City of Heavenly Fire (The Mortal Instruments 6) - Page 85

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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.

Tags: Cassandra Clare The Mortal Instruments Young Adult