City of Heavenly Fire / Page 34

Page 34


 18
 BY THE WATERS OF BABYLON
 
 
 
Energy runes were all well and good, Clary thought exhaustedly as she reached the top of yet another rise of sand, but they didn’t begin to compete with a cup of coffee. She was pretty sure she could face another day of trudging, her feet sometimes slipping ankle-deep into heaps of ash, if she just had sweet caffeine pumping through her veins. . . .
 
“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” Simon said, coming up beside her. He looked drawn and tired, his thumbs hooked through the straps of his backpack. They all looked pretty drawn. Alec and Isabelle had taken watch after the incident with the heavenly fire, and had reported no demons or Dark Shadowhunters in the vicinity of their hideaway. Still, they were all jittery, and none of them had had more than a few hours of sleep. Jace seemed to be running on nerves and adrenaline, following the thread of the tracking spell on the bracelet around his wrist, sometimes forgetting to pause and wait for the others in his mad dash toward Sebastian, until they shouted or ran to catch up with him.
 
“That a massive latte from the Mud Truck would make everything brighter just about now?”
 
“There’s a vamp place not far from Union Square where they mix just the right amount of blood into the coffee,” Simon said. “Not too sweet, not too salty.”
 
Clary stopped; a dead branch, curling from the earth, had tangled itself in her bootlaces. “Remember when we talked about not sharing?”
 
“Isabelle listens to me talk about vampire things.”
 
Clary drew out Heosphoros. The sword, with the new rune carved black into the blade, seemed to shimmer in her hand. She used the tip of it to pry the tough, thorny branch free. “Isabelle is your girlfriend,” she said. “She has to listen to you.”
 
“Is she?” Simon looked startled.
 
Clary threw her hands up and started down the hill. The ground slanted down, pocked here and there with cracked pits, everything covered over with the endless dull sheen of dust. The air was still bitter, the sky a sallow green. She could see Alec and Isabelle standing near Jace at the foot of the hill; he was touching the bracelet on his wrist and frowning into the distance.
 
Something glimmered at the corner of Clary’s vision, and she stopped suddenly. She squinted, trying to see what it was. The shine of something silvery in the distance, past the stone and rubble heaps of the desert. She took out her stele and drew a quick Farsighted rune onto her arm, the burn and sting of the stele’s dull tip cutting through the fog of exhaustion in her mind, sharpening her vision.
 
“Simon!” she said as he caught up with her. “Do you see that?”
 
He followed her gaze. “I caught a glimpse of it last night. Remember when Isabelle said I thought I’d seen a city?”
 
“Clary!” It was Jace, looking up at them, his face a pale hollow in the ashy air. She made a beckoning gesture. “What’s going on?”
 
She pointed again, toward what she could now see as a definite shimmer, a cluster of shapes, in the distance. “There’s something there,” she called down. “Simon thinks it’s a city—”
 
She broke off, because Jace had already started running in the direction she’d pointed. Isabelle and Alec looked startled before bolting after him; Clary exhaled an exasperated breath and, with Simon at her side, followed.
 
They started down the slope, which was covered in loose scree, half-running and half-sliding, letting the unmoored pebbles carry them. Not for the first time, Clary truly appreciated her gear: She could only imagine how the flying bits of gravel would have torn normal shoes and pants to shreds.
 
She hit the bottom of the slope at a run. Jace was some distance ahead, with Alec and Isabelle just behind him, moving fast, clambering over rock cairns, hopping small rivulets of molten slag. As Clary closed in on the three of them, she saw that they were heading toward a place where the desert seemed to drop away—the edge of a plateau? A cliff?
 
Clary sped up, scrambling over the last of the rock heaps and nearly rolling down the final one. She landed on her feet—Simon, far more graceful, just ahead of her—and saw that Jace was standing at the edge of a massive cliff that fell away before him like the edge of the Grand Canyon. Alec and Isabelle had moved to either side of him. All three were eerily silent, staring ahead in the dim bruised light.
 
Something in Jace’s posture, the way he stood, told Clary even as she reached his side that there was something not right. Then she caught sight of his expression and mentally amended “not right” to “very wrong indeed.”
 
He was staring down into the valley below as if he were staring into the grave of someone he had loved. In the valley were the ruins of a city. An old, old city that had once been built around a hillside. The top of the hillside was surrounded by gray clouds and fog. Heaps of rock were all that was left of the houses, and ash had settled over the streets and the jagged ruins of buildings. Tumbled among the ruins, like discarded matchsticks, were broken pillars made of shining pale stone, incongruously beautiful in this ruined land.
 
“Demon towers,” she whispered.
 
Jace nodded grimly. “I don’t know how,” he said, “but somehow—this is Alicante.”
 
