21

THE KEYS OF DEATH AND HELL




“God, my head,” Alec said as he and Jace knelt beside a ridge of rock that crowned the top of a gray, scree-covered hill. The rock gave them cover, and past it, using Farsighted runes, they could see the half-ruined fortress, and all around it, Dark Shadowhunters clustered like ants.


It was like a warped mirror of Alicante’s Gard Hill. The structure atop it resembled the Gard they knew, but with a massive wall around it, the fortress enclosed within like a garden in a cloister.


“Maybe you shouldn’t have drunk so much last night,” Jace said, leaning forward and narrowing his eyes. All around the wall the Endarkened stood in concentric rings, a tight group in front of the gates that led inside. There were smaller groups of them at strategic points up and down the hill. Alec could see Jace computing the numbers of the enemy, considering and discarding strategies in his head.


“Maybe you should try looking a little less smug about what you did last night,” said Alec.


Jace nearly fell off the ridge. “I do not look smug. Well,” he amended, “no more than usual.”


“Please,” Alec said, pulling out his stele. “I can read your face like a very open, very pornographic book. I wish I couldn’t.”


“Is this your way of telling me to shut my face?” Jace inquired.


“Remember when you mocked me for sneaking around with Magnus and asked me if I’d fallen on my neck?” Alec asked, placing the tip of the stele against his forearm and starting to draw an iratze. “This is payback.”


Jace snorted and grabbed the stele from Alec. “Give me that,” he said, and finished off the iratze for him, with his usual messy flourish. Alec felt the numbing kick as his headache started to recede. Jace turned his attention back to the hill.


“You know what’s interesting?” he said. “I’ve seen a few flying demons, but they’re staying well away from the Dark Gard—”


Alec raised an eyebrow. “Dark Gard?”


“Got a better name?” Jace shrugged. “Anyway, they’re staying away from the Dark Gard and the hill. They serve Sebastian, but they seem to be respecting his space.”


“Well, they can’t be too far away,” said Alec. “They got to the Accords Hall pretty fast when you triggered that alarm.”


“They could be inside the fortress,” said Jace, voicing what they were both thinking.


“I wish you’d managed to get the skeptron,” Alec said, in a subdued voice. “I got the feeling it could take out a lot of demons. If it still worked, after all these years.” Jace had an odd expression on his face. Alec hastened to add, “Not that anyone could have gotten it. You tried—”


“I’m not so sure,” Jace said, his expression both calculating and faraway. “Come on. Let’s get back to the others.”


There was no time to reply; Jace was already retreating. Alec followed him, crawling backward, out of range of sight of the Dark Gard. Once they had gone enough of a distance, they straightened up and half-slid down the scree slope to where the others were waiting. Simon was standing by Izzy, and Clary had her sketchpad and a pen out and was drawing runes. From the way she was shaking her head, tearing out the pages and crumpling them up in her hand, it wasn’t going as well as she might have liked.


“Are you littering?” Jace demanded as he and Alec jogged to a stop beside the other three.


Clary gave him what was probably meant to be a withering look, but which came out fairly soppy. Jace returned it just as soppily. Alec wondered what would happen if he made a sacrifice to the dark demon gods of this world in exchange for not being constantly reminded that he was single. And not just single. He didn’t only miss Magnus; he was terrified for him, with a deep constant aching terror that never went away completely.


“Jace, this world has been burned to a cinder, and every living creature is dead,” Clary said. “I’m fairly sure there’s no one left to recycle.”


“So what did you see?” Isabelle demanded. She hadn’t been at all pleased to be left behind while Alec and Jace did recon, but Alec had insisted that she save her strength. She was listening to him more these days, Alec thought, in that way that Izzy only listened to people whose opinions she respected. It was nice.


“Here.” Jace pulled his stele from his pocket and knelt down, shrugging off his gear jacket. The muscles of his back moved under his shirt as he used the pointed tip of the stele to draw in the yellowish dirt. “Here’s the Dark Gard. There’s one way in, and that’s through the gate in the outer wall. It’s closed, but an Open rune should take care of that. The question is how to get to the gate. The most defensible positions are here, here, and here”—his stele made quick swipes in the dirt—“so we go around and up the back. If the geography here is like it is in our Alicante, and it looks like it is, there’s a natural pathway up the back of the hill. Once we get closer, we split here and here”—the stele made swirls and patterns as he drew, and a patch of sweat darkened between his shoulder blades—“and we try to herd any demons or Endarkened toward the center.” He sat back, worrying at his lip. “I can take out a lot of them, but I’ll need you to keep them contained while I do it. Do you understand the plan?”


They all stared for a few silent moments. Then Simon pointed. “What’s that wobbly thing?” he said. “Is it a tree?”


“Those are the gates,” Jace said.


“Ohh,” said Isabelle, pleased. “So what are the swirly bits? Is there a moat?”


“Those are trajectory lines—Honestly, am I the only person who’s ever seen a strategy map?” Jace demanded, throwing his stele down and raking his hand through his blond hair. “Do you understand anything I just said?”


“No,” Clary said. “Your strategy is probably awesome, but your drawing skills are terrible; all the Endarkened look like trees, and the fortress looks like a frog. There has to be a better way to explain.”


Jace sank back on his heels and crossed his arms. “Well, I’d love to hear it.”


“I have an idea,” Simon said. “Remember how before, I was talking about Dungeons and Dragons?”


“Vividly,” Jace said. “It was a dark time.”


Simon ignored him. “All the Dark Shadowhunters dress in red gear,” he said. “And they’re not enormously bright or self-driven. Their wills seem to be subsumed, at least in part, by Sebastian’s. Right?”


“Right,” Isabelle said, and gave Jace a quelling look.


Tags: Cassandra Clare The Mortal Instruments Young Adult
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