The smell grew stronger and the air darker as she made her way downstairs, and she wished for a stele and a night-vision rune. But there was nothing to be done about it. She kept going as the staircase curved around and around, and she was suddenly grateful for the lack of light as she stepped in a patch of something sticky. She clutched for the banister and tried to breathe through her mouth. The darkness thickened, until she was walking blind, her heart pounding so loudly she was sure it must be announcing her presence. The streets of Paris, the ordinary world, seemed eons away. There was only the darkness and herself, going down and down and down.
And then-light flared in the distance, a tiny point, like the tip of a match bursting into flame. She moved closer to the banister, almost crouching, as the light grew. She could see her own hand now, and the outline of the steps below her. There were only a few more. She reached the bottom of the stairs and glanced around.
Any resemblance to an ordinary apartment building was gone. Somewhere along the way the wooden stairs had turned into stone, and she stood now in a small, stone-walled room lit by a torch that gave off a sickly greenish light. The floor was rock, polished smooth, and carved with multiple strange symbols. She edged around them as she crossed the room to the only other exit, a curved stone arch, at the apex of which was set a human skull between the V of two enormous ornamental crossed axes.
Through the archway she could hear voices. They were too distant for her to make out what they were saying, but they were voices nonetheless. This way, they seemed to say. Follow us.
She stared up at the skull, and its empty eyes gazed back at her mockingly. She wondered where she was-if Paris was still above her or if she had stepped into another world entirely, the way one did when one entered the Silent City. She thought of Jace, whom she had left sleeping in what now seemed like another life.
She was doing this for him, she reminded herself. To get him back. She stepped through the arch into the corridor beyond, instinctively flattening herself against the wall. Soundlessly she crept along, the voices growing louder and louder. It was dim in the hall but not lightless. Every few feet another greenish torch burned, giving off a charred odor.
A door opened suddenly in the wall to her left, and the voices grew louder.
"... not like his father," one said, the words as raspy as sandpaper. "Valentine would not deal with us at all. He would make slaves of us. This one will give us this world."
Very slowly Clary peered around the edge of the doorway.
The room was bare, smooth-walled, and empty of all furniture. Inside it was a group of demons. They were lizardlike, with hard green-brown skin, but each had a set of six octopuslike legs that made a dry, skittering sound as they moved. Their heads were bulbous, alien, set with faceted black eyes.
She swallowed bile. She was reminded of the Ravener that had been one of the first demons she'd ever seen. Something about the grotesque combination of lizard, insect, and alien made her stomach turn. She pressed closer to the wall, listening hard.
"That is, if you trust him." It was hard to tell which of them was talking. Their legs clenched and unclenched as they moved, raising and lowering their bulbous bodies. They didn't seem to have mouths but clusters of small tentacles that vibrated as they spoke.
"The Great Mother trusted him. He is her child."
Sebastian. Of course they were talking about Sebastian.
"He is also Nephilim. They are our great enemies."
"They are his enemies as well. He bears the blood of Lilith."
"But the one he calls his companion bears the blood of our enemies. He is of the angels." The word was spat with such hate that Clary felt it like a slap.
"Lilith's child assures us he has him well in hand, and indeed he seems obedient."
A dry, insectile chuckle. "You young ones are too consumed with worry. The Nephilim have long kept this world from us. Its riches are great. We will drink it dry and leave it as ashes. As for the angel boy, he will be the last of his kind to die. We will burn him on a pyre until he is only golden bones."
Rage rose in Clary. She sucked in a breath-a tiny sound, but a sound. The demon nearest her jerked its head up. For a moment Clary froze, trapped in the glare of its mirrored black eyes.
Then she turned and ran. Ran, back toward the entryway and the stairs and their path up into darkness. She could hear commotion behind her, the creatures screaming, and then the slithering, skittering noise of them coming after her. She cast one glance over her shoulder and realized she wasn't going to make it. Despite her head start, they were almost on her.
