City of Heavenly Fire / Page 41

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Clary didn’t think she’d ever been so heavily runed, or had ever seen the Lightwoods covered in as many of the magical sigils as they were now. She had done them all herself, putting everything she had into them—all of her desire for them all to be safe, all her yearning to find her mother and Luke.
 
Jace’s arms looked like a map: runes spread down onto his collarbones and chest, the backs of his hands. Clary’s own skin looked foreign to her when she caught sight of it. She remembered once having seen a boy who had the elaborate musculature of the human body tattooed onto his skin, and thinking it was as if he had been turned to glass. It was a bit like that now, she thought, looking around at her companions as they toiled up the hill toward the Dark Gard: the road map of their bravery and hopes, their dreams and desires, marked clearly on their bodies. Shadowhunters weren’t always the most forthcoming of people, but their skins were honest.
 
Clary had covered herself with healing runes, but they weren’t enough to keep her lungs from aching from the constant dust. She remembered what Jace had said about the two of them suffering more than the others because of their higher concentration of angel blood. She stopped to cough now and turned away, spitting up black. She wiped her hand across her mouth quickly, before Jace could turn and see.
 
Jace’s drawing skills might have been poor, but his strategy was faultless. They were making their way upward in a sort of zigzag formation, darting from one heap of blackened stone to another. With the foliage all gone, the stone was the only cover the hill provided. The hill was mostly stripped of trees, only a few dead stumps here and there. They had met only a single Endarkened, quickly dispatched, their blood soaking into the ashy earth. Clary remembered the path up to the Gard in Alicante, green and lovely, and looked with hatred at the wasteland around her.
 
The air was heavy and hot, as if the burned-orange sun were pressing down on them. Clary joined the others behind a high cairn. They had refilled their bottles that morning from the lake in the cave, and Alec was sharing around some water, his grim face streaked with black dust. “This is the last of it,” he said, and handed it to Isabelle. She took a tiny sip and passed it to Simon, who shook his head—he didn’t need water—and passed it on to Clary.
 
Jace looked at Clary. She could see herself reflected in his eyes, looking small and pale and dirty. She wondered if she looked different to him after last night. She had almost expected him to look different to her, when she woke up in the morning by the cold remains of the fire, with his hand in hers. But he was the same Jace, the Jace she had always loved. And he looked at her as he always had, as if she were a small miracle, the kind you kept close to your heart.
 
Clary took a mouthful of water and passed the thermos to Jace, who tipped his head back and swallowed. She watched the muscles move in his throat with a brief fascination and then looked away before she could blush—okay, maybe some things had changed, but this really wasn’t the time to be thinking about it.
 
“That’s it,” Jace said, and dropped the now empty thermos. They all watched it roll among the rocks. No more water. “One less thing to carry,” he added, trying to sound light, but his voice came out sounding as dry as the dust around them.
 
His lips were cracked and bleeding slightly despite his iratzes. Alec had shadows under his eyes, and a nervous twitch in his left hand. Isabelle’s eyes were red with dust, and she blinked and rubbed at them when she thought no one was watching. They all looked pretty terrible, Clary thought, with the possible exception of Simon, who mostly looked the same. He was standing close to the cairn, his fingers resting lightly on a ledge of stone. “These are graves,” he said suddenly.
 
Jace looked up. “What?”
 
“These rock piles. They’re graves. Old ones. People fell in battle and they buried them by covering their bodies with stones.”
 
“Shadowhunters,” Alec said. “Who else would die defending Gard Hill?”
 
Jace touched the stones with a leather-gloved hand, and frowned. “We burn our dead.”
 
“Maybe not in this world,” Isabelle said. “Things are different. Maybe they didn’t have time. Maybe it was their last stand—”
 
“Stop,” Simon said. He had frozen, a look of intense concentration on his face. “Someone’s coming. Someone human.”
 
“How do you know they’re human?” Clary dropped her voice.
 
“Blood,” he said succinctly. “Demon blood smells different. These are people—Nephilim, but not.”
 
Jace made a quick, quieting gesture with his hand, and they all fell silent. He pressed his back to the cairn and peered around the side. Clary saw his jaw tighten. “Endarkened,” he said in a low voice. “Five of them.”
 
