The Mortal Instruments: 6. City of Heavenly Fire, Book 6, Chapter 2
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The Mortal Instruments: City of Heavenly Fire - Chapter 2


       


2

STAND OR FALL

Waking was like being plunged into a bath of icy water. Emma sat up straight, torn out of sleep, her mouth opening on a scream. “Jules! Jules!”

There was movement in the darkness, a hand on her arm, and a sudden light that stung her eyes. Emma gasped and scrabbled backward, pushing herself among the cushions—she was lying on a bed, she realized, pillows stacked behind her back and the sheets twisted around her body in a sweaty tangle. She blinked the darkness out of her eyes, trying to focus.

Helen Blackthorn was leaning over her, blue-green eyes worried, a witchlight glowing in her hand. They were in a room with a steeply gabled roof, slanting down hard on either side, like in a fairytale cabin. A big four-poster wooden bed was in the center of the room, and in the shadows behind Helen, Emma could see furniture looming: a big square wardrobe, a long sofa, a table with rickety legs. “W-where am I?” Emma gasped.

“Idris,” Helen said, stroking her arm in a soothing manner. “You made it to Idris, Emma. We’re in the attic of the Penhallows’ house.”

“M-my parents.” Emma’s teeth chattered. “Where are my parents?”

“You came through the Portal with Julian,” said Helen gently, not answering her question. “All of you made it through somehow—it’s a miracle, you know. The Clave opened the way, but Portal travel is hard. Dru came through holding on to Tavvy, and the twins came through together, of course. And then, when we’d almost given up hope, you two. You were unconscious, Em.” She brushed Emma’s hair back from her forehead. “We were so worried. You should have seen Jules—”

“What’s happening?” Emma demanded. She pulled back from Helen’s touch, not because she didn’t like Helen but because her heart was pounding. “What about Mark, and Mr. Blackthorn—”

Helen hesitated. “Sebastian Morgenstern has attacked six Institutes over the past few days. He’s either killed everyone or Turned them. He can use the Infernal Cup to make Shadowhunters—not themselves anymore.”

“I saw him do it,” Emma whispered. “To Katerina. And he Turned your father, too. They were going to do it to Mark, but Sebastian said he didn’t want him because he had faerie blood.”

Helen flinched. “We have reason to think Mark’s still alive,” she said. “They were able to track him to a point where he disappeared, but the runes indicate he’s not dead. It’s possible that Sebastian may be holding him hostage.”

“My—my parents,” Emma said again, through a dryer throat this time. She knew what it meant that Helen hadn’t answered her question the first time she’d asked it. “Where are they? They weren’t in the Institute, so Sebastian couldn’t have hurt them.”

“Em . . .” Helen exhaled. She looked young suddenly, almost as young as Jules. “Sebastian doesn’t just attack Institutes; he murders or takes Conclave members from their own homes. Your parents—the Clave tried to track them, but they couldn’t. Then their bodies washed up in Marina del Rey, on the beach, this morning. The Clave doesn’t know what happened exactly, but . . .”

Helen’s voice trailed off into a meaningless string of words, words such as “positive identification” and “scars and markings on the bodies” and “no evidence recovered.” Things like “in the water for hours” and “no way to transport the corpses” and “given all the proper funeral rites, burned on the beach as they had both requested, you understand—”

Emma screamed. It was a scream with no words at first, rising higher and higher, a scream that tore her throat and brought the taste of metal into her mouth. It was a scream of loss so immense there was no speech for it. It was the wordless cry of having the sky over your head, the air in your lungs, ripped away from you forever. She screamed, and screamed again, and tore at the mattress with her hands until she gouged through it, and there were feathers and blood stuck under her fingernails, and Helen was sobbing, trying to hold her, saying, “Emma, Emma, please, Emma, please.”

And then there was more illumination. Someone had turned on a lantern in the room, and Emma heard her name, in a soft urgent familiar voice, and Helen let her go and there was Jules, leaning against the edge of the bed, and holding something out to her, something that gleamed gold in the new harsh light.

It was Cortana. Unsheathed, lying bare across his palms like an offering. Emma thought she was still screaming, but she took the sword, the words flashing across the blade, burning across her eyes: I am Cortana, of the same steel and temper as Joyeuse and Durendal.

She heard her father’s voice in her head. Carstairs have carried this sword for generations. The inscription reminds us that Shadowhunters are the Angel’s weapons. Temper us in the fire, and we grow stronger. When we suffer, we survive.

Emma choked, pushing back on the screams, forcing them down and into silence. This was what her father had meant: Like Cortana, she had steel in her veins and she was meant to be strong. Even if her parents were not there to see it, she would be strong for them.

