City of Heavenly Fire / Page 31

Page 31


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“I did not make a pie,” Alec announced when Jace and Clary returned to the large central chamber of the cave. He was lying on his back, on an unrolled blanket, with his head pillowed on a wadded-up jacket. There was a fire smoking in the pit, the flames casting elongated shadows against the walls.
 
He had spread out provisions: bread and chocolate, nuts and granola bars, water and bruised apples. Clary felt her stomach tighten, realizing only then how hungry she was. There were three plastic bottles next to the food: two of water, and a darker one of wine.
 
“I did not make a pie,” Alec repeated, gesturing expressively with one hand, “for three reasons. One, because I do not have any pie ingredients. Two, because I don’t actually know how to make a pie.”
 
He paused, clearly waiting.
 
Removing his sword and leaning it against the cave wall, Jace said warily, “And three?”
 
“Because I am not your bitch,” Alec said, clearly pleased with himself.
 
Clary couldn’t help but smile. She undid her weapons belt and laid it down carefully by the wall; Jace, unbuckling his own, rolled his eyes.
 
“You know that wine is supposed to be for antiseptic purposes,” Jace said, sprawling elegantly on the ground next to Alec. Clary sat beside him. Every muscle in her body protested—even months of training hadn’t prepared her for the day’s draining trek across the burning sand.
 
“There’s not enough alcohol in wine to be able to use it for antiseptic purposes,” said Alec. “Besides, I’m not drunk. I’m contemplative.”
 
“Right.” Jace swiped an apple, sliced it expertly in two, and offered half to Clary. She took a bite of the fruit, remembering. Their first kiss had tasted of apples.
 
“So,” she said. “What are you contemplating?”
 
“What’s going on at home,” Alec said. “Now that they’ve probably noticed we’re gone and all that. I feel bad about Aline and Helen. I would have liked to warn them.”
 
“You don’t feel bad about your parents?” Clary said.
 
“No,” Alec said after a long pause. “They had their chance to do the right thing.” He rolled onto his side and looked at them. His eyes were very blue in the firelight. “I always thought being a Shadowhunter meant that I had to approve of what the Clave did,” he said. “I thought otherwise I wasn’t loyal. I made excuses for them. I always have. But I feel like whenever we have to fight, we’re fighting a war on two fronts. We fight the enemy and we fight the Clave, too. I don’t—I just don’t know how I feel anymore.”
 
Jace smiled at him fondly across the fire. “Rebel,” he said.
 
Alec made a face and levered himself up onto his elbows. “Don’t make fun of me,” he snapped, with enough force that Jace looked surprised. Jace’s expressions were unreadable to most people, but Clary knew him well enough to recognize the quick flash of hurt across his face, and the anxiety as he leaned forward to reply to Alec—just as Isabelle and Simon burst into the room. Isabelle looked flushed, but in the manner of someone who had been running rather than someone who had been giving in to passion. Poor Simon, Clary thought with amusement—amusement that vanished almost instantly when she saw the looks on their faces.
 
“The east corridor ends in a door,” Isabelle said without preamble. “A gate, like the one we came in through, but it’s broken. And there are demons, the flying kind. They’re not coming near here, but you can see them. Someone should probably keep watch, just to be safe.”
 
“I’ll do it,” Alec said, standing up. “I’m not going to sleep anyway.”
 
“Me neither.” Jace scrambled to his feet. “Besides, someone should keep you company.” He looked at Clary, who offered an encouraging smile. She knew Jace hated it when Alec was angry at him. She wasn’t sure if he could feel the discord through the parabatai bond or if it was just ordinary empathy, or a little of both.
 
“There are three moons,” Isabelle said and sat down by the food, reaching for a granola bar. “And Simon thought he saw a city. A demon city.”
 
“I wasn’t sure,” Simon added quickly.
 
“In the books Edom has a capital, called Idumea,” said Alec. “There could be something. We’ll keep an eye out.” He bent to retrieve his bow and started off down the east corridor. Jace retrieved a seraph blade, kissed Clary quickly, and headed after him; Clary settled down on her side, staring into the fire, letting the soft murmur of Isabelle and Simon’s conversation lull her to sleep.
 
