The boy screamed, but his screams were lost in the clamor that was tearing the night apart. The sound rose and rose in volume: the howling of demons, people calling one another’s names, the sounds of running feet and shattering glass. Someone down the street was shouting words she could barely understand—something about the demon towers. Isabelle looked up. The tall spires stood sentry over the city as they always had, but instead of reflecting the silver light of the stars, or even the red light of the burning city, they were as dead white as the skin of a corpse. Their luminescence had vanished. A chill ran through her. No wonder the streets were full of monsters—somehow, impossibly, the demon towers had lost their magic. The wards that had protected Alicante for a thousand years were gone.
Samuel had fallen silent hours ago, but Simon was still awake, staring sleeplessly into the darkness, when he heard the screaming.
His head jerked up. Silence. He looked around uneasily—had he dreamed the noise? He strained his ears, but even with his newly sensitive hearing, nothing was audible. He was about to lie back down, when the screams came again, driving into his ears like needles. It sounded as if they were coming from outside the Gard.
Rising, he stood on the bed and looked out the window. He saw the green lawn stretching away, the faraway light of the city a faint glow in the distance. He narrowed his eyes. There was something wrong about the city light, something … off. It was dimmer than he remembered it—and there were moving points here and there in the darkness, like needles of fire, weaving through the streets. A pale cloud rose above the towers, and the air was full of the stench of smoke.
“Samuel.” Simon could hear the alarm in his own voice. “There’s something wrong.”
He heard doors slamming open and running feet. Hoarse voices shouted. Simon pressed his face close to the bars as pairs of boots hurtled by outside, kicking up stones as they ran, the Shadowhunters calling to one another as they raced away from the Gard, down toward the city.
“The wards are down! The wards are down!”
“We can’t abandon the Gard!”
“The Gard doesn’t matter! Our children are down there!”
Their voices were already growing fainter. Simon jerked back from the window, gasping. “Samuel! The wards—”
“I know. I heard.” Samuel’s voice came strongly through the wall. He didn’t sound frightened but resigned, and even perhaps a little triumphant at being proved right. “Valentine has attacked while the Clave is in session. Clever.”
“But the Gard—it’s fortified; why don’t they stay up here?”
“You heard them. Because all the children are in the city. Children, aged parents—they can’t just leave them down there.”
The Lightwoods. Simon thought of Jace, and then, with terrible clarity, of Isabelle’s small, pale face under her crown of dark hair, of her determination in a fight, of the little-girl Xs and Os on the note she’d written him. “But you told them—you told the Clave what would happen. Why didn’t they believe you?”
“Because the wards are their religion. Not to believe in the power of the wards is not to believe that they are special, chosen, and protected by the Angel. They might as well believe they’re just ordinary mundanes.”
Simon swung back to stare out the window again, but the smoke had thickened, filling the air with a grayish pallor. He could no longer hear voices shouting outside; there were cries in the distance, but they were very faint. “I think the city is on fire.”
“No.” Samuel’s voice was very quiet. “I think it’s the Gard that’s burning. Probably demon fire. Valentine would go after the Gard, if he could.”
“But—” Simon’s words stumbled over one another. “But someone will come and let us out, won’t they? The Consul, or—or Aldertree. They can’t just leave us down here to die.”
“You’re a Downworlder,” said Samuel. “And I’m a traitor. Do you really think they’re likely to do anything else?”
Alec had his hands on her shoulders and was shaking her. Isabelle raised her head slowly; her brother’s white face floated against the darkness behind him. A curved piece of wood stuck up behind his right shoulder: He had his bow strapped across his back, the same bow that Simon had used to kill Greater Demon Abbadon. She couldn’t remember Alec walking toward her, couldn’t remember seeing him in the street at all; it was as if he’d materialized in front of her all at once, like a ghost.
“Alec.” Her voice came out slow and uneven. “Alec, stop it. I’m all right.”
She pulled away from him.