She hugged the sword against her chest. As if from a distance she heard Helen exclaim and reach for her, but Julian, Julian who always knew what Emma needed, tugged Helen’s hand back. Emma’s fingers were around the blade, and blood was running down her arms and chest where the tip sliced at her collarbone. She didn’t feel it. Rocking back and forth, she clutched the sword like it was the only thing she had ever loved, and let the blood spill down instead of tears.

 

Simon couldn’t quite shake a feeling of déjà vu.

He’d been here before, standing just outside the Institute, watching the Lightwoods disappear through a shimmering Portal. Though then, back before he had ever borne the Mark of Cain, the Portal had been created by Magnus, and this time it was under the oversight of a blue-skinned warlock woman named Catarina Loss. That time, he’d been summoned because Jace had wanted to talk to him about Clary before he disappeared into another country.

This time Clary was disappearing with them.

He felt her hand on his, her fingers lightly ringing his wrist. The whole of the Conclave—nearly every Shadowhunter in New York City—had come through the gates of the Institute and passed through the shimmering Portal. The Lightwoods, as guardians of the Institute, would go last. Simon had been here since the start of twilight, bars of red sky sliding down behind the buildings of the New York skyline, and now witchlight lit the scene in front of him, picking out small glimmering details: Isabelle’s whip, the spark of fire that jumped from Alec’s family ring as he gestured, the glints in Jace’s pale hair.

“It looks different,” Simon said.

Clary looked up at him. Like the rest of the Shadowhunters, she was dressed in what Simon could only describe as a cloak. It seemed to be what they broke out during cold winter weather, made of a heavy, velvety black material that buckled across the chest. He wondered where she’d gotten it. Maybe they just issued them. “What does?”

“The Portal,” he said. “It looks different from when Magnus did it. More—blue.”

“Maybe they all have different senses of style?”

Simon looked over at Catarina. She seemed briskly efficient, like a hospital nurse or kindergarten teacher. Definitely not like Magnus. “How’s Izzy?”

“Worried, I think. Everyone’s worried.”

There was a short silence. Clary exhaled, her breath floating white on the winter air.

“I don’t like you going,” Simon said, at exactly the same time that Clary said, “I don’t like going and leaving you here.”

“I’ll be fine,” Simon said. “I have Jordan looking after me.” Indeed, Jordan was there, sitting on top of the wall that ran around the Institute and looking watchful. “And no one’s tried to kill me in at least two weeks.”

“Not funny.” Clary scowled. The problem, Simon reflected, was that it was difficult to reassure someone that you’d be fine when you were a Daylighter. Some vampires might want Simon on their side, eager to benefit from his unusual powers. Camille had attempted to recruit him, and others might try, but Simon had the distinct impression that the vast majority of vampires wanted to kill him.

“I’m pretty sure Maureen’s still hoping to get her hands on me,” Simon said. Maureen was the head of the New York vampire clan and believed that she was in love with Simon. Which would have been less awkward if she hadn’t been thirteen years old. “I know the Clave warned people not to touch me, but . . .”

“Maureen wants to touch you,” Clary said with a sideways grin. “Bad touch.”

“Silence, Fray.”

“Jordan will keep her off you.”

Simon looked ahead meditatively. He had been trying not to stare at Isabelle, who had greeted him with only a brief wave since he’d arrived at the Institute. She was helping her mother, her black hair flying in the brisk wind.

“You could just go up and talk to her,” Clary said. “Instead of staring like a creeper.”

“I’m not staring like a creeper. I’m staring subtly.”

“I noticed,” Clary pointed out. “Look, you know how Isabelle gets. When she’s upset, she withdraws. She won’t talk to anyone but Jace or Alec, because she hardly trusts anyone. But if you’re going to be her boyfriend, you have to show her you’re one of those people she can trust.”

“I’m not her boyfriend. At least, I don’t think I’m her boyfriend. She’s never used the word ‘boyfriend,’ anyway.”

Clary kicked him in the ankle. “You two need to DTR more than any other people I’ve ever met.”

“Defining relationships over here?” said a voice from behind them. Simon turned and saw Magnus, very tall against the dark sky behind them. He was soberly dressed, jeans and a black T-shirt, his dark hair partly in his eyes. “I see that even as the world plunges into darkness and peril, you two stand around discussing your love lives. Teenagers.”

“What are you doing here?” Simon said, too surprised for a smart comeback.

“Came to see Alec,” Magnus said.

Clary raised her eyebrows at him. “What was that about teenagers?”

Magnus held up a warning finger. “Don’t overstep yourself, biscuit,” he said, and moved past them, disappearing into the crowd around the Portal.