   
 
 
 
Jace felt the sinews in his back and neck crack with exhaustion as he lowered himself down among the rocks, sliding back until he was sitting with his back to one of the larger ones, trying not to breathe too deeply in the bitter air. He heard Alec settle beside him, the rough material of his gear scratching against the ground. Moonlight sparked off his bow as he laid it across his lap and looked out over the landscape.
 
The three moons hung low in the sky; each fragment looked bloated and enormous, the color of wine, and they tinged the landscape with their bloody glow.
 
“Are you going to talk?” Jace asked. “Or is this one of those times where you’re mad at me so you don’t say anything?”
 
“I’m not mad at you,” Alec said. He ran a leather-gauntleted hand over his bow, idly tapping his fingers against the wood.
 
“I thought you might be,” Jace said. “If I’d agreed to look for shelter, I wouldn’t have been attacked. I put us all in danger—”
 
Alec took a deep breath and let it out slowly. The moons had inched slightly higher in the sky, and they cast their dark glow across his face. He looked young, with his hair dirty and tangled, his shirt torn. “We knew the risks we were taking coming here with you. We signed up to die. I mean, obviously I’d rather survive. But we all chose.”
 
“The first time you saw me,” Jace said, looking down at his hands, looped around his knees, “I bet you didn’t think, He’s going to get me killed.”
 
“The first time I saw you, I wished you’d go back to Idris.” Jace looked over at Alec incredulously; Alec shrugged. “You know I don’t like change.”
 
“I grew on you, though,” Jace stated confidently.
 
“Eventually,” Alec agreed. “Like moss, or a skin disease.”
 
“You love me.” Jace leaned his head back against the rock, looking out across the dead landscape through tired eyes. “You think we should have left a note for Maryse and Robert?”
 
Alec laughed dryly. “I think they’ll figure out where we went. Eventually. Maybe I don’t care if Dad ever figures it out.” Alec threw his head back and sighed. “Oh, God, I’m a cliché,” he said in despair. “Why do I care? If Dad decides he hates me because I’m not straight, he’s not worth the pain, right?”
 
“Don’t look at me,” said Jace. “My adoptive father was a mass murderer. And I still worried about what he thought. It’s what we’re programmed to do. Your dad always seemed pretty great by comparison.”
 
“Sure, he likes you,” said Alec. “You’re heterosexual and have low expectations of father figures.”
 
“I think they’ll probably put that on my gravestone. ‘He Was Heterosexual and Had Low Expectations.’ ”
 
Alec smiled—a brief, forced flash of a smile. Jace looked at him narrowly. “Are you sure you’re not mad? You seem kind of mad.”
 
Alec looked up at the sky overhead. There were no stars visible through the cloud cover, only a smear of yellowish black. “Not everything is about you.”
 
“If you’re not doing okay, you should tell me,” Jace said. “We’re all under stress, but we have to keep it together as much as we—”
 
Alec whirled on him. There was disbelief in his eyes. “Doing okay? How would you be doing?” he demanded. “How would you be doing if it were Clary that Sebastian had taken? If it were her we were going to rescue, not knowing if she was dead or alive? How would you be doing?”
 
Jace felt as if Alec had slapped him. He also felt as though he deserved it. It took him several tries before he could get out the next words: “I—I would be in pieces.”
 
Alec got to his feet. He was outlined against the bruise-colored sky, the glow of the broken moons reflecting off the ground; Jace could see every facet of his expression, everything he had been keeping pent up. He thought of the way Alec had killed the faerie knight in the Court; cold and quick and merciless. None of that was like Alec. And yet Jace had not paused to think about it, to think what drove that coldness: the hurt, the anger, the fear. “This,” Alec said, gesturing toward himself. “This is me in pieces.”
 
“Alec—”
 
“I’m not like you,” Alec said. “I—I am not able to create the perfect facade at all times. I can tell jokes, I can try, but there are limits. I can’t—”
 
Jace staggered to his feet. “But you don’t have to create a facade,” he said, bewildered. “You don’t have to pretend. You can—”
 
“I can break down? We both know that’s not true. We need to hold it together, and all those years I watched you, I watched you hold it together, I watched you after you thought your father died, I watched you when you thought Clary was your sister, I watched you, and this is how you survived, so if I have to survive, then I’m going to do the same thing.”
 
