City of Heavenly Fire / Page 32

Page 32


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 17
 BURNT OFFERINGS
 
Clary dreamed of fire, a pillar of fire sweeping through a desert landscape, scorching everything in front of it: trees, brush, shrieking people. Their bodies turned black as they crumbled away before the force of the flames, and over them all hung a rune, hovering like an angel, a shape like two wings joined by a single bar—
 
A scream cut through the smoke and shadow, snapping Clary out of her nightmares. Her eyes flew open and she saw fire in front of her, bright and hot, and scrambled up, reaching for Heosphoros.
 
With the blade in her hand, her heartbeat ebbed slowly. This fire wasn’t raging or out of control. It was contained, the smoke floating up toward the enormous roof of the cave. It illuminated the space around it. She could see Simon and Isabelle in the glow, Izzy lifting herself out of Simon’s lap and blinking around, confused. “What—”
 
Clary was already on her feet. “Someone screamed,” she said. “You two stay here—I’ll go see what happened.”
 
“No—no.” Isabelle scrambled to her feet just as Alec burst into the chamber, panting hard.
 
“Jace,” he said. “Something’s happened—Clary, get your stele and come on.” He turned around and darted back into the tunnel. Clary jammed Heosophoros through her belt and raced after him. She rocketed through the corridor, boots skimming over the uneven rocks, and exploded out into the night, her stele now in her hand.
 
The night was burning. The gray plateau of rocks tilted down toward the desert, and where the rocks met the sand there was fire—fire blasting up into the air, turning the sky gold, scorching the ground. She stared at Alec.
 
“Where’s Jace?” she shouted over the crackle of the flames.
 
He looked away from her, at the heart of the fire. “There,” he said. “Inside it. I saw it pour out of him and swallow him up.”
 
Clary felt her heart seize up; she staggered back, away from Alec as if he’d hit her, and then he was reaching for her, saying, “Clary. He’s not dead. If he were, I’d know it. I’d know—”
 
Isabelle and Simon burst out from the cave entrance behind them; Clary saw them both react to the heavenly fire, Isabelle with widened eyes, and Simon with a recoil of horror—fire and vampires didn’t mix, even if he was a Daylighter. Isabelle caught at his arm as if to protect him; Clary could hear her shouting, her words lost against the roar of flames. Clary’s arm burned and stung. She looked down to realize that she had begun drawing on her skin, the reflex taking over from her conscious mind. She watched as a pyr rune, for fireproofing, appeared on her wrist, bold and black against her skin. It was a strong rune: She could feel the force of it, radiating outward.
 
She started down the slope, turning when she sensed Alec behind her. “Stay back,” she shouted at him, and held up her wrist, showing him the rune. “I don’t know if it will work,” she called. “Stay here; protect Simon and Izzy—the heavenly fire should keep the demons back, but just in case.” And then she turned away, darting lightly among the rocks, closing the distance between herself and the blaze, as Alec stood on the path behind her, hands fisted at his sides.
 
Up close the fire was a wall of gold, moving and shifting, colors flickering in its heart: burning red, tongues of orange and green. Clary could see nothing but flames; the heat that poured off the blaze made her skin prickle and her eyes water. She took a breath that scorched her throat, and stepped into the fire.
 
It wrapped her like an embrace. The world turned red, gold, orange, and swam before her eyes. Her hair lifted and blew in the hot wind, and she couldn’t tell what was its fiery strands and what was fire itself. She stepped forward carefully, staggering as if she were walking against a massive headwind—she could feel the Fireproof rune throbbing on her arm with each step—as the flames swirled up, around, and over her.
 
She took another scorching breath and pushed forward, her shoulders bent as if she were lifting a heavy weight. There was nothing around her but fire. She would die in the fire, she thought, burning up like a feather, not even a footprint left on the dirt of this alien world to mark that she had ever been there.
 
Jace, she thought, and took a final step. The flames parted around her like a curtain drawing back, and she gasped, falling forward, her knees hitting the earth hard. The Fireproof rune on her arm was fading, turning white, draining her energy along with its power. She lifted her head and stared.
 
The fire rose all around her in a circle, flames reaching for the scorched demon sky. In the center of the circle of flame knelt Jace; he was untouched by fire himself, on his knees, his golden head back, his eyes half-closed. His hands were flat on the ground, and from his palms poured a river of what looked like molten gold. It had threaded through the earth like tiny streams of lava, illuminating the ground. No, she thought, it was doing more than illuminating it. It was crystallizing the earth, turning it to a hard, golden material that shone like—
 
Like adamas. She crawled forward toward Jace, the ground under her turning from bumpy earth to a slippery glassine substance, like adamas, but the color of gold instead of white. Jace didn’t move: Like the Angel Raziel rising from Lake Lyn streaming water, he remained still as fire poured from him, and all around the ground hardened and turned to gold.
 