“Perfect number,” said Alec with a surprisingly wolfish grin. His bow was in his hands almost before Clary could see the movement, and he stepped sideways, out of the shelter of the rocks, and let his arrow fly.
 
She saw Jace’s surprised expression—he hadn’t been expecting Alec to move first—and then he caught hold of one of the rocks of the cairn and flung himself up and over. Isabelle sprang after him like a cat, and Simon followed, fast and unerring, his hands bare. It was as if this world had been made for those who were already dead, Clary thought, and then she heard a long gurgling cry, cut abruptly short.
 
She reached for Heosphoros, thought better of it, and seized a dagger from her weapons belt before hurling herself around the side of the cairn. There was an incline behind it, the Dark Gard looming black and ruined above them. Four Shadowhunters dressed in red were looking around in shock and surprise. One of their company, a blond woman, was sprawled on the ground, her body pointing uphill, an arrow protruding from her throat.
 
That explains the gurgling noise, Clary thought a little dizzily as Alec notched his bow again and sent another arrow flying. A second man, dark-haired and paunchy, staggered back with a yell, the arrow in his leg; Isabelle was on him in an instant, her whip slicing across his throat. As the man went down, Jace leaped and rode his body to the ground, using the force of the fall to hurl his own body forward. His blades flashed with a scissoring motion, slicing the head off a bald man whose red gear was splotched with patches of dried blood. More blood fountained, drenching the scarlet gear with another layer of red as the headless corpse slid to the ground. There was a shriek, and the woman who had been standing behind him lifted a curved blade to slice at Jace; Clary whipped her dagger forward and let it fly. It buried itself in the woman’s forehead and she folded silently to the ground without another cry.
 
The last of the Endarkened began to run, stumbling uphill. Simon flashed past Clary, a movement too swift to see, and sprang like a cat. The Endarkened man went down with a gasp of terror, and Clary saw Simon rear up over him and strike like a snake. There was a sound like tearing paper.
 
They all looked away. After a few long moments Simon rose from the still body and came down the hill toward them. There was blood on his shirt, and blood on his hands and face. He turned his face to the side, coughed, and spat, looking sick.
 
“Bitter,” he said. “The blood. It tastes like Sebastian’s.”
 
Isabelle looked ill, in a way she hadn’t when she’d been cutting the Dark Shadowhunter’s throat. “I hate him,” she said suddenly. “Sebastian. What he’s done to them, it’s worse than murder. They’re not even people anymore. When they die, they can’t be buried in the Silent City. And no one will mourn for them. They’ve already been mourned for. If I loved someone and they were Turned like this—I’d be happy if they were dead.”
 
She was breathing hard; no one said anything. Finally Jace looked up at the sky, gold eyes gleaming in his dirt-smudged face. “We’d better get moving—the sun’s going down, and besides, someone might have heard us.” They stripped the gear from the bodies, silently and quickly. There was something sickening about the work, something that hadn’t seemed quite so horrible when Simon had described the strategy but that now seemed very horrible. She had killed—demons and Forsaken; she would have killed Sebastian, if she had been able to do it without harming Jace. But there was something grim and butcher-like about stripping the clothes from the dead bodies of Shadowhunters, even those Marked with the runes of death and Hell. She couldn’t stop herself from looking at the face of one of the dead Shadowhunters, a man with brown hair, and wondering if he could be Julian’s father.
 
She put on the gear jacket and trousers of the smaller of the women, but they were still too big. Some quick work with her knife shortened the sleeves and hems, and her weapons belt held the pants up. There wasn’t much Alec could do: He’d wound up with the largest of the Shadowhunters’ jackets, and it bulked on him. Simon’s sleeves were too short and tight; he cut the seams at the shoulders to allow himself more movement. Jace and Isabelle both managed to wind up with clothes that fit them, though Isabelle’s were spotted with drying blood. Jace managed to look handsome in the dark red, which was nothing short of annoying.
 
They hid the bodies behind the rock cairn and started their way back up the hill. Jace had been right, the sun was going down, bathing the realm in the colors of fire and blood. They fell into step with one another as they drew closer and closer to the great silhouette of the Dark Gard.
 
