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:
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.