Adamas. The power of it shuddered up and through Clary, making her bones shiver. Images bloomed in her mind: runes, looming up and then vanishing like fireworks, and she mourned their loss, so many runes she would never know the meaning of, the use of, but then she was inches from Jace, and the first rune she had ever imagined, the rune she had spent the last days dreaming of, rose up in her mind. Wings, connected by a single bar—no, not wings—the hilt of a sword—it had always been the hilt of a sword—
 
“Jace!” she cried, and his eyes flew open. They were more golden than even the fire. He looked at her in utter disbelief, and she realized immediately what he had thought he was doing—kneeling and waiting to die, waiting to be consumed by the fire like a medieval saint.
 
She wanted to slap him.
 
“Clary, how—”
 
She reached to catch at his wrist, but he was faster than she was, and dodged her grip. “No! Don’t touch me. It isn’t safe—”
 
“Jace, stop.” She held up her arm, with the pyr rune on it, shimmering silver in the unearthly glow. “I walked through the fire to get to you,” she said over the cry of the flames. “We’re here. We’re both here now, understand?”
 
His eyes were manic, desperate. “Clary, get out—”
 
“No!” She clutched at his shoulders, and this time he didn’t move back. She fisted her hands in his gear. “I know how to fix this!” she cried, and leaned forward to press her lips to his.
 
His mouth was hot and dry, his skin burning as she ran her hands up his neck to cup the sides of his face. She tasted fire and char and blood on his mouth and wondered if he tasted the same thing on her. “Trust me,” she whispered against his lips, and though the words were swallowed up by the chaos around them, she felt him relax minutely and nod, leaning into her, letting the fire pass between them as they breathed each other’s breath, tasting the sparks on each other’s lips.
 
“Trust me,” she whispered again, and reached for her blade.
 
   
 
 
 
Isabelle had her arms around Simon, holding him back. She knew that if she let him go, he would tear down the slope to the fire, where Clary had disappeared, and throw himself into it.
 
And he would go up like tinder, like gasoline-soaked tinder. He was a vampire. Isabelle held him, her hands clasped over his chest, and felt as if she could sense the hollowness under his ribs, the place where his heart didn’t beat. Her own was racing. Her hair lifted and blew back in the hot wind from the immense fire burning at the foot of the plateau. Alec was halfway down the path, hovering; he was a black silhouette against the flames.
 
And the flames—they leaped toward the sky, blotting out the broken moon. Shifting and changing, a deadly beautiful wall of gold. As the flames trembled, Isabelle could make out shadows moving inside them—the shadow of someone kneeling, and then another, smaller shadow, bending and crawling. Clary, she thought, crawling toward Jace through the heart of the conflagration. She knew Clary had put a pyr rune on her arm, but Isabelle had never heard of a Fireproof rune that could withstand this kind of blaze.
 
“Iz,” Simon whispered. “I don’t—”
 
“Shh.” She held him tighter, held him as if holding him would keep her from shattering apart herself. Jace was in there, in the heart of the fire, and she couldn’t lose another brother, she couldn’t—“They’re all right,” she said. “If Jace were hurt, Alec would know. And if he’s all right, then Clary’s all right.”
 
“They’ll burn to death,” Simon said, sounding lost.
 
Isabelle cried out as the flames leaped suddenly higher. Alec took a halting step forward and then fell to his knees, put his hands in the dirt. The curve of his back was a bow of pain. The sky was whorls of fire, spinning and dizzying.
 
Isabelle released Simon and bolted down the path to her brother. She bent over him, knotting her hands into the back of his jacket, hauling him upright. “Alec, Alec—”
 
Alec staggered to his feet, his face dead white except where it was smeared black with soot. He spun, turning his back to Isabelle, shrugging down his gear jacket. “My parabatai rune—can you see it?”
 
Isabelle felt her stomach drop; she thought for a moment she might faint. She grabbed at Alec’s collar, pulled it down, and exhaled a hard breath of relief. “It’s still there.”
 
Alec shrugged his jacket back on. “I felt something change; it was like something in me twisted—” His voice rose. “I’m going down there.”
 
“No!” Isabelle caught at his arm, and then Simon said sharply, from beside her:
 
“Look.”
 