“Biscuit?” said Simon.

“Believe it or not, he’s called me that before,” Clary said. “Simon, look.” She turned toward him, tugging his hand out of his jeans pocket. She looked down at it and smiled. “The ring,” she said. “Handy when it worked, wasn’t it?”

Simon looked down as well. A hammered gold ring in the shape of a leaf encircled his right ring finger. It had once been a connection to Clary. Now, with hers destroyed, it was only a ring, but he kept it regardless. He knew it was a little close to having half of a BFF necklace, but he couldn’t help it. It was a beautiful object, and still a symbol of the connection between them.

She squeezed his hand hard, raising her eyes to his. Shadows moved in the green of her irises; he could tell she was afraid. “I know it’s just a Council meeting—” Clary started to say.

“But you’re staying in Idris.”

“Only until they can figure out what happened with the Institutes, and how to protect them,” said Clary. “Then we’ll come back. I know phones and texting and all that, that doesn’t work in Idris, but if you need to talk to me, tell Magnus. He’ll find a way to get me a message.”

Simon felt his throat tighten. “Clary—”

“I love you,” she said. “You’re my best friend.” She let go of his hand, her eyes shining. “No, don’t say anything, I don’t want you to say anything.” She turned and almost ran back toward the Portal, where Jocelyn and Luke were waiting for her, three packed duffel bags at their feet. Luke glanced across the courtyard at Simon, his expression thoughtful.

But where was Isabelle? The crowd of Shadowhunters had thinned. Jace had moved to stand beside Clary, his hand on her shoulder; Maryse was near the Portal, but Isabelle, who had been with her—

“Simon,” said a voice at his shoulder, and he turned to see Izzy, her face a pale smudge between dark hair and dark cloak, looking at him, her expression half-angry, half-sad. “I guess this is the part where we say good-bye?”

 

“Okay,” Magnus said. “You wanted to talk to me. So talk.”

Alec looked at him, wide-eyed. They had gone around the side of the church and were standing in a small, winter-burned garden, among leafless hedges. Thick vines covered the stone wall and rusted gate nearby, now so denuded by winter that Alec could see the mundane street through the gaps in the iron door. A stone bench was nearby, its rough surface crusted with ice. “I wanted—What?”

Magnus looked at him darkly, as if he had done something stupid. Alec suspected that he had. His nerves were jangling together like wind chimes, and he had a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. The last time he had seen Magnus, the warlock had been walking away from him, vanishing into a disused subway tunnel, getting smaller and smaller until he disappeared. Aku cinta kamu, he’d said to Alec. “I love you,” in Indonesian.

It had given Alec a spark of hope, enough that he’d called Magnus dozens of times, enough to keep him checking his phone, checking the mail, even checking the windows of his room—which seemed strange and empty and unfamiliar without Magnus in it, not his room at all—for magically delivered notes or messages.

And now Magnus was standing in front of him, with his raggedy black hair and slit-pupilled cat eyes, and his voice like dark molasses, and his cool, sharp beautiful face that gave nothing whatsoever away, and Alec felt like he had swallowed glue.

“Wanted to talk to me,” Magnus said. “I assumed that was the meaning of all those phone calls. And why you sent all your stupid friends over to my apartment. Or do you just do that to everyone?”

Alec swallowed against the dryness in his throat and said the first thing that came into his head. “Aren’t you ever going to forgive me?”

“I—” Magnus broke off and looked away, shaking his head. “Alec. I have forgiven you.”

“It doesn’t seem like it. You seem angry.”

When Magnus looked back at him, it was with a gentler expression. “I’m worried about you,” he said. “The attacks on the Institutes. I just heard.”

Alec felt dizzy. Magnus forgave him; Magnus was worried about him. “Did you know we were leaving for Idris?”

“Catarina told me she’d been summoned to make a Portal. I guessed,” Magnus said wryly. “I was a little surprised you hadn’t called or texted to tell me you were going away.”

“You never answer my calls or texts,” said Alec.

“That hasn’t stopped you before.”

“Everyone gives up eventually,” Alec said. “Besides. Jace broke my phone.”

Magnus huffed out a breath of laughter. “Oh, Alexander.”

“What?” Alec asked, honestly puzzled.

“You’re just—You’re so—I really want to kiss you,” Magnus said abruptly, and then shook his head. “See, this is why I haven’t been willing to see you.”

