Clary didn’t think she’d ever been so heavily runed, or had ever seen the Lightwoods covered in as many of the magical sigils as they were now. She had done them all herself, putting everything she had into them—all of her desire for them all to be safe, all her yearning to find her mother and Luke.
Jace’s arms looked like a map: runes spread down onto his collarbones and chest, the backs of his hands. Clary’s own skin looked foreign to her when she caught sight of it. She remembered once having seen a boy who had the elaborate musculature of the human body tattooed onto his skin, and thinking it was as if he had been turned to glass. It was a bit like that now, she thought, looking around at her companions as they toiled up the hill toward the Dark Gard: the road map of their bravery and hopes, their dreams and desires, marked clearly on their bodies. Shadowhunters weren’t always the most forthcoming of people, but their skins were honest.
Clary had covered herself with healing runes, but they weren’t enough to keep her lungs from aching from the constant dust. She remembered what Jace had said about the two of them suffering more than the others because of their higher concentration of angel blood. She stopped to cough now and turned away, spitting up black. She wiped her hand across her mouth quickly, before Jace could turn and see.
Jace’s drawing skills might have been poor, but his strategy was faultless. They were making their way upward in a sort of zigzag formation, darting from one heap of blackened stone to another. With the foliage all gone, the stone was the only cover the hill provided. The hill was mostly stripped of trees, only a few dead stumps here and there. They had met only a single Endarkened, quickly dispatched, their blood soaking into the ashy earth. Clary remembered the path up to the Gard in Alicante, green and lovely, and looked with hatred at the wasteland around her.
The air was heavy and hot, as if the burned-orange sun were pressing down on them. Clary joined the others behind a high cairn. They had refilled their bottles that morning from the lake in the cave, and Alec was sharing around some water, his grim face streaked with black dust. “This is the last of it,” he said, and handed it to Isabelle. She took a tiny sip and passed it to Simon, who shook his head—he didn’t need water—and passed it on to Clary.
Jace looked at Clary. She could see herself reflected in his eyes, looking small and pale and dirty. She wondered if she looked different to him after last night. She had almost expected him to look different to her, when she woke up in the morning by the cold remains of the fire, with his hand in hers. But he was the same Jace, the Jace she had always loved. And he looked at her as he always had, as if she were a small miracle, the kind you kept close to your heart.
Clary took a mouthful of water and passed the thermos to Jace, who tipped his head back and swallowed. She watched the muscles move in his throat with a brief fascination and then looked away before she could blush—okay, maybe some things had changed, but this really wasn’t the time to be thinking about it.
“That’s it,” Jace said, and dropped the now empty thermos. They all watched it roll among the rocks. No more water. “One less thing to carry,” he added, trying to sound light, but his voice came out sounding as dry as the dust around them.
His lips were cracked and bleeding slightly despite his iratzes. Alec had shadows under his eyes, and a nervous twitch in his left hand. Isabelle’s eyes were red with dust, and she blinked and rubbed at them when she thought no one was watching. They all looked pretty terrible, Clary thought, with the possible exception of Simon, who mostly looked the same. He was standing close to the cairn, his fingers resting lightly on a ledge of stone. “These are graves,” he said suddenly.
Jace looked up. “What?”
“These rock piles. They’re graves. Old ones. People fell in battle and they buried them by covering their bodies with stones.”
“Shadowhunters,” Alec said. “Who else would die defending Gard Hill?”
Jace touched the stones with a leather-gloved hand, and frowned. “We burn our dead.”
“Maybe not in this world,” Isabelle said. “Things are different. Maybe they didn’t have time. Maybe it was their last stand—”
“Stop,” Simon said. He had frozen, a look of intense concentration on his face. “Someone’s coming. Someone human.”
“How do you know they’re human?” Clary dropped her voice.
“Blood,” he said succinctly. “Demon blood smells different. These are people—Nephilim, but not.”
Jace made a quick, quieting gesture with his hand, and they all fell silent. He pressed his back to the cairn and peered around the side. Clary saw his jaw tighten. “Endarkened,” he said in a low voice. “Five of them.”
“Perfect number,” said Alec with a surprisingly wolfish grin. His bow was in his hands almost before Clary could see the movement, and he stepped sideways, out of the shelter of the rocks, and let his arrow fly.
She saw Jace’s surprised expression—he hadn’t been expecting Alec to move first—and then he caught hold of one of the rocks of the cairn and flung himself up and over. Isabelle sprang after him like a cat, and Simon followed, fast and unerring, his hands bare. It was as if this world had been made for those who were already dead, Clary thought, and then she heard a long gurgling cry, cut abruptly short.
She reached for Heosphoros, thought better of it, and seized a dagger from her weapons belt before hurling herself around the side of the cairn. There was an incline behind it, the Dark Gard looming black and ruined above them. Four Shadowhunters dressed in red were looking around in shock and surprise. One of their company, a blond woman, was sprawled on the ground, her body pointing uphill, an arrow protruding from her throat.
That explains the gurgling noise, Clary thought a little dizzily as Alec notched his bow again and sent another arrow flying. A second man, dark-haired and paunchy, staggered back with a yell, the arrow in his leg; Isabelle was on him in an instant, her whip slicing across his throat. As the man went down, Jace leaped and rode his body to the ground, using the force of the fall to hurl his own body forward. His blades flashed with a scissoring motion, slicing the head off a bald man whose red gear was splotched with patches of dried blood. More blood fountained, drenching the scarlet gear with another layer of red as the headless corpse slid to the ground. There was a shriek, and the woman who had been standing behind him lifted a curved blade to slice at Jace; Clary whipped her dagger forward and let it fly. It buried itself in the woman’s forehead and she folded silently to the ground without another cry.
