“I’m afraid,” said the little girl setting on the bed.
“Grandfather, can you stay with me?”
Aloysius Starkwearther made an impatient noise in the back of his throat as he drew a chair closer to the bedside and seated himself. The impatient noise was only part in earnest. It pleased him that his granddaughter was so trusting of him, that often he was the only one who could calm her. His gruff demeanor had never bothered her, despite her delicate nature.
“There’s nothing to be afraid of, Adele,” he said.
She looked at him with large eyes. Normally the ceremony of first runing would have been held in one of the grander spaces of the York Institute, but because of Adele’s fragile nerves and health, it had been agreed that it could occur in the safety of her bedroom. She was setting at the edge of her bed, her back very straight. Her ceremonial dress was red, with a red ribbon holding back her fine, fair hair. Her eyes were huge in her thin face, her arms narrow.
Everything about her was as fragile as a china cup.
“The Silent Brothers,” she said. “What will they do to me?”
“Give me your arm,” he said, and she held out her right arm trustingly. He turned it over, seeing the pale blue tracery of veins below her skin. “They will use their steles–you know what a stele is–to draw a Mark upon you. Usually they start with the Voyance rune, which you will know from your studies, but in your case they will begin with Strength.”
“Because I am not very strong.”
“To build your constitution.”
“Like beef broth.” Adele wrinkled her nose.
He laughed. “Hopefully not so unpleasant. You will feel a little sting, so you must be brave and not cry out, because Shadowhunters do not cry out in pain. Then the sting will be gone, and you will feel so much stronger and better. And that will be the end of the ceremony, and we will go downstairs and there will be iced cakes to celebrate.”
Adele kicked her heels. “And a party!”
“Yes, a party. And presents.” He tapped his pocket, where a small box was hidden away–a small box wrapped in fine blue paper, that held an even smaller family ring. “I have one for you right here. You’ll get it as soon as the Marking ceremony is over.”
“I’ve never had a party for me before.”
“It’s because you’re a Shadowhunter,” said Aloysius. “You know why that’s important, don’t you? Your first Marks mean you are Nephilim, like me, like your mother and father. They mean you are part of the Clave. Part of our warrior family. Something different and better than everyone else.”
“Better than everyone else,” she repeated slowly as her bedroom door opened and two Silent Brothers came in. Aloysius saw the flicker of fear in Adele’s eyes. She drew her arm back from his grasp. He frowned–he did not like to see fear in his progeny, though he could not deny that the Brothers were eerie in their silence and their peculiar, gilding motions. They moved around to Adele’s side of the bed as the door opened and Adele’s mother and father entered: her father, Aloysius’s son, in scarlet gear; his wife in a red dress that belled out at the waist, and a golden necklace from which hung an enkeli rune. They smiled at their daughter, who gave a tremulous smile back, even as the Silent Brothers surrounded her.
Adele Lucinda Starkweather. It was the voice of the first Silent Brother, Brother Cimon. You are now of age. It is time for the first of the Angel’s Marks to be bestowed on you. Are you aware of the honor being done you, and will you do all in your power to be worthy of it?
Adele nodded obediently. “Yes.”
And do you accept these Marks of the Angel, which will be upon your body forever, a remainder of all that you owe to the Angel, and of your sacred duty to the world?
She nodded again, obediently. Aloysius’s heart swelled with pride. “I do accept them,” she said.
Then we begin. A stele flashed forth, held in the Silent Brother’s long white hand. He took Adele’s trembling arm and set the tip of the stele to her skin, and began to draw.
Black lines swirled out from the stele’s tip, and Adele watched in wonderment as the symbol for Strength took shape on the pale skin of her inner arm, a delicate design of lines intersecting with each other, crossing her veins, wrapping her arm. Her body was tense, her small teeth sunk into her upper lip. Her eyes flashed upward at Aloysius, and he started at what he saw in them.
Pain. It was normal to feel some pain at the bestowing of a Mark, but what her saw in Adele’s eyes–was agony.
Aloysius jerked upright, sending the chair he had been setting on skittering away behind him. “Stop!” he cried, but it was too late. The rune was complete. The Silent Brother drew back, staring. There was blood on the stele. Adele was whimpering, mindful of her grandfather’s admonition that she not cry out–but then her bloody, lacerated skin began to peel back from the bones, blackening and burning under the rune as if it were fire, and she could not help but throw her head back, and scream, and scream…
“Will?” Charlotte Fairchild eased the door of the Institute’s training room open. “Will, are you there?”
A muffled grunt was the only response. The door swung all the way open, revealing the wide, high-ceilinged room on the other side. Charlotte herself had grown up training here, and she knew every warp of the floorboards, the ancient target painted on the north wall, the square-paned windows, so old that they were thicker at the base than the top. In the center of the room stood Will Herondale, a knife held in his right hand.
He turned his head to look at Charlotte, as she thought again what an odd child he was–although at twelve he was barely still a child. He was a very pretty boy, with dark hair that waved slightly when it touched his collar–wet now with sweat, and pasted to his forehead. His skin had been tanned by county air and sun when he had first come to the Institute, though six months of city life had drained its color, causing the red flush across his cheekbones to standout. His eyes were an unusually luminous blue. He would be handsome one day, if he cold do something about the scowl that perpetually twisted his features.
