Alec smiled—a brief, forced flash of a smile. Jace looked at him narrowly. “Are you sure you’re not mad? You seem kind of mad.”
Alec looked up at the sky overhead. There were no stars visible through the cloud cover, only a smear of yellowish black. “Not everything is about you.”
“If you’re not doing okay, you should tell me,” Jace said. “We’re all under stress, but we have to keep it together as much as we—”
Alec whirled on him. There was disbelief in his eyes. “Doing okay? How would you be doing?” he demanded. “How would you be doing if it were Clary that Sebastian had taken? If it were her we were going to rescue, not knowing if she was dead or alive? How would you be doing?”
Jace felt as if Alec had slapped him. He also felt as though he deserved it. It took him several tries before he could get out the next words: “I—I would be in pieces.”
Alec got to his feet. He was outlined against the bruise-colored sky, the glow of the broken moons reflecting off the ground; Jace could see every facet of his expression, everything he had been keeping pent up. He thought of the way Alec had killed the faerie knight in the Court; cold and quick and merciless. None of that was like Alec. And yet Jace had not paused to think about it, to think what drove that coldness: the hurt, the anger, the fear. “This,” Alec said, gesturing toward himself. “This is me in pieces.”
“I’m not like you,” Alec said. “I—I am not able to create the perfect facade at all times. I can tell jokes, I can try, but there are limits. I can’t—”
Jace staggered to his feet. “But you don’t have to create a facade,” he said, bewildered. “You don’t have to pretend. You can—”
“I can break down? We both know that’s not true. We need to hold it together, and all those years I watched you, I watched you hold it together, I watched you after you thought your father died, I watched you when you thought Clary was your sister, I watched you, and this is how you survived, so if I have to survive, then I’m going to do the same thing.”
“But you’re not like me,” Jace said. He felt as if the steady ground below him were cracking in half. When he was ten years old, he had built his life on the bedrock of the Lightwoods, Alec most of all. He had always thought that as parabatai they’d been there for each other, that he’d been there for Alec’s broken heart as much as Alec had been there for his, but he realized now, and horribly, that he had given little thought to Alec since the prisoners had been taken, had not thought how each hour, each minute, must be for him, not knowing if Magnus was alive or dead. “You’re better.”
Alec stared at him, his chest rising and falling quickly. “What did you imagine?” he asked abruptly. “When we came through into this world? I saw your expression when we found you. You didn’t envision ‘nothing.’ ‘Nothing’ wouldn’t have made you look like that.”
Jace shook his head. “What did you see?”
“I saw the Hall of Accords. There was a huge victory banquet, and everyone was there. Max—was there. And you, and Magnus, and everyone, and Dad was giving a speech about how I was the best warrior he’d ever known. . . .” His voice trailed off. “I never thought I wanted to be the best warrior,” he said. “I always thought I was happy being the dark star to your supernova. I mean, you have the angel’s gift. I could train and train . . . I’d never be you.”
“You’d never want to,” Jace said. “That’s not you.”
Alec’s breathing had slowed. “I know,” he said. “I’m not jealous. I always knew, from the first, that everyone thought you were better than me. My dad thought it. The Clave thought it. Izzy and Max looked up to you as the great warrior they wanted to be like. But the day you asked me to be your parabatai, I knew you meant that you trusted me enough to ask me to help you. You were telling me that you weren’t the lone and self-sufficient warrior able to do everything alone. You needed me. So I realized that there was one person who didn’t assume you were better than me. You.”
“There all sorts of ways of being better,” Jace said. “I knew that even then. I might be physically stronger, but you have the truest heart of anyone I’ve ever known, and the strongest faith in other people, and in that way you are better than I could ever hope to be.”
Alec looked at him with surprised eyes.
“The best thing Valentine ever did for me was send me to you,” Jace added. “Your parents, sure, but mainly you. You and Izzy and Max. If it hadn’t been for you, I would have been—like Sebastian. Wanting this.” He gestured at the wasteland in front of them. “Wanting to be king of a wasteland of skulls and corpses.” Jace broke off, squinting into the distance. “Did you see that?”
Alec shook his head. “I don’t see anything.”
“Light, sparking off something.” Jace searched among the shadows of the desert. He drew a seraph blade from his belt. Under the moonlight, even not yet activated, the clear adamas glowed with a ruby shine. “Wait here,” he said. “Guard the entrance. I’m going to look.”
“Jace—” Alec started, but Jace was already darting down the slope, springing from rock to rock. As he neared the foot of the rise, the rocks became paler in color, and began to crumble away under his feet as he landed on them. Eventually they gave way to powdery sand, dotted with massive arched boulders. There were a few growing things dotting the landscape: trees that looked as if they’d been fossilized in place by a sudden blast, a solar flare.
Behind him was Alec and the entrance to the tunnels. Ahead was desolation. Jace began to pick his way carefully among the broken rocks and dead trees. As he moved, he saw it again, a darting spark, something alive among the deadness. He turned toward it, placing each foot carefully, directly, in front of the other.