“You didn’t look all right.” Alec glanced up and cursed under his breath. “We have to get off the street. Where’s Aline?”
Isabelle blinked. There were no demons in view; someone was sitting on the front steps of the house opposite them and crying in a loud and grating series of shrieks. The old man’s body was still in the street, and the smell of demons was everywhere. “Aline … one of the demons tried to—it tried to—” She caught her breath, held it. She was Isabelle Lightwood. She did not get hysterical, no matter what the provocation. “We killed it, but then she ran off. I tried to follow her, but she was too fast.” She looked up at her brother. “Demons in the city,” she said. “How is it possible?”
“I don’t know.” Alec shook his head. “The wards must be down. There were four or five Oni demons out here when I came out of the house. I got one lurking by the bushes. The others ran off, but they could come back. Come on. Let’s get back to the house.”
The person on the stairs was still sobbing. The sound followed them as they hurried back to the Penhallows’ house. The street stayed empty of demons, but they could hear explosions, cries, and running feet echoing from the shadows of other darkened streets. As they climbed the Penhallows’ front steps, Isabelle glanced back just in time to see a long snaking tentacle whip out from the darkness between the two houses and snatch the sobbing woman off the front steps. Her sobs turned to shrieks. Isabelle tried to turn back, but Alec had already grabbed her and shoved her ahead of him into the house, slamming and locking the front door behind them. The house was dark. “I doused the lights. I didn’t want to attract any more of them,” Alec explained, pushing Isabelle ahead of him into the living room.
Max was sitting on the floor by the stairs, his arms hugging his knees. Sebastian was by the window, nailing logs of wood he’d taken from the fireplace across the gaping hole in the glass. “There,” he said, standing back and letting the hammer drop onto the bookshelf. “That should hold for a while.”
Isabelle dropped down by Max and stroked his hair. “Are you all right?”
“No.” His eyes were huge and scared. “I tried to see out the window, but Sebastian told me to get down.”
“Sebastian was right,” Alec said. “There were demons out in the street.”
“Are they still there?”
“No, but there are some still in the city. We have to think about what we’re going to do next.”
Sebastian was frowning. “Where’s Aline?”
“She ran off,” Isabelle explained. “It was my fault. I should have been—”
“It was not your fault. Without you she’d be dead.” Alec spoke in a clipped voice. “Look, we don’t have time for self-recriminations. I’m going to go after Aline. I want you three to stay here. Isabelle, look after Max. Sebastian, finish securing the house.”
Isabelle spoke up indignantly. “I don’t want you going out there alone! Take me with you.”
“I’m the adult here. What I say goes.” Alec’s tone was even. “There’s every chance our parents will be coming back any minute from the Gard. The more of us here, the better. It’ll be too easy for us to get separated out there. I’m not risking it, Isabelle.” His glance moved to Sebastian. “Do you understand?”
Sebastian had already taken out his stele. “I’ll work on warding the house with Marks.”
“Thanks.” Alec was already halfway to the door; he turned and looked back at Isabelle. She met his eyes for a split second. Then he was gone.
“Isabelle.” It was Max, his small voice low. “Your wrist is bleeding.”
Isabelle glanced down. She had no memory of having hurt her wrist, but Max was right: Blood had already stained the sleeve of her white jacket. She got to her feet. “I’m going to get my stele. I’ll be right back and help you with the runes, Sebastian.”
He nodded. “I could use some help. These aren’t my specialty.”
Isabelle went upstairs without asking him what his specialty might actually be. She felt bone-tired, in dire need of an energy Mark. She could do one herself if necessary, though Alec and Jace had always been better at those sorts of runes than she was.