She could hear her own harsh breathing, sawing in and out, as she reached the archway, spun, and leaped to catch hold of it with her hands. She swung herself forward with all her force, her booted feet driving into the first of the demons, knocking it backward as it shrilled loudly. Still dangling, she caught at the handle of one of the crossed axes below the skull and yanked.
Stuck fast, it didn't move.
She closed her eyes, gripped it tighter, and with all her strength, pulled.
The axe came away from the wall with a rending sound, showering down rocks and mortar. Unbalanced, Clary fell, and landed in a crouch, the axe held out in front of her. It was heavy, but she barely felt it. It was happening again, what had happened in the junk shop. The slowing of time, the increased intensity of sensation. She could feel every whisper of the air against her skin, every unevenness of the ground under her feet. She braced herself as the first of the demons scuttled through the doorway and reared back like a tarantula, its legs pawing the air above her. Beneath the tentacles on its face were a pair of long, dripping fangs.
The axe in her hand seemed to swing forward of its own accord, sinking deep into the creature's chest. She immediately remembered Jace telling her not to go for the chest wound but for the decapitation. Not all demons had hearts. But in this case she was lucky. She had struck either the heart or some other vital organ. The creature thrashed and squealed; blood bubbled up around the wound, and then it vanished, leaving her to reel back a step, her ichor-slicked weapon in her hand. The demon's blood was black and stinking, like tar.
As the next one lunged for her, she ducked low, swinging out with the axe and slicing through several of its legs. Howling, it tipped sideways like a broken chair; already the next demon was trampling over its body, trying to get to her. She swung again, her axe burying itself in the creature's face. Ichor sprayed and she darted backward, pressing herself up against the stairwell. If one of them got around behind her, she was dead.
Maddened, the demon whose face she'd slashed open lurched at her again; she swung out with her axe, severing one of its legs, but another leg wrapped itself around her wrist. Hot agony shot up her arm. She screamed and tried to wrench her hand back, but the demon's grip was too strong. It felt as if thousands of hot needles were stabbing into her skin. Still screaming, she drove out with her left arm, slamming her fist into the creature's face, where her axe had already sliced it. The demon gave a hiss and loosed its grip fractionally; she wrenched her hand free just as it reared back-
And out of nowhere a shimmering blade drove down, burying itself in the demon's skull. As she stared, the demon vanished, and she saw her brother, a blazing seraph blade in his hand, ichor splattered across his white shirtfront. Behind him the room was empty save for the body of one of the demons, still twitching, but with black fluid pouring from its severed leg stumps like oil from a smashed car.
Sebastian. She stared at him in amazement. Had he just saved her life?
"Get away from me, Sebastian," she hissed.
He didn't seem to hear her. "Your arm."
She glanced down at her right wrist, still throbbing in agony. A thick band of saucer-shaped wounds encircled it where the demon's suckers had fastened themselves to her skin. Already the wounds were darkening, turning a sickening blue-black.
She looked back up at her brother. His white hair looked like a halo in the darkness. Or it might have been the fact that her vision was going. Light was haloing around the green torch on the wall too, and around the seraph blade burning in Sebastian's hand. He was talking, but his words were blurred, indistinct, as if he were speaking underwater.
"... deadly poison," he was saying. "What the hell were you thinking, Clarissa?" His voice faded out, and back in again. She struggled to focus. "... to fight off six Dahak demons with an ornamental axe-"
"Poison," she repeated, and for a moment his face came clear again, the lines of strain around his mouth and eyes pronounced and startling. "So I guess you didn't save my life after all, did you?"
Her hand spasmed, and the axe slid out of her grip, clattering to the ground. She felt her sweater catch on the rough wall as she began to slide down it, wanting nothing more than to lie on the floor. But Sebastian wouldn't let her rest. His arms were under hers, lifting her up, and then he was carrying her, her good arm slung around his neck. She wanted to struggle away from him, but her energy had deserted her. She felt a stinging pain on the inside of her elbow, a burn-the touch of a stele. Numbness spread through her veins. The last thing she saw before she closed her eyes was the face of the skull in the archway. She could have sworn its hollow eyes were full of laughter.
