BY THE WATERS OF BABYLON
Energy runes were all well and good, Clary thought exhaustedly as she reached the top of yet another rise of sand, but they didn’t begin to compete with a cup of coffee. She was pretty sure she could face another day of trudging, her feet sometimes slipping ankle-deep into heaps of ash, if she just had sweet caffeine pumping through her veins. . . .
“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” Simon said, coming up beside her. He looked drawn and tired, his thumbs hooked through the straps of his backpack. They all looked pretty drawn. Alec and Isabelle had taken watch after the incident with the heavenly fire, and had reported no demons or Dark Shadowhunters in the vicinity of their hideaway. Still, they were all jittery, and none of them had had more than a few hours of sleep. Jace seemed to be running on nerves and adrenaline, following the thread of the tracking spell on the bracelet around his wrist, sometimes forgetting to pause and wait for the others in his mad dash toward Sebastian, until they shouted or ran to catch up with him.
“That a massive latte from the Mud Truck would make everything brighter just about now?”
“There’s a vamp place not far from Union Square where they mix just the right amount of blood into the coffee,” Simon said. “Not too sweet, not too salty.”
Clary stopped; a dead branch, curling from the earth, had tangled itself in her bootlaces. “Remember when we talked about not sharing?”
“Isabelle listens to me talk about vampire things.”
Clary drew out Heosphoros. The sword, with the new rune carved black into the blade, seemed to shimmer in her hand. She used the tip of it to pry the tough, thorny branch free. “Isabelle is your girlfriend,” she said. “She has to listen to you.”
“Is she?” Simon looked startled.
Clary threw her hands up and started down the hill. The ground slanted down, pocked here and there with cracked pits, everything covered over with the endless dull sheen of dust. The air was still bitter, the sky a sallow green. She could see Alec and Isabelle standing near Jace at the foot of the hill; he was touching the bracelet on his wrist and frowning into the distance.
Something glimmered at the corner of Clary’s vision, and she stopped suddenly. She squinted, trying to see what it was. The shine of something silvery in the distance, past the stone and rubble heaps of the desert. She took out her stele and drew a quick Farsighted rune onto her arm, the burn and sting of the stele’s dull tip cutting through the fog of exhaustion in her mind, sharpening her vision.
“Simon!” she said as he caught up with her. “Do you see that?”
He followed her gaze. “I caught a glimpse of it last night. Remember when Isabelle said I thought I’d seen a city?”
“Clary!” It was Jace, looking up at them, his face a pale hollow in the ashy air. She made a beckoning gesture. “What’s going on?”
She pointed again, toward what she could now see as a definite shimmer, a cluster of shapes, in the distance. “There’s something there,” she called down. “Simon thinks it’s a city—”
She broke off, because Jace had already started running in the direction she’d pointed. Isabelle and Alec looked startled before bolting after him; Clary exhaled an exasperated breath and, with Simon at her side, followed.
They started down the slope, which was covered in loose scree, half-running and half-sliding, letting the unmoored pebbles carry them. Not for the first time, Clary truly appreciated her gear: She could only imagine how the flying bits of gravel would have torn normal shoes and pants to shreds.
She hit the bottom of the slope at a run. Jace was some distance ahead, with Alec and Isabelle just behind him, moving fast, clambering over rock cairns, hopping small rivulets of molten slag. As Clary closed in on the three of them, she saw that they were heading toward a place where the desert seemed to drop away—the edge of a plateau? A cliff?
Clary sped up, scrambling over the last of the rock heaps and nearly rolling down the final one. She landed on her feet—Simon, far more graceful, just ahead of her—and saw that Jace was standing at the edge of a massive cliff that fell away before him like the edge of the Grand Canyon. Alec and Isabelle had moved to either side of him. All three were eerily silent, staring ahead in the dim bruised light.
Something in Jace’s posture, the way he stood, told Clary even as she reached his side that there was something not right. Then she caught sight of his expression and mentally amended “not right” to “very wrong indeed.”
He was staring down into the valley below as if he were staring into the grave of someone he had loved. In the valley were the ruins of a city. An old, old city that had once been built around a hillside. The top of the hillside was surrounded by gray clouds and fog. Heaps of rock were all that was left of the houses, and ash had settled over the streets and the jagged ruins of buildings. Tumbled among the ruins, like discarded matchsticks, were broken pillars made of shining pale stone, incongruously beautiful in this ruined land.
“Demon towers,” she whispered.
Jace nodded grimly. “I don’t know how,” he said, “but somehow—this is Alicante.”
“It is a dreadful burden, to have such responsibility visited upon those so young,” said Zachariah as the door of the Council Hall closed behind Emma Carstairs and Julian Blackthorn. Aline and Helen had gone with them, to escort them back to the house where they were staying. Both children had been nearly swaying on their feet with exhaustion by the end of their interrogation by the Council, heavy dark shadows under their eyes.
There were only a few of the Council members still left in the room: Jia and Patrick, Maryse and Robert Lightwood, Kadir Safar, Diana Wrayburn, Tomas Rosales, and a scattering of Silent Brothers and heads of Institutes. Most were chattering among themselves, but Zachariah stood by Jia’s lectern, looking at her with a deep sorrow in his eyes.
“They have endured much loss,” said Jia. “But we are Shadowhunters; many of us endure great loss at a young age.”
“They have Helen, and their uncle,” said Patrick, standing not far away with Robert and Maryse, both of whom looked tense and drawn. “They will be well taken care of, and Emma Carstairs, as well, clearly considers the Blackthorns as family.”
“Often those who raise us, who are our guardians, are not our blood,” said Zachariah. Jia thought she had seen a special softness in his eyes when they rested on Emma, almost a regret. But perhaps she had imagined it. “Those who love us and who we love. So it was with me. As long as she is not parted from the Blackthorns, or the boy—Julian—that is the most important thing.”
Jia distantly heard her husband reassuring the former Silent Brother, but her mind was on Helen. Down in the depths of her heart, Jia worried sometimes for her daughter, who had given her heart so completely to a girl who was part-faerie, a race known for their untrustworthiness. She knew that Patrick was not happy that Aline had chosen a girl at all rather than a boy, that he mourned—selfishly, she thought—for what he saw as the end of his branch of the Penhallows. She herself worried more that Helen Blackthorn would break her daughter’s heart.
“How much credence do you give the claim of faerie betrayal?” asked Kadir.
“Entire credence,” said Jia. “It explains a great deal. How the faeries were able to enter Alicante and abscond with the prisoners from the house given to the representative of the Fair Folk; how Sebastian was able to conceal troops from us at the Citadel; why he spared Mark Blackthorn—not out of fear of angering the faeries but out of respect for their alliance. Tomorrow I will confront the Faerie Queen and—”
“With all due respect,” said Zachariah in his soft voice. “I don’t think you should do that.”
“Why not?” Patrick demanded.