“But you’re not like me,” Jace said. He felt as if the steady ground below him were cracking in half. When he was ten years old, he had built his life on the bedrock of the Lightwoods, Alec most of all. He had always thought that as parabatai they’d been there for each other, that he’d been there for Alec’s broken heart as much as Alec had been there for his, but he realized now, and horribly, that he had given little thought to Alec since the prisoners had been taken, had not thought how each hour, each minute, must be for him, not knowing if Magnus was alive or dead. “You’re better.”
 
Alec stared at him, his chest rising and falling quickly. “What did you imagine?” he asked abruptly. “When we came through into this world? I saw your expression when we found you. You didn’t envision ‘nothing.’ ‘Nothing’ wouldn’t have made you look like that.”
 
Jace shook his head. “What did you see?”
 
“I saw the Hall of Accords. There was a huge victory banquet, and everyone was there. Max—was there. And you, and Magnus, and everyone, and Dad was giving a speech about how I was the best warrior he’d ever known. . . .” His voice trailed off. “I never thought I wanted to be the best warrior,” he said. “I always thought I was happy being the dark star to your supernova. I mean, you have the angel’s gift. I could train and train . . . I’d never be you.”
 
“You’d never want to,” Jace said. “That’s not you.”
 
Alec’s breathing had slowed. “I know,” he said. “I’m not jealous. I always knew, from the first, that everyone thought you were better than me. My dad thought it. The Clave thought it. Izzy and Max looked up to you as the great warrior they wanted to be like. But the day you asked me to be your parabatai, I knew you meant that you trusted me enough to ask me to help you. You were telling me that you weren’t the lone and self-sufficient warrior able to do everything alone. You needed me. So I realized that there was one person who didn’t assume you were better than me. You.”
 
“There all sorts of ways of being better,” Jace said. “I knew that even then. I might be physically stronger, but you have the truest heart of anyone I’ve ever known, and the strongest faith in other people, and in that way you are better than I could ever hope to be.”
 
Alec looked at him with surprised eyes.
 
“The best thing Valentine ever did for me was send me to you,” Jace added. “Your parents, sure, but mainly you. You and Izzy and Max. If it hadn’t been for you, I would have been—like Sebastian. Wanting this.” He gestured at the wasteland in front of them. “Wanting to be king of a wasteland of skulls and corpses.” Jace broke off, squinting into the distance. “Did you see that?”
 
Alec shook his head. “I don’t see anything.”
 
“Light, sparking off something.” Jace searched among the shadows of the desert. He drew a seraph blade from his belt. Under the moonlight, even not yet activated, the clear adamas glowed with a ruby shine. “Wait here,” he said. “Guard the entrance. I’m going to look.”
 
“Jace—” Alec started, but Jace was already darting down the slope, springing from rock to rock. As he neared the foot of the rise, the rocks became paler in color, and began to crumble away under his feet as he landed on them. Eventually they gave way to powdery sand, dotted with massive arched boulders. There were a few growing things dotting the landscape: trees that looked as if they’d been fossilized in place by a sudden blast, a solar flare.
 
Behind him was Alec and the entrance to the tunnels. Ahead was desolation. Jace began to pick his way carefully among the broken rocks and dead trees. As he moved, he saw it again, a darting spark, something alive among the deadness. He turned toward it, placing each foot carefully, directly, in front of the other.
 
“Who’s there?” he called, then frowned. “Of course,” he added, addressing the darkness all around, “even I, as a Shadowhunter, have seen enough movies to know that anyone who yells ‘Who’s there?’ is going to be instantly killed.”
 
A noise echoed through the air—a gasp, a swallow of broken breath. Jace tensed and moved forward swiftly. There it was: a shadow, evolving out of the dark into a human shape. A woman, crouched and kneeling, wearing a pale robe stained with dirt and blood. She seemed to be weeping.
 