“What is it, Charlotte?” he snapped. He still spoke with a slight Welsh accent, a roll to his vowels that would have been charming if his tone hadn’t been so sour. He drew his sleeve across his forehead as she came partway through the door, than paused. “I’ve been looking for you for hours,” she said with some asperity, though asperity had little effect on will. Not much had an effect on Will when he was in a mood, and he was nearly always in a mood. “Didn’t you recall what I told you yesterday, that we were welcoming a new arrival to the Institute today?”
“Oh, I remembered.” Will threw the knife. It stuck just outside of the circle of the target, deepening his scowl. “I just don’t care.”
The boy behind Charlotte made a stifled noise. A laugh, she would have thought, but certainly he couldn’t be laughing? She had been warned the boy coming form Shanghai was not well but she had been startled when he had stepped from the carriage, pale dark hair streaked with silver as if he were a man in his eighties, not a boy of twelve. His eyes were wide and silvery-black, strangely beautiful but haunting in such a delicate face. “Will, you shall be polite,” she said and drew the boy out from behind her, ushering him ahead into the room. “Don’t mind Will; he’s only moody. Will Herondale, may I introduce you to James Carstairs, of the Shanghai Institute.”
“Jem,” said the boy. “Everyone calls me Jem.” He took another step forward into the room, his gaze taking in Will with a friendly curiosity. He spoke without the trace of an accent, to Charlotte’s surprise, but then his father was–had been–British. “You can too.”
“Well, if everyone calls you that, it’s hardly any special favor to me, is it?” Will’s tone was acid; for someone so young, he was amazingly capable of unpleasantness. “I think you will find, James Carstairs, that if you keep to yourself and let me alone, it will be the best outcome for both of us.”
Charlotte sighed inwardly. She had so hoped that this boy, the same age as Will, would prove a tool to disarm Will of his anger and his viciousness, but it seemed clear that Will had been speaking the truth when he had told her he did not care if another Shadowhunter boy was coming to the Institute. He did not want friends, or want for them. She glanced at Jem, expecting to see him blinking in surprise or hurt, but he was only smiling a little, as if Will were a kitten that had tried to bite him. “I haven’t trained since I left Shanghai,” he said. “I could use a partner–someone to spar with.”
“So could I,” said Will. “But I need someone who can keep up with me, not some sickly creature that looks as if he’s doddering off to the grave. Although I suppose you might be useful for target practice.”
Charlotte, knowing what she did about James Carstairs– a fact she had not shared with Will–felt a sickly horror come over her. Doddering off to the grave, oh dear lord. What was it her father had said? That Jem was dependant on a drug to live, some kind of medicine that would extend his life but not save it. Oh, Will.
She made a move in between the two boys, as if she could protect Jem from Will’s cruelty, more awfully accurate in thus instance that even if he knew–but then she paused.
Jem had not even changed expression. “If by ‘doddering off to the grave’ you mean dying, then I am,” he said. “I have about two years more to live, three if I am lucky, or so they tell me.”
Even Will could not hide his shock; his cheeks flushed red. “I…”
But Jem had set his steps toward the target painted on the wall; when he reached it, he yanked the knife free from the wood. Then he turned and walked directly up to Will. Delicate as he was, they were the same height, and only inches from each other their eyes met and held. “You may use me for target practice if you wish,” said Jem as casually as if he were talking about the weather. “It seems to me I have little to fear from such an exercise, as you are not a very good shot.” He turned, took aim, and let the knife fly. It stuck directly into the heart of the target, quivering slightly. “Or,” Jem went on, turning back to Will, “you could allow me to teach you. For I am a very good shot.
Charlotte stared. For half a year she had watched Will push away everyone who’d tried to get near him–tutors; her father; her fiancé, Henry; both the Lightwood Brothers–with a combination of hatefulness and precisely accurate cruelty. If it were not that she herself was the only person who had ever seen him cry, she imagined she would have given up hope as well, long ago, that he would ever be any good to anybody. And yet here he was, looking at Jem Carstairs, a boy so fragile-looking that he appeared to be made out of glass, with the hardness of his expression slowly dissolving into a tentative uncertainty. “You are not really dying,” he said, the oddest tone to his voice, “are you?”
Jem nodded. “So they tell me.”
“I am sorry,” Will said.
“No,” Jem said softly. He drew his jacket aside and took a knife from the belt at his waist. “Don’t be ordinary like that. Don’t say you’re sorry. Say you’ll train with me.”
He held out the knife to Will, hilt first. Charlotte held her breath, afraid to move. She felt as if she were watching something very important happen, though she could not have said what.
Will reached out and took the knife, his eyes never leaving Jem’s face. His fingers brushed the other boy’s as he took the weapon form him. It was the first time, Charlotte thought, that she had ever seen him touch another person willingly.
“I’ll train with you,” he said.