The upward slope suddenly leveled out, and they were there, on a plateau in front of the fortress. It was like looking at one photo negative overlapping another. Clary could see in her mind’s eye the Gard as it was in her world, the hill covered in trees and greenery, the gardens surrounding the keep, the glow of witchlight illuminating the whole place. The sun shining down on it during the day, and the stars at night.
 
Here the top of the hill was barren and swept with wind cold enough to cut through the material of Clary’s stolen jacket. The horizon was a red line like a slit throat. Everything was bathed in that bloody light, from the crowd of Endarkened who milled around the plateau, to the Dark Gard itself. Now that they were close, they could see the wall that surrounded it, and the sturdy gates.
 
“You’d better pull your hood up,” Jace said from behind her, taking hold of the item in question and drawing it up and over her head. “Your hair’s recognizable.”
 
“To the Endarkened?” said Simon, who looked incredibly strange to Clary in his red gear. She had never imagined Simon in gear.
 
“To Sebastian,” said Jace shortly, and drew his own hood up. They had taken their weapons out: Isabelle’s whip gleamed in the red light, and Alec’s bow was in his hands. Jace was looking toward the Dark Gard. Clary almost expected him to say something, to make a speech, to mark the occasion. He didn’t. She could see the sharp angle of his cheekbones under the hood of the gear, the tight set of his jaw. He was ready. They all were.
 
“We go to the gates,” he said, and moved forward.
 
Clary felt cold all over—battle-coldness, keeping her spine straight, her breath even. The dirt here was different, she noticed almost distantly. Unlike the rest of the sand of the desert world, it had been churned by the passage of feet. A red-clad warrior passed her then, a brown-skinned man, tall and muscular. He paid no attention to them. He appeared to be walking a beat, as were several of the rest of the Endarkened, a sort of assigned path back and forth. A white woman with graying hair was a few feet behind him. Clary felt her muscles tighten—Amatis?—but as she passed closer, it was clear that her face was not familiar. Clary thought she felt the woman’s eyes on them, just the same, and was relieved when they passed out of her sight.
 
The Gard was looming up in front of them now, the gates massive and made of iron. They were carved with a pattern of a hand holding a weapon—an orb-tipped skeptron. It was clear the gates had been subjected to years of desecration. Their surfaces were chipped and scarred, splashed here and there with ichor and what looked disturbingly like dried human blood.
 
Clary stepped up to place her stele against the gates, ready with an Open rune already in her head—but the gates swung wide at her touch. She cast a surprised look back at the others. Jace was chewing his lip; she raised a questioning eyebrow at him, but he only shrugged, as if to say: We go forward. What else can we do?
 
They went. Past the gates was a bridge over a narrow ravine. Darkness roiled at the bottom of the chasm, thicker than fog or smoke. Isabelle crossed first, with her whip, and Alec took up the rear, facing behind them with his bow and arrow. As they went over the bridge in single file, Clary chanced a glance downward into the crevasse, and nearly flinched back—the darkness had limbs, long and hooked like spider’s legs, and what looked like gleaming yellow eyes.
 
“Don’t look,” Jace said in a low voice, and Clary snapped her eyes back to Isabelle’s whip, gold and gleaming ahead of them. It lit the darkness so that when they arrived at the front doors of the keep, Jace was able to find the latch easily, and to swing the door open.
 
It opened on darkness. They all looked at one another, a brief paralysis none of them could break. Clary found she was staring at the others, trying to memorize them; Simon’s brown eyes, the curve of Jace’s collarbone under the red jacket, the arch of Alec’s eyebrow, Isabelle’s worried frown.
 
Stop, she told herself. This isn’t the end. You’ll see them again.
 
She glanced behind her. Past the bridge were the gates, wide open, and past that were the Endarkened, standing motionless. Clary had the sense they were watching too, everything caught in stillness in this one breathless moment before the fall.
 
Now. She stepped forward, into the darkness; she heard Jace say her name, very low, almost a whisper, and then she was over the threshold, and light was all around her, blinding in its suddenness. She heard the murmur of the others as they took their places at her side, and then the cold rush of air as the door slammed shut behind them.
 
She raised her eyes. They were standing in an enormous entryway, the size of the inside of the Accords Hall. A massive double spiral stone staircase led upward, twisting and winding, two sets of stairs that interwove with each other but never met. Each was lined on either side by a stone balustrade, and Sebastian was leaning against one of the near balustrades, smiling down at them.
 