“Who’s there?” he called, then frowned. “Of course,” he added, addressing the darkness all around, “even I, as a Shadowhunter, have seen enough movies to know that anyone who yells ‘Who’s there?’ is going to be instantly killed.”
A noise echoed through the air—a gasp, a swallow of broken breath. Jace tensed and moved forward swiftly. There it was: a shadow, evolving out of the dark into a human shape. A woman, crouched and kneeling, wearing a pale robe stained with dirt and blood. She seemed to be weeping.
Jace tightened his grip on the hilt of his blade. He had approached enough demons in his life who were pretending helplessness or who had otherwise disguised their true nature that he felt less sympathy than suspicion. “Dumah,” he whispered, and the blade flared up into light. He could see the woman more clearly now. She had long hair that fell to the ground and mixed with the scorched earth, and a circle of iron around her brow. Her hair was reddish in the shadows, the color of old blood, and for a moment, before she rose and turned to him, he thought of the Seelie Queen—
But it was not her. This woman was a Shadowhunter. She was more than that. She wore the white robes of an Iron Sister, bound under her breasts, and her eyes were the flat orange of flames. Dark runes disfigured her cheeks and brow. Her hands were clasped over her chest. She released them now, and let them fall to her sides, and Jace felt the air in his lungs turn cold as he saw the massive wound in her chest, the blood spreading across the white fabric of her dress.
“You know me, don’t you, Shadowhunter?” she said. “I am Sister Magdalena of the Iron Sisters, whom you murdered.”
Jace swallowed against his dry throat. “It’s not her. You’re a demon.”
She shook her head. “I was cursed, for my betrayal of the Clave. When you killed me, I came here. This is my Hell, and I wander it. Never healing, always bleeding.” She pointed backward, and he saw the footsteps behind her that led to this place, the marks of bare feet outlined in blood. “This is what you did to me.”
“It wasn’t me,” he said hoarsely.
She cocked her head to the side. “Wasn’t it?” she said. “Do you not remember?”
And he did remember, the small artist’s studio in Paris, the Cup of adamas, Magdalena not expecting the attack as he drew his blade and stabbed her; the look on her face as she fell against the worktable, dying—
Blood on his blade, on his hands, on his clothes. Not demon’s blood or ichor. Not the blood of an enemy. The blood of a Shadowhunter.
“You remember,” said Magdalena, cocking her head to the side with a small smile. “How would a demon know the things I know, Jace Herondale?”
“Not—my name,” Jace whispered. His blood felt hot in his veins, tightening his throat, choking off his words. He thought of the silver box with the birds on it, herons graceful in the air, the history of one of the great Shadowhunter families laid out in books and letters and heirlooms, and how he had felt as if he didn’t deserve to touch the contents.
Her expression twitched, as if she didn’t quite understand what he had said, but she went on smoothly, stepping toward him across the broken ground. “Then what are you? You have no real claim on the name of Lightwood. Are you a Morgenstern? Like Jonathan?”
Jace took a breath that scorched his throat like fire. His body was slick with sweat, his hands shaking. Everything in him screamed that he should lunge forward, should pierce the Magdalena creature with his seraph blade, but he kept seeing her falling, dying, in Paris, and himself standing over her, realizing what he had done, that he was a murderer, and how could you murder the same person twice—
“You liked it, didn’t you?” she whispered. “Being bound to Jonathan, being one with him? It freed you. You can tell yourself now that everything you did was forced on you, that you weren’t the one acting, that you didn’t drive that blade into me, but we two know the truth. Lilith’s bond was only an excuse for you to do the things you desired to do anyway.”
Clary, he thought, achingly. If she were here, he would have her inexplicable conviction to cling to, her belief that he was intrinsically good, a belief that served as a fortress through which no doubt could travel. But she was not here and he was alone in a burned, dead land, the same dead land—
“You saw it, didn’t you?” Magdalena hissed, and she was almost on him now, her eyes leaping and flaring orange and red. “This burned land, all destruction, and you ruling over it? That was your vision? The wish of your heart?” She caught at his wrist, and her voice rose, exultant, no longer quite human. “You think your dark secret is that you want to be like Jonathan, but I will tell you the true secret, the darkest secret. You already are.”
“No!” Jace cried, and brought up his blade, an arc of fire across the sky. She jerked back, and for a moment Jace thought that the fire from the blade had caught the tip of her robe alight, for flame exploded across his vision. He felt the burn and twist of veins and muscles in his arms, heard Magdalena’s scream turn guttural and inhuman. He staggered back—
And realized the fire was pouring from him, that it had burst from his hands and fingertips in waves that coursed across the desert, blasting everything in front of him. He saw Magdalena twist and writhe, becoming something hideous, tentacled and repulsive, before shivering away to ashes with a scream. He saw the ground blacken and shimmer as he fell to his knees, his seraph blade melting into the flames that rose to circle him. He thought, I will burn to death here, as the fire roared across the plain, blotting out the sky.
He was not afraid.