“You’ve never been ordinary,” Jace said, his voice very quiet. Clary wondered if she’d ever stop being dizzied by his sudden transformations from humor to seriousness and back again.
“I wanted to be. I wanted to have a normal life.” She glanced down at herself, dusty boots and stained gear, her weapons glittering at her belt. “Go to art school.”
“Marry Simon? Have six kids?” There was a slight edge to Jace’s voice now. The corridor made a sharp right turn, and he disappeared around it. Clary quickened her step to catch up with him—
And gasped. They had come out of the tunnel into an enormous cavern, half-filled with an underground lake. The cavern stretched out into the shadows. It was beautiful, the first beautiful thing Clary had seen since they’d entered the demon realm. The roof of the cave was folded stone, formed by years of trickling water, and it glowed with the intense blue shimmer of bioluminescent moss. The water below was just as blue, a deep glowing twilight, with pillars of quartz jutting up here and there like rods of crystal.
The path opened out into a shallow beach of fine, very powdery sand, nearly as soft as ash, that led down to the water. Jace moved down the beach and crouched by the water, thrusting his hands into it. Clary came up behind him, her boots sending up puffs of sand, and knelt down as he splashed water over his face and neck, scrubbing at the stains of black ichor.
“Be careful—” She caught at his arm. “The water could be poisonous.”
He shook his head. “It’s not. Look under the surface.”
The lake was clear, glassine. The bottom was smooth stone, carved all over with runes that emitted a faint glow. They were runes that spoke of purity, healing, and protection.
“I’m sorry,” Jace said, snapping her out of her reverie. His hair was wet, plastered to the sharp curves of his cheekbones and temples. “I shouldn’t have said that about Simon.”
Clary put her hands into the water. Small ripples spread from the movement of her fingers. “You have to know I wouldn’t wish for a different life,” she said. “This life brought me you.” She cupped her hands, bringing the water to her mouth. It was cold and sweet, reviving her flagging energy.
He gave her one of his real smiles, not just a quirk of the mouth. “Hopefully not just me.”
Clary searched for words. “This life is real,” she said. “The other life was a lie. A dream. It’s just that . . .”
“You haven’t really been drawing,” he said. “Not since you started training. Not seriously.”
“No,” she said quietly, because it was true.
“I wonder sometimes,” he said. “My father—Valentine, I mean—loved music. He taught me to play. Bach, Chopin, Ravel. And I remember once asking why the composers were all mundanes. There were no Shadowhunters who had written music. And he said that in their souls, mundanes have a creative spark, but our souls hold a warrior spark, and both sparks can’t exist in the same place, any more than a flame can divide itself.”
“So you think the Shadowhunter in me . . . is driving out the artist in me?” Clary said. “But my mother painted—I mean, paints.” She bit back the pain of having thought of Jocelyn in the past tense, even briefly.
“Valentine said that was what Heaven had given to mundanes, artistry and the gift of creation,” said Jace. “That was what made them worth protecting. I don’t know if there was any truth to any of that,” he added. “But if people have a spark in them, then yours burns the brightest I know. You can fight and draw. And you will.”
Impulsively Clary leaned in to kiss him. His lips were cool. He tasted like sweet water and like Jace, and she would have leaned farther into the kiss, but a sharp zap, like static electricity, passed between them; she sat back, her lips stinging.
“Ouch,” she said ruefully. Jace looked wretched. She reached out to touch his damp hair. “Earlier, with the gate. I saw your hands spark. The heavenly fire—”
“I don’t have it under control here, not like I did at home,” Jace said. “There’s something about this world. It feels like it’s pushing the fire closer to the surface.” He looked down at his hands, from which the glow was fading. “I think we both need to be careful. This place is going to affect us more than it does the others. Higher concentration of angel blood.”
“So we’ll be careful. You can control it. Remember the exercises Jordan did with you—”
“Jordan’s dead.” His voice was tight as he stood up, brushing sand from his clothes. He held out a hand to help her up from the ground. “Come on,” he said. “Let’s get back to Alec before he decides Isabelle and Simon are having sex off in the caves and starts freaking out.”
“You know everyone thinks we’re off having sex,” said Simon. “They’re probably freaking out.”
“Hmph,” Isabelle said. The glow of her witchlight bounced off the runed walls of the cave. “As if we’d have sex in a cave surrounded by hordes of demons. This is reality, Simon, not your fevered imagination.”