   
 
 
 
“It is a dreadful burden, to have such responsibility visited upon those so young,” said Zachariah as the door of the Council Hall closed behind Emma Carstairs and Julian Blackthorn. Aline and Helen had gone with them, to escort them back to the house where they were staying. Both children had been nearly swaying on their feet with exhaustion by the end of their interrogation by the Council, heavy dark shadows under their eyes.
 
There were only a few of the Council members still left in the room: Jia and Patrick, Maryse and Robert Lightwood, Kadir Safar, Diana Wrayburn, Tomas Rosales, and a scattering of Silent Brothers and heads of Institutes. Most were chattering among themselves, but Zachariah stood by Jia’s lectern, looking at her with a deep sorrow in his eyes.
 
“They have endured much loss,” said Jia. “But we are Shadowhunters; many of us endure great loss at a young age.”
 
“They have Helen, and their uncle,” said Patrick, standing not far away with Robert and Maryse, both of whom looked tense and drawn. “They will be well taken care of, and Emma Carstairs, as well, clearly considers the Blackthorns as family.”
 
“Often those who raise us, who are our guardians, are not our blood,” said Zachariah. Jia thought she had seen a special softness in his eyes when they rested on Emma, almost a regret. But perhaps she had imagined it. “Those who love us and who we love. So it was with me. As long as she is not parted from the Blackthorns, or the boy—Julian—that is the most important thing.”
 
Jia distantly heard her husband reassuring the former Silent Brother, but her mind was on Helen. Down in the depths of her heart, Jia worried sometimes for her daughter, who had given her heart so completely to a girl who was part-faerie, a race known for their untrustworthiness. She knew that Patrick was not happy that Aline had chosen a girl at all rather than a boy, that he mourned—selfishly, she thought—for what he saw as the end of his branch of the Penhallows. She herself worried more that Helen Blackthorn would break her daughter’s heart.
 
“How much credence do you give the claim of faerie betrayal?” asked Kadir.
 
“Entire credence,” said Jia. “It explains a great deal. How the faeries were able to enter Alicante and abscond with the prisoners from the house given to the representative of the Fair Folk; how Sebastian was able to conceal troops from us at the Citadel; why he spared Mark Blackthorn—not out of fear of angering the faeries but out of respect for their alliance. Tomorrow I will confront the Faerie Queen and—”
 
“With all due respect,” said Zachariah in his soft voice. “I don’t think you should do that.”
 
“Why not?” Patrick demanded.
 
Because you have information now that the Faerie Queen does not know you have, said Brother Enoch. It is rare that that happens. In war there are advantages of power, but also advantages of knowledge. Do not squander this one.
 
Jia hesitated. “Things may be worse than you know,” she said, and drew something from the pocket of her coat. It was a fire-message, addressed to her from the Spiral Labyrinth. She handed it to Zachariah.
 
He seemed to freeze in place. For a moment he simply looked at it; then he brushed a finger over the paper, and she realized he was not reading it but rather tracing the signature of the writer of the letter, a signature that had clearly struck him like an arrow to the heart.
 
Theresa Gray.
 
“Tessa says,” he said finally, and then cleared his throat, for his voice had emerged ragged and uneven. “She says that the warlocks of the Spiral Labyrinth have examined the body of Amalric Kriegsmesser. That his heart was shriveled, his organs desiccated. She says they are sorry, but there is absolutely nothing that can be done to cure the Endarkened. Necromancy might make their bodies move again, but their souls are gone forever.”
 
“Only the power of the Infernal Cup keeps them alive,” said Jia, her voice throbbing with sorrow. “They are dead inside.”
 
“If the Infernal Cup itself could be destroyed . . . ,” Diana mused.
 
“Then it might kill them all, yes,” said Jia. “But we do not have the Infernal Cup. Sebastian does.”
 
“To kill them all in one sweep, it seems wrong,” said Tomas, looking horrified. “They are Shadowhunters.”
 
“They are not,” said Zachariah, in a voice much less gentle than Jia had come to associate with him. She looked at him in surprise. “Sebastian counts on us thinking of them as Shadowhunters. He counts upon our hesitation, our inability to kill monsters that wear human faces.”
 
“On our mercy,” said Kadir.
 
“If I were Turned, I would want to be put out of my misery,” said Zachariah. “That is mercy. That is what Edward Longford gave his parabatai, before he turned his sword on himself. That is why I paid my respects to him.” He touched the faded rune at his throat.
 
“Then do we ask the Spiral Labyrinth to give up?” asked Diana. “To cease searching for a cure?”
 
“They have already given up. Did you not listen to what Tessa wrote?” said Zachariah. “A cure cannot always be found. At least, not in time. I know—that is, I have learned—that one cannot rely upon it. It cannot be our only hope. We must mourn the Endarkened as dead, and trust in what we are: Shadowhunters, warriors. We must do what we were made to do. Fight.”
 
