looked hard at Hodge, who gasped and stepped back, his hand flying to his chest as if something had struck him in the heart. Black fluid seeped out around his splayed fingers and trickled to the floor. Hodge lifted his scarred face to Valentine. “Is it done?” he asked wildly. “The curse—it is lifted?”
“Yes,” said Valentine. “And may your bought freedom bring you joy.” And with that he stepped through the curtain of glowing air. For a moment he himself seemed to shimmer, as if he stood underwater. Then he vanished, taking Jace with him.
IN RATS’ ALLEY
HODGE, GASPING, STARED AFTER HIM, HIS FISTS CLENCHING and unclenching at his sides. His left hand was gloved with the wet dark fluid that had seeped from his chest. The look on his face was a mixture of exultation and self-loathing.
“Hodge!” Clary slammed her hand into the invisible wall between them. Pain shot up her arm, but it was nothing compared to the searing pain inside her chest. She felt as if her heart were going to slam its way out of her rib cage. Jace, Jace, Jace—the words echoed in her mind, wanting to be screamed out loud. She bit them back. “Hodge, let me out!”
Hodge turned, shaking his head. “I can’t,” he said, using his immaculately folded handkerchief to rub at his stained hand. He sounded genuinely regretful. “You’ll only try to kill me.”
“I won’t,” she said. “I promise.”
“But you were not raised a Shadowhunter,” he said, “and your promises mean nothing.” The edge of his handkerchief was smoking now, as if he’d dipped it in acid, and his hand was no less blackened. Frowning, he abandoned the project.
“But, Hodge,” she said desperately, “didn’t you hear him? He’s going to kill Jace.”
“He didn’t say that.” Hodge was at the desk now, opening a drawer, taking out a piece of paper. He drew a pen from his pocket, tapping it sharply against the edge of the desk to make the ink flow. Clary stared at him. Was he writing a letter?
“Hodge,” she said carefully, “Valentine said Jace would be with his father soon. Jace’s father is dead. What else could he have meant?”
Hodge didn’t look up from the paper he was scribbling on. “It’s complicated. You wouldn’t understand.”
“I understand enough.” Her bitterness felt like it might burn through her tongue. “I understand that Jace trusted you and you traded him away to a man who hated his father and probably hates Jace, too, just because you’re too cowardly to live with a curse you deserved.”
Hodge’s head jerked up. “Is that what you think?”
“It’s what I know.”
He laid his pen down, shaking his head. He looked tired, and so old, so much older than Valentine had looked, though they were the same age. “You only know bits and fragments, Clary. And you’re better off that way.” He folded the paper he’d been writing on into a neat square and tossed it into the fire, which flared up a bright acidic green before subsiding.
“What are you doing?” Clary demanded.
“Sending a message.” Hodge turned away from the fire. He was standing close to her, separated only by the invisible wall. She pressed her fingers against it, wishing she could dig them into his eyes—though they were as sad as Valentine’s had been angry. “You are young,” he said. “The past is nothing to you, not even another country as it is to the old, or a nightmare as it is to the guilty. The Clave laid this curse on me because I aided Valentine. But I was hardly the only member of the Circle to serve him—were the Lightwoods not as guilty as I was? Were not the Waylands? Yet I was the only one cursed to live out my life without being able to set so much as a foot outdoors, not so much as a hand through the window.”
“That’s not my fault,” said Clary. “It’s not Jace’s fault. Why punish him for what the Clave did? I can understand giving Valentine the Cup, but Jace? He’ll kill Jace, just like he killed Jace’s father—”
“Valentine,” said Hodge, “did not kill Jace’s father.”
A sob broke free from Clary’s chest. “I don’t believe you! All you do is tell lies! Everything you’ve ever said was a lie!”
“Ah,” he said, “the moral absolutism of the young, which allows for no concessions. Can’t you see, Clary, that in my own way I’m trying to be a good man?”
***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com