The maelstrom inside the Portal was almost a relief. Clary went last through the shining doorway, after the other four had stepped through, and she let the cold darkness take her like water pulling her down and under, stealing the breath from her lungs, making her forget everything but the clamor and the falling.
It was over too fast, the grip of the Portal releasing her to fall awkwardly, her backpack twisted underneath her, on the packed dirt floor of a tunnel. She caught her breath and rolled over, using a long, dangling root to pull herself upright. Alec, Isabelle, Jace, and Simon were picking themselves up around her, brushing off their clothes. It wasn’t dirt they had fallen on, she realized, but a carpet of moss. More moss spread along the smooth brown tunnel walls, but it glowed with phosphorescent light. Small glowing flowers, like electric daisies, grew in among the moss, starring the green with white. Snaky roots dangled down from the roof of the tunnel, making Clary wonder what exactly was growing aboveground. Various smaller tunnels branched off the main one, some of them too small to admit a human form.
Isabelle picked a piece of moss out of her hair and frowned. “Where are we exactly?”
“I aimed for just outside the throne room,” Clary said. “We’ve been here. It just always looks different.”
Jace had already moved down the main corridor. Even without the Soundless rune, he was as quiet as a cat on the soft moss. The others followed, Clary with her hand on the hilt of her sword. She was a little surprised at how short a time it had taken to become used to a weapon hovering at her side; if she reached for Heosphoros and found it not there, she thought, she would panic.
“Here,” Jace said softly, motioning the rest of them to be quiet. They were in an archway, a curtain separating them from a larger room beyond. The last time Clary had been here, the curtain had been made out of living butterflies, and their struggles had made it rustle.
Today it was thorns, like the thorns that surrounded Sleeping Beauty’s castle, thorns woven into one another so that they formed a dangling sheet. Clary could catch only glimpses of the room beyond—a glimmer of white and silver—but they could all hear the sound of laughing voices coming from the corridors around them.
Glamour runes didn’t work on the Fair Folk; there was no way to hide from view. Jace was alert, his whole body tight. He carefully raised a dagger and parted the sheet of thorns as silently as he could. They all leaned in, staring.
The room beyond was a winter fairyland, the kind Clary had rarely seen, except in visits to Luke’s farmhouse. The walls were sheets of white crystal, and the Queen reclined upon her divan, which was white crystal to match, shot through with veins of silver in the rock. The floor was covered in snow, and long icicles hung from the ceiling, each one bound around with ropes of gold-and-silver thorns. Bunches of white roses were piled around the room, scattered at the foot of the Queen’s divan, wound through her red hair like a crown. Her dress was white and silver too, as diaphanous as a sheet of ice; one could glimpse her body through it, though not clearly. Ice and roses and the Queen. The effect was blinding. She was leaning back on her couch, her head tipped up, speaking to a heavily armored faerie knight. His armor was dark brown, the color of the trunk of a tree; one of his eyes was black, the other pale blue, almost white. For a moment Clary thought he had the head of a deer tucked under his big arm, but as she looked closer, she realized that it was a helmet, decorated with antlers.
“And how goes it with the Wild Hunt, Gwyn?” the Queen was asking. “The Gatherers of the Dead? I assume there were rich pickings for you at the Adamant Citadel the other night. I hear that the howls of the Nephilim tore the sky as they died.”
Clary felt the Shadowhunters around her tense. She remembered lying beside Jace in a boat in Venice and watching the Wild Hunt go by overhead; a maelstrom of shouts and battle cries, horses whose hooves gleamed scarlet, hammering across the sky.
“So I have heard, my lady,” Gwyn said in a voice so hoarse, it was barely understandable. It sounded like the scrape of a blade against rough bark. “The Wild Hunt comes when the ravens of the battlefield scream for blood: We gather our riders from among the dying. But we were not at the Adamant Citadel. The war games of Nephilim and Dark Ones are too rich for our blood. The Fair Folk mix poorly with demons and angels.”
“You disappoint me, Gwyn,” said the Queen, pouting. “This is a time of power for the Fair Folk; we gain, we rise, we achieve the world. We belong on the chessboards of power, as much as Nephilim do. I had hoped for your advice.”
“Forgive me, lady,” said Gwyn. “Chess is too delicate a game for us. I cannot advise you.”
“But I gave you such a gift.” The Queen sulked. “The Blackthorn boy. Shadowhunter and faerie blood together; it is rare. He will ride at your back, and demons will fear you. A gift from myself, and from Sebastian.”
Sebastian. She said it comfortably, familiarly. There was fondness in her voice, if the Queen of Faeries could be said to be fond. Clary could hear Jace’s breathing beside her: sharp and quick; the others were tense as well, panic chasing realization across their faces as the Queen’s words sank in.
Clary felt Heosphoros grow cold in the grip of her hand. A path to the demon realms that leads through faerie lands. The earth cracking open under Sebastian’s feet. Sebastian bragging that he had allies.
The Queen and Sebastian, giving the gift of a captured Nephilim child. Together.
“Demons already fear me, beautiful one,” said Gwyn, and he smiled.
My beautiful one. The blood in Clary’s veins was an icy river, singing down into her heart. Glancing down, she saw Simon move to cover Isabelle’s hand with his, a quick reassuring gesture; Isabelle had gone white, and looked sick, as did Alec and Jace. Simon swallowed; the gold ring on his finger glittered, and she heard Sebastian’s voice in her head:
Do you really think she’d let you get your hands on something that would let you communicate with your little friends without her being able to listen in? Since I took it from you, I’ve spoken to her, she’s spoken to me—you were a fool to trust her, little sister. She likes to be on the winning side of things, the Seelie Queen. And that side will be ours, Clary. Ours.
“You owe me one favor, then, Gwyn, in exchange for the boy,” said the Queen. “I know that the Wild Hunt serves its own laws, but I would request your presence at the next battle.”
Gwyn frowned. “I am not sure one boy is worth such a weighty promise. As I have said, the Hunt has small desire to involve itself in the business of Nephilim.”
“You need not fight,” said the Queen, in a voice like silk. “I would ask only your assistance with the bodies afterward. And there will be bodies. The Nephilim will pay for their crimes, Gwyn. Everyone must pay.”
Before Gwyn could reply, another figure strode into the room from the dark tunnel that curved away behind the Queen’s throne. It was Meliorn, in his white armor, his black hair in a braid down his back. His boots were encrusted with what looked like blackish tar. He frowned when he saw Gwyn. “A Hunter never brings good tidings,” he said.
“Subside, Meliorn,” said the Queen. “Gwyn and I were only discussing an exchange of favors.”
Meliorn inclined his head. “I bear news, my lady, but I would have counsel with you in private.”
She turned to Gwyn. “Are we agreed?”
Gwyn hesitated, then nodded, curtly, and with a glance of dislike in Meliorn’s direction, disappeared down the dark tunnel from which the faerie knight had come.
The Queen slid down in her divan, her pale fingers like marble against her gown. “Very well, Meliorn. What did you wish to speak of? Is it news of the Downworld prisoners?”