The last of the Endarkened began to run, stumbling uphill. Simon flashed past Clary, a movement too swift to see, and sprang like a cat. The Endarkened man went down with a gasp of terror, and Clary saw Simon rear up over him and strike like a snake. There was a sound like tearing paper.
They all looked away. After a few long moments Simon rose from the still body and came down the hill toward them. There was blood on his shirt, and blood on his hands and face. He turned his face to the side, coughed, and spat, looking sick.
“Bitter,” he said. “The blood. It tastes like Sebastian’s.”
Isabelle looked ill, in a way she hadn’t when she’d been cutting the Dark Shadowhunter’s throat. “I hate him,” she said suddenly. “Sebastian. What he’s done to them, it’s worse than murder. They’re not even people anymore. When they die, they can’t be buried in the Silent City. And no one will mourn for them. They’ve already been mourned for. If I loved someone and they were Turned like this—I’d be happy if they were dead.”
She was breathing hard; no one said anything. Finally Jace looked up at the sky, gold eyes gleaming in his dirt-smudged face. “We’d better get moving—the sun’s going down, and besides, someone might have heard us.” They stripped the gear from the bodies, silently and quickly. There was something sickening about the work, something that hadn’t seemed quite so horrible when Simon had described the strategy but that now seemed very horrible. She had killed—demons and Forsaken; she would have killed Sebastian, if she had been able to do it without harming Jace. But there was something grim and butcher-like about stripping the clothes from the dead bodies of Shadowhunters, even those Marked with the runes of death and Hell. She couldn’t stop herself from looking at the face of one of the dead Shadowhunters, a man with brown hair, and wondering if he could be Julian’s father.
She put on the gear jacket and trousers of the smaller of the women, but they were still too big. Some quick work with her knife shortened the sleeves and hems, and her weapons belt held the pants up. There wasn’t much Alec could do: He’d wound up with the largest of the Shadowhunters’ jackets, and it bulked on him. Simon’s sleeves were too short and tight; he cut the seams at the shoulders to allow himself more movement. Jace and Isabelle both managed to wind up with clothes that fit them, though Isabelle’s were spotted with drying blood. Jace managed to look handsome in the dark red, which was nothing short of annoying.
They hid the bodies behind the rock cairn and started their way back up the hill. Jace had been right, the sun was going down, bathing the realm in the colors of fire and blood. They fell into step with one another as they drew closer and closer to the great silhouette of the Dark Gard.
The upward slope suddenly leveled out, and they were there, on a plateau in front of the fortress. It was like looking at one photo negative overlapping another. Clary could see in her mind’s eye the Gard as it was in her world, the hill covered in trees and greenery, the gardens surrounding the keep, the glow of witchlight illuminating the whole place. The sun shining down on it during the day, and the stars at night.
Here the top of the hill was barren and swept with wind cold enough to cut through the material of Clary’s stolen jacket. The horizon was a red line like a slit throat. Everything was bathed in that bloody light, from the crowd of Endarkened who milled around the plateau, to the Dark Gard itself. Now that they were close, they could see the wall that surrounded it, and the sturdy gates.
“You’d better pull your hood up,” Jace said from behind her, taking hold of the item in question and drawing it up and over her head. “Your hair’s recognizable.”
“To the Endarkened?” said Simon, who looked incredibly strange to Clary in his red gear. She had never imagined Simon in gear.
“To Sebastian,” said Jace shortly, and drew his own hood up. They had taken their weapons out: Isabelle’s whip gleamed in the red light, and Alec’s bow was in his hands. Jace was looking toward the Dark Gard. Clary almost expected him to say something, to make a speech, to mark the occasion. He didn’t. She could see the sharp angle of his cheekbones under the hood of the gear, the tight set of his jaw. He was ready. They all were.
“We go to the gates,” he said, and moved forward.
Clary felt cold all over—battle-coldness, keeping her spine straight, her breath even. The dirt here was different, she noticed almost distantly. Unlike the rest of the sand of the desert world, it had been churned by the passage of feet. A red-clad warrior passed her then, a brown-skinned man, tall and muscular. He paid no attention to them. He appeared to be walking a beat, as were several of the rest of the Endarkened, a sort of assigned path back and forth. A white woman with graying hair was a few feet behind him. Clary felt her muscles tighten—Amatis?—but as she passed closer, it was clear that her face was not familiar. Clary thought she felt the woman’s eyes on them, just the same, and was relieved when they passed out of her sight.
The Gard was looming up in front of them now, the gates massive and made of iron. They were carved with a pattern of a hand holding a weapon—an orb-tipped skeptron. It was clear the gates had been subjected to years of desecration. Their surfaces were chipped and scarred, splashed here and there with ichor and what looked disturbingly like dried human blood.
Clary stepped up to place her stele against the gates, ready with an Open rune already in her head—but the gates swung wide at her touch. She cast a surprised look back at the others. Jace was chewing his lip; she raised a questioning eyebrow at him, but he only shrugged, as if to say: We go forward. What else can we do?