Clockwork Angel (The Infernal Devices #1)(6)


by Cassandra Clare

“Perhaps tomorrow,” Mrs. Black said, “or even tonight. If we told the Magister she was ready, I cannot imagine he would not hurry here without delay.”

Mrs. Dark, stepping out from behind the desk, chuckled. “I understand that you’re eager to be paid for all our work, dear sister. But Theresa must not be simply ready. She must be … presentable as well as able. Don’t you agree?”

Mrs. Black, following her sister, muttered a response that was cut short as the door opened and Miranda came in. She wore the same dull look as ever. The sight of Tessa crouched and bloody on the floor seemed to occasion no surprise in her. Then again, Tessa thought, she had probably seen far worse in this room.

“Take the girl back up to her room, Miranda.” The eagerness was gone from Mrs. Black’s voice, and she was all brusqueness again. “Get the things—you know, the ones we showed you—and get her dressed and ready.”

“The things … you showed me?” Miranda sounded blank.

Mrs. Dark and Mrs. Black exchanged a disgusted look, and approached Miranda, blocking Tessa’s view of the girl. Tessa heard them whispering to her, and caught a few words—“dresses” and “wardrobe room” and “do what you can to make her look pretty,” and then finally, Tessa heard the rather cruel, “I’m not sure Miranda is clever enough to obey vague instructions of that sort, sister.”

Make her look pretty. But what did they care whether she looked pretty or not, when they could force her to look any way they wanted? What did it matter what her true appearance was? And why would the Magister care? Though, it was very clear from the Sisters’ behavior that they believed he would.

Mrs. Black swept from the room, her sister following behind her, as she always did. At the door Mrs. Dark paused, and looked back at Tessa. “Do remember, Theresa,” she said, “that this day—this very night—is what all of our preparation has been for.” She took hold of her skirts in both bony hands. “Do not fail us.”

She let the door bang shut behind her. Tessa flinched at the noise, but Miranda, as always, seemed utterly unaffected. In all the time that she had passed in the Dark House, Tessa had never been able to startle the other girl, or surprise an unguarded expression out of her.

“Come,” Miranda said. “We must go upstairs now.”

Tessa rose to her feet, slowly. Her mind was whirling. Her life in the Dark House had been horrible, but she had—she realized now—grown almost used to it. She had known what to expect each day. She had known the Dark Sisters were preparing her for something, but she had not known what that something was. She had believed—naively, perhaps—that they wouldn’t kill her. Why waste all this training on her if she was only going to die?

But something in Mrs. Dark’s gloating tone gave her pause. Something had changed. They had achieved what they wanted with her. They were going to be “paid.” But who was going to do the paying?

“Come,” Miranda said again. “We must get you ready for the Magister.”

“Miranda,” Tessa said. She spoke softly, the way she might have spoken to a nervous cat. Miranda had never answered a question of Tessa’s before, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t worth trying. “Who is the Magister?”

There was a long silence. Miranda stared straight ahead, her doughy face impassive. Then, to Tessa’s surprise, she spoke. “The Magister is a very great man,” she said. “It will be an honor for you when you are married to him.”

“Married?” Tessa echoed. The shock was so intense that she could suddenly see the whole room more clearly—Miranda, the blood-splattered rug on the floor, the heavy brass globe on the desk, still tilted in the position Mrs. Black had left it in. “Me? But—who is he?”

“He is a very great man,” Miranda said again. “It will be an honor.” She moved toward Tessa. “You must come with me now.”

“No.” Tessa backed away from the other girl, retreating until the small of her back struck painfully against the desk. She looked around desperately. She could run, but she’d never get past Miranda to the door; there were no windows, no doors to other rooms. If she hid behind the desk, Miranda would simply drag her out and haul her to her room. “Miranda, please.”

“You must come with me now,” Miranda repeated; she had almost reached Tessa. Tessa could see herself reflected in the black pupils of the other girl’s eyes, could smell the faint, bitter, almost charred smell that clung to Miranda’s clothes and skin. “You must —”

With a strength she didn’t know she possessed, Tessa seized the base of the brass globe on the desk, lifted it, and swung it with all her might at Miranda’s head.

It connected with a sickening sound. Miranda reeled back—and then straightened. Tessa shrieked and dropped the globe, staring—the whole left side of Miranda’s face was crushed in, like a paper mask that had been smashed flat on one side. Her cheekbone was flattened, her lip mashed against her teeth. But there was no blood, no blood at all.

“You must come with me now,” Miranda said, in the same flat tone she always used.

Tessa gaped.

“You must come—you m-must—you—you—you—yyyyyyyyyyyyy—” Miranda’s voice shuddered and broke, degenerating into a stream of gibberish. She moved toward Tessa, then jerked to the side, twitching and stumbling. Tessa turned from the desk and began to back away as the injured girl spun, faster and faster. She reeled across the room like a staggering drunk, still shrieking, and crashed into the far wall—which seemed to stun her. She collapsed to the ground and lay still.

Tessa raced to the door and out into the corridor beyond, pausing only once, just outside the room, to look back. It seemed, in that brief moment, as if a thread of black smoke were rising from Miranda’s prone body, but there was no time to stare. Tessa darted down the hall, leaving the door hanging open behind her.

She dashed for the stairs and hurtled up them, nearly tripping over her skirts and banging her knee painfully on one of the steps. She cried out and scrambled on, up to the first landing, where she dashed into the corridor. It stretched out ahead of her, long and curving, disappearing into shadows. As she raced down it, she saw that it was lined with doors. She paused and tried one, but it was locked, and so was the next one, and the next after that.