It was a positively feral smile: delighted and anticipatory. He wore spotless scarlet gear, and his hair shone like iron. He shook his head. “Clary, Clary,” he said. “I really thought you were much smarter than this.”
 
Clary cleared her throat. It felt clotted from dust, and from fear. Her skin was buzzing as if she’d swallowed adrenaline. “Smarter than what?” she said, and nearly winced at the echo of her own voice, bouncing off the bare stone walls. There were no tapestries, no paintings, nothing to soften the harshness.
 
Though she didn’t know what else she would have expected from a demon world. Of course there was no art.
 
“We are here,” she said. “Inside your fortress. There are five of us, and one of you.”
 
“Oh, right,” he said. “Am I supposed to look surprised?” He twisted his face up into a mocking grimace of false astonishment that made Clary’s gut twist. “Who could believe it?” he said mockingly. “I mean, never mind that obviously I found out from the Queen that you’d come here, but since you’ve arrived, you’ve set an enormous fire, tried to steal a demon-protected artifact—I mean you’ve done everything other than put up an enormous flashing arrow pointing directly to your location.” He sighed. “I’ve always known most of you were terribly stupid. Even Jace, well, you’re pretty but not too bright, are you? Maybe if Valentine had had a few more years with you—but no, probably not even then. The Herondales have always been a family more prized for their jawlines than their intelligence. As for the Lightwoods, the less said the better. Generations of idiots. But Clary—”
 
“You forgot me,” Simon said.
 
Sebastian dragged his gaze over to Simon, as if he were distasteful. “You do keep turning up like a bad penny,” he said. “Tedious little vampire. I killed the one who made you, did you know that? I thought vampires were supposed to feel that sort of thing, but you seem indifferent. Terribly callous.”
 
Clary felt Simon stiffen minutely beside her, remembered him in the cave, doubling over as if he were in pain. Saying he felt as if someone had stuck a knife in his chest.
 
“Raphael,” Simon whispered; beside him Alec had paled markedly.
 
“What about the others?” he demanded in a rough voice. “Magnus—Luke—”
 
“Our mother,” Clary said. “Surely even you wouldn’t hurt her.”
 
Sebastian’s smirk turned brittle. “She’s not my mother,” he said, and then shrugged with a sort of exaggerated exasperation. “She’s alive,” he said. “As for the warlock and the werewolf, I couldn’t say. I haven’t checked on them in a while. The warlock wasn’t looking so well the last time I saw him,” he added. “I don’t think this dimension’s been good for him. He might be dead by now. But you really can’t expect me to have foreseen that.”
 
Alec lifted his bow in a single swift motion. “Foresee this,” he said, and let an arrow fly.
 
It shot straight toward Sebastian—who moved like lightning, plucking the arrow out of the air, fingers closing around it as it vibrated in his grasp. Clary heard Isabelle’s sudden intake of breath, felt the rush of blood and dread in her own veins.
 
Sebastian pointed the sharp end of the arrow toward Alec as if he were a teacher wielding a ruler, and made a clucking noise of disapproval. “Naughty,” he said. “Try to harm me here in my own stronghold, will you, at the heart of my power? As I said, you’re a fool. You all are fools.” He made a sudden gesture, a twist of the wrist, and the arrow snapped, the sound like a gunshot.
 
The double doors at both ends of the entryway flew open, and demons poured in.
 
Clary had expected it, had braced herself, but there was no real bracing oneself for something like this. She had seen demons, quantities of them, and yet as the flood poured in from both sides—spider-creatures with fat, poisonous bodies; skinless humanoid monsters dripping blood; things with talons and teeth and claws, massive praying mantises with jaws that dropped open as if unhinged—her skin felt as if it wanted to crawl away from her body. She forced herself still, her hand on Heosphoros, and looked up at her brother.
 
He met her gaze with his own dark one, and she remembered the boy in her vision, the one with green eyes like hers. She saw a furrow appear between his eyes.
 
He raised his hand; snapped his fingers. “Stop,” he said.
 