“But how do we defend ourselves against Sebastian? It was bad enough when it was just the Endarkened; now we must fight the Fair Folk as well!” Tomas snapped. “And you’re just a boy—”
 
“I am a hundred and forty-six years old,” said Zachariah. “And this is not my first unwinnable war. I believe we can turn the betrayal of the faeries into an advantage. We will require the help of the Spiral Labyrinth to do it, but if you will listen to me, I will tell you how.”
 
   
 
 
 
Clary, Simon, Jace, Alec, and Isabelle picked their way in silence through the eerie ruins of Alicante. For Jace had been right: It was Alicante, unmistakably so. They had passed too much that was familiar for it to be anything else. The walls around the city, now crumbled; the gates, corroded with the scars of acid rain. Cistern Square. The empty canals, filled with spongy black moss.
 
The hill was blasted, a bare heap of rock. The marks where there had once been pathways were clearly visible like scars along the side. Clary knew that the Gard should be at the top of it, but if it still stood, it was invisible, hidden in gray fog.
 
At last they clambered over a high mound of rubble and found themselves in Angel Square. Clary took a breath of surprise—though most of the buildings that had ringed it had fallen, the square was surprisingly unharmed, cobblestones stretching away in the yellowish light. The Hall of Accords was still standing.
 
It wasn’t white stone, though. In the human dimension, it looked like a Greek temple, but in this world it was lacquered metal. A tall square building, if something that looked like molten gold that had been poured out of the sky could be described as a building. Massive engravings ran around the structure, like ribbon wrapping a box; the whole thing glowed dully in the orange light.
 
“The Accords Hall.” Isabelle stood with her whip coiled around her wrist, looking up at it. “Unbelievable.”
 
They started up the steps, which were gold streaked with the black of ash and corrosion. At the top of the stairs, they paused to stare at the huge double doors. They were covered with squares of hammered metal. Each one was an engraved panel showing an image. “It’s a story,” Jace said, stepping closer and touching the engravings with a black-gloved finger. Writing in an unfamiliar language scrolled along the bottom of each illustration. He glanced over at Alec. “Can you read it?”
 
“Am I the only person who paid attention in language lessons?” Alec demanded wearily, but he stepped up to look more closely at the scrawl. “Well, first, the panels,” he said. “They’re a history.” He pointed at the first one, which showed a group of people, barefoot and in robes, cowering as the clouds above them opened up and a clawed hand reached down toward them. “Humans lived here, or something like humans,” Alec said, pointing at the figures. “They lived in peace, and then demons came. And then—” He broke off, his hand on a panel whose image was as familiar to Clary as the back of her own hand. The Angel Raziel, rising out of Lake Lyn, the Mortal Instruments in hand. “By the Angel.”
 
“Literally,” said Isabelle. “How—Is that our Angel? Our lake?”
 
“I don’t know. This says the demons came, and the Shadowhunters were created to battle them,” Alec went on, moving along the wall as the panels progressed. He jabbed his finger at the scrawl. “This word, here, it means ‘Nephilim.’ But the Shadowhunters rejected the help of Downworlders. The warlocks and the Fair Folk joined with their infernal parents. They sided with the demons. The Nephilim were defeated, and slaughtered. In their last days they created a weapon that was meant to hold the demons off.” He indicated a panel showing a woman holding up a sort of iron rod with a burning stone set into the end of it. “They didn’t have seraph blades; they hadn’t developed them. It doesn’t look like they had Iron Sisters or Silent Brothers, either. They had blacksmiths, and they developed some sort of weapon, something they thought might help them. The word here is ‘skeptron,’ but it doesn’t mean anything to me. Anyway, the skeptron wasn’t enough.” He moved to the next panel, which showed destruction: the Nephilim lying dead, the woman with the iron rod crumpled on the ground, the rod itself cast aside. “The demons—they’re called asmodei here—burned away the sun and filled the sky with ash and clouds. They ripped fire from the earth and razed the cities to the ground. They killed everything that moved and breathed air. They drained the seas until everything in the water was dead too.”
 
“Asmodei,” echoed Clary. “I’ve heard that before. It was something Lilith said, about Sebastian. Before he was born. ‘The child born with this blood in him will exceed in power the Greater Demons of the abysses between the worlds. He will be more mighty than the asmodei.’”
 
“Asmodeus is one of the Greater Demons of the abysses between worlds,” said Jace, meeting Clary’s gaze. She knew he remembered Lilith’s speech as well as she did. He had shared the same vision, shown to them by the angel Ithuriel.
 
“Like Abbadon?” Simon inquired. “He was a Greater Demon.”
 
“Far more powerful than that. Asmodeus is a Prince of Hell—there are nine of them. The Fati. Shadowhunters cannot hope to defeat them. They can destroy angels in combat. They can remake worlds,” said Jace.
 