Once inside her room, she rummaged through her things for her stele and a few extra weapons. As she shoved seraph blades into the tops of her boots, her mind was on Alec and the look they’d shared as he’d gone out the door. It wasn’t the first time she’d watched her brother leave, knowing she might never see him again. It was something she accepted, had always accepted, as part of her life; it wasn’t until she’d gotten to know Clary and Simon that she’d realized that for most people, of course, it was never like that. They didn’t live with death as a constant companion, a cold breath down the back of their neck on even the most ordinary days. She’d always had such contempt for mundanes, the way all Shadowhunters did—she’d believed that they were soft, stupid, sheeplike in their complacency. Now she wondered if all that hatred didn’t just stem from the fact that she was jealous. It must be nice not worrying that every time one of your family members walked out the door, they’d never come back.
She was halfway down the stairs, her stele in hand, when she sensed that something was wrong. The living room was empty. Max and Sebastian were nowhere to be seen. There was a half-finished protection Mark on one of the logs Sebastian had nailed over the broken window. The hammer he’d used was gone.
Her stomach tightened. “Max!” she shouted, turning in a circle. “Sebastian! Where are you?”
Sebastian’s voice answered her from the kitchen. “Isabelle—in here.”
Relief washed over her, leaving her light-headed. “Sebastian, that’s not funny,” she said, marching into the kitchen. “I thought you were—”
She let the door fall shut behind her. It was dark in the kitchen, darker than it had been in the living room. She strained her eyes to see Sebastian and Max and saw nothing but shadows.
“Sebastian?” Uncertainty crept into her voice. “Sebastian, what are you doing in here? Where’s Max?”
“Isabelle.” She thought she saw something move, a shadow dark against lighter shadows. His voice was soft, kind, almost lovely. She hadn’t realized before now what a beautiful voice he had. “Isabelle, I’m sorry.”
“Sebastian, you’re acting weird. Stop it.”
“I’m sorry it’s you,” he said. “See, out of all of them, I liked you the best.”
“Out of all of them,” he said again, in the same low voice, “I thought you were the most like me.”
He brought his fist down then, with the hammer in it.
Alec raced through the dark and burning streets, calling out over and over for Aline. As he left the Princewater district and entered the heart of the city, his pulse quickened. The streets were like a Bosch painting come to life: full of grotesque and macabre creatures and scenes of sudden, hideous violence. Panicked strangers shoved Alec aside without looking and ran screaming past without any apparent destination. The air stank of smoke and demons. Some of the houses were in flames; others had their windows knocked out. The cobblestones sparkled with broken glass. As he drew close to one building, he saw that what he’d thought was a discolored patch of paint was a huge swath of fresh blood splattered across the plaster. He spun in place, glancing in every direction, but saw nothing that explained it; nevertheless, he hurried away as quickly as he could.
Alec, alone of all the Lightwood children, remembered Alicante. He’d been a toddler when they’d left, yet he still carried recollections of the shimmering towers, the streets full of snow in winter, chains of witchlight wreathing the shops and houses, water splashing in the mermaid fountain in the Hall. He had always felt an odd tug at his heart at the thought of Alicante, the half-painful hope that his family would return one day to the place where they belonged. To see the city like this was like the death of all joy. Turning onto a wider boulevard, one of the streets that led down to the Accords Hall, he saw a pack of Belial demons ducking through an archway, hissing and howling. They dragged something behind them—something that twitched and spasmed as it slid over the cobbled street. He darted down the street, but the demons were already gone. Crumpled against the base of a pillar was a limp shape leaking a spidery trail of blood. Broken glass crunched like pebbles under Alec’s boots as he knelt to turn the body over. After a single glance at the purple, distorted face, he shuddered and drew away, grateful that it was no one he knew.
A noise made him scramble to his feet. He smelled the stench before he saw it: the shadow of something humped and huge slithering toward him from the far end of the street. A Greater Demon? Alec didn’t wait to find out. He darted across the street toward one of the taller houses, leaping up onto a sill whose window glass had been smashed in. A few minutes later he was pulling himself onto the roof, his hands aching, his knees scraped. He got to his feet, brushing grit from his hands, and looked out over Alicante.