The demons froze, midmotion, on either side of Clary and the others. She could hear Jace’s harsh breathing, felt him press his fingers against the hand she was holding behind her back. A silent signal. The others were rigid, surrounding her.
 
“My sister,” Sebastian said. “Don’t hurt her. Bring her to me here. Kill the others.” He narrowed his eyes at Jace. “If you can.”
 
The demons surged forward. Isabelle’s necklace pulsed like a strobe light, sending out blazing tongues of red and gold, and in the fiery light Clary saw the others turn to hold the demons off.
 
It was her chance. She spun and darted toward the wall, feeling the Agility rune on her arm burn as she launched herself up, caught at the rough stone with her left hand, and swung forward, slamming the tip of her stele into the granite as if it were an axe going into tree bark. She felt the stone shudder: small fissures appeared, but she clung on grimly, dragging her stele across the wall’s surface, swift and slashing. She felt the grind and drag of it distantly. Everything seemed to have receded, even the screech and crash of fighting behind her, the stink and howl of demons. She could only feel the power of the familiar runes echoing through her as she drew, and drew, and drew—
 
Something seized her ankle and yanked. A bolt of pain shot up her leg; she glanced down and saw a ropy tentacle wrapped around her boot, dragging her down. It was attached to a demon that looked like a massive molting parrot with tentacles exploding out from where its wings should have been. She clung on harder to the wall, whipping her stele back and forth, the rock shivering as the black lines ate into the stone.
 
The pressure on her ankle increased. With a cry Clary let go, her stele falling as she tumbled, hitting the ground hard. She gasped and rolled to the side just as an arrow flew past her head and sank deep into the grasping demon’s flesh. She whipped her head up and saw Alec, reaching back for another arrow, just as the runes on the wall behind her blazed up like a map of heavenly fire. Jace was beside Alec, his sword in his hand, his eyes fixed on Clary.
 
She nodded, minutely. Do it.
 
The demon that had been holding her roared; the tentacle loosed its grasp, and Clary staggered up and to her feet. She hadn’t been able to draw a rectangular doorway, so the entrance scrawled on the wall was blazing in a ragged circle, like the opening to a tunnel. Within the blaze she could see the shimmer of the Portal—it rippled like silver water.
 
Jace hurtled by her and threw himself into it. She caught a brief glimpse of what was beyond—the blasted Accords Hall, the statue of Jonathan Shadowhunter—before she flung herself forward, pressing her hand to the Portal, keeping it open so that Sebastian couldn’t close it. Jace needed only a few seconds—
 
She could hear Sebastian behind her, screaming in a language she didn’t know. The stench of demons was all around; she heard a hiss and a rattle and turned to see a Ravener scuttling toward her, its scorpion tail raised. She flinched back, just as it fell apart into two pieces, Isabelle’s metal whip scissoring down to slice it in half. Stinking ichor flooded across the floor; Simon grabbed Clary and dragged her back, just as the Portal swelled with a sudden, incredible light and Jace came through it.
 
Clary sucked in a breath. Never had Jace looked so much like an avenging angel, hurtling through cloud and fire. His bright hair seemed to burn as he landed lightly and raised the weapon he was holding in his hand. It was Jonathan Shadowhunter’s skeptron. The orb at the center was shining. Through the Portal behind Jace, just before it closed, Clary saw the dark shapes of flying demons, heard their shrieks of disappointment and rage as they arrived to find the weapon gone and the thief nowhere to be seen.
 
As Jace raised the skeptron, the demons around them began to scuttle backward. Sebastian was leaning over the balustrade, his hands clenched on it, dead white. He was staring at Jace. “Jonathan,” he said, and his voice rose and carried. “Jonathan, I forbid—”
 
Jace thrust the skeptron skyward, and the orb burst into flame. It was a brilliant, contained, icy flame, more light than heat, but a piercing light that shot through the whole room, limning everything in brilliance. Clary saw the demons turned to flaming silhouettes before they shuddered and exploded into ash. The ones closest to Jace crumbled first, but the light ran through all of them like a fissure opening in the earth, and one by one they shrieked and dissolved, leaving a thick layer of gray-black ash on the floor.
 
The light intensified, burning brighter until Clary closed her eyes, still seeing the burst of last brilliance through them eyelids. When she opened them again, the entryway was almost empty. Only she and her companions remained. The demons were gone—and Sebastian was there, still, standing pale and shocked on the stairway.
 