Jace tightened his grip on the hilt of his blade. He had approached enough demons in his life who were pretending helplessness or who had otherwise disguised their true nature that he felt less sympathy than suspicion. “Dumah,” he whispered, and the blade flared up into light. He could see the woman more clearly now. She had long hair that fell to the ground and mixed with the scorched earth, and a circle of iron around her brow. Her hair was reddish in the shadows, the color of old blood, and for a moment, before she rose and turned to him, he thought of the Seelie Queen—
 
But it was not her. This woman was a Shadowhunter. She was more than that. She wore the white robes of an Iron Sister, bound under her breasts, and her eyes were the flat orange of flames. Dark runes disfigured her cheeks and brow. Her hands were clasped over her chest. She released them now, and let them fall to her sides, and Jace felt the air in his lungs turn cold as he saw the massive wound in her chest, the blood spreading across the white fabric of her dress.
 
“You know me, don’t you, Shadowhunter?” she said. “I am Sister Magdalena of the Iron Sisters, whom you murdered.”
 
Jace swallowed against his dry throat. “It’s not her. You’re a demon.”
 
She shook her head. “I was cursed, for my betrayal of the Clave. When you killed me, I came here. This is my Hell, and I wander it. Never healing, always bleeding.” She pointed backward, and he saw the footsteps behind her that led to this place, the marks of bare feet outlined in blood. “This is what you did to me.”
 
“It wasn’t me,” he said hoarsely.
 
She cocked her head to the side. “Wasn’t it?” she said. “Do you not remember?”
 
And he did remember, the small artist’s studio in Paris, the Cup of adamas, Magdalena not expecting the attack as he drew his blade and stabbed her; the look on her face as she fell against the worktable, dying—
 
Blood on his blade, on his hands, on his clothes. Not demon’s blood or ichor. Not the blood of an enemy. The blood of a Shadowhunter.
 
“You remember,” said Magdalena, cocking her head to the side with a small smile. “How would a demon know the things I know, Jace Herondale?”
 
“Not—my name,” Jace whispered. His blood felt hot in his veins, tightening his throat, choking off his words. He thought of the silver box with the birds on it, herons graceful in the air, the history of one of the great Shadowhunter families laid out in books and letters and heirlooms, and how he had felt as if he didn’t deserve to touch the contents.
 
Her expression twitched, as if she didn’t quite understand what he had said, but she went on smoothly, stepping toward him across the broken ground. “Then what are you? You have no real claim on the name of Lightwood. Are you a Morgenstern? Like Jonathan?”
 
Jace took a breath that scorched his throat like fire. His body was slick with sweat, his hands shaking. Everything in him screamed that he should lunge forward, should pierce the Magdalena creature with his seraph blade, but he kept seeing her falling, dying, in Paris, and himself standing over her, realizing what he had done, that he was a murderer, and how could you murder the same person twice—
 
“You liked it, didn’t you?” she whispered. “Being bound to Jonathan, being one with him? It freed you. You can tell yourself now that everything you did was forced on you, that you weren’t the one acting, that you didn’t drive that blade into me, but we two know the truth. Lilith’s bond was only an excuse for you to do the things you desired to do anyway.”
 
Clary, he thought, achingly. If she were here, he would have her inexplicable conviction to cling to, her belief that he was intrinsically good, a belief that served as a fortress through which no doubt could travel. But she was not here and he was alone in a burned, dead land, the same dead land—
 
“You saw it, didn’t you?” Magdalena hissed, and she was almost on him now, her eyes leaping and flaring orange and red. “This burned land, all destruction, and you ruling over it? That was your vision? The wish of your heart?” She caught at his wrist, and her voice rose, exultant, no longer quite human. “You think your dark secret is that you want to be like Jonathan, but I will tell you the true secret, the darkest secret. You already are.”
 
“No!” Jace cried, and brought up his blade, an arc of fire across the sky. She jerked back, and for a moment Jace thought that the fire from the blade had caught the tip of her robe alight, for flame exploded across his vision. He felt the burn and twist of veins and muscles in his arms, heard Magdalena’s scream turn guttural and inhuman. He staggered back—
 
And realized the fire was pouring from him, that it had burst from his hands and fingertips in waves that coursed across the desert, blasting everything in front of him. He saw Magdalena twist and writhe, becoming something hideous, tentacled and repulsive, before shivering away to ashes with a scream. He saw the ground blacken and shimmer as he fell to his knees, his seraph blade melting into the flames that rose to circle him. He thought, I will burn to death here, as the fire roared across the plain, blotting out the sky.
 
He was not afraid.

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