“But you’re here now,” Alec said. He remembered the first time Magnus had ever kissed him, against the wall outside his apartment, and all his bones had turned to liquid and he’d thought, Oh, right, this is what it’s supposed to be like. I get it now. “You could—”

“I can’t,” Magnus said. “It’s not working, it wasn’t working. You have to see that, don’t you?” His hands were on Alec’s shoulders; Alec could feel Magnus’s thumb brush against his neck, over his collar, and his whole body jumped. “Don’t you?” Magnus said, and kissed him.

Alec leaned into the kiss. It was utterly quiet. He heard the crunch of his boots on the snowy ground as he moved forward, Magnus’s hand sliding around to steady the back of his neck, and Magnus tasted like he always did, sweet and bitter and familiar, and Alec parted his lips, to gasp or breathe or breathe Magnus in, but it was too late because Magnus broke away from him with a wrench and stepped backward and it was over.

“What,” Alec said, feeling stunned and strangely diminished. “Magnus, what?”

“I shouldn’t have done that,” Magnus said, all in a rush. He was clearly agitated, in a way Alec had rarely seen him, a flush along his high cheekbones. “I forgive you, but I can’t be with you. I can’t. It doesn’t work. I’m going to live forever, or at least until someone finally kills me, and you’re not, and it’s too much for you to take on—”

“Don’t tell me what’s too much for me,” said Alec with deadly flatness.

Magnus so rarely looked surprised that the expression seemed almost foreign on his face. “It’s too much for most people,” he said. “Most mortals. And not easy on us, either. Watching someone you love age and die. I knew a girl, once, immortal like me—”

“And she was with someone mortal?” said Alec. “What happened?”

“He died,” Magnus said. There was a finality to the way he said it that spoke of a deeper grief than words could paint. His cat’s eyes shone in the dark. “I don’t know why I thought this would ever work,” he said. “I’m sorry, Alec. I shouldn’t have come.”

“No,” Alec said. “You shouldn’t.”

Magnus was looking at Alec a little warily, as if he had approached someone familiar on the street only to find out they were a stranger.

“I don’t know why you did,” Alec said. “I know I’ve been torturing myself for weeks now about you, and what I did, and how I shouldn’t have done it, shouldn’t ever have talked to Camille. I’ve been sorry and I’ve understood and I’ve apologized and apologized, and you haven’t ever been there. I did all that without you. So it makes me wonder what else I could do, without you.” He looked at Magnus meditatively. “It was my fault, what happened. But it was your fault too. I could have learned not to care that you’re immortal and I’m mortal. Everyone gets the time they get together, and no more. Maybe we’re not so different that way. But you know what I can’t get past? That you never tell me anything. I don’t know when you were born. I don’t know anything about your life—what your real name is, or about your family, or what the first face you ever loved was, or the first time your heart was broken. You know everything about me, and I know nothing about you. That’s the real problem.”

“I told you,” Magnus said softly, “on our first date that you would have to take me as I came, no questions—”

Alec waved that away. “That’s not a fair thing to ask, and you know—you knew—I didn’t understand enough about love then to understand that. You act like you’re the wronged party, but you had a hand in this, Magnus.”

“Yes,” Magnus said after a pause. “Yes, I suppose I did.”

“But that doesn’t change anything?” Alec said, feeling the cold air stealing under his rib cage. “It never does, with you.”

“I can’t change,” Magnus said. “It’s been too long. We petrify, you know, immortals, like fossils turn to stone. I thought when I met you that you had all this wonder and all this joy and everything was new to you, and I thought it would change me, but—”

“Change yourself,” Alec said, but it didn’t come out angry, or stern, as he had intended it, but soft, like a plea.

But Magnus only shook his head. “Alec,” he said. “You know my dream. The one about the city made of blood, and blood in the streets, and towers of bone. If Sebastian gets what he wants, that will be this world. The blood will be Nephilim blood. Go to Idris. You’re safer there, but don’t be trusting, and don’t let your guard down. I need you to live,” he breathed, and turned around, very abruptly, and walked away.

I need you to live.

Alec sat down on the frozen stone bench and put his face in his hands.

 

“Not good-bye forever,” Simon protested, but Isabelle just frowned.

“Come here,” she said, and tugged at his sleeve. She was wearing dark red velvet gloves, and her hand looked like a splash of blood against the navy fabric of his jacket.

Simon pushed the thought away. He wished he wouldn’t think about blood at inopportune times. “Come where?”

Isabelle just rolled her eyes and pulled him sideways, into a shadowed alcove near the front gates of the Institute. The space wasn’t a large one, and Simon could feel the heat from Isabelle’s body—warmth and cold didn’t affect him since he’d become a vampire, unless it was the heat of blood. He didn’t know if it was because he’d drunk Isabelle’s blood before, or if it was something deeper, but he was aware of the pulse of blood through her veins the way he was of no one else’s.