“There was a time in my life when the idea that I might have sex one day seemed more likely than being surrounded by hordes of demons, I’ll have you know,” he said, maneuvering around a pile of tumbled rocks. The whole place reminded him of a trip to the Luray Caverns in Virginia that he’d taken with his mother and Rebecca in middle school. He could see the glitter of mica in the rocks with his vampire sight; he didn’t need Isabelle’s witchlight to guide him, but he imagined she did, so said nothing about it.
Isabelle muttered something; he wasn’t sure what, but he had a feeling it wasn’t complimentary.
“Izzy,” he said. “Is there a reason you’re so angry with me?”
Her next words came out on a sighing rush that sounded like “youerensupposedbhere.” Even with his amplified hearing, he could make no sense of it. “What?”
She swung around on him. “You weren’t supposed to be here!” she said, her voice bouncing off the tunnel walls. “When we left you in New York, it was so you would be safe—”
“I don’t want to be safe,” he said. “I want to be with you.”
“You want to be with Clary.”
Simon paused. They were facing each other across the tunnel, both of them still now, Isabelle’s hands in fists. “Is that what this is about? Clary?”
She was silent.
“I don’t love Clary that way,” he said. “She was my first love, my first crush. But what I feel about you is totally different—” He held up a hand as she started to shake her head. “Hear me out, Isabelle,” he said. “If you’re asking me to choose between you and my best friend, then yes, I won’t choose. Because no one who loved me would force to me make such a pointless choice; it would be like I asked you to choose between me and Alec. Does it bother me seeing Jace and Clary together? No, not at all. In their own incredibly weird way they’re great for each other. They belong together. I don’t belong with Clary, not like that. I belong with you.”
“Do you mean that?” She was flushed, color high up in her cheeks.
“Come here,” she said, and he let her pull him toward her, until he was flush up against her, the rigidity of the cave wall behind them forcing her to curve her body against his. He felt her hand slide up under the back of his T-shirt, her warm fingers bumping gently over the knobs of his spine. Her breath stirred his hair, and his body stirred too, just from being this close to her.
“Isabelle, I love—”
She slapped his arm, but it wasn’t an angry slap. “Not now.”
He nuzzled down into her neck, into the sweet smell of her skin and blood. “Then when?”
She suddenly jerked back, leaving him feeling the unpleasant sensation of having had a bandage ripped away with no ceremony. “Did you hear that?”
He was about to shake his head, when he did hear it—what sounded like a rustle and a cry, coming from the part of the tunnel they hadn’t explored yet. Isabelle took off at a run, her witchlight bouncing wildly off the walls, and Simon, cursing the fact that Shadowhunters were Shadowhunters above all else, followed her.
The tunnel had only one more curve before it ended in the remains of a shattered metal gate. Beyond what was left of the gate, a plateau of stone that sloped down to a blasted landscape. The plateau was rough, shingled with rock and heaps of weathered stone. Where it met the sand below, the desert started up again, dotted here and there with black, twisted trees. Some of the clouds had cleared, and Isabelle, looking up, made a little gasping noise. “Look at the moon,” she said.
Simon looked—and started. It wasn’t so much a moon as moons, as if the moon itself had been cracked apart into three pieces. They floated, jagged-edged, like shark’s teeth scattered in the sky. Each gave off a dull glow, and in the broken moonlight Simon’s vampire vision picked out the circling movements of creatures. Some seemed like the flying thing that had seized Jace earlier; others had a distinctly more insectile look. All were hideous. He swallowed.
“What can you see?” Isabelle asked, knowing that even a Farsighted rune wouldn’t give her better vision than Simon’s, especially here, where runes faded so quickly.
“There are demons out there. A lot. Mostly airborne.”
Isabelle’s tone was grim. “So they can come out during the day, but they’re more active at night.”
“Yeah.” Simon strained his eyes. “There’s more. There’s a stone plateau that goes for a distance, and then it drops off and there’s something behind it, something shimmering.”
“A lake, maybe?”
“Maybe,” Simon said. “It almost looks like—”
“Like a city,” he said reluctantly. “Like a demon city.”
“Oh.” He saw the implications hit Isabelle, and for a moment she paled; then, being Izzy, she straightened up and nodded, turning away, away from the wrecked and shattered ruins of a world. “We’d better get back and tell the others.”