“The asmodei are Asmodeus’s children. Powerful demons. They drained this world dry and then left it for other, weaker demons to scavenge.” Alec sounded sick. “This isn’t the Accords Hall anymore. It’s a tomb. A tomb for the life of this world.”
 
“But is this our world?” Isabelle’s voice rose. “Did we go forward in time? If the Queen tricked us—”
 
“She didn’t. At least, not about where we are,” said Jace. “We didn’t go forward in time; we went sideways. This is a mirror dimension of our world. A place where history went slightly differently.” He hooked his thumbs into his belt and glanced around. “A world with no Shadowhunters.”
 
“It’s like Planet of the Apes,” said Simon. “Except that was the future.”
 
“Yeah, well, this could be our future, if Sebastian gets what he wants,” Jace said. He tapped the panel of the woman holding up the burning skeptron, and frowned, then pushed hard on the door.
 
It swung open with a shriek of hinges that cut the air like a knife. Clary winced. Jace drew his sword and peered cautiously through the gap in the door. There was a room beyond, filled with a grayish light. He shouldered the door open farther and slipped through the gap, gesturing for the others to wait.
 
Isabelle, Alec, Clary, and Simon exchanged glances, and without a word spoken, went after him immediately. Alec went first, bow drawn; then Isabelle with her whip, Clary with her sword, and Simon, eyes gleaming like a cat’s in the dimness.
 
The inside of the Accords Hall was both familiar and unfamiliar. The floor was marble, cracked and broken. In many places great black blots spread across the stone, the remnants of ancient bloodstains. The roof above, which in their Alicante was glass, was long gone, only shards remaining, like clear knives against the sky.
 
The room itself was empty, save for a statue in the center. The place was filled with sickly yellow-gray light. Jace, standing facing the statue, whirled as they approached.
 
“I told you to wait,” he snapped at Alec. “Don’t you ever do anything I tell you to?”
 
“Technically you didn’t actually say anything,” Clary said. “You just gestured.”
 
“Gesturing counts,” Jace said. “I gesture very expressively.”
 
“You’re not in charge,” Alec said, lowering his bow. Some of the tension had gone out of his posture. There were clearly no demons hiding in the shadows: Nothing blocked their view of the corroded walls, and nothing but the statue remained standing in the room. “You don’t need to protect us.”
 
Isabelle rolled her eyes at both of them and stepped closer to the statue, craning her head back. It was the statue of a man in armor; his feet, in mail boots, rested on a golden plinth. He wore an intricate hauberk of linked stone circlets, decorated with a motif of angel wings across the chest. In his hand he carried an iron replica of a skeptron, tipped by a circular metal ornament, into which a red jewel had been set.
 
Whoever had carved the statue had been skilled. The face was handsome, square-jawed, with a distant, clear gaze. But they had captured more than good looks: There was a certain harshness to the set of his eyes and jaw, a twist to his mouth that spoke of selfishness and cruelty.
 
There were words written on the plinth, and though they were not in English, Clary could read them.
 
JONATHAN SHADOWHUNTER. FIRST AND LAST OF THE NEPHILIM.
 
“First and last,” Isabelle whispered. “This place is a tomb.”
 
Alec crouched down. There were more words on the plinth, under Jonathan Shadowhunter’s name. He read them out:
 
“‘And he who overcomes, and he who keeps my deeds until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations; and he shall rule them with a rod of iron, and I will give him the Morning Star.’”
 
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Simon asked.
 
“I think Jonathan Shadowhunter got cocky,” said Alec. “I think he thought this skeptron thing would not just save them, but it would let him rule over the world.”
 
“ ‘And I will give him the Morning Star,’ ” said Clary. “That’s from the Bible. Our Bible. And ‘Morgenstern’ means ‘morning star.’ ”
 
“ ‘The morning star’ means a lot of things,” said Alec. “It can mean ‘the brightest star in the sky,’ or it can mean ‘heavenly fire,’ or it can mean ‘the fire that falls with angels when they’re cast down out of Heaven.’ It’s also the name of Lucifer, the light-bringer, the demon of pride.” He straightened up.
 
“Either way, it means that thing the statue is holding is a real weapon,” said Jace. “Like in the door engravings. You said the skeptron is what they developed here, instead of seraph blades, to hold off the demons. Look at the marks on the handle. It’s been in battle.”
 
Isabelle tapped the pendant around her throat. “And the red stone. It looks like it’s made from the same stuff as my necklace.”
 
Jace nodded. “I think it is the same stone.” Clary knew what he was going to say next before he said it. “That weapon. I want it.”
 
“Well, you can’t have it,” Alec said. “It’s attached to the statue.”
 
“It’s not.” Jace pointed. “Look, the statue’s gripping it, but they’re actually two totally separate pieces. They carved the statue and then they put the scepter into its hands. It’s supposed to be removable.”

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