“I wish I were coming with you to Idris,” he said without preamble.

“You’re safer here,” she said, though her dark eyes softened. “Besides, we’re not going forever. The only Downworlders who can go to Alicante are Council members because they’re going to have a meeting, figure out what we’re all going to do, and probably send us back out. We can’t hide in Idris while Sebastian rampages around outside it. Shadowhunters don’t do that.”

He stroked a finger down her cheek. “But you want me to hide here?”

“You’ve got Jordan to watch you here,” she said. “Your own personal bodyguard. You’re Clary’s best friend,” she added. “Sebastian knows that. You’re hostage material. You should be where he isn’t.”

“He’s never shown any interest in me before. I don’t see why he’d start now.”

She shrugged, pulling her cloak tighter around herself. “He’s never shown any interest in anyone but Clary and Jace, but that doesn’t mean he won’t start. He’s not stupid.” She said it grudgingly, as if she hated to give Sebastian even that much credit. “Clary would do anything for you.”

“She’d do anything for you, too, Izzy.” And at Isabelle’s doubtful look, he cupped her cheek. “Okay, so if you won’t be gone all that long, then what’s all this about, then?”

She made a face. Her cheeks and mouth were rosy, the cold bringing the red to the surface. He wished he could press his cold lips to hers, so full of blood and life and warmth, but he was conscious of her parents watching. “I heard Clary when she was saying good-bye to you. She said she loved you.”

Simon stared. “Yes, but she didn’t mean it that way—Izzy—”

“I know that,” Isabelle protested. “Please, I know that. But it’s just that she says it so easily, and you say it back so easily, and I’ve never said it to anyone. Not anyone who wasn’t related to me.”

“But if you say it,” he said, “you could get hurt. That’s why you don’t.”

“So could you.” Her eyes were big and black, reflecting the stars. “Get hurt. I could hurt you.”

“I know,” Simon said. “I know and I don’t care. Jace told me once you’d walk all over my heart in high-heeled boots, and it hasn’t stopped me.”

Isabelle gave a little gasp of startled laughter. “He said that? And you stuck around?”

He leaned in toward her; if he had breath, it would have stirred her hair. “I would consider it an honor.”

She turned her head, and their lips brushed together. Hers were achingly warm. She was doing something with her hands—unfastening her cloak, he thought for a moment, but surely Isabelle wasn’t about to start taking her clothes off in front of her entire family? Not that Simon was sure he’d have the fortitude to stop her. She was Isabelle, after all, and she had almost—almost—said she loved him.

Her lips moved against his skin as she spoke. “Take this,” she whispered, and he felt something cold at the back of his neck, and the smooth glide of velvet as she drew back and her gloves brushed his throat.

He glanced down. Against his chest gleamed a blood-red square. Isabelle’s ruby pendant. It was a Shadowhunter heirloom, enchanted to detect the presence of demonic energy.

“I can’t take this,” he said, shocked. “Iz, this must be worth a fortune.”

She squared her shoulders. “It’s a loan, not a gift. Keep it until I see you again.” She brushed her gloved fingers across the ruby. “There’s an old story that it came into our family by way of a vampire. So it’s fitting.”

“Isabelle, I—”

“Don’t,” she said, cutting him off, though he didn’t know exactly what he’d been about to say. “Don’t say it, not now.” She was backing away from him. He could see her family behind her, all that was left of the Conclave. Luke had gone through the Portal, and Jocelyn was in the middle of following him. Alec, coming around the side of the Institute with his hands in his pockets, glanced over at Isabelle and Simon, raised an eyebrow, and kept walking. “Just don’t—don’t date anyone else while I’m gone, okay?”

He stared after her. “Does that mean we’re dating?” he said, but she only quirked a smile and then turned and dashed toward the Portal. He saw her take Alec’s hand, and they stepped through together. Maryse followed, and then Jace, and then, finally, Clary was the last, standing beside Catarina, framed by sizzling blue light.

She winked at Simon and stepped through. He saw the whirl of the Portal as it caught her, and then she was gone.

Simon put his hand to the ruby at his throat. He thought he could feel a beat inside the stone, a shifting pulse. It was almost like having a heart again.




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Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9 Chapter 10 Chapter 11 Chapter 12
Chapter 13 Chapter 14 Chapter 15 Chapter 16 Chapter 17 Chapter 18
Chapter 19 Chapter 20 Chapter 21 Chapter 22 Chapter 23 Chapter 24
Chapter 25 Chapter 26
1. City of Bones 2. City of Ashes 3. City of Glass 4. The City of Fallen Angels 5. City of Lost Souls 6. City of Heavenly Fire