He was pointing toward the fire. Isabelle gazed at it uncomprehendingly for a moment before realizing what he was indicating. The flames had begun to die down. She shook her head as if to clear it, her hand still on Alec’s arm, but it wasn’t an illusion. The fire was fading. The flames shrank down from towering orange pillars, fading to yellow, curling inward like fingers. She let go of Alec, and the three of them stood in a line, shoulder to shoulder, as the fire dwindled, revealing a circle of slightly darkened earth where the flames had burned, and inside it, two figures. Clary and Jace.
 
Both were hard to see through the smoke and the red glow of the still-burning embers, but it was clear they were alive and unharmed. Clary was standing, Jace kneeling in front of her, his hands in hers, almost as if he were being knighted. There was something ritualistic about the position, something that spoke of a strange, old magic. As the smoke cleared, Isabelle could see the bright glint of Jace’s hair as he rose to his feet. They both began walking up the path.
 
Isabelle, Simon, and Alec broke formation and hurtled down toward them. Isabelle threw herself at Jace, who caught her and hugged her, reaching past her to clasp Alec’s hand even as he held Isabelle tightly. His skin was cool against hers, almost cold. His gear was without a single scorch or burn mark, just as the desert earth behind them showed no trace that moments ago, a massive conflagration had burned there.
 
Isabelle turned her head against Jace’s chest and saw Simon hugging Clary. He was holding her tightly, shaking his head, and as Clary turned a radiant smile up to him, Isabelle realized she didn’t feel a single spark of jealousy. There was nothing different about the way Simon was hugging Clary from the way she was hugging Jace. There was love there, plain and clear, but it was a sisterly love.
 
She broke apart from Jace and flashed a smile at Clary, who smiled shyly back. Alec moved to hug Clary, and Simon and Jace eyed each other warily. Suddenly Simon grinned—that sudden, unexpected grin that flashed out even in the worst of circumstances, and which Isabelle loved—and held his arms out toward Jace.
 
Jace shook his head. “I don’t care if I did just set myself on fire,” he said. “I’m not hugging you.”
 
Simon sighed and dropped his arms. “Your loss,” he said. “If you’d gone in, I would’ve let you, but honestly it would’ve been a pity hug.”
 
Jace turned to Clary, who was no longer embracing Alec but standing looking amused, with her hand on the hilt of Heosphoros. It seemed to shimmer, as if it had caught some of the light of the fire. “Did you hear that?” Jace demanded. “A pity hug?”
 
Alec held a hand up. Rather surprisingly, Jace fell silent.
 
“I recognize that we’re all filled with the giddy joy of survival, thus explaining your current stupid behavior,” Alec said. “But first”—he raised a finger—“I think the three of us are entitled to an explanation. What happened? How did you lose control of the fire? Were you attacked?”
 
“It was a demon,” Jace said after a pause. “It took the form of a woman I—of someone I hurt, when Sebastian possessed me. It goaded me until I lost command over the heavenly fire. Clary helped me get it back under control.”
 
“And that’s it? You’re both okay?” Isabelle said, half-disbelieving. “I thought—when I saw what was going on—I thought it was Sebastian. That he’d come for us somehow. That you’d tried to burn him and that you’d burned yourself up . . .”
 
“That won’t happen.” Jace touched Izzy’s face gently. “I have the fire under control now. I know how to use it, and how not to use it. How to direct it.”
 
“How?” Alec said, amazed.
 
Jace hesitated. His eyes flicked toward Clary, and seemed to grow darker, as if a shutter had come down over them. “You’re just going to have to trust me.”
 
“That’s it?” Simon said in disbelief. “Just trust you?”
 
“Don’t you?” Jace asked.
 
“I . . .” Simon looked at Isabelle, who glanced at her brother.
 
After a moment Alec nodded. “We trusted you enough to come here,” he said. “We’ll trust you to the end.”
 
“Although it would be really awesome if you told us the plan, you know, a little before it,” said Isabelle. “Before the end, I mean.”
 
Alec raised an eyebrow at her. She shrugged innocently.
 
“Just a little before,” she said. “I like to have some preparation.”
 
Her brother’s eyes met hers and then, a little hoarsely—as if he’d almost forgotten how to do it—he started to laugh.
 
To the Consul:
 
The Fair Folk are not your allies. They are your enemies. They hate the Nephilim and plan to betray them and bring them down. They have cooperated with Sebastian Morgenstern in attacking and destroying Institutes. Do not trust Meliorn or any other advisers from any Court. The Seelie Queen is your enemy. Do not try to respond to this message. I ride with the Wild Hunt now, and they will kill me if they think I have told you anything.
 