Chapter 15: Magdalena
Nausea and pain came and went in ever-tightening whirlpools. Clary could see only a blur of colors around her: she was conscious that her brother was carrying her, every one of his steps slamming into her skull like an ice pick. She was aware that she was clinging to him and the strength of his arms a comfort-that it was bizarre that anything about Sebastian would be a comfort, and that he seemed to be taking care not to jostle her too much as he walked. Very distantly, she knew that she was gasping for breath, and she heard her brother say her name.
Then everything went silent. For a moment she thought that was the end of it: she had died, died battling demons, the way most Shadowhunters did. Then she felt another pricking burn on the inside of her arm, and a surge of what felt like ice spilling through her veins. She squeezed her eyes shut against the pain, but the cold of whatever Sebastian had done to her was like having a glass of water dashed in her face. Slowly, the world ceased its spinning, the whirlpools of nausea and pain lessening until they were only ripples in the tide of her blood. She could breathe again.
With a gasp, she opened her eyes.
She was lying on her back, staring up at an endlessly blue sky, touched with cottony clouds, like the painted sky on the ceiling of the infirmary in the Institute. She stretched out her aching arms. The right one still bore the marks of her bracelet of injuries, though they were fading to a light pink. On her left arm was an iratze, paling to invisibility, and there was a mendelin for pain in the crook of her elbow.
She took a deep breath. Autumn air, tinged with the smell of leaves. She could see the tops of trees, hear the murmur of traffic, and-
Sebastian. She heard a low chuckle and realized she wasn't just lying down, she was lying propped against her brother. Sebastian, who was warm and breathing, and whose arm cradled her head. The rest of her was stretched out along a slightly damp wooden bench.
She jerked upright. Sebastian laughed again; he was sitting at the end of a park bench with elaborate iron armrests. His scarf was folded up in his lap, where she'd been lying, and the arm that hadn't been cradling her head was stretched out along the back of the bench. He had unbuttoned his white shirt to hide the ichor stains. Beneath it he wore a plain gray T-shirt. The silver bracelet glittered on his wrist. His black eyes studied her with amusement as she scooted as far away from him on the bench as she could get.
"Good thing you're so short," he said. "If you were much taller, carrying you would have been extremely inconvenient."
She kept her voice steady with an effort. "Where are we?"
"The Jardin du Luxembourg," he said. "The Luxembourg Gardens. It's a very nice park. I had to take you somewhere you could lie down, and the middle of the street didn't seem like a good idea."
"Yeah, there's a word for leaving someone to die in the middle of the street. Vehicular manslaughter."
"That's two words, and I think it's only vehicular manslaughter, technically, if you run them over yourself." He rubbed his hands together as if to warm them. "Anyway, why would I leave you to die in the middle of the street after I went through all that effort to save your life?"
She swallowed, and looked down at her arm. The wounds were even more faded now. If she hadn't known to look for them, she probably wouldn't have noticed them at all. "Why did you?"
"Why did I what?"
"Save my life."
"You're my sister."
She swallowed. In the morning light his face had some color in it. There were faint burns along his neck where demon ichor had splashed him. "You never cared that I was your sister before."
"Didn't I?" His black eyes flicked up and down her. She remembered when Jace had come into her house after she'd fought the Ravener demon and she'd been dying of the poison. He'd cured her just as Sebastian had, and carried her out the same way. Maybe they were more alike than she had ever wanted to think, even before the spell that had bound them. "Our father's dead," he said. "There are no other relatives. You and I, we are the last. The last of the Morgensterns. You are my only chance for someone whose blood runs in my veins too. Someone like me."
"You knew I was following you," she said.
"Of course I did."
"And you let me."
"I wanted to see what you would do. And I admit I didn't think you would follow me down there. You're braver than I thought." He picked up the scarf from his lap and drew it around his neck. The park was beginning to fill up, with tourists clutching maps, parents with children in hand, old men sitting on other benches like this one, smoking pipes. "You would never have won that fight."
"I might have."
He grinned, a quick sideways grin, as if he couldn't help it. "Maybe."