“No,” he ground out through clenched teeth.
 
Jace was still standing with the skeptron in his hand; the orb had turned black and dead, like a lightbulb that had burned out. He looked up at Sebastian, his chest rising and falling fast. “You thought we didn’t know you were expecting us,” he said. “But we were counting on it.” He took a step forward. “I know you,” he said, still breathlessly, his hair wild and his golden eyes blazing. “You took me over, took control of me, forced me to do whatever you wanted, but I learned from you. You were in my head, and I remember. I remember how you think, how you plan. I remember all of it. I knew you’d underestimate us, think we didn’t guess it was a trap, think we wouldn’t have planned for that. You forget I know you; down to the last corner of your arrogant little mind I know you—”
 
“Shut up,” Sebastian hissed. He pointed at them with a shaking hand. “You will pay in blood for this,” he said, and then he turned and ran up the steps, vanishing so quickly that even Alec’s arrow, winging after him, couldn’t catch him up. It hit the curve of the staircase instead and snapped on impact with the stone, then fell to the ground in two neat pieces.
 
“Jace,” Clary said. She touched his arm. He seemed frozen in place. “Jace, when he says we’ll pay in blood, he doesn’t mean our blood. He means theirs. Luke and Magnus and Mom. We have to go find them.”
 
“I agree.” Alec had lowered his bow; his red gear jacket had been torn from him in the fight, and the bracer on his arm was stained with blood. “Each staircase leads to a different level. We’re going to have to split up. Jace, Clary, you take the east staircase; the rest of us will take the other.”
 
No one protested. Clary knew Jace would never have agreed to split off from her, and neither would Alec have left his sister, or Isabelle and Simon have left each other. If they had to separate, this was the only way to do it.
 
“Jace,” Alec said, again, and this time the word seemed to snap Jace out of his fugue state. He tossed the dead skeptron aside, let it clatter to the ground, and looked up with a nod.
 
“Right,” he said, and the door behind them burst open. Dark Shadowhunters in red gear began to pour into the room. Jace seized Clary’s wrist and they ran, Alec and the others pounding along beside them until they reached the stairway and broke apart. Clary thought she heard Simon say her name as she and Jace lunged for the east staircase. She turned around to look for him, but he was gone. The room was full of the Endarkened, several of them raising weapons—crossbows, even slingshots—to take aim. She ducked her head and continued to run.
 
   
 
 
 
Jia Penhallow stood on the balcony of the Gard and looked down over the city of Alicante.
 
The balcony was rarely used. There had been a time when the Consul had often spoken to the populace from this spot high above them, but the habit had fallen out of favor in the nineteenth century when Consul Fairchild had decided that the action smacked too much of the behavior of a pope or a king.
 
Twilight had come, and the lights of Alicante had begun to burn: witchlight in the windows of every house and storefront, witchlight illuminating the statue in Angel Square, witchlight pouring from the Basilias. Jia took a deep breath, holding the note from Maia Roberts that spoke of hope in her left hand as she readied herself.
 
The demon towers flared up blue, and Jia began to speak. Her voice echoed from tower to tower, dispersing itself through the city. She could see people stopped in the street, their heads craned back to look at the demon towers, people arrested on the doorsteps of their houses, listening as her words rolled over them like a tide.
 
“Nephilim,” she said. “Children of the Angel, warriors, tonight we ready ourselves, for tonight Sebastian Morgenstern will bring his forces against us.” The wind coming across the hills that surrounded Alicante was icy; Jia shivered. “Sebastian Morgenstern is trying to destroy what we are,” she said. “He will bring against us warriors who wear our own faces but are not Nephilim. We cannot hesitate. When we face them, when we look at an Endarkened, we cannot see brother or mother or sister or wife, but a creature in torment. A human from whom all humanity has been stripped. We are what we are because our will is free: We are free to choose. We choose to stand and fight. We choose to defeat Sebastian’s forces. They have the darkness; we have the strength of the Angel. Fire tests gold. In this fire we will be tested, and we will shine out. You know the protocol; you know what to do. Go forth, children of the Angel.
 
“Go forth and light the lights of war.”

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