Mark Blackthorn
 
Jia Penhallow looked over her reading glasses at Emma and Julian, who stood nervously in front of the desk in the library of her house. A large picture window opened behind the Consul, and Emma could see the view of Alicante spread out: houses spilling down the hills, canals running toward the Accords Hall, Gard Hill rising against the sky.
 
Jia glanced down again at the paper they had brought her. It had been folded up with almost diabolical cleverness inside the acorn, and it had taken ages, and Ty’s skilled fingers, to get it extricated. “Did your brother write anything else besides this? A private message to you?”
 
“No,” Julian said, and there must have been something in the wounded tightness of his voice that made Jia believe him, because she didn’t pursue it.
 
“You realize what this means,” she said. “The Council will not want to believe it. They will say it’s a trick.”
 
“It’s Mark’s handwriting,” said Julian. “And the way he signed it—” He pointed to the mark at the bottom of the page: a clear print of thorns, made in what looked like red-brown ink. “He rolled his family ring in blood and used it to make that,” Julian said, his face flushed. “He showed me how to do it once. No one else would have the Blackthorn family ring, or know to do that with it.”
 
Jia looked from Julian’s clenched fists to Emma’s set face, and nodded. “Are you all right?” she said more gently. “Do you know what the Wild Hunt is?”
 
Ty had lectured them rather extensively on it, but Emma found that now, with the Consul’s compassionate dark gaze on her, she couldn’t find words. It was Julian who spoke. “Faeries that are huntsmen,” he said. “They ride across the sky. People think that if you follow them, they can lead you to the land of the dead, or to Faerie.”
 
“Gwyn ap Nudd leads them,” said Jia. “He has no allegiance; he is part of a wilder magic. He is called the Gatherer of the Dead. Though he is a faerie, he and his huntsmen are not involved with the Accords. They have no agreement with Shadowhunters and do not recognize our jurisdiction, and they will not abide by laws, any laws. Do you understand?”
 
They looked at her blankly. She sighed. “If Gwyn has taken your brother to be one of his Hunters, it might be impossible—”
 
“You’re saying you won’t be able to get him back,” Emma said, and saw something in Julian’s eyes shatter. The sight made her want to leap over the desk and clobber the Consul with her stack of neatly labeled files, each with a different name on it.
 
One leaped out at Emma like a sign lit up in neon. CARSTAIRS: DECEASED. She tried not to let the recognition of her family name show on her face.
 
“I’m saying I don’t know.” The Consul spread her hands flat over the surface of the desk. “There’s so much we don’t know right now,” she said, and her voice sounded quiet and nearly broken. “To lose the Fair Folk as allies is a severe blow. Of all Downworlders, they are the subtlest enemies, and the most dangerous.” She rose to her feet. “Wait here for a moment.”
 
She left the room through a door in the paneling, and after a few moments of silence, Emma heard the sound of feet and the murmur of Patrick’s voice. She caught individual words—“trial” and “mortal” and “betrayal.”
 
She could sense Julian beside her, wound as tightly as a spring-loaded crossbow. She reached out to touch her hand lightly to his back, and drew between his shoulder blades with her finger: A-R-E Y-O-U A-L-L R-I-G-H-T?
 
He shook his head, without looking at her. Emma glanced toward the stack of files on the desk, then toward the door, then at Julian, silent and expressionless, and decided. She launched herself at the desk, plunging her hand into the stack of files, and pulled out the one labeled CARSTAIRS.
 
It was a bound file, not heavy, and Emma reached out to yank up Julian’s shirt. She muffled his cry of surprise with a hand over his mouth, and used the other hand to stuff the file into the back of his jeans. She pulled his shirt down over it just as the door opened and Jia walked back in.
 
“Would you two be willing to testify before the Council one last time?” she asked, gazing from Emma, who guessed she was probably flushed, to Julian, who looked as if he had been electrified. His gaze hardened, and Emma marveled. Julian was so gentle, she sometimes forgot that those sea-colored eyes could turn as cold as the waves off the coast in winter. “No Mortal Sword,” the Consul said. “I just want you to tell them what you know.”
 
“If you promise you’ll try to get Mark back,” said Julian. “And you won’t just say it, you’ll actually do it.”
 
Jia looked at him solemnly. “I promise that the Nephilim will not abandon Mark Blackthorn, not as long as he lives.”
 
Julian’s shoulders relaxed just a fraction. “Okay, then.”

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